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Confessor, The - Daniel Silva

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Confessor, The - Daniel Silva Confessor, The - Daniel Silva

    THE CONFESSOR By Daniel Silva From The Cover: FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE ENGLISH ASSASSIN Art restorer Gabriel Allon is trying to put his secret service past behind him. But when his

    friend Benjamin Stern is murdered in Munich, he's called into action once more. Police in Germany are certain that Stern, a professor well known for his work on the Holocaust, was killed by right-wing extremists. But Allon is far from convinced. Not least because all trace of the new book Stern was researching has now mysteriously disappeared... Meanwhile, in Rome, the new Pope paces around his garden, thinking about the perilous plan he's about to set in motion. If successful, he will revolutionize the Church. If not. he could very well destroy it... In the dramatic weeks to come, the journeys of these two men will intersect. Long-buried secrets and unthinkable deeds will come to light and both

    their lives will be changed for ever... 'The Confessor opens with a startling twist, then gets even better. It will resonate with fans of Dan Brown's novels, as long-buried secrets about unthinkable deeds are unearthed. The pace is relentless...' 'A shrewd, timely thriller that opens the heart of the Vatican.' THE CONFESSOR Daniel Silva is also the author of the bestselling thrillers The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the

    Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist and The English Assassin. The Washington Post

    ranks him as 'among the best of the younger American spy novelists' and he is regularly

    compared to Graham Greene and John Le Carre. He lives in Washington, DC. DANIEL SILVA THE CONFESSOR MICHAEL JOSEPH an imprint of PENGUIN BOOKS MICHAEL JOSEPH LTD Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (Australia) 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia

    Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada) 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England Penguin Ireland 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi -110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ) Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London, WC2R ORL, England First published in The United States of America by G.P. Putnam's Sons 2003 First published in Great Britain in Penguin Books 2004 This edition first published by the Penguin Group (Australia), a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd 2004 13579108642 Copyright ? Daniel Silva, 2003 All rights reserved The moral right of the author has been asserted Printed and bound in Australia by McPherson's

    Printing Group, Maryborough, Victoria Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it

shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated

    without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in

    which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being

    imposed on the subsequent purchaser

    ISBN 0718) 47952 www.penguin.com.au

    For David Bull, il restauratore,

    and as always,

    for my wife Jamie and

    my children Lily and Nicolas

    "Roma locuta est; causa finita est." Rome has spoken; the case is closed.

    ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

    PART ONE

    AN APARTMENT IN MUNICH

    MUNICH

    THE APARTMENT HOUSE at Adalbertstrasse 68 was one of the few in the fashionable district ofSchwabing yet to be overrun by Munich's noisy and growing professional elite. Wedged betweentwo red brick buildings that exuded prewar charm, No. 68 seemed rather like an ugly youngerstepsister. Her facade was a cracked beige stucco, her form squat and graceless. As a resulther suitors were a tenuous community of students, artists, anarchists, and unrepentant punkrockers, all presided over by an authoritarian caretaker named Frau Ratzinger, who, it wasrumored, had been living in the original apartment house at No. 68 when it was leveled by anAllied bomb. Neighborhood activists derided the building as an eyesore in need ofgentrification. Defenders said it exemplified the very sort of Bohemian arrogance that had oncemade Schwabing the Montmartre of Germany--the Schwabing of Hesse and Mann and Lenin. And AdolfHitler, the professor working in the

    second-floor window might have been tempted to add, but few in the old neighborhood liked to bereminded of the fact that the young Austrian outcast had once found inspiration in these quiettree-lined streets too.

    To his students and colleagues, he was Herr Doktorprofessor Stern. To friends in theneighborhood he was just Benjamin; to the occasional visitor from home, he was Binyamin. In ananonymous stone-and-glass office complex in the north of Tel Aviv, where a file of his youthfulexploits still resided despite his pleas to have it burned, he would always be known as Beni,youngest of Ari Shamron's wayward sons. Officially, Benjamin Stern remained a member of thefaculty at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, though for the past four years he had served asvisiting professor of European studies at Munich's prestigious Ludwig-Maximilian University. Ithad become something of a permanent loan, which was fine with Professor Stern. In an odd twistof historical fate, life was more pleasant for a Jew these days in Germany than in Jerusalem orTel Aviv.

