Camerlegno Ventresca's white robe billowed as he moved down the hallway away from the Sistine Chapel. The Swiss Guards had seemed perplexed when he emerged all alone from the chapel and told them he needed a moment of solitude. But they had obeyed, letting him go.
Now as he rounded the corner and left their sight, the camerlegno felt a maelstrom of emotions like nothing he thought possible in human experience. He had poisoned the man he called "Holy Father," the man who addressed him as "my son." The camerlegno had always believed the words "father" and "son" were religious tradition, but now he knew the diabolical truth - the words had been literal.
Like that fateful night weeks ago, the camerlegno now felt himself reeling madly through the darkness.
It was raining the morning the Vatican staff banged on the camerlegno's door, awakening him from a fitful sleep. The Pope, they said, was not answering his door or his phone. The clergy were frightened. The camerlegno was the only one who could enter the Pope's chambers unannounced.
The camerlegno entered alone to find the Pope, as he was the night before, twisted and dead in his bed. His Holiness's face looked like that of Satan. His tongue black like death. The Devil himself had been sleeping in the Pope's bed.
The camerlegno felt no remorse. God had spoken.
Nobody would see the treachery... not yet. That would come later.
He announced the terrible news - His Holiness was dead of a stroke. Then the camerlegno prepared for conclave.
Mother Maria's voice was whispering in his ear. "Never break a promise to God."
"I hear you, Mother," he replied. "It is a faithless world. They need to be brought back to the path of righteousness. Horror and Hope. It is the only way."
"Yes," she said. "If not you... then who? Who will lead the church out of darkness?"
Certainly not one of the preferiti. They were old... walking death... liberals who would follow the Pope, endorsing science in his memory, seeking modern followers by abandoning the ancient ways. Old men desperately behind the times, pathetically pretending they were not. They would fail, of course. The church's strength was its tradition, not its transience. The whole world was transitory. The church did not need to change, it simply needed to remind the world it was relevant! Evil lives! God will overcome!
The church needed a leader. Old men do not inspire! Jesus inspired! Young, vibrant, powerful... Miraculous.
"Enjoy your tea," the camerlegno told the four preferiti, leaving them in the Pope's private library before conclave. "Your guide will be here soon."
The preferiti thanked him, all abuzz that they had been offered a chance to enter the famed Passetto. Most uncommon! The camerlegno, before leaving them, had unlocked the door to the Passetto, and exactly on schedule, the door had opened, and a foreign-looking priest with a torch had ushered the excited preferiti in.
The men had never come out.
They will be the Horror. I will be the Hope.
No... I am the horror.
The camerlegno staggered now through the darkness of St. Peter's Basilica. Somehow, through the insanity and guilt, through the images of his father, through the pain and revelation, even through the pull of the morphine... he had found a brilliant clarity. A sense of destiny. I know my purpose, he thought, awed by the lucidity of it.
From the beginning, nothing tonight had gone exactly as he had planned. Unforeseen obstacles had presented themselves, but the camerlegno had adapted, making bold adjustments. Still, he had never imagined tonight would end this way, and yet now he saw the preordained majesty of it.
It could end no other way.
Oh, what terror he had felt in the Sistine Chapel, wondering if God had forsaken him! Oh, what deeds He had ordained! He had fallen to his knees, awash with doubt, his ears straining for the voice of God but hearing only silence. He had begged for a sign. Guidance. Direction. Was this God's will? The church destroyed by scandal and abomination? No! God was the one who had willed the camerlegno to act! Hadn't He?
Then he had seen it. Sitting on the altar. A sign. Divine communication - something ordinary seen in an extraordinary light. The crucifix. Humble, wooden. Jesus on the cross. In that moment, it had all come clear... the camerlegno was not alone. He would never be alone.
This was His will... His meaning.
God had always asked great sacrifice of those he loved most. Why had the camerlegno been so slow to understand? Was he too fearful? Too humble? It made no difference. God had found a way. The camerlegno even understood now why Robert Langdon had been saved. It was to bring the truth. To compel this ending.
