Teabing laughed. “Yes, imagine their surprise if they board and find Rémy.”
Sophie looked surprised by his cavalier attitude. “Leigh, you transported a bound hostage across international borders. This is serious.”
“So are my lawyers.” He scowled toward the monk in the rear of the plane. “That animal broke into my home and almost killed me. That is a fact, and Rémy will corroborate.”
“But you tied him up and flew him to London!” Langdon said. Teabing held up his right hand and feigned a courtroom oath.
“Your honor, forgive an eccentric old knight his foolish prejudice for the British court system. I realize I should have called the French authorities, but I’m a snob and do not trust those laissez-faire French to prosecute properly. This man almost murdered me. Yes, I made a rash decision forcing my manservant to help me bring him to England, but I was under great stress. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.”
Langdon looked incredulous. “Coming from you, Leigh, that just might fly.”
“Sir?” the pilot called back. “The tower just radioed. They’ve got some kind of maintenance problem out near your hangar, and they’re asking me to bring the plane directly to the terminal instead.”
Teabing had been flying to Biggin Hill for over a decade, and this was a first. “Did they mention what the problem is?”
“The controller was vague. Something about a gas leak at the pumping station? They asked me to park in front of the terminal and keep everyone onboard until further notice. Safety precaution. We’re not supposed to deplane until we get the all clear from airport authorities.”
Teabing was skeptical. Must be one hell of a gas leak. The pumping station was a good half mile from his hangar.
Rémy also looked concerned. “Sir, this sounds highly irregular.”
Teabing turned to Sophie and Langdon. “My friends, I have an unpleasant suspicion that we are about to be met by a welcoming committee.”
Langdon gave a bleak sigh. “I guess Fache still thinks I’m his man.”
“Either that,” Sophie said, “or he is too deep into this to admit his error.”
Teabing was not listening. Regardless of Fache’s mind-set, action needed to be taken fast. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal. The Grail. We’re so close. Below them, the landing gear descended with a clunk. “Leigh,” Langdon said, sounding deeply remorseful, “I should turn
myself in and sort this out legally. Leave you all out of it.”
“Oh, heavens, Robert!” Teabing waved it off. “Do you really think they’re going to let the rest of us go? I just transported you illegally. Miss Neveu assisted in your escape from the Louvre, and we have a man tied up in the back of the plane. Really now! We’re all in this together.”
“Maybe a different airport?” Sophie said.
Teabing shook his head. “If we pull up now, by the time we get clearance anywhere else, our welcoming party will include army tanks.”
Teabing sensed that if they were to have any chance of postponing confrontation with the British authorities long enough to find the Grail, bold action had to be taken. “Give me a minute,” he said, hobbling toward the cockpit.
“What are you doing?” Langdon asked.
“Sales meeting,” Teabing said, wondering how much it would cost him to persuade his pilot to perform one highly irregular maneuver.
The Hawker is on ftnal approach.
Simon Edwards—Executive Services Officer at Biggin Hill Airport
—paced the control tower, squinting nervously at the rain-drenched runway. He never appreciated being awoken early on a Saturday morning, but it was particularly distasteful that he had been called in to oversee the arrest of one of his most lucrative clients. Sir Leigh Teabing paid Biggin Hill not only for a private hangar but a “per landing fee” for his frequent arrivals and departures. Usually, the airfield had advance warning of his schedule and was able to follow a strict protocol for his arrival. Teabing liked things just so. The custom-built Jaguar stretch limousine that he kept in his hangar was to be fully gassed, polished, and the day’s London Times laid out on the back seat. A customs official was to be waiting for the plane at the hangar to expedite the mandatory documentation and luggage check. Occasionally, customs agents accepted large tips from Teabing in exchange for turning a blind eye to the transport of harmless organics—mostly luxury foods—French escargots, a particularly ripe unprocessed Roquefort, certain fruits. Many customs laws were absurd, anyway, and if Biggin Hill didn’t accommodate its clients, certainly competing airfields would. Teabing was provided with what he wanted here at Biggin Hill, and the employees reaped the benefits.
Edwards’s nerves felt frayed now as he watched the jet coming in. He wondered if Teabing’s penchant for spreading the wealth had gotten him in trouble somehow; the French authorities seemed very intent on containing him. Edwards had not yet been told what the charges were, but they were obviously serious. At the French authorities’ request, Kent police had ordered the Biggin Hill air traffic controller to radio the Hawker’s pilot and order him directly to the terminal rather than to the client’s hangar. The pilot had agreed, apparently believing the far-fetched story of a gas leak.
