Another nod, and in a moment, Gray was free. He rubbed his wrists and approached the blackboard. Several rifles were dead-leveled upon him.
He had to draw something that would be convincing, but he was not all that familiar with runes. Gray remembered Himmler's teapot, the one back at the museum. A runic symbol had decorated the pottery. It should be cryptic enough, convincing enough. And by throwing a proverbial wrench in the works, it might also delay these folks from solving the mystery here.
He picked up a piece of chalk and sketched the symbol on the pot.
Baldric leaned forward, eyes pinched. "A sun wheel, interesting."
Gray stood by the board, chalk in hand, like a student awaiting a teacher's verdict on a math problem.
"And this is all you found in the Darwin Bible?" Baldric asked.
From the corner of his eye, Gray noted a slight smirk on Isaak's face.
Something was wrong.
Baldric waited for Gray to answer.
"Let them go first," Gray demanded, nodding to the monitor.
The old man locked gazes with Gray. Despite his dissembling attitude, Gray recognized a savage intelligence and a hint of hard cruelty. The old man enjoyed all this immensely.
But finally Baldric broke their standoff, glancing over to his grandson and nodding again.
"Wie ee/-sf?"lsaak asked. Who first?
Gray tensed. Something was definitely wrong.
Baldric answered in English, his eyes again fixed on Gray, wanting to fully enjoy the entertainment. "The boy, I think. We'll save the girl for later."
Isaak tabbed a command on the keyboard.
On the screen, the bottom of the trapdoor fell open underneath Ryan. He silently screamed, flailing as he fell. He crashed hard into the tall grasses below. He stood quickly, searching around, terrified. The boy was plainly aware of a danger to which Gray was blind, perhaps something drawn by their dripping blood.
Ischke's earlier words replayed in Gray's head.
We just wait word from grootvader… Then the hunt can begin.
Baldric motioned to Isaak, miming turning a knob.
Isaak tapped a key, and sound rose from speakers. Screams and shouts echoed out.
Fiona's voice rang clear. "Run, Ryan! Get up in a tree!"
The boy danced once more in a circle, then ran, limping, out of the frame. Worse still, Gray heard laughter. From guards out of camera view.
Then a new scream stretched out from the speakers.
Feral and full of bloodlust.
The cry shivered the hairs all over Gray's body, standing them on end.
Baldric made a slashing motion across his neck and the audio was muted.
"It is not only orchids we breed here, Commander Pierce," Baldric said, dropping all pretense of civility.
"You gave us your word," Gray said.
"If you cooperated!" Baldric stood, rising smoothly. He waved an arm dismissively to the blackboard. "Do you think us fools? We knew all along that there was nothing else in the Darwin Bible. We have what we need already. This was all a test, a demonstration. We brought you here for other reasons. Other questions that need answering."
Gray reeled from what he was hearing, realization dawning. "The gas…"
"Only meant to incapacitate. Never kill. Your little sham was amusing though, I'll grant you that. Now it is time to move on."
Baldric stepped closer to the mounted screen. "You are protective of this little one, are you not? This fiery little slip of a girl. Zeer goed. I will show you what awaits her in the forest."
A nod, a tapped key, and an image filled a side window on the monitor.
Gray's eyes widened in horror.
Baldric spoke. "We wish to know more about a certain accomplice of yours. But I wanted to be sure we are done with games now, a? Or do you need another demonstration?"p>
Gray continued to stare at the image on the screen, defeated. "Who? Who do you want to know about?"
Baldric stepped closer. "Your boss. Painter Crowe."
RICHARDS BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
Lisa watched Painter's legs tremble as they climbed the steps to the local office of British Telecom International. They had come here to meet a UK operative who would aid in logistical and ground support for any assault on the Waalenberg estate. The firm was only a short taxi ride from the airport at Richards Bay, a major port along the southern coast of South Africa. It lay only an hour's drive from the estate.
Painter clutched the handrail, leaving a moist handprint. She caught his elbow and assisted him up the last step.
"I've got it," he said with a bit of a snap.
She didn't respond to his anger, knowing it bubbled up from an internalized anxiety. He was also in a lot of pain. He'd been popping codeine like M&M's. He limped toward the door to the telecom firm.
Lisa had hoped the downtime on the plane would have helped him regain some strength, but if anything, the half day spent in the air had only advanced his debilitation…his devolution, if Anna was to be believed.
The German woman and Gunther remained at the airport, under guard. Not that any sentry was necessary. Anna had spent the last hour of the trip vomiting in the jet's bathroom. When they had left, Gunther had been cradling Anna on the couch, a damp washcloth over her brow. Her left eye had turned bloodshot and seemed painfully bruised. Lisa had given her an antiemetic for the nausea and a shot of morphine.
Though Lisa hadn't voiced it aloud, she estimated Anna and Painter had at best another day before they were too far gone for any hope of a treatment.
Major Brooks, their only escort, opened the door ahead for them. His eyes scanned the streets below, ever vigilant, but few people were about at this early morning hour.
Painter walked stiff-limbed through the door, struggling to hide his limp.
Lisa followed. In a few minutes, they were ushered past the reception area, through a large gray maze of cubicles and offices, and into a conference room.
It was empty. Its wall of windows at the back overlooked the lagoon of Richards Bay. To the north stretched an industrial port of cranes and container ships. To the south, divided by a seawall, spread a section of the original lagoon, now a conservation area and park, home to crocodiles, sharks, hippos, pelicans, cormorants, and the ever-present flamingos.
The rising sun turned the waters below into a fiery mirror.
As they waited, tea and scones were brought into the room and spread out on the table. Painter had already settled into a seat. Lisa joined him. Major Brooks remained standing, not far from the door.
Though she didn't ask, Painter read something in her expression. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not," she countered softly. The empty room intimidated her for some reason.