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CHAPTER 16

IN BUDAPEST, RABBI Köves paced nervously in the dim light of his házikó study. Clutching his TV remote, he flipped anxiously through the channels as he awaited further news from Bishop Valdespino.

On television, several news channels had interrupted their regular programming during the past ten minutes to carry the live feed coming out of the Guggenheim. Commentators were discussing Kirsch’s accomplishments and speculating about his mysterious upcoming announcement. Köves cringed at the snowballing level of interest.

I have seen this announcement already.

Three days ago, on the mountain of Montserrat, Edmond Kirsch had previewed an alleged “rough-cut” version for Köves, al-Fadl, and Valdespino. Now, Köves suspected, the world was about to see the same exact program.

Tonight everything will change, he thought sadly.

The phone rang and jolted Köves from his contemplation. He seized the handset.

Valdespino began without preamble. “Yehuda, I’m afraid I have some more bad news.” In a somber voice, he conveyed a bizarre report that was now coming out of the United Arab Emirates.

Köves covered his mouth in horror. “Allamah al-Fadl … committed suicide?”

“That is what the authorities are speculating. He was found a short time ago, deep in the desert … as if he had simply walked out there to die.” Valdespino paused. “All I can guess is that the strain of the last few days was too much for him.”

Köves considered the possibility, feeling a wave of heartbreak and confusion. He too had been struggling with the implications of Kirsch’s discovery, and yet the idea that Allamah al-Fadl would kill himself in despair seemed wholly unlikely.

“Something is wrong here,” Köves declared. “I don’t believe he would do such a thing.”

Valdespino fell silent for a long time. “I’m glad you said that,” he finally agreed. “I have to admit, I too find it quite difficult to accept that this was a suicide.”

“Then … who could be responsible?”

“Anyone who wanted Edmond Kirsch’s discovery to remain a secret,” the bishop replied quickly. “Someone who believed, as we did, that his announcement was still weeks away.”

“But Kirsch said nobody else knew about the discovery!” Köves argued. “Only you, Allamah al-Fadl, and myself.”

“Maybe Kirsch lied about that too. But even if the three of us are the only ones he told, don’t forget how desperately our friend Syed al-Fadl wanted to go public. It’s possible that the allamah shared information about Kirsch’s discovery with a colleague in the Emirates. And maybe that colleague believed, as I do, that Kirsch’s discovery would have dangerous repercussions.”

“Implying what?” the rabbi demanded angrily. “That an associate of al-Fadl killed him in order to keep this quiet? That’s ridiculous!”

“Rabbi,” the bishop replied calmly, “I certainly don’t know what happened. I’m only trying to imagine answers, as you are.”

Köves exhaled. “I’m sorry. I’m still trying to absorb the news of Syed’s death.”

“As am I. And if Syed was murdered for what he knew, then we need to be careful ourselves. It is possible that you and I are also targeted.”

Köves considered this. “Once the news goes public, we are irrelevant.”

“True, but it is not yet public.”

“Your Grace, the announcement is only minutes away. Every station is carrying it.”

“Yes …” Valdespino let out a tired sigh. “It seems I’ll have to accept that my prayers have gone unanswered.”

Köves wondered if the bishop had literally prayed for God to intervene and change Kirsch’s mind.

“Even when this goes public,” Valdespino said, “we are not safe. I suspect Kirsch will take great pleasure in telling the world that he consulted with religious leaders three days ago. I’m now wondering if an appearance of ethical transparency was his true motive for calling the meeting. And if he mentions us by name, well, you and I will become the focus of intense scrutiny and perhaps even criticism from our own flocks, who might believe we should have taken action. I’m sorry, I’m just …” The bishop hesitated as if he had something more he wanted to say.

“What is it?” Köves pressed.

“We can discuss it later. I’ll phone you again after we witness how Kirsch handles his presentation. Until then, please stay inside. Lock your doors. Speak to nobody. And be safe.”

“You’re worrying me, Antonio.”

“I don’t mean to,” Valdespino replied. “All we can do is wait and see how the world reacts. This is in God’s hands now.”

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