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Langdon resisted the urge to pull Folio 5 from his pocket and wave it in Olivetti’s face. “All I know is that the information we found refers to Raphael’s tomb, and Raphael’s tomb is inside the Pantheon.”
The officer behind the wheel nodded. “He’s right, commander. My wife and I—”
“Drive,” Olivetti snapped. He turned back to Langdon. “How could a killer accomplish an assassination in such a crowded place and escape unseen?”
“I don’t know,” Langdon said. “But the Illuminati are obviously highly resourceful. They’ve broken into both CERN and Vatican City. It’s only by luck that we know where the first kill zone is. The Pantheon is your one chance to catch this guy.”
“More contradictions,” Olivetti said. “One chance? I thought you said there was some sort of pathway. A series of markers. If the Pantheon is the right spot, we can follow the pathway to the other markers. We will have four chances to catch this guy.”
“I had hoped so,” Langdon said. “And we would have… a century ago.”
Langdon’s realization that the Pantheon was the first altar of science had been a bittersweet moment. History had a way of playing cruel tricks on those who chased it. It was a long shot that the Path of Illumination would be intact after all of these years, with all of its statues in place, but part of Langdon had fantasized about following the path all the way to the end and coming face to face with the sacred Illuminati lair. Alas, he realized, it was not to be. “The Vatican had all the statues in the Pantheon removed and destroyed in the late 1800s.”
Vittoria looked shocked. “Why?”
“The statues were pagan Olympian Gods. Unfortunately, that means the first marker is gone… and with it—”
“Any hope,” Vittoria said, “of finding the Path of Illumination and additional markers?”
Langdon shook his head. “We have one shot. The Pantheon. After that, the path disappears.”
Olivetti stared at them both a long moment and then turned and faced front. “Pull over,” he barked to the driver.
The driver swerved the car toward the curb and put on the brakes. Three other Alpha Romeos skidded in behind them. The Swiss Guard convoy screeched to a halt.
“What are you doing!” Vittoria demanded.
“My job,” Olivetti said, turning in his seat, his voice like stone. “Mr. Langdon, when you told me you would explain the situation en route, I assumed I would be approaching the Pantheon with a clear idea of why my men are here. That is not the case. Because I am abandoning critical duties by being here, and because I have found very little that makes sense in this theory of yours about virgin sacrifices and ancient poetry, I cannot in good conscience continue. I am recalling this mission immediately.” He pulled out his walkie-talkie and clicked it on.
Vittoria reached across the seat and grabbed his arm. “You can’t!”
Olivetti slammed down the walkie-talkie and fixed her with a red-hot stare. “Have you been to the Pantheon, Ms. Vetra?”
“No, but I—”
“Let me tell you something about it. The Pantheon is a single room. A circular cell made of stone and cement. It has one entrance. No windows. One narrow entrance. That entrance is flanked at all times by no less than four armed Roman policemen who protect this shrine from art defacers, anti-Christian terrorists, and gypsy tourist scams.”
“Your point?” she said coolly.
“My point?” Olivetti’s knuckles gripped the seat. “My point is that what you have just told me is going to happen is utterly impossible! Can you give me one plausible scenario of how someone could kill a cardinal inside the Pantheon? How does one even get a hostage past the guards into the Pantheon in the first place? Much less actually kill him and get away?” Olivetti leaned over the seat, his coffee breath now in Langdon’s face. “How, Mr. Langdon? One plausible scenario.”
Langdon felt the tiny car shrink around him. I have no idea! I’m not an assassin! I don’t know how he will do it! I only know–
“One scenario?” Vittoria quipped, her voice unruffled. “How about this? The killer flies over in a helicopter and drops a screaming, branded cardinal down through the hole in the roof. The cardinal hits the marble floor and dies.”
Everyone in the car turned and stared at Vittoria. Langdon didn’t know what to think. You’ve got one sick imagination, lady, but you are quick.
Olivetti frowned. “Possible, I admit… but hardly—”
“Or the killer drugs the cardinal,” Vittoria said, “brings him to the Pantheon in a wheelchair like some old tourist. He wheels him inside, quietly slits his throat, and then walks out.”
This seemed to wake up Olivetti a bit.
Not bad! Langdon thought.
“Or,” she said, “the killer could—”
“I heard you,” Olivetti said. “Enough.” He took a deep breath and blew it out. Someone rapped sharply on the window, and everyone jumped. It was a soldier from one of the other cars. Olivetti rolled down the window.
“Everything all right, commander?” The soldier was dressed in street clothes. He pulled back the sleeve of his denim shirt to reveal a black chronograph military watch. “Seven-forty, commander. We’ll need time to get in position.”
