Wednesday, November 8th, The Present
Monsignor Colin Michener heard the sound again and closed the book.
Somebody was there. He knew it.
He stood from the reading desk and stared around at the array of baroque
shelves. The ancient bookcases towered above him and more stood at
attention down narrow halls that spanned in both directions. The
cavernous room carried an aura, a mystique bred in part by its label.
L' Archivio Segreto Vaticano. The Secret Archives of the Vatican.
He'd always thought that name strange since little contained within the
volumes was secret. Most were merely the meticulous record of two
millennia of Church organization, the accounts from a time when popes
were kings, warriors, politicians, and lovers. All told there were
twenty-five miles of shelves which offered much if a searcher knew where
And Michener certainly did.
Re-focusing on the sound, his gaze drifted across the room, past frescos
of Constantine, Pepin, and Frederick II, before settling on an iron
grille at the far side. The space beyond the grille was dark and quiet.
The Riserva was accessed only by direct papal authority, the key
to the grille held by the Church's archivist. Michener had never entered
that chamber, though he'd stood dutifully outside while his boss, Pope
Clement XV, ventured inside. Even so, he was aware of some of the
precious documents that windowless space contained. The last letter of
Mary, Queen of Scots, before she was beheaded by Elizabeth I. The
petitions of seventy-five English lords asking the pope to annul Henry
VIII's first marriage. Galileo's signed confession. Napoleon's Treaty of
He studied the cresting and buttresses of the iron grille, a gilded
frieze of foliage and animals hammered into the metal above. The gate
itself had stood since the fourteenth century. Nothing in Vatican City
was ordinary. Everything carried the distinctive mark of a renowned
artist or a legendary craftsman, someone who'd labored for years trying
to please both his God and his pope.
He strode across the room, his footfalls echoing through the tepid air,
and stopped at the iron gate. A warm breeze swept past him from beyond
the grille. The right side of the portal was dominated by a huge hasp.
He tested the bolt. Locked and secure.
He turned back, wondering if one of the staff had entered the archives.
The duty scriptor had departed when he'd arrived earlier and no one else
would be allowed inside while he was there, since the papal secretary
needed no babysitter. But there were a multitude of doors that led in
and out, and he wondered if the noise he'd heard moments ago was that of
ancient hinges being worked open, then gently closed. It was hard to
tell. Sound within the great expanse was as confused as the writings.
He stepped to his right, toward one of the long corridors the Hall of
Parchments. Beyond was the Room of Inventories and Indexes. As he
walked, overhead bulbs flashed on and off, casting a succession of light
pools, and he felt as if he was underground, though he was two stories
He ventured only a little way, heard nothing, then turned around.
It was early in the day and mid-week. He'd chosen this time for his
research deliberately less chance of impeding others who'd gained access
to the archives, and less chance of attracting the attention of Curial
employees. He was on a mission for the Holy Father, his inquiries
private, but he was not alone. The last time, a week ago, he'd sensed
the same thing.
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