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“Postpone?” Olivetti’s jaw dropped. “Such arrogance! A conclave is not some American baseball game you call on account of rain. This is a sacred event with a strict code and process. Never mind that one billion Catholics in the world are waiting for a leader. Never mind that the world media is outside. The protocols for this event are holy—not subject to modification. Since 1179, conclaves have survived earthquakes, famines, and even the plague. Believe me, it is not about to be canceled on account of a murdered scientist and a droplet of God knows what.”
“Take me to the person in charge,” Vittoria demanded.
Olivetti glared. “You’ve got him.”
“No,” she said. “Someone in the clergy.”
The veins on Olivetti’s brow began to show. “The clergy has gone. With the exception of the Swiss Guard, the only ones present in Vatican City at this time are the College of Cardinals. And they are inside the Sistine Chapel.”
“How about the chamberlain?” Langdon stated flatly.
“The late Pope’s chamberlain.” Langdon repeated the word self-assuredly, praying his memory served him. He recalled reading once about the curious arrangement of Vatican authority following the death of a Pope. If Langdon was correct, during the interim between Popes, complete autonomous power shifted temporarily to the late Pope’s personal assistant—his chamberlain—a secretarial underling who oversaw conclave until the cardinals chose the new Holy Father. “I believe the chamberlain is the man in charge at the moment.”
“Il camerlegno?” Olivetti scowled. “The camerlegno is only a priest here. He is not even canonized. He is the late Pope’s hand servant.”
“But he is here. And you answer to him.”
Olivetti crossed his arms. “Mr. Langdon, it is true that Vatican rule dictates the camerlegno assume chief executive office during conclave, but it is only because his lack of eligibility for the papacy ensures an unbiased election. It is as if your president died, and one of his aides temporarily sat in the oval office. The camerlegno is young, and his understanding of security, or anything else for that matter, is extremely limited. For all intents and purposes, I am in charge here.”
“Take us to him,” Vittoria said.
“Impossible. Conclave begins in forty minutes. The camerlegno is in the Office of the Pope preparing. I have no intention of disturbing him with matters of security.”
Vittoria opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by a knocking at the door. Olivetti opened it.
A guard in full regalia stood outside, pointing to his watch. “Éé l’ora, comandante.”
Olivetti checked his own watch and nodded. He turned back to Langdon and Vittoria like a judge pondering their fate. “Follow me.” He led them out of the monitoring room across the security center to a small clear cubicle against the rear wall. “My office.” Olivetti ushered them inside. The room was unspecial—a cluttered desk, file cabinets, folding chairs, a water cooler. “I will be back in ten minutes. I suggest you use the time to decide how you would like to proceed.”
Vittoria wheeled. “You can’t just leave! That canister is—”
“I do not have time for this,” Olivetti seethed. “Perhaps I should detain you until after the conclave when I do have time.”
“Signore,” the guard urged, pointing to his watch again. “Spazzare di capella.”
Olivetti nodded and started to leave.
“Spazzare di capella?” Vittoria demanded. “You’re leaving to sweep the chapel?”
Olivetti turned, his eyes boring through her. “We sweep for electronic bugs, Miss Vetra—a matter of discretion.” He motioned to her legs. “Not something I would expect you to understand.”
With that he slammed the door, rattling the heavy glass. In one fluid motion he produced a key, inserted it, and twisted. A heavy deadbolt slid into place.
“Idiòta!” Vittoria yelled. “You can’t keep us in here!”
Through the glass, Langdon could see Olivetti say something to the guard. The sentinel nodded. As Olivetti strode out of the room, the guard spun and faced them on the other side of the glass, arms crossed, a large sidearm visible on his hip.
Perfect, Langdon thought. Just bloody perfect.
Vittoria glared at the Swiss Guard standing outside Olivetti’s locked door. The sentinel glared back, his colorful costume belying his decidedly ominous air.
“Che fiasco,” Vittoria thought. Held hostage by an armed man in pajamas.
Langdon had fallen silent, and Vittoria hoped he was using that Harvard brain of his to think them out of this. She sensed, however, from the look on his face, that he was more in shock than in thought. She regretted getting him so involved.
Vittoria’s first instinct was to pull out her cell phone and call Kohler, but she knew it was foolish. First, the guard would probably walk in and take her phone. Second, if Kohler’s episode ran its usual course, he was probably still incapacitated. Not that it mattered… Olivetti seemed unlikely to take anybody’s word on anything at the moment.
Remember! she told herself. Remember the solution to this test!
Remembrance was a Buddhist philosopher’s trick. Rather than asking her mind to search for a solution to a potentially impossible challenge, Vittoria asked her mind simply to remember it. The presupposition that one once knew the answer created the mindset that the answer must exist… thus eliminating the crippling conception of hopelessness. Vittoria often used the process to solve scientific quandaries… those that most people thought had no solution.
