The Lucifer CodeAuthor: Charles Brokaw
Imprint: Michael Joseph
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Ataturk International Airport Yesilkoy District Istanbul, Turkey 15 March 2010
'Professor Lourds. Professor Lourds.'
Dr Thomas Lourds heard his name being called above the cacophony of languages surrounding him. He wasn't expecting anyone to meet him here inside the crowded passenger terminal of Istanbul's busy international airport. He didn't recognize the voice, either – but he could tell it was a young woman. Thanks to years of teaching college students at Harvard, not to mention a well-earned reputation as a ladies' man, he was rarely wrong when he gauged a woman's age from her voice. Curious, he stepped out of the flow of pedestrian traffic rushing through the airport toward baggage and ground transportation on the lower level.
A pretty redhead waved at him from twenty feet back and fought to get through the crowd between them. A mother leading two small children glared at the young woman. Not every traveller was upset – a young man in his mid-twenties wearing a bright French football jersey studied the woman who'd jostled him in open admiration.
There was a lot to like. Tall and lean, she moved with the fluid grace of an athlete or a dancer. Lourds admired the view, too. She was dressed in hip-hugging jeans and a crop top that exposed some impressive cleavage above and a tanned midriff below. A diamond gleamed in her navel, emphasizing toned abs. Her dark red hair curled and glided across her bare, freckled shoulders. But try as he might, Lourds couldn't remember meeting her before.
'You are Professor Thomas Lourds, right?' The young woman came to an abrupt stop in front of him. Her hazel eyes drank him in. 'If you're not, I'm gonna be really embarrassed.'
Lourds smiled a little bashfully. It was a look he could pull off when occasion called for it. He was nearly old enough to be her father, so he figured a little bashfulness on his part might quell the disparaging looks he was receiving from some of the passers-by.
'I'm Thomas Lourds.' He shifted his cracked leather backpack to his other shoulder and extended his hand. 'If we've met, I have to apologize. Your name slips my mind.'
'No, we haven't met.' She shook hands. Her grip was surprisingly firm, with soft skin toughened at the base of her fingers and the heel of her hand. The young lady must work out a lot.
'You relieve my mind. I didn't think I'd forget meeting such a beautiful young woman. And if I had, someone should shoot me and put me out of my
The redhead smiled at him.
Slow down, Lourds chided himself. You'll scare her away.
But the chance meeting perked up his day considerably. He'd spent the last several hours on a British Airways plane from London. The first-class seating had been perfect – except for the septuagenarian he'd been stuck with the whole way. She'd regaled him with stories about her life and her digestive tract and he'd plied himself with wine in self-defence. He still felt some of the after-effects from the Zinfandel and fully intended to lose the card the woman had pressed into his hand at the end of the trip.
Or possibly burn it in effigy.
'You must think I'm crazy,' the redhead continued, 'calling after you in an airport, but I really wanted to see you.'
Lourds released her hand and smiled. 'How else were you going to get my attention?'
'True. But I would have liked to be a little more subtle and not so fan-girl when I met you.'
'Are you an admirer of the study of linguistics?' Lourds had written a few books and several articles in that field.
'Not exactly.' She reached into her carry-on bag and brought out a hardback book.
Lourds recognized the lurid red and gold foil cover. It featured a languid, barely dressed male lounging in the shadows of a veiled bed. The man looked like he'd just stepped from a Calvin Klein ad. He also, Lourds had been told by women, looked like he would be everything a woman could dream of.
That cover had sold a lot of books, and Lourds had enjoyed cashing the royalty cheques. The image had also been a boon to his love life. Women loved to talk about sex with him, thanks to that cover. Lourds had pursued the subject intimately whenever the chance presented itself. And there had been a lot of chances over his career. Even before the publication of the book the redhead held.
'Ah.' Lourds grinned. 'You're a reader.'
'I am.' She proffered the book. 'I saw you, and I had to try to get your autograph. I figured it was serendipity. So here I am.'
'I'd be happy to sign your book for you.' Lourds took the copy and rummaged in his pocket for a pen.
