Authors: Daniel Silva
“Please tell me
“Trust me, it wasn't my idea.”
“Do you know how much time and effort it took to arrange this trip? I had to meet with the prime minister, for heaven's sake.”
“And for that,” said Gabriel solemnly, “I am deeply and eternally sorry.”
They were seated at the back of a small restaurant in Murano. Gabriel had waited until they had finished their entrÃ©es before
telling Chiara of his plans to travel to Rome in the morning. Admittedly, his motives were selfish. The restaurant, which
specialized in fish, was among his favorites in Venice.
“It's just one day, Chiara.”
“Even you don't believe that.”
“No, but it was worth a try.”
Chiara raised a wineglass toward her lips. The last of her pinot grigio burned with the pale fire of reflected candlelight.
“Why weren't you invited to the funeral?”
“Apparently, Cardinal Albanese couldn't find a spare seat for me in the whole of St. Peter's Square.”
“He was the one who found the body, wasn't he?”
“In the private chapel,” said Gabriel.
“Do you really think it happened that way?”
“Are you suggesting the Vatican Press Office might have issued an inaccurate
“You and Luigi collaborated on quite a few misleading statements over the years.”
“But our motives were always pure.”
Chiara placed her wineglass on the bone-white tablecloth and rotated it slowly. “Why do you suppose he wants to see you?”
“It can't be good.”
“What did General Ferrari say?”
“As little as possible.”
“How unlike him.”
“He might have mentioned that it had something to do with the selection of the next supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic
The wineglass went still. “The conclave?”
“He didn't go into specifics.”
Gabriel nudged his phone to life and checked the time. He had been forced at long last to part company with his beloved BlackBerry Key2. His new device was an Israeli-made Solaris,
customized to his unique specifications. Larger and heavier than a typical smartphone, it had been built to withstand remote attack from the world's most sophisticated hackers, including the American NSA and Israel's Unit 8200. All of Gabriel's senior officers carried one, as did Chiara. It was her second. Raphael had tossed her first Solaris from the terrace of their apartment in Jerusalem. For all its inviolability, the device had not been designed to survive a fall of three floors and a collision with a limestone walkway.
“It's late,” he said. “We should rescue your parents.”
“We don't have to rush. They love having the children around. If it were up to them, we would never leave Venice.”
“King Saul Boulevard might notice my absence.”
“The prime minister, too.” She was silent for a moment. “I must admit, I'm not looking forward to going home. I've enjoyed
having you to myself.”
“I only have two years left on my term.”
“Two years and one month. But who's counting?”
“Has it been terrible?”
She made a face. “I never wanted to play the role of the complaining wife. You know the type, don't you, Gabriel? They're
so annoying, those women.”
“We always knew it would be difficult.”
“Yes,” she said vaguely.
“If you need helpÂ .Â .Â .”
“An extra pair of hands around the house.”
She frowned. “I can manage quite well on my own, thank you. I just miss you, that's all.”
“Two years will go by in the blink of an eye.”
“And you promise you won't let them talk you into a second term?”
“Not a chance.”
Her face brightened. “So how do you plan to spend your retirement?”
“You make it sound as though I should start looking for an assisted-living facility.”
“You are getting on in years, darling.” She patted the back of his hand. It didn't make him feel any younger. “Well?” she
“I plan to devote my final years on this earth to making you happy.”
“So you'll do anything I want?”
He regarded her carefully. “Within reason, of course.”
She cast her eyes downward and picked at a loose thread in the tablecloth. “I had coffee with Francesco yesterday.”
“He didn't mention it.”
“I asked him not to.”
“That explains it. And what did you talk about?”
“What does he have in mind?”
“Francesco and me?”
Chiara made no reply.
She nodded. “He wants me to come to work for him. And when he retires in a few yearsÂ .Â .Â .”
“Tiepolo Restoration will be mine.”
Gabriel recalled the words Tiepolo had spoken while standing
over the tomb of Tintoretto.
Today you're on holiday, but one day you'll die in VeniceÂ .Â .Â .
He doubted this scheme had been hatched over coffee yesterday.
“A nice Jewish girl from the ghetto will be caring for the churches and
of Venice? Is that what you're saying?”
“Rather remarkable, isn't it?”
