Out the right-hand window, south across the Seine and Quai Voltaire, Langdon could see the dramatically lit facade of the old train station—now the esteemed Musée d’Orsay. Glancing left, he could make out the top of the ultramodern Pompidou Center, which housed the Museum of Modern Art. Behind him to the west, Langdon knew the ancient obelisk of Ramses rose above the trees, marking the Musée du Jeu de Paume.
But it was straight ahead, to the east, through the archway, that Langdon could now see the monolithic Renaissance palace that had become the most famous art museum in the world.
Musée du Louvre.
Langdon felt a familiar tinge of wonder as his eyes made a futile attempt to absorb the entire mass of the edifice. Across a staggeringly expansive plaza, the imposing facade of the Louvre rose like a citadel against the Paris sky. Shaped like an enormous horseshoe, the Louvre was the longest building in Europe, stretching farther than three Eiffel Towers laid end to end. Not even the million square feet of open plaza between the museum wings could challenge the majesty of the facade’s breadth. Langdon had once walked the Louvre’s entire perimeter, an astonishing three-mile journey.
Despite the estimated five days it would take a visitor to properly appreciate the 65,300 pieces of art in this building, most tourists chose an abbreviated experience Langdon referred to as “Louvre Lite”—a full sprint through the museum to see the three most famous objects: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory. Art Buchwald had once boasted he’d seen all three masterpieces in five minutes and fifty-six seconds.
The driver pulled out a handheld walkie-talkie and spoke in rapid- fire French. “Monsieur Langdon est arrivé. Deux minutes.”
An indecipherable confirmation came crackling back.
The agent stowed the device, turning now to Langdon. “You will meet the capitaine at the main entrance.”
The driver ignored the signs prohibiting auto traffic on the plaza, revved the engine, and gunned the Citroën up over the curb. The Louvre’s main entrance was visible now, rising boldly in the distance, encircled by seven triangular pools from which spouted illuminated fountains.
The new entrance to the Paris Louvre had become almost as famous as the museum itself. The controversial, neomodern glass pyramid designed by Chinese-born American architect I. M. Pei still evoked scorn from traditionalists who felt it destroyed the dignity of the Renaissance courtyard. Goethe had described architecture as frozen music, and Pei’s critics described this pyramid as fingernails on a chalkboard. Progressive admirers, though, hailed Pei’s seventy-
one-foot-tall transparent pyramid as a dazzling synergy of ancient structure and modern method—a symbolic link between the old and new—helping usher the Louvre into the next millennium.
“Do you like our pyramid?” the agent asked.
Langdon frowned. The French, it seemed, loved to ask Americans this. It was a loaded question, of course. Admitting you liked the pyramid made you a tasteless American, and expressing dislike was an insult to the French.
“Mitterrand was a bold man,” Langdon replied, splitting the difference. The late French president who had commissioned the pyramid was said to have suffered from a “Pharaoh complex.” Singlehandedly responsible for filling Paris with Egyptian obelisks, art, and artifacts, François Mitterrand had an affinity for Egyptian culture that was so all-consuming that the French still referred to him as the Sphinx.
“What is the captain’s name?” Langdon asked, changing topics. “Bezu Fache,” the driver said, approaching the pyramid’s main
entrance. “We call him le Taureau.”
Langdon glanced over at him, wondering if every Frenchman had a mysterious animal epithet. “You call your captain the Bull?”
The man arched his eyebrows. “Your French is better than you admit, Monsieur Langdon.”
My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my zodiac iconography is pretty good. Taurus was always the bull. Astrology was a symbolic constant all over the world.
The agent pulled the car to a stop and pointed between two fountains to a large door in the side of the pyramid. “There is the entrance. Good luck, monsieur.”
“You’re not coming?”
“My orders are to leave you here. I have other business to attend to.”
Langdon heaved a sigh and climbed out. It’s your circus. The agent revved his engine and sped off.
As Langdon stood alone and watched the departing taillights, he realized he could easily reconsider, exit the courtyard, grab a taxi,
and head home to bed. Something told him it was probably a lousy idea.
As he moved toward the mist of the fountains, Langdon had the uneasy sense he was crossing an imaginary threshold into another world. The dreamlike quality of the evening was settling around him again. Twenty minutes ago he had been asleep in his hotel room. Now he was standing in front of a transparent pyramid built by the Sphinx, waiting for a policeman they called the Bull.
I’m trapped in a Salvador Dalí painting, he thought.
Langdon strode to the main entrance—an enormous revolving door. The foyer beyond was dimly lit and deserted.
