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 SmartCar 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 ftnal 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 Hôtel 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.