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They will prove nothing except that we viewers will watch anything if it’s sufficiently hyped.
“Monica!” Suresh shouted nearby.
Martin turned to see the director of electronic security rounding the corner, practically at a jog.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Bishop Valdespino just called me,” he said breathlessly.
She muted the TV. “The bishop called … you? Did he tell you what the hell he’s doing?!”
Suresh shook his head. “I didn’t ask, and he didn’t offer. He was calling to see if I could check something on our phone servers.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You know how ConspiracyNet is now reporting that someone inside this palace placed a call to the Guggenheim shortly before tonight’s event–a request for Ambra Vidal to add Avila’s name to the guest list?”
“Yes. And I asked you to look into it.”
“Well, Valdespino seconded your request. He called to ask if I would log into the palace’s switchboard and find the record of that call to see if I could figure out where in the palace it had originated, in hopes of getting a better idea of who here might have placed it.”
Martin felt confused, having imagined that Valdespino himself was the most likely suspect.
“According to the Guggenheim,” Suresh continued, “their front desk received a call from Madrid Royal Palace’s primary number tonight, shortly before the event. It’s in their phone logs. But here’s the problem. I looked into our switchboard logs to check our outbound calls with the same time stamp.” He shook his head. “Nothing. Not a single call. Someone deleted the record of the palace’s call to the Guggenheim.”
Martin studied her colleague a long moment. “Who has access to do that?”
“That’s exactly what Valdespino asked me. And so I told him the truth. I told him that I, as head of electronic security, could have deleted the record, but that I had not done so. And that the only other person with clearance and access to those records is Commander Garza.”
Martin stared. “You think Garza tampered with our phone records?”
“It makes sense,” Suresh said. “Garza’s job, after all, is to protect the palace, and now, if there’s any investigation, as far as the palace is concerned, that call never happened. Technically speaking, we have plausible deniability. Deleting the record goes a long way to taking the palace off the hook.”
“Off the hook?” Martin demanded. “There’s no doubt that that call was made! Ambra put Avila on the guest list! And the Guggenheim front desk will verify–”
“True, but now it’s the word of a young front-desk person at a museum against the entire Royal Palace. As far as our records are concerned, that call simply didn’t occur.”
Suresh’s cut-and-dried assessment seemed overly optimistic to Martin. “And you told Valdespino all of this?”
“It’s just the truth. I told him that whether or not Garza actually placed the call, Garza appears to have deleted it in an effort to protect the palace.” Suresh paused. “But after I hung up with the bishop, I realized something else.”
“Technically, there’s a third person with access to the server.” Suresh glanced nervously around the room and moved closer. “Prince Julian’s log-in codes give him full access to all systems.”
Martin stared. “That’s ridiculous.”
“I know it sounds crazy,” he said, “but the prince was in the palace, alone in his apartment, at the time that call was made. He could easily have placed it and then logged onto the server and deleted it. The software is simple to use and the prince is a lot more tech-savvy than people think.”
“Suresh,” Martin snapped, “do you really think Prince Julian–the future king of Spain–personally sent an assassin into the Guggenheim Museum to kill Edmond Kirsch?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “All I’m saying is that it’s possible.”
“Why would Prince Julian do such a thing?!”
“You, of all people, shouldn’t have to ask. Remember all the bad press you had to deal with about Ambra and Edmond Kirsch spending time together? The story about how he flew her to his apartment in Barcelona?”
“They were working! It was business!”
“Politics is all appearances,” Suresh said. “You taught me that. And you and I know the prince’s marriage proposal has not worked out for him publicly the way he imagined.”
Suresh’s phone pinged and he read the incoming message, his face clouding with disbelief.
“What is it?” Martin demanded.
Without a word, Suresh turned and ran back toward the security center.
“Suresh!” Martin stubbed out her cigarette and ran after him, joining him at one of his team’s security workstations, where his tech was playing a grainy surveillance tape.
“What are we looking at?” Martin demanded.
“Rear exit of the cathedral,” the techie said. “Five minutes ago.”
