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CHAPTER 64

BISHOP VALDESPINO STOLE another quick glance at Julián, who was still staring blankly out the window of the Opel sedan as it sped along Highway M-505.

What is he thinking? Valdespino wondered.

The prince had been silent for nearly thirty minutes, barely moving except for the occasional reflexive reach into his pocket for his phone, only to realize that he had locked it in his wall safe.

I need to keep him in the dark, Valdespino thought, just a bit longer.

In the front seat, the acolyte from the cathedral was still driving in the direction of Casita del Príncipe, although Valdespino soon would need to inform him that the prince’s retreat was not their destination at all.

Julián turned suddenly from the window, tapping the acolyte on the shoulder. “Please turn on the radio,” he said. “I’d like to hear the news.”

Before the young man could comply, Valdespino leaned forward and placed a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Let’s just sit quietly, shall we?”

Julián turned to the bishop, clearly displeased at having been overridden.

“I’m sorry,” Valdespino said at once, sensing a growing distrust in the prince’s eyes. “It’s late. All that chatter. I prefer silent reflection.”

“I’ve been doing some reflecting,” Julián said, his voice sharp, “and I’d like to know what’s going on in my country. We’ve entirely isolated ourselves tonight, and I’m starting to wonder if it was a good idea.”

“It is a good idea,” Valdespino assured him, “and I appreciate the trust you’ve shown me.” He removed his hand from the acolyte’s shoulder and motioned to the radio. “Please turn on the news. Perhaps Radio María España?” Valdespino hoped the worldwide Catholic station would be gentler and more tactful than most media outlets had been about tonight’s troubling developments.

When the newscaster’s voice came over the cheap car speakers, he was discussing Edmond Kirsch’s presentation and assassination. Every station in the world is talking about this tonight. Valdespino just hoped his own name would not come up as part of the broadcast.

Fortunately, the topic at the moment appeared to be the dangers of the antireligious message preached by Kirsch, especially the threat posed by his influence on the youth of Spain. As an example, the station began rebroadcasting a lecture Kirsch had delivered recently at the University of Barcelona.

“Many of us are afraid to call ourselves atheists,” Kirsch said calmly to the assembled students. “And yet atheism is not a philosophy, nor is atheism a view of the world. Atheism is simply an admission of the obvious.”

Several students clapped in agreement.

“The term ‘atheist,’” Kirsch continued, “should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘nonastrologer’ or a ‘nonalchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive, or for people who doubt that aliens traverse the galaxy only to molest cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

A growing number of students clapped their approval.

“That definition is not mine, by the way,” Kirsch told them. “Those words belong to neuroscientist Sam Harris. And if you have not already done so, you must read his book Letter to a Christian Nation.”

Valdespino frowned, recalling the stir caused by Harris’s book, Carta a una Nación Cristiana, which, while written for Americans, had reverberated across Spain.

“By a show of hands,” Kirsch continued, “how many of you believe in any of the following ancient gods: Apollo? Zeus? Vulcan?” He paused, and then laughed. “Not a single one of you? Okay, so it appears we are all atheists with respect to those gods.” He paused. “I simply choose to go one god further.”

The crowd clapped louder still.

“My friends, I am not saying I know for a fact that there is no God. All I am saying is that if there is a divine force behind the universe, it is laughing hysterically at the religions we’ve created in an attempt to define it.”

Everyone laughed.

Valdespino was now pleased that the prince had asked to listen to the radio. Julián needs to hear this. Kirsch’s devilishly seductive charm was proof that the enemies of Christ were no longer sitting idly by, but rather were actively trying to pull souls away from God.

“I’m an American,” Kirsch continued, “and I feel profoundly fortunate to have been born in one of the most technologically advanced and intellectually progressive countries on earth. And so I found it deeply disturbing when a recent poll revealed that one half of my countrymen believe quite literally that Adam and Eve existed—that an all-powerful God created two fully formed human beings who single-handedly populated the entire planet, generating all the diverse races, with none of the inherent problems of inbreeding.”

More laughter.

“In Kentucky,” he continued, “church pastor Peter LaRuffa publicly declared: ‘If somewhere within the Bible, I found a passage that said ‘two plus two is five,’ I would believe it and accept it as true.’”

Still more laughter.

“I agree, it’s easy to laugh, but I assure you, these beliefs are far more terrifying than they are funny. Many of the people who espouse them are bright, educated professionals—doctors, lawyers, teachers, and in some cases, people who aspire to the highest offices in the land. I once heard U.S. congressman Paul Broun say, ‘Evolution and the Big Bang are lies straight from the pit of hell. I believe the earth is about nine thousand years old, and it was created in six days as we know them.’” Kirsch paused. “Even more troubling, Congressman Broun sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and when questioned about the existence of a fossil record spanning millions of years, his response was ‘Fossils were placed there by God to test our faith.’”

Kirsch’s voice grew suddenly quiet and somber. “To permit ignorance is to empower it. To do nothing as our leaders proclaim absurdities is a crime of complacency. As is letting our schools and churches teach outright untruths to our children. The time for action has come. Not until we purge our species of superstitious thinking can we embrace all that our minds have to offer.” He paused and a hush fell over the crowd. “I love humankind. I believe our minds and our species have limitless potential. I believe we are on the brink of an enlightened new era, a world where religion finally departs … and science reigns.”

The crowd erupted with wild applause.

“For heaven’s sake,” Valdespino snapped, shaking his head in disgust. “Turn it off.”

The acolyte obeyed, and the three men drove on in silence.

 

Thirty miles away, Mónica Martín was standing opposite a breathless Suresh Bhalla, who had just dashed in and handed her a cell phone.

“Long story,” Suresh gasped, “but you need to read this text that Bishop Valdespino received.”

“Hold on.” Martín almost dropped the device. “This is the bishop’s phone?! How the hell did you—”

“Don’t ask. Just read.”

Alarmed, Martín directed her eyes to the phone and began reading the text on its screen. Within seconds, she felt herself blanch. “My God, Bishop Valdespino is …”

“Dangerous,” Suresh said.

“But … this is impossible! Who is this person who texted the bishop?!”

“Shielded number,” Suresh said. “I’m working on identifying it.”

“And why wouldn’t Valdespino delete this message?”

“No idea,” Suresh said flatly. “Careless? Arrogant? I’ll try to undelete any other texts, and also see if I can identify who Valdespino is texting with, but I wanted to give you this news on Valdespino right away; you’ll have to make a statement on it.”

“No, I won’t!” Martín said, still reeling. “The palace is not going public with this information!”

“No, but someone else will very soon.” Suresh quickly explained that the motive for searching Valdespino’s phone had been a direct e-mail tip from monte@iglesia.org—the informant who was feeding news to ConspiracyNet—and if this person acted true to form, the bishop’s text would not remain private for long.

Martín closed her eyes, trying to picture the world’s reaction to incontrovertible proof that a Catholic bishop with very close ties to the king of Spain was directly involved in tonight’s treachery and murder.

“Suresh,” Martín whispered, slowly opening her eyes. “I need you to figure out who this ‘Monte’ informant is. Can you do that for me?”

“I can try.” He did not sound hopeful.

“Thanks.” Martín handed the bishop’s phone back to him and hurried to the door. “And send me a screenshot of that text!”

“Where are you going?” Suresh called.

Mónica Martín did not answer.

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