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appointed foyer. Classical music played softly in the background, and it smelled as if someone had burned incense. “This is lovely,” she said, “although I expected more of… an office.”
“I’m fortunate to work out of my home.” The man led her into a living room, where there was a crackling fire. “Please make yourself comfortable. I’m just steeping some tea. I’ll bring it out, and we can talk.” He strode toward the kitchen and disappeared.
Katherine Solomon did not sit. Female intuition was a potent instinct that she had learned to trust, and something about this place was making her skin crawl. She saw nothing that looked anything like any doctor’s office she had ever seen. The walls of this antique-adorned living room were covered with classical art, primarily paintings with strange mythical themes. She paused before a large canvas depicting the Three Graces, whose nude bodies were spectacularly rendered in vivid colors.
“That’s the original Michael Parkes oil.” Dr. Abaddon appeared without warning beside her, holding a tray of steaming tea. “I thought we’d sit by the fire?” He led her over to the living room and offered her a seat. “There’s no reason to be nervous.”
“I’m not nervous,” Katherine said entirely too quickly.
He gave her a reassuring smile. “Actually, it is my business to know when people are nervous.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m a practicing psychiatrist, Ms. Solomon. That is my profession. I’ve been seeing your brother for almost a year now. I’m his therapist.”
Katherine could only stare. My brother is in therapy?
“Patients often choose to keep their therapy to themselves,” the man said. “I made a mistake by calling you, although in my defense, your brother did mislead me.”
“I… I had no idea.”
“I apologize if I made you nervous,” he said, sounding embarrassed. “I noticed you studying my face when we met, and yes, I do wear makeup.” He touched his own cheek, looking self-conscious. “I have a dermatological condition, which I prefer to hide. My wife usually puts the makeup on for me, but when she’s not here, I have to rely on my own heavy touch.”
Katherine nodded, too embarrassed to speak.
“And this lovely hair…” He touched his lush blond mane. “A wig. My skin condition affected my scalp follicles as well, and all my hair jumped ship.” He shrugged. “I’m afraid my one sin is vanity.”
“Apparently mine is rudeness,” Katherine said.
“Not at all.” Dr. Abaddon’s smile was disarming. “Shall we start over? Perhaps with some tea?”
They sat in front of the fire and Abaddon poured tea. “Your brother got me in the habit of serving tea during our sessions. He said the Solomons are tea drinkers.”
“Family tradition,” Katherine said. “Black, please.”
They sipped their tea and made small talk for a few minutes, but Katherine was eager for information about her brother. “Why was my brother coming to you?” she asked. And why didn’t he tell me? Admittedly, Peter had endured more than his fair share of tragedy in his life — losing his father at a young age, and then, within a span of five years, burying his only son and then his mother. Even so, Peter had always found a way to cope.
Dr. Abaddon took a sip of tea. “Your brother came to me because he trusts me. We have a bond beyond that of normal patient and doctor.” He motioned to a framed document near the fireplace. It looked like a diploma, until Katherine spied the double-headed phoenix.
“You’re a Mason?” The highest degree, no less.
“Peter and I are brothers of sorts.”
“You must have done something important to be invited into the thirty-third degree.”
“Not really,” he said. “I have family money, and I give a lot of money to Masonic charities.”
Katherine now realized why her brother trusted this young doctor. A Mason with family money, interested in philanthropy and ancient mythology?
Dr. Abaddon had more in common with her brother than she had initially imagined.
“When I asked why my brother came to you,” she said, “I didn’t mean why did he choose you. I meant, why is he seeking the services of a psychiatrist?”
Dr. Abaddon smiled. “Yes, I know. I was trying to sidestep the question politely. It’s really not something I should be discussing.” He paused. “Although I must say I’m puzzled that your brother would keep our discussions from you, considering that they relate so directly to your research.”
“My research?” Katherine said, taken totally off guard. My brother talks about my research?
“Recently, your brother came to me looking for a professional opinion about the psychological impact of the breakthroughs you are making in your lab.”
Katherine almost choked on the tea. “Really? I’m… surprised,” she managed. What is Peter thinking? He told his shrink about my work?! Their security protocol involved not discussing with anyone what Katherine was working on. Moreover, the confidentiality had been her brother’s idea.
