Read Origin Online

Authors: Dan Brown

Origin (9 page)

“They must have said
something
,” Langdon prompted, feeling even more curious to know what Kirsch possibly could have discovered.

“I was hoping for a conversation, but the Christian cleric silenced the other two before they could say a word. He urged me to reconsider making the information public. I told him I would think about it for the next month.”

“But you’re going public
tonight
.”

“I know. I told them my announcement was still several weeks away so they wouldn’t panic or try to interfere.”

“And when they find out about tonight’s presentation?” Langdon asked.

“They will not be amused.
One
of them in particular.” Kirsch locked eyes with Langdon. “The cleric who convened our meeting was Bishop Antonio Valdespino. Do you know of him?”

Langdon tensed. “From Madrid?”

Kirsch nodded. “One and the same.”

Probably not the ideal audience for Edmond’s radical atheism
, Langdon thought. Valdespino was a powerful figure in the Spanish Catholic Church, known for his deeply conservative views and strong influence over the king of Spain.

“He was host of the parliament this year,” Kirsch said, “and therefore the one I spoke to about arranging a meeting. He offered to come personally, and I asked him to bring representatives from Islam and Judaism.”

The lights overhead faded again.

Kirsch sighed heavily, lowering his voice further. “Robert, the reason I wanted to speak to you before my presentation is that I need your advice. I need to know if you believe that Bishop Valdespino is dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Langdon said. “In what way?”

“What I showed him threatens his world, and I want to know if you think I’m in any physical danger from him.”

Langdon immediately shook his head. “No, impossible. I’m not sure what you said to him, but Valdespino is a pillar of Spanish Catholicism, and his ties to the Spanish royal family make him extremely
influential
… but he’s a priest, not a hit man. He wields political power. He may preach a sermon against you, but I would find it very hard to believe that you are in any physical danger from him.”

Kirsch looked unconvinced. “You should have seen the way he looked at me as I left Montserrat.”

“You sat in that monastery’s sacrosanct library and told a bishop that his entire belief system is delusional!” Langdon exclaimed. “Did you expect him to serve you tea and cake?”

“No,” Edmond admitted, “but I also didn’t expect him to leave me a threatening voice mail after our meeting.”

“Bishop Valdespino called you?”

Kirsch reached into his leather jacket and pulled out an unusually large smartphone. It had a bright turquoise case adorned with a repeating hexagonal pattern, which Langdon recognized as a famous tiled pattern designed by the modernist Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.

“Have a listen,” Kirsch said, pressing a few buttons and holding up the phone. An elderly man’s voice crackled tersely out of the speaker, his tone severe and dead serious:

Mr. Kirsch, this is Bishop Antonio Valdespino. As you know, I found our meeting this morning profoundly disturbing—as did my two colleagues.
I urge you to call me immediately so we can discuss this further, and I can again warn you of the dangers of going public with this information. If you do not call, be advised that my colleagues and I will consider
a preemptive announcement to share your discoveries, reframe them, discredit them, and attempt to reverse the untold damage you are about to cause the world … damage that you clearly do not foresee. I await your call, and I strongly suggest you not test my resolve.

The message ended.

Langdon had to admit he was startled by Valdespino’s aggressive tone, and yet the voice mail did not so much frighten him as it deepened his curiosity about Edmond’s impending announcement. “So, how did you respond?”

“I didn’t,” Edmond said, slipping the phone back into his pocket. “I
saw it as an idle threat. I was certain they wanted to
bury
this information, not announce it themselves. Moreover, I knew the sudden timing of tonight’s presentation was going to take them by surprise, so I wasn’t overly concerned about their taking preemptive action.” He paused, eyeing Langdon. “Now … I don’t know, something about his tone of voice … it’s just been on my mind.”

“Are you worried you’re in danger
here
? Tonight?”

“No, no, the guest list has been tightly controlled, and this building has excellent security. I’m more worried about what happens once I go public.” Edmond seemed suddenly sorry he’d mentioned it. “It’s silly. Preshow jitters. I just wanted to get your gut instinct.”

