Langdon stood motionless at the Pope’s bulletproof window and gazed down at the bustle of media trailers in St. Peter’s Square. The eerie phone conversation had left him feeling turgid . . . distended somehow. Not himself.
The Illuminati, like a serpent from the forgotten depths of history, had risen and wrapped themselves around an ancient foe. No demands. No negotiation. Just retribution. Demonically simple. Squeezing. A revenge 400 years in the making. It seemed that after centuries of persecution, science had bitten back.
The camerlegno stood at his desk, staring blankly at the phone. Olivetti was the first to break the silence. “Carlo,” he said, using the camerlegno’s first name and sounding more like a weary friend than an officer. “For twenty‑six years, I have sworn my life to the protection of this office. It seems tonight I am dishonored.”
The camerlegno shook his head. “You and I serve God in different capacities, but service always brings honor.”
“These events . . . I can’t imagine how . . . this situation . . .” Olivetti looked overwhelmed.
“You realize we have only one possible course of action. I have a responsibility for the safety of the College of Cardinals.”
“I fear that responsibility was mine, signore.”
“Then your men will oversee the immediate evacuation.”
“Other options can be exercised later—a search for this device, a manhunt for the missing cardinals and their captors. But first the cardinals must be taken to safety. The sanctity of human life weighs above all. Those men are the foundation of this church.”
“You suggest we cancel conclave right now?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“What about your charge to bring a new Pope?”
The young chamberlain sighed and turned to the window, his eyes drifting out onto the sprawl of Rome below. “His Holiness once told me that a Pope is a man torn between two worlds . . . the real world and the divine. He warned that any church that ignored reality would not survive to enjoy the divine.” His voice sounded suddenly wise for its years. “The real world is upon us tonight. We would be vain to ignore it. Pride and precedent cannot overshadow reason.”
Olivetti nodded, looking impressed. “I have underestimated you, signore.”
The camerlegno did not seem to hear. His gaze was distant on the window.
“I will speak openly, signore. The real world is my world. I immerse myself in its ugliness every day such that others are unencumbered to seek something more pure. Let me advise you on the present situation. It is what I am trained for. Your instincts, though worthy . . . could be disastrous.”
The camerlegno turned.
Olivetti sighed. “The evacuation of the College of Cardinals from the Sistine Chapel is the worst possible thing you could do right now.”
The camerlegno did not look indignant, only at a loss. “What do you suggest?”
“Say nothing to the cardinals. Seal conclave. It will buy us time to try other options.”
The camerlegno looked troubled. “Are you suggesting I lock the entire College of Cardinals on top of a time bomb?”
“Yes, signore. For now. Later, if need be, we can arrange evacuation.”
The camerlegno shook his head. “Postponing the ceremony before it starts is grounds alone for an inquiry, but after the doors are sealed nothing intervenes. Conclave procedure obligates—”
“Real world, signore. You’re in it tonight. Listen closely.” Olivetti spoke now with the efficient rattle of a field officer. “Marching one hundred sixty‑five cardinals unprepared and unprotected into Rome would be reckless. It would cause confusion and panic in some very old men, and frankly, one fatal stroke this month is enough.”
One fatal stroke. The commander’s words recalled the headlines Langdon had read over dinner with some students in the Harvard Commons:
Pope suffers stroke.
Dies in sleep.
“In addition,” Olivetti said, “the Sistine Chapel is a fortress. Although we don’t advertise the fact, the structure is heavily reinforced and can repel any attack short of missiles. As preparation we searched every inch of the chapel this afternoon, scanning for bugs and other surveillance equipment. The chapel is clean, a safe haven, and I am confident the antimatter is not inside. There is no safer place those men can be right now. We can always discuss emergency evacuation later if it comes to that.”
Langdon was impressed. Olivetti’s cold, smart logic reminded him of Kohler.
“Commander,” Vittoria said, her voice tense, “there are other concerns. Nobody has ever created this much antimatter. The blast radius, I can only estimate. Some of surrounding Rome may be in danger. If the canister is in one of your central buildings or underground, the effect outside these walls may be minimal, but if the canister is near the perimeter . . . in this building for example . . .” She glanced warily out the window at the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.
