66

Chinita Macri was mad. She sat in the passenger's seat of the BBC van as it idled at a corner on Via Tomacelli. Gunther Glick was checking his map of Rome, apparently lost. As she had feared, his mystery caller had phoned back, this time with information.

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"Piazza del Popolo," Glick insisted. "That's what we're looking for. There's a church there. And inside is proof."

"Proof." Chinita stopped polishing the lens in her hand and turned to him. "Proof that a cardinal has been murdered?"

"That's what he said."

"You believe everything you hear?" Chinita wished, as she often did, that she was the one in charge. Videographers, however, were at the whim of the crazy reporters for whom they shot footage. If Gunther Glick wanted to follow a feeble phone tip, Macri was his dog on a leash.

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She looked at him, sitting there in the driver's seat, his jaw set intently. The man's parents, she decided, must have been frustrated comedians to have given him a name like Gunther Glick. No wonder the guy felt like he had something to prove. Nonetheless, despite his unfortunate appellative and annoying eagerness to make a mark, Glick was sweet... charming in a pasty, Briddish, unstrung sort of way. Like Hugh Grant on lithium.

"Shouldn't we be back at St. Peter's?" Macri said as patiently as possible. "We can check this mystery church out later. Conclave started an hour ago. What if the cardinals come to a decision while we're gone?"

Glick did not seem to hear. "I think we go to the right, here." He tilted the map and studied it again. "Yes, if I take a right... and then an immediate left." He began to pull out onto the narrow street before them.

"Look out!" Macri yelled. She was a video technician, and her eyes were sharp. Fortunately, Glick was pretty fast too. He slammed on the brakes and avoided entering the intersection just as a line of four Alpha Romeos appeared out of nowhere and tore by in a blur. Once past, the cars skidded, decelerating, and cut sharply left one block ahead, taking the exact route Glick had intended to take.

"Maniacs!" Macri shouted.

Glick looked shaken. "Did you see that?"

"Yeah, I saw that! They almost killed us!"

"No, I mean the cars," Glick said, his voice suddenly excited. "They were all the same."

"So they were maniacs with no imagination."

"The cars were also full."

"So what?"

"Four identical cars, all with four passengers?"

"You ever heard of carpooling?"

"In Italy?" Glick checked the intersection. "They haven't even heard of unleaded gas." He hit the accelerator and peeled out after the cars.

Macri was thrown back in her seat. "What the hell are you doing?"

Glick accelerated down the street and hung a left after the Alpha Romeos. "Something tells me you and I are not the only ones going to church right now."

67

The descent was slow.

Langdon dropped rung by rung down the creaking ladder... deeper and deeper beneath the floor of the Chigi Chapel. Into the Demon's hole, he thought. He was facing the side wall, his back to the chamber, and he wondered how many more dark, cramped spaces one day could provide. The ladder groaned with every step, and the pungent smell of rotting flesh and dampness was almost asphyxiating. Langdon wondered where the hell Olivetti was.

Vittoria's outline was still visible above, holding the blowtorch inside the hole, lighting Langdon's way. As he lowered himself deeper into the darkness, the bluish glow from above got fainter. The only thing that got stronger was the stench.

Twelve rungs down, it happened. Langdon's foot hit a spot that was slippery with decay, and he faltered. Lunging forward, he caught the ladder with his forearms to avoid plummeting to the bottom. Cursing the bruises now throbbing on his arms, he dragged his body back onto the ladder and began his descent again.

Three rungs deeper, he almost fell again, but this time it was not a rung that caused the mishap. It was a bolt of fear. He had descended past a hollowed niche in the wall before him and suddenly found himself face to face with a collection of skulls. As he caught his breath and looked around him, he realized the wall at this level was honeycombed with shelflike openings - burial niches - all filled with skeletons. In the phosphorescent light, it made for an eerie collage of empty sockets and decaying rib cages flickering around him.

