2 August 1999
A bell jingled as Adam opened the door and entered the antique shop. The smell of old books and dusty furniture mingled with the perfume of the flowers from the shop next door and the scent of fresh rain. He hesitated in the entryway, not certain how to proceed. A maze of tables, chairs, books, silver, china, and other random objects collected from hundreds of lifetimes filled the tiny store.
Amidst the chaos, a small, balding man stood at an old drafting table he had conscripted into a desk. Peering over the edge of his glasses, he leafed through a stack of papers. Every so often he made marks with a pencil. When Adam entered, the man glanced up. Adam nodded. The shopkeeper scrutinized him with pale blue eyes and smiled faintly before returning to his task. Adam chuckled quietly. Janos Kovács’s reputation preceded him. He catered only to serious collectors, not tourists. He had apparently taken Adam for the latter, exactly what Adam wanted.
Adam pushed into the store, cautiously stepping over a small wooden bench and squeezing himself around a giant Biedermeier armoire. On the other side, he found a stack of books balanced on a shelf much too small for the job. Adam could not detect any pattern in their order. He scanned the titles until he came across one that caught his attention—Description of the Székely Lands by Balázs Orbán. He picked it up and opened the worn cover. A name and a date were scrawled in faded pen in the upper-right corner of the title page: Mihai Iliescu, 3 May 1987. He tucked the book underneath his arm and continued reading the titles of the other books. When he finished, Adam turned to discover the shopkeeper standing next to him.
“May I help you?” the man asked in German, his gaze resting on the book underneath Adam’s arm.
“I don’t know. It’s possible,” Adam replied in Hungarian. He took the book and opened it to the title page, pointing to the signature written there. “I’m interested in seeing more items from the Mihai Iliescu estate. Do you have anything else?”
“I … I have many things from the Iliescu estate,” the shopkeeper stammered, his face flushed. “You need to be more specific. Are you looking for other books? Mr. Iliescu’s library was quite astounding.”
“I know. I became rather familiar with his collection on the occasions I visited him in his home. I’d love to see what other books you have, but the truth is I’m looking for something else.”
“What might that be?”
“I suppose you could best describe it as a piece of jewelry.”
“Jewelry, you say? But Mr. Iliescu was never married.”
Adam shook his head. “Not that kind of jewelry. More of a medallion, made into a pin, or even a clasp for a cloak. The design is … unusual. It depicts an animal that looks like a lizard, or a dragon.”
Mr. Kovács’s expression darkened. His gaze shifted away, toward the door. “I have never seen anything like what you describe.”
“Are you certain? I’ve been to several other dealers, and they’ve all told me the same, but you acquired the bulk of the Iliescu estate. I had hoped for better luck here.”
“I’m sorry. I’m certain I have nothing like that.”
He refused to look Adam in the eye, and as he spoke he twisted the garnet ring on his right pinky finger around and around.
“I’m not the first to ask that question, am I?” Adam asked. “There have been others.”
“Doctor,” Adam said. “Doctor Adam Mire.”
“My apologies, Dr. Mire, but I don’t intend to continue this pointless conversation with you. I have work to do. Are you interested in purchasing the book you’re holding?”
“I think so, but I’d like to look around a little and see what other treasures I might be able to dig up.”
“Dr. Mire, I don’t mean to be rude—”
The bell on the door jingled again. An older woman wearing a tailored suit and an abundance of jewelry stepped into the shop. The open contempt on Mr. Kovács’s face vanished. After one last stern glance at Adam, he beamed at the newcomer, greeting her with arms held out as if the woman were his long-lost sister, and left Adam to his own devices once more.
Adam poked around the shop, picking up another book or two, always trying to keep an eye on Mr. Kovács and the woman, who was apparently looking for a pair of chairs for her living room. As he pretended to browse, Adam made his way closer and closer to the drafting table where Mr. Kovács had left his papers.
They appeared to be nothing more than accounting ledgers—lists of sales with columns for names, inventory, prices. After a glance at Mr. Kovács and the woman, Adam lifted the top sheet. The one underneath was labeled “Iliescu” and followed much the same pattern, except for the note scrawled in one corner.
