“But the Grail seems the only rational conclusion,” she insisted. “We have an extremely secure key, stamped with the Priory of Sion seal, delivered to us by a member of the Priory of Sion—a brotherhood which, you just told me, are guardians of the Holy Grail.”
Langdon knew her contention was logical, and yet intuitively he could not possibly accept it. Rumors existed that the Priory had
vowed someday to bring the Grail back to France to a final resting place, but certainly no historical evidence existed to suggest that this indeed had happened. Even if the Priory had managed to bring the Grail back to France, the address 24 Rue Haxo near a tennis stadium hardly sounded like a noble final resting place. “Sophie, I really don’t see how this key could have anything to do with the Grail.”
“Because the Grail is supposed to be in England?”
“Not only that. The location of the Holy Grail is one of the best kept secrets in history. Priory members wait decades proving themselves trustworthy before being elevated to the highest echelons of the fraternity and learning where the Grail is. That secret is protected by an intricate system of compartmentalized knowledge, and although the Priory brotherhood is very large, only four members at any given time know where the Grail is hidden— the Grand Master and his three sénéchaux. The probability of your grandfather being one of those four top people is very slim.”
My grandfather was one of them, Sophie thought, pressing down on the accelerator. She had an image stamped in her memory that confirmed her grandfather’s status within the brotherhood beyond any doubt.
“And even if your grandfather were in the upper echelon, he would never be allowed to reveal anything to anyone outside the brotherhood. It is inconceivable that he would bring you into the inner circle.”
I’ve already been there, Sophie thought, picturing the ritual in the basement. She wondered if this were the moment to tell Langdon what she had witnessed that night in the Normandy château. For ten years now, simple shame had kept her from telling a soul. Just thinking about it, she shuddered. Sirens howled somewhere in the distance, and she felt a thickening shroud of fatigue settling over her.
“There!” Langdon said, feeling excited to see the huge complex of the Roland Garros tennis stadium looming ahead.
Sophie snaked her way toward the stadium. After several passes, they located the intersection of Rue Haxo and turned onto it, driving
in the direction of the lower numbers. The road became more industrial, lined with businesses.
We need number twenty-four, Langdon told himself, realizing he was secretly scanning the horizon for the spires of a church. Don’t be ridiculous. A forgotten Templar church in this neighborhood?
“There it is,” Sophie exclaimed, pointing. Langdon’s eyes followed to the structure ahead. What in the world?
The building was modern. A squat citadel with a giant, neon equal-armed cross emblazoned atop its facade. Beneath the cross were the words:
DEPOSITORY BANK OF ZURICH
Langdon was thankful not to have shared his Templar church hopes with Sophie. A career hazard of symbologists was a tendency to extract hidden meaning from situations that had none. In this case, Langdon had entirely forgotten that the peaceful, equal-armed cross had been adopted as the perfect symbol for the flag of neutral Switzerland.
At least the mystery was solved.
Sophie and Langdon were holding the key to a Swiss bank deposit box.
Outside Castel Gandolfo, an updraft of mountain air gushed over the top of the cliff and across the high bluff, sending a chill through Bishop Aringarosa as he stepped from the Fiat. I should have worn more than this cassock, he thought, fighting the reflex to shiver. The last thing he needed to appear tonight was weak or fearful.
The castle was dark save the windows at the very top of the building, which glowed ominously. The library, Aringarosa thought. They are awake and waiting. He ducked his head against the wind and continued on without so much as a glance toward the observatory domes.
The priest who greeted him at the door looked sleepy. He was the same priest who had greeted Aringarosa five months ago, albeit tonight he did so with much less hospitality. “We were worried about you, Bishop,” the priest said, checking his watch and looking more perturbed than worried.
“My apologies. Airlines are so unreliable these days.”
The priest mumbled something inaudible and then said, “They are waiting upstairs. I will escort you up.”
The library was a vast square room with dark wood from floor to ceiling. On all sides, towering bookcases burgeoned with volumes. The floor was amber marble with black basalt trim, a handsome reminder that this building had once been a palace.
“Welcome, Bishop,” a man’s voice said from across the room.
Aringarosa tried to see who had spoken, but the lights were ridiculously low—much lower than they had been on his first visit, when everything was ablaze. The night of stark awakening. Tonight, these men sat in the shadows, as if they were somehow ashamed of what was about to transpire.