Do I knock?
Langdon wondered if any of Harvard’s revered Egyptologists had ever knocked on the front door of a pyramid and expected an answer. He raised his hand to bang on the glass, but out of the darkness below, a figure appeared, striding up the curving staircase. The man was stocky and dark, almost Neanderthal, dressed in a dark double-breasted suit that strained to cover his wide shoulders. He advanced with unmistakable authority on squat, powerful legs. He was speaking on his cell phone but finished the call as he arrived. He motioned for Langdon to enter.
“I am Bezu Fache,” he announced as Langdon pushed through the revolving door. “Captain of the Central Directorate Judicial Police.” His tone was fitting—a guttural rumble … like a gathering storm.
Langdon held out his hand to shake. “Robert Langdon.”
Fache’s enormous palm wrapped around Langdon’s with crushing force.
“I saw the photo,” Langdon said. “Your agent said Jacques Saunière himself did—”
“Mr. Langdon,” Fache’s ebony eyes locked on. “What you see in the photo is only the beginning of what Saunière did.”
Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.
Langdon followed the captain down the famous marble staircase into the sunken atrium beneath the glass pyramid. As they descended, they passed between two armed Judicial Police guards with machine guns. The message was clear: Nobody goes in or out tonight without the blessing of Captain Fache.
Descending below ground level, Langdon fought a rising trepidation. Fache’s presence was anything but welcoming, and the Louvre itself had an almost sepulchral aura at this hour. The staircase, like the aisle of a dark movie theater, was illuminated by subtle tread-lighting embedded in each step. Langdon could hear his own footsteps reverberating off the glass overhead. As he glanced up, he could see the faint illuminated wisps of mist from the fountains fading away outside the transparent roof.
“Do you approve?” Fache asked, nodding upward with his broad chin.
Langdon sighed, too tired to play games. “Yes, your pyramid is magnificent.”
Fache grunted. “A scar on the face of Paris.”
Strike one. Langdon sensed his host was a hard man to please. He wondered if Fache had any idea that this pyramid, at President Mitterrand’s explicit demand, had been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass—a bizarre request that had always been a hot topic among conspiracy buffs who claimed 666 was the number of Satan.
Langdon decided not to bring it up.
As they dropped farther into the subterranean foyer, the yawning space slowly emerged from the shadows. Built fifty-seven feet beneath ground level, the Louvre’s newly constructed 70,000- square-foot lobby spread out like an endless grotto. Constructed in warm ocher marble to be compatible with the honey-colored stone of the Louvre facade above, the subterranean hall was usually vibrant with sunlight and tourists. Tonight, however, the lobby was barren and dark, giving the entire space a cold and crypt-like atmosphere.
“And the museum’s regular security staff?” Langdon asked.
“En quarantaine,” Fache replied, sounding as if Langdon were questioning the integrity of Fache’s team. “Obviously, someone gained entry tonight who should not have. All Louvre night wardens are in the Sully Wing being questioned. My own agents have taken over museum security for the evening.”
Langdon nodded, moving quickly to keep pace with Fache. “How well did you know Jacques Saunière?” the captain asked. “Actually, not at all. We’d never met.”
Fache looked surprised. “Your first meeting was to be tonight?” “Yes. We’d planned to meet at the American University reception
following my lecture, but he never showed up.”
Fache scribbled some notes in a little book. As they walked, Langdon caught a glimpse of the Louvre’s lesser-known pyramid— La Pyramide Inversée—a huge inverted skylight that hung from the ceiling like a stalactite in an adjoining section of the entresol. Fache guided Langdon up a short set of stairs to the mouth of an arched tunnel, over which a sign read: DENON. The Denon Wing was the most famous of the Louvre’s three main sections.
“Who requested tonight’s meeting?” Fache asked suddenly. “You or he?”
The question seemed odd. “Mr. Saunière did,” Langdon replied as they entered the tunnel. “His secretary contacted me a few weeks ago via e-mail. She said the curator had heard I would be lecturing in Paris this month and wanted to discuss something with me while I was here.”
“I don’t know. Art, I imagine. We share similar interests.”
Fache looked skeptical. “You have no idea what your meeting was about?”
Langdon did not. He’d been curious at the time but had not felt comfortable demanding specifics. The venerated Jacques Saunière had a renowned penchant for privacy and granted very few meetings; Langdon was grateful simply for the opportunity to meet him.
“Mr. Langdon, can you at least guess what our murder victim might have wanted to discuss with you on the night he was killed? It might be helpful.”
