Chapter 36

The First to Die

Deep beneath the streets of Paris they ran, following a narrow pathway that twisted through cut stone and ancient brickwork, up narrow staircases that had once been used to deliver the bodies of the dead to the great catacomb and now served as secret pathways for a mysterious death cult. The priest went first, a gun pressed to his back as he guided the party out of the underground. Holding the gun was Diana, who had initially been reticent about threatening the priest, but had warmed to the idea when she realized that the other option was to give the gun to Jeanne, who she worried might kill the priest the moment he brought them to the hidden library where Jeanne’s treasure was stored. Jeanne and Oliver took up the rear. Oliver occasionally glanced back as they moved, searching the dark passage and listening for any sound of pursuit.

Tavernier, Oliver thought. That’s what she signed her last initial as “T” on the note. It’s why she knows so much about the Hope Diamond and the pieces that have been split from it.

After several minutes they reached a heavy iron door set into the wall of the passage. The priest paused, seeming to hesitate.

“Why did you stop?” Diana said, pressing the gun against his spine.

“I…” the priest said, then he paused.

“Don’t play games with us,” Oliver snapped as he and Jeanne caught up. “What’s the hold up? Can’t decide whether to take us to Tavernier’s gem or get us caught by your backup?” Oliver shouldered past Jeanne and Diana to stand with his lips inches from the priest’s ear as he said, “Trust me. If you get us caught you’ll be the first to die, and it won’t be a clean, painless death either.”

The priest’s shoulders slumped and he sighed, but said nothing. He nodded, then continued straight down the passage ahead.

“Where does that door go?” Jeanne asked.

“The exit,” the priest muttered.

“Describe it,” Oliver said.

“It leads up to a locked door in the basement of a smoking club on Rue Boulard. Men and women of distinction who wish to enjoy their tobacco in peace purchase memberships, but only those who are members of our sacred order are permitted access to the most exclusive smoking chambers.”

“And the path we are taking now?” Jeanne asked.

“The library, and you precious gem.”