Franklin Square is located in the northwest quadrant of downtown Washington, bordered by K and Thirteenth streets. It is home to many historic buildings, most notably the Franklin School, from which Alexander Graham Bell sent the world's first wireless message in 1880.
High above the square, a fast-moving UH-60 helicopter approached from the west, having completed its journey from the National Cathedral in a matter of minutes. Plenty of time, Sato thought, peering down at the square below. She knew it was critical that her men got into position undetected before their target arrived. He said he wouldn't be here for at least twenty minutes.
On Sato's command, the pilot performed a "touch-hover" on the roof of the tallest building around--the renowned One Franklin Square--a towering and prestigious office building with two gold spires on top. The maneuver was illegal, of course, but the chopper was there only a few seconds, and its skids barely touched the gravel rooftop. Once everyone had jumped out, the pilot immediately lifted off, banking to the east, where he would climb to "silent altitude" and provide invisible support from above.
Sato waited as her field team collected their things and prepared Bellamy for his task. The Architect was still looking dazed from having seen the file on Sato's secure laptop. As I said . . . an issue of national security. Bellamy had quickly understood Sato's meaning and was now fully cooperative.
"All set, ma'am," Agent Simkins said.
On Sato's command, the agents ushered Bellamy across the rooftop and disappeared down a stairwell, heading for ground level to take up their positions.
Sato walked to the edge of the building and gazed down. The rectangular wooded park below filled the entire block. Plenty of cover. Sato's team fully understood the importance of making an undetected intercept. If their target sensed a presence here and decided just to slip away . . . the director didn't even want to think about it.
The wind up here was gusty and cold. Sato wrapped her arms around herself, and planted her feet firmly to avoid getting blown over the edge. From this high vantage point, Franklin Square looked smaller than she recalled, with fewer buildings. She wondered which building was Eight Franklin Square. This was information she had requested from her analyst Nola, from whom she expected word at any moment.
Bellamy and the agents now appeared, looking like ants fanning out into the darkness of the wooded area. Simkins positioned Bellamy in a clearing near the center of the deserted park. Then Simkins and his team melted into the natural cover, disappearing from view. Within seconds, Bellamy was alone, pacing and shivering in the light of a streetlamp near the center of the park.
Sato felt no pity.
She lit a cigarette and took a long drag, savoring the warmth as it permeated her lungs. Satisfied that everything below was in order, she stepped back from the edge to await her two phone calls--one from her analyst Nola and one from Agent Hartmann, whom she had sent to Kalorama Heights.
Slow down! Langdon gripped the backseat of the Escalade as it flew around a corner, threatening to tip up on two tires. CIA agent Hartmann was either eager to show off his driving skills to Katherine, or he had orders to get to Peter Solomon before Solomon recuperated enough to say anything he shouldn't say to the local authorities.
The high-speed game of beat-the-red-light on Embassy Row had been worrisome enough, but now they were racing through the winding residential neighborhood of Kalorama Heights. Katherine shouted directions as they went, having been to this man's house earlier that afternoon.
With every turn, the leather bag at Langdon's feet rocked back and forth, and Langdon could hear the clank of the capstone, which had clearly been jarred from the top of the pyramid and was now bouncing around in the bottom of his bag. Fearing it might get damaged, he fished around inside until he found it. It was still warm, but the glowing text had now faded and disappeared, returning to its original engraving:
The secret hides within The Order.
As Langdon was about to place the capstone in a side pocket, he noticed its elegant surface was covered with tiny white gobs of something. Puzzled, he tried to wipe them off, but they were stuck on and hard to the touch . . . like plastic. What in the world? He could now see that the surface of the stone pyramid itself was also covered with the little white dots. Langdon used his fingernail and picked one off, rolling it between his fingers.
"Wax?" he blurted.
Katherine glanced over her shoulder. "What?"
"There are bits of wax all over the pyramid and capstone. I don't understand it. Where could that possibly have come from?"
"Something in your bag, maybe?"
