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 to look.
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 Tolentino.
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 up.
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.
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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