Lieutenant Collet helped himself to a Perrier from Teabings refrigerator and strode back out through the drawing room. Rather than accompanying Fache to London where the action was, he was now baby‑sitting the PTS team that had spread out through Chateau Villette.
So far, the evidence they had uncovered was unhelpful: a single bullet buried in the floor; a paper with several symbols scrawled on it along with the words blade and chalice; and a bloody spiked belt that PTS had told Collet was associated with the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, which had caused a stir recently when a news program exposed their aggressive recruiting practices in Paris.
Collet sighed. Good luck making sense of this unlikely melange.
Moving down a lavish hallway, Collet entered the vast ballroom study, where the chief PTS examiner was busy dusting for fingerprints. He was a corpulent man in suspenders.
Anything? Collet asked, entering.
The examiner shook his head. Nothing new. Multiple sets matching those in the rest of the house.
How about the prints on the cilice belt?
Interpol is still working. I uploaded everything we found.
Collet motioned to two sealed evidence bags on the desk. And this?
The man shrugged. Force of habit. I bag anything peculiar.
Collet walked over. Peculiar?
This Brits a strange one, the examiner said. Have a look at this. He sifted through the evidence bags and selected one, handing it to Collet.
The photo showed the main entrance of a Gothic cathedralthe traditional, recessed archway, narrowing through multiple, ribbed layers to a small doorway.
Collet studied the photo and turned. This is peculiar?
Turn it over.
On the back, Collet found notations scrawled in English, describing a cathedrals long hollow nave as a secret pagan tribute to a womans womb. This was strange. The notation describing the cathedrals doorway, however, was what startled him. Hold on! He thinks a cathedrals entrance represents a womans . . .
The examiner nodded. Complete with receding labial ridges and a nice little cinquefoil clitoris above the doorway. He sighed. Kind of makes you want to go back to church.
Collet picked up the second evidence bag. Through the plastic, he could see a large glossy photograph of what appeared to be an old document. The heading at the top read:
Les Dossiers SecretsNumber 4° lm1 249
Whats this? Collet asked.
No idea. Hes got copies of it all over the place, so I bagged it.
Collet studied the document.
Prieure de Sign
Les Nautoniers/Grand Masters
Jean de Gisors
Marie de Saint‑Clair
Guillaume de Gisors
Edouard de Bar
Jeanne de Bar
Jean de Saint‑Clair
Iolande de Bar
Leonardo da Vinci
Connetable de Bourbon
Ferdinand de Gonzaque
Louis de Nevers
J. Valentin Andrea
Charles de Lorraine
Maximilian de Lorraine
Prieure de Sion? Collet wondered.
Lieutenant? Another agent stuck his head in. The switchboard has an urgent call for Captain Fache, but they cant reach him. Will you take it?
Collet returned to the kitchen and took the call.
It was Andre Vernet.
The bankers refined accent did little to mask the tension in his voice. I thought Captain Fache said he would call me, but I have not yet heard from him.
The captain is quite busy, Collet replied. May I help you?
I was assured I would be kept abreast of your progress tonight.
For a moment, Collet thought he recognized the timbre of the mans voice, but he couldnt quite place it. Monsieur Vernet, I am currently in charge of the Paris investigation. My name is Lieutenant Collet.
There was a long pause on the line. Lieutenant, I have another call coming in. Please excuse me. I will call you later. He hung up.
For several seconds, Collet held the receiver. Then it dawned on him. I knew I recognized that voice! The revelation made him gasp.
The armored car driver.
With the fake Rolex.
Collet now understood why the banker had hung up so quickly. Vernet had remembered the name Lieutenant Colletthe officer he blatantly lied to earlier tonight.
Collet pondered the implications of this bizarre development. Vernet is involved . Instinctively, he knew he should call Fache. Emotionally, he knew this lucky break was going to be his moment to shine.
He immediately called Interpol and requested every shred of information they could find on the Depository Bank of Zurich and its president, Andre Vernet.
Seat belts, please, Teabings pilot announced as the Hawker 731 descended into a gloomy morning drizzle. Well be landing in five minutes.
Teabing felt a joyous sense of homecoming when he saw the misty hills of Kent spreading wide beneath the descending plane. England was less than an hour from Paris, and yet a world away. This morning, the damp, spring green of his homeland looked particularly welcoming. My time in France is over. I am returning to England victorious. The keystone has been found . The question remained, of course, as to where the keystone would ultimately lead. Somewhere in the United Kingdom . Where exactly, Teabing had no idea, but he was already tasting the glory.
As Langdon and Sophie looked on, Teabing got up and went to the far side of the cabin, then slid aside a wall panel to reveal a discreetly hidden wall safe. He dialed in the combination, opened the safe, and extracted two passports. Documentation for Remy and myself. He then removed a thick stack of fifty‑pound notes. And documentation for you two.
Sophie looked leery. A bribe?
Creative diplomacy. Executive airfields make certain allowances. A British customs official will greet us at my hangar and ask to board the plane. Rather than permitting him to come on, Ill tell him Im traveling with a French celebrity who prefers that nobody knows she is in Englandpress considerations, you knowand Ill offer the official this generous tip as gratitude for his discretion.
Langdon looked amazed. And the official will accept?
Not from anyone, they wont, but these people all know me. Im not an arms dealer, for heavens sake. I was knighted. Teabing smiled. Membership has its privileges.
Remy approached up the aisle now, the Heckler Koch pistol cradled in his hand. Sir, my agenda?
Teabing glanced at his servant. Im going to have you stay onboard with our guest until we return. We cant very well drag him all over London with us.
Sophie looked wary. Leigh, I was serious about the French police finding your plane before we return.
Teabing laughed. Yes, imagine their surprise if they board and find Remy.
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 Remy 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 Im 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. Theyve got some kind of maintenance problem out near your hangar, and theyre 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. Were 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.
Remy 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 Im his man.
Either that, Sophie said, or he is too deep into this to admit his error.
Teabing was not listening. Regardless of Faches mind‑set, action needed to be taken fast. Dont lose sight of the ultimate goal. The Grail. Were so dose . 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 theyre 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! Were 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.