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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 ftne, 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.
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:
“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 café, 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.”
“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.”
“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.
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!