The crisp April air whipped through the open window of the Citroën ZX as it skimmed south past the Opera House and crossed Place Vendôme. In the passenger seat, Robert Langdon felt the city tear past him as he tried to clear his thoughts. His quick shower and shave had left him looking reasonably presentable but had done little to ease his anxiety. The frightening image of the curator's body remained locked in his mind.
Jacques Saunière is dead.
Langdon could not help but feel a deep sense of loss at the curator's death. Despite Saunière's reputation for being reclusive, his recognition for dedication to the arts made him an easy man to revere. His books on the secret codes hidden in the paintings of Poussin and Teniers were some of Langdon's favorite classroom texts. Tonight's meeting had been one Langdon was very much looking forward to, and he was disappointed when the curator had not shown.
Again the image of the curator's body flashed in his mind. Jacques Saunière did that to himself? Langdon turned and looked out the window, forcing the picture from his mind.
Outside, the city was just now winding down-street vendors wheeling carts of candied amandes, waiters carrying bags of garbage to the curb, a pair of late night lovers cuddling to stay warm in a breeze scented with juniper blossom. The Citroën navigated the chaos with authority, its dissonant two-tone siren parting the traffic like a knife.
"Le capitain was pleased to discover you were still in Paris tonight," the agent said, speaking for the first time since they'd left the hotel. "A fortunate coincidence."
Langdon was feeling anything but fortunate, and coincidence was a concept he did not entirely trust. As someone who had spent his life exploring the hidden interconnectivity of disparate emblems and ideologies, Langdon viewed the world as a web of profoundly intertwined histories and events. The connections may be invisible, he often preached to his symbology classes at Harvard, but they are always there, buried just beneath the surface.
"I assume," Langdon said, "that American University in Paris told you where I was staying?"
The driver shook his head. "Interpol."
Interpol, Langdon thought. Of course. He had forgotten that the seemingly innocuous request of all European hotels to see a passport at check-in was more than a quaint formality-it was the law. On any given night, all across Europe, Interpol officials could pinpoint exactly who was sleeping where. Finding Langdon at the Ritz had probably taken all of five seconds.
As they entered the deserted park, the agent reached under the dash and turned off the blaring siren. Langdon exhaled, savoring the sudden quiet. Outside the car, the pale wash of halogen headlights skimmed over the crushed gravel parkway, the rugged whirr of the tires intoning a hypnotic rhythm. Langdon had always considered the Tuileries to be sacred ground. These were the gardens in which Claude Monet had experimented with form and color, and literally inspired the birth of the Impressionist movement. Tonight, however, this place held a strange aura of foreboding.
Arc du Carrousel.
Despite the orgiastic rituals once held at the Arc du Carrousel, art aficionados revered this place for another reason entirely. From the esplanade at the end of the Tuileries, four of the finest art museums in the world could be seen.one at each point of the compass.
Out the right-hand window, south across the Seine and Quai Voltaire, Langdon could see the dramatically lit façade of the old train station-now the esteemed Musée d'Orsay. Glancing left, he could make out the top of the ultra-modern Pompidou Center, which housed the Museum of Modern Art. Behind him to the west, Langdon knew the ancient obelisk of Ramses rose above the trees, marking the Musée Jeu de Paume.
But it was straight ahead, to the east, through the archway, that Langdon could now see the monolithic Renaissance palace that had become the most famous art museum in the world. Musée du Louvre.
An indecipherable confirmation came crackling back.
The agent stowed the device, turning now to Langdon. "You will meet the capitaine at the main entrance."
The driver ignored the signs prohibiting auto traffic on the plaza, revved the engine, and gunned the Citroën up over the curb. The Louvre's main entrance was visible now, rising boldly in the distance, encircled by seven triangular infinity pools from which spouted illuminated fountains.
"You're not coming?"
"My orders are to leave you here. I have other business to attend to."
Langdon heaved a sigh and climbed out. It's your circus.
The agent revved his engine and sped off.
As Langdon stood alone and watched the departing tail lights, he realized he could easily reconsider, exit the courtyard, grab a taxi, and head home to bed. Something told him it was probably a lousy idea.
As he moved toward the mist of the fountains, Langdon had the uneasy sense he was crossing an imaginary threshold into another world. The dreamlike quality of the evening was settling around him again. Twenty minutes ago he had been asleep in his hotel room. Now he was standing in front of a transparent pyramid built by The Sphinx, waiting for a policeman they called The Bull.
I'm trapped in a Salvador Dali painting, he thought.
Langdon strode to the main entrance-an enormous revolving door. The foyer beyond was dimly lit and deserted.
Do I knock?
Langdon wondered if any of Harvard's revered Egyptologists had ever knocked on the front door of a pyramid and expected an answer. He raised his hand to bang on the glass, but out of the darkness below, a figure appeared, striding up the curving staircase. The man was stocky and dark, almost Neanderthal, dressed in a dark double-breasted suit that strained to cover his wide shoulders. He advanced with unmistakable authority on squat, powerful legs. He was speaking on his cell phone but finished the call as he arrived. He motioned for Langdon to enter.
