Authors: Daniel Silva
At that same moment, in the dining hall of the Jesuit Curia, Archbishop Luigi Donati was watching the televised images of
white smoke pouring from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. His face was ashen. The speed of the decision suggested that the
corrupt cardinals had ignored his warnings and voted for Emmerich. If that proved to be the case, Donati had every intention
of following through with his threat. When he was finished, not one stone would be left standing on another. He would build
a new church. A church Jesus would recognize.
Donati's fellow Jesuits, however, were electrified by the conclave's unusually swift selection of a new pope. Indeed, the
commotion in the room was so loud that he could not make out what the commentators were saying. Nor, for that matter, could he hear his Nokia telephone, which was lying on the table next to Gabriel's. When he finally checked it, he was shocked to see he had five missed calls, all in the last two minutes.
“What is it?” asked Gabriel.
“You'll never guess who's been frantically trying to reach me.”
Donati dialed and raised the phone swiftly to his ear.
“It's about time,” said Cardinal Angelo Francona.
“What is it, Dean?”
“Have you seen the smoke?”
“Yes, of course. Please tell me it isn'tâ”
“We've had an unexpected development.”
“Obviously, Eminence. But what is it?”
“You'll know when you get here.”
“There's a car waiting downstairs. I'll see you in a few minutes.”
The call went dead. Donati lowered the phone and looked at Gabriel. “I could be mistaken, but I believe I've just been summoned
to the Sistine Chapel.”
“Francona wouldn't tell me, which means it can't be good. In fact, I'd feel better if you came with me.”
“To the Sistine Chapel? You can't be serious.”
“It's not as if you've never been there before.”
“Not during a conclave.” Gabriel tugged at the collar of his leather jacket. “Besides, I'm not really dressed for the occasion.”
“What does one wear to a conclave?” asked Donati.
Gabriel looked at Veronica and smiled. “White, I believe.”
To avoid the crowds in St. Peter's Square, the car slipped into the Vatican through the motor entrance near the Palace of
the Holy Office. From there it made its way around the back of the basilica to a small courtyard at the foot of the Sistine
Chapel. Monsignor Guido Montini pounced on Donati's door like a hotel bellman. He seemed to be resisting an impulse to genuflect.
Montini had to raise his voice to be heard over the tolling of the basilica's bells. “Good evening, Excellency. I've been
instructed to bring you upstairs.” He looked at Gabriel. “But I'm afraid your friend Signore Allon will have to remain here.”
Montini's eyes widened. “The conclave, Excellency.”
“It's over, is it not?”
“Please, Excellency. The cardinals are waiting.”
Donati gestured toward Gabriel. “Either he comes with me or I'm not going in.”
“Yes, of course, Excellency. If that is what you wish.”
Donati exchanged an apprehensive glance with Gabriel. Together they climbed a flight of narrow stairs to the Sala Regia, the
glorious fresco-covered antechamber of the Sistine Chapel. A pair of Swiss Guards stood like bookends outside the entrance.
Gabriel hesitated, then followed Donati inside.
The cardinals waited at the base of the altar, dwarfed by Michelangelo's
. After passing through the doorway of the
, Donati stopped abruptly and turned.
“Don't you see what's happening?”
“Yes,” answered Gabriel. “I believe I do.”
“No one in their right mind would want this. I've seen with my own eyes the toll it takes.” Donati stretched out his hand.
“Please grab hold of it. Drag me out of here before it's too late.”
“It already is too late, Luigi. Rome has spoken.”
Donati's hand was still suspended between them. He placed it on Gabriel's shoulder and squeezed with surprising force. “Try
to remember me the way I was, old friend. Because in a moment, that person won't exist.”
“Hurry, Luigi. You mustn't keep them waiting.”
Donati glanced at the 116 men waiting at the altar.
“Not them, Luigi. The people in the square.”
“What will I say to them? My God, I don't even have a name.” Donati threw his arms around Gabriel's neck and clung to him
as though he were drowning. “Tell her I'm sorry. Tell her I never meant for this to happen.”
Donati drew away and squared his shoulders. Suddenly composed, he marched the length of the chapel and stopped directly in
front of Cardinal Francona.
