By Arturo Perez-Reverte
Translated by Sonia Soto
He carries a sword for a reason. He is God's agent.
--Bernard de Clairvaux, EULOGY OF THE TEMPLAR MILITIA
At the beginning of May, Lorenzo Quart received the order that would take him to Seville. A low-pressure system was moving toward the eastern Mediterranean, and that morning it was raining on St. Peter's Square, so Quart had to skirt the square, taking shelter under Bernini's colonnade. As he walked up to the Portone di Bronzo, he saw the sentry standing with his halberd in the gloomy marble-and-granite corridor and preparing to ask for identification. The man, tall and strong, with a crew cut, was wearing the red, yellow, and blue-striped Renaissance uniform and black beret of the Swiss Guard. He stared at Quart's well-tailored suit, matching black silk shirt with a Roman collar, and fine, handmade leather shoes. The guard seemed to be thinking, Definitely not one of the gray bagarozzi--the officials of the complex Vatican bureaucracy who passed through every day. But neither was the visitor a high-ranking member of the Curia, a prelate or monsignor. They wore a cross, a purple trim or a ring at the very least, and they definitely didn't arrive on foot in the rain. They entered the Vatican palace by another gate, St. Anne's, in comfortable chauffeur-driven cars. Anyway, despite gray hair cut short like a soldier's, the man looked too young to be a prelate. He stood politely before the guard and searched among the various credit cards in his wallet for his ID. Very tall, slim, sure of himself, he looked calmly at the Swiss. His nails were well kept, and he wore an elegant watch and simple silver cufflinks. He couldn't have been over forty.
"Guten Morgen. Wie ist der Dienst gewesen?"
The guard stiffened and held his halberd straight, not so much at the greeting--in perfect German--as at the sight of the letters IEA in the upper right-hand corner of the man's identity card, next to the tiara and the keys of St. Peter. The Institute for External Affairs was entered in the thick red volume of the Pontifical Yearbook as a department of the secretary of state. But even the newest recruits to the Swiss Guard knew that for two centuries the Institute had been the executive arm of the Holy Office and now coordinated all the secret activities of the Information Services of the Vatican. Members of the Curia, masters of the art of euphemism, referred to it as God's Left Hand. Others called it the Dirty Work Department, but only in a whisper.
"Kommen Sie herein."
Quart walked past the sentry through the ancient Portone di Bronzo and turned right. He came to the wide staircase of the Scala Regia and, after stopping at the checkpoint, mounted the echoing marble steps two at a time. At the top, beyond glass doors guarded by another sentry, was the Courtyard of St. Damaso. He crossed it in the rain, watched by yet more sentries in blue capes. There was a sentry at every door of the Vatican palace. After another short flight of steps Quart stopped outside a door with a discreet metal plate: INSTITUTO PER LE OPERE ESTERIORE. He took a tissue from his pocket and wiped the rain from his face, then bent down and wiped his shoes. He squeezed the tissue into a ball and threw it into a brass ashtray by the door. At last, after checking his shirt cuffs and smoothing his jacket, he rang the bell. Lorenzo Quart was perfectly aware of his failings as a priest: he knew he lacked charity and compassion, for instance. And humility, despite his self-discipline. He may have been without these qualities, but he was thorough and adhered strictly to the rules. This made him valuable to his superiors. The men waiting behind the door knew that Father Quart was as precise and reliable as a Swiss Army knife.
The room was in semidarkness. There was a power outage in the building and the only light--from a window facing the Belvedere Gardens--was dim and gray. A secretary left, closing the door behind him; Quart then entered and stood in the middle of the room. He knew the room well. Its walls were lined with bookshelves and wooden file cabinets partly covering frescoes of the Adriatic, Tyrrhenian, and Ionian seas by Antonio Danti. Ignoring the figure standing at the window, he nodded briefly to a man sitting at a large desk covered with folders.
"Monsignor," he said.
Without a word, Archbishop Paolo Spada, director of the Institute of External Affairs, smiled at him conspiratorially. He was from Lombardy, a strong, solid, almost square man, with powerful shoulders beneath a black suit that bore no emblem of his ecclesiastical rank. With his large head and thick neck, he resembled a truck driver or boxer, or--perhaps more appropriately in Rome--a veteran gladiator who had exchanged his sword and helmet for a priest's habit. This impression was reinforced by his black, bristly hair and huge hands, with no sign of an archbishop's ring. He held a brass letter opener shaped like a dagger and waved it in the direction of the man at the window.
"I assume you know Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz."
Only then did Quart look to his right and greet the motionless figure. Of course he knew him. His Eminence Jerzy Iwaszkiewicz, Bishop of Krakow, promoted to cardinal by his compatriot Pope Wojtyla, and prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known until 1965 as the Holy Office, or Inquisition. Even as a thin dark shadow at the window, Iwaszkiewicz and what he represented were unmistakable.
"Laudeatur Jesus Christus, Eminence."
The director of the Holy Office remained silent. It was Monsignor Spada's husky voice that intervened: "You may sit if you wish, Father Quart. This is an unofficial meeting. His Eminence prefers to remain standing."
