The Vatican switchboard is located in the Ufficio di Communicazione behind the Vatican post office. It is a relatively small room containing an eight‑line Corelco 141 switchboard. The office handles over 2,000 calls a day, most routed automatically to the recording information system.
Tonight, the sole communications operator on duty sat quietly sipping a cup of caffeinated tea. He felt proud to be one of only a handful of employees still allowed inside Vatican City tonight. Of course the honor was tainted somewhat by the presence of the Swiss Guards hovering outside his door. An escort to the bathroom, the operator thought. Ah, the indignities we endure in the name of Holy Conclave.
Fortunately, the calls this evening had been light. Or maybe it was not so fortunate, he thought. World interest in Vatican events seemed to have dwindled in the last few years. The number of press calls had thinned, and even the crazies weren’t calling as often. The press office had hoped tonight’s event would have more of a festive buzz about it. Sadly, though, despite St. Peter’s Square being filled with press trucks, the vans looked to be mostly standard Italian and Euro press. Only a handful of global cover‑all networks were there . . . no doubt having sent their giornalisti secundari.
The operator gripped his mug and wondered how long tonight would last. Midnight or so, he guessed. Nowadays, most insiders already knew who was favored to become Pope well before conclave convened, so the process was more of a three— or four‑hour ritual than an actual election. Of course, last‑minute dissension in the ranks could prolong the ceremony through dawn . . . or beyond. The conclave of 1831 had lasted fifty‑four days. Not tonight, he told himself; rumor was this conclave would be a “smoke‑watch.”
The operator’s thoughts evaporated with the buzz of an inside line on his switchboard. He looked at the blinking red light and scratched his head. That’s odd, he thought. The zero‑line. Who on the inside would be calling operator information tonight? Who is even inside?
“Città del Vaticano, prego? “he said, picking up the phone.
The voice on the line spoke in rapid Italian. The operator vaguely recognized the accent as that common to Swiss Guards—fluent Italian tainted by the Franco‑Swiss influence. This caller, however, was most definitely not Swiss Guard.
On hearing the woman’s voice, the operator stood suddenly, almost spilling his tea. He shot a look back down at the line. He had not been mistaken. An internal extension. The call was from the inside. There must be some mistake! he thought. A woman inside Vatican City? Tonight?
The woman was speaking fast and furiously. The operator had spent enough years on the phones to know when he was dealing with a pazzo. This woman did not sound crazy. She was urgent but rational. Calm and efficient. He listened to her request, bewildered.
“Il camerlegno? “the operator said, still trying to figure out where the hell the call was coming from. “I cannot possibly connect . . . yes, I am aware he is in the Pope’s office but . . . who are you again? . . . and you want to warn him of . . .” He listened, more and more unnerved. Everyone is in danger? How? And where are you calling from? “Perhaps I should contact the Swiss . . .” The operator stopped short. “You say you’re where? Where?”
He listened in shock, then made a decision. “Hold, please,” he said, putting the woman on hold before she could respond. Then he called Commander Olivetti’s direct line. There is no way that woman is really —
The line picked up instantly.
“Per l’amore di Dio! “a familiar woman’s voice shouted at him. “Place the damn call!”
The door of the Swiss Guards’ security center hissed open. The guards parted as Commander Olivetti entered the room like a rocket. Turning the corner to his office, Olivetti confirmed what his guard on the walkie‑talkie had just told him; Vittoria Vetra was standing at his desk talking on the commander’s private telephone.
Che coglioni che ha questa! he thought. The balls on this one!
Livid, he strode to the door and rammed the key into the lock. He pulled open the door and demanded, “What are you doing?”
Vittoria ignored him. “Yes,” she was saying into the phone. “And I must warn—”
Olivetti ripped the receiver from her hand, and raised it to his ear. “Who the hell is this?”
For the tiniest of an instant, Olivetti’s inelastic posture slumped. “Yes, camerlegno . . .” he said. “Correct, signore . . . but questions of security demand . . . of course not . . . I am holding her here for . . . certainly, but . . .” He listened. “Yes, sir,” he said finally. “I will bring them up immediately.”