But more importantly, Painter recognized the wan complexions and white hair. The pair were more than heirs. They were Sonnekonige. Like Gunther, like the assassin back at the mountain castle.
Painter glanced to the front of the Gulfstream's cabin.
Gunther slept, sprawled across a sofa, legs dangling over the end. His sister, Anna, sat in a nearby chair, facing a pile of research as daunting as Painter's. The two were guarded over by Major Brooks and a pair of armed U.S. Rangers. Roles were now reversed. The captors had become the prisoners. But despite the shift in power, nothing had really changed between them. Anna needed Painter's connections and logistical support; Painter needed Anna's knowledge of the Bell and the science behind it. As Anna had stated earlier, "Once this is over, then we'll settle matters of legality and responsibility."
Logan cut into his reverie. "Kat and I have an appointment set for the morning with the South African embassy. We'll see if they can't help shed some light on this reclusive family."
And reclusive was putting it mildly. The Waalengbergs were the Kennedys of South Africa: rich, ruthless, with their own estate the size of Rhode Island outside of Johannesburg. Though the family owned vast tracts elsewhere, the Waalenberg family seldom strayed far from their main estate.
Painter picked up the grainy digital photo.
A family of Sonnekonlge.
As time ran short, there could be only one place a second Bell could be hidden. Somewhere on that estate.
"A British operative will meet you when you touch down in Johannesburg. MI5 has had their eye on the Waalenbergs for years—tracking unusual transactions—but they've been unable to penetrate their wall of privacy and secrecy."
Not surprising, since the Waalenbergs practically own the country, Painter thought.
"They'll offer ground support and local expertise," Logan finished. "I'll have more details by the time you touch down in three hours."
"Very good." Painter stared at the picture. "And what about Gray and Monk?"
"They've dropped off the map. We found their car parked at the airport in Frankfurt."
Frankfurt? That made no sense. The city was a major international airline hub, but Gray already had access to a government jet, faster than any commercial airline. "And no word at all?"
"No, sir. We're listening on all channels."
The news was definitely disconcerting.
Rubbing at a needling headache that even codeine couldn't touch, Painter concentrated on the drone of the plane as it sailed through the dark skies. What had happened to Gray? The options were few: he'd gone into hiding, been captured, or killed. Where was he?
"Turn over every stone, Logan."
"It's under way. Hopefully by the time you reach Johannesburg, I'll have more news on that matter, too."
"Do you ever sleep, Logan?"
"There's a Starbucks on the corner, sir. Make that every corner." A tired amusement flavored his words. "But what about you, sir?"
He had taken a power nap back in Kathmandu while all the preparations had been made and fires put out—literally and politically—in Nepal. They had been delayed too long in Kathmandu.
"I'm holding up fine, Logan. No worries."
As Painter signed off, his thumb rubbed absently over the pale pebbly flesh that was the nail bed to his fourth finger. All his other fingers tingled—and now his toes. Logan had attempted to convince him to fly back to Washington, have tests run at Johns Hopkins, but Painter had trusted that Anna's group was well ahead of the curve on this particular illness. Damaged at the quantum level. No conventional treatment would help. To slow down the disease, they needed another functioning Bell. According to Anna, periodic treatment with the Bell's radiation under controlled situations could buy them years instead of days. And maybe down the line, even a complete cure, Anna concluded hopefully.
But first they needed another Bell.
And more information.
A voice behind his shoulder startled him. "I think we should talk to Anna," Lisa said, as if reading his mind.
Painter turned. He thought Lisa had been asleep in back. She had cleaned up, showered, and now leaned against his seat back, dressed in khaki slacks and a cream-colored blouse.
Her eyes searched his face, clinical, judging. "You look like crap," she said.
"Such a good bedside manner," he said, standing and stretching.
The plane tilted and darkened. Lisa grabbed his elbow, steadying him. The world brightened and stabilized. It hadn't been the plane, just his head.
"Promise me you'll get some more sleep before we land," she said, squeezing his elbow in a demanding pinch.
"If there's time—owwwF
She had a grip like iron.
"Okay, I promise," he relented.
Her grip relaxed. She nodded to Anna. The woman was hunched over a stack of invoices, going over bills of lading for the Waalenberg estate. She was looking for any telltale signs that the Waalenbergs had been bringing in supplies consistent with the operation of a functioning Bell.
"I want to know more about how that Bell works," Lisa said. "The fundamental theories behind it. If the disease causes quantum damage, we must understand how and why. She and Gunther are the only survivors from Granitschloft. I doubt Gunther has been instructed on the finer points of the
Painter nodded. "More guard dog than scientist."
As if confirming this, a loud snore rumbled from the man.
"All the remaining knowledge of the Bell is in Anna's head. If her mind should go…"
They'd lose it all.
"We need to secure the information before that happens," Painter agreed.
Lisa's eyes met his. She did not hide her thoughts. They were plain on her face. He remembered her climbing on board the plane in Kathmandu. Exhausted, frayed to a ragged edge, she had not hesitated to come along. She understood. Like now.
It wasn't just Anna's mind and memory that were at risk.
Painter was also in danger.
Only one person had been following this trail from the beginning, one person with the medical and scientific mind to follow it all, a mind free of impending dementia. Back at the castle, Lisa and Anna had shared long conversations alone. Also on her own, Lisa had explored the depths of Anna's research library. Who knew what tiny fact might prove to be the critical one, the difference between success and failure?
Lisa had understood.
It had taken no discussion in Kathmandu.
She had simply climbed on board.
Lisa's hand slipped from his elbow and slid to his hand. She gave his fingers a squeeze and nodded to Anna. "Let's go pick her brain."