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Katherine Solomon had just called to alert Security of this guest’s imminent arrival. The guard had no idea who this doctor might be, but he was apparently very good at doctoring; he was arriving in a black stretch limousine. The long, sleek vehicle rolled to a stop beside the guardhouse, and the driver’s tinted window lowered silently.
“Good evening,” the chauffeur said, doffing his cap. He was a powerfully built man with a shaved head. He was listening to the football game on his radio. “I have Dr. Christopher Abaddon for Ms. Katherine Solomon?”
The guard nodded. “Identification, please.”
The chauffeur looked surprised. “I’m sorry, didn’t Ms. Solomon call ahead?”
The guard nodded, stealing a glance at the television. “I’m still required to scan and log visitor identification. Sorry, regulations. I’ll need to see the doctor’s ID.”
“Not a problem.” The chauffeur turned backward in his seat and spoke in hushed tones through the privacy screen. As he did, the guard stole another peek at the game. The Redskins were breaking from the huddle now, and he hoped to get this limo through before the next play.
The chauffeur turned forward again and held out the ID that he’d apparently just received through the privacy screen.
The guard took the card and quickly scanned it into his system. The D.C. driver’s license showed one Christopher Abaddon from Kalorama Heights. The photo depicted a handsome blond gentleman wearing a blue blazer, a necktie, and a satin pocket square. Who the hell wears a pocket square to the DMV?
A muffled cheer went up from the television set, and the guard wheeled just in time to see a Redskins player dancing in the end zone, his finger pointed skyward. “I missed it,” the guard grumbled, returning to the window.
“Okay,” he said, returning the license to the chauffeur. “You’re all set.”
As the limo pulled through, the guard returned to his TV, hoping for a replay.
As Mal’akh drove his limo up the winding access road, he couldn’t help but smile. Peter Solomon’s secret museum had been simple to breach. Sweeter still, tonight was the second time in twenty-four hours that Mal’akh had broken into one of Solomon’s private spaces. Last night, a similar visit had been made to Solomon’s home.
Although Peter Solomon had a magnificent country estate in Potomac, he spent much of his time in the city at his penthouse apartment at the exclusive Dorchester Arms. His building, like most that catered to the super-rich, was a veritable fortress. High walls. Guard gates. Guest lists. Secured underground parking.
Mal’akh had driven this very limousine up to the building’s guardhouse, doffed his chauffeur’s cap from his shaved head, and proclaimed, “I have Dr. Christopher Abaddon. He is an invited guest of Mr. Peter Solomon.” Mal’akh spoke the words as if he were announcing the Duke of York.
The guard checked a log and then Abaddon’s ID. “Yes, I see Mr. Solomon is expecting Dr. Abaddon.” He pressed a button and the gate opened. “Mr. Solomon is in the penthouse apartment. Have your guest use the last elevator on the right. It goes all the way up.”
“Thank you.” Mal’akh tipped his hat and drove through.
As he wound deep into the garage, he scanned for security cameras. Nothing. Apparently, those who lived here were neither the kind of people who broke into cars nor the kind of people who appreciated being watched.
Mal’akh parked in a dark corner near the elevators, lowered the divider between the driver’s compartment and the passenger compartment, and slithered through the opening into the back of the limo. Once in back, he got rid of his chauffeur’s cap and donned his blond wig. Straightening his jacket and tie, he checked the mirror to make sure he had not smeared his makeup. Mal’akh was not about to take any chances. Not tonight.
I have waited too long for this.
Seconds later, Mal’akh was stepping into the private elevator. The ride to the top was silent and smooth. When the door opened, he found himself in an elegant, private foyer. His host was already waiting.
“Dr. Abaddon, welcome.”
Mal’akh looked into the man’s famous gray eyes and felt his heart begin to race. “Mr. Solomon, I appreciate your seeing me.”
“Please, call me Peter.” The two men shook hands. As Mal’akh gripped the older man’s palm, he saw the gold Masonic ring on Solomon’s hand… the same hand that had once aimed a gun at Mal’akh. A voice whispered from Mal’akh’s distant past. If you pull that trigger, I will haunt you forever.
“Please come in,” Solomon said, ushering Mal’akh into an elegant living room whose expansive windows offered an astonishing view of the Washington skyline.
“Do I smell tea steeping?” Mal’akh asked as he entered.
Solomon looked impressed. “My parents always greeted guests with tea. I’ve carried on that tradition.” He led Mal’akh into the living room, where a tea service was waiting in front of the fire. “Cream and sugar?”
“Black, thank you.”
Again Solomon looked impressed. “A purist.” He poured them both a cup of black tea. “You said you needed to discuss something with me that was sensitive in nature and could be discussed only in private.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your time.”
