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«Seat belts, please,» Teabing’s pilot announced as the Hawker 731 descended into a gloomy morning drizzle. «We’ll be landing in five minutes.»

Teabing felt a joyous sense of homecoming when he saw the misty hills of Kent spreading wide beneath the descending plane. England was less than an hour from Paris, and yet a world away. This morning, the damp, spring green of his homeland looked particularly welcoming. My time in France is over.I am returning to England victorious.The keystone has been found.The question remained, of course, as to where the keystone would ultimately lead. Somewhere in the United Kingdom.Where exactly, Teabing had no idea, but he was already tasting the glory.

As Langdon and Sophie looked on, Teabing got up and went to the far side of the cabin, then slid aside a wall panel to reveal a discreetly hidden wall safe. He dialed in the combination, opened the safe, and extracted two passports. «Documentation for Rémy and myself.» He then removed a thick stack of fifty-pound notes. «And documentation for you two.» Sophie looked leery. «A bribe?» «Creative diplomacy. Executive airfields make certain allowances. A British customs official will greet us at my hangar and ask to board the plane. Rather than permitting him to come on, I’ll tell him I’m traveling with a French celebrity who prefers that nobody knows she is in England – press considerations, you know – and I’ll offer the official this generous tip as gratitude for his discretion.»

Langdon looked amazed. «And the official will accept?»

«Not from anyone, they won’t, but these people all know me. I’m not an arms dealer, for heaven’s sake. I was knighted.» Teabing smiled. «Membership has its privileges.»

Rémy approached up the aisle now, the Heckler Koch pistol cradled in his hand. «Sir, my agenda?» Teabing glanced at his servant. «I’m going to have you stay onboard with our guest until we return.

We can’t very well drag him all over London with us.»

Sophie looked wary. «Leigh, I was serious about the French police finding your plane before we return.»

Teabing laughed. «Yes, imagine their surprise if they board and find Rémy.»

Sophie looked surprised by his cavalier attitude. «Leigh, you transported a bound hostage across international borders. This is serious.»

«So are my lawyers.» He scowled toward the monk in the rear of the plane. «That animal broke into my home and almost killed me. That is a fact, and Rémy will corroborate.» «But you tied him up and flew him to London!» Langdon said. Teabing held up his right hand and feigned a courtroom oath. «Your honor, forgive an eccentric old knight his foolish prejudice for the British court system. I realize I should have called the French authorities, but I’m a snob and do not trust those laissez-faire French to prosecute properly. This man almost murdered me. Yes, I made a rash decision forcing my manservant to help me bring him to England, but I was under great stress. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.»

Langdon looked incredulous. «Coming from you, Leigh, that just might fly.»

«Sir?» the pilot called back. «The tower just radioed. They’ve got some kind of maintenance problem out near your hangar, and they’re asking me to bring the plane directly to the terminal instead.»

Teabing had been flying to Biggin Hill for over a decade, and this was a first. «Did they mention what the problem is?»

«The controller was vague. Something about a gas leak at the pumping station? They asked me to park in front of the terminal and keep everyone onboard until further notice. Safety precaution. We’re not supposed to deplane until we get the all clear from airport authorities.»

Teabing was skeptical. Must be one hell of a gas leak.The pumping station was a good half mile from his hangar.

Rémy also looked concerned. «Sir, this sounds highly irregular.»

Teabing turned to Sophie and Langdon. «My friends, I have an unpleasant suspicion that we are about to be met by a welcoming committee.»

Langdon gave a bleak sigh. «I guess Fache still thinks I’m his man.»

«Either that,» Sophie said,» or he is too deep into this to admit his error.

Teabing was not listening. Regardless of Fache’s mind-set, action needed to be taken fast. Don’tlose sight of the ultimate goal.The Grail.We’re so dose.Below them, the landing gear descended with a clunk.

«Leigh,» Langdon said, sounding deeply remorseful,» I should turn myself in and sort this out legally. Leave you all out of it.»

«Oh, heavens, Robert!» Teabing waved it off. «Do you really think they’re going to let the rest of us go? I just transported you illegally. Miss Neveu assisted in your escape from the Louvre, and we have a man tied up in the back of the plane. Really now! We’re all in this together.»

«Maybe a different airport?» Sophie said.

Teabing shook his head. «If we pull up now, by the time we get clearance anywhere else, our welcoming party will include army tanks.»

Sophie slumped.

Teabing sensed that if they were to have any chance of postponing confrontation with the British authorities long enough to find the Grail, bold action had to be taken. «Give me a minute,» he said, hobbling toward the cockpit.

«What are you doing?» Langdon asked.

«Sales meeting,» Teabing said, wondering how much it would cost him to persuade his pilot to perform one highly irregular maneuver.

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