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ability to see into the past often proved the most valuable asset of all. And tonight, once again, it proved its worth. Agent Simkins now spied a thermal signature at one of the reading desks. The two wooden chairs luminesced in his goggles, registering a reddish-purple color, indicating those chairs were warmer than the other chairs in the room. The desk lamp’s bulb glowed orange. Obviously the two men had been sitting at the desk, but the question now was in which direction they had gone.
He found his answer on the central counter that surrounded the large wooden console in the middle of the room. A ghostly handprint, glowing crimson.
Weapon raised, Simkins moved toward the octagonal cabinet, training his laser sight across the surface. He circled until he saw an opening in the side of the console. Did they really corner themselves in a cabinet? The agent scanned the trim around the opening and saw another glowing handprint on it. Clearly someone had grabbed the doorjamb as he ducked inside the console.
The time for silence was over.
“Thermal signature!” Simkins shouted, pointing at the opening. “Flanks converge!”
His two flanks moved in from opposite sides, effectively surrounding the octagonal console.
Simkins moved toward the opening. Still ten feet away, he could see a light source within. “Light inside the console!” he shouted, hoping the sound of his voice might convince Mr. Bellamy and Mr. Langdon to exit the cabinet with their hands up.
Fine, we’ll do this the other way.
As Simkins drew closer to the opening, he could hear an unexpected hum rumbling from within. It sounded like machinery. He paused, trying to imagine what could be making such a noise in such a small space. He inched closer, now hearing voices over the sound of machinery. Then, just as he arrived at the opening, the lights inside went out.
Thank you, he thought, adjusting his night vision. Advantage, us.
Standing at the threshold, he peered through the opening. What lay beyond was unexpected. The console was less of a cabinet than a raised ceiling over a steep set of stairs that descended into a room below. The agent aimed his weapon down the stairs and began descending. The hum of machinery grew louder with every step.
What the hell is this place?
The room beneath the reading room was a small, industrial-looking space. The hum he heard was indeed machinery, although he was not sure whether it was running because Bellamy and Langdon had activated it, or because it ran around the clock. Either way, it clearly made no difference. The fugitives had left their telltale heat signatures on the room’s lone exit — a heavy steel door whose keypad showed four clear fingerprints glowing on the numbers. Around the door, slivers of glowing orange shone beneath the doorjamb, indicating that lights were illuminated on the other side.
“Blow the door,” Simkins said. “This was their escape route.”
It took eight seconds to insert and detonate a sheet of Key4. When the smoke cleared, the field-team agents found themselves peering into a strange underground world known here as “the stacks.”
The Library of Congress had miles and miles of bookshelves, most of them underground. The endless rows of shelves looked like some kind of “infinity” optical illusion created with mirrors.
A sign announced
Keep this door closed at all times.
Simkins pushed through the mangled doors and felt cool air beyond. He couldn’t help but smile. Could this get any easier? Heat signatures in controlled environments showed up like solar flares, and already his goggles revealed a glowing red smear on a banister up ahead, which Bellamy or Langdon had grabbed on to while running past.
“You can run,” he whispered to himself, “but you can’t hide.”
As Simkins and his team advanced into the maze of stacks, he realized the playing field was tipped so heavily in his favor that he would not even need his goggles to track his prey. Under normal circumstances, this maze of stacks would have been a respectable hiding place, but the Library of Congress used motion-activated lights to save energy, and the fugitives’ escape route was now lit up like a runway. A narrow strip of illumination stretched into the distance, dodging and weaving as it went.
All the men ripped off their goggles. Surging ahead on well-trained legs, the field team followed the trail of lights, zigging and zagging through a seemingly endless labyrinth of books. Soon Simkins began seeing lights flickering on in the darkness up ahead. We’re gaining. He pushed harder, faster, until he heard footsteps and labored breathing ahead. Then he saw a target.
“I’ve got visual!” he yelled.
The lanky form of Warren Bellamy was apparently bringing up the rear. The primly dressed African American staggered through the stacks, obviously out of breath. It’s no use, old man.
“Stop right there, Mr. Bellamy!” Simkins yelled.
Bellamy kept running, turning sharp corners, weaving through the rows of books. At every turn, the lights kept coming on over his head.
As the team drew within twenty yards, they shouted again to stop, but Bellamy ran on.
