Gunther Glick and Chinita Macri sat parked in the BBC van in the shadows at the far end of Piazza del Popolo. They had arrived shortly after the four Alpha Romeos, just in time to witness an inconceivable chain of events. Chinita still had no idea what it all meant, but she'd made sure the camera was rolling.
As soon as they'd arrived, Chinita and Glick had seen a veritable army of young men pour out of the Alpha Romeos and surround the church. Some had weapons drawn. One of them, a stiff older man, led a team up the front steps of the church. The soldiers drew guns and blew the locks off the front doors. Macri heard nothing and figured they must have had silencers. Then the soldiers entered.
Chinita had recommended they sit tight and film from the shadows. After all, guns were guns, and they had a clear view of the action from the van. Glick had not argued. Now, across the piazza, men moved in and out of the church. They yelled to each other. Chinita adjusted her camera to follow a team as they searched the surrounding area. All of them, though dressed in civilian clothes, seemed to move with military precision. "Who do you think they are?" she asked.
"Hell if I know." Glick looked riveted. "You getting all this?"
Glick sounded smug. "Still think we should go back to Pope-Watch?"
Chinita wasn't sure what to say. There was obviously something going on here, but she had been in journalism long enough to know that there was often a very dull explanation for interesting events. "This could be nothing," she said. "These guys could have gotten the same tip you got and are just checking it out. Could be a false alarm."
Glick grabbed her arm. "Over there! Focus." He pointed back to the church.
Chinita swung the camera back to the top of the stairs. "Hello there," she said, training on the man now emerging from the church.
"Who's the dapper?"
Chinita moved in for a close-up. "Haven't seen him before." She tightened in on the man's face and smiled. "But I wouldn't mind seeing him again."
Robert Langdon dashed down the stairs outside the church and into the middle of the piazza. It was getting dark now, the springtime sun setting late in southern Rome. The sun had dropped below the surrounding buildings, and shadows streaked the square.
"Okay, Bernini," he said aloud to himself. "Where the hell is your angel pointing?"
He turned and examined the orientation of the church from which he had just come. He pictured the Chigi Chapel inside, and the sculpture of the angel inside that. Without hesitation he turned due west, into the glow of the impending sunset. Time was evaporating.
"Southwest," he said, scowling at the shops and apartments blocking his view. "The next marker is out there."
Racking his brain, Langdon pictured page after page of Italian art history. Although very familiar with Bernini's work, Langdon knew the sculptor had been far too prolific for any nonspecialist to know all of it. Still, considering the relative fame of the first marker - Habakkuk and the Angel - Langdon hoped the second marker was a work he might know from memory.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water, he thought. Earth they had found - inside the Chapel of the Earth - Habakkuk, the prophet who predicted the earth's annihilation.
Air is next. Langdon urged himself to think. A Bernini sculpture that has something to do with Air! He was drawing a total blank. Still he felt energized. I'm on the path of Illumination! It is still intact!
Looking southwest, Langdon strained to see a spire or cathedral tower jutting up over the obstacles. He saw nothing. He needed a map. If they could figure out what churches were southwest of here, maybe one of them would spark Langdon's memory. Air, he pressed. Air. Bernini. Sculpture. Air. Think!
Langdon turned and headed back up the cathedral stairs. He was met beneath the scaffolding by Vittoria and Olivetti.
"Southwest," Langdon said, panting. "The next church is southwest of here."
Olivetti's whisper was cold. "You sure this time?"
Langdon didn't bite. "We need a map. One that shows all the churches in Rome."
The commander studied him a moment, his expression never changing.
Langdon checked his watch. "We only have half an hour."
Olivetti moved past Langdon down the stairs toward his car, parked directly in front of the cathedral. Langdon hoped he was going for a map.
Vittoria looked excited. "So the angel's pointing southwest? No idea which churches are southwest?"
"I can't see past the damn buildings." Langdon turned and faced the square again. "And I don't know Rome's churches well enou - " He stopped.
Vittoria looked startled. "What?"
Langdon looked out at the piazza again. Having ascended the church stairs, he was now higher, and his view was better. He still couldn't see anything, but he realized he was moving in the right direction. His eyes climbed the tower of rickety scaffolding above him. It rose six stories, almost to the top of the church's rose window, far higher than the other buildings in the square. He knew in an instant where he was headed.
Across the square, Chinita Macri and Gunther Glick sat glued to the windshield of the BBC van.
"You getting this?" Gunther asked.
Macri tightened her shot on the man now climbing the scaffolding. "He's a little well dressed to be playing Spiderman if you ask me."
"And who's Ms. Spidey?"
Chinita glanced at the attractive woman beneath the scaffolding. "Bet you'd like to find out."
"Think I should call editorial?"
"Not yet. Let's watch. Better to have something in the can before we admit we abandoned conclave."
