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Ambra’s attention was drawn by the sound of Langdon’s footsteps approaching briskly up the winding corridor. She turned just as he appeared around the corner.

“Ambra?” he called, his voice taut. “Were you aware that Edmond was seriously ill?”

“Ill?” she said, startled. “No.”

Langdon told her what he had found in Edmond’s private bathroom.

Ambra was thunderstruck.

Pancreatic cancer? That’s the reason Edmond was so pale and thin?

Incredibly, Edmond had never said a word about being ill. Ambra now understood his maniacal work ethic over the past few months. Edmond knew he was running out of time.

“Winston,” she demanded. “Did you know about Edmond’s illness?”

“Yes,” Winston replied without hesitation. “It was something he kept very private. He learned of his disease twenty-two months ago and immediately changed his diet and began working with increased intensity. He also relocated to this attic space, where he would breathe museum-quality air and be protected from UV radiation; he needed to live in darkness as much as possible because his medications made him photosensitive. Edmond managed to outlive his doctors’ projections by a considerable margin. Recently, though, he had started to fail. Based on empirical evidence I gathered from worldwide databases on pancreatic cancer, I analyzed Edmond’s deterioration and calculated that he had nine days to live.”

Nine days, Ambra thought, overcome with guilt for teasing Edmond about his vegan diet and about working too hard. The man was sick; he was racing tirelessly to create his final moment of glory before his time ran out. This sad realization only further fueled Ambra’s determination to locate this poem and complete what Edmond had started.

“I haven’t found any poetry books yet,” she said to Langdon. “So far, it’s all science.”

“I think the poet we’re looking for might be Friedrich Nietzsche,” Langdon said, telling her about the framed quote over Edmond’s bed. “That particular quote doesn’t have forty-seven letters, but it certainly implies Edmond was a fan of Nietzsche.”

“Winston,” Ambra said. “Can you search Nietzsche’s collected works of poetry and isolate any lines that have exactly forty-seven letters?”

“Certainly,” Winston replied. “German originals or English translations?”

Ambra paused, uncertain.

“Start with English,” Langdon prompted. “Edmond planned to input the line of poetry on his phone, and his keypad would have no easy way to input any of German’s umlauted letters or Eszetts.”

Ambra nodded. Smart.

“I have your results,” Winston announced almost immediately. “I have found nearly three hundred translated poems, resulting in one hundred and ninety-two lines of precisely forty-seven letters.”

Langdon sighed. “That many?”

“Winston,” Ambra pressed. “Edmond described his favorite line as a prophecy … a prediction about the future … one that was already coming true. Do you see anything that fits that description?”

“I’m sorry,” Winston replied. “I see nothing here that suggests a prophecy. Linguistically speaking, the lines in question are all extracted from longer stanzas and appear to be partial thoughts. Shall I display them for you?”

“There are too many,” Langdon said. “We need to find a physical book and hope that Edmond marked his favorite line in some way.”

“Then I suggest you hurry,” Winston said. “It appears your presence here may no longer be a secret.”

“Why do you say that?” Langdon demanded.

“Local news is reporting that a military plane has just landed at Barcelona’s El Prat Airport and that two Guardia Real agents have deplaned.”

On the outskirts of Madrid, Bishop Valdespino was feeling grateful to have escaped the palace before the walls had closed in on him. Wedged beside Prince Julian in the backseat of his acolyte’s tiny Opel sedan, Valdespino hoped that desperate measures now being enacted behind the scenes would help him regain control of a night careening wildly off course.

“La Casita del Principe,” Valdespino had ordered the acolyte as the young man drove them away from the palace.

The cottage of the prince was situated in a secluded rural area forty minutes outside Madrid. More mansion than cottage, the casita had served as the private residence for the heir to the Spanish throne since the middle of the 1700s–a secluded spot where boys could be boys before settling into the serious business of running a country. Valdespino had assured Julian that retiring to his cottage would be far safer than remaining in the palace tonight.

