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Authors: Daniel Silva

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6
Ristorante Piperno, Rome

The maître d' insisted
on sending over a bottle of complimentary wine. It was something special, he promised, a fine white from a small producer in Abruzzo. He was certain His Excellency would find it more than satisfactory. Donati, with considerable ceremony, declared it divine. Then, when they were alone again, he described for Gabriel the final hours of the papacy of Pope Paul VII. The Holy Father and his private secretary had shared a meal—a last supper, said Donati gravely—in the dining room of the papal apartments. Donati had taken only a bit of consommé. Afterward, the two men had adjourned to the study, where Donati, at the Holy Father's request, had opened the curtains and the shutters of the window overlooking St. Peter's Square. It was the penultimate act of
service he would perform for his master, at least while His Holiness was still alive.

“And the final act?” asked Gabriel.

“I laid out the Holy Father's nightly dose of medication.”

“What was he taking?”

Donati recited the names of three prescription drugs, all for the treatment of a failing heart.

“You managed to conceal it quite well,” said Gabriel.

“We're rather good at that around here.”

“I seem to recall a brief stay in the Gemelli Clinic a few months ago for a severe chest cold.”

“It was a heart attack. His second.”

“Who knew?”

“Dottore Gallo, of course. And Cardinal Gaubert, the secretary of state.”

“Why so much secrecy?”

“Because if the rest of the Curia had known about Lucchesi's physical decline, his papacy would have been effectively over.
He had much work to do in the time he had left.”

“What sort of work?”

“He was considering calling a third Vatican council to address the many profound issues facing the Church. The conservative
wing is still coming to terms with Vatican II, which was completed more than a half century ago. A third council would have
been divisive, to put it mildly.”

“What happened after you gave Lucchesi his medicine?”

“I went downstairs, where my car and driver were waiting. It was nine o'clock, give or take a few minutes.”

“Where did you go?”

Donati reached for his wineglass. “You know, you really should try some of this. It's quite good.”

 

The arrival of the antipasti
granted Donati a second reprieve. While plucking the first leaf from the fried Roman artichoke, he asked with contrived carelessness,
“You remember Veronica Marchese, don't you?”

“Luigi . . .”

“What?”

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

“It's not like that.”

“Isn't it?”

Dr. Veronica Marchese was the director of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco and Italy's foremost authority on Etruscan civilization
and antiquities. During the 1980s, while working on an archaeological dig near the Umbrian village of Monte Cucco, she fell
in love with a fallen priest, a Jesuit, a fervent advocate of liberation theology, who had lost his faith while serving as
a missionary in the Morazán Province of El Salvador. The affair ended abruptly when the fallen priest returned to the Church
to serve as the private secretary to the Patriarch of Venice. Heartbroken, Veronica married Carlo Marchese, a wealthy Roman
businessman from a noble family with close ties to the Vatican. Marchese had died after falling from the viewing gallery atop
the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Gabriel had been standing next to Carlo when he toppled over the protective barrier. Two
hundred feet below, Donati had prayed over his broken body.

“How long has this been going on?” asked Gabriel.

“I've always loved that song,” replied Donati archly.

“Answer the question.”

“Nothing is
going on
. But I've been having dinner with her on a regular basis for a year or so.”

“Or so?”

“Maybe it's more like two years.”

“I assume you two don't dine in public.”

“No,” answered Donati. “Only in Veronica's home.”

Gabriel and Chiara had attended a party there once. It was an art-and-antiquity-filled palazzo near the Villa Borghese. “How
often?” he asked.

“Barring a work emergency, every Thursday evening.”

“The first rule of illicit behavior is to avoid a pattern.”

“There is nothing
illicit
about Veronica and me having dinner together. The discipline of celibacy does not forbid all contact with women. I simply
can't marry her or—”

“Are you allowed to be in love with her?”

“Strictly speaking, yes.”

Gabriel stared at Donati with reproach. “Why willingly place yourself in such close proximity to temptation?”

