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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 63)

2006-07-07 17:55

  CHAPTER 63

  Lieutenant Collet stood alone at the foot of Leigh Teabing's driveway and gazed up at the massive house. Isolated. Dark. Good ground cover. Collet watched his half-dozen agents spreading silently out along the length of the fence. They could be over it and have the house surrounded in a matter of minutes. Langdon could not have chosen a more ideal spot for Collet's men to make a surprise assault.

  Collet was about to call Fache himself when at last his phone rang.

  Fache sounded not nearly as pleased with the developments as Collet would have imagined. “Why didn't someone tell me we had a lead on Langdon?”

  “You were on a phone call and-”

  “Where exactly are you, Lieutenant Collet?”

  Collet gave him the address. “The estate belongs to a British national named Teabing. Langdon drove a fair distance to get here, and the vehicle is inside the security gate, with no signs of forced entry, so chances are good that Langdon knows the occupant.”

  “I'm coming out,” Fache said. “Don't make a move. I'll handle this personally.”

  Collet's jaw dropped. “But Captain, you're twenty minutes away! We should act immediately. I have him staked out. I'm with eight men total. Four of us have field rifles and the others have

  sidearms.“

  “Wait for me.”

  “Captain, what if Langdon has a hostage in there? What if he sees us and decides to leave on foot? We need to move now! My men are in position and ready to go.”

  “Lieutenant Collet, you will wait for me to arrive before taking action. That is an order.” Fache hung up.

  Stunned, Lieutenant Collet switched off his phone. Why the hell is Fache asking me to wait? Collet knew the answer. Fache, though famous for his instinct, was notorious for his pride. Fache wants credit for the arrest. After putting the American's face all over the television, Fache wanted to be sure his own face got equal time. Collet's job was simply to hold down the fort until the boss showed up to save the day.

  As he stood there, Collet flashed on a second possible explanation for this delay. Damage control. In law enforcement, hesitating to arrest a fugitive only occurred when uncertainty had arisen regarding the suspect's guilt. Is Fache having second thoughts that Langdon is the right man? The thought was frightening. Captain Fache had gone out on a limb tonight to arrest Robert Langdon-surveillance cachée, Interpol, and now television. Not even the great Bezu Fache would survive the political fallout if he had mistakenly splashed a prominent American's face all over French television, claiming he was a murderer. If Fache now realized he'd made a mistake, then it made perfect sense that he would tell Collet not to make a move. The last thing Fache needed was for Collet to storm an innocent Brit's private estate and take Langdon at gunpoint.

  Moreover, Collet realized, if Langdon were innocent, it explained one of this case's strangest paradoxes: Why had Sophie Neveu, the granddaughter of the victim, helped the alleged killer escape? Unless Sophie knew Langdon was falsely charged. Fache had posited all kinds of explanations tonight to explain Sophie's odd behavior, including that Sophie, as Saunière's sole heir, had persuaded her secret lover Robert Langdon to kill off Saunière for the inheritance money. Saunière, if he had suspected this, might have left the police the message P.S. Find Robert Langdon. Collet was fairly certain something else was going on here. Sophie Neveu seemed far too solid of character to be mixed up in something that sordid.

  “Lieutenant?” One of the field agents came running over. “We found a car.”

  Collet followed the agent about fifty yards past the driveway. The agent pointed to a wide shoulder on the opposite side of the road. There, parked in the brush, almost out of sight, was a black Audi. It had rental plates. Collet felt the hood. Still warm. Hot even.

  “That must be how Langdon got here,” Collet said. “Call the rental company. Find out if it's stolen.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Another agent waved Collet back over in the direction of the fence. “Lieutenant, have a look at this.” He handed Collet a pair of night vision binoculars. “The grove of trees near the top of the driveway.”

  Collet aimed the binoculars up the hill and adjusted the image intensifier dials. Slowly, the greenish shapes came into focus. He located the curve of the driveway and slowly followed it up, reaching the grove of trees. All he could do was stare. There, shrouded in the greenery, was an armored truck. A truck identical to the one Collet had permitted to leave the Depository Bank of Zurich earlier tonight. He prayed this was some kind of bizarre coincidence, but he knew it could not be.

  “It seems obvious,” the agent said, “that this truck is how Langdon and Neveu got away from the bank.”

  Collet was speechless. He thought of the armored truck driver he had stopped at the roadblock. The Rolex. His impatience to leave. I never checked the cargo hold.

  Incredulous, Collet realized that someone in the bank had actually lied to DCPJ about Langdon and Sophie's whereabouts and then helped them escape. But who? And why? Collet wondered if maybe this were the reason Fache had told him not to take action yet. Maybe Fache realized there were more people involved tonight than just Langdon and Sophie. And if Langdon and Neveu arrived in the armored truck, then who drove the Audi?

  Hundreds of miles to the south, a chartered Beechcraft Baron 58 raced northward over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Despite calm skies, Bishop Aringarosa clutched an airsickness bag, certain he could be ill at any moment. His conversation with Paris had not at all been what he had imagined.

  Alone in the small cabin, Aringarosa twisted the gold ring on his finger and tried to ease his overwhelming sense of fear and desperation. Everything in Paris has gone terribly wrong. Closing his eyes, Aringarosa said a prayer that Bezu Fache would have the means to fix it.

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