"You think somebody really killed one of the old farts in there?"
Chinita clucked. "You're definitely going to hell."
"And I'll be taking the Pulitzer with me."
The scaffolding seemed less stable the higher Langdon climbed. His view of Rome, however, got better with every step. He continued upward.
He was breathing harder than he expected when he reached the upper tier. He pulled himself onto the last platform, brushed off the plaster, and stood up. The height did not bother him at all. In fact, it was invigorating.
The view was staggering. Like an ocean on fire, the red-tiled rooftops of Rome spread out before him, glowing in the scarlet sunset. From that spot, for the first time in his life, Langdon saw beyond the pollution and traffic of Rome to its ancient roots - Citt�� di Dio - The city of God.
Squinting into the sunset, Langdon scanned the rooftops for a church steeple or bell tower. But as he looked farther and farther toward the horizon, he saw nothing. There are hundreds of churches in Rome, he thought. There must be one southwest of here! If the church is even visible, he reminded himself. Hell, if the church is even still standing!
Forcing his eyes to trace the line slowly, he attempted the search again. He knew, of course, that not all churches would have visible spires, especially smaller, out-of-the-way sanctuaries. Not to mention, Rome had changed dramatically since the 1600s when churches were by law the tallest buildings allowed. Now, as Langdon looked out, he saw apartment buildings, high-rises, TV towers.
For the second time, Langdon's eye reached the horizon without seeing anything. Not one single spire. In the distance, on the very edge of Rome, Michelangelo's massive dome blotted the setting sun. St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican City. Langdon found himself wondering how the cardinals were faring, and if the Swiss Guards' search had turned up the antimatter. Something told him it hadn't... and wouldn't.
The poem was rattling through his head again. He considered it, carefully, line by line. From Santi's earthly tomb with demon's hole. They had found Santi's tomb. 'Cross Rome the mystic elements unfold. The mystic elements were Earth, Air, Fire, Water. The path of light is laid, the sacred test. The path of Illumination formed by Bernini's sculptures. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest.
The angel was pointing southwest...
"Front stairs!" Glick exclaimed, pointing wildly through the windshield of the BBC van. "Something's going on!"
Macri dropped her shot back down to the main entrance. Something was definitely going on. At the bottom of the stairs, the military-looking man had pulled one of the Alpha Romeos close to the stairs and opened the trunk. Now he was scanning the square as if checking for onlookers. For a moment, Macri thought the man had spotted them, but his eyes kept moving. Apparently satisfied, he pulled out a walkie-talkie and spoke into it.
Almost instantly, it seemed an army emerged from the church. Like an American football team breaking from a huddle, the soldiers formed a straight line across the top of the stairs. Moving like a human wall, they began to descend. Behind them, almost entirely hidden by the wall, four soldiers seemed to be carrying something. Something heavy. Awkward.
Glick leaned forward on the dashboard. "Are they stealing something from the church?"
Chinita tightened her shot even more, using the telephoto to probe the wall of men, looking for an opening. One split second, she willed. A single frame. That's all I need. But the men moved as one. Come on! Macri stayed with them, and it paid off. When the soldiers tried to lift the object into the trunk, Macri found her opening. Ironically, it was the older man who faltered. Only for an instant, but long enough. Macri had her frame. Actually, it was more like ten frames.
"Call editorial," Chinita said. "We've got a dead body."
Far away, at CERN, Maximilian Kohler maneuvered his wheelchair into Leonardo Vetra's study. With mechanical efficiency, he began sifting through Vetra's files. Not finding what he was after, Kohler moved to Vetra's bedroom. The top drawer of his bedside table was locked. Kohler pried it open with a knife from the kitchen.
Inside Kohler found exactly what he was looking for.
Langdon swung off the scaffolding and dropped back to the ground. He brushed the plaster dust from his clothes. Vittoria was there to greet him.
"No luck?" she said.
He shook his head.
"They put the cardinal in the trunk."
Langdon looked over to the parked car where Olivetti and a group of soldiers now had a map spread out on the hood. "Are they looking southwest?"
She nodded. "No churches. From here the first one you hit is St. Peter's."
Langdon grunted. At least they were in agreement. He moved toward Olivetti. The soldiers parted to let him through.
Olivetti looked up. "Nothing. But this doesn't show every last church. Just the big ones. About fifty of them."
"Where are we?" Langdon asked.
Olivetti pointed to Piazza del Popolo and traced a straight line exactly southwest. The line missed, by a substantial margin, the cluster of black squares indicating Rome's major churches. Unfortunately, Rome's major churches were also Rome's older churches... those that would have been around in the 1600s.
"I've got some decisions to make," Olivetti said. "Are you certain of the direction?"
Langdon pictured the angel's outstretched finger, the urgency rising in him again. "Yes, sir. Positive."
