Gray took a deep breath, putting as much conviction as possible in his voice, needing to sell it. "If we die, so does the secret of the Darwin Bible!"
He waited, praying his ruse would work.
The gas rose under them. Each breath gagged now.
Ryan suddenly collapsed, as if someone had cut the strings holding him up. Monk reached for his arm but went down on a knee, burdened by Fiona. He never rose again. He slumped, cradling Fiona with him.
Gray stared toward the black door. Monk's flashlight rolled from his limp fingers, spinning. Was anyone even out there? Had anyone believed him?
He would never know.
As the world drowned from sight, Gray fell back into darkness.
Thousands of miles away, another man woke.
The world returned in a miasma of pain and color. His eyes flickered open to something fluttering over his face, the wings of a bird. His ears filled with a chanting.
"He wakes," another said in Zulu.
"Khamisi…" This time a woman's voice.
It took a moment for the waking man to reconnect the name to himself. It fit uneasily. A groan reached his ears. In his own voice.
"Help him sit up," the woman said. She also spoke Zulu, but her accent was British, familiar.
Khamisi felt himself tugged up into a weak slouch, propped by pillows. His sight stabilized. The room, a mud brick hut, was dark, but painful lances of light pierced around shaded windows and the edges of a rug shielding the hut's door. The roof was decorated with colorful gourds, twists of hides, and strings of feathers. The odor of the room cloyed with strange scents. Something was snapped under his nose. It reeked of ammonia and shoved his head back.
He flailed out a bit. He saw his right arm trailed an IV line, attached to a hanging bag of yellowish fluid. His arms were caught.
On one side, the bare-chested shaman wearing a crown of feathers held his shoulder steady. He had been the one chanting and waving a desiccated vulture wing over his face, to ward away death's scavengers.
On the other, Dr. Paula Kane held his arm, placing it back down on the blanket. He was naked beneath it. Sweat had soaked the cloth to his skin.
"Where…what…?" his voice croaked.
"Water," Paula ordered.
The third person in the room obeyed, a crooked-backed elder of the Zulu. He passed a dented canteen.
"Can you hold it?" Paula asked.
Khamisi nodded, strength feebly returning. He took the canteen and sipped the tepid water, loosening his pasty tongue and his memories. The elder who brought the canteen…he had been in Khamisi's house.
His heart suddenly beat faster. His other hand, trailing the IV line, rose to his neck. A bandage lay there. He remembered it all. The fanged dart. The black mamba. The staged snake attack.
The old man filled in the blank spaces. Khamisi recognized him as the elder who had first reported seeing an ukufa in the park five months ago. Back then, his claims had been dismissed, even by Khamisi.
"I heard what happened to Missus Doctor." He nodded to Paula in sympathy and sorrow. "And I heard what you say you saw. People talk. I come by your home, to speak to you. But you not home. So I wait. Others come, so I hide. They chop a snake. Mamba. Bad magic. I stay hiding."
Khamisi closed his eyes, remembering. He had then come home, been darted, left for dead. But his attackers hadn't known about the man hiding in the back.
"I come out," the elder continued. "I call others. In secret, we take you away."
Paula Kane finished the story. "We brought you here," she said. "The poison almost killed you, but medicine—both modern and ancient—saved you. It was a close call."
Khamisi glanced from the IV bottle to the shaman.
"Do you feel strong enough to walk?" Paula asked. "You should get your limbs moving. The poison hits the circulatory system like a load of bricks."
Assisted by the shaman, Khamisi stood up, modestly keeping his soaked blanket around his waist. He was walked to the door. While taking his first steps he felt as weak as a babe, but a frail strength quickly suffused his limbs.
The rug over the door was pulled back.
Light and the day's heat flowed inside, blinding and blistering.
Midafternoon, he guessed. The sun sank in the west.
Shielding his eyes, he stepped out.
He recognized the tiny Zulu village. It stood at the edge of the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi reserve. Not far from where they'd found the rhino, where Dr. Fairfield had been attacked.
Khamisi glanced at Paula Kane. She stood with her arms crossed, her face exhausted.
"It was the head warden," Khamisi said. He had no doubts. "He wanted to silence me."
"About how Marcia died. What you saw."
"What did you—?"
Her words were cut off as a twin-engine helicopter sped past overhead, low and loud. Rotor wash thrashed bushes and tree limbs. Rugs flapped from doorways, as if trying to wave away the interloper.
The heavy aircraft raced away, passing low over the savanna.
Khamisi watched it. It was no tourist junket.
Beside him, Paula had raised a pair of Bushnell binoculars, following the aircraft. It drifted farther away, then settled for a landing. Khamisi stepped out farther to watch.
Paula passed him the binoculars. "There've been flights in and out of there all day."
Khamisi lifted the glasses. The world magnified and zoomed. He saw the twin-engine drop behind a barrier of ten-foot-high black fencing. It marked the boundary of the Waalenberg private estate. The helicopter vanished behind it.
"Something has them all stirred up," Paula said.
The tiny hairs on the back of Khamisi's neck quivered.
He twisted the focus, fixing more sharply on the fencing. The old main gates, rarely used, stood closed. He recognized the old family crest, done in silver filigree across the gates. The Waalenberg Crown and Cross.
11 DEMON IN THE MACHINE
AIRBORNE OVER THE INDIAN OCEAN
"Captain Bryant and I will do our best to investigate the Waalenbergs here in Washington," Logan Gregory said over the phone.
Painter wore an earpiece that dangled a microphone. He needed his hands free as he sifted through the mountain of paperwork that Logan had faxed to their staging area in Kathmandu. It contained everything about the Waalenbergs: family history, financial reports, international ties, even gossip and innuendo.
On top of the pile rested a grainy photograph: a man and a woman climbing out of a limousine. Gray Pierce had taken the picture from a hotel suite across the street, prior to the start of an auction. The digital surveillance had confirmed Logan's assessment. The tattoo was tied to the Waalenberg clan. The two in the photo were Isaak and Ischke Waalenberg, twins, the youngest heirs to the family fortune, a fortune that rivaled most countries' gross national product.