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Sophie Neveu, despite working in law enforcement, had never found herself at gunpoint until tonight. Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair. He looked at her with red eyes that radiated a frightening, disembodied quality. Dressed in a wool robe with a rope tie, he resembled a medieval cleric. Sophie could not imagine who he was, and yet she was feeling a sudden newfound respect for Teabing’s suspicions that the Church was behind this.

«You know what I have come for,» the monk said, his voice hollow.

Sophie and Teabing were seated on the divan, arms raised as their attacker had commanded. Langdon lay groaning on the floor. The monk’s eyes fell immediately to the keystone on Teabing’s lap.

Teabing’s tone was defiant. «You will not be able to open it.»

«My Teacher is very wise,» the monk replied, inching closer, the gun shifting between Teabing and Sophie.

Sophie wondered where Teabing’s manservant was. Didn’t he hear Robert fall?

«Who is your teacher?» Teabing asked. «Perhaps we can make a financial arrangement.» «The Grail is priceless.» He moved closer.» You’re bleeding,» Teabing noted calmly, nodding to the monk’s right ankle where a trickle of blood had run down his leg. «And you’re limping.»

«As do you,» the monk replied, motioning to the metal crutches propped beside Teabing. «Now, hand me the keystone.»

«You know of the keystone?» Teabing said, sounding surprised. «Never mind what I know. Stand up slowly, and give it to me.» «Standing is difficult for me.» «Precisely. I would prefer nobody attempt any quick moves.»

Teabing slipped his right hand through one of his crutches and grasped the keystone in his left. Lurching to his feet, he stood erect, palming the heavy cylinder in his left hand, and leaning unsteadily on his crutch with his right.

The monk closed to within a few feet, keeping the gun aimed directly at Teabing’s head. Sophie watched, feeling helpless as the monk reached out to take the cylinder.

«You will not succeed,» Teabing said. «Only the worthy can unlock this stone.»

God alone judges the worthy, Silas thought.

«It’s quite heavy,» the man on crutches said, his arm wavering now. «If you don’t take it soon, I’m afraid I shall drop it!» He swayed perilously.

Silas stepped quickly forward to take the stone, and as he did, the man on crutches lost his balance. The crutch slid out from under him, and he began to topple sideways to his right. No! Silas lunged to save the stone, lowering his weapon in the process. But the keystone was moving away from him now. As the man fell to his right, his left hand swung backward, and the cylinder tumbled from his palm onto the couch. At the same instant, the metal crutch that had been sliding out from under the man seemed to accelerate, cutting a wide arc through the air toward Silas’s leg.

Splinters of pain tore up Silas’s body as the crutch made perfect contact with his cilice, crushing the barbs into his already raw flesh. Buckling, Silas crumpled to his knees, causing the belt to cut deeper still. The pistol discharged with a deafening roar, the bullet burying itself harmlessly in the floorboards as Silas fell. Before he could raise the gun and fire again, the woman’s foot caught him square beneath the jaw.

At the bottom of the driveway, Collet heard the gunshot. The muffled pop sent panic through his veins. With Fache on the way, Collet had already relinquished any hopes of claiming personal credit for finding Langdon tonight. But Collet would be damned if Fache’s ego landed him in front of a Ministerial Review Board for negligent police procedure.

A weapon was discharged inside a private home! And you waited at the bottom of the driveway?

Collet knew the opportunity for a stealth approach had long since passed. He also knew if he stood idly by for another second, his entire career would be history by morning. Eyeing the estate’s iron gate, he made his decision.

«Tie on, and pull it down.»

In the distant recesses of his groggy mind, Robert Langdon had heard the gunshot. He’d also heard a scream of pain. His own? A jackhammer was boring a hole into the back of his cranium. Somewhere nearby, people were talking.

«Where the devil were you?» Teabing was yelling. The manservant hurried in. «What happened? Oh my God! Who is that? I’ll call the police!» «Bloody hell! Don’t call the police. Make yourself useful and get us something with which to restrain this monster.»

«And some ice!» Sophie called after him.

Langdon drifted out again. More voices. Movement. Now he was seated on the divan. Sophie was holding an ice pack to his head. His skull ached. As Langdon’s vision finally began to clear, he found himself staring at a body on the floor. Am I hallucinating? The massive body of an albino monk lay bound and gagged with duct tape. His chin was split open, and the robe over his right thigh was soaked with blood. He too appeared to be just now coming to.

Langdon turned to Sophie. «Who is that? What… happened?»

Teabing hobbled over. «You were rescued by a knight brandishing an Excalibur made by Acme Orthopedic.»

Huh? Langdon tried to sit up.

Sophie’s touch was shaken but tender. «Just give yourself a minute, Robert.»

«I fear,» Teabing said,» that I’ve just demonstrated for your lady friend the unfortunate benefit of my condition. It seems everyone underestimates you.»

From his seat on the divan, Langdon gazed down at the monk and tried to imagine what had happened.

«He was wearing a cilice,»Teabing explained. «A what?» Teabing pointed to a bloody strip of barbed leather that lay on the floor. «A Discipline belt. He wore it on his thigh. I took careful aim.»

Langdon rubbed his head. He knew of Discipline belts. «But how… did you know?»

Teabing grinned. «Christianity is my field of study, Robert, and there are certain sects who wear their hearts on their sleeves.» He pointed his crutch at the blood soaking through the monk’s cloak. «As it were.»

«Opus Dei,» Langdon whispered, recalling recent media coverage of several prominent Boston businessmen who were members of Opus Dei. Apprehensive coworkers had falsely and publicly accused the men of wearing Discipline belts beneath their three-piece suits. In fact, the three men did no such thing. Like many members of Opus Dei, these businessmen were at the» supernumerary» stage and practiced no corporal mortification at all. They were devout Catholics, caring fathers to their children, and deeply dedicated members of the community. Not surprisingly, the media spotlighted their spiritual commitment only briefly before moving on to the shock value of the sect’s more stringent» numerary» members… members like the monk now lying on the floor before Langdon.

Teabing was looking closely at the bloody belt. «But why would Opus Dei be trying to find the Holy Grail?»

Langdon was too groggy to consider it.

«Robert,» Sophie said, walking to the wooden box. «What’s this?» She was holding the small Rose inlay he had removed from the lid.» It covered an engraving on the box. I think the text might tell us how to open the keystone.» Before Sophie and Teabing could respond, a sea of blue police lights and sirens erupted at thebottom of the hill and began snaking up the half-mile driveway.

Teabing frowned. «My friends, it seems we have a decision to make. And we’d better make it fast.»

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