He cleared his throat as Safia took measurements. “I came down here when I heard about the discovery,” he mumbled to Kara.
“Why might that be?” she asked. “Is there a security concern?”
“No, it was simple curiosity.” He nodded to the sculpture. “Not every day we find a statue with a heart hidden inside it.”
That was indeed true, though Kara suspected it was a different matter of the heart that had drawn Fleming down here. His eyes spent more time examining Safia than the strange statue.
Kara allowed him his puppy-dog crush and turned her attention to the prone sculpture. Beneath the shell of blasted glass, a deeper glow of crimson took up the lamplight.
A heart, a human heart.
She leaned closer. While the heart appeared life-size and anatomically correct, it had to have been sculpted from some type of ore since the forensic team’s detectors had picked up its presence. Still, Kara almost expected to see it beat if she waited long enough.
Safia leaned over the statue with a diamond-tipped tool. She carefully scored the glass, forming a perfect square around the buried heart. “I want to preserve as much as possible.”
Next she placed a suction-cup device atop the glass square and gripped the handle. “I expect the interface between the glass and the sandstone beneath to be weak.”
Safia grabbed a rubber mallet and tapped firmly along the inside edge of the glass square. Small cracks appeared, following the prescored lines. Each pop drew a wince from everyone. Even Kara found her fingers balling up.
Only Safia remained calm. Kara knew her friend’s propensity for panic attacks during stressful situations, but whenever Safia labored in her own element, she was as hard as the diamonds on her glass cutter…and as sharp. She worked with a Zen-like calmness and focused concentration. But Kara also noted the glint in her friend’s eyes. Excitement. It had been a long time since Kara had seen such a glimpse in Safia, a reminder of the woman she used to be.
Maybe there was hope for her yet.
“That should do it,” Safia said. She returned the mallet and used a tiny brush to sweep stray chips away, keeping her work surface pristine. Once satisfied, she gripped the suction handle and applied a bit of pressure, first pushing in one direction, then the other, gently rocking the square. Finally, she simply pulled straight up, lifting the block of glass cleanly away.
Kara stepped closer, staring into the statue’s opened chest. The heart was even more detailed than she had first imagined. Each chamber was distinct, including tiny surface arteries and veins. It rested perfectly in its sandstone bed, as if the sculpture had formed naturally around it, a pearl inside an oyster.
Safia carefully freed the glass from the suction device and flipped it over. There was an imprint of the heart’s upper surface in the glass. She turned to the camera. “Clay, are you getting a good shot of all this?”
Crouched by his camera, he bounced up and down on his heels. “Oh, man, this is fantastic.”
“I take that as a yes.” Safia placed the glass on the library table.
“What about the heart?” Fleming asked.
Safia turned and peered into the open chest. She tapped the handle of a tiny brush against the heart. The ring was heard by all. “Metal for certain. Bronze, I’d guess, from the ruddy color.”
“That almost sounded hollow,” Clay commented, shifting the camera tripod to get a better view in the chest cavity. “Do it again.”
Safia shook her head. “I’d best not. See how the sandstone lips over the heart in places. It’s locked in there fairly well. I think we should leave it untouched. Other researchers should see this in situ before we disturb it.”
Kara hadn’t dared breathe for the past minute. Her heart hammered in her ears, and not from the amphetamines. Had no one else noticed it?
Before she could ask, a door slammed farther back in the Arched Room. Everyone jumped slightly. Footsteps approached. Two men.
Safia tilted the halogen light to shine down the hall. “Director Tyson.”
“Edgar.” Kara stepped forward. “What are you doing here?”
The head of the museum stepped aside to reveal his companion. It was the inspector from Central London homicide. “Inspector Samuelson was with me when I heard the news of your brilliant discovery. We were just finishing up, and he asked if he might see the astounding find for himself. How could I refuse, considering how much help he’s been?”
“Certainly,” Kara said in her best diplomatic tone, hiding a flash of irritation. “You’re just in time.” She waved them over to the makeshift morgue, giving up her space. Her own discovery would have to wait a little longer.
Fleming nodded his greeting to his boss. “I guess I’ve seen enough myself. I should go check on the night shift.” He stepped away, but not before turning to Safia. “Thank you for allowing me to observe.”
“Anytime,” she said distantly, distracted by the exposed heart.