“You and I are Masonic brothers now. We have a bond. Tell me how I can help you.”
“First, I would like to thank you for the honor of the thirty-third degree a few months ago. This is deeply meaningful to me.”
“I’m glad, but please know that those decisions are not mine alone. They are by vote of the Supreme Council.”
“Of course.” Mal’akh suspected Peter Solomon had probably voted against him, but within the Masons, as with all things, money was power. Mal’akh, after achieving the thirty-second degree in his own lodge, had waited only a month before making a multimillion-dollar donation to charity in the name of the Masonic Grand Lodge. The unsolicited act of selflessness, as Mal’akh anticipated, was enough to earn him a quick invitation into the elite thirty-third degree. And yet I have learned no secrets.
Despite the age-old whispers — “All is revealed at the thirty-third degree” — Mal’akh had been told nothing new, nothing of relevance to his quest. But he had never expected to be told. The inner circle of Freemasonry contained smaller circles still… circles Mal’akh would not see for years, if ever. He didn’t care. His initiation had served its purpose. Something unique had happened within that Temple Room, and it had given Mal’akh power over all of them. I no longer play by your rules.
“You do realize,” Mal’akh said, sipping his tea, “that you and I met many years ago.”
Solomon looked surprised. “Really? I don’t recall.”
“It was quite a long time ago.” And Christopher Abaddon is not my real name.
“I’m so sorry. My mind must be getting old. Remind me how I know you?”
Mal’akh smiled one last time at the man he hated more than any other man on earth. “It’s unfortunate that you don’t recall.”
In one fluid motion, Mal’akh pulled a small device from his pocket and extended it outward, driving it hard into the man’s chest. There was a flash of blue light, the sharp sizzle of the stun-gun discharge, and a gasp of pain as one million volts of electricity coursed through Peter Solomon’s body. His eyes went wide, and he slumped motionless in his chair. Mal’akh stood up now, towering over the man, salivating like a lion about to consume his injured prey.
Solomon was gasping, straining to breathe.
Mal’akh saw fear in his victim’s eyes and wondered how many people had ever seen the great Peter Solomon cower. Mal’akh savored the scene for several long seconds. He took a sip of tea, waiting for the man to catch his breath.
Solomon was twitching, attempting to speak. “Wh-why?” he finally managed.
“Why do you think?” Mal’akh demanded.
Solomon looked truly bewildered. “You want… money?”
Money? Mal’akh laughed and took another sip of tea. “I gave the Masons millions of dollars; I have no need of wealth.” I come for wisdom, and he offers me wealth.
“Then what… do you want?”
“You possess a secret. You will share it with me tonight.”
Solomon struggled to lift his chin so he could look Mal’akh in the eye. “I don’t… understand.”
“No more lies!” Mal’akh shouted, advancing to within inches of the paralyzed man. “I know what is hidden here in Washington.”
Solomon’s gray eyes were defiant. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
Mal’akh took another sip of tea and set the cup on a coaster. “You spoke those same words to me ten years ago, on the night of your mother’s death.”
Solomon’s eyes shot wide open. “You…?”
“She didn’t have to die. If you had given me what I demanded…”
The older man’s face contorted in a mask of horrified recognition… and disbelief.
“I warned you,” Mal’akh said, “if you pulled the trigger, I would haunt you forever.”
“But you’re —”
Mal’akh lunged, driving the Taser hard into Solomon’s chest again. There was another flash of blue light, and Solomon went completely limp.
Mal’akh put the Taser back in his pocket and calmly finished his tea. When he was done, he dabbed his lips with a monogrammed linen napkin and peered down at his victim. “Shall we go?”
Solomon’s body was motionless, but his eyes were wide and engaged.
Mal’akh got down close and whispered in the man’s ear. “I’m taking you to a place where only truth remains.”
Without another word, Mal’akh wadded up the monogrammed napkin and stuffed it into Solomon’s mouth. Then he hoisted the limp man onto his broad shoulders and headed for the private elevator. On his way out, he picked up Solomon’s iPhone and keys from the hall table.
Tonight you will tell me all your secrets, Mal’akh thought. Including why you left me for dead all those years ago.
Robert Langdon’s claustrophobia gripped him more tightly with every hastening step of their descent. As they moved deeper into the building’s original foundation, the air became heavy, and the ventilation seemed nonexistent. The walls down here were an uneven blend of stone and yellow brick.
Director Sato typed on her BlackBerry as they walked. Langdon sensed a suspicion in her guarded manner, but the feeling was quickly becoming reciprocal. Sato still hadn’t told him how she knew Langdon was here tonight. An issue of national security? He had a hard time understanding any relation between ancient mysticism and national security. Then again, he had a hard time understanding much of anything about this situation.