'Here.' She handed him a ballpoint.
'I gather you enjoyed it?'
'I did,' she agreed. 'But I prefer the CD. I'm on my second copy of the audio book. I wore the first one out. I love your voice. I turn out the lights and listen to it in my bedroom a lot.' She paused, winced, and bit her lip. 'Well, that wasn't awkward and embarrassing, was it?'
Lourds waved the comment away. 'The audio-book publisher insisted I read the book after she heard me deliver a presentation on the translation.'
The publisher had been young and lovely, and had taken very personal interest in seeing to it that Lourds was treated like royalty.
'The book says everything written in there is true. Is it?'
Lourds couldn't count the number of times he'd been asked that question. The fourth-century scroll containing the narrative that had been published as Bedroom Pursuits had made Professor Thomas Lourds a household name. It had also made him something of a white elephant and favourite bastard son at Harvard. The dean of that distinguished university still winced every time he thought of the subject matter of Lourds' bestseller. The original document Lourds had decoded had detailed the numerous and various acts of sexual congress of its author in lurid detail. Lourds' translation hadn't skimped on those details. Lourds didn't know anything about the author other than what his translation of the scroll had revealed. Given the sexual escapades the man had described himself as having, as well as the natural equipment he'd written about, Lourds figured if the man had been real he must have been a physical marvel with the stamina of a god.
'Do you think it's true?' Lourds countered.
'God, I hope so.'
'Well, I don't know how true the tales are. I just translated them from the original language.'
'And performed the audio presentation.'
Lourds nodded. 'I did. But the sound studio upgraded the quality of my voice and added background music.'
'Kenny G, right?'
'Someone that sounds an awful lot like him.'
'I think you have a magnificent voice even without the background music.' The redhead gave him a sultry smile.
'Well . . . thank you,' Lourds said.
'I am such a geek.' The young woman looked mortified. 'I bet you get this all the time.'
'Actually, no. Usually only at book signings. Most people don't recognize me.'
'Your picture is right on the back of the book. How can they not know who you are?' She took the volume from Lourds and flipped it over to reveal the colour photograph of him on the back.
It was a good picture and Lourds knew it. In it, he stood in front of a dig site in Cadiz, Spain, where Atlantis had been lost and found and then lost again. He'd written a book on that discovery and it had become a bestseller as well. But Bedroom Pursuits stayed at the top of the lists.
In the picture, Lourds wore khaki trousers, hiking boots, an olive drab khaki shirt left open to show the white T-shirt beneath, and his beloved Australian outback hat. He had that hat on right now. In the picture, his sunglasses hung nonchalantly from his T-shirt collar, he leaned casually on a shovel and the mouth of a cave yawned in the stone wall behind him. His black hair was longish, a couple of weeks overdue for the barber, and hung down slightly in his face. He sported a short-cropped goatee. Except for the outfit, he hadn't changed much since the picture was taken. He knew he looked at least ten years younger than his true age. It had its uses. Especially when he was interested in younger women.
'Believe it or not,' Lourds said ruefully, 'most people don't even read the author's name on a book. And fewer still remember the author's face. Meetings like this are something that usually only happen to rock stars and actors.'
'Well, you are the first author I've chased down.'
'I'm glad you did. But you have me at a disadvantage.' Lourds held the pen poised over the title page in the book. 'Who should I make this out to?'
'Kristine. Kristine Webber. With a K.'
'For Kristine,' Lourds said as he wrote, 'an autograph in exchange for that enchanting smile. I do hope you don't feel cheated.' He blew on the page to dry the ink, then handed the pen back.
'No way. This is going to be the highlight of my trip to Istanbul.' Kristine hugged the book for a moment before putting it back in the bag.
'I sincerely hope that's not true,' Lourds said.
'Sad to say, it is.'
Lourds shook his head in disbelief. 'Istanbul is a fabulous place. Did you know it's the only city in the world that spans two continents?'
'Really?' she said.
'It's amazing. I can't imagine being bored here.' Lourds glanced at his watch. 'Do you have luggage?'