Except I am not taking Julian to the cottage, the bishop knew, glancing over at the prince, who was gazing out the car window, apparently deep in thought.

Valdespino wondered if the prince was truly as naive as he appeared, or if, like his father, Julian had mastered the skill of showing the world only that side of himself that he wanted to be seen.

CHAPTER 54

THE HANDCUFFS ON Garza’s wrists felt unnecessarily tight.

These guys are serious, he thought, still utterly bewildered by the actions of his own Guardia agents.

“What the hell is going on?!” Garza demanded again as his men marched him out of the cathedral and into the night air of the plaza.

Still no reply.

As the entourage moved across the wide expanse toward the palace, Garza realized there was an array of TV cameras and protesters outside the front gate.

“At least take me around back,” he said to his lead man. “Don’t make this a public spectacle.”

The soldiers ignored his plea and pressed on, forcing Garza to march directly across the plaza. Within seconds, voices outside the gate started shouting, and the blazing glare of spotlights swung toward him. Blinded and fuming, Garza forced himself to assume a calm expression and hold his head high as the Guardia marched him within a few yards of the gate, directly past the yelling cameramen and reporters.

A cacophony of voices began hurling questions at Garza.

“Why are you being arrested?”

“What did you do, Commander?”

“Were you involved in the assassination of Edmond Kirsch?”

Garza fully expected his agents to continue past the crowd without even a glance, but to his shock, the agents stopped abruptly, holding him still in front of the cameras. From the direction of the palace, a familiar pantsuited figure was striding briskly across the plaza toward them.

It was Monica Martin.

Garza had no doubt that she would be stunned to see his predicament.

Strangely, though, when Martin arrived she eyed him not with surprise, but with contempt. The guards forcibly turned Garza to face the reporters.

Monica Martin held up her hand to quiet the crowd and then drew a small sheet of paper from her pocket. Adjusting her thick glasses, she read a statement directly into the television cameras.

“The Royal Palace,” she announced, “is hereby arresting Commander Diego Garza for his role in the murder of Edmond Kirsch, as well as his attempts to implicate Bishop Valdespino in that crime.”

Before Garza could even process the preposterous accusation, the guards were muscling him off toward the palace. As he departed, he could hear Monica Martin continuing her statement.

“Regarding our future queen, Ambra Vidal,” she declared, “and the American professor Robert Langdon, I’m afraid I have some deeply disturbing news.”

Downstairs in the palace, director of electronic security Suresh Bhalla stood in front of the television, riveted by the live broadcast of Monica Martin’s impromptu press conference in the plaza.

She does not look happy.

Only five minutes ago, Martin had received a personal phone call, which she had taken in her office, speaking in hushed tones and taking careful notes. Sixty seconds later, she had emerged, looking as shaken as Suresh had ever seen her. With no explanation, Martin carried her notes directly out to the plaza and addressed the media.

Whether or not her claims were accurate, one thing was certain–the person who had ordered this statement had just placed Robert Langdon in very serious danger.

Who gave those orders to Monica? Suresh wondered.

As he tried to make sense of the PR coordinator’s bizarre behavior, his computer pinged with an incoming message. Suresh went over and eyed the screen, stunned to see who had written him.

monte@iglesia.org

The informant, thought Suresh.

It was the same person who had been feeding information to ConspiracyNet all night. And now, for some reason, that person was contacting Suresh directly.

Warily, Suresh sat down and opened the e-mail.

It read:

i hacked valdespino’s texts.

he has dangerous secrets.

the palace should access his sms records.

now.

Alarmed, Suresh read the message again. Then he deleted it.

For a long moment, he sat in silence, pondering his options.

Then, coming to a decision, he quickly generated a master key card to the royal apartments and slipped upstairs unseen.

CHAPTER 55

WITH INCREASING URGENCY, Langdon ran his eyes along the collection of books lining Edmond’s hallway.

Poetry … there’s got to be some poetry here somewhere.

