Chapter 24-29

 

CHAPTER 24

Silas gazed upward at the Saint-Sulpice obelisk, taking in the length of the massive marble shaft. His sinews felt taut with exhilaration. He glanced around the church one more time to make sure he was alone. Then he knelt at the base of the structure, not out of reverence, but out of necessity.

The keystone is hidden beneath the Rose Line. At the base of the Sulpice obelisk. All the brothers had concurred.

On his knees now, Silas ran his hands across the stone floor. He saw no cracks or markings to indicate a movable tile, so he began rapping softly with his knuckles on the floor. Following the brass line closer to the obelisk, he knocked on each tile adjacent to the brass line. Finally, one of them echoed strangely.

There's a hollow area beneath the floor!

Silas smiled. His victims had spoken the truth.

Standing, he searched the sanctuary for something with which to break the floor tile.

High above Silas, in the balcony, Sister Sandrine stifled a gasp. Her darkest fears had just been confirmed. This visitor was not who he seemed. The mysterious Opus Dei monk had come to Saint- Sulpice for another purpose.

A secret purpose.

You are not the only one with secrets, she thought.

Sister Sandrine Bieil was more than the keeper of this church. She was a sentry. And tonight, the ancient wheels had been set in motion. The arrival of this stranger at the base of the obelisk was a signal from the brotherhood.

It was a silent call of distress.

CHAPTER 25

The U. S. Embassy in Paris is a compact complex on Avenue Gabriel, just north of the Champs-Elysees. The three-acre compound is considered U. S. soil, meaning all those who stand on it are subject to the same laws and protections as they would encounter standing in the United States.

The embassy's night operator was reading Time magazine's International Edition when the sound of her phone interrupted.

"U. S. Embassy," she answered.

"Good evening." The caller spoke English accented with French. "I need some assistance." Despite the politeness of the man's words, his tone sounded gruff and official. "I was told you had a phone message for me on your automated system. The name is Langdon. Unfortunately, I have forgotten my three-digit access code. If you could help me, I would be most grateful."

The operator paused, confused. "I'm sorry, sir. Your message must be quite old. That system was removed two years ago for security precautions. Moreover, all the access codes were five-digit. Who told you we had a message for you?" "You have no automated phone system?" "No, sir. Any message for you would be handwritten in our services department. What was your name again?"

But the man had hung up.

Bezu Fache felt dumbstruck as he paced the banks of the Seine. He was certain he had seen Langdon dial a local number, enter a three-digit code, and then listen to a recording. But if Langdon didn't phone the embassy, then who the hell did he call?

It was at that moment, eyeing his cellular phone, that Fache realized the answers were in the palm of his hand. Langdon used my phone to place that call.

Keying into the cell phone's menu, Fache pulled up the list of recently dialed numbers and found the call Langdon had placed.

A Paris exchange, followed by the three-digit code 454.

Redialing the phone number, Fache waited as the line began ringing.

Finally a woman's voice answered. "Bonjour, vous etes bien chez Sophie Neveu," the recording announced. "Je suis absente pour le moment, mais..."

Fache's blood was boiling as he typed the numbers 4... 5... 4.

CHAPTER 26

Despite her monumental reputation, the Mona Lisa was a mere thirty-one inches by twenty-one inches - smaller even than the posters of her sold in the Louvre gift shop. She hung on the northwest wall of the Salle des Etats behind a two-inch-thick pane of protective Plexiglas. Painted on a poplar wood panel, her ethereal, mist-filled atmosphere was attributed to Da Vinci's mastery of the sfumato style, in which forms appear to evaporate into one another.

Since taking up residence in the Louvre, the Mona Lisa - or La Jaconde as they call her in France - had been stolen twice, most recently in 1911, when she disappeared from the Louvre's" satte impenetrable" - Le Salon Carre. Parisians wept in the streets and wrote newspaper articles begging the thieves for the painting's return. Two years later, the Mona Lisa was discovered hidden in the false bottom of a trunk in a Florence hotel room.

