Authors: Daniel Silva
There is no
such thing, practitioners of the secret trade like to say, as a perfect covert operation. The best a careful planner can do
is limit the chances of failure and exposureâor, worse still, of arrest and prosecution. Sometimes the planner willingly accepts
a modicum of risk when lives are at stake or his cause is just. And sometimes he must resign himself to the fact that a small
measure of serendipity, of providence, will determine whether his ship reaches port safely or smashes itself to pieces on
Gabriel struck just such a bargain with the operational gods that evening in Munich. Yes, he had lured Andreas Estermann to CafÃ© Adagio for what he thought was a meeting with an old acquaintance. But it was Estermann, not Gabriel and his team,
who had selected the place of his abduction. Fortunately, Estermann chose well. There was no traffic camera to record his disappearance, and no witness other than a dachshund in the window of an adjacent apartment building.
Ninety minutes later, after a brief stop in the countryside west of Munich for a change of license plates, the van returned
to the safe house near the Englischer Garten. Bound and blindfolded, Andreas Estermann was transferred to a makeshift holding
cell in the basement. Typically, Gabriel would have left him there for a day or two to ponder his fate while deprived of sight,
sound, and sleep. Instead, at half past ten, he instructed Natalie to hasten Estermann's return to consciousness. She injected
him with a mild stimulant along with a little something to take the edge off. Something to distort his sense of reality. Something
to loosen his tongue.
Consequently, Estermann offered no resistance when Mordecai and Oded secured him to a metal chair outside the holding cell.
On the opposite side of a table, flanked by Yaakov Rossman and Eli Lavon, sat Gabriel. Behind him was a tripod-mounted Solaris
phone. Blindfolded, Estermann knew none of this. He only knew that he was in a great deal of trouble. The matter before him,
however, was easily resolved. All that was required was his signature on a statement. A bill of particulars. Names and numbers.
At 10:34 p.m., Estermann's inquisitor spoke for the first time. The camera captured the expression on the portion of the German's
face not concealed by the blindfold. Later, the video would be analyzed by the specialists at King Saul Boulevard. All were
in agreement on one point. It was a look of profound relief.
Though cursed with a flawless memory, Gabriel sometimes found it hard to accurately recall his mother's face. Two of her self-portraits hung in his bedroom in Jerusalem. Each night before he drifted off to sleep, he saw her as she had seen herself, a tormented figure rendered in the manner of the German Expressionists.
Like many young women who survived the Holocaust, she struggled with the demands of caring for a child. She was prone to melancholia
and violent mood swings. She could not show pleasure on festive occasions and did not partake of rich food or drink. She wore
a bandage always on her left arm, over the faded numbers tattooed into her skin.
29395Â .Â .Â .
She referred to them as her mark of Jewish weakness. Her emblem of Jewish shame.
Painting, like motherhood, was an ordeal for her. Gabriel used to sit on the floor at her feet, scribbling in his sketchpad,
while she labored at her easel. To distract herself, she used to tell stories of her childhood in Berlin. She spoke to Gabriel
in German, in her thick Berlin accent. It was Gabriel's first language, and even now it was the language of his dreams. His
Italian, while fluent, bore the faint but unmistakable trace of a foreigner's intonation. But not his German. No matter where
he traveled in the country, no one ever assumed he was anything but a native speaker of the language, one who had been raised
in the center of Berlin.
Andreas Estermann clearly assumed that was the case as well, which prompted his misplaced expression of relief. It faded quickly once Gabriel explained why he had been taken into custody. Gabriel did not identify himself, though he implied he was a secret member of the Order of St. Helena who had been
asked by Herr Wolf and Bishop Richter to investigate certain financial irregularities that had recently come to their attention. These irregularities concerned the existence of a bank account in the principality of Liechtenstein. Gabriel recited the current balance and the dates on which deposits had been made. Then he read aloud the text messages Estermann had exchanged with his private banker, Herr Hassler, lest Estermann entertain any thought of wriggling off the hook.
Next Gabriel turned his attention to the source of the money that Estermann had embezzled from the Order. It was money, he
said, that was supposed to have been delivered to the cardinal-electors who had agreed to vote for the Order's candidate at
the coming conclave. At the mention of the prelate's name, Estermann gave a start and then spoke for the first time. With
a single objection, he confirmed both the existence of the plot and the name of the cardinal whom the Order had selected to
be the next pope.
“How do you know it's Emmerich?”
“What do you mean?” asked Gabriel.
“Only a handful of us are aware of the conclave operation.”
“I'm one of them.”
