Authors: Daniel Silva
“What do you
think?” asked Chiara.
“I definitely think I could get used to living here again.”
They were seated in the elegant front room of CaffÃ¨ Greco. Beneath their small round table were several glossy shopping bags,
the plunder of a costly late-afternoon excursion along the Via Condotti. They had traveled from Venice to Rome without a change
of clothing. They both needed something appropriate to wear for dinner at Veronica Marchese's palazzo.
“I was talking aboutâ”
Gabriel gently cut her off. “I know what you were talking about.”
“All of it can be explained rather easily.”
Chiara was clearly unconvinced. “Let's start with the phone call.”
“Why did Albanese wait so long to contact Donati?”
“Because the Holy Father's death was Albanese's moment in the spotlight, and he didn't want Donati interfering or second-guessing
“His overinflated ego got the better of him?”
“Nearly everyone in a position of power suffers from one.”
“Everyone but you, of course.”
“That goes without saying.”
“But why did Albanese take it upon himself to move the body? And why did he close the curtains and the shutters in the study?”
“For the exact reasons he said he did.”
“And the teacup?”
Gabriel shrugged. “One of the household nuns probably took it.”
“Did they take the letter off Lucchesi's desk, too?”
“The letter,” admitted Gabriel, “is harder to explain.”
“Almost as hard as the missing Swiss Guard.” A waiter arrived with two coffees and a creamy Roman fruit tart. Fork in hand,
Chiara hesitated. “I've already gained at least five pounds on this trip.”
“I hadn't noticed.”
She shot him an envious glance. “You haven't gained an ounce. You never do.”
“I have the Tintoretto to thank for that.”
Chiara nudged the tart closer to Gabriel. “You eat it.”
“You're the one who ordered it.”
Chiara dislodged a slice of strawberry from the bed of cream. “How long do you think it will take Unit 8200 to find Janson's
“Given the insecurity of the Vatican network, I'd say about five minutes flat. Once they get it, it won't take them long to
pinpoint his location.” Gabriel inched the tart closer to Chiara. “And then we can go back to Venice and resume our holiday.”
“What if the phone is powered off or lying on the bottom of the Tiber?” Chiara lowered her voice. “Or what if they've already
“Yes, of course.”
“And who are
“The same men who murdered the pope.”
Gabriel frowned. “We're not there yet, Chiara.”
a long time ago, darling.” Chiara sliced off a piece of the tart and pierced it through the cream and crust. “I have to admit
I'm looking forward to dinner tonight.”
“I wish I could say the same.”
“What are you worried about?”
“An awkward pause in the conversation.”
“You know, Gabriel, you didn't actually
“I didn't exactly prevent him from falling over that barrier, either.”
“Perhaps Veronica won't bring it up.”
“I certainly don't intend to.”
Chiara smiled and looked around the room. “What do you suppose normal people do on holiday?”
normal people, Chiara. We just have interesting friends.”
“With interesting problems.”
Gabriel plunged his fork into the tart. “That, too.”
There was an
old Office safe flat at the top of the Spanish Steps, not far from the church of the TrinitÃ dei Monti. Housekeeping hadn't
had time to stock the pantry. It was no matter; Gabriel wasn't anticipating a long stay.
In the bedroom they unpacked the shopping bags. Gabriel had acquired his evening wardrobe swiftly, with a single stop at Giorgio
Armani. Chiara had been more discriminating in her conquest. A strapless black cocktail dress from Max Mara, a car-length
coat from Burberry, a pair of stylish black pumps from Salvatore Ferragamo. Now Gabriel surprised her with a strand of pearls
Beaming, she asked, “What are these for?”
“You're the wife of the director-general of the Israeli intelligence service and the mother of two young children. It's the
least I can do.”
“Have you forgotten about the apartment on the Grand Canal?” Chiara placed the strand of pearls around her neck. She looked
radiant. “What do you think?”