Olivetti shrugged and traced the straight line again. The path intersected the Margherita Bridge, Via Cola di Riezo, and passed through Piazza del Risorgimento, hitting no churches at all until it dead-ended abruptly at the center of St. Peter's Square.
"What's wrong with St. Peter's?" one of the soldiers said. He had a deep scar under his left eye. "It's a church."
Langdon shook his head. "Needs to be a public place. Hardly seems public at the moment."
"But the line goes through St. Peter's Square," Vittoria added, looking over Langdon's shoulder. "The square is public."
Langdon had already considered it. "No statues, though."
"Isn't there a monolith in the middle?"
She was right. There was an Egyptian monolith in St. Peter's Square. Langdon looked out at the monolith in the piazza in front of them. The lofty pyramid. An odd coincidence, he thought. He shook it off. "The Vatican's monolith is not by Bernini. It was brought in by Caligula. And it has nothing to do with Air." There was another problem as well. "Besides, the poem says the elements are spread across Rome. St. Peter's Square is in Vatican City. Not Rome."
"Depends who you ask," a guard interjected.
Langdon looked up. "What?"
"Always a bone of contention. Most maps show St. Peter's Square as part of Vatican City, but because it's outside the walled city, Roman officials for centuries have claimed it as part of Rome."
"You're kidding," Langdon said. He had never known that.
"I only mention it," the guard continued, "because Commander Olivetti and Ms. Vetra were asking about a sculpture that had to do with Air."
Langdon was wide-eyed. "And you know of one in St. Peter's Square?"
"Not exactly. It's not really a sculpture. Probably not relevant."
"Let's hear it," Olivetti pressed.
The guard shrugged. "The only reason I know about it is because I'm usually on piazza duty. I know every corner of St. Peter's Square."
"The sculpture," Langdon urged. "What does it look like?" Langdon was starting to wonder if the Illuminati could really have been gutsy enough to position their second marker right outside St. Peter's Church.
"I patrol past it every day," the guard said. "It's in the center, directly where that line is pointing. That's what made me think of it. As I said, it's not really a sculpture. It's more of a... block."
Olivetti looked mad. "A block?"
"Yes, sir. A marble block embedded in the square. At the base of the monolith. But the block is not a rectangle. It's an ellipse. And the block is carved with the image of a billowing gust of wind." He paused. "Air, I suppose, if you wanted to get scientific about it."
Langdon stared at the young soldier in amazement. "A relief!" he exclaimed suddenly.
Everyone looked at him.
"Relief," Langdon said, "is the other half of sculpture!" Sculpture is the art of shaping figures in the round and also in relief. He had written the definition on chalkboards for years. Reliefs were essentially two-dimensional sculptures, like Abraham Lincoln's profile on the penny. Bernini's Chigi Chapel medallions were another perfect example.
"Bassorelievo?" the guard asked, using the Italian art term.
"Yes! Bas-relief!" Langdon rapped his knuckles on the hood. "I wasn't thinking in those terms! That tile you're talking about in St. Peter's Square is called the West Ponente - the West Wind. It's also known as Respiro di Dio."
"Breath of God?"
"Yes! Air! And it was carved and put there by the original architect!"
Vittoria looked confused. "But I thought Michelangelo designed St. Peter's."
"Yes, the basilica!" Langdon exclaimed, triumph in his voice. "But St. Peter's Square was designed by Bernini!"
As the caravan of Alpha Romeos tore out of Piazza del Popolo, everyone was in too much of a hurry to notice the BBC van pulling out behind them.
Gunther Glick floored the BBC van's accelerator and swerved through traffic as he tailed the four speeding Alpha Romeos across the Tiber River on Ponte Margherita. Normally Glick would have made an effort to maintain an inconspicuous distance, but today he could barely keep up. These guys were flying.
Macri sat in her work area in the back of the van finishing a phone call with London. She hung up and yelled to Glick over the sound of the traffic. "You want the good news or bad news?"
Glick frowned. Nothing was ever simple when dealing with the home office. "Bad news."
"Editorial is burned we abandoned our post."
"They also think your tipster is a fraud."
"And the boss just warned me that you're a few crumpets short of a proper tea."
Glick scowled. "Great. And the good news?"
"They agreed to look at the footage we just shot."
Glick felt his scowl soften into a grin. I guess we'll see who's short a few crumpets. "So fire it off."
"Can't transmit until we stop and get a fixed cell read."
Glick gunned the van onto Via Cola di Rienzo. "Can't stop now." He tailed the Alpha Romeos through a hard left swerve around Piazza Risorgimento.
Macri held on to her computer gear in back as everything slid. "Break my transmitter," she warned, "and we'll have to walk this footage to London."
"Sit tight, love. Something tells me we're almost there."
Macri looked up. "Where?"
Glick gazed out at the familiar dome now looming directly in front of them. He smiled. "Right back where we started."