“I believe you have something you wish to ask me, Eminence.”
Francona posed the question in Latin. “Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem?”
Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?
“I accept,” answered Donati without hesitation.
“Quo nomine vis vocari?”
By what name do you wish to be called?
Donati stared at Michelangelo's ceiling, as if searching for inspiration. “To tell you the truth, I haven't a clue.”
Laughter filled the Sistine Chapel. It was a good beginning.
It was fitting
that Donati's first official act as pope was to affix his signature to a document that would reside permanently in the silence
of the Vatican Secret Archives. Hastily prepared by Monsignor Montini, it formally recorded Donati's new name and his acceptance
of the position of supreme pontiff. He signed the document at the table where the Scrutineers and Revisers had tabulated the
votes. Eighty had gone to Donati on the first ballot, a shocking result. Not since the days of election by acclamation had
a pope been elected so swiftly and by such an overwhelming margin.
Donati next withdrew to the Room of Tears, where a representative of the Gammarelli family, papal tailors since 1798, waited with three white linen cassocks and a selection of rochets, mozettas, stoles, and red silk slippers. Pietro Lucchesi had
famously chosen the smallest of the three cassocks. Donati required the largest. He dispensed with the rochet, mozetta, and stole, and chose to wear his old silver-plated pectoral cross rather than the heavy gold cross offered to him. Nor did he select a pair of red slippers. His Italian loafers, which he had shined himself for his appearance before the cardinals at the Casa Santa Marta, were good enough.
Gabriel was not permitted to witness Donati's ritual rerobing. He remained in the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals waited
to greet the man to whom they had just handed the keys to the kingdom. The mood was electric but uncertain. The room's acoustics
allowed Gabriel to eavesdrop on a few of the conversations. It was obvious that many of the cardinals had cast so-called complimentary
votes for Donati, not realizing that an overwhelming majority of their colleagues intended to do the same. The general consensus
was that the Holy Spirit, not Bishop Richter and the Order of St. Helena, had intervened.
Not everyone in the room was pleased by the outcome, especially Cardinals Albanese and Tardini. Only thirty-six had voted
for another candidate, which meant a significant number of the forty-two conspirators had supported Donati's candidacy, perhaps
with the misplaced hope he might overlook their financial transgressions and allow them to remain in their current jobs. Gabriel
reckoned the College of Cardinals would soon see a rash of quiet resignations and reassignments. Long-overdue change was coming
to the Catholic Church. No one knew how to operate the levers of Vatican power better than Luigi Donati. More important, he
knew where the bodies were buried and where the dirty laundry was hidden. The Roman Curia, guardian of the status quo, had
finally met its match.
At last, Donati emerged from the Room of Tears in his snow-white garment, a zucchetto upon his head. He was aglow, as though caught by his own private spotlight. So remarkable was the change in his appearance that even Gabriel scarcely recognized him. He was no longer Luigi Donati, he thought. He was the successor of St. Peter, Christ's representative on earth.
He was His Holiness.
In a few minutes he would be the most famous and recognizable man in the world. But first there was a last ritual, as old
as the Church itself. One by one, in order of precedence, the cardinals filed forward to offer their congratulations and pledge
their obedience, a reminder that the pope was not only a spiritual leader of a billion Catholics but one of the world's last
remaining absolute monarchs as well. He chose to receive the cardinals while standing rather than seated on his throne. Most
of the exchanges were warm, even boisterous. Several were frigid and tense. Tardini, defiant to the end, wagged his finger
at the new pope, who wagged his finger in return. Domenico Albanese fell to his knees and begged for absolution. Donati told
him to rise and then waved him away with the stain of a pontiff's murder still on his soul. There was a monastery in Albanese's
future, thought Gabriel. Somewhere cold and isolated, with bad food. Poland, perhaps. Or better yet, Kansas.
There was one last precedent to be broken that evening. It came at 7:34 p.m., when Donati summoned Gabriel with a joyous wave
of his long arm. The new pope seized him by the shoulders. Gabriel had never felt smaller.