He'd used ufficioso for "unofficial," and Quart caught the nuance. In Vatican parlance, there was an important distinction to be made between ufficioso and ufficiale. Ufficioso conveyed the special sense of what is thought rather than said, or even, what is said but always disowned. Quart glanced at the chair the archbishop had indicated, and gently shook his head. He clasped his hands behind his back and stood in the center of the room, calm and relaxed, like a soldier awaiting orders.
Monsignor Spada regarded him approvingly. The whites of the archbishop's small cunning eyes were streaked with brown like those of an old dog. This, together with his solid appearance and bristly hair, had earned him a nickname--the Mastiff. But only the most high-ranking, secure members of the Curia dared use it.
"Pleased to see you again, Father Quart. It's been some time."
Two months, thought Quart. Then, as now, there had been three men in the room: himself, Monsignor Spada, and a well-known banker, Renzo Lupara, chairman of the Italian Continental Bank, one of the banks involved with Vatican finances. Lupara had a spotless reputation. He was handsome, elegant, and a happy family man blessed with a beautiful wife and four children. He had made his fortune using the cover of Vatican banking activities to get money out of the country illegally for businessmen and politicians who were members of the Aurora 7 lodge, of which he himself was a member and holder of the 33rd degree. This was exactly the sort of worldly matter that required Lorenzo Quart's special skills. He spent six months trailing Lupara through offices in Zurich, Gibraltar, and St. Bartholomew in the West Indies, and produced a lengthy report on his findings. Lying open on the desk of the director of the IEA, it left the banker two choices: he could go to prison, or he could make a discreet exit, thus saving the good name of the Continental Bank, the Vatican, not to mention Mrs. Lupara and her four offspring. Staring blankly at the fresco of the Tyrrhenian Sea in the archbishop's office, the banker had clearly grasped the thrust of Spada's speech, which was most tactfully expressed and illustrated with the parable of the bad slave and the talents. Then, despite the salutary moral that, technically, an unrepentant mason always died in mortal sin, Lupara went straight to his beautiful villa in Capri and leaped, apparently without saying confession, from a terrace over the cliff. According to a commemorative plaque, Curzio Malaparte once drank vermouth at that very spot.
"We have a matter suitable for you."
Quart stood listening to his superior, conscious that the dark figure of Iwaszkiewicz was watching him from the window. For ten years, Monsignor Spada had always had a matter suitable for Father Lorenzo Quart. These all came with a place-name and a date--Central America, Latin America, the former Yugoslavia--and were listed in the black leather notebook Quart used as a travel diary. It was a kind of logbook where he had entered details, day by day, of the long journey taken since he acquired Vatican nationality and joined the operations section of the Institute for External Affairs.
"Take a look at this."
The director of the IEA held out a sheet of computer paper. Quart went to take it from him, but at that moment the outline of Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz shifted uneasily at the window. Still holding the paper, Monsignor Spada gave a small smile.
"His Eminence believes this to be a delicate matter," he said, looking at Quart, though his words were obviously intended for the cardinal. "And he considers it unwise to involve anyone else."
Quart drew his hand away without taking the document and looked calmly at his superior.
"Of course," added Spada, his smile almost gone, "His Eminence doesn't know you as I do."
Quart nodded. He asked no questions and showed no impatience; he waited. Spada turned toward Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz. "I told you he was a good soldier," he said.
There was a silence. The cardinal stood against the cloud-filled sky and the rain failing on the Belvedere Gardens. Then he moved away from the window, and the gray light, cast diagonally, revealed a bony jaw, a cassock with a purple collar, and the gold cross on his chest. He extended the hand on which he wore his pastoral ring, took the document from Monsignor Spada, and handed it himself to Lorenzo Quart.
Quart obeyed the order, which was spoken in Italian with a guttural Polish accent. On the sheet of paper were these printed lines:
My audacity is justified by the gravity of the matter. At times the Holy See seems very far away, beyond the reach of the voices of the humble. In Spain, in Seville, there is a place where merchants are threatening the house of God and where a small seventeenth-century church, neglected by both the power of the Church and the lay authorities, kills to defend itself. I beg you, Your Holiness, as a pastor and priest, to cast your eyes upon the most humble sheep in your flock and demand an explanation from those who have abandoned them to their fate.
I beg for your blessing, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
"This appeared on the Pope's personal computer," explained Monsignor Spada when Quart had finished reading. "Anonymously."
"Anonymously," echoed Quart. He was in the habit of repeating certain words aloud, like a helmsman repeating his captain's orders. As if he were giving himself, or others, the chance to think about what had been said. In his world, certain words, certain orders--sometimes no more than an inflection, a nuance, a smile--could turn out to be irreversible.
"The intruder," the archbishop was saying, "cunningly hid his exact location. But our inquiries have confirmed that the message was sent from Seville, from a computer with a modem."
Quart slowly reread the letter. "It mentions a church that..." He broke off, waiting for someone to finish the sentence for him. The part that followed sounded too ridiculous to speak aloud.
"Yes," said Spada, "a church that kills to defend itself."
