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The modified UH-60 skimmed in low over the expansive rooftops of Kalorama Heights, thundering toward the coordinates given to them by the support team. Agent Simkins was the first to spot the black Escalade parked haphazardly on a lawn in front of one of the mansions. The driveway gate was closed, and the house was dark and quiet.

Sato gave the signal to touch down.

The aircraft landed hard on the front lawn amid several other vehicles . . . one of them a security sedan with a bubble light on top.

Simkins and his team jumped out, drew their weapons, and dashed up onto the porch. Finding the front door locked, Simkins cupped his hands and peered through a window. The foyer was dark, but Simkins could make out the faint shadow of a body on the floor.

“Shit,” he whispered. “It’s Hartmann.”

One of his agents grabbed a chair off the porch and heaved it through the bay window. The sound of shattering glass was barely audible over the roar of the helicopter behind them. Seconds later, they were all inside. Simkins rushed to the foyer and knelt over Hartmann to check his pulse. Nothing. There was blood everywhere. Then he saw the screwdriver in Hartmann’s throat.

Jesus. He stood up and motioned to his men to begin a full search.

The agents fanned out across the first floor, their laser sights probing the darkness of the

luxurious house. They found nothing in the living room or study, but in the dining room, to their surprise, they discovered a strangled female security guard. Simkins was fast losing hope that Robert Langdon and Katherine Solomon were alive. This brutal killer clearly had set a trap, and if he had managed to kill a CIA agent and an armed security guard, then it seemed a professor and a scientist had no chance.

Once the first floor was secure, Simkins sent two agents to search upstairs. Meanwhile, he found a set of basement stairs off the kitchen and descended. At the bottom of the stairs, he threw on the lights. The basement was spacious and spotless, as if it were hardly ever used. Boilers, bare cement walls, a few boxes. Nothing here at all. Simkins headed back up to the kitchen just as his men were coming down from the second floor. Everyone shook their heads.

The house was deserted.

No one home. And no more bodies.

Simkins radioed Sato with the all-clear and the grim update.

When he got to the foyer, Sato was already climbing the stairs onto the porch. Warren Bellamy was visible behind her, sitting dazed and alone in the helicopter with Sato’s titanium briefcase at his feet. The OS director’s secure laptop provided her with worldwide access to CIA computer systems via encrypted satellite uplinks. Earlier tonight, she had used this computer to share with Bellamy some kind of information that had stunned the man into cooperating fully. Simkins had no idea what Bellamy had seen, but whatever it was, the Architect had been visibly shell-shocked ever since.

As Sato entered the foyer, she paused a moment, bowing her head over Hartmann’s body. A moment later, she raised her eyes and fixed them on Simkins. “No sign of Langdon or Katherine? Or Peter Solomon?”

Simkins shook his head. “If they’re still alive, he took them with him.”

“Did you see a computer in the house?”

“Yes, ma’am. In the office.”

“Show me.”

Simkins led Sato out of the foyer and into the living room. The plush carpet was covered with broken glass from the shattered bay window. They walked past a fireplace, a large painting, and several bookshelves to an office door. The office was wood paneled, with an antique desk and a large computer monitor. Sato walked around behind the desk and eyed the screen, immediately scowling.

“Damn it,” she said under her breath.

Simkins circled around and looked at the screen. It was blank. “What’s wrong?”

Sato pointed to an empty docking station on the desk. “He uses a laptop. He took it with him.”

Simkins didn’t follow. “Does he have information you want to see?”

“No,” Sato replied, her tone grave. “He has information I want nobody to see.”

Downstairs in the hidden basement, Katherine Solomon had heard the sounds of helicopter blades followed by breaking glass and heavy boots on the floor above her. She tried to cry out for help, but the gag in her mouth made it impossible. She could barely make a sound. The harder she tried, the faster the blood began flowing from her elbow.

She was feeling short of breath and a little dizzy.

Katherine knew she needed to calm down. Use your mind, Katherine. With all of her intention, she coaxed herself into a meditative state.

Robert Langdon’s mind floated through the emptiness of space. He peered into the infinite void, searching for any points of reference. He found nothing.

Total darkness. Total silence. Total peace.

There was not even the pull of gravity to tell him which way was up.

His body was gone.

This must be death.

Time seemed to be telescoping, stretching and compressing, as if it had no bearings in this place. He had lost all track of how much time had passed.

Ten seconds? Ten minutes? Ten days?

Suddenly, however, like distant fiery explosions in far-off galaxies, memories began to materialize, billowing toward Langdon like shock waves across a vast nothingness.

All at once, Robert Langdon began to remember. The images tore through him . . . vivid and disturbing. He was staring up at a face that was covered with tattoos. A pair of powerful hands lifted his head and smashed it into the floor.

Pain erupted . . . and then darkness.

Gray light.


Wisps of memory. Langdon was being dragged, half conscious, down, down, down. His captor was chanting something.

Verbum significatium . . . Verbum omnificum . . . Verbum perdo . . .