The Code of Genius
Chapter 6: After sliding under the security gate, Robert Langdon found himself standing at the entrance of the Grand Gallery. Before him lay a vast, deep chasm flanked by towering walls on either side. The walls reached thirty feet high, vanishing into the darkness overhead. The reddish glow of the service lights filtered upward, casting an eerie glow over an extensive collection of art by Da Vinci, Titian, and Caravaggio. Paintings of various genres, including still lifes, religious scenes, landscapes, as well as portraits of nobles and politicians, hung suspended from ceiling cables.
While the Grand Gallery was renowned for its collection of Italian art, many visitors considered its most captivating feature to be the intricate parquet floor. Comprising a mesmerizing geometric pattern of diagonal oak slats, the floor created a transient optical illusion—a multidimensional tapestry that made visitors feel as though they were gliding through the gallery on a surface that transformed with every step.
As Langdon took in the details of the parquet floor, his attention was drawn to an unexpected object lying on the ground a short distance to his left. The area around it was marked with police tape. He turned to Captain Fache, his voice incredulous, “Is that… a Caravaggio on the floor?”
Fache nodded without looking away from the scene.
The painting, Langdon estimated, was worth over two million dollars, yet it lay discarded on the floor like an abandoned poster. “Why on earth is it on the floor?”
Fache’s demeanor remained unmoved. “This is a crime scene, Mr. Langdon. We have not disturbed anything. The curator removed that canvas from the wall, triggering the security system.”
Langdon glanced back at the gate, trying to piece together what had happened.
“The curator was attacked in his office, fled to the Grand Gallery, and triggered the security gate by removing the painting from the wall. The gate fell, sealing off the entrance. This is now the only way in or out of the gallery.”
Langdon felt puzzled. “So the curator effectively trapped his assailant inside the Grand Gallery?”
Fache shook his head. “The security gate separated Saunière from his attacker. The murderer was locked out in the hallway and shot Saunière through the gate.” Fache indicated an orange tag hanging from the bars of the gate they had just passed through. “The forensics team found gunshot residue on the bars. The killer fired through the bars, and Saunière died in this room.”
Recalling the photograph of Saunière’s body, Langdon queried, “But they said he did that to himself. And where’s his body now?”
Fache adjusted his cruciform tie clip and started walking. “As you may know, the Grand Gallery is quite extensive.”
Langdon, if he recalled correctly, knew the gallery spanned around fifteen hundred feet, equivalent to the length of three Washington Monuments placed end to end. The width of the corridor was equally impressive, capable of accommodating two side-by-side passenger trains. The central path of the hallway was punctuated by the occasional statue or grand porcelain urn, which acted as tasteful dividers, guiding traffic along one wall and back up the other.
Now walking swiftly along the right side of the corridor, Fache was silent, focused on the path ahead. Langdon couldn’t help but feel that he was neglecting the masterpieces surrounding them by passing them by without a glance. The muted crimson lighting brought back memories of Langdon’s last encounter with noninvasive lighting, during his time in the Vatican Secret Archives. This was the second unsettling parallel with his near-death experience in Rome that night. Vittoria, his thoughts turned to her, had been absent from his dreams for months. Reflecting on the fact that the Rome incident had occurred only a year ago felt like a surreal juxtaposition. Time seemed distorted. His last communication with Vittoria had been a postcard in December, mentioning her research in entanglement physics using satellites to track manta ray migrations in the Java Sea. The memories of Rome had awoken emotions he never thought he’d feel. His preference for a solitary life of independence had been disrupted by an unexpected emptiness over the past year.
As they continued their brisk walk, there was no sign of Saunière’s body. “So Saunière came this far?” Langdon inquired.
“Mr. Saunière suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach,” Fache responded, “and he died slowly, perhaps over fifteen to twenty minutes. He was remarkably resilient.”
Langdon was appalled. “And it took security fifteen minutes to arrive?”
Fache’s expression indicated Langdon had misunderstood. “No, the security responded immediately to the alarm, finding the Grand Gallery sealed off. They heard movement at the far end, but couldn’t identify who it was. Assuming it was a criminal, they followed protocol and summoned the Judicial Police. We arrived within fifteen minutes. When we got here, we found the gate lowered and heard someone moving around inside. We called out, but got no response. Believing it was an intruder, we secured the area and called for backup. After raising the gate slightly and crawling underneath, we sent armed agents inside. They combed the gallery to corner the intruder.”
“They didn’t find anyone inside except…” Fache gestured further down the corridor. “Him.”
Langdon followed Fache’s pointing finger. Initially, he thought Fache was indicating a large marble statue. However, as he focused, he realized the statue was merely a point of reference. About thirty yards away, a solitary spotlight illuminated a small area of the parquet floor, casting a stark circle of white light amid the darkened gallery. At the center of the light, Saunière’s lifeless body lay exposed on the floor.
“You saw the photograph,” Fache stated. “So, this sight shouldn’t be a surprise.”
