Authors: Daniel Silva
Chiara and Donati
waited on the Via Ricasoli, buffeted by the outbound flow of patrons from the Galleria dell'Accademia. Without warning, she
threw her arms around Donati's neck and drew him close.
“Is this really necessary?”
“We don't want him to see your face. At least not yet.”
She held Donati tightly as Niklaus Janson sliced through the crowds and passed them without a glance. Gabriel came along the
street a moment later.
“Is there something you two would like to tell me?”
Donati freed himself and deliberately straightened his jacket. “Shall I call him now?”
“First we follow him. Then we call.”
“Because we need to know whether anyone else is following him.”
“What happens if you see someone?”
“Let's hope it doesn't come to that.”
Gabriel and Donati set off along the street, trailed by Chiara. Before them was the Campanile di Giotto. Janson melted into
the sea of tourists in the Piazza del Duomo and disappeared from view. When Gabriel finally spotted him again, the Swiss Guard
was leaning against the octagonal baptistry, the mobile phone in his right hand. After a moment his thumb began tapping at
“What do you suppose he's doing?” asked Donati.
“Looks as though he's sending a text.”
Janson slipped the phone into the back pocket of his jeans and, rotating slowly, scanned the crowded square. His gaze swept
directly across Gabriel and Donati. His face registered no sign of recognition.
“He's looking for someone,” said Donati.
“It could be the person who just sent him the text.”
“Maybe he's afraid someone is following him.”
At length, Janson left the piazza and set out along a shopping street called the Via Martelli. This time it was Chiara who followed in his wake. After about a hundred meters he turned into a slender alleyway. It brought him to yet another church square, the Piazza di San Lorenzo. The unfinished facade of the basilica loomed over the eastern flank. It was the color of
sandstone and looked like a giant wall of exposed brick. Janson, after briefly consulting his phone, climbed the five steps and went inside.
On the western flank of the piazza was a parade of clothing vendors that catered to tourists. On the northern side was a gelateria.
Chiara and Donati joined the queue at the counter. Gabriel crossed the square and entered the basilica. Janson stood before
the tomb of Cosimo de Medici, thumbs working over the screen of his phone, seemingly oblivious to the florid-faced Englishwoman
who was addressing a tour group as though they were hard of hearing.
The Swiss Guard sent a final text and went into the square, where he paused once again to survey his surroundings. Clearly,
he was expecting someone. The person at the other end of the text messages, reckoned Gabriel. The person who had led him first
to the Piazza del Duomo and then the Basilica di San Lorenzo.
Janson's gaze alighted briefly on Gabriel. Then he left the piazza along the Borgo San Lorenzo. No one in the square or the
surrounding shops or restaurants appeared to follow him.
Gabriel walked over to the gelateria, where Donati and Chiara were balanced atop tall stools at a zinc-topped table. They
hadn't touched their orders.
“Can we make contact with him now?” asked Donati.
“Because they're here, Excellency.”
Gabriel turned without answering and set off after Niklaus
Janson. A moment later Chiara and Donati tossed their uneaten gelato into a rubbish bin and set off after Gabriel.
Janson passed through the Piazza del Duomo a second time, all but confirming Gabriel's suspicion that the Swiss Guard was
being guided by a hidden hand. Somewhere in Florence, he thought, someone was waiting for him.
Janson went next to the Piazza della Repubblica and from there made his way to the Ponte Vecchio. It had once been home to
blacksmiths, tanners, and butchers. But in the late sixteenth century, after Florentines complained about the blood and the
stench, the bridge became the domain of the city's jewelers and goldsmiths. Vasari designed a private corridor above the shops
on the eastern side of the bridge for the Medici clan, thus enabling them to cross the river without having to mingle with
The Medici were long gone, but the jewelers and goldsmiths remained. Janson made his way past the luminous shop windows before
pausing mid-span beneath the arches of Vasari's Corridor to gaze down at the sluggish black waters of the Arno. Gabriel waited
on the opposite side of the bridge. Between them flowed a steady stream of tourists.
Gabriel glanced to his left and saw Chiara and Donati approaching through the crowds. With a small movement of his head, he
instructed them to join him. They stood side by side along the balustrade, Gabriel and Chiara facing Niklaus Janson, Donati
facing the river.
“Well?” he asked.
Gabriel watched Janson for another moment. His back was turned toward the center of the span. Nevertheless, it was obvious that he was typing something on his phone again. Gabriel wanted to know the identity of the person, man or woman, with whom Janson was in contact. But it had gone on long enough.
“Go ahead, Luigi. Call him.”
Donati drew his Nokia. Janson's number was already loaded into his contacts. With a touch of the screen, he dialed. A few
seconds passed. Then Niklaus Janson hesitantly raised the phone to his ear.
“Good evening, Niklaus
. Do you recognize my voice?”
Donati tapped the speaker icon on the touchscreen of the Nokia in time for Gabriel to hear Janson's startled reply.
“Where are you?”
“I was wondering the same about you.”
There was no response from the young man on the opposite side of the bridge.
“I need to speak to you, Niklaus.”
