Grouard wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger and bury a bullet in Robert Langdon's back.
As senior warden, Grouard was one of the few guards who actually carried a loaded weapon. Hereminded himself, however, that killing Langdon would be a generous fate compared to the miseryabout to be communicated by Bezu Fache and the French prison system.
Grouard yanked his walkie-talkie off his belt and attempted to radio for backup. All he heard wasstatic. The additional electronic security in this chamber always wrought havoc with the guards'
communications. I have to move to the doorway. Still aiming his weapon at Langdon, Grouardbegan backing slowly toward the entrance. On his third step, he spied something that made himstop short.
What the hell is that!
An inexplicable mirage was materializing near the center of the room. A silhouette. There wassomeone else in the room? A woman was moving through the darkness, walking briskly toward thefar left wall. In front of her, a purplish beam of light swung back and forth across the floor, as ifshe were searching for something with a colored flashlight.
"Qui est là?" Grouard demanded, feeling his adrenaline spike for a second time in the last thirtyseconds. He suddenly didn't know where to aim his gun or what direction to move.
"PTS," the woman replied calmly, still scanning the floor with her light.
Police Technique et Scientifique. Grouard was sweating now. I thought all the agents were gone!
He now recognized the purple light as ultraviolet, consistent with a PTS team, and yet he could notunderstand why DCPJ would be looking for evidence in here.
"Votre nom!" Grouard yelled, instinct telling him something was amiss. "Répondez!""C'est mot," the voice responded in calm French. "Sophie Neveu."Somewhere in the distant recesses of Grouard's mind, the name registered. Sophie Neveu? Thatwas the name of Saunière's granddaughter, wasn't it? She used to come in here as a little kid, butthat was years ago. This couldn't possibly be her! And even if it were Sophie Neveu, that washardly a reason to trust her; Grouard had heard the rumors of the painful falling-out betweenSaunière and his granddaughter.
"You know me," the woman called. "And Robert Langdon did not kill my grandfather. Believeme."Warden Grouard was not about to take that on faith. I need backup! Trying his walkie-talkie again,he got only static. The entrance was still a good twenty yards behind him, and Grouard beganbacking up slowly, choosing to leave his gun trained on the man on the floor. As Grouard inchedbackward, he could see the woman across the room raising her UV light and scrutinizing a largepainting that hung on the far side of the Salle des Etats, directly opposite the Mona Lisa.
Grouard gasped, realizing which painting it was.
What in the name of God is she doing?
Across the room, Sophie Neveu felt a cold sweat breaking across her forehead. Langdon was stillspread-eagle on the floor. Hold on, Robert. Almost there. Knowing the guard would never actuallyshoot either of them, Sophie now turned her attention back to the matter at hand, scanning theentire area around one masterpiece in particular—another Da Vinci. But the UV light revealednothing out of the ordinary. Not on the floor, on the walls, or even on the canvas itself.
There must be something here!
Sophie felt totally certain she had deciphered her grandfather's intentions correctly.
What else could he possibly intend?
The masterpiece she was examining was a five-foot-tall canvas. The bizarre scene Da Vinci hadpainted included an awkwardly posed Virgin Mary sitting with Baby Jesus, John the Baptist, andthe Angel Uriel on a perilous outcropping of rocks. When Sophie was a little girl, no trip to theMona Lisa had been complete without her grandfather dragging her across the room to see thissecond painting.
Grand-père, I'm here! But I don't see it!
Behind her, Sophie could hear the guard trying to radio again for help.
She pictured the message scrawled on the protective glass of the Mona Lisa. So dark the con ofman. The painting before her had no protective glass on which to write a message, and Sophieknew her grandfather would never have defaced this masterpiece by writing on the painting itself.
She paused. At least not on the front. Her eyes shot upward, climbing the long cables that dangledfrom the ceiling to support the canvas.
Could that be it? Grabbing the left side of the carved wood frame, she pulled it toward her. Thepainting was large and the backing flexed as she swung it away from the wall. Sophie slipped herhead and shoulders in behind the painting and raised the black light to inspect the back.
It took only seconds to realize her instinct had been wrong. The back of the painting was pale andblank. There was no purple text here, only the mottled brown backside of aging canvas and—Wait.
