1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

Olivetti shook his head. “No, signore. That is exactly what the Illuminati want you to do—confirm them, empower them. We must remain silent.”

  “And these people?” The camerlegno pointed out the window. “There will be tens of thousands shortly. Then hundreds of thousands. Continuing this charade only puts them in danger. I need to warn them. Then we need to evacuate our College of Cardinals.”

  “There is still time. Let Captain Rocher find the antimatter.”

  The camerlegno turned. “Are you attempting to give me an order?”

  “No, I am giving you advice. If you are concerned about the people outside, we can announce a gas leak and clear the area, but admitting we are hostage is dangerous.”

  “Commander, I will only say this once. I will not use this office as a pulpit to lie to the world. If I announce anything at all, it will be the truth.”

  “The truth? That Vatican City is threatened to be destroyed by satanic terrorists? It only weakens our position.”

  The camerlegno glared. “How much weaker could our position be?”

  Rocher shouted suddenly, grabbing the remote and increasing the volume on the television. Everyone turned.

  On air, the woman from MSNBC now looked genuinely unnerved. Superimposed beside her was a photo of the late Pope. “… breaking information. This just in from the BBC…” She glanced off camera as if to confirm she was really supposed to make this announcement. Apparently getting confirmation, she turned and grimly faced the viewers. “The Illuminati have just claimed responsibility for…” She hesitated. “They have claimed responsibility for the death of the Pope fifteen days ago.”

  The camerlegno’s jaw fell.

  Rocher dropped the remote control.

  Vittoria could barely process the information.

  “By Vatican law,” the woman continued, “no formal autopsy is ever performed on a Pope, so the Illuminati claim of murder cannot be confirmed. Nonetheless, the Illuminati hold that the cause of the late Pope’s death was not a stroke as the Vatican reported, but poisoning.”

  The room went totally silent again.

  Olivetti erupted. “Madness! A bold-faced lie!”

  Rocher began flipping channels again. The bulletin seemed to spread like a plague from station to station. Everyone had the same story. Headlines competed for optimal sensationalism.

  Murder at the Vatican

  Pope Poisoned

  Satan Touches House of God

  The camerlegno looked away. “God help us.”

  As Rocher flipped, he passed a BBC station. “—tipped me off about the killing at Santa Maria de Popolo—”

  “Wait!” the camerlegno said. “Back.”

  Rocher went back. On screen, a prim-looking man sat at a BBC news desk. Superimposed over his shoulder was a still snapshot of an odd-looking man with a red beard. Underneath his photo, it said:

  Gunther Glick—Live in Vatican City

  Reporter Glick was apparently reporting by phone, the connection scratchy. “… my videographer got the footage of the cardinal being removed from the Chigi Chapel.”

  “Let me reiterate for our viewers,” the anchorman in London was saying, “BBC reporter Gunther Glick is the man who first broke this story. He has been in phone contact twice now with the alleged Illuminati assassin. Gunther, you say the assassin phoned only moments ago to pass along a message from the Illuminati?”

  “He did.”

  “And their message was that the Illuminati were somehow responsible for the Pope’s death?” The anchorman sounded incredulous.

  “Correct. The caller told me that the Pope’s death was not a stroke, as the Vatican had thought, but rather that the Pope had been poisoned by the Illuminati.”

  Everyone in the Pope’s office froze.

  “Poisoned?” the anchorman demanded. “But… but how!”

  “They gave no specifics,” Glick replied, “except to say that they killed him with a drug known as…”—there was a rustling of papers on the line—“something known as Heparin.”

  The camerlegno, Olivetti, and Rocher all exchanged confused looks.

  “Heparin?” Rocher demanded, looking unnerved. “But isn’t that…?”

  The camerlegno blanched. “The Pope’s medication.”

  Vittoria was stunned. “The Pope was on Heparin?”

  “He had thrombophlebitis,” the camerlegno said. “He took an injection once a day.”

  Rocher looked flabbergasted. “But Heparin isn’t a poison. Why would the Illuminati claim—”

  “Heparin is lethal in the wrong dosages,” Vittoria offered. “It’s a powerful anticoagulant. An overdose would cause massive internal bleeding and brain hemorrhages.”

  Olivetti eyed her suspiciously. “How would you know that?”

  “Marine biologists use it on sea mammals in captivity to prevent blood clotting from decreased activity. Animals have died from improper administration of the drug.” She paused. “A Heparin overdose in a human would cause symptoms easily mistaken for a stroke… especially in the absence of a proper autopsy.”

  The camerlegno now looked deeply troubled.

  “Signore,” Olivetti said, “this is obviously an Illuminati ploy for publicity. Someone overdosing the Pope would be impossible. Nobody had access. And even if we take the bait and try to refute their claim, how could we? Papal law prohibits autopsy. Even with an autopsy, we would learn nothing. We would find traces of Heparin in his body from his daily injections.”

