Prague, Czech Republic
6 October 1999
Adam’s ears perked at the sound of footfalls on the concrete floor. No one else should have been there. The special collections room of the library was restricted, access granted by appointment only, and he didn’t recall seeing any appointments for that day on the ledger. It occurred to him that one of the other staff could be looking for him. Or perhaps a student had gotten lost in the labyrinthine stacks. There were any number of innocent explanations.
Adam didn’t believe in innocent explanations anymore.
The room itself was long and narrow, the shelves arranged in rows perpendicular to its length, leaving only slender aisles around the edges. The one door was situated in a corner, but Adam had been reshelving books and couldn’t see it from where he stood. He peered through the metal stacks, trying to catch a glimpse of the unannounced visitor, but in the dim light he could see only shadows.
The footfalls stopped, still several rows away. In the silence Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck. Moments later the footsteps resumed, slower and more deliberate, like a fox trying to flush out a hare. Adam glanced over his shoulder. If he could reach the end of the row, he could possibly sneak up the opposite aisle to the door, but his chances of making it all the way without being noticed were slim. He’d have a better chance confronting the intruder. He had other means at his disposal besides the crucifix, but experience had taught him even it would do in a pinch.
As the footsteps drew closer, Adam struggled to control his breathing and slow his heartbeat. His left hand still clutched his crucifix. His right hand hovered over the folding knife he kept in his pants pocket. The footsteps grew louder until eventually a young man stepped into the open space at the end of the row. He was dressed like a typical student—cargo pants, sweatshirt, oversized military-style jacket. His dirty-blond hair fell in front of his face. Their eyes met. He didn’t say anything.
“May I help you?” Adam asked in Czech.
“It’s possible,” the man replied in Serbian. “Are you Edvard Novak?”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “I don’t understand.”
He did understand, of course. “Edvard Novak” was the name on his university ID, a quiet, completely unremarkable assistant librarian no one ever had a reason to notice. Adam had played the role since coming to Prague a few months earlier, even going so far as to dye his hair blond and cover his brown eyes with blue contact lenses. He liked Prague. He wanted to stay.
But, he thought ruefully, we don’t always get what we want.
The man laughed. “You and I both know you’re lying, but then again it doesn’t really matter. I already know who you are.”
Adam slipped the knife out of his pocket, concealing it still folded in his fist. “Who? Tell me,” he said, switching to Serbian.
The man stepped forward. “Please, Dr. Mire, it will be easier if you don’t fight.”
Adam seized the book cart in front of him and charged down the row. The cart collided with the man’s midsection and slammed him back into the wall before toppling over. Adam vaulted over the upturned buggy and sprinted for the door, but the man shoved the cart away and lunged after him, tackling Adam within a few steps. Adam twisted himself around, open knife in hand, but the man gripped his arm with alarming strength—supernatural strength.
He should have been more careful.
“Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” he began to chant.
The man laughed again. “Latin chants won’t work on me. I’m just as alive as you are.”
Their faces were inches apart as they struggled for the knife. Adam studied the man’s eyes for any clue, any hint of what he might want. All he saw was determination. Adam could understand that. He let go of the knife. The man’s weight shifted as he grabbed for it, and Adam bucked, throwing him off. He jabbed his elbow into the man’s stomach and scooped the knife back up off the floor.
“That just mean’s you’re easier to hurt.” Adam held the knife before him. “I take it you’re a Chetnik. I was wondering when you guys would give it another try.”
The man glared at Adam as he rose to his feet, and despite the silvery glint in Adam’s hand, he advanced. Adam took another swing, but the man blocked him with little effort, seizing his arm and wrenching him around. The sharp pain forced Adam to drop the knife, and it clattered on the concrete floor. The man shoved him face-first into the wall and held him there.
“For the record, I’m not a Chetnik,” he growled in Adam’s ear.
A cloth covered Adam’s mouth, and a sickly sweet smell entered his nostrils. His head swam. His knees buckled, and his vision faded. Then the darkness overtook him.