Chapter 63-67

 

CHAPTER 63

Lieutenant Collet stood alone at the foot of Leigh Teabing's driveway and gazed up at the massive house. Isolated.Dark.Good ground cover.Collet watched his half-dozen agents spreading silently out along the length of the fence. They could be over it and have the house surrounded in a matter of minutes. Langdon could not have chosen a more ideal spot for Collet's men to make a surprise assault.

Collet was about to call Fache himself when at last his phone rang.

Fache sounded not nearly as pleased with the developments as Collet would have imagined. "Why didn't someone tell me we had a lead on Langdon?"

"You were on a phone call and - "

"Where exactly are you, Lieutenant Collet?"

Collet gave him the address. "The estate belongs to a British national named Teabing. Langdon drove a fair distance to get here, and the vehicle is inside the security gate, with no signs of forced entry, so chances are good that Langdon knows the occupant."

"I'm coming out," Fache said. "Don't make a move. I'll handle this personally."

Collet's jaw dropped. "But Captain, you're twenty minutes away! We should act immediately. I have him staked out. I'm with eight men total. Four of us have field rifles and the others have side arms." "Wait for me." "Captain, what if Langdon has a hostage in there? What if he sees us and decides to leave on foot? We need to move now! My men are in position and ready to go."

"Lieutenant Collet, you will wait for me to arrive before taking action. That is an order." Fache hung up.

Stunned, Lieutenant Collet switched off his phone. Why the hell is Fache asking me to wait? Collet knew the answer. Fache, though famous for his instinct, was notorious for his pride. Fache wants credit for the arrest.After putting the American's face all over the television, Fache wanted to be sure his own face got equal time. Collet's job was simply to hold down the fort until the boss showed up to save the day.

As he stood there, Collet flashed on a second possible explanation for this delay. Damage control. In law enforcement, hesitating to arrest a fugitive only occurred when uncertainty had arisen regarding the suspect's guilt. Is Fache having second thoughts that Langdon is the right man? The thought was frightening. Captain Fache had gone out on a limb tonight to arrest Robert Langdon - surveillance cachee, Interpol, and now television. Not even the great Bezu Fache would survive the political fallout if he had mistakenly splashed a prominent American's face all over French television, claiming he was a murderer. If Fache now realized he'd made a mistake, then it made perfect sense that he would tell Collet not to make a move. The last thing Fache needed was for Collet to storm an innocent Brit's private estate and take Langdon at gunpoint.

Moreover, Collet realized, if Langdon were innocent, it explained one of this case's strangest paradoxes: Why had Sophie Neveu, the granddaughter of the victim, helped the alleged killer escape? Unless Sophie knew Langdon was falsely charged. Fache had posited all kinds of explanations tonight to explain Sophie's odd behavior, including that Sophie, as Sauniere's sole heir, had persuaded her secret lover Robert Langdon to kill off Sauniere for the inheritance money. Sauniere, if he had suspected this, might have left the police the message P. S.Find RobertLangdon.Collet was fairly certain something else was going on here. Sophie Neveu seemed far too solid of character to be mixed up in something that sordid.

"Lieutenant?" One of the field agents came running over. "We found a car."

Collet followed the agent about fifty yards past the driveway. The agent pointed to a wide shoulder on the opposite side of the road. There, parked in the brush, almost out of sight, was a black Audi. It had rental plates. Collet felt the hood. Still warm. Hot even.

"That must be how Langdon got here," Collet said. "Call the rental company. Find out if it's stolen."

"Yes, sir."

Another agent waved Collet back over in the direction of the fence. "Lieutenant, have a look at this." He handed Collet a pair of night vision binoculars. "The grove of trees near the top of the driveway."

Collet aimed the binoculars up the hill and adjusted the image intensifier dials. Slowly, the greenish shapes came into focus. He located the curve of the driveway and slowly followed it up, reaching the grove of trees. All he could do was stare. There, shrouded in the greenery, was an armored truck. A truck identical to the one Collet had permitted to leave the Depository Bank of Zurich earlier tonight. He prayed this was some kind of bizarre coincidence, but he knew it could not be.

"It seems obvious," the agent said," that this truck is how Langdon and Neveu got away from the bank."

