A wail was heard throughout the halls and corridors of the Vatican in Rome.
As it stirred to greet another day, two Svizzera Guardia reacted and followed the cry through St Peter’s Basilica to the Papal Sacristy.
An Augustinian friar in the black robe of the Order stood in the center of the room wringing his hands, frozen in horror.
The guardsmen didn’t blame him.
On the floor of the robing room, blood pooling around his head, lay the Custode del Sacrario Apostolico, an Augustinian friar-priest, the Rector of the Vatican parish.
They crossed themselves.
Jeremy Gasser knelt beside the dead man while his partner stood by the distressed friar.
“His head is caved in.” He grimaced as he rose to his feet.
Elias looked around. “The assassani may still be here. “I’ll search the closet.” He made his way up the short flight of steps to the room that housed ceremonial vestments embroidered with gold thread, jeweled miters and gold, bejeweled rings belonging to popes past.
As a precaution, with his gloved hands he pulled out drawers lined with velvet or felt that held the crosiers which screwed into the top of the pastoral staffs used by different Popes.
Returning to the Sacristy he turned the friar who was still looking in horror at his dead superior. “Do you have keys for all the doors?”
Brother Stefano shook his head and pointed shakily to the body on the floor. “The Sacristan and the Sub-Sacristan only are permitted.”
If the keys were on the body it could not be searched until forensics had done their job.
“Where is the Holy Father?” His protection was their first priority.
The monk shook his head in dismay. “I do not know.”
“Is he due here?”
“Not that I am aware of.” His head shook from side to side as he crossed himself.
“I’ve alerted the guardsman.” He pocketed his mobile phone. “He will notify the Commandant.”
“I’ll try the other rooms.” Elias pulled out his Sig P220 sidearm and moved cautiously towards another door. Hidden passageways led to other rooms with precious irreplaceable accoutrements of the business of being Il Papa to over one billion Catholics.
To his surprise it was unlocked so he moved through into the next room which contained more of the living treasures that now belonged to the present Pope.
“Nothing.” Upon his return to the robing room he looked down at the body for the weapon.
It is the duty of the Apostolic Swiss Guards to protect the pope and the palaces of Vatican City, and the duty of the Vaticana Gendarmeria to secure the other buildings and investigate any homicides.
With this in mind, Rudolf Rudolf Gallus, Commandant of the Pontifical Corps rang the Commander of the Corpo della Gendarmeria dello Stato della Città del Vaticano.
“We have a situation,” he said without preamble. “The Papal Sacristan has been murdered in the Sacristy.”
“Dolce Maria Madre di Dio.” Gianni Donati made the sign of the cross. The only other murder in the pocket sized state had been that of the newly appointed Commander of the Swiss Guards in 1998, when a guard had shot him and his wife. Rumors had abounded about the reason.
Why did this happen on my watch? He muttered to himself, having been appointed after the incident. There had been no blemish on his record until today. Mannagia.
Normally the Corps dealt with irate tourists whom pesky pickpockets had relieved of their wallets and handbags..
“The details are sketchy,” Rudolf continued. “All I know is he is dead. Meet me there.”
Both men disconnected and made their way speedily to the Sacristy, busily dialing their deputies. “Get a detachment to the Sacristy and lock it down tight.” Gianni barked out the order. “There’s been a murder.”
His deputy’s training kicked in and he grabbed two of his men. “Follow me.”
The Pontifical Swiss Guards who share security duties with the Gendarmeria Corp are a highly trained elite military unit of the Holy See, not Vatican City State. The tiny force is responsible for the Pope’s safety, including the security of the Apostolic Palaces, and act as the de facto armed forces of Vatican City, the world’s tiniest sovereign state.
As they raced towards the crime scene, the first question on Rudolf Gallus’ lips to the Pontiff’s personal bodyguard was, “The Holy Father? Is he safe?”
On being reassured all was well he remembered to breathe again.
“Io sono qui.”
At the sound of the soft familiar voice declaring he was there, the guards saluted, which this humble Pontiff dismissed. “It is not necessary,” he had told them countless times, but it was a hard act to break.
Pope Callixtus IV had made the short walk from the Casa Marta through the Vatican Gardens, accompanied by his Private Secretary Edoardos Guilianini, to arrive at the Papal offices for an audience, when he had been told of the tragedy. Excusing himself, they took the lift down from the third loggia to ground level, made their way through the Basilica and arrived at the Sacristy with his two personal Swiss guards who were now on high alert. Upon appraising the situation, they went to lead him out of the room in case danger threatened.
He held up his hand and stayed them. “I will remain. Father Bonifacio deserves my respect and attention.”
By a cruel twist of fate the tables had turned. In the event of the Pope's demise it is the Papal Sacristan's duty to administer the sacraments and last rites. This humble and warm hearted Bishop of Rome as he preferred to be known as, carried out the ritual immediately.
After three months as Pontiff, the entire Holy See including the security services, had learnt that when he had made up his mind that was it.
Voices drifted in from outside. “Where is the body?” Gianni Donati asked of the two Swiss Guards posted outside the entrance.
“Inside the robing room Sir.”
“Where is the Holy Father?” Rudolf asked of the guardsmen. The Casa Marta was far too close for comfort. “Inside the robing room Sir.”
“Remain on guard here and do not let anyone enter.” Gianni told the two members of the police force who had arrived with his deputy.
“The forensics team will be here soon,” Masseo Assanti reminded him.
“It goes without saying they are allowed in.”
As Vatican City has no forensic laboratory themselves, they use the Italian State Forensic team. His deputy Matteo would meet and escort them inside when they arrived.
