Collet had been trying to reach Sophie now for several minutes. “Maybe her batteries are dead. Or her ringer’s off.”
Fache had looked distressed ever since talking to the director of Cryptology on the phone. After hanging up, he had marched over to Collet and demanded he get Agent Neveu on the line. Now Collet had failed, and Fache was pacing like a caged lion.
“Why did Crypto call?” Collet now ventured.
Fache turned. “To tell us they found no references to Draconian devils and lame saints.”
“No, also to tell us that they had just identified the numerics as Fibonacci numbers, but they suspected the series was meaningless.”
Collet was confused. “But they already sent Agent Neveu to tell us that.”
Fache shook his head. “They didn’t send Neveu.” “What?”
“According to the director, at my orders he paged his entire team to look at the images I’d wired him. When Agent Neveu arrived, she took one look at the photos of Saunière and the code and left the office without a word. The director said he didn’t question her behavior because she was understandably upset by the photos.”
“Upset? She’s never seen a picture of a dead body?”
Fache was silent a moment. “I was not aware of this, and it seems neither was the director until a coworker informed him, but apparently Sophie Neveu is Jacques Saunière’s granddaughter.”
Collet was speechless.
“The director said she never once mentioned Saunière to him, and he assumed it was because she probably didn’t want preferential treatment for having a famous grandfather.”
No wonder she was upset by the pictures. Collet could barely conceive of the unfortunate coincidence that called in a young woman to decipher a code written by a dead family member. Still, her actions made no sense. “But she obviously recognized the numbers as Fibonacci numbers because she came here and told us. I don’t understand why she would leave the office without telling anyone she had figured it out.”
Collet could think of only one scenario to explain the troubling developments: Saunière had written a numeric code on the floor in hopes Fache would involve cryptographers in the investigation, and therefore involve his own granddaughter. As for the rest of the message, was Saunière communicating in some way with his granddaughter? If so, what did the message tell her? And how did Langdon fit in?
Before Collet could ponder it any further, the silence of the deserted museum was shattered by an alarm. The bell sounded like it was coming from inside the Grand Gallery.
“Alarme!” one of the agents yelled, eyeing his feed from the Louvre security center. “Grande Galerie! Toilettes Messieurs!”
Fache wheeled to Collet. “Where’s Langdon?”
“Still in the men’s room!” Collet pointed to the blinking red dot on his laptop schematic. “He must have broken the window!” Collet knew Langdon wouldn’t get far. Although Paris fire codes required windows above fifteen meters in public buildings be breakable in case of fire, exiting a Louvre second-story window without the help of a hook and ladder would be suicide. Furthermore, there were no trees or grass on the western end of the Denon Wing to cushion a fall. Directly beneath that rest room window, the two-lane Place du Carrousel ran within a few feet of the outer wall. “My God,” Collet exclaimed, eyeing the screen. “Langdon’s moving to the window ledge!”
But Fache was already in motion. Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office.
Collet watched the screen in bewilderment as the blinking dot arrived at the window ledge and then did something utterly
unexpected. The dot moved outside the perimeter of the building.
What’s going on? he wondered. Is Langdon out on a ledge or— “Jesu!” Collet jumped to his feet as the dot shot farther outside the
wall. The signal seemed to shudder for a moment, and then the blinking dot came to an abrupt stop about ten yards outside the perimeter of the building.
Fumbling with the controls, Collet called up a Paris street map and recalibrated the GPS. Zooming in, he could now see the exact location of the signal.
It was no longer moving.
It lay at a dead stop in the middle of Place du Carrousel. Langdon had jumped.
Fache sprinted down the Grand Gallery as Collet’s radio blared over the distant sound of the alarm.
“He jumped!” Collet was yelling. “I’m showing the signal out on Place du Carrousel! Outside the bathroom window! And it’s not moving at all! Jesus, I think Langdon has just committed suicide!”
Fache heard the words, but they made no sense. He kept running. The hallway seemed never-ending. As he sprinted past Saunière’s body, he set his sights on the partitions at the far end of the Denon Wing. The alarm was getting louder now.
“Wait!” Collet’s voice blared again over the radio. “He’s moving!
My God, he’s alive. Langdon’s moving!”
Fache kept running, cursing the length of the hallway with every step.
