Not a child's vengeance. Only justice.
Nasser shoved open the door to the sedan. He owed his father—if only for the lesson taught to an eight-year-old boy, kneeling before his strangled mother.
Such a lesson would serve him again this night.
To be cold. In all ways.
Exiting the car, Nasser crossed and opened the rear door. Annishen unfolded out of the backseat, rising with a rustle of black leather, resplendent in an Italian-designed calfskin jacket and a dark suede outfit, a match to his Armani suit. There was not a drop of blood on her, proving again the artistry of her craft. He slipped his arm around her and closed the door.
She leaned against him. "The night is just beginning," she whispered with a contented sigh.
He pulled her closer. Just two lovers returning from a late dinner.
The summer night was still muggy, but the apartment lobby was air-conditioned. The doors sighed open to greet them with a swipe of Dr. Cor-rin's key card. The guard glanced up from his desk.
Nasser nodded to him, striding toward the neighboring elevator bank. Annishen offered a tinkling giggle, purring up against Nasser's side, plainly anxious to get to their apartment. Her hand sidled to the holstered Glock at his waist.
Just in case . . .
But the guard merely nodded back, mumbled a "good evening," and returned his attention to the magazine he was reading.
Nasser shook his head as he reached the elevator bank. Typical. What passed for security here in America was more show than substance.
He called the elevator with a press of a button.
Shortly thereafter, Nasser and Annishen stood before apartment 512. He swiped the same key card across the door lock. The indicator light changed from red to green.
He glanced to Annishen. He read the dance in her eyes, stirred from the earlier bloodshed.
"We need at least one of them alive," he warned.
She feigned a pout and drew her weapon.
Using one finger, Nasser pushed the door handle down. He edged the way open on well-oiled hinges. Not even a creak. He entered first, slipping into the marble foyer. A light flowed from a bedroom in back.
Nasser paused just inside the door.
One eye narrowed.
There was something too still about the air. Too quiet. He needed to go no farther. He held his breath. He knew the apartment was empty.
Still, he waved Annishen to one side. He took the other. In moments, they swept the apartment's rooms, checking even closets.
No one was here.
Annishen stood in the master bedroom. The bed was made and looked untouched. "The doctor lied to us," she said with clear irritation and a moderate note of respect. "They're not here."
Nasser was in the master bathroom. Down on one knee. He had spotted something on the floor, rolled under the edge of the bathroom's cherry vanity.
He picked it up.
A red prescription bottle. Empty.
He read the label. The patient. Jackson Pierce.
"They were here," he muttered hard, and straightened up.
Dr. Corrin had not lied. He had told them the truth—or at least, what he thought was the truth.
"They've moved on," Nasser said, and strode back to the bedroom.
He clenched the empty pill bottle in his fist, swallowing his fury, Commander Pierce had tricked him yet again. First with the obelisk, now with this shuffle of his parents.
"What now?" Annishen asked.
He lifted the pill bottle.
One last chance.
7:30 A.M. Istanbul
"To begin," Seichan said, "what do you know about Marco Polo?"
She had donned a set of blue-tinted sunglasses. The sun had risen enough that the rooftop restaurant was a mix of shadows and glaring brightness. They had moved to a secluded corner table, sheltered under an umbrella.
Gray heard the clear hesitation in her voice—and maybe a trace of relief. Her will teetered between a wary desire to control the flow of knowledge and a compulsion to release the burden of its weight.
"Polo was a thirteenth-century explorer," Gray answered. He had read up a bit on the man on the journey here. "Along with his father and uncle, Marco spent two decades in China as honored guests of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. And after returning to Italy in 1295, Marco narrated his travels to a French writer named Rustichello, who wrote it all down."
Marco's book, The Description of the World, became an instant hit in Europe, sweeping the continent with its fantastic tales: of vast and lonely deserts in Persia, of China's teeming cities, of far-off lands populated by naked idolaters and sorcerers, of islands fraught with cannibals and strange beasts. The book ignited the imagination of Europe. Even Christopher Columbus carried a copy on his voyage to the New World.
"But what does any of this have to do with what's going on today?" Gray finished.
"Everything," Seichan answered, glancing around the table.