Langdon, now having made it clear to Sophie that he had no intention of leaving, moved with her across the Salle des Etats. The Mona Lisa was still twenty yards ahead when Sophie turned on the black light, and the bluish crescent of penlight fanned out on the floor in front of them. She swung the beam back and forth across the floor like a minesweeper, searching for any hint of luminescent ink.

Walking beside her, Langdon was already feeling the tingle of anticipation that accompanied his face-to-face reunions with great works of art. He strained to see beyond the cocoon of purplish light emanating from the black light in Sophie's hand. To the left, the room's octagonal viewing divan emerged, looking like a dark island on the empty sea of parquet.

Langdon could now begin to see the panel of dark glass on the wall. Behind it, he knew, in the confines of her own private cell, hung the most celebrated painting in the world.

The Mona Lisa's status as the most famous piece of art in the world, Langdon knew, had nothing to do with her enigmatic smile. Nor was it due to the mysterious interpretations attributed her by many art historians and conspiracy buffs. Quite simply, the Mona Lisa was famous because Leonardo Da Vinci claimed she was his finest accomplishment. He carried the painting with him whenever he traveled and, if asked why, would reply that he found it hard to part with his most sublime expression of female beauty.

Even so, many art historians suspected Da Vinci's reverence for the Mona Lisa had nothing to do with its artistic mastery. In actuality, the painting was a surprisingly ordinary sfumato portrait. Da Vinci's veneration for this work, many claimed, stemmed from something far deeper: a hidden message in the layers of paint. The Mona Lisa was, in fact, one of the world's most documented inside jokes. The painting's well-documented collage of double entendres and playful allusions had been revealed in most art history tomes, and yet, incredibly, the public at large still considered her smile a great mystery.

No mystery at all, Langdon thought, moving forward and watching as the faint outline of the painting began to take shape. No mystery at all.

Most recently Langdon had shared the Mona Lisa's secret with a rather unlikely group - a dozen inmates at the Essex County Penitentiary. Langdon's jail seminar was part of a Harvard outreach program attempting to bring education into the prison system - Culture for Convicts, as Langdon's colleagues liked to call it.

Standing at an overhead projector in a darkened penitentiary library, Langdon had shared the MonaLisa's secret with the prisoners attending class, men whom he found surprisingly engaged - rough, but sharp. "You may notice," Langdon told them, walking up to the projected image of the MonaLisa on the library wall," that the background behind her face is uneven." Langdon motioned to the glaring discrepancy. "Da Vinci painted the horizon line on the left significantly lower than the right."

"He screwed it up?" one of the inmates asked.

Langdon chuckled. "No. Da Vinci didn't do that too often. Actually, this is a little trick Da Vinci played. By lowering the countryside on the left, Da Vinci made Mona Lisa look much larger from the left side than from the right side. A little Da Vinci inside joke. Historically, the concepts of male and female have assigned sides - left is female, and right is male. Because Da Vinci was a big fan of feminine principles, he made Mona Lisa look more majestic from the left than the right."

"I heard he was a fag," said a small man with a goatee.

Langdon winced. "Historians don't generally put it quite that way, but yes, Da Vinci was a homosexual."

"Is that why he was into that whole feminine thing?"

"Actually, Da Vinci was in tune with the balance between male and female. He believed that a human soul could not be enlightened unless it had both male and female elements."

"You mean like chicks with dicks?" someone called.

This elicited a hearty round of laughs. Langdon considered offering an etymological sidebar about the word hermaphrodite and its ties to Hermes and Aphrodite, but something told him it would be lost on this crowd.

"Hey, Mr. Langford," a muscle-bound man said. "Is it true that the Mona Lisa is a picture of Da Vinci in drag? I heard that was true."

"It's quite possible," Langdon said. "Da Vinci was a prankster, and computerized analysis of the Mona Lisa and Da Vinci's self-portraits confirm some startling points of congruency in their faces. Whatever Da Vinci was up to," Langdon said," his Mona Lisa is neither male nor female. It carries a subtle message of androgyny. It is a fusing of both."

