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The Lost Island
A Gideon Crew Novel
Read by David W. Collins
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Accomplishing the impossible, Gideon steals the parchment–only to learn that hidden beneath the gorgeously illuminated image is a treasure map dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks. As they ponder the strange map, they realize that the treasure it leads to is no ordinary fortune. It is something far more precious: an amazing discovery that could perhaps even save Gideon’s life.
Together with his new partner, Amy, Gideon follows a trail of cryptic clues to an unknown island in a remote corner of the Caribbean Sea. There, off the hostile and desolate Mosquito Coast, the pair realize the extraordinary treasure they are hunting conceals an even greater shock-a revelation so profound that it may benefit the entire human race . . . if Gideon and Amy can survive.
About The Lost Island
About Preston & Child
The Gideon Crew Series
The Agent Pendergast Series
Also by Preston & Child
Table of Contents
Lincoln Child dedicates this book to his wife,
Douglas Preston dedicates this book to
The conference room at Effective Engineering Solutions emptied. Everyone left, leaving Gideon Crew alone with Eli Glinn and Manuel Garza in the austere room, high above the streets of Manhattan.
With his withered hand, Glinn motioned Gideon to a chair at the conference table. “Gideon, please, sit down.”
Gideon took a seat. He sensed already that this meeting—which had begun with a celebration of his successful completion of the latest project for EES—was morphing into something else.
“You’ve had quite an ordeal,” Glinn said. “Not just the physical manhunt, but the, ah, emotional toll as well. Are you sure you want to jump right into something new?”
“I’m sure,” Gideon replied.
Glinn looked at him carefully—a long, searching look. Then he nodded. “Excellent. Glad to hear you’ll be continuing with us as our…” He paused, searched for a word. “Our special deputy. We’ll engage you a suite at a hotel around the corner, so you’ll have a place to stay while we find you an apartment. I know how you hate to be away from your beloved Santa Fe, but it’s a very interesting time to be in New York. Right now, for example, there’s a special exhibition at the Morgan Library—the Book of Kells, on loan from the Irish government. You’ve heard of the Book of Kells, of course?”
“It’s the finest illuminated manuscript in existence, considered to be Ireland’s greatest national treasure.”
Gideon said nothing.
Glinn glanced at his watch. “Then you’ll come have a look at it with me? I’m a great fancier of illuminated manuscripts. They’ll be turning a new page of the book every day. Very exciting.”
Gideon hesitated. “Illuminated manuscripts are not exactly an interest of mine.”
“Ah, but I was so hoping you’d accompany me to the exhibition,” said Glinn. “You’ll love the Book of Kells. It’s only been out of Ireland once before, and it’s only here for a week. A shame to miss it. If we leave now, we’ll just catch the last hour of today’s showing.”
“Maybe we could go Monday.”
“And miss the page displayed today—forever? No, we must go now.”
Gideon started to laugh, amused at Glinn’s earnestness. The man’s interests were so arcane. “Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the damn Book of Kells.”
“Ah, but you will.”
Hearing the edge in Glinn’s voice, Gideon paused. “Why?”
“Because your new assignment will be to steal it.”
Gideon followed Eli Glinn into the East Room of the Morgan Library. Despite its being packed with visitors, entering the magnificent space was nevertheless an overwhelming experience. Gideon hadn’t been in the Morgan since its renovation—he always found its treasures too tempting—and immediately became entranced all over again with the vaulted and painted ceilings, the three-story tiers of rich books, the massive marble fireplace, the opulent tapestries, furniture, and thick burgundy rug. Glinn, operating the joystick of his electric wheelchair with one claw-like hand, moved into the room aggressively, cutting the line and taking advantage of the fact that people tended to yield to the handicapped. Soon they had moved to the front of the line, where a large glass cube contained the Book of Kells.
“What a room,” murmured Gideon, looking around, his eyes instinctively picking out the many aggressively visible details of high security, starting with the hyper-alert guards, the single entrance, the camera lenses winking in the ceiling moldings, the motion-sensor detectors and infrared laser placements. Not only that, but—in entering the room—he had observed the side edge of a massive steel pocket door, ready to seal the space off at a moment’s notice.
