"Voiture cinq-six-trois. Où êtes-vous? Répondez!"When Langdon reached the exit of the park, he swallowed his machismo and jammed on thebrakes. "You'd better drive."Sophie looked relieved as she jumped behind the wheel. Within seconds she had the car hummingsmoothly westward along Allée de Longchamp, leaving the Garden of Earthly Delights behind.
"Which way is Rue Haxo?" Langdon asked, watching Sophie edge the speedometer over a hundredkilometers an hour.
Sophie's eyes remained focused on the road. "The cab driver said it's adjacent to the Roland Garrostennis stadium. I know that area."Langdon pulled the heavy key from his pocket again, feeling the weight in his palm. He sensed itwas an object of enormous consequence. Quite possibly the key to his own freedom.
Earlier, while telling Sophie about the Knights Templar, Langdon had realized that this key, inaddition to having the Priory seal embossed on it, possessed a more subtle tie to the Priory of Sion.
The equal-armed cruciform was symbolic of balance and harmony but also of the Knights Templar.
Everyone had seen the paintings of Knights Templar wearing white tunics emblazoned with redequal-armed crosses. Granted, the arms of the Templar cross were slightly flared at the ends, butthey were still of equal length.
A square cross. Just like the one on this key.
Langdon felt his imagination starting to run wild as he fantasized about what they might find. TheHoly Grail. He almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it. The Grail was believed to besomewhere in England, buried in a hidden chamber beneath one of the many Templar churches,where it had been hidden since at least 1500.
The era of Grand Master Da Vinci.
The Priory, in order to keep their powerful documents safe, had been forced to move them manytimes in the early centuries. Historians now suspected as many as six different Grail relocationssince its arrival in Europe from Jerusalem. The last Grail "sighting" had been in 1447 whennumerous eyewitnesses described a fire that had broken out and almost engulfed the documentsbefore they were carried to safety in four huge chests that each required six men to carry. Afterthat, nobody claimed to see the Grail ever again. All that remained were occasional whisperingsthat it was hidden in Great Britain, the land of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Wherever it was, two important facts remained:
Leonardo knew where the Grail resided during his lifetime.
That hiding place had probably not changed to this day.
For this reason, Grail enthusiasts still pored over Da Vinci's art and diaries in hopes of unearthing ahidden clue as to the Grail's current location. Some claimed the mountainous backdrop in Madonnaof the Rocks matched the topography of a series of cave-ridden hills in Scotland. Others insistedthat the suspicious placement of disciples in The Last Supper was some kind of code. Still othersclaimed that X rays of the Mona Lisa revealed she originally had been painted wearing a lapislazuli pendant of Isis—a detail Da Vinci purportedly later decided to paint over. Langdon hadnever seen any evidence of the pendant, nor could he imagine how it could possibly reveal theHoly Grail, and yet Grail aficionados still discussed it ad nauseum on Internet bulletin boards andworldwide-web chat rooms.
Everyone loves a conspiracy.
And the conspiracies kept coming. Most recently, of course, had been the earthshaking discoverythat Da Vinci's famed Adoration of the Magi was hiding a dark secret beneath its layers of paint.
Italian art diagnostician Maurizio Seracini had unveiled the unsettling truth, which the New YorkTimes Magazine carried prominently in a story titled "The Leonardo Cover-Up."Seracini had revealed beyond any doubt that while the Adoration's gray-green sketchedunderdrawing was indeed Da Vinci's work, the painting itself was not. The truth was that someanonymous painter had filled in Da Vinci's sketch like a paint-by-numbers years after Da Vinci'sdeath. Far more troubling, however, was what lay beneath the impostor's paint. Photographs takenwith infrared reflectography and X ray suggested that this rogue painter, while filling in Da Vinci'ssketched study, had made suspicious departures from the underdrawing... as if to subvert DaVinci's true intention. Whatever the true nature of the underdrawing, it had yet to be made public.