"I don't think so."
As they rounded a corner, Katherine pointed through the windshield and turned to Agent Hartmann. "That's it! We're here."
Langdon glanced up and saw the spinning lights of a security vehicle parked in a driveway up ahead. The driveway gate was pulled aside and the agent gunned the SUV inside the compound. The house was a spectacular mansion. Every light inside was ablaze, and the front door was wide open. A half-dozen vehicles were parked haphazardly in the driveway and on the lawn, apparently having arrived in a hurry. Some of the cars were still running and had their headlights shining, most on the house, but one askew, practically blinding them as they drove in.
Agent Hartmann skidded to a stop on the lawn beside a white sedan with a brightly colored decal: PREFERRED SECURITY. The spinning lights and the high beams in their face made it hard to see.
Katherine immediately jumped out and raced for the house. Langdon heaved his bag onto his shoulder without taking the time to zip it up. He followed Katherine at a jog across the lawn toward the open front door. The sounds of voices echoed within. Behind Langdon, the SUV chirped as Agent Hartmann locked the vehicle and hurried after them.
Katherine bounded up the porch stairs, through the main door, and disappeared into the entryway. Langdon crossed the threshold behind her and could see Katherine was already moving across the foyer and down the main hallway toward the sound of voices. Beyond her, visible at the end of the hall, was a dining-room table where a woman in a security uniform was sitting with her back to them.
"Officer!" Katherine shouted as she ran. "Where is Peter Solomon?"
Langdon rushed after her, but as he did so, an unexpected movement caught his eye. To his left, through the living-room window, he could see the driveway gate was now swinging shut. Odd. Something else caught his eye . . . something that had been hidden from him by the glare of the spinning lights and the blinding high beams when they drove in. The half-dozen cars parked haphazardly in the driveway looked nothing like the police cars and emergency vehicles Langdon had imagined they were.
A Mercedes? . . . a Hummer? . . . a Tesla Roadster?
In that instant, Langdon also realized the voices he heard in the house were nothing but a television blaring in the direction of the dining room.
Wheeling in slow motion, Langdon shouted down the hallway. "Katherine, wait!"
But as he turned, he could see that Katherine Solomon was no longer running.
She was airborne.
Katherine Solomon knew she was falling . . . but she couldn't figure out why.
She had been running down the hall toward the security guard in the dining room when suddenly her feet had become entangled in an invisible obstacle, and her entire body had lurched forward, sailing through the air.
Now she was returning to earth . . . in this case, a hardwood floor.
Katherine crashed down on her stomach, the wind driven violently from her lungs. Above her, a heavy coat tree teetered precariously and then toppled over, barely missing her on the floor. She raised her head, still gasping for breath, puzzled to see that the female security guard in the chair had not moved a muscle. Stranger still, the toppled coat tree appeared to have a thin wire attached to the bottom, which had been stretched across the hallway.
Why in the world would someone . . . ?
"Katherine!" Langdon was shouting to her, and as Katherine rolled onto her side and looked back at him, she felt her blood turn to ice. Robert! Behind you! She tried to scream, but she was still gasping for breath. All she could do was watch in terrifying slow motion as Langdon rushed down the hall to help her, completely unaware that behind him, Agent Hartmann was staggering across the threshold and clutching his throat. Blood sprayed through Hartmann's hands as he groped at the handle of a long screwdriver that protruded from his neck.
As the agent pitched forward, his attacker came into full view.
My God . . . no!
Naked except for a strange undergarment that looked like a loincloth, the massive man had apparently been hiding in the foyer. His muscular body was covered from head to toe with strange tattoos. The front door was swinging closed, and he was rushing down the hall after Langdon.
Agent Hartmann hit the floor just as the front door slammed shut. Langdon looked startled and whirled around, but the tattooed man was already on him, thrusting some kind of device into his back. There was a flash of light and a sharp electrical sizzle, and Katherine saw Langdon go rigid. Eyes frozen wide, Langdon lurched forward, collapsing down in a paralyzed heap. He fell hard on top of his leather bag, the pyramid tumbling out onto the floor.
