TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4
STEPHANIE ENTERED THE HOME OF O. BRENT GREEN, THE ATTORNEY general of the United States. A car had just delivered her to Georgetown. She'd telephoned Green before midnight and asked for the face-to-face, briefly telling him what had happened. He'd wanted a little time to investigate, which she'd had no choice but to accept.
Green waited in his study.
He'd served the president for the entire first term and had been one of only a handful of cabinet members who'd agreed to stay for the second. He was a popular advocate of Christian and conservative causes-a New England bachelor with not a hint of scandal attached to his name, who even at this early hour projected a serious vigor. His hair and goatee were precisely groomed and smoothly combed, his spare frame sheathed in a trademark pin-striped suit. He'd served six terms in Congress and was the governor of Vermont when tapped by the president for the Justice Department. His frank words and direct approach made him popular with both sides of the political aisle, but his distant personality seemed to prevent him from rising any higher nationally than attorney general.
She'd never been inside Green's house and had expected a sullen, unimaginative look, something akin to the man himself. But instead the rooms were warm and homey-lots of sienna, taupe, pale greens, and shades of maroon and orange-a Hemingway effect, as one furniture chain in Atlanta advertised similar ensembles.
"This matter is unusual, even for you, Stephanie," Green said as he greeted her. "Anything further from Malone?"
"He was resting before heading to Kronborg. With the time difference, he should be on his way there now."
He offered her a seat. "This problem seems to be escalating."
"Brent, we've had this talk before. Somebody high on the food chain accessed the secured database. We know files on the Alexandria Link were copied."
"The FBI is investigating."
"That's a joke. The director is so far up the president's ass, there's no danger of anyone at the White House being implicated."
"Colorful, as always, but accurate. Unfortunately it's the only procedure available to us."
"We could look into it."
"That would bring nothing but trouble."
"Which I'm accustomed to."
Green smiled. "That you are." He paused. "I'm wondering, how much do you actually know about that link?"
"When I sent Cotton into the fray five years ago it was with the understanding that I didn't need to know. Not unusual. I deal with a lot of that sort of thing, so I didn't worry about it. But now I need to know."
Green's face cast a measure of concern. "I'm probably about to violate myriad federal laws, but, I agree, it's time you know."
MALONE STARED ACROSS THE ROCKY ELEVATION AT KRONBORG Slot. Once its cannons were aimed at foreign ships that traversed the narrow straits to and from the Baltic, the collected tolls swelling the Danish treasury. Now the creamy beige walls stood somber against a clear azure sky. Not a fortress any longer, merely a Nordic renaissance building alive with octagonal towers, pointed spires, and green copper roofs more reminiscent of Holland than Denmark. Which was understandable, Malone knew, since a sixteenth-century Dutchman had been instrumental in the castle's design. He liked the location. Public locales could be the best spots in which to be invisible. He'd used many during his years with the Billet.
The drive north from Christiangade had taken only fifteen minutes. Thorvaldsen's estate sat halfway between Copenhagen and Helsingør, the busy port town that stood adjacent to the slot. Malone had visited both Kronborg and Helsingør, wandering the nearby beaches in search of amber-a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Today's visit was different. He was on edge. Ready for a fight.
"What are we waiting for?" Pam asked, her face set like a mask.
He'd been forced to bring her. She'd absolutely insisted, threatening to make more trouble if he left her behind. He could certainly understand her unwillingness to simply wait with Thorvaldsen. Tension and monotony made for a volatile mixture.
"Our man said eleven," he noted.
"We've wasted enough time."
"Nothing we've done has been a waste of time."
After hanging up with Stephanie, he'd managed a few hours' sleep. He would do Gary no good half awake. He'd also changed clothes with the spares from his rucksack, Pam's cleaned by Jesper. They'd eaten a little breakfast.
So he was ready.
He checked his watch: 10:20 AM.
Cars were starting to fill the parking lots. Soon buses would arrive. Everyone wanted to see Hamlet's castle.
He couldn't have cared less.
"THE LINK IS A PERSON," GREEN SAID. "HIS NAME IS GEORGE HADDAD. A Palestinian biblical scholar."
Stephanie knew the name. Haddad was personally acquainted with Malone and, five years ago, had specifically asked for Malone's assistance.
"What's worth the life of Gary Malone?"
"The lost Library of Alexandria."
"You can't be serious."
Green nodded. "Haddad thought he'd located it."
"How could that have any relevance today?"
"Actually, it could be quite relevant. That library was the greatest concentration of knowledge on the planet. It stood for six hundred years until the middle of the seventh century, when the Muslims finally took control of Alexandria and purged everything contrary to Islam. Half a million scrolls, codices, maps-you name it, the library stored a copy. And to this day? No one has ever found a single shred of it."