“Take him down!” Simkins commanded.
The agent carrying the team’s nonlethal rifle raised it and fired. The projectile that launched down the aisle and wrapped itself around Bellamy’s legs was nicknamed Silly String, but there was nothing silly about it. A military technology invented at Sandia National Laboratories, this nonlethal “incapacitant” was a thread of gooey polyurethane that turned rock hard on contact, creating a rigid web of plastic across the back of the fugitive’s knees. The effect on a running target was that of jamming a stick into the spokes of a moving bike. The man’s legs seized midstride, and he pitched forward, crashing to the floor. Bellamy slid another ten feet down a darkened aisle before coming to a stop, the lights above him flickering unceremoniously to life.
“I’ll deal with Bellamy,” Simkins shouted. “You keep going after Langdon! He must be up ahead some —” The team leader stopped, now seeing that the library stacks ahead of Bellamy were all pitch-black. Obviously, there was no one else running in front of Bellamy. He’s alone?
Bellamy was still on his chest, breathing heavily, his legs and ankles all tangled with hardened plastic. The agent walked over and used his foot to roll the old man over onto his back.
“Where is he?!” the agent demanded.
Bellamy’s lip was bleeding from the fall. “Where is who?”
Agent Simkins lifted his foot and placed his boot squarely on Bellamy’s pristine silk tie. Then he leaned in, applying some pressure. “Believe me, Mr. Bellamy, you do not want to play this game with me.”
Robert Langdon felt like a corpse.
He lay supine, hands folded on his chest, in total darkness, trapped in the most confined of spaces. Although Katherine lay nearby in a similar position near his head, Langdon could not see her. He had his eyes closed to prevent himself from catching even a fleeting glimpse of his frightening predicament.
The space around him was small.
Sixty seconds ago, with the double doors of the reading room crashing down, he and Katherine had followed Bellamy into the octagonal console, down a steep set of stairs, and into the unexpected space below.
Langdon had realized at once where they were. The heart of the library’s circulation system. Resembling a small airport baggage distribution center, the circulation room had numerous conveyor belts that angled off in different directions. Because the Library of Congress was housed in three separate buildings, books requested in the reading room often had to be transported great distances by a system of conveyors through a web of underground tunnels.
Bellamy immediately crossed the room to a steel door, where he inserted his key card, typed a sequence of buttons, and pushed open the door. The space beyond was dark, but as the door opened, a span of motion-sensor lights flickered to life.
When Langdon saw what lay beyond, he realized he was looking at something few people ever saw. The Library of Congress stacks. He felt encouraged by Bellamy’s plan. What better place to hide than in a giant labyrinth?
Bellamy did not guide them into the stacks, however. Instead, he propped the door open with a book and turned back to face them. “I had hoped to be able to explain a lot more to you, but we have no time.” He gave Langdon his key card. “You’ll need this.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Langdon asked.
Bellamy shook his head. “You’ll never make it unless we split up. The most important thing is to keep that pyramid and capstone in safe hands.”
Langdon saw no other way out except the stairs back up to the reading room. “And where are you going?”
“I’ll coax them into the stacks away from you,” Bellamy said. “It’s all I can do to help you escape.”
Before Langdon could ask where he and Katherine were supposed to go, Bellamy was heaving a large crate of books off one of the conveyors. “Lie on the belt,” Bellamy said. “Keep your hands in.”
Langdon stared. You cannot be serious! The conveyor belt extended a short distance then disappeared into a dark hole in the wall. The opening looked large enough to permit passage of a crate of books, but not much more. Langdon glanced back longingly at the stacks.
“Forget it,” Bellamy said. “The motion-sensor lights will make it impossible to hide.”
“Thermal signature!” a voice upstairs shouted. “Flanks converge!”
Katherine apparently had heard all she needed to hear. She climbed onto the conveyor belt with her head only a few feet from the opening in the wall. She crossed her hands over her chest like a mummy in a sarcophagus.
Langdon stood frozen.
“Robert,” Bellamy urged, “if you won’t do this for me, do it for Peter.”
The voices upstairs sounded closer now.
As if in a dream, Langdon moved to the conveyor. He slung his daybag onto the belt and then climbed on, placing his head at Katherine’s feet. The hard rubber conveyor felt cold against his back. He stared at the ceiling and felt like a hospital patient preparing for insertion headfirst into an MRI machine.
