This place was cold– a biting, stinging, run home and put your feet up by the fire kind of cold that soaked through every layer of your clothing. Key West this was not.
“What are you thinking, Maddock?” Jade’s sleek black hair was sprinkled with the powdery snow that floated down on the vagrant breeze. Her eyes sparkled with the reflected light of the lamp-lined street, and her smile outshone the mantle of white that lay heavy on the world. “Don’t tell me. You are so glad I talked you into this!”
Dane grinned. He was glad he hadn’t answered the question. He’d actually been wondering how Jade had extracted him from his well-worn holiday tradition of beer and barbeque somewhere, anywhere the only white thing blanketing the world was sand. Not wanting to spoil her good mood, he pulled her close and kept his thoughts to himself. They’d spent too much time apart of late. Jade had been working in the Far East while Dane had been... too many places to count. She wanted this trip and this time together and he was happy to oblige her.
“Christmas in Germany!” she breathed. “I’ve dreamed about it ever since I was a little girl. The cathedrals! And...” she drew the word out like a game show host about to announce the grand prize “...the snow!” She swept out her arm, her gesture taking in the city’s frosted skyline. “And then we’re going to the Alps!” She squeezed him tight and bounced up and down like an excited child.
“Tell me again why we came here so early?” He enveloped her in his arms and they looked out across the Rhine River, the light of the streetlamps flickering across its choppy surface.
“Because the celebration of the Christmas season started the evening of December sixth. I wanted to be here for more than just Christmas day! I’ve got tonight all planned out. We’ll have our tour of the cathedral and then I’ve got a restaurant picked out where they serve some of the traditional holiday treats. “
“I hate fruitcake.” He knew better, but it was worth it to see the scandalized look in her eyes, though it passed almost immediately.
“I am not letting you mess with me tonight. I’m too happy.” She turned back toward the water. “And for your information, you are going to try Christbaumgeback even if it kills you.” She glanced at her watch. “We should probably get going.” Her face fell into a frown and she looked up and down the street.
Dane’s eyes followed hers but he saw nothing amiss. “You never told me how you managed to schedule a solo, nighttime tour of the Cologne Cathedral.”
“I know somebody,” she kissed him on the left cheek, “who knows somebody,” a kiss on the right cheek, “who knows somebody.” The next kiss was full on the lips.
“Get a room you two!”
No way. It couldn’t be who he thought it was. Jade was going to have a cow. Dane turned to see a six and-a-half foot tall Native American strolling along the river walk. His height and breadth of shoulder drew the attention of everyone he passed.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Jade turned her angry eyes upon Dane. “What is Bones doing here?”
Uriah Bonebrake, known to his friends as “Bones,” was Danes business partner and best friend since their days as Navy SEALs. He also was not Jade’s favorite person, nor was she his.
“I don’t...” Dane was dumbfounded. He’d only told Bones that he and Jade were going away for the holidays. How had Bones known where they were going, much less where they would be standing at this exact moment? “Bones, what the hell?”
“It’s Christmas, dude!” Bones grinned. He wore his black leather biker jacket unzipped, revealing a t-shirt featuring a character from the South Park cartoon garbed in a Santa outfit with Merry Bleeping Christmas printed above the character’s head. The fact that the shirt read “bleeping” instead of the actual expletive was unusually restrained for Bones. It wouldn’t help with Jade’s mood, though.
“I can’t believe you invited Bones on our romantic Christmas getaway.” If he’d thought the breeze coming across the river was frigid, Jade’s words took it down a few degrees. “Is he sleeping in our bed too?”
“I...” Words failed him.
“You got punked!” Jade’s icy expression melted into a warm smile. “I got you so bad, Maddock! I wish I had it on video.”
“I got it.” A female voice rang out and a young woman stepped out from the shadows a few paces away. “Maddock, you so got owned. Dude, you girlfriend rocks.”
Angelica Bonebrake only vaguely resembled her brother. They both had long black hair and mischievous twinkles in their eyes, but that was where the similarities ended.
Where Bones’ face was hard and chiseled, Angelica’s features were soft and finely formed and, though she was tall for a woman, she was a far cry from her towering brother. She pocketed her camera and hurried forward to catch Dane in a crushing embrace. She was beautiful, no doubt, but underneath her thick winter clothes she was one hundred forty pounds of solid muscle. When she wasn’t working security at her uncle Crazy Charlie’s casino, she was a bantamweight fighter in the WFFC. Many a drunken man had gotten too friendly with Angelica and had his shoulder dislocated or jaw broken for his trouble.
