Robert Langdon regained consciousness with a crippling headache.
Where am I?
Wherever he was, it was dark. Deep-cave dark, and deathly silent.
He was lying on his back with his arms at his side. Confused, he tried moving his fingers and toes, relieved to find they moved freely with no pain. What happened? With the exception of his headache and the profound darkness, everything seemed more or less normal.
Langdon realized he was lying on a hard floor that felt unusually smooth, like a sheet of glass. Stranger still, he could feel that the slick surface was in direct contact with his bare flesh . . . shoulders, back, buttocks, thighs, calves. Am I naked? Puzzled, he ran his hands over his body.
Jesus! Where the hell are my clothes?
In the darkness, the cobwebs began to lift, and Langdon saw flashes of memory . . . frightening snapshots . . . a dead CIA agent . . . the face of a tattooed beast . . . Langdons head smashing into the floor. The images came faster . . . and now he recalled the sickening image of Katherine Solomon bound and gagged on the dining-room floor.
Langdon sat bolt upright, and as he did, his forehead smashed into something suspended only inches above him. Pain exploded through his skull and he fell back, teetering near unconsciousness. Groggy, he reached up with his hands, groping in the darkness to find the obstacle. What he found made no sense to him. It seemed this rooms ceiling was less than a foot above him. What in the world? As he spread his arms to his sides in an attempt to roll over, both of his hands hit sidewalls.
The truth now dawned on him. Robert Langdon was not in a room at all.
Im in a box!
In the darkness of his small, coffinlike container, Langdon began pounding wildly with his fist. He shouted over and over for help. The terror that gripped him deepened with each passing instant until it was intolerable.
I have been buried alive.
The lid of Langdons strange coffin refused to budge, even with the full force of his arms and legs pushing upward in wild panic. The box, from all he could tell, was made of heavy fiberglass. Airtight. Soundproof. Lightproof. Escape-proof.
I am going to suffocate alone in this box.
He thought of the deep well into which he had fallen as a young boy, and of the terrifying night he spent treading water alone in the darkness of a bottomless pit. That trauma had scarred Langdons psyche, burdening him with an overwhelming phobia of enclosed spaces.
Tonight, buried alive, Robert Langdon was living his ultimate nightmare.
Katherine Solomon trembled in silence on the floor of Malakhs dining room. The sharp wire around her wrists and ankles had already cut into her, and the slightest movements seemed only to tighten her bonds.
The tattooed man had brutally knocked Langdon unconscious and dragged his limp body across the floor along with his leather bag and the stone pyramid. Where they had gone, Katherine had no idea. The agent who had accompanied them was dead. She had not heard a sound in many
minutes, and she wondered if the tattooed man and Langdon were still inside the house. She had been trying to scream for help, but with each attempt, the rag in her mouth crept back dangerously closer to her windpipe.
Now she felt approaching footsteps on the floor, and she turned her head, hoping against hope that someone was coming to help. The massive silhouette of her captor materialized in the hallway. Katherine recoiled as she flashed on the image of him standing in her family home ten years earlier.
He killed my family.
Now he strode toward her. Langdon was nowhere to be seen. The man crouched down and gripped her around the waist, hoisting her roughly onto his shoulder. The wire sliced into her wrists, and the rag muffled her muted cries of pain. He carried her down the hallway toward the living room, where, earlier today, the two of them had calmly sipped tea together.
Where is he taking me?!
He carried Katherine across the living room and stopped directly in front of the large oil painting of the Three Graces that she had admired this afternoon.
You mentioned you liked this painting, the man whispered, his lips practically touching her ear. Im glad. It may be the last thing of beauty you see.
With that, he reached out and pressed his palm into the right side of the enormous frame. To Katherines shock, the painting rotated into the wall, turning on a central pivot like a revolving door. A hidden doorway.
Katherine tried to wriggle free, but the man held her firmly, carrying her through the opening behind the canvas. As the Three Graces pivoted shut behind them, she could see heavy insulation on the back of the canvas. Whatever sounds were made back here were apparently not meant to be heard by the outside world.
The space behind the painting was cramped, more like a hallway than a room. The man carried her to the far side and opened a heavy door, carrying her through it onto a small landing. Katherine found herself looking down a narrow ramp into a deep basement. She drew a breath to scream, but the rag was choking her.
The incline was steep and narrow. The walls on either side were made of cement, awash in a bluish light that seemed to emanate from below. The air that wafted up was warm and pungent, laden with an eerie blend of smells . . . the sharp bite of chemicals, the smooth calm of incense, the earthy musk of human sweat, and, pervading it all, a distinct aura of visceral, animal fear.
Your science impressed me, the man whispered as they reached the bottom of the ramp. I hope mine impresses you.