“Certainly you are aware, Ms. Solomon, that your brother is deeply concerned about what will happen when your research goes public. He sees the potential for a significant philosophical shift in the world… and he came here to discuss the possible ramifications… from a psychological perspective.”
“I see,” Katherine said, her teacup now shaking slightly.
“The questions we discuss are challenging ones: What happens to the human condition if the great mysteries of life are finally revealed? What happens when those beliefs that we accept on faith… are suddenly categorically proven as fact? Or disproved as myth? One could argue that there exist certain questions that are best left unanswered.”
Katherine could not believe what she was hearing, and yet she kept her emotions in check. “I hope you don’t mind, Dr. Abaddon, but I’d prefer not to discuss the details of my work. I have no immediate plans to make anything public. For the time being, my discoveries will remain safely locked in my lab.”
“Interesting.” Abaddon leaned back in his chair, lost in thought for a moment. “In any event, I asked your brother to come back today because yesterday he suffered a bit of a break. When that happens, I like to have clients —”
“Break?” Katherine’s heart was pounding. “As in breakdown?” She couldn’t imagine her brother breaking down over anything.
Abaddon reached out kindly. “Please, I can see I’ve upset you. I’m sorry. Considering these awkward circumstances, I can understand how you might feel entitled to answers.”
“Whether I’m entitled or not,” Katherine said, “my brother is all I have left of my family. Nobody knows him better than I do, so if you tell me what the hell happened, maybe I can help you. We all want the same thing — what’s best for Peter.”
Dr. Abaddon fell silent for several long moments and then began slowly nodding as if Katherine might have a point. Finally, he spoke. “For the record, Ms. Solomon, if I decide to share this information with you, I would do so only because I think your insights might help me assist your brother.”
Abaddon leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. “Ms. Solomon, as long as I’ve been seeing your brother, I’ve sensed in him a deep struggle with feelings of guilt. I’ve never pressed him on it because that’s not why he comes to me. And yet yesterday, for a number of reasons, I finally asked him about it.” Abaddon locked eyes with her. “Your brother opened up, rather dramatically and unexpectedly. He told me things I had not expected to hear… including everything that happened the night your mother died.”
Christmas Eve — almost exactly ten years ago. She died in my arms.
“He told me your mother was murdered during a robbery attempt at your home? A man broke in looking for something he believed your brother was hiding?”
Abaddon’s eyes were appraising her. “Your brother said he shot the man dead?”
Abaddon stroked his chin. “Do you recall what the intruder was looking for when he broke into your home?”
Katherine had tried in vain for ten years to block out the memory. “Yes, his demand was very specific. Unfortunately, none of us knew what he was talking about. His demand never made sense to any of us.”
“Well, it made sense to your brother.”
“What?” Katherine sat up.
“At least according to the story he told me yesterday, Peter knew exactly what the intruder was looking for. And yet your brother did not want to hand it over, so he pretended not to understand.”
“That’s absurd. Peter couldn’t possibly have known what the man wanted. His demands made no sense!”
“Interesting.” Dr. Abaddon paused and took a few notes. “As I mentioned, however, Peter told me he did know. Your brother believes if he had only cooperated with the intruder, maybe your mother would be alive today. This decision is the source of all his guilt.”
Katherine shook her head. “That’s crazy…”
Abaddon slumped, looking troubled. “Ms. Solomon, this has been useful feedback. As I feared, your brother seems to have had a little break with reality. I must admit, I was afraid this might be the case. That’s why I asked him to come back today. These delusional episodes are not uncommon when they relate to traumatic memories.”
Katherine shook her head again. “Peter is far from delusional, Dr. Abaddon.”
“I would agree, except…”
“Except that his recounting of the attack was just the beginning… a tiny fraction of the long and far-fetched tale he told me.”
Katherine leaned forward in her seat. “What did Peter tell you?”
Abaddon gave a sad smile. “Ms. Solomon, let me ask you this. Has your brother ever discussed with you what he believes is hidden here in Washington, D.C.… or the role he believes he plays in protecting a great treasure… of lost ancient wisdom?”
Katherine’s jaw fell open. “What in the world are you talking about?”
Dr. Abaddon heaved a long sigh. “What I am about to tell you will be a bit shocking, Katherine.” He paused and locked eyes with her. “But it will be immeasurably helpful if you can tell me anything you may know about it.” He reached for her cup. “More tea?”