This was the sole path to the church's salvation!
The camerlegno felt like he was floating as he descended into the Niche of the Palliums. The surge of morphine seemed relentless now, but he knew God was guiding him.
In the distance, he could hear the cardinals clamoring in confusion as they poured from the chapel, yelling commands to the Swiss Guard.
But they would never find him. Not in time.
The camerlegno felt himself drawn... faster... descending the stairs into the sunken area where the ninety-nine oil lamps shone brightly. God was returning him to Holy Ground. The camerlegno moved toward the grate covering the hole that led down to the Necropolis. The Necropolis is where this night would end. In the sacred darkness below. He lifted an oil lamp, preparing to descend.
But as he moved across the Niche, the camerlegno paused. Something about this felt wrong. How did this serve God? A solitary and silent end? Jesus had suffered before the eyes of the entire world. Surely this could not be God's will! The camerlegno listened for the voice of his God, but heard only the blurring buzz of drugs.
"Carlo." It was his mother. "God has plans for you."
Bewildered, the camerlegno kept moving.
Then, without warning, God arrived.
The camerlegno stopped short, staring. The light of the ninety-nine oil lanterns had thrown the camerlegno's shadow on the marble wall beside him. Giant and fearful. A hazy form surrounded by golden light. With flames flickering all around him, the camerlegno looked like an angel ascending to heaven. He stood a moment, raising his arms to his sides, watching his own image. Then he turned, looking back up the stairs.
God's meaning was clear.
Three minutes had passed in the chaotic hallways outside the Sistine Chapel, and still nobody could locate the camerlegno. It was as if the man had been swallowed up by the night. Mortati was about to demand a full-scale search of Vatican City when a roar of jubilation erupted outside in St. Peter's Square. The spontaneous celebration of the crowd was tumultuous. The cardinals all exchanged startled looks.
Mortati closed his eyes. "God help us."
For the second time that evening, the College of Cardinals flooded onto St. Peter's Square. Langdon and Vittoria were swept up in the jostling crowd of cardinals, and they too emerged into the night air. The media lights and cameras were all pivoted toward the basilica. And there, having just stepped onto the sacred Papal Balcony located in the exact center of the towering façade, Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca stood with his arms raised to the heavens. Even far away, he looked like purity incarnate. A figurine. Dressed in white. Flooded with light.
The energy in the square seemed to grow like a cresting wave, and all at once the Swiss Guard barriers gave way. The masses streamed toward the basilica in a euphoric torrent of humanity. The onslaught rushed forward - people crying, singing, media cameras flashing. Pandemonium. As the people flooded in around the front of the basilica, the chaos intensified, until it seemed nothing could stop it.
And then something did.
High above, the camerlegno made the smallest of gestures. He folded his hands before him. Then he bowed his head in silent prayer. One by one, then dozens by dozens, then hundreds by hundreds, the people bowed their heads along with him.
The square fell silent... as if a spell had been cast.
In his mind, swirling and distant now, the camerlegno's prayers were a torrent of hopes and sorrows... forgive me, Father... Mother... full of grace... you are the church... may you understand this sacrifice of your only begotten son.
Oh, my Jesus... save us from the fires of hell... take all souls to heaven, especially, those most in need of thy mercy...
The camerlegno did not open his eyes to see the throngs below him, the television cameras, the whole world watching. He could feel it in his soul. Even in his anguish, the unity of the moment was intoxicating. It was as if a connective web had shot out in all directions around the globe. In front of televisions, at home, and in cars, the world prayed as one. Like synapses of a giant heart all firing in tandem, the people reached for God, in dozens of languages, in hundreds of countries. The words they whispered were newborn and yet as familiar to them as their own voices... ancient truths... imprinted on the soul.
The consonance felt eternal.
As the silence lifted, the joyous strains of singing began to rise again.
He knew the moment had come.
Most Holy Trinity, I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul... in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences...
