Mal'akh could feel the tattooed muscles on his back rippling as he sprinted back around the building toward the open bay door of Pod 5.
I must gain access to her lab.
Katherine's escape had been unanticipated . . . and problematic. Not only did she know where Mal'akh lived, she now knew his true identity . . . and that he was the one who had invaded their home a decade earlier.
Mal'akh had not forgotten that night either. He had come within inches of possessing the pyramid, but destiny had obstructed him. I was not yet ready. But he was ready now. More powerful. More influential. Having endured unthinkable hardship in preparation for his return, Mal'akh was poised tonight to fulfill his destiny at last. He felt certain that before the night was over, he would indeed be staring into the dying eyes of Katherine Solomon.
As Mal'akh reached the bay door, he reassured himself that Katherine had not truly escaped; she had only prolonged the inevitable. He slid through the opening and strode confidently across the darkness until his feet hit the carpet. Then he took a right turn and headed for the Cube. The banging on the door of Pod 5 had stopped, and Mal'akh suspected the guard was now trying to remove the dime Mal'akh had jammed into the key panel to render it useless.
When Mal'akh reached the door that led into the Cube, he located the outer keypad and inserted Trish's key card. The panel lit up. He entered Trish's PIN and went inside. The lights were all ablaze, and as he moved into the sterile space, he squinted in amazement at the dazzling array of equipment. Mal'akh was no stranger to the power of technology; he performed his own breed of science in the basement of his home, and last night some of that science had borne fruit.
Peter Solomon's unique confinement--trapped alone in the in-between--had laid bare all of the man's secrets. I can see his soul. Mal'akh had learned certain secrets he anticipated, and others he had not, including the news about Katherine's lab and her shocking discoveries. Science is getting close, Mal'akh had realized. And I will not allow it to light the way for the unworthy.
Katherine's work here had begun using modern science to answer ancient philosophical questions. Does anyone hear our prayers? Is there life after death? Do humans have souls? Incredibly, Katherine had answered all of these questions, and more. Scientifically. Conclusively. The methods she used were irrefutable. Even the most skeptical of people would be persuaded by the results of her experiments. If this information were published and made known, a fundamental shift would begin in the consciousness of man. They will start to find their way. Mal'akh's last task tonight, before his transformation, was to ensure that this did not happen.
As he moved through the lab, Mal'akh located the data room that Peter had told him about. He peered through the heavy glass walls at the two holographic data-storage units. Exactly as he said they would be. Mal'akh found it hard to imagine that the contents of these little boxes could change the course of human development, and yet Truth had always been the most potent of all the catalysts.
Eyeing the holographic storage units, Mal'akh produced Trish's key card and inserted it in the door's security panel. To his surprise, the panel did not light up. Apparently, access to this room was not a trust extended to Trish Dunne. He now reached for the key card he had found in Katherine's lab-coat pocket. When he inserted this one, the panel lit up.
Mal'akh had a problem. I never got Katherine's PIN. He tried Trish's PIN, but it didn't work. Stroking his chin, he stepped back and examined the three-inch-thick Plexiglas door. Even with an ax, he knew he would be unable to break through and obtain the drives he needed to destroy.
Mal'akh had planned for this contingency, however. Inside the power-supply room, exactly as Peter had described, Mal'akh located the rack holding several metal cylinders resembling large scuba tanks. The cylinders bore the letters LH, the number 2, and the universal symbol for combustible. One of the canisters was connected to the lab's hydrogen fuel cell.
Mal'akh left one canister connected and carefully heaved one of the reserve cylinders down onto a dolly beside the rack. Then he rolled the cylinder out of the power-supply room, across the lab, to the Plexiglas door of the data-storage room. Although this location would certainly be plenty close enough, he had noticed one weakness in the heavy Plexiglas door--the small space between the bottom and the jamb.
At the threshold, he carefully laid the canister on its side and slid the flexible rubber tube beneath the door. It took him a moment to remove the safety seals and access the cylinder's valve, but once he did, ever so gently, he uncocked the valve. Through the Plexiglas, he could see the clear, bubbling liquid begin draining out of the tube onto the floor inside the storage room. Mal'akh watched the puddle expand, oozing across the floor, steaming and bubbling as it grew. Hydrogen remained in liquid form only when it was cold, and as it warmed up, it would start to boil off. The resulting gas, conveniently, was even more flammable than the liquid.