'Oh my God, I forgot.' Panic widened Kristine's eyes. 'Where should I go?'
'Since I've been here a few times, maybe I can help you find the baggage carousel. Which airline did you come in on?'
'British Airways. Same as you.'
'Good. We can chat on the way.' Lourds nodded to the sign indicating the direction of the baggage carousel in three languages. He could read them all fluently. He took the lead and they set off.
'What brings you to Istanbul?' Lourds rode the escalator down to the terminal's lower floor. Kristine Webber stood at his side. Her perfume was intoxicating. It, or perhaps the wine he'd consumed on the plane, made his head spin.
'My father's got meetings here,' Kristine replied. 'He's an international investor.' She shrugged. 'He's here working on some kind of corporate merger and wanted me to spend time with him.'
'That sounds nice.'
'Usually he spends more time on the phone working at his business than with me. I end up ordering a lot of room service and catching up on movies.'
'Sorry to hear it.'
At the bottom of the escalator, Lourds got his bearings and walked towards the British Airways carousel. A crowd waited patiently but the warning lights weren't flashing. None of the luggage had yet arrived.
'You should take time to see the city,' Lourds said.
'I don't like the idea of wandering around alone.'
'You don't know anyone here?'
'Nope. Like I told you, meeting you is going to be the highlight of this trip. I'm going to be stranded at the hotel looking out through the window at a city I've never been to.'
Lourds hesitated just a moment, then took the plunge. He and Dr Olympia Adnan, the woman he'd come here to meet, had once been close, but that had been a handful of years ago. The last he'd heard, when she'd called him back in January, Olympia had mentioned being involved with a Belgian archaeologist. So Olympia wouldn't be available to fill all the long evenings he'd be spending here. Perhaps he'd just found a nice diversion.
'I could show you the city,' Lourds said, 'if you're interested. It's the fourth largest city in the world, and people have been living here continuously since 6500 bc – that's nearly nine thousand years. Its first known name, Byzantium, still rings throughout human language. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site. You really shouldn't miss it.
'Do you offer to guide often, Professor Lourds?'
'No.' Often was such a subjective word.
'Will I be in good hands?' she asked.
'Most definitely.' Lourds smiled and felt his anticipation rise. 'There's a lot to see in this city, and it would be my pleasure to escort you when you have time.'
'I'd like that.'
'Good. Now, if you'll just point out your bags, I'd be happy to fetch them for you.'
'There's only one. I had the rest of my things sent to the hotel. I refuse to be stripped naked if my luggage gets lost.'
That delightful image ricocheted through Lourds' mind and he had to force himself to look for the bags.
'Are you here on vacation?' Kristine asked.
Lourds paced beside the young man wheeling the luggage towards the cab and limousine stands. The professor carried his backpack because he never willingly let it leave his side. His work and his computer were in that backpack.
One of his suitcases was crammed with books, and the porter had struggled with it. When it came to research interfaces, Lourds still preferred printed matter he could depend on when electrical outlets weren't plentiful.
'More of a working vacation,' Lourds said.
Kristine sighed. 'So much for promises of taking me sightseeing through a beautiful city.'
'Don't confuse me with your workaholic father,' Lourds objected. 'I take my play time just as seriously as I do my work time.'
'I'm glad to hear it. What are you going to be working on while you're here?'
'A . . .' Lourds hesitated over how to address his relationship with Olympia Adnan, 'colleague of mine has invited me to speak to her graduate classes at Istanbul University.'
'About Bedroom Pursuits?'
'No. About more serious matters. There are some items the Rare Masterpieces and Museum Department of the Central Library have that she'd like me to lecture on.'
'Will there be a test?'
'God, I hope not.' Lourds grinned. 'If there is, the students will hate me. Hopefully I'll be able to lead informal discussions that will inspire them.' He held up a thumb and forefinger. 'A little.'
'They're going to want to talk to you about your book.'
'Books,' Lourds corrected. 'You're probably right.' Nearly everywhere he went, the topic of Bedroom Pursuits invariably came up.