"Appalling," said Iwaszkiewicz. He didn't specify whether he meant the notion or the church.
The archbishop went on. "We've checked, and it does exist. The church." He glanced quickly at the cardinal and then ran his finger along the edge of the letter opener. "We've also found out about a couple of irregular and unpleasant events."
Quart put the document on the desk. The archbishop looked at it as if the thing was dangerous to touch. Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz picked up the paper, folded it, and slipped it into his pocket. He turned to Quart.
"We want you to go to Seville and find out who sent it."
He was very close. Quart could almost smell his breath. The proximity was unpleasant, but he locked eyes with the cardinal for a few seconds. Then, making an effort not to take a step back, he glanced over the cardinal's shoulder at Spada, who smiled briefly, grateful to Quart for indicating his loyalty with his eyes.
"When His Eminence says we," the archbishop explained, "he is referring not only to himself and me but also, of course, to the will of the Holy Father."
"Which is God's will," added Iwaszkiewicz, almost provocatively. He was still standing very close to Quart, his hard black eyes staring.
"Which is, indeed, God's will," said Monsignor Spada without allowing the slightest hint of irony into his voice. Despite his power, the director of the IEA knew he could only go so far, and his look contained a warning to his subordinate--that they were both swimming in dangerous waters.
"I understand," said Quart and, again meeting the cardinal's eyes, nodded briefly. Iwaszkiewicz seemed to relax slightly. Behind him Spada inclined his head approvingly.
"I told you that Father Quart..."
The Pole raised his hand--the one that bore his cardinal's ring--to interrupt the archbishop. "Yes, I know." He gave Quart a final glance and then moved back to the window. "A good soldier." His tone was weary, ironic. He looked out at the rain as if the matter no longer concerned him.
Spada put the letter opener on his desk, opened a drawer, and took out a thick blue folder.
"Finding out who sent the message is only part of the job," he said. "What do you gather from reading it?"
"It could have been written by a priest," answered Quart without hesitation. Then he paused before adding: "And he might very well be mad."
"It's possible." Spada opened the folder and leafed through a file full of newspaper clippings. "But he's a computer expert, and what he says is true. That church does have problems. And causes problems. In the last three months, two people have died there. There's a stink of scandal about the whole business."
"It's more than that," said the cardinal without turning. Again he was a dark shape against the gray light of the window.
"His Eminence," explained Spada, "believes that the Holy Office should intervene." He paused deliberately. "As in the old days."
"The old days," repeated Quart. He'd never much liked the methods of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For an instant he saw the face of Nelson Corona, a priest from the Brazilian favelas, a proponent of liberation theology. Quart had supplied the wood for his coffin.
"The thing is," Spada was saying, "the Holy Father wants the investigation to be appropriate to the situation. He believes it would be excessive to involve the Holy Office. Like swatting a fly with a cannon." He paused and turned to Iwaszkiewicz. "Or a flamethrower."
"We don't burn people at the stake anymore," the cardinal said, still looking out the window. He seemed to regret it.
"In any case," the archbishop went on, "it's been decided, for the time being"--he stressed these last words--"that the Institute for External Affairs is to carry out the investigation. You, in other words. And only if more serious evidence emerges is the matter to be referred to the official arm of the Inquisition."
"I would remind you, brother in Christ, that the Inquisition hasn't existed for thirty years," the cardinal said.
"You're right. Forgive me, Your Eminence. I meant to say the official arm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
Monsignor Spada fell silent a moment. His look at Quart seemed to say, Beware of this Pole. When he spoke again, he was reserved and formal. "You, Father Quart, are to spend a few days in Seville. You are to do everything possible to find out who sent the message. Maintain contact with the local church authority. And above all, conduct the investigation in a prudent, discreet manner." He placed another file on top of the first one. "This contains all the information we have. Do you have any questions?"
"Only one, Monsignor."
"The world is full of churches beset by problems and the threat of scandal. What's special about this one?"
The archbishop glanced at Iwaszkiewicz, but the inquisitor said nothing. Spada leaned over the folders on the desk, as if searching for the right words. "I suppose," he said at last, "it's because the Holy Father appreciates that the hacker went to a lot of trouble."
"I wouldn't say that he appreciates it," said Iwaszkiewicz distantly.
Spada shrugged. "Then let's say His Holiness has decided to give the matter his personal attention."
"Despite the hacker's insolence," added the Pole.
"Yes," said the archbishop. "For some reason the message on his private computer has aroused his curiosity. He wants to be kept informed."
"To be kept informed," repeated Quart.
"Once I'm in Seville, am I to consult the local church authority as well?"
"Your only authority in this matter is Monsignor Spada," said the cardinal. At that moment, the power returned. A large chandelier lit up the room, making the cardinal's diamond cross and ring glint as he pointed at the director of the IEA. "You report to him and only to him." The light softened the angles of his face slightly, blurring the obstinate line of his thin, hard lips. Lips that had kissed only vestments, stone, metal.
Quart nodded. "Yes, Eminence. But the diocese of Seville has an ordinary: the archbishop. What are my instructions with regard to him?"
