The call had come a distance to the left.
It wasn't hunting them. The creatures were too skilled hunters. They would not give away their presence so soon. Something else had drawn them, stirred up their bloodlust.
Then he heard a voice shout out in German, a sobbed cry for help.
It was closer.
His bones still vibrating from the call, Khamisi wanted to run, to flee far and fast. It was a primal reaction.
Tau mumbled in Zulu behind him, urging the same.
Khamisi instead turned in the direction of the pleading cry. He had lost Marcia to the creatures. He remembered his own terror, neck deep in the water hole, waiting for dawn. He could not ignore this other.
Rolling to Tau, Khamisi passed on the maps he had drawn. "Get back to camp. Get these to Dr. Kane."
"Khamisi…brother…no, come away." Tau's eyes were huge with his own fear. His grandfather must have told him stories of the ukufa, the myths come to life. Khamisi had to give the man and his friend credit. No one else had volunteered to enter the estate. Superstitions ran high.
But now faced with the reality, Tau had no intention of remaining.
And Khamisi couldn't blame him. He remembered his own terror when he'd been with Marcia. Instead of holding his ground, he had fled, run, allowed the doctor to be killed.
"Go," Khamisi ordered. He nodded toward the distant fence line. The maps had to get out.
Tau and Njongo hesitated for a breath. Then Tau nodded, and the pair rose up in a low crouch and vanished into the jungle. Khamisi couldn't even hear their footfalls.
The jungle had fallen into a dread silence, heavy and as dense as the forest itself. Khamisi set out in the direction of the cries—both man and creature.
After another full minute, another yowl burst out of the jungle like a flight of startled birds. It ended in a series of yipping cackles. Khamisi paused, struck by something familiar in this last eerie bit.
Before he could consider it further, a soft sobbing drew his attention.
It came from directly ahead.
Khamisi used the muzzle of his double-bore rifle to part some leaves. A small glade opened in the jungle ahead, where a tree had fallen recently and cleared a part of the forest. The hole in the canopy allowed a shaft of morning sunlight to pierce to the floor. It made the surrounding jungle even darker with shadows.
Across the glade, movement drew his eye. A young man—no more than a boy—low in a tree, struggled to reach another branch, to climb higher. He couldn't reach. He couldn't get a grip with his right hand. Even from here, Khamisi saw the trail of blood soaked down the boy's sleeve as he vainly struggled.
Then the boy suddenly sank to his knees, hugging the bole, attempting to hide.
And the reason for the boy's sudden terror stepped into view.
Khamisi froze as the creature stalked into the glade, under the tree. It was massive, belying its silent tread out of the forest. It was larger than a full-grown male lion, but it was no lion. Its shaggy fur was albino white, its eyes a hyperreflective red. Its back sloped from thickset high shoulders to a lower rear end. Its muscled neck supported a large, muzzled head topped by a pair of wide batlike belled ears. These swiveled, focused on the tree.
Lifting its head, it sniffed upward, drawn by the blood.
Lips rippled back from a maw of ripping teeth.
It howled again, ending again in a hair-raising series of cackling whoops.
Then it began to climb.
Khamisi knew what he faced.
But as monstrous as it appeared, Khamisi knew its true name.
"Species Crocuta crocuta" Baldric Waalenberg said, stepping to the LCD monitor. He had noted Gray's continued focus upon the creature on the screen, overlaying the video feed of Fiona in the cage.
Gray studied the massive bearlike creature, frozen, facing the camera, growling, mouth wide, baring white gums and yellowed fangs. It had to weigh three hundred pounds. It guarded the macerated remains of some antelope.
"The spotted hyena," Baldric continued. "The species is the second-largest carnivore in Africa, capable of dropping a bull wildebeest all by itself."
Gray frowned. The creature on the monitor was no ordinary hyena. It massed three to four times the normal size. And the pale fur. Some combination of gigantism and albinism. A mutated monstrosity.
"What did you do to it?" he asked, unable to keep the disgust from his voice. He also wanted to keep the man talking, buying time. He matched gazes with Monk, then returned his attention to the old man.
"We made the creature better, stronger." Baldric glanced to his grandson. Isaak continued to watch the play dispassionately. "Did we not, Isaak?"
"Prehistoric cave pictures in Europe show the great ancestor of today's hyena. The giant hyena. We've found a way to return Crocuta to its former glory." Baldric spoke with the same scientific dispassion as when he had discussed breeding black orchids. "Even enhanced the species' intelligence by incorporating human stem cells into its cerebral cortex. Fascinating results."
Gray had read of similar experiments done with mice. At Stanford, scientists had produced mice whose brains were one percent human. What the hell was going on here?
Baldric stepped to the blackboard with the five runic symbols. He tapped the board with the cane. "We have a series of Cray XT3 supercomputers working on Hugo's code. Once solved, this will allow us to do the same with mankind. To bring about the next evolution of man. Out of Africa again, man will rise anew, putting an end to the mud races and racial mixing, a purity will supersede all. It only waits to be unlocked from our corrupted genetic code and purified."
Gray heard echoes of the Nazis' Obermensch philosophy, the superman myth. The old man was mad. He had to be. But Gray noted the lucidity of his gaze. And on the screen lay proof of some monstrous success toward that end.
Gray's attention shifted to Isaak as he tapped a key and the mutated hyena vanished. Insight flashed through him. The albinism in the hyena. Isaak and his twin sister. The other white-blond assassins. Children all. Baldric hadn't been experimenting only with orchids and hyenas.
"Now let us return to the matter of Painter Crowe," the old man said. He waved a hand toward the screen. "Now that you understand what awaits the young meisje in the cage if you don't answer our questions truthfully. No more games."
Gray studied the screen, the girl in the cage. He could not let anything happen to Fiona. If nothing else, he needed to buy her time. The girl had been pulled into all of this because of his own clumsy inquiries in Copenhagen. She was his responsibility. And more than that, he liked the girl, respected her, even when she was being a pain in the ass. Gray knew what he had to do.