The camerlegno already felt the physical pain setting in. It was spreading across his skin like a plague, making him want to claw at his flesh like he had weeks ago when God had first come to him. Do not forget what pain Jesus endured. He could taste the fumes now in his throat. Not even the morphine could dull the bite.
My work here is done.
The Horror was his. The Hope was theirs.
In the Niche of the Palliums, the camerlegno had followed God's will and anointed his body. His hair. His face. His linen robe. His flesh. He was soaking now with the sacred, vitreous oils from the lamps. They smelled sweet like his mother, but they burned. His would be a merciful ascension. Miraculous and swift. And he would leave behind not scandal... but a new strength and wonder.
He slipped his hand into the pocket of his robe and fingered the small, golden lighter he had brought with him from the Pallium incendiario.
He whispered a verse from Judgments. And when the flame went up toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame.
He positioned his thumb.
They were singing in St. Peter's Square...
The vision the world witnessed no one would ever forget.
High above on the balcony, like a soul tearing free of its corporeal restrains, a luminous pyre of flame erupted from the camerlegno's center. The fire shot upward, engulfing his entire body instantly. He did not scream. He raised his arms over his head and looked toward heaven. The conflagration roared around him, entirely shrouding his body in a column of light. It raged for what seemed like an eternity, the whole world bearing witness. The light flared brighter and brighter. Then, gradually, the flames dissipated. The camerlegno was gone. Whether he had collapsed behind the balustrade or evaporated into thin air was impossible to tell. All that was left was a cloud of smoke spiraling skyward over Vatican City.
Dawn came late to Rome.
An early rainstorm had washed the crowds from St. Peter's Square. The media stayed on, huddling under umbrellas and in vans, commentating on the evening's events. Across the world, churches overflowed. It was a time of reflection and discussion... in all religions. Questions abounded, and yet the answers seemed only to bring deeper questions. Thus far, the Vatican had remained silent, issuing no statement whatsoever.
Deep in the Vatican Grottoes, Cardinal Mortati knelt alone before the open sarcophagus. He reached in and closed the old man's blackened mouth. His Holiness looked peaceful now. In quiet repose for eternity.
At Mortati's feet was a golden urn, heavy with ashes. Mortati had gathered the ashes himself and brought them here. "A chance for forgiveness," he said to His Holiness, laying the urn inside the sarcophagus at the Pope's side. "No love is greater than that of a father for His son." Mortati tucked the urn out of sight beneath the papal robes. He knew this sacred grotto was reserved exclusively for the relics of Popes, but somehow Mortati sensed this was appropriate.
"Signore?" someone said, entering the grottoes. It was Lieutenant Chartrand. He was accompanied by three Swiss Guards. "They are ready for you in conclave."
Mortati nodded. "In a moment." He gazed one last time into the sarcophagus before him, and then stood up. He turned to the guards. "It is time for His Holiness to have the peace he has earned."
The guards came forward and with enormous effort slid the lid of the Pope's sarcophagus back into place. It thundered shut with finality.
Mortati was alone as he crossed the Borgia Courtyard toward the Sistine Chapel. A damp breeze tossed his robe. A fellow cardinal emerged from the Apostolic Palace and strode beside him.
"May I have the honor of escorting you to conclave, signore?"
"The honor is mine."
"Signore," the cardinal said, looking troubled. "The college owes you an apology for last night. We were blinded by - "
"Please," Mortati replied. "Our minds sometimes see what our hearts wish were true."
The cardinal was silent a long time. Finally he spoke. "Have you been told? You are no longer our Great Elector."
Mortati smiled. "Yes. I thank God for small blessings."
"The college insisted you be eligible."
"It seems charity is not dead in the church."
"You are a wise man. You would lead us well."
"I am an old man. I would lead you briefly."
They both laughed.
As they reached the end of the Borgia Courtyard, the cardinal hesitated. He turned to Mortati with a troubled mystification, as if the precarious awe of the night before had slipped back into his heart.