The Guardia’s unexpected arrival in Barcelona had started a dangerous ticking clock, and yet Langdon felt confident that time would not run out. After all, once he and Ambra had located Edmond’s favorite line of poetry, they would need only seconds to enter it into Edmond’s phone and play the presentation for the world. As Edmond intended.

Langdon glanced over at Ambra, who was on the opposite side of the hall, farther down, continuing her search of the left-hand side as Langdon combed the right. “Do you see anything over there?”

Ambra shook her head. “So far only science and philosophy. No poetry. No Nietzsche.”

“Keep looking,” Langdon told her, returning to his search. Currently, he was scanning a section of thick tomes on history:

PRIVILEGE, PERSECUTION AND PROPHECY: THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SPAIN

BY THE SWORD AND THE CROSS: THE HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF THE CATHOLIC WORLD MONARCHY

The titles reminded him of a dark tale Edmond had shared years ago after Langdon had commented that Edmond, for an American atheist, seemed to have an unusual obsession with Spain and Catholicism. “My mother was a native Spaniard,” Edmond had replied flatly. “And a guilt-ridden Catholic.”

As Edmond shared the tragic tale of his childhood and his mother, Langdon could only listen with great surprise. Edmond’s mother, Paloma Calvo, the computer scientist explained, had been the daughter of simple laborers in Cadiz, Spain. At nineteen, she fell in love with a university teacher from Chicago, Michael Kirsch, who was on sabbatical in Spain, and had become pregnant. Having witnessed the shunning of other unwed mothers in her strict Catholic community, Paloma saw no option but to accept the man’s halfhearted offer to marry her and move to Chicago. Shortly after her son, Edmond, was born, Paloma’s husband was struck by a car and killed while biking home from class.

Castigo divino, her own father called it. Divine punishment.

Paloma’s parents refused to let their daughter return home to Cadiz and bring shame to their household. Instead, they warned that Paloma’s dire circumstances were a clear sign of God’s anger, and that the kingdom of heaven would never accept her unless she dedicated herself body and soul to Christ for the rest of her life.

After giving birth to Edmond, Paloma worked as a maid in a motel and tried to raise him as best as she could. At night, in their meager apartment, she read Scripture and prayed for forgiveness, but her destitution only deepened, and with it, her certainty that God was not yet satisfied with her penance.

Disgraced and fearful, Paloma became convinced after five years that the most profound act of maternal love she could show her child would be to give him a new life, one shielded from God’s punishment of Paloma’s sins. And so she placed five-year-old Edmond in an orphanage and returned to Spain, where she entered a convent. Edmond had never seen her again.

When he was ten, Edmond learned that his mother had died in the convent during a self-imposed religious fast. Overcome with physical pain, she had hanged herself.

“It’s not a pleasant story,” Edmond told Langdon. “As a high school student, I learned these details–and as you can imagine, my mother’s unwavering zealotry has a lot to do with my abhorrence of religion. I call it–‘Newton’s Third Law of Child Rearing: For every lunacy, there is an equal and opposite lunacy.'”

After hearing the story, Langdon understood why Edmond had been so full of anger and bitterness when they met during Edmond’s freshman year at Harvard. Langdon also marveled that Edmond had never once complained about the rigors of his childhood. Instead, he had declared himself fortunate for the early hardship because it had served as a potent motivation for Edmond to achieve his two childhood goals–first, to get out of poverty, and second, to help expose the hypocrisy of the faith he believed destroyed his mother.

Success on both counts, Langdon thought sadly, continuing to peruse the apartment’s library.

As he began scanning a new section of bookshelves, he spotted many titles he recognized, most of them relevant to Edmond’s lifelong concerns for the dangers of religion:

THE GOD DELUSION

GOD IS NOT GREAT

THE PORTABLE ATHEIST

LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION

THE END OF FAITH

THE GOD VIRUS: HOW RELIGION INFECTS OUR LIVES AND CULTURE

Over the last decade, books advocating rationality over blind faith had sprung up on nonfiction bestseller lists. Langdon had to admit that the cultural shift away from religion had become increasingly visible–even on the Harvard campus. Recently, the Washington Post had run an article on “godlessness at Harvard,” reporting that for the first time in the school’s 380-year history, the freshman class consisted of more agnostics and atheists than Protestants and Catholics combined.