Remember the Hindenburg.
Mal'akh hurried now into the lab and retrieved the Pyrex jug of Bunsen-burner fuel--a viscous, highly flammable, yet noncombustible oil. He carried it to the Plexiglas door, pleased to see the liquid hydrogen canister was still draining, the puddle of boiling liquid inside the data-storage room now covering the entire floor, encircling the pedestals that supported the holographic storage units. A whitish mist now rose from the boiling puddle as the liquid hydrogen began turning to gas . . . filling the small space.
Mal'akh raised the jug of Bunsen-burner fuel and squirted a healthy amount on the hydrogen canister, the tubing, and into the small opening beneath the door. Then, very carefully, he began backing out of the lab, leaving an unbroken stream of oil on the floor as he went.
The dispatch operator handling 911 calls for Washington, D.C., had been unusually busy tonight. Football, beer, and a full moon, she thought as yet another emergency call appeared on her screen, this one from a gas-station pay phone on the Suitland Parkway in Anacostia. A car accident probably.
"Nine-one-one," she answered. "What is your emergency?"
"I was just attacked at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center," a panicked woman's voice said. "Please send the police! Forty-two-ten Silver Hill Road!"
"Okay, slow down," the operator said. "You need to--"
"I need you to send officers also to a mansion in Kalorama Heights where I think my brother may be held captive!"
The operator sighed. Full moon.
As I tried to tell you," Bellamy was saying to Langdon, "there is more to this pyramid than meets the eye."
Apparently so. Langdon had to admit that the stone pyramid sitting in his unzipped daybag looked much more mysterious to him now. His decryption of the Masonic cipher had rendered a seemingly meaningless grid of letters.
For a long while, Langdon examined the grid, searching for any hint of meaning within the letters--hidden words, anagrams, clues of any sort--but he found nothing.
"The Masonic Pyramid," Bellamy explained, "is said to guard its secrets behind many veils. Each time you pull back a curtain, you face another. You have unveiled these letters, and yet they tell you nothing until you peel back another layer. Of course, the way to do that is known only to the one who holds the capstone. The capstone, I suspect, has an inscription as well, which tells you how to decipher the pyramid."
Langdon glanced at the cube-shaped package on the desk. From what Bellamy had said, Langdon now understood that the capstone and pyramid were a "segmented cipher"--a code broken into pieces. Modern cryptologists used segmented ciphers all the time, although the security scheme had been invented in ancient Greece. The Greeks, when they wanted to store secret information, inscribed it on a clay tablet and then shattered the tablet into pieces, storing each piece in a separate location. Only when all the pieces were gathered together could the secrets be read. This kind of inscribed clay tablet--called a symbolon--was in fact the origin of the modern word symbol.
"Robert," Bellamy said, "this pyramid and capstone have been kept apart for generations, ensuring the secret's safety." His tone turned rueful. "Tonight, however, the pieces have come dangerously close. I'm sure I don't have to say this . . . but it is our duty to ensure this pyramid is not assembled."
Langdon found Bellamy's sense of drama to be somewhat overwrought. Is he describing the capstone and pyramid . . . or a detonator and nuclear bomb? He still couldn't quite accept Bellamy's claims, but it hardly seemed to matter. "Even if this is the Masonic Pyramid, and even if this inscription does somehow reveal the location of ancient knowledge, how could that knowledge possibly impart the kind of power it is said to impart?"
"Peter always told me you were a hard man to convince--an academic who prefers proof to speculation."
"You're saying you do believe that?" Langdon demanded, feeling impatient now. "Respectfully . . . you are a modern, educated man. How could you believe such a thing?"
Bellamy gave a patient smile. "The craft of Freemasonry has given me a deep respect for that which transcends human understanding. I've learned never to close my mind to an idea simply because it seems miraculous."