The bell on the door jingled again. Adam looked up to see the woman leaving. He replaced the papers on the desk and made his way back to the stack of books by the time Mr. Kovács turned his withering glare on him again.
“Did you find anything else of interest?” the dealer asked.
“No, not really,” Adam replied, smiling, “but I do believe I’ll purchase the book.”
Outside the shop, the rain had stopped, though the sky remained overcast. In Budapest, the August heat had subsided, and with it the flood of tourists. Adam made his way back to his hotel, his new purchase tucked securely under his arm. The doorman, standing ramrod straight, gave Adam a slight nod as he opened the door, the respect evident despite his threadbare uniform. Nearly empty, the Hotel Athena suited Adam perfectly. It provided him the solitude he preferred, yet retained a well-trained and loyal staff who pretended nothing had changed in a hundred years. The front desk and the maids abided his eccentricities without question, even if those eccentricities included stringing heads of garlic across the windows of his room and placing a holy wafer above the door.
As Adam entered his room, his gaze fell on the desk next to his bed. His books and papers lay strewn across the surface. A few extra forints slipped into the hands of the hotel manager ensured the housekeeping staff didn’t touch any of his work.
But someone had.
Though the desk hadn’t been the picture of order before, Adam knew what his chaos looked like. Nothing was where he had left it. Without hesitating, he stuffed everything from the desk into his leather satchel and walked out the door, planning to find another hotel and send for the rest of his clothes when he did.
Outside dusk rapidly approached, and Adam kept up a brisk pace. Neither the first hotel he tried nor the second had any vacancies. His third choice still lay a few blocks away. He never made it. A cold steel edge against his neck stopped him.
“One move and you die,” a harsh voice whispered his ear. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Adam replied.
A muscled arm pulled Adam into the shadow of an awning hanging over an abandoned storefront. In the window, Adam saw his own murky reflection and that of a well-built, olive-skinned man with a military-style haircut and a closely shaved beard. The man followed Adam’s gaze. The corners of his mouth turned up in a sneering grin.
“I don’t have much money,” Adam said. “My wallet’s in my pocket. Take it.”
“I don’t want your money.”
Adam never thought he did. “What do you want, then?”
“Where is it?” The man pressed the knife harder against Adam’s throat.
“Where is what?” Adam fought the urge to swallow. “I’m just looking for a hotel to spend the night.”
“You are not in a position to play games, effendi. Where is the Kazıklı Bey’s medallion?”
Effendi. Kazıklı Bey. The man was Turkish.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The knife slipped a fraction of an inch, and Adam felt a trickle of blood run down his neck. The angry red line reflected in the window.
“You lie. I know about your visit this afternoon. You were trying to sell it, weren’t you, effendi? Do not try to fool me, Dr. Mire. I know exactly who you are. You are not a stupid man, yet you act like one. You know what the medallion is, where it came from. You’re damning yourself to hell by hiding it. If you tell me the truth, though, you can die a hero’s death and receive your reward in heaven.”
“I swear I don’t know anything about a medallion, effendi.”
The man spat on the side of Adam’s face and uttered a word Adam didn’t understand but was sure he wouldn’t want translated. The pressure on Adam’s neck eased a little. Dropping his chin, Adam forced the man to turn his wrist and angle the knife away from Adam’s throat. Then he grasped the man’s arm and slipped underneath to escape the Turk’s embrace. He took off running down the street, but he heard the Turk’s footfalls behind him.
As he rounded a corner, Adam risked a glance over his shoulder to see the Turk only a few strides behind. Though he was by no means out of shape, Adam knew he couldn’t keep his current pace up for much longer. He scanned the area, looking for another way to escape, and failed to see that the sidewalk buckled in front of him. He tripped. His books and papers went sprawling into the street, and when Adam hit the pavement, something in his left shoulder popped. He cried out as searing pain shot through his arm and across his chest. His every instinct screamed at him to get up and keep running, but he could do nothing except lie on the ground and clutch his shoulder in agony.
The Turk stood over him, smiling. He raised the knife over his head, the blade flashing in the light of the streetlamps. “Impressive, effendi, but this ends exactly the same.”
