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Authors: Daniel Silva

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“What poor soul removed the varnish? Antonio Politi, I hope.”

“It was Paulina, the new girl. She was hoping to observe you while you worked.”

“I assume you disabused her of that notion.”

“In no uncertain terms. She said you could have any part of the painting you wanted, except for the Virgin.”

Gabriel lifted his gaze toward the upper reaches of the towering canvas. Miriam, the three-year-old daughter of Joachim and
Anne, Jews from Nazareth, was hesitantly climbing the fifteen steps of the Temple of Jerusalem toward the high priest. A few
steps below reclined a woman robed in brown silk. She was holding a young child, a boy or girl, it was impossible to tell.

“Her,” said Gabriel. “And the child.”

“Are you sure? They need a great deal of work.”

Gabriel smiled sadly, his eyes on the canvas. “It's the least I can do for them.”

 

He remained in the church
until two o'clock, longer than he had intended. That evening he and Chiara left the children with their grandparents and dined
alone in a restaurant on the other side of the Grand Canal in San Polo. The next day, Thursday, he took the children on a
gondola ride in the morning and worked on the Tintoretto from midday until five, when Tiepolo locked the church's doors for
the night.

Chiara decided to prepare dinner at the apartment. Afterward, Gabriel supervised the nightly running battle known as
bath time before retreating to the shelter of the chuppah to deal with a minor crisis at home. It was nearly one by the time he crawled into bed. Chiara was reading a novel, oblivious to the television, which was muted. On the screen was a live shot of St. Peter's Basilica. Gabriel raised the volume and learned that an old friend had died.

3
Cannaregio, Venice

Later that morning
the body of His Holiness Pope Paul VII was moved to the Sala Clementina on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace. It remained
there until early the following afternoon, when it was transferred in solemn procession to St. Peter's Basilica for two days
of public viewing. Four Swiss Guards stood watch around the dead pontiff, halberds at the ready. The Vatican press corps made
much of the fact that Archbishop Luigi Donati, the Holy Father's closest aide and confidant, rarely left his master's side.

Church tradition dictated that the funeral and burial of the pope occur four to six days after his death. Cardinal Camerlengo
Domenico Albanese announced that it would take place the following Tuesday and that the conclave would convene ten days after
that. The
vaticanisti
were predicting a hard-fought
and divisive contest between reformers and conservatives. The smart money was on Cardinal José Maria Navarro, who had used his position as the Church's doctrinal gatekeeper to build a power base within the College of Cardinals that rivaled even the dead pope's.

In Venice, where Pietro Lucchesi had reigned as patriarch, the mayor declared three days of mourning. The bells of the city
were silent, and a moderately attended prayer service was held in St. Mark's Basilica. Otherwise, life went on as normal.
A minor
acqua alta
flooded a portion of Santa Croce; a colossal cruise ship plowed into a wharf on the Giudecca Canal. In the bars where locals
gathered for coffee or a glass of brandy against the autumn chill, one rarely heard the dead pontiff's name. Cynical by nature,
few Venetians bothered to attend Mass on a regular basis, and fewer still lived their lives in accordance with the teachings
of the men from the Vatican. The churches of Venice, the most beautiful in all of Christendom, were places where foreign tourists
went to gawk at Renaissance art.

Gabriel, however, followed the events in Rome with more than a passing interest. On the morning of the pope's funeral, he
arrived at the church early and worked without interruption until twelve fifteen, when he heard the hollow echo of footfalls
in the nave. He raised his magnifying visor and cautiously parted the tarpaulin shroud that covered his platform. General
Cesare Ferrari, commander of the carabinieri's Division for the Defense of Cultural Patrimony, better known as the Art Squad,
returned his gaze without expression.

Uninvited, the general stepped behind the shroud and con
templated the enormous canvas, which was awash in the searing white light of two halogen lamps. “One of his better ones, don't you think?”

“He was under enormous pressure to prove himself. Veronese had been publicly recognized as the successor of Titian and the
finest painter in Venice. Poor Tintoretto was no longer receiving the sort of commissions he once did.”

“This was his parish church.”

“You don't say.”

“He lived around the corner on the Fondamenta di Mori.” The general swept aside the tarpaulin and went into the nave. “There
used to be a Bellini in this church.
Madonna with Child
. It was stolen in 1993. The Art Squad has been looking for it ever since.” He peered at Gabriel over his shoulder. “You haven't
seen it, have you?”

Gabriel smiled. Shortly before becoming chief of the Office, he had recovered the most sought-after stolen painting in the
world, Caravaggio's
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence
. He had made certain that the Art Squad received all the credit. It was for that reason, among others, that General Ferrari
had agreed to provide round-the-clock security for Gabriel and his family during their Venetian holiday.

“You're supposed to be relaxing,” said the general.

Gabriel lowered his magnifying visor. “I am.”

“Any problems?”

“For inexplicable reasons, I'm having a bit of trouble re-creating the color of this woman's garment.”

“I was referring to your security.”

“It seems my return to Venice has gone unnoticed.”

“Not entirely.” The general glanced at his wristwatch. “I don't suppose I could convince you to take a break for lunch?”

“I never eat lunch when I'm working.”

“Yes, I know.” The general switched off the halogen lamps. “I remember.”

 

Tiepolo had given Gabriel
a key to the church. Watched by the commander of the Art Squad, he engaged the alarm and locked the door. Together they walked
to a bar a few doors down from Tintoretto's old house. The papal funeral played on the television behind the counter.

“In case you were wondering,” said the general, “Archbishop Donati wanted you to attend.”

“Then why wasn't I invited?”

“The camerlengo wouldn't hear of it.”

“Albanese?”

