Authors: Daniel Silva
Colonel Alois Metzler,
commandant of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, was waiting at the foot of the Egyptian obelisk when Gabriel and Donati arrived
in St. Peter's Square. Having sprinted the length of the Borgo Santo Spirito, both were gasping for breath. Metzler, however,
looked as though he were posing for his official portrait. He had brought along two plainclothes killers for protection. Having
worked with the Swiss Guard on numerous occasions, including during a papal visit to Jerusalem, Gabriel knew that each man
was carrying a Sig Sauer 226 9mm pistol. For that matter, so was Metzler.
He directed his hooded gaze toward Gabriel and smiled. “What happened, Father Allon? Did you renounce your vows?” He posed
his next question to Donati. “Do you know what happened after you and your friend pulled that stunt at the Archives?”
“I suspect Albanese was a bit miffed.”
“He told me that I would be relieved of duty once the conclave was over.”
“The camerlengo doesn't have the authority to dismiss the commandant of the Swiss Guard. Only the secretary of state can do
that. With the approval of the Holy Father, of course.”
“The cardinal implied that he was going to be the next secretary of state. He seemed quite confident, actually.”
“And did he tell you who was going to be the next pope as well?” Receiving no answer, Donati pointed toward the Arch of Bells.
“Please, Colonel Metzler. Cardinal Francona is waiting for me.”
“I'm sorry, Excellency. But I'm afraid I can't let you in.”
“Because Cardinal Albanese warned me that you would try to get into the restricted areas of the city-state tonight. He said
heads would roll if you managed to get through. Or words to that effect.”
“Ask yourself two questions, Colonel Metzler. How did he know I would be coming? And what is he so afraid of?”
Metzler exhaled heavily. “What time is Cardinal Francona expecting you?”
“Four minutes from now.”
“Then you have two minutes to tell me exactly what's going on.”
Like all the cardinal-electors who entered the Casa Santa Marta that evening, Domenico Albanese had surrendered his phone to the dean of the Sacred College. He was not, however,
without a mobile device. He had concealed one in his suite earlier that week. It was a cheap disposable model. A burner, he thought wickedly.
He was clutching the phone in his left hand. With his right he was parting the gauzy curtain in the sitting room window. As
fortune would have it, it overlooked the small piazza at the front of the guesthouse, where Cardinal Angelo Francona was pacing
the paving stones. Clearly, the dean was expecting someone. Someone, thought Albanese, who was no doubt trying to talk his
way past the Swiss Guards at the Arch of Bells.
At 5:25 Francona checked his phone and then started toward the entrance of the guesthouse. He stopped suddenly when one of
the Swiss Guards pointed toward the three men running across the piazza. One of the men was the sentry's commanding officer,
Colonel Alois Metzler. He was accompanied by Gabriel Allon and Archbishop Luigi Donati.
Albanese released the curtain and dialed.
“Well?” asked Bishop Richter.
“He made it through.”
The connection went dead. Instantly, two firm knocks shook Albanese's room. Startled, he slipped the phone into his pocket
before opening the door. Standing in the corridor was Archbishop Thomas Kerrigan of Boston, the vice dean of the College of
“Is something wrong, Eminence?”
“The dean requests your presence in the chapel.”
“For what reason?”
“He has invited Archbishop Donati to address the cardinal-electors.”
“Why wasn't I told?”
Kerrigan smiled. “You just were.”
Donati followed Cardinal Francona
into the lobby. The first face he saw belonged to Kevin Brady of Los Angeles. Brady was a doctrinal soul mate. Still, he appeared
stunned by Donati's presence. They exchanged a terse nod, then Donati looked down at the marble floor.
Francona seized his arm. “Excellency! I can't believe you brought that in here.”
Donati hadn't realized his phone was ringing. He snatched it from the pocket of his cassock and checked the screen. The name
on the caller ID shocked him.
Father BrunettiÂ .Â .Â .
It was the pseudonym Donati had assigned to Veronica Marchese in his contacts. Under the rules of their relationship, she
was forbidden to phone him. So why on earth was she calling now?
Instantly, the phone rang again.
Father BrunettiÂ .Â .Â .
