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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 67)

2006-07-07 17:57

  CHAPTER 67

  The Range Rover was Java Black Pearl, four-wheel drive, standard transmission, with high-strength polypropylene lamps, rear light cluster fittings, and the steering wheel on the right.

  Langdon was pleased he was not driving.

  Teabing's manservant Rémy, on orders from his master, was doing an impressive job of maneuvering the vehicle across the moonlit fields behind Chateau Villette. With no headlights, he had crossed an open knoll and was now descending a long slope, moving farther away from the estate. He seemed to be heading toward a jagged silhouette of wooded land in the distance.

  Langdon, cradling the keystone, turned in the passenger seat and eyed Teabing and Sophie in the back seat.

  “How's your head, Robert?” Sophie asked, sounding concerned.

  Langdon forced a pained smile. “Better, thanks.” It was killing him.

  Beside her, Teabing glanced over his shoulder at the bound and gagged monk lying in the cramped luggage area behind the back seat. Teabing had the monk's gun on his lap and looked like an old photo of a British safari chap posing over his kill.

  “So glad you popped in this evening, Robert,” Teabing said, grinning as if he were having fun for the first time in years.

  “Sorry to get you involved in this, Leigh.”

  “Oh, please, I've waited my entire life to be involved.” Teabing looked past Langdon out the windshield at the shadow of a long hedgerow. He tapped Rémy on the shoulder from behind. “Remember, no brake lights. Use the emergency brake if you need it. I want to get into the woods a bit. No reason to risk them seeing us from the house.”

  Rémy coasted to a crawl and guided the Range Rover through an opening in the hedge. As the vehicle lurched onto an overgrown pathway, almost immediately the trees overhead blotted out the moonlight.

  I can't see a thing, Langdon thought, straining to distinguish any shapes at all in front of them. It was pitch black. Branches rubbed against the left side of the vehicle, and Rémy corrected in the other direction. Keeping the wheel more or less straight now, he inched ahead about thirty yards.

  “You're doing beautifully, Rémy,” Teabing said. “That should be far enough. Robert, if you could press that little blue button just below the vent there. See it?”

  Langdon found the button and pressed it.

  A muted yellow glow fanned out across the path in front of them, revealing thick underbrush on either side of the pathway. Fog lights, Langdon realized. They gave off just enough light to keep them on the path, and yet they were deep enough into the woods now that the lights would not give them away.

  “Well, Rémy,” Teabing chimed happily. “The lights are on. Our lives are in your hands.”

  “Where are we going?” Sophie asked.

  “This trail continues about three kilometers into the forest,” Teabing said. “Cutting across the estate and then arching north. Provided we don't hit any standing water or fallen trees, we shall emerge unscathed on the shoulder of highway five.”

  Unscathed. Langdon's head begged to differ. He turned his eyes down to his own lap, where the keystone was safely stowed in its wooden box. The inlaid Rose on the lid was back in place, and although his head felt muddled, Langdon was eager to remove the inlay again and examine the engraving beneath more closely. He unlatched the lid and began to raise it when Teabing laid a hand on his shoulder from behind.

  “Patience, Robert,” Teabing said. “It's bumpy and dark. God save us if we break anything. If you didn't recognize the language in the light, you won't do any better in the dark. Let's focus on getting away in one piece, shall we? There will be time for that very soon.”

  Langdon knew Teabing was right. With a nod, he relatched the box.

  The monk in back was moaning now, struggling against his trusses. Suddenly, he began kicking wildly.

  Teabing spun around and aimed the pistol over the seat. “I can't imagine your complaint, sir. You trespassed in my home and planted a nasty welt on the skull of a dear friend. I would be well within my rights to shoot you right now and leave you to rot in the woods.”

  The monk fell silent.

  “Are you sure we should have brought him?” Langdon asked.

  “Bloody well positive!” Teabing exclaimed. “You're wanted for murder, Robert. This scoundrel is your ticket to freedom. The police apparently want you badly enough to have tailed you to my home.”

  “My fault,” Sophie said. “The armored car probably had a transmitter.”

  “Not the point,” Teabing said. “I'm not surprised the police found you, but I am surprised that this Opus Dei character found you. From all you've told me, I can't imagine how this man could have tailed you to my home unless he had a contact either within the Judicial Police or within the Zurich Depository.”

  Langdon considered it. Bezu Fache certainly seemed intent on finding a scapegoat for tonight's murders. And Vernet had turned on them rather suddenly, although considering Langdon was being charged with four murders, the banker's change of heart seemed understandable.

  “This monk is not working alone, Robert,” Teabing said, “and until you learn who is behind all this, you both are in danger. The good news, my friend, is that you are now in the position of power. This monster behind me holds that information, and whoever is pulling his strings has got to be quite nervous right now.”

  Rémy was picking up speed, getting comfortable with the trail. They splashed through some water, climbed a small rise, and began descending again.

  “Robert, could you be so kind as to hand me that phone?” Teabing pointed to the car phone on the dash. Langdon handed it back, and Teabing dialed a number. He waited for a very long time before someone answered. “Richard? Did I wake you? Of course, I did. Silly question. I'm sorry. I have a small problem. I'm feeling a bit off. Rémy and I need to pop up to the Isles for my treatments. Well, right away, actually. Sorry for the short notice. Can you have Elizabeth ready in about twenty minutes? I know, do the best you can. See you shortly.” He hung up.

