Read Origin Online

Authors: Dan Brown

Origin (39 page)

My God
, he thought, now realizing why this book had been locked away from the hands of visitors.
It’s probably worth a fortune.

Langdon knew there were precious few early editions of this legendary artist’s work in existence.

I’m not surprised Edmond invested in this
, he thought, recalling that Edmond had once referred to this British artist as “the only premodern with any imagination.” Langdon disagreed, but he could certainly understand Edmond’s special affection for this artist.
They are both cut from the same cloth.

Langdon crouched down and peered through the glass at the box’s gilded engraving:
The Complete Works of William Blake.

William Blake
, Langdon mused.
The Edmond Kirsch of the eighteen hundreds
.

Blake had been an idiosyncratic genius—a prolific luminary whose painting style was so progressive that some believed he had magically
glimpsed the future in his dreams. His symbol-infused religious illustrations depicted angels, demons, Satan, God, mythical creatures, biblical themes, and a pantheon of deities from his own spiritual hallucinations.

And just like Kirsch, Blake loved to challenge Christianity.

The thought caused Langdon to stand up abruptly.

William Blake.

He drew a startled breath.

Finding Blake among so many other visual artists had caused Langdon to forget one crucial fact about the mystical genius.

Blake was not only an artist and illustrator …

Blake was a prolific poet.

For an instant, Langdon felt his heart begin to race. Much of Blake’s poetry espoused revolutionary ideas that meshed perfectly with Edmond’s views. In fact, some of Blake’s most widely known aphorisms—those in “satanic” works like
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
—could almost have been written by Edmond himself.

ALL RELIGIONS ARE ONE

THERE IS NO NATURAL RELIGION

Langdon now recalled Edmond’s description of his favorite line of poetry.
He told Ambra it was a “prophecy.”
Langdon knew of no poet in history who could be considered more of a prophet than William Blake, who, in the 1790s, had penned two dark and ominous poems:

AMERICA A PROPHECY

EUROPE A PROPHECY

Langdon owned both works—elegant reproductions of Blake’s handwritten poems and accompanying illustrations.

Langdon peered at the large leather box inside the cabinet.

The original editions of Blake’s “prophecies” would have been published as large-format illuminated texts!

With a surge of hope, Langdon crouched down in front of the cabinet, sensing the leather box might very well contain what he and Ambra had come here to find—a poem that contained a prophetic forty-seven-character line. The only question now was whether Edmond had somehow
marked
his favorite passage.

Langdon reached out and pulled the cabinet handle.

Locked.

He glanced toward the spiral staircase, wondering whether he should simply dash upstairs and ask Winston to run a search on all of William Blake’s poetry. The sound of sirens had been replaced by the distant thrum of helicopter blades and voices yelling in the stairwell outside Edmond’s door.

They’re here.

Langdon eyed the cabinet and noted the faint greenish tint of modern museum-grade UV glass.

He whipped off his jacket, held it over the glass, turned his body, and without hesitation, rammed his elbow into the pane. With a muffled crunch, the cabinet door shattered. Carefully, Langdon reached through the jagged shards, unlocking the door. Then he swung the door open and gently lifted out the leather box.

Even before Langdon set the box on the floor, he could tell that something was wrong.
It’s not heavy enough.
Blake’s complete works seemed to weigh almost nothing.

Langdon set down the box and carefully raised the lid.

Just as he feared … empty.

He exhaled, staring into the vacant container.
Where the hell is Edmond’s book?!

He was about to close the box when Langdon noticed something unexpected taped to the inside of the lid—an elegantly embossed ivory note card.

Langdon read the text on the card.

Then, in utter disbelief, he read it again.

Seconds later, he was racing up the spiral staircase toward the roof.

 

At that instant, on the second floor of Madrid’s Royal Palace, director of electronic security Suresh Bhalla was moving quietly through Prince Julián’s private apartment. After locating the digital wall safe, he entered the master override code that was kept for emergencies.

