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Langdon now recalled a series of news clippings fellow Illuminati buffs had sent him years ago. At first he had thought the clippings were a prank, so he’d gone to the Harvard microfiche collection to confirm the articles were authentic. Incredibly, they were. He now kept them on his bulletin board as examples of how even respectable news organizations sometimes got carried away with Illuminati paranoia. Suddenly, the media’s suspicions seemed a lot less paranoid. Langdon could see the articles clearly in his mind…
The British Broadcasting Corporation
June 14, 1998
Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, fell victim to a plot by the P2 Masonic Lodge… The secret society P2 decided to murder John Paul I when it saw he was determined to dismiss the American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus as President of the Vatican Bank. The Bank had been implicated in shady financial deals with the Masonic Lodge…
The New York Times
August 24, 1998
Why was the late John Paul I wearing his day shirt in bed? Why was it torn? The questions don’t stop there. No medical investigations were made. Cardinal Villot forbade an autopsy on the grounds that no Pope was ever given a postmortem. And John Paul’s medicines mysteriously vanished from his bedside, as did his glasses, slippers and his last will and testament.
London Daily Mail
August 27, 1998
… a plot including a powerful, ruthless and illegal Masonic lodge with tentacles stretching into the Vatican.
The cellular in Vittoria’s pocket rang, thankfully erasing the memories from Langdon’s mind.
Vittoria answered, looking confused as to who might be calling her. Even from a few feet away, Langdon recognized the laserlike voice on the phone.
“Vittoria? This is Maximilian Kohler. Have you found the antimatter yet?”
“Max? You’re okay?”
“I saw the news. There was no mention of CERN or the antimatter. This is good. What is happening?”
“We haven’t located the canister yet. The situation is complex. Robert Langdon has been quite an asset. We have a lead on catching the man assassinating cardinals. Right now we are headed—”
“Ms. Vetra,” Olivetti interrupted. “You’ve said enough.”
She covered the receiver, clearly annoyed. “Commander, this is the president of CERN. Certainly he has a right to—”
“He has a right,” Olivetti snapped, “to be here handling this situation. You’re on an open cellular line. You’ve said enough.”
Vittoria took a deep breath. “Max?”
“I may have some information for you,” Max said. “About your father… I may know who he told about the antimatter.”
Vittoria’s expression clouded. “Max, my father said he told no one.”
“I’m afraid, Vittoria, your father did tell someone. I need to check some security records. I will be in touch soon.” The line went dead.
Vittoria looked waxen as she returned the phone to her pocket.
“You okay?” Langdon asked.
Vittoria nodded, her trembling fingers revealing the lie.
“The church is on Piazza Barberini,” Olivetti said, killing the siren and checking his watch. “We have nine minutes.”
When Langdon had first realized the location of the third marker, the position of the church had rung some distant bell for him. Piazza Barberini. Something about the name was familiar… something he could not place. Now Langdon realized what it was. The piazza was the sight of a controversial subway stop. Twenty years ago, construction of the subway terminal had created a stir among art historians who feared digging beneath Piazza Barberini might topple the multiton obelisk that stood in the center. City planners had removed the obelisk and replaced it with a small fountain called the Triton.
In Bernini’s day, Langdon now realized, Piazza Barberini had contained an obelisk! Whatever doubts Langdon had felt that this was the location of the third marker now totally evaporated.
A block from the piazza, Olivetti turned into an alley, gunned the car halfway down, and skidded to a stop. He pulled off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and loaded his weapon.
“We can’t risk your being recognized,” he said. “You two were on television. I want you across the piazza, out of sight, watching the front entrance. I’m going in the back.” He produced a familiar pistol and handed it to Langdon. “Just in case.”
Langdon frowned. It was the second time today he had been handed the gun. He slid it into his breast pocket. As he did, he realized he was still carrying the folio from Diagramma. He couldn’t believe he had forgotten to leave it behind. He pictured the Vatican Curator collapsing in spasms of outrage at the thought of this priceless artifact being packed around Rome like some tourist map. Then Langdon thought of the mess of shattered glass and strewn documents that he’d left behind in the archives. The curator had other problems. If the archives even survive the night…
Olivetti got out of the car and motioned back up the alley. “The piazza is that way. Keep your eyes open and don’t let yourselves be seen.” He tapped the phone on his belt. “Ms. Vetra, let’s retest our auto dial.”
Vittoria removed her phone and hit the auto dial number she and Olivetti had programmed at the Pantheon. Olivetti’s phone vibrated in silent-ring mode on his belt.
