In St. Peter’s Square, the Swiss Guard pilot sat in the cockpit of the parked Vatican helicopter and rubbed his temples. The chaos in the square around him was so loud that it drowned out the sound of his idling rotors. This was no solemn candlelight vigil. He was amazed a riot had not broken out yet.
With less than twenty-five minutes left until midnight, the people were still packed together, some praying, some weeping for the church, others screaming obscenities and proclaiming that this was what the church deserved, still others chanting apocalyptic Bible verses.
The pilot’s head pounded as the media lights glinted off his windshield. He squinted out at the clamorous masses. Banners waved over the crowd.
Antimatter is the Antichrist!
Where is your God now?
The pilot groaned, his headache worsening. He half considered grabbing the windshield’s vinyl covering and putting it up so he wouldn’t have to watch, but he knew he would be airborne in a matter of minutes. Lieutenant Chartrand had just radioed with terrible news. The camerlegno had been attacked by Maximilian Kohler and seriously injured. Chartrand, the American, and the woman were carrying the camerlegno out now so he could be evacuated to a hospital.
The pilot felt personally responsible for the attack. He reprimanded himself for not acting on his gut. Earlier, when he had picked up Kohler at the airport, he had sensed something in the scientist’s dead eyes. He couldn’t place it, but he didn’t like it. Not that it mattered. Rocher was running the show, and Rocher insisted this was the guy. Rocher had apparently been wrong.
A new clamor arose from the crowd, and the pilot looked over to see a line of cardinals processing solemnly out of the Vatican onto St. Peter’s Square. The cardinals’ relief to be leaving ground zero seemed to be quickly overcome by looks of bewilderment at the spectacle now going on outside the church.
The crowd noise intensified yet again. The pilot’s head pounded. He needed an aspirin. Maybe three. He didn’t like to fly on medication, but a few aspirin would certainly be less debilitating than this raging headache. He reached for the first-aid kit, kept with assorted maps and manuals in a cargo box bolted between the two front seats. When he tried to open the box, though, he found it locked. He looked around for the key and then finally gave up. Tonight was clearly not his lucky night. He went back to massaging his temples.
Inside the darkened basilica, Langdon, Vittoria, and the two guards strained breathlessly toward the main exit. Unable to find anything more suitable, the four of them were transporting the wounded camerlegno on a narrow table, balancing the inert body between them as though on a stretcher. Outside the doors, the faint roar of human chaos was now audible. The camerlegno teetered on the brink of unconsciousness.
Time was running out.