An eerie chill passed through Langdon as they approached the body. The view before him was unlike anything he’d ever encountered.
Jacques Saunière’s pale body lay stretched out on the parquet floor, just as depicted in the photograph. As Langdon stood over the body, he reminded himself in disbelief that Saunière had taken his last breath arranging his own body in this macabre manner.
Saunière appeared surprisingly vigorous for his age, and every muscle was visible. Stripped entirely of clothing, his garments neatly laid beside him on the floor, he was positioned on his back in the middle of the gallery, perfectly aligned with the corridor’s long axis. His arms and legs stretched out wide, resembling a child’s snow angel or, more pertinently, a man being pulled apart by some invisible force.
A bloody streak just beneath Saunière’s sternum indicated where the bullet had entered his body. Surprisingly, the wound hadn’t bled profusely, leaving only a small pool of darkened blood.
Saunière’s left index finger bore bloodstains, presumably used to create the most unsettling element of his final moments. With his own blood as ink and his own bare abdomen as a canvas, Saunière had inscribed a simple symbol—a five-pointed star formed by five straight lines intersecting at its center.
The bloody star centered on his navel gave his corpse an eerie and unsettling aura. Langdon had seen the photograph, but being confronted with the scene in person intensified his unease.
Did he do this to himself?
Fache’s voice broke the silence, snapping Langdon’s attention back to the moment. “Mr. Langdon?”
“It’s a pentacle,” Langdon stated, his voice sounding hollow in the immense space. “One of the oldest symbols known, appearing over four thousand years before Christ.”
“And its meaning?” Fache inquired.
Explaining the interpretation of symbols often proved challenging, as their meanings could vary widely for different people. Langdon compared it to explaining how a song should make someone feel; it was subjective. He referred to the pentacle as a pagan symbol with deep roots, representing the balance between masculine and feminine aspects of the world. The ancients believed that harmony prevailed when male and female were balanced, and chaos ensued when they weren’t. He pointed at Saunière’s stomach. “This pentacle symbolizes the feminine aspect—a concept termed the ‘sacred feminine’ or ‘divine goddess’ by religious historians.”
Fache looked more troubled, as if the idea of devil worship would be more acceptable to him.
Langdon refrained from sharing the most intriguing aspect of the pentacle—its link to the planet Venus. The planet traced a perfect pentacle across the night sky every four years, which had fascinated the ancients. This celestial phenomenon had rendered the pentacle a symbol of beauty, love, and cyclic aspects of sexual love. However, he didn’t share this information, choosing to stay on topic.
“Pagan symbols are often misunderstood,” Langdon clarified. “In this case, through misinterpretation, the pentacle’s association with the divine goddess became warped into something demonic.”
Fache nodded, seemingly preferring the idea of devil worship. “And what about the body’s positioning?”
Langdon shrugged. “It reinforces the pentacle’s significance and the sacred feminine.”
Fache’s expression darkened. “What do you mean?”
“Repetition strengthens a symbol’s meaning. Saunière’s positioning mirrors a five-pointed star.”
Fache’s eyes traced Saunière’s outstretched arms, legs, and head. “And the nudity?”
Langdon considered it. “It’s hard to say. He probably used the nudity to further emphasize the symbol’s association with Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.”
Fache appeared repulsed. “Interesting analysis. The body’s position—any ideas?”
Langdon was stumped. “The position reinforces the pentacle’s symbolism.”
Fache’s eyes glinted in the dim light. “Did you ever consider that Saunière used his blood to guide forensic procedures?”
Langdon stared at the body’s left hand, finally noticing the large, felt-tipped marker it clutched.
“He had this pen when we found him,” Fache explained, turning off the spotlight, plunging the gallery into darkness.
Momentarily blinded, Langdon squinted as Fache approached with a portable light source, casting a violet hue. “As you know,” Fache’s voice echoed in the violet glow, “we use black lights to locate blood and other forensic evidence. You can understand our surprise…” Fache directed the light at the corpse.
Langdon’s eyes widened in shock as he beheld a bizarre sight now illuminated before him on the floor. In glowing luminescent handwriting, Saunière’s final words radiated a purple shimmer beside his body. As Langdon stared at the text, he felt the fog of the evening thicken.
Reading the message once more, Langdon looked up at Fache. “What does this mean?”
Fache’s eyes gleamed white. “That is precisely the question you are here to answer.”
Inside Saunière’s office, Lieutenant Collet, perched over an audio console on the curator’s desk, felt a sense of satisfaction. Other than the unsettling presence of a medieval knight doll on the desk, Collet was at ease. He adjusted his headphones and checked the recording system’s input levels. Everything was functioning correctly. The microphones captured clear audio, ready to record the ongoing conversation in the Grand Gallery.
Le moment de vérité, he thought with a smile.
He closed his eyes, ready to savor the rest of the taped conversation taking place in the gallery.
The Code of Genius
Native Language: English