“Veronica says I do it for the same reason I used to climb mountains, to see whether I can maintain my footing. To see whether
God will reach down and catch me if I fall.”

“I assume she's discreet.”

“Have you ever met anyone more discreet than Veronica Marchese?”

“And what about your colleagues at the Vatican?” asked Gabriel. “Did anyone know?”

“It is a small place filled with sexually repressed men who love nothing more than to exchange a good piece of gossip.”

“Which is why you find it suspicious that a man with a failing heart died on the one night of the week you weren't in the Apostolic Palace.”

Donati said nothing.

“Surely there's more than that.”

“Yes,” said Donati as he plucked another leaf from the artichoke. “Much more.”

7
Ristorante Piperno, Rome

There was, for
a start, the phone call from Cardinal Albanese. It arrived nearly two hours after the camerlengo said he had found the Holy
Father dead in the private chapel. Albanese claimed to have called Donati several times without receiving an answer. Donati
had checked his phone. There were no missed calls.

“Sounds like an open-and-shut case. Next?”

The condition of the papal study, answered Donati. Shutters and curtains closed. A half-drunk cup of tea on the desk. One
item missing.

“What was it?”

“A letter. A
personal
letter. Not official.”

“Lucchesi was the recipient?”

“The author.”

“And the contents of the letter?”

“His Holiness refused to tell me.”

Gabriel was not sure the archbishop was being entirely truthful. “I assume the letter was written in longhand?”

“The Vicar of Christ doesn't use a word processor.”

“To whom was it addressed?”

“An old friend.”

Donati then described the scene he encountered when Cardinal Albanese led him into the papal bedroom. Gabriel pictured the
tableau as though it were rendered in oil on canvas by the hand of Caravaggio. The body of a dead pontiff stretched upon the
bed, watched over by a trio of senior prelates. At the right side of the canvas, scarcely visible in the shadows, were three
trusted laymen: the pope's personal physician, the chief of the Vatican's small police force, and the commandant of the Pontifical
Swiss Guard. Gabriel had never met Dr. Gallo, but he knew Lorenzo Vitale, and liked him. Alois Metzler was another story.

Gabriel's private Caravaggio dissolved, as though washed away by solvent. Donati was recounting Albanese's explanation of
having found, and then moved, the corpse.

“Frankly, it's the one part of his story that's plausible. My master was quite diminutive, and Albanese has the body of an
ox.” Donati was silent for a moment. “Of course, there is at least one other explanation.”

“What's that?”

“That His Holiness never made it to the chapel. That he died at his desk in the study while drinking his tea. It was gone
when I came out of the bedroom. The tea, that is. Someone removed the cup and saucer while I was praying over Lucchesi's body.”

“I don't suppose it underwent a postmortem examination.”

“The Vicar of Christ—”

“Was it embalmed?”

“I'm afraid so. Wojtyla's body turned quite gray while it was on display in the basilica. And then there was Pius XII.” Donati
winced. “A disaster, that. Albanese said he didn't want to take any chances. Or perhaps he was just covering his tracks. After
all, if a body is embalmed, it would make it much harder to find any trace of poison.”

“You really need to stop watching those forensic shows on television, Luigi.”

“I don't
own
a television.”

Gabriel allowed a moment to pass. “As I recall, there are no security cameras in the loggia outside the private apartments.”

“If there were cameras, the apartments wouldn't be private, would they?”

“But there must have been a Swiss Guard on duty.”

“Always.”

“So he would have seen anyone entering the apartments?”

“Presumably.”

“Did you ask him?”

“I never had the chance.”

“Did you express your concerns to Lorenzo Vitale?”

“And what would Lorenzo have done? Investigate the death of a pope as a possible homicide?” Donati's smile was charitable. “Given your experience at the Vatican, I'm surprised you would even ask a question like that. Besides, Albanese never would have allowed it. He had his story, and he was sticking to it. He found the Holy Father in the private chapel a few minutes after
ten o'clock and carried him without assistance to the bedroom. There, in the presence of three of the Church's most powerful cardinals, he set in motion the chain of events that led to a declaration that the throne of St. Peter was empty. All while I was having a late supper with a woman I once loved. If I challenge Albanese, he'll destroy me. And Veronica, too.”