Aringarosa entered slowly, regally even. He could see the shapes of three men at a long table on the far side of the room. The silhouette of the man in the middle was immediately recognizable—
the obese Secretariat Vaticana, overlord of all legal matters within Vatican City. The other two were high-ranking Italian cardinals.
Aringarosa crossed the library toward them. “My humble apologies for the hour. We’re on different time zones. You must be tired.”
“Not at all,” the secretariat said, his hands folded on his enormous belly. “We are grateful you have come so far. The least we can do is be awake to meet you. Can we offer you some coffee or refreshments?”
“I’d prefer we don’t pretend this is a social visit. I have another plane to catch. Shall we get to business?”
“Of course,” the secretariat said. “You have acted more quickly than we imagined.”
“You still have a month.”
“You made your concerns known five months ago,” Aringarosa said. “Why should I wait?”
“Indeed. We are very pleased with your expediency.”
Aringarosa’s eyes traveled the length of the long table to a large black briefcase. “Is that what I requested?”
“It is.” The secretariat sounded uneasy. “Although, I must admit, we are concerned with the request. It seems quite …”
“Dangerous,” one of the cardinals finished. “Are you certain we cannot wire it to you somewhere? The sum is exorbitant.”
Freedom is expensive. “I have no concerns for my own safety. God is with me.”
The men actually looked doubtful. “The funds are exactly as I requested?”
The secretariat nodded. “Large-denomination bearer bonds drawn on the Vatican Bank. Negotiable as cash anywhere in the world.”
Aringarosa walked to the end of the table and opened the briefcase. Inside were two thick stacks of bonds, each embossed with the Vatican seal and the title PORTATORE, making the bonds redeemable to whoever was holding them.
The secretariat looked tense. “I must say, Bishop, all of us would feel less apprehensive if these funds were in cash.”
I could not lift that much cash, Aringarosa thought, closing the case. “Bonds are negotiable as cash. You said so yourself.”
The cardinals exchanged uneasy looks, and finally one said, “Yes, but these bonds are traceable directly to the Vatican Bank.”
Aringarosa smiled inwardly. That was precisely the reason the Teacher suggested Aringarosa get the money in Vatican Bank bonds. It served as insurance. We are all in this together now. “This is a perfectly legal transaction,” Aringarosa defended. “Opus Dei is a personal prelature of Vatican City, and His Holiness can disperse monies however he sees fit. No law has been broken here.”
“True, and yet …” The secretariat leaned forward and his chair creaked under the burden. “We have no knowledge of what you intend to do with these funds, and if it is in any way illegal …”
“Considering what you are asking of me,” Aringarosa countered, “what I do with this money is not your concern.”
There was a long silence.
They know I’m right, Aringarosa thought. “Now, I imagine you have something for me to sign?”
They all jumped, eagerly pushing the paper toward him, as if they wished he would simply leave.
Aringarosa eyed the sheet before him. It bore the papal seal. “This is identical to the copy you sent me?”
Aringarosa was surprised how little emotion he felt as he signed the document. The three men present, however, seemed to sigh in relief.
“Thank you, Bishop,” the secretariat said. “Your service to the Church will never be forgotten.”
Aringarosa picked up the briefcase, sensing promise and authority in its weight. The four men looked at one another for a moment as if there were something more to say, but apparently there was not. Aringarosa turned and headed for the door.
“Bishop?” one of the cardinals called out as Aringarosa reached the threshold.
Aringarosa paused, turning. “Yes?” “Where will you go from here?”
Aringarosa sensed the query was more spiritual than geographical, and yet he had no intention of discussing morality at this hour. “Paris,” he said, and walked out the door.
The Depository Bank of Zurich was a twenty-four-hour Geldschrank bank offering the full modern array of anonymous services in the tradition of the Swiss numbered account. Maintaining offices in Zurich, Kuala Lumpur, New York, and Paris, the bank had expanded its services in recent years to offer anonymous computer source code escrow services and faceless digitized backup.
The bread and butter of its operation was by far its oldest and simplest offering—the anonyme Lager—blind drop services, otherwise known as anonymous safe-deposit boxes. Clients wishing to store anything from stock certificates to valuable paintings could deposit their belongings anonymously, through a series of high-tech veils of privacy, withdrawing items at any time, also in total anonymity.
