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CHAPTER 28

AGENT FONSECA AND his partner Díaz dashed through the darkened dome, illuminating the way with their cell-phone flashlights and plunging into the tunnel through which Langdon and Ambra had just disappeared.

Halfway up the tunnel, Fonseca found Ambra’s phone lying on the carpeted floor. The sight of it stunned him.

Ambra jettisoned her phone?

The Guardia Real, with Ambra’s permission, used a very simple tracking application to keep tabs on her location at all times. There could be only one explanation for her leaving her phone behind: she wanted to escape their protection.

The notion made Fonseca extremely nervous, although not nearly as nervous as the prospect of having to inform his boss that the future queen consort of Spain was now missing. The Guardia commander was obsessive and ruthless when it came to protecting the prince’s interests. Tonight, the commander had personally tasked Fonseca with the simplest of directives: “Keep Ambra Vidal safe and out of trouble at all times.”

I can’t keep her safe if I don’t know where she is!

The two agents hurried on to the end of the tunnel and arrived at the darkened anteroom, which now looked like a convention of ghosts—a host of pale shell-shocked faces illuminated by their cell-phone screens as they communicated to the outside world, relaying what they had just witnessed.

“Turn on the lights!” several people were shouting.

Fonseca’s phone rang, and he answered.

“Agent Fonseca, this is museum security,” said a young woman in terse Spanish. “We know you’ve lost lights up there. It appears to be a computer malfunction. We’ll have power back momentarily.”

“Are the internal security feeds still up?” Fonseca demanded, knowing the cameras were all equipped with night vision.

“They are, yes.”

Fonseca scanned the darkened room. “Ambra Vidal just entered the anteroom outside the main theater. Can you see where she went?”

“One moment, please.”

Fonseca waited, heart pounding with frustration. He had just received word that Uber was experiencing difficulties tracking the shooter’s getaway car.

Could anything else go wrong tonight?

Fatefully, tonight was his first time on Ambra Vidal’s detail. Normally, as a senior officer, Fonseca was assigned only to Prince Julián himself, and yet, this morning, his boss had taken him aside and informed him: “Tonight, Ms. Vidal will be hosting an event against the wishes of Prince Julián. You will accompany her and make sure she is safe.”

Fonseca never imagined that the event Ambra was hosting would turn out to be an all-out assault on religion, culminating in a public assassination. He was still trying to digest Ambra’s angry refusal to take Prince Julián’s concerned call.

It all seemed inconceivable, and yet her bizarre behavior was only escalating. By all appearances, Ambra Vidal was attempting to ditch her security detail so she could run off with an American professor.

If Prince Julián hears about this …

“Agent Fonseca?” The security woman’s voice returned. “We can see that Ms. Vidal and a male companion exited the anteroom. They moved down the catwalk and have just entered the gallery housing Louise Bourgeois’s Cells exhibit. Out the door, turn right, second gallery on your right.”

“Thank you! Keep tracking them!”

Fonseca and Díaz ran through the anteroom and exited onto the catwalk. Far below, they could see throngs of guests moving quickly across the lobby toward the exits.

To the right, exactly as security had promised, Fonseca saw the opening into a large gallery. The exhibit sign read: CELLS.

The gallery was expansive and housed a collection of strange cage-like enclosures, each containing its own amorphous white sculpture.

“Ms. Vidal!” Fonseca shouted. “Mr. Langdon!”

Receiving no answer, the two agents began searching.

 

Several rooms behind the Guardia agents, just outside the domed auditorium, Langdon and Ambra were climbing carefully through a maze of scaffolding, making their way silently toward the dimly lit “Exit” sign in the distance.

Their actions of the last minute had been a blur—with Langdon and Winston collaborating on a quick deception.

On Langdon’s cue, Winston had killed the lights and plunged the dome into darkness. Langdon had made a mental snapshot of the distance between their position and the tunnel exit, his estimate nearly perfect. At the mouth of the tunnel, Ambra had hurled her phone into the darkened passageway. Then, rather than entering the passage, they turned around, remaining inside the dome, and doubled back along the inner wall, running their hands along the fabric until they found the torn opening through which the Guardia agent had exited in order to pursue Edmond’s killer. After climbing through the opening in the fabric wall, the two made their way to the outer wall of the room and moved toward a lit sign that marked an emergency exit stairwell.

Langdon recalled with amazement how quickly Winston had arrived at the decision to help them. “If Edmond’s announcement can be triggered by a password,” Winston had said, “then we must find it and use it at once. My original directive was to assist Edmond in every way possible to make his announcement tonight a success. Obviously, I have failed him in this, and anything I can do to help rectify that failure I will do.”

