Authors: Daniel Silva
The palazzo was
often mistaken for an embassy or a government ministry, for it was surrounded by a formidable steel fence and watched over
by an array of outward-aimed security cameras. A Baroque fountain splashed in the forecourt, but the two-thousand-year-old
Roman statue of Pluto that had once adorned the entrance hall was absent. In its place stood Dr. Veronica Marchese, director
of Italy's National Etruscan Museum. She wore a stunning black pantsuit and a thick band of gold at her throat. Her dark hair
was swept straight back and held in place by a clasp at the nape of her neck. A pair of cat's-eye spectacles gave her a faintly
Smiling, she kissed Chiara on both cheeks. She offered Gabriel only her hand, guardedly. “Director Allon. I'm so pleased
you were able to come. I'm only sorry we didn't do this a long time ago.”
The ice broken, she led them along a gallery hung with Italian Old Master paintings, all of museum quality. The works were
but a small portion of her late husband's collection.
“As you can see, I've made a few changes since your last visit.”
“Spring cleaning?” asked Gabriel.
She laughed. “Something like that.”
The exquisite Greek and Roman statuary that once had lined the gallery was gone. Carlo Marchese's business empire, nearly
all of it illegitimate, had included a brisk international trade in looted antiquities. One of his main partners had been
Hezbollah, which supplied Carlo with a steady stream of inventory from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In return, Carlo filled Hezbollah's
coffers with hard currency, which it used to purchase weapons and fund terrorism. Gabriel had taken down the network. Then,
after making a remarkable archaeological discovery one hundred and sixty-seven feet beneath the surface of the Temple Mount,
he had taken down Carlo.
“A few months after my husband's death,” Veronica Marchese explained, “I quietly disposed of his personal collection. I gave
the Etruscan pieces to my museum, which is where they belonged in the first place. Most are still in storage, but I've placed
a few on public display. Needless to say, the placards make no mention of their provenance.”
“And the rest?”
“Your friend General Ferrari was good enough to take it off my hands. He was very discreet, which is unusual for him. The general likes good publicity.” She looked at Gabriel with genuine gratitude. “I suppose I have you to thank for that. If it had
become public that my husband controlled the global trade in looted antiquities, my career would have been destroyed.”
“We all have our secrets.”
“Yes,” she said distantly. “I suppose we do.”
Veronica Marchese's other secret waited in her formal drawing room, dressed in a cassock and a simar. Music played softly
in the background. It was Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 1 in D Minor. The key of repressed passion.
Donati opened a bottle of prosecco and poured four glasses.
“You're rather good at that for a priest,” said Gabriel.
“I'm an archbishop, remember?”
Donati carried one of the glasses to the brocade-covered chair in which Veronica had settled. A trained observer of human
behavior, Gabriel knew an intimate gesture when he saw one. Donati was clearly comfortable in Veronica's drawing room. Were
it not for the cassock and simar, a stranger might have presumed he was the man of the palazzo.
He sat down in the chair next to her, and an awkward silence ensued. Like an uninvited dinner guest, the past had intruded.
For his part, Gabriel was thinking about his last encounter with Veronica Marchese. They were in the Sistine Chapel, just
the two of them, standing before Michelangelo's
. Veronica was describing for Gabriel the life that awaited Donati when the Ring of the Fisherman was removed from Pietro
Lucchesi's finger for the last time. A teaching position at a pontifical university, a retirement home for aging priests.
So lonely. So terribly sad and lonelyÂ .Â .Â .
It occurred to Gabriel that Veronica, widowed and available, might have other plans.
At length, she complimented Chiara on her dress and pearls. Then she asked about the children and about Venice before
lamenting the condition into which Rome, once the center of the civilized world, had fallen. These days, it was a national obsession. Eighty percent of the city's streets were riddled with unrepaired potholes, making driving, even walking, a perilous undertaking. Children carried toilet paper in their bookbags because the school bathrooms had none. Rome's buses ran perpetually behind schedule, if at all. An escalator at a busy subway stop had recently amputated the foot of a tourist. And then, said Veronica, there were the overflowing dumpsters and mounds of uncollected rubbish. The most popular website in the city was Roma Fa Schifo, “Rome Is Gross.”
“And who is to blame for this deplorable state of affairs? A few years ago, Rome's chief prosecutor discovered that the Mafia
had gained control of the municipal government and was steadily draining the city's finances. A Mafia-owned company was awarded
the contract to collect the garbage. The company didn't bother to collect garbage, of course, because doing so would cost
money and reduce its profit margin. The same was true of street repairs. Why bother to repair a pothole? Repairing potholes
costs money.” Veronica shook her head slowly. “The Mafia is Italy's curse.” Then, with a glance at Gabriel, she added, “Mine,
“It will all be better now that Saviano is prime minister.”