    The fact that his mother had survived the horrors of the Riga ghetto gave Professor Stern acertain dubious standing among the other tenants of No. 68. He was a curiosity. He was theirconscience. They railed at him about the plight of the Palestinians. They gently asked himquestions they dared not put to their parents and grandparents. He was their guidance counselorand trusted sage. They came to him for advice on their studies. They poured out their heart tohim when they'd been dumped by a lover. They raided his fridge when they were hungry andpillaged his wallet when they were broke. Most importantly, he served as tenant spokesman inall disputes involving the dreaded Frau Ratzinger. Professor Stern was the only one in thebuilding who did not fear her. They seemed to have a special relationship. A kinship. "It's

    Stockholm Syndrome," claimed Alex, a psychology student who lived on the top floor. "Prisonerand camp guard. Master and servant." But it was more than that. The professor and the old woman

seemed to speak the same language.

    The previous year, when his book on the Wannsee Conference had become an internationalbestseller, Professor Stern had flirted with the idea of moving to a more stylish building--perhaps one with proper security and a view of the English Gardens. A place where the othertenants didn't treat his flat as if it were an annex to their own. This had incited panic amongthe others. One evening they came to him en masse and petitioned him to stay. Promises weremade. They would not steal his food, nor would they ask for loans when there was no hope ofrepayment. They would be more respectful of his need for quiet. They would come to him foradvice only when it was absolutely necessary. The professor acquiesced, but within a month hisflat was once again the de facto common room of Adalbertstrasse 68. Secretly, he was glad theywere back. The rebellious children of No. 68 were the only family Benjamin Stern had left.

    The clatter of a passing streetcar broke his concentration. He looked up in time to see itdisappear behind the canopy of a chestnut tree, then glanced at his watch. Eleven-thirty. He'dbeen at it since five that morning. He removed his glasses and spent a long moment rubbing hiseyes. What was it Orwell had said about writing a book? A horrible, exhausting struggle, life along bout of some painful illness. Sometimes, Benjamin Stern felt as though this book might befatal.

    The red light on his telephone answering machine was blinking. He made a habit of muting theringers to avoid unwanted interruptions. Hesitantly, like a bomb handler deciding which wire to

    cut, he reached out and pressed the button. The little speaker emitted a blast of heavy metalmusic, followed by a warlike yelp.

    "I have some good news, Herr Doktorprofessor. By the end of the day, there will be one lessfilthy Jew on the planet! Wiedersehen, Herr Doktorprofessor."

    click.

    Professor Stern erased the message. He was used to them by now. He received two a week thesedays; sometimes more, depending on whether he had made an appearance on television or takenpart in some public debate. He knew them by voice; assigned each a trivial, unthreateningnickname to lessen their impact on his nerves. This fellow called at least twice each month.Professor Stern had dubbed him Wolfie. Sometimes he told the police. Most of the time he didn'tbother. There was nothing they could do anyway.

    He locked his manuscript and notes in the floor safe tucked beneath his desk. Then he pulled ona pair of shoes and a woolen jacket and collected the rubbish bag from the kitchen. The oldbuilding had no elevator, which meant he had to walk down two flights of stairs to reach theground floor. As he entered the lobby, a chemical stench greeted him. The building was home toa small but thriving cosmetic. The professor detested the beauty shop. When it was busy, therancid smell of nail-polish remover rose through the ventilation system and enveloped his flat.It also made the building less secure than he would have preferred. Because the cosmetic had noseparate street entrance, the lobby was constantly cluttered with beautiful Schwabiniansarriving for their pedicures, facials, and waxings.

    He turned right, toward a doorway that gave onto the tiny courtyard, and hesitated in thethreshold, checking to see if the cats were about. Last night he'd been awakened at midnight bya skirmish over some morsel of garbage. There were no cats this morning, only

    a pair of bored beauticians in spotless white tunics smoking cigarettes against the wall. Hepadded across the sooty bricks and tossed his bag into the bin.

    Returning to the entrance hall, he found Frau Ratzinger punishing the linoleum floor with aworn straw broom. "Good morning, Herr Doktorprofessor," the old woman snapped; then she addedaccusingly: "Going out for your morning coffee?"

    Professor Stern nodded and murmured, "ja ja," Frau Ratzinger." She glared at two messy stacksof fliers, one advertising a free concert in the park, the other a holistic massage clinic onthe Schelling-strasse. "No matter how many times I ask them not to leave these things here,they do it anyway. It's that drama student in 4B. He lets anyone into the building."

