Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Secret Sequel” first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Touchstone.
Christopher Bailey Gives an Exclusive Look at Dan Brown’s Next Blockbuster Novel
Don’t ask me how—I don’t want to confess to anything that might, to small minds, seem illegal—but I’ve managed to get access to a few chapters of Dan Brown’s upcoming novel, The Rockwell Cipher. I thought you might be interested to see that he’s still using the same techniques that made The Da Vinci Code such a big hit.
Langdon gave the brick a toss, and the window shattered noisily. A loud alarm blared.
“Are you nuts?” Edith said petulantly. “People can hear that miles away!”
Langdon smiled indulgently. Such an educated woman, but how little she knows of the world. “This is an American high school,” he explained. “The alarm goes off at least three times a night. I estimate we have roughly twenty-three minutes before anyone worries about it. Come on!”
He crawled through the broken window and pulled her in after him. Apparently the glass didn’t cut them.
Inside, the security lantern shed a white glow over the classroom. Like a man who knew exactly what he was looking for, Langdon strode confidently toward the large blackboard.
“I thought so,” he said triumphantly. “Just where I thought it would be.”
Renowned Chief Inspector Zeke Implacable of the Cincinnati Sureté slammed his fist on the desk.
“Merde!” he bellowed.
“Yes, sir!” responded Sergeant Anthony “Bull” Merde.
“What the hell does she think she’s doing?”
“Agent Frumpe, you moron!”
Merde knew whom he was talking about. Agent Edith Frumpe, of the pop art department of the Cincinnati Sureté. The most promising art historian in law enforcement today. And yet, impulsively, she had given it all up sixty-two chapters ago. Now she was a fugitive. And Merde knew his boss. He knew that if there was one thing Implacable hated, it was an art historian on the wrong side of the law.
“Merde!” the chief inspector bellowed again. “Stop daydreaming and pay attention!”
“I know these symbologists,” Implacable growled. “They’re like rats—clever, but predictable. Have your men surround every school in the metropolitan area. Every church basement, too.”
“What are we looking for, sir?”
Implacable smiled to himself. Fugitive symbologists were tricky devils, but they all needed three things. A captive audience, a blackboard, and some chalk. The holy trinity.
“Chalk?” Edith stared blankly. “How can chalk help us?”
Langdon sympathized with her stupid ignorance. He would have to begin at the beginning.
“Chalk is a very soft sort of mineral. So soft, in fact, that, when a certain amount of friction is created between the chalk and a suitable surface, some of the chalk will be left behind on that surface.”
“So it’s too fragile to build anything out of. Big deal. What’s the use of it?”
“Ah, but if, as you drag the chalk across the suitable surface, you move it in certain patterns, the chalk will leave behind traces of those patterns.”
Edith’s face lit up with comprehension. “You mean you can write with it?”
“But, gee whillikers!” Edith exclaimed. “Where would we find such a surface?”
Langdon smiled. This was why he loved teaching.
Calvin held his hideous head in his hideous hands. He had failed. Failed the Elder. Failed the Minister. Failed the whole Dayton Presbytery.
Yet he had been so close! The secret of Norman Rockwell’s Self-Portrait had almost been his—and he had lost it.
He sighed. There was only one thing that he could do. Only one discipline that could expiate his sin.
Groaning, he lifted the great, heavy book down from the shelf. He read the title again: Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Steeling himself, he opened the book and started to read.
Fourteen people called the front desk to report the screams in room 208.
Edith stared at the conundrum on the blackboard.
1 + 1 =
What can it mean? What is he trying to tell me? Why do people always think in italics? Maybe if I listen to what he’s saying . . .
“Two,” Langdon was saying. “Isn’t it amazing that, in every world culture, in every time, whenever people have added one and one together, they have come up with two?”
He turned around and pressed the chalk to the blackboard. He moved it just a little bit upward, then to the right, then curved downward and to the left, then stopped abruptly and pulled it to the right in a straight line. Satisfied, he stood back to admire what he had done. Amazingly, the chalk had left an almost perfect Arabic numeral 2 on the blackboard, right at the end of the equation.
Edith felt her heart beat faster. Mother always wanted me to marry a symbologist, she recalled.
“The early Church tried to suppress this ancient wisdom,” Langdon continued. “But there was one group that kept alive the secret knowledge of the Two. They were called Manichees.”
Edith looked puzzled. “Manatees?”
Langdon smiled. The peroxide must be leaking into her brain, he thought sympathetically. “No, Manichees. A secret society founded to preserve the forbidden knowledge that 1 + 1 = 2.” His voice lowered to an almost reverent undertone. “This is what symbologists refer to as dualism.”
Edith nodded. Suddenly it all made sense. Latin duo, Italian due, French deux—how could she have missed it?
“According to Manichee researchers who have written actual published books, some of the world’s greatest artists have been secret Manichees. You know, of course, that a painting isn’t always what it seems on the surface. Sometimes the picture you see can have a hidden meaning.”
“You mean like those Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, where you think it’s just a flower but it really turns out to be a —”
“No, those really are just flowers,” he said hurriedly. “But look at this. Tell me what you see here.”
Langdon unrolled the painting, and Edith looked at it closely. Self-Portrait by Norman Rockwell. She hadn’t seen it in nearly two hours—not since Langdon had wadded it up and stuffed it into his pocket at the Midwestern Museum of 100% American Art Not Drawn by Foreigners.
“I see Norman Rockwell looking in the mirror.”
“Look closer. How many Norman Rockwells do you actually see?”
“Well, two, counting the . . .”
Suddenly, Edith’s jaw fell.
“ Mon Dieu!” she exclaimed, lapsing for a moment into her native German.
Langdon smiled. She understands.
Christopher Bailey , a Lutheran, writes about everything from Arthurian mythology to wireless networking. He spent a decade on the Upward Path in corporate America, but now must be counted among the backsliders.
“Secret Sequel” first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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