Frantically, the SMSC perimeter patrolman dashed down the gravel pathway that ran along the outside of the building. He'd just received a call from an officer inside saying that the keypad to Pod 5 had been sabotaged, and that a security light indicated that Pod 5's specimen bay door was now open.
What the hell is going on?! As he arrived at the specimen bay, sure enough he found the door open a couple of feet. Bizarre, he thought. This can only be unlocked from the inside. He took the flashlight off his belt and shone it into the inky blackness of the pod. Nothing. Having no desire to step into the unknown, he moved only as far as the threshold and then stuck the flashlight through the opening, swinging it to the left, and then to the--
Powerful hands seized his wrist and yanked him into the blackness. The guard felt himself being spun around by an invisible force. He smelled ethanol. The flashlight flew out of his hand, and before he could even process what was happening, a rock-hard fist collided with his sternum. The guard crumpled to the cement floor . . . groaning in pain as a large black form stepped away from him.
The guard lay on his side, gasping and wheezing for breath. His flashlight lay nearby, its beam spilling across the floor and illuminating what appeared to be a metal can of some sort. The can's label said it was fuel oil for a Bunsen burner.
A cigarette lighter sparked, and the orange flame illuminated a vision that hardly seemed human. Jesus Christ! The guard barely had time to process what he was seeing before the bare-chested creature knelt down and touched the flame to the floor.
Instantly, a strip of fire materialized, leaping away from them, racing into the void. Bewildered, the guard looked back, but the creature was already slipping out the open bay door into the night.
The guard managed to sit up, wincing in pain as his eyes followed the thin ribbon of fire. What the hell?! The flame looked too small to be truly dangerous, and yet now he saw something utterly terrifying. The fire was no longer illuminating only the darkened void. It had traveled all the way to the back wall, where it was now illuminating a massive cinder-block structure. The guard had never been permitted inside Pod 5, but he knew very well what this structure must be.
Katherine Solomon's lab.
The flame raced in a straight line directly to the lab's outer door. The guard clambered to his feet, knowing full well that the ribbon of oil probably continued beneath the lab door . . . and would soon start a fire inside. But as he turned to run for help, he felt an unexpected puff of air sucking past him.
For a brief instant, all of Pod 5 was bathed in light.
The guard never saw the hydrogen fireball erupting skyward, ripping the roof off Pod 5 and billowing hundreds of feet into the air. Nor did he see the sky raining fragments of titanium mesh, electronic equipment, and droplets of melted silicon from the lab's holographic storage units. Katherine Solomon was driving north when she saw the sudden flash of light in her rearview mirror. A deep rumble thundered through the night air, startling her.
Fireworks? she wondered. Do the Redskins have a halftime show?
She refocused on the road, her thoughts still on the 911 call she'd placed from the deserted gas station's pay phone.
Katherine had successfully convinced the 911 dispatcher to send the police to the SMSC to investigate a tattooed intruder and, Katherine prayed, to find her assistant, Trish. In addition, she urged the dispatcher to check Dr. Abaddon's address in Kalorama Heights, where she thought Peter was being held hostage.
Unfortunately, Katherine had been unable to obtain Robert Langdon's unlisted cell-phone number. So now, seeing no other option, she was speeding toward the Library of Congress, where Langdon had told her he was headed.
The terrifying revelation of Dr. Abaddon's true identity had changed everything. Katherine had no idea what to believe anymore. All she knew for certain was that the same man who had killed her mother and nephew all those years ago had now captured her brother and had come to kill her. Who is this madman? What does he want? The only answer she could come up with made no sense. A pyramid? Equally confusing was why this man had come to her lab tonight. If he wanted to hurt her, why hadn't he done so in the privacy of his own home earlier today? Why go to the trouble of sending a text message and risk breaking into her lab?
Unexpectedly, the fireworks in her rearview mirror grew brighter, the initial flash followed by an unexpected sight--a blazing orange fireball that Katherine could see rising above the tree line. What in the world?! The fireball was accompanied by dark black smoke . . . and it was nowhere near the Redskins' FedEx Field. Bewildered, she tried to determine what industry might be located on the other side of those trees . . . just southeast of the parkway.
Then, like an oncoming truck, it hit her.