Langdon studied his friend with mounting concern. Edmond looked unusually pale and troubled. “My gut tells me Valdespino would never place you in danger, no matter how angry you made him.”

The lights dimmed again, insistently now.

“Okay, thank you.” Kirsch checked his watch. “I need to go, but can you and I meet later? There are some aspects of this discovery I’d like to discuss further with you.”

“Of course.”

“Perfect. Things are going to be chaotic after the presentation, so you and I will need someplace private to escape the mayhem and talk.” Edmond took out a business card and started writing on the back. “After the presentation, hail a cab and give this card to the driver. Any local driver will understand where to bring you.” He handed Langdon the business card.

Langdon expected to see the address of a local hotel or restaurant on the back. Instead he saw what looked more like a cipher.

BIO-EC346

“I’m sorry, give
this
to a taxi driver?”

“Yes, he’ll know where to go. I’ll tell security there to expect you, and I’ll be along as quickly as possible.”

Security?
Langdon frowned, wondering if BIO-EC346 were the code name for some secret science club.

“It’s a painfully simple code, my friend.” He winked. “You of all people should be able to crack it. And, by the way, just so you’re not taken off guard,
you’ll
be playing a role in my announcement tonight.”

Langdon was surprised. “What kind of role?”

“Don’t worry. You won’t have to do a thing.”

With that, Edmond Kirsch headed across the floor toward the spiral’s exit. “I’ve got to dash backstage—but Winston will guide you up.” He paused in the doorway and turned. “I’ll see you after the event. And let’s hope you’re right about Valdespino.”

“Edmond, relax. Focus on your presentation. You’re not in any danger from religious clerics,” Langdon assured him.

Kirsch didn’t look convinced. “You may feel differently, Robert, when you hear what I’m about to say.”

CHAPTER
10

THE HOLY SEAT
of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid—Catedral de la Almudena—is a robust neoclassical cathedral situated adjacent to Madrid’s Royal Palace. Built on the site of an ancient mosque, Almudena Cathedral derives its name from the Arabic
al-mudayna
, meaning “citadel.”

According to legend, when Alfonso VI seized Madrid back from the Muslims in 1083, he became fixated on relocating a precious lost icon of the Virgin Mary that had been entombed in the walls of the citadel for safekeeping. Unable to locate the hidden Virgin, Alfonso prayed intently until a section of the citadel’s wall exploded, falling away, and revealed the icon inside, still lit by the burning candles with which she had been entombed centuries ago.

Today, the Virgin of Almudena is the patron saint of Madrid, and pilgrims and tourists alike flock to mass at Almudena Cathedral for the privilege of praying before her likeness. The church’s dramatic location—sharing the Royal Palace’s main plaza—provides an added attraction to churchgoers: the possibility of glimpsing royalty coming or going from the palace.

Tonight, deep inside the cathedral, a young acolyte was rushing through the hallway in a panic.

Where is Bishop Valdespino?!

Services are about to begin!

For decades, Bishop Antonio Valdespino had been head priest and overseer of this cathedral. A longtime friend and spiritual counselor to the king, Valdespino was an outspoken and devout traditionalist with almost no tolerance for modernization. Incredibly, the eighty-three-year-old bishop still donned ankle shackles during Holy Week and joined the faithful carrying icons through the city streets.

Valdespino, of all people, is never late for mass.

The acolyte had been with the bishop twenty minutes ago in the vestry,
assisting him with his robes as usual. Just as they finished, the bishop had received a text and, without a word, had hurried out.

Where did he go?

Having searched the sanctuary, the vestry, and even the bishop’s private restroom, the acolyte was now running at a sprint down the hallway to the administrative section of the cathedral to check the bishop’s office.

He heard a pipe organ thunder to life in the distance.

The processional hymn is starting!

The acolyte skidded to a stop outside the bishop’s private office, startled to see a shaft of light beneath his closed door.
He’s here?!

