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CHAPTER 31

THE SZÉCHENYI CHAIN Bridge—one of eight bridges in Budapest—spans more than a thousand feet across the Danube. An emblem of the link between East and West, the bridge is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

What am I doing? wondered Rabbi Köves, peering over the railing into the swirling black waters below. The bishop advised me to stay at home.

Köves knew he shouldn’t have ventured out, and yet whenever he felt unsettled, something about the bridge had always pulled at him. For years, he’d walked here at night to reflect while he admired the timeless view. To the east, in Pest, the illuminated facade of Gresham Palace stood proudly against the bell towers of Szent István Bazilika. To the west, in Buda, high atop Castle Hill, rose the fortified walls of Buda Castle. And northward, on the banks of the Danube, stretched the elegant spires of the parliament building, the largest in all of Hungary.

Köves suspected, however, that it was not the view that continually brought him to Chain Bridge. It was something else entirely.

The padlocks.

All along the bridge’s railings and suspension wires hung hundreds of padlocks—each bearing a different pair of initials, each locked forever to the bridge.

Tradition was that two lovers would come together on this bridge, inscribe their initials on a padlock, secure the lock to the bridge, and then throw the key into the deep water, where it would be lost forever—a symbol of their eternal connection.

The simplest of promises, Köves thought, touching one of the dangling locks. My soul is locked to your soul, forever.

Whenever Köves needed to be reminded that boundless love existed in the world, he would come to see these locks. Tonight felt like one of those nights. As he stared down into the swirling water, he felt as if the world were suddenly moving far too fast for him. Perhaps I don’t belong here anymore.

What had once been life’s quiet moments of solitary reflection—a few minutes alone on a bus, or walking to work, or waiting for an appointment—now felt unbearable, and people impulsively reached for their phones, their earbuds, and their games, unable to fight the addictive pull of technology. The miracles of the past were fading away, whitewashed by a ceaseless hunger for all-that-was-new.

Now, as Yehuda Köves stared down into the water, he felt increasingly weary. His vision seemed to blur, and he began to see eerie, amorphous shapes moving beneath the water’s surface. The river suddenly looked like a churning stew of creatures coming to life in the deep.

A víz él,” a voice said behind him. “The water is alive.”

The rabbi turned and saw a young boy with curly hair and hopeful eyes. The boy reminded Yehuda of himself in younger years.

“I’m sorry?” the rabbi said.

The boy opened his mouth to speak, but instead of language, an electronic buzzing noise issued from his throat and a blinding white light flashed from his eyes.

Rabbi Köves awoke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in his chair.

Oy gevalt!

The phone on his desk was blaring, and the old rabbi spun around, scanning the study of his házikó in a panic. Thankfully, he was entirely alone. He could feel his heart pounding.

Such a strange dream, he thought, trying to catch his breath.

The phone was insistent, and Köves knew that at this hour it had to be Bishop Valdespino, calling to provide him with an update on his transportation to Madrid.

“Bishop Valdespino,” the rabbi answered, still feeling disoriented. “What is the news?”

“Rabbi Yehuda Köves?” an unfamiliar voice inquired. “You don’t know me, and I don’t want to frighten you, but I need you to listen to me carefully.”

Köves was suddenly wide-awake.

The voice was female but was masked somehow, sounding distorted. The caller spoke in rushed English with a slight Spanish accent. “I’m filtering my voice for privacy. I apologize for that, but in a moment, you will understand why.”

“Who is this?!” Köves demanded.

“I am a watchdog—someone who does not appreciate those who try to conceal the truth from the public.”

“I … don’t understand.”

“Rabbi Köves, I know you attended a private meeting with Edmond Kirsch, Bishop Valdespino, and Allamah Syed al-Fadl three days ago at the Montserrat monastery.”

How does she know this?!

“In addition, I know Edmond Kirsch provided the three of you with extensive information about his recent scientific discovery … and that you are now involved in a conspiracy to conceal it.”

“What?!”

“If you do not listen to me very carefully, then I predict you will be dead by morning, eliminated by the long arm of Bishop Valdespino.” The caller paused. “Just like Edmond Kirsch and your friend Syed al-Fadl.”

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