"But Haddad did?"
"So he implied. He was working on a biblical theory. What that was, I don't know, but the proof of his theory was supposedly contained within the lost library."
"How would he know that?"
"Again, I don't know, Stephanie. But five years ago, when our people in the West Bank, the Sinai, and Jerusalem made some innocent requests for visas, access to archives, archaeological digging, the Israelis went berserk. That's when Haddad asked Malone to help."
"On a blind mission, which I didn't like."
Blind meaning that Malone was told to protect Haddad, but not to ask any questions. She recalled that Malone hadn't liked the condition, either.
"Haddad," Green said, "only trusted Malone. Which was why Cotton eventually hid him away and is the only one today who knows Haddad's whereabouts. Apparently the administration didn't seem to mind hiding Haddad, so long as they controlled the route to him."
Green shook his head. "Makes little sense. There's a hint, though, as to what might be at stake."
She was listening.
"In one of the reports I saw, written in the margin was Genesis 13:14-17. You know it?"
"I'm not that good with my Bible."
"The Lord said to Abram, lift up now your eyes and look from the place where you are northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land which you see, to you I will give it, and to your seed forever."
That she knew. A covenant that, for eons, had been the Jews' biblical claim to the Holy Land.
"Abram removed his tent and lived on the plain of Mamre and built there an altar to the Lord," Green said. "Mamre is Hebron-today the West Bank-the land God gave to the Jews. Abram became Abraham. And that single biblical passage goes to the core of all Mideast disagreements."
That she knew, too. The conflict in the Middle East, between Jews and Arabs, was not a political battle, as many perceived. Instead it was a never-ending contest over the Word of God.
"And there's one other interesting fact," Green said. "Shortly after Malone hid Haddad away, the Saudis sent bulldozers into west Arabia and obliterated whole towns. The destruction went on for three weeks. People were relocated. Buildings leveled. Not a remnant remained of those towns. Of course that's a closed part of the country, so there was no press coverage, no attention drawn to it."
"Why would they do that? Seems extreme, even for the Saudis."
"No one ever came up with a good explanation. But they went about it quite deliberately."
"We need to know more, Brent. Cotton needs to know. He has a decision to make."
"I checked with the national security adviser an hour ago. Amazingly, he knows less about this than I do. He's heard of the link, but suggested I talk with someone else."
She knew. "Larry Daley."
Lawrence Daley served as the deputy national security adviser, close to the president and vice president. Daley never appeared on the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit. Nor was he seen on CNN or Fox News. He was a behind-the-scenes power broker. A conduit between the upper echelons of the White House and the rest of the political world.
But there was a problem.
"I don't trust that man," she said.
Green seemed to catch what else her tone suggested but said nothing, staring at her with penetrating gray eyes.
"We have no control over Malone," she made clear. "He's going to do what he has to. And right now he's running on anger."
"Cotton's a pro."
"It's different when it's one of your own at risk." She spoke from experience, having recently wrestled with ghosts of her own past.
"He's the only one who knows where George Haddad is," Green said. "He holds all the cards."
"Which is precisely why they're squeezing him."
Green kept his gaze locked on her.
She knew her quandary was certainly being transmitted through suspicion she could not remove from her eyes.
"Tell me, Stephanie, why don't you trust me?"
GEORGE HADDAD STOOD WITH THE CROWD AND LISTENED TO the experts, knowing they were wrong. The event was nothing more than a way to garner media attention for both the Thomas Bainbridge Museum and the little-praised cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park. True, those anonymous men and women had labored in total secrecy during the Second World War, eventually deciphering the German Enigma code and hastening an end to the war. But unfortunately their story wasn't fully told until most of them were either dead or too old to care. Haddad could understand their frustration. He, too, was old, nearing eighty, and an academician. He, too, once labored in secrecy.
He, too, had discovered a great revelation.
He wasn't even known any longer as George Haddad. In fact, he'd used too many aliases to remember them all. Five years he'd been gone to ground and not a word from anyone. In one respect, that was good. In another, the silence racked his nerves. Thank God only one man knew he was alive, and he trusted that person implicitly.
In fact, he'd be dead but for him.
Coming out today was taking a chance. But he wanted to hear what these so-called experts had to say. He'd read about the program in The Times and had to admire the British. They had a flair for media events-the scene set with the precision of a Hollywood movie. Lots of smiling faces and suits, plenty of cameras and recorders. So he made a point of staying behind their lenses. Which was easy since the focus of everyone's attention was the monument.
