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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(4)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(4)
Author: Dan Brown

Langdon felt a sudden concern for his old friend. Peter Solomon was impeccably well-bred and courteous, and certainly not the kind of man to call at daybreak on a Sunday unless something was very wrong.

Langdon left his coffee half made and hurried toward his study to return the call.

I hope he's okay.

Peter Solomon had been a friend, mentor, and, although only twelve years Langdon's senior, a father figure to him ever since their first meeting at Princeton University. As a sophomore, Langdon had been required to attend an evening guest lecture by the well-known young historian and philanthropist. Solomon had spoken with a contagious passion, presenting a dazzling vision of semiotics and archetypal history that had sparked in Langdon what would later become his lifelong passion for symbols. It was not Peter Solomon's brilliance, however, but the humility in his gentle gray eyes that had given Langdon the courage to write him a thank-you letter. The young sophomore had never dreamed that Peter Solomon, one of America's wealthiest and most intriguing young intellectuals, would ever write back. But Solomon did. And it had been the beginning of a truly gratifying friendship.

A prominent academic whose quiet manner belied his powerful heritage, Peter Solomon came from the ultrawealthy Solomon family, whose names appeared on buildings and universities all over the nation. Like the Rothschilds in Europe, the surname Solomon had always carried the mystique of American royalty and success. Peter had inherited the mantle at a young age after the death of his father, and now, at fifty-eight, he had held numerous positions of power in his life. He currently served as the head of the Smithsonian Institution. Langdon occasionally ribbed Peter that the lone tarnish on his sterling pedigree was his diploma from a second-rate university--Yale.

Now, as Langdon entered his study, he was surprised to see that he had received a fax from Peter as well.

Peter Solomon

OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

Good morning, Robert,

I need to speak with you at once. Please call me this morning as soon as you can at 202-329- 5746.

Peter

Langdon immediately dialed the number, sitting down at his hand-carved oak desk to wait as the call went through.

"Office of Peter Solomon," the familiar voice of the assistant answered. "This is Anthony. May I help you?"

"Hello, this is Robert Langdon. You left me a message earlier--"

"Yes, Professor Langdon!" The young man sounded relieved. "Thank you for calling back so quickly. Mr. Solomon is eager to speak to you. Let me tell him you're on the line. May I put you on hold?"

"Of course."

As Langdon waited for Solomon to get on the line, he gazed down at Peter's name atop the Smithsonian letterhead and had to smile. Not many slackers in the Solomon clan. Peter's ancestral tree burgeoned with the names of wealthy business magnates, influential politicians, and a number of distinguished scientists, some even fellows of London's Royal Society. Solomon's only living family member, his younger sister, Katherine, had apparently inherited the science gene, because she was now a leading figure in a new cutting-edge discipline called Noetic Science.

All Greek to me, Langdon thought, amused to recall Katherine's unsuccessful attempt to explain Noetic Science to him at a party at her brother's home last year. Langdon had listened carefully and then replied, "Sounds more like magic than science."

Katherine winked playfully. "They're closer than you think, Robert."

Now Solomon's assistant returned to the phone. "I'm sorry, Mr. Solomon is trying to get off a conference call. Things are a little chaotic here this morning."

"That's not a problem. I can easily call back."

"Actually, he asked me to fill you in on his reason for contacting you, if you don't mind?"

"Of course not."

The assistant inhaled deeply. "As you probably know, Professor, every year here in Washington, the board of the Smithsonian hosts a private gala to thank our most generous supporters. Many of the country's cultural elite attend."

Langdon knew his own bank account had too few zeros to qualify him as culturally elite, but he wondered if maybe Solomon was going to invite him to attend nonetheless.

"This year, as is customary," the assistant continued, "the dinner will be preceded by a keynote address. We've been lucky enough to secure the National Statuary Hall for that speech."

The best room in all of D.C., Langdon thought, recalling a political lecture he had once attended in the dramatic semicircular hall. It was hard to forget five hundred folding chairs splayed in a perfect arc, surrounded by thirty-eight life-size statues, in a room that had once served as the nation's original House of Representatives chamber.

"The problem is this," the man said. "Our speaker has fallen ill and has just informed us she will be unable to give the address." He paused awkwardly. "This means we are desperate for a replacement speaker. And Mr. Solomon is hoping you would consider filling in."

Langdon did a double take. "Me?" This was not at all what he had expected. "I'm sure Peter could find a far better substitute."

"You're Mr. Solomon's first choice, Professor, and you're being much too modest. The institution's guests would be thrilled to hear from you, and Mr. Solomon thought you could give the same lecture you gave on Bookspan TV a few years back? That way, you wouldn't have to prepare a thing. He said your talk involved symbolism in the architecture of our nation's capital--it sounds absolutely perfect for the venue."

Langdon was not so sure. "If I recall, that lecture had more to do with the Masonic history of the building than--"

"Exactly! As you know, Mr. Solomon is a Mason, as are many of his professional friends who will be in attendance. I'm sure they would love to hear you speak on the topic."

I admit it would be easy. Langdon had kept the lecture notes from every talk he'd ever given. "I suppose I could consider it. What date is the event?"

The assistant cleared his throat, sounding suddenly uncomfortable. "Well, actually, sir, it's tonight."

Langdon laughed out loud. "Tonight?!"

"That's why it's so hectic here this morning. The Smithsonian is in a deeply embarrassing predicament . . ." The assistant spoke more hurriedly now. "Mr. Solomon is ready to send a private jet to Boston for you. The flight is only an hour, and you would be back home before midnight. You're familiar with the private air terminal at Boston's Logan Airport?"

"I am," Langdon admitted reluctantly. No wonder Peter always gets his way.

"Wonderful! Would you be willing to meet the jet there at say . . . five o'clock?"

"You haven't left me much choice, have you?" Langdon chuckled.

"I just want to make Mr. Solomon happy, sir."

Peter has that effect on people. Langdon considered it a long moment, seeing no way out. "All right. Tell him I can do it."

"Outstanding!" the assistant exclaimed, sounding deeply relieved. He gave Langdon the jet's tail number and various other information.

When Langdon finally hung up, he wondered if Peter Solomon had ever been told no.

Returning to his coffee preparation, Langdon scooped some additional beans into the grinder. A little extra caffeine this morning, he thought. It's going to be a long day.

CHAPTER 4

The U.S. Capitol Building stands regally at the eastern end of the National Mall, on a raised plateau that city designer Pierre L'Enfant described as "a pedestal waiting for a monument." The Capitol's massive footprint measures more than 750 feet in length and 350 feet deep. Housing more than sixteen acres of floor space, it contains an astonishing 541 rooms. The neoclassical architecture is meticulously designed to echo the grandeur of ancient Rome, whose ideals were the inspiration for America's founders in establishing the laws and culture of the new republic.

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