Iwaszkiewicz linked his hands beneath his gold cross and looked at his thumbnails. "We are all brothers in Christ. Good relations, cooperation even, would be desirable. Once there, however, you will have a dispensation from your vow of obedience. The nunciature of Madrid and the local archbishopric have received instructions."
Quart turned to Spada. "Perhaps His Eminence is unaware," he said, "that I am not regarded fondly by the archbishop of Seville...."
Two years ago, a disagreement over security measures during the Pope's visit to the Andalusian capital had caused a confrontation between Quart and His Grace Aquilino Corvo, archbishop of Seville.
"We know of your problems with Monsignor Corvo," said Iwaszkiewicz. "But the archbishop is a man of the Church. He will be capable of putting the higher good before his personal dislikes."
"We're all part of the Church of Peter," said Spada, and Quart realized that although Iwaszkiewicz was a dangerous player on the team, the IEA was in a strong position in this case. Help me keep it that way, said his superior's expression.
"The archbishop of Seville has been informed, out of courtesy," said the Pole. "But you have full rein to obtain the information you need, and you may use whatever means you think necessary."
"Legitimate means, of course," said Spada.
Quart forced himself not to smile.
Iwaszkiewicz was watching them both. "That's right," he said after a moment. "Legitimate means, of course." He touched his eyebrow with a finger, as if to say, Take care with your little schoolboy games. One slip, and I'll get you both.
"You must remember, Father Quart," the cardinal went on, "that the purpose of your mission is only to gather information. You are to remain strictly neutral. Later, depending on what you discover, we'll determine how to proceed. For the time being, whatever you find, you must avoid any publicity or scandal. With God's help, of course." He paused to look at the fresco of the Tyrrhenian Sea and moved his head from side to side as if reading some secret message there. "Remember that nowadays the truth doesn't always set us free. I refer to the truth that is made public."
Imperiously, abruptly, he held out the hand that wore the ring. He stared at Quart with a taut mouth and dark, menacing eyes. But Quart was the kind of soldier who chose his own master, so he waited a second longer than necessary before dropping on one knee to kiss the ruby ring. The cardinal raised two fingers and slowly made the sign of the Cross over him, which seemed more a threat than a blessing. Then he left the room.
Quart breathed out and stood up, brushing the trouser leg he'd knelt on. He looked inquiringly at Spada.
"What do you think?" asked the director of the IEA. He'd picked up the letter opener again and was smiling anxiously at the door through which Iwaszkiewicz had left.
"Officially or unofficially, Monsignor?"
"I wouldn't have wanted to fall into his hands two or three hundred years ago," said Quart.
Spada's smile widened. "Why not?" he asked.
"He seems a very hard man."
"Hard?" The archbishop glanced again at the door, and Quart saw the smile disappear slowly from his lips. "If it wasn't being uncharitable toward a brother in Christ, I'd say His Eminence was an absolute bastard."
Together they walked down the stone steps that led to the Via del Belvedere, where Monsignor Spada's official car was waiting. The archbishop had an appointment with Cavalleggeri and Sons, near where Quart lived. For a couple of centuries the Cavalleggeri had been tailors to the entire upper echelons of the Curia, including the Pope. The workshop was on the Via Sistina, near the Piazza di Spagna, and the archbishop offered Quart a lift. They drove out through St. Anne's Gate, and through the misted car windows they saw the Swiss Guards standing to attention as they passed. Quart smiled, amused--Spada wasn't popular with the Swiss in the Vatican. An IEA investigation into alleged cases of homosexuality in the Guard had resulted in half a dozen dismissals. And just to pass the time, the archbishop also occasionally dreamed up perverse schemes to test internal security. Such as slipping one of his agents into the Vatican palace, dressed as a member of the public and carrying a phial of mock sulphuric acid intended for the fresco of the Crucifixion of St. Peter in the Pauline Chapel. The intruder had himself photographed standing on a bench in front of the painting, grinning from ear to ear. Spada delivered the photo, together with a rather teasing note, to the colonel of the Swiss Guard. That was six weeks ago, and heads were still rolling.
"He's called Vespers," said Spada.
The car turned right and then left after passing under the arches of the Porta Angelica. Quart stared at the chauffeur, who was separated from them by a glass partition.
"Is that all the information you have about him?"
"He might or might not be a priest. And he has access to a computer with a modem."
"Your Reverence isn't giving me much to go on."
"I'm telling you what I know."
The Fiat made its way through the traffic on the Via della Conciliazione. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clearing slowly toward the east, over the Pincio Gardens. Quart adjusted the crease in his trousers and looked at his watch even though he didn't particularly care what time it was.
"What's going on in Seville?"
Spada took a few moments to answer. He was staring absently at the street. "There's a baroque church, Our Lady of the Tears. It's old, small, dilapidated. It was being restored, but the money ran out. It seems it's situated in an area of great historical importance, Santa Cruz."
"I know Santa Cruz. It's the old Jewish quarter, rebuilt at the turn of the century. Very near the cathedral and the archbishop's palace." Quart frowned at the thought of Monsignor Corvo. "A lovely district."
