Authors: Daniel Silva
“I thought she told you she didn't know anything.”
“I had the distinct impression she wasn't telling the truth,” answered Estermann.
“Was the Janson boy in possession of the letter when he was killed?”
“Our friends in the Polizia di Stato say not. Which means it's probably in the hands of Archbishop Donati.”
Bishop Richter exhaled heavily. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
“I would advise against it,” said Estermann. “Donati's death would undoubtedly delay the start of the conclave.”
“Then perhaps we should kill his friend instead.”
Estermann stopped pacing. “Easier said than done.”
“Where are they now?”
“Back in Rome.”
“We're good, Bishop Richter. But not that good.”
“May I offer you a piece of advice?”
“Of course, Excellency.”
“Get better. And quickly.”
The main entrance
of the Vatican Secret Archives was located on the northern side of the Belvedere Courtyard. Only accredited historians and
researchers were granted access, and only after a thorough vetting, presided over by none other than the
, Cardinal Domenico Albanese. Visitors were not permitted to venture beyond the
sala di studio
, a reading room furnished with two long rows of ancient wooden desks, recently upgraded with electrical outlets for laptop computers. With rare exceptions, only members of the staff went down to the Manuscript Depository, which was reached via a cramped lift in the Index Room. Even Donati had never been there. Try as he might, he could fathom no set of circumstances, no reasonable-sounding cover story, that would allow
him to wander the Depository unaccompanied, let alone with the director-general of Israel's secret intelligence service at his side.
It was for that reason Gabriel and Donati went straight to the Israeli Embassy after their return to Rome. There they descended
to a secure communications room known as the Holy of Holies, where Gabriel conducted a conference call with Uzi Navot and
Yuval Gershon, the director of Unit 8200. Navot was appalled by the operation Gabriel had in mind. Gershon, however, could
not believe his good fortune. Having cracked the data network of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, he was now being asked to seize
control of the power supply and security system of the Vatican Secret Archives. For a cyberwarrior, it was a dream assignment.
“Can it be done?” asked Gabriel.
“You're joking, right?”
“How long will it take?”
“Forty-eight hours, to be on the safe side.”
“I can give you twenty-four. But twelve would be better.”
It was dusk when Gabriel and Donati finally slipped from the Israeli compound in the back of an embassy car. After dropping
Donati at the Jesuit Curia, the driver took Gabriel to the safe flat near the top of the Spanish Steps. Exhausted, he crawled
into the unmade bed and plunged into a dreamless sleep. His phone woke him at seven the next morning. It was Yuval Gershon.
“I'd feel better if we did a few dry runs, but we're ready when you are.”
Gabriel showered and dressed, then walked through the cold
Roman morning to the Borgo Santo Spirito. Donati met him at the entrance of the Jesuit Curia and escorted him upstairs to his rooms.
It was half past eight.
“You can't possibly be serious.”
“Would you prefer to dress as a nun?”
Gabriel looked at the clothing laid out on the bed: a clerical suit, a black shirt with a Roman collar. He had utilized many
disguises during his long career, but never had he concealed himself beneath the mantle of a priest.
“Who am I supposed to be?”
Donati handed him a Vatican pass.
“Father Franco Benedetti?”
“It has a certain flair, don't you think?”
“That's because it's a Jewish name.”
“So is Donati.”
Gabriel frowned at the photograph. “I look nothing like him.”
“Consider yourself lucky. But don't worry, the Swiss Guards probably won't even bother to check it.”
Gabriel did not disagree. While restoring Caravaggio's
Deposition of Christ
for the Vatican Museums, he had been issued a pass that granted him access to the conservation labs. The Swiss Guard at St.
Anne's Gate had rarely given it more than a cursory glance before waving him onto the territory of the city-state. Most members
of Rome's large religious community seldom bothered to display their credentials. Annona, the name of the Vatican supermarket,
worked like a secret password.
Gabriel held the clerical suit against his body.
“Stefani Hoffmann was right,” said Donati. “You really do look like a priest.”
“Let's hope no one asks for my blessing.”
Donati waved his hand dismissively. “There's nothing to it.”
Gabriel went into the bathroom and changed. When he emerged, Donati straightened the Roman collar.