Even so, embarrassed officials at Florence's Uffizi Gallery immediately banished the painting to awarehouse across the street. Visitors at the gallery's Leonardo Room now found a misleading andunapologetic plaque where the Adoration once hung.
THIS WORK IS UNDERGOINGDIAGNOSTIC TESTS IN PREPARATIONFOR RESTORATION.
In the bizarre underworld of modern Grail seekers, Leonardo da Vinci remained the quest's greatenigma. His artwork seemed bursting to tell a secret, and yet whatever it was remained hidden,perhaps beneath a layer of paint, perhaps enciphered in plain view, or perhaps nowhere at all.
Maybe Da Vinci's plethora of tantalizing clues was nothing but an empty promise left behind tofrustrate the curious and bring a smirk to the face of his knowing Mona Lisa.
"Is it possible," Sophie asked, drawing Langdon back, "that the key you're holding unlocks thehiding place of the Holy Grail?"Langdon's laugh sounded forced, even to him. "I really can't imagine. Besides, the Grail is believedto be hidden in the United Kingdom somewhere, not France." He gave her the quick history.
"But the Grail seems the only rational conclusion," she insisted. "We have an extremely secure key,stamped with the Priory of Sion seal, delivered to us by a member of the Priory of Sion—abrotherhood which, you just told me, are guardians of the Holy Grail."Langdon knew her contention was logical, and yet intuitively he could not possibly accept it.
Rumors existed that the Priory had vowed someday to bring the Grail back to France to a finalresting place, but certainly no historical evidence existed to suggest that this indeed had happened.
Even if the Priory had managed to bring the Grail back to France, the address 24 Rue Haxo near atennis stadium hardly sounded like a noble final resting place. "Sophie, I really don't see how thiskey could have anything to do with the Grail.""Because the Grail is supposed to be in England?""Not only that. The location of the Holy Grail is one of the best kept secrets in history. Priorymembers wait decades proving themselves trustworthy before being elevated to the highestechelons of the fraternity and learning where the Grail is. That secret is protected by an intricatesystem of compartmentalized knowledge, and although the Priory brotherhood is very large, onlyfour members at any given time know where the Grail is hidden—the Grand Master and his threesénéchaux. The probability of your grandfather being one of those four top people is very slim."My grandfather was one of them, Sophie thought, pressing down on the accelerator. She had animage stamped in her memory that confirmed her grandfather's status within the brotherhoodbeyond any doubt.
"And even if your grandfather were in the upper echelon, he would never be allowed to revealanything to anyone outside the brotherhood. It is inconceivable that he would bring you into theinner circle."I've already been there, Sophie thought, picturing the ritual in the basement. She wondered if thiswere the moment to tell Langdon what she had witnessed that night in the Normandy chateau. Forten years now, simple shame had kept her from telling a soul. Just thinking about it, she shuddered.
Sirens howled somewhere in the distance, and she felt a thickening shroud of fatigue settling overher.
"There!" Langdon said, feeling excited to see the huge complex of the Roland Garros tennisstadium looming ahead.
Sophie snaked her way toward the stadium. After several passes, they located the intersection ofRue Haxo and turned onto it, driving in the direction of the lower numbers. The road became moreindustrial, lined with businesses.
We need number twenty-four, Langdon told himself, realizing he was secretly scanning the horizonfor the spires of a church. Don't be ridiculous. A forgotten Templar church in this neighborhood?
"There it is," Sophie exclaimed, pointing.
Langdon's eyes followed to the structure ahead.
What in the world?
The building was modern. A squat citadel with a giant, neon equal-armed cross emblazoned atopits facade. Beneath the cross were the words:
DEPOSITORY BANK OF ZURICHLangdon was thankful not to have shared his Templar church hopes with Sophie. A career hazardof symbologists was a tendency to extract hidden meaning from situations that had none. In thiscase, Langdon had entirely forgotten that the peaceful, equal-armed cross had been adopted as theperfect symbol for the flag of neutral Switzerland.
At least the mystery was solved.
Sophie and Langdon were holding the key to a Swiss bank deposit box.