Glinn followed his eye toward the ceiling. “Magnificent, isn’t it?” he said. “Those murals are by the artist H. Siddons Mowbray, and the spandrels feature the twelve signs of the zodiac. J. P. Morgan belonged to an exclusive dining club that admitted only twelve members, each of whom was given a zodiac code name. They say the arrangements of the signs and other strange symbols painted in the ceiling relate to key events in Morgan’s personal life.”
Gideon’s eye fell to the grand fireplace adorning one end of the hall. Even in its intricately carved recesses he could make out the faint presence of security devices, some of which he had never seen before and had no idea what they did.
“That tapestry over the fireplace,” Glinn continued, “is sixteenth-century Netherlandish. It depicts one of the seven deadly sins: avarice.” He issued a low chuckle. “Interesting choice for Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, don’t you think?”
Gideon turned his attention to the glass cube that contained the Book of Kells. It was clearly bulletproof, and not the standard blue kind, either, but white glass—he guessed a P6B standard—which rendered it not only bulletproof but blast-proof, hammer-proof, and ax-proof as well. He stared intently into the case, ignoring the fabulous and irreplaceable treasure it contained, his eyes instead picking out and categorizing the many layers of security within—motion sensors, atmospheric pressure sensors, infrared heat detectors, and even what looked like an atmospheric composition sensor.
Clearly any disturbance would trigger the instant shutting of that steel door—sealing the room and trapping the thief inside.
And that was just the security he could see.
“Breathtaking, isn’t it?” murmured Glinn.
“It’s scaring the shit out of me.”
“What?” Glinn looked startled.
“Excuse me. You mean the book…” He looked at it for the first time. “Interesting.”
“That’s one way of putting it. Its origins are shrouded in mystery. Some say it was created by Saint Columba himself around AD 590. Others believe it was created by unknown monks two hundred years later, to celebrate Columba’s bicentennial. It was begun at Iona and then carried to the Abbey of Kells, where the illumination was added. And there it was kept, deeply hidden, as the abbey was raided and looted again and again by pagan Viking marauders. But they never found that book.”
Gideon looked at the manuscript more closely. Despite himself, he was drawn in, enthralled by the fantastically complex abstract designs on the page, almost fractal in their depth.
“The page on display today is folio 34r,” Glinn told him. “The famous Chi Rho monogram.”
“Chi Rho? What’s that?”
“Chi and Rho are the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek. The actual narrative of Jesus’s life starts at Matthew 1:18, and that page was often decorated in early illuminated gospels. The first word of the narrative is Christ. In the Book of Kells, those first two letters, Chi Rho, consume the entire page.”
The crowds began to back up behind them, and Gideon felt someone’s elbow giving him a faint nudge.
Glinn’s whispery voice continued. “Look at the labyrinth of knotted decoration! You can see all kinds of strange things hidden in there—animals, insects, birds, angels, tiny heads, crosses, flowers. Not to mention Celtic knots of stupendous complexity, a mathematician’s dream… And then the colors! The golds and greens and yellows and purples! This is the greatest page from the greatest illuminated manuscript in existence. No wonder the book is considered Ireland’s greatest national treasure. Just look at it.”
This was the first time Gideon could remember hearing anything approaching enthusiasm in Glinn’s voice. He leaned closer, so close his breath fogged the glass.
“Excuse me, but there are people waiting,” came an impatient voice from behind him.
As a little test, Gideon reached out and put his hand on the glass.
Instantly a low beeping sounded and a guard called out: “Hands off the glass, please! You, sir—hands off!”
This stimulated the impatient crowd. “Come on, friend, give someone else a chance!” came another voice. Others murmured their agreement.
With a long sigh of regret, Glinn touched his withered finger to the joystick and the wheelchair moved aside with a hum, Gideon following. A few moments later they were back out on Madison Avenue, the traffic streaming past, cabs blaring. Gideon blinked in the bright light.
“Let me get this straight. You want me to steal that book?”
He felt Glinn’s hand touch his arm reassuringly. “No, not the entire book. Just that one little folio page we were looking at, number 34r.”
A silence. “Have you ever known me to answer a question like that?” Glinn asked pleasantly as their limousine came gliding up to take them back to Little West 12th Street.