"It must be, because the threat of the church falling into ruins and the halting of the work have stirred up rather passionate feelings. The city council wants to expropriate, and an aristocratic Andalusian family with links to one of the banks has also dug out age-old rights of some sort."
They passed the Castle of Sant' Angelo, and the Fiat moved along the Lungotevere toward the Ponte Umberto I. Quart glanced at the dun-colored walls which he felt symbolized the worldly side of the Church he served. He pictured Clement VII gathering up his cassock, running to take refuge there while Charles V's soldiers plundered Rome. Memento mori. Remember you must die.
"What about the archbishop of Seville? I'm surprised he's not involved."
The director of the IEA was looking at the gray waters of the Tiber through the rain-spattered window. "He's an interested party, so they don't trust him here. Our good Monsignor Corvo is trying to do some speculating of his own. His concern is, of course, only for the material benefit of Our Holy Mother the Church. Meanwhile, Our Lady of the Tears is falling to bits and nobody's repairing her. It seems she's worth more demolished than standing."
"Does the church have a priest?"
At this the archbishop sighed. "Yes, astonishingly. There's a fairly elderly priest in charge there. Apparently he's a difficult character and, according to our information, all his appeals have been ignored by our good friend Corvo. Any suspicions about Vespers must point to him or his assistant, a young priest who's about to be transferred to another diocese." Spada smiled reluctantly. "It wouldn't be unreasonable to suspect that one of the two priests or both were responsible for this rather original method of reaching the Holy Father."
"It must be them."
"Maybe. But it has to be proved."
"And if I get proof?"
The director of the IEA frowned and lowered his voice. "Then they will bitterly regret their inopportune use of computers."
"What about the two who died?"
"That's the awkward part. Without it, this would have been just one more conflict over a plot of land involving speculators and a great deal of money. The church would simply have been pulled down when it became too dilapidated and the money from the sale of the land used for the greater glory of God. But these deaths complicate matters." Spada's eyes, streaked with brown, gazed distractedly out the window. The Fiat was now caught in traffic leading up to the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. "Within a very short time two people involved with Our Lady of the Tears have died. One of them was a municipal architect carrying out a survey of the building for the purpose of declaring it a ruin and ordering it to be vacated. The other was a priest, Archbishop Corvo's secretary. He was there, apparently, putting pressure on the parish priest on behalf of His Grace the Archbishop."
"I don't believe it."
The Mastiff turned to look at Quart. "Well, you'd better start believing it. As from today you're dealing with it."
They were stuck in a huge and noisy traffic jam. The archbishop craned his neck and glanced up at the sky. "Let's get out and walk. There's plenty of time. I'll buy you a drink in that cafe you like so much."
"The Greco? That would suit me, Monsignor. But your tailor awaits. Cavalleggeri himself. Not even the Holy Father would dare keep him waiting."
The prelate, already getting out of the car, laughed huskily. "That's one of my rare privileges, Father Quart. After all, not even the Holy Father knows some of the things I know about Cavalleggeri."
Lorenzo Quart was fond of old cafes. Almost twelve years earlier, when he'd just arrived in Rome to study at the Gregorian University, he'd been immediately captivated by the Caffe Greco with its imperturbable waiters and two-hundred-year history as a port of call for travelers such as Byron and Stendhal. Now he lived just around the corner, in a top-floor apartment rented by the IEA at 119 Via del Babuino. From the small terrace he had a good view of the church of Trinita dei Monti and the azaleas in bloom on the Spanish Steps. The Greco was his favorite place to read. He'd go and sit there at quiet times of the day, beneath the bust of Victor Emmanuel II, at a table said to have been Giacomo Casanova's and Louis of Bavaria's.
"How did Monsignor Corvo take his secretary's death?"
Spada was peering at his vermouth. There weren't many people in the cafe: a couple of regulars reading the paper at tables at the back, a smartly dressed woman with Armani and Valentino shopping bags talking into a cellular phone, and some English tourists taking photos of each other at the bar. The woman with the phone seemed to make the archbishop uncomfortable. He glanced disapprovingly at her before answering Quart.
"He took it badly. Very badly, in fact. He swore to raze the church."
Quart shook his head. "That sounds extreme. A building doesn't have a will. And certainly not to cause harm."
"I hope not." The Mastiff looked serious. "Better for everyone that way."
"You don't think Monsignor Corvo's simply looking for an excuse to demolish the church and have done with it?"
"It's definitely an excuse. But there's something else. The archbishop has a personal grudge against that church, or against its priest. Or both."
He fell silent and regarded the picture on the wall: a Romantic landscape depicting Rome when it was still the city of the pope as monarch, with Vespasian's arch in the foreground and the dome of St. Peter's in the background, surrounded by roofs and ancient walls.
"Were there any suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths?" asked Quart.
The archbishop shrugged. "It depends on what you consider suspicious. The architect fell from the roof, and a stone from the vault fell on the priest."
"Definitely spectacular," said Quart, raising his glass to his lips.
"And bloody. The secretary was quite a mess." Spada pointed at the ceiling. "Imagine a watermelon crushed by a ten-kilo chunk of cornice. Splat."