At the moment, however, her remembrance trick was drawing a major blank. So she measured her options… her needs. She needed to warn someone. Someone at the Vatican needed to take her seriously. But who? The camerlegno? How? She was in a glass box with one exit.
Tools, she told herself. There are always tools. Reevaluate your environment.
Instinctively she lowered her shoulders, relaxed her eyes, and took three deep breaths into her lungs. She sensed her heart rate slow and her muscles soften. The chaotic panic in her mind dissolved. Okay, she thought, let your mind be free. What makes this situation positive? What are my assets?
The analytical mind of Vittoria Vetra, once calmed, was a powerful force. Within seconds she realized their incarceration was actually their key to escape.
“I’m making a phone call,” she said suddenly.
Langdon looked up. “I was about to suggest you call Kohler, but—”
“Not Kohler. Someone else.”
Langdon looked totally lost. “You’re calling the chamberlain? How?”
“Olivetti said the camerlegno was in the Pope’s office.”
“Okay. You know the Pope’s private number?”
“No. But I’m not calling on my phone.” She nodded to a high-tech phone system on Olivetti’s desk. It was riddled with speed dial buttons. “The head of security must have a direct line to the Pope’s office.”
“He also has a weight lifter with a gun planted six feet away.”
“And we’re locked in.”
“I was actually aware of that.”
“I mean the guard is locked out. This is Olivetti’s private office. I doubt anyone else has a key.”
Langdon looked out at the guard. “This is pretty thin glass, and that’s a pretty big gun.”
“What’s he going to do, shoot me for using the phone?”
“Who the hell knows! This is a pretty strange place, and the way things are going—”
“Either that,” Vittoria said, “or we can spend the next five hours and forty-eight minutes in Vatican Prison. At least we’ll have a front-row seat when the antimatter goes off.”
Langdon paled. “But the guard will get Olivetti the second you pick up that phone. Besides, there are twenty buttons on there. And I don’t see any identification. You going to try them all and hope to get lucky?”
“Nope,” she said, striding to the phone. “Just one.” Vittoria picked up the phone and pressed the top button. “Number one. I bet you one of those Illuminati U.S. dollars you have in your pocket that this is the Pope’s office. What else would take primary importance for a Swiss Guard commander?”
Langdon did not have time to respond. The guard outside the door started rapping on the glass with the butt of his gun. He motioned for her to set down the phone.
Vittoria winked at him. The guard seemed to inflate with rage.
Langdon moved away from the door and turned back to Vittoria. “You damn well better be right, ‘cause this guy does not look amused!”
“Damn!” she said, listening to the receiver. “A recording.”
“Recording?” Langdon demanded. “The Pope has an answering machine?”
“It wasn’t the Pope’s office,” Vittoria said, hanging up. “It was the damn weekly menu for the Vatican commissary.”
Langdon offered a weak smile to the guard outside who was now glaring angrily though the glass while he hailed Olivetti on his walkie-talkie.
The Vatican switchboard is located in the Ufficio di Communicazione behind the Vatican post office. It is a relatively small room containing an eight-line Corelco 141 switchboard. The office handles over 2,000 calls a day, most routed automatically to the recording information system.
Tonight, the sole communications operator on duty sat quietly sipping a cup of caffeinated tea. He felt proud to be one of only a handful of employees still allowed inside Vatican City tonight. Of course the honor was tainted somewhat by the presence of the Swiss Guards hovering outside his door. An escort to the bathroom, the operator thought. Ah, the indignities we endure in the name of Holy Conclave.
Fortunately, the calls this evening had been light. Or maybe it was not so fortunate, he thought. World interest in Vatican events seemed to have dwindled in the last few years. The number of press calls had thinned, and even the crazies weren’t calling as often. The press office had hoped tonight’s event would have more of a festive buzz about it. Sadly, though, despite St. Peter’s Square being filled with press trucks, the vans looked to be mostly standard Italian and Euro press. Only a handful of global cover-all networks were there… no doubt having sent their giornalisti secundari.
The operator gripped his mug and wondered how long tonight would last. Midnight or so, he guessed. Nowadays, most insiders already knew who was favored to become Pope well before conclave convened, so the process was more of a three– or four-hour ritual than an actual election. Of course, last-minute dissension in the ranks could prolong the ceremony through dawn… or beyond. The conclave of 1831 had lasted fifty-four days. Not tonight, he told himself; rumor was this conclave would be a “smoke-watch.”
The operator’s thoughts evaporated with the buzz of an inside line on his switchboard. He looked at the blinking red light and scratched his head. That’s odd, he thought. The zero-line. Who on the inside would be calling operator information tonight? Who is even inside?
“Città del Vaticano, prego?” he said, picking up the phone.
The voice on the line spoke in rapid Italian. The operator vaguely recognized the accent as that common to Swiss Guards—fluent Italian tainted by the Franco-Swiss influence. This caller, however, was most definitely not Swiss Guard.
