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“Why do we come to Mass every single day?” Carlo asked, not that he minded at all.

  “Because I promised God I would,” she replied. “And a promise to God is the most important promise of all. Never break a promise to God.”

  Carlo promised her he would never break a promise to God. He loved his mother more than anything in the world. She was his holy angel. Sometimes he called her Maria benedetta–the Blessed Mary—although she did not like that at all. He knelt with her as she prayed, smelling the sweet scent of her flesh and listening to the murmur of her voice as she counted the rosary. Hail Mary, Mother of God… pray for us sinners… now and at the hour of our death.

  “Where is my father?” Carlo asked, already knowing his father had died before he was born.

  “God is your father, now,” she would always reply. “You are a child of the church.”

  Carlo loved that.

  “Whenever you feel frightened,” she said, “remember that God is your father now. He will watch over you and protect you forever. God has big plans for you, Carlo.” The boy knew she was right. He could already feel God in his blood.

  Blood…

  Blood raining from the sky!

  Silence. Then heaven.

  His heaven, Carlo learned as the blinding lights were turned off, was actually the Intensive Care Unit in Santa Clara Hospital outside of Palermo. Carlo had been the sole survivor of a terrorist bombing that had collapsed a chapel where he and his mother had been attending Mass while on vacation. Thirty-seven people had died, including Carlo’s mother. The papers called Carlo’s survival The Miracle of St. Francis. Carlo had, for some unknown reason, only moments before the blast, left his mother’s side and ventured into a protected alcove to ponder a tapestry depicting the story of St. Francis.

  God called me there, he decided. He wanted to save me.

  Carlo was delirious with pain. He could still see his mother, kneeling at the pew, blowing him a kiss, and then with a concussive roar, her sweet-smelling flesh was torn apart. He could still taste man’s evil. Blood showered down. His mother’s blood! The blessed Maria!

  God will watch over you and protect you forever, his mother had told him.

  But where was God now!

  Then, like a worldly manifestation of his mother’s truth, a clergyman had come to the hospital. He was not any clergyman. He was a bishop. He prayed over Carlo. The Miracle of St. Francis. When Carlo recovered, the bishop arranged for him to live in a small monastery attached to the cathedral over which the bishop presided. Carlo lived and tutored with the monks. He even became an altar boy for his new protector. The bishop suggested Carlo enter public school, but Carlo refused. He could not have been more happy with his new home. He now truly lived in the house of God.

  Every night Carlo prayed for his mother.

  God saved me for a reason, he thought. What is the reason?

  When Carlo turned sixteen, he was obliged by Italian law to serve two years of reserve military training. The bishop told Carlo that if he entered seminary he would be exempt from this duty. Carlo told the priest that he planned to enter seminary but that first he needed to understand evil.

  The bishop did not understand.

  Carlo told him that if he was going to spend his life in the church fighting evil, first he had to understand it. He could not think of any better place to understand evil than in the army. The army used guns and bombs. A bomb killed my Blessed mother!

  The bishop tried to dissuade him, but Carlo’s mind was made up.

  “Be careful, my son,” the bishop had said. “And remember the church awaits you when you return.”

  Carlo’s two years of military service had been dreadful. Carlo’s youth had been one of silence and reflection. But in the army there was no quiet for reflection. Endless noise. Huge machines everywhere. Not a moment of peace. Although the soldiers went to Mass once a week at the barracks, Carlo did not sense God’s presence in any of his fellow soldiers. Their minds were too filled with chaos to see God.

  Carlo hated his new life and wanted to go home. But he was determined to stick it out. He had yet to understand evil. He refused to fire a gun, so the military taught him how to fly a medical helicopter. Carlo hated the noise and the smell, but at least it let him fly up in the sky and be closer to his mother in heaven. When he was informed his pilot’s training included learning how to parachute, Carlo was terrified. Still, he had no choice.

  God will protect me, he told himself.

  Carlo’s first parachute jump was the most exhilarating physical experience of his life. It was like flying with God. Carlo could not get enough… the silence… the floating… seeing his mother’s face in the billowing white clouds as he soared to earth. God has plans for you, Carlo. When he returned from the military, Carlo entered the seminary.

  That had been twenty-three years ago.

  Now, as Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca descended the Royal Staircase, he tried to comprehend the chain of events that had delivered him to this extraordinary crossroads.

  Abandon all fear, he told himself, and give this night over to God.

  He could see the great bronze door of the Sistine Chapel now, dutifully protected by four Swiss Guards. The guards unbolted the door and pulled it open. Inside, every head turned. The camerlegno gazed out at the black robes and red sashes before him. He understood what God’s plans for him were. The fate of the church had been placed in his hands.

  The camerlegno crossed himself and stepped over the threshold.

