CASSIOPEIA FOLLOWED MALONE AND HENRIK THORVALDSEN into Malone's bookshop. She was tired. Even though she'd expected a long night, the past few months had taken a toll, especially the last few weeks, and the ordeal seemed far from over.
Malone switched on the lights.
She'd been told about what had happened the previous fall-when Malone's ex-wife had appeared...and the firebombing-but the restorers had done a terrific job. She noted the workmanship. New, yet made to appear old. "My compliments to the craftsmen."
Thorvaldsen nodded. "I wanted it to look like it once did. Too much history in this building to be blown away by fanatics."
"Want to get out of those damp clothes?" Malone asked her.
"Shouldn't we send Henrik home first?"
Malone grinned. "I hear he likes to watch."
"Sounds intriguing," Thorvaldsen said. "But tonight I'm not in the mood."
Neither was she. "I'm fine. Leather dries quickly. One reason I wear it when I'm working."
"And what were you working on tonight?"
"You sure you want to hear this? Like you say all the time, you're a bookseller, not an operative. Retired, and all those other excuses."
"You sent me an e-mail telling me to meet you at that museum in the morning. With what you said back at the fire, there wouldn't have been any museum there tomorrow."
She sat in one of the club chairs. "Which is why we were going to meet there. Tell him, Henrik."
She liked Malone. He was a smart, confident, handsome man-she'd thought that when they first met last year in France. A uniquely trained lawyer. Twelve years he worked for the U.S. Justice Department in a covert unit known as the Magellan Billet. Then, two years ago, he opted out and bought a bookshop from Thorvaldsen in Copenhagen. He was plain spoken and sometimes rough in manner, just like her, so she couldn't complain. She liked his animated face, that malicious twinkle in his bright green eyes, his sandy-colored hair, and the always-swarthy complexion. She knew his age, mid-forties, and realized that, thanks to a bloom of youth that had yet to fade, he was at the zenith of his charms.
She envied him.
For her, it seemed in such short supply.
"Cotton," Thorvaldsen said, "across Europe there have been other fires. They started in France, then in Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland. Similar to what you just experienced. The police in each location realized arson but, so far, none of them have been connected. Two of the buildings burned to ash. They were in rural locations and nobody seemed to care. All four were unoccupied private residences. The one here was the first commercial establishment."
"And how did you connect the dots?" Malone asked.
"We know what they're after," she said. "Elephant medallions."
"You know," Malone said, "that's exactly what I was thinking. Five arsons. All across Europe. Has to be elephant medallions. What else could it be?"
"They're real," she said.
"Nice to know, but what the hell is an elephant medallion?"
"Twenty-three hundred years ago," Thorvaldsen said, "after Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and Persia, he set his sights on India. But his army quit him before he could take much of that land. He fought several battles in India and, for the first time, encountered war elephants. They crushed the Macedonian lines, wreaked havoc. Alexander's men were terrified of them. Medallions were later struck to commemorate the event, which depicted Alexander facing off with the elephants."
"The medallions," she said, "were minted after Alexander's death. We have no idea how many, but today only eight are known. The four already taken, the one from tonight, two more in private hands, and one on display in the Museum of Cultural History in Samarkand."
"The capital of the Central Asian Federation?" Malone said. "Part of the region Alexander conquered."
Thorvaldsen slouched in one of the club chairs, his crooked spine cocking his neck forward and settling his fleshy chin onto a thin chest. Cassiopeia noticed that her old friend looked worn. He wore his customary baggy sweater and oversized corduroy trousers. A uniform he used, she knew, to conceal the deformity. She regretted involving him, but he'd insisted. He was a good friend. Time to see how good a friend Malone was. "What do you know about the death of Alexander the Great?"
"I've read about it. Lots of myth mixed with conflicting facts."
"That eidetic memory of yours?"
He shrugged. "It came with me out of the womb."
She smiled. "What happened in June 323 BCE made a great deal of difference to the world."
Thorvaldsen gestured with his arm. "Go ahead. Tell him. He needs to know."
So she did.
