RENNES-LE-CHATEAU

2:30 PM

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MALONE SURVEYED THE INSIDE OF ERNST SCOVILLE'S MODEST house. The decor was an eclectic collection of British antiques, twelfth-century Spanish art, and unremarkable French paintings. He estimated that a thousand books surrounded him, most yellowed paperbacks and aged hardcovers, each shelf fronting an exterior wall and meticulously arranged by subject and size. Old newspapers were stacked by year, in chronological order. The same was true for periodicals. Everything dealt with Rennes, Sauniere, French history, the Church, Templars, and Jesus Christ.

"Seems Scoville was a Bible connoisseur," he said, pointing to rows of analysis.

"He spent his life studying the New Testament. He was Lars's biblical source."

"Doesn't seem anyone has searched this house."

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"It could have been done carefully."

"True. But what were they looking for? What are we looking for?"

"I don't know. All I know is I talked to Scoville, then two weeks later he's dead."

"What would he have known that was worth killing for?"

She shrugged. "Our conversation was pleasant. I honestly thought he was the one who'd sent the journal. He and Lars worked closely. But he knew nothing of the journal being sent to me, though he wanted to read it." She stopped her perusal. "Look at all this stuff. He was obsessed." She shook her head. "Lars and I argued about this very thing for years. I always thought he was wasting his academic abilities. He was a good historian. He should have been making a decent salary at a university, publishing credible research. Instead, he traipsed around the world, chasing shadows."

"He was a bestselling author."

"Only his first book. Money was another of our constant debates."

"You sound like a woman with a lot of regrets."

"Don't you have some? I recall you taking the divorce from Pam hard."

"Nobody likes to fail."

"At least your spouse didn't kill herself."

She had a point.

"You said on the way over here that Lars believed Sauniere discovered a message inside that glass vial found in the column. Who was the message from?"

"In his notebook, Lars wrote that it was probably from one of Sauniere's predecessors, Antoine Bigou, who served as the parish priest for Rennes in the latter part of the eighteenth century, during the time of the French Revolution. I mentioned him in the car. He was the priest to whom Marie d'Hautpoul de Blanchefort told her family secret before dying."

"So Lars thought the family secret was recorded in the vial?"

"It's not that simple. There's more to the story. Marie d'Hautpoul married the last marquis de Blanchefort in 1732. The de Blanchefort line has a French history all the way back to the time of the Templars. The family took part in both the Crusades and the Albigensian wars. One ancestor was even master of the Templars in the middle of the twelfth century, and the family controlled the Rennes township and surrounding land for centuries. When the Templars were arrested in 1307, the de Blancheforts sheltered many fugitives from Philip IV's men. It's said, though no one knows for sure, that members of the de Blanchefort family were always part of the Templars after that."

"You sound like Henrik. Do you actually think the Templars are still out there?"

"I have no idea. But something the man in the cathedral said keeps coming back. He quoted St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth-century monk who was instrumental in the Templars' rise to power. I acted like I didn't know what he was talking about. But Lars wrote a lot about him."

Malone also recalled the name from the book he'd read in Copenhagen. Bernard de Fontaines was a Cistercian monk who founded a monastery at Clairvaux in the twelfth century. He was a leading thinker and exerted great influence within the Church, becoming a close adviser to Pope Innocent II. His uncle was one of the nine original Templars, and it was Bernard who convinced Innocent II to grant the Templars their unprecedented Rule.

"The man in the cathedral knew Lars," Stephanie said. "Even intimated that he'd spoken to him about the journal, and that Lars challenged him. The man from the Round Tower also worked for him--he wanted me to know that--and that man screamed the Templar battle cry before jumping."

"Could all be a bluff to rattle you."

"I'm starting to doubt it."

He agreed, especially with what he'd noticed on the way over from the cemetery. But for the moment he kept that to himself.