The commander nodded. “Good. If you see anything, I want to know.” He cocked his weapon. “I’ll be inside waiting. This heathen is mine.”
At that moment, very nearby, another cellular phone was ringing.
The Hassassin answered. “Speak.”
“It is I,” the voice said. “Janus.”
The Hassassin smiled. “Hello, master.”
“Your position may be known. Someone is coming to stop you.”
“They are too late. I have already made the arrangements here.”
“Good. Make sure you escape alive. There is work yet to be done.”
“Those who stand in my way will die.”
“Those who stand in your way are knowledgeable.”
“You speak of an American scholar?”
“You are aware of him?”
The Hassassin chuckled. “Cool-tempered but naive. He spoke to me on the phone earlier. He is with a female who seems quite the opposite.” The killer felt a stirring of arousal as he recalled the fiery temperament of Leonardo Vetra’s daughter.
There was a momentary silence on the line, the first hesitation the Hassassin had ever sensed from his Illuminati master. Finally, Janus spoke. “Eliminate them if need be.”
The killer smiled. “Consider it done.” He felt a warm anticipation spreading through his body. Although the woman I may keep as a prize.
War had broken out in St. Peter’s Square.
The piazza had exploded into a frenzy of aggression. Media trucks skidded into place like assault vehicles claiming beachheads. Reporters unfurled high-tech electronics like soldiers arming for battle. All around the perimeter of the square, networks jockeyed for position as they raced to erect the newest weapon in media wars—flat-screen displays.
Flat-screen displays were enormous video screens that could be assembled on top of trucks or portable scaffolding. The screens served as a kind of billboard advertisement for the network, broadcasting that network’s coverage and corporate logo like a drive-in movie. If a screen were well-situated—in front of the action, for example—a competing network could not shoot the story without including an advertisement for their competitor.
The square was quickly becoming not only a multimedia extravaganza, but a frenzied public vigil. Onlookers poured in from all directions. Open space in the usually limitless square was fast becoming a valuable commodity. People clustered around the towering flat-screen displays, listening to live reports in stunned excitement.
Only a hundred yards away, inside the thick walls of St. Peter’s Basilica, the world was serene. Lieutenant Chartrand and three other guards moved through the darkness. Wearing their infrared goggles, they fanned out across the nave, swinging their detectors before them. The search of Vatican City’s public access areas so far had yielded nothing.
“Better remove your goggles up here,” the senior guard said.
Chartrand was already doing it. They were nearing the Niche of the Palliums—the sunken area in the center of the basilica. It was lit by ninety-nine oil lamps, and the amplified infrared would have seared their eyes.
Chartrand enjoyed being out of the heavy goggles, and he stretched his neck as they descended into the sunken niche to scan the area. The room was beautiful… golden and glowing. He had not been down here yet.
It seemed every day since Chartrand had arrived in Vatican City he had learned some new Vatican mystery. These oil lamps were one of them. There were exactly ninety-nine lamps burning at all times. It was tradition. The clergy vigilantly refilled the lamps with sacred oils such that no lamp ever burned out. It was said they would burn until the end of time.
Or at least until midnight, Chartrand thought, feeling his mouth go dry again.
Chartrand swung his detector over the oil lamps. Nothing hidden in here. He was not surprised; the canister, according to the video feed, was hidden in a dark area.
As he moved across the niche, he came to a bulkhead grate covering a hole in the floor. The hole led to a steep and narrow stairway that went straight down. He had heard stories about what lay down there. Thankfully, they would not have to descend. Rocher’s orders were clear. Search only the public access areas; ignore the white zones.
“What’s that smell?” he asked, turning away from the grate. The niche smelled intoxicatingly sweet.
“Fumes from the lamps,” one of them replied.
Chartrand was surprised. “Smells more like cologne than kerosene.”
“It’s not kerosene. These lamps are close to the papal altar, so they take a special, ambiental mixture—ethanol, sugar, butane, and perfume.”
“Butane?” Chartrand eyed the lamps uneasily.
The guard nodded. “Don’t spill any. Smells like heaven, but burns like hell.”
The guards had completed searching the Niche of the Palliums and were moving across the basilica again when their walkie-talkies went off.
It was an update. The guards listened in shock.
Apparently there were troubling new developments, which could not be shared on-air, but the camerlegno had decided to break tradition and enter conclave to address the cardinals. Never before in history had this been done. Then again, Chartrand realized, never before in history had the Vatican been sitting on what amounted to some sort of neoteric nuclear warhead.
