The Code of Genius
Robert Langdon awoke slowly.
A distant telephone was ringing, a peculiar, unfamiliar sound. He groped for the bedside lamp and flicked it on. Blinking, he surveyed his surroundings—a lavish Renaissance bedroom adorned with Louis XVI furniture, walls frescoed by hand, and an immense mahogany four-poster bed.
Where am I?
A jacquard bathrobe hung from a bedpost, monogrammed with “HOTEL RITZ PARIS.” Gradually, the haze began to lift.
Langdon picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Mr. Langdon?” a male voice inquired. “I hope I haven’t disturbed you?”
Bewildered, Langdon glanced at the bedside clock. It read 12:32 AM. He had only dozed off an hour ago, but he felt utterly exhausted.
“This is the concierge, sir. I apologize for intruding, but you have a visitor. He insists it’s of utmost urgency.”
Langdon’s mind cleared slightly. A visitor? His gaze fell on a crumpled flyer on the bedside table.
THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF PARIS proudly presents AN EVENING WITH ROBERT LANGDON PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS SYMBOLISM, HARVARD UNIVERSITY
He sighed inwardly. The lecture he had given tonight—a presentation on hidden pagan symbols within Chartres Cathedral—might have ruffled some feathers among conservative attendees. It seemed likely that a critic from the lecture had followed him home to continue the argument.
“I apologize,” Langdon replied politely, “but I’m rather fatigued at the moment and—”
“Excuse me, sir,” the concierge interjected in a hushed tone. “Your guest holds considerable importance.”
Langdon had little doubt about that. His books on religious artwork and cult symbology had reluctantly elevated him to celebrity status in the art world. His prominence had skyrocketed further after his involvement in a highly publicized event at the Vatican last year. Since then, a constant stream of self-important historians and art enthusiasts had made their way to his door.
“If you could kindly take down his name and contact information,” Langdon suggested, “I’ll do my best to call him before I leave Paris on Tuesday. Thank you.” He hung up the phone before the concierge could object.
Sitting up, Langdon stared at the Guest Relations Handbook on his bedside table, its cover boasting: SLEEP LIKE A BABY IN THE CITY OF LIGHTS. REST AT THE PARIS RITZ. He shifted his attention to the full-length mirror across the room. The image that met his gaze was that of a stranger—disheveled and weary.
You need a break, Robert.
The past year had taken its toll on him, though he preferred not to see the evidence in the mirror. His typically keen blue eyes seemed dull and tired tonight. A shadowy stubble adorned his strong jaw and dimpled chin. Gray strands, advancing through his dense black hair, had conquered more ground, highlighting his temples. Despite his female colleagues’ insistence that the gray strands added to his scholarly appeal, Langdon knew better.
Boston Magazine would have a field day.
Last month, Boston Magazine had audaciously named him one of the city’s top ten most intriguing individuals—a dubious honor that earned him ongoing teasing from his Harvard colleagues. Now, thousands of miles away from home, that very accolade had resurfaced to haunt him during the lecture he had delivered.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the hostess had announced to a packed crowd at the American University of Paris’s Pavilion Dauphine, “our guest tonight requires no introduction. He’s the author of numerous books: The Symbology of Secret Sects, The Art of the Illuminati, The Lost Language of Ideograms… and when I say he wrote the definitive book on Religious Iconology, I mean that quite literally. Many of you use his textbooks in your courses.”
The students in the audience nodded vigorously.
“I had planned to formally introduce him tonight by reading out his impressive résumé. However…” She flashed a playful grin at Langdon, who was seated onstage. “A member of the audience has handed me a far more, shall we say, engaging introduction.”
She held up a copy of Boston Magazine.
Langdon winced. Where on earth did she find that?
The hostess began to read selected excerpts from the ridiculous article, and Langdon felt himself sinking lower and lower in his chair. Thirty seconds later, the audience was laughing, and the woman showed no signs of stopping. “And Mr. Langdon’s refusal to discuss his unusual involvement in last year’s Vatican conclave certainly earns him intrigue points on our meter.” The hostess prodded the crowd. “Do you want to hear more?”
The crowd’s applause was enthusiastic.
Someone, please make her stop, Langdon silently pleaded, as she delved into the article once more.
“Even though Professor Langdon might not be the epitome of handsome like some of our younger awardees, this academic in his forties possesses more than his fair share of scholarly charisma. His captivating presence is accentuated by an unusually deep, baritone voice that his female students liken to ‘velvet for the ears.'”
The audience erupted in laughter.
Langdon forced a sheepish smile. He knew what was coming next—a ridiculous comparison to “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed.” And, since he had assumed it was finally safe to wear his Harris tweed and Burberry turtleneck, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Thank you, Monique,” Langdon interrupted, rising prematurely and gently guiding her away from the podium. “Boston Magazine evidently excels at fiction.” He turned to the audience with an embarrassed chuckle. “And if I discover who among you provided that article, I’ll have you deported by the consulate.”
The audience laughed.
“Well, folks, as you all know, I’m here tonight to discuss the potency of symbols…”