Veronica made a face. “Have we learned nothing from the past?”
She sighed. “He visited the museum not long ago. He was perfectly charming, as most demagogues are. It's easy to see why he appeals to Italians who don't live in palazzos near the Via Veneto.” She placed her hand briefly on Donati's arm. “Or behind the walls of the Vatican. Saviano hated the Holy Father for
his defense of immigrants and his warnings about the dangers posed by the rise of the far right. He saw it as a direct challenge orchestrated by the Holy Father's leftist private secretary.”
“Was it?” asked Gabriel.
Donati sipped his wine thoughtfully before answering. “The Church remained silent the last time the extreme right seized power
in Italy and Germany. In fact, powerful elements within the Curia supported the rise of fascism and National Socialism. They
saw Mussolini and Hitler as a bulwark against bolshevism, which was openly hostile to Catholicism. The Holy Father and I resolved
that this time we would not make the same mistake.”
“And now,” said Veronica Marchese, “the Holy Father is dead, and a Swiss Guard is missing.” She looked at Gabriel. “Luigi
tells me you've agreed to find him.”
Gabriel frowned at Donati, who was suddenly brushing lint from the front of his spotless cassock.
“Did I speak out of turn?” asked Veronica.
“No. The archbishop did.”
“Don't be angry with him. Life in the gilded cage of the Apostolic Palace can be very isolating. The archbishop often seeks
my advice on temporal matters. As you know, I'm rather well connected in Roman political and social circles. A woman in my
position hears all sorts of things.”
“Rumors,” she replied.
“What kind of rumors?”
“About a handsome young Swiss Guard who was spotted at a gay nightclub with a curial priest. When I told the archbishop, he
warned me that unproven allegations can do irreparable harm to a person's reputation, and advised me not to traffic in them.”
“The archbishop would know,” remarked Gabriel. “But one wonders why he didn't mention any of this at lunch this afternoon.”
“Perhaps he didn't think it was relevant.”
“Or perhaps he thought it would make me reluctant to help him if I thought I was going to get involved in a Vatican sex scandal.”
Gabriel's phone pulsed against his heart. It was a message from King Saul Boulevard.
“Something wrong?” asked Donati.
“It appears as though Janson's file was deleted from the Swiss Guard's computer network a few hours after the Holy Father's
death.” Gabriel exchanged a glance with Chiara, who was suppressing a smile. “My colleagues at Unit 8200 are now searching
the system's backup.”
“Will they find anything?”
“Computer files are a bit like sin, Excellency.”
“They can be absolved, but they never really go away.”
They had dinner
on the palazzo's magnificent rooftop terrace, beneath gas heaters that burned the chill from the night air. It was a traditional Roman meal, spinach ravioli topped with butter and sage, followed by roasted veal and fresh vegetables. The conversation flowed as easily as the three bottles of vintage Brunello that Veronica unearthed from Carlo's cellar. Donati seemed perfectly at ease in his black clerical armor, with Veronica at his right hand and the lights of Rome glowing softly behind him. It might have been broken and filthy and hopelessly corrupt, but viewed from Veronica Marchese's terrace, with the
air clear and crisp and scented with the aroma of cooking, Gabriel thought it was the most beautiful city in the world.
Carlo's name was never spoken over dinner, and there was no hint of the violence and scandal that bound them. Donati speculated
on the outcome of the conclave but avoided the subject of Lucchesi's death. Mainly, he seemed to hang on Veronica's every
word. The affection between them was painfully obvious. Donati was walking along the edge of an Alpine crevasse. For now,
at least, God was watching over him.
Only Gabriel's phone served as a reminder of why they had gathered that night. Shortly after ten o'clock it shivered with
an update from Tel Aviv. The cybersleuths at Unit 8200 had retrieved Niklaus Janson's original application to join the Swiss
Guard. The next update came at half past ten, when the Unit found his complete service file. It was written in Swiss German,
the official language of the Guard. It contained a reference to the two missed curfews, but there was nothing about a sexual
relationship with a curial priest.
“What about his phone number? It has to be there. The guards are always on call.”
The wait for the next message was only ten minutes. “They found an old contact file, one that included an entry for Lance
Corporal Niklaus Janson. It has a phone number and two e-mail addresses, a Vatican account and a personal account at Gmail.”
“What now?” asked Donati.
“We find out where the phone is and whether Niklaus Janson is still in possession of it.”
“We call him.”
Donati was awakened
by the tolling of church bells. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Daylight rimmed the edges of the tightly drawn shade. He had overslept.
