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Olivetti nodded, looking impressed. “I have underestimated you, signore.”
The camerlegno did not seem to hear. His gaze was distant on the window.
“I will speak openly, signore. The real world is my world. I immerse myself in its ugliness every day such that others are unencumbered to seek something more pure. Let me advise you on the present situation. It is what I am trained for. Your instincts, though worthy… could be disastrous.”
The camerlegno turned.
Olivetti sighed. “The evacuation of the College of Cardinals from the Sistine Chapel is the worst possible thing you could do right now.”
The camerlegno did not look indignant, only at a loss. “What do you suggest?”
“Say nothing to the cardinals. Seal conclave. It will buy us time to try other options.”
The camerlegno looked troubled. “Are you suggesting I lock the entire College of Cardinals on top of a time bomb?”
“Yes, signore. For now. Later, if need be, we can arrange evacuation.”
The camerlegno shook his head. “Postponing the ceremony before it starts is grounds alone for an inquiry, but after the doors are sealed nothing intervenes. Conclave procedure obligates—”
“Real world, signore. You’re in it tonight. Listen closely.” Olivetti spoke now with the efficient rattle of a field officer. “Marching one hundred sixty-five cardinals unprepared and unprotected into Rome would be reckless. It would cause confusion and panic in some very old men, and frankly, one fatal stroke this month is enough.”
One fatal stroke. The commander’s words recalled the headlines Langdon had read over dinner with some students in the Harvard Commons:
Pope suffers stroke.
Dies in sleep.
“In addition,” Olivetti said, “the Sistine Chapel is a fortress. Although we don’t advertise the fact, the structure is heavily reinforced and can repel any attack short of missiles. As preparation we searched every inch of the chapel this afternoon, scanning for bugs and other surveillance equipment. The chapel is clean, a safe haven, and I am confident the antimatter is not inside. There is no safer place those men can be right now. We can always discuss emergency evacuation later if it comes to that.”
Langdon was impressed. Olivetti’s cold, smart logic reminded him of Kohler.
“Commander,” Vittoria said, her voice tense, “there are other concerns. Nobody has ever created this much antimatter. The blast radius, I can only estimate. Some of surrounding Rome may be in danger. If the canister is in one of your central buildings or underground, the effect outside these walls may be minimal, but if the canister is near the perimeter… in this building for example…” She glanced warily out the window at the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.
“I am well aware of my responsibilities to the outside world,” Olivetti replied, “and it makes this situation no more grave. The protection of this sanctuary has been my sole charge for over two decades. I have no intention of allowing this weapon to detonate.”
Camerlegno Ventresca looked up. “You think you can find it?”
“Let me discuss our options with some of my surveillance specialists. There is a possibility, if we kill power to Vatican City, that we can eliminate the background RF and create a clean enough environment to get a reading on that canister’s magnetic field.”
Vittoria looked surprised, and then impressed. “You want to black out Vatican City?”
“Possibly. I don’t yet know if it’s possible, but it is one option I want to explore.”
“The cardinals would certainly wonder what happened,” Vittoria remarked.
Olivetti shook his head. “Conclaves are held by candlelight. The cardinals would never know. After conclave is sealed, I could pull all except a few of my perimeter guards and begin a search. A hundred men could cover a lot of ground in five hours.”
“Four hours,” Vittoria corrected. “I need to fly the canister back to CERN. Detonation is unavoidable without recharging the batteries.”
“There’s no way to recharge here?”
Vittoria shook her head. “The interface is complex. I’d have brought it if I could.”
“Four hours then,” Olivetti said, frowning. “Still time enough. Panic serves no one. Signore, you have ten minutes. Go to the chapel, seal conclave. Give my men some time to do their job. As we get closer to the critical hour, we will make the critical decisions.”
Langdon wondered how close to “the critical hour” Olivetti would let things get.
The camerlegno looked troubled. “But the college will ask about the preferiti… especially about Baggia… where they are.”
“Then you will have to think of something, signore. Tell them you served the four cardinals something at tea that disagreed with them.”
The camerlegno looked riled. “Stand on the altar of the Sistine Chapel and lie to the College of Cardinals?”
“For their own safety. Una bugia veniale. A white lie. Your job will be to keep the peace.” Olivetti headed for the door. “Now if you will excuse me, I need to get started.”
“Comandante,” the camerlegno urged, “we cannot simply turn our backs on missing cardinals.”
Olivetti stopped in the doorway. “Baggia and the others are currently outside our sphere of influence. We must let them go… for the good of the whole. The military calls it triage.”
“Don’t you mean abandonment?”