At the last moment, however, an arm blocked the knife’s deadly arc. The newcomer, a slender woman roughly Adam’s age, stood between him and the Turk. Adam didn’t see where she had come from. The Turk’s eyes widened, and then his lips curled back in a snarl. He took a step back and lunged at her, but she dodged every one of his attacks with the grace of a dancer. His frustration evident, he swung the knife in a wide circle. The blade came within a hair’s breadth of her chin.
The Turk laughed. “Such a beautiful face. It would be a shame if anything were to mar it.”
She rolled her eyes. “Men. The same stupid line every time.”
He charged. She sidestepped the knife and brought her arm down on his wrist, making him drop the weapon. She spun around and backhanded him across the face, then kicked him in the chest and sent him flying into the wall. His body ricocheted off the brick surface, and his nose met with the heel of her hand. Bone and cartilage snapped. The Turk crumpled to the ground and didn’t move again.
Adam stared up at the woman. Her red hair hung in a loose ponytail, and her eyes were the deep cerulean blue of the ocean on a cloudless day. She knelt beside him.
“Are you hurt?” she asked, her voice carrying a hint of an Eastern European accent.
“My shoulder. I think it’s dislocated.”
She gently placed a hand on his upper arm. “May I?”
No sooner had Adam nodded, than she seized his arm and popped his shoulder back into place with a stomach-churning jerk. Adam screamed in agony.
“What did you just do?” he asked.
“I fixed your shoulder. Is something wrong? It does feel better, yes?” She raised an eyebrow. “And I did ask you first. Now come with me, please. We have to get you someplace safe.”
Adam made a few tentative motions with his left arm. “Who are you?”
Standing, the woman grabbed him by his other arm. “Later. Now come.”
Adam pulled free. “Wait, my things.”
“I can’t. My books and papers. I need them.”
The woman eyed the unconscious man on the ground. “Fine then, but gather them as fast as you can.”
Adam struggled to keep up with her as they ran through the streets. After dozen or so blocks, as Adam felt his legs about to give out, she stopped. Townhouses lined the quiet street. A row of parked cars sat at the curb. The woman climbed into the driver’s side of a white Fiat and opened the passenger door for Adam. Before he could even climb completely in, she turned the ignition and punched the gas pedal. The car screeched away from the curb and sped down the street.
“My name is Anya,” she said, “to answer your question.”
“Adam.” He fumbled to buckle his seat belt as fast as he could. “Dr. Adam Mire.”
The tires screamed as she rounded a corner. “Oh, I already know your name.”
Adam still struggled to catch his breath. “Does everybody in this city know who I am?”
She shot him a sardonic glance. “Not quite, but more than you’d think.”
“And why is that?”
She made another gut-wrenching right turn onto a street already teeming with traffic. Horns blared as she cut off a Mercedes and a BMW, but miraculously, the white Fiat remained unscathed. “The truth? You’re not the only one looking for Dracula’s medallion, Dr. Mire. You’re just the only one who isn’t armed.”
“I don’t understand. How do you know about the medallion? And who was that man in they alley?”
“All in good time, Dr. Mire, all in good time.”
“Will you at least tell me where we’re going?”
She jerked the wheel and veered across three lanes of traffic. More horns bellowed. The car flew up an onramp and onto an expressway.
“Novi Sad,” Anya replied.
“Novi Sad?” Adam shook his head. “But I don’t have a visa to travel in Yugoslavia.”
Anya continued to weave among the cars on the expressway. “Details. Don’t worry.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“You’re still breathing, aren’t you? Isn’t that enough?” At Adam’s silence, she sighed. “Very well. Open the glove box.”
Adam pressed the button. The door fell open, revealing a Glock pistol.
Anya smiled. “Now you’re armed. You don’t think you can trust me, then shoot me. It’s entirely up to you.”
The Budapest suburbs sped by. Even the textured grip of the pistol in Adam’s hand did nothing to hold his panic at bay. In his mind, pieces of a puzzle began falling into place. He didn’t like the picture they revealed. He thought back to the look on Janos Kovács’s face at the antique shop when he brought up the medallion. It was a look of abject fear. After the assault on the street, Adam thought perhaps the man’s fears were warranted.
And there was something else.
The note in Mr. Kovács’s ledger contained a name he had come across before, one almost always accompanied by death.