“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.
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 Maleftcarum—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.
“Arretez!” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Scientiftque. 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 moi,” 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.