"Lars wrote in his journal about the de Blancheforts' secret, one supposedly dating from 1307, the time of the Templars' arrest. He found plenty of references to this supposed family duty in documents from the period, but never any details. Apparently he spent a lot of time in the local monasteries poring through writings. It's Marie's grave, though, the one drawn in the book Thorvaldsen bought, that seems to be the key. Marie died in 1781, but it wasn't until 1791 that Abbe Bigou erected a headstone and marker over her remains. Remember the time. The French Revolution was brewing, and Catholic churches were being destroyed. Bigou was anti-republic, so he fled into Spain in 1793 and died there two years later, never returning to Rennes-le-Chateau."

"And what did Lars think Bigou hid inside that glass vial?"

"Probably not the actual de Blanchefort secret, but rather a method for learning it. In the notebook, Lars wrote that he firmly believed Marie's grave held the key to the secret."

He was beginning to understand. "Which is why the book was so important."

She nodded. "Sauniere stripped many of the graves in the churchyard, digging up the bones and placing them in a communal ossuary that still stands behind the church. That explains, as Lars wrote, why there are no graves there now dated prior to 1885. The locals raised a loud ruckus about what he was doing, so he was ordered by the town councilors to stop. Marie de Blanchefort's grave was not exhumed, but all of the letters and symbols were chipped away by Sauniere. Unbeknownst to him, there was a sketch of the marker that survived, drawn by a local mayor, Eugene Stublein. Lars learned of that drawing but could never find a copy of the book."

"How did Lars know Sauniere defaced the grave?"

"There's a record of Maria's grave being vandalized during that time. No one attached any special significance to the act, yet who else but Sauniere could have done it?"

"And Lars thought all this leads to a treasure?"

"He wrote in his journal that he believed Sauniere deciphered the message Abbe Bigou left behind and that he found the Templar hiding place, telling only his mistress, and she died without telling anyone."

"So what were you going to do? Use the notebook and the book to look for it again?"

"I don't know what I would have done. I can only say that something told me to come, buy the book, and look around." She paused. "It also gave me an excuse to come, stay in his house for a while, and remember."

That he understood. "Why involve Peter Hansen? Why not just buy the book yourself?"

"I still work for the U.S. government. I thought Hansen would be insulation. That way my name appears nowhere. Of course, I had no idea all of this was involved."

He considered what she'd said. "So Lars was following Sauniere's tracks, just as Sauniere followed Bigou."

She nodded. "And it seems someone else is also following those same tracks."

He surveyed the room again. "We'll need to go through all this carefully to even have a hope of learning anything."

Something at the front door caught his attention. When they'd entered a stack of mail scattered on the floor had been swept close to the wall, apparently dropped in through the door slot. He walked over and lifted half a dozen envelopes.

Stephanie came close.

"Let me see that one," she said.

He handed her a taupe-colored envelope with black script.

"The note included with Lars's journal was on that color paper and the writing looks similar." She found the page in her shoulder bag and they compared the script.

"It's identical," she said.

"I'm sure Scoville won't mind." He tore open the envelope.

Nine sheets of paper came out. On one was a penned message, the ink and writing the same as Stephanie had received.

    She will come. Be forgiving. You have long searched and deserve to see. Together, it may be possible. In Avignon find Claridan. He can point the way. But prend garde l'Ingenieur

He read the last line again--prend garde l'Ingenieur. "Beware the engineer. What does that mean?"

"Good question."

"No mention in the journal of any engineer?"

"Not a word."

"Be forgiving. Apparently the sender knew you and Scoville didn't care for one another."

"That's unnerving. I wasn't aware anyone knew that."

He examined the eight other pieces of paper. "These are from Lars's journal. The missing pages." He checked the postmark on the envelope. From Perpignan, on the French coast. Five days ago. "Scoville never received this. It came too late."

"Ernst was murdered, Cotton. There's no doubt now."

He concurred, but something else bothered him. He crept to one of the windows and carefully peered past the sheers.

"We need to go to Avignon," she said.

He agreed, but as he focused out at the empty street and caught a glimpse of what he knew would be there, he said, "After we tend to one other matter."

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