"I am Bezu Fache," he announced as Langdon pushed through the revolving door. "Captain of the Central Directorate Judicial Police." His tone was fitting-a guttural rumble.like a gathering storm.
Langdon held out his hand to shake. "Robert Langdon."
Fache's enormous palm wrapped around Langdon's with crushing force.
"I saw the photo," Langdon said. "Your agent said Jacques Saunière himself did that to himself."
"Mr. Langdon," Fache's ebony eyes locked on. "What you see in the photo is only the beginning of what Saunière did."
"How well did you know Jacques Saunière?" the captain asked.
"Actually, not at all. We'd never met."
Fache looked surprised. "Your first meeting was to be tonight?"
"Yes. We'd planned to meet at the American University reception following my lecture, but he never showed up."
"Who requested tonight's meeting?" Fache asked suddenly. "You or he?"
The question seemed odd. "Mr. Saunière did," Langdon replied as they entered the tunnel. "His secretary contacted me a few weeks ago via email. She said the curator had heard I would be lecturing in Paris this month and wanted to discuss something with me while I was here."
"I don't know. Art, I imagine. We share similar interests."
Fache looked skeptical. "You have no idea what your meeting was about?"
Langdon did not. He'd been curious at the time but had not felt comfortable demanding specifics. The venerated Jacques Saunière had a renowned penchant for privacy and granted very few meetings; Langdon was grateful simply for the opportunity to meet him.
"Mr. Langdon, can you at least guess what our murder victim might have wanted to discuss with you on the night he was killed? It might be helpful."
The pointedness of the question made Langdon uncomfortable. "I really can't imagine. I didn't ask. I felt honored to have been contacted at all. I'm a fan of Mr. Saunière's work. I use his texts often in my classes."
Fache made note of that fact in his book.
The two men were now halfway up the Denon Wing's entry tunnel, and Langdon could see the twin ascending escalators at the far end, both motionless.
"So you shared interests with him?" Fache asked.
"Yes. In fact, I've spent much of the last year writing the draft for a book that deals with Mr. Saunière's primary area of expertise. I was looking forward to picking his brain."
Fache glanced up. "Pardon?" The idiom apparently didn't translate. "I was looking forward to learning his thoughts on the topic."
"I see. And what is the topic?"
Langdon hesitated, uncertain exactly how to put it. "Essentially, the manuscript is about the iconography of Goddess worship-the concept of female sanctity and the art and symbols associated with it."
Fache ran a meaty hand across his hair. "And Saunière was knowledgeable about this?"
"Nobody more so."
Langdon sensed Fache did not see at all. Jacques Saunière was considered the premiere goddess iconographer on earth. Not only did Saunière have a personal passion for relics relating to fertility, goddess cults, Wicca, and the sacred feminine, but during his twenty year tenure as curator, Saunière had helped the Louvre amass the largest collection of Goddess art on earth-labrys axes from the priestesses' oldest Greek shrine in Delphi, gold caducei wands, hundreds of Tjet ankhs resembling small standing angels, Sistrum rattles used in ancient Egypt to dispel evil spirits, and an astonishing array of statues depicting Horus being nursed by the goddess Isis.
"Perhaps Jacques Saunière knew of your manuscript?" Fache offered. "And he called the meeting to offer his help on your book."
Langdon shook his head. "Actually, nobody yet knows about my manuscript. It's still in draft form, and I haven't shown it to anyone except my editor." Fache fell silent.
Langdon did not add the reason he hadn't yet shown the manuscript to anyone else. The three hundred page draft--tentatively titled Symbols of the Lost Sacred Feminine-proposed some very unconventional interpretations of established religious iconography and would certainly be controversial.
Another odd question. Langdon shook his head. "No. Never."
Fache cocked his head, as if making a mental note of that fact. Saying nothing, he stared dead ahead at the chrome doors.
As they ascended, Langdon tried to focus on anything other than the four walls around him. In the reflection of the shiny elevator door, Langdon's eyes fell to the captain's tie-clip-a silver crucifix with thirteen embedded pieces of black onyx. Langdon found it vaguely surprising. The symbol was known as a crux gemmata-a cross bearing thirteen gems-a Christian ideogram for Christ and His twelve apostles. Somehow Langdon had not expected the captain of the French Police to broadcast his religion so openly. Then again, this was France; Christianity was not a religion here so much as a birthright.
"It's a crux gemmata," Fache said suddenly.
Startled, Langdon glanced up to find Fache's eyes on him in the reflection.
The elevator jolted to a stop, and the doors opened.
Langdon stepped quickly out into the hallway, eager for the wide-open space afforded by the famous high ceilings of the Louvre galleries. The world into which he stepped, however, was nothing like he expected.