On hearing the woman’s voice, the operator stood suddenly, almost spilling his tea. He shot a look back down at the line. He had not been mistaken. An internal extension. The call was from the inside. There must be some mistake! he thought. A woman inside Vatican City? Tonight?
The woman was speaking fast and furiously. The operator had spent enough years on the phones to know when he was dealing with a pazzo. This woman did not sound crazy. She was urgent but rational. Calm and efficient. He listened to her request, bewildered.
“Il camerlegno?” the operator said, still trying to figure out where the hell the call was coming from. “I cannot possibly connect… yes, I am aware he is in the Pope’s office but… who are you again?… and you want to warn him of…” He listened, more and more unnerved. Everyone is in danger? How? And where are you calling from? “Perhaps I should contact the Swiss…” The operator stopped short. “You say you’re where? Where?”
He listened in shock, then made a decision. “Hold, please,” he said, putting the woman on hold before she could respond. Then he called Commander Olivetti’s direct line. There is no way that woman is really–
The line picked up instantly.
“Per l’amore di Dio!” a familiar woman’s voice shouted at him. “Place the damn call!”
The door of the Swiss Guards’ security center hissed open. The guards parted as Commander Olivetti entered the room like a rocket. Turning the corner to his office, Olivetti confirmed what his guard on the walkie-talkie had just told him; Vittoria Vetra was standing at his desk talking on the commander’s private telephone.
Che coglioni che ha questa! he thought. The balls on this one!
Livid, he strode to the door and rammed the key into the lock. He pulled open the door and demanded, “What are you doing?”
Vittoria ignored him. “Yes,” she was saying into the phone. “And I must warn—”
Olivetti ripped the receiver from her hand, and raised it to his ear. “Who the hell is this?”
For the tiniest of an instant, Olivetti’s inelastic posture slumped. “Yes, camerlegno…” he said. “Correct, signore… but questions of security demand… of course not… I am holding her here for… certainly, but…” He listened. “Yes, sir,” he said finally. “I will bring them up immediately.”
The Apostolic Palace is a conglomeration of buildings located near the Sistine Chapel in the northeast corner of Vatican City. With a commanding view of St. Peter’s Square, the palace houses both the Papal Apartments and the Office of the Pope.
Vittoria and Langdon followed in silence as Commander Olivetti led them down a long rococo corridor, the muscles in his neck pulsing with rage. After climbing three sets of stairs, they entered a wide, dimly lit hallway.
Langdon could not believe the artwork on the walls—mint-condition busts, tapestries, friezes—works worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two-thirds of the way down the hall they passed an alabaster fountain. Olivetti turned left into an alcove and strode to one of the largest doors Langdon had ever seen.
“Ufficio di Papa,” the commander declared, giving Vittoria an acrimonious scowl. Vittoria didn’t flinch. She reached over Olivetti and knocked loudly on the door.
Office of the Pope, Langdon thought, having difficulty fathoming that he was standing outside one of the most sacred rooms in all of world religion.
“Avanti!” someone called from within.
When the door opened, Langdon had to shield his eyes. The sunlight was blinding. Slowly, the image before him came into focus.
The Office of the Pope seemed more of a ballroom than an office. Red marble floors sprawled out in all directions to walls adorned with vivid frescoes. A colossal chandelier hung overhead, beyond which a bank of arched windows offered a stunning panorama of the sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square.
My God, Langdon thought. This is a room with a view.
At the far end of the hall, at a carved desk, a man sat writing furiously. “Avanti,” he called out again, setting down his pen and waving them over.
Olivetti led the way, his gait military. “Signore,” he said apologetically. “No ho potuto—”
The man cut him off. He stood and studied his two visitors.
The camerlegno was nothing like the images of frail, beatific old men Langdon usually imagined roaming the Vatican. He wore no rosary beads or pendants. No heavy robes. He was dressed instead in a simple black cassock that seemed to amplify the solidity of his substantial frame. He looked to be in his late-thirties, indeed a child by Vatican standards. He had a surprisingly handsome face, a swirl of coarse brown hair, and almost radiant green eyes that shone as if they were somehow fueled by the mysteries of the universe. As the man drew nearer, though, Langdon saw in his eyes a profound exhaustion—like a soul who had been through the toughest fifteen days of his life.
“I am Carlo Ventresca,” he said, his English perfect. “The late Pope’s camerlegno.” His voice was unpretentious and kind, with only the slightest hint of Italian inflection.
“Vittoria Vetra,” she said, stepping forward and offering her hand. “Thank you for seeing us.”
Olivetti twitched as the camerlegno shook Vittoria’s hand.
“This is Robert Langdon,” Vittoria said. “A religious historian from Harvard University.”
“Padre,” Langdon said, in his best Italian accent. He bowed his head as he extended his hand.