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CHAPTER 79

Lieutenant Collet helped himself to a Perrier from Teabing’s refrigerator and strode back out through the drawing room. Rather than accompanying Fache to London where the action was, he was now baby-sitting the PTS team that had spread out through Château Villette.

So far, the evidence they had uncovered was unhelpful: a single bullet buried in the floor; a paper with several symbols scrawled on it along with the words blade and chalice; and a bloody spiked belt that PTS had told Collet was associated with the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, which had caused a stir recently when a news program exposed their aggressive recruiting practices in Paris.

Collet sighed. Good luck making sense of this unlikely mélange.

Moving down a lavish hallway, Collet entered the vast ballroom study, where the chief PTS examiner was busy dusting for fingerprints. He was a corpulent man in suspenders. «Anything?» Collet asked, entering. The examiner shook his head. «Nothing new. Multiple sets matching those in the rest of the house.» «How about the prints on the cilice belt?» «Interpol is still working. I uploaded everything we found.»

Collet motioned to two sealed evidence bags on the desk. «And this?» The man shrugged. «Force of habit. I bag anything peculiar.» Collet walked over. Peculiar?

«This Brit’s a strange one,» the examiner said. «Have a look at this.» He sifted through the evidence bags and selected one, handing it to Collet.

The photo showed the main entrance of a Gothic cathedral – the traditional, recessed archway, narrowing through multiple, ribbed layers to a small doorway.

Collet studied the photo and turned. «This is peculiar?» «Turn it over.» On the back, Collet found notations scrawled in English, describing a cathedral’s long hollow nave as a secret pagan tribute to a woman’s womb. This was strange. The notation describing the cathedral’s doorway, however, was what startled him. «Hold on! He thinks a cathedral’s entrance represents a woman’s…»

The examiner nodded. «Complete with receding labial ridges and a nice little cinquefoil clitoris above the doorway.» He sighed. «Kind of makes you want to go back to church.»

Collet picked up the second evidence bag. Through the plastic, he could see a large glossy photograph of what appeared to be an old document. The heading at the top read:

Les Dossiers Secrets – Number 4° lm1 249

«What’s this?» Collet asked.

«No idea. He’s got copies of it all over the place, so I bagged it.» Collet studied the document.

PRIEURE DE SIGN – LES NAUTONIERS/GRAND MASTERS

JEAN DE GISORS

1188-1220

MARIE DE SAINT-CLAIR

1220-1266

GUILLAUME DE GlSORS

1266-1307

EDOUARD DE BAR

1307-1336

JEANNE DE BAR

1336-1351

JEAN DE SAINT-CLAIR

1351-1366

BLANCE D’EVREUX

1366-1398

NICOLAS FLAMEL

1398-1418

RENE D’ANJOU

1418-1480

IOLANDE DE BAR

1480-1483

SANDRO BOTTICELLI

1483-1510

LEONARDO DA VINCI

1510-1519

CONNETABLE DE BOURBON

1519-1527

FERDINAND DE GONZAQUE

1527-1575

LOUIS DE NEVERS

1575-1595

ROBERT FLUDD

1595-1637

J. VALENTIN ANDREA

1637-1654

ROBERT BOYLE

1654-1691

ISAAC NEWTON

1691-1727

CHARLES RADCLYFFE

1727-1746

CHARLES DE LORRAINE

1746-1780

MAXIMILIAN DE LORRAINE

1780-1801

CHARLES NODIER

1801-1844

VICTOR HUGO

1844-1885

CLAUDE DEBUSSY

1885-1918

JEAN COCTEAU

1918-1963

Prieuré de Sion? Collet wondered.

«Lieutenant?» Another agent stuck his head in. «The switchboard has an urgent call for Captain Fache, but they can’t reach him. Will you take it?» Collet returned to the kitchen and took the call. It was André Vernet.

The banker’s refined accent did little to mask the tension in his voice. «I thought Captain Fache said he would call me, but I have not yet heard from him.»

«The captain is quite busy,» Collet replied. «May I help you?»

«I was assured I would be kept abreast of your progress tonight.»

For a moment, Collet thought he recognized the timbre of the man’s voice, but he couldn’t quite place it. «Monsieur Vernet, I am currently in charge of the Paris investigation. My name is Lieutenant Collet.»

There was a long pause on the line. «Lieutenant, I have another call coming in. Please excuse me. I will call you later.» He hung up.

For several seconds, Collet held the receiver. Then it dawned on him. I knew I recognized that voice! The revelation made him gasp.

The armored car driver. With the fake Rolex. Collet now understood why the banker had hung up so quickly. Vernet had remembered the name Lieutenant Collet – the officer he blatantly lied to earlier tonight.

Collet pondered the implications of this bizarre development. Vernet is involved.Instinctively, he knew he should call Fache. Emotionally, he knew this lucky break was going to be his moment to shine.

He immediately called Interpol and requested every shred of information they could find on the Depository Bank of Zurich and its president, André Vernet.

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