“Condolences, you mean.” His confident smile made it clear
he was already becoming comfortable in the role. “You've just seen something only a handful of people have ever witnessed.”
“I'm not sure I'll remember much of it.”
“Nor will I.” He lowered his voice. “You didn't tell anyone, did you?”
“Not a soul.”
“In that case, our friends at the Jesuit Curia are about to get the surprise of their lives.” He seemed to relish the thought.
“Come with me to the balcony. It's not something you should miss.”
He went into the Sala Regia and, followed by much of the conclave, set off along the Hall of Blessings toward the front of
the basilica. Unlike his master, Pietro Lucchesi, he did not need to be shown the way. In the antechamber behind the balcony,
he solemnly made the sign of the cross as the doors were opened. The roar of the multitude in the square was deafening. He
smiled at Gabriel one final time as the senior cardinal deacon declared, “Habemus papam!”
We have a pope!
Then he stepped into a corona of blinding white light and was gone.
Alone with the cardinals, Gabriel felt suddenly out of place. The man once known as Luigi Donati belonged to them now, not
him. Unescorted, he made his way back to the Sistine Chapel. Then he headed downstairs to the Bronze Doors of the Apostolic
Outside, St. Peter's Square was ablaze with candles and mobile phones. It looked as though a galaxy of stars had fallen to earth. Gabriel tried Chiara's number, but there was not a
cellular connection to be had. He picked his way through Bernini's Colonnade. The crowd was delirious. Donati's election was an earthquake.
Gabriel finally emerged from the Colonnade into the Piazza Papa Pio XII. To reach the Jesuit Curia, he had to somehow make
his way to the other side. He soon gave up. A sea of humanity stretched from Donati's feet to the banks of the Tiber. There
was nowhere for Gabriel to go.
He realized suddenly that Chiara and the children were calling his name. It took a moment to find them. Elated, the children
were pointing toward the basilica, as though their father were unaware of the fact that his friend was standing on the balcony.
Chiara's arms were wrapped around Veronica Marchese, who was weeping uncontrollably.
Gabriel tried to reach them, but it was no good. The crowd was impenetrable. Turning, he saw a man in white floating above
a key-shaped carpet of golden light. It was a masterwork, he thought.
, oil on canvas, artist unknownÂ .Â .Â .
It was Chiara
who secretly informed the prime minister that her husband would not be at his desk at King Saul Boulevard on Monday morning.
While purportedly on holiday, he had prevented a massive bombing in Cologne, dealt a severe blow to the ambitions of the European
far right, and watched his close friend become the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He needed a few days to recuperate.
He spent the first three largely confined to the apartment overlooking the Rio della Misericordia, for God in his infinite
wisdom had inflicted upon Venice a deluge of biblical magnitude. When combined with gale-force winds and an unusually high
tide in the lagoon, the results were disastrous. All six of the city's historic
suffered catastrophic flooding, including San Marco, where the crypt of the basilica flooded for only the
sixth time in twelve centuries. In Cannaregio the water rose a historic six and a half feet in a span of just three hours. Particularly hard hit was the small island to which the city's Jews were confined in 1516 by the order of Venice's ruling council. The museum in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo was inundated, as was the ground floor of the Casa Israelitica di Riposo. Waves lapped against the bas-relief Holocaust memorial, leaving the carabinieri no choice but to abandon their bulletproof kiosk.
Like nearly everyone else in the city, the Allon family huddled behind barricades and sandbags and made the best of it. Raphael
and Irene looked upon their watery internment as a great adventure; Gabriel, as a blessing. For three waterlogged days, they
read books aloud, played board games, undertook art projects, and watched every DVD in the apartment's modest library, most
twice. It was a glimpse of their future. In retirement, Gabriel would be an expatriate again, a Diaspora Jew. He would work
when it suited him and devote every spare minute to his children. The clock would slow, his many wounds would heal. This is
where his story would end, in the sinking city of churches and paintings at the northern end of the Adriatic.