Sophie's eyes locked on an incongruous glint of lustrous metal lodged near the bottom edge of theframe's wooden armature. The object was small, partially wedged in the slit where the canvas metthe frame. A shimmering gold chain dangled off it.
To Sophie's utter amazement, the chain was affixed to a familiar gold key. The broad, sculptedhead was in the shape of a cross and bore an engraved seal she had not seen since she was nineyears old. A fleur-de-lis with the initials P.S. In that instant, Sophie felt the ghost of her grandfatherwhispering in her ear. When the time comes, the key will be yours. A tightness gripped her throat asshe realized that her grandfather, even in death, had kept his promise. This key opens a box, hisvoice was saying, where I keep many secrets.
Sophie now realized that the entire purpose of tonight's word game had been this key. Hergrandfather had it with him when he was killed. Not wanting it to fall into the hands of the police,he hid it behind this painting. Then he devised an ingenious treasure hunt to ensure only Sophiewould find it.
"Au secours!" the guard's voice yelled.
Sophie snatched the key from behind the painting and slipped it deep in her pocket along with theUV penlight. Peering out from behind the canvas, she could see the guard was still tryingdesperately to raise someone on the walkie-talkie. He was backing toward the entrance, still aimingthe gun firmly at Langdon.
"Au secours!" he shouted again into his radio.
He can't transmit, Sophie realized, recalling that tourists with cell phones often got frustrated inhere when they tried to call home to brag about seeing the Mona Lisa. The extra surveillancewiring in the walls made it virtually impossible to get a carrier unless you stepped out into the hall.
The guard was backing quickly toward the exit now, and Sophie knew she had to act immediately.
Gazing up at the large painting behind which she was partially ensconced, Sophie realized thatLeonardo da Vinci, for the second time tonight, was there to help.
Another few meters, Grouard told himself, keeping his gun leveled.
"Arrêtez! Ou je la détruis!" the woman's voice echoed across the room.
Grouard glanced over and stopped in his tracks. "Mon dieu, non!"Through the reddish haze, he could see that the woman had actually lifted the large painting off itscables and propped it on the floor in front of her. At five feet tall, the canvas almost entirely hid herbody. Grouard's first thought was to wonder why the painting's trip wires hadn't set off alarms, butof course the artwork cable sensors had yet to be reset tonight. What is she doing!
When he saw it, his blood went cold.
The canvas started to bulge in the middle, the fragile outlines of the Virgin Mary, Baby Jesus, andJohn the Baptist beginning to distort.
"Non!" Grouard screamed, frozen in horror as he watched the priceless Da Vinci stretching. Thewoman was pushing her knee into the center of the canvas from behind! "NON!"Grouard wheeled and aimed his gun at her but instantly realized it was an empty threat. The canvaswas only fabric, but it was utterly impenetrable—a six-million-dollar piece of body armor.
I can't put a bullet through a Da Vinci!
"Set down your gun and radio," the woman said in calm French, "or I'll put my knee through thispainting. I think you know how my grandfather would feel about that."Grouard felt dizzy. "Please... no. That's Madonna of the Rocks!" He dropped his gun and radio,raising his hands over his head.
"Thank you," the woman said. "Now do exactly as I tell you, and everything will work out fine."Moments later, Langdon's pulse was still thundering as he ran beside Sophie down the emergencystairwell toward the ground level. Neither of them had said a word since leaving the tremblingLouvre guard lying in the Salle des Etats. The guard's pistol was now clutched tightly in Langdon'shands, and he couldn't wait to get rid of it. The weapon felt heavy and dangerously foreign.
Taking the stairs two at a time, Langdon wondered if Sophie had any idea how valuable a paintingshe had almost ruined. Her choice in art seemed eerily pertinent to tonight's adventure. The DaVinci she had grabbed, much like the Mona Lisa, was notorious among art historians for itsplethora of hidden pagan symbolism.
"You chose a valuable hostage," he said as they ran.
"Madonna of the Rocks," she replied. "But I didn't choose it, my grandfather did. He left me a littlesomething behind the painting."Langdon shot her a startled look. "What!? But how did you know which painting? Why Madonnaof the Rocks?""So dark the con of man." She flashed a triumphant smile. "I missed the first two anagrams,Robert. I wasn't about to miss the third."