Li Li had wanted to enter the museum through the shopping mall underneath the complex, no doubt hoping she’d be allowed to forego the art altogether, and be left to her own devices among all the boutiques, and teenagers. She’d even taken the trouble to ascertain the existence of a shop that sold discounted gallery passes, along with its collection of snow globes and post cards. But her scheme went awry when Andie announced a desire to see the Jardin des Tuileries, which meant getting off at the Tuileries metro stop and walking above the ground the rest of the way to the glass pyramid entrance.
“Why can’t I go this way?” she pleaded, once they’d finally descended the main escalator. The main atrium underneath the pyramid was brightly lit even on an overcast day, and she tugged on Emily’s arm as the others tried to decide which of the three smaller escalators to choose, each one leading to a different wing of the museum. “Perry can come with me, if you’re worried. I bet he doesn’t want to look at a bunch of stupid paintings all day either.”
“It’s not going to be all day,” Andie said. “Besides, we do things together in this family.”
Emily had been studying the floor plan of the museum this whole time, with one ear cocked to Li Li’s complaint. She glanced at Perry and smiled, and he returned one of those sad puppy expressions that meant, “Please don’t make me go shopping with a teenager,” or something to that effect.
“I doubt Perry really wants to go clothes shopping, sweetheart.”
“Fine. Then I can go on my own. I can find my way around.”
Emily glanced at the floor plan one more time. “How about you and Perry and I go to the Richelieu wing? That’s where they keep all the cool sculpture. I think Stone will prefer to explore the Denon wing, where all the really famous paintings are. Okay?”
Li Li grudgingly assented to this proposition, and Emily had guessed right. It wasn’t the museum she really objected to, but the prospect of having to go wherever Stone wanted, to see and do what he wanted. Emily turned to Stone, and ran her fingers through his shaggy hair, and pulled it away from his face. “Is that okay with you?” He nodded, his eyes a little watery.
Finally, she turned to Andie and Yuki. “We’ll meet here,” she said, pointing to a room marked in red on the plan. “It’s the main hall on the first level. Two hours?”
“Shall we keep Ethan and Jerry with us?” Andie asked, and Emily nodded.
“We’ll be okay on our own.” Emily knew this thought would thrill Li Li, and maybe she deserved some special treatment.
Ethan and Jerry had been with the Cardano family the longest of anyone on the security team. Jerry was a former Army Ranger who’d fallen on hard times when Michael Cardano rescued him from a county jail in Arizona, and Ethan had been a soldier in the Israeli army and a Mossad operative until he washed out for “insufficient spirit of the homeland,” his dismissal letter said. As the Director of Clandestine Services at CIA, Michael Cardano didn’t need to have private security for his family. But long experience had taught him the value of personal loyalty, and the transience of the institutional variety, and he kept most of his security people close throughout.
His wife, Andie, didn’t care to be trailed by a squad of security, though that would be Michael’s clear preference. Ethan and Jerry were the compromise they’d reached over the years, since the one more or less resembled a T-Rex stuffed into the largest suit one could purchase off the rack, and the other possessed the sharp eyes of a lynx. Andie liked the fact that her entry into a room didn’t feel like the Marines establishing a beachhead, and it was easier for Michael to swallow given that Emily would be nearby. Stuck in London meetings for the next few days, he would have to bear the risk until he could join the family in Rome.
The crowd in the Cours Marly was pleasantly thin, a surprise for this time of year, and Emily attributed it to the Richelieu Wing’s displays of period furnishings being less popular at the moment. The famous attractions, like the ‘Mona Lisa’ or Rafael’s various ‘Madonnas,’ were housed across the way, in the Denon Wing. Rooms fitted out as they might have been for Napoleon, had he ever deigned to live in the Louvre, didn’t suit the current taste. But the Cours Marly itself could still enchant under its glass roof, where many of the sculptures from Louis XIV’s pleasure palace had been collected on four levels of polished granite, along with a few dozen potted ficus trees. Li Li was content.
“Why are all the men doing stuff, and the women are just lying there?” she asked.
“Doing stuff?” Perry asked.
“Look at that guy, he’s spearing a boar, and that guy over there is wrestling a horse… and that guy… Stone would love it in here.”
“This guy here looks like a sea god,” Emily said.
“Yeah, I think the trident kinda gives that away,” Li Li said.
Perry nudged the girls up the nearest staircase. “What about these horses? They’re sort of cool, aren’t they?”
