As second in command, Logan led the way. Kat kept a step or two behind, watching the street, wary. With as much money as the Waalenbergs wielded, she did not trust who might be in their private employ…and that included the ambassador, John Hourigan.
The entrance hall opened wide around them. A secretary in a neat navy business suit ushered them across the hall. "Ambassador Hourigan will be down momentarily. I'm to take you to his study. Can I bring you any tea or coffee?"
Logan and Kat declined.
They were soon ensconced in a richly paneled room. The furniture—desks, bookcases, occasional tables—was constructed of the same wood. Stinkwood, native to South Africa, so rare it was no longer available for commercial export.
Logan took a seat by the desk. Kat remained standing.
They didn't have long to wait.
The doors opened again, and a tall, thin man with sandy-blond hair entered. He wore a navy suit but carried his jacket over one arm. Kat suspected the casual approach was pure artifice, meant to make his manner appear more amiable and cooperative. Like meeting here in his private residence.
She wasn't buying it.
As Logan made introductions, Kat surveyed the room. With a background in the intelligence services, she imagined the conversation here would be taped. She studied the room, guessing where the surveillance equipment was hidden.
Ambassador Hourigan finally settled to his seat. "You've come to inquire about the Waalenberg estate…or so I was informed. How may I be of service?"
"We believe someone in their employ may have been involved in a kidnapping in Germany."
His eyes widened too perfectly. "I'm shocked to hear such allegations. But I've heard nothing about this from the German BKA, Interpol, or Europol."
"Our sources are concrete," Logan insisted. "All we ask is cooperation with your Scorpions to follow up locally."
Kat watched the man feign an intensely pensive expression. The Scorpions were the South African equivalent of the FBI. Cooperation seemed unlikely. The best Logan sought here was to keep such organizations out of Sigma's way. While they could not negotiate cooperation against such a political powerhouse as the Waalenbergs, they might place enough pressure to keep any policing authorities from helping them. A small concession, but a meaningful one.
Kat continued standing, watching the slow dance these two men performed, each trying to gain the best advantage.
"I assure you that the Waalenbergs hold the international community and governing bodies in the utmost respect. The family has supported relief efforts, multinational charity organizations, and nonprofit trusts throughout the world. In fact in their latest act of generosity, they've endowed all South African embassies and chanceries around the globe with a golden centennial bell, marking the hundred-year anniversary of the first gold coin minted in South Africa."
"That is all well and good, but it doesn't—"
Kat cut Logan off, speaking for the first time. "Did you say gold be//?"
Hourigan's eyes met hers. "Yes, gifts from Sir Baldric Waalenberg himself. One hundred gold-plated centennial bells bearing the South African coat of arms. Ours is being installed in the residence hall on the fourth floor."
Logan met Kat's eyes.
Kat spoke. "Would it be possible to see it?"
The strange tack of the conversation unsettled the ambassador, but he failed to come up with a good reason to deny it, and Kat imagined he hoped it would be a way to even gain an upper hand in the quiet war of diplomacy going on here.
"I would be delighted to show you." He stood up and checked his watch. "I'm afraid we'll have to move smartly. I do have a breakfast meeting I must not be late to."
As Kat had imagined, Hourigan was using the tour as an excuse to end the conversation early, to wheedle out of any firm commitment. Logan stared hard at her. She hoped she was right.
They were led to an elevator and taken to the top floor of the building. They passed hallways decorated in artwork and South African native crafts. Then, a large hall opened; it appeared more museum than living space. There were display cabinets, long tables, and massive chests with hand-beaten brass fixtures. A wall of windows overlooked the rear yard and gardens. But in a corner hung a giant gold bell. It looked as if it had recently been uncrated, as bits of the straw stuffing were still scattered on the floor. The bell itself stood a full meter tall and half again as wide at the mouth. The coat of arms had been stamped on it.
Kat stepped closer. A thick power cable ran from its top and coiled to the floor.
The ambassador noted her attention. "It's automated to ring at set times of the day. Quite a marvel of engineering. If you look up inside the bell, it's a marvel of gears, like a fine Rolex."
Kat turned to Logan. He had paled. Like Kat, he had studied the sketches Anna Sporrenberg had made of the original Bell. This was an exact duplicate done in gold. Both had also read of the detrimental effects that could be radiated from the device. Madness and death. Kat stared out the upper-story window. From this height, she could just make out the white dome of the Capitol.
The ambassador's earlier words now horrified.
A hundred golden bells…endowed around the globe.
"It took a special technician to install it," the ambassador continued, though now a slightly bored lilt entered his voice, winding the meeting toward its end. "I believe he's around here somewhere."
The room's door closed behind them, slamming slightly.
All three turned.
"Ah, here he is," Hourigan said upon turning. His voice died when he spotted the submachine gun held by the newcomer. His hair was white-blond. Even from across the room, Kat spotted a dark tattoo on the hand supporting the gun.
Kat dove for her ankle holster.
Without a word, the assassin opened fire, spraying bullets.
Glass shattered, and wood splintered.
Behind her, beaten by ricocheting rounds, the golden bell rang and rang.
The elevator doors opened on the seventh sublevel. Gray stepped out, rifle in hand. He searched both directions along a gray hallway. Unlike the rich woods and fine craftsmanship used in the main manor house, this sublevel was lit by fluorescents and maintained a rigid sterility in its decor: bleached linoleum floors, gray walls, low roof. Smooth steel doors with glowing electronic locks lined one side of the hall. The other doors appeared more ordinary.
Gray placed his palm against one.
The panel vibrated. He heard a rhythmic hum.
Power plant? Must be massive.
Marcia stepped to his side. "I think we've come down too far," she whispered. "This feels more storage and utility."