“How do you feel?”
Gabriel slipped a Beretta into the waistband of his trousers at the small of his back. “Much better.”
Donati grabbed his briefcase on the way out the door and led Gabriel downstairs to the street. They walked to Bernini's Colonnade,
then turned to the right. The Piazza Papa Pio XII was jammed with satellite trucks and reporters, including a correspondent
from French television who pressed Donati for a comment on the approaching conclave. She relented when the archbishop shot
her a curial glare.
“Very impressive,” said Gabriel, sotto voce.
“I have something of a reputation.”
They passed beneath the Passetto, the elevated escape route last utilized by Pope Clement VII in 1527 during the Sack of Rome,
and walked along the pink facade of the Swiss Guard barracks. A halberdier in a simple blue uniform stood watch at St. Anne's
Gate. Donati crossed the invisible border without slowing. Waving Father Benedetti's pass, Gabriel did the same. Together
they headed up the Via Sant'Anna toward the Apostolic Palace.
“Do you suppose that nice Swiss boy is watching us?”
“Like a hawk,” murmured Donati.
“How long before he tells Metzler you're back in town?”
“If I had to guess, he already has.”
Cardinal Domenico Albanese
, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives and camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, was sampling the global television coverage
of the pending conclave when the power suddenly failed in his apartment above the Lapidary Gallery. It was not an altogether
unusual occurrence. The Vatican received most of its electricity from Rome's notoriously fickle grid. Consequently, the denizens
of the Curia spent much of their time in the dark, which surely would not have come as a surprise to their critics.
Most curial cardinals scarcely noticed the periodic outages. Domenico Albanese, however, was the ruler of a climate-controlled
empire of secrets, much of it underground. Electricity was necessary for the smooth administration of his realm. Because it
was a Sunday, the Archives were officially closed, thus reducing the likelihood of a priceless Vatican treasure walking out
the door. Still, Albanese preferred to err on the side of caution.
He lifted the receiver of the phone on his desk and dialed the Archives' control room. There was no answer. In fact, there
was no sound at all. Albanese rattled the switch. Only then did he realize there was no dial tone. It appeared the Vatican's
phone system was down as well.
He was still dressed in his nightclothes. Fortunately, he lived above the store. A private corridor overlooking the Belvedere Courtyard delivered him to the upper level of the Secret Archives. There was not a light burning anywhere. In the control
room a pair of security guards sat staring at a wall of darkened video monitors. The entire network appeared frozen.
“Why haven't you switched over to auxiliary power?” asked Albanese.
“It's not functioning, Eminence.”
“Is there anyone inside the Archives?”
sala di studio
and the Index Rooms are empty. So is the Manuscript Depository.”
“Go downstairs and have a look, just to be sure.”
“Right away, Eminence.”
Satisfied his kingdom was safe from danger, Albanese returned to his apartment and drew his morning bath, unaware of the two
men walking along the Via Sant'Anna, past the entrance of the Vatican Bank. One of the men had a gun concealed beneath his
ill-fitting clerical suit and an unusually large mobile phone pressed to his ear. Highly secure, it was connected to an operations
room in north Tel Aviv, where a team of the world's most formidable hackers awaited his next command. Needless to say, Albanese's
realm was far from secure. Indeed, at that moment, it was in mortal peril.
Before reaching the
entrance to the Belvedere Courtyard, Gabriel and Donati turned to the right and wound their way through the business quarter
of Vatican City to a seldom-used service door at the base of the antiquity-filled Chiaramonti Museum. It was adjacent to a
complex of industrial air conditioners that controlled the climate in the Manuscript Depository, which lay several meters
beneath their feet.
Gabriel stared directly into the lens of the security camera. “Can you see me?”
“Nice outfit,” said Yuval Gershon.
“Just open the door.”
The deadbolt thumped. Donati pulled the latch and led Gabriel into a small foyer. Directly before them was a second door and
another security camera. Gabriel gave the signal, and Yuval Gershon opened the door remotely.
Beyond it was a stairwell. Four flights down, Gabriel and Donati arrived at another door. It was the first level of the Manuscript
Depository. Four additional flights brought them to the second level and yet another door. A buzzer groaned, a deadbolt snapped.
