Robert Langdon lay shivering, naked and alone in total blackness. Paralyzed by fear, he was no longer pounding or shouting. Instead, he had closed his eyes and was doing his best to control his hammering heart and his panicked breathing.
You are lying beneath a vast, nighttime sky, he tried to convince himself. There is nothing above you but miles of wide-open space.
This calming visualization had been the only way he had managed to survive a recent stint in an enclosed MRI machine . . . that and a triple dose of Valium. Tonight, however, the visualization was having no effect whatsoever.
The rag in Katherine Solomons mouth had shifted backward and was all but choking her. Her captor had carried her down a narrow ramp and into a dark basement corridor. At the far end of the hall, she had glimpsed a room lit with an eerie reddish-purple light, but theyd never made it that far. The man had stopped instead at a small side room, carried her inside, and placed her on a wooden chair. He had set her down with her bound wrists behind the chair back so she could not move.
Now Katherine could feel the wire on her wrists slicing deeper into her flesh. The pain barely
registered next to the rising panic she was feeling over being unable to breathe. The cloth in her mouth was slipping deeper into her throat, and she felt herself gagging reflexively. Her vision started to tunnel.
Behind her, the tattooed man closed the rooms lone door and flipped on the light. Katherines eyes were watering profusely now, and she could no longer differentiate objects in her immediate surroundings. Everything had become a blur.
A distorted vision of colorful flesh appeared before her, and Katherine felt her eyes starting to flutter as she teetered on the brink of unconsciousness. A scale-covered arm reached out and yanked the rag from her mouth.
Katherine gasped, inhaling deep breaths, coughing and choking as her lungs flooded with precious air. Slowly, her vision began to clear, and she found herself looking into the demons face. The visage was barely human. Blanketing his neck, face, and shaved head was an astounding pattern of bizarre tattooed symbols. With the exception of a small circle on top of his head, every inch of his body appeared to be decorated. A massive double-headed phoenix on his chest glared at her through nipple eyes like some kind of ravenous vulture, patiently waiting for her death.
Open your mouth, the man whispered.
Katherine stared at the monster with total revulsion. What?
Open your mouth, the man repeated. Or the cloth goes back in.
Trembling, Katherine opened her mouth. The man extended his thick, tattooed index finger, inserting it between her lips. When he touched her tongue, Katherine thought she would vomit. He extracted his wet finger and raised it to the top of his shaved head. Closing his eyes, he massaged her saliva into his small circular patch of untattooed flesh.
Repulsed, Katherine looked away.
The room in which she was sitting appeared to be a boiler room of some sortpipes on the walls, gurgling sounds, fluorescent lights. Before she could take in her surroundings, though, her gaze stopped dead on something beside her on the floor. A pile of clothingturtleneck, tweed sport coat, loafers, Mickey Mouse watch.
My God! She wheeled back to the tattooed animal before her. What have you done with Robert?!
Shh, the man whispered. Or hell hear you. He stepped to one side and motioned behind him.
Langdon was not there. All Katherine saw was a huge black fiberglass box. Its shape bore an unsettling resemblance to the heavy crates in which corpses were shipped back from war. Two
massive clasps firmly locked the box shut.
Hes inside?! Katherine blurted. But . . . hell suffocate!
No, he wont, the man said, pointing to a series of transparent pipes that ran along the wall into the bottom of the crate. Hell only wish he could.
In total darkness, Langdon listened intently to the muffled vibrations he now heard from the outside world. Voices? He began pounding on the box and shouting at the top of his lungs. Help! Can anyone hear me?!
Far off, a muted voice called out. Robert! My God, no! NO!
He knew the voice. It was Katherine, and she sounded terrified. Even so, it was a welcome sound. Langdon drew a breath to call out to her, but he stopped short, feeling an unexpected sensation at the back of his neck. A faint breeze seemed to be emanating from the bottom of the box. How is that possible? He lay very still, taking stock. Yes, definitely. He could feel the tiny hairs on the back of his neck being tickled by air movement.
Instinctively, Langdon began feeling along the floor of the box, searching for the source of the air. It took only a moment to locate. Theres a tiny vent! The small perforated opening felt similar to a drain plate on a sink or tub, except that a soft, steady breeze was now coming up through it.
Hes pumping air in for me. He doesnt want me to suffocate.
Langdons relief was short-lived. A terrifying sound was now emanating up through the holes in the vent. It was the unmistakable gurgle of flowing liquid . . . coming his way.
Katherine stared in disbelief at the clear shaft of liquid that was progressing down one of the pipes toward Langdons crate. The scene looked like some kind of twisted stage magicians act.
Hes pumping water into the crate?!
Katherine strained at her bonds, ignoring the deep bite of the wires around her wrists. All she could do was look on in panic. She could hear Langdon pounding in desperation, but as the water reached the underside of the container, the pounding stopped. There was a moment of terrified silence. Then the pounding started again with renewed desperation.
Let him out! Katherine begged. Please! You cant do this!
Drowning is a terrible death, you know. The man spoke calmly as he paced around her in circles. Your assistant, Trish, could tell you that.
Katherine heard his words, but she could barely process them.
You may remember that I almost drowned once, the man whispered. It was on your familys estate in Potomac. Your brother shot me, and I fell through the ice, out at Zachs bridge.
Katherine glared at him, filled with loathing. The night you killed my mother.
The gods protected me that night, he said. And they showed me the way . . . to become one of them.
The water gurgling into the box behind Langdons head felt warm . . . body temperature. The fluid was already several inches deep and had
completely swallowed the back of his naked body. As it began creeping up his rib cage, Langdon felt a stark reality closing in fast.
Im going to die.
With renewed panic, he raised his arms and began pounding wildly again.