Mal'akh stood naked in the billowing warmth of his steam shower. He felt pure again, having washed off the last remaining scent of ethanol. As the eucalyptus-infused vapors permeated his skin, he could feel his pores opening to the heat. Then he began his ritual.
First, he rubbed depilatory chemicals across his tattooed body and scalp, removing any traces of body hair. Hairless were the gods of the seven islands of Heliades. Then he massaged Abramelin oil into his softened and receptive flesh. Abramelin is the sacred oil of the great Magi. Then he turned his shower lever hard to the left, and the water turned ice cold. He stood beneath the frigid water for a full minute to close his pores and trap the heat and energy within his core. The cold served as a reminder of the icy river in which this transformation had begun.
When he stepped from the shower, he was shivering, but within seconds, his core heat emanated up through his layers of flesh and warmed him. Mal'akh's insides felt like a furnace. He stood naked before the mirror and admired his form . . . perhaps the last time he would see himself as a mere mortal. His feet were the talons of a hawk. His legs--Boaz and Jachin--were the ancient pillars of wisdom. His hips and abdomen were the archways of mystical power. Hanging beneath the archway, his massive sex organ bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny. In another life, this heavy shaft of flesh had been his source of carnal pleasure. But no longer.
I have been purified.
Like the mystical eunuch monks of Katharoi, Mal'akh had removed his testicles. He had sacrificed his physical potency for a more worthy one. Gods have no gender. Having shed the human imperfection of gender along with the earthly pull of sexual temptation, Mal'akh had become like Ouranos, Attis, Sporus, and the great castrati magicians of Arthurian legend. Every spiritual metamorphosis is preceded by a physical one. Such was the lesson of all the great gods . . . from Osiris, to Tammuz, to Jesus, to Shiva, to the Buddha himself.
I must shed the man who clothes me.
Abruptly, Mal'akh drew his gaze upward, past the double-headed phoenix on his chest, past the collage of ancient sigils adorning his face, and directly to the top of his head. He tipped his head toward the mirror, barely able to see the circle of bare flesh that waited there. This location on the body was sacred. Known as the fontanel, it was the one area of the human skull that remained open at birth. An oculus to the brain. Although this physiological portal closes within a matter of months, it remains a symbolic vestige of the lost connection between the outer and inner worlds.
Mal'akh studied the sacred patch of virginal skin, which was enclosed by the crownlike circle of an ouroboros--a mystical snake devouring its own tail. The bare flesh seemed to stare back at him . . . bright with promise.
Robert Langdon soon would uncover the great treasure that Mal'akh required. Once Mal'akh possessed it, the void on top of his head would be filled, and he would at last be prepared for his final transformation.
Mal'akh padded across his bedroom and took from his bottom drawer a long strip of white silk. As he had done many times before, he wrapped it around his groin and buttocks. Then he went downstairs.
In his office, his computer had received an e-mail message.
It was from his contact:
WHAT YOU REQUIRE IS NOW WITHIN REACH.
I WILL CONTACT YOU WITHIN THE HOUR. PATIENCE.
Mal'akh smiled. It was time to make final preparations.
The CIA field agent was in a foul mood as he descended from the reading-room balcony. Bellamy lied to us. The agent had seen no heat signatures whatsoever upstairs near the Moses statue, nor anywhere else upstairs for that matter.
So where the hell did Langdon go?
The agent retraced his steps now to the only place they'd spotted any heat signatures at all--the library's distribution hub. He descended the stairs again, moving beneath the octagonal console. The noise of the rumbling conveyors was grating. Advancing into the space, he flipped down his thermal goggles and scanned the room. Nothing. He looked toward the stacks, where the mangled door still showed hot from the explosion. Other than that, he saw no--
The agent jumped back as an unexpected luminescence drifted into his field of vision. Like a pair of ghosts, the dimly glowing imprints of two humanoids had just emerged from the wall on a conveyor belt. Heat signatures.
Stunned, the agent watched as the two apparitions circled the room on the conveyor loop and then disappeared headfirst into a narrow hole in the wall. They rode the conveyor out? That's insanity.
In addition to realizing they had just lost Robert Langdon through a hole in the wall, the field agent was now aware that he had another problem. Langdon's not alone?
He was just about to switch on his transceiver and call the team leader, but the team leader beat him to it.
"All points, we've got an abandoned Volvo on the plaza in front of the library. Registered to one Katherine Solomon. Eyewitness says she entered the library not long ago. We suspect she's with Robert Langdon. Director Sato has ordered that we find them both immediately."
