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达芬奇密码The Da Vinci Code第021-040章

[日期:2012-07-31]   [字体: ]
CHAPTER 21
The Mona Lisa.
For an instant, standing in the exit stairwell, Sophie forgot all about trying to leave the Louvre.
Her shock over the anagram was matched only by her embarrassment at not having deciphered the message herself. Sophie's expertise in complex cryptanalysis had caused her to overlook simplistic word games, and yet she knew she should have seen it. After all, she was no stranger to anagrams-especially in English.
When she was young, often her grandfather would use anagram games to hone her English spelling. Once he had written the English word "planets" and told Sophie that an astonishing sixty-two other English words of varying lengths could be formed using those same letters. Sophie had
spent three days with an English dictionary until she found them all.
"I can't imagine," Langdon said, staring at the printout, "how your grandfather created such an intricate anagram in the minutes before he died."
Sophie knew the explanation, and the realization made her feel even worse. I should have seen this! She now recalled that her grandfather-a wordplay aficionado and art lover-had entertained himself as a young man by creating anagrams of famous works of art. In fact, one of his anagrams had gotten him in trouble once when Sophie was a little girl. While being interviewed by an American art magazine, Saunière had expressed his distaste for the modernist Cubist movement by noting that Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was a perfect anagram of vile meaningless doodles. Picasso fans were not amused.
"My grandfather probably created this Mona Lisa anagram long ago," Sophie said, glancing up at Langdon. And tonight he was forced to use it as a makeshift code. Her grandfather's voice had called out from beyond with chilling precision.
Leonardo da Vinci!
The Mona Lisa!
Why his final words to her referenced the famous painting, Sophie had no idea, but she could think of only one possibility. A disturbing one.
Those were not his final words....
Was she supposed to visit the Mona Lisa? Had her grandfather left her a message there? The idea seemed perfectly plausible. After all, the famous painting hung in the Salle des Etats-a private viewing chamber accessible only from the Grand Gallery. In fact, Sophie now realized, the doors that opened into the chamber were situated only twenty meters from where her grandfather had been found dead.
He easily could have visited the Mona Lisa before he died.
Sophie gazed back up the emergency stairwell and felt torn. She knew she should usher Langdon from the museum immediately, and yet instinct urged her to the contrary. As Sophie recalled her first childhood visit to the Denon Wing, she realized that if her grandfather had a secret to tell her, few places on earth made a more apt rendezvous than Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
"She's just a little bit farther," her grandfather had whispered, clutching Sophie's tiny hand as he led her through the deserted museum after hours.
Sophie was six years old. She felt small and insignificant as she gazed up at the enormous ceilings and down at the dizzying floor. The empty museum frightened her, although she was not about to let her grandfather know that. She set her jaw firmly and let go of his hand.
"Up ahead is the Salle des Etats," her grandfather said as they approached the Louvre's most famous room. Despite her grandfather's obvious excitement, Sophie wanted to go home. She had seen pictures of the Mona Lisa in books and didn't like it at all. She couldn't understand why everyone made such a fuss.
"C'est ennuyeux," Sophie grumbled.
"Boring," he corrected. "French at school. English at home."
"Le Louvre, c'est pas chez moi!" she challenged.
He gave her a tired laugh. "Right you are. Then let's speak English just for fun."
Sophie pouted and kept walking. As they entered the Salle des Etats, her eyes scanned the narrow room and settled on the obvious spot of honor-the center of the right-hand wall, where a lone portrait hung behind a protective Plexiglas wall. Her grandfather paused in the doorway and motioned toward the painting.
"Go ahead, Sophie. Not many people get a chance to visit her alone."
Swallowing her apprehension, Sophie moved slowly across the room. After everything she'd heard about the Mona Lisa, she felt as if she were approaching royalty. Arriving in front of the protective Plexiglas, Sophie held her breath and looked up, taking it in all at once.
Sophie was not sure what she had expected to feel, but it most certainly was not this. No jolt of amazement. No instant of wonder. The famous face looked as it did in books. She stood in silence for what felt like forever, waiting for something to happen.
"So what do you think?" her grandfather whispered, arriving behind her. "Beautiful, yes?"
"She's too little."
Saunière smiled. "You're little and you're beautiful."
I am not beautiful, she thought. Sophie hated her red hair and freckles, and she was bigger than all the boys in her class. She looked back at the Mona Lisa and shook her head. "She's even worse than in the books. Her face is... brumeux."
"Foggy," her grandfather tutored.
"Foggy," Sophie repeated, knowing the conversation would not continue until she repeated her new vocabulary word.
"That's called the sfumato style of painting," he told her, "and it's very hard to do. Leonardo da Vinci was better at it than anyone."
Sophie still didn't like the painting. "She looks like she knows something... like when kids at school have a secret."
Her grandfather laughed. "That's part of why she is so famous. People like to guess why she is smiling."
"Do you know why she's smiling?"
"Maybe." Her grandfather winked. "Someday I'll tell you all about it."
Sophie stamped her foot. "I told you I don't like secrets!"
"Princess," he smiled. "Life is filled with secrets. You can't learn them all at once."
"I'm going back up," Sophie declared, her voice hollow in the stairwell.
"To the Mona Lisa?" Langdon recoiled. "Now?"
Sophie considered the risk. "I'm not a murder suspect. I'll take my chances. I need to understand what my grandfather was trying to tell me."
"What about the embassy?"
Sophie felt guilty turning Langdon into a fugitive only to abandon him, but she saw no other option. She pointed down the stairs to a metal door. "Go through that door, and follow the illuminated exit signs. My grandfather used to bring me down here. The signs will lead you to a security turnstile. It's monodirectional and opens out." She handed Langdon her car keys. "Mine is the red SmartCar in the employee lot. Directly outside this bulkhead. Do you know how to get to the embassy?"
Langdon nodded, eyeing the keys in his hand.
"Listen," Sophie said, her voice softening. "I think my grandfather may have left me a message at
the Mona Lisa-some kind of clue as to who killed him. Or why I'm in danger." Or what happened to my family. "I have to go see."
"But if he wanted to tell you why you were in danger, why wouldn't he simply write it on the floor where he died? Why this complicated word game?"
"Whatever my grandfather was trying to tell me, I don't think he wanted anyone else to hear it. Not even the police." Clearly, her grandfather had done everything in his power to send a confidential transmission directly to her. He had written it in code, included her secret initials, and told her to find Robert Langdon-a wise command, considering the American symbologist had deciphered his code. "As strange as it may sound," Sophie said, "I think he wants me to get to the Mona Lisa before anyone else does."
"I'll come."
"No! We don't know how long the Grand Gallery will stay empty. You have to go."
Langdon seemed hesitant, as if his own academic curiosity were threatening to override sound judgment and drag him back into Fache's hands.
"Go. Now." Sophie gave him a grateful smile. "I'll see you at the embassy, Mr. Langdon."
Langdon looked displeased. "I'll meet you there on one condition," he replied, his voice stern.
She paused, startled. "What's that?"
"That you stop calling me Mr. Langdon."
Sophie detected the faint hint of a lopsided grin growing across Langdon's face, and she felt herself smile back. "Good luck, Robert."
When Langdon reached the landing at the bottom of the stairs, the unmistakable smell of linseed oil and plaster dust assaulted his nostrils. Ahead, an illuminated SORTIE/EXIT displayed an arrow pointing down a long corridor.
Langdon stepped into the hallway.
To the right gaped a murky restoration studio out of which peered an army of statues in various states of repair. To the left, Langdon saw a suite of studios that resembled Harvard art classrooms-rows of easels, paintings, palettes, framing tools-an art assembly line.
As he moved down the hallway, Langdon wondered if at any moment he might awake with a start in his bed in Cambridge. The entire evening had felt like a bizarre dream. I'm about to dash out of the Louvre... a fugitive.
Saunière's clever anagrammatic message was still on his mind, and Langdon wondered what Sophie would find at the Mona Lisa... if anything. She had seemed certain her grandfather meant for her to visit the famous painting one more time. As plausible an interpretation as this seemed, Langdon felt haunted now by a troubling paradox.
P.S. Find Robert Langdon.
Saunière had written Langdon's name on the floor, commanding Sophie to find him. But why? Merely so Langdon could help her break an anagram?
It seemed quite unlikely.
After all, Saunière had no reason to think Langdon was especially skilled at anagrams. We've never even met. More important, Sophie had stated flat out that she should have broken the anagram on her own. It had been Sophie who spotted the Fibonacci sequence, and, no doubt, Sophie who, if given a little more time, would have deciphered the message with no help from Langdon.
Sophie was supposed to break that anagram on her own. Langdon was suddenly feeling more certain about this, and yet the conclusion left an obvious gaping lapse in the logic of Saunière's actions.
Why me? Langdon wondered, heading down the hall. Why was Saunière's dying wish that his estranged granddaughter find me? What is it that Saunière thinks I know?
With an unexpected jolt, Langdon stopped short. Eyes wide, he dug in his pocket and yanked out the computer printout. He stared at the last line of Saunière's message.
P.S. Find Robert Langdon.
He fixated on two letters.
P.S.
In that instant, Langdon felt Saunière's puzzling mix of symbolism fall into stark focus. Like a peal of thunder, a career's worth of symbology and history came crashing down around him. Everything Jacques Saunière had done tonight suddenly made perfect sense.
Langdon's thoughts raced as he tried to assemble the implications of what this all meant. Wheeling, he stared back in the direction from which he had come.
Is there time?
He knew it didn't matter.
Without hesitation, Langdon broke into a sprint back toward the stairs.
CHAPTER 22
Kneeling in the first pew, Silas pretended to pray as he scanned the layout of the sanctuary. Saint-Sulpice, like most churches, had been built in the shape of a giant Roman cross. Its long central section-the nave-led directly to the main altar, where it was transversely intersected by a shorter section, known as the transept. The intersection of nave and transept occurred directly beneath the main cupola and was considered the heart of the church... her most sacred and mystical point.
Not tonight, Silas thought. Saint-Sulpice hides her secrets elsewhere.
Turning his head to the right, he gazed into the south transept, toward the open area of floor beyond the end of the pews, to the object his victims had described.
There it is.
Embedded in the gray granite floor, a thin polished strip of brass glistened in the stone... a golden line slanting across the church's floor. The line bore graduated markings, like a ruler. It was a gnomon, Silas had been told, a pagan astronomical device like a sundial. Tourists, scientists, historians, and pagans from around the world came to Saint-Sulpice to gaze upon this famous line.
The Rose Line.
Slowly, Silas let his eyes trace the path of the brass strip as it made its way across the floor from his right to left, slanting in front of him at an awkward angle, entirely at odds with the symmetry of the church. Slicing across the main altar itself, the line looked to Silas like a slash wound across a beautiful face. The strip cleaved the communion rail in two and then crossed the entire width of the church, finally reaching the corner of the north transept, where it arrived at the base of a most unexpected structure.
A colossal Egyptian obelisk.
Here, the glistening Rose Line took a ninety-deGREe vertical turn and continued directly up the face of the obelisk itself, ascending thirty-three feet to the very tip of the pyramidical apex, where it finally ceased.
The Rose Line, Silas thought. The brotherhood hid the keystone at the Rose Line.
Earlier tonight, when Silas told the Teacher that the Priory keystone was hidden inside Saint-Sulpice, the Teacher had sounded doubtful. But when Silas added that the brothers had all given him a precise location, with relation to a brass line running through Saint-Sulpice, the Teacher had gasped with revelation. "You speak of the Rose Line!"
The Teacher quickly told Silas of Saint-Sulpice's famed architectural oddity-a strip of brass that segmented the sanctuary on a perfect north-south axis. It was an ancient sundial of sorts, a vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot. The sun's rays, shining through the oculus on the south wall, moved farther down the line every day, indicating the passage of time, from solstice to solstice.
The north-south stripe had been known as the Rose Line. For centuries, the symbol of the Rose had been associated with maps and guiding souls in the proper direction. The Compass Rose-drawn on almost every map-indicated North, East, South, and West. Originally known as the Wind Rose, it denoted the directions of the thirty-two winds, blowing from the directions of eight major winds, eight half-winds, and sixteen quarter-winds. When diagrammed inside a circle, these thirty-two points of the compass perfectly resembled a traditional thirty-two petal rose bloom. To this day, the fundamental navigational tool was still known as a Compass Rose, its northernmost direction still marked by an arrowhead... or, more commonly, the symbol of the fleur-de-lis.
On a globe, a Rose Line-also called a meridian or longitude-was any imaginary line drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole. There were, of course, an infinite number of Rose Lines because every point on the globe could have a longitude drawn through it connecting north and south poles. The question for early navigators was which of these lines would be called the Rose Line-the zero longitude-the line from which all other longitudes on earth would be measured.
Today that line was in GREenwich, England.
But it had not always been.
Long before the establishment of GREenwich as the prime meridian, the zero longitude of the entire world had passed directly through Paris, and through the Church of Saint-Sulpice. The brass marker in Saint-Sulpice was a memorial to the world's first prime meridian, and although Greenwich had stripped Paris of the honor in 1888, the original Rose Line was still visible today.
"And so the legend is true," the Teacher had told Silas. "The Priory keystone has been said to lie 'beneath the Sign of the Rose.' "
Now, still on his knees in a pew, Silas glanced around the church and listened to make sure no one was there. For a moment, he thought he heard a rustling in the choir balcony. He turned and gazed
up for several seconds. Nothing.
I am alone.
Standing now, he faced the altar and genuflected three times. Then he turned left and followed the brass line due north toward the obelisk.
At that moment, at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome, the jolt of tires hitting the runway startled Bishop Aringarosa from his slumber.
I drifted off, he thought, impressed he was relaxed enough to sleep.
"Benvenuto a Roma," the intercom announced.
Sitting up, Aringarosa straightened his black cassock and allowed himself a rare smile. This was one trip he had been happy to make. I have been on the defensive for too long. Tonight, however, the rules had changed. Only five months ago, Aringarosa had feared for the future of the Faith. Now, as if by the will of God, the solution had presented itself.
Divine intervention.