Langdon crouched anxiously beside Peter’s open palm and examined the seven tiny symbols that had been hidden beneath the lifeless clenched fingers.
“They appear to be numbers,” Langdon said, surprised. “Although I don’t recognize them.”
“The first is a Roman numeral,” Anderson said.
“Actually, I don’t think so,” Langdon corrected. “The Roman numeral I–I–I–X doesn’t exist. It would be written V–I–I.”
“How about the rest of it?” Sato asked.
“I’m not sure. It looks like eight-eight-five in Arabic numbers.”
“Arabic?” Anderson asked. “They look like normal numbers.”
“Our normal numbers are Arabic.” Langdon had become so accustomed to clarifying this point for his students that he’d actually prepared a lecture about the scientific advances made by early Middle Eastern cultures, one of them being our modern numbering system, whose advantages over Roman numerals included ‘positional notation’ and the invention of the number zero. Of course, Langdon always ended this lecture with a reminder that Arab culture had also given mankind the word al-kuhl — the favorite beverage of Harvard freshmen — known as alcohol.
Langdon scrutinized the tattoo, feeling puzzled. “And I’m not even sure about the eight-eight-five. The rectilinear writing looks unusual. Those may not be numbers.”
“Then what are they? Sato asked.
“I’m not sure. The whole tattoo looks almost… runic.”
“Meaning?” Sato asked.
“Runic alphabets are composed solely of straight lines. Their letters are called runes and were often used for carving in stone because curves were too difficult to chisel.”
“If these are runes,” Sato said, “what is their meaning?”
Langdon shook his head. His expertise extended only to the most rudimentary runic alphabet — Futhark — a third-century Teutonic system, and this was not Futhark. “To be honest, I’m not even sure these are runes. You’d need to ask a specialist. There are dozens of different forms — Hälsinge, Manx, the ‘dotted’ Stungnar —”
“Peter Solomon is a Mason, is he not?”
Langdon did a double take. “Yes, but what does that have to do with this?” He stood up now, towering over the tiny woman.
“You tell me. You just said that runic alphabets are used for stone carvings, and it is my understanding that the original Freemasons were stone craftsmen. I mention this only because when I asked my office to search for a connection between the Hand of the Mysteries and Peter Solomon, their search returned one link in particular.” She paused, as if to emphasize the importance of her finding. “The Masons.”
Langdon exhaled, fighting the impulse to tell Sato the same thing he constantly told his students: “Google” is not a synonym for “research.” In these days of massive, worldwide keyword searches, it seemed everything was linked to everything. The world was becoming one big entangled web of information that was getting denser every day.
Langdon maintained a patient tone. “I’m not surprised the Masons appeared in your staff’s search. Masons are a very obvious link between Peter Solomon and any number of esoteric topics.”
“Yes,” Sato said, “which is another reason I have been surprised this evening that you have not yet mentioned the Masons. After all, you’ve been talking about secret wisdom protected by an enlightened few. That sounds very Masonic, does it not?”
“It does… and it also sounds very Rosicrucian, Kabbalistic, Alumbradian, and any number of other esoteric groups.”
“But Peter Solomon is a Mason — a very powerful Mason, at that. It seems the Masons would come to mind if we were talking about secrets. Heaven knows the Masons love their secrets.”
Langdon could hear the distrust in her voice, and he wanted no part of it. “If you want to know anything about the Masons, you would be far better served to ask a Mason.”
“Actually,” Sato said, “I’d prefer to ask someone I can trust.”
Langdon found the comment both ignorant and offensive. “For the record, ma’am, the entire Masonic philosophy is built on honesty and integrity. Masons are among the most trustworthy men you could ever hope to meet.”
“I have seen persuasive evidence to the contrary.”
Langdon was liking Director Sato less and less with each passing moment. He had spent years writing about the Masons’ rich tradition of metaphorical iconography and symbols, and knew that Masons had always been one of the most unfairly maligned and misunderstood organizations in the world. Regularly accused of everything from devil worship to plotting a one-world government, the Masons also had a policy of never responding to their critics, which made them an easy target.
