Langdon felt his stomach drop as the CIA helicopter leaped off the lawn, banked hard, and accelerated faster than he ever imagined a helicopter could move. Katherine had stayed behind to recuperate with Bellamy while one of the CIA agents searched the mansion and waited for a
Before Langdon left, she had kissed him on the cheek and whispered, Be safe, Robert.
Now Langdon was holding on for dear life as the military helicopter finally leveled out and raced toward the House of the Temple.
Seated beside him, Sato was yelling up to the pilot. Head for Dupont Circle! she shouted over the deafening noise. Well set down there!
Startled, Langdon turned to her. Dupont?! Thats blocks from the House of the Temple! We can land in the Temple parking lot!
Sato shook her head. We need to enter the building quietly. If our target hears us coming
We dont have time! Langdon argued. This lunatic is about to murder Peter! Maybe the sound of the helicopter will scare him and make him stop!
Sato stared at him with ice-cold eyes. As I have told you, Peter Solomons safety is not my primary objective. I believe Ive made that clear.
Langdon was in no mood for another national-security lecture. Look, Im the only one on board who knows his way through that building
Careful, Professor, the director warned. You are here as a member of my team, and I will have your complete cooperation. She paused a moment and then added, In fact, it might be wise if I now apprised you fully of the severity of our crisis tonight.
Sato reached under her seat and pulled out a sleek titanium briefcase, which she opened to reveal an unusually complicated-looking computer. When she turned it on, a CIA logo materialized along with a log-in prompt.
As Sato logged in, she asked, Professor, do you remember the blond hairpiece we found in the mans home?
Well, hidden within that wig was a tiny fiber-optic camera . . . concealed in the bangs.
A hidden camera? I dont understand.
Sato looked grim. You will. She launched a file on the laptop.
ONE MOMENT PLEASE . . .
DECRYPTING FILE . . .
A video window popped up, filling the entire screen. Sato lifted the briefcase and set it on Langdons thighs, giving him a front-row seat.
An unusual image materialized on the screen.
Langdon recoiled in surprise. What the hell?!
Murky and dark, the video was of a blindfolded man. He was dressed in the garb of a medieval heretic being led to the gallowsnoose around his neck, left pant leg rolled up to the knee, right sleeve rolled up to the elbow, and his shirt gaping open to reveal his bare chest.
Langdon stared in disbelief. He had read enough about Masonic rituals to recognize exactly what he was looking at.
A Masonic initiate . . . preparing to enter the first degree.
The man was very muscular and tall, with a familiar blond hairpiece and deeply tanned skin. Langdon recognized his features at once. The mans tattoos had obviously been concealed beneath bronzing makeup. He was standing before a full-length mirror videotaping his reflection through the camera concealed in his wig.
But . . . why?
The screen faded to black.
New footage appeared. A small, dimly lit, rectangular chamber. A dramatic chessboard floor of black-and-white tile. A low wooden altar, flanked on three sides by pillars, atop which burned flickering candles.
Langdon felt a sudden apprehension.
Oh my God.
Filming in the erratic style of an amateur home video, the camera now panned up to the periphery of the room to reveal a small group of men observing the initiate. The men were dressed in ritual Masonic regalia. In the darkness, Langdon could not make out their faces, but he had no doubt where this ritual was taking place.
The traditional layout of this Lodge Room could have been anywhere in the world, but the powder-blue triangular pediment above the masters chair revealed it as the oldest Masonic lodge in D.C.Potomac Lodge No. 5home of George Washington and the Masonic forefathers who laid the cornerstone for the White House and the Capitol Building.
The lodge was still active today.
Peter Solomon, in addition to overseeing the House of the Temple, was the master of his local lodge. And it was at lodges like this one that a Masonic initiates journey always began . . . where he underwent the first three degrees of Freemasonry.
Brethren, Peters familiar voice declared, in the name of the Great Architect of the Universe, I open this lodge for the practice of Masonry in the first degree!
A gavel rapped loudly.
Langdon watched in utter disbelief as the video progressed through a quick series of dissolves featuring Peter Solomon performing some of the rituals starker moments.
