The assassin still held the bloody katana in her other hand.
Maybe Lisa would've been safer staying atop the balcony, making the woman fire at her like a duck in a shooting gallery. Maybe the gunfire would have drawn others in time. She had been foolish to put herself within sword reach of the intruder. But panic had clouded Lisa's judgment. It was hard to refuse someone when they had a gun pointed at your face.
"The Xerum 525," the woman said. "Is it in the safe?"
Lisa weighed her answer for a heartbeat. Truth or lie? There seemed little choice. "Anna took it," she answered. She waved vaguely toward the door.
She remembered Painter's earlier lesson after they had been captured. Be necessary. Be useful. "I don't know the castle well enough to describe it. But I know how to get there. I…can take you." Lisa's voice faltered. She needed to be more convincing. And how better than to barter as though her lie had value? "I'll take you onlyW you promise to help me get out of here."
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Would the woman fall for it? She was stunningly beautiful: svelte, unblemished skin, generous lips, but her glacial blue eyes glinted with cold calculation and intelligence.
She scared Lisa witless.
There was something unearthly about her.
"Then you will show me," the woman said and bolstered her pistol. She kept the katana in hand.
Lisa would've preferred it the other way around.
The sword pointed at the door.
Lisa was to go first. She circled toward the door, keeping some distance. Perhaps she could make a break for it out in the halls. It would be her only hope. She would have to watch for a moment, some distraction, a hesitation, and then just run like hell.
A brush of air, the flicker of flame in the hearth, was her only warning.
Lisa turned—and the woman was already there, a step away, having glided swiftly and silently from behind. Impossibly fast. Their eyes met. Lisa knew in the heartbeat before the sword fell that the woman had not believed her for a moment.
It had all been a trap to drop Lisa's guard.
It would be her last mistake.
The world froze…caught in a flash of fine Japanese silver as it plunged toward Lisa's heart.
Gray slid the BMW into a parking place beside a blue Wolters tour bus. The large German vehicle hid the sedan from direct view of the street. The arched entryway to the castle courtyard stood directly ahead.
"Stay in the car," he ordered the others. He twisted around. "That means you, young lady."
Fiona made an obscene gesture, but she stayed buckled.
"Monk, get behind the wheel. Keep the engine running."
Ryan stared at him wide-eyed. "Was 1st los?"
"Nothing's los" Monk answered. "But keep your head down just in case."
Gray opened the door. A gust of rain slapped against him, sounding like machine-gun fire as it struck the flank of the neighboring bus. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
"Ryan, may I borrow your umbrella?"
The young man nodded and passed it forward.
Gray climbed out. He shook out the umbrella and hurried to the far side of the bus. He took up a post near the rear door, sheltering against the rain. He hoped to appear like just another tour employee. He kept himself shielded by the umbrella while he watched the road.
Headlights appeared out of the gloom, climbing the last switchback.
The white two-seater roadster appeared a moment later. It slid up to the parking lot and, without slowing, passed it. He watched the taillights recede into the rain, heading toward the tiny hamlet of Wewelsburg that nestled against the flank of the castle. The car disappeared around a corner.
Gray waited a full five minutes, circling behind the bus and signaling the all clear to Monk. Monk cut the engine. Finally satisfied that the Mercedes was not returning, Gray waved the others out.
"Paranoid much?" Fiona asked as she passed and headed to the arch.
"It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you," Monk called after her. He turned to Gray. "Are they really out to get us?"
Gray stared into the storm. He didn't like coincidences, but he couldn't stop moving forward just because he was spooked. "Stick with Fiona and Ryan. Let's talk to this director, get a copy of old Hugo's letter to his daughter, and get the hell out of here."
Monk eyed the hulking mass of tower and turret. Rain poured over the gray stone and sluiced from green gutters. Only a few of the windows on the lower floors shone with signs of life. The vast bulk was dark and oppressive.
"Just so we're clear," he grumbled, "if I see one friggin' black bat, I'm out of here."
1:31 p.m. HIMALAYAS
Lisa watched the sword plunge toward her chest. It all happened between heartbeats. Time thickened and slowed. This was how she was going to die.
Then a tinkle of glass shattered the stillness…followed by the soft crack of a gunshot, sounding impossibly far away. Near at hand, the assassin's throat blossomed with a fountain of blood and bone, head thrown back.
But even then, the assassin's death stroke completed its arc.
The sword struck Lisa in the chest, pierced skin, and collided into her sternum. But there was no weight behind it. Limp fingers released the katana's hilt. The heel of a dying hand knocked it down before further damage could be inflicted.
Lisa stumbled back, released from the spell.
The length of Japanese steel pirouetted and struck the floor with the sound of a perfectly tuned bell. The body of the assassin followed next, thudding heavily beside it.
Lisa retreated, disbelieving, numb, senseless.
More tinkling of glass.
Words reached her as if from underwater.
"Are you okay? Lisa…"
She stared up. Across the library. The single library window. Frosted and glazed before, its pane shattered away under the butt of a rifle. A face appeared in the opening, framed by shards of broken glass.
Beyond his shoulder, a storm blew, swirling snow and icemelt. Something large, heavy, and dark descended out of the sky. A helicopter. A rope and harness dangled below it.
Lisa trembled and sank to her knees.
"We'll be right there," he promised.
Five minutes later, Painter stood over the body of the assassin. The second saboteur. Anna was on one knee, searching the woman. Off to the side, Lisa sat in a chair by the hearth, her sweater off, her shirt open, exposing her bra and a bloody cut below it. Assisted by Gunther, Lisa had already cleaned the wound and now applied a series of butterfly bandages to seal the inch-long slice. She had been lucky. Her bra's underwire had helped block the blade from penetrating deeper, saving her life. Talk about offering additional support.