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COMMANDER DIEGO GARZA led his four armed Guardia agents directly across the center of Plaza de la Armería, keeping his eyes straight ahead and ignoring the clamoring media outside the fence, all of whom were aiming television cameras at him through the bars and shouting for a comment.

At least they’ll see that someone is taking action.

When he and his team arrived at the cathedral, the main entrance was locked—not surprising at this hour—and Garza began pounding on the door with the handle of his sidearm.

No answer.

He kept pounding.

Finally, the locks turned and the door swung open. Garza found himself face-to-face with a cleaning woman, who looked understandably alarmed by the small army outside the door.

“Where is Bishop Valdespino?” Garza demanded.

“I … I don’t know,” the woman replied.

“I know the bishop is here,” Garza declared. “And he is with Prince Julián. You haven’t seen them?”

She shook her head. “I just arrived. I clean on Saturday nights after—”

Garza pushed past her, directing his men to spread out through the darkened cathedral.

“Lock the door,” Garza told the cleaning woman. “And stay out of the way.”

With that, he cocked his weapon and headed directly for Valdespino’s office.


Across the plaza, in the palace’s basement control room, Mónica Martín was standing at the watercooler and taking a pull on a long-overdue cigarette. Thanks to the liberal “politically correct” movement sweeping Spain, smoking in palace offices had been banned, but with the deluge of alleged crimes being pinned on the palace tonight, Martín figured a bit of secondhand smoke was a tolerable infraction.

All five news stations on the bank of muted televisions lined up before her continued their live coverage of the assassination of Edmond Kirsch, flagrantly replaying the footage of his brutal murder over and over. Of course, each retransmission was preceded by the usual warning.

CAUTION: The following clip contains graphic images that may not be appropriate for all viewers.

Shameless, she thought, knowing these warnings were not sensitive network precautions but rather clever teasers to ensure that nobody changed the channel.

Martín took another pull on her cigarette, scanning the various networks, most of which were milking the growing conspiracy theories with “Breaking News” headlines and ticker-tape crawls.

Futurist killed by Church?

Scientific discovery lost forever?

Assassin hired by royal family?

You’re supposed to report the news, she grumbled. Not spread vicious rumors in the form of questions.

Martín had always believed in the importance of responsible journalism as a cornerstone of freedom and democracy, and so she was routinely disappointed by journalists who incited controversy by broadcasting ideas that were patently absurd—all the while avoiding legal repercussions by simply turning every ludicrous statement into a leading question.

Even respected science channels were doing it, asking their viewers: “Is It Possible That This Temple in Peru Was Built by Ancient Aliens?”

No! Martín wanted to shout at the television. It’s not freaking possible! Stop asking moronic questions!

On one of the television screens, she could see that CNN seemed to be doing its best to be respectful.

Remembering Edmond Kirsch

Prophet. Visionary. Creator.

Martín picked up the remote and turned up the volume.

“… a man who loved art, technology, and innovation,” said the news anchor sadly. “A man whose almost mystical ability to predict the future made him a household name. According to his colleagues, every single prediction made by Edmond Kirsch in the field of computer science has become a reality.”

“That’s right, David,” interjected his female cohost. “I just wish we could say the same for his personal predictions.”

They now played archival footage of a robust, tanned Edmond Kirsch giving a press conference on the sidewalk outside 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. “Today I am thirty years old,” Edmond said, “and my life expectancy is only sixty-eight. However, with future advances in medicine, longevity technology, and telomere regeneration, I predict I will live to see my hundred-and-tenth birthday. In fact, I am so confident of this fact that I just reserved the Rainbow Room for my hundred-and-tenth-birthday party.” Kirsch smiled and gazed up to the top of the building. “I just now paid my entire bill—eighty years in advance—including provisions for inflation.”

The female anchor returned, sighing somberly. “As the old adage goes: ‘Men plan, and God laughs.’”

“So true,” the male host chimed. “And on top of the intrigue surrounding Kirsch’s death, there is also an explosion of speculation over the nature of his discovery.” He stared earnestly at the camera. “Where do we come from? Where are we going? Two fascinating questions.”

“And to answer these questions,” the female host added excitedly, “we are joined by two very accomplished women—an Episcopal minister from Vermont and an evolutionary biologist from UCLA. We’ll be back after the break with their thoughts.”

Martín already knew their thoughts—polar opposites, or they would not be on your show. No doubt the minister would say something like: “We come from God and we’re going to God,” and the biologist would respond, “We evolved from apes and we’re going extinct.”

They will prove nothing except that we viewers will watch anything if it’s sufficiently hyped.

