The Solomon Key

World Bank Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) Julie Mugamba knew that she was dying. She knew that she was dying because with what remained of her two bleeding eyes, she could see several of her body parts scattered all over the room.

Her left hand, fresh from a recent manicure at the new Korean place in Foggy Bottom that had been recommended by her best friend IMF Deputy Legal Counsel (Derivatives) Millicent Bassington-Frobisher, was still attached to the black office-issue telephone on her World Bank desk.

Her right leg, the foot still encased in the delicate, butter soft leather of her favourite Christian Louboutin peep-toe sling-back, had been flung carelessly and landed next to the small potted banana tree that she had brought with her from her last home leave to her native country, Uganda, pronounced juːˈɡɑːndə, a small African land-locked country in East Africa bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of Congo which used to be called Zaire, on the southwest by Rwanda and on the south by Tanzania, the home of Mount Kilimanjaro, an inactive stratovolcano that is the highest peak in Africa and that was not, contrary to popular legend, given away as a birthday present by Queen Victoria of England to her cousin the German Kaiser.

page 2

He came from a long line of Assassins: not the Hassasins of lore, members of a murderous Arab sect known for its brutal murders of Catholics and for celebrating each kill with hashish-fueled frenzies and who eventually became known by the name assassins, but a family from a small farming community in North Dakota known as the Assassins of Assassin Farm.

His father, James Jake Assassin, had been the son of John Joseph Assassin, who had been the son of Jeremiah Joshua Assassin who had been the son of Old Jedediah Jacob Assassin.

Now, as Justin Julian Assassin paced the blood-splattered shining fake marble floor of Julie Mugamba’s office that was on the fourth floor, two doors away from the lift and five feet away from a bathroom with a blocked toilet that had not been fixed for two days, he wondered not only which names beginning with J he would give to his own as yet unborn son, but also just how much more sawing he would have to do before the Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) revealed the location of the object he was seeking.

The object had been hidden through the ages, its mysterious power calling to believers who sought it, to cynics who denied it, to the Masons who had dedicated their lives to protecting its secret location. It had left a trail of blood through history, from the blood splattered across ancient caves at Olduvai Gorge, the birthplace of man, to the trails of the Inca warriors.

page 4

Julie Mugamba struggled to speak. The blood from her superior vena cava flowed and gushed like the waters of the Nile, the great African river whose source perplexed a large number of European explorers when all they had to do was to ask a local.

Her mouth full of blood, she gargled, “The key is … in the…”

“The key,” the Assassin menaced menacingly.

“The door,” Julie Mugamba said wearily.

The key,” the Assassin threatened threateningly.

“The door,” Julie Mugamba whispered feebly.

“The key,” the Assassin said ominously.

“The key is in the …” sighed Julie Mugamba helplessly.

“The key,” the Assassin said intimidatingly.

“The key is in the door!” shouted Julie Mugamba hysterically.

page 6

The Vatican is presenting me with an impossible choice: I may have to choose between supporting the Pope and supporting Dan Brown. The Pope is considering calling on the faithful to boycott Angels and Demons, the Tom Hanks vehicle based on the most implausible thriller to hit a bookshop since Gutenberg invented the printing press. I have read, with delightful incredulity, all, and I mean all of Dan Brown’s thrillers. The books may not contain the most felicitous writing, but goodness, the plots are compelling. What delights and amuses me the most about his style is that he begins each book with a dying man who is not only supplied a name, but also a job title, this is what a critic has called Dan Brown’s addiction to the anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier.

And so we have: Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery (from The Da Vinci Code) … Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh and knew that it was his own (from Angels and Demons.) .. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendour of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him… (from Deception Point)

I also love his addiction to  adverbs. And the way he interrupts the flow of the story to casually throw in little facts about stuff. The Suretè is the French civil police force. The Seine is a river that flows through Paris. Paris is the capital of France. From an aeroplane at night, the lights of Paris look like bright and twinkly lights. Da Vinci’s first name was Leonardo. You get the drift. In 2007, I read that his  new novel, the long-anticipated The Solomon Key, was set in Washington DC. To assist Dan Brown in his creative process, I wrote this possible opening.

page 1

As Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) Julie Mugamba looked at her leg, she noticed with pleasure that the distinctive red sole that is the Louboutin trademark still looked pristine. Christian Louboutin, she recalled, was born in 1963 in Paris to a family of four sisters and a father who was a skilled carpenter, had left school at the age of 12, and had been fascinated by the shoes worn by showgirls who danced in Paris nightclubs.

The pleasure that she felt in admiring her shoe soon turned to mounting horror as she realised that the dark bright red of the soles was due not only to the mastery of the French cobbler but also to the blood dripping down from the zig-zag shaped wound of her sawn-off leg.

Then, into her line of vision came the Assassin.

The Assassin looked at the Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department).

The Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) looked at the Assassin.

The Assassin smiled darkly. His eyes were like cold steel.

He was enjoying this.

He had killed in the past, he was killing in the present, he would kill in the future, he would have killed in the future perfect and he had been killing in the past perfect progressive.

page 3

It had brought added venom to the battles of the Goths and Visigoths. In its name, crusades had been fought and lost. Unknown to historians, it was the reason for the fall of Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler. It was the final link that would dismantle the cold steel grip of imperialism.

Men had died seeking it. More men had died protecting it, and now, they were about to be joined by World Bank Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) Julie Mugamba.

The Assassin caressed the cold steel blade of his Black and Decker saw.

As he cast a coldly steely glance in the direction of his victim’s half-severed head, he decided to give her one final chance.

“The key,” he growled threateningly. “Where is the key?”

His voice was gravelly but not that deep; it was the voice of the teenage Anakin Skywalker at the moment of breaking, seconds before it became the voice of Darth Vader who was voiced by renowned African-American actor James Earl Jones but when unmasked was revealed to be some old white dude.

page 5

Assistant Media Relations Officer (Africa Department) Julie Mugamba gave one last desperate, longingly longing wish-filled look at the Assassin and died.

Justin Julian Assassin moved like a cat on a cold steel roof until he reached the door of the World Bank office. His hands, cold as steel, closed on the cold steel of the key-shaped key and he smiled a coldly steely smile.

“The key!” he thought, in dark exultation. “The Solomon Key!”

Now, all that remained for him to do was to find Robert Langdon, the Harvard Professor of Religious Iconology and Symbology who was described in the books as looking like Harrison Ford in tweed but was actually played by Tom Hanks in the movies.

To find and kill Robert Langdon.

He smiled. Darkly.

page 7