The inside of Gare Saint-Lazare looked like every other train station in Europe, a gaping indoor- outdoor cavern dotted with the usual suspects - homeless men holding cardboard signs, collections of bleary-eyed college kids sleeping on backpacks and zoning out to their portable MP3 players, and clusters of blue-clad baggage porters smoking cigarettes.
Sophie raised her eyes to the enormous departure board overhead. The black and white tabs reshuffled, ruffling downward as the information refreshed. When the update was finished, Langdon eyed the offerings. The topmost listing read: LYON - RAPIDE - 3:06
"I wish it left sooner," Sophie said," but Lyon will have to do." Sooner? Langdon checked his watch 2:59 A. M. The train left in seven minutes and they didn't even have tickets yet.
Sophie guided Langdon toward the ticket window and said," Buy us two tickets with your credit card."
"I thought credit card usage could be traced by - "Exactly." Langdon decided to stop trying to keep ahead of Sophie Neveu. Using his Visa card, he purchased two coach tickets to Lyon and handed them to Sophie.
Sophie guided him out toward the tracks, where a familiar tone chimed overhead and a P. A. announcer gave the final boarding call for Lyon. Sixteen separate tracks spread out before them. In the distance to the right, at quay three, the train to Lyon was belching and wheezing in preparation for departure, but Sophie already had her arm through Langdon's and was guiding him in the exact opposite direction. They hurried through a side lobby, past an all-night cafe, and finally out a side door onto a quiet street on the west side of the station.
A lone taxi sat idling by the doorway.
The driver saw Sophie and flicked his lights.
Sophie jumped in the back seat. Langdon got in after her.
As the taxi pulled away from station, Sophie took out their newly purchased train tickets and tore them up.
Langdon sighed. Seventy dollars well spent.
It was not until their taxi had settled into a monotonous northbound hum on Rue de Clichy that Langdon felt they'd actually escaped. Out the window to his right, he could see Montmartre and the beautiful dome of Sacre-Coeur. The image was interrupted by the flash of police lights sailing past them in the opposite direction.
Langdon and Sophie ducked down as the sirens faded.
Sophie had told the cab driver simply to head out of the city, and from her firmly set jaw, Langdon sensed she was trying to figure out their next move.
Langdon examined the cruciform key again, holding it to the window, bringing it close to his eyes in an effort to find any markings on it that might indicate where the key had been made. In the intermittent glow of passing streetlights, he saw no markings except the Priory seal.
"It doesn't make sense," he finally said. "Which part?" "That your grandfather would go to so much trouble to give you a key that you wouldn't know what to do with."
"Are you sure he didn't write anything else on the back of the painting?"
"I searched the whole area. This is all there was. This key, wedged behind the painting. I saw the Priory seal, stuck the key in my pocket, then we left."
Langdon frowned, peering now at the blunt end of the triangular shaft. Nothing. Squinting, he brought the key close to his eyes and examined the rim of the head. Nothing there either. "I think this key was cleaned recently." "Why?" "It smells like rubbing alcohol." She turned. "I'm sorry?" "It smells like somebody polished it with a cleaner." Langdon held the key to his nose and sniffed. "It's stronger on the other side." He flipped it over. "Yes, it's alcohol-based, like it's been buffed with a cleaner or - " Langdon stopped. "What?" He angled the key to the light and looked at the smooth surface on the broad arm of the cross. It seemed to shimmer in places... like it was wet. "How well did you look at the back of this key before you put it in your pocket?"
"What? Not well. I was in a hurry."
Langdon turned to her. "Do you still have the black light?"
Sophie reached in her pocket and produced the UV penlight. Langdon took it and switched it on, shining the beam on the back of the key.
The back luminesced instantly. There was writing there. In penmanship that was hurried but legible.
"Well," Langdon said, smiling. "I guess we know what the alcohol smell was."
Sophie stared in amazement at the purple writing on the back of the key.
24 Rue Haxo
An address! My grandfather wrote down an address!
"Where is this?" Langdon asked.
Sophie had no idea. Facing front again, she leaned forward and excitedly asked the driver,"Connaissez-vous la Rue Haxo?"
The driver thought a moment and then nodded. He told Sophie it was out near the tennis stadium on the western outskirts of Paris. She asked him to take them there immediately.
"Fastest route is through Bois de Boulogne," the driver told her in French. "Is that okay?"
Sophie frowned. She could think of far less scandalous routes, but tonight she was not going to be picky. "Oui." We can shock the visiting American.
Sophie looked back at the key and wondered what they would possibly find at 24 Rue Haxo. A church? Some kind of Priory headquarters?
Her mind filled again with images of the secret ritual she had witnessed in the basement grotto ten years ago, and she heaved a long sigh. "Robert, I have a lot of things to tell you." She paused, locking eyes with him as the taxi raced westward. "But first I want you to tell me everything you know about this Priory of Sion."
Outside the Salle des Etats, Bezu Fache was fuming as Louvre warden Grouard explained how Sophie and Langdon had disarmed him. Why didn't you just shoot the blessed painting!