The four Alpha Romeos slipped deftly into traffic surrounding St. Peter's Square. They split up and spread out along the piazza perimeter, quietly unloading men at select points. The debarking guards moved into the throng of tourists and media vans on the edge of the square and instantly became invisible. Some of the guards entered the forest of pillars encompassing the colonnade. They too seemed to evaporate into the surroundings. As Langdon watched through the windshield, he sensed a noose tightening around St. Peter's.
In addition to the men Olivetti had just dispatched, the commander had radioed ahead to the Vatican and sent additional undercover guards to the center where Bernini's West Ponente was located. As Langdon looked out at the wide-open spaces of St. Peter's Square, a familiar question nagged. How does the Illuminati assassin plan to get away with this? How will he get a cardinal through all these people and kill him in plain view? Langdon checked his Mickey Mouse watch. It was 8:54 P.M. Six minutes.
In the front seat, Olivetti turned and faced Langdon and Vittoria. "I want you two right on top of this Bernini brick or block or whatever the hell it is. Same drill. You're tourists. Use the phone if you see anything."
Before Langdon could respond, Vittoria had his hand and was pulling him out of the car.
The springtime sun was setting behind St. Peter's Basilica, and a massive shadow spread, engulfing the piazza. Langdon felt an ominous chill as he and Vittoria moved into the cool, black umbra. Snaking through the crowd, Langdon found himself searching every face they passed, wondering if the killer was among them. Vittoria's hand felt warm.
As they crossed the open expanse of St. Peter's Square, Langdon sensed Bernini's sprawling piazza having the exact effect the artist had been commissioned to create - that of "humbling all those who entered." Langdon certainly felt humbled at the moment. Humbled and hungry, he realized, surprised such a mundane thought could enter his head at a moment like this.
"To the obelisk?" Vittoria asked.
Langdon nodded, arching left across the piazza.
"Time?" Vittoria asked, walking briskly, but casually.
Vittoria said nothing, but Langdon felt her grip tighten. He was still carrying the gun. He hoped Vittoria would not decide she needed it. He could not imagine her whipping out a weapon in St. Peter's Square and blowing away the kneecaps of some killer while the global media looked on. Then again, an incident like that would be nothing compared to the branding and murder of a cardinal out here.
Air, Langdon thought. The second element of science. He tried to picture the brand. The method of murder. Again he scanned the sprawling expanse of granite beneath his feet - St. Peter's Square - an open desert surrounded by Swiss Guard. If the Hassassin really dared attempt this, Langdon could not imagine how he would escape.
In the center of the piazza rose Caligula's 350-ton Egyptian obelisk. It stretched eighty-one feet skyward to the pyramidal apex onto which was affixed a hollow iron cross. Sufficiently high to catch the last of the evening sun, the cross shone as if magic... purportedly containing relics of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Two fountains flanked the obelisk in perfect symmetry. Art historians knew the fountains marked the exact geometric focal points of Bernini's elliptical piazza, but it was an architectural oddity Langdon had never really considered until today. It seemed Rome was suddenly filled with ellipses, pyramids, and startling geometry.
As they neared the obelisk, Vittoria slowed. She exhaled heavily, as if coaxing Langdon to relax along with her. Langdon made the effort, lowering his shoulders and loosening his clenched jaw.
Somewhere around the obelisk, boldly positioned outside the largest church in the world, was the second altar of science - Bernini's West Ponente - an elliptical block in St. Peter's Square.
Gunther Glick watched from the shadows of the pillars surrounding St. Peter's Square. On any other day the man in the tweed jacket and the woman in khaki shorts would not have interested him in the least. They appeared to be nothing but tourists enjoying the square. But today was not any other day. Today had been a day of phone tips, corpses, unmarked cars racing through Rome, and men in tweed jackets climbing scaffolding in search of God only knew what. Glick would stay with them.
He looked out across the square and saw Macri. She was exactly where he had told her to go, on the far side of the couple, hovering on their flank. Macri carried her video camera casually, but despite her imitation of a bored member of the press, she stood out more than Glick would have liked. No other reporters were in this far corner of the square, and the acronym "BBC" stenciled on her camera was drawing some looks from tourists.
The tape Macri had shot earlier of the naked body dumped in the trunk was playing at this very moment on the VCR transmitter back in the van. Glick knew the images were sailing over his head right now en route to London. He wondered what editorial would say.
He wished he and Macri had reached the body sooner, before the army of plainclothed soldiers had intervened. The same army, he knew, had now fanned out and surrounded this piazza. Something big was about to happen.
The media is the right arm of anarchy, the killer had said. Glick wondered if he had missed his chance for a big scoop. He looked out at the other media vans in the distance and watched Macri tailing the mysterious couple across the piazza. Something told Glick he was still in the game...