On the final day of May, within the walls of Babylon, Alexander attended a dinner given by one of his trusted Companions. He pledged a toast, drank a large cup of undiluted wine, then shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow. He was quickly taken to bed where a fever came, but he continued to play dice, plan with his generals, and make the proper sacrifices. On the fourth day he complained of weariness and some of his Companions noticed a lack of his normal energy. He lay quiet for several more days, sleeping in the bathhouse for coolness. Despite his weakened condition, Alexander sent word to the infantry to be ready to march in four days and for the fleet to sail in five. His plans to move west and take Arabia were about to unfold. On June 6, feeling weaker, he passed his ring to Perdiccas so the proper administration of the government could continue. This caused a panic. His troops feared he'd died and, to calm their unease, Alexander allowed them to file past his bed. He greeted each one with a smile. When the last man left he whispered, "After my death, where will you find a king who deserves such men?" He commanded that, after his death, his body should be taken to the Temple of Ammon in Egypt. But none of the Companions wanted to hear such fatalism. His condition worsened until, on June 9, his Companions asked, "To whom do you leave your kingdom?" Ptolemy said he heard, "to the brightest." Seleucus said, "to the righteous." Peithon recalls, "to the strongest." A great debate ensued as to who was right. Early during the morning of the next day, in the thirty-third year of life, twelve years and eight months into his reign, Alexander III of Macedonia died.
"People still debate those last words," she said.
"And why is it so important?" Malone asked.
"It's what he left behind," Thorvaldsen said. "His kingdom, with no rightful heir."
"And that has something to do with elephant medallions?"
"Cotton," Thorvaldsen said, "I bought that museum knowing someone would destroy it. Cassiopeia and I have been waiting for that to happen."
She said, "We had to stay a step ahead of whoever is after the medallions."
"Seems like they won. They have the thing."
Thorvaldsen cast her a look, then the older man stared at Malone and said, "Not exactly."
VIKTOR RELAXED ONLY WHEN THE DOOR TO THE HOTEL ROOM was closed and locked. They were across Copenhagen, near Nyhavn, where boisterous waterfront cafes catered to rowdy patrons. He sat at the desk and switched on a lamp as Rafael assumed a window position, which overlooked the street four stories below.
He now possessed the fifth medallion.
The first four had been disappointments. One was a forgery, the other three in poor condition. Six months ago he knew little about elephant medallions. Now he considered himself quite proficient in their provenance.
"We should be fine," he said to Rafael. "Calm down. No one followed us."
"I'll keep watch to be sure."
He knew Rafael was trying to make amends for overreacting in the museum, so he said, "It's okay."
"He should have died."
"It's better he didn't. At least we know what we're facing."
He unzipped a leather case and removed a stereomicroscope and digital scale.
He laid the coin on the desk. They'd found it displayed in one of the museum cases, correctly noted as an "Elephant Medallion (Alexander the Great), a decadrachm, circa second century BCE."
He first measured its width. Thirty-five millimeters. About right. He flicked on the electronic scales and checked its weight. Forty point seventy-four grams. Correct, too.
With a magnifying glass he examined the image on one face-a warrior in regal splendor, complete with plumed helmet, neck guard, breastplate, and a calvary cloak that fell to his knees.
He was pleased. An obvious flaw in the forgeries was the cloak, which in the false medallions hung to the ankles. For centuries, trade in fake Greek coins had flourished and clever forgers had become adept at fooling both the anxious and the willing.
Luckily, he was neither.
The first known elephant medallion had surfaced when it was donated to the British Museum in 1887. It came from somewhere in central Asia. A second appeared in 1926, from Iran. A third was discovered in 1959. A fourth in 1964. Then, in 1973, four more were found near the ruins of Babylon. Eight in all that had made the rounds through museums and private collectors. Not all that valuable, considering the variety of Hellenistic art and the thousands of coins available, but nonetheless collectible.
He returned to his examination.
The clean-shaven, youthful warrior grasped a sarissa in his left hand topped by a leaf-shaped point. His right hand held a bolt of lightning. Above him loomed a flying Nike, the winged goddess of victory. To the warrior's left, the die cutter had left a curious monogram.
Whether it was BA or BAB, and what the letters represented Viktor did not know. But an authentic medallion should show that odd symbol.
All seemed in order. Nothing added or missing.
He flipped the coin over.
Its edges were grossly distorted, the pewter-colored patina worn smooth as if by running water. Time was slowly dissolving the delicate engraving on both sides. Amazing, really, that any of them had managed to survive.
"All quiet?" he asked Rafael, who still stood near the window.
"Don't patronize me."
He glanced up. "I actually want to know."
"I can't seem to get it right."
He caught the defeatism. "You saw someone coming to the museum door. You reacted. That's all."
"It was foolish. Killing attracts too much attention."
"There would have been no body to find. Quit worrying about it. And besides, I approved leaving him there."
He refocused his attention on the medallion. The obverse showed the warrior, now a calvaryman, wearing the same outfit, attacking a retreating elephant. Two men sat atop the elephant, one brandishing a sarissa, the other trying to remove a calvaryman's pike from his chest. Numismatists all agreed that the regal warrior on both sides of the coin represented Alexander, and the medallions commemorated a battle with war elephants.