"You sure that's not just some Harvard bullshit way of saying Mona Lisa is one ugly chick."

Now Langdon laughed. "You may be right. But actually Da Vinci left a big clue that the painting was supposed to be androgynous. Has anyone here ever heard of an Egyptian god named Amon?" "Hell yes!" the big guy said. "God of masculine fertility!" Langdon was stunned.

"It says so on every box of Amon condoms." The muscular man gave a wide grin. "It's got a guy with a ram's head on the front and says he's the Egyptian god of fertility."

Langdon was not familiar with the brand name, but he was glad to hear the prophylactic manufacturers had gotten their hieroglyphs right. "Well done. Amon is indeed represented as a man with a ram's head, and his promiscuity and curved horns are related to our modern sexual slang' horny. "No shit!" "No shit," Langdon said. "And do you know who Amon's counterpart was? The Egyptian goddessof fertility?"

The question met with several seconds of silence.

"It was Isis," Langdon told them, grabbing a grease pen. "So we have the male god, Amon." He wrote it down. "And the female goddess, Isis, whose ancient pictogram was once called L'ISA."

Langdon finished writing and stepped back from the projector.

AMON L'ISA

"Ring any bells?" he asked.

"Mona Lisa... holy crap," somebody gasped.

Langdon nodded. "Gentlemen, not only does the face of Mona Lisa look androgynous, but her name is an anagram of the divine union of male and female. And that, my friends, is Da Vinci's little secret, and the reason for Mona Lisa's knowing smile."

"My grandfather was here," Sophie said, dropping suddenly to her knees, now only ten feet from the Mona Lisa.She pointed the black light tentatively to a spot on the parquet floor.

At first Langdon saw nothing. Then, as he knelt beside her, he saw a tiny droplet of dried liquid that was luminescing. Ink? Suddenly he recalled what black lights were actually used for. Blood. His senses tingled. Sophie was right. Jacques Sauniere had indeed paid a visit to the Mona Lisabefore he died.

"He wouldn't have come here without a reason," Sophie whispered, standing up. "I know he left a message for me here." Quickly striding the final few steps to the Mona Lisa, she illuminated the floor directly in front of the painting. She waved the light back and forth across the bare parquet. "There's nothing here!" At that moment, Langdon saw a faint purple glimmer on the protective glass before the Mona Lisa. Reaching down, he took Sophie's wrist and slowly moved the light up to the painting itself. They both froze. On the glass, six words glowed in purple, scrawled directly across the Mona Lisa's face.

CHAPTER 27

Seated at Sauniere's desk, Lieutenant Collet pressed the phone to his ear in disbelief. Did I hearFache correctly?" A bar of soap? But how could Langdon have known about the GPS dot?" "Sophie Neveu," Fache replied. "She told him." "What! Why?"

"Damned good question, but I just heard a recording that confirms she tipped him off."

Collet was speechless. What was Neveu thinking? Fache had proof that Sophie had interfered with a DCPJ sting operation? Sophie Neveu was not only going to be fired, she was also going to jail. "But, Captain... then where is Langdon now?"

"Have any fire alarms gone off there?" "No, sir." "And no one has come out under the Grand Gallery gate?"

"No. We've got a Louvre security officer on the gate. Just as you requested." "Okay, Langdon must still be inside the Grand Gallery." "Inside? But what is he doing?"

"Is the Louvre security guard armed?" "Yes, sir. He's a senior warden." "Send him in," Fache commanded. "I can't get my men back to the perimeter for a few minutes, and I don't want Langdon breaking for an exit." Fache paused. "And you'd better tell the guard Agent Neveu is probably in there with him." "Agent Neveu left, I thought." "Did you actually see her leave?" "No, sir, but - "Well, nobody on the perimeter saw her leave either. They only saw her go in."

Collet was flabbergasted by Sophie Neveu's bravado. She's still inside the building?

