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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(2)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(2)
Author: Dan Brown

"Dad!"

Their eyes locked for one terrifying second.

Then the bottom dropped out.

Robert Langdon jolted upright in his soft leather seat, startling out of the semiconscious daydream. He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.

"Mr. Langdon?" The intercom crackled overhead. "We're on final approach."

Langdon sat up straight and slid his lecture notes back into his leather daybag. He'd been halfway through reviewing Masonic symbology when his mind had drifted. The daydream about his late father, Langdon suspected, had been stirred by this morning's unexpected invitation from Langdon's longtime mentor, Peter Solomon.

The other man I never want to disappoint.

The fifty-eight-year-old philanthropist, historian, and scientist had taken Langdon under his wing nearly thirty years ago, in many ways filling the void left by Langdon's father's death. Despite the man's influential family dynasty and massive wealth, Langdon had found humility and warmth in Solomon's soft gray eyes.

Outside the window the sun had set, but Langdon could still make out the slender silhouette of the world's largest obelisk, rising on the horizon like the spire of an ancient gnomon. The 555- foot marble-faced obelisk marked this nation's heart. All around the spire, the meticulous geometry of streets and monuments radiated outward. Even from the air, Washington, D.C., exuded an almost mystical power.

Langdon loved this city, and as the jet touched down, he felt a rising excitement about what lay ahead. The jet taxied to a private terminal somewhere in the vast expanse of Dulles International Airport and came to a stop.

Langdon gathered his things, thanked the pilots, and stepped out of the jet's luxurious interior onto the foldout staircase. The cold January air felt liberating.

Breathe, Robert, he thought, appreciating the wide-open spaces.

A blanket of white fog crept across the runway, and Langdon had the sensation he was stepping into a marsh as he descended onto the misty tarmac.

"Hello! Hello!" a singsong British voice shouted from across the tarmac. "Professor Langdon?"

Langdon looked up to see a middle-aged woman with a badge and clipboard hurrying toward him, waving happily as he approached. Curly blond hair protruded from under a stylish knit wool hat.

"Welcome to Washington, sir!"

Langdon smiled. "Thank you."

"My name is Pam, from passenger services." The woman spoke with an exuberance that was almost unsettling. "If you'll come with me, sir, your car is waiting."

Langdon followed her across the runway toward the Signature terminal, which was surrounded by glistening private jets. A taxi stand for the rich and famous.

"I hate to embarrass you, Professor," the woman said, sounding sheepish, "but you are the Robert Langdon who writes books about symbols and religion, aren't you?"

Langdon hesitated and then nodded.

"I thought so!" she said, beaming. "My book group read your book about the sacred feminine and the church! What a delicious scandal that one caused! You do enjoy putting the fox in the henhouse!"

Langdon smiled. "Scandal wasn't really my intention."

The woman seemed to sense Langdon was not in the mood to discuss his work. "I'm sorry. Listen to me rattling on. I know you probably get tired of being recognized . . . but it's your own fault." She playfully motioned to his clothing. "Your uniform gave you away." My uniform? Langdon glanced down at his attire. He was wearing his usual charcoal turtleneck, Harris Tweed jacket, khakis, and collegiate cordovan loafers . . . his standard attire for the classroom, lecture circuit, author photos, and social events.

The woman laughed. "Those turtlenecks you wear are so dated. You'd look much sharper in a tie!"

No chance, Langdon thought. Little nooses.

Neckties had been required six days a week when Langdon attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and despite the headmaster's romantic claims that the origin of the cravat went back to the silk fascalia worn by Roman orators to warm their vocal cords, Langdon knew that, etymologically, cravat actually derived from a ruthless band of "Croat" mercenaries who donned knotted neckerchiefs before they stormed into battle. To this day, this ancient battle garb was donned by modern office warriors hoping to intimidate their enemies in daily boardroom battles.

"Thanks for the advice," Langdon said with a chuckle. "I'll consider a tie in the future."

Mercifully, a professional-looking man in a dark suit got out of a sleek Lincoln Town Car parked near the terminal and held up his finger. "Mr. Langdon? I'm Charles with Beltway Limousine." He opened the passenger door. "Good evening, sir. Welcome to Washington."

Langdon tipped Pam for her hospitality and then climbed into the plush interior of the Town Car. The driver showed him the temperature controls, the bottled water, and the basket of hot muffins. Seconds later, Langdon was speeding away on a private access road. So this is how the other half lives.

As the driver gunned the car up Windsock Drive, he consulted his passenger manifest and placed a quick call. "This is Beltway Limousine," the driver said with professional efficiency. "I was asked to confirm once my passenger had landed." He paused. "Yes, sir. Your guest, Mr. Langdon, has arrived, and I will deliver him to the Capitol Building by seven P.M. You're welcome, sir." He hung up.

Langdon had to smile. No stone left unturned. Peter Solomon's attention to detail was one of his most potent assets, allowing him to manage his substantial power with apparent ease. A few billion dollars in the bank doesn't hurt either.

Langdon settled into the plush leather seat and closed his eyes as the noise of the airport faded behind him. The U.S. Capitol was a half hour away, and he appreciated the time alone to gather his thoughts. Everything had happened so quickly today that Langdon only now had begun to think in earnest about the incredible evening that lay ahead.

Arriving under a veil of secrecy, Langdon thought, amused by the prospect.

Ten miles from the Capitol Building, a lone figure was eagerly preparing for Robert Langdon's arrival.

CHAPTER 2

The one who called himself Mal'akh pressed the tip of the needle against his shaved head, sighing with pleasure as the sharp tool plunged in and out of his flesh. The soft hum of the electric device was addictive . . . as was the bite of the needle sliding deep into his dermis and depositing its dye.

I am a masterpiece.

The goal of tattooing was never beauty. The goal was change. From the scarified Nubian priests of 2000 B.C., to the tattooed acolytes of the Cybele cult of ancient Rome, to the moko scars of the modern Maori, humans have tattooed themselves as a way of offering up their bodies in partial sacrifice, enduring the physical pain of embellishment and emerging changed beings.

Despite the ominous admonitions of Leviticus 19:28, which forbade the marking of one's flesh, tattoos had become a rite of passage shared by millions of people in the modern age--everyone from clean-cut teenagers to hard-core drug users to suburban housewives.

The act of tattooing one's skin was a transformative declaration of power, an announcement to the world: I am in control of my own flesh. The intoxicating feeling of control derived from physical transformation had addicted millions to flesh-altering practices . . . cosmetic surgery, body piercing, bodybuilding, and steroids . . . even bulimia and transgendering. The human spirit craves mastery over its carnal shell.

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