As Sophie pulled the taxi to a stop in front of their destination, Langdon gazed out at the building’s uncompromising architecture and sensed the Depository Bank of Zurich was a firm with little sense of humor. The building was a windowless rectangle that seemed to be forged entirely of dull steel. Resembling an enormous metal brick, the edifice sat back from the road with a fifteen-foot- tall, neon, equilateral cross glowing over its facade.
Switzerland’s reputation for secrecy in banking had become one of the country’s most lucrative exports. Facilities like this had become controversial in the art community because they provided a perfect place for art thieves to hide stolen goods, for years if necessary, until the heat was off. Because deposits were protected from police inspection by privacy laws and were attached to numbered accounts rather than people’s names, thieves could rest easily knowing their stolen goods were safe and could never be traced to them.
Sophie stopped the taxi at an imposing gate that blocked the bank’s driveway—a cement-lined ramp that descended beneath the building. A video camera overhead was aimed directly at them, and
Langdon had the feeling that this camera, unlike those at the Louvre, was authentic.
Sophie rolled down the window and surveyed the electronic podium on the driver’s side. An LCD screen provided directions in seven languages. Topping the list was English.
Sophie took the gold laser-pocked key from her pocket and turned her attention back to the podium. Below the screen was a triangular hole.
“Something tells me it will fit,” Langdon said.
Sophie aligned the key’s triangular shaft with the hole and inserted it, sliding it in until the entire shaft had disappeared. This key apparently required no turning. Instantly, the gate began to swing open. Sophie took her foot off the brake and coasted down to a second gate and podium. Behind her, the first gate closed, trapping them like a ship in a lock.
Langdon disliked the constricted sensation. Let’s hope this second gate works too.
This second podium bore familiar directions.
When Sophie inserted the key, the second gate immediately opened. Moments later they were winding down the ramp into the belly of the structure.
The private garage was small and dim, with spaces for about a dozen cars. At the far end, Langdon spied the building’s main entrance. A red carpet stretched across the cement floor, welcoming visitors to a huge door that appeared to be forged of solid metal.
Talk about mixed messages, Langdon thought. Welcome and keep out.
Sophie pulled the taxi into a parking space near the entrance and killed the engine. “You’d better leave the gun here.”
With pleasure, Langdon thought, sliding the pistol under the seat.
Sophie and Langdon got out and walked up the red carpet toward the slab of steel. The door had no handle, but on the wall beside it
was another triangular keyhole. No directions were posted this time. “Keeps out the slow learners,” Langdon said.
Sophie laughed, looking nervous. “Here we go.” She stuck the key in the hole, and the door swung inward with a low hum. Exchanging glances, Sophie and Langdon entered. The door shut with a thud behind them.
The foyer of the Depository Bank of Zurich employed as imposing a decor as any Langdon had ever seen. Where most banks were content with the usual polished marble and granite, this one had opted for wall-to-wall metal and rivets.
Who’s their decorator? Langdon wondered. Allied Steel?
Sophie looked equally intimidated as her eyes scanned the lobby. The gray metal was everywhere—the floor, walls, counters, doors,
even the lobby chairs appeared to be fashioned of molded iron. Nonetheless, the effect was impressive. The message was clear: You are walking into a vault.
A large man behind the counter glanced up as they entered. He turned off the small television he was watching and greeted them with a pleasant smile. Despite his enormous muscles and visible sidearm, his diction chimed with the polished courtesy of a Swiss bellhop.
“Bonsoir,” he said. “How may I help you?”
The dual-language greeting was the newest hospitality trick of the European host. It presumed nothing and opened the door for the guest to reply in whichever language was more comfortable.
Sophie replied with neither. She simply laid the gold key on the counter in front of the man.
The man glanced down and immediately stood straighter. “Of course. Your elevator is at the end of the hall. I will alert someone that you are on your way.”
Sophie nodded and took her key back. “Which floor?”
The man gave her an odd look. “Your key instructs the elevator which floor.”
She smiled. “Ah, yes.”
The guard watched as the two newcomers made their way to the elevators, inserted their key, boarded the lift, and disappeared. As soon as the door had closed, he grabbed the phone. He was not calling to alert anyone of their arrival; there was no need for that. A vault greeter already had been alerted automatically when the client’s key was inserted outside in the entry gate.