"I've got heat signatures for both of them!" shouted the field agent in the distribution room. He explained the situation.
"For Christ's sake!" the team leader replied. "Where the hell does the conveyor go?"
The field agent was already consulting the employee reference schematic on the bulletin board. "Adams Building," he replied. "One block from here." "All points. Redirect to the Adams Building! NOW!"
The words echoed in Langdon's mind as he and Katherine burst through a side door of the Adams Building and out into the cold winter night. The mysterious caller had conveyed his location cryptically, but Langdon had understood. Katherine's reaction to their destination had been surprisingly sanguine: Where better to find One True God?
Now the question was how to get there.
Langdon spun in place, trying to get his bearings. It was dark, but thankfully the weather had cleared. They were standing in a small courtyard. In the distance, the Capitol Dome looked startlingly far away, and Langdon realized this was the first moment he had stepped outside since arriving at the Capitol several hours ago.
So much for my lecture.
"Robert, look." Katherine pointed toward the silhouette of the Jefferson Building.
Langdon's first reaction on seeing the building was astonishment that they had traveled so far underground on a conveyor belt. His second reaction, however, was alarm. The Jefferson Building was now abuzz with activity--trucks and cars pulling in, men shouting. Is that a searchlight?
Langdon grabbed Katherine's hand. "Come on."
They ran northeast across the courtyard, quickly disappearing from view behind an elegant U- shaped building, which Langdon realized was the Folger Shakespeare Library. This particular building seemed appropriate camouflage for them tonight, as it housed the original Latin manuscript of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, the utopian vision on which the American forefathers had allegedly modeled a new world based on ancient knowledge. Even so, Langdon would not be stopping.
We need a cab.
They arrived at the corner of Third Street and East Capitol. The traffic was sparse, and Langdon felt fading hope as he scanned for taxis. He and Katherine hurried northward on Third Street, putting distance between themselves and the Library of Congress. It was not until they had gone an entire block that Langdon finally spotted a cab rounding the corner. He flagged it down, and the cab pulled over.
Middle Eastern music played on his radio, and the young Arab driver gave them a friendly smile. "Where to?" the driver asked as they jumped into the car.
"We need to go to--"
"Northwest!" Katherine interjected, pointing up Third Street away from the Jefferson Building. "Drive toward Union Station, then left on Massachusetts Avenue. We'll tell you when to stop."
The driver shrugged, closed the Plexiglas divider, and turned his music back on.
Katherine shot Langdon an admonishing look as if to say: "Leave no trail." She pointed out the window, directing Langdon's attention to a black helicopter that was skimming in low, approaching the area. Shit. Sato was apparently dead serious about recovering Solomon's pyramid.
As they watched the helicopter land between the Jefferson and Adams buildings, Katherine turned to him, looking increasingly worried. "Can I see your cell phone for a second?"
Langdon handed her his phone.
"Peter told me you have an eidetic memory?" she said, rolling down her window. "And that you remember every phone number you've ever dialed?"
"That's true, but--"
Katherine hurled his phone out into the night. Langdon spun in his seat and watched as his cell phone cartwheeled and splintered into pieces on the pavement behind them. "Why did you do that!"
"Off the grid," Katherine said, her eyes grave. "This pyramid is our only hope of finding my brother, and I have no intention of letting the CIA steal it from us."
In the front seat, Omar Amirana bobbed his head and hummed along with his music. Tonight had been slow, and he felt blessed to finally have a fare. His cab was just passing Stanton Park, when the familiar voice of his company dispatcher crackled over the radio.
"This is Dispatch. All vehicles in the area of the National Mall. We have just received a bulletin from government authorities regarding two fugitives in the area of the Adams Building . . ."
Omar listened in amazement as Dispatch described the precise couple in his cab. He stole an uneasy glance in his rearview mirror. Omar had to admit, the tall guy did look familiar somehow. Did I see him on America's Most Wanted?
Gingerly, Omar reached for his radio handset. "Dispatch?" he said, speaking quietly into the transceiver. "This is cab one-three-four. The two people you asked about--they are in my cab . . . right now."
Dispatch immediately advised Omar what to do. Omar's hands were trembling as he called the phone number Dispatch had given him. The voice that answered was tight and efficient, like that of a soldier.
"This is Agent Turner Simkins, CIA field ops. Who is this?"
"Um . . . I'm the taxi driver?" Omar said. "I was told to call about the two--"
"Are the fugitives currently in your vehicle? Answer only yes or no."
"Can they hear this conversation? Yes or no?"