THIRTY-FOUR

BAINBRIDGE HALL, ENGLAND

Advertisement

5:20 AM

MALONE ADMIRED THE MARBLE ARBOR IN THE GARDEN. THEY'D taken a train twelve miles north from London, then a taxi from the nearby town station to Bainbridge Hall. He'd read all of Haddad's notes stashed in the satchel and skimmed through the novel, trying to make sense of what was happening, remembering everything he and Haddad had discussed through the years. But he'd come to the conclusion that his old friend had taken the most important things with him to his grave.

Above stretched a velvet sky. A cool draft of night air chilled him. Manicured grass stretched out from the garden in a pewter sea, the bushes and shrubs islands of shadow. Water danced in a nearby fountain. He'd decided on a predawn visit as the best way to learn anything, and had obtained a flashlight from the hotel concierge.

The grounds were unfenced and, as far as he could see, not alarmed. The house itself, he assumed, would be another matter. From what he'd read in Haddad's notes, the estate was a minor museum, one of hundreds owned by the British Crown. Several of the mansion's ground-floor rooms were lit, and he spotted, through uncurtained panes, what appeared to be a cleaning crew.

-- Advertisement --

He turned his attention back to the arbor.

The wind rustled the trees then rose to sweep the clouds. Moonlight vanished, but his eyes were fully accustomed to the eerie pall.

"You plan to tell me what this thing is?" Pam asked. She'd been uncharacteristically quiet on the trip.

He directed the light onto the image etched into the marble. "That's from a painting called The Shepherds of Arcadia Two. Thomas Bainbridge went to a lot of trouble to have it carved." He told her what Haddad had written concerning the image, then used the beam to trace the letters beneath.

D O.V.O.S.V.A.V.V. M

"What did he say about those?" Pam asked.

"Not a word. Only that this was a message and that there are more inside the house."

"Which certainly explains why we're here at five o'clock in the morning."

He caught her irritation. "I don't like crowds."

Pam brought her eyes close to the arbor. "Wonder why he separated the D and the M like that?"

He had no idea. But there was one thing he did comprehend. The pastoral scene of The Shepherds of Arcadia II depicted a woman watching as three shepherds gathered around a stone tomb, each pointing at engraved letters. ET IN ARCADIA EGO. He knew the translation.

And in Arcadia I.

An enigmatic inscription that made little sense. But he'd seen those words before. In France. Contained within a sixteenth-century codex describing what the Knights Templar had secretly accomplished in the months before their mass arrest in October 1307.

Et in arcadia ego.

An anagram for I tego arcana dei.

I conceal the secrets of God.

He told Pam about the phrase.

"You can't be serious," she said.

He shrugged. "Just telling you what I know."

They needed to explore the house. From a safe distance in the garden, among belts of towering cedars, he studied the ground floor. Lights flicked on and off as the cleaners went about their work. Doors to the rear terrace were propped open with chairs. He watched as a man stepped outside carrying two garbage bags, which he tossed into a pile, then disappeared back inside.

He glanced at his watch: 5:40 AM.

"They're going to have to finish soon," he said. "Once they're gone, we should have a couple of hours before anyone arrives for work. This place doesn't open till ten." He'd learned that from a sign near the main gate.

"No need to say how foolish this is."

"You always wanted to know what I did for a living, and I never could tell you. Top secret, and all that crap. Time to find out."

"I liked it better when I didn't know."

"I don't believe that. I remember how aggravated you'd get."

"At least I didn't have any bullet wounds."

He smiled. "Your rite of passage." Then he motioned her forward. "After you."

SABRE WATCHED AS THE SHADOWY FORMS OF COTTON MALONE and his ex-wife merged with the trees behind Bainbridge Hall. Malone had come straight to Oxfordshire. Good. Everything hinged on his curiosity. His operative had also done her job. She'd hired the three extra men he'd requested and delivered him a weapon.

He drew a few long breaths and welcomed the brisk night air, then removed the Sig Sauer from his jacket pocket.

Time to meet Cotton Malone.

MALONE APPROACHED THE OPEN REAR DOOR, STAYING TO ONE side, embracing the shadows, and peered inside.

The room beyond was an elaborate parlor. Shimmering light cascaded from the vaulted ceiling, illuminating gilded furniture and paneled walls livened by tapestries and paintings. No one was in sight, but he heard the whine of a floor polisher and the blare of a radio from beyond the archways.

He motioned and they entered.

He knew nothing of the house's geography, but a placard told him he was in the Apollo Room. He recalled what Haddad had written. In the drawing room of Bainbridge Hall is more of Bainbridge's arrogance. Its title is particularly reflective. The Epiphany of St. Jerome. Fascinating and fitting, as great quests often begin with an epiphany.

