They had to drag Suarez the last couple of steps and through the opening of the hidden entrance, where the altar remained rolled back from the stairs. Panting, bent over, with a single flashlight and only Suarez’s gun, they staggered out of the worship chamber, past the corpses of Massarsky, Garza, and the younger Minotaur, even as the water rushed up the stairs after them.
Three more steps took them out of the worship chamber, and then they were in the short tunnel that brought them to the rocky shelf of the riverbank, where the waterfall roared and the white hellebore grew as it always had.
Suarez died there only moments after they had set him down gently, too much blood lost from the wound in his side. Drake sank to his knees beside the man, sick to the bone of death and greed.
“Thanks for not killing us,” Drake whispered before he reached out and closed the dead man’s eyes.
He glanced at Sully and Jada, who were leaning against each other, exhausted and drained. Then he sat back on his haunches and glanced around the vast cavern, waiting long seconds to see if any of the Protectors of the Hidden Word would spring from one of the tunnels and try to kill them. No one appeared.
Far up in the ceiling of the cavern, he thought he could make out tiny slits of morning light.
“What do we do now?” Jada asked.
“What your father would have wanted,” Sully replied.
Drake nodded, rising wearily to his feet. He stared around at the blossoms on the walls among the moss and vines.
“Exactly,” he said. “We rip it all down, and then we burn it. We make sure white hellebore—the real thing—stays a myth.”
“We could set a charge, blow the tunnel under the Treasure Mound,” Sully suggested.
Drake shrugged. “Why bother? Once we close it up, the entrance is hidden, and the government forbids anyone from excavating.”
“Perkins left two of his people on guard. What do we say to them when we get out of here?” Jada asked.
Sully laughed. “Tell ’em they got lucky.”
Drake clapped him on the back, and the two of them smiled at Jada.
“Better yet,” Drake said, “tell ’em they’re fired.”
Five days later, Luka Hzujak finally got his funeral. The autumn sun cast a golden hue across the quiet beauty of the cemetery. Woodlawn was one of the most famous burial grounds in New York City, an oasis of peace and quiet in the Bronx. Jada said she had chosen it for that reason, and Drake could understand.
In late October, there were as many red and gold leaves on the ground as there were on the trees, and with every breeze they skittered across the broad lawns, catching on tombstones and statues of angels. Aside from the distant rumble of car engines that seemed the eternal background music of New York City, the only sounds were the wind in the leaves and the voice of the minister.
Drake stood on Jada’s left, Sully on her right. She had wept as any grieving daughter would, but she held her chin high. Her father had loved nothing better than unraveling the secrets of history. Even if he hadn’t been attempting to beat Henriksen to the discovery of the true history of Daedalus and his labyrinths, once Luka knew about them, he would have been unable to resist the temptation to learn more. But his intentions had been pure.
Drake knew that he and Sully usually could not claim such innocent ambitions. They walked a fine line, often on the razor edge of both criminality and greed. Olivia had been willing to hurt anyone—kill anyone—to fulfill her desire for gold, and the idea of turning people into puppets for her personal amusement had inspired her. It was easy for Drake to think of her and to know that he and Sully were different. Like Luka, they loved history and the thrill of uncovering its secrets, but half the excitement came from the fact that those secrets were so often treasures. They wanted the rewards that came along with the risks they took along the way, and that was certainly part of their motivation.
How different did that make them from Henriksen? That was the question that had been haunting Drake ever since they had emerged from Diyu, beaten and exhausted. He and Jada had watched over Sully for a day and a half in a Beijing hotel suite, where they had checked in under false identities and prayed they wouldn’t be arrested. Though he hadn’t been given enough doses to alter his mind permanently, the poison he’d been fed needed to work itself out of his system.
During that time, Drake had thought a lot about Tyr Henriksen. In the end, he’d decided that although the gulf between his philosophy and Henriksen’s might not be as wide as he would like, it was wide enough for him to be able to sleep at night. Henriksen loved history and discovery, and he coveted the treasures of the past. But though he might not have been as deeply tainted as Olivia, he was still a black hat. He hadn’t been willing to kill or ask others to kill for him, but he hadn’t cared at all how many might die because of his actions. He had intended to sell the white hellebore to the highest bidder, and Drake, Sully, and Jada had burned it, no matter that it could have given them unimaginable wealth if they had done as Henriksen or Olivia would have.
Drake would never be able to say that what he and Sully did wasn’t at least partly about the treasure—about the money. But in his heart he knew that it had never been only about the money and it never would be. That distinction would have to be enough.