“Langdon’s moving faster!” Collet was still yelling on the radio. “He’s running down Carrousel. Wait … he’s picking up speed. He’s moving too fast!”
Arriving at the partitions, Fache snaked his way through them, saw the rest room door, and ran for it.
The walkie-talkie was barely audible now over the alarm. “He must be in a car! I think he’s in a car! I can’t—”
Collet’s words were swallowed by the alarm as Fache finally burst into the men’s room with his gun drawn. Wincing against the piercing shrill, he scanned the area.
The stalls were empty. The bathroom deserted. Fache’s eyes moved immediately to the shattered window at the far end of the room. He ran to the opening and looked over the edge. Langdon was nowhere to be seen. Fache could not imagine anyone risking a stunt like this. Certainly if he had dropped that far, he would be badly injured.
The alarm cut off finally, and Collet’s voice became audible again over the walkie-talkie.
“… moving south … faster … crossing the Seine on Pont du Carrousel!”
Fache turned to his left. The only vehicle on Pont du Carrousel was an enormous twin-bed Trailor delivery truck moving southward away from the Louvre. The truck’s open-air bed was covered with a vinyl tarp, roughly resembling a giant hammock. Fache felt a shiver of apprehension. That truck, only moments ago, had probably been stopped at a red light directly beneath the rest room window.
An insane risk, Fache told himself. Langdon had no way of knowing what the truck was carrying beneath that tarp. What if the truck were carrying steel? Or cement? Or even garbage? A forty-foot leap? It was madness.
“The dot is turning!” Collet called. “He’s turning right on Pont des Saints-Pères!”
Sure enough, the Trailor truck that had crossed the bridge was slowing down and making a right turn onto Pont des Saints-Pères. So be it, Fache thought. Amazed, he watched the truck disappear around the corner. Collet was already radioing the agents outside, pulling them off the Louvre perimeter and sending them to their patrol cars in pursuit, all the while broadcasting the truck’s changing location like some kind of bizarre play-by-play.
It’s over, Fache knew. His men would have the truck surrounded within minutes. Langdon was not going anywhere.
Stowing his weapon, Fache exited the rest room and radioed Collet. “Bring my car around. I want to be there when we make the arrest.”
As Fache jogged back down the length of the Grand Gallery, he wondered if Langdon had even survived the fall.
Not that it mattered.
Langdon ran. Guilty as charged.
Only fifteen yards from the rest room, Langdon and Sophie stood in the darkness of the Grand Gallery, their backs pressed to one of the large partitions that hid the bathrooms from the gallery. They had
barely managed to hide themselves before Fache had darted past them, gun drawn, and disappeared into the bathroom.
The last sixty seconds had been a blur.
Langdon had been standing inside the men’s room refusing to run from a crime he didn’t commit, when Sophie began eyeing the plate- glass window and examining the alarm mesh running through it. Then she peered downward into the street, as if measuring the drop.
“With a little aim, you can get out of here,” she said.
Aim? Uneasy, he peered out the rest room window.
Up the street, an enormous twin-bed eighteen-wheeler was headed for the stoplight beneath the window. Stretched across the truck’s massive cargo bay was a blue vinyl tarp, loosely covering the truck’s load. Langdon hoped Sophie was not thinking what she seemed to be thinking.
“Sophie, there’s no way I’m jump—” “Take out the tracking dot.”
Bewildered, Langdon fumbled in his pocket until he found the tiny metallic disk. Sophie took it from him and strode immediately to the sink. She grabbed a thick bar of soap, placed the tracking dot on top of it, and used her thumb to push the disk down hard into the bar. As the disk sank into the soft surface, she pinched the hole closed, firmly embedding the device in the bar.
Handing the bar to Langdon, Sophie retrieved a heavy, cylindrical trash can from under the sinks. Before Langdon could protest, Sophie ran at the window, holding the can before her like a battering ram. Driving the bottom of the trash can into the center of the window, she shattered the glass.
Alarms erupted overhead at earsplitting decibel levels.
“Give me the soap!” Sophie yelled, barely audible over the alarm. Langdon thrust the bar into her hand.
Palming the soap, she peered out the shattered window at the eighteen-wheeler idling below. The target was plenty big—an expansive, stationary tarp—and it was less than ten feet from the side of the building. As the traffic lights prepared to change, Sophie took a deep breath and lobbed the bar of soap out into the night.
