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
The Hassassin drove him deeper still.
It was then Langdon saw it. Poking out from under the coins directly beneath his face. A narrow, black cylinder. The silencer of Olivetti’s gun! Langdon reached out, but as his fingers wrapped around the cylinder, he did not feel metal, he felt plastic. When he pulled, the flexible rubber hose came flopping toward him like a flimsy snake. It was about two feet long with a jet of bubbles surging from the end. Langdon had not found the gun at all. It was one of the fountain’s many harmless spumanti… bubble makers.
Only a few feet away, Cardinal Baggia felt his soul straining to leave his body. Although he had prepared for this moment his entire life, he had never imagined the end would be like this. His physical shell was in agony… burned, bruised, and held underwater by an immovable weight. He reminded himself that this suffering was nothing compared to what Jesus had endured.
He died for my sins…
Baggia could hear the thrashing of a battle raging nearby. He could not bear the thought of it. His captor was about to extinguish yet another life… the man with kind eyes, the man who had tried to help.
As the pain mounted, Baggia lay on his back and stared up through the water at the black sky above him. For a moment he thought he saw stars.
It was time.
Releasing all fear and doubt, Baggia opened his mouth and expelled what he knew would be his final breath. He watched his spirit gurgle heavenward in a burst of transparent bubbles. Then, reflexively, he gasped. The water poured in like icy daggers to his sides. The pain lasted only a few seconds.
The Hassassin ignored the burning in his foot and focused on the drowning American, whom he now held pinned beneath him in the churning water. Finish it fully. He tightened his grip, knowing this time Robert Langdon would not survive. As he predicted, his victim’s struggling became weaker and weaker.
Suddenly Langdon’s body went rigid. He began to shake wildly.
Yes, the Hassassin mused. The rigors. When the water first hits the lungs. The rigors, he knew, would last about five seconds.
They lasted six.
Then, exactly as the Hassassin expected, his victim went suddenly flaccid. Like a great deflating balloon, Robert Langdon fell limp. It was over. The Hassassin held him down for another thirty seconds to let the water flood all of his pulmonary tissue. Gradually, he felt Langdon’s body sink, on its own accord, to the bottom. Finally, the Hassassin let go. The media would find a double surprise in the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
“Tabban!” the Hassassin swore, clambering out of the fountain and looking at his bleeding toe. The tip of his boot was shredded, and the front of his big toe had been sheared off. Angry at his own carelessness, he tore the cuff from his pant leg and rammed the fabric into the toe of his boot. Pain shot up his leg. “Ibn al-kalb!” He clenched his fists and rammed the cloth deeper. The bleeding slowed until it was only a trickle.
Turning his thoughts from pain to pleasure, the Hassassin got into his van. His work in Rome was done. He knew exactly what would soothe his discomfort. Vittoria Vetra was bound and waiting. The Hassassin, even cold and wet, felt himself stiffen.
I have earned my reward.
Across town Vittoria awoke in pain. She was on her back. All of her muscles felt like stone. Tight. Brittle. Her arms hurt. When she tried to move, she felt spasms in her shoulders. It took her a moment to comprehend her hands were tied behind her back. Her initial reaction was confusion. Am I dreaming? But when she tried to lift her head, the pain at the base of her skull informed her of her wakefulness.
Confusion transforming to fear, she scanned her surroundings. She was in a crude, stone room—large and well-furnished, lit by torches. Some kind of ancient meeting hall. Old-fashioned benches sat in a circle nearby.
Vittoria felt a breeze, cold now on her skin. Nearby, a set of double doors stood open, beyond them a balcony. Through the slits in the balustrade, Vittoria could have sworn she saw the Vatican.
Robert Langdon lay on a bed of coins at the bottom of the Fountain of the Four Rivers. His mouth was still wrapped around the plastic hose. The air being pumped through the spumanti tube to froth the fountain had been polluted by the pump, and his throat burned. He was not complaining, though. He was alive.
He was not sure how accurate his imitation of a drowning man had been, but having been around water his entire life, Langdon had certainly heard accounts. He had done his best. Near the end, he had even blown all the air from his lungs and stopped breathing so that his muscle mass would carry his body to the floor.
Thankfully, the Hassassin had bought it and let go.
Now, resting on the bottom of the fountain, Langdon had waited as long as he could wait. He was about to start choking. He wondered if the Hassassin was still out there. Taking an acrid breath from the tube, Langdon let go and swam across the bottom of the fountain until he found the smooth swell of the central core. Silently, he followed it upward, surfacing out of sight, in the shadows beneath the huge marble figures.
The van was gone.
That was all Langdon needed to see. Pulling a long breath of fresh air back into his lungs, he scrambled back toward where Cardinal Baggia had gone down. Langdon knew the man would be unconscious now, and chances of revival were slim, but he had to try. When Langdon found the body, he planted his feet on either side, reached down, and grabbed the chains wrapped around the cardinal. Then Langdon pulled. When the cardinal broke water, Langdon could see the eyes were already rolled upward, bulging. Not a good sign. There was no breath or pulse.