“But I would know who you are.”
“Why would you assume that?”
“I know the names of all the secret members of the Order.”
“Obviously,” said Gabriel, “that's not the case.”
Receiving no further protest, Gabriel returned to the topic of the payments. It seemed several of the prelates had informed
Cardinal Albanese that the agreed-upon sums of cash had not appeared in their accounts.
“But that's not possible! Father Graf told me last week that all the cardinals had received their money.”
“Father Graf is working with me on this matter. He misled you at my request.”
“The Order forbids such language, Herr Estermann. Especially when it concerns a priest.”
“Please don't tell Bishop Richter.”
“Don't worry, it will be our little secret.” Gabriel paused. “But only if you tell me what you did with the money you were
supposed to deliver to the cardinal-electors.”
“I wired it into their accounts, just as Herr Wolf and Bishop Richter instructed. I never stole a single euro.”
“Why would the cardinals lie?”
“Isn't it obvious? They're trying to extort us into paying more money.”
“What about the account in Liechtenstein?”
“It is an operational account.”
“Why is your wife the beneficiary?”
Estermann was silent for a moment. “Do Herr Wolf and Bishop Richter know about the account?”
“Not yet,” said Gabriel. “And if you do everything I tell you, they never will.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to call Herr Hassler first thing in the morning and tell him to wire that money to me.”
“Yes, of course. What else?”
Gabriel told him.
“All forty-two names? We'll be here all night.”
“Is there somewhere else you have to be?”
“My wife is expecting me for dinner.”
“I'm afraid you missed dinner a long time ago.”
“Can you at least remove the blindfold and these restraints?”
“The names, Herr Estermann. Now.”
“Is there any particular order you want them?”
“How about alphabetically?”
“It would help if I had my phone.”
“You're a professional. You don't need your phone.”
Estermann tilted his head toward the ceiling and drew a breath. “Cardinal Azevedo.”
“There's only one Azevedo in the College of Cardinals.”
“How much did you pay him?”
“Where's the money?”
“Bank of Panama.”
Estermann cocked his head. “Ballantine of Philadelphia.”
“Where's the money?”
“The Vatican Bank.”
The last name on Estermann's list was Cardinal PÃ©ter Zikov, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, one million euros, payable to his personal account at Banco Popolare Hungary. All
totaled, 42 of the 116 cardinal-electors who would choose the successor to Pope Paul VII had received money in exchange for their votes. The total cost of the operation was slightly less than $50 million. Every penny of it had come from the coffers of the Wolf Group, the global conglomerate otherwise known as the Order of St. Helena Inc.
“And that's all of the names?” probed Gabriel. “You're sure you haven't left anyone out?”
Estermann shook his head vigorously. “The other eighteen cardinals who will vote for Emmerich are members of the Order. They
received no payment beyond their monthly stipends.” He paused. “And then there's Archbishop Donati, of course. Two million
euros. I deposited the money after he and the Israeli broke into the Secret Archives.”
Gabriel glanced at Eli Lavon. “And you're sure you didn't deposit that money in an account I don't know about?”
“No,” said Estermann. “It's in Donati's personal account at the Vatican Bank.”
Gabriel turned to a fresh page in his notebook, despite the fact he hadn't bothered to write down a single name or number.
“Let's go through it one more time, shall we? Just to make certain we haven't missed anyone.”
“Please,” begged Estermann. “I have a terrible headache from the drugs you gave me.”
Gabriel looked at Mordecai and Oded and in German instructed them to return Estermann to the holding cell. Upstairs in the
drawing room, he and Lavon reviewed the recording on a laptop computer.
“That clerical suit you wore into the Secret Archives the
other day must have rubbed off on you. For a moment even I was convinced you were a member of the Order.”
Gabriel advanced the recording and clicked
Two million euros. I deposited the money after he and the Israeli broke into the Secret ArchivesÂ .Â .Â .
. “Rather clever on their part, don't you think?”
“They obviously don't intend to go down without a fight.”
“Neither do I.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I'm going to have a word with him.” Gabriel paused. “Face-to-face.”
“You've got everything you need,” said Lavon. “Let's get out of here before some nice German police officer knocks on the
door and asks if we know anything about a missing senior executive from the Wolf Group.”
“We can't release him until white smoke rises from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.”
“So we'll tape him to a tree somewhere in the Alps on our way down to Rome. With any luck, no one will find him until the
Gabriel shook his head. “I want to know why he has the private phone number of every major far-right leader in Western Europe.
And I want that book.”
“It went up a chimney. You said so yourself.”
