Deep within this building, in the darkness of the most remote recesses, was a small scientific laboratory unlike any other in the world. The recent breakthroughs Katherine had made here in the field of Noetic Science had ramifications across every discipline--from physics, to history, to philosophy, to religion. Soon everything will change, she thought.
As Katherine entered the lobby, the front desk guard quickly stashed his radio and yanked the earplugs from his ears. "Ms. Solomon!" He smiled broadly.
He blushed, looking guilty. "Pregame."
She smiled. "I won't tell." She walked to the metal detector and emptied her pockets. When she slid the gold Cartier watch from her wrist, she felt the usual pang of sadness. The timepiece had been a gift from her mother for Katherine's eighteenth birthday. Almost ten years had now passed since her mother had died violently . . . passing away in Katherine's arms.
"So, Ms. Solomon?" the guard whispered jokingly. "Are you ever gonna tell anybody what you're doing back there?"
She glanced up. "Someday, Kyle. Not tonight."
"Come on," he pressed. "A secret lab . . . in a secret museum? You must be doing something cool."
Miles beyond cool, Katherine thought as she collected her things. The truth was that Katherine was doing science so advanced that it no longer even resembled science.
Robert Langdon stood frozen in the doorway of the National Statuary Hall and studied the startling scene before him. The room was precisely as he remembered it--a balanced semicircle built in the style of a Greek amphitheater. The graceful arched walls of sandstone and Italian plaster were punctuated by columns of variegated breccia, interspersed with the nation's statuary collection--life-size statues of thirty-eight great Americans standing in a semicircle on a stark expanse of black-and-white marble tile.
It was exactly as Langdon had recalled from the lecture he had once attended here.
Except for one thing.
Tonight, the room was empty.
No chairs. No audience. No Peter Solomon. Just a handful of tourists milling around aimlessly, oblivious to Langdon's grand entrance. Did Peter mean the Rotunda? He peered down the south corridor toward the Rotunda and could see tourists milling around in there, too.
The echoes of the clock chime had faded. Langdon was now officially late.
He hurried back into the hallway and found a docent. "Excuse me, the lecture for the Smithsonian event tonight? Where is that being held?"
The docent hesitated. "I'm not sure, sir. When does it start?"
The man shook his head. "I don't know about any Smithsonian event this evening--not here, at least."
Bewildered, Langdon hurried back toward the center of the room, scanning the entire space. Is Solomon playing some kind of joke? Langdon couldn't imagine it. He pulled out his cell phone and the fax page from this morning and dialed Peter's number.
His phone took a moment to locate a signal inside the enormous building. Finally, it began to ring.
The familiar southern accent answered. "Peter Solomon's office, this is Anthony. May I help you?"
"Anthony!" Langdon said with relief. "I'm glad you're still there. This is Robert Langdon. There seems to be some confusion about the lecture. I'm standing in the Statuary Hall, but there's nobody here. Has the lecture been moved to a different room?"
"I don't believe so, sir. Let me check." His assistant paused a moment. "Did you confirm with Mr. Solomon directly?"
Langdon was confused. "No, I confirmed with you, Anthony. This morning!"
"Yes, I recall that." There was a silence on the line. "That was a bit careless of you, don't you think, Professor?"
Langdon was now fully alert. "I beg your pardon?"
"Consider this . . ." the man said. "You received a fax asking you to call a number, which you did. You spoke to a total stranger who said he was Peter Solomon's assistant. Then you willingly boarded a private plane to Washington and climbed into a waiting car. Is that right?"
Langdon felt a chill race through his body. "Who the hell is this? Where is Peter?"
"I'm afraid Peter Solomon has no idea you're in Washington today." The man's southern accent disappeared, and his voice morphed into a deeper, mellifluous whisper. "You are here, Mr. Langdon, because I want you here."
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 man's 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 man's 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, Langdon's unwanted celebrity had made him a magnet for nut-cases, and this one had just crossed a very serious line. "Look, I don't know what the hell is going on here, but I'm hanging up--"
"Unwise," said the man. "Your window of opportunity is very small if you want to save Peter Solomon's soul."
Langdon drew a sharp breath. "What did you say?"
"I'm sure you heard me."
The way this man had uttered Peter's 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 can't be happening. "You don't have Peter."
"I answered his private cell phone. That should give you pause."
"I'm calling the police."
"No need," the man said. "The authorities will join you momentarily."
What is this lunatic talking about? Langdon's tone hardened. "If you have Peter, put him on the phone right now." "
"That's 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 man's religious and literary references solidified Langdon's suspicion that he was dealing with a madman. The second canticle. Langdon knew it well; nobody escaped Phillips Exeter Academy without reading Dante. "You're saying you think Peter Solomon is . . . in purgatory?"
"A crude word you Christians use, but yes, Mr. Solomon is in the in-between."
The man's words hung in Langdon's 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 between--a 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?"