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Somebody help her!
But the guard was now shouting across the dome, seeming to address nobody in particular. “!Luces! !Y cobertura de movil!” I need lights and phone service!
Langdon reached up and straightened the transducer headset on his face.
“Winston, are you there?”
The guard turned, eyeing Langdon strangely.
“I am here.” Winston’s voice was flat.
“Winston, Edmond was shot. We need the lights back on right away. We need cellular service restored. Can you control that? Or contact someone who can?”
Seconds later, the lights in the dome rose abruptly, dissolving the magical illusion of a moonlit meadow and illuminating a deserted expanse of artificial turf scattered with abandoned blankets.
The guard seemed startled by Langdon’s apparent power. After a moment, he reached down and pulled Langdon to his feet. The two men faced each other in the stark light.
The agent was tall, the same height as Langdon, with a shaved head and a muscular body that strained at his blue blazer. His face was pale with muted features that set off his sharp eyes, which, at the moment, were focused like lasers on Langdon.
“You were in the video tonight. You’re Robert Langdon.”
“Yes. Edmond Kirsch was my student and friend.”
“I am Agent Fonseca with the Guardia Real,” he announced in perfect English. “Tell me how you knew about the navy uniform.”
Langdon turned toward Edmond’s body, which lay motionless on the grass beside the podium. Ambra Vidal knelt beside the body along with two museum security guards and a staff paramedic, who had already abandoned efforts to revive him. Ambra gently covered the corpse with a blanket.
Clearly, Edmond was gone.
Langdon felt nauseated, unable to pull his eyes from his murdered friend.
“We can’t help him,” the guard snapped. “Tell me how you knew.”
Langdon returned his eyes to the guard, whose tone left no room for misinterpretation. It was an order.
Langdon quickly relayed what Winston had told him–that the docent program had flagged one of the guest’s headsets as having been abandoned, and when a human docent found the headset in a trash receptacle, they checked which guest had been assigned that headset, alarmed to find that he was a last-minute write-in on the guest list.
“Impossible.” The guard’s eyes narrowed. “The guest list was locked yesterday. Everyone underwent a background check.”
“Not this man,” Winston’s voice announced in Langdon’s headset. “I was concerned and ran the guest’s name, only to find he was a former Spanish navy admiral, discharged for alcoholism and post-traumatic stress suffered in a terrorist attack in Seville five years ago.”
Langdon relayed the information to the guard.
“The bombing of the cathedral?” The guard looked incredulous.
“Furthermore,” Winston told Langdon, “I found the officer had no connection whatsoever to Mr. Kirsch, which concerned me, and so I contacted museum security to set off alarms, but without more conclusive information, they argued we should not ruin Edmond’s event–especially while it was being live-streamed to the world. Knowing how hard Edmond worked on tonight’s program, their logic made sense to me, and so I immediately contacted you, Robert, in hopes you could spot this man so I could discreetly guide a security team to him. I should have taken stronger action. I failed Edmond.”
Langdon found it somewhat unnerving that Edmond’s machine seemed to experience guilt. He glanced back toward Edmond’s covered body and saw Ambra Vidal approaching.
Fonseca ignored her, still focused directly on Langdon. “The computer,” he asked, “did it give you a name for the naval officer in question?”
Langdon nodded. “His name is Admiral Luis Avila.”
As he spoke the name, Ambra stopped short and stared at Langdon, a look of utter horror on her face.
Fonseca noted her reaction and immediately moved toward her. “Ms. Vidal? You’re familiar with the name?”
Ambra seemed unable to reply. She lowered her gaze and stared at the floor as if she had just seen a ghost.
“Ms. Vidal,” Fonseca repeated. “Admiral Luis Avila–do you know this name?”
Ambra’s shell-shocked expression left little doubt that she did indeed know the killer. After a stunned moment, she blinked twice and her dark eyes began to clear, as if she were emerging from a trance. “No … I don’t know the name,” she whispered, glancing at Langdon and then back at her security guard. “I was just … shocked to hear that the killer was an officer of the Spanish navy.”