Without so much as a glance down at his victim, the tattooed man stepped over Langdon and headed directly for Katherine. She was already crawling backward into the dining room, where she collided with a chair. The female security guard, who had been propped in that chair, now wobbled and dropped to the floor in a heap beside her. The woman's lifeless expression was one of terror. Her mouth was stuffed with a rag. The enormous man had reached her before Katherine had time to react. He seized her by the shoulders with impossible strength. His face, no longer covered by makeup, was an utterly terrifying sight. His muscles flexed, and she felt herself being flipped over onto her stomach like a rag doll. A heavy knee ground into her back, and for a moment, she thought she would break in two. He grabbed her arms and pulled them backward.
With her head now turned to one side and her cheek pressed into the carpet, Katherine could see Langdon, his body still jerking, facing away from her. Beyond that, Agent Hartmann lay motionless in the foyer.
Cold metal pinched Katherine's wrists, and she realized she was being bound with wire. In terror, she tried to pull away, but doing so sent searing pain into her hands.
"This wire will cut you if you move," the man said, finishing with her wrists and moving down to her ankles with frightening efficiency.
Katherine kicked at him, and he threw a powerful fist into the back of her right thigh, crippling her leg. Within seconds, her ankles were bound.
"Robert!" she now managed to call out.
Langdon was groaning on the floor in the hallway. He lay crumpled on his leather bag with the stone pyramid lying on its side near his head. Katherine realized the pyramid was her last hope.
"We deciphered the pyramid!" she told her attacker. "I'll tell you everything!"
"Yes, you will." With that, he pulled the cloth from the dead woman's mouth and firmly stuffed it into Katherine's.
It tasted like death.
Robert Langdon's body was not his own. He lay, numb and immobile, his cheek pressed against the hardwood floor. He had heard enough about stun guns to know they crippled their victims by temporarily overloading the nervous system. Their action--something called electromuscular disruption--might as well have been a bolt of lightning. The excruciating jolt of pain seemed to penetrate every molecule of his body. Now, despite his mind's focused intention, his muscles refused to obey the command he was sending them.
Facedown, paralyzed on the floor, Langdon was gulping shallow breaths, scarcely able to inhale. He had yet to lay eyes on the man who had attacked him, but he could see Agent Hartmann lying in an expanding pool of blood. Langdon had heard Katherine struggling and arguing, but moments ago her voice had become muffled, as if the man had stuffed something in her mouth.
Get up, Robert! You've got to help her! Langdon's legs were tingling now, a fiery and painful recovery of feeling, but still they refused to cooperate. Move! His arms twitched as sensation started to come back, along with feeling in his face and neck. With great effort, he managed to rotate his head, dragging his cheek roughly across the hardwood floor as he turned his head to look down into the dining room.
Langdon's sight line was impeded--by the stone pyramid, which had toppled out of his bag and was lying sideways on the floor, its base inches from his face.
For an instant, Langdon didn't understand what he was looking at. The square of stone before him was obviously the base of the pyramid, and yet it looked somehow different. Very different. It was still square, and still stone . . . but it was no longer flat and smooth. The base of the pyramid was covered with engraved markings. How is this possible? He stared for several seconds, wondering if he was hallucinating. I looked at the base of this pyramid a dozen times . . . and there were no markings!
Langdon now realized why.
His breathing reflex kick-started, and he drew a sudden gasp of air, realizing that the Masonic Pyramid had secrets yet to share. I have witnessed another transformation.
In a flash, Langdon understood the meaning of Galloway's last request. Tell Peter this: The Masonic Pyramid has always kept her secret . . . sincerely. The words had seemed strange at the time, but now Langdon understood that Dean Galloway was sending Peter a code. Ironically, this same code had been a plot twist in a mediocre thriller Langdon had read years ago.