“I like that one.” Li Li pointed to a rearing, winged horse at the top of the stairs, whose rider had turned back to blow on a long horn. “Is he leading a hunt, or something?”
“He seems very pleased with himself.”
“If it’s allegorical, maybe he’s supposed to be vanity,” Emily said, and slipped an arm around Li Li’s shoulder. “… or maybe fame.”
“Allegorical?” Li Li asked.
“Yeah, you know… they stand for some idea. Besides, don’t the wings suggest it’s not just a horse?”
“How could we tell if it’s really allegorical, Emmy?”
“I suppose if we could read French,” Perry said, pointing at the plaque on the base of the statue.
“There’s four of them,” Emily said. “If they’re a set, maybe you can figure out the other ones.”
Li Li scampered around the upper level, sizing up each statue. “This guy has wings on his feet,” she called out.
“He must be Mercury,” Perry said.
She concluded that the other two probably weren’t allegorical, mainly because the horses didn’t have wings. But before she could take full advantage of this insight with Emily, she noticed three statues of female figures, one running in full stride, one pressing a sword into her belly, and the last holding up her robe and looking back over shoulder.
“Emmy, come look at these. Who’s this supposed to be?”
“She’s running, so maybe Atalanta. You remember, right? She was the fastest, but lost a race when she stopped to pick up golden apples.”
“Is she an allegory, too, then?”
“If she is,” – Perry rubbed his chin as he contemplated the statue – “…she probably stands for greed… or vanity, maybe.”
“This one looks more like vanity,” Emily said. “I mean, she’s hiked up her dress and is checking out her butt.”
Li Li giggled at this idea. “Did they really do stuff like that back then?” She pressed her face into Emily’s chest and waited for the familiar arms to wrap around.
“You mean check out their butts?” Perry asked.
“No, silly,” she said from under Emily’s arm. “Did they really make jokes like that?”
“I suppose they did,” Emily said. “What about her? She doesn’t look like she’s joking.”
“The sign says Dido,” Perry said. “Whoever that is.”
“Don’t you SEALs read anything?”
“Who is she, Emmy?” Li Li asked.
“She loved Aeneas too well, and when the gods commanded him to leave her and go found Rome, she killed herself.”
“He sounds like a jerk.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much every jerk’s exit line,” Perry said. “Sorry, babe, it’s not you. I just have to go found Rome.”
The furnished royal apartments seemed more palatable than they might otherwise have been after the sculpture garden. Li Li’s curiosity about how kings lived had been piqued once she’d encountered Louis’s sense of humor. Long tables, ornate chairs that didn’t look particularly comfortable, gold leaf on every surface – “It must suck to have to be surrounded by art all the time,” she said, at one point.
The Islamic art collection didn’t hold her attention as firmly. Walls displaying elaborately filigreed tiles, like carpet patterns in ceramic, occupied the three of them for a few minutes. But Li Li was of a mind to find allegories, now that Emily had cued her into them, and the tiles did not oblige. By the time they’d gotten around to the Denon wing, Stone had pushed Andie and Yuki through French and Italian Renaissance collections, and they had the bleary eyes of people who could look no more with the intensity of an artist’s eyes. But Stone had not had his fill.
Li Li found him on the main staircase, the enormous Escalier Daru, itself an architectural feat, which serves to display the Winged Victory of Samothrace. He’d installed himself on the upper landing, where he’d been sketching the monumental marble sculpture, a fragment, missing arms and head, but with wings intact, standing forth on the prow of a now-broken ship, to announce the arrival of the hero, whoever he might have been. He’d already drawn her in charcoal and ink from several angles, when she touched his shoulder.
“Everyone’s waiting in the next gallery, Stone.”
He turned to look at his best friend and sister, eyes a little watery, and closed up his pad and put away his pen. The Salle Daru, which housed the major paintings of Revolutionary France, had been packed a few minutes earlier, but was quiet again, as the crowd pulsed through in waves. Jacques-Louis David’s gigantic Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon, which was nearly twenty feet high and thirty feet wide, loomed over their little party, who huddled around one of the long, upholstered banquettes near the center of the gallery.
“I need to find a ladies room,” Andie said.
“We’ll wait here for you,” Yuki said. “I think everyone’s getting hungry. Maybe we should think about where we’ll eat.”
