VINCENTI FORCED HIS EYES OPEN. PAIN IN HIS CHEST RACKED HIS brain. Each breath seemed a labor. How many bullets had hit him? Three? Four? He didn't remember. But somehow his heart still beat. Maybe it wasn't all that bad to be fat. He recalled falling, then a deep blackness sweeping over him. He never fired a shot. Zovastina seemed to have anticipated his move. Almost like she'd wanted him to challenge her.
He forced himself to roll over and he clutched a table leg. Blood oozed from his chest and a new wave of pain drove electric nails through his spine. He struggled harder to breathe. The pistol was gone, but he realized he was holding something else. He brought his hand close and saw the flash drive.
Everything he'd worked for over the past ten years lay in his bloodied palm. How had Zovastina found him? Who had betrayed him? O'Conner? Was he still alive? Where was he? O'Conner had been the only other person with the ability to open the cabinet in the study.
Where was his?
He struggled to focus and finally spotted the device lying on the tile floor.
Everything seemed lost.
But maybe not.
He was still alive and perhaps Zovastina was gone.
He gathered his strength and scooped the controller into his hand. He should have provided the house with full security before he abducted Karyn Walde. But he'd never thought Zovastina would link him to her disappearance-certainly not so quickly-and he'd never believed that she'd turn on him. Not with what she had planned.
She needed him.
Or did she?
Blood pooled in his throat and he spit out the sour taste. A lung must have been hit. More blood caused him to cough, which sent new bolts of agony through his body.
Maybe O'Conner could get to him?
He fumbled with the controller and could not decide which of the three buttons to push. One opened the door in the study. The other released all of the concealed doors throughout the house. The last activated the alarm.
No time to be right.
So he pushed all three.
ZOVASTINA STARED AT THE BROWN POOL. MALONE AND VITT HAD been submerged for several minutes.
"There must be another chamber," she said.
Viktor stayed silent.
"Lower that gun."
He did as ordered.
She faced him. "Did you enjoy tying me to those trees? Threatening me?"
"You wanted it to appear that I was one of them."
Viktor had succeeded beyond her expectations, leading them straight to her goal. "Is there anything else I need to know?"
"They seemed to know what they're looking for."
Viktor had been her double-agent ever since the Americans first reenlisted his aid. He'd come straight to her and told her of his predicament. For the past year she'd used him to funnel what she wanted the West to know. A dangerous balancing act, but one she'd been forced to maintain because of Washington's renewed interest in her.
And everything had worked.
And until Vincenti decided to kill his American watchdog. She'd encouraged him to eliminate the spy, hoping Washington might focus its attention on him. But the subterfuge had not worked. Luckily, today's deceptions had been more successful.
Viktor had promptly reported Malone's presence within the palace and she'd quickly conceived how to take maximum advantage of the opportunity with an orchestrated palace escape. Edwin Davis had been the other side's attempt to divert her attention but, knowing Malone was there, she'd seen through that ruse.
"There has to be another chamber," she repeated, slipping off her shoes and removing her jacket. "Grab two of those flashlights and let's go see."
STEPHANIE HEARD A CLAXON REVERBERATE THROUGH THE HOUSE, the sound dulled by the thick walls that encased them. Movement caught her eye and she saw a panel swing open at the opposite end of the closet.
Ely quickly shifted out of its way.
"A frickin' doorway," Lyndsey exclaimed.
She moved toward the exit, suspicious, and examined its top. Electric bolts-connected to the alarm. Had to be. Beyond was a passageway lit by bulbs.
The alarm stopped.
They all stood in contemplative silence.
"What are we waiting for?" Thorvaldsen asked.
She stepped through the portal.
MALONE LED CASSIOPEIA THROUGH THE DOORWAY AND WATCHED as she gazed in wonder. His light revealed carvings that sprang with life from the rock walls. Most of the images were of a warrior in his prime-young, vigorous, a spear in hand, a wreath in his hair. One frieze showed what appeared to be kings paying homage. Another a lion hunt. Still another a fierce battle. In each, the human element-muscles, hands, face, legs, feet, toes-were all depicted with painstaking care. Not a hint of color. Only a silvery monochrome.
He focused the beam on the center of the wigwam-shaped chamber and two stone plinths that each supported a stone sarcophagus. The exterior of both were adorned with lotus and palmetto patterns, rosettes, tendrils, flowers, and leaves. He pointed to the coffin lids. "That's a Macedonian star on each."
Cassiopeia bent down before the tombs and examined the lettering. Her fingers traced the words on each with a gentle touch... "I can't read this, but it has to be Alexander and Hephaestion."
He understood her awe. But there was a more pressing matter. "That'll have to wait. We have a bigger problem."
She stood upright.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Take off those wet clothes and I'll explain."
ZOVASTINA LEAPED INTO THE POOL, FOLLOWED BY VIKTOR, AND swam through the opening that looked so similar to the symbol on the elephant medallion. She'd noticed the resemblance immediately.