Warren Bellamy stabbed urgently at the buttons on his cell phone, trying again to make contact with someone who could help them, whoever that might be.
Langdon watched Bellamy, but his mind was with Peter, trying to figure out how best to find him. Decipher the engraving, Peter's captor had commanded, and it will tell you the hiding place of mankind's greatest treasure . . . We will go together . . . and make our trade.
Bellamy hung up, frowning. Still no answer.
"Here's what I don't understand," Langdon said. "Even if I could somehow accept that this hidden wisdom exists . . . and that this pyramid somehow points to its underground location . . . what am I looking for? A vault? A bunker?"
Bellamy sat quietly for a long moment. Then he gave a reluctant sigh and spoke guardedly. "Robert, according to what I've heard through the years, the pyramid leads to the entrance of a spiral staircase."
"That's right. A staircase that leads down into the earth . . . many hundreds of feet."
Langdon could not believe what he was hearing. He leaned closer.
"I've heard it said that the ancient wisdom is buried at the bottom."
Robert Langdon stood up and began pacing. A spiral staircase descending hundreds of feet into the earth . . . in Washington, D.C. "And nobody has ever seen this staircase?"
"Allegedly the entrance has been covered with an enormous stone."
Langdon sighed. The idea of a tomb covered with an enormous stone was right out of the biblical accounts of Jesus' tomb. This archetypal hybrid was the grandfather of them all. "Warren, do you believe this secret mystical staircase into the earth exists?"
"I've never seen it personally, but a few of the older Masons swear it exists. I was trying to call one of them just now."
Langdon continued pacing, uncertain what to say next.
"Robert, you leave me a difficult task with respect to this pyramid." Warren Bellamy's gaze hardened in the soft glow of the reading lamp. "I know of no way to force a man to believe what he does not want to believe. And yet I hope you understand your duty to Peter Solomon."
Yes, I have a duty to help him, Langdon thought.
"I don't need you to believe in the power this pyramid can unveil. Nor do I need you to believe in the staircase it supposedly leads to. But I do need you to believe that you are morally obliged to protect this secret . . . whatever it may be." Bellamy motioned to the little cube-shaped package. "Peter entrusted the capstone to you because he had faith you would obey his wishes and keep it secret. And now you must do exactly that, even if it means sacrificing Peter's life." Langdon stopped short and wheeled around. "What?!"
Bellamy remained seated, his expression pained but resolute. "It's what he would want. You need to forget Peter. He's gone. Peter did his job, doing the best he could to protect the pyramid. Now it is our job to make sure his efforts were not in vain."
"I can't believe you're saying this!" Langdon exclaimed, temper flaring. "Even if this pyramid is everything you say it is, Peter is your Masonic brother. You're sworn to protect him above all else, even your country!"
"No, Robert. A Mason must protect a fellow Mason above all things . . . except one--the great secret our brotherhood protects for all mankind. Whether or not I believe this lost wisdom has the potential that history suggests, I have taken a vow to keep it out of the hands of the unworthy. And I would not give it over to anyone . . . even in exchange for Peter Solomon's life."
"I know plenty of Masons," Langdon said angrily, "including the most advanced, and I'm damned sure these men are not sworn to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a stone pyramid. And I'm also damned sure none of them believes in a secret staircase that descends to a treasure buried deep in the earth."
"There are circles within circles, Robert. Not everyone knows everything."
Langdon exhaled, trying to control his emotions. He, like everyone, had heard the rumors of elite circles within the Masons. Whether or not it was true seemed irrelevant in the face of this situation. "Warren, if this pyramid and capstone truly reveal the ultimate Masonic secret, then why would Peter involve me? I'm not even a brother . . . much less part of any inner circle."
"I know, and I suspect that is precisely why Peter chose you to guard it. This pyramid has been targeted in the past, even by those who infiltrated our brotherhood with unworthy motives. Peter's choice to store it outside the brotherhood was a clever one."
"Were you aware I had the capstone?" Langdon asked.
"No. And if Peter told anyone at all, it would have been only one man." Bellamy pulled out his cell phone and hit redial. "And so far, I've been unable to reach him." He got a voice-mail greeting and hung up. "Well, Robert, it looks like you and I are on our own for the moment. And we have a decision to make."