“I am well aware of my responsibilities to the outside world,” Olivetti replied, “and it makes this situation no more grave. The protection of this sanctuary has been my sole charge for over two decades. I have no intention of allowing this weapon to detonate.”
Camerlegno Ventresca looked up. “You think you can find it?”
“Let me discuss our options with some of my surveillance specialists. There is a possibility, if we kill power to Vatican City, that we can eliminate the background RF and create a clean enough environment to get a reading on that canister’s magnetic field.”
Vittoria looked surprised, and then impressed. “You want to black out Vatican City?”
“Possibly. I don’t yet know if it’s possible, but it is one option I want to explore.”
“The cardinals would certainly wonder what happened,” Vittoria remarked.
Olivetti shook his head. “Conclaves are held by candlelight. The cardinals would never know. After conclave is sealed, I could pull all except a few of my perimeter guards and begin a search. A hundred men could cover a lot of ground in five hours.”
“Four hours,” Vittoria corrected. “I need to fly the canister back to CERN. Detonation is unavoidable without recharging the batteries.”
“There’s no way to recharge here?”
Vittoria shook her head. “The interface is complex. I’d have brought it if I could.”
“Four hours then,” Olivetti said, frowning. “Still time enough. Panic serves no one. Signore, you have ten minutes. Go to the chapel, seal conclave. Give my men some time to do their job. As we get closer to the critical hour, we will make the critical decisions.”
Langdon wondered how close to “the critical hour” Olivetti would let things get.
The camerlegno looked troubled. “But the college will ask about the preferiti . . . especially about Baggia . . . where they are.”
“Then you will have to think of something, signore. Tell them you served the four cardinals something at tea that disagreed with them.”
The camerlegno looked riled. “Stand on the altar of the Sistine Chapel and lie to the College of Cardinals?”
“For their own safety. Una bugia veniale. A white lie. Your job will be to keep the peace.” Olivetti headed for the door. “Now if you will excuse me, I need to get started.”
“Comandante,” the camerlegno urged, “we cannot simply turn our backs on missing cardinals.”
Olivetti stopped in the doorway. “Baggia and the others are currently outside our sphere of influence. We must let them go . . . for the good of the whole. The military calls it triage.”
“Don’t you mean abandonment ?”
His voice hardened. “If there were any way, signore . . . any way in heaven to locate those four cardinals, I would lay down my life to do it. And yet . . .” He pointed across the room at the window where the early evening sun glinted off an endless sea of Roman rooftops. “Searching a city of five million is not within my power. I will not waste precious time to appease my conscience in a futile exercise. I’m sorry.”
Vittoria spoke suddenly. “But if we caught the killer, couldn’t you make him talk?”
Olivetti frowned at her. “Soldiers cannot afford to be saints, Ms. Vetra. Believe me, I empathize with your personal incentive to catch this man.”
“It’s not only personal,” she said. “The killer knows where the antimatter is . . . and the missing cardinals. If we could somehow find him . . .”
“Play into their hands?” Olivetti said. “Believe me, removing all protection from Vatican City in order to stake out hundreds of churches is what the Illuminati hope we will do . . . wasting precious time and manpower when we should be searching . . . or worse yet, leaving the Vatican Bank totally unprotected. Not to mention the remaining cardinals.”
The point hit home.
“How about the Roman Police?” the camerlegno asked. “We could alert citywide enforcement of the crisis. Enlist their help in finding the cardinals’ captor.”
“Another mistake,” Olivetti said. “You know how the Roman Carbonieri feel about us. We’d get a half‑hearted effort of a few men in exchange for their selling our crisis to the global media. Exactly what our enemies want. We’ll have to deal with the media soon enough as it is.”
I will make your cardinals media luminaries, Langdon thought, recalling the killer’s words. The first cardinal’s body appears at eight o’clock. Then one every hour. The press will love it.
The camerlegno was talking again, a trace of anger in his voice. “Commander, we cannot in good conscience do nothing about the missing cardinals!”
Olivetti looked the camerlegno dead in the eye. “The prayer of St. Francis, signore. Do you recall it?”
The young priest spoke the single line with pain in his voice. “God, grant me strength to accept those things I cannot change.”
“Trust me,” Olivetti said. “This is one of those things.” Then he was gone.