Ruminating on it, he picked up his pace as Sully and Jada passed the museum on the right and reached the corner of Central Park West. They looked comfortable together, like father and daughter. Sully spent most of his time focusing on his own fortunes, so it was fascinating to watch him become so wrapped up in someone else’s. He had no children of his own, but Jada was his goddaughter, and it was pretty clear he would do anything to protect her. Even if Drake hadn’t wanted to help Jada—which he did both for her own sake and because the puzzle intrigued him—he would have been on board just because Sully had asked.
It was the one thing that Drake and Jada had in common. As of this morning, Sully was the closest thing either one of them had to family. Drake hustled up the museum steps and through the door, finding Sully and Jada waiting for him just inside.
“Anything?” Sully asked.
“Not that I saw,” Drake replied, “but I’m no detective, so what do I know?”
Sully frowned. “Nah. If they knew where Jada was, they’d have tailed us from the apartment.”
Jada looked relieved as Sully headed off toward the information desk. For a person who had learned of her father’s murder only half a day before, she was holding together well.
By the time they caught up to Sully, he already had spoken to the neatly attired man behind the desk, who had picked up a phone and was having a conversation while half turned away from them. A moment later he hung up the phone and informed them that someone from Dr. Cheney’s team would be down to fetch them momentarily. Drake fought the temptation to make a crack about anyone “fetching” them and joined Sully and Jada in standing around an enormous plant, trying not to look awkward.
An attractive young woman arrived to fetch them, introducing herself as a graduate student working with Dr. Cheney. She wore her hair up in a loose bun, artfully disarrayed, and though her dark red sweater and gray skirt were fashionable and neat, Drake thought she looked more like a movie superspy masquerading as a museum employee than an actual graduate student. She made him want to enroll in classes or become a museum curator, and though Jada and Sully asked her questions while she let them up to the second floor, Drake missed the initial bits of conversation.
“—honestly surprised that the board went along with it,” the woman said as she marched up the stairs ahead of them. “Whitney Memorial Hall has been used for special exhibits numerous times, but in this case, they actually relocated the oceanic birds exhibit to the Akeley Gallery. Most of the birds, I should say. The Akeley is a smaller space, so some had to be put into storage. In any case, it underscores how enthusiastic they are about Dr. Cheney’s work that they’re willing to go to that extent. He’s been working night and day for weeks in preparation.”
They reached the top of the stairs in a wide rotunda. Through a huge entryway behind him, Drake saw elephants, and the sight saddened him. He had seen the real thing, up close and personal and on their own territory, and encountering them here felt almost grotesque.
“I’m sorry,” he said, tearing his attention away from the elephant. “I zoned out for a second. What’s this exhibit Mr. Cheney’s working on?”
The question earned him a look of scorn from their guide. “Dr. Cheney’s exhibit is called ‘Labyrinths of the Ancient World.’ His research into historical records and the physical evidence has been groundbreaking.”
“And he’s the curator of the exhibit?” Jada asked.
“Of course,” the graduate student sniffed, growing impatient and visibly irritated at their ignorance.
Without another word, all courtesy forgotten, she strode from the rotunda and down a short corridor past restrooms and a coatroom. A velvet rope blocked the huge rollaway doors at the end of the corridor. A small brass stand bore a sign that asked patrons to pardon the museum for its appearance while a new exhibit was being installed.
“They should switch her to public relations,” Drake muttered to Sully and Jada. “Doesn’t she just exude a welcoming warmth?”
Sully shot him a remonstrative glance, but Jada said nothing. She wore a hopeful expression as they followed their guide past the velvet rope. The graduate student used a key to unlock the large doors and slid one side open just wide enough for them to pass through.
“Dr. Cheney’s locked in here?” Jada asked.
“There’s an employee entrance as well. This was just the most convenient way to bring you in. And Maynard has a key, of course.”
Drake tried to hide his smile. Oh, it’s Maynard now. Someone had a little crush on her boss. It would have been adorable if she hadn’t been such a condescending witch.