Knowing he could never get the body up and over the fountain rim, Langdon lugged Cardinal Baggia through the water and into the hollow beneath the central mound of marble. Here the water became shallow, and there was an inclined ledge. Langdon dragged the naked body up onto the ledge as far as he could. Not far.
Then he went to work. Compressing the cardinal’s chain-clad chest, Langdon pumped the water from his lungs. Then he began CPR. Counting carefully. Deliberately. Resisting the instinct to blow too hard and too fast. For three minutes Langdon tried to revive the old man. After five minutes, Langdon knew it was over.
Il preferito. The man who would be Pope. Lying dead before him.
Somehow, even now, prostrate in the shadows on the semisubmerged ledge, Cardinal Baggia retained an air of quiet dignity. The water lapped softly across his chest, seeming almost remorseful… as if asking forgiveness for being the man’s ultimate killer… as if trying to cleanse the scalded wound that bore its name.
Gently, Langdon ran a hand across the man’s face and closed his upturned eyes. As he did, he felt an exhausted shudder of tears well from within. It startled him. Then, for the first time in years, Langdon cried.
The fog of weary emotion lifted slowly as Langdon waded away from the dead cardinal, back into deep water. Depleted and alone in the fountain, Langdon half-expected to collapse. But instead, he felt a new compulsion rising within him. Undeniable. Frantic. He sensed his muscles hardening with an unexpected grit. His mind, as though ignoring the pain in his heart, forced aside the past and brought into focus the single, desperate task ahead.
Find the Illuminati lair. Help Vittoria.
Turning now to the mountainous core of Bernini’s fountain, Langdon summoned hope and launched himself into his quest for the final Illuminati marker. He knew somewhere on this gnarled mass of figures was a clue that pointed to the lair. As Langdon scanned the fountain, though, his hope withered quickly. The words of the segno seemed to gurgle mockingly all around him. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. Langdon glared at the carved forms before him. The fountain is pagan! It has no damn angels anywhere!
When Langdon completed his fruitless search of the core, his eyes instinctively climbed the towering stone pillar. Four markers, he thought, spread across Rome in a giant cross.
Scanning the hieroglyphics covering the obelisk, he wondered if perhaps there were a clue hidden in the Egyptian symbology. He immediately dismissed the idea. The hieroglyphs predated Bernini by centuries, and hieroglyphs had not even been decipherable until the Rosetta Stone was discovered. Still, Langdon ventured, maybe Bernini had carved an additional symbol? One that would go unnoticed among all the hieroglyphs?
Feeling a shimmer of hope, Langdon circumnavigated the fountain one more time and studied all four façades of the obelisk. It took him two minutes, and when he reached the end of the final face, his hopes sank. Nothing in the hieroglyphs stood out as any kind of addition. Certainly no angels.
Langdon checked his watch. It was eleven on the dot. He couldn’t tell whether time was flying or crawling. Images of Vittoria and the Hassassin started to swirl hauntingly as Langdon clambered his way around the fountain, the frustration mounting as he frantically completed yet another fruitless circle. Beaten and exhausted, Langdon felt ready to collapse. He threw back his head to scream into the night.
The sound jammed in his throat.
Langdon was staring straight up the obelisk. The object perched at the very top was one he had seen earlier and ignored. Now, however, it stopped him short. It was not an angel. Far from it. In fact, he had not even perceived it as part of Bernini’s fountain. He thought it was a living creature, another one of the city’s scavengers perched on a lofty tower.
Langdon squinted skyward at the object, his vision blurred by the glowing mist around him. It was a pigeon, wasn’t it? He could clearly see the head and beak silhouetted against a cluster of stars. And yet the bird had not budged since Langdon’s arrival, even with the battle below. The bird sat now exactly as it had been when Langdon entered the square. It was perched high atop the obelisk, gazing calmly westward.
Langdon stared at it a moment and then plunged his hand into the fountain and grabbed a fistful of coins. He hurled the coins skyward. They clattered across the upper levels of the granite obelisk. The bird did not budge. He tried again. This time, one of the coins hit the mark. A faint sound of metal on metal clanged across the square.
The damned pigeon was bronze.
You’re looking for an angel, not a pigeon, a voice reminded him. But it was too late. Langdon had made the connection. He realized the bird was not a pigeon at all.
It was a dove.
Barely aware of his own actions, Langdon splashed toward the center of the fountain and began scrambling up the travertine mountain, clambering over huge arms and heads, pulling himself higher. Halfway to the base of the obelisk, he emerged from the mist and could see the head of the bird more clearly.
There was no doubt. It was a dove. The bird’s deceptively dark color was the result of Rome’s pollution tarnishing the original bronze. Then the significance hit him. He had seen a pair of doves earlier today at the Pantheon. A pair of doves carried no meaning. This dove, however, was alone.
The lone dove is the pagan symbol for the Angel of Peace.
The truth almost lifted Langdon the rest of the way to the obelisk. Bernini had chosen the pagan symbol for the angel so he could disguise it in a pagan fountain. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. The dove is the angel! Langdon could think of no more lofty perch for the Illuminati’s final marker than atop this obelisk.
