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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(10)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(10)
Author: Dan Brown

"It's simple. You have been given access to something quite ancient. And tonight, you will share it with me."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"No? You pretend not to understand the ancient secrets that have been entrusted to you?"

Langdon felt a sudden sinking sensation, now guessing what this was probably about. Ancient secrets. He had not uttered a word to anyone about his experiences in Paris several years earlier, but Grail fanatics had followed the media coverage closely, some connecting the dots and believing Langdon was now privy to secret information regarding the Holy Grail--perhaps even its location.

"Look," Langdon said, "if this is about the Holy Grail, I can assure you I know nothing more than--"

"Don't insult my intelligence, Mr. Langdon," the man snapped. "I have no interest in anything so frivolous as the Holy Grail or mankind's pathetic debate over whose version of history is correct. Circular arguments over the semantics of faith hold no interest for me. Those are questions answered only through death."

The stark words left Langdon confused. "Then what the hell is this about?"

The man paused for several seconds. "As you may know, there exists within this city an ancient portal."

An ancient portal?

"And tonight, Professor, you will unlock it for me. You should be honored I contacted you--this is the invitation of your lifetime. You alone have been chosen."

And you have lost your mind. "I'm sorry, but you've chosen poorly," Langdon said. "I don't know anything about any ancient portal."

"You don't understand, Professor. It was not I who chose you . . . it was Peter Solomon." "What?" Langdon replied, his voice barely a whisper.

"Mr. Solomon told me how to find the portal, and he confessed to me that only one man on earth could unlock it. And he said that man is you."

"If Peter said that, he was mistaken . . . or lying."

"I think not. He was in a fragile state when he confessed that fact, and I am inclined to believe him."

Langdon felt a stab of anger. "I'm warning you, if you hurt Peter in any--"

"It's far too late for that," the man said in an amused tone. "I've already taken what I need from Peter Solomon. But for his sake, I suggest you provide what I need from you. Time is of the essence . . . for both of you. I suggest you find the portal and unlock it. Peter will point the way."

Peter? "I thought you said Peter was in `purgatory.'"

"As above, so below," the man said.

Langdon felt a deepening chill. This strange response was an ancient Hermetic adage that proclaimed a belief in the physical connection between heaven and earth. As above, so below. Langdon eyed the vast room and wondered how everything had veered so suddenly out of control tonight. "Look, I don't know how to find any ancient portal. I'm calling the police."

"It really hasn't dawned on you yet, has it? Why you were chosen?"

"No," Langdon said.

"It will," he replied, chuckling. "Any moment now."

Then the line went dead.

Langdon stood rigid for several terrifying moments, trying to process what had just happened.

Suddenly, in the distance, he heard an unexpected sound.

It was coming from the Rotunda.

Someone was screaming.

CHAPTER 10

Robert Langdon had entered the Capitol Rotunda many times in his life, but never at a full sprint. As he ran through the north entrance, he spotted a group of tourists clustered in the center of the room. A small boy was screaming, and his parents were trying to console him. Others were crowding around, and several security guards were doing their best to restore order.

"He pulled it out of his sling," someone said frantically, "and just left it there!"

As Langdon drew nearer, he got his first glimpse of what was causing all the commotion. Admittedly, the object on the Capitol floor was odd, but its presence hardly warranted screaming.

The device on the floor was one Langdon had seen many times. The Harvard art department had dozens of these--life-size plastic models used by sculptors and painters to help them render the human body's most complex feature, which, surprisingly, was not the human face but rather the human hand. Someone left a mannequin hand in the Rotunda?

Mannequin hands, or handequins as some called them, had articulated fingers enabling an artist to pose the hand in whatever position he wanted, which for sophomoric college students was often with the middle finger extended straight up in the air. This handequin, however, had been positioned with its index finger and thumb pointing up toward the ceiling.

As Langdon drew nearer, though, he realized this handequin was unusual. Its plastic surface was not smooth like most. Instead, the surface was mottled and slightly wrinkled, and appeared almost . . .

Like real skin.

Langdon stopped abruptly.

Now he saw the blood. My God!

The severed wrist appeared to have been skewered onto a spiked wooden base so that it would stand up. A wave of nausea rushed over him. Langdon inched closer, unable to breathe, seeing now that the tips of the index finger and thumb had been decorated with tiny tattoos. The tattoos, however, were not what held Langdon's attention. His gaze moved instantly to the familiar golden ring on the fourth finger.

No.

Langdon recoiled. His world began to spin as he realized he was looking at the severed right hand of Peter Solomon.

CHAPTER 11

Why isn't Peter answering? Katherine Solomon wondered as she hung up her cell phone. Where is he?

For three years, Peter Solomon had always been the first to arrive for their weekly seven P.M. Sunday-night meetings. It was their private family ritual, a way to remain connected before the start of a new week, and for Peter to stay up-to-date on Katherine's work at the lab.

He's never late, she thought, and he always answers his phone. To make matters worse, Katherine was still not sure what she was going to say to him when he did finally arrive. How do I even begin to ask him about what I found out today?

Her footsteps clicked rhythmically down the cement corridor that ran like a spine through the SMSC. Known as "The Street," the corridor connected the building's five massive storage pods. Forty feet overhead, a circulatory system of orange ductwork throbbed with the heartbeat of the building--the pulsing sounds of thousands of cubic feet of filtered air being circulated.

Normally, during her nearly quarter-mile walk to her lab, Katherine felt calmed by the breathing sounds of the building. Tonight, however, the pulsing had her on edge. What she had learned about her brother today would have troubled anyone, and yet because Peter was the only family she had in the world, Katherine felt especially disturbed to think he might be keeping secrets from her.

As far as she knew, he had kept a secret from her only once . . . a wonderful secret that was hidden at the end of this very hallway. Three years ago, her brother had walked Katherine down this corridor, introducing her to the SMSC by proudly showing off some of the building's more unusual items--the Mars meteorite ALH-84001, the handwritten pictographic diary of Sitting Bull, a collection of wax-sealed Ball jars containing original specimens collected by Charles Darwin.

At one point, they walked past a heavy door with a small window. Katherine caught a glimpse of what lay beyond and gasped. "What in the world is that?!"

Her brother chuckled and kept walking. "Pod Three. It's called Wet Pod. Pretty unusual sight, isn't it?"

Terrifying is more like it. Katherine hurried after him. This building was like another planet.

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