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CHAPTER 33

COMMANDER DIEGO GARZA was fuming as he paced the darkness of Prince Julián’s apartment and endured the bishop’s self-righteous lecture.

You are trespassing where you do not belong, Garza wanted to shout at Valdespino. This is not your domain!

Once again, Bishop Valdespino had inserted himself into palace politics. Having materialized like a specter in the darkness of Julián’s apartment, Valdespino was adorned in full ecclesiastical vestments and was now giving an impassioned sermon to Julián about the importance of Spain’s traditions, the devoted religiosity of past kings and queens, and the comforting influence of the Church in times of crisis.

This is not the moment, Garza seethed.

Tonight, Prince Julián would need to deliver a delicate public relations performance, and the last thing Garza needed was to have him distracted by Valdespino’s attempts to impose a religious agenda.

The buzz of Garza’s phone conveniently interrupted the bishop’s monologue.

Sí, dime,” Garza answered loudly, positioning himself between the prince and the bishop. “¿Qué tal va?

“Sir, it’s Agent Fonseca in Bilbao,” the caller said in rapid-fire Spanish. “I’m afraid we’ve been unable to capture the shooter. The car company we thought could track him has lost contact. The shooter seems to have anticipated our actions.”

Garza swallowed his anger and exhaled calmly, trying to ensure that his voice would reveal nothing about his true state of mind. “I understand,” he replied evenly. “At the moment, your only concern is Ms. Vidal. The prince is waiting to see her, and I’ve assured him that you’ll have her here shortly.”

There was a long silence on the line. Too long.

“Commander?” Fonseca asked, sounding tentative. “I’m sorry, sir, but I have bad news on that front. It appears that Ms. Vidal and the American professor have left the building”—he paused—“without us.”

Garza almost dropped his phone. “I’m sorry, can you … repeat that?”

“Yes, sir. Ms. Vidal and Robert Langdon have fled the building. Ms. Vidal intentionally abandoned her phone so we would be unable to track her. We have no idea where they’ve gone.”

Garza realized his jaw had fallen slack, and the prince was now staring at him with apparent concern. Valdespino was also leaning in to hear, his eyebrows arched with unmistakable interest.

“Ah—that’s excellent news!” Garza blurted suddenly, nodding with conviction. “Good work. We’ll see you all here later this evening. Let’s just confirm transport protocols and security. One moment, please.”

Garza covered the phone and smiled at the prince. “All is well. I’ll just step into the other room to sort out the details so that you gentlemen can have some privacy.”

Garza was reluctant to leave the prince alone with Valdespino, but this was not a call he could take in front of either of them, so he walked to one of the guest bedrooms, stepped inside, and closed the door.

¿Qué diablos ha pasado?” he seethed into the phone. What the hell happened?

Fonseca relayed a story that sounded like utter fantasy.

“The lights went out?” Garza demanded. “A computer posed as a security officer and gave you bad intel? How am I supposed to respond to that?”

“I realize it is hard to imagine, sir, but that is precisely what happened. What we are struggling to understand is why the computer had a sudden change of heart.”

“Change of heart?! It’s a goddamned computer!”

“What I mean is that the computer had previously been helpful—identifying the shooter by name, attempting to thwart the assassination, and also discovering that the getaway vehicle was an Uber car. Then, very suddenly, it seemed to be working against us. All we can figure is that Robert Langdon must have said something to it, because after its conversation with him, everything changed.”

Now I’m battling a computer? Garza decided he was getting too old for this modern world. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, Agent Fonseca, how embarrassing this would be for the prince both personally and politically if it were known that his fiancée had fled with the American, and that the prince’s Guardia Real had been tricked by a computer.”

“We are acutely aware of that.”

“Do you have any idea what would inspire the two of them to run away? It seems entirely unwarranted and reckless.”

“Professor Langdon was quite resistant when I told him he would be joining us in Madrid this evening. He made it clear he did not want to come.”

And so he fled a murder scene? Garza sensed something else was going on, but he could not imagine what. “Listen to me carefully. It is absolutely critical that you locate Ambra Vidal and bring her back to the palace before any of this information leaks out.”

“I understand, sir, but Díaz and I are the only two agents on the scene. We can’t possibly search all of Bilbao alone. We’ll need to alert the local authorities, gain access to traffic cams, air support, every possible—”

“Absolutely not!” Garza replied. “We can’t afford the embarrassment. Do your job. Find them on your own, and return Ms. Vidal to our custody as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, sir.”

Garza hung up, incredulous.

As he stepped out of the bedroom, a pale young woman hurried up the hallway toward him. She was wearing her usual techie Coke-bottle glasses and beige pantsuit, and was anxiously clutching a computer tablet.

God save me, Garza thought. Not now.

Mónica Martín was the palace’s newest and youngest-ever “public relations coordinator”—a post that included the duties of media liaison, PR strategist, and communications director—which Martín seemed to carry out in a permanent state of high alert.

At only twenty-six years of age, Martín held a communications degree from Madrid’s Complutense University, had done two years of postgrad work at one of the top computer schools in the world—Tsinghua University in Beijing—and then had landed a high-powered PR job at Grupo Planeta followed by a top “communications” post at Spanish television network Antena 3.

Last year, in a desperate attempt to connect via digital media with the young people of Spain, and to keep up with the mushrooming influence of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online media, the palace had fired a seasoned PR professional with decades of print and media experience and replaced him with this tech-savvy millennial.

