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CHAPTER 41

GUARDIA COMMANDER DIEGO Garza sprinted back up toward the residential apartments, still clutching Mónica Martín’s computer tablet.

The tablet contained a recording of a phone call—a conversation between a Hungarian rabbi named Yehuda Köves and some kind of online whistle-blower—and the shocking contents of the recording had left Commander Garza precious few options.

Whether or not Valdespino was actually behind the murderous conspiracy alleged by this whistle-blower, Garza knew that when the recording went public, Valdespino’s reputation would be forever destroyed.

I must warn the prince and insulate him from the fallout.

Valdespino must be removed from the palace before this story breaks.

In politics, perception was everything—and the information mongers, justly or not, were about to throw Valdespino under the bus. Clearly, the crown prince could not be seen anywhere near the bishop tonight.

PR coordinator Mónica Martín had strongly advised Garza to have the prince make a statement immediately, or risk looking complicit.

She’s right, Garza knew. We have to get Julián on television. Now.

Garza reached the top of the stairs and moved breathlessly along the corridor toward Julián’s apartment, glancing down at the tablet in his hand.

In addition to the image of the Francoist tattoo and the recording of the rabbi’s phone call, the impending ConspiracyNet data-dump was apparently going to include a third and final revelation—something that Martín warned would be the most inflammatory of all.

A data constellation, she had called it—describing what amounted to a collection of seemingly random and disparate data points or factoids that conspiracy theorists were encouraged to analyze and connect in meaningful ways to create possible “constellations.”

They’re no better than Zodiac nuts! he fumed. Fabricating animal shapes out of the random arrangements of stars!

Unfortunately, the ConspiracyNet data points that were displayed on the tablet in Garza’s hand appeared to have been especially formulated to coalesce into a single constellation, and from the palace’s viewpoint, it was not a pretty one.

ConspiracyNet.com

The Kirsch Assassination

What We Know So Far

• Edmond Kirsch shared his scientific discovery with three religious leaders—Bishop Antonio Valdespino, Allamah Syed al-Fadl, and Rabbi Yehuda Köves.

• Kirsch and al-Fadl are both dead, and Rabbi Yehuda Köves is no longer answering his home phone and appears to have gone missing.

• Bishop Valdespino is alive and well, and was last seen walking across the plaza toward the Royal Palace.

• Kirsch’s assassin—identified as navy admiral Luis Ávila—has body markings that tie him to a faction of ultraconservative Francoists. (Is Bishop Valdespino—a known conservative—a Francoist as well?)

• And finally, according to sources inside the Guggenheim, the event’s guest list was locked, and yet assassin Luis Ávila was added at the last minute per the request of someone inside the Royal Palace. (The individual on-site who fulfilled that request was future queen consort Ambra Vidal.)

ConspiracyNet would like to acknowledge the substantial ongoing contributions of civilian watchdog monte@iglesia.org on this story.

¿Monte@iglesia.org?

Garza had already decided the e-mail address had to be a fake. Iglesia.org was a prominent evangelical Catholic website in Spain, an online community of priests, laypeople, and students who were devoted to the teachings of Jesus. The informant seemed to have spoofed the domain so that the allegations would appear to come from iglesia.org.

Clever, Garza thought, knowing that Bishop Valdespino was deeply admired by the devout Catholics behind the site. Garza wondered if this online “contributor” was the same informant who had called the rabbi.

As he reached the apartment door, Garza wondered how he would break the news to the prince. The day had started quite normally, and suddenly it seemed as if the palace was engaged in a war with ghosts. A faceless informant named Monte? An array of data points? Making matters even worse, Garza still had no news on the status of Ambra Vidal and Robert Langdon.

God help us if the press learns of Ambra’s defiant actions tonight.

The commander entered without knocking. “Prince Julián?” he called, hurrying toward the living room. “I need to speak to you alone for a moment.”

Garza reached the living room and stopped short.

The room was empty.

“Don Julián?” he called, wheeling back toward the kitchen. “Bishop Valdespino?”

Garza searched the entire apartment, but the prince and Valdespino were gone.

He immediately called the prince’s cell phone and was startled to hear a telephone ringing. The sound was faint but audible, somewhere in the apartment. Garza called the prince again, and listened for the muffled ringing, this time tracking the sound to a small painting on the wall, which he knew concealed the apartment’s wall safe.

Julián locked his phone in the safe?

It was beyond belief to Garza that the prince would abandon his phone on a night when communication was so critical.

And where did they go?

Garza now tried Valdespino’s cell number, hoping the bishop would answer. To his utter astonishment, a second muffled ringtone sounded inside the vault.

Valdespino abandoned his phone as well?

With rising panic, a wild-eyed Garza dashed out of the apartment. For the next several minutes, he ran down hallways shouting, searching both upstairs and downstairs.

They can’t have evaporated into thin air!

When Garza finally stopped running, he found himself standing breathless at the base of Sabatini’s elegant grand staircase. He lowered his head in defeat. The tablet in his hands was asleep now, but in the blackened screen, he could see the reflection of the ceiling fresco directly overhead.

The irony felt cruel. The fresco was Giaquinto’s grand masterpiece—Religion Protected by Spain.

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