The pointedness of the question made Langdon uncomfortable. “I really can’t imagine. I didn’t ask. I felt honored to have been contacted at all. I’m an admirer of Mr. Saunière’s work. I use his texts often in my classes.”
Fache made note of that fact in his book.
The two men were now halfway up the Denon Wing’s entry tunnel, and Langdon could see the twin ascending escalators at the far end, both motionless.
“So you shared interests with him?” Fache asked.
“Yes. In fact, I’ve spent much of the last year writing the draft for a book that deals with Mr. Saunière’s primary area of expertise. I was looking forward to picking his brain.”
Fache glanced up. “Pardon?”
The idiom apparently didn’t translate. “I was looking forward to learning his thoughts on the topic.”
“I see. And what is the topic?”
Langdon hesitated, uncertain exactly how to put it. “Essentially, the manuscript is about the iconography of goddess worship—the concept of female sanctity and the art and symbols associated with it.”
Fache ran a meaty hand across his hair. “And Saunière was knowledgeable about this?”
“Nobody more so.” “I see.”
Langdon sensed Fache did not see at all. Jacques Saunière was considered the premiere goddess iconographer on earth. Not only did Saunière have a personal passion for relics relating to fertility, goddess cults, Wicca, and the sacred feminine, but during his twenty-year tenure as curator, Saunière had helped the Louvre amass the largest collection of goddess art on earth—labrys axes from the priestesses’ oldest Greek shrine in Delphi, gold caducei wands, hundreds of Tjet ankhs resembling small standing angels, sistrum rattles used in ancient Egypt to dispel evil spirits, and an astonishing array of statues depicting Horus being nursed by the goddess Isis.
“Perhaps Jacques Saunière knew of your manuscript?” Fache offered. “And he called the meeting to offer his help on your book.”
Langdon shook his head. “Actually, nobody yet knows about my manuscript. It’s still in draft form, and I haven’t shown it to anyone except my editor.”
Fache fell silent.
Langdon did not add the reason he hadn’t yet shown the manuscript to anyone else. The three-hundred-page draft— tentatively titled Symbols of the Lost Sacred Feminine—proposed some very unconventional interpretations of established religious iconography which would certainly be controversial.
Now, as Langdon approached the stationary escalators, he paused, realizing Fache was no longer beside him. Turning, Langdon saw Fache standing several yards back at a service elevator.
“We’ll take the elevator,” Fache said as the lift doors opened. “As I’m sure you’re aware, the gallery is quite a distance on foot.”
Although Langdon knew the elevator would expedite the long, two-story climb to the Denon Wing, he remained motionless.
“Is something wrong?” Fache was holding the door, looking impatient.
Langdon exhaled, turning a longing glance back up the open-air escalator. Nothing’s wrong at all, he lied to himself, trudging back toward the elevator. As a boy, Langdon had fallen down an abandoned well shaft and almost died treading water in the narrow space for hours before being rescued. Since then, he’d suffered a
haunting phobia of enclosed spaces—elevators, subways, squash courts. The elevator is a perfectly safe machine, Langdon continually told himself, never believing it. It’s a tiny metal box hanging in an enclosed shaft! Holding his breath, he stepped into the lift, feeling the familiar tingle of adrenaline as the doors slid shut.
Two floors. Ten seconds.
“You and Mr. Saunière,” Fache said as the lift began to move, “you never spoke at all? Never corresponded? Never sent each other anything in the mail?”
Another odd question. Langdon shook his head. “No. Never.” Fache cocked his head, as if making a mental note of that fact.
Saying nothing, he stared dead ahead at the chrome doors.
As they ascended, Langdon tried to focus on anything other than the four walls around him. In the reflection of the shiny elevator door, he saw the captain’s tie clip—a silver crucifix with thirteen embedded pieces of black onyx. Langdon found it vaguely surprising. The symbol was known as a crux gemmata—a cross bearing thirteen gems—a Christian ideogram for Christ and His twelve apostles. Somehow Langdon had not expected the captain of the French police to broadcast his religion so openly. Then again, this was France; Christianity was not a religion here so much as a birthright.
“It’s a crux gemmata,” Fache said suddenly.
Startled, Langdon glanced up to find Fache’s eyes on him in the reflection.
The elevator jolted to a stop, and the doors opened.
Langdon stepped quickly out into the hallway, eager for the wide- open space afforded by the famous high ceilings of the Louvre galleries. The world into which he stepped, however, was nothing like he expected.