Painter related what he knew about the Christmas Island crabs.
Lisa understood immediately. "Susan must have been rewired in the same way. A chemically induced migratory impulse."
"If that's so, then maybe she's mistaken about the necessity to go there. It might just be a blind drive. There's no reason to risk going there yourselves. Not until things quiet down. Let Gray play out his game."
Lisa was not convinced. "I think you're right about an underlying biological drive. And in a lower life-form, like a crab, it might be nothing more than blind instinct. Crabs, like all arthropods, have only rudimentary—"
She stopped talking. Painter feared he'd lost the connection. But sometimes Lisa did that when she had a sudden insight. She would just switch off, using her full faculties to pursue some angle of thought.
It took another moment for her to respond.
"Susan could be right," she mumbled—then louder, firmer: "I have to get her there."
Painter spoke rapidly, knowing that they were about to lose the connection. He heard the resolve in Lisa's voice and feared he would not have time to dissuade her. If she was going to Angkor, he wanted her somewhere out of harm's way.
"Then land at the large lake near the ruins," he said. "Tonle Sap Lake. There's a floating village there. Find a phone, contact me again, but stay hidden there. I have a campaign being organized in the area."
He barely made out her next words, something about doing her best.
Painter attempted one last exchange. "Lisa, what did you figure out?"
Her words cut in and out. "Not sure . . . liver flukes. . . virus must—"
Then the call fully died away. Painter called out a few more times, but he failed to raise her again.
A knock at his door drew his eyes up.
Kat rushed in, eyes sparkling, cheeks bright. "I heard! About Dr. Cummings! Is it true?"
Painter stared up at Kat. He read the question in Kat's expression, in her whole body, a yearning to know. Lisa had told him. First thing. She had spoken in a rush, needing to unburden herself. Afterward, Painter had compartmentalized it away.
But confronted by Kat, by her hope, by her love, the truth struck him hard.
He stood and stepped around the table.
Kat saw it in his face.
She backed away from him, as if she could escape what was coming.
"Oh, no . . ." She grabbed a chair arm, but it failed to hold her. She went down to a knee, then collapsed to the other, covering her face with her hands. "No . . ."
Painter joined her on the floor.
He had no words to offer her, only his arms.
It wasn't enough.
He pulled her against him, wondering how many more would die before this was over.
They were running out of places to retreat.
Harriet waited for her husband at the foot of the stairs that led up to the top floor. She stood in the stairwell doorway. Jack had gone out to leave more false trails for the hunting dogs. She had already stripped her husband's shirt and helped him hide pieces of it across the lower two floors: tossed into boarded-up offices, shoved into piles of refuse, hung from the metal drawer in a maze of secretarial cubicles. They did their best to confound the pursuers.
Jack had been hunting all his life. Duck, pheasant, quail, deer. He'd had his share of retrievers before the oil-rig accident required amputating his leg below the knee. He knew dogs.
And he still had three rounds left in the pistol he had stolen from the guard. Harriet sought any measure of hope. But she heard the dogs barking below. Annishen had been systematically clearing each level. She knew they were up here, periodically calling out to them, taunting them.
All the exits were well guarded. Even the fire escapes. No neighboring buildings were close enough to reach. And the entire district looked long abandoned. Not a light shone, except far off in the distance. There was no one to hear a call for help. They'd tried a few dusty wall phones, but they were all dead.
Like the desperate fleeing a high-rise fire, they had nowhere to go but up. And only one last floor remained. That and the roof.
Harriet heard a scuffle, and her husband appeared out of the gloom, dressed only in his boxers, carrying the pistol. He limped up to her.
"What are you still doing here?" he whispered in a hard voice. His face shone with sweat. She recognized his angry tone only masked his fear for her. "I told you to get up there."
"Not without you."
He sighed and hooked an arm around her. "Then let's go."
They headed up to the top floor, using one of the narrow back stairs. Below them in the stairwell, a waste-management Dumpster had been shoved down the steps long ago, blocking the way up from lower levels.
It should have been safe.
A low growl dismissed this conceit. A scuffling sounded on the lower landing, from beyond the Dumpster.
They both froze.
"Whatchu smell in there, girl?" a voice barked. Footsteps entered the lower stairwell. A flashlight's glow flowed up to them.
Harriet and Jack edged to the walls.
The snarling grew more intense.