Skeletons by firelight, he grimaced wryly, realizing he had quite coincidentally endured a similar evening just last month. An evening of bones and flames. The New York Museum of Archeology's candlelight benefit dinner - salmon flambe in the shadow of a brontosaurus skeleton. He had attended at the invitation of Rebecca Strauss - one-time fashion model now art critic from the Times, a whirlwind of black velvet, cigarettes, and not-so-subtly enhanced breasts. She'd called him twice since. Langdon had not returned her calls. Most ungentlemanly, he chided, wondering how long Rebecca Strauss would last in a stink-pit like this.

Langdon was relieved to feel the final rung give way to the spongy earth at the bottom. The ground beneath his shoes felt damp. Assuring himself the walls were not going to close in on him, he turned into the crypt. It was circular, about twenty feet across. Breathing through his sleeve again, Langdon turned his eyes to the body. In the gloom, the image was hazy. A white, fleshy outline. Facing the other direction. Motionless. Silent.

Advancing through the murkiness of the crypt, Langdon tried to make sense of what he was looking at. The man had his back to Langdon, and Langdon could not see his face, but he did indeed seem to be standing.

"Hello?" Langdon choked through his sleeve. Nothing. As he drew nearer, he realized the man was very short. Too short...

"What's happening?" Vittoria called from above, shifting the light.

Langdon did not answer. He was now close enough to see it all. With a tremor of repulsion, he understood. The chamber seemed to contract around him. Emerging like a demon from the earthen floor was an old man... or at least half of him. He was buried up to his waist in the earth. Standing upright with half of him below ground. Stripped naked. His hands tied behind his back with a red cardinal's sash. He was propped limply upward, spine arched backward like some sort of hideous punching bag. The man's head lay backward, eyes toward the heavens as if pleading for help from God himself.

"Is he dead?" Vittoria called.

Langdon moved toward the body. I hope so, for his sake. As he drew to within a few feet, he looked down at the upturned eyes. They bulged outward, blue and bloodshot. Langdon leaned down to listen for breath but immediately recoiled. "For Christ's sake!"

"What!"

Langdon almost gagged. "He's dead all right. I just saw the cause of death." The sight was gruesome. The man's mouth had been jammed open and packed solid with dirt. "Somebody stuffed a fistful of dirt down his throat. He suffocated."

"Dirt?" Vittoria said. "As in... earth?"

Langdon did a double take. Earth. He had almost forgotten. The brands. Earth, Air, Fire, Water. The killer had threatened to brand each victim with one of the ancient elements of science. The first element was Earth. From Santi's earthly tomb. Dizzy from the fumes, Langdon circled to the front of the body. As he did, the symbologist within him loudly reasserted the artistic challenge of creating the mythical ambigram. Earth? How? And yet, an instant later, it was before him. Centuries of Illuminati legend whirled in his mind. The marking on the cardinal's chest was charred and oozing. The flesh was seared black. La lingua pura...

Langdon stared at the brand as the room began to spin.

Angels & Demons

"Earth," he whispered, tilting his head to see the symbol upside down. "Earth."

Then, in a wave of horror, he had one final cognition. There are three more.

68

Despite the soft glow of candlelight in the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Mortati was on edge. Conclave had officially begun. And it had begun in a most inauspicious fashion.

Half an hour ago, at the appointed hour, Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca had entered the chapel. He walked to the front altar and gave opening prayer. Then, he unfolded his hands and spoke to them in a tone as direct as anything Mortati had ever heard from the altar of the Sistine.

"You are well aware," the camerlegno said, "that our four preferiti are not present in conclave at this moment. I ask, in the name of his late Holiness, that you proceed as you must... with faith and purpose. May you have only God before your eyes." Then he turned to go.

"But," one cardinal blurted out, "where are they?"

The camerlegno paused. "That I cannot honestly say."

"When will they return?"

"That I cannot honestly say."

"Are they okay?"

"That I cannot honestly say."

"Will they return?"

There was a long pause.

"Have faith," the camerlegno said. Then he walked out of the room.

