…” Abruptly, he pointed the light down at the corpse.
Langdon looked down and jumped back in shock.
His heart pounded as he took in the bizarre sight now glowing before him on the parquet floor. Scrawled in luminescent handwriting, the curator’s final words glowed purple beside his corpse. As Langdon stared at the shimmering text, he felt the fog that had surrounded this entire night growing thicker.
Langdon read the message again and looked up at Fache. “What the hell does this mean!”
Fache’s eyes shone white. “That, monsieur, is precisely the question you are here to answer.”
Not far away, inside Saunière’s office, Lieutenant Collet had returned to the Louvre and was huddled over an audio console set up on the curator’s enormous desk. With the exception of the eerie, robot-like doll of a medieval knight that seemed to be staring at him from the corner of Saunière’s desk, Collet was comfortable. He adjusted his AKG headphones and checked the input levels on the hard-disk recording system. All systems were go. The microphones were functioning flawlessly, and the audio feed was crystal clear.
Le moment de vérité, he mused.
Smiling, he closed his eyes and settled in to enjoy the rest of the conversation now being taped inside the Grand Gallery.
The modest dwelling within the Church of Saint-Sulpice was located on the second floor of the church itself, to the left of the choir balcony. A two-room suite with a stone floor and minimal furnishings, it had been home to Sister Sandrine Bieil for over a decade. The nearby convent was her formal residence, if anyone asked, but she preferred the quiet of the church and had made herself quite comfortable upstairs with a bed, phone, and hot plate.
As the church’s conservatrice d’affaires, Sister Sandrine was responsible for overseeing all nonreligious aspects of church operations—general maintenance, hiring support staff and guides, securing the building after hours, and ordering supplies like communion wine and wafers.
Tonight, asleep in her small bed, she awoke to the shrill of her telephone. Tiredly, she lifted the receiver.
“Soeur Sandrine. Eglise Saint-Sulpice.”
“Hello, Sister,” the man said in French.
Sister Sandrine sat up. What time is it? Although she recognized her boss’s voice, in fifteen years she had never been awoken by him. The abbé was a deeply pious man who went home to bed immediately after mass.
“I apologize if I have awoken you, Sister,” the abbé said, his own voice sounding groggy and on edge. “I have a favor to ask of you. I just received a call from an influential American bishop. Perhaps you know him? Manuel Aringarosa?”
“The head of Opus Dei?” Of course I know of him. Who in the Church doesn’t? Aringarosa’s conservative prelature had grown powerful in recent years. Their ascension to grace was jump-started in 1982 when Pope John Paul II unexpectedly elevated them to a “personal prelature of the Pope,” officially sanctioning all of their practices. Suspiciously, Opus Dei’s elevation occurred the same year the wealthy sect allegedly had transferred almost one billion dollars into the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works—commonly known
as the Vatican Bank—bailing it out of an embarrassing bankruptcy. In a second maneuver that raised eyebrows, the Pope placed the founder of Opus Dei on the “fast track” for sainthood, accelerating an often century-long waiting period for canonization to a mere twenty years. Sister Sandrine could not help but feel that Opus Dei’s good standing in Rome was suspect, but one did not argue with the Holy See.
“Bishop Aringarosa called to ask me a favor,” the abbé told her, his voice nervous. “One of his numeraries is in Paris tonight….”
As Sister Sandrine listened to the odd request, she felt a deepening confusion. “I’m sorry, you say this visiting Opus Dei numerary cannot wait until morning?”
“I’m afraid not. His plane leaves very early. He has always dreamed of seeing Saint-Sulpice.”
“But the church is far more interesting by day. The sun’s rays through the oculus, the graduated shadows on the gnomon, this is what makes Saint-Sulpice unique.”
“Sister, I agree, and yet I would consider it a personal favor if you could let him in tonight. He can be there at … say one o’clock? That’s in twenty minutes.”
Sister Sandrine frowned. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.” The abbé thanked her and hung up.
Puzzled, Sister Sandrine remained a moment in the warmth of her bed, trying to shake off the cobwebs of sleep. Her sixty-year-old body did not awake as fast as it used to, although tonight’s phone call had certainly roused her senses. Opus Dei had always made her uneasy. Beyond the prelature’s adherence to the arcane ritual of corporal mortification, their views on women were medieval at best. She had been shocked to learn that female numeraries were forced to clean the men’s residence halls for no pay while the men were at mass; women slept on hardwood floors, while the men had straw mats; and women were forced to endure additional requirements of corporal mortification … all as added penance for original sin. It seemed Eve’s bite from the apple of knowledge was a debt women were doomed to pay for eternity. Sadly, while most of the Catholic Church was gradually moving in the right direction with respect to
women’s rights, Opus Dei threatened to reverse the progress. Even so, Sister Sandrine had her orders.