Langdon looked at his Mickey Mouse watch. 9:42 P.M. "You do realize that Peter's captor is waiting for me to decipher this pyramid tonight and tell him what it says."
Bellamy frowned. "Great men throughout history have made deep personal sacrifices to protect the Ancient Mysteries. You and I must do the same." He stood up now. "We should keep moving. Sooner or later Sato will figure out where we are." "What about Katherine?!" Langdon demanded, not wanting to leave. "I can't reach her, and she never called."
"Obviously, something happened."
"But we can't just abandon her!"
"Forget Katherine!" Bellamy said, his voice commanding now. "Forget Peter! Forget everyone! Don't you understand, Robert, that you've been entrusted with a duty that is bigger than all of us--you, Peter, Katherine, myself?" He locked eyes with Langdon. "We need to find a safe place to hide this pyramid and capstone far from--"
A loud metallic crash echoed in the direction of the great hall.
Bellamy wheeled, eyes filling with fear. "That was fast."
Langdon turned toward the door. The sound apparently had come from the metal bucket that Bellamy had placed on the ladder blocking the tunnel doors. They're coming for us.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the crash echoed again.
The homeless man on the bench in front of the Library of Congress rubbed his eyes and watched the strange scene unfolding before him.
A white Volvo had just jumped the curb, lurched across the deserted pedestrian walkway, and screeched to a halt at the foot of the library's main entrance. An attractive, dark-haired woman had leaped out, anxiously surveyed the area, and, spotting the homeless man, had shouted, "Do you have a phone?"
Lady, I don't have a left shoe.
Apparently realizing as much, the woman dashed up the staircase toward the library's main doors. Arriving at the top of the stairs, she grabbed the handle and tried desperately to open each of the three giant doors.
The library's closed, lady.
But the woman didn't seem to care. She seized one of the heavy ring-shaped handles, heaved it backward, and let it fall with a loud crash against the door. Then she did it again. And again. And again.
Wow, the homeless man thought, she must really need a book.
When Katherine Solomon finally saw the massive bronze doors of the library swing open before her, she felt as if an emotional floodgate had burst. All the fear and confusion she had bottled up tonight came pouring through.
The figure in the library doorway was Warren Bellamy, a friend and confidant of her brother's. But it was the man behind Bellamy in the shadows whom Katherine felt happiest to see. The feeling was apparently mutual. Robert Langdon's eyes filled with relief as she rushed through the doorway . . . directly into his arms.
As Katherine lost herself in the comforting embrace of an old friend, Bellamy closed the front door. She heard the heavy lock click into place, and at last she felt safe. Tears came unexpectedly, but she fought them back.
Langdon held her. "It's okay," he whispered. "You're okay."
Because you saved me, Katherine wanted to tell him. He destroyed my lab . . . all my work. Years of research . . . up in smoke. She wanted to tell him everything, but she could barely breathe.
"We'll find Peter." Langdon's deep voice resonated against her chest, comforting her somehow. "I promise."
I know who did this! Katherine wanted to yell. The same man who killed my mother and nephew! Before she could explain herself, an unexpected sound broke the silence of the library.
The loud crash echoed up from beneath them in a vestibule stairwell--as if a large metal object had fallen on a tile floor. Katherine felt Langdon's muscles stiffen instantly.
Bellamy stepped forward, his expression dire. "We're leaving. Now."
Bewildered, Katherine followed as the Architect and Langdon hurried across the great hall toward the library's famed reading room, which was ablaze with light. Bellamy quickly locked the two sets of doors behind them, first the outer, then the inner.
Katherine followed in a daze as Bellamy hustled them both toward the center of the room. The threesome arrived at a reading desk where a leather bag sat beneath a light. Beside the bag, there was a tiny cube-shaped package, which Bellamy scooped up and placed inside the bag, alongside a-- Katherine stopped short. A pyramid?
Although she had never seen this engraved stone pyramid, she felt her entire body recoil in recognition. Somehow her gut knew the truth. Katherine Solomon had just come face-to-face with the object that had so deeply damaged her life. The pyramid.