“Regardless,” Sato said, her tone biting, “we are again at an impasse, Mr. Langdon. It seems to me there is either something you are missing… or something you are not telling me. The man we’re dealing with said that Peter Solomon chose you specifically.” She leveled a cold stare at Langdon. “I think it’s time we move this conversation to CIA headquarters. Maybe we’ll have more luck there.”
Sato’s threat barely registered with Langdon. She had just said something that had lodged in his mind. Peter Solomon chose you. The comment, combined with the mention of Masons, had hit Langdon strangely. He looked down at the Masonic ring on Peter’s finger. The ring was one of Peter’s most prized possessions — a Solomon family heirloom that bore the symbol of the double-headed phoenix — the ultimate mystical icon of Masonic wisdom. The gold glinted in the light, sparking an unexpected memory.
Langdon gasped, recalling the eerie whisper of Peter’s captor: It really hasn’t dawned on you yet, has it? Why you were chosen?
Now, in one terrifying moment, Langdon’s thoughts snapped into focus and the fog lifted.
All at once, Langdon’s purpose here was crystal clear.
Ten miles away, driving south on Suitland Parkway, Mal’akh heard a distinctive vibration on the seat beside him. It was Peter Solomon’s iPhone, which had proven a powerful tool today. The visual caller ID now displayed the image of an attractive middle-aged woman with long black hair.
INCOMING CALL — KATHERINE SOLOMON
Mal’akh smiled, ignoring the call. Destiny pulls me closer.
He had lured Katherine Solomon to his home this afternoon for one reason only — to determine if she had information that could assist him… perhaps a family secret that might help Mal’akh locate what he sought. Clearly, however, Katherine’s brother had told her nothing of what he had been guarding all these years.
Even so, Mal’akh had learned something else from Katherine. Something that has earned her a few extra hours of life today. Katherine had confirmed for him that all of her research was in one location, safely locked inside her lab.
I must destroy it.
Katherine’s research was poised to open a new door of understanding, and once the door was opened even a crack, others would follow. It would just be a matter of time before everything changed. I cannot let that happen. The world must stay as it is… adrift in ignorant darkness.
The iPhone beeped, indicating Katherine had left a voice mail. Mal’akh retrieved it.
“Peter, it’s me again.” Katherine’s voice sounded concerned. “Where are you? I’m still thinking about my conversation with Dr. Abaddon… and I’m worried. Is everything okay? Please call me. I’m at the lab.”
The voice mail ended.
Mal’akh smiled. Katherine should worry less about her brother, and more about herself. He turned off Suitland Parkway onto Silver Hill Road. Less than a mile later, in the darkness, he spotted the faint outline of the SMSC nestled in the trees off the highway to his right. The entire complex was surrounded by a high razor-wire fence.
A secure building? Mal’akh chuckled to himself. I know someone who will open the door for me.
The revelation crashed over Langdon like a wave.
I know why I am here.
Standing in the center of the Rotunda, Langdon felt a powerful urge to turn and run away… from Peter’s hand, from the shining gold ring, from the suspicious eyes of Sato and Anderson. Instead, he stood dead still, clinging more tightly to the leather daybag that hung on his shoulder. I’ve got to get out of here.
His jaw clenched as his memory began replaying the scene from that cold morning, years ago in Cambridge. It was six A.M. and Langdon was entering his classroom as he always did following his ritual morning laps in the Harvard Pool. The familiar smells of chalk dust and steam heat greeted him as he crossed the threshold. He took two steps toward his desk but stopped short.
A figure was waiting there for him — an elegant gentleman with an aquiline face and regal gray eyes.
“Peter?” Langdon stared in shock.
Peter Solomon’s smile flashed white in the dimly lit room. “Good morning, Robert. Surprised to see me?” His voice was soft, and yet there was power there.
Langdon hurried over and warmly shook his friend’s hand. “What in the world is a Yale blue blood doing on the Crimson campus before dawn?”
“Covert mission behind enemy lines,” Solomon said, laughing. He motioned to Langdon’s trim waistline. “Laps are paying off. You’re in good shape.”
“Just trying to make you feel old,” Langdon said, toying with him. “It’s great to see you, Peter. What’s up?”
“Short business trip,” the man replied, glancing around the deserted classroom. “I’m sorry to drop in on you like this, Robert, but I have only a few minutes. There’s something I needed to ask you… in person. A favor.”