Pressing a shining dagger to the initiates bare chest . . . threatening impalement should the initiate inappropriately reveal the Mysteries of Masonry . . . describing the black-and-white floor as representing the living and the dead . . . outlining punishments that included having ones throat cut across, ones tongue torn out by its roots, and ones body buried in the rough sands of the sea . . .
Langdon stared. Am I really witnessing this? Masonic initiation rites had remained shrouded in secrecy for centuries. The only descriptions that had ever been leaked were written by a handful of estranged brothers. Langdon had read those accounts, of course, and yet to see an initiation with his own eyes . . . this was a much different story.
Especially edited this way. Langdon could already tell that the video was an unfair piece of propaganda, omitting all the noblest aspects of the initiation and highlighting only the most disconcerting. If this video were released, Langdon knew it would become an Internet sensation over night. The anti-Masonic conspiracy theorists would feed on this like sharks. The Masonic organization, and especially Peter Solomon, would find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of controversy and a desperate effort at damage control . . . even though the ritual was innocuous and purely symbolic.
Eerily, the video included a biblical reference to human sacrifice . . . the submission of Abraham to the Supreme Being by proffering Isaac, his firstborn son. Langdon thought of Peter and willed the helicopter to fly faster.
The video footage shifted now.
Same room. Different night. A larger group of Masons looking on. Peter Solomon was observing from the masters chair. This was the second degree. More intense now. Kneeling at the altar . . . vowing to forever conceal the enigmas existing within Freemasonry . . . consenting to the penalty of having ones chest cavity ripped open and pulsing heart cast upon the surface of the earth as offal for the ravenous beasts . . .
Langdons own heart was pulsing wildly now as the video shifted yet again. Another night. A much larger crowd. A coffin-shaped tracing board on the floor.
The third degree.
This was the death ritualthe most rigorous of all the degreesthe moment in which the initiate was forced to face the final challenge of personal extinction. This grueling interrogation was in fact the source of the common phrase to give someone the third degree. And although Langdon was very familiar with academic accounts of it, he was in no way prepared for what he now saw.
In violent, rapid intercuts, the video displayed a chilling, victims point-of-view account of the initiates brutal murder. There were simulated blows to his head, including one with a Masons stone maul. All the while, a deacon mournfully told the story of the widows sonHiram Abiffthe master Architect of King Solomons temple, who chose to die rather than reveal the secret wisdom he possessed.
The attack was mimed, of course, and yet its effect on camera was bloodcurdling. After the deathblow, the initiatenow dead to his former selfwas lowered into his symbolic coffin, where his eyes were shut and his arms were crossed like those of a corpse. The Masonic brothers rose and mournfully circled his dead body while a pipe organ played a march of the dead.
The macabre scene was deeply disturbing.
And it only got worse.
As the men gathered around their slain brother, the hidden camera clearly displayed their faces. Langdon now realized that Solomon was not the only famous man in the room. One of the men peering down at the initiate in his coffin was on television almost daily.
A prominent U.S. senator.
Oh God . . .
The scene changed yet again. Outside now . . . nighttime . . . the same jumpy video footage . . . the man was walking down a city street . . . strands of blond hair blowing in front of the camera . . . turning a corner . . .the camera angle lowering to something in the mans hand . . . a dollar bill . . . a close-up focusing on the Great Seal . . . the all-seeing eye . . . the unfinished pyramid . . . and then, abruptly, pulling away to reveal a similar shape in the distance . . . a massive pyramidical building . . . with sloping sides rising to a truncated top.
The House of the Temple.
A soul-deep dread swelled within him.
The video kept moving . . . the man hurrying toward the building now . . . up the multitiered staircase . . . toward the giant bronze doors . . . between the two seventeen-ton sphinx guardians.
A neophyte entering the pyramid of initiation.
A powerful pipe organ played in the distance . . . and a new image materialized.
The Temple Room.
Langdon swallowed hard.
On-screen, the cavernous space was alive with electricity. Beneath the oculus, the black marble altar shone in the moonlight. Assembled around it, seated on hand-tooled pigskin chairs, awaited a somber council of distinguished thirty-third-degree Masons, present to bear witness. The video now panned across their faces with slow and deliberate intention.
