"No papers, no identification," Anna said, turning to him. Her gaze fell heavily onto Painter. "We needed the saboteur alive."

He had no excuse. "I aimed for her shoulder."

He shook his head in frustration. A debilitating bout of vertigo had paralyzed him after his descent in the rope harness. But they had no time to spare, barely making it here from the far side of the mountain. They would've never made it on foot through the castle. The helicopter had been their only chance, hopping over the shoulder of the mountain and dropping someone down on a harness.

Anna was no good with a gun, and Gunther was piloting the helo.

That left only Painter.

So despite the vertigo and double vision, Painter had crawled to the castle and aimed as best he could through the window. He'd had to act fast as he saw the woman rush Lisa, sword poised.

So he had taken his shot.

And though it may have cost them everything—even the knowledge of the true puppetmaster who manipulated these saboteurs—Painter did not regret his choice. He had seen the horror on Lisa's face. Vertigo be damned, he had fired. His head still pounded now. A new fear rose.

What if he had struck Lisa…? How long until he was more of a liability than an asset? He shoved this thought aside.

Quit wringing your hands and roil up your sleeves.

"What about any distinguishing marks?" Painter asked, getting back into the game.

"Only this." Anna turned over the woman's wrist and exposed the back of the assassin's hand. "Do you recognize it?"

A black tattoo marred her perfect white skin. Four entwined loops.

"Looks Celtic, but it means nothing to me."

"Nor me." Anna sat back, dropping the corpse's hand.

Painter noted something else and knelt down closer. He turned the hand over again, still warm. The woman's pinkie fingernail was missing, the bed scarred. A tiny blemish, but a significant one.

Anna took the hand from him. She rubbed the nail bed. "Dry…" A deep furrow formed between her brows. Her eyes met his.

"Does that mean what I think it means?" he asked.

Anna's gaze shifted to the woman's face. "But I'd have to do a retinal scan for sure. Look for petechia around the optic nerve."

Painter didn't need any further evidence. He had seen how fast the assassin had moved across the room, preternaturally agile. "She's one of the Sonne konige."

Lisa and Gunther joined them.

"Not one of ours," Anna said. "She's way too young. Too perfect. Whoever created her employed our latest techniques, those that we finessed over the past decades from our in vitro studies. They've advanced them into human subjects."

"Could someone have created them here, behind your back…after hours?"

Anna shook her head. "It takes an enormous amount of energy to activate the Bell. We would know."

"Then that only means one thing."

"She was created somewhere else." Anna rose to her feet. "Someone else has an operable Bell."

Painter remained where he was, examining the nail and tattoo. "And that someone means to shut you down now," he mumbled.

Silence settled over the room.

In the quiet, Painter heard a tiny chime, barely audible. It came from the woman. He realized he had heard it a few times, but there had been so much commotion, so much speculation, it had not fully registered.

He pulled up her parka sleeve.

A digital watch with a thick leather band, a full two inches in width, was secured to her wrist. Painter studied its red face. A holographic hand swept fully around, marking off the seconds. A digital readout glowed.

01:32

Seconds subtracted with every sweep.

Just over a minute.

Painter unstrapped the watch and checked the inside of the band. Two silver contact points were wired in place. Heartbeat monitor. And somewhere inside the watch must be a microtransmitter.

"What are you doing?" Anna asked.

"Did you search her for any explosives?"

"She's clean," Anna said. "Why?"

Painter stood and spoke rapidly. "She's wired with a monitor. When her heartbeat stopped, a transmission must've been sent out." He glanced to the watch in his hand. "This is just a timer."

He held it out toward them.

01:05

"Klaus and this woman had full access to your facilities for who knows how long. Plenty of time to jury-rig a failsafe." Painter held up the watch. "Something tells me we don't want to be here when this reaches zero."

The second hand swept around, and a small chime sounded as the count dropped below a minute.

00:59

"We must get out of here. Now!"

10 BLACK CAME LOT

9:32 a.m.

WEWELSBURG, GERMANY

"The SS started out as the personal bodyguard for Hitler," the docent said in French, leading a group of sodden tourists through the heart of the Wewelsburg museum. "In fact, the term SS is derived from the German word Schutzstaffel, which means 'guard detachment.' Only later did they become Himmler's Black Order."

Gray stepped aside as the tour group passed. While waiting for the museum director, he had eavesdropped on enough of the tour to gain the gist of the castle's history. How Himmler had leased the castle for only one Reichsmark, then spent a quarter billion rebuilding the castle into his personal Camelot, a small price compared to the cost in human blood and suffering.

Gray stood beside a display case with a striped prison uniform from the Niederhagen concentration camp.

Thunder rumbled from beyond the walls, rattling the old windows.

As the tour group drifted away, the docent's voice faded into the babble of the few other visitors, all seeking shelter against the storm.

Monk stood with Fiona. Ryan had gone to fetch the director. Monk leaned down to examine one of the infamous Toten Kopf rings on display, a silver band granted to SS officers. It was engraved with runes, along with a skull and crossbones. A gruesome piece of art, ripe with symbolism and power.

Other exhibits stretched across the small hall: miniature models, photographs of daily life, SS paraphernalia, even a strange little teapot that once belonged to Himmler. A sun-shaped rune decorated the pot.

"Here comes the director," Monk said, stepping closer. He nodded to a squat gentleman who strode out a private door. Ryan accompanied him.

The museum director appeared to be in his late fifties, salt-and-pepper hair, rumpled black suit. As he approached, he removed a pair of eyeglasses and held out his other hand toward Gray.

"Dr. Dieter Ulmstrom," the man said. "Director of the Historisches Museum des Hochstifts Paderborn. Wilkommen."

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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