'Are these items you're looking at a big deal?' Kristine asked.
'I hope so. Most of them have never been studied by American scholars,' Lourds replied. 'I'm going to be the first. I'm really excited about it.'
He stopped at the curb and glanced out over the sea of vehicles threading through the terminal streets. His nose and eyes burned from the noxious exhaust.
'Are you going to be in another television special about the artefacts? I saw the ones you did in Egypt and in Spain. The whole 'Race to Atlantis' thing.'
Memories flooded Lourds' mind. Though he'd seen many things and been part of some wondrous discoveries in his professional career, nothing he'd been through before or since could match the pursuit of the lost Atlantis. It had fascinated, terrified, and very nearly killed him. Now . . . well, now he found he missed being on the hunt.
For the last few months, though he wouldn't have admitted it to anyone, he'd longed for something equally interesting to invade his life again. Living on the knife's edge like that had been an incredible adrenaline rush.
Kristine pointed at the taxi stand. 'We can get a cab there. Where are you staying?'
'The Eserin Crown Hotel.'
'Really? So am I.'
'Well,' Lourds said, 'isn't that convenient?'
'It is. Maybe we can have breakfast before you go off to your speaking engagement in the morning.'
'That would be great.'
'In the meantime, want to share a cab to the hotel and get a drink at the bar?' she asked.
'That sounds fantastic,' Lourds agreed. 'But I'm supposed to have a car waiting for me.'
'Someone's coming to pick you up?'
'Yes. A limo service.' Lourds reached into his shirt pocket and took out the 3 x 5 index card his graduate assistant had filled out with his itinerary. Everything was there in neat, precise handwriting. But it was so small he had to squint.
'Professor Lourds!' a man's voice sang out. 'Over here.'
Turning in the direction of the hail, Lourds spotted a sleek dark blue Mercedes and a liveried driver standing beside it with a placard that read: PROFESSOR THOMAS LOURDS. The limousine was parked at the front of the line of waiting cabs.
Lourds waved his arm to acknowledge the man.
The driver waved back, then walked behind the vehicle, opened the trunk, and threw the placard inside.
'Over there,' Lourds told the young porter handling his bags. He turned to Kristine. 'Unless I miss my guess, there will be cocktails aboard.'
Kristine gazed at the limousine for a moment, then back at Lourds. But she wasn't smiling and her face tightened. 'Well, that was somewhat unexpected.'
'I beg your pardon,' Lourds said. 'Maybe offering to share my limo was presumptuous of me. I'd hate to upset you.'
'I believe you, Professor Lourds. And that's a shame. You seem like a really nice guy.' The flirtatious air dropped away like a costume, revealing a determined young woman on a mission.
Not liking the sudden change in her attitude and unsure what had triggered it, Lourds stepped away from her. But before his back foot touched down, she reached out and caught his hand in hers.
'We're going to be taking my car,' Kristine said.
Lourds tried to yank his hand away but wasn't able to pull free. She was stronger than she looked. Something very strange was going on here. He was starting to get spooked. He reached for her wrist with his other hand. He'd never studied martial arts, not even after the trouble he'd got into while finding Atlantis.
No time and he'd figured he wasn't likely to need those skills again. He'd clearly been wrong there. But breaking holds was all about leverage. He was bigger and stronger than this young woman. And, he hoped, faster.
Before he could make his move, she caught his free hand in hers and folded it in towards his wrist in some weird movement. He felt electrifying agony rip up his arm and crash through his brain. The next thing he knew, he'd dropped to his knees on the hard concrete.
What the hell was happening here? One thing he was certain of, this girl was hardly the simple fan she'd told him she was.
'Are you listening to me, Professor Lourds?' Kristine whispered in his ear.
It took Lourds a moment to remember how to work his mouth and voice. 'Yes.'
'Good. You're going to get up when I tell you to and follow me. You're going to do that without resisting. If you resist, I'm going to break your arm. Do you understand?'
Lourds didn't hesitate. The pain was too strong to resist. 'Yes. Of course.'
'Then let's go.'