Black On Black (Quentin Black Mystery #3) (27 page)

BOOK: Black On Black (Quentin Black Mystery #3)
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Angel shook her head. “Not without you,” she said.

I looked at her, then shook my head. “They won’t kill me.”

“You don’t know that, doc,” Nick said.

I glanced at him. “No, not for sure. But I really don’t think they will. Not while they can use me to control Black. Especially not after what I said to Black on the phone the other day.” I gave Angel a warning look. “I’m not at all sure about you two. They might kill you just to keep you quiet about all this. Or they might want to keep you to find out who your contacts are in the military or whatever else...”

I felt Nick’s dismissal of that.

He thought if Lucky wanted him and Angel dead, they’d be dead already.

I suspected he was right.

I also knew that, for Nick at least, this wasn’t about saving Black so much as saving his country and people from what he perceived as a potentially deadly threat in the form of Lucky and his trained “psychics.” That intelligence and military side of Nick frightened me too, if in a different way––but again, it wasn’t my priority right now.

I could feel that stubbornness emanating off both of them.

When neither said anything more for a few seconds, I shoved against the door.

It opened easily under my hand.

Taking a breath when I heard no alarms, I looked back at them.

“Well?” I said, looking between them. “You might think I’m crazy, but I honestly think I’ll be okay. I mean it. You guys did most of the set up. You gave me the leverage I needed...
 
and you got me here in one piece. We’re never going to outgun them, so risking both of you for a few extra weapons makes no sense.” I swallowed, glancing at Nick. “I’m just here to get Black. That part’s my job. Not yours.”

But Nick was already shaking his head, glancing at Angel.

She shook her head, too.

“If they want us dead, they’ll just kill us at the hotel,” Nick said, turning back towards me. “We’re all-in at this point, Miri. We might as well help you get your psycho boyfriend back while we’re here...” He gave me a grim smile.

Looking between them, I couldn’t think of a good response, so I just nodded.

A sharper pain rose in my chest as his words sank in however.

I didn’t want to think about whether I’d gotten my friends killed already.

Shoving hard at the revolving door, I pushed my way inside the glass structure.

The door created wind on its tracks, the rubber seals squeaking, and the next thing I knew, I stood inside the structure, on a terrace illuminated by yellow track-lighting that ran along the base of the pyramid’s glass walls. There wasn’t a sound apart from the swish of the door and a faint hum of electricity from the lights themselves.

I walked to the edge of the balcony overlooking the main lobby. A staircase stood to my left, a darkened escalator to my right. Below the terrace, it was even darker, despite some ambient light reaching the floor under the glass where the balcony didn’t intervene. Not a single thing moved on either level, not that I could see.

I pulled out the broad spectrum signal detector, checking that, too.

No cameras operating in here either.

I scanned the walls and corners and spotted a few cameras with my eyes, including one aimed right at where I stood. None had visible lights showing them to be switched on. A few appeared to be on swivels to pan around in an arc, but none of them moved.

Another swish of air and rubber seals made me turn back towards the door.

Nick entered. Angel walked through directly behind him. She had the tranquilizer gun out and in her hand now.

I watched them both look around, noting the same emptiness and silence that I had. Angel walked up to where I stood by the edge of the balcony. Nick remained somewhat behind her as he looked down the escalator then the spiral staircase on our other side. I watched him peer over the balcony wall too, frowning into that dimly-lit space, looking for movement.

“What are we doing, doc?” Angel murmured from next to me.

I gave her a grim smile.

“Walking into a trap?” I suggested.

She didn’t return my smile.

From the top of the spiral staircase, Nick gestured for both of us.

“This way,” he said, making a military hand-signal aiming down.

Angel glanced at me, giving me a slightly more prominent frown, but only nodded when she glanced at Nick. As we got closer to the top of the stairs, she motioned with the gun for me to walk ahead of her, putting me between her and Nick.

We descended to the main entrance of the museum.

Nick had his own tranquilizer gun out now as well, but I kept hold of the GPS, watching the blue dot shift orientation as we made our way silently to the lower floor. It got increasingly darker as we reached the bottom, then darker still as we walked away from the staircase and towards the south side of the lobby. When I glanced up, I could see the palace building through the glass pyramid, which now formed an enormous skylight over our heads.

I found myself wondering why since I’d met Black, I always seemed to be breaking into museums with glass pyramids in front of them.

I didn’t realize I was smiling until Nick gave me a puzzled look.

“Where to now, doc?” he said, once I’d wiped the smile away.

I showed him the GPS, motioning with my hand.

Nick nodded, and again led the way. We approached two darkened escalators with a staircase between them. Angel and I followed Nick up the staircase in the middle, making no noise apart from the occasional squeak of Angel’s rubber-soled boots. When we reached the top, I grabbed Nick’s arm, motioning for him and Angel to let me go ahead.

When Nick looked about to argue, I shook my head.

“I’m invited,” I said quietly.

I saw him thinking about my words, right before he seemed to concede my point.

I followed the GPS map under one of the smaller glass pyramids, which shone a smaller square of patterned yellow light on the floor. Just beyond that and a small souvenir stand stood the ticket collection gates.

