Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

39

The Apostolic Palace is a conglomeration of buildings located near the Sistine Chapel in the northeast corner of Vatican City. With a commanding view of St. Peter’s Square, the palace houses both the Papal Apartments and the Office of the Pope.

Vittoria and Langdon followed in silence as Commander Olivetti led them down a long rococo corridor, the muscles in his neck pulsing with rage. After climbing three sets of stairs, they entered a wide, dimly lit hallway.

Langdon could not believe the artwork on the walls—mint‑condition busts, tapestries, friezes—works worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Two‑thirds of the way down the hall they passed an alabaster fountain. Olivetti turned left into an alcove and strode to one of the largest doors Langdon had ever seen.

Ufficio di Papa,” the commander declared, giving Vittoria an acrimonious scowl. Vittoria didn’t flinch. She reached over Olivetti and knocked loudly on the door.

Office of the Pope, Langdon thought, having difficulty fathoming that he was standing outside one of the most sacred rooms in all of world religion.

Avanti! “someone called from within.

When the door opened, Langdon had to shield his eyes. The sunlight was blinding. Slowly, the image before him came into focus.

The Office of the Pope seemed more of a ballroom than an office. Red marble floors sprawled out in all directions to walls adorned with vivid frescoes. A colossal chandelier hung overhead, beyond which a bank of arched windows offered a stunning panorama of the sun‑drenched St. Peter’s Square.

My God, Langdon thought. This is a room with a view.

At the far end of the hall, at a carved desk, a man sat writing furiously. “Avanti,” he called out again, setting down his pen and waving them over.

Olivetti led the way, his gait military. “Signore,” he said apologetically. “No ho potuto—

The man cut him off. He stood and studied his two visitors.

The camerlegno was nothing like the images of frail, beatific old men Langdon usually imagined roaming the Vatican. He wore no rosary beads or pendants. No heavy robes. He was dressed instead in a simple black cassock that seemed to amplify the solidity of his substantial frame. He looked to be in his late‑thirties, indeed a child by Vatican standards. He had a surprisingly handsome face, a swirl of coarse brown hair, and almost radiant green eyes that shone as if they were somehow fueled by the mysteries of the universe. As the man drew nearer, though, Langdon saw in his eyes a profound exhaustion—like a soul who had been through the toughest fifteen days of his life.

“I am Carlo Ventresca,” he said, his English perfect. “The late Pope’s camerlegno.” His voice was unpretentious and kind, with only the slightest hint of Italian inflection.

“Vittoria Vetra,” she said, stepping forward and offering her hand. “Thank you for seeing us.”

Olivetti twitched as the camerlegno shook Vittoria’s hand.

“This is Robert Langdon,” Vittoria said. “A religious historian from Harvard University.”

Padre,” Langdon said, in his best Italian accent. He bowed his head as he extended his hand.

“No, no,” the camerlegno insisted, lifting Langdon back up. “His Holiness’s office does not make me holy. I am merely a priest—a chamberlain serving in a time of need.”

Langdon stood upright.

“Please,” the camerlegno said, “everyone sit.” He arranged some chairs around his desk. Langdon and Vittoria sat. Olivetti apparently preferred to stand.

The camerlegno seated himself at the desk, folded his hands, sighed, and eyed his visitors.

“Signore,” Olivetti said. “The woman’s attire is my fault. I—”

“Her attire is not what concerns me,” the camerlegno replied, sounding too exhausted to be bothered. “When the Vatican operator calls me a half hour before I begin conclave to tell me a woman is calling from your private office to warn me of some sort of major security threat of which I have not been informed, that concerns me.”

Olivetti stood rigid, his back arched like a soldier under intense inspection.

Langdon felt hypnotized by the camerlegno’s presence. Young and wearied as he was, the priest had the air of some mythical hero—radiating charisma and authority.

“Signore,” Olivetti said, his tone apologetic but still unyielding. “You should not concern yourself with matters of security. You have other responsibilities.”

“I am well aware of my other responsibilities. I am also aware that as direttore intermediario, I have a responsibility for the safety and well‑being of everyone at this conclave. What is going on here?”

“I have the situation under control.”

“Apparently not.”

“Father,” Langdon interrupted, taking out the crumpled fax and handing it to the camerlegno, “please.”

Commander Olivetti stepped forward, trying to intervene. “Father, please do not trouble your thoughts with—”

The camerlegno took the fax, ignoring Olivetti for a long moment. He looked at the image of the murdered Leonardo Vetra and drew a startled breath. “What is this?”

“That is my father,” Vittoria said, her voice wavering. “He was a priest and a man of science. He was murdered last night.”

The camerlegno’s face softened instantly. He looked up at her. “My dear child. I’m so sorry.” He crossed himself and looked again at the fax, his eyes seeming to pool with waves of abhorrence. “Who would . . . and this burn on his . . .” The camerlegno paused, squinting closer at the image.

“It says Illuminati,” Langdon said. “No doubt you are familiar with the name.”

An odd look came across the camerlegno’s face. “I have heard the name, yes, but . . .”

“The Illuminati murdered Leonardo Vetra so they could steal a new technology he was—”

“Signore,” Olivetti interjected. “This is absurd. The Illuminati? This is clearly some sort of elaborate hoax.”

The camerlegno seemed to ponder Olivetti’s words. Then he turned and contemplated Langdon so fully that Langdon felt the air leave his lungs. “Mr. Langdon, I have spent my life in the Catholic Church. I am familiar with the Illuminati lore . . . and the legend of the brandings. And yet I must warn you, I am a man of the present tense. Christianity has enough real enemies without resurrecting ghosts.”

“The symbol is authentic,” Langdon said, a little too defensively he thought. He reached over and rotated the fax for the camerlegno.

The camerlegno fell silent when he saw the symmetry.

“Even modern computers,” Langdon added, “have been unable to forge a symmetrical ambigram of this word.”

The camerlegno folded his hands and said nothing for a long time. “The Illuminati are dead,” he finally said. “Long ago. That is historical fact.”

Langdon nodded. “Yesterday, I would have agreed with you.”

“Yesterday?”

“Before today’s chain of events. I believe the Illuminati have resurfaced to make good on an ancient pact.”

“Forgive me. My history is rusty. What ancient pact is this?”

Langdon took a deep breath. “The destruction of Vatican City.”

Destroy Vatican City?” The camerlegno looked less frightened than confused. “But that would be impossible.”

Vittoria shook her head. “I’m afraid we have some more bad news.”