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CHAPTER 49

THE WINDSHIELD ON Edmond’s Tesla Model X was expansive, morphing seamlessly into the car’s roof somewhere behind Langdon’s head, giving him the disorienting sense he was floating inside a glass bubble.

Guiding the car along the wooded highway north of Barcelona, Langdon was surprised to find himself driving well in excess of the roadway’s generous 120 kph speed limit. The vehicle’s silent electric engine and linear acceleration seemed to make every speed feel nearly identical.

In the seat beside him, Ambra was busy browsing the Internet on the car’s massive dashboard computer display, relaying to Langdon the news that was now breaking worldwide. An ever-deepening web of intrigue was emerging, including rumors that Bishop Valdespino had been wiring funds to the antipope of the Palmarian Church—who allegedly had military ties with conservative Carlists and appeared to be responsible not only for Edmond’s death, but also for the deaths of Syed al-Fadl and Rabbi Yehuda Köves.

As Ambra read aloud, it became clear that media outlets everywhere were now asking the same question: What could Edmond Kirsch possibly have discovered that was so threatening that a prominent bishop and a conservative Catholic sect would murder him in an effort to silence his announcement?

“The viewership numbers are incredible,” Ambra said, glancing up from the screen. “Public interest in this story is unprecedented … it seems like the entire world is transfixed.”

In that instant, Langdon realized that perhaps there was a macabre silver lining to Edmond’s horrific murder. With all the media attention, Kirsch’s global audience had grown far larger than he could ever have imagined. Right now, even in death, Edmond held the world’s ear.

The realization made Langdon even more committed to achieving his goal—to find Edmond’s forty-seven-letter password and launch his presentation to the world.

“There’s no statement yet from Julián,” Ambra said, sounding puzzled. “Not a single word from the Royal Palace. It makes no sense. I’ve had personal experience with their PR coordinator, Mónica Martín, and she’s all about transparency and sharing information before the press can twist it. I’m sure she’s urging Julián to make a statement.”

Langdon suspected she was right. Considering the media was accusing the palace’s primary religious adviser of conspiracy—possibly even murder—it seemed logical that Julián should make a statement of some sort, even if only to say that the palace was investigating the accusations.

“Especially,” Langdon added, “if you consider that the country’s future queen consort was standing right beside Edmond when he was shot. It could have been you, Ambra. The prince should at least say he’s relieved that you’re safe.”

“I’m not sure he is,” she said matter-of-factly, turning off the browser and leaning back in her seat.

Langdon glanced over. “Well, for whatever it’s worth, I’m glad you’re safe. I’m not sure I could have handled tonight all alone.”

“Alone?” an accented voice demanded through the car’s speakers. “How quickly we forget!”

Langdon laughed at Winston’s indignant outburst. “Winston, did Edmond really program you to be defensive and insecure?”

“No,” Winston said. “He programmed me to observe, learn, and mimic human behavior. My tone was more an attempt at humor—which Edmond encouraged me to develop. Humor cannot be programmed … it must be learned.”

“Well, you’re learning well.”

“Am I?” Winston entreated. “Perhaps you could say that again?”

Langdon laughed out loud. “As I said, you’re learning well.”

Ambra had now returned the dashboard display to its default page—a navigation program consisting of a satellite photo on which a tiny “avatar” of their car was visible. Langdon could see that they had wound through the Collserola Mountains and were now merging onto Highway B-20 toward Barcelona. To the south of their location, on the satellite photo, Langdon spotted something unusual that drew his attention—a large forested area in the middle of the urban sprawl. The green expanse was elongated and amorphous, like a giant amoeba.

“Is that Parc Güell?” he asked.

Ambra glanced at the screen and nodded. “Good eye.”

“Edmond stopped there frequently,” Winston added, “on his way home from the airport.”

Langdon was not surprised. Parc Güell was one of the best-known masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí—the same architect and artist whose work Edmond displayed on his phone case. Gaudí was a lot like Edmond, Langdon thought. A groundbreaking visionary for whom the normal rules did not apply.

A devout student of nature, Antoni Gaudí had taken his architectural inspiration from organic forms, using “God’s natural world” to help him design fluid biomorphic structures that often appeared to have grown out of the ground themselves. There are no straight lines in nature, Gaudí was once quoted as saying, and indeed, there were very few straight lines in his work either.

Often described as the progenitor of “living architecture” and “biological design,” Gaudí invented never-before-seen techniques of carpentry, ironwork, glasswork, and ceramics in order to “sheathe” his buildings in dazzling, colorful skins.

Even now, nearly a century after Gaudí’s death, tourists from around the world traveled to Barcelona to get a glimpse of his inimitable modernist style. His works included parks, public buildings, private mansions, and, of course, his magnum opus—Sagrada Família—the massive Catholic basilica whose skyscraping “sea sponge spires” dominated Barcelona’s skyline, and which critics hailed as being “unlike anything in the entire history of art.”

Langdon had always marveled at Gaudí’s audacious vision for Sagrada Família—a basilica so colossal that it remained under construction today, nearly 140 years after its groundbreaking.