Olivetti nodded vaguely but said nothing for many moments. He ran a finger back and forth across the dash, making a line in the dust. He studied Langdon in the side-view mirror, and Langdon felt himself being measured and weighed. Finally Olivetti turned back to the guard. There was reluctance in his voice. “I’ll want separate approaches. Cars to Piazza della Rotunda, Via delgi Orfani, Piazza Sant’Ignacio, and Sant’Eustachio. No closer than two blocks. Once you’re parked, gear up and await my orders. Three minutes.”
“Very good, sir.” The soldier returned to his car.
Langdon gave Vittoria an impressed nod. She smiled back, and for an instant Langdon felt an unexpected connection… a thread of magnetism between them.
The commander turned in his seat and locked eyes with Langdon. “Mr. Langdon, this had better not blow up in our faces.”
Langdon smiled uneasily. How could it?
The director of CERN, Maximilian Kohler, opened his eyes to the cool rush of cromolyn and leukotriene in his body, dilating his bronchial tubes and pulmonary capillaries. He was breathing normally again. He found himself lying in a private room in the CERN infirmary, his wheelchair beside the bed.
He took stock, examining the paper robe they had put him in. His clothing was folded on the chair beside the bed. Outside he could hear a nurse making the rounds. He lay there a long minute listening. Then, as quietly as possible, he pulled himself to the edge of the bed and retrieved his clothing. Struggling with his dead legs, he dressed himself. Then he dragged his body onto his wheelchair.
Muffling a cough, he wheeled himself to the door. He moved manually, careful not to engage the motor. When he arrived at the door he peered out. The hall was empty.
Silently, Maximilian Kohler slipped out of the infirmary.
“Seven-forty-six and thirty… mark.” Even speaking into his walkie-talkie, Olivetti’s voice never seemed to rise above a whisper.
Langdon felt himself sweating now in his Harris tweed in the backseat of the Alpha Romeo, which was idling in Piazza de la Concorde, three blocks from the Pantheon. Vittoria sat beside him, looking engrossed by Olivetti, who was transmitting his final orders.
“Deployment will be an eight-point hem,” the commander said. “Full perimeter with a bias on the entry. Target may know you visually, so you will be pas-visible. Nonmortal force only. We’ll need someone to spot the roof. Target is primary. Asset secondary.”
Jesus, Langdon thought, chilled by the efficiency with which Olivetti had just told his men the cardinal was expendable. Asset secondary.
“I repeat. Nonmortal procurement. We need the target alive. Go.” Olivetti snapped off his walkie-talkie.
Vittoria looked stunned, almost angry. “Commander, isn’t anyone going inside?”
Olivetti turned. “Inside?”
“Inside the Pantheon! Where this is supposed to happen?”
“Attento,” Olivetti said, his eyes fossilizing. “If my ranks have been infiltrated, my men may be known by sight. Your colleague has just finished warning me that this will be our sole chance to catch the target. I have no intention of scaring anyone off by marching my men inside.”
“But what if the killer is already inside?”
Olivetti checked his watch. “The target was specific. Eight o’clock. We have fifteen minutes.”
“He said he would kill the cardinal at eight o’clock. But he may already have gotten the victim inside somehow. What if your men see the target come out but don’t know who he is? Someone needs to make sure the inside is clean.”
“Too risky at this point.”
“Not if the person going in was unrecognizable.”
“Disguising operatives is time consuming and—”
“I meant me,” Vittoria said.
Langdon turned and stared at her.
Olivetti shook his head. “Absolutely not.”
“He killed my father.”
“Exactly, so he may know who you are.”
“You heard him on the phone. He had no idea Leonardo Vetra even had a daughter. He sure as hell doesn’t know what I look like. I could walk in like a tourist. If I see anything suspicious, I could walk into the square and signal your men to move in.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot allow that.”
“Comandante?” Olivetti’s receiver crackled. “We’ve got a situation from the north point. The fountain is blocking our line of sight. We can’t see the entrance unless we move into plain view on the piazza. What’s your call? Do you want us blind or vulnerable?”
Vittoria apparently had endured enough. “That’s it. I’m going.” She opened her door and got out.
Olivetti dropped his walkie-talkie and jumped out of the car, circling in front of Vittoria.
Langdon got out too. What the hell is she doing!
Olivetti blocked Vittoria’s way. “Ms. Vetra, your instincts are good, but I cannot let a civilian interfere.”
“Interfere? You’re flying blind. Let me help.”
“I would love to have a recon point inside, but…”
“But what?” Vittoria demanded. “But I’m a woman?”
Olivetti said nothing.
“That had better not be what you were going to say, Commander, because you know damn well this is a good idea, and if you let some archaic macho bullshit—”
“Let us do our job.”
“Let me help.”
“Too dangerous. We would have no lines of communication with you. I can’t let you carry a walkie-talkie, it would give you away.”
Vittoria reached in her shirt pocket and produced her cell phone. “Plenty of tourists carry phones.”