So they needed to find the drawing room.

He led Pam to one of the exits that opened into a foyer possessing the majestic lines of a cathedral transept, arches eloquently stacked atop one another. Interesting, the abrupt change in style and architecture. Less light softened the outlines of the furniture into gray shadows. Within one of the arches he spotted a bust.

He crept across the marble floor, careful with his rubber soles, and discovered the likeness of Thomas Bainbridge. The middle-aged face was replete with furrows and curves, the jaw clenched, the nose beaklike, the eyes cold and squinty. From what he'd read in Haddad's notes, Bainbridge was apparently a learned man of science and literature, as well as a collector-acquiring art, books, and sculptures with a calculated judgment. He'd also been an adventurer, traveling to Arabia and the Middle East at a time when both places were as familiar to the West as the moon.

"Cotton," Pam said in a low voice.

He turned. She'd drifted to a table where brochures were stacked. "Layout of the house."

He stepped close and grabbed one from the pile. Quickly he found a room labeled DRAWING. He oriented himself. "That way."

The floor polisher and radio continued to duel upstairs.

They departed the dim foyer and wound their way through wide corridors until they entered a lit hall.

"Wow," Pam said.

He, too, was impressed. The grand space was reminiscent of the vestibule to a Roman emperor's palace. Another startling contrast to the rest of the house.

"This place is like Epcot," he said. "Each room's a different time and country."

A chandelier's rich glow illuminated white marble stairs, lined down the center with a deep maroon runner. The risers led straight up to a peristyle of fluted Ionic columns. Twists and curls of black iron railing linked the pink marble columns. Niches on both floors framed busts and statues as if in a museum gallery. He glanced up. The ceiling would not have been out of place inside St. Paul's Cathedral.

He shook his head.

Nothing about the manor's exterior hinted at such opulence.

"The drawing room is up those stairs," he said.

"I feel like we're going to meet the queen," Pam said.

They followed the elegant runner up the unrailed risers. Paneled double doors at the top opened into a darkened room. He flicked a switch and another chandelier, fashioned from animal tusks, burned bright, displaying a crowded salon, worn and comfortable, the walls hung with velvet the color of pea soup.

"Wouldn't have expected much less," he said, "after that entranceway."

He closed the doors.

"What are we looking for?" Pam asked.

He studied the wall paintings, most portraits of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century figures. No one he recognized. Maple bookcases stood in rows below the portraits. His bibliophile's eye quickly noticed that the volumes were innocuous, only for show, with no historical or literary value. Bronze busts topped the cases. Again, no familiar image.

"The Epiphany of St. Jerome," he said. "Maybe one of those portraits."

Pam rounded the room, studying each image. He counted them. Fourteen. Most were of women, elaborately dressed, or men adorned in wigs and flowing robes common three hundred years ago. Two sofas and four chairs formed a U before a stone hearth. He imagined this was where Thomas Bainbridge may have spent a lot of time.

"None of these," Pam said, "has anything to do with a St. Jerome."

He was puzzled. "George said it was here."

"Maybe so. But it's not now."

THIRTY-FIVE

WASHINGTON, DC

STEPHANIE STARED AT BRENT GREEN AND HER IMPASSIVE EXPRESSION gave way to a look of astonishment. "Thorvaldsen told you to call off my backup? How do you even know the man?"

"I know a great many people." He motioned to his bindings. "Though at the moment I find myself at your mercy."

"Calling off her protection was foolish," Cassiopeia said. "What if I hadn't been there?"

"Henrik said you were, and that you could handle things."

Stephanie worked to control her rage. "It was my ass."

"Which you so foolishly placed on the line."

"I had no idea Dixon was going to attack me."

"Which is my point exactly. You're not thinking." Green again motioned with his head at his bindings. "This is another example of foolishness. Contrary to what you might think, a security detail will check in here shortly. They always do. I may crave my privacy but, unlike you, I'm not reckless."

"What are you doing?" she asked. "Why are you in this? Are you working with Daley? Was all that earlier between you and him just a dog-and-pony show for my benefit?"

"I have neither the time nor the patience for dog-and-pony shows."

Stephanie was not impressed. "I've had my fill of lies. Malone's boy was taken because of me. Cotton is in London right now with an Israeli assassination squad. I can't find him, so I can't warn him. George Haddad's life may be at stake. Then I learn that my boss leaves me bare-ass to the wind, knowing the Saudis want to kill me? What am I supposed to think?"

"That your friend, Henrik Thorvaldsen, thought enough to send you help. That your other friend, me, decided the help needed to work alone. How about that? Make sense?"

She considered his words.

"And one other thing," Green said.