Swinging her legs off the bed, she stood slowly, chilled by the cold stone on the soles of her bare feet. As the chill rose through her flesh, she felt an unexpected apprehension.
A follower of God, Sister Sandrine had learned to find peace in the calming voices of her own soul. Tonight, however, those voices were as silent as the empty church around her.
Langdon couldn’t tear his eyes from the glowing purple text scrawled across the parquet floor. Jacques Saunière’s final communication seemed as unlikely a departing message as any Langdon could imagine.
The message read:
O, Draconian devil!
Oh, lame saint!
Although Langdon had not the slightest idea what it meant, he did understand Fache’s instinct that the pentacle had something to do with devil worship.
O, Draconian devil!
Saunière had left a literal reference to the devil. Equally as bizarre was the series of numbers. “Part of it looks like a numeric cipher.”
“Yes,” Fache said. “Our cryptographers are already working on it. We believe these numbers may be the key to who killed him. Maybe a telephone exchange or some kind of social identification. Do the numbers have any symbolic meaning to you?”
Langdon looked again at the digits, sensing it would take him hours to extract any symbolic meaning. If Saunière had even intended any. To Langdon, the numbers looked totally random. He was accustomed to symbolic progressions that made some semblance of sense, but everything here—the pentacle, the text, the numbers— seemed disparate at the most fundamental level.
“You alleged earlier,” Fache said, “that Saunière’s actions here were all in an effort to send some sort of message … goddess worship or something in that vein? How does this message fit in?”
Langdon knew the question was rhetorical. This bizarre communiqué obviously did not fit Langdon’s scenario of goddess worship at all.
O, Draconian devil? Oh, lame saint?
Fache said, “This text appears to be an accusation of some sort.
Wouldn’t you agree?”
Langdon tried to imagine the curator’s final minutes trapped alone in the Grand Gallery, knowing he was about to die. It seemed logical. “An accusation against his murderer makes sense, I suppose.”
“My job, of course, is to put a name to that person. Let me ask you this, Mr. Langdon. To your eye, beyond the numbers, what about this message is most strange?”
Most strange? A dying man had barricaded himself in the gallery, drawn a pentacle on himself, and scrawled a mysterious accusation on the floor. What about the scenario wasn’t strange?
“The word ‘Draconian’?” he ventured, offering the first thing that came to mind. Langdon was fairly certain that a reference to Draco
—the ruthless seventh-century B.C. politician—was an unlikely dying
thought. “’Draconian devil’ seems an odd choice of vocabulary.”
“Draconian?” Fache’s tone came with a tinge of impatience now. “Saunière’s choice of vocabulary hardly seems the primary issue here.”
Langdon wasn’t sure what issue Fache had in mind, but he was starting to suspect that Draco and Fache would have gotten along well.
“Saunière was a Frenchman,” Fache said flatly. “He lived in Paris.
And yet he chose to write this message …”
“In English,” Langdon said, now realizing the captain’s meaning. Fache nodded. “Précisément. Any idea why?”
Langdon knew Saunière spoke impeccable English, and yet the reason he had chosen English as the language in which to write his final words escaped Langdon. He shrugged.
Fache motioned back to the pentacle on Saunière’s abdomen. “Nothing to do with devil worship? Are you still certain?”
Langdon was certain of nothing anymore. “The symbology and text don’t seem to coincide. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”
“Perhaps this will clarify.” Fache backed away from the body and raised the black light again, letting the beam spread out in a wider
angle. “And now?”
To Langdon’s amazement, a rudimentary circle glowed around the curator’s body. Saunière had apparently lay down and swung the pen around himself in several long arcs, essentially inscribing himself inside a circle.
In a flash, the meaning became clear.
“The Vitruvian Man,” Langdon gasped. Saunière had created a life- sized replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous sketch.
Considered the most anatomically correct drawing of its day, Da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man had become a modern-day icon of culture, appearing on posters, mouse pads, and T-shirts around the world. The celebrated sketch consisted of a perfect circle in which was inscribed a nude male … his arms and legs outstretched in a naked spread eagle.
