Authors: Daniel Silva
It was in
early October, after the Holy Father's return from a long weekend at Castel Gandolfo, that the Order realized it had a problem.
His health failing, perhaps sensing that the end was near, he had embarked on a review of the Vatican's most sensitive documents,
especially those related to the early Church and the Gospels. Of particular interest to His Holiness were the apocryphal gospels,
books the Church Fathers had excluded from the New Testament.
Cardinal Domenico Albanese, the
of the Secret Archives, carefully curated the Holy Father's reading list, hiding material he did not want the pontiff to see. But quite by chance, while visiting the papal study with several other curial cardinals, he noticed a small book, several centuries old, bound in cracked red leather, lying on the table next to the Holy Father's
desk. It was an apocryphal piece of early Christian writing that was supposed to be locked in the
. When Albanese asked the Holy Father how he had obtained the book, His Holiness replied that it had been given to him by
a certain Father Joshua, a name Albanese did not recognize.
Alarmed, Albanese immediately informed his superior general, Bishop Hans Richter, who in turn contacted the Order's chief
of security and intelligence, Andreas Estermann. Several weeks later, in mid-November, Estermann learned the Holy Father had
begun work on a letterâa letter he intended to give to the man who had saved his life during the attack on the Vatican.
“And thus,” said Estermann, “his fate was sealed.”
“How did you know about the letter?”
“I planted a transmitter in the papal study years ago. I heard the Holy Father telling Donati that he was writing to you.”
“But Lucchesi didn't tell Donati
he was writing to me.”
“I heard the pope tell someone else. I was never able to determine who he was talking to. In fact, I couldn't hear the other
“Why was the Order so worried about the prospect of Lucchesi giving me the book?”
“Let me count the ways.”
“You were afraid it called into question the historical accuracy of the Gospels.”
“But you were also concerned about the book's provenance. It was given to the Order in 1938 by a wealthy Roman Jew named Emanuele Giordano, along with a large sum of cash and several works of art. Signore Giordano did not make this contribution out of the goodness of his heart. The Order was running quite
an extortion racket in the thirties. It targeted wealthy Jews, who were promised protection and lifesaving baptismal certificates in exchange for cash and valuables. That money was the venture capital for the Wolf Group.” Gabriel paused. “All of which I would have exposed if Lucchesi had placed the book in my hands.”
“Not bad, Allon. I always heard you were good.”
“How did the Gospel of Pilate end up in the Secret Archives?”
“Father Schiller turned it over to Pius the Twelfth in 1954. His Holiness should have burned it. He buried it in the Archives
instead. If Father Joshua hadn't found it, Lucchesi would still be alive.”
“How did Father Graf kill him?”
The question surprised Estermann. After a moment's hesitation he held up the first two fingers of his right hand and moved
his thumb as though squeezing the plunger of a syringe.
“What was in it?”
“Fentanyl. Apparently, the old man put up quite a fight. Father Graf gave him the injection through his soutane and held his
hand over his mouth as he was dying. One of the tasks of the camerlengo is to supervise the preparation of the Holy Father's
body for burial. Albanese made certain no one noticed the small hole in his right thigh.”
“I think I'll put a hole in Father Graf the next time I see him.” Gabriel laid a photograph on the table. A man in a motorcycle
helmet on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, right arm extended, a gun in his hand. “He's a rather good shot.”
“I trained him myself.”
“Did Niklaus let him into the papal apartments the night of the murder?”
“Did he know what Father Graf was planning to do?”
“Saint Niklaus?” Estermann shook his head. “He loved the Holy Father and Donati. Father Graf manipulated him into opening
the door. I heard Niklaus go into the study a few minutes after Father Graf left. That's when he took the letter off the desk.”
Gabriel placed it on the table, next to the photograph.
“Where did you find it?”
“It was in his pocket when he was killed.”
“What does it say?”
“It says you'd better tell me what happened to the Gospel of Pilate after Albanese removed it from the study.”
“He gave it to Bishop Richter.”
“And what did Bishop Richter do with it?”
“He did what Father Schiller and Pius the Twelfth should have done a long time ago.”
“He destroyed it?”
The German nodded.
Gabriel drew the Beretta from the small of his back. “How do you want the story to end?”
“I want to see my children again.”
“Correct answer. Now let's try for two in a row.” Gabriel leveled the Beretta at Estermann's head. “Where's the book?”
There was a heated quarrel, but then no Office operation was complete without one. Yaakov Rossman appointed himself the spokesman for the opposition. The team, he argued, had already pulled off the near impossible. Hastily assembled in a
city on high alert, it had succeeded in making a former German intelligence officer disappear without a trace. Under skillful interrogation, he had surrendered the information necessary to prevent the Catholic Church from falling into the hands of a malignant, reactionary order with ties to Europe's far right. What was more, the proverbial tree had fallen in the operational forest without a sound. It was better not to push their luck with a risky final gambit, said Yaakov. Better to put Estermann on ice and make a leisurely run for Munich Airport.
