AS A MAN who had experienced countless moments of triumph on the world stage, Edmond Kirsch was eternally motivated by achievement, but he seldom felt total contentment. In this instant, however, standing at the podium receiving a wild ovation, Edmond permitted himself the thrilling joy of knowing he was about to change the world.
Sit down, my friends, he willed them. The best is yet to come.
As the fog dissipated, Edmond resisted the urge to glance skyward, where he knew a close-up of his own face was being projected across the ceiling and also to millions of people around the world.
This is a global moment, he thought proudly. It transcends borders, class, and creeds.
Edmond glanced to his left to give a nod of gratitude to Ambra Vidal, who was watching from the corner and had worked tirelessly with him to mount this spectacle. To his surprise, however, Ambra was not looking at him. Instead, she was staring into the crowd, her expression a mask of concern.
Something’s wrong, Ambra thought, watching from the wings.
In the center of the room, a tall, elegantly dressed man was pushing his way through the crowd, waving his arms and heading in Ambra’s direction.
That’s Robert Langdon, she realized, recognizing the American professor from Kirsch’s video.
Langdon was approaching fast, and both of Ambra’s Guardia agents immediately stepped away from the wall, positioning themselves to intercept him.
What does he want?! Ambra sensed alarm in Langdon’s expression.
She spun toward Edmond at the podium, wondering if he had noticed this commotion as well, but Edmond Kirsch was not looking at the audience. Eerily, he was staring directly at her.
Edmond! Something’s wrong!
In that instant, an earsplitting crack echoed inside the dome, and Edmond’s head jolted backward. Ambra watched in abject horror as a red crater blossomed in Edmond’s forehead. His eyes rolled slightly backward, but his hands held firmly to the podium as his entire body went rigid. He teetered for an instant, his face a mask of confusion, and then, like a falling tree, his body tipped to one side and plummeted toward the floor, his blood-spattered head bouncing hard on the artificial turf as he hit the ground.
Before Ambra could even comprehend what she had witnessed, she felt herself being tackled to the ground by one of the Guardia agents.
Time stood still.
Then … pandemonium.
Illuminated by the glowing projection of Edmond’s bloody corpse, a tidal wave of guests stampeded toward the back of the hall trying to escape any more gunfire.
As chaos broke out around him, Robert Langdon felt riveted in place, paralyzed by shock. Not far away, his friend lay crumpled on his side, still facing the audience, the bullet hole in his forehead gushing red. Cruelly, Edmond’s lifeless face was being illuminated in the stark glare of the spotlight on the television camera, which sat unattended on a tripod, apparently still broadcasting a live feed to the domed ceiling and also to the world.
As if moving through a dream, Langdon felt himself running to the TV camera and wrenching it skyward, pivoting the lens away from Edmond. Then he turned and looked through the tangle of fleeing guests toward the podium and his fallen friend, knowing for certain that Edmond was gone.
My God … I tried to alert you, Edmond, but Winston’s warning came too late.
Not far from Edmond’s body, on the floor, Langdon saw a Guardia agent crouched protectively over Ambra Vidal. Langdon hurried directly toward her, but the agent reacted on instinct—launching himself upward and outward, taking three long strides and driving his body into Langdon’s.
The guard’s shoulder crashed squarely into Langdon’s sternum, expelling every bit of air in Langdon’s lungs and sending a shock wave of pain through his body as he sailed backward through the air, landing hard on the artificial turf. Before he could even take a breath, powerful hands flipped him onto his stomach, twisted his left arm behind his back, and pressed an iron palm onto the back of his head, leaving Langdon totally immobilized with his left cheek squashed into the turf.
“You knew about this before it happened,” the guard shouted. “How are you involved!”
Twenty yards away, Guardia Real agent Rafa Díaz scrambled through throngs of fleeing guests and tried to reach the spot on the sidewall where he had seen the flash of a gunshot.
Ambra Vidal is safe, he assured himself, having seen his partner pull her to the floor and cover her body with his own. In addition, Díaz felt certain there was nothing to be done for the victim. Edmond Kirsch was dead before he hit the ground.
Eerily, Díaz noted, one of the guests appeared to have had advance warning of the attack, rushing the podium only an instant before the gunshot.
Whatever the reason, Díaz knew it could wait.
At the moment, he had only one task.
Apprehend the shooter.
As Díaz arrived at the site of the telltale flash, he found a slit in the fabric wall and plunged his hand through the opening, violently tearing the hole all the way down to the floor and clambering out of the dome into a maze of scaffolding.
To his left, the agent caught a glimpse of a figure—a tall man dressed in a white military uniform—sprinting toward the emergency exit at the far side of the enormous space. An instant later, the fleeing figure crashed through the door and disappeared.
Díaz gave pursuit, weaving through the electronics outside the dome and finally bursting through the door into a cement stairwell. He peered over the railing and saw the fugitive two floors below, spiraling downward at breakneck speed. Díaz raced after him, leaping five stairs at a time. Somewhere below, the exit door crashed open loudly and then slammed shut again.
He’s exited the building!
When Díaz reached the ground floor, he sprinted to the exit—a pair of double doors with horizontal push bars—and threw all of his weight into them. The doors, rather than flying open like those upstairs, moved only an inch and then jammed to a stop. Díaz’s body crashed into the wall of steel, and he landed in a heap, a searing pain erupting in his shoulder.
Shaken, he pulled himself up and tried the doors again.
They opened just far enough to allow him to glimpse the problem.
Strangely, the outer door handles had been bound shut by a loop of wire—a string of beads wrapped around the handles from the outside. Díaz’s confusion deepened when he realized the pattern of the beads was quite familiar to him, as it would be to any good Spanish Catholic.
Is that a rosary?
Using all of his force, Díaz heaved his aching body into the doors again, but the string of beads refused to break. He stared again through the narrow opening, baffled both by the presence of a rosary and also by his inability to break it.
“¿Hola?” he shouted through the doors. “¡¿Hay alguien?!”
Through the slit in the doors, Díaz could make out a high concrete wall and a deserted service alley. Chances were slim that anyone would be coming by to remove the loop. Seeing no other option, he grabbed his handgun from the holster beneath his blazer. He cocked the weapon and extended the barrel through the doorway slit. He pressed the muzzle into the string of rosary beads.
I’m firing a bullet into a holy rosary? Qué Dios me perdone.
The remaining pieces of the crucifix bobbed up and down before Díaz’s eyes.
He pulled the trigger.
The gunshot thundered in the cement landing, and the doors flew open. The rosary shattered, and Díaz lurched forward, staggering out into the empty alley as rosary beads bounced across the pavement all around him.
The assassin in white was gone.
A hundred meters away, Admiral Luis Ávila sat in silence in the backseat of the black Renault that now accelerated away from the museum.
The tensile strength of the Vectran fiber on which Ávila had strung the rosary beads had done its job, delaying his pursuers just long enough.
And now I am gone.
As Ávila’s car sped northwest along the meandering Nervión River and disappeared among the fast-moving cars on the Avenida Abandoibarra, Admiral Ávila finally permitted himself to exhale.
His mission tonight could not have gone any more smoothly.
In his mind, he began to hear the joyful strains of the Oriamendi hymn—its age-old lyrics once sung in bloody battle right here in Bilbao. ¡Por Dios, por la Patria y el Rey! Ávila sang in his mind. For God, for Country, and King!
The battle cry had long since been forgotten … but the war had just begun.在线阅读网全本在线阅读：http://www.yuedu88.COM/