“Keep your phone on,” Bellamy said. “Someone will call soon… and offer help. Trust him.”
Someone will call? Langdon knew that Bellamy had been trying to reach someone with no luck and had left a message earlier. And only moments ago, as they hurried down the spiral staircase, Bellamy had tried one last time and gotten through, speaking very briefly in hushed tones and then hanging up.
“Follow the conveyor to the end,” Bellamy said. “And jump off quickly before you circle back. Use my key card to get out.”
“Get out of where?!” Langdon demanded.
But Bellamy was already pulling levers. All the different conveyors in the room hummed to life. Langdon felt himself jolt into motion, and the ceiling began moving overhead.
God save me.
As Langdon approached the opening in the wall, he looked back and saw Warren Bellamy race through the doorway into the stacks, closing the door behind him. An instant later, Langdon slid into the darkness, swallowed up by the library… just as a glowing red laser dot came dancing down the stairs.
The underpaid female security guard from Preferred Security double-checked the Kalorama Heights address on her call sheet. This is it? The gated driveway before her belonged to one of the neighborhood’s largest and quietest estates, and so it seemed odd that 911 had just received an urgent call about it.
As usual with unconfirmed call-ins, 911 had contacted the local alarm company before bothering the police. The guard often thought the alarm company’s motto — “Your first line of defense” — could just as easily have been “False alarms, pranks, lost pets, and complaints from wacky neighbors.”
Tonight, as usual, the guard had arrived with no details about the specific concern. Above my pay grade. Her job was simply to show up with her yellow bubble light spinning, assess the property, and report anything unusual. Normally, something innocuous had tripped the house alarm, and she would use her override keys to reset it. This house, however, was silent. No alarm. From the road, everything looked dark and peaceful.
The guard buzzed the intercom at the gate, but got no answer. She typed her override code to open the gate and pulled into the driveway. Leaving her engine running and her bubble light spinning, she walked up to the front door and rang the bell. No answer. She saw no lights and no movement.
Reluctantly following procedure, she flicked on her flashlight to begin her trek around the house to check the doors and windows for signs of break-in. As she rounded the corner, a black stretch limousine drove past the house, slowing for a moment before continuing on. Rubbernecking neighbors.
Bit by bit, she made her way around the house, but saw nothing out of place. The house was bigger than she had imagined, and by the time she reached the backyard, she was shivering from the cold. Obviously there was nobody home.
“Dispatch?” she called in on her radio. “I’m on the Kalorama Heights call? Owners aren’t home. No signs of trouble. Finished the perimeter check. No indication of an intruder. False alarm.”
“Roger that,” the dispatcher replied. “Have a good night.”
The guard put her radio back on her belt and began retracing her steps, eager to get back to the warmth of her vehicle. As she did so, however, she spotted something she had missed earlier — a tiny speck of bluish light on the back of the house.
Puzzled, she walked over to it, now seeing the source — a low transom window, apparently to the home’s basement. The glass of the window had been blacked out, coated on the inside with an opaque paint. Some kind of darkroom maybe? The bluish glow she had seen was emanating through a tiny spot on the window where the black paint had started to peel.
She crouched down, trying to peer through, but she couldn’t see much through the tiny opening. She tapped on the glass, wondering if maybe someone was working down there.
“Hello?” she shouted.
There was no answer, but as she knocked on the window, the paint chip suddenly detached and fell off, affording her a more complete view. She leaned in, nearly pressing her face to the window as she scanned the basement. Instantly, she wished she hadn’t.
What in the name of God?!
Transfixed, she remained crouched there for a moment, staring in abject horror at the scene before her. Finally, trembling, the guard groped for the radio on her belt.
She never found it.
A sizzling pair of Taser prongs slammed into the back of her neck, and a searing pain shot through her body. Her muscles seized, and she pitched forward, unable even to close her eyes before her face hit the cold ground.
Tonight was not the first time Warren Bellamy had been blindfolded. Like all of his Masonic brothers, he had worn the ritual “hoodwink” during his ascent to the upper echelons of Masonry. That, however, had taken place among trusted friends. Tonight was different. These rough-handed men had bound him, placed a bag on his head, and were now marching him through the library stacks.
