Surprised, Langdon stopped short.

Fache glanced over. “I gather, Mr. Langdon, you have never seen the Louvre after hours?”

I guess not, Langdon thought, trying to get his bearings.

Usually impeccably illuminated, the Louvre galleries were startlingly dark tonight. Instead of the customary flat-white light

flowing down from above, a muted red glow seemed to emanate upward from the baseboards—intermittent patches of red light spilling out onto the tile floors.

As Langdon gazed down the murky corridor, he realized he should have anticipated this scene. Virtually all major galleries employed red service lighting at night—strategically placed, low-level, noninvasive lights that enabled staff members to navigate hallways and yet kept the paintings in relative darkness to slow the fading effects of overexposure to light. Tonight, the museum possessed an almost oppressive quality. Long shadows encroached everywhere, and the usually soaring vaulted ceilings appeared as a low, black void.

“This way,” Fache said, turning sharply right and setting out through a series of interconnected galleries.

Langdon followed, his vision slowly adjusting to the dark. All around, large-format oils began to materialize like photos developing before him in an enormous darkroom … their eyes following as he moved through the rooms. He could taste the familiar tang of museum air—an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon—the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Mounted high on the walls, the visible security cameras sent a clear message to visitors: We see you. Do not touch anything.

“Any of them real?” Langdon asked, motioning to the cameras. Fache shook his head. “Of course not.”

Langdon was not surprised. Video surveillance in museums this size was cost-prohibitive and ineffective. With acres of galleries to watch over, the Louvre would require several hundred technicians simply to monitor the feeds. Most large museums now used “containment security.” Forget keeping thieves out. Keep them in. Containment was activated after hours, and if an intruder removed a piece of artwork, compartmentalized exits would seal around that gallery, and the thief would find himself behind bars even before the police arrived.

The sound of voices echoed down the marble corridor up ahead. The noise seemed to be coming from a large recessed alcove that lay ahead on the right. A bright light spilled out into the hallway.

“Office of the curator,” the captain said.

As he and Fache drew nearer the alcove, Langdon peered down a short hallway, into Saunière’s luxurious study—warm wood, Old Master paintings, and an enormous antique desk on which stood a two-foot-tall model of a knight in full armor. A handful of police agents bustled about the room, talking on phones and taking notes. One of them was seated at Saunière’s desk, typing into a laptop. Apparently, the curator’s private office had become DCPJ’s makeshift command post for the evening.

“Messieurs,” Fache called out, and the men turned. “Ne nous dérangez pas sous aucun prétexte. Entendu?”

Everyone inside the office nodded their understanding.

Langdon had hung enough NE PAS DERANGER signs on hotel room

doors to catch the gist of the captain’s orders. Fache and Langdon were not to be disturbed under any circumstances.

Leaving the small congregation of agents behind, Fache led Langdon farther down the darkened hallway. Thirty yards ahead loomed the gateway to the Louvre’s most popular section—la Grande Galerie—a seemingly endless corridor that housed the Louvre’s most valuable Italian masterpieces. Langdon had already discerned that this was where Saunière’s body lay; the Grand Gallery’s famous parquet floor had been unmistakable in the Polaroid.

As they approached, Langdon saw the entrance was blocked by an enormous steel grate that looked like something used by medieval castles to keep out marauding armies.

“Containment security,” Fache said, as they neared the grate.

Even in the darkness, the barricade looked like it could have restrained a tank. Arriving outside, Langdon peered through the bars into the dimly lit caverns of the Grand Gallery.

“After you, Mr. Langdon,” Fache said. Langdon turned. After me, where?

Fache motioned toward the floor at the base of the grate.

Langdon looked down. In the darkness, he hadn’t noticed. The barricade was raised about two feet, providing an awkward clearance underneath.

“This area is still off limits to Louvre security,” Fache said. “My team from Police Technique et Scientiftque has just finished their investigation.” He motioned to the opening. “Please slide under.”

Langdon stared at the narrow crawl space at his feet and then up at the massive iron grate. He’s kidding, right? The barricade looked like a guillotine waiting to crush intruders.

Fache grumbled something in French and checked his watch. Then he dropped to his knees and slithered his bulky frame underneath the grate. On the other side, he stood up and looked back through the bars at Langdon.