Bellamy zipped up the bag and handed it to Langdon. "Don't let this out of your sight."
A sudden explosion rocked the room's outer doors. The tinkling of shattered glass followed.
"This way!" Bellamy spun, looking scared now as he rushed them over to the central circulation desk--eight counters around a massive octagonal cabinet. He guided them in behind the counters and then pointed to an opening in the cabinet. "Get in there!"
"In there?" Langdon demanded. "They'll find us for sure!"
"Trust me," Bellamy said. "It's not what you think."
Mal'akh gunned his limousine north toward Kalorama Heights. The explosion in Katherine's lab had been bigger than he had anticipated, and he had been lucky to escape unscathed. Conveniently, the ensuing chaos had enabled him to slip out without opposition, powering his limousine past a distracted gate guard who was busy yelling into a telephone.
I've got to get off the road, he thought. If Katherine hadn't yet phoned the police, the explosion would certainly draw their attention. And a shirtless man driving a limousine would be hard to miss.
After years of preparation, Mal'akh could scarcely believe the night was now upon him. The journey to this moment had been a long, difficult one. What began years ago in misery . . . will end tonight in glory.
On the night it all began, he had not had the name Mal'akh. In fact, on the night it all began, he had not had any name at all. Inmate 37. Like most of the prisoners at the brutal Soganlik Prison outside of Istanbul, Inmate 37 was here because of drugs.
He had been lying on his bunk in a cement cell, hungry and cold in the darkness, wondering how long he would be incarcerated. His new cellmate, whom he'd met only twenty-four hours ago, was sleeping in the bunk above him. The prison administrator, an obese alcoholic who hated his job and took it out on the inmates, had just killed all the lights for the night.
It was almost ten o'clock when Inmate 37 heard the conversation filtering in through the ventilation shaft. The first voice was unmistakably clear--the piercing, belligerent accent of the prison administrator, who clearly did not appreciate being woken up by a late-night visitor.
"Yes, yes, you've come a long way," he was saying, "but there are no visitors for the first month. State regulations. No exceptions."
The voice that replied was soft and refined, filled with pain. "Is my son safe?"
"He is a drug addict."
"Is he being treated well?"
"Well enough," the administrator said. "This is not a hotel."
There was a pained pause. "You do realize the U.S. State Department will request extradition."
"Yes, yes, they always do. It will be granted, although the paperwork might take us a couple of weeks . . . or even a month . . . depending."
"Depending on what?"
"Well," the administrator said, "we are understaffed." He paused. "Of course, sometimes concerned parties like yourself make donations to the prison staff to help us push things through more quickly."
The visitor did not reply.
"Mr. Solomon," the administrator continued, lowering his voice, "for a man like yourself, for whom money is no object, there are always options. I know people in government. If you and I work together, we may be able to get your son out of here . . . tomorrow, with all the charges dropped. He would not even have to face prosecution at home."
The response was immediate. "Forgetting the legal ramifications of your suggestion, I refuse to teach my son that money solves all problems or that there is no accountability in life, especially in a serious matter like this."
"You'd like to leave him here?"
"I'd like to speak to him. Right now."
"As I said, we have rules. Your son is unavailable to you . . . unless you would like to negotiate his immediate release." A cold silence hung for several moments. "The State Department will be contacting you. Keep Zachary safe. I expect him on a plane home within the week. Good night."
The door slammed.
Inmate 37 could not believe his ears. What kind of father leaves his son in this hellhole in order to teach him a lesson? Peter Solomon had even rejected an offer to clear Zachary's record.
It was later that night, lying awake in his bunk, that Inmate 37 had realized how he would free himself. If money was the only thing separating a prisoner from freedom, then Inmate 37 was as good as free. Peter Solomon might not be willing to part with money, but as anyone who read the tabloids knew, his son, Zachary, had plenty of money, too. The next day, Inmate 37 spoke privately to the administrator and suggested a plan--a bold, ingenious scheme that would give them both exactly what they wanted.
"Zachary Solomon would have to die for this to work," explained Inmate 37. "But we could both disappear immediately. You could retire to the Greek Islands. You would never see this place again."