If all went as planned tonight in Paris, Aringarosa would soon be in possession of something that would make him the most powerful man in Christendom.
CHAPTER 23
Sophie arrived breathless outside the large wooden doors of the Salle des Etats-the room that housed the Mona Lisa. Before entering, she gazed reluctantly farther down the hall, twenty yards or so, to the spot where her grandfather's body still lay under the spotlight.
The remorse that gripped her was powerful and sudden, a deep sadness laced with guilt. The man had reached out to her so many times over the past ten years, and yet Sophie had remained immovable-leaving his letters and packages unopened in a bottom drawer and denying his efforts to see her. He lied to me! Kept appalling secrets! What was I supposed to do? And so she had blocked him out. Completely.
Now her grandfather was dead, and he was talking to her from the grave.
The Mona Lisa.
She reached for the huge wooden doors, and pushed. The entryway yawned open. Sophie stood on the threshold a moment, scanning the large rectangular chamber beyond. It too was bathed in a soft red light. The Salle des Etats was one of this museum's rare culs-de-sac-a dead end and the only room off the middle of the Grand Gallery. This door, the chamber's sole point of entry, faced a dominating fifteen-foot Botticelli on the far wall. Beneath it, centered on the parquet floor, an immense octagonal viewing divan served as a welcome respite for thousands of visitors to rest their legs while they admired the Louvre's most valuable asset.
Even before Sophie entered, though, she knew she was missing something. A black light. She gazed down the hall at her grandfather under the lights in the distance, surrounded by electronic gear. If he had written anything in here, he almost certainly would have written it with the watermark stylus.
Taking a deep breath, Sophie hurried down to the well-lit crime scene. Unable to look at her grandfather, she focused solely on the PTS tools. Finding a small ultraviolet penlight, she slipped it in the pocket of her sweater and hurried back up the hallway toward the open doors of the Salle des Etats.
Sophie turned the corner and stepped over the threshold. Her entrance, however, was met by an unexpected sound of muffled footsteps racing toward her from inside the chamber. There's someone in here! A ghostly figure emerged suddenly from out of the reddish haze. Sophie jumped back.
"There you are!" Langdon's hoarse whisper cut the air as his silhouette slid to a stop in front of her.
Her relief was only momentary. "Robert, I told you to get out of here! If Fache-"
"Where were you?"
"I had to get the black light," she whispered, holding it up. "If my grandfather left me a message-"
"Sophie, listen." Langdon caught his breath as his blue eyes held her firmly. "The letters P.S.... do they mean anything else to you? Anything at all?"
Afraid their voices might echo down the hall, Sophie pulled him into the Salle des Etats and closed the enormous twin doors silently, sealing them inside. "I told you, the initials mean Princess Sophie."
"I know, but did you ever see them anywhere else? Did your grandfather ever use P.S. in any other way? As a monogram, or maybe on stationery or a personal item?"
The question startled her. How would Robert know that? Sophie had indeed seen the initials P.S.
once before, in a kind of monogram. It was the day before her ninth birthday. She was secretly combing the house, searching for hidden birthday presents. Even then, she could not bear secrets kept from her. What did Grand-père get for me this year? She dug through cupboards and drawers. Did he get me the doll I wanted? Where would he hide it?
Finding nothing in the entire house, Sophie mustered the courage to sneak into her grandfather's bedroom. The room was off-limits to her, but her grandfather was downstairs asleep on the couch.
I'll just take a fast peek!
Tiptoeing across the creaky wood floor to his closet, Sophie peered on the shelves behind his clothing. Nothing. Next she looked under the bed. Still nothing. Moving to his bureau, she opened the drawers and one by one began pawing carefully through them. There must be something for me here! As she reached the bottom drawer, she still had not found any hint of a doll. Dejected, she opened the final drawer and pulled aside some black clothes she had never seen him wear. She was about to close the drawer when her eyes caught a glint of gold in the back of the drawer. It looked like a pocket watch chain, but she knew he didn't wear one. Her heart raced as she realized what it must be.
A necklace!
Sophie carefully pulled the chain from the drawer. To her surprise, on the end was a brilliant gold key. Heavy and shimmering. Spellbound, she held it up. It looked like no key she had ever seen. Most keys were flat with jagged teeth, but this one had a triangular column with little pockmarks all over it. Its large golden head was in the shape of a cross, but not a normal cross. This was an even-armed one, like a plus sign. Embossed in the middle of the cross was a strange symbol-two letters intertwined with some kind of flowery design.
"P.S.," she whispered, scowling as she read the letters. Whatever could this be?
"Sophie?" her grandfather spoke from the doorway.
Startled, she spun, dropping the key on the floor with a loud clang. She stared down at the key, afraid to look up at her grandfather's face. "I... was looking for my birthday present," she said, hanging her head, knowing she had betrayed his trust.
For what seemed like an eternity, her grandfather stood silently in the doorway. Finally, he let out a long troubled breath. "Pick up the key, Sophie."
Sophie retrieved the key.
Her grandfather walked in. "Sophie, you need to respect other people's privacy." Gently, he knelt down and took the key from her. "This key is very special. If you had lost it..."
Her grandfather's quiet voice made Sophie feel even worse. "I'm sorry, Grand-père. I really am." She paused. "I thought it was a necklace for my birthday."
He gazed at her for several seconds. "I'll say this once more, Sophie, because it's important. You need to learn to respect other people's privacy."
"Yes, Grand-père."
"We'll talk about this some other time. Right now, the garden needs to be weeded."
Sophie hurried outside to do her chores.
The next morning, Sophie received no birthday present from her grandfather. She hadn't expected one, not after what she had done. But he didn't even wish her happy birthday all day. Sadly, she trudged up to bed that night. As she climbed in, though, she found a note card lying on her pillow. On the card was written a simple riddle. Even before she solved the riddle, she was smiling. I know what this is! Her grandfather had done this for her last Christmas morning.
A treasure hunt!
Eagerly, she pored over the riddle until she solved it. The solution pointed her to another part of the house, where she found another card and another riddle. She solved this one too, racing on to the next card. Running wildly, she darted back and forth across the house, from clue to clue, until at last she found a clue that directed her back to her own bedroom. Sophie dashed up the stairs, rushed into her room, and stopped in her tracks. There in the middle of the room sat a shining red bicycle with a ribbon tied to the handlebars. Sophie shrieked with delight.
"I know you asked for a doll," her grandfather said, smiling in the corner. "I thought you might like this even better."
The next day, her grandfather taught her to ride, running beside her down the walkway. When Sophie steered out over the thick lawn and lost her balance, they both went tumbling onto the grass, rolling and laughing.
"Grand-père," Sophie said, hugging him. "I'm really sorry about the key."
"I know, sweetie. You're forgiven. I can't possibly stay mad at you. Grandfathers and granddaughters always forgive each other."
Sophie knew she shouldn't ask, but she couldn't help it. "What does it open? I never saw a key like that. It was very pretty."
Her grandfather was silent a long moment, and Sophie could see he was uncertain how to answer.
Grand-père never lies. "It opens a box," he finally said. "Where I keep many secrets."
Sophie pouted. "I hate secrets!"
"I know, but these are important secrets. And someday, you'll learn to appreciate them as much as I do."
"I saw letters on the key, and a flower."
"Yes, that's my favorite flower. It's called a fleur-de-lis. We have them in the garden. The white ones. In English we call that kind of flower a lily."
"I know those! They're my favorite too!"
"Then I'll make a deal with you." Her grandfather's eyebrows raised the way they always did when he was about to give her a challenge. "If you can keep my key a secret, and never talk about it ever again, to me or anybody, then someday I will give it to you."
Sophie couldn't believe her ears. "You will?"
"I promise. When the time comes, the key will be yours. It has your name on it."
Sophie scowled. "No it doesn't. It said P.S. My name isn't P.S.!"
Her grandfather lowered his voice and looked around as if to make sure no one was listening. "Okay, Sophie, if you must know, P.S. is a code. It's your secret initials."
Her eyes went wide. "I have secret initials?"
"Of course. Granddaughters always have secret initials that only their grandfathers know."
"P.S.?"
He tickled her. "Princesse Sophie."
She giggled. "I'm not a princess!"
He winked. "You are to me."
From that day on, they never again spoke of the key. And she became his Princess Sophie.
Inside the Salle des Etats, Sophie stood in silence and endured the sharp pang of loss.
"The initials," Langdon whispered, eyeing her strangely. "Have you seen them?"
Sophie sensed her grandfather's voice whispering in the corridors of the museum. Never speak of this key, Sophie. To me or to anyone. She knew she had failed him in forgiveness, and she wondered if she could break his trust again. P.S. Find Robert Langdon. Her grandfather wanted Langdon to help. Sophie nodded. "Yes, I saw the initials P.S. once. When I was very young."
"Where?"
Sophie hesitated. "On something very important to him."
Langdon locked eyes with her. "Sophie, this is crucial. Can you tell me if the initials appeared with a symbol? A fleur-de-lis?"
Sophie felt herself staggering backward in amazement. "But... how could you possibly know that!"
Langdon exhaled and lowered his voice. "I'm fairly certain your grandfather was a member of a secret society. A very old covert brotherhood."
Sophie felt a knot tighten in her stomach. She was certain of it too. For ten years she had tried to forget the incident that had confirmed that horrifying fact for her. She had witnessed something unthinkable. Unforgivable.
"The fleur-de-lis," Langdon said, "combined with the initials P.S., that is the brotherhood's official device. Their coat of arms. Their logo."
"How do you know this?" Sophie was praying Langdon was not going to tell her that he himself was a member.
"I've written about this group," he said, his voice tremulous with excitement. "Researching the symbols of secret societies is a specialty of mine. They call themselves the Prieuré de Sion-the Priory of Sion. They're based here in France and attract powerful members from all over Europe. In fact, they are one of the oldest surviving secret societies on earth."
Sophie had never heard of them.
Langdon was talking in rapid bursts now. "The Priory's membership has included some of history's most cultured individuals: men like Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo." He paused, his voice brimming now with academic zeal. "And, Leonardo da Vinci."
Sophie stared. "Da Vinci was in a secret society?"
"Da Vinci presided over the Priory between 1510 and 1519 as the brotherhood's Grand Master, which might help explain your grandfather's passion for Leonardo's work. The two men share a historical fraternal bond. And it all fits perfectly with their fascination for goddess iconology, paganism, feminine deities, and contempt for the Church. The Priory has a well-documented history of reverence for the sacred feminine."
"You're telling me this group is a pagan goddess worship cult?"
"More like the pagan goddess worship cult. But more important, they are known as the guardians of an ancient secret. One that made them immeasurably powerful."
Despite the total conviction in Langdon's eyes, Sophie's gut reaction was one of stark disbelief. A secret pagan cult? Once headed by Leonardo da Vinci? It all sounded utterly absurd. And yet, even as she dismissed it, she felt her mind reeling back ten years-to the night she had mistakenly surprised her grandfather and witnessed what she still could not accept. Could that explain-?
"The identities of living Priory members are kept extremely secret," Langdon said, "but the P.S. and fleur-de-lis that you saw as a child are proof. It could only have been related to the Priory."
Sophie realized now that Langdon knew far more about her grandfather than she had previously imagined. This American obviously had volumes to share with her, but this was not the place. "I can't afford to let them catch you, Robert. There's a lot we need to discuss. You need to go!"
Langdon heard only the faint murmur of her voice. He wasn't going anywhere. He was lost in another place now. A place where ancient secrets rose to the surface. A place where forgotten histories emerged from the shadows.
Slowly, as if moving underwater, Langdon turned his head and gazed through the reddish haze toward the Mona Lisa.
The fleur-de-lis... the flower of Lisa... the Mona Lisa.
It was all intertwined, a silent symphony echoing the deepest secrets of the Priory of Sion and Leonardo da Vinci.
A few miles away, on the riverbank beyond Les Invalides, the bewildered driver of a twin-bed Trailor truck stood at gunpoint and watched as the captain of the Judicial Police let out a guttural roar of rage and heaved a bar of soap out into the turgid waters of the Seine.
CHAPTER 24
Silas gazed upward at the Saint-Sulpice obelisk, taking in the length of the massive marble shaft. His sinews felt taut with exhilaration. He glanced around the church one more time to make sure he was alone. Then he knelt at the base of the structure, not out of reverence, but out of necessity.
The keystone is hidden beneath the Rose Line.
At the base of the Sulpice obelisk.
All the brothers had concurred.
On his knees now, Silas ran his hands across the stone floor. He saw no cracks or markings to indicate a movable tile, so he began rapping softly with his knuckles on the floor. Following the brass line closer to the obelisk, he knocked on each tile adjacent to the brass line. Finally, one of them echoed strangely.
There's a hollow area beneath the floor!
Silas smiled. His victims had spoken the truth.
Standing, he searched the sanctuary for something with which to break the floor tile.
High above Silas, in the balcony, Sister Sandrine stifled a gasp. Her darkest fears had just been confirmed. This visitor was not who he seemed. The mysterious Opus Dei monk had come to Saint-Sulpice for another purpose.
A secret purpose.
You are not the only one with secrets, she thought.
Sister Sandrine Bieil was more than the keeper of this church. She was a sentry. And tonight, the ancient wheels had been set in motion. The arrival of this stranger at the base of the obelisk was a signal from the brotherhood.
It was a silent call of distress.
CHAPTER 25
The U.S. Embassy in Paris is a compact complex on Avenue Gabriel, just north of the Champs-Elysées. The three-acre compound is considered U.S. soil, meaning all those who stand on it are subject to the same laws and protections as they would encounter standing in the United States.
The embassy's night operator was reading Time magazine's International Edition when the sound of her phone interrupted.
"U.S. Embassy," she answered.
"Good evening." The caller spoke English accented with French. "I need some assistance." Despite the politeness of the man's words, his tone sounded gruff and official. "I was told you had a phone message for me on your automated system. The name is Langdon. Unfortunately, I have forgotten my three-digit access code. If you could help me, I would be most grateful."
The operator paused, confused. "I'm sorry, sir. Your message must be quite old. That system was removed two years ago for security precautions. Moreover, all the access codes were five-digit. Who told you we had a message for you?"