Langdon was about to thank him, but Winston raced on without taking a breath. The words streamed from Winston at an inhumanly fast pace, like an audiobook playing at accelerated speed.

“If I myself were able to access Edmond’s presentation,” Winston said, “I would do so immediately, but as you heard, it is stored in a secure server off-site. It appears that all we require to release his discovery to the world is his customized phone and password. I have already searched all published texts for a forty-seven-letter line of poetry, and unfortunately the possibilities number in the hundreds of thousands, if not more, depending on how one breaks the stanzas. Furthermore, because Edmond’s interfaces generally lock out users after a few failed password attempts, a brute-force attack will be impossible. This leaves us only one option: we must find his password in another manner. I am in agreement with Ms. Vidal that you must gain access immediately to Edmond’s home in Barcelona. It seems logical that if he had a favorite line of poetry, he would possess a book containing that poem, and perhaps even have highlighted his favorite line in some manner. Therefore, I calculate a very high probability that Edmond would want you to go to Barcelona, find his password, and use it to release his announcement as planned. In addition, I have now determined that the last-minute phone call that requested Admiral Ávila be added to the guest list did indeed originate in the Royal Palace in Madrid, as Ms. Vidal stated. For this reason, I have decided that we cannot trust the Guardia Real agents, and I will devise a way to divert them and thereby facilitate your escape.”

Incredibly, it appeared that Winston had found a way to do just that.

Langdon and Ambra had now reached the emergency exit, where Langdon quietly opened the door, ushered Ambra through, and closed the door behind them.

“Good,” Winston’s voice said, materializing again in Langdon’s head. “You’re in the stairwell.”

“And the Guardia agents?” Langdon asked.

“Far away,” Winston replied. “I am currently on the phone with them, posing as a museum security officer and misdirecting them to a gallery at the far end of the building.”

Incredible, Langdon thought, giving Ambra a reassuring nod. “All good.”

“Descend the stairs to ground level,” Winston said, “and exit the museum. Also, please be advised, once you exit the building, your museum headset will no longer have a connection to me.”

Damn. The thought had not occurred to Langdon. “Winston,” he said hurriedly, “are you aware that Edmond shared his discovery with a number of religious leaders last week?”

“That seems unlikely,” Winston replied, “although his introduction tonight certainly implied that his work has profound religious implications, so perhaps he wanted to discuss his findings with leaders in that field?”

“I think so, yes. One of them, however, was Bishop Valdespino from Madrid.”

“Interesting. I see numerous references online stating that he is a very close adviser to the king of Spain.”

“Yes, and one more thing,” Langdon said. “Were you aware that Edmond received a threatening voice mail from Valdespino after their meeting?”

“I was not. It must have come on a private line.”

“Edmond played it for me. Valdespino urged him to cancel his presentation and also warned that the clerics with whom Edmond had consulted were considering a preemptive announcement to undermine him somehow before he could go public.” Langdon slowed on the stairs, permitting Ambra to press ahead. He lowered his voice. “Did you find any connection between Valdespino and Admiral Ávila?”

Winston paused a few seconds. “I found no direct connection, but that does not mean one does not exist. It just means it’s not documented.”

They approached the ground floor.

“Professor, if I may …,” Winston said. “Considering the events of this evening, logic would suggest that powerful forces are intent on burying Edmond’s discovery. Bearing in mind that his presentation named you as the person whose insight helped inspire his breakthrough, Edmond’s enemies might consider you a dangerous loose end.”

Langdon had never considered the possibility and felt a sudden flash of danger as he reached the ground floor. Ambra was already there, heaving open the metal door.

“When you exit,” Winston said, “you will find yourselves in an alley. Move to your left around the building and proceed down to the river. From there I will facilitate your transportation to the location we discussed.”

BIO-EC346, Langdon thought, having urged Winston to take them there. The place where Edmond and I were supposed to meet after the event. Langdon had finally deciphered the code, realizing that BIO-EC346 was not some secret science club at all. It was something far more mundane. Nonetheless, he hoped it would be the key to their escape from Bilbao.

If we can make it there undetected …, he thought, knowing there would soon be roadblocks everywhere. We need to move quickly.

As Langdon and Ambra stepped over the threshold into the cool night air, Langdon was startled to see what looked like rosary beads scattered across the ground. He didn’t have time to wonder why. Winston was still talking.

“Once you reach the river,” his voice commanded, “go to the walkway beneath La Salve Bridge and wait until—”

Langdon’s headset blared suddenly with deafening static.

“Winston?” Langdon shouted. “Wait until—what?!”

But Winston was gone, and the metal door had just slammed shut behind them.

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