Jade was already awake when Dane rolled out of bed. The previous evening’s events, followed by the news that Angel had been attacked outside the hotel had kept the wheels of his mind turning until well into the night. When they discovered the missing skulls, they knew why the men had come.
He and Bones had taken turns staying awake, though neither of them expected the men to return. They had the skulls, and didn’t know about the existence of the three hares disc.
He sat up, closed his eyes, and inhaled the welcome aroma of coffee. Exactly what he needed to start this cold morning.
“It’s about time. I’ve been on the web for hours.” Jade did not look up from the tiny screen of her phone which she was using to search the internet. “I’ve already solved the mystery while you were dreaming about... sand, or whatever it is you dream of.”
“Seriously?” He sat up straight, feeling wide awake.
“No.” She turned and gave him a coy smile. “But since you’re awake, how about pouring me a cup of coffee.”
He gave her a playful swat on the hip and rolled out of bed, sparing a moment to work out the kinks from sleeping on a mattress that was much too soft for his liking. He poured two cups of coffee: black for him, two sugars, no cream for her. He sat her cup on the nightstand on her side of the bed, opened the curtains to let in the glow of the snow-frosted city, and settled into a nearby chair.
“I do have an idea, though.” Jade took sip of coffee and regarded him over her cup. When he didn’t bite, she made a mocking pout that melted into a smile. “Fine. Don’t let me have any fun.”
“Tell me, my wise and beautiful queen...”
“No!” She held up her hand. “Too late now. Just sit there, drink your coffee, and enjoy the fruits of my labor.” She picked up the hotel note pad she’d use for her note-taking. “Aside from the message on the disc, our clues are: the three hares, the wise men, and the wise and foolish virgins. Agreed?”
“I suppose you could add Bacchus to that list.”
“Might as well.” She made a note. “I tried combining phrases from the message with some of these clues, along with Germany and cathedrals or churches, and using them as search terms. I’ve come up with one place I feel good about.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Hildesheim.” She fixed him with an expectant look.
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s famous for the Bernward Doors– huge bronze doors that depict scenes from the Bible.” She checked her notes. “Each door has eight panels, and one of them shows the adoration of the Magi.”
“Sounds iffy.” Dane held his coffee close to his nose, savoring the aroma. “There must be tons of representations of the Wise Men all around Germany, and that’s assuming the skulls are still in the country. Who knows?”
“You’re such a cynic, Maddock.” Jade sighed and handed him her phone. “Take a look at this. It’s a picture of the Three Kings panel.”
The image was impressive. The Magi were sculpted, as was the Blessed Mother holding the baby Jesus, and gave the etching a three-dimensional quality. But it wasn’t the scene itself that drew Dane’s eye; it was the door knocker in the shape of a lion’s head that dominated the lower middle of the panel.
“You see?” Jade grinned. “I thought the mention of the word ‘lion’ might be figurative, you know, Jesus was the Lion of Judah. But if it’s a literal clue, this is a good fit. You’ve got the Magi, the lion, and a cathedral. The place is filled with works of art. There’s even a shrine that includes a depiction of the wise and foolish virgins. I’ll wager that somewhere in there is a depiction of the three hares. What do you think?”
“It’s a stretch, but I suppose it’s worth a try.”
“Look, I know it’s not a sure thing but, the way I see it, we’re on vacation and it’s a place I wouldn’t mind visiting anyway. What do we have to lose except a few hours in the car?”
“That works for me,” Dane said. “But I’m guessing you’ve forgotten what a road trip with Bones is like.”
Dane didn’t know if it was holiday spirit or the presence of his sister, but Bones was much less annoying than usual on their drive to Hildesheim. Instead of playing his favorite car game– thinking of an obscenity that started with the first letter of every road sign they passed– he contented himself with singing Christmas songs, though his habit of changing the lyrics to make the songs off-color finally drove Angel crazy and she put a stop to it. By the time they arrived at the cathedral, even Bones was focused on the task at hand.
“We’ll start by checking out the door and take it from there,” Jade said. “Keep an eye out for anything with the three hares or the wise virgins.”
“What about the shrine you mentioned?” Angel asked.
“We’ll take a look at that too. Anything that looks promising. Just don’t draw attention to yourself.” Jade directed the latter comment at Bones.
“You know me. I always rise to the occasion.” Bones grinned.
Dane gazed up at the cathedral. In no way was it as magnificent as Kölner Dom. It was smaller and less elegant, and the massive repairs to the damage wrought by Allied bombers in World War II had deprived it of the aura of age that imbued so many structures of its kind. It did, however, have its own charm. The symmetry of the structure gave it an orderly feel that was pleasing to the eye, and the sand-colored stone put him in mind of home.