"Were you aware," the cardinal whispered, "that we found no remains on the balcony?"
Mortati smiled. "Perhaps the rain washed them away."
The man looked to the stormy heavens. "Yes, perhaps..."
The midmorning sky still hung heavy with clouds as the Sistine Chapel's chimney gave up its first faint puffs of white smoke. The pearly wisps curled upward toward the firmament and slowly dissipated.
Far below, in St. Peter's Square, reporter Gunther Glick watched in reflective silence. The final chapter...
Chinita Macri approached him from behind and hoisted her camera onto her shoulder. "It's time," she said.
Glick nodded dolefully. He turned toward her, smoothed his hair, and took a deep breath. My last transmission, he thought. A small crowd had gathered around them to watch.
"Live in sixty seconds," Macri announced.
Glick glanced over his shoulder at the roof of the Sistine Chapel behind him. "Can you get the smoke?"
Macri patiently nodded. "I know how to frame a shot, Gunther."
Glick felt dumb. Of course she did. Macri's performance behind the camera last night had probably won her the Pulitzer. His performance, on the other hand... he didn't want to think about it. He was sure the BBC would let him go; no doubt they would have legal troubles from numerous powerful entities... CERN and George Bush among them.
"You look good," Chinita patronized, looking out from behind her camera now with a hint of concern. "I wonder if I might offer you..." She hesitated, holding her tongue.
Macri sighed. "I was only going to say that there's no need to go out with a bang."
"I know," he said. "You want a straight wrap."
"The straightest in history. I'm trusting you."
Glick smiled. A straight wrap? Is she crazy? A story like last night's deserved so much more. A twist. A final bombshell. An unforeseen revelation of shocking truth.
Fortunately, Glick had just the ticket waiting in the wings...
"You're on in... five... four... three..."
As Chinita Macri looked through her camera, she sensed a sly glint in Glick's eye. I was insane to let him do this, she thought. What was I thinking?
But the moment for second thoughts had passed. They were on.
"Live from Vatican City," Glick announced on cue, "this is Gunther Glick reporting." He gave the camera a solemn stare as the white smoke rose behind him from the Sistine Chapel. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is now official. Cardinal Saverio Mortati, a seventy-nine-year-old progressive, has just been elected the next Pope of Vatican City. Although an unlikely candidate, Mortati was chosen by an unprecedented unanimous vote by the College of Cardinals."
As Macri watched him, she began to breathe easier. Glick seemed surprisingly professional today. Even austere. For the first time in his life, Glick actually looked and sounded somewhat like a newsman.
"And as we reported earlier," Glick added, his voice intensifying perfectly, "the Vatican has yet to offer any statement whatsoever regarding the miraculous events of last night."
Good. Chinita's nervousness waned some more. So far, so good.
Glick's expression grew sorrowful now. "And though last night was a night of wonder, it was also a night of tragedy. Four cardinals perished in yesterday's conflict, along with Commander Olivetti and Captain Rocher of the Swiss Guard, both in the line of duty. Other casualties include Leonardo Vetra, the renowned CERN physicist and pioneer of antimatter technology, as well as Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN, who apparently came to Vatican City in an effort to help but reportedly passed away in the process. No official report has been issued yet on Mr. Kohler's death, but conjecture is that he died due to complications brought on by a long-time illness."
Macri nodded. The report was going perfectly. Just as they discussed.
"And in the wake of the explosion in the sky over the Vatican last night, CERN's antimatter technology has become the hot topic among scientists, sparking excitement and controversy. A statement read by Mr. Kohler's assistant in Geneva, Sylvie Baudeloque, announced this morning that CERN's board of directors, although enthusiastic about antimatter's potential, are suspending all research and licensing until further inquiries into its safety can be examined."
Excellent, Macri thought. Home stretch.