His voice hardened. “If there were any way, signore… any way in heaven to locate those four cardinals, I would lay down my life to do it. And yet…” He pointed across the room at the window where the early evening sun glinted off an endless sea of Roman rooftops. “Searching a city of five million is not within my power. I will not waste precious time to appease my conscience in a futile exercise. I’m sorry.”
Vittoria spoke suddenly. “But if we caught the killer, couldn’t you make him talk?”
Olivetti frowned at her. “Soldiers cannot afford to be saints, Ms. Vetra. Believe me, I empathize with your personal incentive to catch this man.”
“It’s not only personal,” she said. “The killer knows where the antimatter is… and the missing cardinals. If we could somehow find him…”
“Play into their hands?” Olivetti said. “Believe me, removing all protection from Vatican City in order to stake out hundreds of churches is what the Illuminati hope we will do… wasting precious time and manpower when we should be searching… or worse yet, leaving the Vatican Bank totally unprotected. Not to mention the remaining cardinals.”
The point hit home.
“How about the Roman Police?” the camerlegno asked. “We could alert citywide enforcement of the crisis. Enlist their help in finding the cardinals’ captor.”
“Another mistake,” Olivetti said. “You know how the Roman Carbonieri feel about us. We’d get a half-hearted effort of a few men in exchange for their selling our crisis to the global media. Exactly what our enemies want. We’ll have to deal with the media soon enough as it is.”
I will make your cardinals media luminaries, Langdon thought, recalling the killer’s words. The first cardinal’s body appears at eight o’clock. Then one every hour. The press will love it.
The camerlegno was talking again, a trace of anger in his voice. “Commander, we cannot in good conscience do nothing about the missing cardinals!”
Olivetti looked the camerlegno dead in the eye. “The prayer of St. Francis, signore. Do you recall it?”
The young priest spoke the single line with pain in his voice. “God, grant me strength to accept those things I cannot change.”
“Trust me,” Olivetti said. “This is one of those things.” Then he was gone.
The central office of the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) is in London just west of Piccadilly Circus. The switchboard phone rang, and a junior content editor picked up.
“BBC,” she said, stubbing out her Dunhill cigarette.
The voice on the line was raspy, with a Mid-East accent. “I have a breaking story your network might be interested in.”
The editor took out a pen and a standard Lead Sheet. “Regarding?”
“The papal election.”
She frowned wearily. The BBC had run a preliminary story yesterday to mediocre response. The public, it seemed, had little interest in Vatican City. “What’s the angle?”
“Do you have a TV reporter in Rome covering the election?”
“I believe so.”
“I need to speak to him directly.”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot give you that number without some idea—”
“There is a threat to the conclave. That is all I can tell you.”
The editor took notes. “Your name?”
“My name is immaterial.”
The editor was not surprised. “And you have proof of this claim?”
“I would be happy to take the information, but it is not our policy to give out our reporters’ numbers unless—”
“I understand. I will call another network. Thank you for your time. Good-b—”
“Just a moment,” she said. “Can you hold?”
The editor put the caller on hold and stretched her neck. The art of screening out potential crank calls was by no means a perfect science, but this caller had just passed the BBC’s two tacit tests for authenticity of a phone source. He had refused to give his name, and he was eager to get off the phone. Hacks and glory hounds usually whined and pleaded.
Fortunately for her, reporters lived in eternal fear of missing the big story, so they seldom chastised her for passing along the occasional delusional psychotic. Wasting five minutes of a reporter’s time was forgivable. Missing a headline was not.
Yawning, she looked at her computer and typed in the keywords “Vatican City.” When she saw the name of the field reporter covering the papal election, she chuckled to herself. He was a new guy the BBC had just brought up from some trashy London tabloid to handle some of the BBC’s more mundane coverage. Editorial had obviously started him at the bottom rung.
He was probably bored out of his mind, waiting all night to record his live ten-second video spot. He would most likely be grateful for a break in the monotony.
The BBC content editor copied down the reporter’s satellite extension in Vatican City. Then, lighting another cigarette, she gave the anonymous caller the reporter’s number.
“It won’t work,” Vittoria said, pacing the Pope’s office. She looked up at the camerlegno. “Even if a Swiss Guard team can filter electronic interference, they will have to be practically on top of the canister before they detect any signal. And that’s if the canister is even accessible… unenclosed by other barriers. What if it’s buried in a metal box somewhere on your grounds? Or up in a metal ventilating duct. There’s no way they’ll trace it. And what if the Swiss Guards have been infiltrated? Who’s to say the search will be clean?”
The camerlegno looked drained. “What are you proposing, Ms. Vetra?”
