Painter frowned as she finished. "Lama Khemsar was somewhere in his mid-seventies. That would place him in his early to midteens during World War II. So it's possible. The Nazis had sent research expeditions into the Himalayas."
Painter shrugged. "The story goes that Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was fixated on the occult. He studied ancient Vedic texts of India, dating back thousands of years. The bastard came to believe that these mountains were once the birthplace of the original Aryan race. He sent expeditions looking for proof. Of course, the man was a few fries short of a Happy Meal."
Lisa smiled at him. "Still, maybe the old lama had some run-in with one of those early expeditions. Hired as a guide or something."
"Maybe. But we'll never know. Whatever secrets there were died with him."
"Maybe not. Maybe that was what he was trying to do up in his room. Letting go of something horrible. His subconscious trying to absolve itself by revealing what he knew."
"That's a lot of maybes." Painter rubbed his forehead, wincing. "And I have one more. Maybe it was just gibberish."
Lisa had no argument against that. She sighed, tiring rapidly as the adrenaline of their flight wore off. "Are you warm enough?"
She switched off the heater. "Need to conserve the butane."
He nodded, then failed to stop a jaw-popping yawn.
"We should try to get some sleep," she said. "Take shifts."
Hours later, Painter woke, startled awake by someone shaking his shoulder. He sat up from where he had been leaning against the wall. It was dark out.
The wall of ice before him was as pitch-black as the rock.
At least the storm seemed to have died down.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Lisa had dropped a section of their blanket.
She pointed an arm and whispered, "Wait."
He shifted closer, shedding any sleepiness. He waited half a minute. Still nothing. The storm definitely seemed to have subsided. The wind's howl was gone. Beyond their cave, a winter's crystalline quiet had settled over the valley and cliffs. He strained to hear anything suspicious.
Something had definitely spooked Lisa.
He sensed her raw fear. It practically vibrated out of her tense body.
Suddenly the wall of ice flickered brilliantly, as if fireworks had ignited in the sky outside. There was no noise. The scintillating radiance cascaded up along the falls and away. Then the ice went dark again.
"The ghost lights…" Lisa whispered and turned to him.
Painter flashed to three nights ago. When this had all started. The illness in the village, the madness in the monastery. He remembered Lisa's earlier assessment. Proximity to the strange lights was directly related to the severity of the symptoms.
And now they were in the heart of the badlands.
Closer than ever.
As Painter watched, the frozen waterfall flared again with a shining and deadly brilliance. The ghost lights had returned.
5 SOMETHING ROTTEN
Does nothing ever start on time in Europe?
Gray checked his wristwatch.
The auction had been slated to start at five o'clock.
Trains and buses might be efficient enough to set your clock by here, but when it came to scheduled events, it was anyone's guess. It was already after six. The latest consensus was that the auction's start would be closer to six-thirty, due to some late arrivals, as a storm off the North Sea was delaying air traffic into Copenhagen.
Bidders were still arriving below.
As the sun sank away, Gray had positioned himself on a second-story balcony of the Scandic Hotel Webers. It sat across the street from the home of Ergenschein Auction House, a modern four-story building that seemed more art gallery than auction establishment, with its modern Danish minimalist style, all glass and bleached woods. The auction was to take place in the house's basement.
And hopefully soon.
Gray yawned and stretched.
Earlier, he had stopped at his original hotel near Nyhavn, quickly collected his surveillance gear, and checked out. Under a new name with a new MasterCard, he had booked into this hotel. It offered a panoramic view of Copenhagen's City Square, and from the private balcony, he could hear the distant titter and music of one of the world's oldest amusement parks, Tivoli Gardens.
He had a laptop open with a half-eaten hot dog from a street vendor resting beside it. His only meal of the day. Despite rumors, the life of an operative was not all Monte Carlo casinos and gourmet restaurants. Still, it was a great hot dog, even if it cost almost five dollars American.
The image on the laptop screen shivered as the motion-sensitive camera snapped a rapid series of pictures. He had already captured two dozen participants: stiff bankers, dismissive Eurotrash, a trio of bull-necked gentlemen in shiny suits with mafioso stamped on their foreheads, a pudgy woman in professorial attire, and a foursome of white-suited nouveau riche wearing identical matching sailor caps. Of course, these last spoke American. Loudly.
He shook his head.
There couldn't possibly be too many more arrivals.
A long black limousine pulled up to the auction house. Two figures stepped out. They were tall and lean, dressed in matching black Armani suits. His and hers. He wore a robin's egg blue tie. She wore a silk blouse of a matching hue. Both were young, midtwenties at best. But they carried themselves as if much older. Maybe it was the bleached white hair, coiffed almost identically, short, pasted to the scalp, looking like a pair of silent-movie stars from the Roaring Twenties. Their manner gave them an ageless grace. No smiles, but not cold. Even in the snapshots, there was a friendly amusement in their eyes.
The doorman held the door open for them.
They each nodded their thanks—again not overly warm, but acknowledging the man's gesture. They vanished inside. The doorman stepped after them, turning a sign. Plainly this couple was the last, and perhaps in fact the very reason the auction had been delayed until now.
Who were they?
He stowed his curiosity. He had his orders from Logan Gregory.
He reviewed his pictures to ensure he had clean images of each participant. Satisfied, he backed the file onto a flash-disk and pocketed it. Now all he had to do was wait for the auction to end. Logan had arranged to obtain a list of sale items and names of successful bidders. Surely a few would be aliases, but the information would be shared with the U.S. task force on terrorism and eventually Europol and Interpol. Whatever was really afoot here might never be known to Gray.
Like why was he attacked? Why had Grette Neal been killed?