Three Days Later, Gideon Crew, fresh from a swim in the rooftop pool of the ultra-hip Gansevoort Hotel, stood stark naked in his suite high above the Meatpacking District of New York, staring down at a king-size bed overspread with diagrams and schematics—which mapped out, in minute detail, the security system of the East Room of the Morgan Library.
The loan of the Book of Kells by the Irish government to the Morgan Library had taken eight years to arrange. It had been fraught with difficulty. The main reason was that in the year 2000, one of the book’s folios had been sent to Canberra, Australia, for exhibition. Several pages were damaged by rubbing and a loss of pigment—the vibration of the plane’s engines was blamed—and the Irish government was now loath to risk another loan.
James Watermain, the billionaire Irish American founder of the Watermain Group, had made it a personal mission to bring the book to the United States. A man known for his charisma and charm, he managed to persuade the Irish prime minister, and finally the government, to release it—under stringent conditions. One of those conditions was a total overhaul of the security system of the East Room of the Morgan Library, which Watermain paid for himself.
Watermain had initially tried to put the manuscript on display at the Smithsonian. Museum security, however, had proven unwilling to provide the necessary high-tech face-lift, and the effort had fallen through. Secretly, Gideon was pleased to hear this. Although he had dreadful memories of Washington, DC, as a child—after all, that was where his father had been killed—in later years he had gone back occasionally to visit and found the town to be a somewhat boring, even sleepy, collection of handsome monuments and timeless documents. But just weeks before, he’d been summoned to Washington to receive a medal for his recent accomplishments at Fort Detrick. And to his dismay—perhaps because of 9/11, perhaps simply as a result of red tape and the inevitable bureaucratic accretion—what had once been a pleasant and relaxed capital was now more like an armed camp. The Metropolitan Police, Capitol Police, Park Police, State Department Police, US Mint Police, Secret Service Police, “Special” Police (achtung!)—in fact, something like two dozen different police forces, he’d learned—now choked downtown with their presence: all armed, and all seemingly with the power to pull over and arrest any luckless driver or visitor. (This according to one of Gideon’s cabdrivers, himself formerly on the Job.) Looking around at all the redundant cops, with their overlapping fiefdoms, Gideon could practically smell his tax dollars burning away.
The final straw came when he later received a robot traffic ticket in the mail: some pole-mounted camera-radar had observed him driving up New York Avenue at a few miles over the thirty-five-miles-an-hour speed limit, and—snagging an image of his license plate—had mailed him a ticket for $125. Now there seemed no easy way to protest the ticket short of traveling back to Washington to defend himself. And, of course, the actual event was so vague in his memory there was no way to reconstruct it: had there been a 35 MPH sign posted anywhere nearby? Had he truly been speeding? Where the hell, exactly, was New York Avenue? Many days had passed—how was an honest citizen to recall? So Gideon had done two things: first, paid the fine; and second, vowed not to return to DC for a long, long time. What had, in his opinion, always been a beautiful and abiding symbol of the country’s greatness was now apparently obsessed with balancing its swollen budget.
Or maybe, fresh from his trout stream, Gideon was just feeling the pain of reentry into urban existence. But either way, there wasn’t a chance in hell he was going back to the Smithsonian.
Now—as his thoughts returned to the present and he circled the bed—Gideon began wondering how Glinn had managed to get hold of the complete engineering, wiring, and electrical diagrams of that security system. Here was every circuit, every sensor, every spec, spelled out in minute detail. Lot of good it was going to do him. He had never in his life seen a security system like this—he had never even imagined a security system like this. There were the usual multiple layers, redundant and hardened systems, backup power supplies, and everything a burglar might expect. But that was just the beginning.
The East Room itself was now, essentially, a vault. It had originally been constructed of double-laid walls of Vermont limestone block almost three feet thick. The single entry into the room came equipped with a divided steel pocket door that would drop down from the ceiling and rise up from the floor the instant an alarm was triggered, sealing the room. There were no windows anywhere, light being incompatible with the preservation of books. The vaulted ceiling was of poured reinforced concrete, incredibly thick. The floor was a massive slab of reinforced concrete, covered with marble. To all this original reinforcement had been retrofitted, at the Irish government’s request, an outer layer of steel plating and sensors.
