"Kokejin's tomb must be here," Gray insisted.
Vigor sighed. "Then that leaves us the ceiling."
Gray assigned Kowalski to help boost the monsignor up. He stepped over to Seichan's side.
"Man, 1 got the raw end of this deal," Kowalski griped.
Ignoring him, Vigor pointed to the walls. "We'll start along the outer edges. You two do the middle."
Seichan climbed onto the altar. "I can reach the ones above here by myself."
As she stood, a cross of sunlight lit her back. She had stripped out of her vest and only wore a black T-shirt. Gray noted her curves as she reached up, the stretch of cotton over breast. Despite all his worries, a part of him was still male enough to appreciate it... yet he was still man enough to feel guilty about it.
Now wasn't the time ...
"I think I see a possibility . .." Seichan mumbled, extending to her toes, stretching higher.
Then she winced and came down on her heels. Her hand cupped her left side. She had strained her wound.
Gray climbed up next to her. "Let me help you."
He offered her a leg up, lacing his hands together into a stirrup.
She picked up the silver crucifix, then stepped into his hands.
As he straightened and lifted her, she balanced one hand atop his head and reached the crucifix toward the ceiling. Her left buttock was pressed against his cheek.
Oh, yeah, he was going to hell.
"I think... I think. . ." Seichan whispered. "It fits! This mark's carved deep, and the crucifix snugs right into it. A perfect match!"
Gray craned up, but all he could see were the underside of her breasts.
"Can you tell what Christ is staring at?" he asked, remembering Hagia Sophia.
"Down at the altar," she answered, but she seemed distracted. "The crucifix is seated in a circular block of stone. When I pushed the crucifix in there, I thought I felt something click. And the stone almost seems loose. With the crucifix in place, I think I can turn it. Maybe loosen it free."
"I don't think you should—"
He heard a scrape of stone. A loud clank sounded, but it came not from above. Gray stared down between his toes.
The altar dropped from under his feet, falling straight through the floor, taking Gray with it.
Seichan tumbled into his arms, hugging tight to his neck.
The stone slab hit the ground with a jarring impact, dropping Gray to one knee. Dust flumed up. One of the floor bricks broke away, smashed into the altar, and bounced away into the darkness that lay ahead.
Gray stared up. Though it had scared the breath out of him, they had fallen only four feet. Vigor and Kowalski stared down at them.
"1 think you found something, Indiana," Kowalski said with a smirk. He passed over a flashlight.
Gray rolled his eyes, but he accepted the flashlight. Seichan climbed off him, dusting herself off. Crouching, Gray pointed his light into the chamber revealed under the chapel. A dark archway beckoned.
He slid off the altar stone to the floor, Seichan at his shoulder.
Vigor and Kowalski climbed down to follow.
Two crossed arches formed the roof of a small chamber, half the size of the upper chapel. Lit by his flashlight, a low niche was cut into the back wall, framed in another archway.
"A loculi," Vigor said. "A tomb."
Within the niche, a body lay stretched across the bare stone, covered in folds of white cloth.
"Kokejin's tomb," Vigor said. "We found it."
Despite the excitement, they approached solemnly. Gray and Vigor stepped up. They needed to be sure. Vigor blessed their trespass with the sign of the cross and a mumbled prayer.
The monsignor reached a hand to the burial shroud.
"If something moves," Kowalski whispered, dead serious, "I'm out of here. Just so you know."
Vigor ignored him and reverently lifted away a fold of cloth from one end. "Silk," he whispered.
Dust wafted as he pulled it back.
The dome of a skull was revealed. Resting atop it shone a gold headpiece, rubies and sapphires reflected the light. Diamonds glistened.
"The princess's headpiece," Vigor said in a hushed voice.
Gray remembered Vigor's story, how Marco had the headpiece with him at his deathbed.
Vigor's hand trembled. "Marco must have willed that it be returned. Possibly even arranged to have her body removed and secured in secret, before she finally came to her final rest here."
Gray reached out and covered Vigor's hand with his own. "The third paitzu . . . the third key."
They were short on time.
Gray drew the silk shroud away from the rest of the bones.
Vigor gasped and fell back a step.
Even Gray froze, stunned.
It was not just one body beneath all the silk trapping.
Two skeletons lay within the tomb, entwined in each other's arms.
Gray recalled Vigor's story of the Church of San Lorenzo, how Marco Polo was interred there in 1324, but a later renovation revealed the body to be gone.
