Inside the Statuary Hall, Robert Langdon clutched his cell phone to his ear and paced in a tight circle. Who the hell are you?
The mans reply was a silky calm whisper. Do not be alarmed, Professor. You have been summoned here for a reason.
Summoned? Langdon felt like a caged animal. Try kidnapped!
Hardly. The mans voice was eerily serene. If I wanted to harm you, you would be dead in your Town Car right now. He let the words hang for a moment. My intentions are purely noble, I assure you. I would simply like to offer you an invitation.
No thanks. Ever since his experiences in Europe over the last several years, Langdons unwanted celebrity had made him a magnet for nut-cases, and this one had just crossed a very serious line. Look, I dont know what the hell is going on here, but Im hanging up
Unwise, said the man. Your window of opportunity is very small if you want to save Peter Solomons soul.
Langdon drew a sharp breath. What did you say?
Im sure you heard me.
The way this man had uttered Peters name had stopped Langdon cold. What do you know about Peter?
At this point, I know his deepest secrets. Mr. Solomon is my guest, and I can be a persuasive host.
This cant be happening. You dont have Peter.
I answered his private cell phone. That should give you pause.
Im calling the police.
No need, the man said. The authorities will join you momentarily.
What is this lunatic talking about? Langdons tone hardened. If you have Peter, put him on the phone right now.
Thats impossible. Mr. Solomon is trapped in an unfortunate place. The man paused. He is in the Araf.
Where?Langdon realized he was clutching his phone so tightly his fingers were going numb.
The Araf? Hamistagan? That place to which Dante devoted the canticle immediately following his legendary Inferno?
The mans religious and literary references solidified Langdons suspicion that he was dealing with a madman. The second canticle. Langdon knew it well; nobody escaped Phillips Exeter Academy without reading Dante. Youre saying you think Peter Solomon is . . . in purgatory?
A crude word you Christians use, but yes, Mr. Solomon is in the in-between.
The mans words hung in Langdons ear. Are you saying Peter is . . . dead?
Not exactly, no.
Not exactly?! Langdon yelled, his voice echoing sharply in the hall. A family of tourists looked over at him. He turned away and lowered his voice. Death is usually an all-or-nothing thing!
You surprise me, Professor. I expected you to have a better understanding of the mysteries of life and death. There is a world in betweena world in which Peter Solomon is hovering at the moment. He can either return to your world, or he can move on to the next . . . depending on your actions right now.
Langdon tried to process this. What do you want from me?
Its simple. You have been given access to something quite ancient. And tonight, you will share it with me.
I have no idea what youre talking about.
No? You pretend not to understand the ancient secrets that have been entrusted to you?
Langdon felt a sudden sinking sensation, now guessing what this was probably about. Ancient secrets. He had not uttered a word to anyone about his experiences in Paris several years earlier, but Grail fanatics had followed the media coverage closely, some connecting the dots and believing Langdon was now privy to secret information regarding the Holy Grailperhaps even its location.
Look, Langdon said, if this is about the Holy Grail, I can assure you I know nothing more than
Dont insult my intelligence, Mr. Langdon, the man snapped. I have no interest in anything so frivolous as the Holy Grail or mankinds pathetic debate over whose version of history is correct. Circular arguments over the semantics of faith hold no interest for me. Those are questions answered only through death.
The stark words left Langdon confused. Then what the hell is this about?
The man paused for several seconds. As you may know, there exists within this city an ancient portal.
An ancient portal?
And tonight, Professor, you will unlock it for me. You should be honored I contacted youthis is the invitation of your lifetime. You alone have been chosen.
And you have lost your mind. Im sorry, but youve chosen poorly, Langdon said. I dont know anything about any ancient portal.
You dont understand, Professor. It was not I who chose you . . . it was Peter Solomon.
What? Langdon replied, his voice barely a whisper.
Mr. Solomon told me how to find the portal, and he confessed to me that only one man on earth could unlock it. And he said that man is you.
If Peter said that, he was mistaken . . . or lying.
I think not. He was in a fragile state when he confessed that fact, and I am inclined to believe him.
Langdon felt a stab of anger. Im warning you, if you hurt Peter in any
Its far too late for that, the man said in an amused tone. Ive already taken what I need from Peter Solomon. But for his sake, I suggest you provide what I need from you. Time is of the essence . . . for both of you. I suggest you find the portal and unlock it. Peter will point the way.
Peter? I thought you said Peter was in purgatory.
As above, so below, the man said.
Langdon felt a deepening chill. This strange response was an ancient Hermetic adage that proclaimed a belief in the physical connection between heaven and earth. As above, so below. Langdon eyed the vast room and wondered how everything had veered so suddenly out of control tonight. Look, I dont know how to find any ancient portal. Im calling the police.
It really hasnt dawned on you yet, has it? Why you were chosen?
No, Langdon said.
It will, he replied, chuckling. Any moment now.
Then the line went dead.
Langdon stood rigid for several terrifying moments, trying to process what had just happened.
Suddenly, in the distance, he heard an unexpected sound.
It was coming from the Rotunda.
Someone was screaming.