    The professor shrugged his shoulders, as if mystified by the lawless ways of the young, andsmiled kindly at the old woman. Frau Ratzinger picked up the fliers and marched them into thecourtyard. A moment later, he could hear her berating the beauticians for tossing theircigarette butts on the ground.

    He stepped outside and paused to take stock of the weather. Not too cold for early March, thesun peering through a gauzy layer of cloud. He pushed his hands into his coat pockets and setout. Entering the English Gardens, he followed a tree-lined path along the banks of a rain-swollen canal. He liked the park. It gave his mind a quiet place to rest after the morning'sexertions on the computer. More importantly, it gave him an opportunity to see if today theywere following him. He stopped walking and beat his coat pockets dramatically to indicate hehad forgotten something. Then he doubled back and retraced his steps, scanning faces, checkingto see if they matched any of the ones stored in the database of his prodigious memory. Hepaused on a humpbacked footbridge,

    as if admiring the rush of the water over a short fall. A drug dealer with spiders tattooed onhis face offered him heroin. The professor mumbled something incoherent and walked quicklyaway. Two minutes later he ducked into a public telephone and pretended to place a call whilecarefully surveying the surroundings. He hung up the receiver.

    Wiedersehen, Herr Doktorprofessor.

    He turned onto the Ludwigstrasse and hurried across the university district, head down, hopingto avoid being spotted by any students or colleagues. Earlier that week, he had received arather nasty letter from Dr. Helmut Berger, the pompous chairman of his department, wonderingwhen the book might be finished and when he could be expected to resume his lecturingobligations. Professor Stern did not like Helmut Berger--their well-publicized feud was bothpersonal and academic--and conveniently he had not found the time to respond.

    The bustle of the Viktualienmarkt pushed thoughts of work from his mind. He moved past moundsof brightly colored fruit and vegetables, past flower stalls and open-air butchers. He pickedout a few things for his supper, then crossed the street to Cafe Bar Eduscho for coffee and aDingelbrot. Forty-five minutes later, as he set out for Schwabing, he felt refreshed, his mindlight, ready for one more wrestling match with his book. His illness, as Orwell would havecalled it.

    As he arrived at the apartment house, a gust of wind chased him into the lobby and scattered afresh stack of salmon-colored fliers. The professor twisted his head so he could read one. Anew curry takeaway had opened around the corner. He liked a good curry. He scooped up one ofthe fliers and stuffed it into his coat pocket.

    The wind had carried a few of the leaflets toward the courtyard.

    Frau Ratzinger would be furious. As he trod softly up the stairs, she poked her head from herfoxhole of a flat and spotted the mess. Predictably appalled, she glared at him withinquisitor's eyes. Slipping the key into his door lock, he could hear the old woman cursing asshe dealt with this latest outrage.

    In the kitchen, he put away the food and brewed himself a cup of tea. Then he walked down thehallway to his study. A man was standing at his desk, casually leafing through a stack ofresearch. He wore a white tunic, like the ones worn by the beauticians at the cosmetic and wasvery tall with athletic shoulders. His hair was blond and streaked with gray. Hearing theprofessor enter the room, the intruder looked up. His eyes were gray too, cold as a glacier.

    "Open the safe, Herr Doktorprofessor."

    The voice was calm, almost flirtatious. The German was accented. It wasn't Wolfie--ProfessorStern was sure of that. He had a flair for languages and an ear for local dialects. The man inthe tunic was Swiss, and his Schwyzerdutsch had the broad singsong accent of a man from themountain valleys.

    "Who in the hell do you think you are?"

"Open the safe," the intruder repeated as the eyes returned to the papers on the desk.

    "There's nothing in the safe of any value. If it's money you're--"

    Professor Stern wasn't permitted to finish the sentence. In a swift motion, the intruderreached beneath the tunic, produced a silenced handgun. The professor knew weapons as well asaccents. The gun was a Russian-made Stechkin. The bullet tore through the professor's rightkneecap. He fell to the floor, hands clutching the wound, blood pumping between his fingers.

    "I suppose you'll just have to give me the combination now," the Swiss said calmly.

    The pain was like nothing Benjamin Stern had ever experienced. He was panting, struggling tocatch his breath, his mind a maelstrom. The combination? God, but he could barely remember hisname. "I'm waiting, Herr Doktorprofessor."