“Just like my grandparents.”
Gabriel turned without another word and headed downstairs to the cellar. There he instructed Mordecai and Oded to remove Estermann from the holding cell. Once again, the Ger
man offered no resistance as he was secured to the chair. At 12:42 a.m., the blindfold was removed. The camera of the Solaris phone captured the expression on Estermann's face. Later, at King Saul Boulevard, all were in agreement on one point. It was one of Gabriel's finest hours.
Natalie gave Estermann
a handful of ibuprofen for his head and a plate of leftover Turkish takeaway. He swallowed the pain reliever tablets greedily
but turned up his nose at the food. He likewise ignored the glass of Bordeaux she placed before him.
“She looks like an Arab,” he said when she was gone.
“She's from France, actually. She and her parents had to immigrate to Israel to escape the anti-Semitism there.”
“I hear it's very bad.”
“Almost as bad as Germany.”
“It's the immigrants who are causing problems, not ethnic Germans.”
“Isn't it pretty to think so.” Gabriel looked at the untouched wineglass. “Have some. You'll feel better.”
“Alcohol is forbidden by the Order.” Estermann frowned. “I would have thought you knew that.” He looked down at his plate without enthusiasm. “I wonder if you might have any proper German food.”
“That would be rather difficult, given the fact we are no longer in Germany.”
Estermann adopted a superior smile. “I've lived in Munich most of my life. I know how it smells, how it sounds. If I had to
guess, we're in the city center, rather close to the Englischer Garten.”
“Eat your food, Estermann. You're going to need your strength.”
He wrapped two pieces of grilled lamb in a
flatbread and hesitantly took a first bite.
“That wasn't so bad, was it?”
“Where did you get it?”
“A little takeaway near the Hauptbahnhof.”
“That's where all the Turks live, you know.”
“In my experience that's generally the best place to get Turkish food.”
Estermann ate one of the dolmades. “It's quite good, actually. Still, it's not what I would have chosen for my last meal.”
“Why so glum, Estermann?”
“We both know how this is going to end.”
“The ending,” said Gabriel, “has yet to be written.”
“And what must I do to survive this night?”
“Answer every question I ask.”
“And if I don't?”
“I'll be tempted to waste a perfectly good bullet on you.”
Estermann lowered his voice. “I have children, Allon.”
“Six,” said Gabriel. “A very Jewish number.”
“Really? I never knew.” Estermann looked at the glass of wine.
“Have some,” said Gabriel. “You'll feel better.”
“Live a little, Estermann.”
He reached for the wineglass. “I certainly hope so.”
Andreas Estermann's story began, of all places, with the Munich Massacre. His father had been a policeman, too. A real policeman,
he added. Not the secret variety. In the early-morning hours of September 5, 1972, he was awakened with news that Palestinian
guerrillas had kidnapped several Israeli athletes at the Olympic Village. He remained inside the command post during the daylong
negotiations and witnessed the rescue attempt at FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck. Despite its failure, Estermann's father was awarded his
department's highest commendation for his efforts that day. He tossed it in a drawer and never looked at it again.
“He thought it was a disaster.”
“Germany, of course.”
“What about the innocent Israelis who were murdered that night?”
“I suppose your father thought they had it coming to them.”
“I suppose he did.”
“He was a supporter of the Palestinians?”
His father, Estermann continued, was a member of the Order of St. Helena, as was their parish priest. Estermann joined when he was a student at Munich's Ludwig Maximillian University. Three years later, during a particularly chilly phase of the Cold War, he joined the BfV. By any objective measure, he had a fine career, the failure to disrupt the Hamburg Cell notwithstanding. In 2008 he left the counterterrorism division and took command of Department 2, which monitored neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists.
“A bit like the fox guarding the henhouse, don't you think?”
“A bit,” admitted Estermann with a wry smile.
He kept a close eye on the worst of the worst, he continued, and helped federal prosecutors put a few behind bars. But for
the most part, he worked to advance the country's rightward drift by shielding extreme political parties and groups from scrutiny,
especially when it came to the source of their funding. On the whole, his term as director of Department 2 had been wildly
successful. The German far right exploded in size and influence during his tenure. He retired from the BfV in 2014, three
years ahead of schedule, and the next day went to work as head of security for the Wolf Group.
“The Order of St. Helena Incorporated.”
“You've obviously read Alessandro Ricci's book.”
“Why did you leave the BfV early?”
“I'd done everything I could from the inside. Besides, by 2014 we were close to achieving our goals. Bishop Richter and Herr
Wolf decided that the Project required my full attention.”