  “True.” The camerlegno’s voice sharpened. “And yet something else troubles me. No one on the outside knew His Holiness was taking this medication.”

  There was a silence.

  “If he overdosed with Heparin,” Vittoria said, “his body would show signs.”

  Olivetti spun toward her. “Ms. Vetra, in case you didn’t hear me, papal autopsies are prohibited by Vatican Law. We are not about to defile His Holiness’s body by cutting him open just because an enemy makes a taunting claim!”

  Vittoria felt shamed. “I was not implying…” She had not meant to seem disrespectful. “I certainly was not suggesting you exhume the Pope…” She hesitated, though. Something Robert told her in the Chigi passed like a ghost through her mind. He had mentioned that papal sarcophagi were above ground and never cemented shut, a throwback to the days of the pharaohs when sealing and burying a casket was believed to trap the deceased’s soul inside. Gravity had become the mortar of choice, with coffin lids often weighing hundreds of pounds. Technically, she realized, it would be possible to–

  “What sort of signs?” the camerlegno said suddenly.

  Vittoria felt her heart flutter with fear. “Overdoses can cause bleeding of the oral mucosa.”

  “Oral what?”

  “The victim’s gums would bleed. Post mortem, the blood congeals and turns the inside of the mouth black.” Vittoria had once seen a photo taken at an aquarium in London where a pair of killer whales had been mistakenly overdosed by their trainer. The whales floated lifeless in the tank, their mouths hanging open and their tongues black as soot.

  The camerlegno made no reply. He turned and stared out the window.

  Rocher’s voice had lost its optimism. “Signore, if this claim about poisoning is true…”

  “It’s not true,” Olivetti declared. “Access to the Pope by an outsider is utterly impossible.”

  “If this claim is true,” Rocher repeated, “and our Holy Father was poisoned, then that has profound implications for our antimatter search. The alleged assassination implies a much deeper infiltration of Vatican City than we had imagined. Searching the white zones may be inadequate. If we are compromised to such a deep extent, we may not find the canister in time.”

  Olivetti leveled his captain with a cold stare. “Captain, I will tell you what is going to happen.”

  “No,” the camerlegno said, turning suddenly. “I will tell you what is going to happen.” He looked directly at Olivetti. “This has gone far enough. In twenty minutes I will be making a decision whether or not to cancel conclave and evacuate Vatican City. My decision will be final. Is that clear?”

  Olivetti did not blink. Nor did he respond.

  The camerlegno spoke forcefully now, as though tapping a hidden reserve of power. “Captain Rocher, you will complete your search of the white zones and report directly to me when you are finished.”

  Rocher nodded, throwing Olivetti an uneasy glance.

  The camerlegno then singled out two guards. “I want the BBC reporter, Mr. Glick, in this office immediately. If the Illuminati have been communicating with him, he may be able to help us. Go.”

  The two soldiers disappeared.

  Now the camerlegno turned and addressed the remaining guards. “Gentlemen, I will not permit any more loss of life this evening. By ten o’clock you will locate the remaining two cardinals and capture the monster responsible for these murders. Do I make myself understood?”

  “But, signore,” Olivetti argued, “we have no idea where—”

  “Mr. Langdon is working on that. He seems capable. I have faith.”

  With that, the camerlegno strode for the door, a new determination in his step. On his way out, he pointed to three guards. “You three, come with me. Now.”

  The guards followed.

  In the doorway, the camerlegno stopped. He turned to Vittoria. “Ms. Vetra. You too. Please come with me.”

  Vittoria hesitated. “Where are we going?”

  He headed out the door. “To see an old friend.”

  82

  At CERN, secretary Sylvie Baudeloque was hungry, wishing she could go home. To her dismay, Kohler had apparently survived his trip to the infirmary; he had phoned and demanded–not asked, demanded—that Sylvie stay late this evening. No explanation.

  Over the years, Sylvie had programmed herself to ignore Kohler’s bizarre mood swings and eccentricities—his silent treatments, his unnerving propensity to secretly film meetings with his wheelchair’s porta-video. She secretly hoped one day he would shoot himself during his weekly visit to CERN’s recreational pistol range, but apparently he was a pretty good shot.

  Now, sitting alone at her desk, Sylvie heard her stomach growling. Kohler had not yet returned, nor had he given her any additional work for the evening. To hell with sitting here bored and starving, she decided. She left Kohler a note and headed for the staff dining commons to grab a quick bite.

  She never made it.

  As she passed CERN’s recreational “suites de loisir”—a long hallway of lounges with televisions—she noticed the rooms were overflowing with employees who had apparently abandoned dinner to watch the news. Something big was going on. Sylvie entered the first suite. It was packed with byte-heads—wild young computer programmers. When she saw the headlines on the TV, she gasped.

  Terror at the Vatican

  Sylvie listened to the report, unable to believe her ears. Some ancient brotherhood killing cardinals? What did that prove? Their hatred? Their dominance? Their ignorance?