He checked in with Uzi Navot early each morning and late each afternoon. And, of course, he followed the news from Rome, where
Donati wasted little time upsetting the curial applecart. For a start, there was his decision to reside not in the papal apartments
of the Apostolic Palace but in an unadorned suite in the Casa Santa Marta. His first Angelus, delivered to an audience of
some two hundred thousand pilgrims crammed into St. Peter's Square, left little doubt he intended to guide the Church in a
But who was this man who now occupied the throne of St.
Peter? And what were the circumstances of his shocking and historic election? The author of the
article hopscotched from network to network, describing the magnetic archbishop she had christened “Luscious Luigi.” Several
profiles explored his Jesuit roots and the period during which he served as a missionary in war-torn El Salvador. It was widely
assumed, though never proven, that as a young priest he had been a supporter of the controversial doctrine known as liberation
theology. This did not endear him to certain segments of the American political right. Indeed, one conservative referred to
him as Pope Che Guevara. Another wondered whether the flooding in Venice, where he had worked for several years, might be
a sign of God's displeasure in the conclave's choice.
Bound by their vows of secrecy, the cardinal-electors refused to discuss what had transpired inside the Sistine Chapel. Even
Alessandro Ricci, the dogged investigative reporter from
, appeared unable to penetrate the conclave's armor. Instead, he published a lengthy article on the links between the European
far right and the Order of St. Helena, the reactionary Catholic fraternity about which he had written a best-selling book.
Three of the figures implicated in the false-flag bombings in GermanyâJonas Wolf, Andreas Estermann, and Axel BrÃ¼nnerâwere
alleged to be secret members of the Order. So, too, were Austrian chancellor JÃ¶rg Kaufmann and Italian prime minister Giuseppe
Kaufmann immediately denied the report. He was forced to issue a clarification when
published a photograph from his wedding, which was officiated by the Order's superior general, Bishop Hans Richter. For his part, Saviano brazenly dismissed the story as “fake news” and called upon
Italian prosecutors to file charges of treason against its author. Informed that no such offense had been committed, he issued a tweet calling on his thuggish soccer-hooligan supporters to teach Ricci a lesson he would not soon forget. After receiving hundreds of death threats, the journalist fled his apartment in Trastevere and went into hiding.
Bishop Richter, secluded at the Order's medieval priory in Canton Zug, refused to comment on the story. Nor did he issue a
statement when lawyers in New York filed a class action suit in federal court, accusing the Order of extorting money and valuables
from desperate Jews during the late 1930s in exchange for promises of false baptismal certificates and protection from the
Nazis. The lead plaintiff in the case was Isabel Feldman, the only surviving child of Samuel Feldman. In a sparsely attended
news conference in Vienna, she unveiled a paintingâa river landscape by the Dutch Old Master Jan van Goyenâthat her father
had turned over to the Order in 1938. The canvas, which had been removed from its stretcher, had been returned to her by the
noted Holocaust investigator Eli Lavon, whose schedule did not permit him to attend the press briefing.
The exact circumstances of the painting's recovery were not made public, which gave rise to much unfounded speculation in the Austrian press. A website that regularly trafficked in false or misleading stories went so far as to accuse Lavon of being an Israeli agent. The story happened to be accurate, thus proving Rabbi Jacob Zolli's contention that the unimaginable can happen. Normally, Gabriel would not have bothered with a response. But given the current climate of anti-Semitism in Europeâand the ever-present threat of violence hanging over
Austria's tiny Jewish minorityâhe thought it best to issue a denial through the Israeli Embassy in Vienna.
He was less inclined, however, to repudiate a British tabloid report regarding his presence in the Sistine Chapel on the night
of the historic conclave, if only to annoy the Russians and the Iranians, who were rightly paranoid about his capabilities
and reach. But when the story jumped from publication to publication like a contagion, he reluctantly instructed the prime
minister's irascible spokeswoman to dismiss it as “preposterous on its face.” The statement was a classic example of a nondenial
denial. And with good reason. Numerous Vatican insiders, including the new supreme pontiff and the 116 cardinals who elected
him, knew the story to be true.
So, too, did Gabriel's children. For three blissful days, as the rains fell upon Venice without relent, he had them entirely
to himself. Board games, art projects, old movies on DVD. Occasionally, when the combination of shadows and light was favorable,
he lifted the flap of an envelope emblazoned with the armorial of His Holiness Pope Paul VII and removed the three sheets
of rich stationery. The salutation was informal. First name only. There were no preliminaries or pleasantries.
