Maggie leaned against the silver entry. “We should be safe now.”

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Suddenly the floor under them rumbled. Everyone tensed.

“Great, you had to say that,” Norman whined, his eyes on the floor.

Under their feet, a deep-throated gurgling arose. It sounded like the rush and churn of a mighty river beneath the floor. The sound grew deafening, echoing up the hollow statue overhead.

“What the hell is that?” Maggie asked.

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“Another trap!” Sam yelled.

“This way,” Abbot Ruiz said, turning and walking down the long, sleek hallway.

Henry hung back as the abbot continued their tour of the research complex beneath the Abbey of Santo Domingo. Joan, her street clothes now masked in sterile white laboratory coveralls, walked alongside the large man, while Henry marched beside the stoic-faced Friar Carlos, who watched the group from under lowered lids, suspicious and vigilant. The foursome, now all dressed in matching white lab suits, seemed part of the research team that manned the suites of laboratories. Only the 9mm Glock carried in Carlos’s tight fist suggested otherwise.

For the better part of the afternoon, Abbot Ruiz had passed from lab to lab, highlighting the advanced studies being done here: everything from botanical sciences to nuclear medicine, even a huge computer lab devoted to the human genome project. Henry did a mental calculation. Hidden within the heart of an Incan labyrinth, the honeycomb of laboratories must encompass the entire heart of the abbey. Henry could not believe this complex had been kept secret for so long.

Joan spoke up as Abbot Ruiz continued down the hallway, asking the very question that had been nagging him, too. “Why show us all this?”

Ruiz nodded, clearly expecting the question. “As I said before, to gain your cooperation. But also to impress upon you the significance of the level of commitment here, so that what I show you next will be viewed within the proper context.” The abbot turned a perspiring face toward Henry and Joan. “While I may operate from faith in my religion, I suspect you will need more concrete evidence. I suspect, like the Apostle Thomas, you will need to place your fingers in the wounds of Christ before you believe the miracle you are about to witness.”

Henry edged closer to Joan, speaking for the first time in over an hour.

“Miracles? That’s the first religious reference I’ve heard you utter while down here. Just what are you truly doing here?” Henry waved an arm to encompass the complex as they continued down the hall. “Discounting the murders and kidnappings, how is this all an undertaking of the Catholic Church?”

The abbot nodded knowingly. “Come. The answer lies just ahead.”

Even with the 9mm Glock pointed at his kidneys, Henry was oddly intrigued. As a scientist and historian, whatever mystery lay hidden here, Henry needed no gun to keep him following. Just what had he stumbled onto?

Joan reached and took his hand as they approached the end of the hall. Though her eyes were also bright with curiosity, Henry could tell she was nervous. Her palm was hot in his. He gently drew her to his side.

Blocking the way ahead was an immense stainless-steel wall. In the center was a huge door, large enough for an elephant to pass through. Massive bolts secured the door tight. Off to one side was an electronic palm lock and keypad. It was obvious that before them stood the centermost chamber of the complex, the Inner Sanctum.

Without turning, Ruiz spoke. “None but the most devoted have ever stepped foot within this chamber. What lies ahead is mankind’s hope for salvation and redemption.”

Henry dared not speak, his curiosity too keen. He did not want to say anything that would dissuade the abbot from opening the vault. A man had been murdered to keep this secret, and Henry meant to find out what it was.

Joan did not have as much devotion to the mystery. “Why let us see?” she asked.

Ruiz still did not turn. His eyes were fixed on the doorway, his voice husky with reverence. “All answers lie within.” He took his signet ring and pressed it into a niche. The palm pad lit up, and the abbot placed his left palm upon its surface; then with his other hand hidden by his bulk, he tapped a code to open the way.

Thick locks released with the roll of heavy bearings, and the bolts slid smoothly back, freeing the door. As Abbot Ruiz backed away, the massive door swung open toward them. It had to be at least two feet thick. From the opening, the perfumed scent of incense wafted out. After the sterility of the labs, the fragrance was cloying. A chill breeze carried the scent, as if the room beyond were refrigerated.

But neither the incense nor the chill seemed to bother Abbot Ruiz. The rotund man raised his arms in supplication as the door slowly opened.

Once the door was fully open, the abbot crossed himself solemnly and led the way forward. He spoke not a word, and Henry sensed that to speak would blaspheme the moment. He kept his lips clamped, but his eyes widened with anticipation.

As Abbot Ruiz stepped carefully through the entrance, sensors within the vault switched on a flood of halogen lights. The room burst with brightness, like a subterranean sunrise.

