The commanding voice had a feminine lilt. Also accented.
"Come out! Hands high!"
Painter gripped Lisa's shoulder, squeezing as much reassurance into her as he could. "Stay here."
He pointed to their discarded outerwear, motioning Lisa to suit up. He shoved into his own boots, then edged to the break in the ice. He poked his head out.
As was common in the highlands, the storm had broken apart as quickly as it had struck. Stars shone across the black sky. The Milky Way arched over the wintry valley, etched in snow and ice, patched with mists of ice fog.
Closer at hand, a spotlight pierced the night, its beam centered on the frozen waterfall. Fifty yards away on a lower cliff, a shadowy figure straddled a snowmobile, operating the searchlight. It was only an ordinary lamp, possibly xenon from its intensity and bluish tint.
It was no mysterious ghost light.
Painter felt a surge of relief. Had that been the light all the time, marking the approach of the vehicles? Painter counted five of them. He also counted the score of figures in white parkas, spread across the lower tier and to either side. They all bore rifles.
With no other choice—and damn curious to boot—Painter held up his arms and stepped free of the cave. The nearest gunman, a hulk of a man, sidled closer, rifle leveled. A tiny beam of light traced Painter's chest. A laser sight.
Weaponless, Painter could only stand his ground. He weighed the odds of manhandling the rifle from the gunman.
Painter met the eyes of the gunman.
One an icy blue, the other a frosted white.
The assassin from the monastery.
He remembered the man's ungodly strength. No, the odds were not good. And besides, with the number of men here, what would he do if he succeeded?
From behind the man's shoulder, a figure stepped into view. A woman. Perhaps the same who had used the bullhorn a moment ago. She reached and used a single finger to push the assassin's rifle down. Painter doubted any man would have the strength to do that.
As she stepped forward, Painter studied her in the spotlight's glare. She had to be in her late thirties. Bobbed black hair, green eyes. She wore a heavy white parka with a fur-lined hood. Her form was shapeless beneath her outerwear, but she appeared svelte and moved with a toned grace.
"Dr. Anna Sporrenberg," she said and held out a hand.
Painter stared at her glove. If he pulled her to him, got an arm around her throat, tried to use her as a hostage…
Meeting the assassin's eyes over her shoulder, Painter thought better. He reached out and shook the woman's hand. Since they hadn't shot him yet, he could at least be polite. He would play this game as long as it kept him alive. He had Lisa to consider, too.
"Director Crowe," she said. "It seems there has been much chatter over the past few hours across the international intelligence channels regarding your whereabouts."
Painter kept his face fixed. He saw no reason to deny his identity. Perhaps he could even use it to his advantage. "Then you know the extent to which those same resources will go to find me."
"Natürlich,"she nodded, slipping into German. "But I would not count on their success. In the meantime, I must ask you and the young woman to accompany me."
Painter took a warding step back. "Dr. Cummings has nothing to do with any of this. She was only a health care worker coming to the aid of the sick. She knows nothing."
"We'll know the truth of that soon enough."
So there it was, plainly stated. They were alive for the moment only because of their suspected knowledge. And that knowledge would be extracted through blood and pain. Painter considered making a move now. Getting it over with. A fast death over a slow agonizing one. He had too much sensitive Intel in his head to risk torture.
But he was not alone out here. He pictured Lisa, warming her hands with his. As long as they lived, there was hope.
Other guards joined them. Lisa was forced out of the cave at gunpoint. They were led to the snowmobiles.
Lisa met his eyes, fear shining bright.
He was determined to protect her to the best of his ability.
Anna Sporrenberg joined them as they were being bound. "Before we head out, let me speak plainly. We can't let you go. I think you understand that. I won't give you that false hope. But I can promise you a painless and peaceful end."
"Like with the monks," Lisa said harshly. "We witnessed your mercy there."
Painter tried to catch Lisa's eye. Now was not the time to antagonize their captors. The bastards obviously had no compunction against killing out of hand. They both needed to play the cooperative prisoner.
Anna seemed to truly see Lisa for the first time, turning to her. A bit of heat entered the woman's voice. "It was mercy, Dr. Cummings." Her eyes flicked to the assassin who still kept guard. "You know nothing of the illness that struck the monastery. Of what horrors awaited the monks. We do. Their deaths were not murder, but euthanasia."
"And who gave you that right?" Lisa asked.
Painter shifted closer. "Lisa, maybe—"
"No, Mr. Crowe." Anna stepped closer to Lisa. "What right, you ask? Experience, Dr. Cummings. Experience. Trust me when I tell you…the deaths up there were a kindness, not a cruelty."
"And what about the men I came up here with in the helicopter? Was that a kindness,too?"
Anna sighed, tiring of their words. "Hard choices had to be made. Our work here is too important."
"And what about us?" Lisa called as the woman turned away. "It's a painless needle if we cooperate. But what if we don't feel like cooperating?"
Anna headed toward the lead snowmobile. "There will be no thumbscrews, if that's what you mean. Drugs only. We are not barbarians, Dr. Cummings."
"No, you're only Nazis!" Lisa spat at her. "We saw the swastika!"
"Don't be foolish. We're not Nazis." Anna glanced calmly back to them as she hiked her leg over the seat to the snowmobile. "Not anymore."
Gray hurried across the street toward the auction house.
What was Fiona thinking, barging in here after what happened?
Concern for her safety weighed heavily. But Gray also had to admit that her intrusion offered him the excuse he needed. To attend the auction in person. Whoever had firebombed the shop, murdered Grette Neal, and tried to kill him…their trail led here.
Gray reached the sidewalk and slowed. The slanting rays of the setting sun turned the door to the auction house into a silvery mirror. He checked his clothes, having dressed in a frenzy of fine tailoring. The suit, a navy Armani pinstripe, fit well, but the starched white shirt was tight at the collar. He straightened the pale yellow tie.