Authors: Daniel Silva
She tucked a loose strand
of blond hair behind her ear and peered at Donati over the top of an order pad. Her eyes were the color of an Alpine lake
in summer. The rest of her face matched their beauty. The cheekbones were broad, the jawline was sharp, the chin was narrow
with a slight indentation.
She had addressed Donati in French. He responded in the same language. “A glass of wine, please.”
With the tip of her pen she pointed toward the section of the menu devoted to the cafÃ©'s selection of wines. They were mainly
French and Swiss. Donati chose a Chasselas.
“Something to eat?”
“Just the wine for now, thank you.”
She walked over to the bar and checked her phone while a black-shirted colleague poured the wine. The glass sat atop her
tray for a moment or two before she finally delivered it to Donati's table.
“You're not from Fribourg,” she observed.
“How could you possibly tell?”
Her expression was unchanged. “What brings you to dull Fribourg?”
“What business are you in?”
Donati hesitated. HeÂ had never found a satisfactory way to admit what he did for his living. “I suppose I'm in the business
Her eyes narrowed. “You're a clergyman?”
“A priest,” said Donati.
“You don't look much like a priest.” Her eyes flashed over him provocatively. “Especially in those clothes.”
He wondered whether she addressed all her customers in so forward a manner. “Actually, I'm an archbishop.”
“Where's your archdiocese?” She was obviously familiar with the lexicon of Catholicism.
“A remote corner of North Africa that was once part of the Roman Empire. There are very few Christians there any longer, let
“A titular see?”
“What do you really do?”
“I'm about to begin teaching at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.”
“You're a Jesuit?”
“I'm afraid so.”
“And before the Gregoriana?”
Donati lowered his voice. “I served as the private secretary to His Holiness Pope Paul the Seventh.”
A shadow seemed to fall across her face. “What are you doing in Fribourg?” she asked again.
“I came to see you.”
“I need to talk to you about Niklaus.”
“Where is he?”
“You don't know?”
“When was the last time you heard from him?”
“It was the morning of the pope's funeral. He wouldn't tell me where he was.”
“He said he didn't want them to know.”
She started to answer, but stopped. “Have you seen him?” she asked.
“Yes, Stefani. I'm afraid I have.”
“Last night,” said Donati. “On the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.”
From his observation post
at CafÃ© des Arcades, Gabriel listened as Donati quietly told Stefani Hoffmann that Niklaus Janson was dead. He was glad it was his old friend on the other side of the street and not him. If Donati always labored over how to acknowledge his occupation, Gabriel likewise struggled
over how to tell a woman that a loved oneâa son, a brother, a father, a fiancÃ©âhad been murdered in cold blood.
She didn't believe Donati at first, which was to be expected. His response, that he had no motive to lie about such a thing,
did little to dilute her skepticism. The Vatican, she shot back, lied all the time.
“I don't work for the Vatican,” answered Donati. “Not anymore.”
He then suggested they speak somewhere private. Stefani Hoffmann said the restaurant closed at ten, and that her boss would
kill her if she left him in the lurch.
“Your boss will understand.”
“What do I say to him about Niklaus?”
“My car is in the Place des Ormeaux. Wait for me there.”
Donati went into the street and lifted the phone to his ear. “Were you able to hear all that?”
“She knows,” answered Gabriel. “The question is, how much?”
Donati slipped the phone into his pocket without killing the connection. Stefani Hoffmann emerged from the restaurant a few
minutes later, a scarf around her neck. Her car was a worn-out Volvo. Donati lowered himself into the passenger seat as Gabriel
slid behind the wheel of the BMW. Through his earpiece he heard the click of Donati's safety belt, followed an instant later
by a wail of anguish from Stefani Hoffmann.
“Is Niklaus really dead?”
“I saw it happen.”
“Why didn't you stop it?”
“There was nothing to be done.”
Stefani Hoffmann reversed out of the parking space and
turned onto the rue du Pont-MurÃ©. Ten seconds later, Gabriel did the same. As they left the Old Town on the Route des Alpes, Donati asked why Niklaus Janson had fled the Vatican the night of the Holy Father's death. Her response was scarcely audible.
“He was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“That they were going to kill him.”
