The television in the Office of the Pope was an oversized Hitachi hidden in a recessed cabinet opposite his desk. The doors to the cabinet were now open, and everyone gathered around. Vittoria moved in close. As the screen warmed up, a young female reporter came into view. She was a doe‑eyed brunette.
“For MSNBC news,” she announced, “this is Kelly Horan‑Jones, live from Vatican City.” The image behind her was a night shot of St. Peter’s Basilica with all its lights blazing.
“You’re not live,” Rocher snapped. “That’s stock footage! The lights in the basilica are out.”
Olivetti silenced him with a hiss.
The reporter continued, sounding tense. “Shocking developments in the Vatican elections this evening. We have reports that two members of the College of Cardinals have been brutally murdered in Rome.”
Olivetti swore under his breath.
As the reporter continued, a guard appeared at the door, breathless. “Commander, the central switchboard reports every line lit. They’re requesting our official position on—”
“Disconnect it,” Olivetti said, never taking his eyes from the TV.
The guard looked uncertain. “But, commander—”
The guard ran off.
Vittoria sensed the camerlegno had wanted to say something but had stopped himself. Instead, the man stared long and hard at Olivetti before turning back to the television.
MSNBC was now running tape. The Swiss Guards carried the body of Cardinal Ebner down the stairs outside Santa Maria del Popolo and lifted him into an Alpha Romeo. The tape froze and zoomed in as the cardinal’s naked body became visible just before they deposited him in the trunk of the car.
“Who the hell shot this footage?” Olivetti demanded.
The MSNBC reporter kept talking. “This is believed to be the body of Cardinal Ebner of Frankfurt, Germany. The men removing his body from the church are believed to be Vatican Swiss Guard.” The reporter looked like she was making every effort to appear appropriately moved. They closed in on her face, and she became even more somber. “At this time, MSNBC would like to issue our viewers a discretionary warning. The images we are about to show are exceptionally vivid and may not be suitable for all audiences.”
Vittoria grunted at the station’s feigned concern for viewer sensibility, recognizing the warning as exactly what it was—the ultimate media “teaser line.” Nobody ever changed channels after a promise like that.
The reporter drove it home. “Again, this footage may be shocking to some viewers.”
“What footage?” Olivetti demanded. “You just showed—”
The shot that filled the screen was of a couple in St. Peter’s Square, moving through the crowd. Vittoria instantly recognized the two people as Robert and herself. In the corner of the screen was a text overlay: Courtesy of the BBC. A bell was tolling.
“Oh, no,” Vittoria said aloud. “Oh . . . no.”
The camerlegno looked confused. He turned to Olivetti. “I thought you said you confiscated this tape!”
Suddenly, on television, a child was screaming. The image panned to find a little girl pointing at what appeared to be a bloody homeless man. Robert Langdon entered abruptly into the frame, trying to help the little girl. The shot tightened.
Everyone in the Pope’s office stared in horrified silence as the drama unfolded before them. The cardinal’s body fell face first onto the pavement. Vittoria appeared and called orders. There was blood. A brand. A ghastly, failed attempt to administer CPR.
“This astonishing footage,” the reporter was saying, “was shot only minutes ago outside the Vatican. Our sources tell us this is the body of Cardinal Lamassé from France. How he came to be dressed this way and why he was not in conclave remain a mystery. So far, the Vatican has refused to comment.” The tape began to roll again.
“Refused comment?” Rocher said. “Give us a damn minute!”
The reporter was still talking, her eyebrows furrowing with intensity. “Although MSNBC has yet to confirm a motive for the attack, our sources tell us that responsibility for the murders has been claimed by a group calling themselves the Illuminati.”
Olivetti exploded. “What!”
“. . . find out more about the Illuminati by visiting our website at—”
“Non é posibile! “Olivetti declared. He switched channels.
This station had a Hispanic male reporter. “—a satanic cult known as the Illuminati, who some historians believe—”
Olivetti began pressing the remote wildly. Every channel was in the middle of a live update. Most were in English.
“—Swiss Guards removing a body from a church earlier this evening. The body is believed to be that of Cardinal—”
“—lights in the basilica and museums are extinguished leaving speculation—”
“—will be speaking with conspiracy theorist Tyler Tingley, about this shocking resurgence—”
“—rumors of two more assassinations planned for later this evening—”
“—questioning now whether papal hopeful Cardinal Baggia is among the missing—”
Vittoria turned away. Everything was happening so fast. Outside the window, in the settling dark, the raw magnetism of human tragedy seemed to be sucking people toward Vatican City. The crowd in the square thickened almost by the instant. Pedestrians streamed toward them while a new batch of media personnel unloaded vans and staked their claim in St. Peter’s Square.