Langdon sighed. Placing his palms flat on the polished parquet, he lay on his stomach and pulled himself forward. As he slid underneath, the nape of his Harris tweed snagged on the bottom of the grate, and he cracked the back of his head on the iron.

Very suave, Robert, he thought, fumbling and then finally pulling himself through. As he stood up, Langdon was beginning to suspect it was going to be a very long night.

CHAPTER S

Murray Hill Place—the new Opus Dei World Headquarters and conference center—is located at 243 Lexington Avenue in New York City. With a price tag of just over $47 million, the 133,000-square- foot tower is clad in red brick and Indiana limestone. Designed by May & Pinska, the building contains over one hundred bedrooms, six dining rooms, libraries, living rooms, meeting rooms, and offices. The second, eighth, and sixteenth floors contain chapels, ornamented with millwork and marble. The seventeenth floor is entirely residential. Men enter the building through the main doors on Lexington Avenue. Women enter through a side street and are “acoustically and visually separated” from the men at all times within the building.

Earlier this evening, within the sanctuary of his penthouse apartment, Bishop Manuel Aringarosa had packed a small travel bag and dressed in a traditional black cassock. Normally, he would have wrapped a purple cincture around his waist, but tonight he would be traveling among the public, and he preferred not to draw attention to his high office. Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué. Throwing the travel bag over his shoulder, he said a silent prayer and left his apartment, descending to the lobby where his driver was waiting to take him to the airport.

Now, sitting aboard a commercial airliner bound for Rome, Aringarosa gazed out the window at the dark Atlantic. The sun had already set, but Aringarosa knew his own star was on the rise. Tonight the battle will be won, he thought, amazed that only months ago he had felt powerless against the hands that threatened to destroy his empire.

As president-general of Opus Dei, Bishop Aringarosa had spent the last decade of his life spreading the message of “God’s Work”— literally, Opus Dei. The congregation, founded in 1928 by the

Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá, promoted a return to conservative Catholic values and encouraged its members to make sweeping sacrifices in their own lives in order to do the Work of God.

Opus Dei’s traditionalist philosophy initially had taken root in Spain before Franco’s regime, but with the 1934 publication of Josemaría Escrivá’s spiritual book The Way—999 points of meditation for doing God’s Work in one’s own life—Escrivá’s message exploded across the world. Now, with over four million copies of The Way in circulation in forty-two languages, Opus Dei was a global force. Its residence halls, teaching centers, and even universities could be found in almost every major metropolis on earth. Opus Dei was the fastest-growing and most financially secure Catholic organization in the world. Unfortunately, Aringarosa had learned, in an age of religious cynicism, cults, and televangelists, Opus Dei’s escalating wealth and power was a magnet for suspicion. “Many call Opus Dei a brainwashing cult,” reporters often challenged. “Others call you an ultraconservative Christian secret

society. Which are you?”

“Opus Dei is neither,” the bishop would patiently reply. “We are a Catholic Church. We are a congregation of Catholics who have chosen as our priority to follow Catholic doctrine as rigorously as we can in our own daily lives.”

“Does God’s Work necessarily include vows of chastity, tithing, and atonement for sins through self-flagellation and the cilice?

“You are describing only a small portion of the Opus Dei population,” Aringarosa said. “There are many levels of involvement. Thousands of Opus Dei members are married, have families, and do God’s Work in their own communities. Others choose lives of asceticism within our cloistered residence halls. These choices are personal, but everyone in Opus Dei shares the goal of bettering the world by doing the Work of God. Surely this is an admirable quest.”

Reason seldom worked, though. The media always gravitated toward scandal, and Opus Dei, like most large organizations, had within its membership a few misguided souls who cast a shadow over the entire group.

Two months ago, an Opus Dei group at a midwestern university had been caught drugging new recruits with mescaline in an effort to induce a euphoric state that neophytes would perceive as a religious experience. Another university student had used his barbed cilice belt more often than the recommended two hours a day and had given himself a near lethal infection. In Boston not long ago, a disillusioned young investment banker had signed over his entire life savings to Opus Dei before attempting suicide.

Misguided sheep, Aringarosa thought, his heart going out to them.