Vittoria unsnapped the phone and mimicked a call. “Hi, honey, I’m standing in the Pantheon. You should see this place!” She snapped the phone shut and glared at Olivetti. “Who the hell is going to know? It is a no-risk situation. Let me be your eyes!” She motioned to the cell phone on Olivetti’s belt. “What’s your number?”
Olivetti did not reply.
The driver had been looking on and seemed to have some thoughts of his own. He got out of the car and took the commander aside. They spoke in hushed tones for ten seconds. Finally Olivetti nodded and returned. “Program this number.” He began dictating digits.
Vittoria programmed her phone.
“Now call the number.”
Vittoria pressed the auto dial. The phone on Olivetti’s belt began ringing. He picked it up and spoke into the receiver. “Go into the building, Ms. Vetra, look around, exit the building, then call and tell me what you see.”
Vittoria snapped the phone shut. “Thank you, sir.”
Langdon felt a sudden, unexpected surge of protective instinct. “Wait a minute,” he said to Olivetti. “You’re sending her in there alone.”
Vittoria scowled at him. “Robert, I’ll be fine.”
The Swiss Guard driver was talking to Olivetti again.
“It’s dangerous,” Langdon said to Vittoria.
“He’s right,” Olivetti said. “Even my best men don’t work alone. My lieutenant has just pointed out that the masquerade will be more convincing with both of you anyway.”
Both of us? Langdon hesitated. Actually, what I meant–
“Both of you entering together,” Olivetti said, “will look like a couple on holiday. You can also back each other up. I’m more comfortable with that.”
Vittoria shrugged. “Fine, but we’ll need to go fast.”
Langdon groaned. Nice move, cowboy.
Olivetti pointed down the street. “First street you hit will be Via degli Orfani. Go left. It takes you directly to the Pantheon. Two-minute walk, tops. I’ll be here, directing my men and waiting for your call. I’d like you to have protection.” He pulled out his pistol. “Do either of you know how to use a gun?”
Langdon’s heart skipped. We don’t need a gun!
Vittoria held her hand out. “I can tag a breaching porpoise from forty meters off the bow of a rocking ship.”
“Good.” Olivetti handed the gun to her. “You’ll have to conceal it.”
Vittoria glanced down at her shorts. Then she looked at Langdon.
Oh no you don’t! Langdon thought, but Vittoria was too fast. She opened his jacket, and inserted the weapon into one of his breast pockets. It felt like a rock dropping into his coat, his only consolation being that Diagramma was in the other pocket.
“We look harmless,” Vittoria said. “We’re leaving.” She took Langdon’s arm and headed down the street.
The driver called out, “Arm in arm is good. Remember, you’re tourists. Newlyweds even. Perhaps if you held hands?”
As they turned the corner Langdon could have sworn he saw on Vittoria’s face the hint of a smile.
The Swiss Guard “staging room” is located adjacent to the Corpo di Vigilanza barracks and is used primarily for planning the security surrounding papal appearances and public Vatican events. Today, however, it was being used for something else.
The man addressing the assembled task force was the second-in-command of the Swiss Guard, Captain Elias Rocher. Rocher was a barrel-chested man with soft, puttylike features. He wore the traditional blue captain’s uniform with his own personal flair—a red beret cocked sideways on his head. His voice was surprisingly crystalline for such a large man, and when he spoke, his tone had the clarity of a musical instrument. Despite the precision of his inflection, Rocher’s eyes were cloudy like those of some nocturnal mammal. His men called him “orso”—grizzly bear. They sometimes joked that Rocher was “the bear who walked in the viper’s shadow.” Commander Olivetti was the viper. Rocher was just as deadly as the viper, but at least you could see him coming.
Rocher’s men stood at sharp attention, nobody moving a muscle, although the information they had just received had increased their aggregate blood pressure by a few thousand points.
Rookie Lieutenant Chartrand stood in the back of the room wishing he had been among the 99 percent of applicants who had not qualified to be here. At twenty years old, Chartrand was the youngest guard on the force. He had been in Vatican City only three months. Like every man there, Chartrand was Swiss Army trained and had endured two years of additional ausbilding in Bern before qualifying for the grueling Vatican pròva held in a secret barracks outside of Rome. Nothing in his training, however, had prepared him for a crisis like this.
At first Chartrand thought the briefing was some sort of bizarre training exercise. Futuristic weapons? Ancient cults? Kidnapped cardinals? Then Rocher had shown them the live video feed of the weapon in question. Apparently this was no exercise.
“We will be killing power in selected areas,” Rocher was saying, “to eradicate extraneous magnetic interference. We will move in teams of four. We will wear infrared goggles for vision. Reconnaissance will be done with traditional bug sweepers, recalibrated for sub-three-ohm flux fields. Any questions?”
Chartrand’s mind was on overload. “What if we don’t find it in time?” he asked, immediately wishing he had not.
The grizzly bear gazed out at him from beneath his red beret. Then he dismissed the group with a somber salute. “Godspeed, men.”