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CHAPTER 7

ADMIRAL LUIS ÁVILA arrived at the museum’s security checkpoint and glanced at his watch to assure himself he was on schedule.

Perfect.

He presented his Documento Nacional de Identidad to the employees manning the guest list. For a moment, Ávila’s pulse quickened when his name could not be located on the list. Finally, they found it at the bottom—a last-minute addition—and Ávila was allowed to enter.

Exactly as the Regent promised me. How he had accomplished this feat, Ávila had no idea. Tonight’s guest list was said to be ironclad.

He continued to the metal detector, where he removed his cell phone and placed it in the dish. Then, with extreme care, he extracted an unusually heavy set of rosary beads from his jacket pocket and laid it over his phone.

Gently, he told himself. Very gently.

The security guard waved him through the metal detector and carried the dish of personal items around to the other side.

Que rosario tan bonito,” the guard said, admiring the metal rosary, which consisted of a strong beaded chain and a thick, rounded cross.

Gracias,” Ávila replied. I constructed it myself.

Ávila walked through the detector without incident. On the other side, he collected his phone and the rosary, replacing them gently in his pocket before pressing on to a second checkpoint, where he was given an unusual audio headset.

I don’t need an audio tour, he thought. I have work to do.

As he moved across the atrium, he discreetly dumped the headset into a trash receptacle.

His heart was pounding as he scanned the building for a private place to contact the Regent and let him know he was safely inside.

For God, country, and king, he thought. But mostly for God.

 

At that moment, in the deepest recesses of the moonlit desert outside Dubai, the beloved seventy-eight-year-old allamah, Syed al-Fadl, strained in agony as he crawled through deep sand. He could go no farther.

Al-Fadl’s skin was blistered and burned, his throat so raw he could barely pull a breath. The sand-laden winds had blinded him hours ago, and still he crawled on. At one point, he thought he heard the distant whine of dune buggies, but it was probably just the howling wind. Al-Fadl’s faith that God would save him had long since passed. The vultures were no longer circling; they were walking beside him.

The tall Spaniard who had carjacked al-Fadl last night had barely spoken a word as he drove the allamah’s car deep into this vast desert. After an hour’s drive, the Spaniard had stopped and ordered al-Fadl out of the car, leaving him in the darkness with no food or water.

Al-Fadl’s captor had provided no indication of his identity or any explanation for his actions. The only possible clue al-Fadl had glimpsed was a strange marking on the man’s right palm—a symbol he did not recognize.

For hours, al-Fadl had trudged through sand and shouted fruitlessly for help. Now, as the severely dehydrated cleric collapsed into the suffocating sand and felt his heart give out, he asked himself the same question he had been asking for hours.

Who could possibly want me dead?

Frighteningly, he could come up with only one logical answer.

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