Olivetti set down the remote control and turned to the camerlegno. “Signore, I cannot imagine how this could happen. We took the tape that was in that camera!”
The camerlegno looked momentarily too stunned to speak.
Nobody said a word. The Swiss Guards stood rigid at attention.
“It appears,” the camerlegno said finally, sounding too devastated to be angry, “that we have not contained this crisis as well as I was led to believe.” He looked out the window at the gathering masses. “I need to make an address.”
Olivetti shook his head. “No, signore. That is exactly what the Illuminati want you to do—confirm them, empower them. We must remain silent.”
“And these people?” The camerlegno pointed out the window. “There will be tens of thousands shortly. Then hundreds of thousands. Continuing this charade only puts them in danger. I need to warn them. Then we need to evacuate our College of Cardinals.”
“There is still time. Let Captain Rocher find the antimatter.”
The camerlegno turned. “Are you attempting to give me an order?”
“No, I am giving you advice. If you are concerned about the people outside, we can announce a gas leak and clear the area, but admitting we are hostage is dangerous.”
“Commander, I will only say this once. I will not use this office as a pulpit to lie to the world. If I announce anything at all, it will be the truth.”
“The truth? That Vatican City is threatened to be destroyed by satanic terrorists? It only weakens our position.”
The camerlegno glared. “How much weaker could our position be?”
Rocher shouted suddenly, grabbing the remote and increasing the volume on the television. Everyone turned.
On air, the woman from MSNBC now looked genuinely unnerved. Superimposed beside her was a photo of the late Pope. “. . . breaking information. This just in from the BBC . . .” She glanced off camera as if to confirm she was really supposed to make this announcement. Apparently getting confirmation, she turned and grimly faced the viewers. “The Illuminati have just claimed responsibility for . . .” She hesitated. “They have claimed responsibility for the death of the Pope fifteen days ago.”
The camerlegno’s jaw fell.
Rocher dropped the remote control.
Vittoria could barely process the information.
“By Vatican law,” the woman continued, “no formal autopsy is ever performed on a Pope, so the Illuminati claim of murder cannot be confirmed. Nonetheless, the Illuminati hold that the cause of the late Pope’s death was not a stroke as the Vatican reported, but poisoning.”
The room went totally silent again.
Olivetti erupted. “Madness! A bold‑faced lie!”
Rocher began flipping channels again. The bulletin seemed to spread like a plague from station to station. Everyone had the same story. Headlines competed for optimal sensationalism.
Murder at the Vatican
Satan Touches House of God
The camerlegno looked away. “God help us.”
As Rocher flipped, he passed a BBC station. “—tipped me off about the killing at Santa Maria de Popolo—”
“Wait!” the camerlegno said. “Back.”
Rocher went back. On screen, a prim‑looking man sat at a BBC news desk. Superimposed over his shoulder was a still snapshot of an odd‑looking man with a red beard. Underneath his photo, it said:
Gunther Glick—Live in Vatican City
Reporter Glick was apparently reporting by phone, the connection scratchy. “. . . my videographer got the footage of the cardinal being removed from the Chigi Chapel.”
“Let me reiterate for our viewers,” the anchorman in London was saying, “BBC reporter Gunther Glick is the man who first broke this story. He has been in phone contact twice now with the alleged Illuminati assassin. Gunther, you say the assassin phoned only moments ago to pass along a message from the Illuminati?”
“And their message was that the Illuminati were somehow responsible for the Pope’s death?” The anchorman sounded incredulous.
“Correct. The caller told me that the Pope’s death was not a stroke, as the Vatican had thought, but rather that the Pope had been poisoned by the Illuminati.”
Everyone in the Pope’s office froze.
“Poisoned?” the anchorman demanded. “But . . . but how !”
“They gave no specifics,” Glick replied, “except to say that they killed him with a drug known as . . .”—there was a rustling of papers on the line—“something known as Heparin.”
The camerlegno, Olivetti, and Rocher all exchanged confused looks.
“Heparin?” Rocher demanded, looking unnerved. “But isn’t that . . . ?”
The camerlegno blanched. “The Pope’s medication.”
Vittoria was stunned. “The Pope was on Heparin?”
“He had thrombophlebitis,” the camerlegno said. “He took an injection once a day.”