Collet was speechless. He thought of the armored truck driver he had stopped at the roadblock. The Rolex. His impatience to leave. I never checked the cargo hold.

Incredulous, Collet realized that someone in the bank had actually lied to DCPJ about Langdon and Sophie's whereabouts and then helped them escape. But who? And why? Collet wondered if maybe this were the reason Fache had told him not to take action yet. Maybe Fache realized there were more people involved tonight than just Langdon and Sophie. And if Langdon and Neveu arrived inthe armored truck, then who drove the Audi?

Hundreds of miles to the south, a chartered Beechcraft Baron 58 raced northward over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Despite calm skies, Bishop Aringarosa clutched an airsickness bag, certain he could be ill at any moment. His conversation with Paris had not at all been what he had imagined.

Alone in the small cabin, Aringarosa twisted the gold ring on his finger and tried to ease his overwhelming sense of fear and desperation. Everything in Paris has gone terribly wrong.Closing his eyes, Aringarosa said a prayer that Bezu Fache would have the means to fix it.

CHAPTER 64

Teabing sat on the divan, cradling the wooden box on his lap and admiring the lid's intricate inlaid Rose. Tonight has become the strangest and most magical night of my life.

"Lift the lid," Sophie whispered, standing over him, beside Langdon.

Teabing smiled. Do not rush me.Having spent over a decade searching for this keystone, he wanted to savor every millisecond of this moment. He ran a palm across the wooden lid, feeling the texture of the inlaid flower.

"The Rose," he whispered. The Rose is Magdalene is the Holy Grail.The Rose is the compass that guides the way.Teabing felt foolish. For years he had traveled to cathedrals and churches all over France, paying for special access, examining hundreds of archways beneath rose windows, searching for an encrypted keystone. La clef de voute - a stone key beneath the sign of the Rose.

Teabing slowly unlatched the lid and raised it.

As his eyes finally gazed upon the contents, he knew in an instant it could only be the keystone. He was staring at a stone cylinder, crafted of interconnecting lettered dials. The device seemed surprisingly familiar to him.

"Designed from Da Vinci's diaries," Sophie said. "My grandfather made them as a hobby."

Of course, Teabing realized. He had seen the sketches and blueprints. The key to finding the Holy Grail lies inside this stone.Teabing lifted the heavy cryptex from the box, holding it gently. Although he had no idea how to open the cylinder, he sensed his own destiny lay inside. In moments of failure, Teabing had questioned whether his life's quest would ever be rewarded. Now those doubts were gone forever. He could hear the ancient words... the foundation of the Grail legend:

Vous ne trouvez pas le Saint-Graal, c'est le Saint-Graal qui vous trouve. You do not find the Grail, the Grail finds you. And tonight, incredibly, the key to finding the Holy Grail had walked right through his front door.

While Sophie and Teabing sat with the cryptex and talked about the vinegar, the dials, and what the password might be, Langdon carried the rosewood box across the room to a well-lit table to get a better look at it. Something Teabing had just said was now running through Langdon's mind.

The key to the Grail is hidden beneath the sign of the Rose.

Langdon held the wooden box up to the light and examined the inlaid symbol of the Rose. Although his familiarity with art did not include woodworking or inlaid furniture, he had just recalled the famous tiled ceiling of the Spanish monastery outside of Madrid, where, three centuries after its construction, the ceiling tiles began to fall out, revealing sacred texts scrawled by monks on the plaster beneath.

Langdon looked again at the Rose.

Beneath the Rose. Sub Rosa. Secret.

A bump in the hallway behind him made Langdon turn. He saw nothing but shadows. Teabing's manservant most likely had passed through. Langdon turned back to the box. He ran his finger over the smooth edge of the inlay, wondering if he could pry the Rose out, but the craftsmanship was perfect. He doubted even a razor blade could fit in between the inlaid Rose and the carefully carved depression into which it was seated.

Opening the box, he examined the inside of the lid. It was smooth. As he shifted its position, though, the light caught what appeared to be a small hole on the underside of the lid, positioned in the exact center. Langdon closed the lid and examined the inlaid symbol from the top. No hole.

It doesn't pass through.