Da Vinci. Langdon felt a shiver of amazement. The clarity of Saunière’s intentions could not be denied. In his final moments of life, the curator had stripped off his clothing and arranged his body in a clear image of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
The circle had been the missing critical element. A feminine symbol of protection, the circle around the naked man’s body completed Da Vinci’s intended message—male and female harmony. The question now, though, was why Saunière would imitate a famous drawing.
“Mr. Langdon,” Fache said, “certainly a man like yourself is aware that Leonardo da Vinci had a tendency toward the darker arts.”
Langdon was surprised by Fache’s knowledge of Da Vinci, and it certainly went a long way toward explaining the captain’s suspicions about devil worship. Da Vinci had always been an awkward subject for historians, especially in the Christian tradition. Despite the visionary’s genius, he was a flamboyant homosexual and worshipper of Nature’s divine order, both of which placed him in a perpetual state of sin against God. Moreover, the artist’s eerie eccentricities projected an admittedly demonic aura: Da Vinci exhumed corpses to study human anatomy; he kept mysterious journals in illegible reverse handwriting; he believed he possessed the alchemic power to turn lead into gold and even cheat God by
creating an elixir to postpone death; and his inventions included horrific, never-before-imagined weapons of war and torture.
Misunderstanding breeds distrust, Langdon thought.
Even Da Vinci’s enormous output of breathtaking Christian art only furthered the artist’s reputation for spiritual hypocrisy. Accepting hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions, Da Vinci painted Christian themes not as an expression of his own beliefs but rather as a commercial venture—a means of funding a lavish lifestyle. Unfortunately, Da Vinci was a prankster who often amused himself by quietly gnawing at the hand that fed him. He incorporated in many of his Christian paintings hidden symbolism that was anything but Christian—tributes to his own beliefs and a subtle thumbing of his nose at the Church. Langdon had even given a lecture once at the National Gallery in London entitled: “The Secret Life of Leonardo: Pagan Symbolism in Christian Art.”
“I understand your concerns,” Langdon now said, “but Da Vinci never really practiced any dark arts. He was an exceptionally spiritual man, albeit one in constant conflict with the Church.” As Langdon said this, an odd thought popped into his mind. He glanced down at the message on the floor again. O, Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint!
“Yes?” Fache said.
Langdon weighed his words carefully. “I was just thinking that Saunière shared a lot of spiritual ideologies with Da Vinci, including a concern over the Church’s elimination of the sacred feminine from modern religion. Maybe, by imitating a famous Da Vinci drawing, Saunière was simply echoing some of their shared frustrations with the modern Church’s demonization of the goddess.”
Fache’s eyes hardened. “You think Saunière is calling the Church a lame saint and a Draconian devil?”
Langdon had to admit it seemed far-fetched, and yet the pentacle seemed to endorse the idea on some level. “All I am saying is that Mr. Saunière dedicated his life to studying the history of the goddess, and nothing has done more to erase that history than the Catholic Church. It seems reasonable that Saunière might have chosen to express his disappointment in his final good-bye.”
“Disappointment?” Fache demanded, sounding hostile now. “This message sounds more enraged than disappointed, wouldn’t you say?” Langdon was reaching the end of his patience. “Captain, you asked for my instincts as to what Saunière is trying to say here, and that’s
what I’m giving you.”
“That this is an indictment of the Church?” Fache’s jaw tightened as he spoke through clenched teeth. “Mr. Langdon, I have seen a lot of death in my work, and let me tell you something. When a man is murdered by another man, I do not believe his final thoughts are to write an obscure spiritual statement that no one will understand. I believe he is thinking of one thing only.” Fache’s whispery voice sliced the air. “La vengeance. I believe Saunière wrote this note to tell us who killed him.”
Langdon stared. “But that makes no sense whatsoever.” “No?”
“No,” he fired back, tired and frustrated. “You told me Saunière was attacked in his office by someone he had apparently invited in.”
“So it seems reasonable to conclude that the curator knew his attacker.”
Fache nodded. “Go on.”
“So if Saunière knew the person who killed him, what kind of indictment is this?” He pointed at the floor. “Numeric codes? Lame saints? Draconian devils? Pentacles on his stomach? It’s all too cryptic.”
Fache frowned as if the idea had never occurred to him. “You have a point.”
“Considering the circumstances,” Langdon said, “I would assume that if Saunière wanted to tell you who killed him, he would have written down somebody’s name.”
As Langdon spoke those words, a smug smile crossed Fache’s lips for the first time all night. “Précisément,” Fache said. “Précisément.”