They entered the exhibit after she and Drake nearly collided with Sully and Jada, who had stopped to admire Dr. Cheney’s work. Drake’s eyes widened as he took in their surroundings. Just ahead of them were two massive stones engraved with ancient languages: Greek on one side and Egyptian hieroglyphics on the other. A banner hung on the wall to the right, trumpeting the name of the exhibit—“Labyrinths of the Ancient World”—along with the tagline “Can You Find Your Way Out?”
“No way,” Jada whispered.
“Actually, I kinda think ‘way,’ ” Drake replied.
The graduate student slid the door shut behind them but didn’t bother with the lock. Apparently she didn’t think they would be there very long.
“If you’ll follow me,” she said, “I’ll take you through the labyrinth. Please don’t touch anything, and no photographs, of course.”
“Of course,” Sully said drily.
The labyrinth exhibit had been constructed as a maze, with information imparted along the way through diagrams and scale models. Monitors had been installed in the walls to show animated re-creations of the construction of the labyrinths, and at regular intervals there were cutouts in the walls where ancient artifacts had been placed behind thick glass. Some of the plaques identifying those objects were not yet in place and some of the cutouts were still empty, but Drake had the idea that the time was not far off when the exhibit would make its debut. And what a debut it would be. He felt certain that crowds would flock to the museum to lose themselves in the labyrinth Dr. Cheney had built.
What the irritated graduate student led them through was not a full-size labyrinth but only a tiny fragment created to give visitors the illusion that they were lost in a vast, sprawling maze. As they turned sharply angled corners and then doubled back again, Drake decided that Dr. Cheney had done an excellent job. In fact, being lost was no illusion at all. He imagined that when the exhibit was completed, there would be arrows or some other indicator to let people know if they were headed in the right direction, but he would have been lost without their guide, and he thought the same must be true of Sully and Jada.
“Is there a Minotaur?” Jada asked.
The graduate student glanced back at them over her shoulder and smirked. “No. But there will be a false turn that will be very dark, and you’ll hear a roar coming from it. Then the lights go out, and there’s a whole display about the legend of the Minotaur. We’re supposed to focus on history, not myth, but people who come to an exhibit on labyrinths are going to expect something on the legend.”
Jada started to reply but never got the words out. Whatever she might have said was interrupted by a horrible scream that echoed through the labyrinth, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. A man’s voice, in panic and pain.
“What the hell—” Sully growled.
The graduate student froze. “Maynard?” she called, panic in her eyes.
Drake and Jada exchanged a glance, and he could tell by the way she stood that they were doing the same thing: listening, trying to figure out the source of the scream. In the labyrinth, it might be impossible to pinpoint.
“This way,” Drake said, taking a left turn.
“No,” their guide said, grabbing his arm. “That’s a dead end.”
She walked straight ahead, and for a heartbeat Drake thought she would collide with the wall. Only when she passed through it did he see the opening; an optical illusion had made it seem like an unbroken surface. Dr. Cheney had outdone himself in creating his labyrinth exhibit, but the time to appreciate it had passed.
Drake, Sully, and Jada followed her through the opening and around a sharp turn that brought them to a fork.
“Which way?” Jada asked.
The graduate student seemed about to go right, but then there came a crash of glass and the thump of a heavy impact against the walls. Drake darted past the woman, down the corridor to the left. The sound had been close, and with the thud on the wall, there was no question about direction now.
Drake darted around a floor display, brushed the fake stone wall, and took a jag to the right. It felt like he’d reversed direction; for a second he thought the maze had misled him, but then it split into two narrow passages, one in either direction, and he turned left again, rushing in the direction of the crash. He heard Sully, Jada, and their guide pursuing him but didn’t slow. That scream had been one not of fear but of pain. And more than pain. He had heard men scream like that only in the worst of circumstances, when blood had been shed and life was fleeting.
“Nate, watch your ass!” Sully shouted.