“I think I'm the luckiest man in the world.” The cocktail dress was laid out on the bed. “Is that a negligee?”
“Don't start with me.”
“Where do you intend to conceal your weapon?”
“I wasn't planning to bring one.” She pushed him toward the door. “Go away.”
He went into the sitting room. From its tiny terrace he could see the Spanish Steps descending sedately toward the piazza and, in the distance, the floodlit dome of the basilica floating above the Vatican. All at once he heard a voice. It was the voice of Carlo Marchese.
What is this, Allon?
His body had split open on impact, like a melon. What Gabriel remembered most, however, was the blood on Donati's cassock.
He wondered how the archbishop had explained Carlo's death to Veronica. It promised to be an interesting evening.
He went inside. From the next room he could hear Chiara singing softly to herself as she dressed, one of those silly Italian
pop songs she so adored. Better the sound of Chiara's voice, he thought, than Carlo Marchese's. As always, it filled him with
a sense of contentment. His journey was nearing its end. Chiara and the children were his reward for somehow having survived.
Still, Leah was never far from his thoughts. She was watching him now from the shadows at the corner of the room, burned and
broken, her scarred hands clutching a lifeless childâGabriel's private pietÃ .
Do you love this girl?
Yes, he thought. He loved everything about her. The way she licked her finger when she turned the page of a magazine. The
way she swung her handbag when she walked along the Via Condotti. The way she sang to herself when she thought no one was
He switched on the television. It was tuned to the BBC. Remarkably, there had been no fatalities in the Berlin bombing, though twelve people had been wounded, four critically. Axel BrÃ¼nner of the far-right National Democratic Party was blaming the attack on the pro-immigration policies of Germany's
centrist chancellor. Neo-Nazis and other assorted right-wing extremists were gathering for a torchlight rally in the city of Leipzig. The Bundespolizei were bracing for a night of violence.
Gabriel changed the channel to CNN. The network's premier foreign affairs correspondent was broadcasting live from St. Peter's
Square. Like her competitors, she was unaware of the fact that a letter addressed to the director-general of the Israeli secret
intelligence service had mysteriously vanished from the pope's study the night of his death. Nor did she know that the Swiss
Guard who had been standing watch outside the papal apartments was missing, too. If Niklaus Janson's phone was powered on
and broadcasting a signal, the cyberwarriors at Unit 8200 would find it, perhaps before the night was out.
Gabriel switched off the television as Chiara came into the sitting room. He took his time with his appraisalâthe pearls,
the strapless black dress, the pumps. She was a masterpiece.
“Well?” she asked at last.
“You lookÂ .Â .Â .” He faltered.
“Like a mother of two who's gained eight pounds?”
“I thought you said five.”
“I just stepped on the bathroom scale.” She gestured toward the bedroom door. “It's all yours.”
Gabriel quickly showered and dressed. Downstairs, they climbed into the back of a waiting embassy car. As they raced up the
Via Veneto, his phone pulsed with an incoming message from King Saul Boulevard.
“What is it?”
“The Unit just breached the outer wall of the Swiss Guard's computer network. They're searching the database for Janson's
personnel file and contact information.”
“What if they've deleted it already?”
“The same men who murdered the pope, of course.”
“We're not there yet, Chiara.”
“Not yet,” she agreed. “But we will be soon.”
Under normal circumstances
Swiss Guards did not stand watch outside the Casa Santa Marta. But at eight fifteen that same evening, there were two. The
clerical guesthouse was now occupied by several dozen princes of the Church, mainly from the distant corners of the realm.
On the eve of the conclave, the remaining cardinal-electors would join them. After that, no one but the Casa Santa Marta's
staffânuns from the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paulâwould be allowed to enter. For now, a select few, including Bishop Hans
Richter, superior general of the Order of St. Helena, were free to come and go as they pleased. With Cardinal Domenico Albanese
firmly in control of the machinery of the city-state, Bishop Richter's long exile was finally over.
