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CHAPTER 32

BILBAO’S LA SALVE Bridge crosses the Nervión River in such close proximity to the Guggenheim Museum that the two structures often have the appearance of being fused into one. Immediately recognizable by its unique central support—a towering, bright red strut shaped like a giant letter H—the bridge takes the name “La Salve” from folkloric tales of sailors returning from sea along this river and saying prayers of gratitude for their safe arrival home.

After exiting the rear of the building, Langdon and Ambra had quickly covered the short distance between the museum and the riverbank and were now waiting, as Winston had requested, on a walkway in the shadows directly beneath the bridge.

Waiting for what? Langdon wondered, uncertain.

As they lingered in the darkness, he could see Ambra’s slender frame shivering beneath her sleek evening dress. He removed his tails jacket and placed it around her shoulders, smoothing the fabric down her arms.

Without warning, she suddenly turned and faced him.

For an instant, Langdon feared he had overstepped a boundary, but Ambra’s expression was not one of displeasure, but rather one of gratitude.

“Thank you,” she whispered, gazing up at him. “Thank you for helping me.”

With her eyes locked on his, Ambra Vidal reached out, took Langdon’s hands, and clasped them in her own, as if she were trying to absorb any warmth or comfort he could offer.

Then, just as quickly, she released them. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Conducta impropia, as my mother would say.”

Langdon gave her a reassuring grin. “Extenuating circumstances, as my mother would say.”

She managed a smile, but it was short-lived. “I feel absolutely ill,” she said, glancing away. “Tonight, what happened to Edmond …”

“It’s appalling … dreadful,” Langdon said, knowing he was still too much in shock to express his emotions fully.

Ambra was staring at the water. “And to think that my fiancé, Don Julián, is involved …”

Langdon could hear the betrayal in her voice and was uncertain how to reply. “I realize how it appears,” he said, treading lightly on this delicate ground, “but we really don’t know that for sure. It’s possible Prince Julián had no advance notice about the killing tonight. The assassin could have been acting alone, or working for someone other than the prince. It makes little sense that the future king of Spain would orchestrate the public assassination of a civilian—especially one traceable directly back to him.”

“It’s only traceable because Winston figured out that Ávila was a late addition to the guest list. Maybe Julián thought nobody would ever figure out who pulled the trigger.”

Langdon had to admit she had a point.

“I never should have discussed Edmond’s presentation with Julián,” Ambra said, turning back to him. “He was urging me not to participate, and so I tried to reassure him that my involvement would be minimal, that it was all nothing but a video screening. I think I even told Julián that Edmond was launching his discovery from a smartphone.” She paused. “Which means, if they see that we took Edmond’s phone, they’ll realize that his discovery can still be broadcast. And I really don’t know how far Julián will go to interfere.”

Langdon studied the beautiful woman a long moment. “You don’t trust your fiancé at all, do you?”

Ambra took a deep breath. “The truth is, I don’t know him as well as you might assume.”

“Then why did you agree to marry him?”

“Quite simply, Julián put me in a position where I had no choice.”

Before Langdon could respond, a low rumble began shaking the cement beneath their feet, reverberating through the grotto-like space beneath the bridge. The sound grew louder and louder. It seemed to be coming from up the river, to their right.

Langdon turned and saw a dark shape speeding toward them—a powerboat approaching with no running lights. As it neared the high cement bank, it slowed and began to glide up perfectly beside them.

Langdon stared down at the craft and shook his head. Until this moment, he had been unsure how much faith to place in Edmond’s computerized docent, but now, seeing a yellow water taxi approaching the bank, he realized that Winston was the best ally they could possibly have.

The disheveled captain waved them aboard. “Your British man, he call me,” the man said. “He say VIP client pay triple for … how you say … velocidad y discreción? I do it—you see? No lights!”

“Yes, thank you,” Langdon replied. Good call, Winston. Speed and discretion.

The captain reached out and helped Ambra aboard, and as she disappeared into the small covered cabin to get warm, he gave Langdon a wide-eyed smile. “This my VIP? Señorita Ambra Vidal?”

Velocidad y discreción,” Langdon reminded him.

¡Sí, sí! Okay!” The man scurried to the helm and revved the engines. Moments later, the powerboat was skimming westward through the darkness along the Nervión River.

Off the port side of the boat, Langdon could see the Guggenheim’s giant black widow, eerily illuminated by the spinning lights of police cars. Overhead, a news chopper streaked across the sky toward the museum.

The first of many, Langdon suspected.

Langdon pulled Edmond’s cryptic note card from his pants pocket. BIO-EC346. Edmond had told him to give it to a taxi driver, although Edmond probably never imagined the vehicle would be a water taxi.

“Our British friend …,” Langdon yelled to the driver over the sound of the roaring engines. “I assume he told you where we are going?”

“Yes, yes! I warn him by boat I can take you only almost there, but he say no problem, you walk three hundred meters, no?”

“That’s fine. And how far is it from here?”

The man pointed to a highway that ran along the river on the right. “Road sign say seven kilometers, but in boat, a little more.”

Langdon glanced out at the illuminated highway sign.

AEROPUERTO BILBAO (BIO) 7 KM

He smiled ruefully at the sound of Edmond’s voice in his mind. It’s a painfully simple code, Robert. Edmond was right, and when Langdon had finally figured it out earlier tonight, he had been embarrassed that it had taken him so long.

BIO was indeed a code—although it was no more difficult to decipher than similar codes from around the world: BOS, LAX, JFK.

BIO is the local airport code.

The rest of Edmond’s code had fallen into place instantly.

EC346.

Langdon had never seen Edmond’s private jet, but he knew the plane existed, and he had little doubt that the country code for a Spanish jet’s tail number would start with the letter E for España.

EC346 is a private jet.

Clearly, if a cabdriver had taken him to Bilbao Airport, Langdon could have presented Edmond’s card to security and been escorted directly to Edmond’s private plane.

I hope Winston reached the pilots to warn them we are coming, Langdon thought, looking back in the direction of the museum, which was growing smaller and smaller in their wake.

Langdon considered going inside the cabin to join Ambra, but the fresh air felt good, and he decided to give her a couple of minutes alone to gather herself.

I could use a moment too, he thought, moving toward the bow.

At the front of the boat, with the wind whipping through his hair, Langdon untied his bow tie and pocketed it. Then he released the top button of his wingtip collar and breathed as deeply as he could, letting the night air fill his lungs.

Edmond, he thought. What have you done?

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