"You have no automated phone system?"
"No, sir. Any message for you would be handwritten in our services department. What was your name again?"
But the man had hung up.
Bezu Fache felt dumbstruck as he paced the banks of the Seine. He was certain he had seen Langdon dial a local number, enter a three-digit code, and then listen to a recording. But if Langdon didn't phone the embassy, then who the hell did he call?
It was at that moment, eyeing his cellular phone, that Fache realized the answers were in the palm of his hand. Langdon used my phone to place that call.
Keying into the cell phone's menu, Fache pulled up the list of recently dialed numbers and found the call Langdon had placed.
A Paris exchange, followed by the three-digit code 454.
Redialing the phone number, Fache waited as the line began ringing.
Finally a woman's voice answered. "Bonjour, vous êtes bien chez Sophie Neveu," the recording announced. "Je suis absente pour le moment, mais..."
Fache's blood was boiling as he typed the numbers 4... 5... 4.
CHAPTER 26
Despite her monumental reputation, the Mona Lisa was a mere thirty-one inches by twenty-one inches-smaller even than the posters of her sold in the Louvre gift shop. She hung on the northwest wall of the Salle des Etats behind a two-inch-thick pane of protective Plexiglas. Painted on a poplar wood panel, her ethereal, mist-filled atmosphere was attributed to Da Vinci's mastery of the sfumato style, in which forms appear to evaporate into one another.
Since taking up residence in the Louvre, the Mona Lisa-or La Jaconde as they call her in France-had been stolen twice, most recently in 1911, when she disappeared from the Louvre's "satte impénétrable"-Le Salon Carre. Parisians wept in the streets and wrote newspaper articles begging the thieves for the painting's return. Two years later, the Mona Lisa was discovered hidden in the false bottom of a trunk in a Florence hotel room.
Langdon, now having made it clear to Sophie that he had no intention of leaving, moved with her across the Salle des Etats. The Mona Lisa was still twenty yards ahead when Sophie turned on the black light, and the bluish crescent of penlight fanned out on the floor in front of them. She swung the beam back and forth across the floor like a minesweeper, searching for any hint of luminescent ink.
Walking beside her, Langdon was already feeling the tingle of anticipation that accompanied his face-to-face reunions with GREat works of art. He strained to see beyond the cocoon of purplish light emanating from the black light in Sophie's hand. To the left, the room's octagonal viewing divan emerged, looking like a dark island on the empty sea of parquet.
Langdon could now begin to see the panel of dark glass on the wall. Behind it, he knew, in the confines of her own private cell, hung the most celebrated painting in the world.
The Mona Lisa's status as the most famous piece of art in the world, Langdon knew, had nothing to do with her enigmatic smile. Nor was it due to the mysterious interpretations attributed her by many art historians and conspiracy buffs. Quite simply, the Mona Lisa was famous because Leonardo da Vinci claimed she was his finest accomplishment. He carried the painting with him whenever he traveled and, if asked why, would reply that he found it hard to part with his most sublime expression of female beauty.
Even so, many art historians suspected Da Vinci's reverence for the Mona Lisa had nothing to do with its artistic mastery. In actuality, the painting was a surprisingly ordinary sfumato portrait. Da Vinci's veneration for this work, many claimed, stemmed from something far deeper: a hidden message in the layers of paint. The Mona Lisa was, in fact, one of the world's most documented inside jokes. The painting's well-documented collage of double entendres and playful allusions had been revealed in most art history tomes, and yet, incredibly, the public at large still considered her smile a GREat mystery.
No mystery at all, Langdon thought, moving forward and watching as the faint outline of the painting began to take shape. No mystery at all.
Most recently Langdon had shared the Mona Lisa's secret with a rather unlikely group-a dozen inmates at the Essex County Penitentiary. Langdon's jail seminar was part of a Harvard outreach program attempting to bring education into the prison system-Culture for Convicts, as Langdon's colleagues liked to call it.
Standing at an overhead projector in a darkened penitentiary library, Langdon had shared the Mona Lisa's secret with the prisoners attending class, men whom he found surprisingly engaged-rough, but sharp. "You may notice," Langdon told them, walking up to the projected image of the Mona Lisa on the library wall, "that the background behind her face is uneven." Langdon motioned to the glaring discrepancy. "Da Vinci painted the horizon line on the left significantly lower than the right."
"He screwed it up?" one of the inmates asked.
Langdon chuckled. "No. Da Vinci didn't do that too often. Actually, this is a little trick Da Vinci played. By lowering the countryside on the left, Da Vinci made Mona Lisa look much larger from the left side than from the right side. A little Da Vinci inside joke. Historically, the concepts of male and female have assigned sides-left is female, and right is male. Because Da Vinci was a big fan of feminine principles, he made Mona Lisa look more majestic from the left than the right."
"I heard he was a fag," said a small man with a goatee.
Langdon winced. "Historians don't generally put it quite that way, but yes, Da Vinci was a homosexual."
"Is that why he was into that whole feminine thing?"
"Actually, Da Vinci was in tune with the balance between male and female. He believed that a human soul could not be enlightened unless it had both male and female elements."
"You mean like chicks with dicks?" someone called.
This elicited a hearty round of laughs. Langdon considered offering an etymological sidebar about the word hermaphrodite and its ties to Hermes and Aphrodite, but something told him it would be lost on this crowd.
"Hey, Mr. Langford," a muscle-bound man said. "Is it true that the Mona Lisa is a picture of Da Vinci in drag? I heard that was true."
"It's quite possible," Langdon said. "Da Vinci was a prankster, and computerized analysis of the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci's self-portraits confirm some startling points of congruency in their faces. Whatever Da Vinci was up to," Langdon said, "his Mona Lisa is neither male nor female. It carries a subtle message of androgyny. It is a fusing of both."
"You sure that's not just some Harvard bullshit way of saying Mona Lisa is one ugly chick."
Now Langdon laughed. "You may be right. But actually Da Vinci left a big clue that the painting was supposed to be androgynous. Has anyone here ever heard of an Egyptian god named Amon?"
"Hell yes!" the big guy said. "God of masculine fertility!"
Langdon was stunned.
"It says so on every box of Amon condoms." The muscular man gave a wide grin. "It's got a guy with a ram's head on the front and says he's the Egyptian god of fertility."
Langdon was not familiar with the brand name, but he was glad to hear the prophylactic manufacturers had gotten their hieroglyphs right. "Well done. Amon is indeed represented as a man with a ram's head, and his promiscuity and curved horns are related to our modern sexual slang 'horny.' "
"No shit!"
"No shit," Langdon said. "And do you know who Amon's counterpart was? The Egyptian goddess of fertility?"
The question met with several seconds of silence.
"It was Isis," Langdon told them, grabbing a GREase pen. "So we have the male god, Amon." He wrote it down. "And the female goddess, Isis, whose ancient pictogram was once called L'ISA."
Langdon finished writing and stepped back from the projector.
AMON L'ISA
"Ring any bells?" he asked.
"Mona Lisa... holy crap," somebody gasped.
Langdon nodded. "Gentlemen, not only does the face of Mona Lisa look androgynous, but her name is an anagram of the divine union of male and female. And that, my friends, is Da Vinci's little secret, and the reason for Mona Lisa's knowing smile."
"My grandfather was here," Sophie said, dropping suddenly to her knees, now only ten feet from the Mona Lisa. She pointed the black light tentatively to a spot on the parquet floor.
At first Langdon saw nothing. Then, as he knelt beside her, he saw a tiny droplet of dried liquid that was luminescing. Ink? Suddenly he recalled what black lights were actually used for. Blood. His senses tingled. Sophie was right. Jacques Saunière had indeed paid a visit to the Mona Lisa before he died.
"He wouldn't have come here without a reason," Sophie whispered, standing up. "I know he left a message for me here." Quickly striding the final few steps to the Mona Lisa, she illuminated the floor directly in front of the painting. She waved the light back and forth across the bare parquet.
"There's nothing here!"
At that moment, Langdon saw a faint purple glimmer on the protective glass before the Mona Lisa. Reaching down, he took Sophie's wrist and slowly moved the light up to the painting itself.
They both froze.
On the glass, six words glowed in purple, scrawled directly across the Mona Lisa's face.
CHAPTER 27
Seated at Saunière's desk, Lieutenant Collet pressed the phone to his ear in disbelief. Did I hear Fache correctly? "A bar of soap? But how could Langdon have known about the GPS dot?"
"Sophie Neveu," Fache replied. "She told him."
"What! Why?"
"Damned good question, but I just heard a recording that confirms she tipped him off."
Collet was speechless. What was Neveu thinking? Fache had proof that Sophie had interfered with a DCPJ sting operation? Sophie Neveu was not only going to be fired, she was also going to jail. "But, Captain... then where is Langdon now?"
"Have any fire alarms gone off there?"
"No, sir."
"And no one has come out under the Grand Gallery gate?"
"No. We've got a Louvre security officer on the gate. Just as you requested."
"Okay, Langdon must still be inside the Grand Gallery."
"Inside? But what is he doing?"
"Is the Louvre security guard armed?"
"Yes, sir. He's a senior warden."
"Send him in," Fache commanded. "I can't get my men back to the perimeter for a few minutes, and I don't want Langdon breaking for an exit." Fache paused. "And you'd better tell the guard Agent Neveu is probably in there with him."
"Agent Neveu left, I thought."
"Did you actually see her leave?"
"No, sir, but-"
"Well, nobody on the perimeter saw her leave either. They only saw her go in."
Collet was flabbergasted by Sophie Neveu's bravado. She's still inside the building?
"Handle it," Fache ordered. "I want Langdon and Neveu at gunpoint by the time I get back."
As the Trailor truck drove off, Captain Fache rounded up his men. Robert Langdon had proven an elusive quarry tonight, and with Agent Neveu now helping him, he might be far harder to corner than expected.
Fache decided not to take any chances.
Hedging his bets, he ordered half of his men back to the Louvre perimeter. The other half he sent to guard the only location in Paris where Robert Langdon could find safe harbor.
CHAPTER 28
Inside the Salle des Etats, Langdon stared in astonishment at the six words glowing on the Plexiglas. The text seemed to hover in space, casting a jagged shadow across Mona Lisa's mysterious smile.
"The Priory," Langdon whispered. "This proves your grandfather was a member!"
Sophie looked at him in confusion. "You understand this?"
"It's flawless," Langdon said, nodding as his thoughts churned. "It's a proclamation of one of the Priory's most fundamental philosophies!"
Sophie looked baffled in the glow of the message scrawled across the Mona Lisa's face.
SO DARK THE CON OF MAN
"Sophie," Langdon said, "the Priory's tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church 'conned' the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine."
Sophie remained silent, staring at the words.
"The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever."
Sophie's expression remained uncertain. "My grandfather sent me to this spot to find this. He must be trying to tell me more than that."
Langdon understood her meaning. She thinks this is another code. Whether a hidden meaning existed here or not, Langdon could not immediately say. His mind was still grappling with the bold clarity of Saunière's outward message.
So dark the con of man, he thought. So dark indeed.
Nobody could deny the enormous good the modern Church did in today's troubled world, and yet the Church had a deceitful and violent history. Their brutal crusade to "reeducate" the pagan and feminine-worshipping religions spanned three centuries, employing methods as inspired as they were horrific.
The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum-or The Witches' Hammer-indoctrinated the world to "the dangers of freethinking women" and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them. Those deemed "witches" by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women "suspiciously attuned to the natural world." Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth-a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.
The propaganda and bloodshed had worked.
Today's world was living proof.
Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos-the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole-had been recast as a shameful act. Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges as the work of the devil, collaborating with his favorite accomplice... woman.
Not even the feminine association with the left-hand side could escape the Church's defamation. In France and Italy, the words for "left"-gauche and sinistra-came to have deeply negative overtones, while their right-hand counterparts rang of righteousness, dexterity, and correctness. To this day, radical thought was considered left wing, irrational thought was left brain, and anything evil, sinister.
The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man's world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll. The male ego had spent two millennia running unchecked by its female counterpart. The Priory of Sion believed that it was this obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life that had caused what the Hopi Native Americans called koyanisquatsi-"life out of balance"-an unstable situation marked by testosterone-fueled wars, a plethora of misogynistic societies, and a growing disrespect for Mother Earth.
"Robert!" Sophie said, her whisper yanking him back. "Someone's coming!"
He heard the approaching footsteps out in the hallway.
"Over here!" Sophie extinguished the black light and seemed to evaporate before Langdon's eyes.
For an instant he felt totally blind. Over where! As his vision cleared he saw Sophie's silhouette racing toward the center of the room and ducking out of sight behind the octagonal viewing bench. He was about to dash after her when a booming voice stopped him cold.
"Arrêtez!" a man commanded from the doorway.
The Louvre security agent advanced through the entrance to the Salle des Etats, his pistol outstretched, taking deadly aim at Langdon's chest.
Langdon felt his arms raise instinctively for the ceiling.
"Couchez-vous!" the guard commanded. "Lie down!"
Langdon was face first on the floor in a matter of seconds. The guard hurried over and kicked his legs apart, spreading Langdon out.
"Mauvaise idée, Monsieur Langdon," he said, pressing the gun hard into Langdon's back. "Mauvaise idée."
Face down on the parquet floor with his arms and legs spread wide, Langdon found little humor in the irony of his position. The Vitruvian Man, he thought. Face down.
CHAPTER 29
Inside Saint-Sulpice, Silas carried the heavy iron votive candle holder from the altar back toward the obelisk. The shaft would do nicely as a battering ram. Eyeing the gray marble panel that covered the apparent hollow in the floor, he realized he could not possibly shatter the covering without making considerable noise.
Iron on marble. It would echo off the vaulted ceilings.
Would the nun hear him? She should be asleep by now. Even so, it was a chance Silas preferred not to take. Looking around for a cloth to wrap around the tip of the iron pole, he saw nothing except the altar's linen mantle, which he refused to defile. My cloak, he thought. Knowing he was alone in the GREat church, Silas untied his cloak and slipped it off his body. As he removed it, he
felt a sting as the wool fibers stuck to the fresh wounds on his back.