Drake slowed, taking heed of the warning. They’d heard no gunshots, but he had no way of knowing what waited for them ahead. He dashed past a yawning darkness to his right and wondered if that was where the Minotaur’s roar eventually would be heard. Then he reached a turn where the ceiling sloped downward to an arched entryway. He ducked through and nearly tripped over a man sprawled on the floor.
“Damn it,” he muttered, regaining his footing.
A quick glance at the man’s dull, vacant eyes—and the stab wounds in his chest and the blood staining his clothes and pooling under him—was enough to tell Drake he wasn’t going to make it.
Blood bubbled from Dr. Cheney’s lips as he tried to breathe, and his whole body shook.
Drake surveyed the scene in an instant. A display case had been shattered in the man’s struggle with the murderer. Blood smeared on the wall showed where the dying man had crashed into it, trying to keep himself from falling.
Sully, Jada, and their guide ducked through the low passage, and when the graduate student saw the dying man, she screamed his name.
“Maynard!” she cried, and rushed to kneel at his side, murmuring denials and prayers in a torrent of heartbreak.
“Don’t touch him,” Sully warned as she went to try to lift his head.
The woman glanced up in confusion, but Drake saw in her eyes that she understood Sully’s caution. The police would not want the crime scene disturbed. She wanted to help the curator, but anyone could see there was nothing she could do.
Drake turned away from her anguish. He ran to the next bend in the corridor and peered around the corner, listening for retreating footfalls. They were no more than thirty seconds behind the killer, but that could be an eternity if the bastard knew where he was going. He was about to give chase anyway but hesitated.
“Hey,” he said, rushing back to the others, realizing he didn’t know the graduate student’s name. “Which way is the staff entrance you were talking about?”
She blinked, lifted her gaze from the dying Dr. Cheney, and looked at him. “Back there,” she said, glancing the way they’d come. “Through the Minotaur’s alcove. It’s the dark area on the left as you—”
But Drake had stopped listening. He remembered. They had just passed it, probably only a second or two before the killer had gone into that darkness. He might even have been hiding there in the shadows, waiting as they went by so as not to make any noise.
“Stay with her,” he told Sully.
Sully nodded, though he didn’t look happy about it.
Drake ran through the passage in a crouch, standing as he emerged in the corridor. He heard Jada following, wished she would wait with Sully, but didn’t take the time to argue with her. A couple of hours with the adult Jada Hzujak and he knew she wasn’t the sort of woman who was going to sit idly by when it came time for action.
They raced through two turns of the labyrinth, retracing their steps, and came to the Minotaur’s alcove. Drake didn’t slow, plunging into the darkness, hands in front of him. He stumbled over loose cables on the floor but caught himself on the wall at the rear of the alcove.
“Watch your step, Jada,” he said, his eyes adjusting as he found a doorknob and twisted it, bursting through into a narrow, dimly lit corridor that looked nothing like the interior of the labyrinth.
Sound equipment and a workbench blocked the way to the right, so they went left, hurtling down the narrow hall created by the hollow backs of the labyrinth’s walls. Plywood and two-by-fours and bare bulbs made him think of being backstage in a theater.
What the hell am I doing? Drake thought. Luka had been murdered, and now Dr. Cheney, who apparently had helped him in his labyrinth research, was dying. Whatever Luka had discovered, someone didn’t want anybody talking about it. If the killers thought that Jada’s father might have shared his secrets with her, she would be a target as well, just as she had feared, and yet here they were chasing after one of the very people who would want her dead.
The corridor cut diagonally to the right, and he followed it. It zigzagged in between turns in the labyrinth, a hidden space, a maze within the maze. He could hear Jada’s footfalls right behind him, her breathing so close that he practically could feel it, and he knew they were being foolish taking this risk. But he also knew that she wanted answers and would never stop just to save herself.
The maze ended abruptly. The walls on either side cut away, the halls of the labyrinth turning, but their narrow corridor arrived at a pair of double metal doors with an exit sign glowing above them and a warning placard stating the door was for the use of staff only.