“I’ll be fine,” Andie said, when Ethan moved to accompany her. “I saw one downstairs, you know, by all the roman statues.”
Emily consulted a floor plan, and said, “The nearest one is on this floor, in the Spanish gallery… just down that way. You remember, right?”
Andie looked over Emily’s shoulder. “I see. Left down there and then right to the next gallery. Okay, I’ll be right back.”
Ethan wasn’t pleased, and conferred with Jerry. They’d already scoped out the emergency exits, which are pretty much invisible to the average tourist, and most of the galleries were designed to be sealed if needed. This was the security expert’s curse, that they could never simply be in a location, but always had one eye on the door.
“Don’t worry, big guy,” Emily said, once she became aware of his anxiety. “I’ll go keep an eye on her.”
“We’ll have everyone ready to go when you get back,” he said.
Another wave of tourists was building at far end of the gallery, having gotten their fill of the Winged Victory, when the first tremor shook the building. The crowd stalled at the entrance, perhaps only dimly aware that anything was wrong. But Emily knew, and so did Perry. She stopped at the other end of the gallery and called back: “Get them out, Ethan. Perry and I will fetch Andie. You get my mom and the kids out.”
Ethan nodded, signaled to Jerry, and rushed their charges to a small staircase behind a snack bar between two galleries. A moment later, the alarms went off, cycling between claxons, sirens and buzzers. Perry ran after Emily, who was moving at speed when the lights went out. Another explosion and smoke filled the halls, muffled gunfire rattled in the distance and screaming everywhere – left at the end of the second gallery, down a darkened hallway, people rushing to squeeze past them in the other direction. Emily paused at the entrance to the Spanish gallery to get her bearings, when two more explosions thundered through the building.
“They’re flash-bangs, Em,” Perry called out as loudly as he dared.
“Smokers, too, right? It doesn’t smell like a real fire.”
Emily felt Perry’s hand on her shoulder as she crouched behind a pillar in the passage between the Italian and Spanish galleries. Red emergency lights gave the clouds of smoke an eerie glow, but were insufficient to illuminate much else.
“I saw two cloaked figures run past a moment ago… I think.”
“Which way did Andie go?” Perry asked.
“I sent her that way,” she said, pointing in the opposite direction. “What do you make of the gunfire?”
“Blank rounds, you think?”
“Well… if they’re using flash-bangs… I didn’t hear any impacts and the muzzle blast sounded too small.”
“They could be using suppressors.”
“Maybe, but I think there’s no one in the Spanish Gallery. I’m gonna chance it and go get her.”
She ran in a low crouch, hugging the wall and using the occasional pedestal for cover. Perry ran along the opposite wall and found the side door to the rest rooms first.
“Nobody here,” he said.
“Did you actually go inside the ladies?”
Perry gave her one of those looks, then pulled a piece of cardboard from the door. “Look at this sign.” He tried to read it in the red light, its words repeated in French, German and English. “I think it says the nearest working rest room is in the Sully wing… back the way we came.”
Emily pulled out the floor plan and examined it under an emergency light. “Yes, this way. We have to go back past the Winged Victory and turn right into Sully. It should be in the second hallway.”
The return journey was less vexed, as the smoke had begun to clear, and Emily saw that the halls were empty. She sprinted through the first few rooms, then slowed as they approached places where the smoke was still thick. In the Italian Galleries, Madonnas and Annunciation scenes crowded the walls, as owl-eyed virgins contemplated the stark proposition winged destiny offered them.
As she moved past paintings she could only dimly see now, but had considered closely only an hour or so earlier, Emily recalled a lecture in art history at the Naval Academy. At the time, she’d thought only Filippo Lippi, among the Italian renaissance painters, had really captured the dreariness of Mary’s situation. Her reply, “Ecce ancilla Dei,” was not about spiritual enlightenment, Emily thought, but about sheer force of will and resolve, and the Earth didn’t shake in response, as it ought to have done. That’s what Mary understood, and these painters did not.
When Emily asked Andie about it, home on a holiday in her third year, she was surprised to hear how differently her almost-mom, her other-mother, thought about the same story. To Andie, the virgin’s answer anticipated all the suffering her son would witness in the world, and the meaning of the consolation he would offer. “That’s why so many people pray to her, and not just to her son,” she’d said.