Naked now, except for his loin swaddle, Silas wrapped his cloak over the end of the iron rod. Then, aiming at the center of the floor tile, he drove the tip into it. A muffled thud. The stone did not break. He drove the pole into it again. Again a dull thud, but this time accompanied by a crack. On the third swing, the covering finally shattered, and stone shards fell into a hollow area beneath the floor.
A compartment!
Quickly pulling the remaining pieces from the opening, Silas gazed into the void. His blood pounded as he knelt down before it. Raising his pale bare arm, he reached inside.
At first he felt nothing. The floor of the compartment was bare, smooth stone. Then, feeling deeper, reaching his arm in under the Rose Line, he touched something! A thick stone tablet. Getting his fingers around the edge, he gripped it and gently lifted the tablet out. As he stood and examined his find, he realized he was holding a rough-hewn stone slab with engraved words. He felt for an instant like a modern-day Moses.
As Silas read the words on the tablet, he felt surprise. He had expected the keystone to be a map, or a complex series of directions, perhaps even encoded. The keystone, however, bore the simplest of inscriptions.
Job 38:11
A Bible verse? Silas was stunned with the devilish simplicity. The secret location of that which they sought was revealed in a Bible verse? The brotherhood stopped at nothing to mock the righteous!
Job. Chapter thirty-eight. Verse eleven.
Although Silas did not recall the exact contents of verse eleven by heart, he knew the Book of Job told the story of a man whose faith in God survived repeated tests. Appropriate, he thought, barely able to contain his excitement.
Looking over his shoulder, he gazed down the shimmering Rose Line and couldn't help but smile. There atop the main altar, propped open on a gilded book stand, sat an enormous leather-bound Bible.
Up in the balcony, Sister Sandrine was shaking. Moments ago, she had been about to flee and carry out her orders, when the man below suddenly removed his cloak. When she saw his alabaster-white
flesh, she was overcome with a horrified bewilderment. His broad, pale back was soaked with blood-red slashes. Even from here she could see the wounds were fresh.
This man has been mercilessly whipped!
She also saw the bloody cilice around his thigh, the wound beneath it dripping. What kind of God would want a body punished this way? The rituals of Opus Dei, Sister Sandrine knew, were not something she would ever understand. But that was hardly her concern at this instant. Opus Dei is searching for the keystone. How they knew of it, Sister Sandrine could not imagine, although she knew she did not have time to think.
The bloody monk was now quietly donning his cloak again, clutching his prize as he moved toward the altar, toward the Bible.
In breathless silence, Sister Sandrine left the balcony and raced down the hall to her quarters. Getting on her hands and knees, she reached beneath her wooden bed frame and retrieved the sealed envelope she had hidden there years ago.
Tearing it open, she found four Paris phone numbers.
Trembling, she began to dial.
Downstairs, Silas laid the stone tablet on the altar and turned his eager hands to the leather Bible. His long white fingers were sweating now as he turned the pages. Flipping through the Old Testament, he found the Book of Job. He located chapter thirty-eight. As he ran his finger down the column of text, he anticipated the words he was about to read.
They will lead the way!
Finding verse number eleven, Silas read the text. It was only seven words. Confused, he read it again, sensing something had gone terribly wrong. The verse simply read:
HITHERTO SHALT THOU COME, BUT NO FURTHER.
CHAPTER 30
Security warden Claude Grouard simmered with rage as he stood over his prostrate captive in front of the Mona Lisa. This bastard killed Jacques Saunière! Saunière had been like a well-loved father to Grouard and his security team.
Grouard wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger and bury a bullet in Robert Langdon's back. As senior warden, Grouard was one of the few guards who actually carried a loaded weapon. He reminded himself, however, that killing Langdon would be a generous fate compared to the misery about to be communicated by Bezu Fache and the French prison system.
Grouard yanked his walkie-talkie off his belt and attempted to radio for backup. All he heard was static. The additional electronic security in this chamber always wrought havoc with the guards' communications. I have to move to the doorway. Still aiming his weapon at Langdon, Grouard began backing slowly toward the entrance. On his third step, he spied something that made him stop short.
What the hell is that!
An inexplicable mirage was materializing near the center of the room. A silhouette. There was someone else in the room? A woman was moving through the darkness, walking briskly toward the far left wall. In front of her, a purplish beam of light swung back and forth across the floor, as if she were searching for something with a colored FLASHlight.
"Qui est là?" Grouard demanded, feeling his adrenaline spike for a second time in the last thirty seconds. He suddenly didn't know where to aim his gun or what direction to move.
"PTS," the woman replied calmly, still scanning the floor with her light.
Police Technique et Scientifique. Grouard was sweating now. I thought all the agents were gone! He now recognized the purple light as ultraviolet, consistent with a PTS team, and yet he could not understand why DCPJ would be looking for evidence in here.
"Votre nom!" Grouard yelled, instinct telling him something was amiss. "Répondez!"
"C'est mot," the voice responded in calm French. "Sophie Neveu."
Somewhere in the distant recesses of Grouard's mind, the name registered. Sophie Neveu? That was the name of Saunière's granddaughter, wasn't it? She used to come in here as a little kid, but that was years ago. This couldn't possibly be her! And even if it were Sophie Neveu, that was hardly a reason to trust her; Grouard had heard the rumors of the painful falling-out between Saunière and his granddaughter.
"You know me," the woman called. "And Robert Langdon did not kill my grandfather. Believe me."
Warden Grouard was not about to take that on faith. I need backup! Trying his walkie-talkie again, he got only static. The entrance was still a good twenty yards behind him, and Grouard began
backing up slowly, choosing to leave his gun trained on the man on the floor. As Grouard inched backward, he could see the woman across the room raising her UV light and scrutinizing a large painting that hung on the far side of the Salle des Etats, directly opposite the Mona Lisa.
Grouard gasped, realizing which painting it was.
What in the name of God is she doing?
Across the room, Sophie Neveu felt a cold sweat breaking across her forehead. Langdon was still spread-eagle on the floor. Hold on, Robert. Almost there. Knowing the guard would never actually shoot either of them, Sophie now turned her attention back to the matter at hand, scanning the entire area around one masterpiece in particular-another Da Vinci. But the UV light revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Not on the floor, on the walls, or even on the canvas itself.
There must be something here!
Sophie felt totally certain she had deciphered her grandfather's intentions correctly.
What else could he possibly intend?
The masterpiece she was examining was a five-foot-tall canvas. The bizarre scene Da Vinci had painted included an awkwardly posed Virgin Mary sitting with Baby Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Angel Uriel on a perilous outcropping of rocks. When Sophie was a little girl, no trip to the Mona Lisa had been complete without her grandfather dragging her across the room to see this second painting.
Grand-père, I'm here! But I don't see it!
Behind her, Sophie could hear the guard trying to radio again for help.
Think!
She pictured the message scrawled on the protective glass of the Mona Lisa. So dark the con of man. The painting before her had no protective glass on which to write a message, and Sophie knew her grandfather would never have defaced this masterpiece by writing on the painting itself. She paused. At least not on the front. Her eyes shot upward, climbing the long cables that dangled from the ceiling to support the canvas.
Could that be it? Grabbing the left side of the carved wood frame, she pulled it toward her. The painting was large and the backing flexed as she swung it away from the wall. Sophie slipped her head and shoulders in behind the painting and raised the black light to inspect the back.
It took only seconds to realize her instinct had been wrong. The back of the painting was pale and blank. There was no purple text here, only the mottled brown backside of aging canvas and-
Wait.
Sophie's eyes locked on an incongruous glint of lustrous metal lodged near the bottom edge of the frame's wooden armature. The object was small, partially wedged in the slit where the canvas met the frame. A shimmering gold chain dangled off it.
To Sophie's utter amazement, the chain was affixed to a familiar gold key. The broad, sculpted head was in the shape of a cross and bore an engraved seal she had not seen since she was nine years old. A fleur-de-lis with the initials P.S. In that instant, Sophie felt the ghost of her grandfather whispering in her ear. When the time comes, the key will be yours. A tightness gripped her throat as she realized that her grandfather, even in death, had kept his promise. This key opens a box, his voice was saying, where I keep many secrets.
Sophie now realized that the entire purpose of tonight's word game had been this key. Her grandfather had it with him when he was killed. Not wanting it to fall into the hands of the police, he hid it behind this painting. Then he devised an ingenious treasure hunt to ensure only Sophie would find it.
"Au secours!" the guard's voice yelled.
Sophie snatched the key from behind the painting and slipped it deep in her pocket along with the UV penlight. Peering out from behind the canvas, she could see the guard was still trying desperately to raise someone on the walkie-talkie. He was backing toward the entrance, still aiming the gun firmly at Langdon.
"Au secours!" he shouted again into his radio.
Static.
He can't transmit, Sophie realized, recalling that tourists with cell phones often got frustrated in here when they tried to call home to brag about seeing the Mona Lisa. The extra surveillance wiring in the walls made it virtually impossible to get a carrier unless you stepped out into the hall. The guard was backing quickly toward the exit now, and Sophie knew she had to act immediately.
Gazing up at the large painting behind which she was partially ensconced, Sophie realized that Leonardo da Vinci, for the second time tonight, was there to help.
Another few meters, Grouard told himself, keeping his gun leveled.
"Arrêtez! Ou je la détruis!" the woman's voice echoed across the room.
Grouard glanced over and stopped in his tracks. "Mon dieu, non!"
Through the reddish haze, he could see that the woman had actually lifted the large painting off its cables and propped it on the floor in front of her. At five feet tall, the canvas almost entirely hid her body. Grouard's first thought was to wonder why the painting's trip wires hadn't set off alarms, but of course the artwork cable sensors had yet to be reset tonight. What is she doing!
When he saw it, his blood went cold.
The canvas started to bulge in the middle, the fragile outlines of the Virgin Mary, Baby Jesus, and John the Baptist beginning to distort.
"Non!" Grouard screamed, frozen in horror as he watched the priceless Da Vinci stretching. The woman was pushing her knee into the center of the canvas from behind! "NON!"
Grouard wheeled and aimed his gun at her but instantly realized it was an empty threat. The canvas was only fabric, but it was utterly impenetrable-a six-million-dollar piece of body armor.
I can't put a bullet through a Da Vinci!
"Set down your gun and radio," the woman said in calm French, "or I'll put my knee through this painting. I think you know how my grandfather would feel about that."
Grouard felt dizzy. "Please... no. That's Madonna of the Rocks!" He dropped his gun and radio, raising his hands over his head.
"Thank you," the woman said. "Now do exactly as I tell you, and everything will work out fine."
Moments later, Langdon's pulse was still thundering as he ran beside Sophie down the emergency stairwell toward the ground level. Neither of them had said a word since leaving the trembling Louvre guard lying in the Salle des Etats. The guard's pistol was now clutched tightly in Langdon's hands, and he couldn't wait to get rid of it. The weapon felt heavy and dangerously foreign.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Langdon wondered if Sophie had any idea how valuable a painting she had almost ruined. Her choice in art seemed eerily pertinent to tonight's adventure. The Da Vinci she had grabbed, much like the Mona Lisa, was notorious among art historians for its plethora of hidden pagan symbolism.
"You chose a valuable hostage," he said as they ran.
"Madonna of the Rocks," she replied. "But I didn't choose it, my grandfather did. He left me a little something behind the painting."
Langdon shot her a startled look. "What!? But how did you know which painting? Why Madonna of the Rocks?"
"So dark the con of man." She FLASHed a triumphant smile. "I missed the first two anagrams, Robert. I wasn't about to miss the third."
CHAPTER 31
"They're dead!" Sister Sandrine stammered into the telephone in her Saint-Sulpice residence. She was leaving a message on an answering machine. "Please pick up! They're all dead!"
The first three phone numbers on the list had produced terrifying results-a hysterical widow, a detective working late at a murder scene, and a somber priest consoling a bereaved family. All three contacts were dead. And now, as she called the fourth and final number-the number she was not supposed to call unless the first three could not be reached-she got an answering machine. The outgoing message offered no name but simply asked the caller to leave a message.
"The floor panel has been broken!" she pleaded as she left the message. "The other three are dead!"
Sister Sandrine did not know the identities of the four men she protected, but the private phone numbers stashed beneath her bed were for use on only one condition.
If that floor panel is ever broken, the faceless messenger had told her, it means the upper echelon has been breached. One of us has been mortally threatened and been forced to tell a desperate lie. Call the numbers. Warn the others. Do not fail us in this.
It was a silent alarm. Foolproof in its simplicity. The plan had amazed her when she first heard it. If the identity of one brother was compromised, he could tell a lie that would start in motion a mechanism to warn the others. Tonight, however, it seemed that more than one had been compromised.
"Please answer," she whispered in fear. "Where are you?"
"Hang up the phone," a deep voice said from the doorway.
Turning in terror, she saw the massive monk. He was clutching the heavy iron candle stand.
Shaking, she set the phone back in the cradle.
"They are dead," the monk said. "All four of them. And they have played me for a fool. Tell me where the keystone is."
"I don't know!" Sister Sandrine said truthfully. "That secret is guarded by others." Others who are dead!
The man advanced, his white fists gripping the iron stand. "You are a sister of the Church, and yet you serve them?"
"Jesus had but one true message," Sister Sandrine said defiantly. "I cannot see that message in Opus Dei."
A sudden explosion of rage erupted behind the monk's eyes. He lunged, lashing out with the candle stand like a club. As Sister Sandrine fell, her last feeling was an overwhelming sense of foreboding.
All four are dead.
The precious truth is lost forever.
CHAPTER 32
The security alarm on the west end of the Denon Wing sent the pigeons in the nearby Tuileries Gardens scattering as Langdon and Sophie dashed out of the bulkhead into the Paris night. As they ran across the plaza to Sophie's car, Langdon could hear police sirens wailing in the distance.
"That's it there," Sophie called, pointing to a red snub-nosed two-seater parked on the plaza.
She's kidding, right? The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen.
"SmartCar," she said. "A hundred kilometers to the liter."
Langdon had barely thrown himself into the passenger seat before Sophie gunned the SmartCar up and over a curb onto a gravel divider. He gripped the dash as the car shot out across a sidewalk and bounced back down over into the small rotary at Carrousel du Louvre.