Since the days of Michelangelo, sculptors had been hiding the flaws in their work by smearing hot wax into the cracks and then dabbing the wax with stone dust. The method was considered cheating, and therefore, any sculpture "without wax"--literally sine cera--was considered a "sincere" piece of art. The phrase stuck. To this day we still sign our letters "sincerely" as a promise that we have written "without wax" and that our words are true.
The engravings on the base of this pyramid had been concealed by the same method. When Katherine followed the capstone's directions and boiled the pyramid, the wax melted away, revealing the writing on the base. Galloway had run his hands over the pyramid in the sitting room, apparently feeling the markings exposed on the bottom.
Now, if only for an instant, Langdon had forgotten all the danger he and Katherine faced. He stared at the incredible array of symbols on the base of the pyramid. He had no idea what they meant . . . or what they would ultimately reveal, but one thing was for certain. The Masonic Pyramid has secrets left to tell. Eight Franklin Square is not the final answer.
Whether it was this adrenaline-filled revelation or simply the extra few seconds lying there, Langdon did not know, but he suddenly felt control returning to his body. Painfully, he swept an arm to one side, pushing the leather bag out of the way to clear his sight line into the dining room.
To his horror, he saw that Katherine had been tied up, and a large rag had been stuffed deep into her mouth. Langdon flexed his muscles, trying to climb to his knees, but a moment later, he froze in utter disbelief. The dining-room doorway had just filled with a chilling sight--a human form unlike anything Langdon had ever seen.
What in the name of God . . . ?!
Langdon rolled, kicking with his legs, trying to back away, but the huge tattooed man grabbed him, flipping him onto his back and straddling his chest. He placed his knees on Langdon's biceps, pinning Langdon pain fully to the floor. The man's chest bore a rippling double-headed phoenix. His neck, face, and shaved head were covered with a dazzling array of unusually intricate symbols--sigils, Langdon knew--which were used in the rituals of dark ceremonial magic.
Before Langdon could process anything more, the huge man clasped Langdon's ears between his palms, lifted his head up off the floor, and, with incredible force, smashed it back down onto the hardwood.
Everything went black.
Mal'akh stood in his hallway and surveyed the carnage around him. His home looked like a battlefield.
Robert Langdon lay unconscious at his feet.
Katherine Solomon was bound and gagged on the dining-room floor.
The corpse of a female security guard lay crumpled nearby, having toppled off the chair where she was propped. This female guard, eager to save her own life, had done exactly as Mal'akh commanded. With a knife to her throat, she had answered Mal'akh's cell phone and told the lie that had coaxed Langdon and Katherine to come racing out here. She had no partner, and Peter Solomon was certainly not okay. As soon as the woman had given her performance, Mal'akh had quietly strangled her. To complete the illusion that Mal'akh was not home, he had phoned Bellamy using the hands- free speaker in one of his cars. I'm on the road, he had told Bellamy and whoever else had been listening. Peter is in my trunk. In fact, Mal'akh was driving only between his garage and his front yard, where he had left several of his myriad cars parked askew with the headlights on and the engines running.
The deception had worked perfectly.
The only wrinkle was the bloody black-clad heap in the foyer with a screwdriver protruding from his neck. Mal'akh searched the corpse and had to chuckle when he found a high-tech transceiver and cell phone with a CIA logo. It seems even they are aware of my power. He removed the batteries and crushed both devices with a heavy bronze doorstop.
Mal'akh knew he had to move quickly now, especially if the CIA was involved. He strode back over to Langdon. The professor was out cold and would be for a while. Mal'akh's eyes moved with trepidation now to the stone pyramid on the floor beside the professor's open bag. His breath caught, and his heart pounded.
I have waited for years . . .
His hands trembled slightly as he reached down and picked up the Masonic Pyramid. As he ran his fingers slowly across the engravings, he felt awed by their promise. Before he became too entranced, he put the pyramid back in Langdon's bag with the capstone and zipped it up.
I will assemble the pyramid soon . . . in a much safer location.