At night, the room was completely sealed up. Inside, it was secured by crisscrossing laser beams, motion detectors, and infrared sensors of several wavelengths, including one that would pick up even the smallest hint of body heat. Quite literally, not even a mouse (and probably not even a cockroach) could move inside the room without being detected. There were cameras running day and night, the monitors staffed by highly trained, handpicked security guards of the highest caliber.
During the day, when the exhibition was open to the public, people had to leave behind all their bags and cameras and pass through a metal detector. There were guards inside and outside the hall, and more cameras than a Las Vegas casino. The cube in which the book sat contained an atmosphere of pure argon. Inside the cube were sensors that would immediately go off if they detected a whiff of any other atmospheric gas, even in levels as low as one part per million. If the book was disturbed, the steel doors would seal the room so quickly that not even an Olympic runner could carry it from the case to the exit before it shut.
For days, Gideon had looked for weaknesses in the system. All systems had vulnerabilities, and almost always those vulnerabilities were related either to human fallibility, to programming glitches, or to a system too complex to be completely understood. But the designers of this system had taken those limitations into account. While this system was indeed complex, it was modular, in the sense that each component was fairly simple and independent of the others. The programs were simple, and some layers of security were entirely mechanical, with no computerized controls at all. The redundancy was such that multiple systems could fail or be compromised without affecting the ultimate security of the book.
There was, of course, a way to turn the system on and off, because the pages of the book were turned on a daily basis. But even this had been exceedingly well planned. To shut down the system required three people, each with a simple, independent code that they had memorized. There were no physical keys or written codes or anything that could be stolen. And these three people were untouchable. They were John Watermain himself, the president of the Morgan Library, and the deputy mayor of New York City. While one might be corruptible or susceptible to social engineering, two would be extremely difficult and three impossible.
And what would happen if one of them died? In that case there was a stand-in, a fourth person—who happened to be the prime minister of Ireland himself.
What about fire? Surely in the case of an emergency, Gideon reasoned, the book would have to be quickly moved. But the specs dealt with that possibility in an unusual way. The book would not be moved in case of a fire. It would be fully protected in situ. The glass cube was designed to be a first line of defense, able to withstand a serious fire on its own; the second line was a fireproof box that rose from inside the cube to enclose the book, protecting it from even the most prolonged fire. And the East Room had redundant, state-of-the-art firefighting components in place that would stifle any fire well before it got going. There were similar systems protecting the book against earthquake, flood, and terrorist attack. Just about the only thing it wasn’t protected from was a direct nuclear strike.
With a long sigh, Gideon strolled over to his closet and flipped through his clothes. It was time to get dressed for dinner. He had taken, as a loose cover, the persona of a young, hip dot-com millionaire, a persona he had used before with success. He took out a black St. Croix mock turtleneck, a pair of worn Levi’s, and some Bass Weejuns—he had to mix it up a little, after all—and pulled them all on.
He hadn’t eaten anything all day. This was usual. Gideon preferred one elegant and extraordinary dining experience to three cheap squares. Eating for him was more ritual than sustenance.
He checked his watch again. It was still too early to dine, but he felt restless after three days cooped up in this room, staring at diagrams. He had yet to find a hole, a chink, even the slightest hairline crack in this security system. Since he’d started stealing from art museums and historical societies when he was a teenager, he had come to believe that there was no such thing as a perfect security system. Every system was vulnerable, either technologically or through social engineering.
That had always been his certitude. Until now.
Christ, he needed a break. He went into the bathroom, combed his wet hair, then slapped on some Truefitt & Hill aftershave balm to cover up the lingering smell of chlorine from the pool. He left his suite, hanging the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the doorknob on his way out.
It was a hot August evening in the Meatpacking District. The beautiful people were out in the Hamptons, and instead the cobbled streets were packed with young, hip-looking tourists—the District had become one of the chicest neighborhoods in Manhattan in recent years.
He walked around the block to Spice Market, sat down at the bar, and ordered a martini. As he sipped the drink, he indulged in one of his favorite activities, observing the people around him and imagining every detail of their lives, from what they did for a living to what their dogs looked like. But try as he might, he couldn’t get into the groove. For the first time in his life, he had run into a security system designed by truly intelligent people—people even smarter than him. The damn Book of Kells was going to be harder to steal than the Mona Lisa.