"Handle it," Fache ordered. "I want Langdon and Neveu at gunpoint by the time I get back."

As the Trailor truck drove off, Captain Fache rounded up his men. Robert Langdon had proven an elusive quarry tonight, and with Agent Neveu now helping him, he might be far harder to corner than expected.

Fache decided not to take any chances.

Hedging his bets, he ordered half of his men back to the Louvre perimeter. The other half he sent to guard the only location in Paris where Robert Langdon could find safe harbor.

CHAPTER 28

Inside the Salle des Etats, Langdon stared in astonishment at the six words glowing on the Plexiglas. The text seemed to hover in space, casting a jagged shadow across Mona Lisa's mysterious smile.

"The Priory," Langdon whispered. "This proves your grandfather was a member!" Sophie looked at him in confusion. "You understand this?" "It's flawless," Langdon said, nodding as his thoughts churned. "It's a proclamation of one of the Priory's most fundamental philosophies!"

Sophie looked baffled in the glow of the message scrawled across the Mona Lisa's face.

SO DARK THE CON OF MAN

"Sophie," Langdon said," the Priory's tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church 'conned' the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine." Sophie remained silent, staring at the words." The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever."

Sophie's expression remained uncertain. "My grandfather sent me to this spot to find this. He must be trying to tell me more than that."

Langdon understood her meaning. She thinks this is another code.Whether a hidden meaning existed here or not, Langdon could not immediately say. His mind was still grappling with the bold clarity of Sauniere's outward message.

So dark the con of man, he thought. So dark indeed.

Nobody could deny the enormous good the modern Church did in today's troubled world, and yet the Church had a deceitful and violent history. Their brutal crusade to" reeducate" the pagan and feminine-worshipping religions spanned three centuries, employing methods as inspired as they were horrific.

The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum - or The Witches' Hammer - indoctrinated the world to" the dangers of freethinking women" and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them. Those deemed" witches" by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women" suspiciously attuned to the natural world." Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth - a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin. During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.

The propaganda and bloodshed had worked. Today's world was living proof. Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos - the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole - had been recast as a shameful act. Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges as the work of the devil, collaborating with his favorite accomplice... woman.

Not even the feminine association with the left-hand side could escape the Church's defamation. In France and Italy, the words for" left" - gauche and sinistra - came to have deeply negative overtones, while their right-hand counterparts rang of righteousness, dexterity, and correctness. To this day, radical thought was considered left wing, irrational thought was left brain, and anything evil, sinister.

The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man's world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll. The male ego had spent two millennia running unchecked by its female counterpart. The Priory of Sion believed that it was this obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life that had caused what the Hopi Native Americans called koyanisquatsi - "life out of balance" - an unstable situation marked by testosterone-fueled wars, a plethora of misogynistic societies, and a growing disrespect for Mother Earth.

"Robert!" Sophie said, her whisper yanking him back. "Someone's coming!" He heard the approaching footsteps out in the hallway." Over here!" Sophie extinguished the black light and seemed to evaporate before Langdon's eyes.

For an instant he felt totally blind. Over where! As his vision cleared he saw Sophie's silhouette racing toward the center of the room and ducking out of sight behind the octagonal viewing bench. He was about to dash after her when a booming voice stopped him cold.

"Arretez!" a man commanded from the doorway.

The Louvre security agent advanced through the entrance to the Salle des Etats, his pistol outstretched, taking deadly aim at Langdon's chest.

Langdon felt his arms raise instinctively for the ceiling.

"Couchez-vous!" the guard commanded. "Lie down!"

Langdon was face first on the floor in a matter of seconds. The guard hurried over and kicked his legs apart, spreading Langdon out.

"Mauvaise idee, Monsieur Langdon,"he said, pressing the gun hard into Langdon's back." Mauvaise idee."

Face down on the parquet floor with his arms and legs spread wide, Langdon found little humor in the irony of his position. The Vitruvian Man, he thought. Face down.