  “Elizabeth?” Langdon said.

  “My plane. She cost me a Queen's ransom.”

  Langdon turned full around and looked at him.

  “What?” Teabing demanded. “You two can't expect to stay in France with the entire Judicial Police after you. London will be much safer.”

  Sophie had turned to Teabing as well. “You think we should leave the country?”

  “My friends, I am far more influential in the civilized world than here in France. Furthermore, the Grail is believed to be in Great Britain. If we unlock the keystone, I am certain we will discover a map that indicates we have moved in the proper direction.”

  “You're running a big risk,” Sophie said, “by helping us. You won't make any friends with the French police.”

  Teabing gave a wave of disgust. “I am finished with France. I moved here to find the keystone. That work is now done. I shan't care if I ever again see Chateau Villette.”

  Sophie sounded uncertain. “How will we get through airport security?”

  Teabing chuckled. “I fly from Le Bourget-an executive airfield not far from here. French doctors make me nervous, so every fortnight, I fly north to take my treatments in England. I pay for certain special privileges at both ends. Once we're airborne, you can make a decision as to whether or not you'd like someone from the U.S. Embassy to meet us.”

  Langdon suddenly didn't want anything to do with the embassy. All he could think of was the keystone, the inscription, and whether it would all lead to the Grail. He wondered if Teabing was right about Britain. Admittedly most modern legends placed the Grail somewhere in the United Kingdom. Even King Arthur's mythical, Grail-rich Isle of Avalon was now believed to be none other than Glastonbury, England. Wherever the Grail lay, Langdon never imagined he would

  actually be looking for it. The Sangreal documents. The true history of Jesus Christ. The tomb of Mary Magdalene. He suddenly felt as if he were living in some kind of limbo tonight…… a bubble where the real world could not reach him.

  “Sir?” Rémy said. “Are you truly thinking of returning to England for good?”

  “Rémy, you needn't worry,” Teabing assured. “Just because I am returning to the Queen's realm does not mean I intend to subject my palate to bangers and mash for the rest of my days. I expect you will join me there permanently. I'm planning to buy a splendid villa in Devonshire, and we'll have all your things shipped up immediately. An adventure, Rémy. I say, an adventure!”

  Langdon had to smile. As Teabing railed on about his plans for a triumphant return to Britain, Langdon felt himself caught up in the man's infectious enthusiasm.

  Gazing absently out the window, Langdon watched the woods passing by, ghostly pale in the yellow blush of the fog lights. The side mirror was tipped inward, brushed askew by branches, and Langdon saw the reflection of Sophie sitting quietly in the back seat. He watched her for a long while and felt an unexpected upwelling of contentment. Despite his troubles tonight, Langdon was thankful to have landed in such good company.

  After several minutes, as if suddenly sensing his eyes on her, Sophie leaned forward and put her hands on his shoulders, giving him a quick rub. “You okay?”

  “Yeah,” Langdon said. “Somehow.”

  Sophie sat back in her seat, and Langdon saw a quiet smile cross her lips. He realized that he too was now grinning.

  Wedged in the back of the Range Rover, Silas could barely breathe. His arms were wrenched backward and heavily lashed to his ankles with kitchen twine and duct tape. Every bump in the road sent pain shooting through his twisted shoulders. At least his captors had removed the cilice. Unable to inhale through the strip of tape over his mouth, he could only breathe through his nostrils, which were slowly clogging up due to the dusty rear cargo area into which he had been crammed. He began coughing.

  “I think he's choking,” the French driver said, sounding concerned.

  The British man who had struck Silas with his crutch now turned and peered over the seat, frowning coldly at Silas. “Fortunately for you, we British judge man's civility not by his compassion for his friends, but by his compassion for his enemies.” The Brit reached down and grabbed the duct tape on Silas's mouth. In one fast motion, he tore it off.

  Silas felt as if his lips had just caught fire, but the air pouring into his lungs was sent from God.

  “Whom do you work for?” the British man demanded.

  “I do the work of God,” Silas spat back through the pain in his jaw where the woman had kicked him.

  “You belong to Opus Dei,” the man said. It was not a question.

  “You know nothing of who I am.”

  “Why does Opus Dei want the keystone?”

  Silas had no intention of answering. The keystone was the link to the Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail was the key to protecting the faith.

  I do the work of God. The Way is in peril.

  Now, in the Range Rover, struggling against his bonds, Silas feared he had failed the Teacher and the bishop forever. He had no way even to contact them and tell them the terrible turn of events. My captors have the keystone! They will reach the Grail before we do! In the stifling darkness, Silas prayed. He let the pain of his body fuel his supplications.

  A miracle, Lord. I need a miracle. Silas had no way of knowing that hours from now, he would get one.

  “Robert?” Sophie was still watching him. “A funny look just crossed your face.”

  Langdon glanced back at her, realizing his jaw was firmly set and his heart was racing. An incredible notion had just occurred to him. Could it really be that simple an explanation? “I need to use your cell phone, Sophie.”

  “Now?”

  “I think I just figured something out.”

  “What?”

  “I'll tell you in a minute. I need your phone.”

  Sophie looked wary. “I doubt Fache is tracing, but keep it under a minute just in case.” She gave

  him her phone.

  “How do I dial the States?”

  “You need to reverse the charges. My service doesn't cover transatlantic.”

  Langdon dialed zero, knowing that the next sixty seconds might answer a question that had been puzzling him all night.

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