Žižkov District, Prague
February 8, 1970
“Have you any idea,” Jordan panted, running a kerchief across her brow, “what they do to grave robbers?”
Gabe whispered, “No. But I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
“I won’t, in fact. You know why?”
As it happened, he knew very little beyond the crushing pressure in his head—the hitchhiker was in fine form tonight. Or maybe he’d concussed himself when he took a header on the cobbles of the Staré Mĕsto that morning. It was all he could do not to bite through his tongue, so he let the crunch of his shovel be his answer.
“Because,” she continued, warming to her subject, “nobody knows the penalty for grave robbing these days because nobody has been stupid enough to try it.”
“Less hissing, more digging,” he managed.
His shovel hit another root. They froze like fawns caught in the headlights of a speeding truck until the echoes faded.
They worked amid ten thousand graves. A clammy winter fog had rolled off the Vltava, a mile or two to their west. Tendrils of that same mist, silvered by the moonlight, drifted like revenants through the underbrush of Prague’s overgrown New Jewish Cemetery. The fog turned their discreet flashlight beams into shimmering and very indiscreet haloes. It was cool against Gabe’s skin, but exertion and a hyperactive hitchhiker had him sweating like he’d just stepped out of a sauna.
Jordan picked up her shovel and rammed the blade into the earth. Crunch. “When you showed up at the bar tonight, asking for help again, I thought, sure, why not, he’s making a good-faith effort to work with Alestair.”
Gabe grunted. Alestair’s “lessons” had been helpful, but they came with a hefty dose of Ice propaganda. And like some gormless developmental, Gabe had nearly swallowed it, hook and all. But then he followed the hitchhiker to the barge and found . . . well, whatever it was, he wanted nothing to do with it. He’d solve his problems on his own, thank you very much.
“I thought it would be something simple.” Crunch went her shovel, sluff another load of earth tossed aside. “But here I am robbing a grave, awaiting a Kafkaesque nightmare when the police inevitably catch us.”
The displaced earth took on a metallic ozone tingle beneath the scent of moldering leaves. Something in the leaves drove the hitchhiker nuts. Gabe groaned, using his shovel as a crutch.
“I swear I can feel it,” he gasped. “We just . . . have to . . . dig a little farther. I can’t stop now.”
They’d excavated a hole nearly two yards deep. Despite the static sizzling in his brain, he noted faint scents of salt and sandalwood rising from Jordan’s clammy skin. She smelled like a shipwrecked schooner carrying spices from the Near East. The hitchhiker had all Gabe’s senses revved up to redline.
Her eyes were unreadable in the moonlight. “The Golem of Prague is a myth, Pritchard.”
The hitchhiker hit him with another seizure. “I’m not so sure,” he gasped.
She leaned on her shovel. “You’ve wandered through this graveyard like a tipsy sailor for nearly an hour. You haven’t found it because it doesn’t exist.”
“Wasn’t wandering,” he managed. “Homing.”
He’d been about as aimless as a compass. What Jordan took for wandering had been triangulation, of a sort. He didn’t know how he knew where to go, only that he did. Same way he’d zeroed in on that wretched barge.
A car rumbled slowly down the macadam just beyond the graveyard wall. In unison, they snapped off their flashlights and hunched in the shadows, listening for the slam of a door or the shouts of discovery. Gabe counted thirty heartbeats before exhaling.
Jordan shook her head. The gesture sent eddies of silvery mist gamboling through the gravestones. “We’re running out of luck. So listen to me, okay? The golem is a legend. It’s a comforting fairy tale and nothing more.”
Gabe wanted to say, Well, I’m pretty certain that something is sure as hell down there.
Instead, it came out as “Gunnnghhh . . .” He doubled over again.
“Gabe, you’re drooling.” Jordan handed him her handkerchief and grabbed his coat lapels. “We’re leaving.”
“No. We’re too close now.”
He managed to lever himself upright. Swaying like a prizefighter, he hefted the shovel and kept digging. Jordan made to take it from him just as his blade thunked against something hard. “Shine your light down there.”
“Please, just do it.”
Jordan sighed and cupped her hand around the beam to lessen the inevitable fog halo before clicking the switch. His shovel had splintered the planks of a crude casket.
“Huh,” she said.
The screech of tires pierced the night. Gabe dropped to his knees and started brushing away the dirt with his hands. The touch of the casket jolted him like a live wire. There was an inscription on the wood. Hebrew, of course.
“Can you read this?” he mumbled. The taste of blood filled his mouth.
The soft glow of approaching flashlight beams pierced the gloom. One set to the north and another to the east, moving...