For an instant, Sophie seemed to consider taking the shortcut across the rotary by plowing straight ahead, through the median's perimeter hedge, and bisecting the large circle of grass in the center.
"No!" Langdon shouted, knowing the hedges around Carrousel du Louvre were there to hide the perilous chasm in the center-La Pyramide Inversée-the upside-down pyramid skylight he had seen earlier from inside the museum. It was large enough to swallow their Smart-Car in a single gulp. Fortunately, Sophie decided on the more conventional route, jamming the wheel hard to the right, circling properly until she exited, cut left, and swung into the northbound lane, accelerating toward Rue de Rivoli.
The two-tone police sirens blared louder behind them, and Langdon could see the lights now in his side view mirror. The SmartCar engine whined in protest as Sophie urged it faster away from the Louvre. Fifty yards ahead, the traffic light at Rivoli turned red. Sophie cursed under her breath and kept racing toward it. Langdon felt his muscles tighten.
"Sophie?"
Slowing only slightly as they reached the intersection, Sophie flicked her headlights and stole a quick glance both ways before flooring the accelerator again and carving a sharp left turn through the empty intersection onto Rivoli. Accelerating west for a quarter of a mile, Sophie banked to the right around a wide rotary. Soon they were shooting out the other side onto the wide avenue of Champs-Elysées.
As they straightened out, Langdon turned in his seat, craning his neck to look out the rear window toward the Louvre. The police did not seem to be chasing them. The sea of blue lights was assembling at the museum.
His heartbeat finally slowing, Langdon turned back around. "That was interesting."
Sophie didn't seem to hear. Her eyes remained fixed ahead down the long thoroughfare of Champs-Elysées, the two-mile stretch of posh storefronts that was often called the Fifth Avenue of Paris. The embassy was only about a mile away, and Langdon settled into his seat. So dark the con of man. Sophie's quick thinking had been impressive. Madonna of the Rocks.
Sophie had said her grandfather left her something behind the painting. A final message? Langdon could not help but marvel over Saunière's brilliant hiding place; Madonna of the Rocks was yet another fitting link in the evening's chain of interconnected symbolism. Saunière, it seemed, at every turn, was reinforcing his fondness for the dark and mischievous side of Leonardo da Vinci.
Da Vinci's original commission for Madonna of the Rocks had come from an organization known as the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, which needed a painting for the centerpiece of an altar triptych in their church of San Francesco in Milan. The nuns gave Leonardo specific dimensions, and the desired theme for the painting-the Virgin Mary, baby John the Baptist, Uriel, and Baby Jesus sheltering in a cave. Although Da Vinci did as they requested, when he delivered the work, the group reacted with horror. He had filled the painting with explosive and disturbing details.
The painting showed a blue-robed Virgin Mary sitting with her arm around an infant child, presumably Baby Jesus. Opposite Mary sat Uriel, also with an infant, presumably baby John the Baptist. Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus... and Jesus was submitting to his authority! More troubling still, Mary was holding one hand high above the head of infant John and making a decidedly threatening gesture-her fingers looking like eagle's talons, gripping an invisible head. Finally, the most obvious and frightening image: Just below Mary's curled fingers, Uriel was making a cutting gesture with his hand-as if slicing the neck of the invisible head gripped by Mary's claw-like hand.
Langdon's students were always amused to learn that Da Vinci eventually mollified the confraternity by painting them a second, "watered-down" version of Madonna of the Rocks in which everyone was arranged in a more orthodox manner. The second version now hung in London's National Gallery under the name Virgin of the Rocks, although Langdon still preferred the Louvre's more intriguing original.
As Sophie gunned the car up Champs-Elysées, Langdon said, "The painting. What was behind it?"
Her eyes remained on the road. "I'll show you once we're safely inside the embassy."
"You'll show it to me?" Langdon was surprised. "He left you a physical object?"
Sophie gave a curt nod. "Embossed with a fleur-de-lis and the initials P.S."
Langdon couldn't believe his ears.
We're going to make it, Sophie thought as she swung the SmartCar's wheel to the right, cutting sharply past the luxurious H?tel de Crillon into Paris's tree-lined diplomatic neighborhood. The embassy was less than a mile away now. She was finally feeling like she could breathe normally again.
Even as she drove, Sophie's mind remained locked on the key in her pocket, her memories of seeing it many years ago, the gold head shaped as an equal-armed cross, the triangular shaft, the indentations, the embossed flowery seal, and the letters P.S.
Although the key barely had entered Sophie's thoughts through the years, her work in the intelligence community had taught her plenty about security, and now the key's peculiar tooling no longer looked so mystifying. A laser-tooled varying matrix. Impossible to duplicate. Rather than teeth that moved tumblers, this key's complex series of laser-burned pockmarks was examined by an electric eye. If the eye determined that the hexagonal pockmarks were correctly spaced,
arranged, and rotated, then the lock would open.
Sophie could not begin to imagine what a key like this opened, but she sensed Robert would be able to tell her. After all, he had described the key's embossed seal without ever seeing it. The cruciform on top implied the key belonged to some kind of Christian organization, and yet Sophie knew of no churches that used laser-tooled varying matrix keys.
Besides, my grandfather was no Christian....
Sophie had witnessed proof of that ten years ago. Ironically, it had been another key-a far more normal one-that had revealed his true nature to her.
The afternoon had been warm when she landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport and hailed a taxi home. Grand-père will be so surprised to see me, she thought. Returning from graduate school in Britain for spring break a few days early, Sophie couldn't wait to see him and tell him all about the encryption methods she was studying.
When she arrived at their Paris home, however, her grandfather was not there. Disappointed, she knew he had not been expecting her and was probably working at the Louvre. But it's Saturday afternoon, she realized. He seldom worked on weekends. On weekends, he usually-
Grinning, Sophie ran out to the garage. Sure enough, his car was gone. It was the weekend. Jacques Saunière despised city driving and owned a car for one destination only-his vacation ch?teau in Normandy, north of Paris. Sophie, after months in the congestion of London, was eager for the smells of nature and to start her vacation right away. It was still early evening, and she decided to leave immediately and surprise him. Borrowing a friend's car, Sophie drove north, winding into the deserted moon-swept hills near Creully. She arrived just after ten o'clock, turning down the long private driveway toward her grandfather's retreat. The access road was over a mile long, and she was halfway down it before she could start to see the house through the trees-a mammoth, old stone ch?teau nestled in the woods on the side of a hill.
Sophie had half expected to find her grandfather asleep at this hour and was excited to see the house twinkling with lights. Her delight turned to surprise, however, when she arrived to find the driveway filled with parked cars-Mercedeses, BMWs, Audis, and a Rolls-Royce.
Sophie stared a moment and then burst out laughing. My grand-père, the famous recluse! Jacques Saunière, it seemed, was far less reclusive than he liked to pretend. Clearly he was hosting a party while Sophie was away at school, and from the looks of the automobiles, some of Paris's most influential people were in attendance.
Eager to surprise him, she hurried to the front door. When she got there, though, she found it locked. She knocked. Nobody answered. Puzzled, she walked around and tried the back door. It too was locked. No answer.
Confused, she stood a moment and listened. The only sound she heard was the cool Normandy air letting out a low moan as it swirled through the valley.
No music.
No voices.
Nothing.
In the silence of the woods, Sophie hurried to the side of the house and clambered up on a woodpile, pressing her face to the living room window. What she saw inside made no sense at all.
"Nobody's here!"
The entire first floor looked deserted.
Where are all the people?
Heart racing, Sophie ran to the woodshed and got the spare key her grandfather kept hidden under the kindling box. She ran to the front door and let herself in. As she stepped into the deserted foyer, the control panel for the security system started blinking red-a warning that the entrant had ten seconds to type the proper code before the security alarms went off.
He has the alarm on during a party?
Sophie quickly typed the code and deactivated the system.
Entering, she found the entire house uninhabited. Upstairs too. As she descended again to the deserted living room, she stood a moment in the silence, wondering what could possibly be happening.
It was then that Sophie heard it.
Muffled voices. And they seemed to be coming from underneath her. Sophie could not imagine. Crouching, she put her ear to the floor and listened. Yes, the sound was definitely coming from below. The voices seemed to be singing, or... chanting? She was frightened. Almost more eerie than the sound itself was the realization that this house did not even have a basement.
At least none I've ever seen.
Turning now and scanning the living room, Sophie's eyes fell to the only object in the entire house that seemed out of place-her grandfather's favorite antique, a sprawling Aubusson tapestry. It usually hung on the east wall beside the fireplace, but tonight it had been pulled aside on its brass
rod, exposing the wall behind it.
Walking toward the bare wooden wall, Sophie sensed the chanting getting louder. Hesitant, she leaned her ear against the wood. The voices were clearer now. People were definitely chanting... intoning words Sophie could not discern.
The space behind this wall is hollow!
Feeling around the edge of the panels, Sophie found a recessed fingerhold. It was discreetly crafted. A sliding door. Heart pounding, she placed her finger in the slot and pulled it. With noiseless precision, the heavy wall slid sideways. From out of the darkness beyond, the voices echoed up.
Sophie slipped through the door and found herself on a rough-hewn stone staircase that spiraled downward. She'd been coming to this house since she was a child and yet had no idea this staircase even existed!
As she descended, the air GREw cooler. The voices clearer. She heard men and women now. Her line of sight was limited by the spiral of the staircase, but the last step was now rounding into view. Beyond it, she could see a small patch of the basement floor-stone, illuminated by the flickering orange blaze of firelight.
Holding her breath, Sophie inched down another few steps and crouched down to look. It took her several seconds to process what she was seeing.
The room was a grotto-a coarse chamber that appeared to have been hollowed from the granite of the hillside. The only light came from torches on the walls. In the glow of the flames, thirty or so people stood in a circle in the center of the room.
I'm dreaming, Sophie told herself. A dream. What else could this be?
Everyone in the room was wearing a mask. The women were dressed in white gossamer gowns and golden shoes. Their masks were white, and in their hands they carried golden orbs. The men wore long black tunics, and their masks were black. They looked like pieces in a giant chess set. Everyone in the circle rocked back and forth and chanted in reverence to something on the floor before them... something Sophie could not see.
The chanting GREw steady again. Accelerating. Thundering now. Faster. The participants took a step inward and knelt. In that instant, Sophie could finally see what they all were witnessing. Even as she staggered back in horror, she felt the image searing itself into her memory forever. Overtaken by nausea, Sophie spun, clutching at the stone walls as she clambered back up the stairs. Pulling the door closed, she fled the deserted house, and drove in a tearful stupor back to Paris.
That night, with her life shattered by disillusionment and betrayal, she packed her belongings and left her home. On the dining room table, she left a note.
I WAS THERE. DON'T TRY TO FIND ME.
Beside the note, she laid the old spare key from the ch?teau's woodshed.
"Sophie! Langdon's voice intruded. "Stop! Stop!"
Emerging from the memory, Sophie slammed on the brakes, skidding to a halt. "What? What happened?!"
Langdon pointed down the long street before them.
When she saw it, Sophie's blood went cold. A hundred yards ahead, the intersection was blocked by a couple of DCPJ police cars, parked askew, their purpose obvious. They've sealed off Avenue Gabriel!
Langdon gave a grim sigh. "I take it the embassy is off-limits this evening?"
Down the street, the two DCPJ officers who stood beside their cars were now staring in their direction, apparently curious about the headlights that had halted so abruptly up the street from them.
Okay, Sophie, turn around very slowly.
Putting the SmartCar in reverse, she performed a composed three-point turn and reversed her direction. As she drove away, she heard the sound of squealing tires behind them. Sirens blared to life.
Cursing, Sophie slammed down the accelerator.
CHAPTER 33
Sophie's SmartCar tore through the diplomatic quarter, weaving past embassies and consulates, finally racing out a side street and taking a right turn back onto the massive thoroughfare of Champs-Elysées.
Langdon sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat, twisted backward, scanning behind them for any signs of the police. He suddenly wished he had not decided to run. You didn't, he reminded himself. Sophie had made the decision for him when she threw the GPS dot out the bathroom window. Now, as they sped away from the embassy, serpentining through sparse traffic on Champs-Elysées, Langdon felt his options deteriorating. Although Sophie seemed to have lost the police, at least for the moment, Langdon doubted their luck would hold for long.
Behind the wheel Sophie was fishing in her sweater pocket. She removed a small metal object and held it out for him. "Robert, you'd better have a look at this. This is what my grandfather left me behind Madonna of the Rocks."
Feeling a shiver of anticipation, Langdon took the object and examined it. It was heavy and shaped like a cruciform. His first instinct was that he was holding a funeral pieu-a miniature version of a memorial spike designed to be stuck into the ground at a gravesite. But then he noted the shaft protruding from the cruciform was prismatic and triangular. The shaft was also pockmarked with hundreds of tiny hexagons that appeared to be finely tooled and scattered at random.
"It's a laser-cut key," Sophie told him. "Those hexagons are read by an electric eye."
A key? Langdon had never seen anything like it.
"Look at the other side," she said, changing lanes and sailing through an intersection.
When Langdon turned the key, he felt his jaw drop. There, intricately embossed on the center of the cross, was a stylized fleur-de-lis with the initials P.S.! "Sophie," he said, "this is the seal I told you about! The official device of the Priory of Sion."
She nodded. "As I told you, I saw the key a long time ago. He told me never to speak of it again."
Langdon's eyes were still riveted on the embossed key. Its high-tech tooling and age-old symbolism exuded an eerie fusion of ancient and modern worlds.
"He told me the key opened a box where he kept many secrets."
Langdon felt a chill to imagine what kind of secrets a man like Jacques Saunière might keep. What an ancient brotherhood was doing with a futuristic key, Langdon had no idea. The Priory existed for the sole purpose of protecting a secret. A secret of incredible power. Could this key have something to do with it? The thought was overwhelming. "Do you know what it opens?"
Sophie looked disappointed. "I was hoping you knew."
Langdon remained silent as he turned the cruciform in his hand, examining it.