Chartrand felt comforted to know the camerlegno was taking control. The camerlegno was the person inside Vatican City for whom Chartrand held the most respect. Some of the guards thought of the camerlegno as a beato–a religious zealot whose love of God bordered on obsession—but even they agreed… when it came to fighting the enemies of God, the camerlegno was the one man who would stand up and play hardball.
The Swiss Guards had seen a lot of the camerlegno this week in preparation for conclave, and everyone had commented that the man seemed a bit rough around the edges, his verdant eyes a bit more intense than usual. Not surprisingly, they had all commented; not only was the camerlegno responsible for planning the sacred conclave, but he had to do it immediately on the heels of the loss of his mentor, the Pope.
Chartrand had only been at the Vatican a few months when he heard the story of the bomb that blew up the camerlegno’s mother before the kid’s very eyes. A bomb in church… and now it’s happening all over again. Sadly, the authorities never caught the bastards who planted the bomb… probably some anti-Christian hate group they said, and the case faded away. No wonder the camerlegno despised apathy.
A couple months back, on a peaceful afternoon inside Vatican City, Chartrand had bumped into the camerlegno coming across the grounds. The camerlegno had apparently recognized Chartrand as a new guard and invited him to accompany him on a stroll. They had talked about nothing in particular, and the camerlegno made Chartrand feel immediately at home.
“Father,” Chartrand said, “may I ask you a strange question?”
The camerlegno smiled. “Only if I may give you a strange answer.”
Chartrand laughed. “I have asked every priest I know, and I still don’t understand.”
“What troubles you?” The camerlegno led the way in short, quick strides, his frock kicking out in front of him as he walked. His black, crepe-sole shoes seemed befitting, Chartrand thought, like reflections of the man’s essence… modern but humble, and showing signs of wear.
Chartrand took a deep breath. “I don’t understand this omnipotent-benevolent thing.”
The camerlegno smiled. “You’ve been reading Scripture.”
“You are confused because the Bible describes God as an omnipotent and benevolent deity.”
“Omnipotent-benevolent simply means that God is all-powerful and well-meaning.”
“I understand the concept. It’s just… there seems to be a contradiction.”
“Yes. The contradiction is pain. Man’s starvation, war, sickness…”
“Exactly!” Chartrand knew the camerlegno would understand. “Terrible things happen in this world. Human tragedy seems like proof that God could not possibly be both all-powerful and well-meaning. If He loves us and has the power to change our situation, He would prevent our pain, wouldn’t He?”
The camerlegno frowned. “Would He?”
Chartrand felt uneasy. Had he overstepped his bounds? Was this one of those religious questions you just didn’t ask? “Well… if God loves us, and He can protect us, He would have to. It seems He is either omnipotent and uncaring, or benevolent and powerless to help.”
“Do you have children, Lieutenant?”
Chartrand flushed. “No, signore.”
“Imagine you had an eight-year-old son… would you love him?”
“Would you do everything in your power to prevent pain in his life?”
“Would you let him skateboard?”
Chartrand did a double take. The camerlegno always seemed oddly “in touch” for a clergyman. “Yeah, I guess,” Chartrand said. “Sure, I’d let him skateboard, but I’d tell him to be careful.”
“So as this child’s father, you would give him some basic, good advice and then let him go off and make his own mistakes?”
“I wouldn’t run behind him and mollycoddle him if that’s what you mean.”
“But what if he fell and skinned his knee?”
“He would learn to be more careful.”
The camerlegno smiled. “So although you have the power to interfere and prevent your child’s pain, you would choose to show your love by letting him learn his own lessons?”
“Of course. Pain is part of growing up. It’s how we learn.”
The camerlegno nodded. “Exactly.”
Langdon and Vittoria observed Piazza Barberini from the shadows of a small alleyway on the western corner. The church was opposite them, a hazy cupola emerging from a faint cluster of buildings across the square. The night had brought with it a welcome cool, and Langdon was surprised to find the square deserted. Above them, through open windows, blaring televisions reminded Langdon where everyone had disappeared to.
“… no comment yet from the Vatican… Illuminati murders of two cardinals… satanic presence in Rome… speculation about further infiltration…”
The news had spread like Nero’s fire. Rome sat riveted, as did the rest of the world. Langdon wondered if they would really be able to stop this runaway train. As he scanned the piazza and waited, Langdon realized that despite the encroachment of modern buildings, the piazza still looked remarkably elliptical. High above, like some sort of modern shrine to a bygone hero, an enormous neon sign blinked on the roof of a luxurious hotel. Vittoria had already pointed it out to Langdon. The sign seemed eerily befitting.