We entered a narrow corridor––pitch black apart from a few lit exit signs.

I had my tranquilizer gun out now, too.

I held it down by my thigh, gripping my phone in my other hand with the GPS map illuminating my fingers.

We climbed a short flight of stairs, then a steeper spiral staircase, this one narrower than the one in the main lobby. The space opened up when I reached the top. I stood there, waiting for Nick and Angel to join me, the tranquilizer gun still gripped in my hand as I gazed down the length of a cavernous room.

It was filled with human-shaped statues, most at least eight or nine feet in height.

Ivory-colored pillars ran the length of the walls, each a few feet in diameter, and statues of women and men in classically Roman and Greek poses stood between those pillars and against the walls on either end and opposite the windows.

I looked down at the GPS as Nick reached my side, double-checking our direction since the staircase turned me around. Through the windows it looked like we were back at ground-level. According to the broad spectrum signal detector, the surveillance had been turned off in here, too. I couldn’t help being unnerved at just how empty it was.

It
felt
empty in here...
 
like a tomb filled with nothing but echoes of whispers, the footsteps of ghosts. Black’s files on the Louvre said normally close to a hundred people worked here at night, depending on the time of year.

We were really damned close to that blue dot on the GPS tracker now.

Close enough that my heart started pounding in my chest.

Motioning for Nick and Angel to stay behind me again, I followed the GPS to the corridor on our left. I led them through an arched doorway and through a narrow room lined with more human statues, these ones mainly life-sized, versus the marble giants from the other room. Windows to our left filled the high-ceilinged corridor with orange light from the courtyard, turning the statues near the glass into real-looking human silhouettes.

That’s why I didn’t notice the light coming from ahead of us at first.

About a third of the way through the corridor, I came to a stop.

Steep stone stairs rose up at the end of our walk, two flights of them. The light that spilled down them wasn’t from outside. It shone a paler white-yellow, and had a harder tint.

Holding up a hand for Nick and Angel to wait, I took a few more cautious steps forward. Now that I looked for it, I could see the craggy stone base of a statue at the top of that second set of stairs. It looked like a wide jumble of rocks, with a sharp chunk jutting forward like the prow of a ship. As I moved closer, the body of the statue was slowly revealed.

A headless woman, with outstretched wings.

I recognized it immediately.

A 2nd Century B.C. marble sculpture, it depicted the Greek goddess Nike. It also happened to be a piece of art I would have traveled to Paris and the Louvre just to see. I knew it primarily as the
Winged Victory of Samothrace
, but it was also called
Nike of Samothrace
.

Most people just called it
Winged Victory.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I let it out. By then, I felt nearly light-headed. I began to walk, now in a low crouch to look up at the statue, conscious of the tranquilizer gun I gripped in one hand. Because of the steep stairs, I couldn’t see most of the base of the statue, but I knew from the blue dot that we had to go up there.

I walked up the stairs cautiously, in awe of the lit statue even as my heart slammed loudly against my ribs. I still didn’t hear anything. I couldn’t see anything either.

I was terrified I was going to find Black’s dead body at the top of those stairs.

I remembered Ian’s fetish about winged creatures, both in San Francisco and Bangkok.

By the time I reached the first landing, I fought to control my breathing.

Shoving the phone into my back pocket, I gripped the tranquilizer gun in both hands, sparing a brief glance back at Nick and Angel before I began climbing the next flight of stairs.

I was sweating, even though it was cold as a tomb in here.

As I got high enough that my eyes rose above the highest step at the top, my heart started hammering for a different reason. Relief flooded through me, even as I found I couldn’t breathe for those few seconds.

I also lost the last bit of caution I’d had about making noise.

“Black,” I managed. My voice held an open relief.

His eyes jerked towards mine. They widened, then filled with that same relief.

“Miriam...
 
di’lanlente d’ gaos.
I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”

I didn’t stop to think about his words at first.

I was too busy closing the distance between us. That, and looking him over.

He’d been tied to a heavy chair. The chair looked like a piece of artwork itself, maybe from one of the historical recreation rooms. Truthfully, it looked like a throne, although maybe one from a lesser reception hall, not a formal receiving room.

Whatever it was, Black didn’t look much like royalty sitting in it. His hairline was bleeding and a fresh-looking bruise darkened one side of his face.

As I got closer to him, still gripping the gun in my hands, I saw that wasn’t the worst of his injuries. Someone had stuck something in his side. In addition to the bindings holding his wrists and ankles, that thing seemed to be impaling him to the chair. The upholstery under where he sat was already soaked with his blood, which explained why he looked so pale.

I kept the gun in my hands, but pointed down as I ran up the last few stairs to reach the landing platform. Apart from the chair where Black sat, which obviously didn’t belong there,
Winged Victory
was the only piece of art there.

Now that I stood directly below it, it was enormous.

“Fuck...
 
cut me loose,” he said, jerking my eyes back to him. “Miri, we need to get out of here. Now.”

BOOK: Black On Black (Quentin Black Mystery #3)
2.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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