Martín owes everything to Prince Julián, Garza knew.

The young woman’s appointment to the palace staff had been one of Prince Julián’s few contributions to palace operations—a rare instance when he flexed his muscle with his father. Martín was considered one of the best in the business, but Garza found her paranoia and nervous energy utterly exhausting.

“Conspiracy theories,” Martín announced to him, waving her tablet as she arrived. “They’re exploding all over.”

Garza stared at his PR coordinator in disbelief. Do I look like I care? He had more important things to worry about tonight than the conspiratorial rumor mill. “Would you mind telling me what you are doing strolling through the royal residence!”

“The control room just pinged your GPS.” She pointed to the phone on Garza’s belt.

Garza closed his eyes and exhaled, swallowing his irritation. In addition to a new PR coordinator, the palace had recently implemented a new “division of electronic security,” which supported Garza’s team with GPS services, digital surveillance, profiling, and preemptive data mining. Every day, Garza’s staff was more diverse and youthful.

Our control room looks like a college campus computer center.

Apparently, the newly implemented technology used to track Guardia agents was also tracking Garza himself. It felt unnerving to think that a bunch of kids in the basement knew his whereabouts at every instant.

“I came to you personally,” Martín said, holding out her tablet, “because I knew you’d want to see this.”

Garza snatched the device from her and eyed the screen, seeing a stock photo and bio of the silver-bearded Spaniard who had been identified as the Bilbao shooter—royal navy admiral Luis Ávila.

“There’s a lot of damaging chatter,” said Martín, “and much is being made of Ávila’s being a former employee of the royal family.”

“Ávila worked for the navy!” Garza spluttered.

“Yes, but technically, the king is the commander of the armed forces—”

“Stop right there,” Garza ordered, shoving the tablet back at her. “Suggesting the king is somehow complicit in a terrorist act is an absurd stretch made by conspiracy nuts, and is wholly irrelevant to our situation tonight. Let’s just count our blessings and get back to work. After all, this lunatic could have killed the queen consort but chose instead to kill an American atheist. All in all, not a bad outcome!”

The young woman didn’t flinch. “There’s something else, sir, which relates to the royal family. I didn’t want you to be blindsided.”

As Martín spoke, her fingers flew across the tablet, navigating to another site. “This is a photo that has been online for a few days, but nobody noticed it. Now, with everything about Edmond Kirsch going viral, this photo is starting to appear in the news.” She handed Garza the tablet.

Garza eyed a headline: “Is This the Last Photo Taken of Futurist Edmond Kirsch?”

A blurry photograph showed Kirsch dressed in a dark suit, standing on a rocky bluff beside a perilous cliff.

“The photo was taken three days ago,” Martín said, “while Kirsch was visiting the Abbey of Montserrat. A worker on-site recognized Kirsch and snapped a photo. After Kirsch’s murder tonight, the worker re-posted the photo as one of the last ever taken of the man.”

“And this relates to us, how?” Garza asked pointedly.

“Scroll down to the next photo.”

Garza scrolled down. On seeing the second image, he had to reach out and steady himself on the wall. “This … this can’t be true.”

In this wider-frame version of the same shot, Edmond Kirsch could be seen standing beside a tall man wearing a traditional Catholic purple cassock. The man was Bishop Valdespino.

“It’s true, sir,” Martín said. “Valdespino met with Kirsch a few days ago.”

“But …” Garza hesitated, momentarily speechless. “But why wouldn’t the bishop have mentioned this? Especially considering all that has happened tonight!”

Martín gave a suspicious nod. “That’s why I chose to speak to you first.”

Valdespino met with Kirsch! Garza could not quite wrap his mind around it. And the bishop declined to mention it? The news was alarming, and Garza felt eager to warn the prince.

“Unfortunately,” the young woman said, “there’s a lot more.” She began manipulating her tablet again.

“Commander?” Valdespino’s voice called suddenly from the living room. “What is the news on Ms. Vidal’s transport?”

Mónica Martín’s head snapped up, eyes wide. “Is that the bishop?” she whispered. “Valdespino is here in the residence?”

“Yes. Counseling the prince.”

“Commander!” Valdespino called again. “Are you there?”

“Believe me,” Martín whispered, her tone panicked, “there is more information that you must have right away—before you say another word to the bishop or the prince. Trust me when I tell you that tonight’s crisis impacts us far more deeply than you can imagine.”

Garza studied his PR coordinator a moment and made his decision. “Downstairs in the library. I’ll meet you there in sixty seconds.”

Martín nodded and slipped away.

Alone now, Garza took a deep breath and forced his features to relax, hoping to erase all traces of his growing anger and confusion. Calmly, he strolled back into the living room.

“All is well with Ms. Vidal,” Garza announced with a smile as he entered. “She’ll be here later. I’m headed down to the security office to confirm her transportation personally.” Garza gave Julián a confident nod and then turned to Bishop Valdespino. “I’ll be back shortly. Don’t go away.”

With that, he turned and strode out.

 

As Garza exited the apartment, Bishop Valdespino stared after him, frowning.

“Is something wrong?” the prince asked, eyeing the bishop closely.

“Yes,” Valdespino replied, turning back to Julián. “I’ve been taking confessions for fifty years. I know a lie when I hear one.”

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