"We haven't just found Kokejin's tomb," Vigor said.
Gray nodded. "We found Marco Polo's tomb, too."
He stared down at the entwined pair.
What the two couldn't have in life, they had finally achieved in death.
To be together.
Gray wondered if he'd ever find a love that great. It reminded him of his parents, together through so much hardship, struggling through trials of debilitation and now dementia .. . yet they never gave up on each other.
Someone had to save them.
11:01 a.m. Washington, D.C.
Painter wished he could be on-site, but it would only delay the response team. From Sigma's com-center, he watched the live video feed. It was broad cast from a helmet camera of one of the strike team.
Ten minutes ago they'd had their first real break.
All morning Painter had busted balls to trace the international phone logs from Monsignor Verona's cell phone back to U.S. shores. Gray had mentioned that Amen Nasser had called Vigor's phone. To trace that call, Painter had to rattle powers from the Vatican's curia to Homeland Security's director of operations. At least with Seichan in tow, he had been able to play the terrorist card. It had opened doors normally closed.
Still, it took longer than he'd liked, but Painter finally knew from where the call had originated. A strike team waited on his word to begin the assault.
He leaned to the microphone. "Go."
Van doors slid open. The camera feed jittered and jumped. The team closed in from multiple directions, front and rear, running low, assault rifles in hand.
The strike team hit the building like a storm.
A battering ram smashed the front door open in one swing.
The feed went dark as his cameraman followed the others into the building. The team fanned out.
Unable to sit any longer, he stood up, leaning his fists on the communication array. Technicians crowded either side, viewing other monitors as satellite feed streamed in from Indonesia. A major storm with hurricane-strength winds blanketed most of their region, hampering the search for the hijacked Mistress of the Seas. The storm also grounded a good number of the search planes out of Australia and Indonesia.
The lack of progress had boiled up Painter's frustration. His fear for Lisa, for Monk, had grown close to crippling.
Then the hit on the phone trace.
He needed a win.
At least here.
Within his earpiece, he heard the chatter of the strike team, crisscrossing reports and call-outs. Finally, one clear voice rang through, coming from the cameraman. He had stopped inside what looked like a meat locker. Hooks hung from the roof.
"Director Crowe, we've completed the sweep of the butcher shop. We're negative on the targets. The place is deserted."
The video jittered as the cameraman bent down—then straightened, lifting his fingers into view.
They were damp.
"Sir, we've got blood."
Oh, no . . .
One of the technicians glanced in his direction, saw something he didn't like in Painter's expression, and quickly turned back around.
A voice cut through his despair, coming from the door.
"Director Crowe . .."
A woman stood in the doorway, dressed in navy blues. Her auburn hair was tied away from her face, shining with fear and worry. He understood the haunted look in her eyes.
"Kat.. ." he said, straightening. It was Monk's wife.
"My aunt is watching Penelope. I couldn't just sit at home any longer."
He understood and lifted an arm. "We could use your help."
She sighed and nodded.
It was all they could do.
Keep moving, keep fighting.
In any way they could.
Vigor stared down at the entwined bodies.
Marco and Kokejin.
The discovery still kept him frozen in front of the slab. Others were not as moved. Seichan pushed between Gray and Vigor.
She pointed an arm. "The third gold passport."
Gray pulled the burial shroud fully aside. Nestled between the bodies, covered by the two skeletal hands, a glint of gold shone past the bones.
It was the third paitzu.
And resting beside it was a familiar length of bronze tube.
The third and final scroll.
With a reverential gentleness, Gray removed the items. He slipped the headpiece off the skull, too. "It might bear a clue," he justified.
Vigor didn't argue. With the burial chamber opened, it would be quickly stolen if left unattended.
They all climbed back up into the chapel.
Once there, they gathered in a corner of the room.
Gray turned over the golden passport to reveal a third angelic glyph.
"We have them all," Seichan said.
"But not the entire story," Gray said. He pulled out his notebook and nodded to Vigor. "Let's hear it."
Vigor needed no further prompting. He nicked open the bronze tube and extracted the scroll. "Silk again," he commented, and began unwrapping it with care.
The last piece of the story was longer, stretching a quarter of the way across the chapel floor. Vigor translated Marco's Italian dialect. The harrowing tale continued with the appearance of the glowing angelic figures, coming upon Marco's party trapped inside a tower room.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com