Gray led the way back to the stairs. He whispered his plan to Fiona as they hurried down the stairs to the main entrance hall. The lower floor was empty, as was the foyer ahead.
They crossed the polished floor decorated with woven rugs in African motifs. Their footsteps echoed. To either side, stuffed trophies mounted the walls: the head of an endangered black rhino, a massive lion with a moth-eaten mane, a row of antelopes with various racks of horns.
Gray crossed toward the foyer. Fiona pulled a feather duster from an apron pocket, a part of her disguise. She crossed to one side of the door. Gray took a post, rifle in hand, on the other.
They didn't have long to wait, barely getting into position in time.
How many guards would be accompanying Monk?
At least he was alive.
The metal shutter over the main entrance began to rise, clattering upward. Gray leaned down to count legs. He held up two fingers toward Fiona. Two guards were accompanying a prisoner in a white jumpsuit.
Gray stepped into view as the gate trundled fully up.
The guards saw nothing but one of their own, a sentry with a rifle manning the door. They entered with the prisoner in tow. Neither noticed Gray palming a Taser or Fiona coming up from the other side.
The attack was over in moments.
Two guards convulsed on the rug, heels drumming. Gray kicked each in the side of the head, probably harder than he should have. But anger fueled through him.
The prisoner was not Monk.
"Who are you?" he asked the startled captive as he quickly dragged the first guard toward a neighboring supply closet.
The gray-haired woman used her free arm to help Fiona with the second man. She was stronger than she appeared. Her left arm was bandaged and secured across her chest in a tight sling. The left side of her face was savaged with jagged scratches, sutured and raw. Something had attacked and mauled her. Despite her recent injuries, her eyes met Gray's, fiery and determined.
"My name is Dr. Marcia Fairfield."
The Jeep trundled down the empty lane.
Behind the wheel, Warden Gerald Kellogg mopped his sweating brow. He had a bottle of Birkenhead Premium Lager propped between his legs.
Despite the hectic morning, Kellogg refused to break routine. There was nothing else he could do anyway. Security at the Waalenberg estate had passed on the sketchy details. An escape. Kellogg had already alerted the park rangers and posted men at all the gates. He passed on pictures, faxed over from the Waalenberg estate. Poachers was the cover. Armed and dangerous.
Until word of a sighting reached Kellogg's office, he had nothing to keep him from his usual two-hour lunch at home. Tuesday meant roasted game hen and sweet potatoes. He drove his Jeep across the cattle guard and into the main drive, lined by short hedges. Ahead, a two-story beadboard Colonial sat on a full acre of manicured property, a perk of his position. It had a staff of ten to maintain the grounds and household, which included only himself. He was in no hurry to marry.
Why buy the cow and all that…
Plus his tastes leaned toward unripened fruit.
He had a new girl in the house, little Aina, eleven years old, from Nigeria, black as pitch, just like he liked them, better to hide the bruising. Not that there was anyone to question him. He had a manservant, Mxali, a Swazi brute, recruited from prison, who ran his household with discipline and terror. Any problems were dealt with swiftly, both at home and when needed elsewhere. And the Waalenbergs were only too happy to help any troublemakers disappear. What became of them once they were dropped off by helicopter at the Waalenberg estate, Gerald would prefer not to know. But he had heard rumors.
Despite the midday heat, he shivered.
Best not to ask too many questions.
He parked his car in the shade under a leafy acacia tree, climbed out, and strode down the gravel path to the side door that led to the kitchen. A pair of gardeners hoed the flower bed. They kept their eyes down as Gerald passed, as they were taught.
The smell of roasting hens and garlic whetted his appetite. His nose and stomach drew him up the three wooden steps to the open screen door. He entered the kitchen, belly growling.
To the left, the stove door was open. The cook knelt on the planks, head in the oven. Kellogg frowned at the odd tableau. It took him a moment to realize it wasn't the cook.
Kellogg finally noted the underlying smell of seared flesh behind the garlic. Something protruded from the man's arm. A feathered dart. Mxali's weapon of choice. Usually poisoned.
Something was dreadfully wrong.
Kellogg backed away, turning to the door.
The two gardeners had dropped their hoes and had rifles pointed at his wide belly. It was not uncommon for small marauding bands, filth from the black townships, to raid farms and outlying homes. Kellogg held up his arms, skin going cold with terror.
A creak of a board drew him around, half ducking.
A dark figure stepped out of the shadows of the next room.
Kellogg gasped as he recognized the intruder—and the hatred in his eyes.
Not marauders. Even worse.
"So what exactly is wrong with him?" Monk asked, thumbing where Painter had disappeared into one of the neighboring huts with Dr. Paula Kane's satellite phone. The director was coordinating with Logan Gregory.
Under the shadowy eaves of another hut, he shared a log with Dr. Lisa Cummings. The medical doctor was quite the looker, even when covered with dust and a bit haunted around the eyes.
She turned her attention to Monk. "His cells are denaturing, dissolving from the inside out. That's according to Anna Sporrenberg. She's studied the deleterious effects of the Bell's radiation extensively in the past. It causes multisystem organ failure. Her brother, Gunther, suffers from a chronic version of it, too. But his rate of decline is slowed by his enhanced healing and immunity. Anna and Painter, exposed as adults to an overdose of the radiation, have no such innate protection."
She went into more details, knowing Monk shared a background in medicine: low platelet counts, rising bilirubin levels, edema, muscle tenderness with bouts of rigidity around the neck and shoulders, bone infarctions, hepatosplenomegaly, audible murmurs in the heartbeat, and strange calcification of distal extremities and vitreous humor of the eyes.
But ultimately it all came down to one question.
"How long do they have?" Monk asked.
Lisa sighed and stared back toward the hut into which Painter had vanished. "No more than a day. Even if a cure could be found today, I fear there might still be permanent and sustained damage."
"Did you note his slurring…how he dropped words? Is that all the drugs…or…or…?"