The doors to the Sistine Chapel had been sealed, as was the custom, with two heavy chains on the outside. Four Swiss Guards stood watch in the hallway beyond. Mortati knew the only way the doors could be opened now, prior to electing a Pope, was if someone inside fell deathly ill, or if the preferiti arrived. Mortati prayed it would be the latter, although from the knot in his stomach he was not so sure.

Proceed as we must, Mortati decided, taking his lead from the resolve in the camerlegno's voice. So he had called for a vote. What else could he do?

It had taken thirty minutes to complete the preparatory rituals leading up to this first vote. Mortati had waited patiently at the main altar as each cardinal, in order of seniority, had approached and performed the specific balloting procedure.

Now, at last, the final cardinal had arrived at the altar and was kneeling before him.

"I call as my witness," the cardinal declared, exactly as those before him, "Christ the Lord, who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected."

The cardinal stood up. He held his ballot high over his head for everyone to see. Then he lowered the ballot to the altar, where a plate sat atop a large chalice. He placed the ballot on the plate. Next he picked up the plate and used it to drop the ballot into the chalice. Use of the plate was to ensure no one secretly dropped multiple ballots.

After he had submitted his ballot, he replaced the plate over the chalice, bowed to the cross, and returned to his seat.

The final ballot had been cast.

Now it was time for Mortati to go to work.

Leaving the plate on top of the chalice, Mortati shook the ballots to mix them. Then he removed the plate and extracted a ballot at random. He unfolded it. The ballot was exactly two inches wide. He read aloud for everyone to hear.

"Eligo in summum pontificem..." he declared, reading the text that was embossed at the top of every ballot. I elect as Supreme Pontiff... Then he announced the nominee's name that had been written beneath it. After he read the name, he raised a threaded needle and pierced the ballot through the word Eligo, carefully sliding the ballot onto the thread. Then he made note of the vote in a logbook.

Next, he repeated the entire procedure. He chose a ballot from the chalice, read it aloud, threaded it onto the line, and made note in his log. Almost immediately, Mortati sensed this first vote would be failed. No consensus. After only seven ballots, already seven different cardinals had been named. As was normal, the handwriting on each ballot was disguised by block printing or flamboyant script. The concealment was ironic in this case because the cardinals were obviously submitting votes for themselves. This apparent conceit, Mortati knew, had nothing to do with self-centered ambition. It was a holding pattern. A defensive maneuver. A stall tactic to ensure no cardinal received enough votes to win... and another vote would be forced.

The cardinals were waiting for their preferiti...

When the last of the ballots had been tallied, Mortati declared the vote "failed."

He took the thread carrying all the ballots and tied the ends together to create a ring. Then he lay the ring of ballots on a silver tray. He added the proper chemicals and carried the tray to a small chimney behind him. Here he lit the ballots. As the ballots burned, the chemicals he'd added created black smoke. The smoke flowed up a pipe to a hole in the roof where it rose above the chapel for all to see. Cardinal Mortati had just sent his first communication to the outside world.

One balloting. No Pope.

69

Nearly asphyxiated by fumes, Langdon struggled up the ladder toward the light at the top of the pit. Above him he heard voices, but nothing was making sense. His head was spinning with images of the branded cardinal.

Earth... Earth...

As he pushed upward, his vision narrowed and he feared consciousness would slip away. Two rungs from the top, his balance faltered. He lunged upward trying to find the lip, but it was too far. He lost his grip on the ladder and almost tumbled backward into the dark. There was a sharp pain under his arms, and suddenly Langdon was airborne, legs swinging wildly out over the chasm.

The strong hands of two Swiss Guards hooked him under the armpits and dragged him skyward. A moment later Langdon's head emerged from the Demon's hole, choking and gasping for air. The guards dragged him over the lip of the opening, across the floor, and lay him down, back against the cold marble floor.

For a moment, Langdon was unsure where he was. Overhead he saw stars... orbiting planets. Hazy figures raced past him. People were shouting. He tried to sit up. He was lying at the base of a stone pyramid. The familiar bite of an angry tongue echoed inside the chapel, and then Langdon knew.