    He forced himself to take a series of deep breaths. This supplied his brain with enough oxygento permit him to access the combination to the safe. He recited the numbers, his jaw tremblingwith shock. The intruder knelt in front of the safe and deftly worked the tumbler. A momentlater, the door swung open. The intruder looked inside, then at the professor. "You have backupdisks. Where do you keep them?" "I don't know what you're talking about." "As it stands rightnow, you'll be able to walk with the use of a cane." He raised the gun. "If I shoot you in theother knee, you'll spend the rest of your life on crutches."

    The professor was slipping from consciousness. His jaw was trembling. Don't shiver, damn you!Don't give him the pleasure of seeing your fear!

    "In the refrigerator." "The refrigerator?"

    "In case"--a burst of pain shot through him--"of a fire." The intruder raised an eyebrow.Clever boy. He'd brought a bag along with him, a black nylon duffel, about three feet inlength. He reached inside and withdrew a cylindrical object: a can of spray paint. He removedthe cap, and with a skilled hand he began to paint symbols on the wall of the study. Symbols ofviolence. Symbols of hate. Ludicrously, the professor found himself wondering what FrauRatzinger would say when she saw this. In his delirium, he must have murmured something aloud,because the intruder paused for a moment to examine him with a vacant stare.

    When he was finished with his graffiti, the intruder returned the spray can to his duffel, thenstood over the professor. The pain from the shattered bones was making Benjamin Stern hot withfever. Blackness was closing in at the edges of his vision, so that the intruder seemed to bestanding at the end of a tunnel. The professor searched the ashen eyes for some sign of lunacy,but he found nothing at all but cool intelligence. This man was no racist fanatic, he thought.He was a professional.

    The intruder stooped over him. "Would you like to make a last confession, Professor Stern?"

    "What are you"--he grimaced in pain--"talking about?"

    "It's very simple. Do you wish to confess your sins?"

    "You're the murderer," Benjamin Stern said deliriously.

    The assassin smiled. The gun swung up again, and he fired two shots into the professor's chest.Benjamin Stern felt his body convulse but was spared further pain. He remained conscious for afew seconds, long enough to see his killer kneel down at his side and to feel the cool touch ofhis thumb against his damp forehead. He was mumbling something. Latin? Yes, the professor wascertain of it.

    "Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."

    The professor looked into his killer's eyes. "But I'm a Jew," he murmured.

    "It doesn't matter," the assassin said.

    Then he placed the Stechkin against the side of Benjamin Stern's head and fired one last shot.

    VATICAN CITY

    Four hundred miles to the south, on a hillside in the heart of Rome, an old man strolledthrough the cold shadows of a walled garden, dressed in an ivory cassock and cloak. At seventy-

    two years of age, he no longer moved quickly, though he came to the gardens each morning andmade a point of walking for at least an hour along the pine-scented footpaths. Some of hispredecessors had cleared the gardens so they could meditate undisturbed. The man in the ivorycassock liked to see people--real people, not just the fawning Curial cardinals and foreigndignitaries who came to kiss his fisherman's ring each day. A Swiss Guard always hovered a fewpaces behind him, more for company than protection, and he enjoyed stopping for a brief chatwith the Vatican gardeners. He was a naturally curious man and considered himself something ofa botanist. Occasionally, he borrowed a pair of pruning shears and helped trim the roses. Once,a Swiss Guard had found

    him on his hands and knees in the garden. Assuming the worst, the guard had summoned anambulance and rushed to his side, only to find that the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman CatholicChurch had decided to do a bit of weeding.

    Those closest to the Holy Father could see that something was troubling him. He had lost muchof the good humor and easy charm that had seemed like a breath of spring breeze after the dourfinal days of the Pole. Sister Teresa, the iron-willed nun from Venice who ran his papalhousehold, had noticed a distinct loss of appetite. Even the sweet biscotti she left with hisafternoon coffee went untouched lately. She often entered the papal study on the third floor ofthe Apostolic Palace and found him lying face-down on the floor, deep in prayer, eyes closed asthough he were in agony. Karl Brunner, the head of his Swiss Guard detail, had noticed the HolyFather frequently standing at the Vatican walls, gazing across the Tiber, seemingly lost inthought. Brunner had protected the Pole for many years and had seen the toll the papacy hadtaken on him. It was part of the job, he counseled Sister Teresa, the crushing burden ofresponsibility that falls on every pope. "It is enough to make even the holiest of men losetheir temper from time to time. I'm certain God will give him the strength to overcome it. Theold Pietro will be back soon."