The soap plummeted downward toward the truck, landing on the edge of the tarp, and sliding downward into the cargo bay just as the traffic light turned green.
“Congratulations,” Sophie said, dragging him toward the door. “You just escaped from the Louvre.”
Fleeing the men’s room, they moved into the shadows just as Fache rushed past.
Now, with the fire alarm silenced, Langdon could hear the sounds of DCPJ sirens tearing away from the Louvre. A police exodus. Fache had hurried off as well, leaving the Grand Gallery deserted.
“There’s an emergency stairwell about fifty meters back into the Grand Gallery,” Sophie said. “Now that the guards are leaving the perimeter, we can get out of here.”
Langdon decided not to say another word all evening. Sophie Neveu was clearly a hell of a lot smarter than he was.
The Church of Saint-Sulpice, it is said, has the most eccentric history of any building in Paris. Built over the ruins of an ancient temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis, the church possesses an architectural footprint matching that of Notre Dame to within inches. The sanctuary has played host to the baptisms of the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire, as well as the marriage of Victor Hugo. The attached seminary has a well-documented history of unorthodoxy and was once the clandestine meeting hall for numerous secret societies.
Tonight, the cavernous nave of Saint-Sulpice was as silent as a tomb, the only hint of life the faint smell of incense from mass earlier that evening. Silas sensed an uneasiness in Sister Sandrine’s demeanor as she led him into the sanctuary. He was not surprised by this. Silas was accustomed to people being uncomfortable with his appearance.
“You’re an American,” she said.
“French by birth,” Silas responded. “I had my calling in Spain, and I now study in the United States.”
Sister Sandrine nodded. She was a small woman with quiet eyes. “And you have never seen Saint-Sulpice?”
“I realize this is almost a sin in itself.” “She is more beautiful by day.”
“I am certain. Nonetheless, I am grateful that you would provide me this opportunity tonight.”
“The abbé requested it. You obviously have powerful friends.”
You have no idea, Silas thought.
As he followed Sister Sandrine down the main aisle, Silas was surprised by the austerity of the sanctuary. Unlike Notre Dame with its colorful frescoes, gilded altar-work, and warm wood, Saint- Sulpice was stark and cold, conveying an almost barren quality reminiscent of the ascetic cathedrals of Spain. The lack of decor made the interior look even more expansive, and as Silas gazed up
into the soaring ribbed vault of the ceiling, he imagined he was standing beneath the hull of an enormous overturned ship.
A fttting image, he thought. The brotherhood’s ship was about to be capsized forever. Feeling eager to get to work, Silas wished Sister Sandrine would leave him. She was a small woman whom Silas could incapacitate easily, but he had vowed not to use force unless absolutely necessary. She is a woman of the cloth, and it is not her fault the brotherhood chose her church as a hiding place for their keystone. She should not be punished for the sins of others.
“I am embarrassed, Sister, that you were awoken on my behalf.” “Not at all. You are in Paris a short time. You should not miss
Saint-Sulpice. Are your interests in the church more architectural or historical?”
“Actually, Sister, my interests are spiritual.”
She gave a pleasant laugh. “That goes without saying. I simply wondered where to begin your tour.”
Silas felt his eyes focus on the altar. “A tour is unnecessary. You have been more than kind. I can show myself around.”
“It is no trouble,” she said. “After all, I am awake.”
Silas stopped walking. They had reached the front pew now, and the altar was only fifteen yards away. He turned his massive body fully toward the small woman, and he could sense her recoil as she gazed up into his red eyes. “If it does not seem too rude, Sister, I am not accustomed to simply walking into a house of God and taking a tour. Would you mind if I took some time alone to pray before I look around?”
Sister Sandrine hesitated. “Oh, of course. I shall wait in the rear of the church for you.”
Silas put a soft but heavy hand on her shoulder and peered down. “Sister, I feel guilty already for having awoken you. To ask you to stay awake is too much. Please, you should return to bed. I can enjoy your sanctuary and then let myself out.”
She looked uneasy. “Are you sure you won’t feel abandoned?” “Not at all. Prayer is a solitary joy.”
“As you wish.”
Silas took his hand from her shoulder. “Sleep well, Sister. May the peace of the Lord be with you.”
“And also with you.” Sister Sandrine headed for the stairs. “Please be sure the door closes tightly on your way out.”