“Turn it off, will you, Luigi?”
“Of course, Eminence.”
Donati placed his thumb on the power button but hesitated.
He has two million reasons to keep his mouth shut.
Two million and oneÂ .Â .Â .
Donati accepted the call. Calmly, he asked, “What have you done to her?”
“Nothing yet,” answered Father Markus Graf. “But if you
don't turn around and walk out of there, I'm going to kill her. Slowly, Excellency. With a great deal of pain.”
Domenico Albanese watched from above as Luigi Donati burst from the entrance of the Casa Santa Marta. His phone was in his
hand, its screen aglow with the embers of Father Graf's call. Frantic, he seized Allon by the shoulders, as though begging
for help. Then he swiveled around and searched the upper windows of the guesthouse. He knows, thought Albanese. But what would
he do? Would he save the woman he once loved? Or would he save the Church?
Fifteen seconds passed. Then Albanese had his answer.
He tapped the screen of the burner phone.
Bishop Richter answered instantly.
“I'm afraid it's over, Excellency.”
“We'll see about that.”
The call died.
Albanese concealed the phone in the writing desk and went into the corridor. Like Luigi Donati five floors below, he was organizing
his thoughts, separating lies from truth. His Holiness bore the weight of the Church on his shoulders, he reminded himself.
But in death he was light as a feather.
“Why didn't you
come to me in the beginning?” asked Alois Metzler.
“Would you have agreed to help us?”
“With a private investigation of the Holy Father's death? Not a chance.”
Metzler was behind the wheel of an E-Class Mercedes with Vatican plates. He turned onto the Via della Conciliazione and raced
toward the river, a rotating red light flashing on the roof.
“For the record,” said Gabriel, “I only agreed to find Niklaus Janson.”
“Were you the one who deleted his personnel file from our database?”
“No,” answered Gabriel. “It was Andreas Estermann who did that.”
“Estermann? The former BfV officer?”
“You know him?”
“He tried to convince me to join the Order of St. Helena a few years ago.”
“You're not alone. Frankly, I'm disappointed he didn't ask me to join, too. By the way, he went to Canton Fribourg to see
Stefani Hoffmann a few days after Niklaus disappeared.”
“Was Janson a member of the Order?”
“More like a plaything.”
Metzler drove dangerously fast across the Tiber. Gabriel checked his messages. Immediately after leaving the Casa Santa Marta,
he had called Yuval Gershon at Unit 8200 and asked him to pinpoint the location of Father Graf's phone. As yet, there had
been no reply.
“Where do you want me to go?” asked Metzler.
“The National Etruscan Museum. It'sâ”
“I know where it is, Allon. I live here, you know.”
“I thought you Helvetians hated to leave your tidy little Swiss Quarter in Vatican City.”
“We do.” Metzler pointed out a pile of uncollected rubbish. “Look at this place, Allon. Rome is a mess.”
“But the food is incredible.”
“I prefer Swiss food. There's nothing better than a perfect raclette.”
“Melted Emmentaler on boiled potatoes? That's your idea of cuisine?”
Metzler made a right turn onto the Viale delle Belle Arti. “Have you ever noticed that every time you come near the Vatican,
something goes wrong?”
“I was supposed to be on vacation.”
“Do you remember the papal visit to Jerusalem?”
“Like it was yesterday.”
“The Holy Father really loved you, Allon. Not many people can say they were loved by a pope.”
The Villa Giulia appeared on their right. Metzler turned into the small staff car park. Veronica's briefcase was lying on
the paving stones. Her flashy Mercedes convertible was gone.
“He must have been waiting for her when she came out,” said Metzler. “The question is, where did he take her?”
Gabriel's phone vibrated with an incoming message. It was from Yuval Gershon. “Not far, actually.”
He retrieved Veronica's bag and climbed back into the car.
“Which way?” asked Metzler.
Gabriel pointed to the right. Metzler turned onto the boulevard and put his foot to the floor.
“Is it true what they say about her and Donati?” he asked.
“They're old friends. That's all.”
“Priests aren't allowed to have friends who look like Veronica Marchese. They're trouble.”
“So is Father Graf.”
“Do you really think he'll kill her?”
