The Templar Legacy (Page 5)

6:15 PM

MALONE WAITED UNTIL AFTER THE AUCTION STARTED BEFORE slipping into the hall. He was familiar with the setup and knew bidding would not begin before six twenty, as there were preliminary matters of buyer registration and seller agreements that had to be verified before any money began changing hands.

Roskilde was an ancient town nestled beside a slender saltwater fjord. Founded by Vikings, it had served as Denmark's capital until the fifteenth century and continued to exude a regal grace. The auction was held downtown, near the Domkirke, in a building off Skomagergade, where shoemakers had once dominated. Bookselling was an art form in Denmark. There was a nationwide appreciation for the written word--one Malone, as a lifelong bibliophile, had come to admire. Where once books were simply a hobby, a diversion from the pressures of his risky career, now they were his life.

Spotting Peter Hansen and Stephanie near the front, he stayed toward the rear, behind one of the stone pillars supporting the vaulted ceiling. He had no intention of bidding, so it mattered not if the auctioneer could see him.

Books came and went, some for respectable numbers of kroner. But he noticed Peter Hansen perk up as the next item was displayed.

"Pierres Gravees du Languedoc, by Eugene Stublein. Copyright 1887," the auctioneer announced. "A local history, quite common for the time, printed in only a few hundred copies. This is part of an estate we recently acquired. This book is very fine, leather-bound, no marks, with some extraordinary prints--one is reproduced in the catalog. Not something we normally bother with, but the volume is quite lovely, so we thought there may be some interest. An opening bid, please."

Three came fast, all low, the last at four hundred kroner. Malone did the math. Sixty dollars. Hansen then weighed in at eight hundred. No more bids came from the other potential buyers until one of the representatives who worked phones for those unable to attend called out a bid of one thousand kroner.

Hansen seemed perturbed by the unexpected challenge, especially from a long-distance bidder, and upped his offer to 1,050. Phone Man retaliated with two thousand. A third bidder joined the fray. Shouts continued until the bid soared to nine thousand kroner. Others appeared to sense there might be something more to the book. Another minute of intense bidding ended with Hansen's offer of twenty-four thousand kroner.

More than four thousand dollars.

Malone knew Stephanie was a salaried civil servant, somewhere in the seventy- to eighty-thousand-dollar-a-year range. Her husband had died years ago and left her with some assets, but she was not wealthy and certainly not a book collector, so he wondered why she was willing to pay so much for an unknown travel log. People brought them into his shop by the box, many from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when personal accounts of faraway places were popular. Most sported purple prose and were, by and large, worthless.

This one clearly seemed an exception.

"Fifty thousand kroner," the representative for Phone Man called out.

More than double Hansen's last bid.

Heads turned and Malone retreated behind the pillar as Stephanie whirled to face the phone bank. He peered around the edge and watched as Stephanie and Hansen conversed, then returned their attention to the auctioneer. A moment of silence passed while Hansen seemed to consider his next move, but he was clearly taking his cue from Stephanie.

She shook her head.

"Item is sold to the telephone bidder for fifty thousand kroner."

The auctioneer retrieved the book from the display stand and a fifteen-minute break was announced. Malone knew the house was going to take a look at Pierres Gravees du Languedoc to see what made it worth more than eight thousand dollars. He knew the Roskilde dealers were astute and unaccustomed to treasures slipping past them. But apparently, something had this time.

He continued to hug the pillar while Stephanie and Hansen remained near their seats. A number of familiar faces filled the hall and he hoped no one called out his name. Most were idling toward the other corner where refreshments were being offered. He noticed two men approach Stephanie and introduce themselves. Both were stocky, with short hair, dressed in chinos and crew-necked shirts beneath loose-fitting tan jackets. As one bent to shake Stephanie's hand, Malone noticed the distinctive bulge of a weapon nestled against his spine.

After some discussion, the men withdrew. The conversation had appeared friendly, and while Hansen drifted toward the free beer, Stephanie approached one of the attendants, spoke a moment, then left the hall through a side door.

Malone moved straight for the same attendant, Gregos, a thin Dane whom he knew well.

"Cotton, so good to see you."

"Always on the lookout for a bargain."

Gregos smiled. "Tough to find those here."

"Looked like that last item was a shock."

"I thought it would fetch maybe five hundred kroner. But fifty thousand? Amazing."

"Any idea why?"

Gregos shook his head. "Beyond me."

Malone motioned toward the side door. "The woman you were just talking to. Where was she headed?"

The attendant gave him a knowing look. "You interested in her?"

"Not like that. But I am interested."

Malone had been a favorite of the auction house since a few months back when he helped find a wayward seller who'd offered three volumes of Jane Eyre, circa 1847, that turned out to be stolen. When the police seized the books from the new buyer, the auction house had to refund every krone, but the seller had already cashed the house check. As a favor, Malone found the man in England and retrieved the money. In the process, he'd made some grateful friends in his new home.

"She was asking about the Domkirke, where it is located. Particularly the chapel of Christian IV."

"She say why?"

Gregos shook his head. "Only that she was going to walk over."

He reached out and shook the man's hand. In his grasp lay a folded thousand-krone note. He saw that Gregos appreciated the offering and casually slipped the money into his pocket. Gratuities were frowned upon by the auction house.

"One more thing," he said. "Who was the high bidder on the phone for that book?"

"As you know, Cotton, that information is strictly confidential."

"As you know, I hate rules. Do I know the bidder?"

"He owns the building that you rent in Copenhagen."

He nearly smiled. Henrik Thorvaldsen. He should have known.

The auction was reconvening. As buyers retook their seats, he made his way toward the entrance and noticed Peter Hansen sitting down. Outside, he stepped into a cool Danish evening, and though nearly eight PM the summer sky remained backlit with bars of dull crimson from a slowly setting sun. Several blocks away loomed the redbrick cathedral, the Domkirke, where Danish royalty had been buried since the thirteenth century.

What was Stephanie doing there?

He was just about to head that way when two men approached. One pressed something hard into his back.

"Nice and still, Mr. Malone, or I will shoot you here and now," the voice whispered in his ear.

He glanced left and right.

The two men who'd been talking to Stephanie in the hall flanked him. And in their features he saw the same anxious look he'd seen a few hours ago on Red Jacket's face.