Authors: Daniel Silva
Veronica's car was
parked haphazardly against the barricade at the end of the access road. The passenger-side door was slightly ajar. The keys
were lying on the floor. Gabriel slipped them into his pocket and then drew the Beretta.
“Is there really no other way?” asked Metzler.
“What did you have in mind? A gentlemanly negotiation?”
“He's a priest.”
“He killed the Holy Father. If I were youâ”
“I'm not like you, Allon. I'll let my God be Father Graf's judge.”
“He's my God, too. But that's probably a discussion for another time.” Gabriel looked down at his phone. Father Graf's device was about two hundred meters to the east, in the center
of the Piazza di Siena. “Stay here with the car. I won't be but a minute.”
Gabriel set out through the shelter of the trees. After a few paces he came upon the Tudor facade of the Globe Theatre Roma,
the reproduction of the legendary London playhouse where Shakespeare debuted many of his most beloved works. Surrounded by
towering Roman umbrella pines, it looked sorely out of place, like an igloo in the Negev.
Adjacent to the theater was the Piazza di Siena. Gabriel could have painted it from memory, but in the darkness he could discern
almost nothing. Somewhere out there were two peopleâa woman who was desperately in love with a priest, and a priest who had
murdered a pope. And to think he was scarcely five hours removed from Jonas Wolf's Hitlerian shop of horrors in the Obersalzberg.
a normal person, he assured himself.
All at once he remembered the oval track. The track he had to cross to reach the center of the piazza. It was a provable fact
that it was not possible for a man, even a man of his build and agility, to walk upon gravel without making a sound. Gabriel
reckoned that was why Father Graf had brought her here. Perhaps a gentlemanly negotiation was called for, after all. It wouldn't
be difficult to establish contact. Gabriel had Graf's phone number.
The instant messaging application on Gabriel's Solaris allowed him to send texts anonymously. Carefully shielding his screen,
he typed a brief message in colloquial Italian about dinner at La Carbonara in the Campo de' Fiori. Then he tapped the
icon. A few seconds later, light flared like a match in the center of the piazza. It was surprisingly brightâbright enough for Gabriel to determine their alignment and orientation. Father Graf held the phone in his left hand, the hand
nearest Gabriel. He and Veronica were facing one another. Like the needle of a compass, the priest was pointed true north.
Gabriel moved in the opposite direction along an asphalt footpath. Then he crept eastward through a stand of umbrella pines
until he was approximately level with Veronica and Father Graf.
He sent the priest another anonymous text.
HellllooooooÂ .Â .Â .
Once again light flared in the center of the piazza. Only Gabriel's position had changed. He was now directly behind Father
Graf. They were separated by about thirty meters of grass and the dust-and-gravel oval track. The grass, Gabriel could cross
with the silence of a house cat. The track, however, was a tripwire. It was too wide to traverse with a leap unless one were
an Olympic-caliber athlete, which Gabriel most certainly was not. He was a man of advancing years who had recently fractured
two vertebrae in his lower back.
He was still a damn good shot, though. Especially with a Beretta 92 FS. He only needed to illuminate the target with another
text message. Then Father Markus Graf, murderer of a pope, would cease to exist. Perhaps he might find himself before a celestial
tribunal where he would be sentenced for his crimes. If so, Gabriel hoped that God was in a foul mood when it was Father Graf's
turn in the dock.
He composed another brief messageâ
Where are you?â
and fired it into the ether. This time, perhaps because of the wind direction, he heard the bell-like tolling of Father Graf's phone. Several seconds elapsed before a bloom of light illuminated the tableau at the center of the piazza. Unfortunately, the position of the two figures had changed. Both were now facing north.
Veronica was kneeling. Father Graf was holding a gun to the back of her head.
The priest turned when he heard the crunch of gravel beneath Gabriel's feet. Instantly, there was another burst of light in
the center of the piazza. The light of a muzzle flash. The superheated round split the air a few inches from Gabriel's left
shoulder. Nevertheless, he rushed headlong toward his target, the Beretta in his outstretched hand. There were worse places
to die, he thought, than the Piazza di Siena. He only hoped that God was in a good mood when it was his turn in the dock.
Donati waited until he had left the Casa Santa Marta before switching on his phone. He had received no calls or text messages
during his remarks to the cardinals. He tried Veronica's number. There was no answer. He started to dial Gabriel, but stopped
himself. Now was not the time.