    Sister Teresa was not so sure. She was among the handful of people inside the Vatican who knewhow much Pietro Lucchesi had not wanted this job. When he had arrived in Rome for the funeralof John Paul II, and the conclave that would choose his successor, the elfin, soft-spokenpatriarch of Venice was not considered remotely papabile, a man possessed with the qualitiesnecessary to be pope. Nor did he give even the slightest indication that he was interested. Thefifteen years he had spent working in the Roman Curia were

    the unhappiest of his career, and he had no desire to return to the back-biting village on theTiber, even as its lord high mayor. Lucchesi had intended to cast his vote for the archbishopof Buenos Aires, whom he had befriended during a tour of Latin America, and return quietly toVenice.

    But inside the conclave, things did not go as intended. As their predecessors had done time andtime again over the centuries, Lucchesi and his fellow princes of the church, one hundredthirty in all, entered the Sistine Chapel in solemn procession while singing the Latin hymnVeni Creator Spiritus. They gathered beneath Michelangelo's Last Judgment, with its humblingdepiction of tormented souls rising toward heaven to face the wrath of Christ, and prayed forthe Holy Spirit to guide their hand. Then each cardinal stepped forward individually, placedhis hand atop the Holy Gospels, and swore an oath binding him to irrevocable silence. When thistask was complete, the master of papal liturgical ceremonies commanded, "Extra Omnes"--Everyoneout--and the conclave began in earnest.

    The Pole had not been content to leave matters solely in the hands of the Holy Spirit. He hadstacked the College of Cardinals with prelates like himself, doctrinaire hardliners determinedto preserve ecclesiastical discipline and the power of Rome over all else. Their candidate wasan Italian, a consummate creature of the Roman Curia: Cardinal Secretary of State MarcoBrindisi.

    The moderates had other ideas. They pleaded for a truly pastoral papacy. They wanted theoccupant of the throne of St. Peter to be a gentle and pious man; a man who would be willing toshare power with the bishops and limit the influence of the Curia; a man who could reach across

    the lines of geography and faith to heal those corners of the globe torn by war and poverty.Only a non-European

    suitable to the moderates. They believed the time had come for a Third World pope.

    The first ballots revealed the conclave to be hopelessly divided, and soon both factions weresearching for a way out of the impasse. On the final ballot of the day, a new name surfaced.Pietro Lucchesi, the patriarch of Venice, received five votes. Hearing his name read five timesinside the sacred chamber of the Sistine Chapel, Lucchesi closed his eyes and blanched visibly.A moment later, when the ballots were placed into the nero for burning, several cardinalsnoticed that Lucchesi was praying.

    That evening, Pietro Lucchesi politely refused an invitation to dine with a group of fellowcardinals, adjourning to his room at the Dormitory of St. Martha instead to meditate and pray.He knew how conclaves worked and could see what was coming. Like Christ in the Garden ofGethsemane, he pleaded with God to lift this burden from his shoulders--to choose someone else.

    But the following morning, Lucchesi's support built, rising steadily toward the two-thirdsmajority necessary to be elected pope. On the final ballot taken before lunch, he was just tenvotes short. Too anxious to take food, he prayed in his room before returning to the SistineChapel for the ballot that he knew would make him pope. He watched silently as each cardinaladvanced and placed a twice-folded slip of paper into the golden chalice that served as aballot box, each uttering the same solemn oath: "I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who willbe my judge that my vote is given to the one whom before God I think should be elected."

    The ballots were checked and rechecked before the tally was announced. One hundred fifteenvotes had been cast for Lucchesi.

    The camerlengo approached Lucchesi and posed the same question that had been put to hundreds ofnewly elected popes over two millennia.

    "Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?" After a lengthy silence thatproduced much tension in the chapel, Pietro Lucchesi responded: "My shoulders are not broadenough to bear the burden you have given me, but with the help of Christ the Savior, I willtry. Accepto."

    "By what name do you wish to be called?"

    "Paul the Seventh," Lucchesi replied.

