Langdon sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat, twisted backward, scanning behind them for anysigns of the police. He suddenly wished he had not decided to run. You didn't, he reminded himself.
Sophie had made the decision for him when she threw the GPS dot out the bathroom window.
Now, as they sped away from the embassy, serpentining through sparse traffic on Champs-Elysées,Langdon felt his options deteriorating. Although Sophie seemed to have lost the police, at least forthe moment, Langdon doubted their luck would hold for long.
Behind the wheel Sophie was fishing in her sweater pocket. She removed a small metal object andheld it out for him. "Robert, you'd better have a look at this. This is what my grandfather left mebehind Madonna of the Rocks."Feeling a shiver of anticipation, Langdon took the object and examined it. It was heavy and shapedlike a cruciform. His first instinct was that he was holding a funeral pieu—a miniature version of amemorial spike designed to be stuck into the ground at a gravesite. But then he noted the shaftprotruding from the cruciform was prismatic and triangular. The shaft was also pockmarked withhundreds of tiny hexagons that appeared to be finely tooled and scattered at random.
"It's a laser-cut key," Sophie told him. "Those hexagons are read by an electric eye."A key? Langdon had never seen anything like it.
"Look at the other side," she said, changing lanes and sailing through an intersection.
When Langdon turned the key, he felt his jaw drop. There, intricately embossed on the center ofthe cross, was a stylized fleur-de-lis with the initials P.S.! "Sophie," he said, "this is the seal I toldyou about! The official device of the Priory of Sion."She nodded. "As I told you, I saw the key a long time ago. He told me never to speak of it again."Langdon's eyes were still riveted on the embossed key. Its high-tech tooling and age-oldsymbolism exuded an eerie fusion of ancient and modern worlds.
"He told me the key opened a box where he kept many secrets."Langdon felt a chill to imagine what kind of secrets a man like Jacques Saunière might keep. Whatan ancient brotherhood was doing with a futuristic key, Langdon had no idea. The Priory existedfor the sole purpose of protecting a secret. A secret of incredible power. Could this key havesomething to do with it? The thought was overwhelming. "Do you know what it opens?"Sophie looked disappointed. "I was hoping you knew."Langdon remained silent as he turned the cruciform in his hand, examining it.
"It looks Christian," Sophie pressed.
Langdon was not so sure about that. The head of this key was not the traditional long-stemmedChristian cross but rather was a square cross—with four arms of equal length—which predatedChristianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotationsof crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin Cross, originated by Romans as a torturedevice. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon "the crucifix" realizedtheir symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name: "cross" and "crucifix" came from theLatin verb cruciare—to torture.
"Sophie," he said, "all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are consideredpeaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion, andtheir balanced vertical and horizontal elements convey a natural union of male and female, makingthem symbolically consistent with Priory philosophy."She gave him a weary look. "You have no idea, do you?"Langdon frowned. "Not a clue.""Okay, we have to get off the road." Sophie checked her rearview mirror. "We need a safe place tofigure out what that key opens."Langdon thought longingly of his comfortable room at the Ritz. Obviously, that was not an option.
"How about my hosts at the American University of Paris?""Too obvious. Fache will check with them.""You must know people. You live here.""Fache will run my phone and e-mail records, talk to my coworkers. My contacts arecompromised, and finding a hotel is no good because they all require identification."Langdon wondered again if he might have been better off taking his chances letting Fache arresthim at the Louvre. "Let's call the embassy. I can explain the situation and have the embassy sendsomeone to meet us somewhere.""Meet us?" Sophie turned and stared at him as if he were crazy. "Robert, you're dreaming. Yourembassy has no jurisdiction except on their own property. Sending someone to retrieve us would beconsidered aiding a fugitive of the French government. It won't happen. If you walk into yourembassy and request temporary asylum, that's one thing, but asking them to take action againstFrench law enforcement in the field?" She shook her head. "Call your embassy right now, and theyare going to tell you to avoid further damage and turn yourself over to Fache. Then they'll promiseto pursue diplomatic channels to get you a fair trial." She gazed up the line of elegant storefronts onChamps-Elysées. "How much cash do you have?"Langdon checked his wallet. "A hundred dollars. A few euro. Why?""Credit cards?""Of course."As Sophie accelerated, Langdon sensed she was formulating a plan. Dead ahead, at the end ofChamps-Elysées, stood the Arc de Triomphe—Napoleon's 164-foot-tall tribute to his own militarypotency—encircled by France's largest rotary, a nine-lane behemoth.
Sophie's eyes were on the rearview mirror again as they approached the rotary. "We lost them forthe time being," she said, "but we won't last another five minutes if we stay in this car."So steal a different one, Langdon mused, now that we're criminals. "What are you going to do?"Sophie gunned the SmartCar into the rotary. "Trust me."Langdon made no response. Trust had not gotten him very far this evening. Pulling back the sleeveof his jacket, he checked his watch—a vintage, collector's-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch thathad been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday. Although its juvenile dial often drew oddlooks, Langdon had never owned any other watch; Disney animations had been his firstintroduction to the magic of form and color, and Mickey now served as Langdon's daily reminderto stay young at heart. At the moment, however, Mickey's arms were skewed at an awkward angle,indicating an equally awkward hour.
"Interesting watch," Sophie said, glancing at his wrist and maneuvering the SmartCar around thewide, counterclockwise rotary.
"Long story," he said, pulling his sleeve back down.
"I imagine it would have to be." She gave him a quick smile and exited the rotary, heading duenorth, away from the city center. Barely making two green lights, she reached the third intersectionand took a hard right onto Boulevard Malesherbes. They'd left the rich, tree-lined streets of thediplomatic neighborhood and plunged into a darker industrial neighborhood. Sophie took a quickleft, and a moment later, Langdon realized where they were.
Ahead of them, the glass-roofed train terminal resembled the awkward offspring of an airplanehangar and a greenhouse. European train stations never slept. Even at this hour, a half-dozen taxisidled near the main entrance. Vendors manned carts of sandwiches and mineral water while grungykids in backpacks emerged from the station rubbing their eyes, looking around as if trying toremember what city they were in now. Up ahead on the street, a couple of city policemen stood onthe curb giving directions to some confused tourists.
Sophie pulled her SmartCar in behind the line of taxis and parked in a red zone despite plenty oflegal parking across the street. Before Langdon could ask what was going on, she was out of thecar. She hurried to the window of the taxi in front of them and began speaking to the driver.
As Langdon got out of the SmartCar, he saw Sophie hand the taxi driver a big wad of cash. Thetaxi driver nodded and then, to Langdon's bewilderment, sped off without them.
"What happened?" Langdon demanded, joining Sophie on the curb as the taxi disappeared.
Sophie was already heading for the train station entrance. "Come on. We're buying two tickets onthe next train out of Paris."Langdon hurried along beside her. What had begun as a one-mile dash to the U.S. Embassy hadnow become a full-fledged evacuation from Paris. Langdon was liking this idea less and less.