"It looks Christian," Sophie pressed.
Langdon was not so sure about that. The head of this key was not the traditional long-stemmed Christian cross but rather was a square cross-with four arms of equal length-which predated Christianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin Cross, originated by Romans as a torture device. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon "the crucifix" realized their symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name: "cross" and "crucifix" came from the Latin verb cruciare-to torture.
"Sophie," he said, "all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion, and their balanced vertical and horizontal elements convey a natural union of male and female, making them symbolically consistent with Priory philosophy."
She gave him a weary look. "You have no idea, do you?"
Langdon frowned. "Not a clue."
"Okay, we have to get off the road." Sophie checked her rearview mirror. "We need a safe place to figure out what that key opens."
Langdon thought longingly of his comfortable room at the Ritz. Obviously, that was not an option. "How about my hosts at the American University of Paris?"
"Too obvious. Fache will check with them."
"You must know people. You live here."
"Fache will run my phone and e-mail records, talk to my coworkers. My contacts are compromised, and finding a hotel is no good because they all require identification."
Langdon wondered again if he might have been better off taking his chances letting Fache arrest him at the Louvre. "Let's call the embassy. I can explain the situation and have the embassy send someone to meet us somewhere."
"Meet us?" Sophie turned and stared at him as if he were crazy. "Robert, you're dreaming. Your embassy has no jurisdiction except on their own property. Sending someone to retrieve us would be considered aiding a fugitive of the French government. It won't happen. If you walk into your embassy and request temporary asylum, that's one thing, but asking them to take action against French law enforcement in the field?" She shook her head. "Call your embassy right now, and they are going to tell you to avoid further damage and turn yourself over to Fache. Then they'll promise to pursue diplomatic channels to get you a fair trial." She gazed up the line of elegant storefronts on
Champs-Elysées. "How much cash do you have?"
Langdon checked his wallet. "A hundred dollars. A few euro. Why?"
"Credit cards?"
"Of course."
As Sophie accelerated, Langdon sensed she was formulating a plan. Dead ahead, at the end of Champs-Elysées, stood the Arc de Triomphe-Napoleon's 164-foot-tall tribute to his own military potency-encircled by France's largest rotary, a nine-lane behemoth.
Sophie's eyes were on the rearview mirror again as they approached the rotary. "We lost them for the time being," she said, "but we won't last another five minutes if we stay in this car."
So steal a different one, Langdon mused, now that we're criminals. "What are you going to do?"
Sophie gunned the SmartCar into the rotary. "Trust me."
Langdon made no response. Trust had not gotten him very far this evening. Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch-a vintage, collector's-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday. Although its juvenile dial often drew odd looks, Langdon had never owned any other watch; Disney animations had been his first introduction to the magic of form and color, and Mickey now served as Langdon's daily reminder to stay young at heart. At the moment, however, Mickey's arms were skewed at an awkward angle, indicating an equally awkward hour.
2:51 A.M.
"Interesting watch," Sophie said, glancing at his wrist and maneuvering the SmartCar around the wide, counterclockwise rotary.
"Long story," he said, pulling his sleeve back down.
"I imagine it would have to be." She gave him a quick smile and exited the rotary, heading due north, away from the city center. Barely making two GREen lights, she reached the third intersection and took a hard right onto Boulevard Malesherbes. They'd left the rich, tree-lined streets of the diplomatic neighborhood and plunged into a darker industrial neighborhood. Sophie took a quick left, and a moment later, Langdon realized where they were.
Gare Saint-Lazare.
Ahead of them, the glass-roofed train terminal resembled the awkward offspring of an airplane
hangar and a GREenhouse. European train stations never slept. Even at this hour, a half-dozen taxis idled near the main entrance. Vendors manned carts of sandwiches and mineral water while grungy kids in backpacks emerged from the station rubbing their eyes, looking around as if trying to remember what city they were in now. Up ahead on the street, a couple of city policemen stood on the curb giving directions to some confused tourists.
Sophie pulled her SmartCar in behind the line of taxis and parked in a red zone despite plenty of legal parking across the street. Before Langdon could ask what was going on, she was out of the car. She hurried to the window of the taxi in front of them and began speaking to the driver.
As Langdon got out of the SmartCar, he saw Sophie hand the taxi driver a big wad of cash. The taxi driver nodded and then, to Langdon's bewilderment, sped off without them.
"What happened?" Langdon demanded, joining Sophie on the curb as the taxi disappeared.
Sophie was already heading for the train station entrance. "Come on. We're buying two tickets on the next train out of Paris."
Langdon hurried along beside her. What had begun as a one-mile dash to the U.S. Embassy had now become a full-fledged evacuation from Paris. Langdon was liking this idea less and less.
CHAPTER 34
The driver who collected Bishop Aringarosa from Leonardo da Vinci International Airport pulled up in a small, unimpressive black Fiat sedan. Aringarosa recalled a day when all Vatican transports were big luxury cars that sported grille-plate medallions and flags emblazoned with the seal of the Holy See. Those days are gone. Vatican cars were now less ostentatious and almost always unmarked. The Vatican claimed this was to cut costs to better serve their dioceses, but Aringarosa suspected it was more of a security measure. The world had gone mad, and in many parts of Europe, advertising your love of Jesus Christ was like painting a bull's-eye on the roof of your car.
Bundling his black cassock around himself, Aringarosa climbed into the back seat and settled in for the long drive to Castel Gandolfo. It would be the same ride he had taken five months ago.
Last year's trip to Rome, he sighed. The longest night of my life.
Five months ago, the Vatican had phoned to request Aringarosa's immediate presence in Rome. They offered no explanation. Your tickets are at the airport. The Holy See worked hard to retain a veil of mystery, even for its highest clergy.
The mysterious summons, Aringarosa suspected, was probably a photo opportunity for the Pope
and other Vatican officials to piggyback on Opus Dei's recent public success-the completion of their World Headquarters in New York City. Architectural Digest had called Opus Dei's building "a shining beacon of Catholicism sublimely integrated with the modern landscape," and lately the Vatican seemed to be drawn to anything and everything that included the word "modern."
Aringarosa had no choice but to accept the invitation, albeit reluctantly. Not a fan of the current papal administration, Aringarosa, like most conservative clergy, had watched with grave concern as the new Pope settled into his first year in office. An unprecedented liberal, His Holiness had secured the papacy through one of the most controversial and unusual conclaves in Vatican history. Now, rather than being humbled by his unexpected rise to power, the Holy Father had wasted no time flexing all the muscle associated with the highest office in Christendom. Drawing on an unsettling tide of liberal support within the College of Cardinals, the Pope was now declaring his papal mission to be "rejuvenation of Vatican doctrine and updating Catholicism into the third millennium."
The translation, Aringarosa feared, was that the man was actually arrogant enough to think he could rewrite God's laws and win back the hearts of those who felt the demands of true Catholicism had become too inconvenient in a modern world.
Aringarosa had been using all of his political sway-substantial considering the size of the Opus Dei constituency and their bankroll-to persuade the Pope and his advisers that softening the Church's laws was not only faithless and cowardly, but political suicide. He reminded them that previous tempering of Church law-the Vatican II fiasco-had left a devastating legacy: Church attendance was now lower than ever, donations were drying up, and there were not even enough Catholic priests to preside over their churches.
People need structure and direction from the Church, Aringarosa insisted, not coddling and indulgence!
On that night, months ago, as the Fiat had left the airport, Aringarosa was surprised to find himself heading not toward Vatican City but rather eastward up a sinuous mountain road. "Where are we going?" he had demanded of his driver.
"Alban Hills," the man replied. "Your meeting is at Castel Gandolfo."
The Pope's summer residence? Aringarosa had never been, nor had he ever desired to see it. In addition to being the Pope's summer vacation home, the sixteenth-century citadel housed the Specula Vaticana-the Vatican Observatory-one of the most advanced astronomical observatories in Europe. Aringarosa had never been comfortable with the Vatican's historical need to dabble in science. What was the rationale for fusing science and faith? Unbiased science could not possibly be performed by a man who possessed faith in God. Nor did faith have any need for physical confirmation of its beliefs.
Nonetheless, there it is, he thought as Castel Gandolfo came into view, rising against a star-filled November sky. From the access road, Gandolfo resembled a GREat stone monster pondering a suicidal leap. Perched at the very edge of a cliff, the castle leaned out over the cradle of Italian civilization-the valley where the Curiazi and Orazi clans fought long before the founding of Rome.
Even in silhouette, Gandolfo was a sight to behold-an impressive example of tiered, defensive architecture, echoing the potency of this dramatic cliffside setting. Sadly, Aringarosa now saw, the Vatican had ruined the building by constructing two huge aluminum telescope domes atop the roof, leaving this once dignified edifice looking like a proud warrior wearing a couple of party hats.
When Aringarosa got out of the car, a young Jesuit priest hurried out and GREeted him. "Bishop, welcome. I am Father Mangano. An astronomer here."
Good for you. Aringarosa grumbled his hello and followed his host into the castle's foyer-a wide-open space whose decor was a graceless blend of Renaissance art and astronomy images. Following his escort up the wide travertine marble staircase, Aringarosa saw signs for conference centers, science lecture halls, and tourist information services. It amazed him to think the Vatican was failing at every turn to provide coherent, stringent guidelines for spiritual growth and yet somehow still found time to give astrophysics lectures to tourists.
"Tell me," Aringarosa said to the young priest, "when did the tail start wagging the dog?"
The priest gave him an odd look. "Sir?"
Aringarosa waved it off, deciding not to launch into that particular offensive again this evening. The Vatican has gone mad. Like a lazy parent who found it easier to acquiesce to the whims of a spoiled child than to stand firm and teach values, the Church just kept softening at every turn, trying to reinvent itself to accommodate a culture gone astray.
The top floor's corridor was wide, lushly appointed, and led in only one direction-toward a huge set of oak doors with a brass sign.
BIBLIOTECA ASTRONOMICA
Aringarosa had heard of this place-the Vatican's Astronomy Library-rumored to contain more than twenty-five thousand volumes, including rare works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Secchi. Allegedly, it was also the place in which the Pope's highest officers held private meetings... those meetings they preferred not to hold within the walls of Vatican City.
Approaching the door, Bishop Aringarosa would never have imagined the shocking news he was about to receive inside, or the deadly chain of events it would put into motion. It was not until an hour later, as he staggered from the meeting, that the devastating implications settled in. Six months
from now! he had thought. God help us!
Now, seated in the Fiat, Bishop Aringarosa realized his fists were clenched just thinking about that first meeting. He released his grip and forced a slow inhalation, relaxing his muscles.
Everything will be fine, he told himself as the Fiat wound higher into the mountains. Still, he wished his cell phone would ring. Why hasn't the Teacher called me? Silas should have the keystone by now.
Trying to ease his nerves, the bishop meditated on the purple amethyst in his ring. Feeling the textures of the mitre-crozier appliqué and the facets of the diamonds, he reminded himself that this ring was a symbol of power far less than that which he would soon attain.
CHAPTER 35
The inside of Gare Saint-Lazare looked like every other train station in Europe, a gaping indoor-outdoor cavern dotted with the usual suspects-homeless men holding cardboard signs, collections of bleary-eyed college kids sleeping on backpacks and zoning out to their portable MP3 players, and clusters of blue-clad baggage porters smoking cigarettes.
Sophie raised her eyes to the enormous departure board overhead. The black and white tabs reshuffled, ruffling downward as the information refreshed. When the update was finished, Langdon eyed the offerings. The topmost listing read: LYON-RAPIDE-3:06
"I wish it left sooner," Sophie said, "but Lyon will have to do." Sooner? Langdon checked his watch 2:59 A.M. The train left in seven minutes and they didn't even have tickets yet.
Sophie guided Langdon toward the ticket window and said, "Buy us two tickets with your credit card."
"I thought credit card usage could be traced by-"
"Exactly."
Langdon decided to stop trying to keep ahead of Sophie Neveu. Using his Visa card, he purchased two coach tickets to Lyon and handed them to Sophie.
Sophie guided him out toward the tracks, where a familiar tone chimed overhead and a P.A. announcer gave the final boarding call for Lyon. Sixteen separate tracks spread out before them. In
the distance to the right, at quay three, the train to Lyon was belching and wheezing in preparation for departure, but Sophie already had her arm through Langdon's and was guiding him in the exact opposite direction. They hurried through a side lobby, past an all-night cafe, and finally out a side door onto a quiet street on the west side of the station.
A lone taxi sat idling by the doorway.
The driver saw Sophie and flicked his lights.
Sophie jumped in the back seat. Langdon got in after her.
As the taxi pulled away from station, Sophie took out their newly purchased train tickets and tore them up.
Langdon sighed. Seventy dollars well spent.
It was not until their taxi had settled into a monotonous northbound hum on Rue de Clichy that Langdon felt they'd actually escaped. Out the window to his right, he could see Montmartre and the beautiful dome of Sacré-Coeur. The image was interrupted by the FLASH of police lights sailing past them in the opposite direction.
Langdon and Sophie ducked down as the sirens faded.
Sophie had told the cab driver simply to head out of the city, and from her firmly set jaw, Langdon sensed she was trying to figure out their next move.
Langdon examined the cruciform key again, holding it to the window, bringing it close to his eyes in an effort to find any markings on it that might indicate where the key had been made. In the intermittent glow of passing streetlights, he saw no markings except the Priory seal.
"It doesn't make sense," he finally said.
"Which part?"
"That your grandfather would go to so much trouble to give you a key that you wouldn't know what to do with."
"I aGREe."
"Are you sure he didn't write anything else on the back of the painting?"
"I searched the whole area. This is all there was. This key, wedged behind the painting. I saw the Priory seal, stuck the key in my pocket, then we left."
Langdon frowned, peering now at the blunt end of the triangular shaft. Nothing. Squinting, he brought the key close to his eyes and examined the rim of the head. Nothing there either. "I think this key was cleaned recently."
"Why?"
"It smells like rubbing alcohol."
She turned. "I'm sorry?"
"It smells like somebody polished it with a cleaner." Langdon held the key to his nose and sniffed. "It's stronger on the other side." He flipped it over. "Yes, it's alcohol-based, like it's been buffed with a cleaner or-" Langdon stopped.
