Authors: Daniel Silva
Still on his knees, Donati opened the drawer of the bedside table and grasped the heavy golden ring. He surrendered it to
Cardinal Albanese, who placed it in a velvet pouch. Solemnly, he declared, “Sede vacante.”
The throne of St. Peter was now empty. The Apostolic Constitution dictated that Cardinal Albanese would serve as temporary
caretaker of the Roman Catholic Church during the interregnum, which ended with the election of a new pope. Donati, a mere
titular archbishop, would have no say in the matter. In fact, now that his master was gone, he was without portfolio or power,
answerable only to the camerlengo.
“When do you intend to release the statement?” asked Donati.
“I was waiting for you to arrive.”
“Might I review it?”
“Time is of the essence. If we delay any longerÂ .Â .Â .”
“Of course, Eminence.” Donati placed his hand atop Lucchesi's. It was already cold. “I'd like to have a moment alone with
“A moment,” said the camerlengo.
The room slowly emptied. Cardinal Albanese was the last to leave.
“Tell me something, Domenico.”
The camerlengo paused in the doorway. “Excellency?”
“Who closed the curtains in the study?”
“They were open when I left at nine. The shutters, too.”
“I closed them, Excellency. I didn't want anyone in the square to see lights burning in the apartments so late.”
“Yes, of course. That was wise of you, Domenico.”
The camerlengo went out, leaving the door open. Alone with his master, Donati fought back tears. There would be time for grieving
later. He leaned close to Lucchesi's ear and gently squeezed the cold hand. “Speak to me, old friend,” he whispered. “Tell
me what really happened here tonight.”
It was Chiara who secretly informed the prime minister that her husband was in desperate need of a holiday. Since reluctantly
settling into the executive suite of King Saul Boulevard, he had scarcely granted himself even an afternoon off, only a few
days of working convalescence after the bombing in Paris that had fractured two vertebrae in his lower back. Still, it was
not something to be undertaken lightly. Gabriel required secure communications and, more important, heavy security. So, too,
did Chiara and the twins. Irene and Raphael would soon celebrate their fourth birthday. The threat against the Allon family
was so immense they had never once set foot outside the State of Israel.
But where would they go? Exotic travel to a distant destination was not an option. They would have to remain reasonably
close to Israel so Gabriel, in the all-too-likely event of a national emergency, could be back at King Saul Boulevard in a matter of hours. There was no South African safari in their future, no trip to Australia or the Galapagos. It was probably for the best; Gabriel had a troubled relationship with wild animals. Besides, the last thing Chiara wanted was to exhaust him with yet another long flight. Now that he was the director-general of the Office, he was constantly shuttling to Washington to consult with his American partners at Langley. What he needed most was rest.
Then again, recreation did not come naturally to him. He was a man of enormous talent but few hobbies. He did not ski or snorkel,
and he had never once wielded a golf club or a tennis racket except as a weapon. Beaches bored him unless they were cold and
windblown. He enjoyed sailing, especially in the challenging waters off the west of England, or strapping a rucksack to his
back and pounding across a barren moorland. Even Chiara, a retired Office field operative, was incapable of matching his breakneck
pace for more than a mile or two. The children would surely wilt.
The trick would be to find something for Gabriel to
while they were on holiday, a small project that might occupy him for a few hours each morning until the children were awake and dressed and ready to begin their day. And what if this project could be carried out in a city where he was already comfortable? The city where he had studied the craft of art restoration and served his apprenticeship? The city where he and Chiara had met and fallen in love? She was a native of this city, and her father served as chief rabbi to its dwindling community of Jews. Furthermore, her mother had been pestering her about bringing
the children for a visit. It would be perfect, she thought. The proverbial two birds with one stone.
But when? August was out of the question. It was far too hot and humid, and the city would be submerged beneath a sea of package
tourists, the selfie-snapping hordes who followed snarling guides around the city for an hour or two before gulping down an
overpriced cappuccino at CaffÃ¨ Florian and returning to their cruise ships. But if they waited until, say, November, the weather
would be cool and clear and they would have the
largely to themselves. It would give them a chance to ponder their future without the distraction of the Office or daily
life in Israel. Gabriel had informed the prime minister that he would serve only a single term. It was not too early to begin
thinking about how they were going to spend the rest of their lives and where they were going to raise their children. Neither
of them was getting any younger, Gabriel especially.