Donati seized the latch, and together they went inside.
The darkness was
impenetrable. Gabriel switched on his phone's unusually bright flashlight and was somewhat disappointed by what he saw. At
first glance, the Manuscript Depository looked like the underground level of an ordinary university library. There were even
trolleys piled with books. He illuminated the spine of one of the volumes. It was a collection of wartime diplomatic documents
and cables from the Secretariat of State.
“Next time,” promised Donati.
An empty aisle stretched before them, lined on both sides with gunmetal-gray shelves. Gabriel and Donati followed it to an
intersection and turned to the right. After about thirty meters, a woven wire mesh storage enclosure blocked their path.
Gabriel played the beam of his flashlight around the interior.
The books resting on the metal shelves were very old. Some were the size of a typical monograph. Others were smaller and covered in cracked leather. None looked as though they had been produced by anything other than a human hand.
“I think we've come to the right place.”
They were now at the westernmost edge of the Depository, directly beneath the Cortile della Pigna. Donati led Gabriel past
a row of enclosures to an unmarked metal door, pale green, watched over by a security camera. There was no sign or placard
to indicate the sort of material stored in the chamber behind it. The professional-grade locks looked newly installed. There
was one for the deadbolt and a second for the latch. Both appeared to be five-pin mechanisms.
Gabriel handed his phone to Donati. Then he drew a thin metal tool from the pocket of his borrowed clerical suit and inserted
it into the mechanism for the deadbolt.
“Is there anything you
do?” asked Donati.
“I can't pick this lock if you don't stop talking.”
“How long will it take?”
“That depends on how many more questions you intend to ask.”
Donati aimed the beam of the flashlight at the lock. Gabriel worked the tool gently inside the mechanism, testing for resistance,
listening for the drop of a pin.
“Don't bother,” said a voice calmly. “You won't find what you're looking for.”
Gabriel turned. In the darkness he could see nothing. Donati aimed the phone's flashlight into the void. It illuminated a
man in a cassock. No, thought Gabriel. Not a cassock. A robe.
The man moved forward, soundlessly, on sandaled feet. He was
identical to Gabriel in height and build, about five eight, no more than a hundred and sixty pounds. His hair was black and curly, his skin was dark. He had an ancient face, like an icon come to life.
He took another step forward. His left hand was heavily bandaged. So was his right. It was clutching a manila envelope.
“Who are you?” asked Donati.
His face registered no change in expression. “You don't know me? I'm Father Joshua, Excellency.”
He spoke fluent Italian, the language of the Vatican, but it was obviously not his native tongue. His name seemed to mean
nothing to Donati.
He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “You mustn't stay long. Cardinal Albanese instructed the security guards to search the
Depository. They're on their way.”
“How do you know?”
He lowered his gaze toward the pale-green door. “I'm afraid the book is gone, Excellency.”
“Do you know what it was?”
“This will tell you everything you need to know.” The priest handed Donati the envelope. The flap was sealed with clear packing
tape. “Don't open it until you're outside the walls of the Vatican.”
“What is it?” asked Donati.
The priest lifted his eyes toward the ceiling again. “It's time for you to leave, Excellency. They're coming.”
Only then was
Gabriel able to hear the voices. He seized his phone from Donati and extinguished the light. The darkness was absolute.
“Follow me,” whispered Father Joshua. “I know the way.”
They walked in a single file, the priest leading, Gabriel behind Donati. They made a right turn, then a left, and a moment
later they were back at the door through which they had entered the Depository. It opened to Father Joshua's touch. He raised
a hand in farewell and then melted once more into the gloom.
They entered the stairwell and climbed the eight flights of steps. Gabriel's phone had lost its connection to Unit 8200. When
he redialed, Yuval Gershon answered instantly.
“I was getting worried.”
“Can you see us?”
“I can now.”
Gershon unlocked the last two doors simultaneously. Outside, the sharp Roman sunlight dazzled their eyes. Donati slipped the
envelope into his briefcase and reset the combination locks.
“Maybe I should carry that,” said Gabriel as they set off toward the Via Sant'Anna.