“I can’t believe this.” Dane was almost dizzy with surprise. He turned to Jade who beamed up at him. “You engineered this?”
“Did you really think I’d try to keep you away from your best friend at Christmas? It’s a holiday for family and I know you guys always spend it together.” The joy on her face made her even more beautiful.
He arched an eyebrow. “You’re sure you want to spend Christmas with Bones?”
“Definitely.” Jade turned to Angelica. “You must be Angelica. I’m Jade Ihara.”
“You can just call me Angel.”
Dane cocked his head to the side. “When did this happen? I thought people called you Demonica.”
“That was before she became a supermodel.” Bones gave his sister a playful punch to the shoulder.
“I am not a model,” she said through gritted teeth as she hit him back.
Bones rubbed his shoulder in mock hurt and Angel made an obscene gesture. “Hey chick, it’s Christmas. Anyway,” he turned to Dane and Jade, “you are looking at the new female face of the WFFC!”
“It’s no big deal.” Angel looked embarrassed.
“She’s on all their ads and she’s got tons of endorsements.” Bones clapped her on the back. “Of course, that might just be because all the other chicks are butt dog ugly.”
Angel elbowed him in the gut and shoved him away. “I don’t know why I agreed to come on this trip. You are such a...”
“Christmas!” Bones held up a hand, forestalling what Dane was sure would have been one of Angel’s streams of choice profanity. She could swear in English, Cherokee, Spanish and a smattering of several other languages.
“Don’t listen to him,” Jade said. “You’re every bit as pretty as Maddock described you.”
“Oh really?” Bones gave him an appraising look. “Now you’re hot for my sister too? How many babes do you need?”
“What I said was, you must have gotten all the bad genes in the family.”
“Don’t hate,” Bones said. “You’ve always been jealous of my good looks.”
“How about we get going?” Jade said. “We’re supposed to meet my friend at the cathedral in ten minutes.”
A few minutes later found them rounding the Kölner Dom. The massive Gothic cathedral was, according to Jade, the largest in all of Germany. Dane had never seen its equal. Its twin columns, square in their lower sections, octagonal in the middle and tapering off to points far above, were inlaid with stone reliefs, and towered above them, almost sinister in the darkness.
“It withstood all the bombings during World War II.” Jade spoke in a tone almost as soft as the downy flakes that fell harder as they approached the cathedral entrance. “Everything around it was leveled, but the cathedral stood.”
Bones whistled, clearly impressed.
“Some think the Allies tried to avoid hitting it because its height made for a good landmark for pilots. Others credit more otherworldly protection.” Her eyes flitted skyward for a moment before locking on a man who stood waving to them. He was tall and wiry with thinning brown hair sprinkled with white. He looked to be of late middle years, but his smile was eager and his eyes brimmed with vitality. He gave Jade a quick embrace before turning to introduce himself to the others.
“Otto Döring. I am an archaeologist and an old friend of Jade’s.” He had only the slightest German accent.
“Otto has pulled a few strings to get us access to the cathedral after regular tour hours.” Jade beamed. “He is going to show us around.”
Otto nodded and led the way through the main entrance, filling them in on details as they went. Bones snickered at the mention of “flying buttresses,” but it turned to a wheezing cough when Angel elbowed him in the gut. Otto did not seem to notice, so absorbed was he in his subject. “The cathedral is nearly one hundred fifty meters long, more than eighty-five meters wide, and over one hundred fifty meters high.”
Dane performed some quick calculations. That put the towers at over five hundred feet tall, the nave nearly that length, and the transept almost three-hundred feet wide. As they stepped inside, he fully appreciated the sheer size of the place and what it must have taken to construct it, considering the available technology between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. The towering columns drew his eyes up to the vaulted ceiling overhead. This place was an architectural marvel.
“The windows on the south wall were donated by ...” Otto’s voice trailed away. “Oh my!” He pointed to the far end of the nave. “The Shrine of the Magi. What happened to it?”
“The Shrine of the Magi.” Jade said. “The golden sarcophagus that supposedly holds the remains of the three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus.”
Ignoring the others, Otto took off at a trot and Dane ran alongside him as the archaeologist hurried toward the far end of the cathedral. They skirted the transept altar and ran toward the main altar.
Under a different set of circumstances Dane would have goggled at the ornate stained glass, the sculptures, and the artwork. Now, however, he had eyes only for the scene around the altar.
Three steps led up to the black marble altar outlined in ornate white friezes. Directly behind it stood the shattered remains of what had been a bulletproof glass container. Nearby lay an upended golden sarcophagus, and behind that were bodies.