Something was wrong.
Lieutenant Chartrand stood outside the Pope’s office and sensed in the uneasy stance of the soldier standing with him that they shared the same anxiety. The private meeting they were shielding, Rocher had said, could save the Vatican from destruction. So Chartrand wondered why his protective instincts were tingling. And why was Rocher acting so strangely?
Something definitely was awry.
Captain Rocher stood to Chartrand’s right, staring dead ahead, his sharp gaze uncharacteristically distant. Chartrand barely recognized the captain. Rocher had not been himself in the last hour. His decisions made no sense.
Someone should be present inside this meeting! Chartrand thought. He had heard Maximilian Kohler bolt the door after he entered. Why had Rocher permitted this?
But there was so much more bothering Chartrand. The cardinals. The cardinals were still locked in the Sistine Chapel. This was absolute insanity. The camerlegno had wanted them evacuated fifteen minutes ago! Rocher had overruled the decision and not informed the camerlegno. Chartrand had expressed concern, and Rocher had almost taken off his head. Chain of command was never questioned in the Swiss Guard, and Rocher was now top dog.
Half an hour, Rocher thought, discreetly checking his Swiss chronometer in the dim light of the candelabra lighting the hall. Please hurry.
Chartrand wished he could hear what was happening on the other side of the doors. Still, he knew there was no one he would rather have handling this crisis than the camerlegno. The man had been tested beyond reason tonight, and he had not flinched. He had confronted the problem head‑on . . . truthful, candid, shining like an example to all. Chartrand felt proud right now to be a Catholic. The Illuminati had made a mistake when they challenged Camerlegno Ventresca.
At that moment, however, Chartrand’s thoughts were jolted by an unexpected sound. A banging. It was coming from down the hall. The pounding was distant and muffled, but incessant. Rocher looked up. The captain turned to Chartrand and motioned down the hall. Chartrand understood. He turned on his flashlight and took off to investigate.
The banging was more desperate now. Chartrand ran thirty yards down the corridor to an intersection. The noise seemed to be coming from around the corner, beyond the Sala Clementina. Chartrand felt perplexed. There was only one room back there—the Pope’s private library. His Holiness’s private library had been locked since the Pope’s death. Nobody could possibly be in there!
Chartrand hurried down the second corridor, turned another corner, and rushed to the library door. The wooden portico was diminutive, but it stood in the dark like a dour sentinel. The banging was coming from somewhere inside. Chartrand hesitated. He had never been inside the private library. Few had. No one was allowed in without an escort by the Pope himself.
Tentatively, Chartrand reached for the doorknob and turned. As he had imagined, the door was locked. He put his ear to the door. The banging was louder. Then he heard something else. Voices! Someone calling out!
He could not make out the words, but he could hear the panic in their shouts. Was someone trapped in the library? Had the Swiss Guard not properly evacuated the building? Chartrand hesitated, wondering if he should go back and consult Rocher. The hell with that. Chartrand had been trained to make decisions, and he would make one now. He pulled out his side arm and fired a single shot into the door latch. The wood exploded, and the door swung open.
Beyond the threshold Chartrand saw nothing but blackness. He shone his flashlight. The room was rectangular—oriental carpets, high oak shelves packed with books, a stitched leather couch, and a marble fireplace. Chartrand had heard stories of this place—three thousand ancient volumes side by side with hundreds of current magazines and periodicals, anything His Holiness requested. The coffee table was covered with journals of science and politics.
The banging was clearer now. Chartrand shone his light across the room toward the sound. On the far wall, beyond the sitting area, was a huge door made of iron. It looked impenetrable as a vault. It had four mammoth locks. The tiny etched letters dead center of the door took Chartrand’s breath away.
Chartrand stared. The Pope’s secret escape route! Chartrand had certainly heard of Il Passetto, and he had even heard rumors that it had once had an entrance here in the library, but the tunnel had not been used in ages! Who could be banging on the other side?
Chartrand took his flashlight and rapped on the door. There was a muffled exultation from the other side. The banging stopped, and the voices yelled louder. Chartrand could barely make out their words through the barricade.
“. . . Kohler . . . lie . . . camerlegno . . .”
“Who is that?” Chartrand yelled.
“. . . ert Langdon . . . Vittoria Ve . . .”
Chartrand understood enough to be confused. I thought you were dead!
“. . . the door,” the voices yelled. “Open . . . !”
Chartrand looked at the iron barrier and knew he would need dynamite to get through there. “Impossible!” he yelled. “Too thick!”
“. . . meeting . . . stop . . . erlegno . . . danger . . .”
Despite his training on the hazards of panic, Chartrand felt a sudden rush of fear at the last few words. Had he understood correctly? Heart pounding, he turned to run back to the office. As he turned, though, he stalled. His gaze had fallen to something on the door . . . something more shocking even than the message coming from beyond it. Emerging from the keyholes of each of the door’s massive locks were keys. Chartrand stared. The keys were here? He blinked in disbelief. The keys to this door were supposed to be in a vault someplace! This passage was never used—not for centuries!
Chartrand dropped his flashlight on the floor. He grabbed the first key and turned. The mechanism was rusted and stiff, but it still worked. Someone had opened it recently. Chartrand worked the next lock. And the next. When the last bolt slid aside, Chartrand pulled. The slab of iron creaked open. He grabbed his light and shone it into the passage.
Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra looked like apparitions as they staggered into the library. Both were ragged and tired, but they were very much alive.
“What is this!” Chartrand demanded. “What’s going on! Where did you come from?”
“Where’s Max Kohler?” Langdon demanded.
Chartrand pointed. “In a private meeting with the camer—”
Langdon and Vittoria pushed past him and ran down the darkened hall. Chartrand turned, instinctively raising his gun at their backs. He quickly lowered it and ran after them. Rocher apparently heard them coming, because as they arrived outside the Pope’s office, Rocher had spread his legs in a protective stance and was leveling his gun at them. “Alt! “
“The camerlegno is in danger!” Langdon yelled, raising his arms in surrender as he slid to a stop. “Open the door! Max Kohler is going to kill the camerlegno!”
Rocher looked angry.
“Open the door!” Vittoria said. “Hurry!”
But it was too late.
From inside the Pope’s office came a bloodcurdling scream. It was the camerlegno.