Anna hurried to Gunther's side to check his wound. He brushed her back, keeping his pistol trained on Klaus. Blood soaked through Gunther's sleeve and dripped to the stone.
Klaus merely laughed, a grating of rocks. "You will all die! Strangled when the knot tightens!"
He coughed again, convulsive. Blood spread in a pool. With a final trembling sneer, he slumped to the floor facedown. Gunther lowered his gun. Klaus needed no further guarding. One last breath and the large man lay still.
Gunther allowed Anna to use an oily scrap of rag from a pile nearby to tie off his wound until it could be better tended.
Painter circled Klaus's body, nagged by something. Others in the room had gathered around, talking among themselves in voices both fearful and hopeful. They had all heard the mention of a cure.
Anna joined him. "I'll have one of our technicians examine his satellite phone. Maybe it can lead us to whoever orchestrated the sabotage."
"Not enough time," Painter mumbled, tuning everything else out. He concentrated on what bothered him. It was like grasping at threads just out of reach.
As he paced, he ran through what clues Klaus had offered.
…we can be kings among men again.
…you have served your purpose. But no longer.
A headache flared as Painter attempted to piece things together.
Klaus must have been recruited as a double agent…in a game of industrial espionage. For someone carrying on parallel research. And now the work at the castle here had become superfluous, and steps had been put into motion to eliminate the competition.
"Could he have spoken truthfully?" Gunther asked.
Painter remembered the large man's hesitation a moment before, baited by an offer of a cure, for himself and his sister. It had all died with Klaus.
But they weren't giving up.
Anna had dropped to a knee. She removed a small phone from Klaus's pocket. "We'll have to work quickly."
"Can you help?" Gunther asked Painter, nodding to the phone.
Their only hope lay in finding out who had picked up the other line.
"If you could trace the call…" Anna said, standing up.
Painter shook his head, not in denial. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. His head pounded, rounding up to a full migraine. But even that wasn't what had him shaking his head.
Close…whatever nagged him was so close…
Anna stepped near to him, touched his elbow. "It is to all our best interest to—"
"I know," he snapped. "Now shut up! Let me think."
Anna's hand dropped from his arm.
His outburst silenced the room. He fought to drag up what his mind kept hidden. It was like transposing the numbers on the sat-phone. The sharp edge to his mental acuity was dulling.
"The sat-phone…something about the sat-phone…" he whispered, pressing back the migraine by sheer will. "But what?"
Anna spoke softly. "What do you mean?"
Then it struck him. How could he have been so blind?
Painter lowered his arms and opened his eyes. "Klaus knew the castle was under electronic surveillance. So why did he make the call at all? Expose himself? Why take that risk?"
Cold terror washed over him. He swung to Anna. "The rumor. The one about having a cache of Xerum 525 still left. Were we the only ones who knew the rumor was false? That there really isn't any more of the liquid metal?"
The others in the room gasped at his revelation. A few voices rose in anger. Much hope had been seeded by the rumor, inflaming some optimism that a second Bell could be built. Now it was dashed.
But certainly someone else had believed the rumor, too.
"Only Gunther knew the truth," Anna said, confirming his worst fear.
Painter stared out across the helipad. He pictured the castle schematic in his head. He now knew why Klaus had made the call…and why he made it from here. The bastard thought he could hide in plain sight afterward, so confident he hadn't even disposed of the phone. He had chosen this spot specifically.
"Anna, when you spread the rumor, where did you say you had the Xerum 525 locked up? How had it avoided being destroyed in the explosion?"
"I claimed it was locked up in a vault."
"Away from the explosion site. The one in my study. Why?"
All the way on the other side of the castle.
"We've been played," Painter said. "Klaus called from here, knowing the castle was being monitored. He meant to lure us here. To pull our attention away from your study, from the secret vault, from the supposed last cache of Xerum 525."
Anna shook her head, not understanding.
"Klaus's call was a decoy. The real goal all along was the fabled last batch of Xerum 525."
Anna's eyes grew wide.
Gunther understood now, too. "There must be a second saboteur."
"While we're distracted here, he's going after the Xerum 525."
"My study," Anna said, turning to Painter.
It finally struck him, what had been nagging him the most, making him heartsick and nauseated. It burst forth with a white-hot stab of blinding pain. Someone stood in the direct path of the saboteur.
Lisa searched the upper story of the library. She had climbed the wrought-iron ladder to the rickety iron balcony and now circled the room. She kept one hand on the balcony railing.
She had spent the past hour gathering books and papers on quantum mechanics. She even found the original treatise of Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, a theory that defined a bewildering world of elemental particles, a world where energy could be broken down into small packets, called quanta, and where elemental matter behaved like both particles and waves.
It all made her head ache.
What did any of this have to do with evolution?
She sensed any cure lay in discovering that answer.
Reaching out, she tilted a book from the shelf, studying the binding. She squinted at the faded lettering.
Was this the right volume?
A commotion at the door drew her attention around. She knew the exit was guarded. What now? Was Anna returning already? Had they found the saboteur? Lisa turned back toward the ladder. She hoped Painter was with Anna. She didn't like being apart from him. And maybe he could make heads or tails of these strange theories of matter and energy.
She reached the ladder and turned to step down on the first rung.
A sharp scream, quickly silenced, froze her in place.
It came from right outside the door.
Reacting on instinct, Lisa lunged back up and spread herself flat on the wrought-iron balcony. The open floor grating offered little cover. She slid close to the stacks, into the shadows, away from the wall sconces on this level.