The safe popped open.

Inside, Suresh saw two phones—a secure palace-issued smartphone that belonged to Prince Julián and an iPhone that, he deduced, in all likelihood was the property of Bishop Valdespino.

He grabbed the iPhone.

Am I really doing this?

Again he pictured the message from [email protected]

i hacked valdespino’s texts.

he has dangerous secrets.

the palace should access his sms records.

now.

Suresh wondered what secrets the bishop’s texts could possibly reveal … and why the informant had decided to give the Royal Palace a heads-up.

Perhaps the informant is trying to protect the palace from collateral damage?

All Suresh knew was that if there was information that was of danger to the royal family, it was his job to access it.

He had already considered obtaining an emergency subpoena, but the PR risks and the delay made it impractical. Fortunately, Suresh had far more discreet and expedient methods at his disposal.

Holding Valdespino’s phone, he pressed the home button and the screen lit up.

Locked with a password.

No problem.

“Hey, Siri,” Suresh said, holding the phone to his mouth. “What time is it?”

Still in locked mode, the phone displayed a clock. On this clock screen, Suresh ran through a series of simple commands—creating a new time zone for the clock, asking to share the time zone via SMS, adding a photo, and then, rather than trying to send the text, hitting the home button.

Click
.

The phone unlocked.

This simple hack compliments of YouTube
, Suresh thought, amused that iPhone users believed their password offered them any privacy at all.

Now, with full access to Valdespino’s phone, Suresh opened the iMessage app, fully anticipating that he would have to restore Valdespino’s deleted texts by tricking the iCloud backup into rebuilding the catalog.

Sure enough, he found the bishop’s text history entirely empty.

Except for one message
, he realized, seeing a lone inbound text that had arrived a couple of hours ago from a blocked number.

Suresh clicked open the text and read the three-line message. For a moment, he thought he was hallucinating.

This can’t be true!

Suresh read the message again. The text was absolute proof of Valdespino’s involvement in acts of unthinkable treachery and deceit.

Not to mention arrogance
, Suresh thought, stunned that the old cleric would feel so invulnerable as to communicate a message like this electronically.

If this text goes public …

Suresh shuddered at the possibility and immediately ran downstairs to find Mónica Martín.

CHAPTER
60

AS THE EC145
helicopter streaked in low over the city, Agent Díaz stared down at the sprawl of lights beneath him. Despite the late hour, he could see the flicker of televisions and computers in the majority of apartment windows, painting the city with a faint blue haze.

The whole world is watching.

It made him nervous. He could feel this night spiraling wildly out of control, and he feared this growing crisis was headed for a disturbing conclusion.

In front of him, Agent Fonseca shouted and pointed into the distance directly ahead. Díaz nodded, spotting their target at once.

Hard to miss
.

Even from a distance, the pulsating cluster of spinning blue police lights was unmistakable.

God help us.

Just as Díaz had feared, Casa Milà was overrun by local police cars. The Barcelona authorities had responded to an anonymous tip on the heels of Mónica Martín’s press announcement from the Royal Palace.

Robert Langdon has kidnapped the future queen of Spain.

The palace needs the public’s help in finding them.

A blatant lie
, Díaz knew.
With my own eyes I saw them leave the Guggenheim together.

While Martín’s ploy had been effective, it had set in motion an incredibly dangerous game. Creating a public manhunt by involving local authorities was perilous—not just for Robert Langdon, but for the future queen, who now had a very good chance of being caught in the cross fire of a bunch of amateur local cops. If the palace’s goal was to keep the future queen safe, this was definitely not the way to do it.

Commander Garza would never have permitted this situation to escalate so far.

Garza’s arrest remained a mystery to Díaz, who had no doubt that the
charges against his commander were just as fictitious as those against Langdon.

Nonetheless, Fonseca had taken the call and received his orders.

Orders from above Garza’s head.

