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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 18)

2006-07-07 17:13

  CHAPTER 18

  Fache sprinted down the Grand Gallery as Collet's radio blared over the distant sound of the alarm.

  “He jumped!” Collet was yelling. “I'm showing the signal out on Place du Carrousel! Outside the bathroom window! And it's not moving at all! Jesus, I think Langdon has just committed suicide!”

  Fache heard the words, but they made no sense. He kept running. The hallway seemed never-ending. As he sprinted past Sauni鼮re's body, he set his sights on the partitions at the far end of the Denon Wing. The alarm was getting louder now.

  “Wait!” Collet's voice blared again over the radio. “He's moving! My God, he's alive. Langdon's moving!”

  Fache kept running, cursing the length of the hallway with every step.

  “Langdon's moving faster!” Collet was still yelling on the radio. “He's running down Carrousel. Wait…… he's picking up speed. He's moving too fast!”

  Arriving at the partitions, Fache snaked his way through them, saw the rest room door, and ran for it.

  The walkie-talkie was barely audible now over the alarm. “He must be in a car! I think he's in a car! I can't-”

  Collet's words were swallowed by the alarm as Fache finally burst into the men's room with his gun drawn. Wincing against the piercing shrill, he scanned the area.

  The stalls were empty. The bathroom deserted. Fache's eyes moved immediately to the shattered window at the far end of the room. He ran to the opening and looked over the edge. Langdon was nowhere to be seen. Fache could not imagine anyone risking a stunt like this. Certainly if he had dropped that far, he would be badly injured.

  The alarm cut off finally, and Collet's voice became audible again over the walkie-talkie.

  “……moving south…… faster…… crossing the Seine on Pont du Carrousel!”

  Fache turned to his left. The only vehicle on Pont du Carrousel was an enormous twin-bed Trailor delivery truck moving southward away from the Louvre. The truck's open-air bed was covered with a vinyl tarp, roughly resembling a giant hammock. Fache felt a shiver of apprehension. That truck, only moments ago, had probably been stopped at a red light directly beneath the rest room window.

  An insane risk, Fache told himself. Langdon had no way of knowing what the truck was carrying beneath that tarp. What if the truck were carrying steel? Or cement? Or even garbage? A forty-foot leap? It was madness.

  “The dot is turning!” Collet called. “He's turning right on Pont des Saints-Peres!”

  Sure enough, the Trailor truck that had crossed the bridge was slowing down and making a right turn onto Pont des Saints-Peres. So be it, Fache thought. Amazed, he watched the truck disappear around the corner. Collet was already radioing the agents outside, pulling them off the Louvre perimeter and sending them to their patrol cars in pursuit, all the while broadcasting the truck's changing location like some kind of bizarre play-by-play.

  It's over, Fache knew. His men would have the truck surrounded within minutes. Langdon was not going anywhere.

  Stowing his weapon, Fache exited the rest room and radioed Collet. “Bring my car around. I want to be there when we make the arrest.”

  As Fache jogged back down the length of the Grand Gallery, he wondered if Langdon had even survived the fall.

  Not that it mattered.

  Langdon ran. Guilty as charged.

  Only fifteen yards from the rest room, Langdon and Sophie stood in the darkness of the Grand Gallery, their backs pressed to one of the large partitions that hid the bathrooms from the gallery. They had barely managed to hide themselves before Fache had darted past them, gun drawn, and disappeared into the bathroom.

  The last sixty seconds had been a blur.

  Langdon had been standing inside the men's room refusing to run from a crime he didn't commit, when Sophie began eyeing the plate-glass window and examining the alarm mesh running through it. Then she peered downward into the street, as if measuring the drop.

  “With a little aim, you can get out of here,” she said.

  Aim? Uneasy, he peered out the rest room window.

  Up the street, an enormous twin-bed eighteen-wheeler was headed for the stoplight beneath the window. Stretched across the truck's massive cargo bay was a blue vinyl tarp, loosely covering the truck's load. Langdon hoped Sophie was not thinking what she seemed to be thinking.

  “Sophie, there's no way I'm jump-”

  “Take out the tracking dot.”

  Bewildered, Langdon fumbled in his pocket until he found the tiny metallic disk. Sophie took it from him and strode immediately to the sink. She grabbed a thick bar of soap, placed the tracking dot on top of it, and used her thumb to push the disk down hard into the bar. As the disk sank into the soft surface, she pinched the hole closed, firmly embedding the device in the bar.

  Handing the bar to Langdon, Sophie retrieved a heavy, cylindrical trash can from under the sinks. Before Langdon could protest, Sophie ran at the window, holding the can before her like a

  battering ram. Driving the bottom of the trash can into the center of the window, she shattered the glass.

  Alarms erupted overhead at earsplitting decibel levels.

  “Give me the soap!” Sophie yelled, barely audible over the alarm.

  Langdon thrust the bar into her hand.

  Palming the soap, she peered out the shattered window at the eighteen-wheeler idling below. The target was plenty big-an expansive, stationary tarp-and it was less than ten feet from the side of the building. As the traffic lights prepared to change, Sophie took a deep breath and lobbed the bar of soap out into the night.

  The soap plummeted downward toward the truck, landing on the edge of the tarp, and sliding downward into the cargo bay just as the traffic light turned green.

  “Congratulations,” Sophie said, dragging him toward the door. “You just escaped from the Louvre.”

  Fleeing the men's room, they moved into the shadows just as Fache rushed past.

  Now, with the fire alarm silenced, Langdon could hear the sounds of DCPJ sirens tearing away from the Louvre. A police exodus. Fache had hurried off as well, leaving the Grand Gallery deserted.

  “There's an emergency stairwell about fifty meters back into the Grand Gallery,” Sophie said. “Now that the guards are leaving the perimeter, we can get out of here.”

  Langdon decided not to say another word all evening. Sophie Neveu was clearly a hell of a lot smarter than he was.

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