“What was it?”
“A response to an incident that occurred at the Vatican in the autumn of 2006. You might remember it. In fact,” said Estermann, “I believe you were there that day.”
He needlessly reminded Gabriel of the horrific details. The attack had occurred a few minutes after noon, during a Wednesday
General Audience in St. Peter's Square. Three suicide bombers, three shoulder-launch RPG-7s: a calculated insult to the Christian
concept of the Trinity, which Islam regarded as polytheism, or
. More than seven hundred people were killed, making it the worst terrorist attack since 9/11. Among the dead were the commandant
of the Swiss Guard, four curial cardinals, eight bishops, and three
. The Holy Father would have died as well if Gabriel hadn't shielded his body from the falling debris.
“And what did Lucchesi and Donati do?” asked Estermann. “They called for dialogue and reconciliation.”
“I assume the Order had a better idea.”
“Islamic terrorists had just attacked the heart of Christendom. Their goal was to turn Western Europe into a colony of the
caliphate. Let's just say that Bishop Richter and Jonas Wolf were in no mood to negotiate the terms of Christianity's surrender.
In fact, when discussing their plan, they borrowed a famous phrase from the Jews.”
“What was that?”
“How flattering,” said Gabriel. “And the plan?”
“Radical Islam had declared war on the Church and Western civilization. If the Church and Western civilization could not
summon the strength to fight back, the Order would do it for them.”
It was Jonas Wolf, he continued, who chose to call the operation the Project. Bishop Richter had argued for something biblical,
something with historical sweep and gravitas. But Wolf insisted on blandness over grandeur. He wanted a harmless-sounding
word that could be used in an e-mail or a phone conversation without raising suspicion.
“And the nature of the Project?” asked Gabriel.
“It was to be a twenty-first-century version of the Reconquista.”
“I assume your ambitions weren't limited to the Iberian Peninsula.”
“No,” said Estermann. “Our goal was to erase the Islamic presence from Western Europe and restore the Church to its proper
place of ascendancy.”
“The same way our founder, Father Schiller, waged a successful war against communism.”
“By throwing in your lot with fascists?”
“By supporting the election of traditionalist politicians in the predominantly Roman Catholic heartland of Western Europe.”
His words had the dryness of a policy paper. “Politicians who would take the difficult but necessary steps to reverse current
“What sort of steps?”
“Use your imagination.”
“I'm trying. And all I can see are cattle cars and smokestacks.”
“No one's talking about that.”
“You're the one who used the word
, Estermann. Not me.”
“Do you know how many Muslim immigrants there are in Europe? In one generation, two at the most, Germany will be an Islamic country. France and the Netherlands, too. Can you imagine what life will be like for the Jews then?”
“Why don't you leave us out of it and explain to me how you're going to get rid of twenty-five million Muslims.”
“By encouraging them to leave.”
“And if they don't?”
“Deportations will be necessary.”
“All of them?”
“Every last one.”
“What's your role in this? Are you Adolf Eichmann or Heinrich Himmler?”
“I'm the chief of operations. I funnel the Order's money to our chosen political parties and run our intelligence and security
“I assume you have a cyber unit.”
“A good one. Between the Order and the Russians, little of what your average Western European reads online these days is true.”
“Are you working with them?”
“The Russians?” Estermann shook his head. “But more often than not, our interests align.”
“The chancellor of Austria is quite fond of the Kremlin.”
“JÃ¶rg Kaufmann? He's our rock star. Even the American president adores him, and he doesn't like anyone.”
“What about Giuseppe Saviano?”
“Thanks to the Order, he came from nowhere to win the last election.”
“A real warrior. She told me that she intends to build a bridge between Marseilles and North Africa. Needless to say, the traffic will flow only one way.”
“That leaves Axel BrÃ¼nner.”
“The bombings have given him a real boost in the polls.”
“You wouldn't know anything about them, would you?”
“My old friends at BfV are convinced the cell is based in Hamburg. It's a real mess, Hamburg. Lots of radical mosques. BrÃ¼nner
will clean it up once he's in power.”
Gabriel smiled. “Thanks to you, the only way BrÃ¼nner will ever see the inside of the Federal Chancellery is if he gets a job
as a janitor.”
Estermann was silent.
“You were on the verge of getting everything you wanted. And yet you put it all at risk by murdering an old man with a bad
heart. Why kill him? Why not simply wait for him to die?”
“That was the plan.”
“The old man found a book in the Secret Archives,” said Estermann. “And then he tried to give it to you.”