WITH INCREASING URGENCY, Langdon ran his eyes along the collection of books lining Edmond’s hallway.
Poetry … there’s got to be some poetry here somewhere.
The Guardia’s unexpected arrival in Barcelona had started a dangerous ticking clock, and yet Langdon felt confident that time would not run out. After all, once he and Ambra had located Edmond’s favorite line of poetry, they would need only seconds to enter it into Edmond’s phone and play the presentation for the world. As Edmond intended.
Langdon glanced over at Ambra, who was on the opposite side of the hall, farther down, continuing her search of the left-hand side as Langdon combed the right. “Do you see anything over there?”
Ambra shook her head. “So far only science and philosophy. No poetry. No Nietzsche.”
“Keep looking,” Langdon told her, returning to his search. Currently, he was scanning a section of thick tomes on history:
PRIVILEGE, PERSECUTION AND PROPHECY: THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SPAIN
BY THE SWORD AND THE CROSS: THE HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF THE CATHOLIC WORLD MONARCHY
The titles reminded him of a dark tale Edmond had shared years ago after Langdon had commented that Edmond, for an American atheist, seemed to have an unusual obsession with Spain and Catholicism. “My mother was a native Spaniard,” Edmond had replied flatly. “And a guilt-ridden Catholic.”
As Edmond shared the tragic tale of his childhood and his mother, Langdon could only listen with great surprise. Edmond’s mother, Paloma Calvo, the computer scientist explained, had been the daughter of simple laborers in Cádiz, Spain. At nineteen, she fell in love with a university teacher from Chicago, Michael Kirsch, who was on sabbatical in Spain, and had become pregnant. Having witnessed the shunning of other unwed mothers in her strict Catholic community, Paloma saw no option but to accept the man’s halfhearted offer to marry her and move to Chicago. Shortly after her son, Edmond, was born, Paloma’s husband was struck by a car and killed while biking home from class.
Castigo divino, her own father called it. Divine punishment.
Paloma’s parents refused to let their daughter return home to Cádiz and bring shame to their household. Instead, they warned that Paloma’s dire circumstances were a clear sign of God’s anger, and that the kingdom of heaven would never accept her unless she dedicated herself body and soul to Christ for the rest of her life.
After giving birth to Edmond, Paloma worked as a maid in a motel and tried to raise him as best as she could. At night, in their meager apartment, she read Scripture and prayed for forgiveness, but her destitution only deepened, and with it, her certainty that God was not yet satisfied with her penance.
Disgraced and fearful, Paloma became convinced after five years that the most profound act of maternal love she could show her child would be to give him a new life, one shielded from God’s punishment of Paloma’s sins. And so she placed five-year-old Edmond in an orphanage and returned to Spain, where she entered a convent. Edmond had never seen her again.
When he was ten, Edmond learned that his mother had died in the convent during a self-imposed religious fast. Overcome with physical pain, she had hanged herself.
“It’s not a pleasant story,” Edmond told Langdon. “As a high school student, I learned these details—and as you can imagine, my mother’s unwavering zealotry has a lot to do with my abhorrence of religion. I call it—‘Newton’s Third Law of Child Rearing: For every lunacy, there is an equal and opposite lunacy.’”
After hearing the story, Langdon understood why Edmond had been so full of anger and bitterness when they met during Edmond’s freshman year at Harvard. Langdon also marveled that Edmond had never once complained about the rigors of his childhood. Instead, he had declared himself fortunate for the early hardship because it had served as a potent motivation for Edmond to achieve his two childhood goals—first, to get out of poverty, and second, to help expose the hypocrisy of the faith he believed destroyed his mother.
Success on both counts, Langdon thought sadly, continuing to peruse the apartment’s library.
As he began scanning a new section of bookshelves, he spotted many titles he recognized, most of them relevant to Edmond’s lifelong concerns for the dangers of religion:
THE GOD DELUSION
GOD IS NOT GREAT
THE PORTABLE ATHEIST
LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION
THE END OF FAITH
THE GOD VIRUS: HOW RELIGION INFECTS OUR LIVES AND CULTURE
Over the last decade, books advocating rationality over blind faith had sprung up on nonfiction bestseller lists. Langdon had to admit that the cultural shift away from religion had become increasingly visible—even on the Harvard campus. Recently, the Washington Post had run an article on “godlessness at Harvard,” reporting that for the first time in the school’s 380-year history, the freshman class consisted of more agnostics and atheists than Protestants and Catholics combined.
