Authors: Daniel Silva
In the dark, lonely months after Luigi Donati's return to the priesthood, Veronica Marchese dreamed often of handsome young
men dressed entirely in black. Occasionally, they came as lovers, but more often than not they subjected her to all manner
of physical and emotional torment. Never once, though, did one lead her through the Borghese Gardens at the point of a gun.
Father Markus Graf had exceeded all expectations.
She was in desperate need of a cigarette. Hers were in the handbag she had dropped in the car park of the museum, along with her phone, wallet, laptop computer, and nearly everything else one needed to survive in modern society. It was no matter; she would soon be dead. She supposed there were worse places to die than the Borghese Gardens. She only wished the priest
walking next to her was Luigi Donati and not this neo-Nazi in clerical garb from the Order of St. Helena.
He was quite handsome, though. She would grant him that. Most priests from the Order were. She could only imagine how he had
looked when he was a boy of thirteen or fourteen. According to the rumors, Bishop Richter used to invite novitiates to his
rooms for private instruction. Somehow it had never come out. Even by Church standards, the Order was good at keeping secrets.
She walked on through the darkness. The umbrella pines lining the dusty footpath swayed in the cold evening wind. The gardens
closed at sunset. There was not another living soul in sight.
“You wouldn't happen to have a cigarette, would you?”
“And what about having sex with Swiss Guards in the Apostolic Palace? Is that forbidden, too?” Veronica glanced over her shoulder.
“You weren't terribly discreet, Father Graf. I told the archbishop about you and Janson, but he didn't believe me.”
“He would have been wise to listen to you.”
“How did you kill him?”
“I shot him on a bridge in Florence. Three times. One for the Father, one for the Son, and the last for the Holy Spirit. Your
boyfriend saw it all. He was with Allon and his wife. She's even more beautiful than you are.”
“I was talking about the Holy Father.”
“His Holiness died of a heart attack while his private secretary was in bed with his mistress.”
“We're not lovers.”
“How do you spend your evenings? Reading scripture? Or do you save that until the archbishop has had his fill?”
Veronica could scarcely believe such words had come from the mouth of an ordained priest. She decided to return the favor.
“And how do you spend your evenings, Father Graf? Does he still send for you? Or does he preferâ”
The blow to the back of her head was preceded by no warning and delivered with the butt of the pistol. The pain was otherworldly.
It blinded her. With the tip of her finger she probed her scalp. It was warm and wet.
“I guess I touched a nerve.”
“Keep talking. It will make it easier for me to kill you.”
“If there was a God, he would let loose a plague upon the world that would kill only members of the Order of St. Helena.”
“Your husband was one of us. Did you know that?”
“No. But it doesn't surprise me. Carlo always was a bit of a fascist. In retrospect, it was his most endearing trait.”
They had arrived in the Piazza di Siena. Built in the late eighteenth century, it was named for the hometown of the Borghese
clan. Veronica, on those rare occasions when she was inspired to take exercise, sometimes jogged a lap or two around the dusty
oval before coming to her senses and lighting a cigarette. Like most Italians, she did not believe in the health benefits
of regular physical exertion. Her daily routine generally consisted of a pleasant stroll to Doney for a cappuccino and a cornetto.
With a prod of the gun barrel, Father Graf directed her into the center of the esplanade. The cypress trees lining the perimeter were silhouettes. The stars were incandescent. Yes, she
thought again. There were worse places to die than the Piazza di Siena in the Borghese Gardens. If only it were Luigi.
If onlyÂ .Â .Â .
Father Graf's phone tolled like an iron bell. The screen illuminated his face as he read the message.
“Have I been granted a reprieve?”
Wordlessly, he slipped the phone into his coat pocket.
Veronica lifted her gaze to the heavens. “I believe I'm having a vision.”
“What do you see?”
“A man dressed in white.”
“Who is he?”
“The one whom God has chosen to save that Church of yours.”
“It's your Church, too.”
“Not anymore,” she said.
“When was your last confession?”
“Before you were born.”
“Then perhaps you should tell me your sins.”
“So I can grant you absolution before I kill you.”
“I have a better idea, Father Graf.”
“Tell me yours.”
Pietro Lucchesi once gave Donati a valuable piece of advice about public speaking. When in doubt, he said, begin with a quote
from Jesus. The passage Donati chose to recite was from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom
The words were barely out of his mouth when Domenico Albanese once again objected.