He threw Langdon's bag over his shoulder and then tried to hoist Langdon himself, but the professor's toned physique weighed much more than anticipated. Mal'akh settled on grabbing him beneath the armpits and dragging him across the floor. He's not going to like where he ends up, Mal'akh thought.
As he dragged Langdon off, the television in the kitchen blared. The sound of voices from the TV had been part of the deception, and Mal'akh had yet to turn it off. The station was now broadcasting a televangelist leading his congregation in the Lord's Prayer. Mal'akh wondered if any of his hypnotized viewers had any idea where this prayer really came from.
" . . . On earth as it is in heaven . . ." the group intoned.
Yes, Mal'akh thought. As above, so below.
" . . . And lead us not into temptation . . ."
Help us master the weakness of our flesh. " . . . Deliver us from evil . . ." they all beseeched.
Mal'akh smiled. That could be difficult. The darkness is growing. Even so, he had to give them credit for trying. Humans who spoke to invisible forces and requested help were a dying breed in this modern world.
Mal'akh was dragging Langdon across the living room when the congregation declared, "Amen!"
Amon, Mal'akh corrected. Egypt is the cradle of your religion. The god Amon was the prototype for Zeus . . . for Jupiter . . . and for every modern face of God. To this day, every religion on earth shouted out a variation of his name. Amen! Amin! Aum!
The televangelist began quoting verses from the Bible describing hierarchies of angels, demons, and spirits that ruled in heaven and hell. "Protect your souls from evil forces!" he warned them. "Lift your hearts in prayer! God and his angels will hear you!"
He's right, Mal'akh knew. But so will the demons.
Mal'akh had learned long ago that through proper application of the Art, a practitioner could open a portal to the spiritual realm. The invisible forces that existed there, much like man himself, came in many forms, both good and evil. Those of Light healed, protected, and sought to bring order to the universe. Those of Dark functioned oppositely . . . bringing destruction and chaos.
If properly summoned, the invisible forces could be persuaded to do a practitioner's bidding on earth . . . thus instilling him with seemingly supernatural power. In exchange for helping the summoner, these forces required offerings--prayers and praise for those of Light . . . and the spilling of blood for those of Dark.
The greater the sacrifice, the greater the power that is transferred. Mal'akh had begun his practice with the blood of inconsequential animals. Over time, however, his choices for sacrifice had become more bold. Tonight, I take the final step.
"Beware!" the preacher shouted, warning of the coming Apocalypse. "The final battle for the souls of man will soon be fought!"
Indeed, Mal'akh thought. And I shall become its greatest warrior.
This battle, of course, had begun long, long ago. In ancient Egypt, those who perfected the Art had become the great Adepts of history, evolving beyond the masses to become true practitioners of Light. They moved as gods on earth. They built great temples of initiation to which neophytes traveled from around the world to partake of the wisdom. There arose a race of golden men. For a brief span of time, mankind seemed poised to elevate himself and transcend his earthly bonds.
The golden age of the Ancient Mysteries. And yet man, being of the flesh, was susceptible to the sins of hubris, hatred, impatience, and greed. Over time, there were those who corrupted the Art, perverting it and abusing its power for personal gain. They began using this perverted version to summon dark forces. A different Art evolved . . . a more potent, immediate, and intoxicating influence.
Such is my Art.
Such is my Great Work.
The illuminated Adepts and their esoteric fraternities witnessed the rising evil and saw that man was not using his newfound knowledge for the good of his species. And so they hid their wisdom to keep it from the eyes of the unworthy. Eventually, it was lost to history.
With this came the Great Fall of Man.
And a lasting darkness.
To this day, the noble descendants of the Adepts soldiered on, grasping blindly for the Light, trying to recapture the lost power of their past, trying to keep the darkness at bay. They were the priests and priestesses of the churches, temples, and shrines of all the religions on earth. Time had erased the memories . . . detached them from their past. They no longer knew the Source from which their potent wisdom had once flowed. When they were asked about the divine mysteries of their forebears, the new custodians of faith vociferously disowned them, condemning them as heresy.