She’s lying, Langdon sensed, puzzled as to why she would attempt to disguise her reaction. I saw it. She recognized that man’s name.
“Who was in charge of the guest list?!” Fonseca demanded, taking another step toward Ambra. “Who added this man’s name?”
Ambra’s lips were trembling now. “I … I have no idea.”
The guard’s questions were interrupted by a sudden cacophony of cell phones ringing and beeping throughout the dome. Winston had apparently found a way to restore cell service, and one of the phones now ringing was in Fonseca’s blazer pocket.
The Guardia agent reached for his phone and, seeing the caller ID, took a deep breath and answered. “Ambra Vidal esta a salvo,” he announced.
Ambra Vidal is safe. Langdon moved his gaze to the distraught woman. She was already looking at him. When their eyes met, they held each other’s stare for a long moment.
Then Langdon heard Winston’s voice materialize in his headset.
“Professor,” Winston whispered. “Ambra Vidal knows very well how Luis Avila got onto the guest list. She added his name herself.”
Langdon needed a moment to make sense of the information.
Ambra Vidal herself placed the killer on the guest list?
And now she’s lying about it?!
Before Langdon could fully process this information, Fonseca was handing his cell phone to Ambra.
The agent said, “Don Julian quiere hablar con usted.”
Ambra seemed almost to recoil from the phone. “Tell him I’m fine,” she replied. “I’ll call him in a little while.”
The guard’s expression was one of utter disbelief. He covered the phone and whispered to Ambra, “Su alteza Don Julian, el principe, ha pedido–”
“I don’t care if he’s the prince,” she fired back. “If he’s going to be my husband, he will have to learn to give me space when I need it. I just witnessed a murder, and I need a minute to myself! Tell him I’ll call him shortly.”
Fonseca stared at the woman, his eyes flashing an emotion that bordered on contempt. Then he turned and walked off to continue his call in private.
For Langdon, the bizarre exchange had solved one small mystery. Ambra Vidal is engaged to Prince Julian of Spain? This news explained the celebrity treatment she was receiving and also the presence of the Guardia Real, although it certainly did not explain her refusal to accept her fiance’s call. The prince must be worried to death if he saw this on television.
Almost instantly, Langdon was struck by a second, far darker revelation.
Oh my God … Ambra Vidal is connected to Madrid’s Royal Palace.
The unexpected coincidence sent a chill through him as he recalled Edmond’s threatening voice mail from Bishop Valdespino.
TWO HUNDRED YARDS from Madrid’s Royal Palace, inside Almudena Cathedral, Bishop Valdespino had momentarily stopped breathing. He still wore his ceremonial robes and was seated at his office laptop, riveted by the images being transmitted from Bilbao.
This will be a massive news story.
From all he could see, the global media were already going wild. The top news outlets were lining up authorities on science and religion to speculate about Kirsch’s presentation, while everyone else offered hypotheses as to who murdered Edmond Kirsch and why. The media seemed to concur that, by all appearances, someone out there was deadly serious about making sure Kirsch’s discovery never saw the light of day.
After a long moment of reflection, Valdespino took out his cell phone and placed a call.
Rabbi Koves answered on the first ring. “Terrible!” The rabbi’s voice was nearly a shriek. “I was watching on television! We need to go to the authorities right now and tell them what we know!”
“Rabbi,” Valdespino replied, his tone measured. “I agree this is a horrifying turn of events. But before we take action, we need to think.”
“There is nothing to think about!” Koves fired back. “Clearly, someone will stop at nothing to bury Kirsch’s discovery, and they are butchers! I am convinced they also killed Syed. They must know who we are and will be coming for us next. You and I have a moral obligation to go to the authorities and tell them what Kirsch told us.”
“A moral obligation?” Valdespino challenged. “It sounds more like you want to make the information public so nobody has a motive to silence you and me personally.”
“Certainly, our safety is a consideration,” the rabbi argued, “but we also have a moral obligation to the world. I realize this discovery will call into question some fundamental religious beliefs, but if there is one thing I have learned in my long life, it is that faith always survives, even in the face of great hardship. I believe faith will survive this too, even if we reveal Kirsch’s findings.”