Vigor sipped his tea. Kowalski leaned his ear on a fist propped up by an elbow. While the man looked bored, Gray noted how his eyes clocked around, studying them all, tracking the interplay. Gray suspected there were depths to the man as yet unplumbed. Kowalski absently fed crumbs of tea cakes to scrabbling sparrows.
Seichan continued, "Marco Polo's tales were not as clear-cut as most people believe. No original text exists of Marco Polo's book, only copies of copies. And in any such translations and reeditions, marked differences have cropped up."
"Yes, I read about that," Gray said, trying to hurry her along. "So many disparities that some now wonder if Marco Polo ever really existed. Or if he was merely a fabrication of the French writer."
"He existed," Seichan insisted.
Vigor nodded his head in agreement. "I've heard the case against Marco Polo. Of his significant gaps in his descriptions of China." The monsignor lifted his cup. "Like the Far East's passion for drinking tea. A concoction unknown to Europeans at the time. Or the practice of foot binding or the use of chopsticks. Marco fails to even mention the Great Wall. Plainly these are glaring and suspicious omissions. Yet Marco also got many things right: the peculiar manufacture of porcelain, the burning of coal, even the first use of paper money."
Gray heard the certainty in the monsignor's voice. Maybe it was just Vigor's Italian pride, but Gray sensed a deeper confidence.
"Either way," Gray finally conceded, "what does this have to do with us?"
"Because there was another serious omission in all the editions of Polo's book," Seichan said. "It concerns Marco's return trip to Italy. Kublai Khan conscripted the Polos to escort a Mongol princess named Kokejin to her betrothed in Persia. For such a grand undertaking, the Khan supplied the group with fourteen giant galleys and over six hundred men. Yet when they reached port in Persia, only two ships had survived the journey and only eighteen men."
"What happened to the rest?" Kowalski mumbled.
"Marco Polo never told. The French writer Rustichello hints at something in the preface to the famous book, a tragedy among the islands of Southeast Asia. But it was never written. Even on his deathbed, Marco Polo refused to tell of what happened."
"And this is true?" Gray asked.
"It is a mystery that was never solved," Vigor answered. "Most historians guessed disease or piracy beset the fleet. All that is known for certain is that Marco's ships drifted among the Indonesian islands for five months, only escaping with a fraction of the Khan's fleet intact."
"So," Seichan asked, pressing the significance, "why would such a dramatic part of his journey be left out of Marco's book? Why did he take it to his grave?"
Gray had no answer. But the mystery stirred a nagging worry. He sat a bit straighter. In his head, he began to get an inkling of where this might be leading.
Vigor's countenance had also grown more shadowed. "You know what happened among those islands, don't you?"
She dipped her head in acknowledgment. "The first edition of Marco Polo's book was written in French. But there was a movement during Marco's lifetime: to reproduce books in the Italian dialect. It was driven by a famous contemporary of Marco Polo."
"Dante Alighieri," Vigor said.
Gray glanced to the monsignor.
Vigor explained, "Dante's Divine Comedy, including the famous Inferno, were the first books written in Italian. Even the French came to nickname the Italian language la Langue de Dante.''
Seichan nodded. "And such a revolution did not pass by Marco. According to historical records, he translated a French copy of his book into his native language. For his countrymen to appreciate. But in the process, he made one secret copy for himself. In that one book, he finally related what befell the Khan's fleet. Wrote that last story."
"Impossible," Vigor mumbled. "How would such a book have remained hidden for so long? Where has it been?"
"At first, at the Polos' family estate. Then eventually in a place more secure." Seichan stared at Vigor.
"You can't mean—"
"The Polos were sent abroad by order of Pope Gregory. There are some who claim that Marco's father and uncle were the first Vatican spies, sent as double agents into China to scout the strength of the Mongol forces. The veritable founders of the agency you once served, Monsignor Verona."
Vigor sank back into his seat, retreating into his own thoughts. "The secret diary was hidden in the archives," he mumbled.
"Buried away, unregistered. Just another edition of Marco's book to all outside eyes. It would take a thorough reading to realize that there was an extra chapter woven near the end of the book."
"And the Guild got ahold of this edition?" Gray asked. "Learned something important."
Gray frowned. "But how did the Guild get their hands on this secret text in the first place?"
Taking off her sunglasses, Seichan stared him full in the face, accusing, angry.
"You gave it to them, Gray."
Vigor read the shock in the commander's face.