Have they truly forgotten? Mal'akh wondered.
Echoes of the ancient Art still resonated in every corner of the globe, from the mystical Kabbalists of Judaism to the esoteric Sufis of Islam. Vestiges remained in the arcane rituals of Christianity, in its god-eating rites of Holy Communion, its hierarchies of saints, angels, and demons, its chanting and incantation, its holy calendar's astrological underpinnings, its consecrated robes, and in its promise of everlasting life. Even now, its priests dispelled evil spirits by swinging smoke-filled censers, ringing sacred bells, and sprinkling holy water. Christians still practiced the supernatural craft of exorcism--an early practice of their faith that required the ability not only to cast out demons but to summon them.
And yet they cannot see their past?
Nowhere was the church's mystical past more evident than at her epicenter. In Vatican City, at the heart of St. Peter's Square, stood the great Egyptian obelisk. Carved thirteen hundred years before Jesus took his first breath--this numinous monolith had no relevance there, no link to modern Christianity. And yet there it was. At the core of Christ's church. A stone beacon, screaming to be heard. A reminder to those few sages who remembered where it all began. This church, born of the womb of the Ancient Mysteries, still bore her rites and symbols. One symbol above all.
Adorning her altars, vestments, spires, and Scripture was the singular image of Christianity--that of a precious, sacrificed human being. Christianity, more than any other faith, understood the transformative power of sacrifice. Even now, to honor the sacrifice made by Jesus, his followers proffered their own feeble gestures of personal sacrifice . . . fasting, Lenten renunciation, tithing.
All of those offerings are impotent, of course. Without blood . . . there is no true sacrifice.
The powers of darkness had long embraced blood sacrifice, and in doing so, they had grown so strong that the powers of goodness now struggled to keep them in check. Soon the Light would be entirely consumed, and the practitioners of darkness would move freely through the minds of men.
"Eight Franklin Square must exist," Sato insisted. "Look it up again!"
Nola Kaye sat at her desk and adjusted her headset. "Ma'am, I've checked everywhere . . . that address doesn't exist in D.C."
"But I'm on the roof of One Franklin Square," Sato said. "There has to be an Eight!"
Director Sato's on a roof? "Hold on." Nola began running a new search. She was considering telling the OS director about the hacker, but Sato seemed fixated on Eight Franklin Square at the moment. Besides, Nola still didn't have all the information. Where's that damned sys-sec, anyway?
"Okay," Nola said, eyeing her screen, "I see the problem. One Franklin Square is the name of the building . . . not the address. The address is actually 1301 K Street."
The news seemed to confound the director. "Nola, I don't have time to explain--the pyramid clearly points to the address Eight Franklin Square."
Nola sat bolt upright. The pyramid points to a specific location?
"The inscription," Sato continued, "reads: `The secret hides within The Order--Eight Franklin Square.'"
Nola could scarcely imagine. "An order like . . . a Masonic or fraternal order?" "I assume so," Sato replied.
Nola thought a moment, and then began typing again. "Ma'am, maybe the street numbers on the square changed over the years? I mean, if this pyramid is as old as legend claims, maybe the numbers on Franklin Square were different when the pyramid was built? I'm now running a search without the number eight . . . for . . . `the order' . . . `Franklin Square' . . . and `Washington, D.C.' . . . and this way, we might get some idea if there's--" She stalled midsentence as the search results appeared.
"What have you got?" Sato demanded.
Nola stared at the first result on the list--a spectacular image of the Great Pyramid of Egypt-- which served as the thematic backdrop for the home page dedicated to a building on Franklin Square. The building was unlike any other building on the square.
Or in the entire city, for that matter.
What stopped Nola cold was not the building's bizarre architecture, but rather the description of its purpose. According to the Web site, this unusual edifice was built as a sacred mystical shrine, designed by . . . and designed for . . . an ancient secret order.