For a long moment there was only the rattle of the Volvo's engine, followed a moment later by the sound of Stefani Hoffmann
screaming. Gabriel lowered the volume on his phone. He was glad it was his old friend sitting next to her and not him.
As they approached
the hamlet of St. Ursen, Stefani Hoffmann became aware of the fact they were being followed.
“It's only an associate of mine,” explained Donati.
“Since when do priests have
“He's the man who helped me find Niklaus in Florence.”
“I thought you said you came to Fribourg alone.”
“I said no such thing.”
“Is this associate of yours a priest, too?”
Donati was tempted to inform Stefani Hoffmann that there was no department of the Holy See known as
; that it was a canard invented by Catholicism's enemies; that the real intelligence-gathering apparatus of the Vatican
was the Universal Church itself, with its global network of parishes, schools, universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, and nuncios in capitals around the world. He spared her this discourse, at least for the moment. Still, he was curious why she would ask such a question. It could wait, he decided, until his
had joined them.
The next village was Rechthalten. Donati recognized the name. It was the village where Niklaus Janson had been born and raised.
Its inhabitants were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Most were employed in what government statisticians referred to as the
primary sector of the economy, a polite way of saying they worked the land. A handful, like Stefani Hoffmann, commuted each
day to Fribourg. She had moved out of the family home about a year ago, she said, and was living alone in a cottage at the
far eastern edge of the town.
It was shaped like an A, with a small sun deck on the upper floor. She turned into the unpaved drive and switched off the
engine. Gabriel arrived a few seconds later. In German he introduced himself as Heinrich Kiever. It was the name on the false
German passport he had displayed earlier that afternoon at Geneva Airport.
“Are you sure you're not a priest?” Stefani Hoffmann accepted his outstretched hand. “You look more like a priest than the
She led them inside the cottage. The ground floor had been converted into an artist's studio. Stefani Hoffmann, Donati remembered
suddenly, was a painter. Her latest work was propped on an easel in the center of the room. The man she knew as Heinrich Kiever
stood before it, a hand to his chin, his head tilted slightly to one side.
“This is quite good.”
“Do you paint?”
“Only the occasional watercolor while on holiday.”
Stefani Hoffmann was clearly dubious. She removed her coat and scarf and looked at Donati as tears fell from her blue eyes.
“Something to drink?”
Her breakfast dishes
were still on the table in her tiny kitchen. She cleared them away and filled the electric kettle with bottled water. As
she spooned coffee into the French press, she apologized for the chaotic state of the cottage, and for its modesty. It was
all she could afford, she lamented, on her salary from the restaurant and the small amount of money she earned through the
sale of her paintings.
“We're not all rich private bankers, you know.”
She addressed them in German. Not the dialect of Swiss German spoken in the village, but proper High German, the language
of her Alemannic brethren to the north. She had learned to speak it in school, she explained, beginning at the age of six.
Niklaus Janson had been a classmate. He was an awkward boy, skinny, shy, bespectacled, but at seventeen he was somehow magically
transformed into an object of striking beauty. The first time they made love, he insisted on removing his crucifix. Afterward,
he confessed to Father Erich, the village priest.
“He was a very religious boy, Niklaus. It was one of the things I liked about him. He said he never mentioned my name in the
confessional, but Father Erich gave me quite a look when I took communion the next Sunday.”
After completing their secondary education at the local
, Stefani studied art at the University of Fribourg, and Niklaus, whose father was a carpenter, enlisted in the Swiss Army.
At the conclusion of his service, he returned to Rechthalten and started looking for work. It was Father Erich who suggested
he join the Swiss Guard, which was undermanned at the time and desperately looking for recruits. Stefani Hoffmann was vehemently
opposed to the idea.
“Why?” asked Donati.
“I was afraid I was going to lose him.”
“You thought he might become a priest?”
“He talked about it all the time, even after he got out of the military.”
He was subjected to no background check or formal interview. Father Erich's affirmation that Niklaus was a practicing Catholic
of good moral character was all it took. On the night before he left for Rome, he gave Stefani an engagement ring with a small
diamond. She was wearing it a few months later when she attended the solemn ceremony, held in the San Damaso Courtyard, where
Niklaus swore to lay down his life to defend the Vatican and the Holy Father. He was exceedingly proud of his dress uniform
and red-plumed medieval-style helmet, but Stefani thought he looked rather silly, a toy soldier in the world's smallest army.