“I outrank you, Father Benedetti.”
“That's true, Excellency. But I'm the one with the gun.”
It was at
that instant the lights flickered to life in Cardinal Domenico Albanese's apartment. Dripping wet, he lifted the receiver
of his internal Vatican phone and heard the pleasing pulse of a dial tone. The duty officer in the Archives control room answered
on the first ring. Yes, he said, the power had been restored. The computer network was in the process of rebooting, and the
security cameras and automatic doors were once again functioning normally.
“Is there any evidence of an intrusion?”
Relieved, Albanese placed the receiver gently in its cradle and took a moment to ponder the view from the window of his private
study. It lacked the grandeur of the vista from the papal apartmentsâhe could not see St. Peter's Square or even the dome
of the basilicaâbut it allowed him to monitor the comings and goings at St. Anne's Gate.
At present, the Via Sant'Anna was deserted except for a tall archbishop and a smallish priest in a slightly ill-fitting clerical
suit. They were headed toward the gate at a parade-ground clip. The priest's hands were empty, but in the right hand of the
archbishop was a fine leather briefcase. Albanese recognized it. Indeed, he had often expressed admiration for the bag. He
recognized the archbishop as well.
But who was the priest? Albanese had but one suspect. He reached for his phone and made one final call.
A devout Catholic
who attended Mass daily, Colonel Alois Metzler, commandant of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, did his best to avoid the office on Sundays. But because it was the Sunday before the start of a conclave, a most sacred undertaking that would be watched by billions around the world, he was at his desk in the Swiss Guard barracks when Cardinal Albanese telephoned. The camerlengo was molto agitato. In frenetic Italian, which Metzler spoke fluently if reluctantly, he explained that Archbishop Luigi Donati and his friend Gabriel Allon had just broken into the Secret Archives and were at that moment headed toward St. Anne's Gate. Under no circumstances,
shouted the cardinal, were they to be allowed to leave the territory of Vatican City.
If the truth be told, Metzler was in no mood to tangle with the likes of Donati and his friend from Israel, whom Metzler had
seen in action on more than one occasion. But because the throne of St. Peter was empty, he had no choice but to obey a direct
order from the camerlengo.
Rising, he hurried through the barracks to the lobby, where a duty officer sat behind a half-moon desk, his eyes on a bank
of video monitors. In one, Metzler saw Donati marching toward St. Anne's Gate, a priest at his side.
“Good God,” Metzler murmured.
Through the open door of the barracks, Metzler saw a young halberdier standing in the Via Sant'Anna, hands clasped behind
his back. He shouted at the sentry to block the gate, but it was too late. Donati and Allon strode across the invisible border
in a black blur and were gone.
Metzler hastened after them. They were now walking swiftly through the crowds of tourists along the Via di Porta Angelica.
Metzler called Donati's name. The archbishop stopped and turned. Allon kept walking.
Donati's smile was disarming. “What is it, Colonel Metzler?”
“Cardinal Albanese believes you just entered the Secret Archives without authorization.”
“And how would I have done that? The Archives are closed today.”
“The cardinal believes you had help from your friend.”
“I saw him in the monitor, Excellency. I know who that was.”
“You were mistaken, Colonel Metzler. And so was Cardinal Albanese. Now if you will excuse me, I'm late for an appointment.”
Donati turned without another word and set off toward St. Peter's Square. Metzler addressed his back.
“Your Vatican pass is no longer valid, Excellency. From now on, you stop at the Permissions Desk like everyone else.”
Donati raised a hand in affirmation and kept walking. Metzler returned to his office and immediately rang Albanese.
The camerlengo was molto agitato.
Gabriel was waiting
for Donati near the end of the Colonnade. Together they returned to the Jesuit Curia. Upstairs in his rooms, Donati drew
the envelope from his briefcase and pried open the flap. Inside, between two protective sheets of clear film, was a single
page of handwritten text. The left edge of the page was clean and straight, but the right was tattered and frayed. The characters
were Roman. The language was Latin.
Donati's hands shook as he read it.
Evangelium Secundum PilatiÂ
.Â .Â .
The Gospel according to Pontius Pilate.