Martin and Suresh leaned in and watched the video feed as a young acolyte exited the rear of the cathedral, hurried along the relatively quiet Calle Mayor, unlocked an old beat-up Opel sedan, and climbed in.
Okay, Martin thought, he’s going home after mass. So what?
On-screen, the Opel pulled out, drove a short distance, and then pulled up unusually close to the cathedral’s rear gate–the same gate through which the acolyte had just exited. Almost instantly, two dark figures slipped out through the gate, crouching low, and jumped into the backseat of the acolyte’s car. The two passengers were–without a doubt–Bishop Valdespino and Prince Julian.
Moments later, the Opel sped off, disappearing around the corner and out of frame.
STANDING LIKE A rough-hewn mountain on the corner of Carrer de Provenca and Passeig de Gracia, the 1906 Gaudi masterpiece known as Casa Mila is half apartment building and half timeless work of art.
Conceived by Gaudi as a perpetual curve, the nine-story structure is immediately recognizable by its billowing limestone facade. Its swerving balconies and uneven geometry give the building an organic aura, as if millennia of buffeting winds had carved out hollows and bends like those in a desert canyon.
Although Gaudi’s shocking modernist design was shunned at first by the neighborhood, Casa Mila was universally lauded by art critics and quickly became one of Barcelona’s brightest architectural jewels. For three decades, Pere Mila, the businessman who commissioned the building, had resided with his wife in the sprawling main apartment while renting out the building’s twenty remaining flats. To this day, Casa Mila–at Passeig de Gracia 92–is considered one of the most exclusive and coveted addresses in all of Spain.
As Robert Langdon navigated Kirsch’s Tesla through sparse traffic on the elegant tree-lined avenue, he sensed they were getting close. Passeig de Gracia was Barcelona’s version of the Champs-Elysees in Paris–the widest and grandest of avenues, impeccably landscaped and lined with designer boutiques.
Chanel … Gucci … Cartier … Longchamp …
Finally, Langdon saw it, two hundred meters away.
Softly lit from below, Casa Mila’s pale, pitted limestone and oblong balconies set it instantly apart from its rectilinear neighbors–as if a beautiful piece of ocean coral had washed into shore and come to rest on a beach made of cinder blocks.
“I was afraid of this,” Ambra said, pointing urgently down the elegant avenue. “Look.”
Langdon lowered his gaze to the wide sidewalk in front of Casa Mila. It looked like there were a half-dozen media trucks parked in front, and a host of reporters were giving live updates using Kirsch’s residence as a backdrop. Several security agents were positioned to keep the crowds away from the entrance. Edmond’s death, it seemed, had transformed anything Kirsch-related into a news story.
Langdon scanned Passeig de Gracia for a place to pull over, but he saw nothing, and traffic was moving steadily.
“Get down,” he urged Ambra, realizing he had no choice now but to drive directly past the corner where all the press were assembled.
Ambra slid down in her seat, crouching on the floor, entirely out of view. Langdon turned his head away as they drove past the crowded corner.
“It looks like they’re surrounding the main entrance,” he said. “We’ll never get in.”
“Take a right,” Winston interjected with a note of cheerful confidence. “I imagined this might happen.”
Blogger Hector Marcano gazed up mournfully at the top floor of Casa Mila, still trying to accept that Edmond Kirsch was truly gone.
For three years, Hector had been reporting on technology for Barcinno.com–a popular collaborative platform for Barcelona’s entrepreneurs and cutting-edge start-ups. Having the great Edmond Kirsch living here in Barcelona had felt almost like working at the feet of Zeus himself.
Hector had first met Kirsch more than a year ago when the legendary futurist graciously agreed to speak at Barcinno’s flagship monthly event–FuckUp Night–a seminar in which a wildly successful entrepreneur spoke openly about his or her biggest failures. Kirsch sheepishly admitted to the crowd that he had spent more than $400 million over six months chasing his dream of building what he called E-Wave–a quantum computer with processing speeds so fast they would facilitate unprecedented advances across all the sciences, especially in complex systems modeling.
