“Although Professor Langdon might not be considered hunk- handsome like some of our younger awardees, this forty-something academic has more than his share of scholarly allure. His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as ‘chocolate for the ears.’ ”
The hall erupted in laughter.
Langdon forced an awkward smile. He knew what came next— some ridiculous line about “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed”—and because this evening he had figured it was finally safe again to wear his Harris tweed and Burberry turtleneck, he decided to take action.
“Thank you, Monique,” Langdon said, standing prematurely and edging her away from the podium. “Boston Magazine clearly has a gift for fiction.” He turned to the audience with an embarrassed sigh. “And if I find which one of you provided that article, I’ll have the consulate deport you.”
The crowd laughed.
“Well, folks, as you all know, I’m here tonight to talk about the power of symbols …”
The ringing of Langdon’s hotel phone once again broke the silence.
Groaning in disbelief, he picked up. “Yes?”
As expected, it was the concierge. “Mr. Langdon, again my apologies. I am calling to inform you that your guest is now en route to your room. I thought I should alert you.”
Langdon was wide awake now. “You sent someone to my room?” “I apologize, monsieur, but a man like this … I cannot presume
the authority to stop him.” “Who exactly is he?”
But the concierge was gone.
Almost immediately, a heavy fist pounded on Langdon’s door.
Uncertain, Langdon slid off the bed, feeling his toes sink deep into the savonniere carpet. He donned the hotel bathrobe and moved toward the door. “Who is it?”
“Mr. Langdon? I need to speak with you.” The man’s English was accented—a sharp, authoritative bark. “My name is Lieutenant Jérome Collet. Direction Centrale Police Judiciaire.”
Langdon paused. The Judicial Police? The DCPJ was the rough equivalent of the U.S. FBI.
Leaving the security chain in place, Langdon opened the door a few inches. The face staring back at him was thin and washed out. The man was exceptionally lean, dressed in an official-looking blue uniform.
“May I come in?” the agent asked.
Langdon hesitated, feeling uncertain as the stranger’s sallow eyes studied him. “What is this all about?”
“My capitaine requires your expertise in a private matter.” “Now?” Langdon managed. “It’s after midnight.”
“Am I correct that you were scheduled to meet with the curator of the Louvre this evening?”
Langdon felt a sudden surge of uneasiness. He and the revered curator Jacques Saunière had been slated to meet for drinks after
Langdon’s lecture tonight, but Saunière had never shown up. “Yes. How did you know that?”
“We found your name in his daily planner.” “I trust nothing is wrong?”
The agent gave a dire sigh and slid a Polaroid snapshot through the narrow opening in the door.
When Langdon saw the photo, his entire body went rigid.
“This photo was taken less than an hour ago. Inside the Louvre.”
As Langdon stared at the bizarre image, his initial revulsion and shock gave way to a sudden upwelling of anger. “Who would do this!”
“We had hoped that you might help us answer that very question, considering your knowledge in symbology and your plans to meet with him.”
Langdon stared at the picture, his horror now laced with fear. The image was gruesome and profoundly strange, bringing with it an unsettling sense of déjà vu. A little over a year ago, Langdon had received a photograph of a corpse and a similar request for help. Twenty-four hours later, he had almost lost his life inside Vatican City. This photo was entirely different, and yet something about the scenario felt disquietingly familiar.
The agent checked his watch. “My capitaine is waiting, sir.”
Langdon barely heard him. His eyes were still riveted on the picture. “This symbol here, and the way his body is so oddly …”
“Positioned?” the agent offered.
Langdon nodded, feeling a chill as he looked up. “I can’t imagine who would do this to someone.”
The agent looked grim. “You don’t understand, Mr. Langdon. What you see in this photograph …” He paused. “Monsieur Saunière did that to himself.”
One mile away, the hulking albino named Silas limped through the front gate of the luxurious brownstone residence on Rue La Bruyère. The spiked cilice belt that he wore around his thigh cut into his flesh, and yet his soul sang with satisfaction of service to the Lord.
Pain is good.
His red eyes scanned the lobby as he entered the residence. Empty. He climbed the stairs quietly, not wanting to awaken any of his fellow numeraries. His bedroom door was open; locks were forbidden here. He entered, closing the door behind him.
The room was spartan—hardwood floors, a pine dresser, a canvas mat in the corner that served as his bed. He was a visitor here this week, and yet for many years he had been blessed with a similar sanctuary in New York City.