Easy strokes propelled her forward. The water was soothing, like a dip in one of the saunas at her palace.
Ahead, the overhead rock wall gave way.
She'd been correct. Another chamber. Smaller than the one on the other side. She shook the water from her eyes and saw that the high ceiling seemed backlit by ambient light that leaked in from openings high in the rock. Viktor emerged beside her and they both climbed out. She surveyed the room. Faded murals decorated the walls. Two portals opened into more darkness.
No one in sight.
No other beams of light.
Apparently, Cotton Malone was not as naive as she'd thought.
"All right, Malone," she called out. "You have the advantage. But could I have a look first?"
"I'll take that as a yes."
Her light studied the sandy floor, spangled with mica, and she spotted a moisture trail through the doorway to her right.
She entered the next chamber and spotted two funerary plinths. Both exteriors were adorned with carvings and letters, but she wasn't fluent in Old Greek. That was why she'd recruited Ely Lund. One image caught her eye and she stepped close and gently blew away debris that clogged its outline. Bit by bit a horse was revealed. Maybe five centimeters long, with an upstanding mane and a lifted tail.
"Bucephalas," she whispered.
She needed to see more so she said to the darkness, "Malone. I came here unarmed because I didn't need a gun. Viktor was mine, as you apparently know. But I have your three friends. I was there when you called on the phone. They're in the house, sealed away, about to be consumed by Greek fire. Just thought you'd like to know."
"Keep an eye out," she whispered to Viktor.
She'd come this far, wished too long, fought too hard, not to see. She laid her light atop one of the sarcophagi's lid, the one with the horse, and pushed. After a moment of valiant tugging, the thick slab moved. A few more shoves and she cleared a pie-shaped opening.
She grabbed the light and, unlike in Venice, hoped she would not be disappointed.
A mummy lay inside.
Sheathed and masked in gold.
She wanted to touch it, to lift the mask away, but thought better. She did not want to do anything that might damage the remains.
But she wondered.
Was she the first in over twenty-three hundred years to gaze upon the remains of Alexander the Great? Had she found the conqueror, along with his draught? Seems she had. Best of all, she knew precisely what to do with both. The draught would be used to fulfill her conquests and, as she now knew, make her an unexpected windfall of profit. The mummy, from whom she could not remove her eyes, would symbolize all that she did. The possibilities seemed endless, but the danger that surrounded her brought her thoughts back to the reality.
Malone was playing his hand quite carefully.
She needed to do the same.
MALONE SAW THE ANTICIPATION ON CASSIOPEIA'S FACE. ELY, Stephanie, and Henrik were in trouble. They'd watched from the other doorway, the one Zovastina had avoided, as she and Viktor followed the water trail and entered the funerary chamber.
"How did you know Viktor was lying to us?" she whispered.
"Twelve years of dealing with random assets. That whole thing with you at the palace? Too easy. And something Stephanie told me. Viktor's the one who fed them Vincenti. Why? Makes no sense. Except if Viktor was playing both sides."
"I should have seen that."
"How? You didn't hear what Stephanie told me in Venice."
They stood with bare shoulders scraping against oblique walls. They'd removed their pants and wrung the water from them so as not to leave any further trail. Once through the tomb's other two rooms, filled with artifacts, they had quickly re-dressed and waited. The tomb consisted of only four interconnected rooms, none of which were large, two of which opened to the pool. Zovastina was most likely enjoying a moment of triumph. But the information about Stephanie, Ely, and Henrik had changed things. True or not, the possibility had grabbed his attention. Which was surely the idea.
He glanced out toward the pool. Light danced in the funerary room. He hoped the sight of Alexander the Great's grave might buy them a few moments.
"You ready?" he asked Cassiopeia.
He led the way.
Viktor stepped from the other doorway.
STEPHANIE NOTICED THAT THE SICKENINGLY SWEET AROMA WAS not as strong in the back passages, but nonetheless lingered. At least they weren't trapped any longer. Several turns had led them deeper into the house and she'd yet to see another open exit.
"I've seen how this concoction works," Thorvaldsen said. "Once Greek fire ignites, these walls will burn quickly. We need to be out of here before that happens."
She was aware of their dilemma, but their choices were limited. Lyndsey was still anxious, Ely amazingly calm. He had the countenance of an agent, not an academician, a coolness she admired considering their predicament. She wished she possessed more of his nerve.
"What do you mean by quickly?" Lyndsey asked Thorvaldsen. "How fast will this place burn?"
"Fast enough that we'll be trapped."
"So what are we doing in here?"
"You want to go back to that storage closet?" she asked.
They turned another corner, the dark hall reminding her of a corridor in a train. The path ended just ahead at the base of a steep stairway, leading up.
MALONE STEADIED HIMSELF.
"Going somewhere?" Viktor asked.
Cassiopeia stood behind him. He wondered about Zovastina's location. Was the dancing light merely a ploy to draw them out?
"Thought we'd leave."
"Can't let you do that."
"If you think you can stop me, you're welcome to-"
Viktor lunged forward. Malone sidestepped the move, then locked his attacker in a bear hug.
