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CHAPTER 70

Standing in the drawing room of Château Villette, Lieutenant Collet watched the dying fire and felt despondent. Captain Fache had arrived moments earlier and was now in the next room, yelling into the phone, trying to coordinate the failed attempt to locate the missing Range Rover.

It could be anywhere by now, Collet thought.

Having disobeyed Fache’s direct orders and lost Langdon for a second time, Collet was grateful that PTS had located a bullet hole in the floor, which at least corroborated Collet’s claims that a shot had been fired. Still, Fache’s mood was sour, and Collet sensed there would be dire repercussions when the dust settled.

Unfortunately, the clues they were turning up here seemed to shed no light at all on what was going on or who was involved. The black Audi outside had been rented in a false name with false credit card numbers, and the prints in the car matched nothing in the Interpol database.

Another agent hurried into the living room, his eyes urgent. «Where’s Captain Fache?» Collet barely looked up from the burning embers. «He’s on the phone.» «I’m off the phone,» Fache snapped, stalking into the room. «What have you got?»

The second agent said,» Sir, Central just heard from André Vernet at the Depository Bank of Zurich. He wants to talk to you privately. He is changing his story.» «Oh?» Fache said. Now Collet looked up.

«Vernet is admitting that Langdon and Neveu spent time inside his bank tonight.» «We figured that out,» Fache said. «Why did Vernet lie about it?» «He said he’ll talk only to you, but he’s agreed to cooperate fully.» «In exchange for what?»

«For our keeping his bank’s name out of the news and also for helping him recover some stolen property. It sounds like Langdon and Neveu stole something from Saunière’s account.»

«What?» Collet blurted. «How?»

Fache never flinched, his eyes riveted on the second agent. «What did they steal?» «Vernet didn’t elaborate, but he sounds like he’s willing to do anything to get it back.» Collet tried to imagine how this could happen. Maybe Langdon and Neveu had held a bank employee at gunpoint? Maybe they forced Vernet to open Saunière’s account and facilitate an escape in the armored truck. As feasible as it was, Collet was having trouble believing Sophie Neveu could be involved in anything like that.

From the kitchen, another agent yelled to Fache. «Captain? I’m going through Mr. Teabing’s speed dial numbers, and I’m on the phone with Le Bourget Airfield. I’ve got some bad news.»

Thirty seconds later, Fache was packing up and preparing to leave Château Villette. He had just learned that Teabing kept a private jet nearby at Le Bourget Airfield and that the plane had taken off about a half hour ago.

The Bourget representative on the phone had claimed not to know who was on the plane or where it was headed. The takeoff had been unscheduled, and no flight plan had been logged. Highly illegal, even for a small airfield. Fache was certain that by applying the right pressure, he could get the answers he was looking for.

«Lieutenant Collet,» Fache barked, heading for the door. «I have no choice but to leave you in charge of the PTS investigation here. Try to do something right for a change.»

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