“I'm not leaving without that book,” said Gabriel. “And Estermann is going to get it for me.”
“What makes you think he'll agree to do it?”
“Because it's better than the alternative.”
“What if he's lying?” asked Yaakov. “What if he's sending you on a wild-goose chase?”
“He isn't. Besides, his story is easily verifiable.”
The phone to which Gabriel was referring belonged to Father Markus Graf. Gabriel ordered Unit 8200, which had gained access
to the device after acquiring its number, to check the GPS data stored in the operating system. Shortly after five a.m. Munich
time, Yuval Gershon called back with the Unit's findings. The GPS data matched Estermann's story.
At which point all debate ended. There was, however, a minor problem of transport.
“If things go sideways up there,” said Eli Lavon, “you won't be able to get back to Rome tonight.”
“Not without a private plane,” conceded Gabriel.
“Where are we going to get a plane?”
“I suppose we could just steal one.”
“Could be messy.”
“In that case,” said Gabriel, “we'll borrow one instead.”
Martin Landesmann, the
Swiss financier and philanthropist, famously slept only three hours a night. Therefore, when he answered his phone at five
fifteen, he sounded alert and full of entrepreneurial vitality. Yes, he said, business was good. Quite good, in fact. No,
he replied with a mirthless laugh, he was not selling nuclear components to the Iranians again. Because of Gabriel, all that
was in Landesmann's past.
“And you?” he asked earnestly. “How's your business these days?”
“International chaos is a growth industry.”
“I'm always looking for investment opportunities.”
“Financing isn't a problem, Martin. What I need is a plane.”
“I'm taking the Boeing Business Jet to London later this morning, but the Gulfstream is available.”
“I suppose it will have to do.”
“Where and when?”
Gabriel told him.
“Tel Aviv, with a brief stopover at Ciampino in Rome.”
“Where shall I send the bill?”
“Put it on my tab.”
Gabriel rang off and called Donati in Rome.
“I was beginning to think I would never hear from you,” he said.
“Don't worry, I have everything you need.”
“How bad is it?”
“Twelve on the Bishop Richter scale. But I'm afraid there's a complication involving someone close to the previous pope. I'd
rather not discuss it over the phone.”
“When will you be here?”
“I need to tie up one or two loose ends before I leave. And don't even think about setting foot outside the Jesuit Curia until
I get there.”
Gabriel killed the connection.
“Tell me something,” asked Lavon. “What's it like to be you?”
“Why don't you sleep for a couple of hours while we pack up?”
“I'd love to. But I have one more question I'd like to ask our newest asset.”
Gabriel told him.
“That's two questions,” said Lavon.
Smiling, Gabriel carried Estermann's phone downstairs. The German was drinking coffee at the interrogation table, watched
over by Mikhail and Oded. He was unshaven, and his right cheek was bruised. With a razor and a bit of makeup, he would be
as good as new.
Warily, he watched as Gabriel sat down in the chair opposite. “What is it now?”
“We're going to clean you up. Then we're going to take a drive.”
Gabriel stared at Estermann blankly.
“There's no way you'll get past the guards at the checkpoint.”
“I won't have to. You'll do it for me.”
“It won't work.”
“For your sake, it better. But before we leave, I'd like you to answer one more question.” Gabriel placed Estermann's phone
on the table. “Why did you go to Bonn after you spoke to Stefani Hoffmann? And why did you switch off your phone for two hours
and fifty-seven minutes?”
“I didn't go to Bonn.”
“Your phone says you did.” Gabriel tapped the screen. “It says you left CafÃ© du Gothard at two thirty-four p.m. and that you
reached the outskirts of Bonn around seven fifteen, which is rather good time, I must say. At that point, you switched off
your phone. I want to know why.”
“I told you, I didn't go to Bonn.”
“Where did you go?”
The German hesitated. “I was in Grosshau. It's a little farming village a few miles to the west.”
“What's in Grosshau?”
“A cottage in the woods.”
“Who lives there?”
“A man named Hamid Fawzi.”
“Who is he?”
“He's a creation of my cyber unit.”
“Is he the reason bombs are going off in Germany?”
“No,” said Estermann. “I am.”
Gerhardt Schmidt was not
known for working long hours. Typically, he arrived at BfV headquarters in Cologne with a minute or two to spare before the
ten a.m. senior staff meeting, and barring some emergency he was in the backseat of his official limousine no later than five.
Most nights he stopped at one of the city's better watering holes for a drink. But only one. Everything in moderation, that
was Schmidt's personal maxim. It would be chiseled on his tombstone.
The bombings in Berlin and Hamburg had proven detrimental to Schmidt's salubrious daily schedule. That morning he was at his
desk at the ungodly hour of eight o'clock, a time when ordinarily he would still be in bed with coffee and the papers. Consequently,
when his secure phone pulsed with an incoming call from Tel Aviv at eight fifteen, he was there to answer it.