They dropped to the floor and rolled.
Malone found himself on top. Viktor struggled beneath him. He clamped a hand onto the other man's throat and sank his knee deep into Viktor's chest. Quickly, with both hands, he yanked Viktor upward and slammed the back of his skull into the rocky floor.
CASSIOPEIA READIED HERSELF TO LEAP INTO THE POOL AS SOON AS Malone broke free. At the same instant Viktor's body went limp beneath Malone, movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention to the doorway where they'd been hiding.
"Malone," she called out.
Zovastina rushed toward her.
Malone sprang off Viktor and found the water.
Cassiopeia dove in after him and swam hard for the tunnel.
STEPHANIE TOPPED THE STAIRS AND SAW THERE WAS A CHOICE OF routes. Left or right? She turned left. Ely headed right.
"Over here," Ely called out.
They all rushed his way and saw an open doorway.
"Careful," Thorvaldsen said. "Don't let those things out there spray you. Avoid them."
Ely nodded, then pointed at Lyndsey. "You and I are going after that flash drive."
The scientist shook his head. "Not me."
Stephanie agreed. "That's not a good idea."
"You're not sick."
"Those robots," Thorvaldsen said, "are programmed to explode, and we don't know when."
"I don't give a damn," Ely said, his voice rising. "This man knows how to cure AIDS. His dead boss has known that for years, but let millions die. Zovastina has that cure now. I'm not going to let her manipulate it, too." Ely grabbed Lyndsey by the shirt. "You and I are going to get that drive."
"You're nuts," Lyndsey said. "Frickin' nuts. Just go up to the green pool and drink the water. Vincenti said it worked that way. You don't need me."
Thorvaldsen watched the younger man closely. Stephanie realized that the Dane was perhaps seeing his own son standing before him, youth in all its glory, simultaneously defiant, brave, and foolish. Her own son, Mark, was the same way.
"Your butt," Ely said, "is going with me into that lab."
She realized something else. "Zovastina went after Cotton and Cassiopeia. She left us in this house for a reason. You heard her. She purposefully told us those machines would take a little time."
"We're insurance," Thorvaldsen said.
"Bait. Probably for Cotton and Cassiopeia. But this guy," she pointed at Lyndsey, "him, she wants. His babbling made sense. She doesn't have time to be sure an antiagent works, or that he's being truthful. Though she may not admit it, she needs him. She'll be back for him before this place burns. You can count on it."
ZOVASTINA LEAPED INTO THE POOL. MALONE HAD BESTED VIKTOR and Cassiopeia Vitt had managed to elude her.
If she swam fast she could catch Vitt in the tunnel.
MALONE PLANTED HIS PALMS AND PUSHED HIMSELF UP FROM THE pool. He felt a rush beneath him and saw Cassiopeia surface. She deftly sprang from the warm water and, dripping wet, grabbed one of the guns that lay a few feet away.
"Let's go," he said, retrieving his shoes and shirt.
Cassiopeia backed toward the exit, gun leveled at the pool.
A shadow clouded the water.
Zovastina's head found air.
THE FIRST EXPLOSION STARTLED ZOVASTINA MORE THAN FRIGHTENED her. Water cleared from her eyes and she saw Vitt aiming one of the guns straight at her.
Another bang. Unbearably loud.
She plunged beneath the surface.
CASSIOPEIA FIRED TWO TIMES AT THE ILLUMINATED POOL. THE gun seemed to jam so she worked the slide, ejecting a cartridge, loading a new round. Then she noticed something and faced Malone.
"Feel better?" he asked.
"Blanks?" she asked.
"Of course. Rounds stuffed with wadding, I imagine, so there'd be enough kick to at least partially work the slide. But not enough, obviously. You don't think Viktor would have given us bullets?"
"I never thought about it."
"That's the problem. You're not thinking. Can we go now?"
She tossed the gun away. "You're such a joy to work with."
And they both fled the chamber.
VIKTOR RUBBED THE BACK OF HIS HEAD AND WAITED. ANOTHER few seconds and he'd roll into the pool, but Zovastina returned, breathing hard as she emerged from the water, and rested her arms on the rocky edge.
"I forgot about the guns. They have us trapped. The only way out is guarded."
Viktor's head hurt from the pounding and he fought an irritating dizziness. "Minister, the guns are loaded with blanks. I changed all the magazines before we escaped from the palace. I didn't think it wise to give them loaded guns."
"Who checks rounds? They simply assumed the guns aboard a military chopper were loaded."
"Good thinking, but you could have mentioned that to me."
"Everything happened so fast. There wasn't time and, unfortunately, Malone gave my skull a good pop on these rocks."
"What about Malone's gun from the palace? That was loaded. Where is it?"
"In the chopper. He changed it out for one of ours."
He watched as her mind rolled through the possibilities.
"We need Lyndsey from the house. He's all that's left here now."
"What about Malone and Vitt?"
"I have men waiting. And their guns are loaded."
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