“I hear you, my friend,” the bishop finally said, maintaining as even a tone as possible. “I can hear the resolution in your voice, and I respect your thinking. I want you to know that I am open to discussion, and even to being swayed in my thinking. And yet, I beseech you, if we are going to unveil this discovery to the world, let us do it together. In the light of day. With honor. Not in desperation on the heels of this horrific assassination. Let us plan it, rehearse it, and frame the news properly.”
Koves said nothing, but Valdespino could hear the old man breathing.
“Rabbi,” the bishop continued, “at the moment, the single most pressing issue is our personal safety. We are dealing with killers, and if you make yourself too visible–for example, by going to the authorities or to a television station–it could end violently. I’m fearful for you in particular; I have protection here inside the palace complex, but you … you are alone in Budapest! Clearly, Kirsch’s discovery is a life-and-death matter. Please let me arrange for your protection, Yehuda.”
Koves fell silent a moment. “From Madrid? How can you possibly–”
“I have the security resources of the royal family at my disposal. Remain inside your home with your doors locked. I will request that two Guardia Real agents collect you and bring you to Madrid, where we can make sure you are safe in the palace complex and where you and I can sit down face-to-face and discuss how best to move forward.”
“If I come to Madrid,” the rabbi said tentatively, “what if you and I cannot agree on how to proceed?”
“We will agree,” the bishop assured him. “I know I am old-fashioned, but I am also a realist, like yourself. Together we will find the best course of action. I have faith in that.”
“And if your faith is misplaced?” Koves pressed.
Valdespino felt his stomach tighten, but he paused a moment, exhaled, and replied as calmly as he could. “Yehuda, if, in the end, you and I cannot find a way to proceed together, then we will part as friends, and we will each do what we feel is best. You have my word on that.”
“Thank you,” Koves replied. “On your word, I will come to Madrid.”
“Good. In the meantime, lock your doors and speak to no one. Pack a bag, and I’ll call you with details when I have them.” Valdespino paused. “And have faith. I’ll see you very soon.”
Valdespino hung up, a feeling of dread in his heart; he suspected that continuing to control Koves would require more than a plea for rationality and prudence.
Koves is panicking … just like Syed.
Both of them fail to see the bigger picture.
Valdespino closed his laptop, tucked it under his arm, and made his way through the darkened sanctuary. Still wearing his ceremonial robes, he exited the cathedral into the cool night air and headed across the plaza toward the gleaming white facade of the Royal Palace.
Above the main entrance, Valdespino could see the Spanish coat of arms–a crest flanked by the Pillars of Hercules and the ancient motto PLUS ULTRA, meaning “further beyond.” Some believed the phrase referred to Spain’s centuries-long quest to expand the empire during its golden age. Others believed it reflected the country’s long-held belief that a life in heaven existed beyond this one.
Either way, Valdespino sensed the motto was less relevant every day. As he eyed the Spanish flag flying high above the palace, he sighed sadly, his thoughts turning back to his ailing king.
I will miss him when he’s gone.
I owe him so much.
For months now, the bishop had made daily visits to his beloved friend, who was bedridden in Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of the city. A few days ago, the king had summoned Valdespino to his bedside, a look of deep concern in his eyes.
“Antonio,” the king had whispered, “I fear my son’s engagement was … rushed.”
Insane is a more accurate description, Valdespino thought.
Two months earlier, when the prince had confided in Valdespino that he intended to propose marriage to Ambra Vidal after knowing her only a very short time, the stupefied bishop had begged Julian to be more prudent. The prince had argued that he was in love and that his father deserved to see his only son married. Moreover, he said, if he and Ambra were to have a family, her age would require that they not wait too long.
Valdespino calmly smiled down at the king. “Yes, I agree. Don Julian’s proposal took us all by surprise. But he only wanted to make you happy.”
“His duty is to his country,” the king said forcefully, “not to his father. And while Ms. Vidal is lovely, she is an unknown to us, an outsider. I question her motives in accepting Don Julian’s proposal. It was far too hasty, and a woman of honor would have rejected him.”