Though the British police did not generally carry weapons, the gravity of the situation had brought out an armed response team. Now, eight policemen with handguns stood just inside the terminal building, awaiting the moment when the plane’s engines powered down. The instant this happened, a runway attendant would place safety wedges under the tires so the plane could no longer move. Then the police would step into view and hold the occupants at bay until the French police arrived to handle the situation.
The Hawker was low in the sky now, skimming the treetops to their right. Simon Edwards went downstairs to watch the landing from tarmac level. The Kent police were poised, just out of sight, and the maintenance man waited with his wedges. Out on the runway, the Hawker’s nose tipped up, and the tires touched down in a puff of smoke. The plane settled in for deceleration, streaking from right to left in front of the terminal, its white hull glistening in the wet weather. But rather than braking and turning into the terminal, the jet coasted calmly past the access lane and continued on toward Teabing’s hangar in the distance.
All the police spun and stared at Edwards. “I thought you said the pilot agreed to come to the terminal!”
Edwards was bewildered. “He did!”
Seconds later, Edwards found himself wedged in a police car racing across the tarmac toward the distant hangar. The convoy of police was still a good five hundred yards away as Teabing’s Hawker taxied calmly into the private hangar and disappeared. When the cars finally arrived and skidded to a stop outside the gaping hangar door, the police poured out, guns drawn.
Edwards jumped out too. The noise was deafening.
The Hawker’s engines were still roaring as the jet finished its usual rotation inside the hangar, positioning itself nose-out in preparation for later departure. As the plane completed its 180-degree turn and rolled toward the front of the hangar, Edwards could see the pilot’s face, which understandably looked surprised and fearful to see the barricade of police cars.
The pilot brought the plane to a final stop, and powered down the engines. The police streamed in, taking up positions around the jet. Edwards joined the Kent chief inspector, who moved warily toward the hatch. After several seconds, the fuselage door popped open.
Leigh Teabing appeared in the doorway as the plane’s electronic stairs smoothly dropped down. As he gazed out at the sea of weapons aimed at him, he propped himself on his crutches and scratched his head. “Simon, did I win the policemen’s lottery while I was away?” He sounded more bewildered than concerned.
Simon Edwards stepped forward, swallowing the frog in his throat. “Good morning, sir. I apologize for the confusion. We’ve had a gas leak and your pilot said he was coming to the terminal.”
“Yes, yes, well, I told him to come here instead. I’m late for an appointment. I pay for this hangar, and this rubbish about avoiding a gas leak sounded overcautious.”
“I’m afraid your arrival has taken us a bit off guard, sir.”
“I know. I’m off my schedule, I am. Between you and me, the new medication gives me the tinkles. Thought I’d come over for a tune- up.”
The policemen all exchanged looks. Edwards winced. “Very good, sir.”
“Sir,” the Kent chief inspector said, stepping forward. “I need to ask you to stay onboard for another half hour or so.”
Teabing looked unamused as he hobbled down the stairs. “I’m afraid that is impossible. I have a medical appointment.” He reached the tarmac. “I cannot afford to miss it.”
The chief inspector repositioned himself to block Teabing’s progress away from the plane. “I am here at the orders of the French Judicial Police. They claim you are transporting fugitives from the law on this plane.”
Teabing stared at the chief inspector a long moment, and then burst out laughing. “Is this one of those hidden camera programs? Jolly good!”
The chief inspector never flinched. “This is serious, sir. The French police claim you also may have a hostage onboard.”
Teabing’s manservant Rémy appeared in the doorway at the top of the stairs. “I feel like a hostage working for Sir Leigh, but he assures me I am free to go.” Rémy checked his watch. “Master, we really are running late.” He nodded toward the Jaguar stretch limousine in the far corner of the hangar. The enormous automobile was ebony with smoked glass and whitewall tires. “I’ll bring the car.” Rémy started down the stairs.
“I’m afraid we cannot let you leave,” the chief inspector said. “Please return to your aircraft. Both of you. Representatives from the French police will be landing shortly.”
Teabing looked now toward Simon Edwards. “Simon, for heaven’s sake, this is ridiculous! We don’t have anyone else on board. Just the usual—Rémy, our pilot, and myself. Perhaps you could act as an intermediary? Go have a look onboard, and verify that the plane is empty.”
