Gray sensed a convergence of ties and events, all centered on this occult Thule Society. But what? He needed more information. A trip to the castle museum was doubly warranted.
Johann wheeled himself away from Gray, dismissing him. "It was because of such common interests with my grandfather that Himmler granted our family, a family of Mischlinge, the pardon. We were spared the camps."
Because of Himmler.
Gray understood the root of the man's anger…and why he had asked his son to leave the room. It was a family burden best left undiscovered. Johann stared out into the storm.
Gray collected the Bible and waved everyone out. "Danke," he called back to the old man.
Johann did not acknowledge him, lost in the past.
Gray and the others were soon out on the front porch again. The rain continued to pour out of low skies. The courtyard was deserted. There would be no biking or hiking today.
"Let's go," Gray said and headed into the rain.
"Perfect day to storm a castle," Monk said sarcastically.
As they hurried across the courtyard, Gray noted a new car parked next to theirs. Empty. Engine steaming in the cold rain. Must have just arrived.
An ice-white Mercedes.
12:32 p.m. HIMALAYAS
"Where is the signal coming from?" Anna asked.
The woman had rushed into the maintenance room, responding immediately to Gunther's call. She had arrived alone, claiming Lisa had wanted to remain behind in the library to follow up on some research. Painter thought it more likely that Anna still wanted to keep them apart.
Just as well that Lisa was out of harm's way.
Especially if they were truly on the track of the saboteur.
Leaning closer to the laptop screen, Painter massaged the tips of his fingers. A persistent tingling itched behind his nails. He stopped rubbing long enough to point at the three-dimensional schematic of the castle.
"Best estimate is this region," Painter said, tapping the screen. He had been surprised to see how extensively the castle spread into the mountain. It hollowed right through the peak. The signal came from the far side. "But it's not a pinpoint. The saboteur would need a clear line of sight to use his satellite phone."
Anna straightened. "The helipad is there."
Gunther nodded with a grunt.
On the screen, the overlay of pulsing lines suddenly collapsed. "He's ended the call," Painter said. "We'll have to move fast."
Anna turned to Gunther. "Contact Klaus. Have his men close off the helipad. Now."
Gunther swung to a phone receiver on the wall and started the lockdown. The plan had been to search everyone in the signal vicinity, discover who had an illicit sat-phone in their possession.
Anna returned to Painter. "Thank you for your help. We'll search from here."
"I may be of further help." Painter had been busy typing on the laptop. He memorized the number that appeared on the screen, then detached his hand-built signal amplifier from the castle's ground wire. He straightened. "But I'll need one of your portable satellite phones."
"I can't leave you here with a phone," Anna said, knuckling her temple and wincing. Headache.
"You don't have to leave me. I'm going with you to the helipad."
Gunther stepped forward, his usual frown deepening.
Anna waved him back. "We don't have time to argue." But something silent passed between the large man and his sister. A warning for the big man to keep an eye on Painter.
Anna led the way out.
Painter followed, still rubbing his fingers. The nails had begun to burn. He studied them for the first time, expecting the nail beds to be inflamed, but instead, his fingernails were oddly blanched, bled of color.
Gunther passed him one of the castle's phones, noted Painter's attention, and shook his head. He held out a hand. Painter didn't understand—then noted the man was missing the fingernails on his last three fingers.
Gunther lowered his arm and marched after Anna.
Painter clenched and unclenched his hands. So the tingling burn wasn't frostbite. The quantum disease was advancing. He recalled Anna's list of debilitations in the Bell's test subjects: loss of fingers, ears, toes. Not unlike leprosy.
How much time?
As they headed toward the far side of the mountain, Painter studied Gunther. The man had lived his whole life with a sword hanging over his head. Chronic and progressive wasting, followed by madness. Painter was headed for the Reader's Digest version of the same condition. He could not deny it terrified him—not so much the debilitation as the loss of his mind.
How long did he have?
Gunther must have sensed his reverie. "I will not let this happen to Anna," he growled under his breath to Painter. "I will do anything to stop it."
Painter was again reminded that the pair were brother and sister. Only after learning this did Painter see subtle similarities of feature: curve of lip, sculpt of chin, identical frown lines. Family. But the similarities ended there. Anna's dark hair, emerald rich eyes contrasted sharply with her brother's washed-out appearance. Only Gunther had been born under the Bell, one child sacrificed, a tithing in blood, and the last of the Sonnekonige.
As they crossed hallways and descended stairs, Painter worked the back cover off the portable phone. He pocketed it, loosened the battery, and jury-rigged his amplifier to the antenna wire behind the battery. The broadcast would only be a single burst, seconds long, but it should do the job.
"What is that?" Gunther asked.
"A GPS sniffer. The amplifier recorded the chip-specs from the saboteur's phone during the call. I may be able to use it to hunt him down if he's close."
Gunther grunted, buying the lie.
So far so good.
The stairs emptied into a wide passageway, large enough to trundle a tank through. Old steel tracks ran along the floor and headed straight through the heart of the mountain. The helipad was located at the other end, remote from the main castle. They mounted a flatbed car. Gunther released the hand brake and engaged the electric motor with the press of a floor pedal. There were no seats, only rails. Painter held on as they zipped down the passage, lit intermittently by overhead lamps.
"So you have your own subway system," Painter said.
"For moving goods," Anna replied, wincing, her brows furrowed tight in pain. She had taken two pills on the way here. Pain relievers?
They passed a series of storage rooms piled high with barrels, boxes, and crates, apparently flown in and warehoused. In another minute, they reached the terminal end of the passageway. The air had grown more heated, steamy, smelling vaguely sulfurous. A deep sonorous thrum vibrated through the stone and up Painter's legs as he climbed off the train cart. He knew from his peek at the castle schematics that the geothermal plant was located in the nether regions of this area.