Joan gasped. From her vantage point, she had spotted what lay ahead. Henry had first to maneuver around the eclipsing form of the abbot to see what mystery the chamber contained. As he climbed over the threshold, his hand fell away from Joan’s. He stumbled numbly into the room.

The chilly chamber was twenty yards square. At each corner, a small brazier smoked with a thin trail of incense. Upon each of the titanium walls hung monstrous silver crosses, each as tall as a man. An even larger crucifix hung from the ceiling three stories overhead.

But as stunning as all this was, it was nothing compared to what lay below the hanging cross. In the center of the room, upon an ornate silver altar, lay a life-size sculpture of a man. Henry moved nearer. The figure rested as if asleep, dressed in flowing robes, pillowed by his long hair, hands crossed upon his belly as if he lay at peace. The visage was relaxed in slumber. A profound peace emanated from the figure. Henry drifted to the side to view the face better.

Upon the figure’s brow rested a crown of thorns.

Oh, God!

It was the figure of Christ—sculpted of solid gold!

No, not gold… Henry did not have to step any closer to recognize his mistake. The halogen spotlights blazed upon the figure of the sleeping Christ. The metal seemed almost to flow under the light. No, this was not gold! It was el Sangre del Diablo. The entire life-size sculpture had been molded from Satan’s Blood.

Henry felt his knees grow weak. Words escaped him. The chill of the room crept into his bones. No wonder the room was refrigerated. At room temperature, the soft metal would likely loose its fine detail, like the cross had at Joan’s lab back in Johns Hopkins.

Abbot Ruiz crossed to a plain wooden prayer bench that stood before the altar and knelt upon its hard surface, lips moving in silent worship. Once done, he climbed back to his feet, zippered open his sterile lab suit, and withdrew the beaker containing the golden sample from Joan’s lab. The substance still retained the rough pyramidal shape. Abbot Ruiz kissed the tips of his fingers, then unstoppered the jar and reached within the beaker to remove its contents. Gently, the man’s large hands dislodged the metal from the glass and lifted it free. Leaning forward, he reverently placed the pyramid atop the sculpture, near the folded hands of the Christ figure.

“Come,” the abbot said solemnly, returning to his prayer bench. “It was your discovery, your gift, Professor Conklin. You should share in this.”

Ruiz knelt again, bowing his head in prayer. Henry crossed to the abbot’s shoulder with Joan at his side. Carlos still stood near the door, gun held steady, face hard.

Abbot Ruiz prayed, his words mumbled, face covered humbly with his hands.

Henry studied the figure, the room. He did not know what to expect. Still, what happened shocked him; Henry had to blink a few times to make sure it was not some optical illusion.

The pyramid composed of Substance Z melted and flowed across the sculpture. The folded hands parted enough to allow the molten metal to flow under them. As the golden fingers settled again, the flow of Substance Z formed a perfectly shaped lily, a redolent bloom and slender stem, grasped within the golden fingers of Christ.

The abbot sighed and lowered his hands, a beatific smile on his features. He pushed to his feet.

“What just happened?” Joan mumbled.

“Your sample has been added to ours… bringing us one step closer to our goal.” The abbot backed from the altar, drawing the others with him.

“How did you do that?” Henry asked, nodding toward the statue.

“You have witnessed why the metal was thought demonic by the Vatican. It is the most unique property of el Sangre del Diablo.” Ruiz turned to Joan. “We’ve read your notes and reports. Like you, we’ve learned over the years that the metal is responsive to any external source of energy: electricity, X rays, radiation, thermal. It uses any and all forms of energy with perfect efficiency, changing state from solid to liquid. But what you had yet to discover was the property the Incas demonstrated to the Dominican friars who first arrived.”

“And what is that?” Henry asked.

Abbot Ruiz’s gaze flicked toward Henry. “It also responds to human thought.”

“What?” Joan gasped.

Henry, though stunned, remained silent. In his mind, he remembered how the sample had tried to form a replica of the Dominican cross when he had been holding and pondering the crucifix.

The abbot continued, “With focused concentration, it will respond to a brain’s alpha waves just as it will to X rays or microwaves. It will melt and flow into whatever form is fixed in the supplicant’s mind.”

“Impossible…” Joan mumbled, but her voice held no force.

“No, not impossible. The brain can produce significant emanations. Quantifiable and measurable. Back in the early seventies, experiments in both Russian and CIA think tanks demonstrated that certain unique individuals could manipulate objects or influence photographic film with nothing but the strength of their minds.” Ruiz glanced back at the Christ figure. “But in this case it is not the individual that is unique, but the substance. It is attuned to the emanations of the human brain, the very thoughts of man.”

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