Setting the box on the table, he looked around the room and spied a stack of papers with a paper clip on it. Borrowing the clip, he returned to the box, opened it, and studied the hole again. Carefully, he unbent the paper clip and inserted one end into the hole. He gave a gentle push. It took almost no effort. He heard something clatter quietly onto the table. Langdon closed the lid to look. It was a small piece of wood, like a puzzle piece. The wooden Rose had popped out of the lid and fallen onto the desk.

Speechless, Langdon stared at the bare spot on the lid where the Rose had been. There, engraved in the wood, written in an immaculate hand, were four lines of text in a language he had never seen.

The characters look vaguely Semitic, Langdon thought to himself, and yet I don't recognize the language!

A sudden movement behind him caught his attention. Out of nowhere, a crushing blow to the head knocked Langdon to his knees.

As he fell, he thought for a moment he saw a pale ghost hovering over him, clutching a gun. Then everything went black.

CHAPTER 65

Sophie Neveu, despite working in law enforcement, had never found herself at gunpoint until tonight. Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair. He looked at her with red eyes that radiated a frightening, disembodied quality. Dressed in a wool robe with a rope tie, he resembled a medieval cleric. Sophie could not imagine who he was, and yet she was feeling a sudden newfound respect for Teabing's suspicions that the Church was behind this.

"You know what I have come for," the monk said, his voice hollow.

Sophie and Teabing were seated on the divan, arms raised as their attacker had commanded. Langdon lay groaning on the floor. The monk's eyes fell immediately to the keystone on Teabing's lap.

Teabing's tone was defiant. "You will not be able to open it."

"My Teacher is very wise," the monk replied, inching closer, the gun shifting between Teabing and Sophie.

Sophie wondered where Teabing's manservant was. Didn't he hear Robert fall?

"Who is your teacher?" Teabing asked. "Perhaps we can make a financial arrangement." "The Grail is priceless." He moved closer." You're bleeding," Teabing noted calmly, nodding to the monk's right ankle where a trickle of blood had run down his leg. "And you're limping."

"As do you," the monk replied, motioning to the metal crutches propped beside Teabing. "Now, hand me the keystone."

"You know of the keystone?" Teabing said, sounding surprised. "Never mind what I know. Stand up slowly, and give it to me." "Standing is difficult for me." "Precisely. I would prefer nobody attempt any quick moves."

Teabing slipped his right hand through one of his crutches and grasped the keystone in his left. Lurching to his feet, he stood erect, palming the heavy cylinder in his left hand, and leaning unsteadily on his crutch with his right.

The monk closed to within a few feet, keeping the gun aimed directly at Teabing's head. Sophie watched, feeling helpless as the monk reached out to take the cylinder.

"You will not succeed," Teabing said. "Only the worthy can unlock this stone."

God alone judges the worthy, Silas thought.

"It's quite heavy," the man on crutches said, his arm wavering now. "If you don't take it soon, I'm afraid I shall drop it!" He swayed perilously.

Silas stepped quickly forward to take the stone, and as he did, the man on crutches lost his balance. The crutch slid out from under him, and he began to topple sideways to his right. No! Silas lunged to save the stone, lowering his weapon in the process. But the keystone was moving away from him now. As the man fell to his right, his left hand swung backward, and the cylinder tumbled from his palm onto the couch. At the same instant, the metal crutch that had been sliding out from under the man seemed to accelerate, cutting a wide arc through the air toward Silas's leg.

Splinters of pain tore up Silas's body as the crutch made perfect contact with his cilice, crushing the barbs into his already raw flesh. Buckling, Silas crumpled to his knees, causing the belt to cut deeper still. The pistol discharged with a deafening roar, the bullet burying itself harmlessly in the floorboards as Silas fell. Before he could raise the gun and fire again, the woman's foot caught him square beneath the jaw.

At the bottom of the driveway, Collet heard the gunshot. The muffled pop sent panic through his veins. With Fache on the way, Collet had already relinquished any hopes of claiming personal credit for finding Langdon tonight. But Collet would be damned if Fache's ego landed him in front of a Ministerial Review Board for negligent police procedure.

A weapon was discharged inside a private home! And you waited at the bottom of the driveway?

Collet knew the opportunity for a stealth approach had long since passed. He also knew if he stood idly by for another second, his entire career would be history by morning. Eyeing the estate's iron gate, he made his decision.