“And what will I do?”
“I suppose you can spend your days wandering the streets of Venice.”
She smiled beautifully. “You can work for me.”
This time it was Gabriel who looked down. His phone was aglow with an incoming message from King Saul Boulevard. He turned
the device over. “It might be controversial, Chiara.”
“Working for me?”
“Leaving Israel the minute my term is over.”
“Do you intend to run for a seat in the Knesset?”
He rolled his eyes.
“Write a book about your exploits?”
“I'll leave that chore to someone else.”
He made no reply.
“If you stay in Israel, you'll be within easy reach of the Office. And if there's a crisis, they'll drag you back in to right
the ship, just like they did to Ari.”
“Ari wanted back in. I'm different.”
“Are you really? Sometimes I'm not so sure about that. In fact, you're getting more like him every day.”
“What about the children?” he asked.
“They adore Venice.”
“Believe it or not, we have several very fine ones.”
“They'll turn into Italians.”
She frowned. “A pity, that.”
Gabriel exhaled slowly. “Have you seen Francesco's books?”
“I'll knock them into shape.”
“The summers here are dreadful.”
“We'll go to the mountains or sail the Adriatic. It's been years since you've sailed, darling.”
Gabriel had run out of objections. In truth, he thought it was a marvelous idea. If nothing else, it would keep Chiara occupied
during the final two years of his term.
“Do we have a deal?” she asked.
“I believe we do, provided we come to terms on my compensation package, which will be exorbitant.”
He signaled the waiter for the check. Chiara was pulling at the loose thread in the tablecloth again.
“There's one thing that's bothering me,” she said.
“About uprooting the children and moving to Venice?”
. Luigi always remained by Lucchesi's side late into the evening. And when Lucchesi went to the chapel to pray and meditate
before bed, Luigi always went with him.”
“So why was Cardinal Albanese the one who found the body?”
“I suppose we'll never know.” Gabriel paused. “Unless I have lunch with Luigi in Rome tomorrow.”
“You can go on one condition.”
“Take me with you.”
“What about the children?”
“My parents can look after them.”
“And who's going to look after your parents?”
“The carabinieri, of course.”
“Don't make me ask twice, Gabriel. I really hate playing the role of the complaining wife. They're so annoying, those women.”
Next morning they
dropped the children at the Zolli house after breakfast and hurried over to Santa Lucia in time to make the eight o'clock
train to Rome. As the rolling plains of central Italy slid past their window, Gabriel read the newspapers and exchanged a
few routine e-mails and texts with King Saul Boulevard. Chiara leafed through a thick stack of home design magazines and catalogs,
licking the tip of her index finger with each turn of the page.
Occasionally, when the combination of shadows and light was favorable, Gabriel caught sight of their reflection in the glass. He had to admit, they were an attractive couple, he in his fashionable dark suit and white dress shirt, Chiara in her black leggings and leather jacket. Despite the pressure and long hours of his jobâand his many injuries and brushes with
deathâGabriel judged he had held up rather well. Yes, the lines around his jade-colored eyes were a bit deeper, but he was still trim as a cyclist, and he had retained all his hair. It was short and dark but very gray at the temples. It had changed color almost overnight, not long after the first assassination he carried out at the behest of the Office. The operation had taken place in the autumn of 1972, in the city where they would soon be arriving.
As they were approaching Florence, Chiara thrust a catalog beneath his nose and asked his opinion of the couch and coffee
table displayed on the open page. His indifferent response earned him a glance of mild rebuke. It seemed Chiara had already
begun scouring the real estate listings for their new home, adding still more evidence to support his theory that a return
to Venice had been in the works for some time. For now, she had narrowed her search to two properties, one in Cannaregio and
a second in San Polo, overlooking the Grand Canal. Both would substantially diminish the small fortune Gabriel had accumulated
through his labors as a restorer, and both would require Chiara to commute to Tiepolo's offices in San Marco. The San Polo
apartment was much closer, a few stops by vaporetto. It was also twice the price.
“If we sell Narkiss StreetÂ .Â .Â .”
“We're not selling it,” said Gabriel.
“The San Polo apartment has an incredible room with high ceilings where you can build a proper studio.”
