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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(17)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(17)
Author: Dan Brown

"Again, my apologies, ma'am," Langdon said. "I'm still trying to get my bearings here--the person who claims to have Peter Solomon tricked me into coming to D.C. this evening." He pulled the fax from his jacket. "This is what he sent me earlier. I wrote down the tail number of the plane he sent, so maybe if you call the FAA and track the--"

Sato's tiny hand shot out and snatched the sheet of paper. She stuck it in her pocket without even opening it. "Professor, I am running this investigation, and until you start telling me what I want to know, I suggest you not speak unless spoken to."

Sato now spun to the police chief.

"Chief Anderson," she said, stepping entirely too close and staring up at him through tiny black eyes, "would you care to tell me what the hell is going on here? The guard at the east gate told me you found a human hand on the floor. Is that true?"

Anderson stepped to the side and revealed the object in the center of the floor. "Yes, ma'am, only a few minutes ago."

She glanced at the hand as if it were nothing more than a misplaced piece of clothing. "And yet you didn't mention it to me when I called?"

"I . . . I thought you knew."

"Do not lie to me."

Anderson wilted under her gaze, but his voice remained confident. "Ma'am, this situation is under control."

"I really doubt that," Sato said, with equal confidence.

"A forensics team is on the way. Whoever did this may have left fingerprints."

Sato looked skeptical. "I think someone clever enough to walk through your security checkpoint with a human hand is probably clever enough not to leave fingerprints."

"That may be true, but I have a responsibility to investigate."

"Actually, I am relieving you of your responsibility as of this moment. I'm taking over."

Anderson stiffened. "This is not exactly OS domain, is it?"

"Absolutely. This is an issue of national security."

Peter's hand? Langdon wondered, watching their exchange in a daze. National security? Langdon was sensing that his own urgent goal of finding Peter was not Sato's. The OS director seemed to be on another page entirely.

Anderson looked puzzled as well. "National security? With all due respect, ma'am--"

"The last I checked," she interrupted, "I outrank you. I suggest you do exactly as I say, and that you do it without question."

Anderson nodded and swallowed hard. "But shouldn't we at least print the fingers to confirm the hand belongs to Peter Solomon?"

"I'll confirm it," Langdon said, feeling a sickening certainty. "I recognize his ring . . . and his hand." He paused. "The tattoos are new, though. Someone did that to him recently."

"I'm sorry?" Sato looked unnerved for the first time since arriving. "The hand is tattooed?"

Langdon nodded. "The thumb has a crown. And the index finger a star."

Sato pulled out a pair of glasses and walked toward the hand, circling like a shark.

"Also," Langdon said, "although you can't see the other three fingers, I'm certain they will have tattoos on the fingertips as well."

Sato looked intrigued by the comment and motioned to Anderson. "Chief, can you look at the other fingertips for us, please?"

Anderson crouched down beside the hand, being careful not to touch it. He put his cheek near the floor and looked up under the clenched fingertips. "He's right, ma'am. All of the fingertips have tattoos, although I can't quite see what the other--"

"A sun, a lantern, and a key," Langdon said flatly.

Sato turned fully to Langdon now, her small eyes appraising him. "And how exactly would you know that?"

Langdon stared back. "The image of a human hand, marked in this way on the fingertips, is a very old icon. It's known as `the Hand of the Mysteries.' "

Anderson stood up abruptly. "This thing has a name?"

Langdon nodded. "It's one of the most secretive icons of the ancient world."

Sato cocked her head. "Then might I ask what the hell it's doing in the middle of the U.S. Capitol?"

Langdon wished he would wake up from this nightmare. "Traditionally, ma'am, it was used as an invitation."

"An invitation . . . to what?" she demanded.

Langdon looked down at the symbols on his friend's severed hand. "For centuries, the Hand of the Mysteries served as a mystical summons. Basically, it's an invitation to receive secret knowledge--protected wisdom known only to an elite few."

Sato folded her thin arms and stared up at him with jet-black eyes. "Well, Professor, for someone who claims to have no clue why he's here . . . you're doing quite well so far."

CHAPTER 18

Katherine Solomon donned her white lab coat and began her usual arrival routine--her "rounds" as her brother called them.

Like a nervous parent checking on a sleeping baby, Katherine poked her head into the mechanical room. The hydrogen fuel cell was running smoothly, its backup tanks all safely nestled in their racks.

Katherine continued down the hall to the data-storage room. As always, the two redundant holographic backup units hummed safely within their temperature-controlled vault. All of my research, she thought, gazing in through the three-inch-thick shatterproof glass. Holographic data-storage devices, unlike their refrigerator-size ancestors, looked more like sleek stereo components, each perched atop a columnar pedestal.

Both of her lab's holographic drives were synchronized and identical--serving as redundant backups to safeguard identical copies of her work. Most backup protocols advocated a secondary backup system off-site in case of earthquake, fire, or theft, but Katherine and her brother agreed that secrecy was paramount; once this data left the building to an off-site server, they could no longer be certain it would stay private.

Content that everything was running smoothly here, she headed back down the hallway. As she rounded the corner, however, she spotted something unexpected across the lab. What in the world? A muted glow was glinting off all the equipment. She hurried in to have a look, surprised to see light emanating from behind the Plexiglas wall of the control room.

He's here. Katherine flew across the lab, arriving at the control-room door and heaving it open. "Peter!" she said, running in. The plump woman seated at the control room's terminal jumped up. "Oh my God! Katherine! You scared me!"

Trish Dunne--the only other person on earth allowed back here--was Katherine's metasystems analyst and seldom worked weekends. The twenty-six-year-old redhead was a genius data modeler and had signed a nondisclosure document worthy of the KGB. Tonight, she was apparently analyzing data on the control room's plasma wall--a huge flat-screen display that looked like something out of NASA mission control.

"Sorry," Trish said. "I didn't know you were here yet. I was trying to finish up before you and your brother arrived."

"Have you spoken to him? He's late and he's not answering his phone."

Trish shook her head. "I bet he's still trying to figure out how to use that new iPhone you gave him."

Katherine appreciated Trish's good humor, and Trish's presence here had just given her an idea. "Actually, I'm glad you're in tonight. You might be able to help me with something, if you don't mind?"

"Whatever it is, I'm sure it beats football."

Katherine took a deep breath, calming her mind. "I'm not sure how to explain this, but earlier today, I heard an unusual story . . ."

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