“The night the Holy Father died.”
Once again there was no answer.
“Are you still there, Niklaus?”
“Tell me where you are. It's urgent I see you at once.”
“I'm in Switzerland.”
“It's not like you to lie to an archbishop.”
“I'm not lying.”
“You're not in Switzerland. You're standing in the middle of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I'm standing behind you.”
Janson wheeled round, the phone to his ear. “I don't see you.”
Donati turned as well, slowly.
“Excellency? Is that you?”
“Who's the man standing next to you?”
“He's been following me.”
“He was acting on my behalf.”
“I was afraid he was going to kill me.”
“Why would anyone want to kill you?”
“Forgive me, Excellency,” he whispered.
“Grant me absolution.”
“I have to hear your confession first.”
He looked to his left. “There isn't time, Excellency.”
Janson lowered the phone and started horizontally across the bridge. In the center of the span he stopped abruptly and spread his arms wide. The first shot struck him in the left shoulder, spinning him like a top. The second punched a hole through his chest and dropped him penitentially to his knees. There, with his arms now hanging limply at his sides, he received a third
shot. It struck him above the right eye and sheared away a large portion of his skull.
On the ancient bridge the shots sounded like cannon fire. Instantly, a maelstrom of panic erupted. Gabriel spotted the assassin
briefly as he fled the bridge to the south. Then, turning, he saw Chiara and Donati kneeling over Niklaus Janson. The final
shot had driven him backward, with his legs trapped beneath him. Despite the terrible wound to his head, he was still alive,
still conscious. Gabriel crouched over him. He was whispering something.
His phone was lying on the paving stones, its screen shattered. Gabriel slipped the device into his coat pocket, along with
the nylon billfold he plucked from the back pocket of Janson's jeans. Donati was praying softly, the thumb of his right hand
resting near the entrance wound in Janson's forehead. With two small movements, one vertical, the other horizontal, he absolved
the Swiss Guard of his sins.
By then an anguished crowd had gathered around them. Gabriel heard expressions of shock and horror in a dozen different languages
and, in the distance, the scream of approaching sirens. Rising, he pulled Chiara to her feet, then Donati. As they stepped
away from the body, the crowd surged forward. Calmly, they walked north, into the flashing blue light of the first Polizia
di Stato unit.
“What just happened?” asked Donati.
“I'm not sure,” said Gabriel. “But we'll know in a minute.”
At the foot
of the Ponte Vecchio, they joined the exodus of frightened tourists fleeing through the archways of the Vasari
Corridor. When they reached the entrance of the Uffizi Gallery, Gabriel dug Janson's phone from his pocket. It was an iPhone, unlocked, eighty-four percent charged. His darkest fears, his deepest desires, his very soul, all at Gabriel's fingertips.
“Let's hope I was the only one who saw you take it,” said Donati reproachfully. “
“You were. But try not to look so guilty.”
“I just fled the scene of a murder. What on earth do I have to feel guilty about?”
Gabriel pressed the
button. Several applications were open, including a stream of text messages. He scrolled to the top of the exchange. There
was no name, only a number. Written in English, the first text had arrived at 4:47 p.m. the previous afternoon.
Please tell me where you are, NiklausÂ .Â .Â .
“We've got him.”
“Who?” asked Donati.
“The person who was sending text messages to Janson while we were following him.”
Donati peered over Gabriel's right shoulder, Chiara over his left, their faces lit by the glow of the iPhone. All at once
the light was extinguished. Gabriel pressed the
button again, but there was no response. The phone had not drifted off to sleep. It had shut down entirely.
Gabriel squeezed the power button and waited for the ubiquitous white apple to appear on the screen.
The phone was as dead as its owner.
“Perhaps you touched something by mistake,” suggested Donati.
“Are you referring to the magic icon that instantly blows up the operating system and shreds the memory?” Gabriel looked up from the darkened screen. “It was erased remotely so we couldn't see what was on it.”
“The same men who deleted his personnel file from the Swiss Guard computer network.” Gabriel looked at Chiara. “The same men
who murdered the Holy Father.”
“Do you believe me now?” asked Donati.
“Ten minutes ago, I had my doubts. Not anymore.” Gabriel stared at the Ponte Vecchio. It was ablaze with flashing blue lights.
“Were you able to make out what he was whispering before he died?”
“He was speaking in Aramaic.
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Donati nodded slowly. “They were the last words Jesus cried out before dying on the cross.”
“Why would he say such a thing?”
“Maybe the other guards were right,” said Donati. “Maybe Niklaus was a saint after all.”
They returned to Venice
, collected two sleeping children from a house in the ancient ghetto, and carried them across the city's only iron bridge
to an apartment on the Rio della Misericordia. There they passed a largely sleepless night, Donati in the spare room. At breakfast
the following morning he could scarcely take his eyes off Raphael, who bore a striking resemblance to his famous father. The
child had even been cursed with Gabriel's unnaturally green eyes. Irene looked like Gabriel's mother, never more so than when
she was annoyed with him.
“It will only be a day or two,” he assured her.