"Notably absent from our screens tonight," Glick reported, "is the face of Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who came to Vatican City yesterday to lend his expertise during this Illuminati crisis. Although originally thought to have perished in the antimatter blast, we now have reports that Langdon was spotted in St. Peter's Square after the explosion. How he got there is still speculation, although a spokesman from Hospital Tiberina claims that Mr. Langdon fell out of the sky into the Tiber River shortly after midnight, was treated, and released." Glick arched his eyebrows at the camera. "And if that is true... it was indeed a night of miracles."
Perfect ending! Macri felt herself smiling broadly. Flawless wrap! Now sign off!
But Glick did not sign off. Instead, he paused a moment and then stepped toward the camera. He had a mysterious smile. "But before we sign off..."
"... I would like to invite a guest to join me."
Chinita's hands froze on the camera. A guest? What the hell is he doing? What guest! Sign off! But she knew it was too late. Glick had committed.
"The man I am about to introduce," Glick said, "is an American... a renowned scholar."
Chinita hesitated. She held her breath as Glick turned to the small crowd around them and motioned for his guest to step forward. Macri said a silent prayer. Please tell me he somehow located Robert Langdon... and not some Illuminati-conspiracy nutcase.
But as Glick's guest stepped out, Macri's heart sank. It was not Robert Langdon at all. It was a bald man in blue jeans and a flannel shirt. He had a cane and thick glasses. Macri felt terror. Nutcase!
"May I introduce," Glick announced, "the renowned Vatican scholar from De Paul University in Chicago. Dr. Joseph Vanek."
Macri now hesitated as the man joined Glick on camera. This was no conspiracy buff; Macri had actually heard of this guy.
"Dr. Vanek," Glick said. "You have some rather startling information to share with us regarding last night's conclave."
"I do indeed," Vanek said. "After a night of such surprises, it is hard to imagine there are any surprises left... and yet..." He paused.
Glick smiled. "And yet, there is a strange twist to all this."
Vanek nodded. "Yes. As perplexing as this will sound, I believe the College of Cardinals unknowingly elected two Popes this weekend."
Macri almost dropped the camera.
Glick gave a shrewd smile. "Two Popes, you say?"
The scholar nodded. "Yes. I should first say that I have spent my life studying the laws of papal election. Conclave judicature is extremely complex, and much of it is now forgotten or ignored as obsolete. Even the Great Elector is probably not aware of what I am about to reveal. Nonetheless... according to the ancient forgotten laws put forth in the Romano Pontifici Eligendo, Numero 63... balloting is not the only method by which a Pope can be elected. There is another, more divine method. It is called 'Acclamation by Adoration.'" He paused. "And it happened last night."
Glick gave his guest a riveted look. "Please, go on."
"As you may recall," the scholar continued, "last night, when Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca was standing on the roof of the basilica, all of the cardinals below began calling out his name in unison."
"Yes, I recall."
"With that image in mind, allow me to read verbatim from the ancient electoral laws." The man pulled some papers from his pocket, cleared his throat, and began to read. "'Election by Adoration occurs when... all the cardinals, as if by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, freely and spontaneously, unanimously and aloud, proclaim one individual's name.'"
Glick smiled. "So you're saying that last night, when the cardinals chanted Carlo Ventresca's name together, they actually elected him Pope?"
"They did indeed. Furthermore, the law states that Election by Adoration supercedes the cardinal eligibility requirement and permits any clergyman - ordained priest, bishop, or cardinal - to be elected. So, as you can see, the camerlegno was perfectly qualified for papal election by this procedure." Dr. Vanek looked directly into the camera now. "The facts are these... Carlo Ventresca was elected Pope last night. He reigned for just under seventeen minutes. And had he not ascended miraculously into a pillar of fire, he would now be buried in the Vatican Grottoes along with the other Popes."
"Thank you, doctor." Glick turned to Macri with a mischievous wink. "Most illuminating..."
High atop the steps of the Roman Coliseum, Vittoria laughed and called down to him. "Robert, hurry up! I knew I should have married a younger man!" Her smile was magic.