Edwards knew he was trapped. “Yes, sir. I can have a look.”
“The devil you will!” the Kent chief inspector declared, apparently knowing enough about executive airfields to suspect Simon Edwards might well lie about the plane’s occupants in an effort to keep Teabing’s business at Biggin Hill. “I will look myself.”
Teabing shook his head. “No you won’t, Inspector. This is private property and until you have a search warrant, you will stay off my plane. I am offering you a reasonable option here. Mr. Edwards can perform the inspection.”
Teabing’s demeanor turned frosty. “Inspector, I’m afraid I don’t have time to indulge in your games. I’m late, and I’m leaving. If it is that important to you to stop me, you’ll just have to shoot me.” With that, Teabing and Rémy walked around the chief inspector and headed across the hangar toward the parked limousine.
The Kent chief inspector felt only distaste for Leigh Teabing as the man hobbled around him in defiance. Men of privilege always felt like they were above the law.
They are not. The chief inspector turned and aimed at Teabing’s back. “Stop! I will fire!”
“Go ahead,” Teabing said without breaking stride or glancing back. “My lawyers will fricassee your testicles for breakfast. And if you dare board my plane without a warrant, your spleen will follow.”
No stranger to power plays, the chief inspector was unimpressed. Technically, Teabing was correct and the police needed a warrant to board his jet, but because the flight had originated in France, and because the powerful Bezu Fache had given his authority, the Kent chief inspector felt certain his career would be far better served by finding out what it was on this plane that Teabing seemed so intent on hiding.
“Stop them,” the inspector ordered. “I’m searching the plane.”
His men raced over, guns leveled, and physically blocked Teabing and his servant from reaching the limousine.
Now Teabing turned. “Inspector, this is your last warning. Do not even think of boarding that plane. You will regret it.”
Ignoring the threat, the chief inspector gripped his sidearm and marched up the plane’s gangway. Arriving at the hatch, he peered inside. After a moment, he stepped into the cabin. What the devil?
With the exception of the frightened-looking pilot in the cockpit, the aircraft was empty. Entirely devoid of human life. Quickly checking the bathroom, the chairs, and the luggage areas, the inspector found no traces of anyone hiding … much less multiple individuals.
What the hell was Bezu Fache thinking? It seemed Leigh Teabing had been telling the truth.
The Kent chief inspector stood alone in the deserted cabin and swallowed hard. Shit. His face flushed, he stepped back onto the gangway, gazing across the hangar at Leigh Teabing and his servant, who were now under gunpoint near the limousine. “Let them go,” the inspector ordered. “We received a bad tip.”
Teabing’s eyes were menacing even across the hangar. “You can expect a call from my lawyers. And for future reference, the French police cannot be trusted.”
With that, Teabing’s manservant opened the door at the rear of the stretch limousine and helped his crippled master into the back seat. Then the servant walked the length of the car, climbed in behind the wheel, and gunned the engine. Policemen scattered as the Jaguar peeled out of the hangar.
“Well played, my good man,” Teabing chimed from the rear seat as the limousine accelerated out of the airport. He turned his eyes now to the dimly lit front recesses of the spacious interior. “Everyone comfy?”
Langdon gave a weak nod. He and Sophie were still crouched on the floor beside the bound and gagged albino.
Moments earlier, as the Hawker taxied into the deserted hangar, Rémy had popped the hatch as the plane jolted to a stop halfway through its turn. With the police closing in fast, Langdon and Sophie dragged the monk down the gangway to ground level and out of sight behind the limousine. Then the jet engines had roared again, rotating the plane and completing its turn as the police cars came skidding into the hangar.
Now, as the limousine raced toward Kent, Langdon and Sophie clambered toward the rear of the limo’s long interior, leaving the monk bound on the floor. They settled onto the long seat facing Teabing. The Brit gave them both a roguish smile and opened the cabinet on the limo’s bar. “Could I offer you a drink? Some nibblies? Crisps? Nuts? Seltzer?”
Sophie and Langdon both shook their heads.
Teabing grinned and closed the bar. “So then, about this knight’s tomb …”
“Fleet Street?” Langdon asked, eyeing Teabing in the back of the limo. There’s a crypt on Fleet Street? So far, Leigh was being playfully cagey about where he thought they would find the “knight’s tomb,” which, according to the poem, would provide the password for opening the smaller cryptex.