Rocher looked flabbergasted. “But Heparin isn’t a poison. Why would the Illuminati claim—”
“Heparin is lethal in the wrong dosages,” Vittoria offered. “It’s a powerful anticoagulant. An overdose would cause massive internal bleeding and brain hemorrhages.”
Olivetti eyed her suspiciously. “How would you know that?”
“Marine biologists use it on sea mammals in captivity to prevent blood clotting from decreased activity. Animals have died from improper administration of the drug.” She paused. “A Heparin overdose in a human would cause symptoms easily mistaken for a stroke . . . especially in the absence of a proper autopsy.”
The camerlegno now looked deeply troubled.
“Signore,” Olivetti said, “this is obviously an Illuminati ploy for publicity. Someone overdosing the Pope would be impossible. Nobody had access. And even if we take the bait and try to refute their claim, how could we? Papal law prohibits autopsy. Even with an autopsy, we would learn nothing. We would find traces of Heparin in his body from his daily injections.”
“True.” The camerlegno’s voice sharpened. “And yet something else troubles me. No one on the outside knew His Holiness was taking this medication.”
There was a silence.
“If he overdosed with Heparin,” Vittoria said, “his body would show signs.”
Olivetti spun toward her. “Ms. Vetra, in case you didn’t hear me, papal autopsies are prohibited by Vatican Law. We are not about to defile His Holiness’s body by cutting him open just because an enemy makes a taunting claim!”
Vittoria felt shamed. “I was not implying . . .” She had not meant to seem disrespectful. “I certainly was not suggesting you exhume the Pope . . .” She hesitated, though. Something Robert told her in the Chigi passed like a ghost through her mind. He had mentioned that papal sarcophagi were above ground and never cemented shut, a throwback to the days of the pharaohs when sealing and burying a casket was believed to trap the deceased’s soul inside. Gravity had become the mortar of choice, with coffin lids often weighing hundreds of pounds. Technically, she realized, it would be possible to —
“What sort of signs?” the camerlegno said suddenly.
Vittoria felt her heart flutter with fear. “Overdoses can cause bleeding of the oral mucosa.”
“The victim’s gums would bleed. Post mortem, the blood congeals and turns the inside of the mouth black.” Vittoria had once seen a photo taken at an aquarium in London where a pair of killer whales had been mistakenly overdosed by their trainer. The whales floated lifeless in the tank, their mouths hanging open and their tongues black as soot.
The camerlegno made no reply. He turned and stared out the window.
Rocher’s voice had lost its optimism. “Signore, if this claim about poisoning is true . . .”
“It’s not true,” Olivetti declared. “Access to the Pope by an outsider is utterly impossible.”
“If this claim is true,” Rocher repeated, “and our Holy Father was poisoned, then that has profound implications for our antimatter search. The alleged assassination implies a much deeper infiltration of Vatican City than we had imagined. Searching the white zones may be inadequate. If we are compromised to such a deep extent, we may not find the canister in time.”
Olivetti leveled his captain with a cold stare. “Captain, I will tell you what is going to happen.”
“No,” the camerlegno said, turning suddenly. “I will tell you what is going to happen.” He looked directly at Olivetti. “This has gone far enough. In twenty minutes I will be making a decision whether or not to cancel conclave and evacuate Vatican City. My decision will be final. Is that clear?”
Olivetti did not blink. Nor did he respond.
The camerlegno spoke forcefully now, as though tapping a hidden reserve of power. “Captain Rocher, you will complete your search of the white zones and report directly to me when you are finished.”
Rocher nodded, throwing Olivetti an uneasy glance.
The camerlegno then singled out two guards. “I want the BBC reporter, Mr. Glick, in this office immediately. If the Illuminati have been communicating with him, he may be able to help us. Go.”
The two soldiers disappeared.
Now the camerlegno turned and addressed the remaining guards. “Gentlemen, I will not permit any more loss of life this evening. By ten o’clock you will locate the remaining two cardinals and capture the monster responsible for these murders. Do I make myself understood?”
“But, signore,” Olivetti argued, “we have no idea where—”
“Mr. Langdon is working on that. He seems capable. I have faith.”
With that, the camerlegno strode for the door, a new determination in his step. On his way out, he pointed to three guards. “You three, come with me. Now.”
The guards followed.
In the doorway, the camerlegno stopped. He turned to Vittoria. “Ms. Vetra. You too. Please come with me.”
Vittoria hesitated. “Where are we going?”
He headed out the door. “To see an old friend.”