But the real test as to whether the thing was authentic came under the microscope.
He switched on the illuminator and slid the decadrachm onto the examining tray.
Authentic ones contained an anomaly. Tiny microletters concealed within the engraving, added by ancient die cutters using a primitive lens. Experts believed the lettering represented something akin to a watermark on a modern banknote, perhaps to ensure authenticity. Lenses were not common in ancient times, so detecting the mark then would have been nearly impossible. The lettering was noticed when the first medallion surfaced years ago. But of the four they'd stolen so far, only one had contained the peculiarity. If this medallion were genuine, within the folds of the cavalryman's clothing there should be two Greek letters �C ZH.
He focused the microscope and saw tiny writing.
But not letters.
36 44 77 55.
He glanced up from the eyepiece.
Rafael was watching him. "What is it?"
Their dilemma had just deepened. Earlier he'd used the hotel room's phone and made several calls. His gaze shot to the telephone and the display at its base. Four sets of numbers, two each, starting with thirty-six.
Not the same ones he'd just seen through the microscope.
But he instantly knew what the digits on the supposedly ancient medallion represented.
A Danish phone number.
VINCENTI STUDIED HIMSELF IN THE MIRROR AS HIS VALET creased the jacket and allowed the Gucci suit to drape his enormous frame. With a camel-haired brush, all remnants of lint from the dark wool were removed. He then adjusted his tie and made sure the dimple plunged deep. The valet handed him a burgundy handkerchief and he adjusted the silk folds into his coat pocket.
His three-hundred-pound frame looked good in the tailored suit. The Milan fashion consultant he kept on retainer had advised him that swarthy colors not only conveyed authority, they also drew attention away from his stature. Which wasn't an easy thing to do. Everything about him was big. Pouched cheeks, rolled forehead, cob-nose. But he loved rich food and dieting seemed such a sin.
He motioned and the valet buffed his Lorenzo Banfi laced shoes. He stole a last look in the mirror, then glanced at his watch.
"Sir," the valet said, "she called while you were showering."
"On the private line?"
The valet nodded.
"She leave a number?"
The valet reached into his pocket and found a slip of paper. He'd managed some sleep both before and after the Council meeting. Sleep, unlike dieting, was not a waste of time. He knew people were waiting for him, and he despised being late, but he decided to call from the privacy of his bedroom. No use broadcasting everything over a cellular.
The valet retreated from the room.
He stepped to a bedside phone and dialed international. Three buzzes shrilled in his ear before a woman's voice answered and he said, "I see, Supreme Minister, that you're still among the living."
"And it's good to know your information was accurate."
"I wouldn't have bothered you with fantasy."
"But you still haven't said how you knew someone would try to kill me today."
Three days ago he'd passed on to Irina Zovastina the Florentine's plan. "The League watches over its members, and you, Supreme Minister, are one of our most important."
She chuckled. "You're so full of it, Enrico."
"Did you win at buzkashi?"
"Of course. Two times into the circle. We left the assassin's body on the field and trampled it into pieces. The birds and dogs are now enjoying the rest."
He winced. That was the problem with central Asia. Wanting desperately to be a part of the twenty-first century, its culture remained entrenched in the fifteenth. The League would have to do what it could to change all that. Even if the task would be like weaning a carnivore onto a vegetarian diet.
"Do you know the Iliad?" she asked.
He knew she'd have to be humored. "I do."
"Cast the souls of many stalwart heroes to Hades and their bodies to the gods and birds of prey."
He grinned. "You fashion yourself Achilles?"
"There's much to admire in him."
"Wasn't he a proud man? Excessive, as I recall."
"But a fighter. Always a fighter. Tell me, Enrico, what of your traitor? Was that problem resolved?"
"The Florentine will enjoy a lovely burial north of here, in the lake district. We'll send flowers." He decided to see if she was in the mood. "We need to talk."
"Your payment for saving my life?"
"Your end of our bargain, as we originally discussed long ago."
"I'll be ready to meet with the Council in a few days. First, there are things I need to resolve."
"I'm more interested in when you and I will meet."
She chuckled. "I'm sure you are. I am, too, actually. But there are things I must complete."
"My time on the Council ends soon. Thereafter, you'll have others to deal with. They may not be as accommodating."
She laughed. "I love that. Accommodating. I do enjoy dealing with you, Enrico. We so understand each other."
"We need to talk."
"Soon. First, you have that other problem we spoke about. The Americans."