After the ceremony he took his parents to meet His Holiness. Stefani was not allowed to come.
“Only wives and mothers could meet the Holy Father. The Guard doesn't like girlfriends.”
She saw Niklaus every couple of months, but they did their best to keep up their relationship with daily video calls and
text messages. The work of the Swiss Guard was grueling and, most of the time, terribly dull. Niklaus used to recite the rosary while standing his three-hour shifts, his feet pointing outward at sixty-degree angles, as per Swiss Guard regulations. He spent most of his free time in the Swiss Quarter, the Guard's enclave near St. Anne's Gate. Like most Swiss, he thought Rome was a filthy mess.
Within a year of joining the Guard, he was working inside the Apostolic Palace. There he observed the comings and goings of
the most senior princes of the ChurchâGaubert, the secretary of state; Albanese, keeper of the Secret Archives; Navarro, keeper
of the faith itself. But the Vatican official Niklaus admired most did not wear a red hat. He was the Holy Father's private
secretary, Archbishop Luigi Donati.
“He used to say that if the Church had any sense, it would make you the next pope.”
She managed a smile, which faded as she described Niklaus's downward spiral into depression and drinking. Somehow Donati had
missed the signs of Niklaus's emotional turmoil. One priest, however, had noticed. A priest who worked in a relatively insignificant
department of the Roman Curia, something to do with establishing a dialogue between the Church and nonbelievers.
“Could it have been the Pontifical Council for Culture?” probed Donati gently.
“Yes, that's it.”
“And the priest's name?”
“Father Markus Graf.”
Donati gave his associate a look that made it clear the priest in question was pure trouble. Stefani Hoffmann, while pouring
boiling water into the French press, explained why.
“He's a member of a reactionary order. Secretive, too.”
“The Order of St. Helena,” said Donati, more for Gabriel's benefit than Stefani Hoffmann's.
“Do you know him?”
Donati revealed a flash of his old arrogance. “Father Graf and I move in rather different circles.”
“I met him once. He's slippery as an eel. But quite charismatic. Seductive, even. Niklaus was quite taken with him. The Guard
has its own chaplain, but Niklaus chose Father Graf as his confessor and spiritual guide. They also began spending a great
deal of time together socially.”
“Father Graf had a car. He used to take Niklaus to the mountains around Rome so he wouldn't be homesick. The Apennines aren't
exactly the Alps, but Niklaus enjoyed getting out of the city.”
“He was reprimanded twice for curfew violations.”
“I'm sure it had something to do with Father Graf.”
“Was there anything more to their relationship?”
“Are you asking whether Niklaus and Father Graf were lovers?”
“I suppose I am.”
“The thought crossed my mind. Especially after the way he acted the last time I went to Rome.”
“He refused to have sex with me.”
“Did he give you a reason?”
“Father Graf had instructed him not to engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage.”
“And how did you react?”
“I said we should get married right away. Niklaus agreed, but on one condition.”
“He said you had to become a lay member of the Order of St. Helena.”
“I assume Niklaus was already a member.”
“He swore his oath of obedience to Bishop Richter at the Order's palazzo on the Janiculum Hill. He said Bishop Richter had
reservations about certain aspects of my character but had agreed to allow me to join.”
“How did Bishop Richter know about you?”
“Father Erich. He's a member of the Order, too.”
“What did you do?”
“I threw my engagement ring into the Tiber and returned to Switzerland.”
“Do you recall the date?”
“How could I forget? It was the ninth of October.” She poured three cups of coffee and placed one before the man she knew
as Heinrich Kiever. “Doesn't he have any questions for me?”
“Herr Kiever is a man of few words.”
“Just like Niklaus.” She sat down at the table. “After I refused to join the Order, he cut off all communication. Tuesday
was the first time I'd spoken to him in weeks.”
“And you're sure it was the morning of the Holy Father's funeral?”
She nodded. “He sounded awful. For a moment, I didn't think it was him. When I asked what was wrong, he just cried.”
“What did you do then?”
“I asked him again.”
She raised her coffee to her lips. “He told me everything.”