After some discussion, the two men shook hands. Soon Zachary Solomon will be dead, Inmate 37 thought, smiling to think how easy it would be.
It was two days later that the State Department contacted the Solomon family with the horrific news. The prison snapshots showed their son's brutally bludgeoned body, lying curled and lifeless on the floor of his prison cell. His head had been bashed in by a steel bar, and the rest of him was battered and twisted beyond what was humanly imaginable. He appeared to have been tortured and finally killed. The prime suspect was the prison administrator himself, who had disappeared, probably with all of the murdered boy's money. Zachary had signed papers moving his vast fortune into a private numbered account, which had been emptied immediately following his death. There was no telling where the money was now.
Peter Solomon flew to Turkey on a private jet and returned with their son's casket, which they buried in the Solomon family cemetery. The prison administrator was never found. Nor would he be, Inmate 37 knew. The Turk's rotund body was now resting at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara, feeding the blue manna crabs that migrated in through the Bosporus Strait. The vast fortune belonging to Zachary Solomon had all been moved to an untraceable numbered account. Inmate 37 was a free man again--a free man with a massive fortune.
The Greek Islands were like heaven. The light. The water. The women.
There was nothing money couldn't buy--new identities, new passports, new hope. He chose a Greek name--Andros Dareios--Andros meaning "warrior," and Dareios meaning "wealthy." The dark nights in prison had frightened him, and Andros vowed never to go back. He shaved off his shaggy hair and shunned the drug world entirely. He began life anew--exploring never- before-imagined sensual pleasures. The serenity of sailing alone on the ink-blue Aegean Sea became his new heroin trance; the sensuality of sucking moist arni souvlakia right off the skewer became his new Ecstasy; and the rush of cliff diving into the foam-filled ravines of Mykonos became his new cocaine.
I am reborn.
Andros bought a sprawling villa on the island of Syros and settled in among the bella gente in the exclusive town of Possidonia. This new world was a community not only of wealth, but of culture and physical perfection. His neighbors took great pride in their bodies and minds, and it was contagious. The newcomer suddenly found himself jogging on the beach, tanning his pale body, and reading books. Andros read Homer's Odyssey, captivated by the images of powerful bronze men doing battle on these islands. The next day, he began lifting weights, and was amazed to see how quickly his chest and arms grew larger. Gradually, he began to feel women's eyes on him, and the admiration was intoxicating. He longed to grow stronger still. And he did. With the help of aggressive cycles of steroids intermixed with black-market growth hormones and endless hours of weight lifting, Andros transformed himself into something he had never imagined he could be--a perfect male specimen. He grew in both height and musculature, developing flawless pectorals and massive, sinewy legs, which he kept perfectly tanned.
Everyone was looking now.
As Andros had been warned, the heavy steroids and hormones changed not only his body, but also his voice box, giving him an eerie, breathy whisper, which made him feel more mysterious. The soft, enigmatic voice, combined with his new body, his wealth, and his refusal to speak about his mysterious past, served as catnip for the women who met him. They gave themselves willingly, and he satisfied them all--from fashion models visiting his island on photo shoots, to nubile American college girls on vacation, to the lonely wives of his neighbors, to the occasional young man. They could not get enough.
I am a masterpiece.
As the years passed, however, Andros's sexual adventures began to lose their thrill. As did everything. The island's sumptuous cuisine lost its taste, books no longer held his interest, and even the dazzling sunsets from his villa looked dull. How could this be? He was only in his midtwenties, and yet he felt old. What more is there to life? He had sculpted his body into a masterpiece; he had educated himself and nourished his mind with culture; he had made his home in paradise; and he had the love of anyone he desired.
And yet, incredibly, he felt as empty as he had in that Turkish prison.
What is it I am missing?
The answer had come to him several months later. Andros was sitting alone in his villa, absently surfing channels in the middle of the night, when he stumbled across a program about the secrets of Freemasonry. The show was poorly done, posing more questions than answers, and yet he found himself intrigued by the plethora of conspiracy theories surrounding the brotherhood. The narrator described legend after legend.
Freemasons and the New World Order . . .
The Great Masonic Seal of the United States . . .
The P2 Masonic Lodge . . .
