"And what did you learn?" Gray asked.
"Not much. One box contained papers from the Nazi research lab where my greatgrandfather worked. He was given the rank of Oberarbeitsleiter. Head of the project." This last was said with a tone both shamed and defiant. "But whatever they were working on must not have been declassified. Most of the papers were personal correspondence. With friends, with family."
"And you read through them all?"
A slow nod. "Enough to get the feeling my greatgrandfather had begun to have doubts about his work. Yet he couldn't leave."
"Or he would've been shot," Fiona said.
Ryan shook his head, a forlorn expression waxing for a breath. "I think it was more the project itself…he couldn't let it go. Not completely. It was like he was repulsed but drawn at the same time."
Gray sensed Ryan's personal pursuit into the past was tinged with the same tidal push and pull.
Monk tilted his head and cracked his neck with a loud pop. "What does any of this have to do with the Darwin Bible?" he asked, bringing the subject back around to the beginning.
"I found one note," Ryan answered. "Addressed to my great-aunt Tola. It mentions the crate of books my greatgrandfather sent back to the estate. I remember it because of his rather strange remarks about it."
"What did he say?"
"The letter is up at the museum. I thought you might like to have a copy of it…to go along with the Bible."
"You don't remember what it said?"
Ryan scrunched his brow. "Only a couple lines. 'Perfection can be found hidden in my books, dear Tola. The truth is too beautiful to let die and too monstrous to set free.™
Silence settled in the car.
"He died two months later."
Gray contemplated the words. Hidden in my books. The five books Hugo had mailed back home before he died. Had he done it to keep some secret safe? To preserve what was too beautiful to let die and too monstrous to set free?
Gray fixed Ryan with a stare in the rearview mirror. "Did you tell anyone else about what you found?"
"No, but the old gentleman and his niece and nephew…the ones who came earlier this year to speak to my father about the books. They had already been here, searching through my greatgrandfather's papers in the archives. I think they must have read the same note and come to inquire further with my father."
"These folks…the niece and nephew. What did they look like?"
"White hair. Tall. Athletic. Good stock, as my grandfather would say."
Gray shared a glance with Monk.
Fiona cleared her throat. She pointed to the back of her hand. "Did they have a mark…a tattoo here?"
Ryan slowly nodded. "I think so. Shortly after they arrived, my father sent me away. Like with you today. Mustn't speak in front of the children." Ryan tried to smile, but he plainly sensed the tension in the car. His eyes darted around. "Do you know them?"
"Fellow competitors," Gray said. "Collectors like us."
Ryan's expression remained guarded, disbelieving, but he didn't inquire further.
Gray again pictured the hand-drawn rune hidden in the Bible. Did the other four books contain similar cryptic symbols? Did it tie back to Hugo's research with the Nazis? Was that what this was all about? It seemed unlikely these assassins would just show up here and start sifting through records…not unless they were searching for something specific.
Monk still faced backward. But he swung around and settled into his seat. He spoke low, under his breath. "You know we're being followed, right?"
Gray only nodded.
A quarter mile back, slowly climbing the switchbacks behind them, a car followed in the rain. The same one he had spotted earlier parked back at the hostel. A pearl white Mercedes roadster. Maybe they were just fellow tourists, out on a sightseeing excursion to the castle.
"Perhaps you shouldn't follow so close, Isaak."
"They've already spotted us, Ischke." He nodded past the rainswept windshield to the BMW a quarter mile ahead. "Note how his turns are more restrained, less enthusiastically sharp and tight. He knows."
"Is that something we want? To alert them?"
Isaak tilted his head toward his sister. "The hunt is always the best when the prey is spooked."
"I don't think Hans would agree." Her manner darkened with grief.
He reached a finger and touched the back of her hand, sharing her sadness and apologizing. He knew how sensitive she could be.
"There is no other road down from the ridge," he assured her. "Except for the one we are on. All is ready at the castle. All we have to do is flush them into the trap. If they are looking over their shoulder at us, they are less likely to see what's in front of them."
She inhaled her agreement and understanding.
"It's time we cleared up all these tattered loose ends. Then we can go home."
"Home," she echoed with a contented sigh.
"We're almost done. We must always remember the goal, Ischke. Hans's sacrifice will not be in vain, his spilt blood will herald a new dawn, a better world."
"So Grandfather says."
"And you know it's true."
He tilted his head toward her. Her lips thinned into a weary smile.
"Careful of the blood, sweet Ischke."
His sister glanced down to the long steel blade of the dagger. She had been absently wiping it clean with a white chamois. A crimson drop had almost fallen onto the knee of her white pants. One loose end severed. A few more to go.
"Thank you, Isaak."
1:22 p.m. HIMALAYAS
Lisa stared at the raised pistol.
"Wer 1st dort? Zeigen Sie sichf"the blond woman called up to her.
Though Lisa didn't speak German, she understood the gist. She rose into view slowly. Hands up. "I don't speak German," she called down.
The woman eyed her, so focused in intent that Lisa swore she could feel it like a laser across her body.
"You're one of the Americans," the woman said in crisp English. "Come down. Slowly."
The pistol didn't waver.
With no cover on the open balcony grating, Lisa had no choice. She stepped to the ladder, turned her back, and climbed down. With every rung, she expected to hear a blast of a pistol. Her shoulders tensed. But she reached the ground safely.
Lisa turned, arms still held a bit out to the side.
The woman stepped toward her. Lisa stepped back. She sensed a good portion of the woman's restraint in not immediately shooting her was due to the noise it might generate. Except for the single short cry, she had dispatched the outer guards with barely a sound, employing the sword.