Peter Solomon entrusted me with a talisman… a deluded lunatic tricked me into bringing it to the Capitol and wants me to use it to unlock a mystical portal… possibly in a room called SBB13.
Not exactly a clear picture.
As they pressed on, Langdon tried to shake from his mind the horrible image of Peter’s tattooed hand, transformed into the Hand of the Mysteries. The gruesome picture was accompanied by Peter’s voice: The Ancient Mysteries, Robert, have spawned many myths… but that does not mean they themselves are fiction.
Despite a career studying mystical symbols and history, Langdon had always struggled intellectually with the idea of the Ancient Mysteries and their potent promise of apotheosis.
Admittedly, the historical record contained indisputable evidence that secret wisdom had been passed down through the ages, apparently having come out of the Mystery Schools in early Egypt. This knowledge moved underground, resurfacing in Renaissance Europe, where, according to most accounts, it was entrusted to an elite group of scientists within the walls of Europe’s premier scientific think tank — the Royal Society of London — enigmatically nicknamed the Invisible College.
This concealed “college” quickly became a brain trust of the world’s most enlightened minds — those of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and even Benjamin Franklin. Today, the list of modern “fellows” was no less impressive — Einstein, Hawking, Bohr, and Celsius. These great minds had all made quantum leaps in human understanding, advances that, according to some, were the result of their exposure to ancient wisdom hidden within the Invisible College. Langdon doubted this was true, although certainly there had been an unusual amount of “mystical work” taking place within those walls.
The discovery of Isaac Newton’s secret papers in 1936 had stunned the world by revealing Newton’s all-consuming passion for the study of ancient alchemy and mystical wisdom. Newton’s private papers included a handwritten letter to Robert Boyle in which he exhorted Boyle to keep “high silence” regarding the mystical knowledge they had learned. “It cannot be communicated,” Newton wrote, “without immense damage to the world.”
The meaning of this strange warning was still being debated today.
“Professor,” Sato said suddenly, glancing up from her BlackBerry, “despite your insistence that you have no idea why you’re here tonight, perhaps you could shed light on the meaning of Peter Solomon’s ring.”
“I can try,” Langdon said, refocusing.
She produced the specimen bag and handed it to Langdon. “Tell me about the symbols on his ring.”
Langdon examined the familiar ring as they moved through the deserted passageway. Its face bore the image of a double-headed phoenix holding a banner proclaiming ORDO AB CHAO, and its chest was emblazoned with the number 33. “The double-headed phoenix with the number thirty-three is the emblem of the highest Masonic degree.” Technically, this prestigious degree existed solely within the Scottish Rite. Nonetheless, the rites and degrees of Masonry were a complex hierarchy that Langdon had no desire to detail for Sato tonight. “Essentially, the thirty-third degree is an elite honor reserved for a small group of highly accomplished Masons. All the other degrees can be attained by successful completion of the previous degree, but ascension to the thirty-third degree is controlled. It’s by invitation only.”
“So you were aware that Peter Solomon was a member of this elite inner circle?”
“Of course. Membership is hardly a secret.”
“And he is their highest-ranking official?”
“Currently, yes. Peter heads the Supreme Council Thirty-third Degree, which is the governing body of the Scottish Rite in America.” Langdon always loved visiting their headquarters — the House of the Temple — a classical masterpiece whose symbolic ornamentation rivaled that of Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel.
“Professor, did you notice the engraving on the ring’s band? It bears the words ‘All is revealed at the thirty-third degree.’ ”
Langdon nodded. “It’s a common theme in Masonic lore.”
“Meaning, I assume, that if a Mason is admitted to this highest thirty-third degree, then something special is revealed to him?”
“Yes, that’s the lore, but probably not the reality. There’s always been conspiratorial conjecture that a select few within this highest echelon of Masonry are made privy to some great mystical secret. The truth, I suspect, is probably far less dramatic.”
Peter Solomon often made playful allusions to the existence of a precious Masonic secret, but Langdon always assumed it was just a mischievous attempt to coax him into joining the brotherhood. Unfortunately, tonight’s events had been anything but playful, and there had been nothing mischievous about the seriousness with which Peter had urged Langdon to protect the sealed package in his daybag.
Langdon glanced forlornly at the plastic bag containing Peter’s gold ring. “Director,” he asked, “would you mind if I held on to this?”
She looked over. “Why?”
“It’s very valuable to Peter, and I’d like to return it to him tonight.”
She looked skeptical. “Let’s hope you get that chance.”
“Thanks.” Langdon pocketed the ring.
“Another question,” Sato said as they hastened deeper into the labyrinth. “My staff said that while cross-checking the concepts of the ‘thirty-third degree’ and ‘portal’ with Masonry, they turned up literally hundreds of references to a ‘pyramid’?”