Eight stood scattered across the estate gardens, all erected in 1784 by the then earl, Thomas Bainbridge. Haddad knew the family history. The Bainbridges first bought the property, hidden in a fold of Oxfordshire and surrounded by beech woods, in 1624, erecting an enormous Jacobean mansion in the center of six hundred acres. More Bainbridges managed to retain ownership until 1848, when the Crown acquired the title through a tax sale and Queen Victoria opened the house and grounds as a museum. Ever since, visitors came to see the period furniture and sneak a glimpse of what it was like to live in luxury centuries ago. Its library had come to be regarded as one of the best anywhere on eighteenth-century furnishings. But in recent years most visited for the monument, since Bainbridge Hall possessed a puzzle, and twenty-first-century tourists loved secrets.
He stared at the white marble arbor.
The top, he knew, was Les Bergers d'Arcadie II, The Shepherds of Arcadia II, an unimportant work painted by Nicolas Poussin in 1640, the reverse image of his previous work The Shepherds of Arcadia. The pastoral scene depicted a woman watching as three shepherds gathered around a stone tomb, pointing at engraved letters. ET IN ARCADIA EGO. Haddad knew the translation. And in Arcadia I. An enigmatic inscription that made little sense. Beneath that image loomed another challenge. Random letters chiseled in a pattern.
D O.V.O.S.V.A.V.V. M
Haddad knew that new agers and conspiratorialists had labored over that combination for years, ever since they'd been rediscovered a decade before by a Guardian reporter visiting the museum.
"To all of you here today," a tall and portly man was saying into microphones, "we here at Bainbridge Hall welcome you. Perhaps now we will know the significance of whatever message Thomas Bainbridge left behind in this monument more than two hundred years ago."
Haddad knew the speaker to be the museum's curator. Two people flanked the administrator-a man and a woman, both elderly. He'd seen their pictures in The Sunday Times. Both were former Bletchley Park cryptanalysts, commissioned to weigh the possibilities and decipher whatever code the monument supposedly contained. And the general consensus seemed to be that the monument was a code.
What else could it be? many had asked.
He listened as the curator explained how an announcement had been published concerning the monument, and 130 solutions had been offered by a variety of cryptographers, theologians, linguists, and historians.
"Some were quite bizarre," the curator said, "involving UFOs, the Holy Grail, and Nostradamus. Of course, these particular solutions came with little or no supporting evidence, so they were quickly discounted. A few of the entrants thought the letters an anagram, but the words they assembled made little sense."
Which Haddad could well understand.
"One promising solution came from a former American military code breaker. He drew up eighty-two decryption matrices and ultimately extracted the letters SEJ from the sequencing. Reversed, this is JES. Applying a complex flag grid, he extracted Jesus H defy. Our Bletchley Park consultants thought this a message that denied the divine nature of Christ. This solution is a reach, to say the least, but intriguing."
Haddad smiled at such nonsense. Thomas Bainbridge had been a devoutly religious man. He would not have denied Christ.
The elderly lady beside the curator stepped to the podium. She was silver-haired and wore a powder-blue suit.
"This monument presented a great opportunity for us," she said in a melodious tone. "When I and others worked at Bletchley, we faced many challenges from the German codes. They were difficult. But if the human mind can conceive a code, it can also decipher it. The letters here are more complex. Personal. Which makes their interpretation difficult. Those of us retained to study all one hundred thirty possible solutions to this puzzle could not come to a clear consensus. Like the public, we were divided. But one possible meaning did make sense." She turned and motioned to the monument behind her. "I think this is a love note."
She paused, seemingly allowing her words to take hold.
"OVOSVAVV stands for "Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantis-simus Vovit Virtutibus." Roughly, this means, "a devoted widower dedicated to the best of wives and the best of sisters." This is not a perfect translation. Sororis in classical Latin can mean "of companions' as well as "of sisters." And vir, husband, would be better than viduus, widower. But the meaning is clear."
One of the reporters asked about the D and M that bookended the main clump of eight letters.
"Quite simple," she said. "Dis Manibus. A Roman inscription. "To the gods of the Underworld, hail." It's akin to our Rest in Peace. You'll find those letters on most Roman tombstones."
She seemed quite pleased with herself. Haddad wanted to pose a few pertinent inquiries that would burst her intellectual bubble, but he said nothing. He simply watched as the two Bletchley Park veterans were photographed before the monument with one of the German Enigma machines, borrowed for the occasion. Lots of smiles, questions, and laudatory comments.
Thomas Bainbridge was indeed a brilliant man. Unfortunately Bainbridge had never been able to communicate his thoughts effectively, so his brilliance languished and ultimately vanished unappreciated. To the eighteenth-century mind, he seemed a fanatic. But to Haddad he seemed a prophet. Bainbridge did know something. And the curious monument standing before him, the reverse image of an obscure painting and an odd assortment of ten letters, had been erected for a reason.
One Haddad knew.
Not a love note, nor a code, nor a message.
Something altogether different.