Authors: Daniel Silva
Niklaus had already
pulled two shifts that day. Arch of Bells in the morning, Bronze Doors in the afternoon. When he arrived at the papal apartments
at nine p.m., his legs were shaking with fatigue. The first person he saw was the Holy Father's private secretary. He was
on his way out.
“Did he know where I was going?”
“Dinner with a friend. Outside the walls.”
“Did he know the friend's name?”
“A rich woman who lived near the Villa Borghese. Her husband died in a fall from the dome of the basilica. Niklaus said you
were there when it happened.”
“Where did he hear a thing like that?”
“Where do you think?”
She nodded. She was holding her mug of coffee with both hands. A nimbus of steam swirled about her flawless face.
“What happened after I left?”
“Cardinal Albanese arrived around nine thirty.”
“The cardinal told me he didn't arrive until ten.”
“That was his
visit,” said Stefani Hoffmann. “Not the first.”
Cardinal Albanese had not told Donati about an earlier visit to the
. Nor had he included it in the official Vatican time line. That single inconsistency, were it ever to become public, would
be enough to plunge the Church into scandal.
“Did Albanese tell Niklaus why he was there?”
“No. But he was carrying an attachÃ© case with the coat of arms of the Archives on the side.”
“How long did he stay?”
“Only a few minutes.”
“Did he have the attachÃ© case when he left?”
“And when he came back at ten o'clock?”
“He told Niklaus that the Holy Father had invited him to pray in the private chapel.”
“Who arrived next?”
“Three cardinals. Navarro, Gaubert, and Francona.”
“When did Dottore Gallo arrive?”
“Eleven o'clock. Colonel Metzler and a Vatican cop showed up a few minutes after that.” She lowered her voice. “Then you,
Archbishop Donati. You were the last.”
“Did Niklaus know what was happening inside?”
“He had a pretty good idea, but he wasn't certain until the ambulance attendants arrived with the gurney.”
A few minutes after they entered the apartment, she continued, Metzler came out. He confirmed the obvious. The Holy Father
was dead. He warned Niklaus that he was never to speak of what he had witnessed that evening. Not to his comrades in the Guard,
not to his friends and family, and certainly not to the media. Then he ordered Niklaus to remain on duty until the Holy Father's
body was removed and the apartment sealed. The camerlengo performed the ritual at half past two.
“Did Cardinal Albanese remove anything from the apartment when he left?”
“One item. He said he wanted something to help him remember the saintliness of the Holy Father. Something he had touched.”
“What was it?”
Donati's heart banged against his rib cage. “What kind of book?”
“An English murder mystery.” Stefani Hoffmann shook her head. “Can you imagine that?”
By the time
Niklaus left the Apostolic Palace, the Press Office had announced the Holy Father's death. St. Peter's Square was ablaze with the spectral light of the television crews, and in the cloisters and courtyards of the Vatican, nuns and priests were gathered in small groups, praying, weeping. Niklaus was
weeping, too. Alone in his room in the barracks, he changed into civilian clothing and tossed a few things into his duffel bag. He slipped out of the Vatican around five thirty that morning.
“Why did he go to Florence instead of coming home to Switzerland?”
“He was afraid they would find him.”
“And you had no other contact other than the single phone call? No texts or e-mails?”
“Only the package. It arrived the day after I spoke to him.”
“What was it?”
“A dreadful devotional painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I can't imagine why he would send me such a thing.”
“Was there anything else in the package?”
“Niklaus's rosary.” She paused, then added, “And a letter.”
“To whom was it addressed?”
“Me. Who else?”
“What did it say?”
“He apologized for joining the Order of St. Helena and breaking off our engagement. He said it was a terrible mistake. He
said they were evil. Especially Bishop Richter.”
“May I read it?”
“No,” she said. “Some parts are too private.”
Donati let it go. For now. “Colonel Metzler told me he spoke to you.”
“He called me the day after the Holy Father died. He said Niklaus had left the barracks without authorization. He asked whether I'd spoken to him. I told him I hadn't, which was true at the time.”
“Was Metzler the only person who contacted you?”
“No. I heard from someone else the next day.”
“Herr Bauer. The man from Vatican intelligence.”
There it was again, thought Donati.
.Â .Â .
“Did Herr Bauer show you any identification?”
She shook her head.
“Did he say what division of Vatican intelligence he worked for?”
“German. Probably from Bavaria, judging by the accent.”
“He phoned you?”
“No. He showed up at the restaurant unannounced, like you and Herr Kiever.”
“What did he want?”
“The same thing Metzler wanted. Where was Niklaus?”
“And when you told him you didn't know?”
“I'm not sure he believed me.”
“Describe him, please.”
It was Gabriel who had posed the question. Stefani Hoffmann lifted her eyes to the ceiling.
“Tall, well dressed, late forties, maybe early fifties.”
With his expression, Gabriel made it clear her answer was a disappointment. “Come now, Stefani. You can do better than that. You're an artist, after all.”
“I'm a contemporary painter who reveres Rothko and Pollock. Portraits aren't my specialty.”
“But surely you could produce one in a pinch.”
“Not a good one. And not from memory.”