Quart winced. He could picture it. "What about the Spanish police?" he asked.
"They say both were accidents. That's what makes the line about `a church that kills to defend itself' so disturbing." Spada frowned. "And now, thanks to some cheeky computer hacker, the Holy Father is worried about it too. So it's the job of the IEA to ease his anxiety."
The archbishop laughed under his breath. His profile reminded Quart of an old engraving of the centurion who crucified Christ. His big, strong hands now rested in front of him on the table. Beneath the rough exterior of a Lombard peasant, the Mastiff held the key to all the secrets of a state that had three thousand employees in the Vatican itself, three thousand archbishops around the world, and responsibility for the spiritual guidance of a billion souls. It was rumored that during the last conclave he'd dug up the medical records of all the candidates to the papacy and examined their cholesterol levels in order to get an idea how long the new pontiff would last. The director of the IEA had forecast Wojtyla's investiture and the swing to the right even while the smoke issuing from the Sistine Chapel was still black.
"Why us?" he said at last. "Because in theory we have the Pope's confidence. Any Pope's. But there's more than one faction vying for power in the Vatican, and lately the Holy Office has been gaining in influence at our expense. We used to work together as brothers in Christ." He waved his hand dismissively. "You know about that better than anyone."
Quart did indeed. Until the scandal that caused the entire financial apparatus of the Vatican to be dismantled and until the swing of the Polish team toward orthodoxy, relations between the IEA and the Holy Office had been cordial. But the hounding and defeat of the liberal element had unleashed a pitiless settling of old scores within the Curia.
"These are difficult times," the archbishop said with a sigh, absorbed in the picture on the wall. Then he sipped his drink and sat back in his chair, clicking his tongue. "Only the Pope is allowed to die there," he added, pointing to Michelangelo's dome in the background. "Forty hectares containing the most powerful state on earth, but with the structure of an absolutist medieval monarchy. A throne now bolstered only by a religion that has become little more than a show--televised papal visits and that totus tuus business. But underneath it all there is the reactionary fanaticism of Iwaszkiewicz and company."
He looked away from the picture almost contemptuously. "Now it's a fight to the death," he went on somberly. "The Church can function only if its authority goes unchallenged and its structure remains compact. The trick is keeping it that way. In that task, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is such a valuable weapon that it's been growing in influence since the eighties, when Wojtyla took to going up Mount Sinai and chatting to God every day." His mastiff eyes looked around vaguely, in a pause charged with irony. "The Holy Father is infallible even in his errors, and reviving the Inquisition is a good way of keeping the dissidents quiet. Who remembers Kung, Castillo, Schillebeeck, or Boff now? Throughout history the Church of Peter has resolved its struggles by silencing the disobedient or eliminating them. And we still use the same weapons: defamation, excommunication, and the stake.... What are you thinking, Father Quart? You're very quiet."
"I always am, Monsignor."
"True. Always loyal and careful, isn't that so? Or should I say professional?" The prelate's tone was lighthearted, if grudging. "Always that damned discipline that you wear like chain mail ... You would have got on well with Bernard de Clairvaux and his gang of Knights Templar. If you'd been captured by Saladin, I'm sure you'd rather have had your throat cut than renounce your faith. But not from devotion, from pride."
Quart laughed. "I was thinking of His Eminence Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz," he said. "They don't condemn people to the stake anymore." He swallowed the last of his drink. "Or excommunicate them."
Spada grunted ferociously. "There are other ways of casting someone into darkness. Even we've done it. You have yourself."
The archbishop fell silent, watching Quart's eyes. He wondered if he'd gone too far. But he'd spoken the truth. In the early days, when they hadn't been in opposing camps, Quart supplied Iwaszkiewicz's henchmen with ammunition. Again Quart saw Nelson Corona--his myopic, frightened eyes, his glasses misted, sweat running down his face. He'd been unfrocked a week later, and a week after that he was dead. That was four years ago, but the memory was as sharp as ever.
"Yes, I have," he said.
Spada studied Quart, curious. "Corona, still?" he asked gently. Quart smiled. "May I speak frankly, Monsignor?"
"Not just him. Also Ortega, the Spaniard. And the other one, Souza."
There had been three priests, proponents of so-called liberation theology. They had opposed the reactionary tide from Rome. And in all three cases the IEA had done the dirty work for Iwaszkiewicz and his Congregation. Corona, Ortega, and Souza were prominent progressive priests working in marginal dioceses, poor districts of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. They believed in saving man here on earth, not waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven. Once they'd been identified as targets, the IEA set to work, finding the weak points to put pressure on. Ortega and Souza soon gave in. As for Corona--a popular hero in the favelas of Rio and the scourge of local police and politicians--it had been necessary to remind him of certain dubious details of his work with young drug addicts. Quart had spent several weeks investigating the matter, not leaving a stone unturned. But the Brazilian priest refused to mend his ways. Hated by the extreme right, Corona was murdered by a death squad seven days after he was suspended a divinis and expelled from his diocese. His photo was on the front pages of all the papers. They found the body on a rubbish dump near his former parish. His hands were tied, and he'd been shot in the back of the head. COMUNISTA E VEADO: Communist and fag, read the sign around his neck.