It was only a short walk to the cathedral’s western portal and the Bernward doors. Though impressive in photographs, the sheer size of the doors, which stood at nearly sixteen feet tall, gave him pause. The artistry of these thousand year-old castings was breathtaking. Assuming the role of tourist, Bones took out a camera and started snapping pictures of Angel. She positioned herself to screen Dane and Jade who, in turn, moved in for a closer look at the Three Kings.
The panel was much larger than Dane had iMagined. He had figured the doors to be closer to an ordinary size, and thus scaled down the image in his mind.
“I don’t see any hares here,” Dane said.
“The clue mentions the lion. Give it a twist.” Jade whispered.
“These doors are probably thick enough to hide something inside. Maybe the knocker comes off, or releases a panel.” She looked around, clearly nervous. “Hurry while we’re alone.”
Dane took hold of the handle, feeling the cold bronze through his thin glove, and twisted.
He tried the other direction with no more success. He tried pushing and turning, pulling and turning, and anything else he could think of, but no dice.
“It’s just a solid piece,” he finally said, rocking back on his heels.
“You didn’t expect it to be easy, did you?” Bones pocketed his camera and joined them at the door. “Pretty cool, though. This alone was worth the drive, but let’s check out the inside.”
They were disappointed to learn the cathedral was closed for renovations, though Bones declared it “no freaking problem” to slip inside after hours, should they deem it necessary, eliciting a roll of the eyes and a pledge from Angel not to post his bail, should he be caught in the act.
A break-in proved unnecessary. Angel located a foreman who spoke English and apparently liked flirtatious women with dark skin and big brown eyes, because, five minutes later, they were inside.
Like the exterior, the interior had a feeling of newness about it, though tempered by the classic works of art all around. The construction foreman was eager to give them an impromptu tour, showing them the high points, including the “Christ Column,” a millennium-old, fifteen-foot tall cast bronze pillar that depicted scenes from the life of Jesus, and a bronze baptismal font that rivaled the pillar in its artistry.
By the time they reached the Epiphany Shrine at the east end of the cathedral, Dane was ready to give up. They had found no representations of the three hares, the Magi, or the Wise Virgins. The shrine was their last hope. The golden shrine was reminiscent of the shrine at Kölner Dom. Among the many images on its face was one of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. And, like the Shrine of the Magi, it was sealed in a thick glass case.
“It holds the relics of the patron saints,” the foreman explained. “It is very old.”
Dane and Bones exchanged glances. If they wanted to see what was inside, they would have to blast it open like the men had done back in Cologne. The idea did not sit well with him. Also, something told him this was not what they were looking for. The door to the temple had been guarded by only three wise virgins, while this shrine depicted all the characters of the parable, both wise and foolish. It didn’t look right. He thought back to their sole clue.
“As the lion roars for the king...”
He had taken “the king” to simply mean Jesus, the “King of Kings.” But if the allusion to the lion had been literal, why not the king as well? He turned to their guide, who was having trouble keeping his eyes off of Angel. She was playing along, though Dane knew her well enough to see she was growing bored with the charade.
“Are there any relics or treasures from any kings here?”
The foreman cocked his head, thinking. They all fell silent, and only the distant sounds of workmen going about their business interrupted the quiet. Finally, he nodded.
“In the museum is the Kopfreliquiar of Saint Oswald. He was King of Northumbria.”
“A cop what?” Bones asked.
“Kopfreliquiar.” The man cupped his chin, struggling for a translation. “This,” he indicated the shrine, “holds all the bones. A kopfreliquiar,” he held his hands in front of him about eight inches apart, “holds only the head.”
Jade beamed at Dane. A reliquary that held the skull of a king? That was more like it. They thanked the man, who had managed to wrangle a phone number from Angel, and left the cathedral.
“Real or fake?” Bones asked his sister as they headed back out into the cold.
“Sort of fake.” Angel grimaced. “I gave him Crazy Charlie’s number.”
“That’s cold, sis. Dude was nice enough to let us in and show us around.”
“Nice? You didn’t notice his wedding ring?”
Dane and Bones looked surprised while Jade and Angel exchanged a “that’s a man for you” look.
“You two can find gold at the bottom of the ocean but you can’t find it on the hand of someone standing a foot from you.” Jade shook her head.