"Tie on, and pull it down."

In the distant recesses of his groggy mind, Robert Langdon had heard the gunshot. He'd also heard a scream of pain. His own? A jackhammer was boring a hole into the back of his cranium. Somewhere nearby, people were talking.

"Where the devil were you?" Teabing was yelling. The manservant hurried in. "What happened? Oh my God! Who is that? I'll call the police!" "Bloody hell! Don't call the police. Make yourself useful and get us something with which to restrain this monster."

"And some ice!" Sophie called after him.

Langdon drifted out again. More voices. Movement. Now he was seated on the divan. Sophie was holding an ice pack to his head. His skull ached. As Langdon's vision finally began to clear, he found himself staring at a body on the floor. Am I hallucinating? The massive body of an albino monk lay bound and gagged with duct tape. His chin was split open, and the robe over his right thigh was soaked with blood. He too appeared to be just now coming to.

Langdon turned to Sophie. "Who is that? What... happened?"

Teabing hobbled over. "You were rescued by a knight brandishing an Excalibur made by Acme Orthopedic."

Huh? Langdon tried to sit up.

Sophie's touch was shaken but tender. "Just give yourself a minute, Robert."

"I fear," Teabing said," that I've just demonstrated for your lady friend the unfortunate benefit of my condition. It seems everyone underestimates you."

From his seat on the divan, Langdon gazed down at the monk and tried to imagine what had happened.

"He was wearing a cilice,"Teabing explained. "A what?" Teabing pointed to a bloody strip of barbed leather that lay on the floor. "A Discipline belt. He wore it on his thigh. I took careful aim."

Langdon rubbed his head. He knew of Discipline belts. "But how... did you know?"

Teabing grinned. "Christianity is my field of study, Robert, and there are certain sects who wear their hearts on their sleeves." He pointed his crutch at the blood soaking through the monk's cloak. "As it were."

"Opus Dei," Langdon whispered, recalling recent media coverage of several prominent Boston businessmen who were members of Opus Dei. Apprehensive coworkers had falsely and publicly accused the men of wearing Discipline belts beneath their three-piece suits. In fact, the three men did no such thing. Like many members of Opus Dei, these businessmen were at the" supernumerary" stage and practiced no corporal mortification at all. They were devout Catholics, caring fathers to their children, and deeply dedicated members of the community. Not surprisingly, the media spotlighted their spiritual commitment only briefly before moving on to the shock value of the sect's more stringent" numerary" members... members like the monk now lying on the floor before Langdon.

Teabing was looking closely at the bloody belt. "But why would Opus Dei be trying to find the Holy Grail?"

Langdon was too groggy to consider it.

"Robert," Sophie said, walking to the wooden box. "What's this?" She was holding the small Rose inlay he had removed from the lid." It covered an engraving on the box. I think the text might tell us how to open the keystone." Before Sophie and Teabing could respond, a sea of blue police lights and sirens erupted at thebottom of the hill and began snaking up the half-mile driveway.

Teabing frowned. "My friends, it seems we have a decision to make. And we'd better make it fast."

CHAPTER 66

Collet and his agents burst through the front door of Sir Leigh Teabing's estate with their guns drawn. Fanning out, they began searching all the rooms on the first level. They found a bullet hole in the drawing room floor, signs of a struggle, a small amount of blood, a strange, barbed leather belt, and a partially used roll of duct tape. The entire level seemed deserted.

Just as Collet was about to divide his men to search the basement and grounds behind the house, he heard voices on the level above them.

"They're upstairs!"

Rushing up the wide staircase, Collet and his men moved room by room through the huge home, securing darkened bedrooms and hallways as they closed in on the sounds of voices. The sound seemed to be coming from the last bedroom on an exceptionally long hallway. The agents inched down the corridor, sealing off alternate exits.

As they neared the final bedroom, Collet could see the door was wide open. The voices had stopped suddenly, and had been replaced by an odd rumbling, like an engine.

Sidearm raised, Collet gave the signal. Reaching silently around the door frame, he found the light switch and flicked it on. Spinning into the room with men pouring in after him, Collet shouted and aimed his weapon at... nothing.

An empty guest bedroom. Pristine.