He struggled to keep up, but his legs felt like stone. "Wait," he begged. "Please..."
There was a pounding in his head.
Robert Langdon awoke with a start.
He lay still for a long time in the foreign softness of the bed, unable to figure out where he was. The pillows were goose down, oversized and wonderful. The air smelled of potpourri. Across the room, two glass doors stood open to a lavish balcony, where a light breeze played beneath a glistening cloud-swept moon. Langdon tried to remember how he had gotten here... and where here was.
Surreal wisps of memory sifted back into his consciousness...
A pyre of mystical fire... an angel materializing from out of the crowd... her soft hand taking his and leading him into the night... guiding his exhausted, battered body through the streets... leading him here... to this suite... propping him half-sleeping in a scalding hot shower... leading him to this bed... and watching over him as he fell asleep like the dead.
In the dimness now, Langdon could see a second bed. The sheets were tousled, but the bed was empty. From one of the adjoining rooms, he could hear the faint, steady stream of a shower.
As he gazed at Vittoria's bed, he saw a boldly embroidered seal on her pillowcase. It read: HOTEL BERNINI. Langdon had to smile. Vittoria had chosen well. Old World luxury overlooking Bernini's Triton Fountain... there was no more fitting hotel in all of Rome.
As Langdon lay there, he heard a pounding and realized what had awoken him. Someone was knocking at the door. It grew louder.
Confused, Langdon got up. Nobody knows we're here, he thought, feeling a trace of uneasiness. Donning a luxuriant Hotel Bernini robe, he walked out of the bedroom into the suite's foyer. He stood a moment at the heavy oak door, and then pulled it open.
A powerful man adorned in lavish purple and yellow regalia stared down at him. "I am Lieutenant Chartrand," the man said. "Vatican Swiss Guard."
Langdon knew full well who he was. "How... how did you find us?"
"I saw you leave the square last night. I followed you. I'm relieved you're still here."
Langdon felt a sudden anxiety, wondering if the cardinals had sent Chartrand to escort Langdon and Vittoria back to Vatican City. After all, the two of them were the only two people beyond the College of Cardinals who knew the truth. They were a liability.
"His Holiness asked me to give this to you," Chartrand said, handing over an envelope sealed with the Vatican signet. Langdon opened the envelope and read the handwritten note.
Mr. Langdon and Ms. Vetra,
Although it is my profound desire to request your discretion in the matters of the past 24 hours, I cannot possibly presume to ask more of you than you have already given. I therefore humbly retreat hoping only that you let your hearts guide you in this matter. The world seems a better place today... maybe the questions are more powerful than the answers.
My door is always open,
His Holiness, Saverio Mortati
Langdon read the message twice. The College of Cardinals had obviously chosen a noble and munificent leader.
Before Langdon could say anything, Chartrand produced a small package. "A token of thanks from His Holiness."
Langdon took the package. It was heavy, wrapped in brown paper.
"By his decree," Chartrand said, "this artifact is on indefinite loan to you from the sacred Papal Vault. His Holiness asks only that in your last will and testament you ensure it finds its way home."
Langdon opened the package and was struck speechless. It was the brand. The Illuminati Diamond.
Chartrand smiled. "May peace be with you." He turned to go.
"Thank... you," Langdon managed, his hands trembling around the precious gift.
The guard hesitated in the hall. "Mr. Langdon, may I ask you something?"
"My fellow guards and I are curious. Those last few minutes... what happened up there in the helicopter?"
Langdon felt a rush of anxiety. He knew this moment was coming - the moment of truth. He and Vittoria had talked about it last night as they stole away from St. Peter's Square. And they had made their decision. Even before the Pope's note.
Vittoria's father had dreamed his antimatter discovery would bring about a spiritual awakening. Last night's events were no doubt not what he had intended, but the undeniable fact remained... at this moment, around the world, people were considering God in ways they never had before. How long the magic would last, Langdon and Vittoria had no idea, but they knew they could never shatter the wonderment with scandal and doubt. The Lord works in strange ways, Langdon told himself, wondering wryly if maybe... just maybe... yesterday had been God's will after all.