The acolyte knocked quietly. “
¿Excelencia Reverendísima?

No answer.

Knocking louder, he called out, “
¡¿Su Excelencia?!

Still nothing.

Fearing for the old man’s health, the acolyte turned the handle and pushed open the door.

¡Cielos!
The acolyte gasped as he peered into the private space.

Bishop Valdespino was seated at his mahogany desk, staring into the glow of a laptop computer. His holy miter was still on his head, his chasuble wadded beneath him, and his crozier staff propped unceremoniously against the wall.

The acolyte cleared his throat. “
La santa misa está—


Preparada
,” the bishop interrupted, his eyes never moving from the screen. “
Padre Derida me sustituye.

The acolyte stared in bewilderment.
Father Derida is substituting?
A junior priest overseeing Saturday-night mass was highly irregular.


¡Vete ya!
” Valdespino snapped without looking up. “
Y cierra la puerta.

Fearful, the boy did as he was told, leaving immediately and closing the door as he went.

Hurrying back toward the sounds of the pipe organ, the acolyte wondered what the bishop could possibly be viewing on his computer that would pull his mind so far from his duties to God.

 

At that moment, Admiral Ávila was snaking through the growing crowd in the Guggenheim’s atrium, puzzled to see guests chatting with their sleek headsets. Apparently the audio tour of the museum was a two-way conversation.

He felt glad to have jettisoned the device.

No distractions tonight.

He checked his watch and eyed the elevators. They were already crowded with guests heading to the main event upstairs, so Ávila opted for the stairs. As he climbed, he felt the same tremor of incredulity he had felt last night.
Have I really become a man capable of killing?
The godless souls who had ripped away his wife and child had transformed him.
My actions are sanctioned by a higher authority
, he reminded himself.
There is righteousness in what I do.

As Ávila reached the first landing, his gaze was drawn to a woman on a nearby suspended catwalk.
Spain’s newest celebrity
, he thought, eyeing the famous beauty.

She wore a formfitting white dress with a black diagonal stripe that ran elegantly across her torso. Her slender figure, lush dark hair, and graceful carriage were easy to admire, and Ávila noticed he was not the only one with eyes on her.

In addition to the approving glances of the other guests, the woman in white held the full attention of two sleek security officers who shadowed her closely. The men moved with the wary confidence of panthers and wore matching blue blazers with embroidered crests and the large initials
GR
.

Ávila was not surprised by their presence, and yet the sight of them made his pulse quicken. As a former member of the Spanish armed forces, he knew full well what
GR
signified. These two security escorts would be armed and as well trained as any bodyguards on earth.

If they are present, I must take every precaution
, Ávila told himself.

“Hey!” a man’s voice barked, directly behind him.

Ávila spun around.

A paunchy man in a tuxedo and a black cowboy hat was smiling broadly at him. “Great costume!” the man said, pointing to Ávila’s military uniform. “Where does someone get something like that?”

Ávila stared, fists clenching reflexively.
Through a lifetime of service and sacrifice
, he thought. “
No hablo inglés
,” Ávila replied with a shrug, and continued up the stairs.

On the second floor, Ávila found a long hallway and followed signs to a remote restroom at the far end. He was about to enter when the lights throughout the museum faded off and on—the first gentle nudge urging guests to start heading upstairs for the presentation.

Ávila entered the deserted restroom, chose the last stall, and locked himself inside. Alone now, he felt the familiar demons trying to surface within him, threatening to drag him back into the abyss.

Five years, and the memories still haunt me.

Angrily, Ávila pushed the horrors from his mind and retrieved the rosary beads from his pocket. Gently, he looped them over the coat hook on the door. As the beads and crucifix swung peacefully before him, he admired his handiwork. The devout might be horrified that anyone could defile the rosary by creating an object like this. Even so, Ávila had been assured by the Regent that desperate times afforded a certain flexibility in the rules of absolution.

When the cause is this holy
, the Regent had promised,
God’s forgiveness is guaranteed.

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