He pointed his pen at the second sketch. "No wonder Klaus was swayed to their side. And possibly why the Waalenbergs had become so reclusive these past few generations."

"I don't understand."

"We're not dealing with a new enemy here. We're dealing with the same one." Painter shaded the center of the cinched-down shield knot, revealing its secret heart.

Lisa gasped. "A swastika."

Painter glanced to the slumbering giant and his sister.

He sighed. "More Nazis."

6:04 a.m. SOUTH AFRICA

The glass conservatory had to be as old as the original house. Its paned windows were leaded and swirled, as if melted under the African sun and set into a black iron framework that reminded Gray of a spiderweb. Condensation on the inside of the glass blurred the view to the dark jungle outside.

After first stepping inside, Gray was struck by the moisture. The humidity in the chamber had to be pressing the 100 percent mark. His thin cotton jumpsuit sagged against him.

But the solarium was not for his comfort. It sheltered a wild profusion of greenery, potted and shelved, climbing in tiers, hanging from baskets held by black chains. The air was perfumed by hundreds of blossoms. A small fountain of bamboo and stone tinkled quietly in the center of the room. It was a handsome garden, but Gray wondered who needed a hothouse when you already lived in Africa.

The answer appeared ahead.

A white-haired gentleman stood on a second tier with a tiny pair of snip scissors in one hand and tweezing forceps in the other. With the skill of a surgeon, he leaned over a small bonsai tree—a flowering plum—and clipped a tiny branch. He straightened with a satisfied sigh.

The tree appeared ancient, twisted, and was bound in copper wire. It hung heavy with blossoms, each one perfectly symmetrical, balanced and in harmony.

"She is two hundred and twenty-two years old," the old man said, admiring his handiwork. His accent was thick, Heidi's grandfather in a waistcoat. "She was already old when given to me by Emperor Hirohito himself in 1941."

He set down his tools and turned. He wore a white apron over a navy suit with a red tie. He held out a hand toward his grandson. "Isaak, te'vreden…"

The young man hurried forward and helped the elder down from the second tier. This earned him a fatherly pat on the shoulder. The old man shed his apron, retrieved a black cane, and leaned heavily upon it. Gray noted the prominent crest upon the cane's silver crown. A filigreed capital IV surmounted the familiar cloverleaf symbol, the same icon tattooed on the twins, Ischke and Isaak.

"I am Sir Baldric Waalenberg," the patriarch said softly, eyeing Gray and Monk. "If you'll please join me in the salon, we have much to talk about."

Swinging around, he tapped his way toward the back of the solarium.

The old man had to be in his late eighties, but besides the need for a cane, he showed little debilitation. He still had a thick mane of silver-white hair, parted in the middle, and cut a bit rakishly to the shoulder. A pair of eyeglasses hung from a silver chain around his neck, one lens of which was outfitted with what looked like a jeweler's magnifying loupe.

As they crossed the slate floor, Gray noted that the conservatory's flora consisted of organized sections: bonsai trees and shrubs, a fern garden, and last, a section that was dense with orchids.

The patriarch noted his attention. "I've been breeding Phalaenopsis for the past six decades." He paused by a tall stalk bearing midnight purple blossoms, the hue of a ripe bruise.

"Pretty," Monk said, but his sarcasm was plain.

Isaak glared at Monk.

The old man seemed oblivious. "Yet still, the black orchid escapes me. The Holy Grail of orchid breeding. I've come so very close. But under magnification, there is either banding or more purpling than a solid ebony."

He absently fingered the jeweler's loupe.

Gray now understood the difference between the jungle outside and the hothouse. Nature wasn't enjoyed here. It was something to master. Under the dome of the conservatory, nature was snipped, strangled, and bred, its growth stunted with copper bonsai wire, its very pollination orchestrated by hand.

At the back of the solarium, they passed through a stained-glass door and reached a seating area of rattan and mahogany woods, a small salon dug into the side of the main house. On the far side, a double set of swinging doors, muffled with insulating strips, led into the interior of the mansion.

Baldric Waalenberg settled into a wingback chair.

Isaak crossed to a desk, complete with an HP computer and wall-mounted LCD monitor. A blackboard stood next to it.

Prominently chalked across its surface was a line of symbols. All of them runes, Gray saw, noting the last was the Mensch rune from the Darwin Bible.

r i x in y

Gray counted and memorized them discreetly. Five symbols. Five books. Here was the complete set of Hugo Hirszfeld's runes. But what did they mean? What secret was too beautiful to let die and too monstrous to set free?

The old man folded his hands in his lap and nodded to Isaak.

He tapped a key, and a high-definition image filled the LCD monitor.

A tall cage hung suspended above the jungle floor. It was sectioned into two halves. A small figure huddled within each side.

Gray took a step forward, but a guard restrained him at rifle point. On the screen, one of the figures looked up, face bright, illuminated by an overhead spotlight.

Fiona.

And in the other half of the cage, Ryan.

Fiona had her left hand bandaged, rolled up in the hem of her shirt. The cloth was stained dark. Ryan held his right hand tucked under his armpit, putting on pressure. Bloody them up first. The bitch must have cut their hands. Gray prayed that was all it was. A dark fury hollowed out his chest. His vision sharpened as his heart hammered.

"Now we will talk, a?" the old man said with a warm grin. "Like gentlemen."p>

Gray faced him, but he kept one eye on the screen. So much for gentility. "What do you want to know?" he asked coldly.

"The Bible. What else did you find within its pages?"

"And you'll let them free?"

"And I want my goddamn hand back!" Monk blurted out.

Gray glanced from Monk to the old man.

Baldric nodded to Isaak, who in turn waved to one of the guards and barked an order in Dutch. The guard turned on a heel and shoved through the double doors, entering the manor house's interior.

"There is no need for further nastiness. If you cooperate, you have my word you will all be kept well."

Gray saw no advantage in holding out, especially as he held nothing of value except lies. He shifted sideways and displayed his bound wrists. "I'll have to show you what we found. I can't accurately describe it. It's another symbol, like these others."

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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