Capitol police chief Trent Anderson had overseen security in the U.S. Capitol Complex for over a decade. A burly, square-chested man with a chiseled face and red hair, he kept his hair cropped in a buzz cut, giving him an air of military authority. He wore a visible sidearm as a warning to anyone foolish enough to question the extent of his authority.
Anderson spent the majority of his time coordinating his small army of police officers from a high-tech surveillance center in the basement of the Capitol. Here he oversaw a staff of technicians who watched visual monitors, computer readouts, and a telephone switchboard that kept him in contact with the many security personnel he commanded.
This evening had been unusually quiet, and Anderson was pleased. He had been hoping to catch a bit of the Redskins game on the flat-panel television in his office. The game had just kicked off when his intercom buzzed.
Anderson groaned and kept his eyes on the television as he pressed the button. Yeah.
Weve got some kind of disturbance in the Rotunda. Ive got officers arriving now, but I think youll want to have a look.
Right. Anderson walked into the security nerve centera compact, neomodern facility packed with computer monitors. What have you got?
The technician was cueing a digital video clip on his monitor. Rotunda east balcony camera. Twenty seconds ago. He played the clip.
Anderson watched over the technicians shoulder.
The Rotunda was almost deserted today, dotted with just a few tourists. Andersons trained eye went immediately to the one person who was alone and moving faster than all the others. Shaved head. Green army-surplus jacket. Injured arm in a sling. Slight limp. Slouched posture. Talking on a cell phone.
The bald mans footfalls echoed crisply on the audio feed until, suddenly, arriving at the exact center of the Rotunda, he stopped short, ended his phone call, and then knelt down as if to tie his shoe. But instead of tying a shoe, he pulled something out of his sling and set it on the floor. Then he stood up and limped briskly toward the east exit.
Anderson eyed the oddly shaped object the man had left behind. What in the world? It was about eight inches tall and standing vertically. Anderson crouched closer to the screen and squinted. That cant be what it looks like!
As the bald man hurried off, disappearing through the east portico, a little boy nearby could be heard saying, Mommy, that man dropped something. The boy drifted toward the object but suddenly stopped short. After a long, motionless beat, he pointed and let out a deafening scream.
Instantly, the police chief spun and ran for the door, barking orders as he went. Radio all points! Find the bald guy with the sling and detain him! NOW!
Dashing out of the security center, he bounded up the treads of the well-worn staircase three at a time. The security feed had shown the bald man with the sling leave the Rotunda via the east portico. The shortest route out of the building would therefore take him through the east-west corridor, which was just ahead.
I can head him off.
As he reached the top of the stairs and rounded the corner, Anderson surveyed the quiet hallway before him. An elderly couple strolled at the far end, hand in hand. Nearby, a blond tourist wearing a blue blazer was reading a guidebook and studying the mosaic ceiling outside the House chamber.
Excuse me, sir! Anderson barked, running toward him. Have you seen a bald man with a sling on his arm?
The man looked up from his book with a confused expression.
A bald man with a sling! Anderson repeated more firmly. Have you seen him?
The tourist hesitated and glanced nervously toward the far eastern end of the hallway. Uh . . . yes, he said. I think he just ran past me . . . to that staircase over there. He pointed down the hall.
Anderson pulled out his radio and yelled into it. All points! The suspect is headed for the southeast exit. Converge! He stowed the radio and yanked his sidearm from its holster, running toward the exit.
Thirty seconds later, at a quiet exit on the east side of the Capitol, the powerfully built blond man in the blue blazer stepped into the damp night air. He smiled, savoring the coolness of the evening.
It had been so easy.
Only a minute ago he had limped quickly out of the Rotunda in an army-surplus coat. Stepping into a darkened alcove, he shed his coat, revealing the blue blazer he wore underneath. Before abandoning his surplus jacket, he pulled a blond wig from the pocket and fit it snugly on his head. Then he stood up straight, pulled a slim Washington guidebook from his blazer, and stepped calmly from the niche with an elegant gait.
Transformation. This is my gift.
As Malakhs mortal legs carried him toward his waiting limousine, he arched his back, standing to his full six-foot-three height and throwing back his shoulders. He inhaled deeply, letting the air fill his lungs. He could feel the wings of the tattooed phoenix on his chest opening wide.
If they only knew my power, he thought, gazing out at the city. Tonight my transformation will becomplete.
Malakh had played his cards artfully within the Capitol Building, showing obeisance to all the ancient etiquettes. The ancient invitation has been delivered. If Langdon had not yet grasped his role here tonight, soon he would.