Sophie's SmartCar tore through the diplomatic quarter, weaving past embassies and consulates, finally racing out a side street and taking a right turn back onto the massive thoroughfare of Champs-Elysees.
Langdon sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat, twisted backward, scanning behind them for any signs of the police. He suddenly wished he had not decided to run. You didn't, he reminded himself. Sophie had made the decision for him when she threw the GPS dot out the bathroom window. Now, as they sped away from the embassy, serpentining through sparse traffic on Champs-Elysees, Langdon felt his options deteriorating. Although Sophie seemed to have lost the police, at least for the moment, Langdon doubted their luck would hold for long.
Behind the wheel Sophie was fishing in her sweater pocket. She removed a small metal object and held it out for him. "Robert, you'd better have a look at this. This is what my grandfather left me behind Madonna of the Rocks."
Feeling a shiver of anticipation, Langdon took the object and examined it. It was heavy and shaped like a cruciform. His first instinct was that he was holding a funeral pieu - a miniature version of a memorial spike designed to be stuck into the ground at a gravesite. But then he noted the shaft protruding from the cruciform was prismatic and triangular. The shaft was also pockmarked with hundreds of tiny hexagons that appeared to be finely tooled and scattered at random.
"It's a laser-cut key," Sophie told him. "Those hexagons are read by an electric eye."
A key? Langdon had never seen anything like it.
"Look at the other side," she said, changing lanes and sailing through an intersection.
When Langdon turned the key, he felt his jaw drop. There, intricately embossed on the center of the cross, was a stylized fleur-de-lis with the initials P. S. !" Sophie," he said," this is the seal I told you about! The official device of the Priory of Sion." She nodded. "As I told you, I saw the key a long time ago. He told me never to speak of it again." Langdon's eyes were still riveted on the embossed key. Its high-tech tooling and age-oldsymbolism exuded an eerie fusion of ancient and modern worlds.
"He told me the key opened a box where he kept many secrets."
Langdon felt a chill to imagine what kind of secrets a man like Jacques Sauniere might keep. What an ancient brotherhood was doing with a futuristic key, Langdon had no idea. The Priory existed for the sole purpose of protecting a secret. A secret of incredible power. Could this key have something to do with it? The thought was overwhelming. "Do you know what it opens?"
Sophie looked disappointed. "I was hoping you knew."
Langdon remained silent as he turned the cruciform in his hand, examining it.
"It looks Christian," Sophie pressed.
Langdon was not so sure about that. The head of this key was not the traditional long-stemmed Christian cross but rather was a square cross - with four arms of equal length - which predated Christianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin Cross, originated by Romans as a torture device. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon" the crucifix" realized their symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name:" cross" and" crucifix" came from the Latin verb cruciare - to torture.
"Sophie," he said," all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion, and their balanced vertical and horizontal elements convey a natural union of male and female, making them symbolically consistent with Priory philosophy."
She gave him a weary look. "You have no idea, do you?" Langdon frowned. "Not a clue." "Okay, we have to get off the road." Sophie checked her rearview mirror. "We need a safe place to figure out what that key opens."
Langdon thought longingly of his comfortable room at the Ritz. Obviously, that was not an option. "How about my hosts at the American University of Paris?"
"Too obvious. Fache will check with them." "You must know people. You live here." "Fache will run my phone and e-mail records, talk to my coworkers. My contacts are compromised, and finding a hotel is no good because they all require identification."
Langdon wondered again if he might have been better off taking his chances letting Fache arrest him at the Louvre. "Let's call the embassy. I can explain the situation and have the embassy send someone to meet us somewhere."
"Meet us?" Sophie turned and stared at him as if he were crazy. "Robert, you're dreaming. Your embassy has no jurisdiction except on their own property. Sending someone to retrieve us would be considered aiding a fugitive of the French government. It won't happen. If you walk into your embassy and request temporary asylum, that's one thing, but asking them to take action against French law enforcement in the field?" She shook her head. "Call your embassy right now, and they are going to tell you to avoid further damage and turn yourself over to Fache. Then they'll promise to pursue diplomatic channels to get you a fair trial." She gazed up the line of elegant storefronts on
Champs-Elysees. "How much cash do you have?"
Langdon checked his wallet. "A hundred dollars. A few euro. Why?" "Credit cards?" "Of course."
As Sophie accelerated, Langdon sensed she was formulating a plan. Dead ahead, at the end of Champs-Elysees, stood the Arc de Triomphe - Napoleon's 164-foot-tall tribute to his own military potency - encircled by France's largest rotary, a nine-lane behemoth.
Sophie's eyes were on the rearview mirror again as they approached the rotary. "We lost them for the time being," she said," but we won't last another five minutes if we stay in this car."
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.
2:51 A. M.
"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. Gare Saint-Lazare. 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 taxi sidled 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 cliff side 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 monthsfrom 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 fine, 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 applique 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.