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“What in God’s name . . . ?” At the threshold of SBB13, Anderson fumbled with his light and retreated a step.

Langdon also recoiled, as did Sato, who looked startled for the first time all night.

Sato aimed the gun at the back wall and motioned for Anderson to shine the light again. Anderson raised the light. The beam was dim by the time it reached the far wall, but the light was enough to illuminate the shape of a pallid and ghostly face, staring back at them through lifeless sockets.

A human skull.

The skull sat atop a rickety wooden desk positioned against the rear wall of the chamber. Two human leg bones sat beside the skull, along with a collection of other items that were meticulously arranged on the desk in shrinelike fashion—an antique hourglass, a crystal flask, a candle, two saucers of pale powder, and a sheet of paper. Propped against the wall beside the desk stood the fearsome shape of a long scythe, its curved blade as familiar as that of the grim reaper.

Sato stepped into the room. “Well, now . . . it appears Peter Solomon keeps more secrets than I imagined.”

Anderson nodded, inching after her. “Talk about skeletons in your closet.” He raised the light and surveyed the rest of the empty chamber. “And that smell?” he added, crinkling his nose. “What is it?”

“Sulfur,” Langdon replied evenly behind them. “There should be two saucers on the desk. The saucer on the right will contain salt. And the other sulfur.”

Sato wheeled in disbelief. “How the hell would you know that?!”

“Because, ma’am, there are rooms exactly like this all over the world.”

One story above the subbasement, Capitol security guard Nuñez escorted the Architect of the Capitol, Warren Bellamy, down the long hallway that ran the length of the eastern basement. Nuñez could have sworn that he had just heard three gunshots down here, muffled and underground.

There’s no way.

“Subbasement door is open,” Bellamy said, squinting down the hallway at a door that stood ajar in the distance.

Strange evening indeed, Nuñez thought. Nobody goes down there. “I’ll be glad to find out what’s going on,” he said, reaching for his radio.

“Go back to your duties,” Bellamy said. “I’m fine from here.”

Nuñez shifted uneasily. “You sure?”

Warren Bellamy stopped, placing a firm hand on Nuñez’s shoulder. “Son, I’ve worked here for twenty-five years. I think I can find my way.”