“That’s not surprising, either,” Langdon said. “The pyramid builders of Egypt are the forerunners of the modern stonemasons, and the pyramid, along with Egyptian themes, is very common in Masonic symbolism.”
“The pyramid essentially represents enlightenment. It’s an architectural symbol emblematic of ancient man’s ability to break free from his earthly plane and ascend upward toward heaven, toward the golden sun, and ultimately, toward the supreme source of illumination.”
She waited a moment. “Nothing else?”
Nothing else?! Langdon had just described one of history’s most elegant symbols. The structure through which man elevated himself into the realm of the gods.
“According to my staff,” she said, “it sounds like there is a much more relevant connection tonight. They tell me there exists a popular legend about a specific pyramid here in Washington — a pyramid that relates specifically to the Masons and the Ancient Mysteries?”
Langdon now realized what she was referring to, and he tried to dispel the notion before they wasted any more time. “I am familiar with the legend, Director, but it’s pure fantasy. The Masonic Pyramid is one of D.C.’s most enduring myths, probably stemming from the pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States.”
“Why didn’t you mention it earlier?”
Langdon shrugged. “Because it has no basis in fact. Like I said, it’s a myth. One of many associated with the Masons.”
“And yet this particular myth relates directly to the Ancient Mysteries?”
“Sure, as do plenty of others. The Ancient Mysteries are the foundation for countless legends that have survived in history — stories about powerful wisdom protected by secret guardians like the Templars, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, the Alumbrados — the list goes on and on. They are all based on the Ancient Mysteries… and the Masonic Pyramid is just one example.”
“I see,” Sato said. “And what does this legend actually say?”
Langdon considered it for a few steps and then replied, “Well, I’m no specialist in conspiracy theory, but I am educated in mythology, and most accounts go something like this: The Ancient Mysteries — the lost wisdom of the ages — have long been considered mankind’s most sacred treasure, and like all great treasures, they have been carefully protected. The enlightened sages who understood the true power of this wisdom learned to fear its awesome potential. They knew that if this secret knowledge were to fall into uninitiated hands, the results could be devastating; as we said earlier, powerful tools can be used either for good or for evil. So, in order to protect the Ancient Mysteries, and mankind in the process, the early practitioners formed secret fraternities. Inside these brotherhoods, they shared their wisdom only with the properly initiated, passing the wisdom from sage to sage. Many believe we can look back and see the historical remnants of those who mastered the Mysteries… in the stories of sorcerers, magicians, and healers.”
“And the Masonic Pyramid?” Sato asked. “How does that fit in?”
“Well,” Langdon said, striding faster now to keep pace, “this is where history and myth begin to merge. According to some accounts, by the sixteenth century in Europe, almost all of these secret fraternities had become extinct, most of them exterminated by a growing tide of religious persecution. The Freemasons, it is said, became the last surviving custodians of the Ancient Mysteries. Understandably, they feared that if their own brotherhood one day died off like its predecessors, the Ancient Mysteries would be lost for all time.”
“And the pyramid?” Sato again pressed.
Langdon was getting to it. “The legend of the Masonic Pyramid is quite simple. It states that the Masons, in order to fulfill their responsibility of protecting this great wisdom for future generations, decided to hide it in a great fortress.” Langdon tried to gather his recollections of the story. “Again, I stress this is all myth, but allegedly, the Masons transported their secret wisdom from the Old World to the New World — here, to America — a land they hoped would remain free from religious tyranny. And here they built an impenetrable fortress — a hidden pyramid — designed to protect the Ancient Mysteries until the time that all of mankind was ready to handle the awesome power that this wisdom could communicate. According to the myth, the Masons crowned their great pyramid with a shining, solid-gold capstone as symbol of the precious treasure within — the ancient wisdom capable of empowering mankind to his full human potential. Apotheosis.”
“Quite a story,” Sato said.
“Yes. The Masons fall victim to all kinds of crazy legends.”
“Obviously you don’t believe such a pyramid exists.”
“Of course not,” Langdon replied. “There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that our Masonic forefathers built any kind of pyramid in America, much less in D.C. It’s pretty difficult to hide a pyramid, especially one large enough to hold all the lost wisdom of the ages.”
The legend, as Langdon recalled, never explained exactly what was supposed to be inside the Masonic Pyramid — whether it was ancient texts, occult writings, scientific revelations, or something far more mysterious — but the legend did say that the precious information inside was ingeniously encoded… and understandable only to the most enlightened souls.
“Anyway,” Langdon said, “this story falls into a category we symbologists call an ‘archetypal hybrid’ — a blend of other classic legends, borrowing so many elements from popular mythology that it could only be a fictional construct… not