Gray scuttled along the limb toward the park, passing over the wall.
On the far side, Fiona waited below and waved to him. She stood at the back of a utility or gardening shed.
Gray dropped his legs and dangled by his arms.
A chunk of bark exploded by his right hand. Shocked, he let go and fell, his arms cartwheeling for balance. He landed hard in a flower bed, jamming a knee, but the soft loam cushioned his fall. Beyond the wall, an engine growled, and a door slammed.
They'd been spotted.
Grimacing, Gray joined Fiona. Her eyes were wide. She had heard the shot. Without a word, they fled together toward the heart of Tivoli Gardens.
6 UGLY DUCKLING
1:22 a.m. HIMALAYAS
Well past midnight, Lisa soaked in a steaming bath of naturally heated mineral waters. She could close her eyes and imagine herself in some expensive European spa. The room's accoutrements were certainly plush enough: thick Egyptian cotton towels and robes, a massive four-poster bed piled high with a nest of blankets on a foot-thick goose-down featherbed. Medieval tapestries hung on the walls, and underfoot, Turkish rugs covered the stone floors.
Painter was in the outer room, stoking their tiny fireplace.
They shared this pleasant little prison cell.
Painter had told Anna Sporrenberg that they were companions back in the States. A ruse intended to keep them from being separated.
Lisa hadn't argued against it.
She had not wanted to be alone here.
Though the water's temperature was only a few degrees lower than parboil, Lisa shivered. As a doctor, she recognized her own signs of shock as the adrenaline that had been sustaining her up to this point wore off. She remembered how earlier she had lashed out against the German woman, almost attacked her. What had she been thinking? She could've gotten them both shot.
And all that time, Painter had been so calm. Even now, she drew strength hearing Painter roll another log onto the fire, simple bits of caretaking and comfort. He must be exhausted. The man had already soaked in the massive tub, not so much for hygiene as a prescription against frostbite. Lisa had noted the white patches on the tips of his ears and insisted he go first.
More warmly dressed, she had fared better.
Still, she immersed herself fully into the tub, dunking her head under, her hair willowing out. The heat suffused through her, warming all her tissues. Her senses stretched. All she had to do was inhale, allow herself to drown. A moment of panic, and it would be over. All the fear, all the tension. She would be in control of her own fate—taking back what her captors held hostage.
Just a breath…
"Are you almost finished with your bath?" The muffled words reached her through the water, sounding far away. "They've brought us a late-night snack."
Lisa shifted, surfacing out of the steam, water sluicing from her hair and face. "I…I'll be out in another minute."
"Take your time," Painter called from the main room.
She heard him roll another log onto the fire.
How could he still be moving? Bedridden for three days, the fight in the root cellar, the frozen trek here…yet he still kept forging on. It gave her hope. Maybe it was just desperation, but she sensed a well of strength in him that went beyond the physical.
As she thought about him, her trembling finally slowed.
She climbed out of the bath, skin steaming, and toweled off. A thick robe hung from a hook. She left it hanging for a moment more. A floor-length mirror stood beside an antique washbasin. Its surface was misty, but her naked form was visible. She turned her leg, not in some narcissistic admiration, but to study the map of bruises down her limb. The deep ache in her calves reminded her of something essential.
She was still alive.
She glanced to the tub.
She would not give them the satisfaction. She would see it through.
She climbed into her robe. After snugging it tight around her waist, she lifted the heavy iron latch to the bathroom and opened the door. It was warmer in the next room. A steam register had kept the chamber livable, but the new fire in the hearth had stoked the room to a welcoming warmth. The tiny blaze snapped and crackled merrily, casting the room in a rich, flickering glow. A grouping of candles beside the bed added to the homey ambience, the only other illumination.
There was no electricity in the room.
While imprisoning them here, Anna Sporrenberg had explained proudly how most of their power was geothermally generated, based on a hundred-year-old design of Rudolf Diesel, the French-born German engineer who would go on to invent the diesel engine. Even still, electricity was not to be wasted and had been limited to select areas of the castle.
Painter turned to her as she entered. She noted how disheveled his hair had dried, giving him a rakish, boyish appearance. Barefooted and in a matching robe, he filled a pair of stone mugs with a steaming brew.
"Jasmine tea," he said and waved her to a small sofa in front of the fire.
A platter rested on a low table: hard cheeses, a loaf of dark bread, piled slices of roast beef, mustard, and a bowl of blackberries with a tiny decanter of cream.
"Our last meal?" Lisa asked, trying to sound flippant, but she couldn't carry it off. They were to be interrogated first thing in the morning.
Painter patted the seat next to him as he sat down.
She joined him.
As he sliced the bread, she picked up a sliver of sharp cheddar. She sniffed and set it down. No appetite.
"You should eat," Painter said.
"Why? So I'll be stronger when they drug us?"
Painter rolled a piece of beef and popped it into his mouth. He chewed as he spoke. "Nothing's certain. If I've learned nothing in life, I've at least learned that."
Unconvinced, she shook her head. "So what are you saying? Just hope for the best?"
"I personally prefer a plan."
She eyed him. "And you have one?"
"A simple one. Not exactly guns-blazing, grenades-exploding."
He swallowed his roast beef and turned to her. "Something that I find works a surprising amount of the time."
She waited for an answer. "Well?"
She slunk back, shoulders slumping. "Great."
Painter picked up a slice of bread, slathered it with some coarse mustard, added a slice of beef, and topped it with a piece of cheddar. He held it out toward her. "Eat."
Sighing, she took his creation in hand, only to appease him.
Painter made a second one for himself. "For instance, I'm the director for a division of DARPA named Sigma. We specialize in investigating threats to the U.S., employing a team of ex-Special Forces soldiers. The strong arm for DARPA out in the field."