The bird was looking west. Langdon tried to follow its gaze, but he could not see over the buildings. He climbed higher. A quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa emerged from his memory most unexpectedly. As the soul becomes enlightened… it takes the beautiful shape of the dove.
Langdon rose heavenward. Toward the dove. He was almost flying now. He reached the platform from which the obelisk rose and could climb no higher. With one look around, though, he knew he didn’t have to. All of Rome spread out before him. The view was stunning.
To his left, the chaotic media lights surrounding St. Peter’s. To his right, the smoking cupola of Santa Maria della Vittoria. In front of him in the distance, Piazza del Popolo. Beneath him, the fourth and final point. A giant cross of obelisks.
Trembling, Langdon looked to the dove overhead. He turned and faced the proper direction, and then he lowered his eyes to the skyline.
In an instant he saw it.
So obvious. So clear. So deviously simple.
Staring at it now, Langdon could not believe the Illuminati lair had stayed hidden for so many years. The entire city seemed to fade away as he looked out at the monstrous stone structure across the river in front of him. The building was as famous as any in Rome. It stood on the banks of the Tiber River diagonally adjacent to the Vatican. The building’s geometry was stark—a circular castle, within a square fortress, and then, outside its walls, surrounding the entire structure, a park in the shape of a pentagram.
The ancient stone ramparts before him were dramatically lit by soft floodlights. High atop the castle stood the mammoth bronze angel. The angel pointed his sword downward at the exact center of the castle. And as if that were not enough, leading solely and directly to the castle’s main entrance stood the famous Bridge of Angels… a dramatic approachway adorned by twelve towering angels carved by none other than Bernini himself.
In a final breathtaking revelation, Langdon realized Bernini’s city-wide cross of obelisks marked the fortress in perfect Illuminati fashion; the cross’s central arm passed directly through the center of the castle’s bridge, dividing it into two equal halves.
Langdon retrieved his tweed coat, holding it away from his dripping body. Then he jumped into the stolen sedan and rammed his soggy shoe into the accelerator, speeding off into the night.
It was 11:07 P.M. Langdon’s car raced through the Roman night. Speeding down Lungotevere Tor Di Nona, parallel with the river, Langdon could now see his destination rising like a mountain to his right.
Castel Sant’ Angelo. Castle of the Angel.
Without warning, the turnoff to the narrow Bridge of Angels—Ponte Sant’ Angelo—appeared suddenly. Langdon slammed on his brakes and swerved. He turned in time, but the bridge was barricaded. He skidded ten feet and collided with a series of short cement pillars blocking his way. Langdon lurched forward as the vehicle stalled, wheezing and shuddering. He had forgotten the Bridge of Angels, in order to preserve it, was now zoned pedestrians only.
Shaken, Langdon staggered from the crumpled car, wishing now he had chosen one of the other routes. He felt chilled, shivering from the fountain. He donned his Harris tweed over his damp shirt, grateful for Harris’s trademark double lining. The Diagramma folio would remain dry. Before him, across the bridge, the stone fortress rose like a mountain. Aching and depleted, Langdon broke into a loping run.
On both sides of him now, like a gauntlet of escorts, a procession of Bernini angels whipped past, funneling him toward his final destination. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. The castle seemed to rise as he advanced, an unscalable peak, more intimidating to him even than St. Peter’s. He sprinted toward the bastion, running on fumes, gazing upward at the citadel’s circular core as it shot skyward to a gargantuan, sword-wielding angel.
The castle appeared deserted.
Langdon knew through the centuries the building had been used by the Vatican as a tomb, a fortress, a papal hideout, a prison for enemies of the church, and a museum. Apparently, the castle had other tenants as well—the Illuminati. Somehow it made eerie sense. Although the castle was property of the Vatican, it was used only sporadically, and Bernini had made numerous renovations to it over the years. The building was now rumored to be honeycombed with secret entries, passageways, and hidden chambers. Langdon had little doubt that the angel and surrounding pentagonal park were Bernini’s doing as well.
Arriving at the castle’s elephantine double doors, Langdon shoved them hard. Not surprisingly, they were immovable. Two iron knockers hung at eye level. Langdon didn’t bother. He stepped back, his eyes climbing the sheer outer wall. These ramparts had fended off armies of Berbers, heathens, and Moors. Somehow he sensed his chances of breaking in were slim.
Vittoria, Langdon thought. Are you in there?
Langdon hurried around the outer wall. There must be another entrance!
Rounding the second bulwark to the west, Langdon arrived breathless in a small parking area off Lungotere Angelo. On this wall he found a second castle entrance, a drawbridge-type ingress, raised and sealed shut. Langdon gazed upward again.
The only lights on the castle were exterior floods illuminating the façade. All the tiny windows inside seemed black. Langdon’s eyes climbed higher. At the very peak of the central tower, a hundred feet above, directly beneath the angel’s sword, a single balcony protruded. The marble parapet seemed to shimmer slightly, as if the room beyond it were aglow with torchlight. Langdon paused, his soaked body shivering suddenly. A shadow? He waited, straining. Then he saw it again. His spine prickled. Someone is up there!