The rumbling sounds of an automobile engine poured from a black electronic panel on the wall beside the bed. Collet had seen these elsewhere in the house. Some kind of intercom system. He raced over. The panel had about a dozen labeled buttons:

STUDY... KITCHEN... LAUNDRY... CELLAR...

So where the hell do I hear a car?

MASTER BEDROOM... SUN ROOM... BARN... LIBRARY...

Barn! Collet was downstairs in seconds, running toward the back door, grabbing one of his agents on the way. The men crossed the rear lawn and arrived breathless at the front of a weathered gray barn. Even before they entered, Collet could hear the fading sounds of a car engine. He drew his weapon, rushed in, and flicked on the lights.

The right side of the barn was a rudimentary workshop - lawn-mowers, automotive tools, gardening supplies. A familiar intercom panel hung on the wall nearby. One of its buttons was flipped down, transmitting.

GUEST BEDROOM II.

Collet wheeled, anger brimming. They lured us upstairs with the intercom! Searching the other side of the barn, he found a long line of horse stalls. No horses. Apparently the owner preferred a different kind of horsepower; the stalls had been converted into an impressive automotive parking facility. The collection was astonishing - a black Ferrari, a pristine Rolls-Royce, an antique Astin Martin sports coupe, a vintage Porsche 356.

The last stall was empty.

Collet ran over and saw oil stains on the stall floor. They can't get off the compound.The driveway and gate were barricaded with two patrol cars to prevent this very situation.

"Sir?" The agent pointed down the length of the stalls.

The barn's rear slider was wide open, giving way to a dark, muddy slope of rugged fields that stretched out into the night behind the barn. Collet ran to the door, trying to see out into the darkness. All he could make out was the faint shadow of a forest in the distance. No headlights. This wooded valley was probably crisscrossed by dozens of unmapped fire roads and hunting trails, but Collet was confident his quarry would never make the woods. "Get some men spread out down there. They're probably already stuck somewhere nearby. These fancy sports cars can't handle terrain."

"Um, sir?" The agent pointed to a nearby pegboard on which hung several sets of keys. The labels above the keys bore familiar names.

DAIMLER... ROLLS-ROYCE... ASTIN MARTIN... PORSCHE...

The last peg was empty.

When Collet read the label above the empty peg, he knew he was in trouble.

CHAPTER 67

The Range Rover was Java Black Pearl, four-wheel drive, standard transmission, with high- strength polypropylene lamps, rear light cluster fittings, and the steering wheel on the right.

Langdon was pleased he was not driving.

Teabing's manservant Remy, on orders from his master, was doing an impressive job of maneuvering the vehicle across the moonlit fields behind Chateau Villette. With no headlights, he had crossed an open knoll and was now descending a long slope, moving farther away from the estate. He seemed to be heading toward a jagged silhouette of wooded land in the distance.

Langdon, cradling the keystone, turned in the passenger seat and eyed Teabing and Sophie in the back seat.

"How's your head, Robert?" Sophie asked, sounding concerned. Langdon forced a pained smile. "Better, thanks." It was killing him. Beside her, Teabing glanced over his shoulder at the bound and gagged monk lying in the cramped luggage area behind the back seat. Teabing had the monk's gun on his lap and looked like an old photo of a British safari chap posing over his kill.

"So glad you popped in this evening, Robert," Teabing said, grinning as if he were having fun for the first time in years.

"Sorry to get you involved in this, Leigh."

"Oh, please, I've waited my entire life to be involved." Teabing looked past Langdon out the windshield at the shadow of a long hedgerow. He tapped Remy on the shoulder from behind." Remember, no brake lights. Use the emergency brake if you need it. I want to get into the woods a bit. No reason to risk them seeing us from the house."

Remy coasted to a crawl and guided the Range Rover through an opening in the hedge. As the vehicle lurched onto an overgrown pathway, almost immediately the trees overhead blotted out the moonlight.

I can't see a thing, Langdon thought, straining to distinguish any shapes at all in front of them. It was pitch black. Branches rubbed against the left side of the vehicle, and Remy corrected in the other direction. Keeping the wheel more or less straight now, he inched ahead about thirty yards.

"You're doing beautifully, Remy," Teabing said. "That should be far enough. Robert, if you could press that little blue button just below the vent there. See it?"