“Perhaps I can be of help.”
“Bring me your sketchpad and a box of acrylic pencils, and I'll show you.”
They worked without pause
for the better part of the next hour, side by side at the kitchen table, with Donati watching anxiously over their shoulders.
As Gabriel suspected, Stefani Hoffmann's memory of the man she knew as Maximillian Bauer was far sharper than even she had
imagined. All it took were the right sort of questions posed by an expert draftsman and student of human anatomyâa gifted
restorer who could mimic the brushstrokes of Bellini and Titian and Tintoretto, a healer who had repaired the tattered face
of Mary and the pierced hand of Christ.
It was a noble face she described. High cheekbones, a slender nose, a refined chin, a thin mouth that did not smile easily,
all crowned by a shock of gray-blond hair. He was a worthy opponent, thought Gabriel. A man not to be trifled with. A man
who never lost at games of chance.
“So much for the occasional watercolor on holiday,” said Ste
fani Hoffmann. “You're obviously a professional. But I'm afraid the eyes are all wrong.”
“I drew the eyes the way you described them.”
She took the pad and on a blank page sketched a pair of humorless eyes set deeply beneath the ledge of a prominent brow. Gabriel
then sketched the rest of the face around them.
“That's him. That's the man who came to see me.”
Gabriel looked over his shoulder at Donati. “Do you recognize him?”
“I'm afraid not.”
Stefani Hoffmann took the sketch from Gabriel and deepened the lines around the mouth. “Now it's perfect,” she said. “But
what are you going to do with it?”
“I'm going to find out who he really is.”
She looked up from the sketchpad. “But who are
“I'm an associate of the archbishop.”
“Are you a priest?”
“No,” said Gabriel. “I'm a professional.”
Which left only
the letter. The letter in which Niklaus Janson had described the Order of St. Helena as evil. Three times Donati asked to
see it. Three times Stefani Hoffmann refused. The letter was of an intensely personal nature, written by an emotionally distressed
man whom she had known since childhood. A man who had been publicly murdered on the most famous bridge in Italy. She would
not show such a letter to her closest friend and confidante, she insisted, let alone a Roman Catholic archbishop.
“In that case,” said Donati, “might I at least see the picture?”
“Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? You don't get enough of that sort of thing at the Vatican?”
“I have my reasons.”
It was propped against the wall behind Stefani Hoffmann's chair, still entombed in a shallow cardboard box. Donati checked
the waybill. It was from a DHS Express near Roma Termini. Niklaus must have shipped it before boarding the train to Florence.
Donati removed the picture from the box and freed it from its cocoon of bubble wrap. It was about fourteen inches by twelve.
The illustration itself was a rather shopworn depiction of Jesus on the night before his torture and execution at the hands
of the Romans. The frame, museum glass, and matting were of high quality.
“Bishop Richter gave it to him the day he swore his oath of allegiance to the Order,” explained Stefani Hoffmann. “If you
turn it over, you'll see the Order's coat of arms.”
Donati was still staring at the image of Jesus.
“Don't tell me you actually like it.”
“It's not exactly Michelangelo,” he admitted. “But it's nearly identical to a picture that hung in my parents' bedroom in
the little house in Umbria where I was raised.”
Donati did not tell Stefani Hoffmann that after his mother's death he found several thousand euros hidden inside the picture.
His mother, justifiably, had distrusted Italian banks.
He turned over the picture. The Order of St. Helena's coat of arms was embossed on the back of the matting, which was held
in place by four metal brackets. One of the clasps, however, was loose.
Donati removed the other three and attempted to pry away the matting. Failing, he turned over the frame and allowed the weight of the glass panel to do the task for him.
It landed on the tabletop without shattering. Donati separated the matting from the picture and found a cream-colored envelope,
also of high quality. It, too, was decorated with a coat of arms.
The private papal armorial of His Holiness Pope Paul VII.
Donati lifted the flap. Inside were three sheets of rich stationery, almost like fine linen. He read the first lines. Then
he returned the letter to the envelope and pushed it across the table toward Gabriel.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I believe this belongs to you.”
It was approaching
nine o'clock by the time Gabriel and Donati arrived in Geneva, too late to make the last flight to Rome. They checked into
adjacent rooms at a small hotel near the St. Pierre Cathedral and then walked to Les Armures, a wood-paneled restaurant in
the Old Town. After placing his order, Gabriel rang a friend who worked for the NDB, Switzerland's small but capable foreign
intelligence and internal security service. The friend, whose name was Christoph Bittel, was the head of the counterterrorism
division. He answered guardedly. Gabriel had a long and distinguished track record in Switzerland. Bittel was still cleaning
up the mess from his last visit.
“Where are you?”
Gabriel answered truthfully.
“I'd order the veal cutlet if I were you.”
“I just did.”
“How long have you been in the country?”
“A few hours.”
“I don't suppose you arrived on a valid passport?”
Bittel sighed before inquiring as to the reason for Gabriel's call.
“I'd like you to place a Swiss citizen under protective surveillance.”
“How unusual. What's the Swiss citizen's name?”
Gabriel told him, then recited her address and place of work.