He had been expecting to hear the voice of Gabriel Allon, the legendary director-general of the Israeli secret intelligence service. Instead, it was Uzi Navot, Allon's deputy, who bade Schmidt a pleasant morning in perfect German. Schmidt had a grudging respect for Allon, but Navot he loathed. For many years the Israeli had worked undercover in Europe, running networks and recruiting agents, including three who worked for the BfV.
Within a few seconds, however, Schmidt was deeply remorseful he had ever uttered an unkind wordâindeed, that he had ever entertained
a slanderous thoughtâabout the man at the other end of the secure line. It seemed the Israelis, as was often the case, had
tapped into a vein of magic intelligence, this time regarding the new cell wreaking havoc in Germany. Navot was predictably
evasive about how he had acquired this intelligence. It was a mosaic, he claimed, a blend of human sources and electronic
intercepts. Lives were at stake. The clock was ticking.
Whatever the source of the information, it was highly specific. It concerned a property in Grosshau, a tiny farming hamlet
located on the edge of the dense German forest known as the HÃ¼rtgenwald. The property was owned by something called OSH Holdings,
a Hamburg-based concern. There were two structures, a traditional German farmhouse and an outbuilding fashioned of corrugated
metal. The farmhouse was largely unfurnished. In the outbuilding, however, was a ten-year-old Mitsubishi light-duty cargo
truck loaded with two dozen drums of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and Tovex, the makings of an ANNM bomb.
The truck was registered to a Hamid Fawzi, a refugee, originally from Damascus, who had settled in Frankfurt after Syria
erupted into civil war. Or so claimed his social media pages, which were updated frequently. An engineer by training, Fawzi worked as an IT specialist for a German consulting firm, which was also owned by OSH Holdings. His wife, Asma, wore a full-face veil whenever she left their apartment. They had two children, a daughter named Salma and a boy named Mohammad.
According to Navot's intelligence, a single operative was scheduled to arrive at the property that morning at ten o'clock.
He could not say whether it would be Hamid Fawzi. He was quite certain, however, about the target: the immensely popular Cologne
Christmas market now under way at the historic cathedral.
Gerhardt Schmidt had a long list of questions he wanted to ask Navot, but there wasn't time for anything more than an expression
of profound gratitude. After hanging up, he immediately rang the interior minister, who in turn rang the chancellor, along
with Schmidt's counterpart at the Bundespolizei. The first officers arrived at the farmhouse at eight thirty. A few minutes
after nine, they were joined by four teams from GSG 9, Germany's elite tactical and counterterrorism unit.
The officers made no attempt to enter the outbuilding, which was sealed with a heavy-duty lock. Instead, they concealed themselves
in the surrounding woods and waited. At ten a.m. sharp, a Volkswagen Passat estate car came bumping up the property's rutted
drive. The man behind the wheel wore dark glasses and a woolen watch cap. His hands were gloved.
He parked the Volkswagen outside the farmhouse and walked over to the outbuilding. The GSG 9 officers waited until he had opened the lock before emerging from the cover of the trees. Startled, the man reached inside his coat, apparently
for a weapon, but wisely stopped when he saw the size of the force arrayed against him. This came as something of a surprise to the GSG 9 officers. They had been trained to expect jihadist terrorists to fight to the death.
The officers were surprised a second time when, after handcuffing the man, they removed his dark glasses and woolen cap. Blond
and blue-eyed, he looked as though he had stepped off a Nazi propaganda poster. A rapid search found him to be in possession
of a Glock 9mm pistol, three mobile phones, several thousand euros in cash, and an Austrian passport issued in the name Klaus
JÃ¤ger. The Bundespolizei immediately contacted their brethren in Vienna, who knew JÃ¤ger well. He was a former Austrian police
officer who had been relieved of duty for consorting with known neo-Nazis.
It was at this point, at half past ten, that the story broke on the website of
, Germany's most respected newspaper. Based on an anonymous source, it stated that the Bundespolizei, acting on intelligence
developed by BfV chief Gerhardt Schmidt, had arrested one of the men responsible for the bombings in Berlin and Hamburg. He
was not a member of the Islamic State, as previously suspected, but a known neo-Nazi with ties to Axel BrÃ¼nner and the far-right
National Democratic Party. The attacks, reported
, were part of a cynical plot to drive up BrÃ¼nner's support before the general election.
Within minutes, Germany was thrown into political turmoil. Gerhardt Schmidt, however, was suddenly the most popular man in
the country. After hanging up with the chancellor, he rang Uzi Navot in Tel Aviv.
“Mazel tov, Gerhardt. I just saw the news.”
“I don't know how I'll ever repay you.”
“I'm sure you'll think of something.”
“There's only one problem,” said Schmidt. “I need to know the name of your source.”
“I'll never tell. But if I were you, I'd take a hard look at OSH Holdings. I suspect it will lead you to an interesting place.”
“I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.”
“Did you and Allon know that BrÃ¼nner and the far right were behind the bombings?”
“The far right?” Navot sounded incredulous. “Who could imagine such a thing?”