The mist had settled low on Kensington Gardens as Silas limped into a quiet hollow out of sight. Kneeling on the wet grass, he could feel a warm stream of blood flowing from the bullet wound below his ribs. Still, he stared straight ahead.
The fog made it look like heaven here.
Raising his bloody hands to pray, he watched the raindrops caress his fingers, turning them white again. As the droplets fell harder across his back and shoulders, he could feel his body disappearing bit by bit into the mist.
I am a ghost.
A breeze rustled past him, carrying the damp, earthy scent of new life. With every living cell in his broken body, Silas prayed. He prayed for forgiveness. He prayed for mercy. And, above all, he prayed for his mentor... Bishop Aringarosa... that the Lord would not take him before his time. Hehas so much work left to do.
The fog was swirling around him now, and Silas felt so light that he was sure the wisps would carry him away. Closing his eyes, he said a final prayer.
From somewhere in the mist, the voice of Manuel Aringarosa whispered to him.
Our Lord is a good and merciful God.
Silas's pain at last began to fade, and he knew the bishop was right.
It was late afternoon when the London sun broke through and the city began to dry. Bezu Fache felt weary as he emerged from the interrogation room and hailed a cab. Sir Leigh Teabing had vociferously proclaimed his innocence, and yet from his incoherent rantings about the Holy Grail, secret documents, and mysterious brotherhoods, Fache suspected the wily historian was setting the stage for his lawyers to plead an insanity defense.
Sure, Fache thought. Insane.Teabing had displayed ingenious precision in formulating a plan that protected his innocence at every turn. He had exploited both the Vatican and Opus Dei, two groups that turned out to be completely innocent. His dirty work had been carried out unknowingly by a fanatical monk and a desperate bishop. More clever still, Teabing had situated his electronic listening post in the one place a man with polio could not possibly reach. The actual surveillance had been carried out by his manservant, Remy - the lone person privy to Teabing's true identity - now conveniently dead of an allergic reaction.
Hardly the handiwork of someone lacking mental faculties, Fache thought.
The information coming from Collet out of Chateau Villette suggested that Teabing's cunning ran so deep that Fache himself might even learn from it. To successfully hide bugs in some of Paris's most powerful offices, the British historian had turned to the Greeks. Trojan horses.Some of Teabing's intended targets received lavish gifts of artwork, others unwittingly bid at auctions in which Teabing had placed specific lots. In Sauniere's case, the curator had received a dinner invitation to Chateau Villette to discuss the possibility of Teabing's funding a new Da Vinci Wing at the Louvre. Sauniere's invitation had contained an innocuous postscript expressing fascination with a robotic knight that Sauniere was rumored to have built. Bring him to dinner, Teabing had suggested. Sauniere apparently had done just that and left the knight unattended long enough for Remy Legaludec to make one inconspicuous addition.
Now, sitting in the back of the cab, Fache closed his eyes. One more thing to attend to before Ireturn to Paris.
The St. Mary's Hospital recovery room was sunny.
"You've impressed us all," the nurse said, smiling down at him. "Nothing short of miraculous." Bishop Aringarosa gave a weak smile. "I have always been blessed." The nurse finished puttering, leaving the bishop alone. The sunlight felt welcome and warm on his face. Last night had been the darkest night of his life.
Despondently, he thought of Silas, whose body had been found in the park.
Please forgive me, my son.
Aringarosa had longed for Silas to be part of his glorious plan. Last night, however, Aringarosa had received a call from Bezu Fache, questioning the bishop about his apparent connection to a nun who had been murdered in Saint-Sulpice. Aringarosa realized the evening had taken a horrifying turn. News of the four additional murders transformed his horror to anguish. Silas, what have you done! Unable to reach the Teacher, the bishop knew he had been cut loose. Used.The only way to stop the horrific chain of events he had helped put in motion was to confess everything to Fache, and from that moment on, Aringarosa and Fache had been racing to catch up with Silas before the Teacher persuaded him to kill again.
