The Order Page 1

Author: Daniel Silva

Series: Gabriel Allon #20

Genres: Fiction , Thriller



THE CALL ARRIVED AT 11:42 p.m. Luigi Donati hesitated before answering. The number displayed on the screen of his telefonino belonged to Albanese. There was only one reason why he would ring at such an hour.

“Where are you, Excellency?”

“Outside the walls.”

“Ah, yes. It’s a Thursday, isn’t it?”

“Is there a problem?”

“Better not to say too much on the phone. One never knows who might be listening.”

The night into which Donati stepped was damp and cold. He was dressed in a black clerical suit and Roman collar, not the fuchsia-trimmed cassock and simar he wore around the office, which was how men of his ecclesiastical rank referred to the Apostolic Palace. An archbishop, Donati served as private secretary to His Holiness Pope Paul VII. Tall and lean, with rich dark hair and movie-idol features, he had recently celebrated his sixty-third birthday. Age had done nothing to diminish his good looks. Vanity Fair magazine had recently christened him “Luscious Luigi.” The article had caused him no end of embarrassment inside the backbiting world of the Curia. Still, given Donati’s well-deserved reputation for ruthlessness, no one had dared to mention it to his face. No one but the Holy Father, who had teased him mercilessly.

Better not to say too much on the phone …

Donati had been preparing himself for this moment for a year or more, ever since the first mild heart attack, which he had concealed from the rest of the world and even much of the Curia. But why tonight of all nights?

The street was oddly quiet. Deathly quiet, thought Donati suddenly. It was a palazzo-lined avenue just off the Via Veneto, the sort of place a priest rarely set foot—especially a priest educated and trained by the Society of Jesus, the intellectually rigorous and sometimes rebellious order to which Donati belonged. His official Vatican car, with its SCV license plates, waited curbside. The driver was from the Corpo della Gendarmeria, the Vatican’s 130-member police force. He headed westward across Rome at an unhurried pace.

He doesn’t know …

On his mobile phone Donati scanned the websites of the leading Italian newspapers. They were in the dark. So were their colleagues in London and New York.

“Turn on the radio, Gianni.”

“Music, Excellency?”

“News, please.”

It was more drivel from Saviano, another rant about how Arab and African immigrants were destroying the country, as if the Italians weren’t more than capable of making a fine mess of things themselves. Saviano had been badgering the Vatican for months about a private audience with the Holy Father. Donati, with no small amount of pleasure, had refused to grant it.

“That’s quite enough, Gianni.”

The radio went blessedly silent. Donati peered out the window of the luxury German-made sedan. It was no way for a Soldier of Christ to travel. He supposed this would be his final journey across Rome by chauffeured limousine. For nearly two decades he had served as something like the chief of staff of the Roman Catholic Church. It had been a tumultuous time—a terrorist attack on St. Peter’s, a scandal involving antiquities and the Vatican Museums, the scourge of priestly sexual abuse—and yet Donati had relished every minute of it. Now, in the blink of an eye, it was over. He was once again a mere priest. He had never felt more alone.

The car crossed the Tiber and turned onto the Via della Conciliazione, the broad boulevard Mussolini had carved through Rome’s slums. The floodlit dome of the basilica, restored to its original glory, loomed in the distance. They followed the curve of Bernini’s Colonnade to St. Anne’s Gate, where a Swiss Guard waved them onto the territory of the city-state. He was dressed in his night uniform: a blue tunic with a white schoolboy collar, knee-length socks, a black beret, a cape against the evening chill. His eyes were dry, his face untroubled.

He doesn’t know …

The car moved slowly up the Via Sant’Anna—past the barracks of the Swiss Guard, the church of St. Anne, the Vatican printing offices, and the Vatican Bank—before coming to a stop next to an archway leading to the San Damaso Courtyard. Donati crossed the cobbles on foot, boarded the most important lift in all of Christendom, and ascended to the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. He hurried along the loggia, a wall of glass on one side, a fresco on the other. A left turn brought him to the papal apartments.

Another Swiss Guard, this one in full dress uniform, stood straight as a ramrod outside the door. Donati walked past him without a word and went inside. Thursday, he was thinking. Why did it have to be a Thursday?

EIGHTEEN YEARS, THOUGHT DONATI AS he surveyed the Holy Father’s private study, and nothing had changed. Only the telephone. Donati had finally managed to convince the Holy Father to replace Wojtyla’s ancient rotary contraption with a modern multiline device. Otherwise, the room was exactly the way the Pole had left it. The same austere wooden desk. The same beige chair. The same worn Oriental rug. The same golden clock and crucifix. Even the blotter and pen set had belonged to Wojtyla the Great. For all the early promise of his papacy—the promise of a kinder, less repressive Church—Pietro Lucchesi had never fully escaped the long shadow of his predecessor.

Donati, by some instinct, marked the time on his wristwatch. It was 12:07 a.m. The Holy Father had retired to the study that evening at half past eight for ninety minutes of reading and writing. Ordinarily, Donati remained at his master’s side or just down the hall in his office. But because it was a Thursday, the one night of the week he had to himself, he had stayed only until nine o’clock.

Do me a favor before you leave, Luigi …

Lucchesi had asked Donati to open the heavy curtains covering the study’s window. It was the same window from which the Holy Father prayed the Angelus each Sunday at noon. Donati had complied with his master’s wishes. He had even opened the shutters so His Holiness could gaze upon St. Peter’s Square while he slaved over his curial paperwork. Now the curtains were tightly drawn. Donati moved them aside. The shutters were closed, too.

The desk was tidy, not Lucchesi’s usual clutter. There was a cup of tea, half empty, a spoon resting on the saucer, that had not been there when Donati departed. Several documents in manila folders were stacked neatly beneath the old retractable lamp. A report from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regarding the financial fallout of the abuse scandal. Remarks for next Wednesday’s General Audience. The first draft of a homily for a forthcoming papal visit to Brazil. Notes for an encyclical on the subject of immigration that was sure to rile Saviano and his fellow travelers in the Italian far right.

One item, however, was missing.

You’ll see that he gets it, won’t you, Luigi?

Donati checked the wastebasket. It was empty. Not so much as a scrap of paper.

“Looking for something, Excellency?”

Donati glanced up and saw Cardinal Domenico Albanese eyeing him from the doorway. Albanese was a Calabrian by birth and by profession a creature of the Curia. He held several senior positions in the Holy See, including president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church. None of that, however, explained his presence in the papal apartments at seven minutes past midnight. Domenico Albanese was the camerlengo. It was his responsibility alone to issue the formal declaration that the throne of St. Peter was vacant.

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