  And yet, incredibly, the mood in this suite seemed anything but somber.

  Two young techies ran by waving T-shirts that bore a picture of Bill Gates and the message:

  And the Geek shall inherit the Earth!

  “Illuminati!” one shouted. “I told you these guys were real!”

  “Incredible! I thought it was just a game!”

  “They killed the Pope, man! The Pope!”

  “Jeez! I wonder how many points you get for that?”

  They ran off laughing.

  Sylvie stood in stunned amazement. As a Catholic working among scientists, she occasionally endured the antireligious whisperings, but the party these kids seemed to be having was all-out euphoria over the church’s loss. How could they be so callous? Why the hatred?

  For Sylvie, the church had always been an innocuous entity… a place of fellowship and introspection… sometimes just a place to sing out loud without people staring at her. The church recorded the benchmarks of her life—funerals, weddings, baptisms, holidays—and it asked for nothing in return. Even the monetary dues were voluntary. Her children emerged from Sunday School every week uplifted, filled with ideas about helping others and being kinder. What could possibly be wrong with that?

  It never ceased to amaze her that so many of CERN’s so-called “brilliant minds” failed to comprehend the importance of the church. Did they really believe quarks and mesons inspired the average human being? Or that equations could replace someone’s need for faith in the divine?

  Dazed, Sylvie moved down the hallway past the other lounges. All the TV rooms were packed. She began wondering now about the call Kohler had gotten from the Vatican earlier. Coincidence? Perhaps. The Vatican called CERN from time to time as a “courtesy” before issuing scathing statements condemning CERN’s research—most recently for CERN’s breakthroughs in nanotechnology, a field the church denounced because of its implications for genetic engineering. CERN never cared. Invariably, within minutes after a Vatican salvo, Kohler’s phone would ring off the hook with tech-investment companies wanting to license the new discovery. “No such thing as bad press,” Kohler would always say.

  Sylvie wondered if she should page Kohler, wherever the hell he was, and tell him to turn on the news. Did he care? Had he heard? Of course, he’d heard. He was probably videotaping the entire report with his freaky little camcorder, smiling for the first time in a year.

  As Sylvie continued down the hall, she finally found a lounge where the mood was subdued… almost melancholy. Here the scientists watching the report were some of CERN’s oldest and most respected. They did not even look up as Sylvie slipped in and took a seat.

  On the other side of CERN, in Leonardo Vetra’s frigid apartment, Maximilian Kohler had finished reading the leather-bound journal he’d taken from Vetra’s bedside table. Now he was watching the television reports. After a few minutes, he replaced Vetra’s journal, turned off the television, and left the apartment.

  Far away, in Vatican City, Cardinal Mortati carried another tray of ballots to the Sistine Chapel chimney. He burned them, and the smoke was black.

  Two ballotings. No Pope.

  83

  Flashlights were no match for the voluminous blackness of St. Peter’s Basilica. The void overhead pressed down like a starless night, and Vittoria felt the emptiness spread out around her like a desolate ocean. She stayed close as the Swiss Guards and the camerlegno pushed on. High above, a dove cooed and fluttered away.

  As if sensing her discomfort, the camerlegno dropped back and lay a hand on her shoulder. A tangible strength transferred in the touch, as if the man were magically infusing her with the calm she needed to do what they were about to do.

  What are we about to do? she thought. This is madness!

  And yet, Vittoria knew, for all its impiety and inevitable horror, the task at hand was inescapable. The grave decisions facing the camerlegno required information… information entombed in a sarcophagus in the Vatican Grottoes. She wondered what they would find. Did the Illuminati murder the Pope? Did their power really reach so far? Am I really about to perform the first papal autopsy?

  Vittoria found it ironic that she felt more apprehensive in this unlit church than she would swimming at night with barracuda. Nature was her refuge. She understood nature. But it was matters of man and spirit that left her mystified. Killer fish gathering in the dark conjured images of the press gathering outside. TV footage of branded bodies reminded her of her father’s corpse… and the killer’s harsh laugh. The killer was out there somewhere. Vittoria felt the anger drowning her fear.

  As they circled past a pillar—thicker in girth than any redwood she could imagine—Vittoria saw an orange glow up ahead. The light seemed to emanate from beneath the floor in the center of the basilica. As they came closer, she realized what she was seeing. It was the famous sunken sanctuary beneath the main altar—the sumptuous underground chamber that held the Vatican’s most sacred relics. As they drew even with the gate surrounding the hollow, Vittoria gazed down at the golden coffer surrounded by scores of glowing oil lamps.

  “St. Peter’s bones?” she asked, knowing full well that they were. Everyone who came to St. Peter’s knew what was in the golden casket.

  “Actually, no,” the camerlegno said. “A common misconception. That’s not a reliquary. The box holds palliums–woven sashes that the Pope gives to newly elected cardinals.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55