She did not inform him of her plans, as it would only invite a lengthy oration concerning all the reasons why the State of
Israel would collapse if he took so much as a single day off from work. Instead, she conspired with Uzi Navot, the deputy
director, to select the dates. Housekeeping, the Office division that acquired and managed safe properties, saw to the accommodations.
The local police and intelligence services, with whom Gabriel was very close, agreed to handle the security.
All that remained was the project to keep Gabriel busy. In late October, Chiara rang Francesco Tiepolo, owner of the region's
most prominent restoration firm.
“I have just the thing. I'll e-mail a photo.”
Three weeks later, after a particularly contentious meeting
of Israel's fractious Cabinet, Gabriel returned home to find the Allon family's bags packed.
“You're leaving me?”
“No,” said Chiara. “We're going on vacation. All of us.”
“I can't possiblyâ”
“It's taken care of, darling.”
“Does Uzi know?”
Chiara nodded. “And so does the prime minister.”
“Where are we going? And for how long?”
“What will I do with myself for two weeks?”
Chiara handed him the photograph.
“There's no way I can possibly finish it.”
“You'll do as much as you can.”
“And let someone else touch my work?”
“It won't be the end of the world.”
“You never know, Chiara. It just might be.”
The apartment occupied
of a crumbling old palazzo in Cannaregio, the northernmost of Venice's six traditional
. It had a grand salon, a large kitchen filled with modern appliances, and a terrace overlooking the Rio della Misericordia. In one of the four bedrooms, Housekeeping had established a secure link to King Saul Boulevard, complete with a tentlike structureâin the jargon of the Office, it was known as a chuppahâthat allowed Gabriel to speak on the phone without fear of electronic eavesdropping. Carabinieri officers in plain clothes kept watch outside on the Fondamenta dei Ormesini.
With their consent, Gabriel carried a 9mm Beretta pistol. So did Chiara, who was a much better shot than he.
A few paces along the embankment was an iron bridgeâthe only one in Veniceâand on the opposite side of the canal was a broad
square called the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo. There was a museum, a bookstore, and the offices of the Jewish community. The Casa
Israelitica di Riposo, a rest home for the elderly, occupied the northern flank. Next to it was a stark bas-relief memorial
to the Jews of Venice who, in December 1943, were rounded up, interned in concentration camps, and later murdered at Auschwitz.
Two heavily armed carabinieri kept watch over the memorial from a fortified kiosk. Of the two hundred and fifty thousand people
who still made the sinking islands of Venice their home, only the Jews required round-the-clock police protection.
The apartment buildings lining the
were the tallest in Venice, for in the Middle Ages their occupants had been forbidden by the Church to reside anywhere else
in the city. On the uppermost floors of several of the buildings were small synagogues, now meticulously restored, that had
once served the communities of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews who dwelled beneath. The ghetto's two functioning synagogues were
located just to the south of the
. Both were clandestine; there was nothing in their outward appearance to suggest they were Jewish houses of worship. The
Spanish Synagogue had been founded by Chiara's ancestors in 1580. Unheated, it was open from Passover to the High Holidays
of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Levantine Synagogue, located across a tiny square, served the community in winter.
Rabbi Jacob Zolli and his wife, Alessia, lived around the
corner from the Levantine Synagogue, in a narrow little house overlooking a secluded
. The Allon family dined there on Monday evening, a few hours after their arrival in Venice. Gabriel managed to check his
phone only four times.
“I hope there isn't a problem,” said Rabbi Zolli.
“The usual,” murmured Gabriel.
The rabbi laughed quietly. His gaze moved approvingly around the table, settling briefly on his two grandchildren, his wife,
and finally his daughter. Candlelight shone in her eyes. They were the color of caramel and flecked with gold.
“Chiara has never looked more radiant. You've obviously made her very happy.”
“Have I really?”
“There were definitely bumps along the road.” The rabbi's tone was admonitory. “But I assure you, she thinks she's the luckiest
person in the world.”
“I'm afraid that honor belongs to me.”
“Rumor has it she deceived you about your travel plans.”
Gabriel frowned. “Surely there's a prohibition against that sort of thing in the Torah.”
“I can't think of one.”
“It was probably for the best,” admitted Gabriel. “I doubt I would have agreed otherwise.”
“I'm pleased you were finally able to bring the children to Venice. But I'm afraid you've come at a difficult time.” Rabbi
Zolli lowered his voice. “Saviano and his friends on the far right have awakened dark forces in Europe.”