The two Swiss Guards at the entrance of the guesthouse were staring vacantly into the night, unaware of the pandemonium Donati
had left in his wake. My God, what had he done? He had lit the match, he thought. It would be Cardinal Francona's task to
preside over a conclave in flames. Only heaven knew what kind of pope it would produce. Donati didn't much care at this point,
so long as the next pontiff wasn't a puppet of Bishop Hans Richter.
The southern facade of the basilica was awash in floodlight. Donati noticed that one of the side doors was ajar. Entering,
he crossed the left transept to Bernini's soaring
and fell to his knees on the cold marble floor. In the grottos beneath him lay his master, a small puncture wound in his right thigh.
Eyes closed, Donati prayed with a fervor he had not felt in many years.
Kill him, he was thinking. Slowly and with a great deal of pain.
The night was Gabriel's ally, for it rendered him all but invisible. Father Graf, however, betrayed his exact location with
every undisciplined pull of his trigger. Gabriel took no evasive action, made no changes in heading. Instead, he advanced
directly toward his target as quickly as his legs could carry him, the way Shamron had trained him in the autumn of 1972.
Eleven times, one for every Israeli killed at MunichÂ .Â .Â .
He had lost count of how many shots Father Graf had fired. He was confident Father Graf had, too. The Beretta held fifteen
9mm rounds. Gabriel, however, required only one. The one he intended to put between the priest's eyes when he was certain
he would not hit Veronica by mistake. She was still on her knees, her hands covering her ears. Her mouth was open, but Gabriel
could hear no sound other than the gunshots. A trick of the piazza's acoustics made it seem as though they were coming from
every direction at once.
Gabriel was now about twenty meters from Graf, close enough so he could see him clearly without the aid of the muzzle flashes.
Which meant Graf could see Gabriel, too. He could wait no longer, approach no closer. A police officer might have stopped
and turned slightly to one side to reduce his profile. But not an Office assassin who had been trained by the great Ari Shamron.
He continued his relentless advance, as though he intended to beat his bullet to its target.
Finally, his arm swung up, and he placed the sight of the Beretta over Father Graf's face. But in the instant before Gabriel could place the required pressure on the trigger, a portion of the face was blown away. Father Graf then vanished from view, as though a hole in the earth had opened beneath him.
Gabriel stumbled to a stop, unsure of the direction from which the shot had come. After a moment Alois Metzler emerged from
the darkness, a SIG Sauer 226 pistol in his outstretched hand.
He lowered the gun and looked at Veronica. “You'd better get her out of here before the Polizia arrive. I'll take care of
“I'd say you already have.”
Metzler contemplated the dead priest. “Don't worry, Allon. His blood is on my hands.”
At ten fifteen the following morning, Gabriel was awakened by a quarrel in the street beneath his window. For a moment he
could not recall the name of the street or its location. Nor did he have any memory of the circumstances under which he had
reached his place of rest, a small and hideously uncomfortable couch.
It was the couch, he recalled with a sudden lucidity, in the sitting room of the old Office safe flat near the top of the
Spanish Steps. Veronica Marchese had offered to sleep there. But in an ill-advised display of chivalry, Gabriel had insisted
she take the bedroom instead. They had stayed up past two o'clock sharing a bottle of Tuscan red wine, which had left him
with a dull headache. It paired nicely with the pain in his lower back.
His clothing lay on the floor next to the couch. Dressed, he
went into the kitchen and poured bottled water into the electric kettle. After spooning coffee into the French press, he entered the spare bathroom to confront his reflection in the mirror. If only he were a painting, he could erase the damage. The best he could hope for was a minor improvement before Chiara's arrival. At Gabriel's suggestion, she and the children were coming to Rome for the start of the conclave. Donati had invited them to watch the opening ceremony live on television at the Jesuit Curia. He had asked Veronica to join them. It promised to be an interesting afternoon.
Gabriel filled the French press with water and read the Italian papers on his phone while waiting for the coffee to brew.
The shocking events in Germany were of little interest to the editors in Rome and Milan. Only the conclave mattered. The
remained convinced that the papacy was Navarro's to lose. One predicted Pietro Lucchesi would be the last Italian pope. In
none of the papers was there any mention of a dead priest from a reactionary Catholic order, or a shooting in the Borghese
Gardens involving a prominent Italian museum director. Somehow, Alois Metzler had managed to keep it quiet. At least for now.