The general nodded. “Apparently, he was never comfortable with the closeness of your relationship with Donati. Or with the
Holy Father, for that matter.”

“It's probably better I'm not there. I would have only been a distraction.”

The general frowned. “They should have seated you in a place of honor. After all, were it not for you, the Holy Father would
have died in the terrorist attack on the Vatican.”

The barman, a skinny twentysomething in a black T-shirt, delivered two coffees. The general added sugar to his. The hand that stirred it was missing two fingers. He had lost them to a letter bomb when he was the commander of the Camorra-infested
Naples division of the carabinieri. The explosion had taken his right eye as well. The ocular prosthesis, with its immobile pupil, had left the general with a cold, unyielding gaze. Even Gabriel tended to avoid it. It was like staring into the eye of an all-seeing God.

At present, the eye was aimed toward the television, where the camera was panning slowly across a rogues' gallery of politicians,
monarchs, and assorted global celebrities. Eventually, it settled on Giuseppe Saviano.

“At least he didn't wear his armband,” murmured the general.

“You're not an admirer?”

“Saviano is a passionate defender of the Art Squad's budget. As a result, we get on quite well.”

“Fascists love cultural patrimony.”

“He considers himself a populist, not a fascist.”

“That's a relief.”

Ferrari's brief smile had no influence over his prosthetic eye. “The rise of a man like Saviano was inevitable. Our people
have lost faith with fanciful notions like liberal democracy, the European Union, and the Western alliance. And why not? Between
globalization and automation, most young Italians can't start a proper career. If they want a well-paying job, they have to
go to Britain. And if they stay here . . .” The general glanced at the young man behind the bar. “They serve coffee to tourists.”
He lowered his voice. “Or Israeli intelligence officers.”

“Saviano isn't going to change any of that.”

“Probably not. But in the meantime, he projects strength and confidence.”

“How about competence?”

“As long as he keeps the immigrants out, his supporters don't care if he can't put two words together.”

“What if there's a crisis? A real crisis. Not one that's invented by a right-wing website.”

“Like what?”

“It could be another financial crisis that wipes out the banking system.” Gabriel paused. “Or something much worse.”

“What could be worse than my life's savings going up in smoke?”

“How about a global pandemic? A novel strain of influenza for which we humans have no natural defense.”

“A plague?”

“Don't laugh, Cesare. It's only a matter of time.”

“And where will this plague of yours come from?”

“It will make the jump from animals to humans in a place where sanitary conditions leave something to be desired. A Chinese
wet market, for example. It will start slowly, a cluster of local cases. But because we are so interconnected, it will spread
around the globe like wildfire. Chinese tourists will bring it to Western Europe in the early stages of the outbreak, even
before the virus has been identified. Within a few weeks, half of Italy's population will be infected, perhaps more. What
happens then, Cesare?”

“You tell me.”

“The entire country will have to be quarantined to prevent further spread. Hospitals will be so overwhelmed they'll be forced
to turn away everyone but the youngest and the healthiest. Hundreds will die every day, perhaps thousands. The military will
have to resort to mass cremation to prevent further spread. It will be—”

“A holocaust.”

Gabriel nodded slowly. “And how do you suppose an incompetent subliterate like Saviano will react under those conditions? Will he listen to medical experts, or will he think he knows better? Will he tell his people the truth, or will he promise that a vaccine and lifesaving treatments are just around the corner?”

“He'll blame the Chinese and the immigrants and emerge stronger than ever.” Ferrari looked at Gabriel seriously. “Is there
something you know that you're not telling me?”

“Anyone with half a brain knows we're long overdue for something on the scale of the Great Influenza of 1918. I've told my
prime minister that of all the threats facing Israel, a pandemic is by far the worst.”

“I'm thankful that my only responsibility is to find stolen paintings.” The general watched as the television camera panned
across a sea of red vestments. “There sits the next pontiff.”

“They say it's going to be Cardinal Navarro.”

“That's the rumor.”

“Do you have any insight?”

General Ferrari answered as though addressing a roomful of reporters. “The carabinieri make no effort to monitor the papal
succession process. Nor do the other agencies of Italian security and intelligence.”

“Spare me.”

The general laughed quietly. “And what about you?”

“The identity of the next pope is of no concern to the State of Israel.”

“It is now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I'll let
him
explain.” General Ferrari nodded toward the television, where the camera had found Archbishop Luigi Donati,
private secretary to His Holiness Pope Paul VII. “He was wondering whether you might have a spare moment or two to speak to him.”

“Why didn't he just call me?”

“It's not something he wanted to discuss on the phone.”

“Did he tell you what it was?”

The general shook his head. “Only that it was a matter of the utmost importance. He was hoping you were free for lunch tomorrow.”

“Where?”

“Rome.”

Gabriel made no reply.

“It's an hour away by plane. You'll be back in Venice in time for dinner.”

“Will I?”

“Judging by the archbishop's tone of voice, I rather doubt it. He's expecting you at one o'clock at Piperno. He says you're
familiar with it.”

“It rings a distant bell.”

“He'd like you to come alone. And don't worry about your wife and children. I'll take very good care of them during your absence.”

“Absence?” It was not the word Gabriel would have chosen to describe a daylong excursion to the Eternal City.

The general was staring at the television again. “Look at those princes of the Church, all robed in red.”

“The color symbolizes the blood of Christ.”

Ferrari's good eye blinked with surprise. “How on earth did you know that?”

“I've spent the better part of my life restoring Christian art. It's safe to assume I know more about the history and teachings of the Church than most Catholics.”

“Including me.” The general's gaze returned to the screen. “Who do you suppose it will be?”

“They say Navarro is already ordering new furniture for the
appartamento
.”

“Yes,” said the general, nodding thoughtfully. “That's what they say.”

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