He placed a hand to his brow. His head was heavy with Carlo Marchese's wine. His heart was heavy, too. He didn't dare dwell
on the reason why.
He sat up and eased his feet to the cold parquet floor. It took a moment for the room to come into focus. A writing desk piled
with books and papers, a simple wardrobe, a wooden prie-dieu. Above it, faintly visible in the gloom, was the crucifix, heavy
and oaken, given to him by his master a few days after the conclave. It had hung in Donati's apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
Now it hung here, in his room at the Jesuit Curia. How different it was from Veronica's lavish palazzo. It was the room of
a poor man, he thought. The room of a priest.
The prie-dieu beckoned. Rising, Donati pulled on his dressing gown and crossed the room. He opened his breviary to the appropriate page and on his knees recited the first words of lauds, the morning prayer.
God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help meÂ .Â .Â .
Behind him on his bedside table his phone purred. Ignoring it, he read that morning's selection of psalms and hymns, along
with a brief passage from Revelation.
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sunÂ .Â .Â .
Only when Donati had repeated the final line of the closing prayer did he rise and retrieve the phone. The message that awaited
him was composed in colloquial Italian. The wording was ambiguous and full of misdirection and double meaning. Nevertheless,
the instructions were clear. Had Donati not known better, he would have assumed the author was a creature of the Roman Curia.
He was not.
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sunÂ .Â .Â .
Donati tossed the phone onto his unmade bed and quickly shaved and showered. Wrapped in a towel, he opened the doors of his
wardrobe. Hanging from the rod were several cassocks and clerical suits, along with his choir dress. His civilian wardrobe
was limited to a single sport jacket with elbow patches, two pairs of tan chinos, two white dress shirts, two crewneck pullovers,
and a pair of suede loafers.
He dressed in one of the outfits and packed the spare in his overnight bag. Next he added a change of undergarments, toiletries,
a stole, an alb, a cincture, and his traveling Mass kit. The mobile phone he slipped into his jacket pocket.
The corridor outside his rooms was empty. He heard the faint tinkle of glass and cutlery and earthenware emanating
from the communal dining hall and, from the chapel, sonorous male voices at prayer. Unnoticed by his Jesuit brethren, he hurried downstairs and went into the autumn morning.
An E-Class Mercedes sedan waited in the Borgo Santo Spirito. Gabriel was behind the wheel; Chiara, in the passenger seat.
When Donati slid into the back, the car shot forward. Several pedestrians, including a curial priest whom Donati knew in passing,
scurried for cover.
“Is there a problem?” he asked.
Gabriel glanced into the rearview mirror. “I'll know in a few minutes.”
The car swerved to the right, narrowly missing a flock of gray-habited nuns, and raced across the Tiber.
Donati fastened his safety belt and closed his eyes.
God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help meÂ .Â .Â .
They sped north along
the Lungotevere to the Piazza del Popolo, then south to Piazza Venezia. Even by Rome's lofty standards, it was a hair-raising ride. Donati, a veteran of countless papal motorcades, marveled at the skill with which his old friend handled the powerful German-made car, and at the apparent calm with which Chiara occasionally offered directions or advice. Their route was indirect and full of sudden stops and abrupt turns, all designed to reveal the presence of motorized surveillance. In a city like Rome, where scooters were a common form of transport, it was a daunting task. Donati tried to be of help, but in time he gave up and watched the graffiti-spattered buildings and mountain ranges of uncollected garbage flashing
past his window. Veronica was right. Rome was beautiful, but it was gross.
By the time they reached Ostiense, a chaotic working-class quarter in Municipio VIII, Gabriel appeared satisfied they were
not being followed. He made his way to the A90, Rome's orbital motorway, and headed north to the E35 Autostrada, a toll road
stretching the length of Italy to the Swiss border.
Donati eased his grip on the armrest. “Do you mind telling me where we're going?”
Gabriel pointed toward a blue-and-white sign at the side of the road.
Donati permitted himself a brief smile. It had been a long time since he had been to Florence.
Unit 8200 had located the phone on the Florence cellular grid shortly before five that morning. It was north of the Arno in
San Marco, the quarter of the city where the Medici, the banking dynasty that transformed Florence into the artistic and intellectual
heart of Europe, had stabled their menagerie of giraffes, elephants, and lions. Thus far, the Unit had been unable to penetrate
the device and gain control of its operating system. It was merely monitoring the phone's approximate position using geolocation
“In layman's language, please?” asked Donati.
“Once we're inside a phone, we can listen to the owner's calls, read his e-mail and text messages, and monitor his browsing
on the Internet. We can even take photographs and videos with the camera and use the microphone as a listening device.”
“It's as though you're God.”