"What?"
He angled the key to the light and looked at the smooth surface on the broad arm of the cross. It seemed to shimmer in places... like it was wet. "How well did you look at the back of this key before you put it in your pocket?"
"What? Not well. I was in a hurry."
Langdon turned to her. "Do you still have the black light?"
Sophie reached in her pocket and produced the UV penlight. Langdon took it and switched it on, shining the beam on the back of the key.
The back luminesced instantly. There was writing there. In penmanship that was hurried but legible.
"Well," Langdon said, smiling. "I guess we know what the alcohol smell was."
Sophie stared in amazement at the purple writing on the back of the key.
24 Rue Haxo
An address! My grandfather wrote down an address!
"Where is this?" Langdon asked.
Sophie had no idea. Facing front again, she leaned forward and excitedly asked the driver, "Connaissez-vous la Rue Haxo?"
The driver thought a moment and then nodded. He told Sophie it was out near the tennis stadium on the western outskirts of Paris. She asked him to take them there immediately.
"Fastest route is through Bois de Boulogne," the driver told her in French. "Is that okay?"
Sophie frowned. She could think of far less scandalous routes, but tonight she was not going to be picky. "Oui." We can shock the visiting American.
Sophie looked back at the key and wondered what they would possibly find at 24 Rue Haxo. A church? Some kind of Priory headquarters?
Her mind filled again with images of the secret ritual she had witnessed in the basement grotto ten years ago, and she heaved a long sigh. "Robert, I have a lot of things to tell you." She paused, locking eyes with him as the taxi raced westward. "But first I want you to tell me everything you know about this Priory of Sion."
CHAPTER 36
Outside the Salle des Etats, Bezu Fache was fuming as Louvre warden Grouard explained how Sophie and Langdon had disarmed him. Why didn't you just shoot the blessed painting!
"Captain?" Lieutenant Collet loped toward them from the direction of the command post. "Captain, I just heard. They located Agent Neveu's car."
"Did she make the embassy?"
"No. Train station. Bought two tickets. Train just left."
Fache waved off warden Grouard and led Collet to a nearby alcove, addressing him in hushed tones. "What was the destination?"
"Lyon."
"Probably a decoy." Fache exhaled, formulating a plan. "Okay, alert the next station, have the train stopped and searched, just in case. Leave her car where it is and put plainclothes on watch in case they try to come back to it. Send men to search the streets around the station in case they fled on foot. Are buses running from the station?"
"Not at this hour, sir. Only the taxi queue."
"Good. Question the drivers. See if they saw anything. Then contact the taxi company dispatcher with descriptions. I'm calling Interpol."
Collet looked surprised. "You're putting this on the wire?"
Fache reGREtted the potential embarrassment, but he saw no other choice.
Close the net fast, and close it tight.
The first hour was critical. Fugitives were predictable the first hour after escape. They always needed the same thing. Travel. Lodging. Cash. The Holy Trinity. Interpol had the power to make all three disappear in the blink of an eye. By broadcast-faxing photos of Langdon and Sophie to Paris travel authorities, hotels, and banks, Interpol would leave no options-no way to leave the city, no place to hide, and no way to withdraw cash without being recognized. Usually, fugitives panicked on the street and did something stupid. Stole a car. Robbed a store. Used a bank card in desperation. Whatever mistake they committed, they quickly made their whereabouts known to local authorities.
"Only Langdon, right?" Collet said. "You're not flagging Sophie Neveu. She's our own agent."
"Of course I'm flagging her!" Fache snapped. "What good is flagging Langdon if she can do all his dirty work? I plan to run Neveu's employment file-friends, family, personal contacts-anyone she might turn to for help. I don't know what she thinks she's doing out there, but it's going to cost her one hell of a lot more than her job!"
"Do you want me on the phones or in the field?"
"Field. Get over to the train station and coordinate the team. You've got the reins, but don't make a move without talking to me."
"Yes, sir." Collet ran out.
Fache felt rigid as he stood in the alcove. Outside the window, the glass pyramid shone, its reflection rippling in the windswept pools. They slipped through my fingers. He told himself to relax.
Even a trained field agent would be lucky to withstand the pressure that Interpol was about to apply.
A female cryptologist and a schoolteacher?
They wouldn't last till dawn.
CHAPTER 37
The heavily forested park known as the Bois de Boulogne was called many things, but the Parisian cognoscenti knew it as "the Garden of Earthly Delights." The epithet, despite sounding flattering, was quite to the contrary. Anyone who had seen the lurid Bosch painting of the same name understood the jab; the painting, like the forest, was dark and twisted, a purgatory for freaks and fetishists. At night, the forest's winding lanes were lined with hundreds of glistening bodies for hire, earthly delights to satisfy one's deepest unspoken desires-male, female, and everything in between.
As Langdon gathered his thoughts to tell Sophie about the Priory of Sion, their taxi passed through the wooded entrance to the park and began heading west on the cobblestone crossfare. Langdon was having trouble concentrating as a scattering of the park's nocturnal residents were already emerging from the shadows and flaunting their wares in the glare of the headlights. Ahead, two topless teenage girls shot smoldering gazes into the taxi. Beyond them, a well-oiled black man in a G-string turned and flexed his buttocks. Beside him, a gorgeous blond woman lifted her miniskirt to reveal that she was not, in fact, a woman.
Heaven help me! Langdon turned his gaze back inside the cab and took a deep breath.
"Tell me about the Priory of Sion," Sophie said.
Langdon nodded, unable to imagine a less congruous a backdrop for the legend he was about to tell. He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood's history spanned more than a millennium... an astonishing chronicle of secrets, blackmail, betrayal, and even brutal torture at the hands of an angry Pope.
"The Priory of Sion," he began, "was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he had conquered the city."
Sophie nodded, her eyes riveted on him.
"King Godefroi was allegedly the possessor of a powerful secret-a secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ. Fearing his secret might be lost when he died, he founded a secret brotherhood-the Priory of Sion-and charged them with protecting his secret by quietly passing it on from generation to generation. During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins of Herod's temple, which had been built atop the earlier ruins of Solomon's Temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that the Church would stop at nothing to get them." Sophie
looked uncertain.
"The Priory vowed that no matter how long it took, these documents must be recovered from the rubble beneath the temple and protected forever, so the truth would never die. In order to retrieve the documents from within the ruins, the Priory created a military arm-a group of nine knights called the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." Langdon paused. "More commonly known as the Knights Templar."
Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition. Langdon had lectured often enough on the Knights Templar to know that almost everyone on earth had heard of them, at least abstractedly. For academics, the Templars' history was a precarious world where fact, lore, and misinformation had become so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth was almost impossible. Nowadays, Langdon hesitated even to mention the Knights Templar while lecturing because it invariably led to a barrage of convoluted inquiries into assorted conspiracy theories.
Sophie already looked troubled. "You're saying the Knights Templar were founded by the Priory of Sion to retrieve a collection of secret documents? I thought the Templars were created to protect the Holy Land."
"A common misconception. The idea of protection of pilgrims was the guise under which the Templars ran their mission. Their true goal in the Holy Land was to retrieve the documents from beneath the ruins of the temple."
"And did they find them?"
Langdon grinned. "Nobody knows for sure, but the one thing on which all academics aGREe is this: The Knights discovered something down there in the ruins... something that made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone's wildest imagination."
Langdon quickly gave Sophie the standard academic sketch of the accepted Knights Templar history, explaining how the Knights were in the Holy Land during the Second Crusade and told King Baldwin II that they were there to protect Christian pilgrims on the roadways. Although unpaid and sworn to poverty, the Knights told the king they required basic shelter and requested his permission to take up residence in the stables under the ruins of the temple. King Baldwin granted the soldiers' request, and the Knights took up their meager residence inside the devastated shrine.
The odd choice of lodging, Langdon explained, had been anything but random. The Knights believed the documents the Priory sought were buried deep under the ruins-beneath the Holy of Holies, a sacred chamber where God Himself was believed to reside. Literally, the very center of the Jewish faith. For almost a decade, the nine Knights lived in the ruins, excavating in total secrecy through solid rock.
Sophie looked over. "And you said they discovered something?"
"They certainly did," Langdon said, explaining how it had taken nine years, but the Knights had finally found what they had been searching for. They took the treasure from the temple and traveled to Europe, where their influence seemed to solidify overnight.
Nobody was certain whether the Knights had blackmailed the Vatican or whether the Church simply tried to buy the Knights' silence, but Pope Innocent II immediately issued an unprecedented papal bull that afforded the Knights Templar limitless power and declared them "a law unto themselves"-an autonomous army independent of all interference from kings and prelates, both religious and political.
With their new carte blanche from the Vatican, the Knights Templar expanded at a staggering rate, both in numbers and political force, amassing vast estates in over a dozen countries. They began extending credit to bankrupt royals and charging interest in return, thereby establishing modern banking and broadening their wealth and influence still further.
By the 1300s, the Vatican sanction had helped the Knights amass so much power that Pope Clement V decided that something had to be done. Working in concert with France's King Philippe IV, the Pope devised an ingeniously planned sting operation to quash the Templars and seize their treasure, thus taking control of the secrets held over the Vatican. In a military maneuver worthy of the CIA, Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday, October 13 of 1307.
At dawn on the thirteenth, the documents were unsealed and their appalling contents revealed. Clement's letter claimed that God had visited him in a vision and warned him that the Knights Templar were heretics guilty of devil worship, homosexuality, defiling the cross, sodomy, and other blasphemous behavior. Pope Clement had been asked by God to cleanse the earth by rounding up all the Knights and torturing them until they confessed their crimes against God. Clement's Machiavellian operation came off with clockwork precision. On that day, countless Knights were captured, tortured mercilessly, and finally burned at the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered unlucky.
Sophie looked confused. "The Knights Templar were obliterated? I thought fraternities of Templars still exist today?"
"They do, under a variety of names. Despite Clement's false charges and best efforts to eradicate them, the Knights had powerful allies, and some managed to escape the Vatican purges. The Templars' potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their source of power, was Clement's true objective, but it slipped through his fingers. The documents had long since been entrusted to the Templars' shadowy architects, the Priory of Sion, whose veil of secrecy had kept them safely out of range of the Vatican's onslaught. As the Vatican closed in, the Priory smuggled their documents from a Paris preceptory by night onto Templar ships in La Rochelle."
"Where did the documents go?"
Langdon shrugged. "That mystery's answer is known only to the Priory of Sion. Because the documents remain the source of constant investigation and speculation even today, they are believed to have been moved and rehidden several times. Current speculation places the documents somewhere in the United Kingdom."
Sophie looked uneasy.
"For a thousand years," Langdon continued, "legends of this secret have been passed on. The entire collection of documents, its power, and the secret it reveals have become known by a single name-SanGREal. Hundreds of books have been written about it, and few mysteries have caused as much interest among historians as the Sangreal."
"The SanGREal? Does the word have anything to do with the French word sang or Spanish sangre-meaning 'blood'?"
Langdon nodded. Blood was the backbone of the SanGREal, and yet not in the way Sophie probably imagined. "The legend is complicated, but the important thing to remember is that the Priory guards the proof, and is purportedly awaiting the right moment in history to reveal the truth."
"What truth? What secret could possibly be that powerful?"
Langdon took a deep breath and gazed out at the underbelly of Paris leering in the shadows. "Sophie, the word SanGREal is an ancient word. It has evolved over the years into another term... a more modern name." He paused. "When I tell you its modern name, you'll realize you already know a lot about it. In fact, almost everyone on earth has heard the story of the Sangreal."
Sophie looked skeptical. "I've never heard of it."
"Sure you have." Langdon smiled. "You're just used to hearing it called by the name 'Holy Grail.' "
CHAPTER 38
Sophie scrutinized Langdon in the back of the taxi. He's joking. "The Holy Grail?"
Langdon nodded, his expression serious. "Holy Grail is the literal meaning of SanGREal. The phrase derives from the French Sangraal, which evolved to Sangreal, and was eventually split into two words, San Greal."
Holy Grail. Sophie was surprised she had not spotted the linguistic ties immediately. Even so, Langdon's claim still made no sense to her. "I thought the Holy Grail was a cup. You just told me the SanGREal is a collection of documents that reveals some dark secret."
"Yes, but the SanGREal documents are only half of the Holy Grail treasure. They are buried with the Grail itself... and reveal its true meaning. The documents gave the Knights Templar so much power because the pages revealed the true nature of the Grail."
The true nature of the Grail? Sophie felt even more lost now. The Holy Grail, she had thought, was the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and with which Joseph of Arimathea later caught His blood at the crucifixion. "The Holy Grail is the Cup of Christ," she said. "How much simpler could it be?"
"Sophie," Langdon whispered, leaning toward her now, "according to the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail is not a cup at all. They claim the Grail legend-that of a chalice-is actually an ingeniously conceived allegory. That is, that the Grail story uses the chalice as a metaphor for something else, something far more powerful." He paused. "Something that fits perfectly with everything your grandfather has been trying to tell us tonight, including all his symbologic references to the sacred feminine."
Still unsure, Sophie sensed in Langdon's patient smile that he empathized with her confusion, and yet his eyes remained earnest. "But if the Holy Grail is not a cup," she asked, "what is it?"
Langdon had known this question was coming, and yet he still felt uncertain exactly how to tell her. If he did not present the answer in the proper historical background, Sophie would be left with a vacant air of bewilderment-the exact expression Langdon had seen on his own editor's face a few months ago after Langdon handed him a draft of the manuscript he was working on.
"This manuscript claims what?" his editor had choked, setting down his wineglass and staring across his half-eaten power lunch. "You can't be serious."
"Serious enough to have spent a year researching it."
Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee. Faukman no doubt had heard some wild book ideas in his illustrious career, but this one seemed to have left the man flabbergasted.
"Robert," Faukman finally said, "don't get me wrong. I love your work, and we've had a GREat run together. But if I agree to publish an idea like this, I'll have people picketing outside my office for months. Besides, it will kill your reputation. You're a Harvard historian, for God's sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck. Where could you possibly find enough credible evidence to support a theory like this?"
