Malakh gunned his limousine north toward Kalorama Heights. The explosion in Katherines lab had been bigger than he had anticipated, and he had been lucky to escape unscathed. Conveniently, the ensuing chaos had enabled him to slip out without opposition, powering his limousine past a distracted gate guard who was busy yelling into a telephone.
Ive got to get off the road, he thought. If Katherine hadnt yet phoned the police, the explosion would certainly draw their attention. And a shirtless man driving a limousine would be hard to miss.
After years of preparation, Malakh could scarcely believe the night was now upon him. The journey to this moment had been a long, difficult one. What began years ago in misery . . . will end tonight in glory.
On the night it all began, he had not had the name Malakh. In fact, on the night it all began, he had not had any name at all. Inmate 37. Like most of the prisoners at the brutal Soganlik Prison outside of Istanbul, Inmate 37 was here because of drugs.
He had been lying on his bunk in a cement cell, hungry and cold in the darkness, wondering how long he would be incarcerated. His new cellmate, whom hed met only twenty-four hours ago,
was sleeping in the bunk above him. The prison administrator, an obese alcoholic who hated his job and took it out on the inmates, had just killed all the lights for the night.
It was almost ten oclock when Inmate 37 heard the conversation filtering in through the ventilation shaft. The first voice was unmistakably clearthe piercing, belligerent accent of the prison administrator, who clearly did not appreciate being woken up by a late-night visitor.
Yes, yes, youve come a long way, he was saying, but there are no visitors for the first month. State regulations. No exceptions.
The voice that replied was soft and refined, filled with pain. Is my son safe?
He is a drug addict.
Is he being treated well?
Well enough, the administrator said. This is not a hotel.
There was a pained pause. You do realize the U.S. State Department will request extradition.
Yes, yes, they always do. It will be granted, although the paperwork might take us a couple of weeks . . . or even a month . . . depending.
Depending on what?
Well, the administrator said, we are understaffed. He paused. Of course, sometimes concerned parties like yourself make donations to the prison staff to help us push things through more quickly.
The visitor did not reply.
Mr. Solomon, the administrator continued, lowering his voice, for a man like yourself, for whom money is no object, there are always options. I know people in government. If you and I work together, we may be able to get your son out of here . . . tomorrow, with all the charges dropped. He would not even have to face prosecution at home.
The response was immediate. Forgetting the legal ramifications of your suggestion, I refuse to teach my son that money solves all problems or that there is no accountability in life, especially in a serious matter like this.
Youd like to leave him here?
Id like to speak to him. Right now.
As I said, we have rules. Your son is unavailable to you . . . unless you would like to negotiate his immediate release.
A cold silence hung for several moments. The State Department will be contacting you. Keep Zachary safe. I expect him on a plane home within the week. Good night.
The door slammed.
Inmate 37 could not believe his ears. What kind of father leaves his son in this hellhole in order to teach him a lesson? Peter Solomon had even rejected an offer to clear Zacharys record.
It was later that night, lying awake in his bunk, that Inmate 37 had realized how he would free himself. If money was the only thing separating a prisoner from freedom, then Inmate 37 was as good as free. Peter Solomon might not be willing to part with money, but as anyone who read the tabloids knew, his son, Zachary, had plenty of money, too. The next day, Inmate 37 spoke privately to the administrator and suggested a plana bold, ingenious scheme that would give them both exactly what they wanted.
Zachary Solomon would have to die for this to work, explained Inmate 37. But we could both disappear immediately. You could retire to the Greek Islands. You would never see this place again.
After some discussion, the two men shook hands. Soon Zachary Solomon will be dead, Inmate 37 thought, smiling to think how easy it would be.
