The Order Page 2

“Where is he?” asked Donati.

“In the kingdom of heaven,” intoned the cardinal.

“And the body?”

Had Albanese not heard the sacred calling, he might have moved slabs of marble for his living or hurled carcasses in a Calabrian abattoir. Donati followed him along a brief corridor, into the bedroom. Three more cardinals waited in the half-light: Marcel Gaubert, José Maria Navarro, and Angelo Francona. Gaubert was the secretary of state, effectively the prime minister and chief diplomat of the world’s smallest country. Navarro was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, defender against heresy. Francona, the oldest of the three, was the dean of the College of Cardinals. As such, he would preside over the next conclave.

It was Navarro, a Spaniard of noble stock, who addressed Donati first. Though he had lived and worked in Rome for nearly a quarter century, he still spoke Italian with a pronounced Castilian accent. “Luigi, I know how painful this must be for you. We were his faithful servants, but you were the one he loved the most.”

Cardinal Gaubert, a thin Parisian with a feline face, nodded profoundly at the Spaniard’s curial bromide, as did the three laymen standing in the shadow at the edge of the room: Dr. Octavio Gallo, the Holy Father’s personal physician; Lorenzo Vitale, chief of the Corpo della Gendarmeria; and Colonel Alois Metzler, commandant of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. Donati, it seemed, was the last to arrive. It was he, the private secretary, who should have summoned the senior princes of the Church to the bedside of the dead pope, not the camerlengo. Suddenly, he was racked by guilt.

But when Donati looked down at the figure stretched upon the bed, his guilt gave way to overwhelming grief. Lucchesi was still wearing his white soutane, though his slippers had been removed and his zucchetto was nowhere to be seen. Someone had placed the hands upon the chest. They were clutching his rosary. The eyes were closed, the jaw slack, but there was no evidence of pain on his face, nothing to suggest he had suffered. Indeed, Donati would not have been surprised if His Holiness woke suddenly and inquired about his evening.

He was still wearing his white soutane …

Donati had been the keeper of the Holy Father’s schedule from the first day of his pontificate. The evening routine rarely varied. Dinner from seven to eight thirty. Paperwork in the study from eight thirty until ten, followed by fifteen minutes of prayer and reflection in his private chapel. Typically, he was in bed by half past ten, usually with an English detective novel, his guilty pleasure. Devices and Desires by P. D. James lay on the bedside table beneath his reading glasses. Donati opened it to the page marked.

Forty-five minutes later Rickards was back at the scene of the murder …

Donati closed the book. The supreme pontiff, he reckoned, had been dead for nearly two hours, perhaps longer. Calmly, he asked, “Who found him? Not one of the household nuns, I hope.”

“It was me,” replied Cardinal Albanese.

“Where was he?”

“His Holiness departed this life from the chapel. I discovered him a few minutes after ten. As for the exact time of his passing …” The Calabrian shrugged his heavy shoulders. “I cannot say, Excellency.”

“Why wasn’t I contacted immediately?”

“I searched for you everywhere.”

“You should have called my mobile.”

“I did. Several times, in fact. There was no answer.”

The camerlengo, thought Donati, was being untruthful. “And what were you doing in the chapel, Eminence?”

“This is beginning to sound like an inquisition.” Albanese’s eyes moved briefly to Cardinal Navarro before settling once more on Donati. “His Holiness asked me to pray with him. I accepted his invitation.”

“He phoned you directly?”

“In my apartment,” said the camerlengo with a nod.

“At what time?”

Albanese lifted his eyes to the ceiling, as though trying to recall a minor detail that had slipped his mind. “Nine fifteen. Perhaps nine twenty. He asked me to come a few minutes after ten. When I arrived …”

Donati looked down at the man stretched lifeless upon the bed. “And how did he get here?”

“I carried him.”


“His Holiness bore the weight of the Church on his shoulders,” said Albanese, “but in death he was light as a feather. Because I could not reach you, I summoned the secretary of state, who in turn rang Cardinals Navarro and Francona. I then called Dottore Gallo, who made the pronouncement. Death by a massive heart attack. His second, was it not? Or was it his third?”

Donati looked at the papal physician. “At what time did you make the declaration, Dottore Gallo?”

“Eleven ten, Excellency.”

Cardinal Albanese cleared his throat gently. “I’ve made a slight adjustment to the time line in my official statement. If it is your wish, Luigi, I can say that you were the one who found him.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Donati dropped to his knees next to the bed. In life, the Holy Father had been elfin. Death had diminished him further. Donati remembered the day the conclave unexpectedly chose Lucchesi, the Patriarch of Venice, to be the two hundred and sixty-fifth supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Room of Tears he had chosen the smallest of the three ready-made cassocks. Even so, he had seemed like a small boy wearing his father’s shirt. As he stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter’s, his head was barely visible above the balustrade. The vaticanisti christened him Pietro the Improbable. Church hardliners had referred to him derisively as Pope Accidental.

After a moment Donati felt a hand on his shoulder. It was like lead. Therefore, it had to be Albanese’s.

“The ring, Excellency.”

It was once the responsibility of the camerlengo to destroy the dead pope’s Ring of the Fisherman in the presence of the College of Cardinals. But like the three taps to the papal forehead with a silver hammer, the practice had been done away with. Lucchesi’s ring, which he seldom wore, would merely be scored with two deep cuts in the sign of the cross. Other traditions, however, remained in place, such as the immediate locking and sealing of the papal apartments. Even Donati, Lucchesi’s only private secretary, would be barred from entering once the body was removed.

Still on his knees, Donati opened the drawer of the bedside table and grasped the heavy golden ring. He surrendered it to Cardinal Albanese, who placed it in a velvet pouch. Solemnly, he declared, “Sede vacante.”

The throne of St. Peter was now empty. The Apostolic Constitution dictated that Cardinal Albanese would serve as temporary caretaker of the Roman Catholic Church during the interregnum, which ended with the election of a new pope. Donati, a mere titular archbishop, would have no say in the matter. In fact, now that his master was gone, he was without portfolio or power, answerable only to the camerlengo.

“When do you intend to release the statement?” asked Donati.

“I was waiting for you to arrive.”

“Might I review it?”

“Time is of the essence. If we delay any longer …”

“Of course, Eminence.” Donati placed his hand atop Lucchesi’s. It was already cold. “I’d like to have a moment alone with him.”

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