CHAPTER 29

Inside Saint-Sulpice, Silas carried the heavy iron votive candle holder from the altar back toward the obelisk. The shaft would do nicely as a battering ram. Eyeing the gray marble panel that covered the apparent hollow in the floor, he realized he could not possibly shatter the covering without making considerable noise.

Iron on marble. It would echo off the vaulted ceilings.

Would the nun hear him? She should be asleep by now. Even so, it was a chance Silas preferred not to take. Looking around for a cloth to wrap around the tip of the iron pole, he saw nothing except the altar's linen mantle, which he refused to defile. My cloak, he thought. Knowing he was alone in the great church, Silas untied his cloak and slipped it off his body. As he removed it, he felt a sting as the wool fibers stuck to the fresh wounds on his back.

Naked now, except for his loin swaddle, Silas wrapped his cloak over the end of the iron rod. Then, aiming at the center of the floor tile, he drove the tip into it. A muffled thud. The stone did not break. He drove the pole into it again. Again a dull thud, but this time accompanied by a crack. On the third swing, the covering finally shattered, and stone shards fell into a hollow area beneath the floor.

A compartment!

Quickly pulling the remaining pieces from the opening, Silas gazed into the void. His blood pounded as he knelt down before it. Raising his pale bare arm, he reached inside.

At first he felt nothing. The floor of the compartment was bare, smooth stone. Then, feeling deeper, reaching his arm in under the Rose Line, he touched something! A thick stone tablet. Getting his fingers around the edge, he gripped it and gently lifted the tablet out. As he stood and examined his find, he realized he was holding a rough-hewn stone slab with engraved words. He felt for an instant like a modern-day Moses.

As Silas read the words on the tablet, he felt surprise. He had expected the keystone to be a map, or a complex series of directions, perhaps even encoded. The keystone, however, bore the simplest of inscriptions.

Job 38:11

A Bible verse? Silas was stunned with the devilish simplicity. The secret location of that which they sought was revealed in a Bible verse? The brotherhood stopped at nothing to mock the righteous!

Job. Chapter thirty-eight. Verse eleven.

Although Silas did not recall the exact contents of verse eleven by heart, he knew the Book of Job told the story of a man whose faith in God survived repeated tests. Appropriate, he thought, barely able to contain his excitement.

Looking over his shoulder, he gazed down the shimmering Rose Line and couldn't help but smile. There atop the main altar, propped open on a gilded book stand, sat an enormous leather-bound Bible.

Up in the balcony, Sister Sandrine was shaking. Moments ago, she had been about to flee and carryout her orders, when the man below suddenly removed his cloak. When she saw his alabaster-white flesh, she was overcome with a horrified bewilderment. His broad, pale back was soaked with blood-red slashes. Even from here she could see the wounds were fresh.

This man has been mercilessly whipped!

She also saw the bloody cilice around his thigh, the wound beneath it dripping. What kind of God would want a body punished this way? The rituals of Opus Dei, Sister Sandrine knew, were not something she would ever understand. But that was hardly her concern at this instant. Opus Dei is searching for the keystone.How they knew of it, Sister Sandrine could not imagine, although she knew she did not have time to think.

The bloody monk was now quietly donning his cloak again, clutching his prize as he moved toward the altar, toward the Bible.

In breathless silence, Sister Sandrine left the balcony and raced down the hall to her quarters. Getting on her hands and knees, she reached beneath her wooden bed frame and retrieved the sealed envelope she had hidden there years ago.

Tearing it open, she found four Paris phone numbers. Trembling, she began to dial.

Downstairs, Silas laid the stone tablet on the altar and turned his eager hands to the leather Bible. His long white fingers were sweating now as he turned the pages. Flipping through the Old Testament, he found the Book of Job. He located chapter thirty-eight. As he ran his finger down the column of text, he anticipated the words he was about to read.

They will lead the way!

Finding verse number eleven, Silas read the text. It was only seven words. Confused, he read it again, sensing something had gone terribly wrong. The verse simply read:

HITHERTO SHALT THOU COME, BUT NO FURTHER.

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