    The cardinals filed forward to embrace the new pontiff and offer obedience and loyalty to him.Lucchesi was then escorted to the scarlet chamber known as the camera lacrimatoria--the cryingroom--for a few minutes of solitude before being fitted with a white cassock by the Gammarellibrothers, the pontifical tailors. He chose the smallest of the three ready-made cassocks, andeven then he seemed like a small boy wearing his father's shirt. As he filed onto the greatloggia of St. Peter's to greet Rome and the world, his head was barely visible above thebalustrade. A Swiss Guard brought forth a footstool, and a great roar rose from the stunnedcrowd in the square below. A commentator for Italian television breathlessly declared the newpope "Pietro the Improbable." Cardinal Marco Brindisi, the head of the hard-line Curialcardinals, privately christened him Pope Accidental I.

    The Vaticanisti said the message of the divisive conclave was clear. Pietro Lucchesi was acompromise pope. His mandate was to run the Church in a competent fashion but launch no grandinitiatives. The battle for the heart and soul of the Church, said the Vaticanisti, hadeffectively been postponed for another day.

    But Catholic reactionaries, religious and lay alike, did not take such a benign view ofLucchesi's election. To militants, the new pope bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a tubbyVenetian named Roncalli who'd inflicted the doctrinal calamity of the Second Vatican Council.Within hours of the conclave's conclusion, the websites and cyber-confessionals of thehardliners were bristling with warnings and dire predictions about what lay ahead. Lucchesi'ssermons and public statements were scoured for evidence of un-orthodoxy. The reactionaries didnot like what they discovered. Lucchesi was trouble, they concluded. Lucchesi would have to be

    kept under watch. Tightly scripted. It would be up to the mandarins of the Curia to makecertain Pietro Lucchesi became nothing more than a caretaker pope.

    But Lucchesi believed there were far too many problems confronting the Church for a papacy tobe wasted, even the papacy of an unwilling pope. The Church he inherited from the Pole was aChurch in crisis. In Western Europe, the epicenter of Catholicism, the situation had grown sodire that a recent synod of bishops declared that Europeans were living as though God did notexist. Fewer babies were being baptized; fewer couples were choosing to be married in theChurch; vocations had plummeted to a point where nearly half the parishes in Western Europewould soon have no full-time priest. Lucchesi had to look no further than his own diocese tosee the problems the Church faced. Seventy percent of Rome's two and a half million Catholicsbelieved in divorce, birth control, and premarital sex--all officially forbidden by the Church.Fewer than ten percent bothered to attend mass on a regular basis. In France, the so-called"First Daughter" of the Church, the statistics were even worse. In North America, mostCatholics didn't even bother to read his encyclicals before flouting them, and only a thirdattended Mass. Seventy percent of Catholics lived in the Third World, yet most of them rarelysaw a priest. In Brazil alone, six hundred thousand people left the Church each year to becomeevangelical Protestants.

    Lucchesi wanted to stem the bleeding before it was too late. He longed to make his belovedChurch more relevant in the lives of its adherents, to make his flock Catholic in more thanname only. But there was something else that had preoccupied him, a single question that hadrun ceaselessly around his head since the moment the conclave elected him pope. Why? Why hadthe Holy Spirit chosen him to lead the Church? What special gift, what sliver of knowledge, didhe possess that made him the right pontiff for this moment in history? Lucchesi believed heknew the answer, and he had set in motion a perilous stratagem that would shake the RomanCatholic Church to its foundations. If his gambit proved successful, it would revolutionize theChurch. If it failed, it might very well destroy it.

    THE SUN SLIPPED behind a bank of cloud, and a breath of cold March wind stirred the pine treesof the gardens. The Pope pulled his cloak tightly around his throat. He drifted past theEthiopian College, then turned onto a narrow footpath that took him toward the dun-colored wallat the southwest corner of Vatican City. Stopping at the foot of the Vatican Radio tower, hemounted a flight of stone steps and climbed up to the parapet.

    Rome lay before him, stirring in the flat overcast light. His gaze was drawn across the Tiber,toward the soaring synagogue in the heart of the old ghetto. In 1555, Pope Paul IV, a Popewhose name Lucchesi bore, ordered the Jews of Rome into the ghetto and compelled them to wear ayellow star to make them distinguishable from Christians. It was the intention of those whocommissioned the synagogue to build it tall enough so that it could be seen from the Vatican.The message was unmistakably clear. We are here too. Indeed,

    we were here long before you. For Pietro Lucchesi, the synagogue spoke of something else. Atreacherous past. A shameful secret. It spoke directly to him, whispering into his ear. Itwould give him no peace.