Giuseppe Saviano was Italy's new prime minister. He was
xenophobic, intolerant, distrustful of the free press, and had little patience for niceties such as parliamentary democracy or the rule of law. Neither did his close friend JÃ¶rg Kaufmann, the fledgling neofascist who now served as chancellor of Austria. In France it was widely assumed that CÃ©cile Leclerc, leader of the Popular Front, would be the next occupant of the ÃlysÃ©e Palace. Germany's National Democrats, led by a former neo-Nazi skinhead named Axel BrÃ¼nner, were expected to finish second in January's general election. Everywhere, it seemed, the extreme right was ascendant.
Its rise in Western Europe had been fueled by globalization, economic uncertainty, and the continent's rapidly changing demographics.
Muslims now accounted for five percent of Europe's population. A growing number of native Europeans regarded Islam as an existential
threat to their religious and cultural identity. Their anger and resentment, once restrained or hidden from public view, now
coursed through the veins of the Internet like a virus. Attacks on Muslims had risen sharply. So, too, had physical assaults
and acts of vandalism directed against Jews. Indeed, anti-Semitism in Europe had reached a level not seen since World War
“Our cemetery on the Lido was vandalized again last week,” said Rabbi Zolli. “Gravestones overturned, swastikas . . . the usual. My congregants are frightened. I try to comfort them, but I'm frightened, too. Anti-immigrant politicians like Saviano have shaken the bottle and removed the cork. Their adherents complain about the refugees from the Middle East and Africa, but we are the ones they despise the most. It is the longest hatred. Here in Italy it is no longer frowned upon to be an
anti-Semite. One can wear one's contempt for us quite openly now. And the results have been entirely predictable.”
“The storm will pass,” said Gabriel with little conviction.
“Your grandparents probably said the same thing. So did the Jews of Venice. Your mother managed to walk out of Auschwitz alive.
The Jews of Venice weren't so fortunate.” Rabbi Zolli shook his head. “I've seen this movie before, Gabriel. I know how it
ends. Never forget, the unimaginable can happen. But let's not spoil the evening with unpleasant talk. I want to enjoy the
company of my grandchildren.”
Next morning Gabriel woke early and spent a few hours beneath the shelter of the chuppah talking to his senior staff at King
Saul Boulevard. Afterward, he hired a motorboat and took Chiara and the children on a tour of the city and the lagoon islands.
It was far too cold to swim on the Lido, but the children removed their shoes and chased gulls and terns along the beach.
On the way back to Cannaregio, they stopped at the church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro to see Veronese's
Virgin and Child in Glory with Saints
, which Gabriel had restored during Chiara's pregnancy. Later, as the autumn light faded in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, the
children joined in a noisy game of tag while Gabriel and Chiara looked on from a wooden bench outside the Casa Israelitica
“This might be my favorite bench in the world,” said Chiara. “It's where you were sitting the day you came to your senses
and begged me to take you back. Do you remember, Gabriel? It was after the attack on the Vatican.”
“I'm not sure which was worse. The rocket-propelled grenades and the suicide bombers or the way you treated me.”
“You deserved it, you dolt. I should have never agreed to see you again.”
“And now our children are playing in the
,” said Gabriel.
Chiara glanced at the carabinieri post. “Watched over by men with guns.”
The next day, Wednesday, Gabriel slipped from the apartment after his morning phone calls and with a varnished wooden case
beneath his arm walked to the church of the Madonna dell'Orto. The nave was in semidarkness, and scaffolding concealed the
double-framed pointed arches of the side aisles. The church had no transept, but in the rear was a five-sided apse that contained
the grave of Jacopo Robusti, better known as Tintoretto. It was there that Gabriel found Francesco Tiepolo. He was an enormous,
bearlike man with a tangled gray-and-black beard. As usual, he was dressed in a flowing white tunic with a scarf knotted rakishly
around his neck.
He embraced Gabriel tightly. “I always knew you would come back.”
“I'm on holiday, Francesco. Let's not get carried away.”
Tiepolo waved his hand as though he were trying to scare away the pigeons in the Piazza di San Marco. “Today you're on holiday,
but one day you'll die in Venice.” He looked down at the grave. “I suppose we'll have to bury you somewhere other than a church,
Tintoretto produced ten paintings for the church between 1552 and 1569, including
Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple
, which hung on the right side of the nave. A massive canvas measuring 480 by 429 centimeters, it was among his masterworks. The first phase of the restoration, the removal of the discolored varnish, had been completed. All that remained was
the inpainting, the retouching of those portions of the canvas lost to time and stress. It would be a monumental task. Gabriel reckoned it would take a single restorer a year, if not longer.