“I’m afraid,” Edmond had admitted, “so far, my quantum leap in quantum computing is a quantum dud.”
Tonight, when Hector heard that Kirsch planned to announce an earth-shattering discovery, he was thrilled at the thought that it might be related to E-Wave. Did he discover the key to making it work? But after Kirsch’s philosophical preamble, Hector realized his discovery was something else entirely.
I wonder if we’ll ever know what he found, Hector thought, his heart so heavy that he had come to Kirsch’s home not to blog, but to pay reverent homage.
“E-Wave!” someone shouted nearby. “E-Wave!”
All around Hector, the assembled crowd began pointing and aiming their cameras at a sleek black Tesla that was now easing slowly onto the plaza and inching toward the crowd with its halogen headlights glaring.
Hector stared at the familiar vehicle in astonishment.
Kirsch’s Tesla Model X with its E-Wave license plate was as famous in Barcelona as the pope-mobile was in Rome. Kirsch would often make a show of double-parking on Carrer de Provenca outside the DANiEL ViOR jewelry shop, getting out to sign autographs and then thrilling the crowd by letting his car’s self-park feature drive the empty vehicle on a preprogrammed route up the street and across the wide sidewalk–its sensors detecting any pedestrians or obstacles–until it reached the garage gate, which it would then open, and slowly wind down the spiral ramp into the private garage beneath Casa Mila.
While self-park was a standard feature on all Teslas–easily opening garage doors, driving straight in, and turning themselves off–Edmond had proudly hacked his Tesla’s system to enable the more complex route.
All part of the show.
Tonight, the spectacle was considerably stranger. Kirsch was deceased, and yet his car had just appeared, moving slowly up Carrer de Provenca, continuing across the sidewalk, aligning itself with the elegant garage door, and inching forward as people cleared the way.
Reporters and cameramen rushed to the vehicle, squinting through the heavily tinted windows and shouting in surprise.
“It’s empty! Nobody is driving! Where did it come from?!”
The Casa Mila security guards had apparently witnessed this trick before, and they held people back from the Tesla and away from the garage door as it opened.
For Hector, the sight of Edmond’s empty car creeping toward its garage conjured images of a bereft dog returning home after losing its master.
Like a ghost, the Tesla made its way silently through the garage door, and the crowd broke into emotional applause to see Edmond’s beloved car, as it had done so many times before, begin its descent down the spiral ramp into Barcelona’s very first subterranean parking facility.
“I didn’t know you were so claustrophobic,” Ambra whispered, lying beside Langdon on the floor of the Tesla. They were crammed into the small area between the second and third row of seats, hidden beneath a black vinyl car cover that Ambra had taken from the cargo area, invisible through the tinted windows.
“I’ll survive,” Langdon managed shakily, more nervous about the self-driving car than his phobia. He could feel the vehicle winding down a steep spiral ramp and feared it would crash at any moment.
Two minutes earlier, while they were double-parked on Carrer de Provenca, outside the DANiEL ViOR jewelry shop, Winston had given them crystal-clear directions.
Ambra and Langdon, without exiting the car, had climbed back to the Model X’s third row of seats, and then with the press of a single button on the phone, Ambra had activated the car’s customized self-park feature.
In the darkness, Langdon had felt the car driving itself slowly down the street. And with Ambra’s body pressed against his in the tight space, he could not help but recall his first teenage experience in the backseat of a car with a pretty girl. I was more nervous back then, he thought, which seemed ironic considering he was now lying in a driverless car spooning the future queen of Spain.
Langdon felt the car straighten out at the bottom of the ramp, make a few slow turns, and then slide to a full stop.
“You have arrived,” Winston said.
Immediately Ambra pulled back the tarp and carefully sat up, peering out the window. “Clear,” she said, clambering out.
Langdon got out after her, relieved to be standing in the open air of the garage.
“Elevators are in the main foyer,” Ambra said, motioning up the winding driveway ramp.
Langdon’s gaze, however, was suddenly transfixed by a wholly unexpected sight. Here, in this underground parking garage, on the cement wall directly in front of Edmond’s parking space, hung an elegantly framed painting of a seaside landscape.