The agents had physically threatened Bellamy and demanded to know the whereabouts of Robert Langdon. Knowing his aging body couldn’t take much punishment, Bellamy had told his lie quickly.
“Langdon never came down here with me!” he had said, gasping for air. “I told him to go up to the balcony and hide behind the Moses statue, but I don’t know where he is now!” The story apparently had been convincing, because two of the agents had run off in pursuit. Now the remaining two agents were marching him in silence through the stacks.
Bellamy’s only solace was in knowing Langdon and Katherine were whisking the pyramid off to safety. Soon Langdon would be contacted by a man who could offer sanctuary. Trust him. The man Bellamy had called knew a great deal about the Masonic Pyramid and the secret it held — the location of a hidden spiral staircase that led down into the earth to the hiding place of potent ancient wisdom buried long ago. Bellamy had finally gotten through to the man as they were escaping the reading room, and he felt confident that his short message would be understood perfectly.
Now, as he moved in total darkness, Bellamy pictured the stone pyramid and golden capstone in Langdon’s bag. It has been many years since those two pieces were in the same room.
Bellamy would never forget that painful night. The first of many for Peter. Bellamy had been asked to come to the Solomon estate in Potomac for Zachary Solomon’s eighteenth birthday. Zachary, despite being a rebellious child, was a Solomon, which meant tonight, following family tradition, he would receive his inheritance. Bellamy was one of Peter’s dearest friends and a trusted Masonic brother, and therefore was asked to attend as a witness. But it was not only the transference of money that Bellamy had been asked to witness. There was far more than money at stake tonight.
Bellamy had arrived early and waited, as requested, in Peter’s private study. The wonderful old room smelled of leather, wood fires, and loose-leaf tea. Warren was seated when Peter led his son, Zachary, into the room. When the scrawny eighteen-year-old saw Bellamy, he frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Bearing witness,” Bellamy offered. “Happy birthday, Zachary.”
The boy mumbled and looked away.
“Sit down, Zach,” Peter said.
Zachary sat in the solitary chair facing his father’s huge wooden desk. Solomon bolted the study door. Bellamy took a seat off to one side.
Solomon addressed Zachary in a serious tone. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“I think so,” Zachary said.
Solomon sighed deeply. “I know you and I have not seen eye to eye for quite some time, Zach. I’ve done my best to be a good father and to prepare you for this moment.”
Zachary said nothing.
“As you know, every Solomon child, upon reaching adulthood, is presented with his or her birthright — a share of the Solomon fortune — which is intended to be a seed… a seed for you to nurture, make grow, and use to help nourish mankind.”
Solomon walked to a vault in the wall, unlocked it, and removed a large black folder. “Son, this portfolio contains everything you need to legally transfer your financial inheritance into your own name.” He laid it on the desk. “The aim is that you use this money to build a life of productivity, prosperity, and philanthropy.”
Zachary reached for the folder. “Thanks.”
“Hold on,” his father said, putting his hand on the portfolio. “There’s something else I need to explain.”
Zachary shot his father a contemptuous look and slumped back down.
“There are aspects of the Solomon inheritance of which you are not yet aware.” His father was staring straight into Zachary’s eyes now. “You are my firstborn, Zachary, which means you are entitled to a choice.”
The teenager sat up, looking intrigued.
“It is a choice that may well determine the direction of your future, and so I urge you to ponder it carefully.”
His father took a deep breath. “It is the choice… between wealth or wisdom.”
Zachary gave him a blank stare. “Wealth or wisdom? I don’t get it.”
Solomon stood, walking again to the vault, where he pulled out a heavy stone pyramid with Masonic symbols carved into it. Peter heaved the stone onto the desk beside the portfolio. “This pyramid was created long ago and has been entrusted to our family for generations.”
“A pyramid?” Zachary didn’t look very excited.
“Son, this pyramid is a map… a map that reveals the location of one of humankind’s greatest lost treasures. This map was created so that the treasure could one day be rediscovered.” Peter’s voice swelled now with pride. “And tonight, following tradition, I am able to offer it to you… under certain conditions.”
Zachary eyed the pyramid suspiciously. “What’s the treasure?”
Bellamy could tell that this coarse question was not what Peter had hoped for. Nonetheless, his demeanor remained steady.