The midmorning sky still hung heavy with clouds as the Sistine Chapel’s chimney gave up its first faint puffs of white smoke. The pearly wisps curled upward toward the firmament and slowly dissipated.
Far below, in St. Peter’s Square, reporter Gunther Glick watched in reflective silence. The final chapter . . .
Chinita Macri approached him from behind and hoisted her camera onto her shoulder. “It’s time,” she said.
Glick nodded dolefully. He turned toward her, smoothed his hair, and took a deep breath. My last transmission, he thought. A small crowd had gathered around them to watch.
“Live in sixty seconds,” Macri announced.
Glick glanced over his shoulder at the roof of the Sistine Chapel behind him. “Can you get the smoke?”
Macri patiently nodded. “I know how to frame a shot, Gunther.”
Glick felt dumb. Of course she did. Macri’s performance behind the camera last night had probably won her the Pulitzer. His performance, on the other hand . . . he didn’t want to think about it. He was sure the BBC would let him go; no doubt they would have legal troubles from numerous powerful entities . . . CERN and George Bush among them.
“You look good,” Chinita patronized, looking out from behind her camera now with a hint of concern. “I wonder if I might offer you . . .” She hesitated, holding her tongue.
“Some advice ?”
Macri sighed. “I was only going to say that there’s no need to go out with a bang.”
“I know,” he said. “You want a straight wrap.”
“The straightest in history. I’m trusting you.”
Glick smiled. A straight wrap? Is she crazy? A story like last night’s deserved so much more. A twist. A final bombshell. An unforeseen revelation of shocking truth.
Fortunately, Glick had just the ticket waiting in the wings . . .
* * *
“You’re on in . . . five . . . four . . . three . . .”
As Chinita Macri looked through her camera, she sensed a sly glint in Glick’s eye. I was insane to let him do this, she thought. What was I thinking?
But the moment for second thoughts had passed. They were on.
“Live from Vatican City,” Glick announced on cue, “this is Gunther Glick reporting.” He gave the camera a solemn stare as the white smoke rose behind him from the Sistine Chapel. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is now official. Cardinal Saverio Mortati, a seventy‑nine‑year‑old progressive, has just been elected the next Pope of Vatican City. Although an unlikely candidate, Mortati was chosen by an unprecedented unanimous vote by the College of Cardinals.”
As Macri watched him, she began to breathe easier. Glick seemed surprisingly professional today. Even austere. For the first time in his life, Glick actually looked and sounded somewhat like a newsman.
“And as we reported earlier,” Glick added, his voice intensifying perfectly, “the Vatican has yet to offer any statement whatsoever regarding the miraculous events of last night.”
Good. Chinita’s nervousness waned some more. So far, so good.
Glick’s expression grew sorrowful now. “And though last night was a night of wonder, it was also a night of tragedy. Four cardinals perished in yesterday’s conflict, along with Commander Olivetti and Captain Rocher of the Swiss Guard, both in the line of duty. Other casualties include Leonardo Vetra, the renowned CERN physicist and pioneer of antimatter technology, as well as Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN, who apparently came to Vatican City in an effort to help but reportedly passed away in the process. No official report has been issued yet on Mr. Kohler’s death, but conjecture is that he died due to complications brought on by a long‑time illness.”
Macri nodded. The report was going perfectly. Just as they discussed.
“And in the wake of the explosion in the sky over the Vatican last night, CERN’s antimatter technology has become the hot topic among scientists, sparking excitement and controversy. A statement read by Mr. Kohler’s assistant in Geneva, Sylvie Baudeloque, announced this morning that CERN’s board of directors, although enthusiastic about antimatter’s potential, are suspending all research and licensing until further inquiries into its safety can be examined.”
Excellent, Macri thought. Home stretch.