“Hey, just because I haven’t settled down doesn’t mean I’ve started checking to see which dudes are single,” Bones protested. “Besides, we need to find Ichabod Crane.” They had arrived at the museum, and he opened the door and ushered them in with a mocking bow.
“Ichabod Crane?” Jade frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“The Headless Horseman. Am I the only educated one here?”
“Ichabod Crane was the...” Jade threw up her hands and stalked inside. Bones winked at Angel, who gave him a rueful look.
“You’re such a jerk,” she said, “but at least you’re pestering someone else for a change.”
They paid the modest entry fee and found themselves alone in the museum, save for a lone employee who reminded them that the museum would close in twenty minutes. They made a show of examining various displays, but quickly found themselves at the glass case that held Saint Oswald’s head reliquary. The circled it, scrutinizing the piece. The golden artifact was an odd-looking: an octagonal base with a domed cover, topped by a sculpture of Oswald’s crowned head. Writing ringed the bottom, with etchings in the panels.
Jade squeezed Dane’s hand and he could feel her excitement.
“Look at the crown,” she whispered. “Do you see it?”
Etched in a white stone on the front of the crown was the sign of the three hares!
“Okay.” Dane kept his voice level. “So how do we get to it?”
“Leave it to me,” Bones said. “You three spread out and don’t act so interested in this thing.” With that, he sauntered over to the museum docent and struck up a conversation. In typical Bones fashion, he soon had her laughing. The two of them soon headed out to the lobby, Bones returning a few minutes later with a slip of paper in his hand.
“You got a number too,” Angel said. “What’s your plan, charm her and talk her into bringing you back here later?”
“Nope.” Bones reached into his pocket, pulled out a key ring, and tossed it to Dane. His eyes scanned the room as he leaned in close. “Museum’s about to close,” he whispered. “Call us when you’re out.”
“You’d better take my backpack,” Jade added, slipping it off her shoulder and handing it to him. “Just in case you find something.”
Dane had to laugh at his friend’s resourcefulness. This just might work.
Careful not to be spotted, he slipped around the corner in the direction of the men’s room. The door was propped open and a sign with the international symbol for “don’t slip on this wet floor and fall on your butt” guarded the entrance. Good! He could hide inside without being found by the cleaning crew. He hurried inside, found an uncomfortable seat atop a toilet and waited for the lights to go out.
Forty long, boring minutes later, he pulled up the hood of his jacket to shield his face– he hadn’t seen any security cameras, but better safe than sorry– and moved out into the darkened museum. It had been at least ten minutes since he’d heard a sound. Though he knew only a handful of German words, he was fairly certain he’d heard Bones’ new friend complaining about her missing keys. He supposed she’d hitched a ride with a co-worker, because he heard not a sound as he moved through the dark hallway.
It took several failed tries before his clumsy, gloved hands found the key that opened the protective case around the Oswald Reliquary. Heart pounding, he reached inside, took hold of the cover, and lifted the lid.
It was heavy, but it slid free easily. He gingerly set the lid aside and peered down into the reliquary. The dim glow of the security lights were more than enough to show him what was inside.
The reliquary contained two skulls.
One was unremarkable, but the other was topped with a bronze crown. Unable to breathe, he lifted it out of the case and held it up so he could take a look at the head of one of the legendary Magi of the Christmas story.
The crown was fused to the skull so perfectly that it looked to be one with the bone. Aware that he should get out while the getting was good, he opened Jade’s backpack and made to put the skull inside when a faint glimmer of light caught his eye.
An opaque, white gem was set in the front of the crown and, though it defied logic, a band of light seemed to glow from within the stone itself. He frowned, turning the skull in his hands. The light flickered, but did not go away. He was intrigued, but instinct told him he was fortunate to have gotten this far without being caught. He slipped the skull into the backpack, replaced the reliquary lid, and locked the case. At the front door, the flashing lights of the security system gave him pause, but there was nothing for it but to hurry. He chose what he thought was the front door key, let himself out, locked the door behind him, and tossed the keys beneath a shrub a few feet away. Maybe the owner would find them in the morning.
By the time he reached the street, the tightness in his chest had eased and his heart had stopped racing. Even if he had set off an alarm, what would the police find? The museum locked up tight and everything in order. Even if they found the keys and concluded someone had been inside, nothing was missing, as far as they knew. If a security camera showed a shadowy figure messing with the reliquary display, St. Oswald’s head was still in its resting place. He wondered if this was what a thief felt like when he committed the perfect crime.
He told himself it wasn’t really a crime. The skull belonged to the cathedral at Cologne, and he would see to it that it was returned. But not until they solved the mystery.