It was two days later that the State Department contacted the Solomon family with the horrific news. The prison snapshots showed their sons brutally bludgeoned body, lying curled and lifeless on the floor of his prison cell. His head had been bashed in by a steel bar, and the rest of him was battered and twisted beyond what was humanly imaginable. He appeared to have been tortured and finally killed. The prime suspect was the prison administrator himself, who had disappeared, probably with all of the murdered boys money. Zachary had signed papers movinghis vast fortune into a private numbered account, which had been emptied immediately following his death. There was no telling where the money was now.
Peter Solomon flew to Turkey on a private jet and returned with their sons casket, which they buried in the Solomon family cemetery. The prison administrator was never found. Nor would he be, Inmate 37 knew. The Turks rotund body was now resting at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara, feeding the blue manna crabs that migrated in through the Bosporus Strait. The vast fortune belonging to Zachary Solomon had all been moved to an untraceable numbered account. Inmate 37 was a free man againa free man with a massive fortune.
The Greek Islands were like heaven. The light. The water. The women.
There was nothing money couldnt buynew identities, new passports, new hope. He chose a Greek nameAndros DareiosAndros meaning warrior, and Dareios meaning wealthy. The dark nights in prison had frightened him, and Andros vowed never to go back. He shaved off his shaggy hair and shunned the drug world entirely. He began life anewexploring never-before-imagined sensual pleasures. The serenity of sailing alone on the ink-blue Aegean Sea
became his new heroin trance; the sensuality of sucking moist arni souvlakia right off the skewer became his new Ecstasy; and the rush of cliff diving into the foam-filled ravines of Mykonos became his new cocaine.
I am reborn.
Andros bought a sprawling villa on the island of Syros and settled in among the bella gente in the exclusive town of Possidonia. This new world was a community not only of wealth, but of culture and physical perfection. His neighbors took great pride in their bodies and minds, and it was contagious. The newcomer suddenly found himself jogging on the beach, tanning his pale body, and reading books. Andros read Homers Odyssey, captivated by the images of powerful bronze men doing battle on these islands. The next day, he began lifting weights, and was amazed to see how quickly his chest and arms grew larger. Gradually, he began to feel womens eyes on him, and the admiration was intoxicating. He longed to grow stronger still. And he did. With the help of aggressive cycles of steroids intermixed with black-market growth hormones and endless hours of weight lifting, Andros transformed himself into something he had never imagined he could bea perfect male specimen. He grew in both height and musculature, developing flawless pectorals and massive, sinewy legs, which he kept perfectly tanned.
Everyone was looking now.
As Andros had been warned, the heavy steroids and hormones changed not only his body, but also his voice box, giving him an eerie, breathy whisper, which made him feel more mysterious. The soft, enigmatic voice, combined with his new body, his wealth, and his refusal to speak about his mysterious past, served as catnip for the women who met him. They gave themselves willingly, and he satisfied them allfrom fashion models visiting his island on photo shoots, to nubile American college girls on vacation, to the lonely wives of his neighbors, to the occasional young man. They could not get enough.
I am a masterpiece.
As the years passed, however, Andross sexual adventures began to lose their thrill. As did everything. The islands sumptuous cuisine lost its taste, books no longer held his interest, and even the dazzling sunsets from his villa looked dull. How could this be? He was only in his midtwenties, and yet he felt old. What more is there to life? He had sculpted his body into a masterpiece; he had educated himself and nourished his mind with culture; he had made his home in paradise; and he had the love of anyone he desired.
And yet, incredibly, he felt as empty as he had in that Turkish prison.
What is it I am missing?
The answer had come to him several months later. Andros was sitting alone in his villa, absently surfing channels in the middle of the night, when he stumbled across a program about the secrets of Freemasonry. The show was poorly done, posing more questions than answers, and yet he found himself intrigued by the plethora of conspiracy theories surrounding the brotherhood. The
narrator described legend after legend.
Freemasons and the New World Order . . .
The Great Masonic Seal of the United States . . .
The P2 Masonic Lodge . . .
The Lost Secret of Freemasonry . . .
The Masonic Pyramid . . .