Yes, he did. "Not to worry, I plan to deal with that today."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN NOT EXACTLY?" MALONE ASKED THORVALDSEN.
"I commissioned a fake elephant medallion. It's quite easy to do, actually. There are many counterfeits on the market."
"And why did you do that?"
"Cotton," Cassiopeia said to him, "these medallions are important."
"Gee, never would have guessed. What I haven't heard is how and why."
"What do you know of Alexander the Great, after he died?" Thorvaldsen asked. "With what happened to his body."
He'd read on the subject. "I know some."
"I doubt you know what we do," Cassiopeia said. She stood beside one of the bookshelves. "Last fall, I received a call from a friend who worked at the cultural museum in Samarkand. He'd found something he thought I might like to see. An old manuscript."
"First or second century after Christ. Ever hear of X-ray fluorescence?"
He shook his head.
"It's a relatively new procedure," Thorvaldsen said. "During the early Middle Ages, parchment was so scarce that monks developed a recycling technique where they scraped away the original ink, then reused the clean parchment for prayer books. With fluorescence, X-rays are formed from a particle accelerator, then bombarded onto the recycled parchment. Thankfully, the ink used centuries ago contained lots of iron. When the X-rays hit that ink, molecules deep in the parchment glow, and those images can be recorded. Pretty amazing, actually. Like a fax from the past. Words once thought erased, written over with new ink, reappear from their molecular signature."
"Cotton," Cassiopeia said, "what we know firsthand about Alexander is confined to the writings of four men who all lived nearly five hundred years after Alexander. Ephemerides, Alexander's so-called royal journal, which was supposedly contemporaneous, is useless-the victor rewriting history. The Alexander Romance, which many people cite as authority, is wild fiction and bears little relation to reality. The other two, though, were written by Arrian and Plutarch, both reputable chroniclers."
"I've read the Alexander Romance. Great story."
"But that's all it is. Alexander is like Arthur, a man whose actual life has been replaced with romantic legend. He's now regarded as some great, benign conqueror. Some sort of statesman. Actually, he slaughtered people on an unprecedented scale and totally squandered the resources of the lands he acquired. He murdered friends out of paranoia and led most of his troops to early deaths. He was a gambler who staked his life, and the lives of those around him, on chance. There's nothing magical about him."
"I disagree," he said. "He was a great military commander, the first person to unite the world. His conquests were bloody and brutal because that's war. True, he was bent on conquering, but his world seemed ready to be conquered. He was politically shrewd. A Greek, who ultimately became a Persian. From everything I've read, he seemed to have little use for petty nationalism-and I can't fault him for that. After he died his generals, the Companions, divided the empire among themselves, which ensured that Greek culture dominated for centuries. And it did. The Hellenistic Age utterly changed Western civilization. And all that started with him."
He saw that Cassiopeia did not agree with him.
"It's that legacy which was discussed in the old manuscript," she said. "What actually happened after Alexander died."
"We know what happened," he said. "His empire became the prey of his generals and they played finders-keepers with his body. Lots of differing accounts about how they each tried to highjack the funeral cortege. They all wanted the body as a symbol of their power. That's why it was mummified. Greeks burned their dead. But not Alexander. His corpse needed to live on."
"It's what happened between the time when Alexander died in Babylon and when his body was finally transported back west that concerned the manuscript," Cassiopeia said. "A year passed. A year that's critical to the elephant medallions."
A soft ring broke the room's silence.
Malone watched as Henrik removed a phone from his pocket and answered. Unusual. Thorvaldsen hated the things, and especially detested people who talked on one in front of him.
Malone glanced at Cassiopeia and asked, "That important?"
Her expression stayed sullen. "It's what we've been waiting for."
"Why you so chipper?"
"You may not believe this, Cotton, but I have feelings, too."
He wondered about the caustic comment. When she'd visited Copenhagen during Christmas, they'd spent a few pleasant evenings together at Christiangade, Thorvaldsen's seaside home north of Copenhagen. He'd even given her a present, a rare seventeenth-century edition on medieval engineering. Her French reconstruction project, where stone by stone she was building a castle with tools and raw materials from seven hundred years ago, continued to progress. They'd even agreed that, in the spring, he'd come for a visit.
Thorvaldsen finished his call. "That was the thief from the museum."
"And how did he know to call you?" Malone asked.
"I had this phone number engraved on the medallion. I wanted to make it perfectly clear that we're waiting. I told him that if he wants the original decadrachm he's going to have to buy it."
"Knowing that, he'll probably kill you instead."
"And how do you plan to prevent that from happening?" Malone asked.
Cassiopeia stepped forward, her face rigid. "That's where you come in."
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