As the helicopter neared Casa Milà, Agent Díaz surveyed the scene below and realized there would be no safe place to land. The broad avenue and corner plaza in front of the building were packed with media trucks, police cars, and crowds of onlookers.

Díaz looked down at the building’s famous rooftop—an undulating figure eight of sloping pathways and staircases that wound above the building and provided visitors with breathtaking views of the Barcelona skyline … as well as views down into the building’s two gaping light wells, each of which dropped nine stories to interior courtyards.

No landing there.

In addition to the heaving hills and valleys of the terrain, the roof deck was protected by towering Gaudí chimneys that resembled futuristic chess pieces—helmeted sentinels that allegedly had so impressed film-maker George Lucas that he’d used them as models for his menacing storm troopers in
Star Wars.

Díaz glanced away to scan the neighboring buildings for possible landing sites, but his gaze suddenly stopped on an unexpected vision atop Casa Milà.

A small figure stood among the huge statues.

Poised at a railing near the edge of the roof, the person was dressed in white, starkly illuminated by the upward-facing media lights in the plaza below. For an instant, the vision reminded Díaz of seeing the pope on his balcony over St. Peter’s Square, addressing his followers.

But this was not the pope.

This was a beautiful woman in a very familiar white dress.

 

Ambra Vidal could see nothing through the glare of the media lights, but she could hear a helicopter closing in and knew time was running out. Desperately, she leaned out over the railing and attempted to shout to the swarm of media people below.

Her words vanished into the deafening roar of helicopter rotors.

Winston had predicted that the television crews on the street would direct their cameras upward the instant Ambra was spotted on the edge
of the roof. Indeed, that was exactly what had happened, and yet Ambra knew Winston’s plan had failed.

They can’t hear a word I’m saying!

The rooftop of Casa Milà stood too high over the blaring traffic and chaos below. And now the thrum of the helicopter threatened to drown out everything entirely.

“I have
not
been kidnapped!” Ambra yelled once again, mustering as much volume as she could. “The statement from the Royal Palace about Robert Langdon was inaccurate! I am
not
a hostage!”

You are the future queen of Spain
, Winston had reminded her moments earlier.
If you call off this manhunt, the authorities will stop dead in their tracks. Your statement will create utter confusion. Nobody will know which orders to follow.

Ambra knew Winston was right, but her words had been lost in the rotor wash above the boisterous crowd.

Suddenly the sky erupted in a thunderous howl. Ambra recoiled back from the railing as the helicopter swooped closer and halted abruptly, hovering directly in front of her. The fuselage doors were wide open, and two familiar faces stared intently out at her—Agents Fonseca and Díaz.

To Ambra’s horror, Agent Fonseca raised some kind of device, which he aimed directly at her head. For a moment, the strangest of thoughts raced through her mind.
Julián wants me dead. I am a barren woman. I cannot give him an heir. Killing me is his only escape from this engagement.

Ambra staggered back, away from the threatening-looking device, clutching Edmond’s cell phone in one hand and reaching out for balance with the other. But as she placed her foot behind her, the ground seemed to disappear. For an instant, she felt only empty space where she had expected solid cement. Her body twisted as she tried to regain her balance, but she felt herself pitching sidelong down a short flight of stairs.

Her left elbow smashed into the cement, and the rest of her crashed down an instant later. Even so, Ambra Vidal felt no pain. Her entire focus shifted to the object that had flown out of her hand—Edmond’s oversized turquoise cell phone.

My God, no!

She watched with dread as the phone skittered across the cement, bouncing down the stairs toward the edge of the nine-story drop to the building’s inner courtyard. She lunged for the phone, but it disappeared under the protective fencing, tumbling into the abyss.

Our connection to Winston …!

Ambra scrambled after it, arriving at the fence just in time to see Edmond’s phone tumbling end over end toward the lobby’s elegant stone floor, where, with a sharp crack, it exploded in a shower of shimmering glass and metal.

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