The minister finished his blessings and then gestured to Jada. She knew what he expected and started forward. Her father’s casket rested on a riser beside the open grave, which had been covered by a green tarp. Enormous floral arrangements created a kind of path for mourners to pass by the coffin, and Jada led the way. A gust of wind tousled her hair, blowing magenta strands across her face, but she did not bother to tuck them back as she drew a flower from the first arrangement, walked to her father’s casket, and threw the flower on top. She paused, kissed the fingers of her right hand, and then pressed those fingers to the smooth metal. She drew in a long, shuddering breath and then let it out. If she said goodbye to him, it was in her heart rather than aloud.
Drake and Sully tugged flowers from the arrangement and tossed them onto the casket before escorting her away as the line of mourners formed behind them to take part in the same ritual farewell.
Jada had cousins and a couple of aunts at the funeral, but Sully was her godfather, and she had wanted him with her through the service. Now she stopped and waited for her other relatives, but she turned to Drake and took his hands.
Drake nodded. “Nothing to thank me for. He was a good man.”
Jada turned to Sully, her eyes welling up again. Her lower lip trembled.
“I don’t think I could’ve handled this—” she began, but then words failed her. She glanced at the ground, watching the leaves that danced across the lawn at her feet.
Sully put a hand on her shoulder, leaning forward to kiss her head. “It’s okay. We’re not going anywhere. Go talk to your family and we’ll wait.”
Shaking, she looked up at him. Her eyes were red and glistening but filled with a ferocious love.
“You’re my family,” Jada said. She glanced at Drake. “Both of you.”
She threw her arms around Sully and hugged him so hard that he grunted in surprise, his eyes widening comically. Then he relaxed into her embrace and just held her for a minute, until she exhaled and stepped away from him.
“You’ll be here?” she asked. “I know you have a life to get back to.”
Sully pointed toward one of Jada’s aunts, who already had left her flower on the casket and was hovering, not wanting to interrupt.
“Go. We’re here for days still.”
Jada smiled, wiped at her tears, and then went to talk to her aunt. Others gathered around her, and for a while Drake and Sully were forgotten.
Sully straightened his tie, uncomfortable in the suit he’d bought for the funeral.
“Thanks,” he said.
“For coming when I asked and for staying alive.”
Drake shrugged. “You’d do the same for me.”
Sully gave a pensive nod and turned to watch Jada talking to other mourners who wanted to give her their condolences.
“Are you worried about her?” Drake asked.
“A little. But she’ll be all right. She’s smarter than either one of us.”
Something in his tone gave Drake pause. He cocked his head and studied Sully a little more closely.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
Sully gave him a sidelong glance, thoughtfully smoothing his mustache. “I got a phone call from Massimo last night. Did you know he has a cousin who’s a cardinal in Rome?”
Drake frowned. “No. Did you?”
“No. Point is, his cousin the cardinal isn’t a cardinal anymore. Sixty-seven years old and he’s quit the priesthood, left the Vatican. Disillusioned, apparently. But he didn’t leave empty-handed.”
“Spit it out, Sully,” Drake said. “Massimo’s cousin the former cardinal took something with him when he left. So what was it?”
Sully smiled thinly, almost a smirk. “You know the story about the Italian archaeologist—this is about ten years ago—who found a report in the Vatican archives about this missionary, Andres Lopez—”
“I know the story,” Drake interrupted. “What was it, end of the sixteenth century? Lopez supposedly found Paititi in the Amazon basin in Peru, but he and the Vatican kept it a secret for four hundred years. We’ve heard a million stories like that. There’s no evidence, and I need a break from lost cities and ancient treasure.”
Sully arched an eyebrow. “You do, huh?”
Drake nodded. “I do.”
“What if I told you Massimo’s cousin worked in the Vatican archives before he decided he didn’t want to be a cardinal anymore? What if I told you that not only was the Italian archaeologist right, that Andres Lopez did find Paititi, but that Massimo’s cousin has the secret map Lopez made that shows exactly how to get there? What would you say to that?”
Drake looked over at the minister and then at the casket covered with flowers that were spilling all over the ground. He glanced at the trees and the autumn colors and the buildings in the distance, New York unfolding all around them. Sully was right, of course. Jada would be okay. She would go home to the embrace of her friends, she had family to check on her, and she had made it clear that the perilous adventure she’d shared with them was a one-time thing.
He was going to miss her.
With a quiet, rueful laugh, Drake shook his head. “You know you’re going to get us both killed one of these days?”
“Someone’s going to find Paititi, Nate,” Sully replied. “I’d rather it be us.”
“Well, then,” Drake said, turning up his collar as the October breeze turned chilly. “I guess I’d say we’re going to Peru.”
For my amigo, Jim Moore