The Lord has provided me shelter and purpose in my life.
Tonight, at last, Silas felt he had begun to repay his debt. Hurrying to the dresser, he found the cell phone hidden in his bottom drawer and placed a call.
“Yes?” a male voice answered. “Teacher, I have returned.”
“Speak,” the voice commanded, sounding pleased to hear from him.
“All four are gone. The three sénéchaux … and the Grand Master
There was a momentary pause, as if for prayer. “Then I assume you have the information?”
“All four concurred. Independently.” “And you believed them?”
“Their agreement was too great for coincidence.”
An excited breath. “Excellent. I had feared the brotherhood’s reputation for secrecy might prevail.”
“The prospect of death is strong motivation.” “So, my pupil, tell me what I must know.”
Silas knew the information he had gleaned from his victims would come as a shock. “Teacher, all four confirmed the existence of the clef de voûte … the legendary keystone.”
He heard a quick intake of breath over the phone and could feel the Teacher’s excitement. “The keystone. Exactly as we suspected.”
According to lore, the brotherhood had created a map of stone—a clef de voûte … or keystone—an engraved tablet that revealed the final resting place of the brotherhood’s greatest secret … information so powerful that its protection was the reason for the brotherhood’s very existence.
“When we possess the keystone,” the Teacher said, “we will be only one step away.”
“We are closer than you think. The keystone is here in Paris.” “Paris? Incredible. It is almost too easy.”
Silas relayed the earlier events of the evening … how all four of his victims, moments before death, had desperately tried to buy back their godless lives by telling their secret. Each had told Silas the exact same thing—that the keystone was ingeniously hidden at a precise location inside one of Paris’s ancient churches—the Eglise de Saint-Sulpice.
“Inside a house of the Lord,” the Teacher exclaimed. “How they mock us!”
“As they have for centuries.”
The Teacher fell silent, as if letting the triumph of this moment settle over him. Finally, he spoke. “You have done a great service to God. We have waited centuries for this. You must retrieve the stone for me. Immediately. Tonight. You understand the stakes.”
Silas knew the stakes were incalculable, and yet what the Teacher was now commanding seemed impossible. “But the church, it is a fortress. Especially at night. How will I enter?”
With the confident tone of a man of enormous influence, the Teacher explained what was to be done.
When Silas hung up the phone, his skin tingled with anticipation.
One hour, he told himself, grateful that the Teacher had given him time to carry out the necessary penance before entering a house of God. I must purge my soul of today’s sins. The sins committed today had been holy in purpose. Acts of war against the enemies of God had been committed for centuries. Forgiveness was assured.
Even so, Silas knew, absolution required sacrifice.
Pulling his shades, he stripped naked and knelt in the center of his room. Looking down, he examined the spiked cilice belt clamped around his thigh. All true followers of The Way wore this device—a leather strap, studded with sharp metal barbs that cut into the flesh as a perpetual reminder of Christ’s suffering. The pain caused by the device also helped counteract the desires of the flesh.
Although Silas already had worn his cilice today longer than the requisite two hours, he knew today was no ordinary day. Grasping the buckle, he cinched it one notch tighter, wincing as the barbs dug deeper into his flesh. Exhaling slowly, he savored the cleansing ritual of his pain.
Pain is good, Silas whispered, repeating the sacred mantra of Father Josemaría Escrivá—the Teacher of all Teachers. Although Escrivá had died in 1975, his wisdom lived on, his words still whispered by thousands of faithful servants around the globe as they knelt on the floor and performed the sacred practice known as “corporal mortification.”
Silas turned his attention now to a heavy knotted rope coiled neatly on the floor beside him. The Discipline. The knots were caked with dried blood. Eager for the purifying effects of his own agony, Silas said a quick prayer. Then, gripping one end of the rope, he closed his eyes and swung it hard over his shoulder, feeling the knots slap against his back. He whipped it over his shoulder again, slashing at his flesh. Again and again, he lashed.
Castigo corpus meum.
Finally, he felt the blood begin to flow.
The crisp April air whipped through the open window of the Citroën ZX as it skimmed south past the Opera House and crossed Place Vendôme. In the passenger seat, Robert Langdon felt the city tear past him as he tried to clear his thoughts. His quick shower and shave had left him looking reasonably presentable but had done little to ease his anxiety. The frightening image of the curator’s body remained locked in his mind.