Langdon stared in horror.
Although he had not seen this coming, what he was looking at made perfect sense. A gathering of the most decorated and accomplished Masons in the most powerful city on earth would logically include many influential and well-known individuals. Sure enough, seated around the altar, adorned in their long silk gloves, Masonic aprons, and glistening jewels, were some of the countrys most powerful men.
Two Supreme Court justices . . .
The secretary of defense . . .
The speaker of the House . . .
Langdon felt ill as the video continued panning across the faces of those in attendance.
Three prominent senators . . . including the majority leader . . .
The secretary of homeland security . . .
And . . .
The director of the CIA . . .
Langdon wanted only to look away, but he could not. The scene was utterly mesmerizing, alarming even to him. In an instant, he had come to understand the source of Satos anxiety and concern.
Now, on-screen, the shot dissolved into a single shocking image.
A human skull . . . filled with dark crimson liquid. The famed caput mortuum was being offered
forth to the initiate by the slender hands of Peter Solomon, whose gold Masonic ring glinted in the candlelight. The red liquid was wine . . . and yet it shimmered like blood. The visual effect was frightful.
The Fifth Libation, Langdon realized, having read firsthand accounts of this sacrament in John Quincy Adamss Letters on the Masonic Institution. Even so, to see it happen . . . to see it calmly witnessed by Americas most powerful men . . . this was as arresting an image as any Langdon had ever seen.
The initiate took the skull in his hands . . . his face reflected in the calm surface of the wine. May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me, he declared, should I ever knowingly or willfully violate my oath.
Obviously, this initiate had intended to violate his oath beyond all imagination.
Langdon could barely get his mind around what would happen if this video were made public. No one would understand. The government would be thrown into upheaval. The airwaves would be filled with the voices of anti-Masonic groups, fundamentalists, and conspiracy theorists spewing hatred and fear, launching a Puritan witch hunt all over again.
The truth will be twisted, Langdon knew. As it always is with the Masons.
The truth was that the brotherhoods focus on death was in fact a bold celebration of life. Masonic ritual was designed to awaken the slumbering man inside, lifting him from his dark coffin of ignorance, raising him into the light, and giving him eyes to see. Only through the death experience could man fully understand his life experience. Only through the realization that his days on earth were finite could he grasp the importance of living those days with honor, integrity, and service to his fellow man.
Masonic initiations were startling because they were meant to be transformative. Masonic vows were unforgiving because they were meant to be reminders that mans honor and his word were all he could take from this world. Masonic teachings were arcane because they were meant to be universal . . . taught through a common language of symbols and metaphors that transcended religions, cultures, and races . . . creating a unified worldwide consciousness of brotherly love.
For a brief instant, Langdon felt a glimmer of hope. He tried to assure himself that if this video were to leak out, the public would be open-minded and tolerant, realizing that all spiritual rituals included aspects that would seem frightening if taken out of contextcrucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcision rites, Mormon baptisms of the dead, Catholic exorcisms, Islamic niqab, shamanic trance healing, the Jewish Kaparot ceremony, even the eating of the figurative body and blood of Christ.
Im dreaming, Langdon knew. This video will create chaos. He could imagine what would happen if the prominent leaders of Russia or the Islamic world were seen in a video, pressing knives to bare chests, swearing violent oaths, performing mock murders, lying in symbolic
coffins, and drinking wine from a human skull. The global outcry would be instantaneous and overwhelming.
God help us . . .
On-screen now, the initiate was raising the skull to his lips. He tipped it backward . . . draining the blood-red wine . . . sealing his oath. Then he lowered the skull and gazed out at the assembly around him. Americas most powerful and trusted men gave contented nods of acceptance.
Welcome, brother,Peter Solomon said.
As the image faded to black, Langdon realized he had stopped breathing.
Without a word, Sato reached over, closed the briefcase, and lifted it off his lap. Langdon turned to her trying to speak, but he could find no words. It didnt matter. Understanding was written all over his face. Sato was right. Tonight was a national-security crisis . . . of unimaginable proportions.