Another question occurred to her: where was the museum security force in all of this? Ethan had joked about how heavily armed gendarmes would be on site after a recent incident at a nightclub. She hadn’t seen any of them so far, and had assumed they were lurking in back rooms and corridors. That had seemed like a positive sign at the time, a sign of their professionalism. But now she began to wonder if she was only seeing part of a much larger attack, something happening on several fronts.
Gunfire in the distance snapped her out of this reverie. Perry had stumbled upon a group of people huddled against a wall, and gestured to her. When she got closer, she saw their fear, two women and a man holding smaller children, all crying, and she saw that they appeared to be Asian. She addressed them in Mandarin, and one of the women responded.
“What did they say?” Perry asked.
“Three men with guns ran by a moment ago, and turned left up ahead.” Emily pulled out the floor plan again. “That’s where the Mona Lisa is. Let’s go.”
“What about them?” Perry gestured to the family.
“I told them it’s safe back in the Spanish Gallery. C’mon, let’s move.”
“Hold on a sec, Em. Why haven’t these galleries been sealed? Doesn’t that seem strange?” Perry pointed to a panel in the lintel above the archway separating one room from another. “They have huge gates that should have come down already.”
Emily shook her head. “I have no idea, but it doesn’t bode well. Have they compromised the entire security system?” She glanced at the tourists, who still hadn’t budged from their spot against the wall, and then looked at Perry. “It doesn’t matter. I still have to find Andie.”
She moved ahead, more cautious now, wondering if the Mona Lisa installation might be the real target of whoever had produced this chaos. Important art works had been targets before, so it made a certain amount of sense, though perhaps not quite enough to explain everything they’d seen. Perhaps their plan involved leaving an escape route. But terrorists don’t usually want to escape… do they? Emily’s top priority at this moment was still locating Andie, not responding to what increasingly suggested a terrorist attack was underway.
“Why didn’t they shoot those folks?” Perry ran by her side now. “What were they shooting at, if not tourists like them?”
“Maybe the guards… I don’t know.”
“Unless they weren’t killing yet, you know… they may just be herding the tourists…”
“… creating a stampede to overwhelm the security people, and trap part of the crowd, for the real event.”
Emily pulled up by the entrance to the Mona Lisa gallery, and took a quick peek around the corner, and Perry looked over her shoulder. The smoke and the dim erratic light made it difficult to see, but a crowd was evident even from her vantage. She could make out fifty, maybe a hundred people, crouching or sitting against one wall, and at least three or four masked men in dark, loose fitting clothes looming over them, but it was impossible to determine if Andie was among them. When the screaming died down, two of the men fired over their heads, as if they wished to provoke more noise from their hostages.
“I see four hostiles,” Perry whispered. “Automatic weapons… maybe something heavier under their jackets.”
“We can circle around, avoid this gallery, and get to the Sully Wing through the next passageway.”
Just then, two of the armed men moved toward them at the command of another man. Perry pulled Emily back, and they looked for their chance. The men turned the corner, unaware of their presence, and Perry tackled one, while Emily dispatched the other, as soon as they cleared any possible line of sight from the Mona Lisa gallery. She had merely jabbed a finger into the artery pulsing under her man’s ear, and when he twisted to escape, she kicked out his knee from behind and seized his throat with one hand, bent him back, and brought a fist down hammer-style across the bridge of his nose.
Perry’s man managed to get to his feet, and pulled a long knife from under his jacket. When he lunged, Perry seized the hand and yanked up sharply, and kicked him in the groin. Emily had already stripped the weapons off the other man, and stepped over to deliver a final blow with the butt of a rifle.
“Hey, that’s a Mini-14,” Perry said. “You know, like we saw the French Police carrying.”
“I thought you said it was a proprietary design.” She handed him the rifle, and he turned it over to look for any identifying markings. “You know, only the police can get them.”
“Yup, it’s definitely one of theirs, a ‘Mousqueton AMD.’ It’s stamped right here, ‘G.I.G.N.,’ which is one of their heavily armed divisions.”
“What the hell is going on here? This can’t be a police unit… can it?”
Perry tore the mask off one of the unconscious men – or perhaps he was dead, there wasn’t really time to check – and examined his bearded face. “I don’t know… he could be French, but he hardly looks like a cop.”
Emily handed him the radio she’d stripped off the other man. “What do you make of this?”
Perry listened through the earpiece for a moment. “I can’t quite make it out. Could be Pashtu.” Emily stared at him blankly. “It’s what they speak in Afghanistan, some of ‘em. I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t sound like French to me, or even Arabic.”