The Lost Secret of Freemasonry . . .
The Masonic Pyramid . . .
Andros sat up, startled. Pyramid. The narrator began recounting the story of a mysterious stone pyramid whose encrypted engraving promised to lead to lost wisdom and unfathomable power. The story, though seemingly implausible, sparked in him a distant memory . . . a faint recollection from a much darker time. Andros remembered what Zachary Solomon had heard from his father about a mysterious pyramid.
Could it be? Andros strained to recall the details.
When the show ended, he stepped out onto the balcony, letting the cool air clear his mind. He remembered more now, and as it all came back, he began to sense there might be some truth to this legend after all. And if so, then Zachary Solomon--although long dead--still had something to offer.
What do I have to lose?
Three weeks later, his timing carefully planned, Andros stood in the frigid cold outside the conservatory of the Solomons' Potomac estate. Through the glass, he could see Peter Solomon chatting and laughing with his sister, Katherine. It looks like they've had no trouble forgetting Zachary, he thought.
Before he pulled the ski mask over his face, Andros took a hit of cocaine, his first in ages. He felt the familiar rush of fearlessness. He pulled out a handgun, used an old key to unlock the door, and stepped inside. "Hello, Solomons."
Unfortunately, the night had not gone as Andros had planned. Rather than obtaining the pyramid for which he had come, he found himself riddled with bird shot and fleeing across the snow- covered lawn toward the dense woods. To his surprise, behind him, Peter Solomon was giving chase, pistol glinting in his hand. Andros dashed into the woods, running down a trail along the edge of a deep ravine. Far below, the sounds of a waterfall echoed up through the crisp winter air. He passed a stand of oak trees and rounded a corner to his left. Seconds later, he was skidding to a stop on the icy path, narrowly escaping death.
My God! Only feet in front of him, the path ended, plunging straight down into an icy river far below. The large boulder at the side of the path had been carved by the unskilled hand of a child:
On the far side of the ravine, the path continued on. So where's the bridge?! The cocaine was no longer working. I'm trapped! Panicking now, Andros turned to flee back up the path, but he found himself facing Peter Solomon, who stood breathless before him, pistol in hand.
Andros looked at the gun and took a step backward. The drop behind him was at least fifty feet to an ice-covered river. The mist from the waterfall upstream billowed around them, chilling him to the bone.
"Zach's bridge rotted out long ago," Solomon said, panting. "He was the only one who ever came down this far." Solomon held the gun remarkably steady. "Why did you kill my son?"
"He was nothing," Andros replied. "A drug addict. I did him a favor."
Solomon moved closer, gun aimed directly at Andros's chest. "Perhaps I should do you the same favor." His tone was surprisingly fierce. "You bludgeoned my son to death. How does a man do such a thing?"
"Men do the unthinkable when pushed to the brink."
"You killed my son!"
"No," Andros replied, hotly now. "You killed your son. What kind of man leaves his son in a prison when he has the option to get him out! You killed your son! Not me."
"You know nothing!" Solomon yelled, his voice filled with pain.
You're wrong, Andros thought. I know everything.
Peter Solomon drew closer, only five yards away now, gun leveled. Andros's chest was burning, and he could tell he was bleeding badly. The warmth ran down over his stomach. He looked over his shoulder at the drop. Impossible. He turned back to Solomon. "I know more about you than you think," he whispered. "I know you are not the kind of man who kills in cold blood."
Solomon stepped closer, taking dead aim. "I'm warning you," Andros said, "if you pull that trigger, I will haunt you forever."
"You already will." And with that, Solomon fired.
As he raced his black limousine back toward Kalorama Heights, the one who now called himself Mal'akh reflected on the miraculous events that had delivered him from certain death atop that icy ravine. He had been transformed forever. The gunshot had echoed only for an instant, and yet its effects had reverberated across decades. His body, once tanned and perfect, was now marred by scars from that night . . . scars he kept hidden beneath the tattooed symbols of his new identity.
I am Mal'akh.
This was my destiny all along.
He had walked through fire, been reduced to ashes, and then emerged again . . . transformed once more. Tonight would be the final step of his long and magnificent journey.