“We are all familiar with the Gospels, Excellency. Perhaps you can come to the point.”
“I'm wondering what Jesus would be thinking if he were here among us tonight.”
among us!” It was Tardini of Palermo, seventy-nine years old, a traditionalist relic who had been given his red hat
by Wojtyla. He had accepted a million euros from the Order of St. Helena in exchange for his vote at the conclave. The money was in his account at the Vatican Bank. “But tell us, Excellency. What is Jesus thinking?”
“I believe Jesus does not recognize this Church. I believe he is appalled by the opulence of our palaces and the priceless
art that hangs upon their walls. I believe he's tempted to turn over a table or two.”
“Until recently, you yourself lived in a palace. So did your master.”
“We did so because tradition demanded it. But we also lived quite simply.” Donati looked at Cardinal Navarro. “Wouldn't you
“I would, Excellency.”
“And what about you, Cardinal Gaubert?”
Ever the diplomat, the former secretary of state nodded once but said nothing.
“And you?” Donati asked of Albanese. “How would you characterize the Holy Father's living arrangements in the Apostolic Palace?”
“Modest. Humble, even.”
“And you should know. After all, you were the last visitor to the papal apartments the night my master died.”
“I was,” replied Albanese with appropriate solemnity.
“You were there twice that evening, were you not?”
“Only once, Excellency.”
“Are you sure, Albanese?”
A murmur rose and then quickly died.
“It is not something I will ever forget,” Albanese replied evenly.
“Because you were the one who found the body.” Donati paused. “In the papal study.”
“In the chapel.”
“Yes, of course. It must have slipped my mind.”
“That's understandable, Excellency. You weren't there that night. You were having dinner with an old friend. A woman, if I'm
not mistaken. I omitted that from the
so as not to embarrass you. Perhaps that was a mistake.”
Duarte of Manila was suddenly on his feet, his face stricken. So was Lopes of Rio de Janeiro. Both were simultaneously appealing
to Francona in their native languages to put an end to the bloodletting. Francona appeared paralyzed by indecision.
Donati raised his voice to be heard. “Since Cardinal Albanese has mentioned my whereabouts on the night of my master's death,
I feel obliged to address the matter. Yes, I was having dinner with a friend. Her name is Veronica Marchese. I met her while
I was struggling with my faith and preparing to leave the priesthood. I gave her up when I met Pietro Lucchesi and returned
to the Church. We are good friends. Nothing more.”
“She is the widow of Carlo Marchese,” said Albanese. “And you, Excellency, are a Roman Catholic priest.”
“My conscience is clear, Albanese. Is yours?”
Albanese appealed to Francona. “Do you hear the way he speaks to me?”
Francona looked at Donati. “Please continue, Excellency. Your time is running short.”
“Thanks be to God,” groaned Tardini.
Donati pondered his wristwatch. It was a gift from Veronica, the only object of value he owned. “It has come to my attention,” he said after a moment, “that several of you are secret
members of the Order of St. Helena.” He looked at Cardinal Esteban VelÃ¡zquez of Buenos Aires and in fluent Spanish asked, “Isn't that correct, Eminence?”
“I wouldn't know,” replied VelÃ¡zquez in the same language.
Donati turned to the archbishop of Mexico City. “What do you think, Montoya? How many secret members of the Order are with
us tonight? Is it ten? A dozen?” Donati paused. “Or is it eighteen?”
“All of us, I'd say.” It was Albanese again. “With the exception of Cardinal Brady, of course.” He basked in a ripple of nervous
laughter. “Belonging to the Order of St. Helena is not a sin, Excellency.”
“But it would be a sin to accept money in exchange for, say, a vote at a conclave.”
“A grievous sin,” agreed Albanese. “Therefore, one should be extremely cautious before leveling such a charge. One should
also bear in mind that proving such a case would be almost impossible.”
“Not when the offense is blatant. As for caution, I don't have time for it. And so in my last remaining moments, I would like
to tell you what I've learned, and what I intend to do if my demands are not met.”
“Demands?” Tardini was incredulous. “Who are you to make demands? Your master is dead. You are a nothing man.”
“I am the man,” said Donati, “who holds your future in the palm of his hand. I know how much you received, when you received
it, and where it is.”
Tardini lumbered to his feet, his face the color of his biretta. “I won't stand for this!”