“We need to move if we’re going to find Andie.”
Perry pulled an adapter off the end of the barrel, and examined the magazine from the Mini-14. “You were right. This is a BFA. They were shooting blanks. That’s why he didn’t try to fire it at me.”
Emily rolled the man over and pulled another magazine off his belt. “Here, these are live rounds.”
He looked it over closely and nodded. “What the hell are these guys up to?”
“No time to figure it out now. Let’s get going.”
The structure of the Denon Wing – two sets of long galleries connected by crosswise passages, one set for French painting and the other, much longer one, for Italian and Spanish painting – meant that they could run parallel to the French galleries more or less unnoticed before the finally cross passage leading to the Sully Wing. Or they could cross over sooner, though that would seem to bring them into direct contact with the terrorists, whoever they might be.
At each cross passage, Emily paused to check for hostiles on the lookout, and at the third one, she noticed an odd procession. A smaller man wearing a hooded, black robe was led along the opposite gallery by three armed men. At one point, he stumbled, and they pulled him up.
“Is that the leader?” Perry asked from over her shoulder.
“… or maybe the primary victim? Did you see how they’re holding him?”
“Oh, crap. This looks bad. We have to do something.”
Emily handed him the rifle and live magazines she’d taken off the men they’d left back at the other end of the first Italian gallery. “I’m going for Andie. See what you can do to gum up the works here. I may be able to approach from another direction after I get her someplace safe.”
“Wait. You need one of the rifles, too.”
Emily considered his proposition. Ordinarily, she’d say something to the effect that she moves faster without a weapon. But the thought of trying to secure Andie gave her some pause, and she reached out to take it. “Okay, fine. We have three live mags each, that’s a hundred twenty rounds. Let’s just hope the barrels aren’t too fouled from the blanks.”
“These guys meant business. There’s a three-round burst option.” Perry pointed to the selector. “We probably want to avoid a prolonged fire fight with these guys, what with all the priceless art around here.”
“Just hit what you aim at, cowboy,” Emily said, with a smirk, before dashing down the rest of the Spanish gallery and ducking into the final cross passage. There weren’t any hostiles, and the smoke had dissipated, though the alarms were still going off. A quick right turn at the end of the passage and she was in the first gallery in the Sully Wing, which looked to be empty. A sign fifty yards ahead indicated a rest room, and she dashed toward it. But there was no one there, and no sign of Andie.
The door to one of the stalls in the ladies room had been knocked off its hinges, and a paper towel dispenser had been knocked off the wall. Signs of a struggle… but why bother, if they were just herding tourists to the other wing with flash-bangs and blank rounds? There must be a couple thousand visitors here at any one moment, and most of them probably got out at the first sign of trouble. Why fuss over a few extra hiding out in a ladies room? It didn’t make sense.
Emily heard gunfire coming from the direction of the Denon Wing. If Perry had made his move, this might be the moment to circle back there. The key would be to avoid stumbling into his field of fire. But she couldn’t just assume Andie had found her way to safety, which created a quandary. In the back of the ladies room stall, she noticed a smashed mobile phone, and the design on the case looked like Andie’s. She stooped to pick it up, and noticed some pieces had slipped behind the toilet fixture. She gathered all of it up and put it in a pocket – more evidence of a struggle, but maybe something more. If she could get it to Michael, he might be able to make something of it.
Before she could commit to backing Perry’s move, she had to look through the Sully Wing, which was smaller than the other wings, and wouldn’t take so long. A loop through each floor, running as quickly as she dared, took only a few minutes, consulting the floor plan in each stairwell. She called out Andie’s name when it seemed safe, but saw no sign of her.
At the far end of the second floor, she saw a reflected glow in a display case, and skidded to a halt. The security gates had come down at the main passage leading to the Richelieu Wing, with the effect of sealing off a security contingent, and they were using some sort of torch to cut through it. But if they spotted her, and had a line of fire, they could well take her for a hostile and open fire, especially with a rifle slung over her shoulder.
The closed gate also meant Andie had either made it across to safety, or she was still in the Denon Wing. Either way, the only path forward now was to engage the main body of terrorists, in the hope of finding her among the hostages, or confirming that she’d gotten away. She doubled back to enter the Daru staircase, where just a brief hour earlier, Stone had been sketching the Winged Victory in peace and quiet.Boom-boom-boom.