“Not quite, but we certainly have the power to peer into someone's soul. We can learn their darkest fears and their deepest
desires.” Gabriel gave a rueful shake of his head. “The telecommunications industry and their friends in Silicon Valley promised
us a brave new world of convenience, all at our fingertips. They told us not to worry, our secrets would be safe. None of
it was true. They intentionally lied to us. They stole our privacy. And in the process, they've ruined everything.”
“Newspapers, movies, books, musicÂ .Â .Â . everything.”
“I never knew you were such a Luddite.”
“I'm an art restorer who specializes in Italian Old Masters. I'm a charter member of the club.”
“And yet you carry a mobile phone.”
“A very special mobile phone. Even my friends at the American NSA can't crack it.”
Donati held up a Nokia 9 Android. “And mine?”
“I'd feel much better if you threw it out the window.”
“My life is on this phone.”
“Therein lies the problem, Excellency.”
At Gabriel's request, Donati surrendered his phone to Chiara. After switching off the power, she removed the SIM card and
the battery and placed both in her handbag. The soulless chassis she returned to Donati.
“I feel better already.”
They stopped for coffee at an Autogrill near Orvieto and reached the outskirts of Florence a few minutes after noon. The Zona Traffico Limitato signs were flashing red. Gabriel left the
Mercedes in a public car park near the Basilica di Santa Croce, and together they set out toward San Marco.
According to the blue light on Gabriel's phone, Janson's device was just west of the San Marco Museum, probably on the Via
San Gallo. Unit 8200 had cautioned that the geolocation plot was accurate only to about forty meters, which meant the phone
could also be on the Via Santa Reparata or the Via della Ruote. All three streets were lined with small discount hotels and
hostels. Gabriel counted at least fourteen such establishments where Niklaus Janson might have found lodging.
The exact spot upon which the blue dot rested corresponded to the address of a hotel appropriately called the Piccolo. Directly
across the street was a restaurant where Gabriel lunched in the manner of a man for whom time was of no consequence. Donati,
his phone reassembled and operational, dined on the Via Santa Reparata; Chiara, around the corner on the Villa della Ruote.
Gabriel and Chiara each had a copy of Janson's official Swiss Guard photograph on their phones. It showed a serious young
man with short hair and small dark eyes set within an angular face. Trustworthy, thought Gabriel, but by no means a saint.
Janson's file listed his height as the metric equivalent of about six feet. His weight was seventy-five kilograms, or one
hundred and sixty-five pounds.
By three fifteen they had seen no sign of him. Chiara moved to the restaurant opposite the Hotel Piccolo; Donati, to the Villa della Ruote. On the Via Santa Reparata, Gabriel spent much of the time staring at his phone, exhorting the winking blue light into movement. At five o'clock, twelve hours after its initial
discovery, its position was unchanged. Despairing, Gabriel conjured an image of an unplugged smartphone expiring slowly in an abandoned room littered with empty takeaway cartons.
A text message from Chiara lifted his spirits.
I'm now fifteen pounds overweight. Maybe we should just call the number.
What if he was involved?
I thought you said we weren't there yet.
We aren't. But we're getting closer by the minute.
At half past five they changed positions a second time. Gabriel went to a restaurant on the Villa della Ruote. He took a table
on the street and picked at a plate of spaghetti pomodoro without appetite.
“If it's not to your liking,” said the waiter, “I can bring you something else.”
Gabriel ordered a double espresso, his fifth of the afternoon, and with a slightly trembling hand reached for his phone. There
was another message from Chiara.
Twenty pounds. I'm begging you, please call him.
Gabriel was sorely tempted. Instead, he watched the tourists trudging back to their hotels after a long day sampling the delights
of Florence. There were four hotels along the street. The inappropriately named Grand Hotel Medici was adjacent to the restaurant,
directly in Gabriel's line of sight.
He checked the time on his phone. It was six fifteen. Then he checked the position of the light on the geolocation graph and
detected what appeared to be the faintest trace of a wobble. Thirty additional seconds of rigorous observation confirmed his
suspicion. The light was definitely moving.
Because of the forty-meter margin for error, Gabriel quickly informed both Chiara and Donati of his findings. Donati re
plied that he saw no sign of Janson on the Via San Gallo, and a few seconds later Chiara reported the same from her outpost on the Via Santa Reparata. Gabriel replied to neither message, for he was scrutinizing the man who had just emerged from the Grand Hotel Medici.
Late twenties, short hair, about six feet, maybe a hundred and seventy pounds. He scanned the street in both directions, then
headed to the right, past the restaurant. Gabriel dealt two crisp banknotes onto the table, counted slowly to ten, and rose.
Trustworthy, he was thinking. But by no means a saint.