Sal’s footsteps seemed unnaturally loud in the empty corridor. She stopped. No traffic noises from outside. No thrum of an ancient ventilation system. No voices from any of the rooms she had passed. In fact, no sign of another living soul in the last . . .
Sal sighed, checked her watch. Assuming time hadn’t become completely unhinged—and what did it say about her life that that was now a necessary mental caveat?—she had been wandering, lost, in the back halls of the Vatican for nearly twenty minutes. Which meant she was late. And above and beyond Grace’s strange fixation with punctuality, Sal hated being late.
Unfortunately, she also hated asking for directions. Throughout her career it had always been important to her to be the one who helped other people when they got lost, not the clueless rookie who had to get on the radio when she couldn’t find her way through the South Bronx.
Not that she had ever done that.
Although , Sal thought, if I’m getting nostalgic for my days in the four-two, living in Rome must really be getting to me. As if that much hadn’t been obvious the night before, when she’d caught herself watching MSNBC International just to hear familiar accents.
Sal looked around the immaculate corridor, filled with hundreds of years of art and artifacts. There was no sign that anyone used the corridor for anything, but still—not a speck of dust or dead roach to be seen. Clearly, it was time to get her head around the fact that—at least until she was able to bring her brother out of his demon-induced coma—she was really not in New York anymore.
There was nothing to be done about it.
It was time to ask for directions.
If only there was someone to ask.
Anyone at all.
Where was Tom Hanks when you needed him? Hell, she’d reached the point where she’d have settled for a homicidal albino monk.
“You probably took a wrong turn at the Old Gallery of the Late Crusades,” said a man behind her. “It’s an easy mistake to make, looks almost exactly like the New Gallery of the Early Crusades.”
Sal whirled, reaching (for the hundredth time) for the gun she no longer carried. Although in this case, being unarmed was probably just as well, since the man who had spoken turned out to be outfitted in full tactical gear with what looked like a bolt-action rifle hanging easily at his side. Getting into a shoot-out in the back halls of the Vatican would be even more embarrassing than getting lost.
“Who are you?” Sal demanded. Then, after a moment to reflect she added, “And how did you know I spoke English?”
The man answered her second question first. “I knew you spoke English because you’re clearly the new recruit for Team Three, Sal Brooks, formerly of the NYPD,” he said. “As for me, I’m Christophe Bouchard, currently leader of Team One, formerly of the Canadian Rangers, Quebec region.” Bouchard grinned at her. “It’s too bad we didn’t get called in on the New York job. I would have snapped you up before Menchú got the chance to recruit you for the Black Hole.”
“Team Three. Books go in, nothing comes out.” He turned and gestured down the hall. “Here, let me walk you out of the maze, or Asanti will think I’ve stolen you.”
Sal decided, since he had volunteered, that this didn’t count as asking for directions. Falling into step beside him, she asked, “So, if you know all about me, why didn’t you come say hi earlier?”
“Team One and Team Three have historically not had the best of relations.”
“Why not? Antique firearms aside, you’re the most normal person I’ve met in weeks.”
“Were you afraid a semiauto would freeze in the harsh Roman winters?”
“You were police. How often were people happy to see you show up?”
Sal shot him a look. “You want to see my badge? I still am police. Just on loan to the Vatican.” Technically, anyway.
Bouchard let it go. “We’re the guys with the guns who get called in when there’s something the Black Hole can’t suck up. And Menchú and Asanti don’t like admitting they need help.”
They rounded a corner and a familiar voice added, “Also, Team One are a bunch of trigger-happy loons who never found a problem they didn’t think an arseload of C-4 couldn’t solve.”
Liam. Sal wasn’t sure if he wasn’t happy to see her, wasn’t happy to see Bouchard, or wasn’t happy to see her with Bouchard.
Bouchard shrugged. “I don’t hear a lot of complaints.”
“You might if you left anyone alive behind you.”
Sal could practically feel the tension vibrating between them. “Okay then. If the territory has been sufficiently pissed on, Liam is no doubt here to remind me how late I am, and I’m sure you have to go load your blunderbuss or something.”
Bouchard gave her a wounded look. “You really aren’t going to let this gun thing go, are you?”
“Not anytime soon, no.”
Shaking his head, Bouchard offered Sal an ironic salute, and with a nod to Liam, left them.
Liam scowled as he watched the other man’s departing figure vanish...