He re-entered the main hall and stepped back to the reading desk, his attention still on the room. The floor was a zodiacal diagram oriented to the sun, its rays able to penetrate thanks to carefully positioned slits high in the walls. He knew that centuries ago the Gregorian calendar had been calculated at this precise spot. Yet no sunlight leaked in today. Outside was cold and wet, a mid-autumn rainstorm pelting Rome.
The volumes that had held his attention for the past two hours were neatly arranged on the lectern. Many had been composed within the past two decades. Four were much older. Two of the oldest were written in Italian, one was in Spanish, the other in Portuguese. He could read all of them with ease another reason Clement XV coveted his employment.
The Spanish and Italian accounts were of little value, both re-hashes of the Portuguese work: A Comprehensive and Detailed Study of the Reported Apparitions of the Holy Virgin Mary at Fatima May 13, 1917 to October 13, 1917.
Pope Benedict XV had ordered the investigation in 1922 as part of the Church's investigation into what supposedly had occurred in a remote Portuguese valley. The entire manuscript was handwritten, the ink faded to a warm yellow so the words appeared as if they were scripted in gold. The Bishop of Leira had performed a thorough inquiry, spending eight years in all, and the information later became critical in the 1930 acknowledgment by the Vatican that the Virgin's six earthly appearances at Fatima were worthy of assent. Three appendices, now attached to the original, were generated in the 1950s, 60s, and 90s.
Michener had studied them all with the thoroughness of the lawyer he'd been trained by the Church to be. Seven years at the University of Munich had earned him his degrees, yet he'd never practiced law conventionally. His was a world of ecclesiastical pronouncements and canonical decrees. Precedent spanned two millennia and relied more on an understanding of the times than on any notion of stare decisis. His arduous legal training had become invaluable to his Church service, as the logic of the law had many times become an ally in the confusing mire of divine politics. More importantly, it had just helped him find in this labyrinth of forgotten information what Clement XV wanted.
The sound came again.
A soft squeak, like two limbs rubbing together in a breeze, or a mouse announcing its presence.
He rushed toward the source and glanced both ways.
Fifty feet off to the left, a door led out of the archive. He approached the portal and tested the lock. It yielded. He strained to open the heavy slab of carved oak and the iron hinges squealed ever so slightly.
A sound he recognized.
The hallway beyond was empty, but a gleam on the marble floor caught his attention.
The transparent clumps of moisture came with regularity, the droplets leading off into the corridor, then back through the doorway into the archive. Suspended within some were remnants of mud, leaves, and grass.
He followed the trail with his gaze which stopped at the end of a row of shelves. Rain continued to pound the roof.
Excerpted from The Third Secret by Steve Berry Copyright © 2005 by Steve Berry. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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