One of the Swiss Guards held open the glass door, and Richter, his right hand raised in blessing, went inside. The gleaming white lobby echoed with a multilingual din. The 225 members of the College of Cardinals had spent the afternoon discussing the Church's future. Now they were partaking of white wine and canapÃ©s in the lobby before sitting down to supper in the Casa Santa Marta's simple dining room. The Apostolic Constitution dictated that only the 116 cardinals under the age of eighty would be allowed to take part in the conclave. The elderly cardinals emeriti made their preferences known during informal gatherings such as these, which was where the real pre-conclave horse trading took place.
Richter discreetly acknowledged the greetings of a pair of well-known traditionalists and endured the icy stare of Cardinal
Kevin Brady, the liberal lion from Los Angeles who saw a pope each time he looked in the mirror. Brady was conspiring with
tiny Duarte of Manila, the great hope of the developing world. Cardinal Navarro was brimming with confidence, as though the
papacy was already his. It was obvious that Gaubert, who was scheming with Villiers of Lyon, did not plan to go down without
Only Bishop Hans Richter knew that none of them stood a chance. The next pope was at that moment standing near the reception desk, an afterthought in a room filled with towering egos and boundless ambition. He had been given his red hat by none other than Pietro Lucchesi, who had been deceived into believing he was a moderate, which he most definitely was not. Fifty million euros, discreetly deposited in bank accounts around the world, including twelve at the Vatican Bank, had all but guaranteed his election by the conclave. Securing the
vast sum of money required to purchase the papacy had been the easiest part of the operation. Unlike the rest of the Church, which was on the verge of financial collapse, the Order of St. Helena was awash with cash.
Cardinal Domenico Albanese was whispering something into the ear of Angelo Francona, the dean of the College of Cardinals.
Spotting Richter, he beckoned with a thick, furry hand. Francona, a leading liberal, immediately turned on his heel and fled.
“Did I do something to give offense?” asked Richter in flawless curial Italian.
“You offend by your very existence, Excellency.” Albanese took Richter by the arm. “Perhaps we should speak in my room.”
“Don't tell me you've actually moved in.”
Albanese grimaced. As
of the Secret Archives, he was entitled to a luxurious apartment above the Lapidary Gallery of the Vatican Museums. “I'm
simply using my room here as an office until the start of the conclave.”
“With any luck,” said Richter quietly, “you won't have to stay long.”
“The media are predicting a titanic struggle between the reformers and the reactionaries.”
“Seven ballots seems to be the general consensus.”
A blue-habited nun offered Richter a glass of wine. Declining, he followed Albanese to the elevators. He could almost feel
the eyes of the room boring holes in his back as they waited for a carriage to arrive. When one finally appeared, Albanese
pressed the call button for the fourth floor. Mercifully, the doors closed before loquacious Lopes of Rio de Janeiro could
Bishop Richter made several unnecessary adjustments to his purple-trimmed cassock as the carriage slowly rose. Handmade by an exclusive tailor in Zurich, it fit him to perfection. At seventy-four, he remained an imposing physical specimen, tall and square-shouldered, with iron-gray hair and an unbendable countenance to match.
He looked at Cardinal Albanese's reflection in the elevator doors. “What's on the menu this evening, Eminence?”
“Whatever they serve us will be overcooked.” Albanese smiled gracelessly. Even in his red-trimmed cassock, he looked like
the hired help. “Consider yourself lucky you don't have to actually take part in the conclave.”
In the nomenclature of the Roman Catholic Church, the Order of St. Helena was a personal prelatureâin effect, a global diocese
without borders. As superior general of the Order, Richter held the rank of bishop. Nevertheless, he was among the most powerful
men in the Roman Catholic Church. Several dozen cardinals, all secret members of the Order, were obliged to obey his every
command, including Cardinal Domenico Albanese.
