They were marched out to the street.


They had been in a boarded-up butcher's shop, one of a row of closed businesses on the block. Harriet searched around for landmarks. They were somewhere in Arlington. Harriet knew they had crossed the Potomac after being kidnapped.


But where?


A black Dodge van was parked half a block away.


Morning traffic was already picking up. A few homeless men and women were gathered in an alcove of a Laundromat. A shopping cart stood by them, piled high with stuffed plastic bags.


Annishen ignored the homeless and led her group to the van. She unlocked it with her remote and the rear side door slid open on its own.


Jack walked in a leaden daze, barely noting his surroundings.


Harriet waited until they were even with the men gathered around the shopping cart. Her right hand still rested on Jack's belly.


I'm sorry.


She pinched his skin through his shirt and twisted.


Jack jerked straight, snapping out of his passivity.


"Noooo!"


He fought the guard.


"I don't know you people!" he hollered. "Get away from me!"


Harriet tugged at him. "Jack . . . Jack . . . Jack. Calm down."


He swatted at her, striking her hard on the shoulder.


"Hey!" one of the homeless men called out. He was skeletally thin with a ragged beard. He clutched a bottle, snugged in a paper sack. "What are you doing to that guy?"


Some faces inside the Laundromat lifted to stare out the steamy, streaked windows.


Annishen stepped back toward Harriet. She wore a thin smile, staring straight at Harriet. One hand rested in the pocket of her light hooded sweater, the threat plain.


Harriet rubbed Jack's belly and faced the bearded stranger. "He's my husband. He has Alzheimer's. We're . . . we're taking him to the hospital."


Her words soothed the wary cast to the man's face. He nodded. "Sorry to hear that, ma'am."


"Thank you."


Harriet led Jack into the van. They were soon settled in, and the doors closed. Annishen sat in the front passenger seat. As they pulled away, she turned to Harriet.


"Those pills had better kick in," she said. "Or next time, we'll leave him hanging from one of those butcher's hooks."


Harriet nodded.


Annishen turned back around.


One of the men reached from the backseat and pulled a black hood over her head. She heard a moan of protest from Jack as the same was done to him. She reached a hand over and gripped her husband's hand. His fingers gripped hers back, if only in a reflex of love.


I'm sorry, Jack. . .


Harriet's other hand slipped into the pocket of her sweater. Her fingertips nudged the pile of pills—the pills she had only pretended to give her husband. Before and now. She needed to keep Jack agitated, confused enough to act out.


To be seen ... to be remembered.


She closed her eyes, despairing.


Forgive me, Lord.


 


 


 


  12


Of a Map forbidden


July 6, 4:44 p.m. Strait of Hormuz


The Russian seaplane, a Beriev 103, coasted up from Qeshm Island International Airport and sailed out over the aquamarine waters of the Strait of Hormuz.


Gray was impressed with the short turnaround at the airport. Their jet from Istanbul had touched down only ten minutes ago. The amphibious plane had been waiting: fueled, engine warmed, its twin propellers slowly turning. The seaplane sat only six people, including the pilot, three sets of paired seats, lined one behind the other.


But it was swift.


The sea crossing to the island of Hormuz would take no more than twenty minutes. They had made good time. Still, it would leave them only two hours to find the last key and use it and the others to decipher the angelic script on the obelisk.


Gray had used the time aboard the private jet, provided via Seichan's black market connections, to study the obelisk's complicated code. Even on such a short flight as this, every minute counted. Seated in the back row by himself, he pulled out his notebook again, scribbled with notes and possibilities. He had already tried converting all the obelisk's scripts into letters, like Vigor had done with the Vatican's angelic script, which spelled out HAGIA. But he had made no real headway.


Even with Vigor's help.


Back on the jet, the two of them had poured over the cryptogram. Vigor was better with ancient languages. But it proved no use. Decoding was made especially difficult because they didn't know which of the four surfaces of the obelisk was the starting point, and in which direction it should be read, clockwise or counterclockwise.


That created eight possibilities.


Vigor had finally rubbed his eyes, admitting defeat. "Without the third key, we'll never figure this out."


Gray refused to believe that. The two had even gotten into a brief argument. They mutually decided to take some time apart, to quit banging their heads together over the riddle. Gray knew much of the shortness of his temper was tied to the knot in his stomach.


Even now he felt like vomiting. Every time he closed his eyes, he pictured his mother's face. He saw the blame in his father's eyes.


So Gray stopped closing his eyes and continued to work.