Langdon found the button and pressed it.

A muted yellow glow fanned out across the path in front of them, revealing thick underbrush on either side of the pathway. Fog lights, Langdon realized. They gave off just enough light to keep them on the path, and yet they were deep enough into the woods now that the lights would not give them away.

"Well, Remy," Teabing chimed happily. "The lights are on. Our lives are in your hands." "Where are we going?" Sophie asked." This trail continues about three kilometers into the forest," Teabing said. "Cutting across the estate and then arching north. Provided we don't hit any standing water or fallen trees, we shall emerge unscathed on the shoulder of highway five."

Unscathed.Langdon's head begged to differ. He turned his eyes down to his own lap, where the keystone was safely stowed in its wooden box. The inlaid Rose on the lid was back in place, and although his head felt muddled, Langdon was eager to remove the inlay again and examine the engraving beneath more closely. He unlatched the lid and began to raise it when Teabing laid a hand on his shoulder from behind.

"Patience, Robert," Teabing said. "It's bumpy and dark. God save us if we break anything. If you didn't recognize the language in the light, you won't do any better in the dark. Let's focus on getting away in one piece, shall we? There will be time for that very soon."

Langdon knew Teabing was right. With a nod, he relatched the box.

The monk in back was moaning now, struggling against his trusses. Suddenly, he began kicking wildly.

Teabing spun around and aimed the pistol over the seat. "I can't imagine your complaint, sir. You trespassed in my home and planted a nasty welt on the skull of a dear friend. I would be well within my rights to shoot you right now and leave you to rot in the woods." The monk fell silent." Are you sure we should have brought him?" Langdon asked.

"Bloody well positive!" Teabing exclaimed. "You're wanted for murder, Robert. This scoundrel is your ticket to freedom. The police apparently want you badly enough to have tailed you to my home."

"My fault," Sophie said. "The armored car probably had a transmitter."

"Not the point," Teabing said. "I'm not surprised the police found you, but I am surprised that this Opus Dei character found you. From all you've told me, I can't imagine how this man could have tailed you to my home unless he had a contact either within the Judicial Police or within the Zurich Depository."

Langdon considered it. Bezu Fache certainly seemed intent on finding a scapegoat for tonight's murders. And Vernet had turned on them rather suddenly, although considering Langdon was being charged with four murders, the banker's change of heart seemed understandable.

"This monk is not working alone, Robert," Teabing said," and until you learn who is behind all this, you both are in danger. The good news, my friend, is that you are now in the position of power. This monster behind me holds that information, and whoever is pulling his strings has got to be quite nervous right now."

Remy was picking up speed, getting comfortable with the trail. They splashed through some water, climbed a small rise, and began descending again.

"Robert, could you be so kind as to hand me that phone?" Teabing pointed to the car phone on the dash. Langdon handed it back, and Teabing dialed a number. He waited for a very long time before someone answered. "Richard? Did I wake you? Of course, I did. Silly question. I'm sorry. I have a small problem. I'm feeling a bit off. Remy and I need to pop up to the Isles for my treatments. Well, right away, actually. Sorry for the short notice. Can you have Elizabeth ready in about twenty minutes? I know, do the best you can. See you shortly." He hung up.

"Elizabeth?" Langdon said.

"My plane. She cost me a Queen's ransom." Langdon turned full around and looked at him." What?" Teabing demanded. "You two can't expect to stay in France with the entire Judicial Police after you. London will be much safer."

Sophie had turned to Teabing as well. "You think we should leave the country?"

"My friends, I am far more influential in the civilized world than here in France. Furthermore, the Grail is believed to be in Great Britain. If we unlock the keystone, I am certain we will discover a map that indicates we have moved in the proper direction."

"You're running a big risk," Sophie said," by helping us. You won't make any friends with the French police."

Teabing gave a wave of disgust. "I am finished with France. I moved here to find the keystone. That work is now done. I shan't care if I ever again see Chateau Villette."

Sophie sounded uncertain. "How will we get through airport security?"

Teabing chuckled. "I fly from Le Bourget - an executive airfield not far from here. French doctors make me nervous, so every fortnight, I fly north to take my treatments in England. I pay for certain special privileges at both ends. Once we're airborne, you can make a decision as to whether or not you'd like someone from the U. S. Embassy to meet us."