“Which means I can supplement the starvation wages I'll make working for you by taking private commissions.”
Gabriel's phone pinged with the tone reserved for urgent messages from King Saul Boulevard.
Chiara watched uneasily as he read it. “Are we going home?”
“What is it?”
“A car bombing in the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.”
“Probably. But there's no confirmation yet.”
“Who did it?”
“The Islamic State is claiming responsibility.”
“Do they have the capability to carry out a bombing in Western Europe?”
“If you'd asked me that question yesterday, I would have told you no.”
Gabriel followed the updates from Berlin until the train pulled into Roma Termini. Outside, the sky was cerulean blue and
cloudless. They walked through canyons of terra-cotta and sienna, keeping to the side streets and alleyways where watchers
were easier to spot. While dawdling in the Piazza Navona, they agreed they were not being followed.
Ristorante Piperno was a short distance to the south, in a quiet
near the Tiber. Chiara entered first and was shown by a dazzled white-jacketed waiter to a prized table near the window.
Gabriel, who arrived three minutes later, sat outside in the warm autumnal sunlight. He could see Chiara's thumbs working
furiously over the keypad of her phone. He drew his own device from the breast pocket of his suit jacket and typed,
Chiara's reply arrived a few seconds later.
Your son just broke my mother's favorite vase.
I'm sure it was the vase's fault, not his.
Your lunch date is here
Gabriel watched a worn-out Fiat sedan creeping hesitatingly over the cobbles of the tiny
. It had ordinary Roman registration, not the special SCV plates reserved for cars from the Vatican. A tall, handsome cleric
emerged from the backseat. His black cassock and simar were trimmed in amaranth red, the plumage of an archbishop. His arrival
at Ristorante Piperno provoked only slightly less tumult than Chiara's.
“Forgive me,” said Luigi Donati as he sat down opposite Gabriel. “I never should have agreed to speak to that reporter from
. I can't go anywhere in Rome these days without being recognized.”
“Why did you do the interview?”
“She made it clear she was going to write the article with or without my cooperation.”
“And you fell for it?”
“She promised it would be a serious profile of the man who helped to guide the Church through troubled waters. It didn't turn
out as promised.”
“I assume you're referring to the part about your physical appearance.”
“Don't tell me you actually read it.”
Donati frowned. “I must say, the Holy Father rather liked it. He thought it made the Church seem cool. His exact word, by
the way. My rivals in the Curia didn't agree.” He abruptly changed the subject. “I'm sorry about interrupting your holiday.
I hope Chiara wasn't angry.”
“Quite the opposite.”
“Are you telling me the truth?”
“Have I ever misled you?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Donati smiled. It was an effort.
“How are you holding up?” asked Gabriel.
“I'm mourning the loss of my master and adjusting to my reduced circumstances and status loss.”
“Where are you staying?”
“The Jesuit Curia. It's just down the street from the Vatican on the Borgo Santo Spirito. My rooms aren't as nice as my apartment
in the Apostolic Palace, but they're quite comfortable.”
“Have they found something for you to do?”
“I'm going to be teaching canon law at the Gregoriana. I'm also designing a course on the Church's troubled history with the
Jews.” He paused. “Perhaps someday I can convince you to deliver a guest lecture.”
“Can you imagine?”
“I can, actually. The relationship between our two faiths has never been better, and it is because of your personal friendship
with Pietro Lucchesi.”
“I sent you a text the night he died,” said Gabriel.
“It meant the world to me.”
“Why didn't you respond?”
“For the same reason I didn't challenge Cardinal Albanese when he refused to allow you to attend the funeral. I needed your
help on a sensitive matter, and I didn't want to cast any unnecessary light on the closeness of our relationship.”
“And the sensitive matter?”
“It concerns the death of the Holy Father. There were certainÂ .Â .Â . irregularities.”
“Beginning with the identity of the person who discovered the body.”
“You noticed that?”
“Actually, it was Chiara.”
“She's a smart woman.”
“Why did Cardinal Albanese find the body? Why wasn't it you, Luigi?”
Donati looked down at his menu. “Perhaps we should order something to start. How about the fried artichoke leaves and zucchini
flowers? And the
filetti di baccalÃ
. The Holy Father always swore they were the best in Rome.”