Similarly, across the Western world, antireligious organizations were sprouting up, pushing back against what they considered the dangers of religious dogma—American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americanhumanist.org, the Atheist Alliance International.
Langdon had never given these groups much thought until Edmond had told him about the Brights—a global organization that, despite its often misunderstood name, endorsed a naturalistic worldview with no supernatural or mystical elements. The Brights’ membership included powerhouse intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, and Daniel Dennett. Apparently, the growing army of atheists was now packing some very big guns.
Langdon had spotted books by both Dawkins and Dennett only minutes ago while skimming the section of the library devoted to evolution.
The Dawkins classic The Blind Watchmaker forcefully challenged the teleological notion that human beings—much like complex watches—could exist only if they had a “designer.” Similarly, one of Dennett’s books, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, argued that natural selection alone was sufficient to explain the evolution of life, and that complex biological designs could exist without help from a divine designer.
God is not needed for life, Langdon mused, flashing on Edmond’s presentation. The question “Where do we come from?” suddenly rang a bit more forcefully in Langdon’s mind. Could that be part of Edmond’s discovery? he wondered. The idea that life exists on its own—without a Creator?
This notion, of course, stood in direct opposition to every major Creation story, which made Langdon increasingly curious to know if he might be on the right track. Then again, the idea seemed entirely unprovable.
“Robert?” Ambra called behind him.
Langdon turned to see that Ambra had completed searching her side of the library and was shaking her head. “Nothing over here,” she said. “All nonfiction. I’ll help you look on your side.”
“Same here so far,” Langdon said.
As Ambra crossed to Langdon’s side of the library, Winston’s voice crackled on the speakerphone.
Ambra raised Edmond’s phone. “Yes?”
“Both you and Professor Langdon need to see something right away,” Winston said. “The palace has just made a public statement.”
Langdon moved quickly toward Ambra, standing close by her side, watching as the tiny screen in her hand began streaming a video.
He recognized the plaza in front of Madrid’s Royal Palace, where a uniformed man in handcuffs was being marched roughly into the frame by four Guardia Real agents. The agents turned their prisoner toward the camera, as if to disgrace him before the eyes of the world.
“Garza?!” Ambra exclaimed, sounding stunned. “The head of the Guardia Real is under arrest?!”
The camera turned now to show a woman in thick glasses who pulled a piece of paper out of a pocket of her pantsuit and prepared to read a statement.
“That’s Mónica Martín,” Ambra said. “Public relations coordinator. What is going on?”
The woman began reading, enunciating every word clearly and distinctly. “The Royal Palace is hereby arresting Commander Diego Garza for his role in the murder of Edmond Kirsch, as well as his attempts to implicate Bishop Valdespino in that crime.”
Langdon could feel Ambra stagger slightly beside him as Mónica Martín continued reading.
“Regarding our future queen, Ambra Vidal,” the PR coordinator said in an ominous tone, “and the American professor Robert Langdon, I’m afraid I have some deeply disturbing news.”
Langdon and Ambra exchanged a startled glance.
“The palace has just received confirmation from Ms. Vidal’s security detail,” Martín continued, “that Ms. Vidal was taken from the Guggenheim Museum against her will tonight by Robert Langdon. Our Guardia Real are now on full alert, coordinating with local authorities in Barcelona, where it is believed that Robert Langdon is holding Ms. Vidal hostage.”
Langdon was speechless.
“As this is now formally classified as a hostage situation, the public is urged to assist the authorities by reporting any and all information relating to the whereabouts of Ms. Vidal or Mr. Langdon. The palace has no further comment at this time.”
Reporters started screaming questions at Martín, who abruptly turned and marched off toward the palace.
“This is … madness,” Ambra stammered. “My agents saw me leave the museum willingly!”
Langdon stared at the phone, trying to make sense of what he had just witnessed. Despite the torrent of questions now swirling in his mind, he was entirely lucid about one key point.
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