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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(5)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(5)
Author: Dan Brown

The new security checkpoint for tourists entering the Capitol Building is located deep within the recently completed subterranean visitor center, beneath a magnificent glass skylight that frames the Capitol Dome. Newly hired security guard Alfonso Nunez carefully studied the male visitor now approaching his checkpoint. The man had a shaved head and had been lingering in the lobby, completing a phone call before entering the building. His right arm was in a sling, and he moved with a slight limp. He was wearing a tattered army-navy surplus coat, which, combined with his shaved head, made Nunez guess military. Those who had served in the U.S. armed forces were among the most common visitors to Washington.

"Good evening, sir," Nunez said, following the security protocol of verbally engaging any male visitor who entered alone.

"Hello," the visitor said, glancing around at the nearly deserted entry. "Quiet night."

"NFC play-offs," Nunez replied. "Everyone's watching the Redskins tonight." Nunez wished he were, too, but this was his first month on the job, and he'd drawn the short straw. "Metal objects in the dish, please."

As the visitor fumbled to empty the pockets of his long coat with his one working hand, Nunez watched him carefully. Human instinct made special allowances for the injured and handicapped, but it was an instinct Nunez had been trained to override.

Nunez waited while the visitor removed from his pockets the usual assortment of loose change, keys, and a couple of cell phones. "Sprain?" Nunez asked, eyeing the man's injured hand, which appeared to be wrapped in a series of thick Ace bandages.

The bald man nodded. "Slipped on the ice. A week ago. Still hurts like hell."

"Sorry to hear that. Walk through, please."

The visitor limped through the detector, and the machine buzzed in protest.

The visitor frowned. "I was afraid of that. I'm wearing a ring under these bandages. My finger was too swollen to get it off, so the doctors wrapped right over it."

"No problem," Nunez said. "I'll use the wand." Nunez ran the metal-detection wand over the visitor's wrapped hand. As expected, the only metal he detected was a large lump on the man's injured ring finger. Nunez took his time rubbing the metal detector over every inch of the man's sling and finger. He knew his supervisor was probably monitoring him on the closed circuit in the building's security center, and Nunez needed this job. Always better to be cautious. He carefully slid the wand up inside the man's sling.

The visitor winced in pain.

"Sorry."

"It's okay," the man said. "You can't be too careful these days."

"Ain't that the truth." Nunez liked this guy. Strangely, that counted for a lot around here. Human instinct was America's first line of defense against terrorism. It was a proven fact that human intuition was a more accurate detector of danger than all the electronic gear in the world--the gift of fear, as one of their security reference books termed it.

In this case, Nunez's instincts sensed nothing that caused him any fear. The only oddity that he noticed, now that they were standing so close, was that this tough-looking guy appeared to have used some kind of self-tanner or concealer makeup on his face. Whatever. Everyone hates to be pale in the winter.

"You're fine," Nunez said, completing his sweep and stowing the wand.

"Thanks." The man started collecting his belongings from the tray.

As he did, Nunez noticed that the two fingers protruding from his bandage each bore a tattoo; the tip of his index finger bore the image of a crown, and the tip of his thumb bore that of a star. Seems everyone has tattoos these days, Nunez thought, although the pads of his fingertips seemed like painful spots to get them. "Those tats hurt?"

The man glanced down at his fingertips and chuckled. "Less than you might think."

"Lucky," Nunez said. "Mine hurt a lot. I got a mermaid on my back when I was in boot camp."

"A mermaid?" The bald man chuckled.

"Yeah," he said, feeling sheepish. "The mistakes we make in our youth."

"I hear you," the bald man said. "I made a big mistake in my youth, too. Now I wake up with her every morning."

They both laughed as the man headed off. Child's play, Mal'akh thought as he moved past Nunez and up the escalator toward the Capitol Building. The entry had been easier than anticipated. Mal'akh's slouching posture and padded belly had hidden his true physique, while the makeup on his face and hands had hidden the tattoos that covered his body. The true genius, however, was the sling, which disguised the potent object Mal'akh was transporting into the building.

A gift for the one man on earth who can help me obtain what I seek.

CHAPTER 5

The world's largest and most technologically advanced museum is also one of the world's best- kept secrets. It houses more pieces than the Hermitage, the Vatican Museum, and the New York Metropolitan . . . combined. Yet despite its magnificent collection, few members of the public are ever invited inside its heavily guarded walls.

Located at 4210 Silver Hill Road just outside of Washington, D.C., the museum is a massive zigzag-shaped edifice constructed of five interconnected pods--each pod larger than a football field. The building's bluish metal exterior barely hints at the strangeness within--a six-hundred- thousand-square-foot alien world that contains a "dead zone," a "wet pod," and more than twelve miles of storage cabinets.

Tonight, scientist Katherine Solomon was feeling unsettled as she drove her white Volvo up to the building's main security gate.

The guard smiled. "Not a football fan, Ms. Solomon?" He lowered the volume on the Redskins play-off pregame show.

Katherine forced a tense smile. "It's Sunday night."

"Oh, that's right. Your meeting."

"Is he here yet?" she asked anxiously.

He glanced down at his paperwork. "I don't see him on the log."

"I'm early." Katherine gave a friendly wave and continued up the winding access road to her usual parking spot at the bottom of the small, two-tiered lot. She began collecting her things and gave herself a quick check in the rearview mirror--more out of force of habit than actual vanity.

Katherine Solomon had been blessed with the resilient Mediterranean skin of her ancestry, and even at fifty years old she had a smooth olive complexion. She used almost no makeup and wore her thick black hair unstyled and down. Like her older brother, Peter, she had gray eyes and a slender, patrician elegance.

You two might as well be twins, people often told them.

Their father had succumbed to cancer when Katherine was only seven, and she had little memory of him. Her brother, eight years Katherine's senior and only fifteen when their father died, had begun his journey toward becoming the Solomon patriarch much sooner than anyone had ever dreamed. As expected, though, Peter had grown into the role with the dignity and strength befitting their family name. To this day, he still watched over Katherine as though they were just kids.

Despite her brother's occasional prodding, and no shortage of suitors, Katherine had never married. Science had become her life partner, and her work had proven more fulfilling and exciting than any man could ever hope to be. Katherine had no regrets.

Her field of choice--Noetic Science--had been virtually unknown when she first heard of it, but in recent years it had started opening new doors of understanding into the power of the human mind.

Our untapped potential is truly shocking.

Katherine's two books on Noetics had established her as a leader in this obscure field, but her most recent discoveries, when published, promised to make Noetic Science a topic of mainstream conversation around the world.

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