The Templar Legacy (Page 24)


MALONE LEFT THE HOUSE THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR, MAKING no attempt to hide his departure. The two men he'd noticed earlier were stationed at the far end of the street, around a corner near the town wall where they could see Lars Nelle's residence. Their problem was, in order to follow him, they would have to traverse the same deserted street. Amateurs. Professionals would have split up. One at each end, ready to move in any direction. Just like in Roskilde, this conclusion lessened his apprehension. But he remained on edge, his senses alert, wondering who was so interested in what Stephanie was doing.

Could it really be the modern-day Knights Templar?

Back inside, Stephanie's lamenting had made him think of Gary. The death of a child seemed unspeakable. He could not imagine her grief. Maybe after he retired he should have stayed in Georgia, but Gary would not hear of that. Don't worry about me, his son had said. I'll come see you. Fourteen years old and the boy possessed such a level head. Still, the decision haunted him, especially now that he was once again risking his neck for somebody else's cause. His own father, though, had been the same way--dying when the submarine he commanded sank in the North Atlantic during a training exercise. Malone was ten and he remembered his mother taking the death hard. At the memorial service, she'd even refused the folded flag offered her by the honor guard. But he'd accepted it and, ever since, the red, white, and blue bundle had stayed with him. With no grave to visit, that flag was his only physical reminder of the man he barely knew.

He came to the end of the street. He didn't have to glance back to know that one of the men was following him, the other staying with Stephanie at the house.

He turned left and headed toward Sauniere's domain.

Rennes was clearly not a night place. Bolted doors and shuttered windows lined the way. The restaurant, bookstore, and kiosks were all closed. Darkness sheathed the lane in deep shadow. The wind murmured beyond the walls like a soul in pain. The scene was like something from Dumas, as if life here spoke only in whispers.

He paraded up the incline toward the church. The Villa Bethanie and presbytery were shut tight, the tree garden beyond illuminated by a half-moon broken by clouds racing past overhead.

The gate to the churchyard remained open, as Stephanie said it would be. He headed straight for it, knowing that his tail would come, too. Just inside, he used the thickening darkness to slip behind a huge elm. He peered back and saw his pursuer enter the cemetery, the pace quickening. As the man passed the tree, Malone pounced and jammed a fist into the other man's abdomen. He was relieved to feel no body armor. He pounded another blow across the jaw, sending his pursuer to the ground, then yanked him up.

The younger man was short, muscular, and clean-shaven with close-cropped light hair. He was dazed as Malone patted him down, quickly finding the bulge of a weapon. He reached beneath the man's jacket and withdrew a pistol. A Beretta Bobcat. Italian made. A tiny semi-automatic, designed as a last-resort backup. He'd once carried one himself. He brought the barrel to the man's neck and pressed his opponent firm against the tree.

"The name of your employer, please."

No response.

"You understand English?"

The man shook his head, as he continued to suck air and orient himself.

"Since you understood my question, do you comprehend this?" He cocked the hammer on the gun.

A stiffening signaled that the younger man registered the message.

"Your employer."

A shot rang out and a bullet thudded into the tree trunk just above their heads. Malone whirled to see a silhouetted figure standing a hundred feet away, perched where the belvedere met the cemetery wall, rifle in hand.

Another shot and a bullet skipped off the ground within inches of his feet. He released his hold and his original pursuer bolted out of the parish close.

But he was more concerned now with the shooter.

He saw the figure abandon the terrace, disappearing back onto the belvedere. A new energy swept through him. Gun in hand, he fled the cemetery and ran toward a narrow passageway between the Villa Bethanie and the church. He recalled the geography from earlier. The tree garden lay beyond, enclosed by an elevated belvedere that wrapped U-shaped toward the Tour Magdala.

He rushed into the garden and saw the figure running across the belvedere. The only way up was a stone staircase. He raced for it and skipped up three steps at a time. On top the thin air slashed his lungs and the stiff wind attacked him without interference, molesting his body and slowing his progress.

He saw his assailant head straight for the Tour Magdala. He thought about trying a shot, but a sudden gust snatched at him, as if warning against it. He wondered where the attacker was headed. No other staircase led down, and the Magdala was surely locked for the night. To his left stretched a wrought-iron railing, beyond which were trees and a ten-foot drop to the garden. To his right, beyond a low stone wall, was a fifteen-hundred-foot drop. At some point, he was going to come face-to-face with whomever.

He rounded the terrace, passed through an iron glasshouse, and saw the form enter the Tour Magdala.

He stopped.

He'd not expected that.

He recalled what Stephanie had said about the building's geometry. About eighteen feet square, with a round turret that housed a winding staircase leading up to a crenellated rooftop. Sauniere had once housed his private library inside.

He decided he had no choice. He trotted to the door, saw it was cocked open, and positioned himself to one side. He kicked the heavy wooden slab inward and waited for a shot.

Nothing came.

He risked a glance and saw that the room was empty. Windows filled two walls. No furniture. No books. Only bare wooden cases and two upholstered benches. A brick fireplace sat dark. Then he realized.

The roof.

He approached the stone staircase. The steps were short and narrow. He climbed the clockwise spiral to a steel door and tested it. No movement. He pushed harder. The portal was locked from the outside.

The door below slammed shut.

He descended the staircase and discovered that the only other exit was now locked from the outside, too. He stepped to a pair of fixed-pane windows that overlooked the tree garden and saw the black form leap from the terrace, grab hold of a thick limb, then drop to the ground with a surprising agility. The figure ran through the trees and headed for the car park about thirty yards away, the same one where he'd left the Peugeot earlier.

He stepped back and fired three bullets into the left side of the double windows. The leaded glass shattered, then broke away. He rushed forward and used the gun to clear away the shards. He hopped onto the bench below the sill and squeezed himself through the opening. The drop down was only about six feet. He jumped, then ran toward the car park.

Exiting the garden, he heard the rev of an engine and saw the black form atop a motorcycle. The driver whipped the cycle around and avoided the only street leading out of the car park, roaring down one of the side passages toward the houses.

He quickly decided to use the village's compactness to his advantage and bolted left, rushing down a short lane and turning at the main rue. A downward incline helped, and he heard the motorcycle approaching from his right. There would be but one opportunity, so he raised the gun and slowed his pace.

As the cyclist popped out of the alley, he fired twice.

One shot missed, but the other caught the frame in a burst of spark, then ricocheted off.

The motorcycle roared out the town's gate.

Lights began to spring on. Gunshots were surely a strange sound here. He stuffed the gun under his jacket, retreated down another alley, and made his way back toward Lars Nelle's house. He could hear voices behind him. People were coming out to investigate. In a few moments he would be back inside and safe. He doubted that the other two men were still around--or if they were, that they'd be a problem.

But one thing nagged at him.

He'd caught a suggestion of it as he'd watched the form leap from the terrace, then race away. Something in the movement.

Hard to tell for sure, but enough.

His assailant had been a woman.