Of course the ultimate embarrassment had been the widely publicized trial of FBI spy Robert Hanssen, who, in addition to being a prominent member of Opus Dei, had turned out to be a sexual deviant, his trial uncovering evidence that he had rigged hidden video cameras in his own bedroom so his friends could watch him having sex with his wife. “Hardly the pastime of a devout Catholic,” the judge had noted.

Sadly, all of these events had helped spawn the new watch group known as the Opus Dei Awareness Network (ODAN). The group’s popular website—www.odan.org—relayed frightening stories from former Opus Dei members who warned of the dangers of joining. The media was now referring to Opus Dei as “God’s Mafia” and “the Cult of Christ.”

We fear what we do not understand, Aringarosa thought, wondering if these critics had any idea how many lives Opus Dei had enriched. The group enjoyed the full endorsement and blessing of the Vatican. Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Pope himself.

Recently, however, Opus Dei had found itself threatened by a force infinitely more powerful than the media … an unexpected foe from which Aringarosa could not possibly hide. Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

“They know not the war they have begun,” Aringarosa whispered to himself, staring out the plane’s window at the darkness of the ocean below. For an instant, his eyes refocused, lingering on the reflection of his awkward face—dark and oblong, dominated by a flat, crooked nose that had been shattered by a fist in Spain when he

was a young missionary. The physical flaw barely registered now. Aringarosa’s was a world of the soul, not of the flesh.

As the jet passed over the coast of Portugal, the cell phone in Aringarosa’s cassock began vibrating in silent ring mode. Despite airline regulations prohibiting the use of cell phones during flights, Aringarosa knew this was a call he could not miss. Only one man possessed this number, the man who had mailed Aringarosa the phone.

Excited, the bishop answered quietly. “Yes?”

“Silas has located the keystone,” the caller said. “It is in Paris.

Within the Church of Saint-Sulpice.”

Bishop Aringarosa smiled. “Then we are close.”

“We can obtain it immediately. But we need your influence.” “Of course. Tell me what to do.”

When Aringarosa switched off the phone, his heart was pounding. He gazed once again into the void of night, feeling dwarfed by the events he had put into motion.

Five hundred miles away, the albino named Silas stood over a small basin of water and dabbed the blood from his back, watching the patterns of red spinning in the water. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, he prayed, quoting Psalms. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Silas was feeling an aroused anticipation that he had not felt since his previous life. It both surprised and electrified him. For the last decade, he had been following The Way, cleansing himself of sins … rebuilding his life … erasing the violence in his past. Tonight, however, it had all come rushing back. The hatred he had fought so hard to bury had been summoned. He had been startled how quickly his past had resurfaced. And with it, of course, had come his skills. Rusty but serviceable.

Jesus’ message is one of peace … of nonviolence … of love. This was the message Silas had been taught from the beginning, and the message he held in his heart. And yet this was the message the

enemies of Christ now threatened to destroy. Those who threaten God with force will be met with force. Immovable and steadfast.

For two millennia, Christian soldiers had defended their faith against those who tried to displace it. Tonight, Silas had been called to battle.

Drying his wounds, he donned his ankle-length, hooded robe. It was plain, made of dark wool, accentuating the whiteness of his skin and hair. Tightening the rope-tie around his waist, he raised the hood over his head and allowed his red eyes to admire his reflection in the mirror. The wheels are in motion.

CHAPTER 6

Having squeezed beneath the security gate, Robert Langdon now stood just inside the entrance to the Grand Gallery. He was staring into the mouth of a long, deep canyon. On either side of the gallery, stark walls rose thirty feet, evaporating into the darkness above. The reddish glow of the service lighting sifted upward, casting an unnatural smolder across a staggering collection of Da Vincis, Titians, and Caravaggios that hung suspended from ceiling cables. Still lifes, religious scenes, and landscapes accompanied portraits of nobility and politicians.

Although the Grand Gallery housed the Louvre’s most famous Italian art, many visitors felt the wing’s most stunning offering was actually its famous parquet floor. Laid out in a dazzling geometric design of diagonal oak slats, the floor produced an ephemeral optical illusion—a multi-dimensional network that gave visitors the sense they were floating through the gallery on a surface that changed with every step.

As Langdon’s gaze began to trace the inlay, his eyes stopped short on an unexpected object lying on the floor just a few yards to his left, surrounded by police tape. He spun toward Fache. “Is that … a Caravaggio on the floor?”