The elevator doors opened. Albanese led Bishop Richter along an empty corridor. The room they entered was in darkness. Albanese
found the light switch.
Richter surveyed his surroundings. “I see you've assigned yourself one of the suites.”
“The rooms were assigned by lottery, Excellency.”
Bishop Richter held out his right hand, the wrist cocked slightly. Albanese dropped to his knees and placed his lips against the ring on Richter's third finger. It was identical in size to the
Ring of the Fisherman that Albanese had recently removed from the papal apartments.
“I swear to you, Bishop Richter, my eternal obedience.”
Richter withdrew his hand, resisting the urge to reach for the small bottle of sanitizer in his pocket. Richter was a germophobe.
Albanese always struck him as a carrier.
He moved to the window and parted the gauzy curtain. The suite was on the north side of the guesthouse, overlooking the Piazza
Santa Marta and the facade of the basilica. The dome was aglow with floodlights. The wounds from the Islamic terrorist attack
had healed nicely. If only the same could be said for the Holy Mother Church. She was a shadow of her former self, barely
breathing, close to death.
Bishop Hans Richter had appointed himself her savior. He had been prepared to wait out Lucchesi's disastrous papacy before
putting his plan into action. But His Holiness had given Richter no choice but to take matters into his own hands. It was
Lucchesi who had erred, Richter assured himself, not he. Besides, God had been knocking on Lucchesi's door for some time.
To Richter's way of thinking, he had merely given Pope Accidental an early start on the inevitable process of canonization.
Richter's thoughts were interrupted by a thunderous flush of the commode. When Albanese emerged, he was wiping his big hands on a towelâlike a ditchdigger, thought Richter. And to think he actually regarded himself as a potential pope, the one Richter would choose to be his puppet pontiff. He was no intellectual giant, Albanese, but he had played the curial insider's game well enough to secure two critical papal appointments. As camerlengo, Albanese had shepherded Lucchesi's body from the
papal apartments to his tomb beneath St. Peter's with no hint of scandal. He had also placed in Richter's hands copies of several sin-filled personnel files from the Vatican Secret Archives that had proven invaluable during the preparations for the conclave. For his reward, Albanese would soon be the secretary of state, the second most powerful position in the Holy See.
He dried his pitted face and then tossed the towel over the back of a chair. “With all due respect, Excellency, do you think
it was wise to come here this evening?”
“Are you forgetting that many of those cardinals downstairs are now wealthy men because of me?”
“All the more reason you should keep a low profile until the conclave is over. I can only imagine what the likes of Francona
and Kevin Brady are saying right now.”
“Francona and Brady are the least of our problems.”
The simple wooden armchair into which Albanese lowered himself groaned beneath his weight. “Is there any sign of the Janson
Richter shook his head.
“He was obviously distraught that night. It's possible he took his own life.”
“We should be so lucky.”
“Surely you don't mean that, Excellency. If Janson committed suicide, his soul would be in grave peril.”
“It already is.”
“As is mine,” said Albanese quietly.
Richter placed a hand on the camerlengo's thick shoulder. “I granted you absolution for your actions, Domenico. Your soul
is in a state of grace.”
“And yours, Excellency?”
Richter removed his hand. “I sleep well at night knowing that in a few days' time, the Church will be in our control. I will allow no one to stand in our way. And that includes a pretty little peasant boy from Canton Fribourg.”
“Then I suggest you find him, Excellency. The sooner the better.”
Bishop Richter smiled coldly. “Is that the type of incisive and analytical thinking you intend to bring to the Secretariat
Albanese suffered the rebuke from his superior general in silence.
“Rest assured,” said Bishop Richter, “the Order is using all of its considerable resources to find Janson. Unfortunately,
we are no longer the only ones looking for him. It appears Archbishop Donati has joined the search.”
“If we can't find Janson, what hope does Donati have?”
“Donati has something much better than hope.”
Bishop Richter gazed at the dome of the basilica. “Gabriel Allon.”