She glared at him.

"This friend particularly cares what happens to you."

MALONE WAS ANNOYED. HE'D COME TO BAINBRIDGE HALL hoping for answers. Haddad's notes had pointed them straight here. Yet nothing.

"Maybe there's another drawing room?" Pam said.

But he checked the brochure and determined that this was the only space so labeled. What was he missing? Then he spotted something. Adjacent to one of the window alcoves, where elaborate stained-glass panes waited for the morning sun, a section of wall shone bare. Portraits filled every other available space. But not there. And the faint outline of a rectangle loomed clear on the wall covering.

He hurried to the bare spot. "One's gone."

"Cotton, I'm not trying to be difficult, but this could have been a wild goose chase."

He shook his head. "George wanted us here."

He paced the room in thought and realized they couldn't linger. One of the cleaning crew might come this way. Though he carried Haddad's and String Bean's guns, he didn't want to use either.

Pam was examining the tables that backed the two sofas. Books and magazines were decoratively stacked amid sculptures and potted plants. She was studying one of the small bronzes-an older man, his skin wizened, his body muscular, dressed in a waist cloth. The figure was perched on a rock, his bearded face concentrating on a book.

"You need to see this," she said.

He approached and saw what was etched at the statue's base.

ST. JEROME

DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH

He'd been so busy trying to find complicated pieces that the obvious had escaped him. Pam motioned to a book just beneath the sculpture.

"The Epiphany of St. Jerome," she said.

He examined the spine. "Good eye."

She smiled. "I can be useful."

He gripped the heavy bronze and lifted. "So be useful and grab the book."

STEPHANIE WASN'T SURE HOW TO TAKE BRENT GREEN'S REMARK. "What do you mean? This particular friend?"

"It's a bit difficult to discuss at the moment."

And she spotted something curious in Green's eyes. Anxiety. For five years he had been the administration's bulldog in many a battle with Congress, the press, and special-interest groups. He was a consummate pro. A lawyer who pleaded the administration's case on a national stage. But he was also deeply religious and, to her knowledge, never even a hint of scandal had been attached to his name.

"Let's just say," Green said in a half whisper, "that I wouldn't have wanted the Saudis to kill you."

"Not a great comfort to me at the moment."

"What about his security detail?" Cassiopeia asked. "I have the feeling he's not bluffing on that one."

"Check the front and keep an eye on the street," she said, making clear through her gaze that she wanted a moment alone with Green.

Cassiopeia left the kitchen.

"Okay, Brent. What do you have to say that you couldn't say in front of her?"

"What are you, Stephanie, sixty-one years old?"

"I don't talk about my age."

"Your husband has been dead a dozen years. That has to be tough. I never married, so I wouldn't know what it's like to lose a spouse."

"It's not easy. What does that have to do with anything?"

"I know you and Lars were estranged when he died. It's time you start trusting somebody."

"Gee, tell you what. I'll schedule interviews and everyone, including those trying to kill me, will get a chance to convince me of their trustworthiness."

"Henrik's not trying to kill you. Cassiopeia isn't. Cotton Malone's not." He paused. "I'm not."

"You called off my backup, knowing I was in trouble."

"And what would have happened if I hadn't? Your two agents would have burst onto the scene, gunfire would have ensued, and what would have been solved?"

"I'd have Heather Dixon in custody."

"And by morning she would have been released, after surely the secretary of state and probably the president himself intervened. Then you would have been fired and the Saudis would kill you at their leisure. And you know why? Because nobody would have cared."

His words made sense. Damn him.

"You moved too fast and you didn't think it through." Green's eyes had softened, and she saw something else she'd never seen before.

Concern.

"Earlier I offered my help. You refused. Now I'm going to tell you what you don't know. What I didn't tell you then."

She waited.

"I allowed the file on the Alexandria Link to be compromised."

MALONE OPENED THE BOOK ABOUT ST. JEROME, A THIN VOLUME, only seventy-three yellowed leaves, with an 1845 printing date. He paged through and absorbed a few details.

Jerome lived from 342 to 420 CE. He was fluent in Latin and Greek and, as a young man, made little effort to check his pleasure-loving instincts. Baptized by the pope in 360, he dedicated himself to God. For the next sixty years he traveled, wrote treatises, defended the faith, and became a recognized father of the Christian religion. He first translated the New Testament then, toward the end of his life, translated the Old directly from Hebrew into Latin, creating the Vulgate, which the Council of Trent eleven hundred years later proclaimed the authoritative text of the Catholic Church.

Three words caught Malone's eye.

Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius.

Jerome's birth name.

He thought of the novel from the leather satchel. A Hero's Journey by Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius.