While researching in the Vatican Secret Archives, I came upon a most remarkable bookÂ .Â .Â .
Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, the clouds parted and the sun shone over the whole of the city. After breakfast, Gabriel and Chiara dressed the children in oilskin coats and Wellington boots and together they waded over to the Campo
di Ghetto Nuovo to assist with the cleanup. Nothing had been spared, especially the museum's beautiful bookstore, which lost most of its inventory. The kitchen and common room of the Casa Israelitica di Riposo were in ruins, and both the Portuguese and Spanish synagogues suffered severe damage. Once again, thought Gabriel as he surveyed the destruction, calamity had befallen the Jews of Venice.
They worked until one and then took their lunch in a tiny restaurant hidden away on the Calle Masena. From there it was a
short walk to the first of two apartments that Chiara, without bothering to inform Gabriel, had arranged for them to see that
day. It was large and airy and, perhaps most important, dry as a bone. The kitchen was newly renovated, as were the three
bathrooms. The price was high, but not unreasonable. Gabriel was confident he would be able to shoulder the additional financial
burden without having to sell knockoff Gucci handbags to the tourists in San Marco.
“What do you think?” asked Chiara.
“Nice,” said Gabriel noncommittally.
“Why don't you show me the other apartment?”
It was located near the San Toma vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal, a fully refurbished
with a private roof terrace and a high-ceilinged, light-filled room that Gabriel could claim as his studio. There he would
toil night and day on lucrative private commissions in order to pay for it all. He consoled himself with the knowledge that
there were far worse ways for a man to spend the autumn of his years.
“If we sell Narkiss Street,” said Chiara.
“We're not going to sell it.”
“I know it's a stretch, Gabriel. But if we're going to live in Venice, wouldn't you prefer to live here?”
“Who wouldn't? But someone has to pay for it.”
“I want to see his books.”
“Where do you think we were going next?”
Francesco Tiepolo's office was on the Calle Larga XXII Marzo in San Marco. On the wall behind his desk were several framed
photographs of his friend Pietro Lucchesi. In one was a youthful version of Lucchesi's successor.
“I suppose you had something to do with it.”
“The election of the first pope from outside the College of Cardinals since the thirteenth century.”
“Fourteenth,” said Gabriel. “And rest assured, it was the Holy Spirit who chose the new pope, not me.”
“You've been spending too much time in Catholic churches, my friend.”
“It's an occupational hazard.”
Tiepolo's books were hardly immaculate, but they were in far better shape than Gabriel had feared. The firm had little debt, and the monthly overhead was low. Mainly, it consisted of the rent for the San Marco office and a warehouse on the mainland. At present, the firm had more work than it could handle, and several projects were in the pipeline. Two were scheduled to commence after the date of Gabriel's retirement, which meant Chiara would be able to hit the ground running. Tiepolo insisted they keep the firm's name and pay him a fifty percent
share of the annual profit. Gabriel agreed to keep the nameâhe did not want his many enemies to know where he was livingâbut he balked at Tiepolo's demand for half of the company's profits, offering him twenty-five percent instead.
“How will I possibly live on such a paltry sum?”
“Somehow you'll manage.”
Tiepolo looked at Chiara. “Which apartment did he choose?”
“The big one.”
“I knew it!” Tiepolo clapped Gabriel on the back. “I always said you would return to Venice. And when you die, they'll bury
you beneath a cypress tree on San Michele, in an enormous crypt befitting a man of your achievements.”
“I'm not dead yet, Francesco.”
“It happens to the best of us.” Tiepolo gazed at the photographs on the wall. “Even to my dear friend Pietro Lucchesi.”
“And now Donati is the pope.”
“Are you sure you didn't have anything to do with it?”
“No,” answered Gabriel distantly. “It was him.”
“Who?” asked Tiepolo, perplexed.
Gabriel pointed toward the cloaked, sandaled figure walking past Tiepolo's window.
It was Father Joshua.