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Warren Bellamy stabbed urgently at the buttons on his cell phone, trying again to make contact with someone who could help them, whoever that might be.

Langdon watched Bellamy, but his mind was with Peter, trying to figure out how best to find

him. Decipher the engraving, Peter’s captor had commanded, and it will tell you the hiding place of mankind’s greatest treasure . . . We will go together . . . and make our trade.

Bellamy hung up, frowning. Still no answer.

“Here’s what I don’t understand,” Langdon said. “Even if I could somehow accept that this hidden wisdom exists . . . and that this pyramid somehow points to its underground location . . . what am I looking for? A vault? A bunker?”

Bellamy sat quietly for a long moment. Then he gave a reluctant sigh and spoke guardedly. “Robert, according to what I’ve heard through the years, the pyramid leads to the entrance of a spiral staircase.”

“A staircase?”

“That’s right. A staircase that leads down into the earth . . . many hundreds of feet.”

Langdon could not believe what he was hearing. He leaned closer.

“I’ve heard it said that the ancient wisdom is buried at the bottom.”

Robert Langdon stood up and began pacing. A spiral staircase descending hundreds of feet into the earth . . . in Washington, D.C. “And nobody has ever seen this staircase?”

“Allegedly the entrance has been covered with an enormous stone.”

Langdon sighed. The idea of a tomb covered with an enormous stone was right out of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ tomb. This archetypal hybrid was the grandfather of them all. “Warren, do you believe this secret mystical staircase into the earth exists?”

“I’ve never seen it personally, but a few of the older Masons swear it exists. I was trying to call one of them just now.”

Langdon continued pacing, uncertain what to say next.

“Robert, you leave me a difficult task with respect to this pyramid.” Warren Bellamy’s gaze hardened in the soft glow of the reading lamp. “I know of no way to force a man to believe what he does not want to believe. And yet I hope you understand your duty to Peter Solomon.”

Yes, I have a duty to help him, Langdon thought.

“I don’t need you to believe in the power this pyramid can unveil. Nor do I need you to believe in the staircase it supposedly leads to. But I do need you to believe that you are morally obliged to protect this secret . . . whatever it may be.” Bellamy motioned to the little cube-shaped package. “Peter entrusted the capstone to you because he had faith you would obey his wishes and keep it secret. And now you must do exactly that, even if it means sacrificing Peter’s life.”

Langdon stopped short and wheeled around. “What?!”

Bellamy remained seated, his expression pained but resolute. “It’s what he would want. You need to forget Peter. He’s gone. Peter did his job, doing the best he could to protect the pyramid. Now it is our job to make sure his efforts were not in vain.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying this!” Langdon exclaimed, temper flaring. “Even if this pyramid is everything you say it is, Peter is your Masonic brother. You’re sworn to protect him above all else, even your country!”

“No, Robert. A Mason must protect a fellow Mason above all things . . . except one—the great secret our brotherhood protects for all mankind. Whether or not I believe this lost wisdom has the potential that history suggests, I have taken a vow to keep it out of the hands of the unworthy. And I would not give it over to anyone . . . even in exchange for Peter Solomon’s life.”

“I know plenty of Masons,” Langdon said angrily, “including the most advanced, and I’m damned sure these men are not sworn to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a stone pyramid. And I’m also damned sure none of them believes in a secret staircase that descends to a treasure buried deep in the earth.”

“There are circles within circles, Robert. Not everyone knows everything.”

Langdon exhaled, trying to control his emotions. He, like everyone, had heard the rumors of elite circles within the Masons. Whether or not it was true seemed irrelevant in the face of this situation. “Warren, if this pyramid and capstone truly reveal the ultimate Masonic secret, then why would Peter involve me? I’m not even a brother . . . much less part of any inner circle.”

“I know, and I suspect that is precisely why Peter chose you to guard it. This pyramid has been targeted in the past, even by those who infiltrated our brotherhood with unworthy motives. Peter’s choice to store it outside the brotherhood was a clever one.”

“Were you aware I had the capstone?” Langdon asked.

“No. And if Peter told anyone at all, it would have been only one man.” Bellamy pulled out his cell phone and hit redial. “And so far, I’ve been unable to reach him.” He got a voice-mail greeting and hung up. “Well, Robert, it looks like you and I are on our own for the moment. And we have a decision to make.”

Langdon looked at his Mickey Mouse watch. 9:42 P.M. “You do realize that Peter’s captor is waiting for me to decipher this pyramid tonight and tell him what it says.”

Bellamy frowned. “Great men throughout history have made deep personal sacrifices to protect the Ancient Mysteries. You and I must do the same.” He stood up now. “We should keep moving. Sooner or later Sato will figure out where we are.”

“What about Katherine?!” Langdon demanded, not wanting to leave. “I can’t reach her, and she never called.”

“Obviously, something happened.”

“But we can’t just abandon her!”

“Forget Katherine!” Bellamy said, his voice commanding now. “Forget Peter! Forget everyone! Don’t you understand, Robert, that you’ve been entrusted with a duty that is bigger than all of us—you, Peter, Katherine, myself?” He locked eyes with Langdon. “We need to find a safe place to hide this pyramid and capstone far from—”

A loud metallic crash echoed in the direction of the great hall.

Bellamy wheeled, eyes filling with fear. “That was fast.”

Langdon turned toward the door. The sound apparently had come from the metal bucket that Bellamy had placed on the ladder blocking the tunnel doors. They’re coming for us.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the crash echoed again.

And again.

And again.

The homeless man on the bench in front of the Library of Congress rubbed his eyes and watched the strange scene unfolding before him.

A white Volvo had just jumped the curb, lurched across the deserted pedestrian walkway, and screeched to a halt at the foot of the library’s main entrance. An attractive, dark-haired woman had leaped out, anxiously surveyed the area, and, spotting the homeless man, had shouted, “Do you have a phone?”

Lady, I don’t have a left shoe.

Apparently realizing as much, the woman dashed up the staircase toward the library’s main doors. Arriving at the top of the stairs, she grabbed the handle and tried desperately to open each of the three giant doors.

The library’s closed, lady.

But the woman didn’t seem to care. She seized one of the heavy ring-shaped handles, heaved it backward, and let it fall with a loud crash against the door. Then she did it again. And again. And again.

Wow, the homeless man thought, she must really need a book.