It was all he could do.


Gray stared again at one of the letter-substitution pages.


Seven more possibilities covered the next pages.


Which was right? Where to even begin?


Ahead, a loud snort drew his attention forward. Kowalski had already fallen asleep. Probably before the wheels even left the tarmac.


Vigor shared the neighboring seat, poring over the silk diary yet again. It was surely a dead end. The monsignor scowled at Kowalski's racket and undid his belt. He slid back to join Gray and collapsed in the next seat. He held the scroll in his hands.


A moment of awkward silence stretched.


Gray closed his notebook. "Back there . . . earlier . . ."


"I know." Vigor reached out and gently patted his hand. "We're all worried. But 1 wanted to run something by you. Get your thoughts."


Gray straightened. "Sure."


"I know you want to solve the obelisk's code. But since we're about to land, maybe now's a good time to figure out where on Hormuz Island the third key might be."


"I thought we already knew where to search," Gray said.


Unable to resist he reopened the notebook and tapped the angelic symbol found on the back of the third gold paitzu.


They had compared it to a map of the island and discovered that the blackened circle marked the location of the ruins of an old Portuguese castle, built about a century before the keys were hidden. In its prime, it had been a prominent stronghold. Built on an isthmus and separated by a moat, it had overlooked the town of Hormuz and the best anchorage ports. To those Vatican mystics looking to hide a key for the ages, the castle would have appeared to be a good place.


They were headed to its ruins now.


Vigor nodded. "Yes, the Portuguese castle. But what I meant was why are we searching there. If we knew that, we might figure out what to look for inside the castle ruins."


"Okay, so where do we begin?"


Vigor pointed out Gray's porthole window. The island could be seen ahead. "Hormuz was a major trading port, trafficking in jewels, spices, and slaves. Important enough that the Portuguese invaded during the sixteenth century and built their castle. But during Marco's time, it was also important enough for Kublai Khan to send a young woman of his household here to be married off."


"Kokejin, the Blue Princess."


"It was purely a commercial arrangement. In fact, the Persian king to whom she was betrothed died while Marco and Kokejin were en route. She ended up marrying the man's son. But again it was a marriage of convenience. She ended up dying only three years later. Some say at her own hand, some say because she was pining for another love."


Gray turned. "You don't mean—"


"Even Marco did not marry until after Kokejin was dead. And when Marco did die, he had two treasures in his room. The gold paitzu that Kublai Khan had given to him. But also a golden headpiece, encrusted with jewels." Vigor stared pointedly at him. "A princess's headpiece."


Gray straightened, imagining Marco's long two-year voyage, traveling and exploring exotic lands. Marco was still relatively young when he left Kublai Khan's palace, in his midthirties. Kokejin was seventeen when she left China, nineteen when she reached Persia. It was not impossible to imagine them falling in love, a love that could never last beyond Hormuz.


Gray rubbed at the headache he'd been fighting. He remembered the brick back at Hagia Sophia, the interior glazed in royal blue, a secret hidden in stone. But could the brick also represent Marco's heart, symbolic of his secret love for Kokejin?


"Then we've forgotten another clue left to us," Vigor continued. He lifted the scroll. "The story was embroidered on silk. Why silk?"


Gray shrugged. "It's a material from the Far East, where Marco had traveled."


"Yes, but could it signify something more?"


Gray remembered Vigor bent over the scripture, even examining it with a loupe. "What did you discover?" he asked.


The monsignor lifted the scroll. "This silk was not new when it was embroidered with the text. The silk was worn thin and uneven. I found oils and old stains."


"So it was a used piece of silk."


"But what was it used for?" Vigor asked. "One of the most common uses for silk—due to its expense and rarity—was as shrouds, burial shrouds of royalty."


Vigor waited, staring at Gray. He slowly understood, picturing a hollow blue brick. Amazement crept into his voice. "You think it might be Kokejin's burial shroud."


"Possibly. But if I'm right, then I know what we must search for within that old castle."


Gray knew, too. "Kokejin's tomb."


4:56 P.M.


Seated in the copilot's seat, Seichan had an expansive view of the island as the seaplane dove toward a sheltered bay. It was not a large island, no more than four miles across. Its center was rocky and hilly, with sparse veins of green. Most of its coastlines were cliffs and isolated jagged bays, home to many smugglers' coves. But to the north, the higher slopes fell more gently toward the sea. Here, the land turned greener with date palms and tilled fields, nestling a small township of thatched huts.

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