“What about a leak to a trusted reporter? There are several thousand camped out in St. Peter's Square.”

“This matter is far too serious to be entrusted to a journalist. It needs to be handled by someone skillful and ruthless enough
to find out what really happened. And quickly.”

“Someone like me?”

Donati made no reply.

“I'm on holiday,” protested Gabriel. “And I'm supposed to be back in Tel Aviv in a week.”

“Leaving you just enough time to find out who killed the Holy Father before the beginning of the conclave. For all intents
and purposes, it's already begun. Most of the men who will choose the next pope are holed up at the Casa Santa Marta.” The
Domus Sanctae Marthae, or Casa Santa Marta, was the five-story clerical guesthouse at the southern edge of the city-state.
“I can assure you those red-hatted princes aren't talking about the sporting news over dinner each night. It is imperative
we find out who was behind the murder of my master before they file into the Sistine Chapel and the doors are locked behind
them.”

“With all due respect, Luigi, you have absolutely no proof Lucchesi was murdered.”

“I haven't told you everything I know.”

“Now might be a good time.”

“The missing letter was addressed to you.” Donati paused. “Now ask me about the Swiss Guard who was on duty outside the papal apartments that night.”

“Where is he?”

“He left the Vatican a few hours after the Holy Father's death. No one's seen him since.”

8
Ristorante Piperno, Rome

Gabriel was momentarily
distracted by the man who wandered into the
campo
as the waiters were clearing away the first course. He wore dark glasses and a hat and carried a nylon rucksack over one
square shoulder. Gabriel reckoned he was of northern European stock, German or Austrian, perhaps a Scandinavian. He paused
a few meters from their table as if to take his bearings—long enough for Gabriel to calculate the length of time it would
take to draw the Beretta lodged against the small of his back. He drew his phone instead and snapped the man's photograph
as he was leaving the square.

“Let's start with the letter.” Gabriel returned the phone to his breast pocket. “But why don't we skip the part where you
claim not to know why Lucchesi was writing it.”

“I don't,” Donati insisted. “But if I were to guess, it concerned something he found in the Secret Archives.”

L'Archivio Segreto Vaticano, the Vatican Secret Archives, was the central repository for papal documents related to matters
of both religion and state. Located near the Vatican Library in the Belvedere Palace, it contained an estimated fifty-three
miles of shelf space, much of it in fortified underground bunkers. Among its many treasures was
Decet Romanum Pontificem
, Pope Leo X's 1521 papal bull ordering the excommunication of a troublesome German priest and theologian named Martin Luther.
It was also the final resting place of much of the Church's dirtiest laundry. Early in Lucchesi's papacy, Gabriel had worked
with Donati and the Holy Father to release diplomatic and other documents related to Pope Pius XII's conduct during World
War II, when six million Jews were systematically murdered, often by Roman Catholics, with scarcely a word of protest from
the Holy See.

“The Archives are regarded as the personal property of the papacy,” Donati continued. “Which means a pope is allowed to see
anything he wants. The same is not true for his private secretary. In fact, I wasn't always allowed to know the nature of
the documents he was reviewing.”

“Where did he do his reading?”

“Sometimes the
prefetto
would bring documents to the papal apartments. But if they were too fragile or sensitive, the Holy Father would review them
in a special room inside the Archives, with the
prefetto
standing just outside the door. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is—”

“Cardinal Domenico Albanese.”

Donati nodded.

“So Albanese was aware of every document that passed through the Holy Father's hands?”

“Not necessarily.” An unrepentant smoker, Donati removed a cigarette from an elegant gold case and tapped it against the cover
before lighting it with a matching gold lighter. “As you might recall, His Holiness developed serious sleeping problems late
in his papacy. He was always in bed at the same time each evening, about half past ten, but he rarely stayed there long. On
occasion he was known to visit the Secret Archives for a bit of nocturnal reading.”

