“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 the bottom 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.”
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.
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— lawnmowers, 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.
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 Rémy, on orders from his master, was doing an impressive job of maneuvering the vehicle across the moonlit fields behind Château 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 Rémy 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.”
Rémy 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 Rémy corrected in the other direction. Keeping the wheel more or less straight now, he inched ahead about thirty yards.
“You’re doing beautifully, Rémy,” 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, Rémy,” 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.