Gabriel carried his coffee into the sitting room and switched on the television. Fifteen thousand Catholics, religious and
lay, were crammed into St. Peter's Basilica for the
Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice
pre-conclave Mass. Another two hundred thousand were watching on the jumbo screens outside in the square. Dean Angelo Francona was the celebrant. Arrayed before him in four semicircular rows of chairs was the entire College of Cardinals, including those cardinals who were too old to participate in the conclave that was now just hours away. Donati was
seated directly behind them. In his choir dress, he looked every inch the Roman Catholic prelate. His expression was grave, determined. Gabriel would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of his stern gaze.
“What do you suppose he's thinking?”
Gabriel looked up and smiled at Veronica Marchese. She was wearing a pair of Chiara's old cotton pajamas. One hand was propped
on her hip. The other was tugging at her right ear.
“I still can't hear anything.”
“It was exposed to several gunshots with no protection. It's going to take a few days.”
Her hand moved to the back of her head.
“How does it feel?”
“A bit of caffeine might help.” She looked longingly at his coffee. “Is there enough for me?”
He went into the kitchen and poured her a cup. She took a sip and made a face.
“Is it that bad?”
“Perhaps we can walk to CaffÃ¨ Greco later.” She looked at the television. “They do know how to put on a show, don't they?
You'd never know anything was amiss.”
“It's better that way.”
“I'm not so sure about that.”
“Do you want the world to know what happened in the Piazza di Siena last night?”
“Is there anything in the papers?”
“Not a peep.”
“How long will it remain a secret?”
“I suppose that depends on the identity of the next pope.”
The camera settled on Donati again. “Luscious Luigi,” said
Veronica. “He hated that article in
, but it made him a star inside the Church.”
“You should have seen the waiters at Piperno.”
“How lucky you are, Gabriel. Just once I'd like to share a lunch with him in public on a perfect Roman afternoon.” She gave
him a sideways glance. “Does he ever talk about me?”
“Really? And what does he say?”
“That you are a good friend.”
“And do you believe that?”
“No,” said Gabriel. “I believe you are desperately in love with him.”
“Is it that obvious?” She smiled sadly. “And what about Luigi? How does he feel about me?”
“You would have to ask him.”
“Ask him what, exactly? Are you still in love with me, Archbishop? Will you renounce your vows and marry me before it's too
She shook her head.
“Because I'm afraid of what his answer might be. If he says no, I'll be heartbroken. And if he says yesÂ .Â .Â .”
“You'll feel like the worst person in the world.”
“You're very perceptive.”
“Except when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“You have a perfect marriage.”
“I'm married to a perfect woman. Don't confuse the two.”
“And if you were in my position?”
“I'd tell Luigi how I felt. Sooner rather than later.”
“How about later this afternoon?”
“At the Jesuit Curia? I can't think of a place I'd rather
be. All those priests,” said Veronica. “And they'll all be gawking at me.”
“Actually, I rather doubt that.”
She made a show of thought. “What does one wear to a conclave party?”
“White, I believe.”
“Yes,” said Veronica. “I believe you're right.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, the cardinal-electors filed out of the basilica and returned to the Casa Santa Marta for lunch.
Alois Metzler rang Gabriel from the noisy lobby. Father Graf, he said, was on ice in a Rome morgue. He would remain there
until the conclusion of the conclave, when his body would be discovered in the hills outside Rome, an apparent suicide. Veronica's
name would appear in none of the reports. Neither would Gabriel's.
“Not bad, Metzler.”
“I'm a Swiss citizen who works for the Vatican. Hiding the truth comes naturally to me.”
“Any word from Bishop Richter?”
“He left Rome last night on his private jet. Apparently, he's holed up at the Order's priory in Canton Zug.”
“What's the mood like at the Casa Santa Marta?”
“If we get through the conclave without another dead body,” said Metzler before ringing off, “it will be a miracle.”
By then, it was nearly twelve thirty. Veronica's flashy convertible was parked in the street outside the apartment building.
Gabriel drove to her palazzo off the Via Veneto and waited downstairs while she showered and changed. When she reappeared, she was dressed in an elegant cream-colored pantsuit and a braided gold necklace.
“I was mistaken,” said Gabriel. “Everyone at the Jesuit Curia will definitely be gawking at you.”
She smiled. “We can't arrive empty-handed.”
“Luigi asked us to bring some wine.”
Veronica disappeared into the kitchen and returned with four bottles of chilled pinot grigio. It was a five-minute drive to
Roma Termini. They were waiting outside in the traffic circle when Chiara and the children spilled from the station.
“You're right,” said Veronica. “You're married to the perfect woman.”
“Yes,” agreed Gabriel. “How lucky I am.”