“Ambra?” Langdon said. “Edmond decorated his parking spot with a painting?”
She nodded. “I asked him the same question. He told me it was his way of being welcomed home every night by a radiant beauty.”
Langdon chuckled. Bachelors.
“The artist is someone Edmond revered greatly,” Winston said, his voice now transferring automatically to Kirsch’s cell phone in Ambra’s hand. “Do you recognize him?”
Langdon did not. The painting seemed to be nothing more than an accomplished watercolor seascape–nothing like Edmond’s usual avant-garde taste.
“It’s Churchill,” Ambra said. “Edmond quoted him all the time.”
Churchill. Langdon needed a moment to realize she was referring to none other than Winston Churchill himself, the celebrated British statesman who, in addition to being a military hero, historian, orator, and Nobel Prize-winning author, was an artist of remarkable talent. Langdon now recalled Edmond quoting the British prime minister once in response to a comment someone made about religious people hating him: You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something!
“It was the diversity of Churchill’s talents that most impressed Edmond,” Winston said. “Humans rarely display proficiency across such a broad spectrum of activities.”
“And that’s why Edmond named you ‘Winston’?”
“It is,” the computer replied. “High praise from Edmond.”
Glad I asked, Langdon thought, having imagined Winston’s name was an allusion to Watson–the IBM computer that had dominated the Jeopardy! television game show a decade ago. No doubt Watson was probably now considered a primitive, single-celled bacterium on the evolutionary scale of synthetic intelligence.
“Okay, then,” Langdon said, motioning to the elevators. “Let’s head upstairs and try to find what we came for.”
At that precise moment, inside Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, Commander Diego Garza was clutching his phone and listening in disbelief as the palace’s PR coordinator, Monica Martin, gave him an update.
Valdespino and Prince Julian left the safety of the compound?
Garza could not begin to imagine what they were thinking.
They’re driving around Madrid in an acolyte’s car? That’s madness!
“We can contact the transportation authorities,” Martin said. “Suresh believes they can use traffic cams to help track–”
“No!” Garza declared. “Alerting anyone to the fact that the prince is outside the palace without security is far too dangerous! His safety is our primary concern.”
“Understood, sir,” Martin said, sounding suddenly uneasy. “There’s something else you should know. It’s about a missing phone record.”
“Hold on,” Garza said, distracted by the arrival of his four Guardia agents, who, to his mystification, strode over and encircled him. Before Garza could react, his agents had skillfully relieved him of his sidearm and phone.
“Commander Garza,” his lead agent said, stone-faced. “I have direct orders to place you under arrest.”
CASA MILA IS built in the shape of an infinity sign–an endless curve that doubles back over itself and forms two undulating chasms that penetrate the building. Each of these open-air light wells is nearly a hundred feet deep, crumpled like a partially collapsed tube, and from the air they resembled two massive sinkholes in the roof of the building.
From where Langdon stood at the base of the narrower light well, the effect looking skyward was decidedly unsettling–like being lodged in the throat of a giant beast.
Beneath Langdon’s feet, the stone floor was sloped and uneven. A helix staircase spiraled up the interior of the shaft, its railing forged of wrought iron latticework that mimicked the uneven chambers of a sea sponge. A small jungle of twisting vines and swooping palms spilled over the banisters as if about to overgrow the entire space.
Living architecture, Langdon mused, marveling at Gaudi’s ability to imbue his work with an almost biological quality.
Langdon’s eyes climbed higher again, up the sides of the “gorge,” scaling the curved walls, where a quilt of brown and green tiles intermingled with muted frescoes depicting plants and flowers that seemed to be growing up toward the oblong patch of night sky at the top of the open shaft.
“Elevators are this way,” Ambra whispered, leading him around the edge of the courtyard. “Edmond’s apartment is all the way up.”
As they boarded the uncomfortably small elevator, Langdon pictured the building’s top-floor garret, which he had visited once to see the small Gaudi exhibit housed there. As he recalled, the Casa Mila attic was a dark, sinuous series of rooms with very few windows.