Olivetti was screaming at Vittoria. "Why the hell didn't you figure that out in the first place!"

Vittoria was trying to explain the situation.

Olivetti cut her off midsentence and turned to bark orders to his men. "Get that body out of there! Search the rest of the building!"

Langdon tried to sit up. The Chigi Chapel was packed with Swiss Guards. The plastic curtain over the chapel opening had been torn off the entryway, and fresh air filled Langdon's lungs. As his senses slowly returned, Langdon saw Vittoria coming toward him. She knelt down, her face like an angel.

"You okay?" Vittoria took his arm and felt his pulse. Her hands were tender on his skin.

"Thanks." Langdon sat up fully. "Olivetti's mad."

Vittoria nodded. "He has a right to be. We blew it."

"You mean I blew it."

"So redeem yourself. Get him next time."

Next time? Langdon thought it was a cruel comment. There is no next time! We missed our shot!

Vittoria checked Langdon's watch. "Mickey says we've got forty minutes. Get your head together and help me find the next marker."

"I told you, Vittoria, the sculptures are gone. The Path of Illumination is - " Langdon halted.

Vittoria smiled softly.

Suddenly Langdon was staggering to his feet. He turned dizzying circles, staring at the artwork around him. Pyramids, stars, planets, ellipses. Suddenly everything came back. This is the first altar of science! Not the Pantheon! It dawned on him now how perfectly Illuminati the chapel was, far more subtle and selective than the world famous Pantheon. The Chigi was an out of the way alcove, a literal hole-in-the-wall, a tribute to a great patron of science, decorated with earthly symbology. Perfect.

Langdon steadied himself against the wall and gazed up at the enormous pyramid sculptures. Vittoria was dead right. If this chapel was the first altar of science, it might still contain the Illuminati sculpture that served as the first marker. Langdon felt an electrifying rush of hope to realize there was still a chance. If the marker were indeed here, and they could follow it to the next altar of science, they might have another chance to catch the killer.

Vittoria moved closer. "I found out who the unknown Illuminati sculptor was."

Langdon's head whipped around. "You what?"

"Now we just need to figure out which sculpture in here is the - "

"Wait a minute! You know who the Illuminati sculptor was?" He had spent years trying to find that information.

Vittoria smiled. "It was Bernini." She paused. "The Bernini."

Langdon immediately knew she was mistaken. Bernini was an impossibility. Gianlorenzo Bernini was the second most famous sculptor of all time, his fame eclipsed only by Michelangelo himself. During the 1600s Bernini created more sculptures than any other artist. Unfortunately, the man they were looking for was supposedly an unknown, a nobody.

Vittoria frowned. "You don't look excited."

"Bernini is impossible."

"Why? Bernini was a contemporary of Galileo. He was a brilliant sculptor."

"He was a very famous man and a Catholic."

"Yes," Vittoria said. "Exactly like Galileo."

"No," Langdon argued. "Nothing like Galileo. Galileo was a thorn in the Vatican's side. Bernini was the Vatican's wonder boy. The church loved Bernini. He was elected the Vatican's overall artistic authority. He practically lived inside Vatican City his entire life!"

"A perfect cover. Illuminati infiltration."

Langdon felt flustered. "Vittoria, the Illuminati members referred to their secret artist as il maestro ignoto - the unknown master."

"Yes, unknown to them. Think of the secrecy of the Masons - only the upper-echelon members knew the whole truth. Galileo could have kept Bernini's true identity secret from most members... for Bernini's own safety. That way, the Vatican would never find out."

Langdon was unconvinced but had to admit Vittoria's logic made strange sense. The Illuminati were famous for keeping secret information compartmentalized, only revealing the truth to upper-level members. It was the cornerstone of their ability to stay secret... very few knew the whole story.

"And Bernini's affiliation with the Illuminati," Vittoria added with a smile, "explains why he designed those two pyramids."