“Notably absent from our screens tonight,” Glick reported, “is the face of Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who came to Vatican City yesterday to lend his expertise during this Illuminati crisis. Although originally thought to have perished in the antimatter blast, we now have reports that Langdon was spotted in St. Peter’s Square after the explosion. How he got there is still speculation, although a spokesman from Hospital Tiberina claims that Mr. Langdon fell out of the sky into the Tiber River shortly after midnight, was treated, and released.” Glick arched his eyebrows at the camera. “And if that is true . . . it was indeed a night of miracles.”
Perfect ending! Macri felt herself smiling broadly. Flawless wrap! Now sign off!
But Glick did not sign off. Instead, he paused a moment and then stepped toward the camera. He had a mysterious smile. “But before we sign off . . .”
“. . . I would like to invite a guest to join me.”
Chinita’s hands froze on the camera. A guest? What the hell is he doing? What guest! Sign off! But she knew it was too late. Glick had committed.
“The man I am about to introduce,” Glick said, “is an American . . . a renowned scholar.”
Chinita hesitated. She held her breath as Glick turned to the small crowd around them and motioned for his guest to step forward. Macri said a silent prayer. Please tell me he somehow located Robert Langdon . . . and not some Illuminati‑conspiracy nutcase.
But as Glick’s guest stepped out, Macri’s heart sank. It was not Robert Langdon at all. It was a bald man in blue jeans and a flannel shirt. He had a cane and thick glasses. Macri felt terror. Nutcase!
“May I introduce,” Glick announced, “the renowned Vatican scholar from De Paul University in Chicago. Dr. Joseph Vanek.”
Macri now hesitated as the man joined Glick on camera. This was no conspiracy buff; Macri had actually heard of this guy.
“Dr. Vanek,” Glick said. “You have some rather startling information to share with us regarding last night’s conclave.”
“I do indeed,” Vanek said. “After a night of such surprises, it is hard to imagine there are any surprises left . . . and yet . . .” He paused.
Glick smiled. “And yet, there is a strange twist to all this.”
Vanek nodded. “Yes. As perplexing as this will sound, I believe the College of Cardinals unknowingly elected two Popes this weekend.”
Macri almost dropped the camera.
Glick gave a shrewd smile. “Two Popes, you say?”
The scholar nodded. “Yes. I should first say that I have spent my life studying the laws of papal election. Conclave judicature is extremely complex, and much of it is now forgotten or ignored as obsolete. Even the Great Elector is probably not aware of what I am about to reveal. Nonetheless . . . according to the ancient forgotten laws put forth in the Romano Pontifici Eligendo, Numero 63 . . . balloting is not the only method by which a Pope can be elected. There is another, more divine method. It is called 'Acclamation by Adoration.'” He paused. “And it happened last night.”
Glick gave his guest a riveted look. “Please, go on.”
“As you may recall,” the scholar continued, “last night, when Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca was standing on the roof of the basilica, all of the cardinals below began calling out his name in unison.”
“Yes, I recall.”
“With that image in mind, allow me to read verbatim from the ancient electoral laws.” The man pulled some papers from his pocket, cleared his throat, and began to read. “'Election by Adoration occurs when . . . all the cardinals, as if by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, freely and spontaneously, unanimously and aloud, proclaim one individual’s name.'”
Glick smiled. “So you’re saying that last night, when the cardinals chanted Carlo Ventresca’s name together, they actually elected him Pope?”
“They did indeed. Furthermore, the law states that Election by Adoration supercedes the cardinal eligibility requirement and permits any clergyman—ordained priest, bishop, or cardinal—to be elected. So, as you can see, the camerlegno was perfectly qualified for papal election by this procedure.” Dr. Vanek looked directly into the camera now. “The facts are these . . . Carlo Ventresca was elected Pope last night. He reigned for just under seventeen minutes. And had he not ascended miraculously into a pillar of fire, he would now be buried in the Vatican Grottoes along with the other Popes.”
“Thank you, doctor.” Glick turned to Macri with a mischievous wink. “Most illuminating . . .”