"Father Quart. Corona forgot his vow of obedience and the priorities of his ministry. He was asked to reflect on his mistakes. That's all. But things got out of hand. It had nothing to do with us. It was Iwaszkiewicz and his Congregation. You were just obeying orders. What happened wasn't your fault."
"With all due respect, Your Grace, it was. Corona's dead."
"Well, we both know others who died. The financier Lupara, for instance."
"But Corona was one of us, Monsignor."
"One of us, one of us ... There is no `us.' We're all on our own. We answer to God and the Pope." The archbishop paused deliberately. "In that order." Popes died, but God was immortal.
Quart looked away, as if he wanted to change the subject. Then he lowered his head. "Your Grace is right," he said, inscrutable.
Exasperated, the archbishop clenched his huge fist as if to bang the table. But he didn't raise it. "Sometimes," he said, "I detest your damned discipline."
"What am I to say to that, Monsignor?"
"Tell me what you think."
"In situations like these I try not to think."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm ordering you to tell me."
Quart said nothing for a moment, then shrugged. "I still believe that Corona was one of us. And an honest man."
"A man with weaknesses."
"Maybe. What happened to him happened precisely because of that, a weakness, a mistake. But we all make mistakes."
Spada laughed. "Not you, Father Quart. I've been waiting for you to make a mistake for ten years. The day it happens, I'll have the pleasure of giving you a hair shirt, fifty lashes, and a hundred Hail Marys as punishment." Suddenly his tone became acid. "How do you manage always to be so virtuous?" He passed his hand over his bristly hair. He shook his head, not waiting for an answer. "But about that unfortunate business in Rio, you know the Almighty works in mysterious ways. It was just bad luck."
"Luck or not, Monsignor, it's a fact. It happened. And some day I may have to answer for what I did."
"When that day comes, God will judge you as he judges all of us. Until then--only in official matters, of course--you know you have my general absolution, sub conditione."
He raised one of his large hands in a brief gesture of blessing. Quart smiled.
"I'll need more than that. But can Your Grace assure me that we would do the same today?"
"By `we' do you mean the Church?"
"I mean the Institute for External Affairs. Would we be quite so quick now to bring those three heads on a tray to Cardinal Iwaszkiewicz?"
"I don't know. A strategy consists of tactics." The prelate broke off, looking worried, and glanced sharply at Quart. "I hope none of this will affect your work in Seville."
"It won't. At least I don't think so. But you did ask me to speak frankly."
"Listen. You and I are both career churchmen. But Iwaszkiewicz has either bought or intimidated everyone in the Vatican." He looked around, as if the Pole might appear at any moment. "Only the IEA hasn't yet fallen into his hands. The Secretary of State, Azopardi, went to college with me. He's the only one who still puts in a good word for us to the Holy Father."
"You have many friends, Your Grace. You've done favors for a lot of people."
Spada laughed sceptically. "In the Curia, favors are forgotten and slights remembered. We live in a court of tattling eunuchs, where promotion comes only with the support of others. Everyone rushes to stab a fallen man, but otherwise nobody dares do anything. Remember when Pope Luciani died: to determine the hour of death it was necessary to take his temperature, but nobody had the guts to stick a thermometer in his rectum."
"But the Cardinal Secretary of State..."
The Mastiff shook his bristly head. "Azopardi is my friend, but only in the sense that the word has here. He has to look out for his own interests. Iwaszkiewicz is very powerful." He fell silent for a few moments, as if weighing Iwaszkiewicz's power against his own. "Even the hacker is a minor matter," he said at last. "At any other time it wouldn't have occurred to them to give us this job. Strictly speaking, it's a matter for the archbishop of Seville and the parishioners of his diocese. But with the situation as it is, the slightest thing gets blown out of all proportion. The Holy Father shows an interest, and it's enough to set off another round of internal jockeying. So I've chosen the best man for the job. What I need above all is information. We need to present a report this thick"--he held his thumb and index finger five centimeters apart--"which leaves us looking good. Let them see that we're doing something. It'll satisfy His Holiness and keep the Pole quiet."
A group of Japanese tourists peered inside the cafe admiringly. A few of them smiled and bowed politely when they saw the priests. Monsignor Spada smiled back absently.
"I think highly of you, Father Quart," he went on. "That's why I'm letting you know what's at stake here, before you leave for Seville.... I don't know whether you're always `the good soldier,' but you've never given me reason to think otherwise. I've kept an eye on you since you were a student at the Gregorian University, and I've grown fond of you. Which may cost you dear, because if I fall from grace someday, you'll be dragged down with me. Or you might go first. You know how it is, the pawns are sacrificed."
Quart nodded, impassive. "What if we win?"