Apparently Thomas Bainbridge had chosen his pen name with great care.

"Anything?" Pam asked.

"Everything." But his excitement faded, replaced by the chill of an unpleasant realization. "We need to get out of here."

He rushed to the doors, switched off the lights, and eased them open. The marble hall loomed, quiet. The radio continued to play in some far-off room, now a sporting event of some sort, the crowd and commentator loud. The floor polisher was silent.

He led Pam to the top of the stairs.

Three men burst into the hall below, weapons in hand.

One raised and fired.

He shoved Pam to the floor.

The bullet pinged off the stone. He quickly rolled them both behind one of the columns and saw Pam grimace in pain.

"My shoulder," she said.

Three more bullets tried to find them through marble. He palmed Haddad's automatic and readied himself. None of the shots so far had been accompanied by a loud retort-only pops, like pillows fluffing. Sound suppressors. At least he possessed the high ground. From his vantage point he spotted two shooters advancing toward the right side of the lower floor while the other remained to the left. He could not allow the two to take up that position-they'd be able to shoot around the column-so he fired.

The bullet missed but its proximity caused the attackers to hesitate, enough for Malone to adjust his aim and fire a slug into the lead man, who cried out, then thudded to the floor. The other man leaped for cover, but Malone managed one more shot that sent the pursuer scurrying back toward the hall entrance. Blood streamed from the downed man, pooling into a bright red lake on the white marble.

More shots came their way. The air reeked of gunfire.

Five bullets remained in Haddad's gun, but Malone still carried the one he'd taken from String Bean, too. Maybe five more shots. He registered fear in Pam's eyes, but she was remaining calm, considering.

He thought about retreating into the drawing room. The double doors, if barricaded with furniture, might buy them a few minutes to escape through one of the windows. But they were on the second floor, which would surely pose additional obstacles. Regardless, that might be their only play unless the men below wanted to expose themselves and give him a clear shot.

Which wasn't likely.

One of the men scampered to the base of the stairs. The other covered his advance with four shots that snapped off the wall behind them. Malone had to conserve ammunition and could not fire until it really counted.

Then he realized what they were doing.

For him to fire at one, he'd have to expose himself at the column's edge to the other. So he did the unexpected, ignoring the left side and curling himself around the right, sending a bullet into the red carpet runner ahead of the advancing attacker.

The man leaped from the stairway and sought cover.

Pam reached for her shoulder and he spotted blood. Her wound had reopened. Too much jostling. Her blue eyes stared back, full of fear.

Two shots banged through the hall.

Not sound-suppressed. High-caliber.

Then, silence.

"Hello," a male voice called out.

He peered around the column. Standing below was a tall man with grizzled sandy blond hair. He had a broad brow, a short nose, and a round chin. He was squarely built and dressed in jeans and a canvas shirt beneath a leather jacket.

"It looked like you needed help," the man said, gun at his right side.

The two attackers lay on the floor, blood oozing onto the marble. This man was apparently a good shot, too.

Malone retreated back behind the column. "Who are you?"

"A friend."

"Forgive me if I'm skeptical."

"Wouldn't blame you. So stay there and wait for the police. You can explain about these three dead bodies." He heard footsteps, receding. "And by the way, you're welcome."

Something occurred to him. "What about the cleaning crew? Why aren't they rushing in here?"

The footsteps stopped. "They're unconscious, upstairs."

"Your doing?"

"Not mine."

"What's your interest?"

"The same as many who've come here in the middle of the night. I'm looking for the Library of Alexandria."

Malone said nothing.

"Tell you what. I'm staying at the Savoy, room 453. I have some information that I doubt you possess, and you might have some I don't know about. If you'd like to talk, come find me. If not, we'll probably see each other again along the way. Your choice. But together we might be able to speed up the process. It's up to you."

Heels clacked the floor with a solid tread, fading away into the house.

"What the hell was that?" Pam asked.

"His way of introducing himself."

"He killed two men."

"For which I'm grateful."

"Cotton, we've got to get out of here."

"Tell me about it. But first we need to know who those men are."

He fled from the column and rushed down the marble stairs. Pam followed. He searched all three corpses but found no identification.

"Grab the guns," he said, pocketing six spare magazines lifted from the bodies. "These guys came ready for a fight."

"I'm actually getting used to seeing blood," she said.

"I told you it'd get easier."

He thought more about the man. The Savoy. Room 453. His way of saying, You can trust me. Pam still clutched the book about St. Jerome, and he carried the leather satchel from Haddad's apartment.

Pam turned to leave.

"Where you going?" he asked.

"I'm hungry. I hope the Savoy has an excellent breakfast."

He grinned.

She caught on quick.

-- Advertisement --