"Captain?" Lieutenant Collet loped toward them from the direction of the command post. "Captain, I just heard. They located Agent Neveu's car." "Did she make the embassy?" "No. Train station. Bought two tickets. Train just left."
Fache waved off warden Grouard and led Collet to a nearby alcove, addressing him in hushed tones. "What was the destination?"
"Probably a decoy." Fache exhaled, formulating a plan. "Okay, alert the next station, have the train stopped and searched, just in case. Leave her car where it is and put plainclothes on watch in case they try to come back to it. Send men to search the streets around the station in case they fled on foot. Are buses running from the station?"
"Not at this hour, sir. Only the taxi queue."
"Good. Question the drivers. See if they saw anything. Then contact the taxi company dispatcher with descriptions. I'm calling Interpol."
Collet looked surprised. "You're putting this on the wire?"
Fache regretted the potential embarrassment, but he saw no other choice.
Close the net fast, and close it tight.
The first hour was critical. Fugitives were predictable the first hour after escape. They always needed the same thing. Travel.Lodging.Cash.The Holy Trinity. Interpol had the power to make all three disappear in the blink of an eye. By broadcast-faxing photos of Langdon and Sophie to Paris travel authorities, hotels, and banks, Interpol would leave no options - no way to leave the city, no place to hide, and no way to withdraw cash without being recognized. Usually, fugitives panicked on the street and did something stupid. Stole a car. Robbed a store. Used a bank card in desperation. Whatever mistake they committed, they quickly made their whereabouts known to local authorities.
"Only Langdon, right?" Collet said. "You're not flagging Sophie Neveu. She's our own agent."
"Of course I'm flagging her!" Fache snapped. "What good is flagging Langdon if she can do all his dirty work? I plan to run Neveu's employment file - friends, family, personal contacts - anyone she might turn to for help. I don't know what she thinks she's doing out there, but it's going to cost her one hell of a lot more than her job!"
"Do you want me on the phones or in the field?"
"Field. Get over to the train station and coordinate the team. You've got the reins, but don't make a move without talking to me."
"Yes, sir." Collet ran out.
Fache felt rigid as he stood in the alcove. Outside the window, the glass pyramid shone, its reflection rippling in the windswept pools. They slipped through my fingers.He told himself to relax.
Even a trained field agent would be lucky to withstand the pressure that Interpol was about to apply.
A female cryptologist and a schoolteacher?
They wouldn't last till dawn.
The heavily forested park known as the Bois de Boulogne was called many things, but the Parisian cognoscenti knew it as" the Garden of Earthly Delights." The epithet, despite sounding flattering, was quite to the contrary. Anyone who had seen the lurid Bosch painting of the same name understood the jab; the painting, like the forest, was dark and twisted, a purgatory for freaks and fetishists. At night, the forest's winding lanes were lined with hundreds of glistening bodies for hire, earthly delights to satisfy one's deepest unspoken desires - male, female, and everything in between.
As Langdon gathered his thoughts to tell Sophie about the Priory of Sion, their taxi passed through the wooded entrance to the park and began heading west on the cobblestone cross fare. Langdon was having trouble concentrating as a scattering of the park's nocturnal residents were already emerging from the shadows and flaunting their wares in the glare of the headlights. Ahead, two topless teenage girls shot smoldering gazes into the taxi. Beyond them, a well-oiled black man in a G-string turned and flexed his buttocks. Beside him, a gorgeous blond woman lifted her miniskirt to reveal that she was not, in fact, a woman.
Heaven help me! Langdon turned his gaze back inside the cab and took a deep breath. "Tell me about the Priory of Sion," Sophie said. Langdon nodded, unable to imagine a less congruous a backdrop for the legend he was about to tell. He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood's history spanned more than a millennium... an astonishing chronicle of secrets, blackmail, betrayal, and even brutal torture at the hands of an angry Pope.
"The Priory of Sion," he began," was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he had conquered the city." Sophie nodded, her eyes riveted on him." King Godefroi was allegedly the possessor of a powerful secret - a secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ. Fearing his secret might be lost when he died, he founded a secret brotherhood - the Priory of Sion - and charged them with protecting his secret by quietly passing it on from generation to generation. During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins of Herod's temple, which had been built atop the earlier ruins of Solomon's Temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that the Church would stop at nothing to get them." Sophie looked uncertain.
"The Priory vowed that no matter how long it took, these documents must be recovered from the rubble beneath the temple and protected forever, so the truth would never die. In order to retrieve the documents from within the ruins, the Priory created a military arm - a group of nine knights called the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." Langdon paused. "More commonly known as the Knights Templar."
Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition. Langdon had lectured often enough on the Knights Templar to know that almost everyone on earth had heard of them, at least abstractedly. For academics, the Templars' history was a precarious world where fact, lore, and misinformation had become so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth was almost impossible. Nowadays, Langdon hesitated even to mention the Knights Templar while lecturing because it invariably led to a barrage of convoluted inquiries into assorted conspiracy theories.