“You are correct,” Valdespino replied, although in Ambra’s defense, Don Julian had given her little choice.
The king gently reached out and took the bishop’s bony hand in his own. “My friend, I don’t know where the time has gone. You and I have grown old. I want to thank you. You have counseled me wisely through the years, through the loss of my wife, through the changes in our country, and I have benefited greatly from the strength of your conviction.”
“Our friendship is an honor I will treasure forever.”
The king smiled weakly. “Antonio, I know you have made sacrifices in order to stay with me. Rome, for one.”
Valdespino shrugged. “Becoming a cardinal would have brought me no closer to God. My place has always been here with you.”
“Your loyalty has been a blessing.”
“And I will never forget the compassion you showed me all those years ago.”
The king closed his eyes, gripping the bishop’s hand tightly. “Antonio … I am concerned. My son will soon find himself at the helm of a massive ship, a ship he is not prepared to navigate. Please guide him. Be his polestar. Place your steady hand atop his on the rudder, especially in rough seas. Above all, when he goes off course, I beg you to help him find his way back … back to all that is pure.”
“Amen,” the bishop whispered. “I give you my word.”
Now, in the cool night air, as Valdespino made his way across the plaza, he raised his eyes to the heavens. Your Majesty, please know that I am doing all I can to honor your final wishes.
Valdespino took solace in knowing that the king was far too weak now to watch television. If he had seen tonight’s broadcast out of Bilbao, he would have died on the spot to witness what his beloved country had come to.
To Valdespino’s right, beyond the iron gates, all along Calle de Bailen, media trucks had gathered and were extending their satellite towers.
Vultures, Valdespino thought, the evening air whipping at his robes.
THERE WILL BE time to mourn, Langdon told himself, fighting back intense emotion. Now is the time for action.
Langdon had already asked Winston to search museum security feeds for any information that might be helpful in apprehending the shooter. Then he had quietly added that Winston should search for any connections between Bishop Valdespino and Avila.
Agent Fonseca was returning now, still on the phone. “Si … si,” he was saying. “Claro. Inmediatemente.” Fonseca ended the call and turned his attention to Ambra, who stood nearby, looking dazed.
“Ms. Vidal, we’re leaving,” Fonseca announced, his tone sharp. “Don Julian has demanded that we get you to safety inside the Royal Palace at once.”
Ambra’s body tensed visibly. “I’m not abandoning Edmond like that!” She motioned to the crumpled corpse beneath the blanket.
“Local authorities will be taking over this matter,” Fonseca replied. “And the coroner is on his way. Mr. Kirsch will be handled respectfully and with great care. At the moment, we need to leave. We’re afraid you’re in danger.”
“I am most certainly not in danger!” Ambra declared, stepping toward him. “An assassin just had the perfect opportunity to shoot me and did not. Clearly, he was after Edmond!”
“Ms. Vidal!” The veins in Fonseca’s neck twitched. “The prince wants you in Madrid. He is worried about your safety.”
“No,” she fired back. “He’s worried about the political fallout.”
Fonseca exhaled a long, slow breath and lowered his voice. “Ms. Vidal, what happened tonight has been a terrible blow for Spain. It has also been a terrible blow for the prince. Your hosting tonight’s event was an unfortunate decision.”
Winston’s voice spoke suddenly inside Langdon’s head. “Professor? The museum’s security team has been analyzing the building’s external camera feeds. It appears they’ve found something.”
Langdon listened and then waved a hand at Fonseca, interrupting the agent’s reprimand of Ambra. “Sir, the computer said one of the museum’s rooftop cameras got a partial photo of the top of the getaway car.”
“Oh?” Fonseca looked surprised.
Langdon relayed the information as Winston gave it to him. “A black sedan leaving the service alley … license plates not legible from that high angle … an unusual sticker on the windshield.”
“What sticker?” Fonseca demanded. “We can alert local authorities to look for it.”
“The sticker,” Winston replied in Langdon’s head, “is not one I recognized, but I compared its shape to all known symbols in the world, and I received a single match.”
Langdon was amazed how fast Winston had been able to make all this happen.