The man's harried look belied his welcome.
He continued, "Young Ryan here has explained how you've come to investigate some runes found in an old book. How intriguing."
Again the man appeared more hassled than intrigued.
"We won't keep you long," Gray said. "We were wondering if you could help us identify a particular rune and its significance."
"Certainly. If there is one thing a museum director at Wewelsburg must be fluent with, it is rune lore."
Gray waved to Fiona for the Darwin Bible. She already had it out.
Flipping open the back cover, Gray held the book out.
Lips pursing, Dr. Ulmstrom replaced his glasses and looked closer. He studied the rune scoured in ink by Hugo Hirszfeld on the back pasteboard.
"May I examine the book, bitte?"
After a moment's hesitation, Gray relented.
The director flipped through the pages, pausing at some of the chicken-scratched marks inside. "A Bible…how strange…"
"The symbol at the back," Gray pressed.
"Of course. It is the Mensch rune."
"Mensch,"Gray said. "As in the German word for 'man.'"
"Ja. Note the form. Like a decapitated stick figure." The director drifted back to the earlier pages. "Ryan's great-grandfather seemed very fixated on symbols associated with the All-Father."
"What do you mean?" Gray asked.
Ulmstrom pointed to one of the scratches on the inner pages of the Bible.
"This is the rune for k" the director said, "also called cen in Anglo-Saxon. It's an earlier rune for 'man,' only two upraised arms, a cruder portrayal. And on this other page is the rune's mirror image." He flipped a few pages and pointed to another.
"The two symbols are sort of like two sides of the same coin. Yin and yang. Male and female. Light and dark."
Gray nodded. It reminded him of his discussions with Ang Gelu when he had studied with the Buddhist monk, how all societies seemed to be transfixed by this duality. This reverie tweaked his concern about Painter Crowe. There'd been no word yet from Nepal.
Monk redirected the talk. "These runes? What do they all have to do with this
"All three are related. Symbolically. The big rune, the Mensch rune, is often considered to represent the Norse god Thor, a bringer of life, a higher state of being. What we all strive to become."
Gray's mind puzzled through to the answer, picturing it in his head. "And these two earlier runes, the r runes, they form the two halves of the Mensch rune."p>
"Huh?" Monk grunted.
"Like this," Fiona said, understanding. Using her finger, she drew in the dust atop a display case. "You push the two-armed runes together to form the Mensch rune. Like a jigsaw."
"Sehr gut,"the director said. He tapped the first two runes. "These represent the common man—in all his duality—joining together to form the All-Father, a supreme being." Ulmstrom handed the Bible back to Gray and shook his head. "These runes certainly seemed to obsess Ryan's great-grandfather."
Gray stared at the symbol on the back cover. "Ryan, Hugo was a biologist, correct?"
Ryan stirred. He seemed dismayed by all this. "Ja. As was my great-aunt Tola."
Gray nodded slowly. The Nazis were always interested in the myth of the superman, the All-Father from which the Aryan race supposedly descended. All these scribblings, were they just Hugo's declaration of his belief in this Nazi dogma? Gray didn't think so. He remembered Ryan's description of his great-grandfather's notes, the scientist's growing disillusionment—and then the cryptic note to his daughter, a hint of a secret, one too beautiful to let die and too monstrous to set free.
From one biologist to another.
He sensed it was all tied together: runes, the All-Father, some long-abandoned research. Whatever the secret was, it seemed it was worth killing over.
Ulmstrom continued, "The Mensch rune was also of particular interest to the Nazis. They even renamed it the leben-rune."
"The life rune?" Gray asked, focusing his attention back.
"Ja. They used it to represent the Lebensborn program."
"What's that?" Monk asked.
Gray answered. "A Nazi breeding program. Farms to produce more blond, blue-eyed children."
The director nodded. "But like the duality of the k rune, the leben-rune also has its mirror image." He motioned for Gray to turn the Bible upside down, upending the symbol. "Reversed, the leben-rune becomes its opposite. The toten-rune."
Monk frowned at Gray.
He translated. "The rune of death."
1:37 p.m. HIMALAYAS
Death ticked down.
Painter stood with the dead assassin's wrist timer in his hand. "No time to make it out on foot. Never get clear of the blast zone."
"Then what—?" Anna asked.
"The helicopter," Painter said and pointed toward the window. The A-Star helicopter they'd used to hop here still sat outside the castle, engine warm.
"The others." Anna headed to the phone, ready to raise the alarm.
"Keine Zeit,"Gunther barked, stopping her.
The man unhitched his assault rifle, a Russian A-91 Bullpup. With his other hand, he yanked out a grenade cartridge from his waistband and jammed it into the rifle's 40mm launcher.
"HierfHe strode in large steps to Anna's massive desk. "Schnell!"
He pointed the rifle at arm's length toward the room's barred window.
Painter grabbed Lisa's hand and ran for shelter, Anna on their heels. Gunther waited until they were close enough and fired. A jet of gas blasted from the rock-steady weapon.
They all leaped behind the desk.
Gunther grabbed his sister around the waist and bodily rolled her under him. The grenade exploded deafeningly. Painter felt his ears pop. Lisa clamped her hands over her ears. The concussion shoved the desk a full foot. Bits of rock and glass pelted the front of the desk. Rock dust and smoke choked over them.
Gunther hauled Anna to her feet. They wasted no words. Across the library, a ragged hole had been blasted through to the outside. Books—shredded and aflame—dotted the floor and had been blown out into the courtyard.
They ran for the exit.
The helicopter sat beyond the mountain overhang. A good forty yards. Bounding through the jumbled blast zone, they sprinted for the helicopter.
Painter still clutched the wrist timer. He didn't check it until they were at the helicopter. Gunther had reached the chopper first and ripped open the rear door. Painter helped Anna and Lisa inside, then dove in after them.