Andros sat up, startled. Pyramid. The narrator began recounting the story of a mysterious stone pyramid whose encrypted engraving promised to lead to lost wisdom and unfathomable power. The story, though seemingly implausible, sparked in him a distant memory . . . a faint recollection from a much darker time. Andros remembered what Zachary Solomon had heard from his father about a mysterious pyramid.
Could it be? Andros strained to recall the details.
When the show ended, he stepped out onto the balcony, letting the cool air clear his mind. He remembered more now, and as it all came back, he began to sense there might be some truth to this legend after all. And if so, then Zachary Solomonalthough long deadstill had something to offer.
What do I have to lose?
Three weeks later, his timing carefully planned, Andros stood in the frigid cold outside the conservatory of the Solomons Potomac estate. Through the glass, he could see Peter Solomon chatting and laughing with his sister, Katherine. It looks like theyve had no trouble forgetting Zachary, he thought.
Before he pulled the ski mask over his face, Andros took a hit of cocaine, his first in ages. He felt the familiar rush of fearlessness. He pulled out a handgun, used an old key to unlock the door, and stepped inside. Hello, Solomons.
Unfortunately, the night had not gone as Andros had planned. Rather than obtaining the pyramid for which he had come, he found himself riddled with bird shot and fleeing across the snow-covered lawn toward the dense woods. To his surprise, behind him, Peter Solomon was giving chase, pistol glinting in his hand. Andros dashed into the woods, running down a trail along the edge of a deep ravine. Far below, the sounds of a waterfall echoed up through the crisp winter air. He passed a stand of oak trees and rounded a corner to his left. Seconds later, he was skidding to a stop on the icy path, narrowly escaping death.
Only feet in front of him, the path ended, plunging straight down into an icy river far below. The large boulder at the side of the path had been carved by the unskilled hand of a child:
On the far side of the ravine, the path continued on. So wheres the bridge?! The cocaine was no longer working. Im trapped! Panicking now, Andros turned to flee back up the path, but he found himself facing Peter Solomon, who stood breathless before him, pistol in hand.
Andros looked at the gun and took a step backward. The drop behind him was at least fifty feet to an ice-covered river. The mist from the waterfall upstream billowed around them, chilling him to the bone.
Zachs bridge rotted out long ago, Solomon said, panting. He was the only one who ever came down this far. Solomon held the gun remarkably steady. Why did you kill my son?
He was nothing, Andros replied. A drug addict. I did him a favor.
Solomon moved closer, gun aimed directly at Andross chest. Perhaps I should do you the same favor. His tone was surprisingly fierce. You bludgeoned my son to death. How does a man do such a thing?
Men do the unthinkable when pushed to the brink.
You killed my son!
No, Andros replied, hotly now. You killed your son. What kind of man leaves his son in a prison when he has the option to get him out! You killed your son! Not me.
You know nothing! Solomon yelled, his voice filled with pain.
Youre wrong, Andros thought. I know everything.
Peter Solomon drew closer, only five yards away now, gun leveled. Andross chest was burning, and he could tell he was bleeding badly. The warmth ran down over his stomach. He looked over his shoulder at the drop. Impossible. He turned back to Solomon. I know more about you than you think, he whispered. I know you are not the kind of man who kills in cold blood.
Solomon stepped closer, taking dead aim.
Im warning you, Andros said, if you pull that trigger, I will haunt you forever.
You already will. And with that, Solomon fired.
As he raced his black limousine back toward Kalorama Heights, the one who now called himself Malakh reflected on the miraculous events that had delivered him from certain death atop that icy ravine. He had been transformed forever. The gunshot had echoed only for an instant, and yet its effects had reverberated across decades. His body, once tanned and perfect, was now marred by scars from that night . . . scars he kept hidden beneath the tattooed symbols of his new identity.
I am Malakh.
This was my destiny all along.
He had walked through fire, been reduced to ashes, and then emerged again . . . transformed once more. Tonight would be the final step of his long and magnificent journey.