the technology craze a few years back and lost his shirt. And Fache is a man who wears only the ftnest shirts.
Tonight, there was still plenty of time. Sophie Neveu’s odd interruption, though unfortunate, had been only a minor wrinkle. She was gone now, and Fache still had cards to play. He had yet to inform Langdon that his name had been scrawled on the floor by the victim. P.S. Find Robert Langdon. The American’s reaction to that little bit of evidence would be telling indeed.
“Captain?” one of the DCPJ agents now called from across the office. “I think you better take this call.” He was holding out a telephone receiver, looking concerned.
“Who is it?” Fache said.
The agent frowned. “It’s the director of our Cryptology Department.”
“It’s about Sophie Neveu, sir. Something is not quite right.”
Silas felt strong as he stepped from the black Audi, the nighttime breeze rustling his loose-fitting robe. The winds of change are in the air. He knew the task before him would require more finesse than force, and he left his handgun in the car. The thirteen-round Heckler Koch USP 40 had been provided by the Teacher.
A weapon of death has no place in a house of God.
The plaza before the great church was deserted at this hour, the only visible souls on the far side of Place Saint-Sulpice a couple of teenage hookers showing their wares to the late night tourist traffic. Their nubile bodies sent a familiar longing to Silas’s loins. His thigh flexed instinctively, causing the barbed cilice belt to cut painfully into his flesh.
The lust evaporated instantly. For ten years now, Silas had faithfully denied himself all sexual indulgence, even self- administered. It was The Way. He knew he had sacrificed much to follow Opus Dei, but he had received much more in return. A vow of celibacy and the relinquishment of all personal assets hardly seemed a sacrifice. Considering the poverty from which he had come and the sexual horrors he had endured in prison, celibacy was a welcome change.
Now, having returned to France for the first time since being arrested and shipped to prison in Andorra, Silas could feel his homeland testing him, dragging violent memories from his redeemed soul. You have been reborn, he reminded himself. His service to God today had required the sin of murder, and it was a sacrifice Silas knew he would have to hold silently in his heart for all eternity.
The measure of your faith is the measure of the pain you can endure, the Teacher had told him. Silas was no stranger to pain and felt eager to prove himself to the Teacher, the one who had assured him his actions were ordained by a higher power.
“Hago la obra de Dios,” Silas whispered, moving now toward the church entrance.
Pausing in the shadow of the massive doorway, he took a deep breath. It was not until this instant that he truly realized what he was about to do, and what awaited him inside.
The keystone. It will lead us to our ftnal goal.
He raised his ghost-white fist and banged three times on the door.
Moments later, the bolts of the enormous wooden portal began to move.
Sophie wondered how long it would take Fache to figure out she had not left the building. Seeing that Langdon was clearly overwhelmed, Sophie questioned whether she had done the right thing by cornering him here in the men’s room.
What else was I supposed to do?
She pictured her grandfather’s body, naked and spread-eagle on the floor. There was a time when he had meant the world to her, yet tonight, Sophie was surprised to feel almost no sadness for the man. Jacques Saunière was a stranger to her now. Their relationship had evaporated in a single instant one March night when she was twenty-two. Ten years ago. Sophie had come home a few days early from graduate university in England and mistakenly witnessed her grandfather engaged in something Sophie was obviously not supposed to see. It was an image she barely could believe to this day.
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes …
Too ashamed and stunned to endure her grandfather’s pained attempts to explain, Sophie immediately moved out on her own, taking money she had saved, and getting a small flat with some roommates. She vowed never to speak to anyone about what she had seen. Her grandfather tried desperately to reach her, sending cards and letters, begging Sophie to meet him so he could explain. Explain how!? Sophie never responded except once—to forbid him ever to call her or try to meet her in public. She was afraid his explanation would be more terrifying than the incident itself.
Incredibly, Saunière had never given up on her, and Sophie now possessed a decade’s worth of correspondence unopened in a dresser drawer. To her grandfather’s credit, he had never once disobeyed her request and phoned her.
Until this afternoon.
“Sophie?” His voice had sounded startlingly old on her answering machine. “I have abided by your wishes for so long … and it pains
me to call, but I must speak to you. Something terrible has happened.”