“That's what you always say, Abba.”
They said their goodbyes downstairs on the Fondamenta dei Ormesini. Chiara's final kiss was decorous. “Do try not to get
yourself killed,” she whispered into Gabriel's ear. “Your children need you. And so do I.”
Gabriel and Donati settled into the aft seating compartment of a waiting
and skimmed across the gray-green waters of the lagoon to Marco Polo Airport. In the crowded concourse, passengers were gathered
beneath the television monitors. Another bomb had exploded in Germany. This time the target was a market in the northern city
of Hamburg. A claim of responsibility had appeared on social media, along with a professionally edited video from the purported
mastermind. In perfect colloquial German, his face concealed behind an Arab headdress, he promised the bombings would continue
until the black flag of the Islamic State flew over the Bundestag. Having suffered two terrorist attacks in just forty-eight
hours, Germany was now on high alert.
The bombing immediately snarled air travel across Europe, but somehow the late-morning Alitalia flight to Geneva departed
on time. Despite the increased security at Switzerland's second-busiest airport, Gabriel and Donati cleared passport control
with no delay. Transport had left a BMW sedan in the short-term car park, with the key taped beneath the front bumper. In
the glove box, wrapped in a protective cloth, was a 9mm Beretta.
“It must be nice,” remarked Donati. “I always have to pick up my gun at the counter.”
“Membership has its privileges.”
Gabriel followed the airport exit ramp to the E62 and headed northwest along the shore of the lake. Donati took note of the
fact he was driving without the aid of a navigation device.
“Come to Switzerland often?”
“You might say that.”
“They say it's going to be another bad year for snow.”
“The state of Switzerland's winter tourism industry is the least of my concerns.”
“You don't ski?”
“Do I look like a skier to you?”
“I never saw the point of it.” Donati pondered the mountain peaks rising above the opposite shore of the lake. “Any fool can
slide down a mountain, but it takes someone of character and discipline to walk up one.”
“I prefer to walk along the sea.”
“It's rising, you know. Apparently, Venice will soon be uninhabitable.”
“At least it will discourage the tourists.”
Gabriel switched on the radio in time to catch the hourly newscast on SFR 1. The death toll in Hamburg stood at four, with
another twenty-five wounded, several critically. There was no mention of a Swiss citizen having been murdered the previous
evening on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
“What are the Polizia di Stato waiting for?” asked Donati.
“If I had to guess, they're giving the Vatican a chance to get its story straight.”
“Good luck with that.”
The last item on the newscast concerned a report by the Episcopal Conference of Switzerland detailing a sharp increase in
the number of new sexual abuse cases.
Donati sighed. “I wish they would talk about something uplifting. The bombing in Hamburg, for example.”
“Did you know the report was coming?”
Donati nodded. “The Holy Father and I reviewed the first draft a few weeks before his death.”
“How is it possible there are still
cases of abuse?”
“Because we apologized and asked for forgiveness, but we never addressed the root causes of the problem. And the Church has
deservedly paid a terrible price. Here in Switzerland, Roman Catholicism is on life support. Baptisms, church weddings, and
Mass attendance have all fallen to extinction levels.”
“And if you had it to do over again?”
“Despite what my enemies used to say about me, I was not the pope. Pietro Lucchesi was. And he was an innately cautious man.”
Donati paused. “Too cautious, in my opinion.”
“And if you were the one with the Ring of the Fisherman on his finger?”
“What's so funny?”
“The very idea is preposterous.”
Donati considered his answer carefully. “I'd start by reforming the priesthood. It's not enough merely to weed out the pedophiles.
We must create a new and dynamic global community of Catholic religious if the Church is to survive and flourish.”
“Does that mean you would admit women into the priesthood?”
“You said it, not me.”
“How about married priests?”
“Now we're sailing into treacherous waters, my friend.”
“Other faiths allow their clergy to marry.”
“And I respect those faiths. The question is, can I as a Roman
Catholic priest love and cherish a wife and children while at the same time serving the Lord and tending to the spiritual needs of my flock?”
“What's the answer?”
“No,” said Donati. “I cannot.”
A sign warned they were approaching the lakeside resort town of Vevey. Gabriel turned onto the E27 and followed it north to
Fribourg. It was a bilingual city, but the streets bore French names. The rue du Pont-MurÃ© stretched for about a hundred meters
through the elegant Old Town, above which soared the spire of the cathedral. Gabriel parked the car in the Place des Ormeaux
and took a table at CafÃ© des Arcades. Alone, Donati crossed the street to CafÃ© du Gothard.
It was a formal, old-fashioned restaurant, with a dark wooden floor and heavy iron fixtures overhead. At that hour, the twilight
between lunch and dinner, only one other table was occupied, by an English couple who looked as though they had just declared
a fragile truce after a long and calamitous battle. The maÃ®tre d' showed Donati to a table near the window. He dialed Gabriel's
number and then laid his Nokia facedown on the tabletop. Several minutes elapsed before Stefani Hoffmann appeared. She placed
a menu before him and with considerable effort smiled.
“Something to drink?”