Similarly, across the Western world, antireligious organizations were sprouting up, pushing back against what they considered the dangers of religious dogma–American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americanhumanist.org, the Atheist Alliance International.

Langdon had never given these groups much thought until Edmond had told him about the Brights–a global organization that, despite its often misunderstood name, endorsed a naturalistic worldview with no supernatural or mystical elements. The Brights’ membership included powerhouse intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, and Daniel Dennett. Apparently, the growing army of atheists was now packing some very big guns.

Langdon had spotted books by both Dawkins and Dennett only minutes ago while skimming the section of the library devoted to evolution.

The Dawkins classic The Blind Watchmaker forcefully challenged the teleological notion that human beings–much like complex watches–could exist only if they had a “designer.” Similarly, one of Dennett’s books, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, argued that natural selection alone was sufficient to explain the evolution of life, and that complex biological designs could exist without help from a divine designer.

God is not needed for life, Langdon mused, flashing on Edmond’s presentation. The question “Where do we come from?” suddenly rang a bit more forcefully in Langdon’s mind. Could that be part of Edmond’s discovery? he wondered. The idea that life exists on its own–without a Creator?

This notion, of course, stood in direct opposition to every major Creation story, which made Langdon increasingly curious to know if he might be on the right track. Then again, the idea seemed entirely unprovable.

“Robert?” Ambra called behind him.

Langdon turned to see that Ambra had completed searching her side of the library and was shaking her head. “Nothing over here,” she said. “All nonfiction. I’ll help you look on your side.”

“Same here so far,” Langdon said.

As Ambra crossed to Langdon’s side of the library, Winston’s voice crackled on the speakerphone.

“Ms. Vidal?”

Ambra raised Edmond’s phone. “Yes?”

“Both you and Professor Langdon need to see something right away,” Winston said. “The palace has just made a public statement.”

Langdon moved quickly toward Ambra, standing close by her side, watching as the tiny screen in her hand began streaming a video.

He recognized the plaza in front of Madrid’s Royal Palace, where a uniformed man in handcuffs was being marched roughly into the frame by four Guardia Real agents. The agents turned their prisoner toward the camera, as if to disgrace him before the eyes of the world.

“Garza?!” Ambra exclaimed, sounding stunned. “The head of the Guardia Real is under arrest?!”

The camera turned now to show a woman in thick glasses who pulled a piece of paper out of a pocket of her pantsuit and prepared to read a statement.

“That’s Monica Martin,” Ambra said. “Public relations coordinator. What is going on?”

The woman began reading, enunciating every word clearly and distinctly. “The Royal Palace is hereby arresting Commander Diego Garza for his role in the murder of Edmond Kirsch, as well as his attempts to implicate Bishop Valdespino in that crime.”

Langdon could feel Ambra stagger slightly beside him as Monica Martin continued reading.

“Regarding our future queen, Ambra Vidal,” the PR coordinator said in an ominous tone, “and the American professor Robert Langdon, I’m afraid I have some deeply disturbing news.”

Langdon and Ambra exchanged a startled glance.

“The palace has just received confirmation from Ms. Vidal’s security detail,” Martin continued, “that Ms. Vidal was taken from the Guggenheim Museum against her will tonight by Robert Langdon. Our Guardia Real are now on full alert, coordinating with local authorities in Barcelona, where it is believed that Robert Langdon is holding Ms. Vidal hostage.”

Langdon was speechless.

“As this is now formally classified as a hostage situation, the public is urged to assist the authorities by reporting any and all information relating to the whereabouts of Ms. Vidal or Mr. Langdon. The palace has no further comment at this time.”

Reporters started screaming questions at Martin, who abruptly turned and marched off toward the palace.

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