  48

  BBC journalist Gunther Glick sat sweating in the BBC network van parked on the eastern edge of St. Peter’s Square and cursed his assignment editor. Although Glick’s first monthly review had come back filled with superlatives—resourceful, sharp, dependable—here he was in Vatican City on “Pope-Watch.” He reminded himself that reporting for the BBC carried a hell of a lot more credibility than fabricating fodder for the British Tattler, but still, this was not his idea of reporting.

  Glick’s assignment was simple. Insultingly simple. He was to sit here waiting for a bunch of old farts to elect their next chief old fart, then he was to step outside and record a fifteen-second “live” spot with the Vatican as a backdrop.

  Brilliant.

  Glick couldn’t believe the BBC still sent reporters into the field to cover this schlock. You don’t see the American networks here tonight. Hell no! That was because the big boys did it right. They watched CNN, synopsized it, and then filmed their “live” report in front of a blue screen, superimposing stock video for a realistic backdrop. MSNBC even used in-studio wind and rain machines to give that on-the-scene authenticity. Viewers didn’t want truth anymore; they wanted entertainment.

  Glick gazed out through the windshield and felt more and more depressed by the minute. The imperial mountain of Vatican City rose before him as a dismal reminder of what men could accomplish when they put their minds to it.

  “What have I accomplished in my life?” he wondered aloud. “Nothing.”

  “So give up,” a woman’s voice said from behind him.

  Glick jumped. He had almost forgotten he was not alone. He turned to the back seat, where his camerawoman, Chinita Macri, sat silently polishing her glasses. She was always polishing her glasses. Chinita was black, although she preferred African American, a little heavy, and smart as hell. She wouldn’t let you forget it either. She was an odd bird, but Glick liked her. And Glick could sure as hell use the company.

  “What’s the problem, Gunth?” Chinita asked.

  “What are we doing here?”

  She kept polishing. “Witnessing an exciting event.”

  “Old men locked in the dark is exciting?”

  “You do know you’re going to hell, don’t you?”

  “Already there.”

  “Talk to me.” She sounded like his mother.

  “I just feel like I want to leave my mark.”

  “You wrote for the British Tattler.”

  “Yeah, but nothing with any resonance.”

  “Oh, come on, I heard you did a groundbreaking article on the queen’s secret sex life with aliens.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Hey, things are looking up. Tonight you make your first fifteen seconds of TV history.”

  Glick groaned. He could hear the news anchor already. “Thanks Gunther, great report.” Then the anchor would roll his eyes and move on to the weather. “I should have tried for an anchor spot.”

  Macri laughed. “With no experience? And that beard? Forget it.”

  Glick ran his hands through the reddish gob of hair on his chin. “I think it makes me look clever.”

  The van’s cell phone rang, mercifully interrupting yet another one of Glick’s failures. “Maybe that’s editorial,” he said, suddenly hopeful. “You think they want a live update?”

  “On this story?” Macri laughed. “You keep dreaming.”

  Glick answered the phone in his best anchorman voice. “Gunther Glick, BBC, Live in Vatican City.”

  The man on the line had a thick Arabic accent. “Listen carefully,” he said. “I am about to change your life.”

  49

  Langdon and Vittoria stood alone now outside the double doors that led to the inner sanctum of the Secret Archives. The decor in the colonnade was an incongruous mix of wall-to-wall carpets over marble floors and wireless security cameras gazing down from beside carved cherubs in the ceiling. Langdon dubbed it Sterile Renaissance. Beside the arched ingress hung a small bronze plaque.

  ARCHIVIO VATICANO

  Curatore: Padre Jaqui Tomaso

  Father Jaqui Tomaso. Langdon recognized the curator’s name from the rejection letters at home in his desk.

  Dear Mr. Langdon, It is with regret that I am writing to deny…

  Regret. Bullshit. Since Jaqui Tomaso’s reign had begun, Langdon had never met a single non-Catholic American scholar who had been given access to the Secret Vatican Archives. Il gaurdiano, historians called him. Jaqui Tomaso was the toughest librarian on earth.

  As Langdon pushed the doors open and stepped through the vaulted portal into the inner sanctum, he half expected to see Father Jaqui in full military fatigues and helmet standing guard with a bazooka. The space, however, was deserted.

  Silence. Soft lighting.

  Archivio Vaticano. One of his life dreams.

  As Langdon’s eyes took in the sacred chamber, his first reaction was one of embarrassment. He realized what a callow romantic he was. The images he had held for so many years of this room could not have been more inaccurate. He had imagined dusty bookshelves piled high with tattered volumes, priests cataloging by the light of candles and stained-glass windows, monks poring over scrolls…

  Not even close.