Standing in the kitchen of her Paris flat, Sophie felt a chill to hear him again after all these years. His gentle voice brought back a flood of fond childhood memories.
“Sophie, please listen.” He was speaking English to her, as he always did when she was a little girl. Practice French at school. Practice English at home. “You cannot be mad forever. Have you not read the letters that I’ve sent all these years? Do you not yet understand?” He paused. “We must speak at once. Please grant your grandfather this one wish. Call me at the Louvre. Right away. I believe you and I are in grave danger.”
Sophie stared at the answering machine. Danger? What was he talking about?
“Princess …” Her grandfather’s voice cracked with an emotion Sophie could not place. “I know I’ve kept things from you, and I know it has cost me your love. But it was for your own safety. Now you must know the truth. Please, I must tell you the truth about your family.”
Sophie suddenly could hear her own heart. My family? Sophie’s parents had died when she was only four. Their car went off a bridge into fast-moving water. Her grandmother and younger brother had also been in the car, and Sophie’s entire family had been erased in an instant. She had a box of newspaper clippings to confirm it.
His words had sent an unexpected surge of longing through her bones. My family! In that fleeting instant, Sophie saw images from the dream that had awoken her countless times when she was a little girl: My family is alive! They are coming home! But, as in her dream, the pictures evaporated into oblivion.
Your family is dead, Sophie. They are not coming home.
“Sophie …” her grandfather said on the machine. “I have been waiting for years to tell you. Waiting for the right moment, but now time has run out. Call me at the Louvre. As soon as you get this. I’ll wait here all night. I fear we both may be in danger. There’s so much you need to know.”
The message ended.
In the silence, Sophie stood trembling for what felt like minutes. As she considered her grandfather’s message, only one possibility made sense, and his true intent dawned.
It was bait.
Obviously, her grandfather wanted desperately to see her. He was trying anything. Her disgust for the man deepened. Sophie wondered if maybe he had fallen terminally ill and had decided to attempt any ploy he could think of to get Sophie to visit him one last time. If so, he had chosen wisely.
Now, standing in the darkness of the Louvre men’s room, Sophie could hear the echoes of this afternoon’s phone message. Sophie, we both may be in danger. Call me.
She had not called him. Nor had she planned to. Now, however, her skepticism had been deeply challenged. Her grandfather lay murdered inside his own museum. And he had written a code on the floor.
A code for her. Of this, she was certain.
Despite not understanding the meaning of his message, Sophie was certain its cryptic nature was additional proof that the words were intended for her. Sophie’s passion and aptitude for cryptography were a product of growing up with Jacques Saunière—a fanatic himself for codes, word games, and puzzles. How many Sundays did we spend doing the cryptograms and crosswords in the newspaper?
At the age of twelve, Sophie could finish the Le Monde crossword without any help, and her grandfather graduated her to crosswords in English, mathematical puzzles, and substitution ciphers. Sophie devoured them all. Eventually she turned her passion into a profession by becoming a codebreaker for the Judicial Police.
Tonight, the cryptographer in Sophie was forced to respect the efficiency with which her grandfather had used a simple code to unite two total strangers—Sophie Neveu and Robert Langdon.
The question was why?
Unfortunately, from the bewildered look in Langdon’s eyes, Sophie sensed the American had no more idea than she did why her
grandfather had thrown them together.
She pressed again. “You and my grandfather had planned to meet tonight. What about?”
Langdon looked truly perplexed. “His secretary set the meeting and didn’t offer any specific reason, and I didn’t ask. I assumed he’d heard I would be lecturing on the pagan iconography of French cathedrals, was interested in the topic, and thought it would be fun to meet for drinks after the talk.”
Sophie didn’t buy it. The connection was flimsy. Her grandfather knew more about pagan iconography than anyone else on earth. Moreover, he was an exceptionally private man, not someone prone to chatting with random American professors unless there were an important reason.
Sophie took a deep breath and probed further. “My grandfather called me this afternoon and told me he and I were in grave danger. Does that mean anything to you?”