"We'll never really win. As your fellow countryman Saint Ignatius Loyola would have said, we've chosen what God has to spare and others don't want: torment and struggle. Our victories only postpone the next attack. Iwaszkiewicz will be a cardinal for the rest of his life, a prince by protocol, a bishop whose investiture is irrevocable, a citizen of the smallest and--thanks to men like you and me--most secure state in the world. And, for our sins, one day he may even be pope. But we'll never be papabili, and possibly never even cardinals. As they say in the Curia, we've got an impressive CV but not much of a pedigree. We do have some power, however, and we know how to fight. That makes us formidable opponents, and for all his fanaticism and arrogance, Iwaszkiewicz knows it. We can't be crushed like the Jesuits and the liberals in the Curia, to the benefit of the Opus Dei, the fundamentalist Mafia, or God on Sinai. Tow tuus is all very well, but they'd better not mess with me. Mastiffs don't go down without a fight."
The archbishop looked at his watch and called the waiter. He put his hand on Quart's arm to stop him paying the bill and put some banknotes on the table. Eighteen thousand lire exactly, Quart noticed. The Mastiff never left a tip. His childhood had been poor.
"It's our duty to fight, Father Quart," he said as he stood up. "Because we're right, not Iwaszkiewicz. He and his friends would like to go back to imprisoning and torturing people, but the Church can be strong and retain authority without that. I remember when Luciani was appointed pope--he lasted thirty-three days. That was twenty years ago, before your time, but I was already involved in this kind of work." The archbishop frowned. "When he made that speech just after his investiture, about the Almighty being `more of a mother than a father,' Iwaszkiewicz and his hard-liners were climbing the walls. And I thought to myself, This isn't going to work. Luciani was too soft. I suppose the Holy Spirit got rid of him before he could cause too much trouble. The press called him the smiling pope, but everyone in the Vatican knew his was a strange smile." He grinned mischievously, baring his teeth. "A nervous smile."
The sun had come out and was drying the paving stones of the Piazza di Spagna. Flower sellers were removing tarpaulins from their stalls, and tourists were coming to sit on the still damp steps leading to Trinita dei Monti. Quart walked up the steps with the archbishop. He was dazzled by the light--an intense Roman light, like a good omen. Halfway up, a tourist--a young woman with a rucksack on her back, in jeans and a striped T-shirt--was sitting on one of the steps. She took a photo of Quart as the two priests came level with her. A flash and a smile. Spada half-turned, irritated but also amused. "Do you know, Father Quart? You're too good-looking to be a priest. It would be crazy to appoint you to a convent."
"I'm sorry, Monsignor."
"Don't be sorry, it's not your fault. But how do you manage? To keep temptation at bay, I mean. You know, woman as the Devil's creation and all that."
Quart laughed. "Prayer and cold showers, Your Grace."
"You always follow the rules, don't you? Aren't you bored with being so good?"
"That's a trick question, Monsignor."
Spada looked at him out of the corner of his eye and nodded approvingly. "All right. You win. Your virtue passes the test. But I haven't lost hope. One day I'll catch you out."
"Of course, Monsignor. For my countless sins."
"Shut up. That's an order."
"Very good, Your Reverence."
When they reached the obelisk of Pius VI, the archbishop looked back at the girl in the striped T-shirt. "Regarding your eternal salvation," he said, "remember the old proverb: `If a priest can keep his hands off money and his legs out of a woman's bed until he's fifty, he has every chance of saving his soul.'"
"That's what I'm striving for, Monsignor. I have twelve years to go."
They passed the impressive facade of the Hassler Villa Medici Hotel and then turned down the Via Sistina. The only sign on the tailor's door was a discreet plate. None but elite members of the Curia passed through that door. With the exception of the popes. They alone enjoyed the privilege of having Cavalleggeri and Sons--granted a minor title of nobility by Pope Leo XIII--come to their residence to take measurements.
The archbishop turned and scrutinized the priest's perfectly cut suit, silver cufflinks, and black silk shirt. "Listen, Quart," he said, and the name without a title sounded harsh. "Pride is a sin to which we're not immune, but there's more to it than that. Over and above our personal weaknesses, you and I--and even Iwaszkiewicz and his sinister brotherhood, and the Holy Father with his maddening fundamentalism--we're all responsible for the faith of millions of people. Faith in a Church that is infallible and eternal. And that faith--which is sincere, whatever we cynical members of the Curia might think--is our only justification. It absolves us. Without it, you, I, Iwaszkiewicz, we'd all be hypocritical bastards. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Quart returned the Mastiff's look evenly. "Perfectly, Monsignor," he said. Almost instinctively he had adopted the rigid stance of a Swiss Guard before an official: his arms at his sides, thumbs lined up with his trouser seams.
Spada watched him a moment longer, then seemed to relax slightly. There was even a hint of a smile on his face.
"I hope you do," he said, his smile widening. "Because when I stand at the gates of Heaven and the grumpy fisherman comes out to greet me, I'll say: Peter, be lenient with this old soldier of Christ who's worked so hard bailing out water from your ship. After all, even Moses had to resort to Joshua's sword. And you yourself stabbed Malchus to defend our Teacher."
It was Quart's turn to laugh. "In that case I'd like to go first, Monsignor. I don't think they'll accept the same excuse twice."