Tonight, as Langdon eyed the car’s satellite image of Gaudí’s famous Parc Güell, he recalled his first visit to the park as a college student—a stroll through a fantasyland of twisting treelike columns supporting elevated walkways, nebulous misshapen benches, grottoes with fountains resembling dragons and fish, and an undulating white wall so distinctively fluid that it looked like the whipping flagellum of a giant single-celled creature.

“Edmond loved everything Gaudí,” Winston continued, “in particular his concept of nature as organic art.”

Langdon’s mind touched again on Edmond’s discovery. Nature. Organics. The Creation. He flashed on Gaudí’s famous Barcelona Panots—hexagonal paving tiles commissioned for the sidewalks of the city. Each tile bore an identical swirling design of seemingly meaningless squiggles, and yet when they were all arranged and rotated as intended, a startling pattern emerged—an underwater seascape that gave the impression of plankton, microbes, and undersea flora—La Sopa Primordial, as the locals often called the design.

Gaudí’s primordial soup, Langdon thought, again startled by how perfectly the city of Barcelona dovetailed with Edmond’s curiosity about the beginnings of life. The prevailing scientific theory was that life had begun in the earth’s primordial soup—those early oceans where volcanoes spewed rich chemicals, which swirled around one another, constantly bombarded by lightning bolts from endless storms … until suddenly, like some kind of microscopic golem, the first single-celled creature sprang to life.

“Ambra,” Langdon said, “you’re a museum curator—you must have discussed art frequently with Edmond. Did he ever tell you specifically what it was about Gaudí that spoke to him?”

“Only what Winston mentioned,” she replied. “His architecture feels as if it were created by nature herself. Gaudí’s grottoes seem carved by the wind and rain, his supporting pillars seem to have grown out of the earth, and his tile work resembles primitive sea life.” She shrugged. “Whatever the reason, Edmond admired Gaudí enough to move to Spain.”

Langdon glanced over at her, surprised. He knew Edmond owned houses in several countries around the world, but in recent years, he’d chosen to settle in Spain. “You’re saying Edmond moved here because of the art of Gaudí?”

“I believe he did,” Ambra said. “I once asked him, ‘Why Spain?’ and he told me he had the rare opportunity to rent a unique property here—a property unlike anything else in the world. I assume he meant his apartment,” she said.

“Where’s his apartment?”

“Robert, Edmond lived in Casa Milà.”

Langdon did a double take. “The Casa Milà?”

“The one and only,” she replied with a nod. “Last year, he rented the entire top floor as his penthouse apartment.”

Langdon needed a moment to process the news. Casa Milà was one of Gaudí’s most famous buildings—a dazzlingly original “house” whose tiered facade and undulating stone balconies resembled an excavated mountain, sparking its now popular nickname “La Pedrera”—meaning “the stone quarry.”

“Isn’t the top floor a Gaudí museum?” Langdon asked, recalling one of his visits to the building in the past.

“Yes,” Winston offered. “But Edmond made a donation to UNESCO, which protects the house as a World Heritage Site, and they agreed to temporarily close it down and let him live there for two years. After all, there’s no shortage of Gaudí art in Barcelona.”

Edmond lived inside a Gaudí exhibit at Casa Milà? Langdon puzzled. And he moved in for only two years?

Winston chimed in. “Edmond even helped Casa Milà create a new educational video about its architecture. It’s worth seeing.”

“The video is actually quite impressive,” Ambra agreed, leaning forward and touching the browser screen. A keyboard appeared, and she typed: Lapedrera.com. “You should watch this.”

“I’m kind of driving,” Langdon replied.

Ambra reached over to the steering column and gave two quick pulls on a small lever. Langdon could feel the steering wheel suddenly stiffen in his hands and immediately noticed that the car appeared to be guiding itself, remaining perfectly centered in its lane.

“Autopilot,” she said.

The effect was quite unsettling, and Langdon could not help but leave his hands hovering over the wheel and his foot over the brake.

“Relax.” Ambra reached over and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s far safer than a human driver.”

Reluctantly, Langdon lowered his hands to his lap.

“There you go.” She smiled. “Now you can watch this Casa Milà video.”

The video began with a dramatic low shot of pounding surf, as if taken from a helicopter flying only a few feet above the open ocean. Rising in the distance was an island—a stone mountain with sheer cliffs that climbed hundreds of feet above the crashing waves.

Text materialized over the mountain.

La Pedrera wasn’t created by Gaudí.

For the next thirty seconds, Langdon watched as the surf began carving the mountain into the distinctive organic-looking exterior of Casa Milà. Next the ocean rushed inside, creating hollows and cavernous rooms, in which waterfalls carved staircases and vines grew, twisting into iron banisters as mosses grew beneath them, carpeting the floors.

Finally, the camera pulled back out to sea and revealed the famous image of Casa Milà—“the quarry”—carved into a massive mountain.

—La Pedrera—

a masterpiece of nature

Langdon had to admit, Edmond had a knack for drama. Seeing this computer-generated video made him eager to revisit the famous building.

Returning his eyes to the road, Langdon reached down and disengaged the autopilot, taking back control. “Let’s just hope Edmond’s apartment contains what we’re looking for. We need to find that password.”

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