“No,” said Gabriel. “Not if I kill him first.”
The Chapel of Santa Marta was squeezed into a tiny triangular plot of land between the southern flank of the guesthouse and
the Vatican's khaki-colored outer wall. It was bright and modern and rather ordinary, with a polished floor that always reminded
Donati of a backgammon board. Never before had he seen it so crowded. Though he could not be certain, it appeared that all
116 of the cardinal-electors were present. Each of the varnished wooden chairs had been claimed, leaving several other princes
of the Church, including the cardinal camerlengo, a late arrival, no choice but to huddle like stranded airline passengers
at the back.
Dean Francona had taken to the pulpit. From a single sheet of paper he was reading a series of announcementsâhousekeeping matters, issues related to security, the schedule for the shuttle
buses between the Casa and the Sistina. The microphone was switched off. His voice was thin, his hands were shaking. Donati's were shaking, too.
I'm going to kill her. Slowly, Excellency. With a great deal of painÂ .Â .Â .
Was it real or a ruse? Was she still alive or already dead? Had he made the biggest mistake of his life by walking into this
den of vipers and leaving her to her fate? Or did he make that mistake a long time ago, when he returned to the Church instead
of marrying her? It was not too late, he thought. There was still time to abandon this sinking ship and run away with her.
There would be a scandal, of course. His name would be dragged through the mud. They would have no choice but to go into seclusion.
A Caribbean island, perhaps. Or a little villa in the hills near Perugia. Schubert's piano sonatas, a few paperbacks scattered
on the bare tile floor, Veronica wearing nothing but his old Georgetown sweatshirt. For a few glorious months, she was entirely
Francona's voice dragged Donati from the past to the present. As yet, he had failed to explain Donati's presence in the Casa
Santa Marta on the eve of the conclave. It was clear, however, that Francona's audience was thinking of nothing else. Forty-two
of them had accepted the Order's money in exchange for their votes. It was a crime against a conclave, the sacred passing
of the keys of St. Peter from one pope to the next. For now, at least, it was still a crime in progress.
Slowly, Excellency. With a great deal of painÂ .Â .Â .
They were not all hopelessly corrupt, thought Donati. In fact, many were good and decent men of prayer and reflection who were more than capable of leading the Church into the future. Cardinal Navarro, the favorite, would make a fine pope.
So would Gaubert or Duarte, the archbishop of Manila, though Donati was not convinced the Church was ready for an Asian pope.
It was, however, ready for an American. Kevin Brady of Los Angeles was the obvious choice. Youngish and telegenic, he was
a fluent Spanish speaker with an Irishman's gift of the gab. He'd made mistakes with a couple of abusive priests, but for
the most part he had emerged from the scandal cleaner than most. The worst thing Donati could do was tip his hand. It would
be the kiss of death. He intended to bestow that on Cardinal Franz von Emmerich of Vienna.
Francona folded his paper in half, twice, as though it were a conclave ballot. Donati realized he still hadn't decided what
he was going to say to these men assembled before him, these high priests of the Church. Admittedly, homilies were not his
strong suit. He was a man of action rather than words, a priest of the streets and the barrios, a missionary.
A fighter of lost causesÂ .Â .Â .
Francona noisily dislodged something from his throat. “And now a final piece of business. Archbishop Donati has requested
permission to address you on a matter of the utmost urgency. After careful consideration, I have agreedâ”
It was Domenico Albanese who objected, loudly. “Dean Francona, this is most unusual. As camerlengo, I must protest.”
“The decision to let Archbishop Donati speak is entirely mine. Having said that, you are under no obligation to stay. If you
intend to leave, please do so now. That goes for all of you.”
No one moved, including Albanese. “Does this not constitute outside interference in the conclave, Dean Francona?”
“The conclave does not begin until tomorrow afternoon. As
for the question of interference, you would know better than I, Eminence.”
Albanese seethed but said nothing more. Francona stepped away from the pulpit and with a nod invited Donati to take his place.
He walked slowly toward the first row of chairs instead and stood directly in front of Cardinal Kevin Brady.
“Good evening, my brothers in Christ.”
Not one voice returned his greeting.