“Is she an ISIS terrorist? A Russian assassin?”
“No, Bittel. She's a painter.”
“Anyone in particular you're worried about?”
“I'll send you a composite. But whatever you do, don't give the job to that kid who watched my back in Bern a couple of years
“He's one of my best men.”
“He's also a former Swiss Guard.”
“Does this have something to do with Florence?”
“Why do you ask?”
“The Polizia di Stato just released the name of the victim in that shooting last night. He was a Swiss Guard. Come to think
of it, he was from Rechthalten, too.”
Gabriel killed the connection and checked the website of
Corriere della Sera
, Italy's premier newspaper. Donati went straight to the Twitter feed of the Vatican Press Office. There was a brief
, five minutes old. It expressed the Holy See's shock and
sorrow over the senseless and random act of gun violence that had claimed the life of Lance Corporal Niklaus Janson of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. It made no mention of the fact that Janson was on duty outside the papal apartments the night of the Holy Father's death. Nor did it explain why he was in Florence while his comrades were working overtime in preparation for the conclave.
“It's a masterpiece of curial doublespeak,” said Donati. “On its face, the statement is entirely accurate. But the lies of
omission are glaring. Clearly, Cardinal Albanese has no intention of allowing Niklaus's murder to delay the opening of the
“Perhaps we can convince him to see the error of his ways.”
“With what? A tawdry tale of sex and secretive religious orders, told by a woman who was bitter over the dissolution of her
engagement to a handsome young Swiss Guard?”
“You don't believe her story?”
“I believe every word of it. But that doesn't change the fact that it's pure hearsay, or that every element can be denied.”
“Except for this.” Gabriel displayed the envelope. The high-quality cream-colored envelope embossed with the private papal
armorial of His Holiness Pope Paul VII. “Do you really expect me to believe you didn't know what was in this letter?”
Gabriel removed the three sheets of stationery from the envelope. The letter had been composed in pale blue ink. The salutation
was informal. First name only.
Dear GabrielÂ .Â .Â .
There were no preliminaries or pleasantries.
While researching in the Vatican Secret Archives, I came upon a most remarkable bookÂ .Â .Â .
The book, he continued, had been given to him by a member of the Archives staff, without the knowledge of the
. It was stored in what was known as the
, a secret archive within the Secret Archives, located on the lower level of the Manuscript Depository. The material in the
was highly sensitive. Some of the books and files were political and administrative in nature. Others were doctrinal. None
were referenced in the one thousand directories and catalogues housed in the Index Room. Indeed, nowhere within the Archives
was there a written inventory of the material. The knowledge was passed down through the centuries verbally,
The letter did not identify the book in question, only that it had been suppressed by the Church during the Middle Ages and
had circulated secretly until the Renaissance, when it was finally hunted out of existence. The copy contained in the Secret
Archives was thought to be the last. The Holy Father had concluded it was authentic and accurate in its depiction of an important
historical event. It was his intention to place the book in Gabriel's hands at the earliest possible date. Gabriel would be
free to do with it as he pleased. His Holiness asked only that he treat the material with the utmost sensitivity. The book
would ignite a global sensation. Its unveiling would have to be carefully managed. Otherwise, the Holy Father warned, it would
be dismissed as a hoax.
The letter was unfinished. The final sentence was a fragment, the last word incomplete.
ArchiÂ .Â .Â .
Gabriel reckoned the Holy Father had been interrupted midsentence by the appearance of his killer. Donati did not disagree.
His prime suspect was Cardinal Camerlengo Domenico Albanese,
of the Vatican
Secret Archives. Gabriel politely informed Donati that he was mistaken.
“Then why did Albanese lie to me about his earlier visit to the
“I'm not saying he wasn't involved in the Holy Father's murder. But he wasn't the actual killer. He was only the bagman.”
Gabriel held up the letter. “Can we stipulate that the existence of this letter in Stefani Hoffmann's home is proof that Niklaus
Janson did not tell her everything that happened that night?”
Gabriel lowered the letter. “When Albanese arrived at nine thirty, the Holy Father was already dead. That's when he removed
the book from the papal study. He came back to the papal apartments at ten o'clock and carried the Holy Father's body from
the study into the bedroom.”
“But why didn't he remove the letter when he removed the book?”
“Because it wasn't there. It was in Niklaus Janson's pocket. He removed it before Albanese arrived the first time.”
“If I had to guess, Niklaus was feeling guilty about letting the murderer into the papal apartments. After the killer left,
he went inside to investigate. That was when he found the Holy Father dead and an unfinished letter lying on the desk blotter.”
“Why would Niklaus Janson have let a murderer into the papal apartments? He loved the Holy Father.”
“That's the easy part. The killer was someone he knew. Someone he trusted.” Gabriel paused. “Someone he was sworn to obey.”
Donati made no reply.
“Did Veronica tell you that Janson and Father Graf were involved in a sexual relationship?”
Donati hesitated, then nodded.
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because I didn't think it was true.” He paused. “Until tonight.”
“Who are they, Luigi?”
“The Order of St. Helena?”
“They're trouble,” said Donati. “Pure, unadulterated, undiluted, irredeemable trouble.”