"Get up there now. Go on. Squeeze on through there."
Jack pushed Harriet up the stairs. They moved quietly.
Below, the snarling had softened to a heavy snuffling, along with a frantic scrabbling of claws on tile.
"There you go," the voice said. "Flush 'em out. I'll go on around." The voice headed out of the lower stairwell, plainly seeking another way up. A crackle of radio trailed after him along with some mumbling as he reported in.
They were sending the dogs up to the next level.
As Harriet and Jack fled up toward the door at the next landing, a sharp bark echoed to them, half triumphant, half savage. Something large pounded up the steps.
"Run, Harriet," Jack urged.
She fled ahead and reached the next landing. The door to the top floor lay a yard away, closed. Behind her, Jack missed his footing in the dark and fell. He crashed two steps below. The pistol skated across the landing to Harriet's toes. She quickly gathered it up. As she straightened, lights through the tiny window in the stairwell door caught her eye.
Flashlights bobbled across the dark top floor.
Annishen called out. "We'll search through here and work down. Squeeze them out."
Harriet turned. Jack scrabbled up toward her. Beyond his form, a dark shape rounded the lower stairs and bounded toward her husband. A thick growl flowed.
Harriet lifted her pistol. If she fired, Annishen would hear the shot. Their captors would know where they were hiding and swarm here in seconds.
She hesitated too long.
Snarling savagely, the massive dog leaped at her husband.
Seichan stood a step away as Gray circled the central altar.
It had taken them almost twenty minutes of backtracking and searching to discover the route up to the central sanctuary of the Bayon's third level. The ten-acre complex was a veritable maze of dark galleries, sudden sunlit courtyards, stooped passages, and precipitous drops. The low ceilings scraped heads, some walkways had to be traversed in single file, shuffling sideways, and many corridors merely dead-ended.
By the time they reached the small inner sanctuary, they were all dusty, covered in sweat. The morning had rapidly warmed, and humidity weighted the air down. But they had reached their destination.
"Nothing's here," Nasser said sourly.
Seichan recognized his attitude, read the hard stance to his posture. She doubted his patience would last until noon. Unless there was some real progress soon, she expected he would end things in the next hour. Order Gray's parents killed. Execute all of them here. And move on.
No damn imagination.
It made him a dull lover.
Ahead, Gray circled the altar a third time. He was drawn thin, covered in dust and dirt, black hair plastered to his forehead, sticking out in damp tufts. Dried blood caked at his collar, where he'd been pistol-whipped behind the ear by one of Nasser's men back at the hotel.
He still refused to look at her.
It made her angry, mostly because it hurt, and she hated that even more. She sought that place of cold dispassion where she once easily lived, a dispassion that allowed her to sleep with Nasser to get what she needed, as she'd been trained to do.
Seichan turned her attention to the guards, going practical, strategizing some way out of here. The guards were mostly locals, including many former Khmer Rouge soldiers, long recruited by the Guild, gathered after the fall of the genocidal dictator Pol Pot. They would be fierce fighters. They guarded the four exits to the chamber, heading off in each cardinal direction. More men had taken posts throughout the ruins, discouraging tourists from disturbing them.
"According to what I read about this place, a giant statue of Buddha once rested here," the monsignor announced, pacing Gray around the altar. Vigor waved an arm across the two rectangular slabs, stair-stepped one atop the other. "But when the religion changed to Hinduism, the Buddha was torn down and tossed into that large well we passed coming up here."
The only other bits of decoration in the stone room were four more shadowy faces of the bodhisattva Lokesvara. Only these were all gazing inward, toward the altar and its missing Buddha. Kowalski leaned against one face, staring upward.
The great central tower of the Bayon rose above the altar, climbing forty meters. Cored through its center like a chimney, a square shaft cut straight up to the sky above. It was the only source of light.
"This has to be the place," Gray said, finally stopping. "There has to be a way down from here."
"Down to where?" Nasser asked.
Gray lifted a hand toward the monsignor. "Vigor mentioned how the foundations of this tower were buried underground. Deep. We need to find some access to those lower rooms. And I wager under the altar would be a good place to look."
Vigor stepped next to him. "Why do you think it's important?"
Gray swiped the hair from his brow, plainly weighing how much to say.
Nasser also read the man's hesitation. "We're past another hour mark." He tapped a finger on his wristwatch. "Tick tock, Commander."
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