While the transmission was sent, Painter gave a thumbnail version of what happened. He was grateful Logan didn't interrupt with too many questions.
"Did the fax arrive there yet?" Painter asked after a few minutes.
"Just in my hands now."
"Perfect. The search…give it top priority."
A long pause followed. Dead air. Painter thought maybe they'd lost their signal, then Logan spoke, tentative, confused. "Sir…"
"What is it?"
"I know this symbol. Grayson Pierce sent it to me eight hours ago."
Logan explained about the events in Copenhagen. Painter struggled to wrap his mind around it. With the adrenaline from the chase dissipating, the pounding in his head confounded his attention and focus. He fought against it, putting pieces together. The same assassins were after Gray, Sonnekonige born under a foreign Bell. But what were they doing in Europe? What was so important about a bunch of books? Gray was currently off in Germany investigating the trail further, seeing what he might uncover.
Painter closed his eyes. It only made his headache worse. The attacks in Europe only further confirmed his fear that something global was afoot. Something major was stirring, about to come to fruition.
There was only one place to start, a single clue. "The symbol has to be significant. We must find out who it belongs to."
Logan spoke crisply. "I may have that answer."
"I've had eight hours, sir."
Right. Of course. Painter shook his head. He glanced down to the pen in his hand, then noted something odd. He turned his hand. The nail on his fourth finger was gone, ripped away, possibly when he'd punched the ass**le a moment ago. There was no blood, just pale, dry flesh, numb and cold.
Painter understood the significance.
Time was running out.
Logan explained what he had learned. Painter interrupted him. "Have you passed this Intel to Gray?"
"Not yet, sir. We're having trouble reaching him at the moment."
Painter frowned, dismissing his own health concerns. "Get word to him," he said firmly. "However you can. Gray has no idea what he's up against."
Light flared in the crypt as Monk clicked on a flashlight.
Gray found his own flashlight and pulled it free of his pack. He turned it on, pointing it up. Tiny vents ran along the edges of the dome. A greenish gas poured forth, heavier than air, spilling in smoky waterfalls from all the vents.
They were too high and too many to plug.
Fiona drifted closer to him. Ryan stood on the other side of the well, arms clutched around himself, disbelieving his eyes.
Movement drew Gray's attention back to Monk.
He had pulled out his 9mm Glock and aimed it at the glass door.
"No!" Gray called out.
Too late. Monk fired.
The pistol blast echoed, accompanied by a sharp ping as the bullet ricocheted off the glass and struck one of the steel vents with a fiery spark.
At least the gas didn't appear to be flammable. The spark could have killed them all.
Monk seemed to realize the same. "Bulletproof," he said sourly.
The curator affirmed this. "We had to install extra security. Too many neo-Nazis trying to break in." The reflection of their lights off the glass hid his position.
"Bastard," Monk mumbled.
The gas began to fill the lower spaces. It smelled sweetly musty but tasted acrid. Not cyanide, at least. That had a bitter almond scent.
"Keep standing," Gray said. "Heads high. Get in the center of the room, away from the vents."
They gathered around the ceremonial pit. Fiona's hand found his. She clasped it tightly. She lifted her other hand. "I nicked his wallet, if that makes any difference."
Monk saw what she held. "Great. You couldn't steal his keys?"
Ryan called out in German. "My…my father knows we're up here! He'll call the Pofitzefi"
Gray had to give the young man credit. He was trying his best.
A new voice responded, faceless behind the reflective glass. "I'm afraid your father will not be calling anyone…ever again." The words were not spoken in threat, merely a statement.
Ryan fell back a step, as if physically struck. His eyes flicked to Gray, then back to the door.
Gray recognized the voice. As did Fiona. Her fingers had clenched hard in his grip. It was the tattooed buyer from the auction house.
"There will be none of your tricks this time," the man said. "No escape."
Gray's head began to feel woozy. His body grew lighter, growing weightless. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. The man was correct. There would be no escape. But that didn't mean they were defenseless.
Knowledge was power.
Gray turned to Monk. "Get your lighter out of your pack," he ordered.
As Monk obeyed, Gray dropped his own backpack and yanked out his notebook. He threw it into the pit.
"Monk, toss in Ryan's copies." Gray held out his hand. "Fiona, the Bible, please."
They both obeyed.
"Light the pit," Gray said.
Monk flicked his lighter and ignited one of Ryan's recently copied sheets. He dropped it into the pit. In seconds, a smattering of flame and smoke rose, consuming all. The rising smoke even seemed to drive back the poison momentarily…or so Gray hoped. His head swam drunkenly.
Beyond the doors, voices murmured, too low to make out.
Gray held up the Darwin Bible. "Only we know what secret is hidden in this Bible!" he called out.
The white-blond assassin, still faceless behind the glass, answered, vaguely amused. "Dr. Ulmstrom discerned all we needed to know. The Mensch rune. The Bible is worthless to us now."
"Is it?" Gray held the book up, shining his light on it. "We only showed Ulmstrom what Hugo Hirszfeld wrote on the back pasteboard of the Bible. But not what was scrawled on the front"
A moment of silence, then voices again drew back into furtive murmurs. Gray thought he heard a woman's voice, perhaps the blond man's pale twin.
A clear nein arose in Ulmstrom's voice, defensive.
Fiona stumbled next to him, her knees giving way. Monk caught her, holding her head above the rising pool of poisonous gas. But even he wobbled on his feet.
Gray could wait no longer.
He clicked off his flashlight for dramatic effect and dropped the Bible into the fire pit. He was still Roman Catholic enough to feel a twinge of misgiving, burning a Bible. The old pages took to flame immediately, flaring up to their knees. A fresh curl of smoke plumed upward.