Langdon suddenly didn't want anything to do with the embassy. All he could think of was the keystone, the inscription, and whether it would all lead to the Grail. He wondered if Teabing was right about Britain. Admittedly most modern legends placed the Grail somewhere in the United Kingdom. Even King Arthur's mythical, Grail-rich Isle of Avalon was now believed to be none other than Glastonbury, England. Wherever the Grail lay, Langdon never imagined he would actually be looking for it. The Sangreal documents.The true history of Jesus Christ.The tomb of Mary Magdalene.He suddenly felt as if he were living in some kind of limbo tonight... a bubble where the real world could not reach him.

"Sir?" Remy said. "Are you truly thinking of returning to England for good?"

"Remy, you needn't worry," Teabing assured. "Just because I am returning to the Queen's realm does not mean I intend to subject my palate to bangers and mash for the rest of my days. I expect you will join me there permanently. I'm planning to buy a splendid villa in Devonshire, and we'll have all your things shipped up immediately. An adventure, Remy. I say, an adventure!"

Langdon had to smile. As Teabing railed on about his plans for a triumphant return to Britain, Langdon felt himself caught up in the man's infectious enthusiasm.

Gazing absently out the window, Langdon watched the woods passing by, ghostly pale in the yellow blush of the fog lights. The side mirror was tipped inward, brushed askew by branches, and Langdon saw the reflection of Sophie sitting quietly in the back seat. He watched her for a long while and felt an unexpected upwelling of contentment. Despite his troubles tonight, Langdon was thankful to have landed in such good company.

After several minutes, as if suddenly sensing his eyes on her, Sophie leaned forward and put her hands on his shoulders, giving him a quick rub. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Langdon said. "Somehow."

Sophie sat back in her seat, and Langdon saw a quiet smile cross her lips. He realized that he too was now grinning.

Wedged in the back of the Range Rover, Silas could barely breathe. His arms were wrenched backward and heavily lashed to his ankles with kitchen twine and duct tape. Every bump in the road sent pain shooting through his twisted shoulders. At least his captors had removed the cilice. Unable to inhale through the strip of tape over his mouth, he could only breathe through his nostrils, which were slowly clogging up due to the dusty rear cargo area into which he had been crammed. He began coughing.

"I think he's choking," the French driver said, sounding concerned.

The British man who had struck Silas with his crutch now turned and peered over the seat, frowning coldly at Silas. "Fortunately for you, we British judge man's civility not by his compassion for his friends, but by his compassion for his enemies." The Brit reached down and grabbed the duct tape on Silas's mouth. In one fast motion, he tore it off.

Silas felt as if his lips had just caught fire, but the air pouring into his lungs was sent from God. "Whom do you work for?" the British man demanded." I do the work of God," Silas spat back through the pain in his jaw where the woman had kicked him.

"You belong to Opus Dei," the man said. It was not a question. "You know nothing of who I am." "Why does Opus Dei want the keystone?"

Silas had no intention of answering. The keystone was the link to the Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail was the key to protecting the faith.

I do the work of God. The Way is in peril.

Now, in the Range Rover, struggling against his bonds, Silas feared he had failed the Teacher and the bishop forever. He had no way even to contact them and tell them the terrible turn of events. My captors have the keystone! They will reach the Grail before we do! In the stifling darkness, Silas prayed. He let the pain of his body fuel his supplications.

A miracle, Lord.I need a miracle.Silas had no way of knowing that hours from now, he would get one.

"Robert?" Sophie was still watching him. "A funny look just crossed your face."

Langdon glanced back at her, realizing his jaw was firmly set and his heart was racing. An incredible notion had just occurred to him. Could it really be that simple an explanation?" I need to use your cell phone, Sophie." "Now?" "I think I just figured something out." "What?" "I'll tell you in a minute. I need your phone."

Sophie looked wary. "I doubt Fache is tracing, but keep it under a minute just in case." She gave him her phone.

"How do I dial the States?"

"You need to reverse the charges. My service doesn't cover transatlantic."

Langdon dialed zero, knowing that the next sixty seconds might answer a question that had been puzzling him all night.

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