Feeling bone weary, Aringarosa closed his eyes and listened to the television coverage of the arrest of a prominent British knight, Sir Leigh Teabing. The Teacher laid bare for all to see.Teabing had caught wind of the Vatican's plans to disassociate itself from Opus Dei. He had chosen Aringarosa as the perfect pawn in his plan. After all, who more likely to leap blindly after the Holy Grail thana man like myself with everything to lose? The Grail would have brought enormous power to anyone who possessed it.
Leigh Teabing had protected his identity shrewdly - feigning a French accent and a pious heart, and demanding as payment the one thing he did not need - money. Aringarosa had been far too eager to be suspicious. The price tag of twenty million euro was paltry when compared with the prize of obtaining the Grail, and with the Vatican's separation payment to Opus Dei, the finances had worked nicely. The blind see what they want to see.Teabing's ultimate insult, of course, had been to demand payment in Vatican bonds, such that if anything went wrong, the investigation would lead to Rome.
"I am glad to see you're well, My Lord."
Aringarosa recognized the gruff voice in the doorway, but the face was unexpected - stern, powerful features, slicked-back hair, and a broad neck that strained against his dark suit. "Captain Fache?" Aringarosa asked. The compassion and concern the captain had shown for Aringarosa's plight last night had conjured images of a far gentler physique.
The captain approached the bed and hoisted a familiar, heavy black briefcase onto a chair. "I believe this belongs to you."
Aringarosa looked at the briefcase filled with bonds and immediately looked away, feeling only shame. "Yes... thank you." He paused while working his fingers across the seam of his bed sheet, then continued. "Captain, I have been giving this deep thought, and I need to ask a favor of you."
"The families of those in Paris who Silas..." He paused, swallowing the emotion. "I realize no sum could possibly serve as sufficient restitution, and yet, if you could be kind enough to divide the contents of this briefcase among them... the families of the deceased."
Fache's dark eyes studied him a long moment. "A virtuous gesture, My Lord. I will see to it your wishes are carried out."
A heavy silence fell between them.
On the television, a lean French police officer was giving a press conference in front of a sprawling mansion. Fache saw who it was and turned his attention to the screen.
"Lieutenant Collet," a BBC reporter said, her voice accusing. "Last night, your captain publicly charged two innocent people with murder. Will Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu be seeking accountability from your department? Will this cost Captain Fache his job?"
Lieutenant Collet's smile was tired but calm. "It is my experience that Captain Bezu Fache seldom makes mistakes. I have not yet spoken to him on this matter, but knowing how he operates, I suspect his public manhunt for Agent Neveu and Mr. Langdon was part of a ruse to lure out the real killer."
The reporters exchanged surprised looks.
Collet continued. "Whether or not Mr. Langdon and Agent Neveu were willing participants in the sting, I do not know. Captain Fache tends to keep his more creative methods to himself. All I can confirm at this point is that the captain has successfully arrested the man responsible, and that Mr. Langdon and Agent Neveu are both innocent and safe."
Fache had a faint smile on his lips as he turned back to Aringarosa. "A good man, that Collet."
Several moments passed. Finally, Fache ran his hand over his forehead, slicking back his hair as he gazed down at Aringarosa. "My Lord, before I return to Paris, there is one final matter I'd like to discuss - your impromptu flight to London. You bribed a pilot to change course. In doing so, you broke a number of international laws." Aringarosa slumped. "I was desperate." "Yes. As was the pilot when my men interrogated him." Fache reached in his pocket and produced a purple amethyst ring with a familiar hand-tooled mitre-crozier applique.
Aringarosa felt tears welling as he accepted the ring and slipped it back on his finger. "You've been so kind." He held out his hand and clasped Fache's. "Thank you."
Fache waved off the gesture, walking to the window and gazing out at the city, his thoughts obviously far away. When he turned, there was an uncertainty about him. "My Lord, where do you go from here?"
Aringarosa had been asked the exact same question as he left Castel Gandolfo the night before. "I suspect my path is as uncertain as yours."
"Yes." Fache paused. "I suspect I will be retiring early."
Aringarosa smiled. "A little faith can do wonders, Captain. A little faith."