Langdon’s blue eyes now clouded with concern. “No, but considering what just happened …”
Sophie nodded. Considering tonight’s events, she would be a fool not to be frightened. Feeling drained, she walked to the small plate- glass window at the far end of the bathroom and gazed out in silence through the mesh of alarm tape embedded in the glass. They were high up—forty feet at least.
Sighing, she raised her eyes and gazed out at Paris’s dazzling landscape. On her left, across the Seine, the illuminated Eiffel Tower. Straight ahead, the Arc de Triomphe. And to the right, high atop the sloping rise of Montmartre, the graceful arabesque dome of Sacré-Coeur, its polished stone glowing white like a resplendent sanctuary.
Here at the westernmost tip of the Denon Wing, the north-south thoroughfare of Place du Carrousel ran almost flush with the building with only a narrow sidewalk separating it from the Louvre’s outer wall. Far below, the usual caravan of the city’s nighttime delivery trucks sat idling, waiting for the signals to change, their running lights seeming to twinkle mockingly up at Sophie.
“I don’t know what to say,” Langdon said, coming up behind her. “Your grandfather is obviously trying to tell us something. I’m sorry I’m so little help.”
Sophie turned from the window, sensing a sincere regret in Langdon’s deep voice. Even with all the trouble around him, he obviously wanted to help her. The teacher in him, she thought, having read DCPJ’s workup on their suspect. This was an academic who clearly despised not understanding.
We have that in common, she thought.
As a codebreaker, Sophie made her living extracting meaning from seemingly senseless data. Tonight, her best guess was that Robert Langdon, whether he knew it or not, possessed information that she desperately needed. Princesse Sophie, Find Robert Langdon. How much clearer could her grandfather’s message be? Sophie needed more time with Langdon. Time to think. Time to sort out this mystery together. Unfortunately, time was running out.
Gazing up at Langdon, Sophie made the only play she could think of. “Bezu Fache will be taking you into custody at any minute. I can get you out of this museum. But we need to act now.”
Langdon’s eyes went wide. “You want me to run?”
“It’s the smartest thing you could do. If you let Fache take you into custody now, you’ll spend weeks in a French jail while DCPJ and the U.S. Embassy fight over which courts try your case. But if we get you out of here, and make it to your embassy, then your government will protect your rights while you and I prove you had nothing to do with this murder.”
Langdon looked not even vaguely convinced. “Forget it! Fache has armed guards on every single exit! Even if we escape without being shot, running away only makes me look guilty. You need to tell Fache that the message on the floor was for you, and that my name is not there as an accusation.”
“I will do that,” Sophie said, speaking hurriedly, “but after you’re safely inside the U.S. Embassy. It’s only about a mile from here, and my car is parked just outside the museum. Dealing with Fache from here is too much of a gamble. Don’t you see? Fache has made it his mission tonight to prove you are guilty. The only reason he
postponed your arrest was to run this observance in hopes you did something that made his case stronger.”
“Exactly. Like running!”
The cell phone in Sophie’s sweater pocket suddenly began ringing. Fache probably. She reached in her sweater and turned off the phone.
“Mr. Langdon,” she said hurriedly, “I need to ask you one last question.” And your entire future may depend on it. “The writing on the floor is obviously not proof of your guilt, and yet Fache told our team he is certain you are his man. Can you think of any other reason he might be convinced you’re guilty?”
Langdon was silent for several seconds. “None whatsoever.”
Sophie sighed. Which means Fache is lying. Why, Sophie could not begin to imagine, but that was hardly the issue at this point. The fact remained that Bezu Fache was determined to put Robert Langdon behind bars tonight, at any cost. Sophie needed Langdon for herself, and it was this dilemma that left Sophie only one logical conclusion.
I need to get Langdon to the U.S. Embassy.
Turning toward the window, Sophie gazed through the alarm mesh embedded in the plate glass, down the dizzying forty feet to the pavement below. A leap from this height would leave Langdon with a couple of broken legs. At best.
Nonetheless, Sophie made her decision.
Robert Langdon was about to escape the Louvre, whether he wanted to or not.
“What do you mean she’s not answering?” Fache looked incredulous. “You’re calling her cell phone, right? I know she’s carrying it.”