  At first glance the room appeared to be a darkened airline hangar in which someone had built a dozen free-standing racquetball courts. Langdon knew of course what the glass-walled enclosures were. He was not surprised to see them; humidity and heat eroded ancient vellums and parchments, and proper preservation required hermitic vaults like these—airtight cubicles that kept out humidity and natural acids in the air. Langdon had been inside hermetic vaults many times, but it was always an unsettling experience… something about entering an airtight container where the oxygen was regulated by a reference librarian.

  The vaults were dark, ghostly even, faintly outlined by tiny dome lights at the end of each stack. In the blackness of each cell, Langdon sensed the phantom giants, row upon row of towering stacks, laden with history. This was one hell of a collection.

  Vittoria also seemed dazzled. She stood beside him staring mutely at the giant transparent cubes.

  Time was short, and Langdon wasted none of it scanning the dimly lit room for a book catalog—a bound encyclopedia that cataloged the library’s collection. All he saw was the glow of a handful of computer terminals dotting the room. “Looks like they’ve got a Biblion. Their index is computerized.”

  Vittoria looked hopeful. “That should speed things up.”

  Langdon wished he shared her enthusiasm, but he sensed this was bad news. He walked to a terminal and began typing. His fears were instantly confirmed. “The old-fashioned method would have been better.”

  “Why?”

  He stepped back from the monitor. “Because real books don’t have password protection. I don’t suppose physicists are natural born hackers?”

  Vittoria shook her head. “I can open oysters, that’s about it.”

  Langdon took a deep breath and turned to face the eerie collection of diaphanous vaults. He walked to the nearest one and squinted into the dim interior. Inside the glass were amorphous shapes Langdon recognized as the usual bookshelves, parchment bins, and examination tables. He looked up at the indicator tabs glowing at the end of each stack. As in all libraries, the tabs indicated the contents of that row. He read the headings as he moved down the transparent barrier.

  Pietro Il Erimito… Le Crociate… Urbano II… Levant…

  “They’re labeled,” he said, still walking. “But it’s not alpha-author.” He wasn’t surprised. Ancient archives were almost never cataloged alphabetically because so many of the authors were unknown. Titles didn’t work either because many historical documents were untitled letters or parchment fragments. Most cataloging was done chronologically. Disconcertingly, however, this arrangement did not appear to be chronological.

  Langdon felt precious time already slipping away. “Looks like the Vatican has its own system.”

  “What a surprise.”

  He examined the labels again. The documents spanned centuries, but all the keywords, he realized, were interrelated. “I think it’s a thematic classification.”

  “Thematic?” Vittoria said, sounding like a disapproving scientist. “Sounds inefficient.”

  Actually… Langdon thought, considering it more closely. This may be the shrewdest cataloging I’ve ever seen. He had always urged his students to understand the overall tones and motifs of an artistic period rather than getting lost in the minutia of dates and specific works. The Vatican Archives, it seemed, were cataloged on a similar philosophy. Broad strokes…

  “Everything in this vault,” Langdon said, feeling more confident now, “centuries of material, has to do with the Crusades. That’s this vault’s theme.” It was all here, he realized. Historical accounts, letters, artwork, socio-political data, modern analyses. All in one place… encouraging a deeper understanding of a topic. Brilliant.

  Vittoria frowned. “But data can relate to multiple themes simultaneously.”

  “Which is why they cross-reference with proxy markers.” Langdon pointed through the glass to the colorful plastic tabs inserted among the documents. “Those indicate secondary documents located elsewhere with their primary themes.”

  “Sure,” she said, apparently letting it go. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the enormous space. Then she looked at Langdon. “So, Professor, what’s the name of this Galileo thing we’re looking for?”

  Langdon couldn’t help but smile. He still couldn’t fathom that he was standing in this room. It’s in here, he thought. Somewhere in the dark, it’s waiting.

  “Follow me,” Langdon said. He started briskly down the first aisle, examining the indicator tabs of each vault. “Remember how I told you about the Path of Illumination? How the Illuminati recruited new members using an elaborate test?”

  “The treasure hunt,” Vittoria said, following closely.

  “The challenge the Illuminati had was that after they placed the markers, they needed some way to tell the scientific community the path existed.”

  “Logical,” Vittoria said. “Otherwise nobody would know to look for it.”

  “Yes, and even if they knew the path existed, scientists would have no way of knowing where the path began. Rome is huge.”

  “Okay.”

  Langdon proceeded down the next aisle, scanning the tabs as he talked. “About fifteen years ago, some historians at the Sorbonne and I uncovered a series of Illuminati letters filled with references to the segno.”

  “The sign. The announcement about the path and where it began.”

  “Yes. And since then, plenty of Illuminati academics, myself included, have uncovered other references to the segno. It is accepted theory now that the clue exists and that Galileo mass distributed it to the scientific community without the Vatican ever knowing.”

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