"Mr. Langdon?" Chartrand repeated. "I was asking about the helicopter?"
Langdon gave a sad smile. "Yes, I know..." He felt the words flow not from his mind but from his heart. "Perhaps it was the shock of the fall... but my memory... it seems... it's all a blur..."
Chartrand slumped. "You remember nothing?"
Langdon sighed. "I fear it will remain a mystery forever."
When Robert Langdon returned to the bedroom, the vision awaiting him stopped him in his tracks. Vittoria stood on the balcony, her back to the railing, her eyes gazing deeply at him. She looked like a heavenly apparition... a radiant silhouette with the moon behind her. She could have been a Roman goddess, enshrouded in her white terrycloth robe, the drawstring cinched tight, accentuating her slender curves. Behind her, a pale mist hung like a halo over Bernini's Triton Fountain.
Langdon felt wildly drawn to her... more than to any woman in his life. Quietly, he lay the Illuminati Diamond and the Pope's letter on his bedside table. There would be time to explain all of that later. He went to her on the balcony.
Vittoria looked happy to see him. "You're awake," she said, in a coy whisper. "Finally."
Langdon smiled. "Long day."
She ran a hand through her luxuriant hair, the neck of her robe falling open slightly. "And now... I suppose you want your reward."
The comment took Langdon off guard. "I'm... sorry?"
"We're adults, Robert. You can admit it. You feel a longing. I see it in your eyes. A deep, carnal hunger." She smiled. "I feel it too. And that craving is about to be satisfied."
"It is?" He felt emboldened and took a step toward her.
"Completely." She held up a room-service menu. "I ordered everything they've got."
The feast was sumptuous. They dined together by moonlight... sitting on their balcony... savoring frisee, truffles, and risotto. They sipped Dolcetto wine and talked late into the night.
Langdon did not need to be a symbologist to read the signs Vittoria was sending him. During dessert of boysenberry cream with savoiardi and steaming Romcaffe, Vittoria pressed her bare legs against his beneath the table and fixed him with a sultry stare. She seemed to be willing him to set down his fork and carry her off in his arms.
But Langdon did nothing. He remained the perfect gentleman. Two can play at this game, he thought, hiding a roguish smile.
When all the food was eaten, Langdon retired to the edge of his bed where he sat alone, turning the Illuminati Diamond over and over in his hands, making repeated comments about the miracle of its symmetry. Vittoria stared at him, her confusion growing to an obvious frustration.
"You find that ambigram terribly interesting, don't you?" she demanded.
Langdon nodded. "Mesmerizing."
"Would you say it's the most interesting thing in this room?"
Langdon scratched his head, making a show of pondering it. "Well, there is one thing that interests me more."
She smiled and took a step toward him. "That being?"
"How you disproved that Einstein theory using tuna fish."
Vittoria threw up her hands. "Dio m¨¬o! Enough with the tuna fish! Don't play with me, I'm warning you."
Langdon grinned. "Maybe for your next experiment, you could study flounders and prove the earth is flat."
Vittoria was steaming now, but the first faint hints of an exasperated smile appeared on her lips. "For your information, professor, my next experiment will make scientific history. I plan to prove neutrinos have mass."
"Neutrinos have mass?" Langdon shot her a stunned look. "I didn't even know they were Catholic!"
With one fluid motion, she was on him, pinning him down. "I hope you believe in life after death, Robert Langdon." Vittoria was laughing as she straddled him, her hands holding him down, her eyes ablaze with a mischievous fire.
"Actually," he choked, laughing harder now, "I've always had trouble picturing anything beyond this world."
"Really? So you've never had a religious experience? A perfect moment of glorious rapture?"
Langdon shook his head. "No, and I seriously doubt I'm the kind of man who could ever have a religious experience."
Vittoria slipped off her robe. "You've never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?"