“Mónica!” Suresh shouted nearby.

Martín turned to see the director of electronic security rounding the corner, practically at a jog.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Bishop Valdespino just called me,” he said breathlessly.

She muted the TV. “The bishop called … you? Did he tell you what the hell he’s doing?!”

Suresh shook his head. “I didn’t ask, and he didn’t offer. He was calling to see if I could check something on our phone servers.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You know how ConspiracyNet is now reporting that someone inside this palace placed a call to the Guggenheim shortly before tonight’s event—a request for Ambra Vidal to add Ávila’s name to the guest list?”

“Yes. And I asked you to look into it.”

“Well, Valdespino seconded your request. He called to ask if I would log into the palace’s switchboard and find the record of that call to see if I could figure out where in the palace it had originated, in hopes of getting a better idea of who here might have placed it.”

Martín felt confused, having imagined that Valdespino himself was the most likely suspect.

“According to the Guggenheim,” Suresh continued, “their front desk received a call from Madrid Royal Palace’s primary number tonight, shortly before the event. It’s in their phone logs. But here’s the problem. I looked into our switchboard logs to check our outbound calls with the same time stamp.” He shook his head. “Nothing. Not a single call. Someone deleted the record of the palace’s call to the Guggenheim.”

Martín studied her colleague a long moment. “Who has access to do that?”

“That’s exactly what Valdespino asked me. And so I told him the truth. I told him that I, as head of electronic security, could have deleted the record, but that I had not done so. And that the only other person with clearance and access to those records is Commander Garza.”

Martín stared. “You think Garza tampered with our phone records?”

“It makes sense,” Suresh said. “Garza’s job, after all, is to protect the palace, and now, if there’s any investigation, as far as the palace is concerned, that call never happened. Technically speaking, we have plausible deniability. Deleting the record goes a long way to taking the palace off the hook.”

“Off the hook?” Martín demanded. “There’s no doubt that that call was made! Ambra put Ávila on the guest list! And the Guggenheim front desk will verify—”

“True, but now it’s the word of a young front-desk person at a museum against the entire Royal Palace. As far as our records are concerned, that call simply didn’t occur.”

Suresh’s cut-and-dried assessment seemed overly optimistic to Martín. “And you told Valdespino all of this?”

“It’s just the truth. I told him that whether or not Garza actually placed the call, Garza appears to have deleted it in an effort to protect the palace.” Suresh paused. “But after I hung up with the bishop, I realized something else.”

“That being?”

“Technically, there’s a third person with access to the server.” Suresh glanced nervously around the room and moved closer. “Prince Julián’s log-in codes give him full access to all systems.”

Martín stared. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I know it sounds crazy,” he said, “but the prince was in the palace, alone in his apartment, at the time that call was made. He could easily have placed it and then logged onto the server and deleted it. The software is simple to use and the prince is a lot more tech-savvy than people think.”

“Suresh,” Martín snapped, “do you really think Prince Julián—the future king of Spain—personally sent an assassin into the Guggenheim Museum to kill Edmond Kirsch?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “All I’m saying is that it’s possible.”

“Why would Prince Julián do such a thing?!”

“You, of all people, shouldn’t have to ask. Remember all the bad press you had to deal with about Ambra and Edmond Kirsch spending time together? The story about how he flew her to his apartment in Barcelona?”

“They were working! It was business!”

“Politics is all appearances,” Suresh said. “You taught me that. And you and I know the prince’s marriage proposal has not worked out for him publicly the way he imagined.”

Suresh’s phone pinged and he read the incoming message, his face clouding with disbelief.

“What is it?” Martín demanded.

Without a word, Suresh turned and ran back toward the security center.

“Suresh!” Martín stubbed out her cigarette and ran after him, joining him at one of his team’s security workstations, where his tech was playing a grainy surveillance tape.

“What are we looking at?” Martín demanded.

“Rear exit of the cathedral,” the techie said. “Five minutes ago.”

Martín and Suresh leaned in and watched the video feed as a young acolyte exited the rear of the cathedral, hurried along the relatively quiet Calle Mayor, unlocked an old beat-up Opel sedan, and climbed in.

Okay, Martín thought, he’s going home after mass. So what?

On-screen, the Opel pulled out, drove a short distance, and then pulled up unusually close to the cathedral’s rear gate—the same gate through which the acolyte had just exited. Almost instantly, two dark figures slipped out through the gate, crouching low, and jumped into the backseat of the acolyte’s car. The two passengers were—without a doubt—Bishop Valdespino and Prince Julián.

Moments later, the Opel sped off, disappearing around the corner and out of frame.

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