Vittoria felt flustered. Isn’t it obvious? “I am proposing, sir, that you take other precautions immediately. We can hope against all hope that the commander’s search is successful. At the same time, look out the window. Do you see those people? Those buildings across the piazza? Those media vans? The tourists? They are quite possibly within range of the blast. You need to act now.”
The camerlegno nodded vacantly.
Vittoria felt frustrated. Olivetti had convinced everyone there was plenty of time. But Vittoria knew if news of the Vatican predicament leaked out, the entire area could fill with onlookers in a matter of minutes. She had seen it once outside the Swiss Parliament building. During a hostage situation involving a bomb, thousands had congregated outside the building to witness the outcome. Despite police warnings that they were in danger, the crowd packed in closer and closer. Nothing captured human interest like human tragedy.
“Signore,” Vittoria urged, “the man who killed my father is out there somewhere. Every cell in this body wants to run from here and hunt him down. But I am standing in your office… because I have a responsibility to you. To you and others. Lives are in danger, signore. Do you hear me?”
The camerlegno did not answer.
Vittoria could hear her own heart racing. Why couldn’t the Swiss Guard trace that damn caller? The Illuminati assassin is the key! He knows where the antimatter is… hell, he knows where the cardinals are! Catch the killer, and everything is solved.
Vittoria sensed she was starting to come unhinged, an alien distress she recalled only faintly from childhood, the orphanage years, frustration with no tools to handle it. You have tools, she told herself, you always have tools. But it was no use. Her thoughts intruded, strangling her. She was a researcher and problem solver. But this was a problem with no solution. What data do you require? What do you want? She told herself to breathe deeply, but for the first time in her life, she could not. She was suffocating.
Langdon’s head ached, and he felt like he was skirting the edges of rationality. He watched Vittoria and the camerlegno, but his vision was blurred by hideous images: explosions, press swarming, cameras rolling, four branded humans.
Shaitan… Lucifer… Bringer of light… Satan…
He shook the fiendish images from his mind. Calculated terrorism, he reminded himself, grasping at reality. Planned chaos. He thought back to a Radcliffe seminar he had once audited while researching praetorian symbolism. He had never seen terrorists the same way since.
“Terrorism,” the professor had lectured, “has a singular goal. What is it?”
“Killing innocent people?” a student ventured.
“Incorrect. Death is only a byproduct of terrorism.”
“A show of strength?”
“No. A weaker persuasion does not exist.”
“To cause terror?”
“Concisely put. Quite simply, the goal of terrorism is to create terror and fear. Fear undermines faith in the establishment. It weakens the enemy from within… causing unrest in the masses. Write this down. Terrorism is not an expression of rage. Terrorism is a political weapon. Remove a government’s façade of infallibility, and you remove its people’s faith.”
Loss of faith…
Is that what this was all about? Langdon wondered how Christians of the world would react to cardinals being laid out like mutilated dogs. If the faith of a canonized priest did not protect him from the evils of Satan, what hope was there for the rest of us? Langdon’s head was pounding louder now… tiny voices playing tug of war.
Faith does not protect you. Medicine and airbags… those are things that protect you. God does not protect you. Intelligence protects you. Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results. How long has it been since someone walked on water? Modern miracles belong to science… computers, vaccines, space stations… even the divine miracle of creation. Matter from nothing… in a lab. Who needs God? No! Science is God.
The killer’s voice resonated in Langdon’s mind. Midnight… mathematical progression of death… sacrifici vergini nell’ altare di scienza.”
Then suddenly, like a crowd dispersed by a single gunshot, the voices were gone.
Robert Langdon bolted to his feet. His chair fell backward and crashed on the marble floor.
Vittoria and the camerlegno jumped.
“I missed it,” Langdon whispered, spellbound. “It was right in front of me…”
“Missed what?” Vittoria demanded.
Langdon turned to the priest. “Father, for three years I have petitioned this office for access to the Vatican Archives. I have been denied seven times.”
“Mr. Langdon, I am sorry, but this hardly seems the moment to raise such complaints.”
“I need access immediately. The four missing cardinals. I may be able to figure out where they’re going to be killed.”
Vittoria stared, looking certain she had misunderstood.
The camerlegno looked troubled, as if he were the brunt of a cruel joke. “You expect me to believe this information is in our archives?”
“I can’t promise I can locate it in time, but if you let me in…”
“Mr. Langdon, I am due in the Sistine Chapel in four minutes. The archives are across Vatican City.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?” Vittoria interrupted, staring deep into Langdon’s eyes, seeming to sense his earnestness.
“Hardly a joking time,” Langdon said.
“Father,” Vittoria said, turning to the camerlegno, “if there’s a chance… any at all of finding where these killings are going to happen, we could stake out the locations and—”