With a quiet smile Langdon pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of his tweed coat and handed it to Faukman. The page listed a bibliography of over fifty titles-books by well-known historians, some contemporary, some centuries old-many of them academic bestsellers. All the book titles suggested the same premise Langdon had just proposed. As Faukman read down the list, he looked like a man who had just discovered the earth was actually flat. "I know some of these authors. They're... real historians!"
Langdon grinned. "As you can see, Jonas, this is not only my theory. It's been around for a long time. I'm simply building on it. No book has yet explored the legend of the Holy Grail from a symbologic angle. The iconographic evidence I'm finding to support the theory is, well, staggeringly persuasive."
Faukman was still staring at the list. "My God, one of these books was written by Sir Leigh Teabing-a British Royal Historian."
"Teabing has spent much of his life studying the Holy Grail. I've met with him. He was actually a big part of my inspiration. He's a believer, Jonas, along with all of the others on that list."
"You're telling me all of these historians actually believe..." Faukman swallowed, apparently unable to say the words.
Langdon grinned again. "The Holy Grail is arguably the most sought-after treasure in human history. The Grail has spawned legends, wars, and lifelong quests. Does it make sense that it is merely a cup? If so, then certainly other relics should generate similar or GREater interest-the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross of the Crucifixion, the Titulus-and yet, they do not. Throughout history, the Holy Grail has been the most special." Langdon grinned. "Now you know why."
Faukman was still shaking his head. "But with all these books written about it, why isn't this theory more widely known?"
"These books can't possibly compete with centuries of established history, especially when that history is endorsed by the ultimate bestseller of all time."
Faukman's eyes went wide. "Don't tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail."
"I was referring to the Bible."
Faukman cringed. "I knew that."
"Laissez-le!" Sophie's shouts cut the air inside the taxi. "Put it down!"
Langdon jumped as Sophie leaned forward over the seat and yelled at the taxi driver. Langdon could see the driver was clutching his radio mouthpiece and speaking into it.
Sophie turned now and plunged her hand into the pocket of Langdon's tweed jacket. Before Langdon knew what had happened, she had yanked out the pistol, swung it around, and was pressing it to the back of the driver's head. The driver instantly dropped his radio, raising his one free hand overhead.
"Sophie!" Langdon choked. "What the hell-"
"Arrêtez!" Sophie commanded the driver.
Trembling, the driver obeyed, stopping the car and putting it in park.
It was then that Langdon heard the metallic voice of the taxi company's dispatcher coming from the dashboard. "...qui s'appette Agent Sophie Neveu..." the radio crackled. "Et un Américain, Robert Langdon..."
Langdon's muscles turned rigid. They found us already?
"Descendez," Sophie demanded.
The trembling driver kept his arms over his head as he got out of his taxi and took several steps backward.
Sophie had rolled down her window and now aimed the gun outside at the bewildered cabbie. "Robert," she said quietly, "take the wheel. You're driving."
Langdon was not about to argue with a woman wielding a gun. He climbed out of the car and jumped back in behind the wheel. The driver was yelling curses, his arms still raised over his head.
"Robert," Sophie said from the back seat, "I trust you've seen enough of our magic forest?"
He nodded. Plenty.
"Good. Drive us out of here."
Langdon looked down at the car's controls and hesitated. Shit. He groped for the stick shift and clutch. "Sophie? Maybe you-"
"Go!" she yelled.
Outside, several hookers were walking over to see what was going on. One woman was placing a
call on her cell phone. Langdon depressed the clutch and jostled the stick into what he hoped was first gear. He touched the accelerator, testing the gas.
Langdon popped the clutch. The tires howled as the taxi leapt forward, fishtailing wildly and sending the gathering crowd diving for cover. The woman with the cell phone leapt into the woods, only narrowly avoiding being run down.
"Doucement!" Sophie said, as the car lurched down the road. "What are you doing?"
"I tried to warn you," he shouted over the sound of gnashing gears. "I drive an automatic!"
CHAPTER 39
Although the spartan room in the brownstone on Rue La Bruyère had witnessed a lot of suffering, Silas doubted anything could match the anguish now gripping his pale body. I was deceived. Everything is lost.
Silas had been tricked. The brothers had lied, choosing death instead of revealing their true secret. Silas did not have the strength to call the Teacher. Not only had Silas killed the only four people who knew where the keystone was hidden, he had killed a nun inside Saint-Sulpice. She was working against God! She scorned the work of Opus Dei!
A crime of impulse, the woman's death complicated matters GREatly. Bishop Aringarosa had placed the phone call that got Silas into Saint-Sulpice; what would the abbé think when he discovered the nun was dead? Although Silas had placed her back in her bed, the wound on her head was obvious. Silas had attempted to replace the broken tiles in the floor, but that damage too was obvious. They would know someone had been there.
Silas had planned to hide within Opus Dei when his task here was complete. Bishop Aringarosa will protect me. Silas could imagine no more blissful existence than a life of meditation and prayer deep within the walls of Opus Dei's headquarters in New York City. He would never again set foot outside. Everything he needed was within that sanctuary. Nobody will miss me. Unfortunately, Silas knew, a prominent man like Bishop Aringarosa could not disappear so easily.
I have endangered the bishop. Silas gazed blankly at the floor and pondered taking his own life. After all, it had been Aringarosa who gave Silas life in the first place... in that small rectory in Spain, educating him, giving him purpose.
"My friend," Aringarosa had told him, "you were born an albino. Do not let others shame you for this. Do you not understand how special this makes you? Were you not aware that Noah himself was an albino?"
"Noah of the Ark?" Silas had never heard this.
Aringarosa was smiling. "Indeed, Noah of the Ark. An albino. Like you, he had skin white like an angel. Consider this. Noah saved all of life on the planet. You are destined for GREat things, Silas. The Lord has freed you for a reason. You have your calling. The Lord needs your help to do His work."
Over time, Silas learned to see himself in a new light. I am pure. White. Beautiful. Like an angel.
At the moment, though, in his room at the residence hall, it was his father's disappointed voice that whispered to him from the past.
Tu es un désastre. Un spectre.
Kneeling on the wooden floor, Silas prayed for forgiveness. Then, stripping off his robe, he reached again for the Discipline.
CHAPTER 40
Struggling with the gear shift, Langdon managed to maneuver the hijacked taxi to the far side of the Bois de Boulogne while stalling only twice. Unfortunately, the inherent humor in the situation was overshadowed by the taxi dispatcher repeatedly hailing their cab over the radio.
"Voiture cinq-six-trois. Où êtes-vous? Répondez!"
When Langdon reached the exit of the park, he swallowed his machismo and jammed on the brakes. "You'd better drive."
Sophie looked relieved as she jumped behind the wheel. Within seconds she had the car humming smoothly westward along Allée de Longchamp, leaving the Garden of Earthly Delights behind.
"Which way is Rue Haxo?" Langdon asked, watching Sophie edge the speedometer over a hundred kilometers an hour.
Sophie's eyes remained focused on the road. "The cab driver said it's adjacent to the Roland Garros tennis stadium. I know that area."
Langdon pulled the heavy key from his pocket again, feeling the weight in his palm. He sensed it was an object of enormous consequence. Quite possibly the key to his own freedom.
Earlier, while telling Sophie about the Knights Templar, Langdon had realized that this key, in addition to having the Priory seal embossed on it, possessed a more subtle tie to the Priory of Sion. The equal-armed cruciform was symbolic of balance and harmony but also of the Knights Templar. Everyone had seen the paintings of Knights Templar wearing white tunics emblazoned with red equal-armed crosses. Granted, the arms of the Templar cross were slightly flared at the ends, but they were still of equal length.
A square cross. Just like the one on this key.
Langdon felt his imagination starting to run wild as he fantasized about what they might find. The Holy Grail. He almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it. The Grail was believed to be somewhere in England, buried in a hidden chamber beneath one of the many Templar churches, where it had been hidden since at least 1500.
The era of Grand Master Da Vinci.
The Priory, in order to keep their powerful documents safe, had been forced to move them many times in the early centuries. Historians now suspected as many as six different Grail relocations since its arrival in Europe from Jerusalem. The last Grail "sighting" had been in 1447 when numerous eyewitnesses described a fire that had broken out and almost engulfed the documents before they were carried to safety in four huge chests that each required six men to carry. After that, nobody claimed to see the Grail ever again. All that remained were occasional whisperings that it was hidden in GREat Britain, the land of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Wherever it was, two important facts remained:
Leonardo knew where the Grail resided during his lifetime.
That hiding place had probably not changed to this day.
For this reason, Grail enthusiasts still pored over Da Vinci's art and diaries in hopes of unearthing a hidden clue as to the Grail's current location. Some claimed the mountainous backdrop in Madonna of the Rocks matched the topography of a series of cave-ridden hills in Scotland. Others insisted that the suspicious placement of disciples in The Last Supper was some kind of code. Still others claimed that X rays of the Mona Lisa revealed she originally had been painted wearing a lapis lazuli pendant of Isis-a detail Da Vinci purportedly later decided to paint over. Langdon had never seen any evidence of the pendant, nor could he imagine how it could possibly reveal the Holy Grail, and yet Grail aficionados still discussed it ad nauseum on Internet bulletin boards and worldwide-web chat rooms.
Everyone loves a conspiracy.
And the conspiracies kept coming. Most recently, of course, had been the earthshaking discovery
that Da Vinci's famed Adoration of the Magi was hiding a dark secret beneath its layers of paint. Italian art diagnostician Maurizio Seracini had unveiled the unsettling truth, which the New York Times Magazine carried prominently in a story titled "The Leonardo Cover-Up."
Seracini had revealed beyond any doubt that while the Adoration's gray-GREen sketched underdrawing was indeed Da Vinci's work, the painting itself was not. The truth was that some anonymous painter had filled in Da Vinci's sketch like a paint-by-numbers years after Da Vinci's death. Far more troubling, however, was what lay beneath the impostor's paint. Photographs taken with infrared reflectography and X ray suggested that this rogue painter, while filling in Da Vinci's sketched study, had made suspicious departures from the underdrawing... as if to subvert Da Vinci's true intention. Whatever the true nature of the underdrawing, it had yet to be made public. Even so, embarrassed officials at Florence's Uffizi Gallery immediately banished the painting to a warehouse across the street. Visitors at the gallery's Leonardo Room now found a misleading and unapologetic plaque where the Adoration once hung.
THIS WORK IS UNDERGOING
DIAGNOSTIC TESTS IN PREPARATION
FOR RESTORATION.
In the bizarre underworld of modern Grail seekers, Leonardo da Vinci remained the quest's GREat enigma. His artwork seemed bursting to tell a secret, and yet whatever it was remained hidden, perhaps beneath a layer of paint, perhaps enciphered in plain view, or perhaps nowhere at all. Maybe Da Vinci's plethora of tantalizing clues was nothing but an empty promise left behind to frustrate the curious and bring a smirk to the face of his knowing Mona Lisa.
"Is it possible," Sophie asked, drawing Langdon back, "that the key you're holding unlocks the hiding place of the Holy Grail?"
Langdon's laugh sounded forced, even to him. "I really can't imagine. Besides, the Grail is believed to be hidden in the United Kingdom somewhere, not France." He gave her the quick history.
"But the Grail seems the only rational conclusion," she insisted. "We have an extremely secure key, stamped with the Priory of Sion seal, delivered to us by a member of the Priory of Sion-a brotherhood which, you just told me, are guardians of the Holy Grail."
Langdon knew her contention was logical, and yet intuitively he could not possibly accept it. Rumors existed that the Priory had vowed someday to bring the Grail back to France to a final resting place, but certainly no historical evidence existed to suggest that this indeed had happened. Even if the Priory had managed to bring the Grail back to France, the address 24 Rue Haxo near a tennis stadium hardly sounded like a noble final resting place. "Sophie, I really don't see how this key could have anything to do with the Grail."
"Because the Grail is supposed to be in England?"
"Not only that. The location of the Holy Grail is one of the best kept secrets in history. Priory members wait decades proving themselves trustworthy before being elevated to the highest echelons of the fraternity and learning where the Grail is. That secret is protected by an intricate system of compartmentalized knowledge, and although the Priory brotherhood is very large, only four members at any given time know where the Grail is hidden-the Grand Master and his three sénéchaux. The probability of your grandfather being one of those four top people is very slim."
My grandfather was one of them, Sophie thought, pressing down on the accelerator. She had an image stamped in her memory that confirmed her grandfather's status within the brotherhood beyond any doubt.
"And even if your grandfather were in the upper echelon, he would never be allowed to reveal anything to anyone outside the brotherhood. It is inconceivable that he would bring you into the inner circle."
I've already been there, Sophie thought, picturing the ritual in the basement. She wondered if this were the moment to tell Langdon what she had witnessed that night in the Normandy ch?teau. For ten years now, simple shame had kept her from telling a soul. Just thinking about it, she shuddered. Sirens howled somewhere in the distance, and she felt a thickening shroud of fatigue settling over her.
"There!" Langdon said, feeling excited to see the huge complex of the Roland Garros tennis stadium looming ahead.
Sophie snaked her way toward the stadium. After several passes, they located the intersection of Rue Haxo and turned onto it, driving in the direction of the lower numbers. The road became more industrial, lined with businesses.
We need number twenty-four, Langdon told himself, realizing he was secretly scanning the horizon for the spires of a church. Don't be ridiculous. A forgotten Templar church in this neighborhood?
"There it is," Sophie exclaimed, pointing.
Langdon's eyes followed to the structure ahead.
What in the world?
The building was modern. A squat citadel with a giant, neon equal-armed cross emblazoned atop its facade. Beneath the cross were the words:
DEPOSITORY BANK OF ZURICH
Langdon was thankful not to have shared his Templar church hopes with Sophie. A career hazard of symbologists was a tendency to extract hidden meaning from situations that had none. In this case, Langdon had entirely forgotten that the peaceful, equal-armed cross had been adopted as the perfect symbol for the flag of neutral Switzerland.
At least the mystery was solved.
Sophie and Langdon were holding the key to a Swiss bank deposit box.
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