“How did he get documents in the middle of the night?”

“He had a secret source.” Donati's eye was caught by something over Gabriel's shoulder. “My God, is that—”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why doesn't she join us?”

“She's busy.”

“Watching your back?”

“And yours.” Gabriel asked about the missing Swiss Guard.

“His name is Niklaus Janson. He recently completed his required two-year term of service, but at my request he agreed to remain
for an additional year.”

“You liked him?”

“I trusted him, which is far more important.”

“Were there any black marks on his record?”

“Two missed curfews.”

“When was the last violation?”

“A week before the Holy Father's death. He claimed he was out with a friend and lost track of the time. Metzler gave him the
traditional punishment.”

“What's that?”

“Scrubbing the rust off breastplates or chopping up old uniforms on the execution block in the courtyard of the barracks.
The Guards call it the Scheitstock.”

“When did you realize he was missing?”

“Two days after the Holy Father's death, I noticed that Niklaus wasn't one of the Guards chosen to stand watch over the body
while it was on display in the basilica. I asked Alois Metzler why he had been excluded and was told, much to my surprise,
that he was missing.”

“How did Metzler explain his absence?”

“He said Niklaus was grief-stricken over the death of His Holiness. Frankly, he didn't seem terribly concerned. Neither did
the camerlengo, for that matter.” Donati tapped his cigarette irritably against the rim of the ashtray. “After all, he had
a globally televised funeral to plan.”

“What else do you know about Janson?”

“His comrades used to call him Saint Niklaus. He told me once that he briefly considered a vocation. He joined the Guard after
completing his service in the Swiss Army. They still have compulsory service up there, you know.”

“Where's he from?”

“A little village near Fribourg. It's a Catholic canton. There's a woman there, a girlfriend, perhaps his fiancée. Her name
is Stefani Hoffmann. Metzler contacted her the day after the Holy Father's death. As far as I can tell, that was the extent
of his efforts to determine Niklaus's whereabouts.” Donati paused. “Perhaps you might be more effective.”

“At what?”

“Finding Niklaus Janson, of course. I wouldn't think it would
be too difficult for a man in your position. Surely you have certain capabilities at your disposal.”

“I do. But I can't use them to find a missing Swiss Guard.”

“Why ever not? Niklaus knows what happened that night. I'm sure of it.”

Gabriel was not yet convinced that anything at all had happened that night, other than that an old man with a weakened heart,
a man whom Gabriel loved and admired, had died while praying in his private chapel. Still, he had to admit there were enough
troubling circumstances to warrant further investigation, beginning with the whereabouts of Niklaus Janson. Gabriel would
try to find him, if only to put Donati's mind at ease. And his own mind, as well.

“Do you know the number for Janson's mobile?” he asked.

“I'm afraid not.”

“Do they have a computer network over there in the Swiss Guard barracks, or are they still using parchment?”

“They went digital a couple of years ago.”

“Big mistake,” said Gabriel. “Parchment is much more secure.”

“Is it your intention to hack into the computer network of the Pontifical Swiss Guard?”

“With your blessing, of course.”

“I'll withhold it, if you don't mind.”

“How jesuitical of you.”

Donati smiled but said nothing.

“Go back to the Curia and keep your head down for a couple of days. I'll contact you when I have something.”

“Actually, I was wondering whether you and Chiara might be free tonight.”

“We were planning to go back to Venice.”

“Is there any chance I can convince you to stay? I thought we might have dinner at a little place near the Villa Borghese.”

“Will anyone be joining us?”

“An old friend.”

“Yours or mine?”

“As a matter of fact, both.”

Gabriel hesitated. “I'm not sure that's a good idea, Luigi. I haven't seen her since—”

“She was the one who suggested it. I believe you remember the address. Drinks are at eight o'clock.”

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