Sophie already looked troubled. "You're saying the Knights Templar were founded by the Priory of Sion to retrieve a collection of secret documents? I thought the Templars were created to protect the Holy Land."
"A common misconception. The idea of protection of pilgrims was the guise under which the Templars ran their mission. Their true goal in the Holy Land was to retrieve the documents from beneath the ruins of the temple."
"And did they find them?"
Langdon grinned. "Nobody knows for sure, but the one thing on which all academics agree is this: The Knights discovered something down there in the ruins... something that made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone's wildest imagination."
Langdon quickly gave Sophie the standard academic sketch of the accepted Knights Templar history, explaining how the Knights were in the Holy Land during the Second Crusade and told King Baldwin II that they were there to protect Christian pilgrims on the roadways. Although unpaid and sworn to poverty, the Knights told the king they required basic shelter and requested his permission to take up residence in the stables under the ruins of the temple. King Baldwin granted the soldiers' request, and the Knights took up their meager residence inside the devastated shrine.
The odd choice of lodging, Langdon explained, had been anything but random. The Knights believed the documents the Priory sought were buried deep under the ruins - beneath the Holy of Holies, a sacred chamber where God Himself was believed to reside. Literally, the very center of the Jewish faith. For almost a decade, the nine Knights lived in the ruins, excavating in total secrecy through solid rock.
Sophie looked over. "And you said they discovered something?"
"They certainly did," Langdon said, explaining how it had taken nine years, but the Knights had finally found what they had been searching for. They took the treasure from the temple and traveled to Europe, where their influence seemed to solidify overnight.
Nobody was certain whether the Knights had blackmailed the Vatican or whether the Church simply tried to buy the Knights' silence, but Pope Innocent II immediately issued an unprecedented papal bull that afforded the Knights Templar limitless power and declared them" a law unto themselves" - an autonomous army independent of all interference from kings and prelates, both religious and political.
With their new carte blanche from the Vatican, the Knights Templar expanded at a staggering rate, both in numbers and political force, amassing vast estates in over a dozen countries. They began extending credit to bankrupt royals and charging interest in return, thereby establishing modern banking and broadening their wealth and influence still further.
By the 1300s, the Vatican sanction had helped the Knights amass so much power that Pope Clement V decided that something had to be done. Working in concert with France's King Philippe IV, the Pope devised an ingeniously planned sting operation to quash the Templars and seize their treasure, thus taking control of the secrets held over the Vatican. In a military maneuver worthy of the CIA, Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday, October 13 of 1307.
At dawn on the thirteenth, the documents were unsealed and their appalling contents revealed. Clement's letter claimed that God had visited him in a vision and warned him that the Knights Templar were heretics guilty of devil worship, homosexuality, defiling the cross, sodomy, and other blasphemous behavior. Pope Clement had been asked by God to cleanse the earth by rounding up all the Knights and torturing them until they confessed their crimes against God. Clement's Machiavellian operation came off with clockwork precision. On that day, countless Knights were captured, tortured mercilessly, and finally burned at the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered unlucky.
Sophie looked confused. "The Knights Templar were obliterated? I thought fraternities of Templars still exist today?"
"They do, under a variety of names. Despite Clement's false charges and best efforts to eradicate them, the Knights had powerful allies, and some managed to escape the Vatican purges. The Templars' potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their source of power, was Clement's true objective, but it slipped through his fingers. The documents had long since been entrusted to the Templars' shadowy architects, the Priory of Sion, whose veil of secrecy had kept them safely out of range of the Vatican's onslaught. As the Vatican closed in, the Priory smuggled their documents from a Paris preceptory by night onto Templar ships in La Rochelle."
"Where did the documents go?"
Langdon shrugged. "That mystery's answer is known only to the Priory of Sion. Because the documents remain the source of constant investigation and speculation even today, they are believed to have been moved and rehidden several times. Current speculation places the documents somewhere in the United Kingdom."
Sophie looked uneasy.
"For a thousand years," Langdon continued," legends of this secret have been passed on. The entire collection of documents, its power, and the secret it reveals have become known by a single name - Sangreal. Hundreds of books have been written about it, and few mysteries have caused as much interest among historians as the Sangreal."
"The Sangreal? Does the word have anything to do with the French word sang or Spanish sangre - meaning 'blood'?"
Langdon nodded. Blood was the backbone of the Sangreal, and yet not in the way Sophie probably imagined. "The legend is complicated, but the important thing to remember is that the Priory guards the proof, and is purportedly awaiting the right moment in history to reveal the truth." "What truth? What secret could possibly be that powerful?" Langdon took a deep breath and gazed out at the underbelly of Paris leering in the shadows." Sophie, the word Sangreal is an ancient word. It has evolved over the years into another term... a more modern name." He paused. "When I tell you it's modern name, you'll realize you already know a lot about it. In fact, almost everyone on earth has heard the story of the Sangreal." Sophie looked skeptical. "I've never heard of it." "Sure you have." Langdon smiled. "You're just used to hearing it called by the name 'Holy Grail. '"