Langdon turned to the huge sculpted pyramids and shook his head. "Bernini was a religious sculptor. There's no way he carved those pyramids."

Vittoria shrugged. "Tell that to the sign behind you."

Langdon turned to the plaque:

ART OF THE CHIGI CHAPEL

While the architecture is Raphael's, all interior adornments are those of Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Langdon read the plaque twice, and still he was not convinced. Gianlorenzo Bernini was celebrated for his intricate, holy sculptures of the Virgin Mary, angels, prophets, Popes. What was he doing carving pyramids?

Langdon looked up at the towering monuments and felt totally disoriented. Two pyramids, each with a shining, elliptical medallion. They were about as un-Christian as sculpture could get. The pyramids, the stars above, the signs of the Zodiac. All interior adornments are those of Gianlorenzo Bernini. If that were true, Langdon realized, it meant Vittoria had to be right. By default, Bernini was the Illuminati's unknown master; nobody else had contributed artwork to this chapel! The implications came almost too fast for Langdon to process.

Bernini was an Illuminatus.

Bernini designed the Illuminati ambigrams.

Bernini laid out the path of Illumination.

Langdon could barely speak. Could it be that here in this tiny Chigi Chapel, the world-renowned Bernini had placed a sculpture that pointed across Rome toward the next altar of science?

"Bernini," he said. "I never would have guessed."

"Who other than a famous Vatican artist would have had the clout to put his artwork in specific Catholic chapels around Rome and create the Path of Illumination? Certainly not an unknown."

Langdon considered it. He looked at the pyramids, wondering if one of them could somehow be the marker. Maybe both of them? "The pyramids face opposite directions," Langdon said, not sure what to make of them. "They are also identical, so I don't know which..."

"I don't think the pyramids are what we're looking for."

"But they're the only sculptures here."

Vittoria cut him off by pointing toward Olivetti and some of his guards who were gathered near the demon's hole.

Langdon followed the line of her hand to the far wall. At first he saw nothing. Then someone moved and he caught a glimpse. White marble. An arm. A torso. And then a sculpted face. Partially hidden in its niche. Two life-size human figures intertwined. Langdon's pulse accelerated. He had been so taken with the pyramids and demon's hole, he had not even seen this sculpture. He moved across the room, through the crowd. As he drew near, Langdon recognized the work was pure Bernini - the intensity of the artistic composition, the intricate faces and flowing clothing, all from the purest white marble Vatican money could buy. It was not until he was almost directly in front of it that Langdon recognized the sculpture itself. He stared up at the two faces and gasped.

"Who are they?" Vittoria urged, arriving behind him.

Langdon stood astonished. "Habakkuk and the Angel," he said, his voice almost inaudible. The piece was a fairly well-known Bernini work that was included in some art history texts. Langdon had forgotten it was here.

"Habakkuk?"

"Yes. The prophet who predicted the annihilation of the earth."

Vittoria looked uneasy. "You think this is the marker?"

Langdon nodded in amazement. Never in his life had he been so sure of anything. This was the first Illuminati marker. No doubt. Although Langdon had fully expected the sculpture to somehow "point" to the next altar of science, he did not expect it to be literal. Both the angel and Habakkuk had their arms outstretched and were pointing into the distance.

Langdon found himself suddenly smiling. "Not too subtle, is it?"

Vittoria looked excited but confused. "I see them pointing, but they are contradicting each other. The angel is pointing one way, and the prophet the other."

Langdon chuckled. It was true. Although both figures were pointing into the distance, they were pointing in totally opposite directions. Langdon, however, had already solved that problem. With a burst of energy he headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Vittoria called.

"Outside the building!" Langdon's legs felt light again as he ran toward the door. "I need to see what direction that sculpture is pointing!"

"Wait! How do you know which finger to follow?"

"The poem," he called over his shoulder. "The last line!"

" 'Let angels guide you on your lofty quest?' " She gazed upward at the outstretched finger of the angel. Her eyes misted unexpectedly. "Well I'll be damned!"

    

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