Kara noted how the head of security’s eyes lingered on Safia, then turned away, wounded, as he left. Safia was forever blind to all but her work. She had let greater men than Fleming slip from her life.
Inspector Samuelson stepped up to fill the security chief’s spot. He had his suit jacket over one arm, sleeves rolled up. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Not at all,” Safia said. “It’s a fortunate discovery.”
The inspector leaned over the statue. Kara was certain more than plain curiosity had drawn him here. Coincidences were causes for investigation.
Edgar stood at the inspector’s shoulder. “Simply brilliant, isn’t it? This discovery will draw attention from all around the world.”
Samuelson straightened. “Where did this statue come from?”
“It was discovered by my father,” Kara said.
Samuelson glanced to her, one eyebrow cocked.
Kara noted how Edgar stepped back, eyes on his toes. It was a tender subject to broach.
Safia pushed up her safety goggles and continued the explanation, relieving Kara of the need. “Reginald Kensington had financed an archaeological team to oversee the excavation for the construction of a new mausoleum at a tomb in the town of Salalah on the Omani coast. He discovered the statue buried beside the older tomb. It was a rare discovery: to find a pre-Islamic statue, one dating to 200 B.C. in such pristine shape. But the tomb had been revered for two millennia. Thus the site was not overly trampled or desecrated. It’s a true tragedy to have such a perfectly preserved artifact destroyed.”
Samuelson was not stirred. “But its destruction also allowed this new discovery. There’s a balance in that. The same can’t be said for poor Harry Masterson.”
“Of course,” Safia said quickly. “I didn’t mean to imply that…his death was not the true tragedy. You’re most correct.”
Samuelson glanced around at those gathered. His eyes lingered a bit longer on the grad student, Clay Bishop. Whatever he saw there, he found wanting. His eyes drifted back to the statue. “You mentioned a tomb, near where this statue was found.”
“Yes. The tomb of Nabi Imran.”
“A pharaoh or something?”
Safia smiled. “This wasn’t an Egyptian tomb.” Like Kara, she knew the inspector was playing dumb. “In Arabia, the most famous tombs are those that mark the graves of people from the Bible or the Koran. In this case, a figure from both.”
“Nabi Imran? I don’t recall that name from any Bible class.”
“Actually he was quite significant. You have heard of the Virgin Mary?”
“Vaguely.” He said this so sincerely he drew another smile from Safia.
She had been teasing out the revelation, but she finally relented. “Nabi Imran was Mary’s father.”
01:54 P.M. EST
P AINTER CROWE sat in the backseat of the silver Mercedes S500 sedan. It glided smoothly down Interstate 66 from Dulles International, heading east toward Washington, but they weren’t going that far. The driver, a taciturn fellow built like a linebacker, signaled and took the Glebe exit in Arlington. They were almost to DARPA headquarters, less than half a mile away.
He checked his watch. Only a couple hours ago he had been in Connecticut, confronting a partner he had trusted for the past five years. His thoughts shied away from Cassandra, but still circled around the sore subject.
They had been recruited out of Special Forces at the same time: he from the Navy SEALS, she from the Army Rangers. DARPA had chosen them for a new, highly secretive team within the organization, code-named Sigma Force. Most in DARPA were unaware of its existence. Sigma’s objective was search and seizure, a covert militarized team of technically trained agents who were sent into high-risk situations to obtain or protect new research and technologies. Where the Delta Force had been established as an antiterrorist squad, Sigma was started to protect and maintain the technological superiority of the United States.
No matter the cost.
And now this call back to headquarters.
It had to be a new mission. But why the urgency?
The sedan traveled down North Fairfax Drive and pulled into the parking lot. They ran a gauntlet of security measures and were soon sliding into an empty spot. Another man, barrel-chested and expressionless, stepped forward and opened the door.
“If you’ll follow me, Commander Crowe.”
Painter was led into the main building, escorted to the office suite of the director, and asked to wait while his attendant proceeded forward to announce his arrival. Painter stared at the closed door.
Vice Admiral Tony Rector had been the head of DARPA for as long as Painter had been in service there. Prior to that, he had been the head of the Office of Information Awareness, the intelligence-gathering wing of DARPA, critical after September 11 in monitoring data flowing across computer networks in search of terrorist plots, activities, and financial transactions. The admiral’s intelligence, expertise, and evenhanded management had eventually won him the directorship of DARPA.