As he pondered this, his mood, already foul, deepened. The people around him—well heeled and sophisticated, talking, laughing, drinking, and eating—began to irritate him. He began to imagine they weren’t people, but chattering monkeys, engaged in complex grooming rituals, and that eased his annoyance.
His drink was empty. Long ago he had learned it was a bad idea for him to order a second one—not that he had a drinking problem, of course, but after two he seemed to pass a line that led to a third, and even a fourth, and that would inevitably lead him to seek out one of those sleek, blond, chattering monkeys…
He ordered a second drink.
While he sipped it, feeling marginally better about the state of the world as the alcohol kicked in, a little idea came to him. If it was truly impossible to steal the Book of Kells—and deep down he knew it was—he would simply have to get someone else to take it out of the room for him… with the full cooperation of those three people. This would require a level of social engineering far more sophisticated than any he had attempted before.
And a way to do just that began to materialize in his very crooked, half-soused mind.
His third drink arrived, and he cast his eye about the elegant bar. There was a woman at the far end, not necessarily the most beautiful woman in the room—she was plump and wore glasses. But—what he personally found most attractive in a woman—she possessed a mordant, intelligent gleam in her eye. She was looking around, and it seemed to Gideon that she found this scene as amusing as he did.
He picked up his almost finished drink and walked over. He glanced at the stool. “May I?”
She looked him up and down. “I think so. Are you in the computer business?”
He laughed and put on his most self-deprecating look. “No, but I am WYSIWYG. Why do you ask?”
“The Steve Jobs uniform—black mock turtleneck and jeans.”
“I don’t like thinking about what I’m going to wear in the morning.”
She turned to the bartender. “Two Beefeater martinis, straight up, two olives, dirty.”
“You’re buying me a drink?”
He leaned forward. “Not at all, but how did you know what I was drinking?”
“I’ve been watching you since you came in.”
“Really? Why me?”
“You look like a lost boy.”
Gideon found himself flushing. This woman was perhaps a little too keen in her observations, and he felt unmasked. “Aren’t we all a bit lost?”
She smiled and said, “I think we’re going to get along.”
The drinks arrived and they clinked glasses.
“To being lost,” said Gideon.
The shop of Griggs and Wellington, Rare Books and Manuscripts, was just around the corner from the Portobello Road. It was one of those antiques shops that had moved up from Portobello but had not quite achieved the success it was trying very, very hard to reach. As Gideon entered the shop, he noted a veneer of British snobbery not quite covering up a kind of trashy East End hustle. The shop’s proprietor, a young Brit dressed in overdone Savile Row, confirmed Gideon’s suspicions when he arrived, his plummy accent almost but not quite smothering a Cockney origin.
“May I help you, sir?”
Gideon, himself dressed in an expensive Ralph Lauren suit, gave the proprietor a dumb-ass American smile. “Well, I was wondering if I could look at that old manuscript page in the window.” His Texas accent came out despite the effort to control it.
“Naturally,” the proprietor said. “You mean the illuminated book of hours?”
The man went to the case, unlocked it, and removed the small page. It was enclosed in stiff plastic. With obvious reverence he placed it on a black velvet tray that he whisked out from under the counter, then set the tray within a pool of light from a spot in the ceiling. It was a page out of the gospel, with an illusionistic border of flowers, its central scene showing the Virgin Mary seated under an arch, with an angel descending from a blue sky. Mary was drawing back in fear. It was exquisite in every detail.
“Very lovely,” the shopkeeper murmured. “You have a good eye, sir.”
“Tell me about it,” Gideon asked.
“It’s from a Flemish book of hours dating to around 1440—a very fine one indeed. Very fine,” the man repeated, his voice hushed with veneration. “It is believed to be by the workshop of the Master of the Privileges of Ghent and Flanders.”
“I see,” said Gideon. “Nice.”
“It depicts the Annunciation, of course,” the dealer added.
“And how much is it?”
“We have a price of four thousand six hundred pounds on that very rare page.” The man’s voice became pinched, as if discussing sums of money were distasteful to him.
“What’s that, about eight grand?” said Gideon. He peered closely at it.
“Would you like to examine it with a loupe?”
“A what? Oh, thank you.”
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- Mar 31, 2015
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