Rudolf Gallus and Gianni Donati’s faces reflected their shock at seeing the man they were sworn to protect kneeling beside the dead man on the floor and saying the last rites, while blood stained his white cassock. They dare not interrupt nor criticize him for contaminating a crime scene and when the forensic team turned up they wouldn’t be too pleased.
This was no ordinary sacristan bleeding out on the floor. It was the Papal Sacristan and Rector of St Anne’s Parish.
He is the reigning pope’s man in everything pertaining to liturgical celebrations. Diligently arranging the liturgical books, the vestments, vessels such as cruets, chalices, ciboria, linens, oils, processional crosses, candles and torches for the mass the Pontiff would celebrate personally.
Gianni cleared his throat, giving the Pontiff a clear signal which he ignored. Nothing was going to stop him ensuring this good man’s entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sacristan had been by his side when he conducted mass, making sure everything went smoothly; and accompanied him when he traveled.
Pope Callixtus IV made the final sign of the cross and looked at the two Commanders. “Who would take his life and why?”
“We don’t have the answer Holy Father, but we will not rest until we do,” the head of his bodyguard assured him.
“Get a detachment in here.” The Commander of the Vaticana Corps, commonly known inside Vatican City as the God Squad, turned to his deputy. “Lock this place down tight.”
“I have done so already,” Matteo assured him. Two guards stationed outside and those in the near vicinity had been doubled. They were not a large corps, so all leave would be canceled in the foreseeable future.
Gianni looked at his deputy and nodded. It was their duty to solve the homicide in Vatican City and its properties.
“Have you searched?” Gianni turned to the Swiss guardsmen who had been the first on the scene.
“The assassini has gone. I have looked in the other rooms that are open, but we must wait for the forensics team to give us the keys to all of the rooms as they are with him.” Ramrod straight, Elias indicated the body on the floor.
“You have done the right thing.”
“Where is the Sub-Sacristan?” Rudolf Gallus barked.
The Augustinian friar who assisted the Sacristan in caring for these precious items of the glorious theater that is the Holy Roman Catholic Church, had been forgotten in the confusion.
“Has he been told?”
Everyone looked at each other. “I will call him,” Edoardos offered, as he took out his cellphone and scrolled through the numbers until he found the right one. When Fr Alessio Galzi answered he appraised him of the situation. “Can you come to the Sacristy immediately.”
“Sto arrivando.” He was breaking the connection as he walked out the door.
“On his way,” Edoardos told the group.
“Has he a set of keys?” Gianni looked around the group.
“Normally he would use the Sacristan’s,” the beleaguered friar replied.
“Fetch the duplicate set,” Gianni Donati muttered to his Deputy. “Everyone has been cleared out of the Sacristy and the doors locked. The area is now out of bounds for any tourists today or in the foreseeable future.”
“I’ll need authority for the keys Sir.”
Diablo! Did he have to do everything himself? Yes, if he wanted the spare set of keys to the Sacristy. Unfortunately they were secured in the Central Security Office situated in the Palace of the Governorate of Vatican City State, under whose jurisdiction the Gendarmeria Corps fell. As he was the Inspector General of the Security Office it would be quicker for him to fetch them himself. Merda, merda, merda! He briefly contemplated contaminating the scene and taking them off the body, but forensics would kill him as everything must be done by the book.
Leaving the crime scene in the capable hands of his deputy he trudged off, giving everyone within spitting distance the evil eye.
As the Pope stood up, Edoardos who had been standing back, gently took his arm and drew him back quietly, telling him the team needed to do their work.
“God's first, then man’s.” The Bishop of Rome replied.
Turning to Brother Stefano he took both of his hands in his and waved off the police as he asked softly. “Are you aware of anything missing?”
The friar went to step forward but the Deputy of the Vaticana Corps stopped him. “From here only.”
Brother Stefano glanced at the glass cabinets and he drew in a sharp breath.
“Pope John Paul VI's miter.” He pointed to a blank space in a cabinet full of the tall embroidered hats worn by Popes throughout the centuries and said in a distraught voice. “But I don't understand, the cabinet is locked.” After his coronation, the late Pontiff had replaced the tiara worn by Popes with a miter.
Callixtus IV had refused a coronation, opting for an inauguration mass which he shared with the people in St Peter’s Square. At the completion of the mass he placed a simple white miter depicting the three tiered cross of the Petrine Ministry on his head.
His coat of arms portrayed the one designed for his episcopal consecration. The crossed keys, representing the Keys of the Kingdom assigned by Jesus Christ to St Peter, in whose authority the Popes reign, and his personal motto taken from St. Bede’s homilies. Miserando atque eligendo, - lowly but chosen
Saint Peter’s Keys bestow on him the ultimate authority to set church policy and teachings, to render binding interpretations of Sacred Scripture; and to bind and loose sins. He also has the power to excommunicate church membership.
“Anything else?” Gianni Donati stepped forward.
Again the friar peered at the cabinets. “Pope Paul’s Pontifical ring is missing.” He gaped at the empty place where it should have been. “There is a note in there.”
A hint of a frown crossed Callixtus IV’s face as he turned to Edoardos and spoke softly, whereupon the priest quietly left the room, no-one daring to restrain him while on the Holy Father’s business.
Matteo leaned forward. “Are you sure it was not there previously.”
The friar shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
“We will need to unlock the cabinet. The Commander will return with the keys shortly?”
Rudolf Gallus looked pointedly at the friar’s body on the floor.
Matteo Assanti reminded him, “They’re evidence.”
A homicide in the Vatican, and this surely was one, fell under the Vaticana Corps’ jurisdiction and his remark smartly warned the Commandant of the Swiss Guards to back off.
Rudolf Gallus shrugged his shoulders. His duty was to guard the Pope and the palaces. Let the God Squad figure out who killed the priest.
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