Jacques Saunière is dead.
Langdon could not help but feel a deep sense of loss at the curator’s death. Despite Saunière’s reputation for being reclusive, his recognition for dedication to the arts made him an easy man to revere. His books on the secret codes hidden in the paintings of Poussin and Teniers were some of Langdon’s favorite classroom texts. Tonight’s meeting had been one Langdon was very much looking forward to, and he was disappointed when the curator had not shown.
Again the image of the curator’s body flashed in his mind. Jacques Saunière did that to himself? Langdon turned and looked out the window, forcing the picture from his mind.
Outside, the city was just now winding down—street vendors wheeling carts of candied amandes, waiters carrying bags of garbage to the curb, a pair of late night lovers cuddling to stay warm in a breeze scented with jasmine blossom. The Citroën navigated the chaos with authority, its dissonant two-tone siren parting the traffic like a knife.
“Le capitaine was pleased to discover you were still in Paris tonight,” the agent said, speaking for the first time since they’d left the hotel. “A fortunate coincidence.”
Langdon was feeling anything but fortunate, and coincidence was a concept he did not entirely trust. As someone who had spent his life exploring the hidden interconnectivity of disparate emblems and ideologies, Langdon viewed the world as a web of profoundly
intertwined histories and events. The connections may be invisible, he often preached to his symbology classes at Harvard, but they are always there, buried just beneath the surface.
“I assume,” Langdon said, “that the American University of Paris told you where I was staying?”
The driver shook his head. “Interpol.”
Interpol, Langdon thought. Of course. He had forgotten that the seemingly innocuous request of all European hotels to see a passport at check-in was more than a quaint formality—it was the law. On any given night, all across Europe, Interpol officials could pinpoint exactly who was sleeping where. Finding Langdon at the Ritz had probably taken all of five seconds.
As the Citroën accelerated southward across the city, the illuminated profile of the Eiffel Tower appeared, shooting skyward in the distance to the right. Seeing it, Langdon thought of Vittoria, recalling their playful promise a year ago that every six months they would meet again at a different romantic spot on the globe. The Eiffel Tower, Langdon suspected, would have made their list. Sadly, he last kissed Vittoria in a noisy airport in Rome more than a year ago.
“Did you mount her?” the agent asked, looking over.
Langdon glanced up, certain he had misunderstood. “I beg your pardon?”
“She is lovely, no?” The agent motioned through the windshield toward the Eiffel Tower. “Have you mounted her?”
Langdon rolled his eyes. “No, I haven’t climbed the tower.” “She is the symbol of France. I think she is perfect.”
Langdon nodded absently. Symbologists often remarked that France—a country renowned for machismo, womanizing, and diminutive insecure leaders like Napoleon and Pepin the Short— could not have chosen a more apt national emblem than a thousand- foot phallus.
When they reached the intersection at Rue de Rivoli, the traffic light was red, but the Citroën didn’t slow. The agent gunned the sedan across the junction and sped onto a wooded section of Rue Castiglione, which served as the northern entrance to the famed
Tuileries Gardens—Paris’s own version of Central Park. Most tourists mistranslated Jardins des Tuileries as relating to the thousands of tulips that bloomed here, but Tuileries was actually a literal reference to something far less romantic. This park had once been an enormous, polluted excavation pit from which Parisian contractors mined clay to manufacture the city’s famous red roofing tiles—or tuiles.
As they entered the deserted park, the agent reached under the dash and turned off the blaring siren. Langdon exhaled, savoring the sudden quiet. Outside the car, the pale wash of halogen headlights skimmed over the crushed gravel parkway, the rugged whir of the tires intoning a hypnotic rhythm. Langdon had always considered the Tuileries to be sacred ground. These were the gardens in which Claude Monet had experimented with form and color, and literally inspired the birth of the Impressionist movement. Tonight, however, this place held a strange aura of foreboding.
The Citroën swerved left now, angling west down the park’s central boulevard. Curling around a circular pond, the driver cut across a desolate avenue out into a wide quadrangle beyond. Langdon could now see the end of the Tuileries Gardens, marked by a giant stone archway.
Arc du Carrousel.
Despite the orgiastic rituals once held at the Arc du Carrousel, art aficionados revered this place for another reason entirely. From the esplanade at the end of the Tuileries, four of the finest art museums in the world could be seen … one at each point of the compass.