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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(6)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(6)
Author: Dan Brown

Tonight, however, science was the last thing on her mind. Earlier in the day, she had received some truly upsetting information relating to her brother. I still can't believe it's true. She'd thought of nothing else all afternoon.

A pattering of light rain drummed on her windshield, and Katherine quickly gathered her things to get inside. She was about to step out of her car when her cell phone rang.

She checked the caller ID and inhaled deeply.

Then she tucked her hair behind her ears and settled in to take the call.

Six miles away, Mal'akh was moving through the corridors of the U.S. Capitol Building with a cell phone pressed to his ear. He waited patiently as the line rang.

Finally, a woman's voice answered. "Yes?"

"We need to meet again," Mal'akh said.

There was a long pause. "Is everything all right?" "I have new information," Mal'akh said.

"Tell me."

Mal'akh took a deep breath. "That which your brother believes is hidden in D.C. . . . ?"

"Yes?"

"It can be found."

Katherine Solomon sounded stunned. "You're telling me--it is real?"

Mal'akh smiled to himself. "Sometimes a legend that endures for centuries . . . endures for a reason."

CHAPTER 6

Is this as close as you can get?" Robert Langdon felt a sudden wave of anxiety as his driver parked on First Street, a good quarter mile from the Capitol Building.

"Afraid so," the driver said. "Homeland Security. No vehicles near landmark buildings anymore. I'm sorry, sir."

Langdon checked his watch, startled to see it was already 6:50. A construction zone around the National Mall had slowed them down, and his lecture was to begin in ten minutes.

"Weather's turning," the driver said, hopping out and opening Langdon's door for him. "You'll want to hurry." Langdon reached for his wallet to tip the driver, but the man waved him off. "Your host already added a very generous tip to the charge."

Typical Peter, Langdon thought, gathering his things. "Okay, thanks for the ride."

The first few raindrops began to fall as Langdon reached the top of the gracefully arched concourse that descended to the new "underground" visitors' entrance.

The Capitol Visitor Center had been a costly and controversial project. Described as an underground city to rival parts of Disney World, this subterranean space reportedly provided over a half-million square feet of space for exhibits, restaurants, and meeting halls.

Langdon had been looking forward to seeing it, although he hadn't anticipated quite this long a walk. The skies were threatening to open at any moment, and he broke into a jog, his loafers offering almost no traction on the wet cement. I dressed for a lecture, not a four-hundred-yard downhill dash through the rain!

When he arrived at the bottom, he was breathless and panting. Langdon pushed through the revolving door, taking a moment in the foyer to catch his breath and brush off the rain. As he did, he raised his eyes to the newly completed space before him.

Okay, I'm impressed.

The Capitol Visitor Center was not at all what he had expected. Because the space was underground, Langdon had been apprehensive about passing through it. A childhood accident had left him stranded at the bottom of a deep well overnight, and Langdon now lived with an almost crippling aversion to enclosed spaces. But this underground space was . . . airy somehow. Light. Spacious.

The ceiling was a vast expanse of glass with a series of dramatic light fixtures that threw a muted glow across the pearl-colored interior finishes.

Normally, Langdon would have taken a full hour in here to admire the architecture, but with five minutes until showtime, he put his head down and dashed through the main hall toward the security checkpoint and escalators. Relax, he told himself. Peter knows you're on your way. The event won't start without you.

At the security point, a young Hispanic guard chatted with him while Langdon emptied his pockets and removed his vintage watch.

"Mickey Mouse?" the guard said, sounding mildly amused.

Langdon nodded, accustomed to the comments. The collector's edition Mickey Mouse watch had been a gift from his parents on his ninth birthday. "I wear it to remind me to slow down and take life less seriously."

"I don't think it's working," the guard said with a smile. "You look like you're in a serious hurry."

Langdon smiled and put his daybag through the X-ray machine. "Which way to the Statuary Hall?"

The guard motioned toward the escalators. "You'll see the signs."

"Thanks." Langdon grabbed his bag off the conveyor and hurried on. As the escalator ascended, Langdon took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts. He gazed up through the rain-speckled glass ceiling at the mountainous form of the illuminated Capitol Dome overhead. It was an astonishing building. High atop her roof, almost three hundred feet in the air, the Statue of Freedom peered out into the misty darkness like a ghostly sentinel. Langdon always found it ironic that the workers who hoisted each piece of the nineteen-and-a-half-foot bronze statue to her perch were slaves--a Capitol secret that seldom made the syllabi of high school history classes.

This entire building, in fact, was a treasure trove of bizarre arcana that included a "killer bathtub" responsible for the pneumonic murder of Vice President Henry Wilson, a staircase with a permanent bloodstain over which an inordinate number of guests seemed to trip, and a sealed basement chamber in which workers in 1930 discovered General John Alexander Logan's long- deceased stuffed horse.

No legends were as enduring, however, as the claims of thirteen different ghosts that haunted this building. The spirit of city designer Pierre L'Enfant frequently was reported wandering the halls, seeking payment of his bill, now two hundred years overdue. The ghost of a worker who fell from the Capitol Dome during construction was seen wandering the corridors with a tray of tools. And, of course, the most famous apparition of all, reported numerous times in the Capitol basement--an ephemeral black cat that prowled the substructure's eerie maze of narrow passageways and cubicles.

Langdon stepped off the escalator and again checked his watch. Three minutes. He hurried down the wide corridor, following the signs toward the Statuary Hall and rehearsing his opening remarks in his head. Langdon had to admit that Peter's assistant had been correct; this lecture topic would be a perfect match for an event hosted in Washington, D.C., by a prominent Mason.

It was no secret that D.C. had a rich Masonic history. The cornerstone of this very building had been laid in a full Masonic ritual by George Washington himself. This city had been conceived and designed by Master Masons--George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Pierre L'Enfant-- powerful minds who adorned their new capital with Masonic symbolism, architecture, and art.

Of course, people see in those symbols all kinds of crazy ideas.

Many conspiracy theorists claimed the Masonic forefathers had concealed powerful secrets throughout Washington along with symbolic messages hidden in the city's layout of streets. Langdon never paid any attention. Misinformation about the Masons was so commonplace that even educated Harvard students seemed to have surprisingly warped conceptions about the brotherhood.

Last year, a freshman had rushed wild-eyed into Langdon's classroom with a printout from the Web. It was a street map of D.C. on which certain streets had been highlighted to form various shapes--satanic pentacles, a Masonic compass and square, the head of Baphomet--proof apparently that the Masons who designed Washington, D.C., were involved in some kind of dark, mystical conspiracy. "Fun," Langdon said, "but hardly convincing. If you draw enough intersecting lines on a map, you're bound to find all kinds of shapes."

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