“Then please sit before you injure yourself. And hear the rest of what I have to say.”
Tardini remained standing for a moment before lowering himself unsteadily into his chair with the help of Archbishop Colombo
“For centuries,” said Donati, “this Church of ours has seen enemies and threats everywhere it looked. Science, secularism,
humanism, pluralism, relativism, socialism, Americanism.” Donati paused, then added quietly, “The Jews. But the enemy, gentlemen,
is much closer at hand. He is in this very room tonight. And he will be in the Sistina tomorrow afternoon when you cast your
first ballot. Forty-two of you succumbed to temptation and accepted money from him in exchange for your vote. Twelve of you
were so thoroughly corrupt, so brazen, you deposited that money in your accounts at the Vatican Bank.” Donati smiled at Tardini.
“Isn't that correct, Eminence?”
It was Colombo who blundered to Tardini's defense. “I demand that you withdraw your slanderous accusation at once!”
“I'd watch my step if I were you, Colombo. You accepted money, too, although your payment was considerably less than the one
wily old Tardini received.”
Albanese was now walking up the center aisle. “And what about you, Archbishop Donati? How much did you receive?”
“Two million euros.” Donati waited for the pandemonium to subside before continuing. “In case any of you are wondering, I am not a member of the Order of St. Helena. In fact, the Order and I were on different sides when I was a missionary in the MorazÃ¡n Province of El Salvador. They sided with the junta and the death squads. I worked with the poor and dispossessed.
Nor am I a voting-eligible cardinal. So the only explanation for the deposit in my account is that it was a pointless attempt to compromise me.”
“You compromised yourself,” said Albanese, “when you crawled into the bed of that whore!”
“Is that your phone I hear ringing, Albanese? You'd better answer it. I'm sure Bishop Richter is anxious to know what's happening
in this chapel.”
Albanese thundered a denial, which was drowned out by the tumult in the room. Most of the cardinals were now on their feet.
Donati raised a placatory hand, to no effect. He had to shout to be heard.
“And to think how many poor people we could have clothed and fed with that money. Or how many children we might have vaccinated.
Or how many schools we might have built. My God, I could have cared for my entire village for a year with that amount of money.”
“Then perhaps you should give it away,” suggested Albanese.
“Oh, I intend to. All of it.” Donati looked at Tardini, who was trembling with rage. “How about you, Eminence? Will you do
Tardini swore a Sicilian blood threat.
“And you, Colombo? Will you join our pledge drive to help the poor and the sick? I expect you will. In fact, I anticipate
a banner year for Catholic charities. That's because all of you are going to surrender the money you received from the Order.
Every last penny. Otherwise, I will destroy each of you.” His gaze settled coldly on Albanese. “Slowly. With pain.”
“I was paid nothing.”
“But you were there that night. You were the one who found the Holy Father's body.” Donati paused. “In the study.”
Cardinal Duarte appeared on the verge of tears. “Archbishop Donati, what are you saying?”
A silence descended over the room. It was like the silence, thought Donati, of the grotto beneath the altar of St. Peter's
Basilica, where Pietro Lucchesi's body lay inside three coffins, a small puncture wound in his right thigh.
“What I am saying is that my master was taken from us too soon. There was much more work to be done. He was far from perfect,
but he was a good and decent man of prayer and faith, a pastoral man, who did his best to lead the Church through turbulent
times. And if you do not choose someone like him when you enter the conclave, someone who will excite Catholics in the first
world and the third, someone who will lead the Church into the future rather than drag it into the pastÂ .Â .Â .” Donati lowered
his voice. “I will destroy this temple. And when I am finished, not one stone will be left standing on another.”
“The devil is among us,” seethed Tardini.
“I don't disagree with you, Eminence. But you and your friends in the Order were the ones who opened the door to him.”
are the one threatening to destroy the faith.”
“Not the faith, Eminence. Only the Church. Rest assured, I would rather see her in ruins than leave her in the grubby hands
of the Order of St. Helena.”
“And then what?” asked Tardini. “What will we do when our Church is destroyed?”
“We'll start over, Eminence. We'll meet in homes and share
simple meals of bread and wine. We'll recite the Psalms and tell stories of Jesus' teaching and his death and resurrection. We'll build a new church. A church he would recognize.” Donati looked at Cardinal Francona. “Thank you, Dean. I believe I've said quite enough.”