    The Pope heard footfalls on the garden pathway, sharp and rhythmic, like an expert carpenterdriving nails. He turned and saw a man marching toward the wall. Tall and lean, black hair,black clerical suit, a vertical line drawn with India ink. Father Luigi Donati: the Pope'sprivate secretary. Donati had been at Lucchesi's side for twenty years. In Venice they hadcalled him il doge because of his willingness to wield power ruthlessly and to go straight forthe throat when it served his purposes or the needs of his master. The nickname had followedhim to the Vatican. Donati did not mind. He followed the tenets of a secular Italianphilosopher named Machiavelli, who counseled that it is better for a prince to be feared thanloved. Every pope needed a son of a bitch, according to Donati; a hard man in black who waswilling to take on the Curia with a whip and a chair and bend it to his will. It was a role heplayed with poorly disguised glee.

    As Donati drew closer to the parapet, the Pope could see by the grim set of his jaw thatsomething was wrong. He turned his gaze toward the river once more and waited. A moment laterhe could feel the reassuring presence of Donati at his side. As usual, il doge wasted no timeon pleasantries or small talk. He leaned close to the Pope's ear and quietly informed him thatearlier that morning Professor Benjamin Stern had been discovered murdered in his apartment inMunich. The Pope closed his eyes and lowered his chin to his chest, then reached out and heldFather Donati's hand tightly. "How?" he asked. "How did they kill him?"

    When Father Donati told him, the Pope swayed and leaned

    against the priest's arm for support. "Almighty God in Heaven, please grant us forgiveness forwhat we have done." Then he looked into the eyes of his trusted secretary. Father Donati's gazewas calm and intelligent and very determined. It gave the Pope the courage to go forward.

    "I'm afraid we've terribly underestimated our enemies, Luigi. They are more formidable than wethought, and their wickedness knows no bounds. They will stop at nothing to protect their dirtysecrets."

    "Indeed, Holiness," Donati said gravely. "In fact, we must now operate under the assumptionthat they might even be willing to murder a pope."

    Murder a pope? It was difficult for Pietro Lucchesi to imagine such a thing, but he knew histrusted secretary was not guilty of exaggeration. The Church was riddled with a cancer. It hadbeen allowed to fester during the long reign of the Pole. Now it had metastasized and wasthreatening the life of the very organism in which it lived. It needed to be removed.Aggressive measures were required if the patient was to be saved.

    The Pope looked away from Donati, toward the dome of the synagogue rising over the riverbank."I'm afraid there's no one who can do this deed but me."

    Father Donati placed his hand on the Pope's forearm and squeezed. "Only you can compose thewords, Holiness. Leave the rest in my hands."

    Donati turned and walked away, leaving the Pope alone at the parapet. He listened to the soundof his hard man in black pounding along the footpath toward the palace: crack-crack-crack-crack... To Pietro Lucchesi, it sounded like nails in a coffin.

    VENICE

    The night rains had flooded the Campo San Zaccaria. The restorer stood on the steps of thechurch like a castaway. In the center of the square, an old priest appeared out of the mist,lifting the skirts of his simple black cassock to reveal a pair of knee-length rubber boots."It's like the Sea of Galilee this morning, Mario," he said, digging a heavy ring of keys fromhis pocket. "If only Christ had bestowed on us the ability to walk on water. Winters in Venicewould be much more tolerable."

    The heavy wooden door opened with a deep groan. The nave was still in darkness. The priestswitched on the lights and headed out into the flooded square once more, pausing briefly in thesanctuary to dip his fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross.

    The scaffolding was covered by a shroud. The restorer climbed up to his platform and switchedon a fluorescent lamp. The Virgin

    glowed at him seductively. For much of that winter he had been engaged in a single-minded questto repair her face. Some nights she came to him in his sleep, stealing into his bedroom, hercheeks in tatters, begging him to heal her.

    He turned on a portable electric heater to burn the chill from the air and poured a cup ofblack coffee from the Thermos bottle, enough to make him alert but not to make his hand shake.Then he prepared his palette, mixing dry pigment in a tiny puddle of medium. When finally hewas ready, he lowered his magnifying visor and began to work.

    For nearly an hour he had the church to himself. Slowly, the rest of the team trickled in oneby one. The restorer, hidden behind his shroud, knew each by sound. The lumbering plod ofFrancesco Tiepolo, chief of the San Zaccaria project; the crisp tap-tap-tap of Adriana Zinetti,

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