"All four are gone. The three senechaux...and the Grand Master himself."
There was a momentary pause, as if for prayer. "Then I assume you have the information?" "All four concurred. Independently." "And you believed them?"
"Their agreement was too great for coincidence."
An excited breath. "Excellent. I had feared the brotherhood's reputation for secrecy might prevail." "The prospect of death is strong motivation." "So, my pupil, tell me what I must know."
Silas knew the information he had gleaned from his victims would come as a shock. "Teacher, all four confirmed the existence of the clef de voute...the legendary keystone."
He heard a quick intake of breath over the phone and could feel the Teacher's excitement. "The keystone.Exactly as we suspected."
According to lore, the brotherhood had created a map of stone - a clef de voute...or keystone - an engraved tablet that revealed the final resting place of the brotherhood's greatest secret... information so powerful that its protection was the reason for the brotherhood's very existence. "When we possess the keystone," the Teacher said," we will be only one step away." "We are closer than you think. The keystone is here in Paris." "Paris? Incredible. It is almost too easy." Silas relayed the earlier events of the evening... how all four of his victims, moments before death, had desperately tried to buy back their godless lives by telling their secret. Each had told Silas the exact same thing - that the keystone was ingeniously hidden at a precise location inside one of Paris's ancient churches - the Eglise de Saint-Sulpice.
"Inside a house of the Lord," the Teacher exclaimed. "How they mock us!" "As they have for centuries." The Teacher fell silent, as if letting the triumph of this moment settle over him. Finally, he spoke. "You have done a great service to God. We have waited centuries for this. You must retrieve the stone for me. Immediately. Tonight. You understand the stakes."
Silas knew the stakes were incalculable, and yet what the Teacher was now commanding seemed impossible. "But the church, it is a fortress. Especially at night. How will I enter?"
With the confident tone of a man of enormous influence, the Teacher explained what was to be done.
When Silas hung up the phone, his skin tingled with anticipation.
One hour, he told himself, grateful that the Teacher had given him time to carry out the necessary penance before entering a house of God. I must purge my soul of today's sins.The sins committed today had been holy in purpose. Acts of war against the enemies of God had been committed for centuries. Forgiveness was assured.
Even so, Silas knew, absolution required sacrifice.
Pulling his shades, he stripped naked and knelt in the center of his room. Looking down, he examined the spiked cilice belt clamped around his thigh. All true followers of The Way wore this device - a leather strap, studded with sharp metal barbs that cut into the flesh as a perpetual reminder of Christ's suffering. The pain caused by the device also helped counteract the desires of the flesh.
Although Silas already had worn his cilice today longer than the requisite two hours, he knew today was no ordinary day. Grasping the buckle, he cinched it one notch tighter, wincing as the barbs dug deeper into his flesh. Exhaling slowly, he savored the cleansing ritual of his pain.
Pain is good, Silas whispered, repeating the sacred mantra of Father Josemaria Escriva - the Teacher of all Teachers. Although Escriva had died in 1975, his wisdom lived on, his words still whispered by thousands of faithful servants around the globe as they knelt on the floor and performed the sacred practice known as" corporal mortification."
Silas turned his attention now to a heavy knotted rope coiled neatly on the floor beside him. TheDiscipline. The knots were caked with dried blood. Eager for the purifying effects of his own agony, Silas said a quick prayer. Then, gripping one end of the rope, he closed his eyes and swung it hard over his shoulder, feeling the knots slap against his back. He whipped it over his shoulder again, slashing at his flesh. Again and again, he lashed.
Castigo corpus meum.
Finally, he felt the blood begin to flow.
The crisp April air whipped through the open window of the Citroen ZX as it skimmed south past the Opera House and crossed Place Vendôme. In the passenger seat, Robert Langdon felt the city tear past him as he tried to clear his thoughts. His quick shower and shave had left him looking reasonably presentable but had done little to ease his anxiety. The frightening image of the curator's body remained locked in his mind.
Jacques Sauniere is dead.
Langdon could not help but feel a deep sense of loss at the curator's death. Despite Sauniere's reputation for being reclusive, his recognition for dedication to the arts made him an easy man to revere. His books on the secret codes hidden in the paintings of Poussin and Teniers were some of Langdon's favorite classroom texts. Tonight's meeting had been one Langdon was very much looking forward to, and he was disappointed when the curator had not shown.
Again the image of the curator's body flashed in his mind. Jacques Sauniere did that to himself?Langdon turned and looked out the window, forcing the picture from his mind.
Outside, the city was just now winding down - street vendors wheeling carts of candied amandes, waiters carrying bags of garbage to the curb, a pair of late night lovers cuddling to stay warm in a breeze scented with jasmine blossom. The Citroen navigated the chaos with authority, its dissonant two-tone siren parting the traffic like a knife.
"Le capitaine was pleased to discover you were still in Paris tonight," the agent said, speaking for the first time since they'd left the hotel. "A fortunate coincidence."
Langdon was feeling anything but fortunate, and coincidence was a concept he did not entirely trust. As someone who had spent his life exploring the hidden interconnectivity of disparate emblems and ideologies, Langdon viewed the world as a web of profoundly intertwined histories and events. The connections may be invisible, he often preached to his symbology classes at Harvard, but they are always there, buried just beneath the surface.
"I assume," Langdon said," that the American University of Paris told you where I was staying?" The driver shook his head. "Interpol." Interpol, Langdon thought. Of course.He had forgotten that the seemingly innocuous request of all European hotels to see a passport at check-in was more than a quaint formality - it was the law. On any given night, all across Europe, Interpol officials could pinpoint exactly who was sleeping where. Finding Langdon at the Ritz had probably taken all of five seconds.
As the Citroen accelerated southward across the city, the illuminated profile of the Eiffel Tower appeared, shooting skyward in the distance to the right. Seeing it, Langdon thought of Vittoria, recalling their playful promise a year ago that every six months they would meet again at a different romantic spot on the globe. The Eiffel Tower, Langdon suspected, would have made their list. Sadly, he last kissed Vittoria in a noisy airport in Rome more than a year ago.
"Did you mount her?" the agent asked, looking over.
Langdon glanced up, certain he had misunderstood. "I beg your pardon?"
"She is lovely, no?" The agent motioned through the windshield toward the Eiffel Tower. "Have you mounted her?"
Langdon rolled his eyes. "No, I haven't climbed the tower." "She is the symbol of France. I think she is perfect." Langdon nodded absently. Symbologists often remarked that France - a country renowned for machismo, womanizing, and diminutive insecure leaders like Napoleon and Pepin the Short - could not have chosen a more apt national emblem than a thousand-foot phallus.