Excerpt – The Opus Dictum

 

Prologue

London, England – 18 June 1982

Hanging from a long stretch of twisted orange rope knotted in the steel scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge, the body of Roberto Calvi swung gently in the light morning breeze over the River Thames.

A young postal employee crossing the bridge on his way to work had discovered the body at seven thirty that Friday morning. Dialing 999 from a red telephone box at the end of the bridge, he reported the sighting to City of London Police, who promptly dispatched a crime scene unit.

With a River Police launch moored beneath the bridge, CSU officers lowered Calvi’s body onto the deck of the vessel. Investigators were surprised to find Calvi’s clothing had been stuffed with four large stones and a brick, and in his pockets they found close to $15,000 in several international currencies and a forged Italian passport. Adding to those oddities was the fact that his trademark mustache had been shaved off. And his tongue was cut out.

* * *

Italian banker Roberto Calvi had been in London since the tenth of June, having fled Italy to escape prosecution on charges of corruption related to his dealings with Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest privately owned bank of which Calvi was chairman.

Initially ruled a suicide—but later believed to have been an elaborately staged murder by Francesco “Frankie the Strangler” Di Carlo—Calvi’s death was likely attributed to damaging knowledge he possessed about the inner workings of a secret Italian Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2, and its close links with the Vatican Bank which, having a ten percent stake, was the largest shareholder of Banco Ambrosiano. Calvi’s association with the Vatican was so intimate he had been known throughout the tight-knit financial community as “God’s Banker.”

Founded in 1877, Propaganda Due’s primary goal was to defend the Catholic Church against the expected arrival of the Antichrist. The P2 lodge was nicknamed by its members as “Frati Neri”: Black Friars, for the black robes they wore during secret ritualistic meetings. The obvious inference of Calvi’s body hanging beneath a bridge of the same name was not lost on keen observers, who deemed it a symbolic warning from the mysterious yet powerful Masonic syndicate.

While membership in P2—or any Masonic organization—was expressly forbidden by the Church under pain of excommunication, for centuries it secretly counted among its members a procession of cardinals, bishops, and priests. Complementing its distinctive symbols, secret signs and gestures, the global brotherhood of Freemasons offered its members privileged access to others in powerful positions from all walks of life, and the attraction of such admission sufficiently offset the Church’s frail promise of punishment.

Besides, the very cardinals and bishops governing such oversight were themselves likely high-ranking Masons, deliberately placed in such positions by their predecessors.

 

When Roberto Calvi had arrived in London the week prior to his death, he had been seen carrying a bulging briefcase containing papers believed to hold incriminating details of accounts and transactions linking the pending catastrophic failure of Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano to a succession of powerful organizations: P2, the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra, high-ranking Italian politicians, British and Italian secret services, the Vatican Bank—and a secretive, far right faction of Catholics known as Opus Deus, translated from Latin as “The Work of God.”

Well-financed and unusually powerful for a relatively small but fiercely dedicated organization, Opus Deus was apparently intent on bailing out Banco Ambrosiano in exchange for a major stake in the operation. Indeed, the Vatican ended up paying almost $250 million to absolve its role in the fiasco, which involved illegal currency movements and possible financing of right-wing terrorist groups. Money moves in mysterious ways in such labyrinthine circles, and it was possible the Vatican had no idea its money was helping to underwrite terrorism.

Regardless, Roberto Calvi’s briefcase held secrets too valuable to many formidable interests, and certain forces apparently believed he had to be stopped from ever revealing anything.

But after his death, the briefcase simply disappeared.

And since 1982, those same formidable forces held a persistent anxiousness that at any time, by anyone, devastating information could be uncovered that could bring down many a person or institution.

 

Chapter 1

Present Day

“Pronto, Vaticano.”

Sister Teresa Drinkwater answered the incoming call on Line 12 of the Vatican switchboard. “Si, signore,” she replied to the caller’s request. “I will put you through to Bishop Esposito’s office now.”

It was rush hour in the call center that morning as the six nuns handling the switchboard managed the constant flow of telephone communications into and out of Vatican City. Coming from various countries—Italy, Brazil, Poland, Philippines, India, the United States and others—the Sisters of the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master spoke a myriad of languages and personally handled more than half a million incoming calls each year.

Supervising Operator Sister Teresa, however, belonged to the Daughters of St. Paul order, since she was also the lead administrator for the Vatican’s computer network and the Paulines, as the order is called, includes among its ranks members who held technology vocations.

Another line lit up on her computer screen. It was an internal call from the office of the Prefect of the Secret Archives, Father Michael Dominic.

Pronto, Vaticano,” she answered. Hello, Vatican.

“Hey, Teri!” Father Dominic said cheerfully. “I was hoping you’d answer. How’s your morning going?”

“Father Michael!” the young American nun replied with a bounce in her voice. “Funny you should ask. We’re busier here than a pair of mosquitoes at a nudist colony.”

Dominic laughed, as he always did at Teri’s often earthy expressions.

“Who can I connect you with?” she asked him.

“Actually, I’m calling to speak with you,” Dominic said. “I’d like to meet to discuss our computer system.”

“Well, there goes my budget for this year. What did you have in mind?”

“Why don’t we meet for lunch in the canteen, and I’ll introduce you to my new assistant? We can talk more about it there.”

“It’s a date,” Teri said. “See you then, Father.” She punched the End Call button with her mouse and moved on to the next caller.

 

It was Ian Duffy’s first week as Father Dominic’s new assistant scrittore in the Secret Archives. A young and ambitious technologist from Silicon Valley, Duffy was as Irish as they came: a strapping, six-foot tall hipster with a mop of red hair, fair skin, and the hint of a brogue accent inherited from his grandparents while growing up under their care in the Cupertino foothills of Northern California.

As an Apple alumnus—having been a big data developer at the tech giant for several years previous—Duffy was hired by Dominic not only to assist him in identifying and cataloging the millions of yet-unseen documents the Archives held, but also to create and manage a custom software program for storing and retrieving the vast amounts of digital information already recorded in the Archives. Expert in the use of frameworks and systems for distributed storage and processing, Duffy’s mission was key to the Vatican’s plan for upgrading worldwide access to specified datasets the Archives manages, as well as the millions of images stored in the Vatican Apostolic Library’s database.

 

“Ready for lunch, Ian?” Dominic asked. “We’re meeting with the Vatican’s network admin, Sister Teri, to talk about your new workstation.”

“You bet, Michael!” Duffy replied enthusiastically. “I’ve already got my shopping list in hand.” He grinned at the thought of the gleaming new Mac Pro he had in mind, with the latest Apple silicon chip and gobs of graphic processing power and storage capacity.

“Few things make me happier than having the best possible equipment other peoples’ money can buy,” he added, his green eyes bright with expectation.

Exiting the building through the Courtyard of the Library, Dominic and Duffy walked across the Via di Belvedere into the commercial sector of Vatican City. Entering the canteen, Dominic looked across the long room smelling of wonderful foods and bustling with activity, then spotted Sister Teresa in her blue and white habit seated alone at a table by the windows.

“Hi, Teri,” he said, pulling out a chair. “I’d like you to meet Ian Duffy, my new assistant. “Ian, this is Sister Teresa Drinkwater, better known as Teri.”

“Drinkwater! What a great name,” Duffy said. “I imagine you’re always thirsty?”

“Oh, you’ve got a lively one here, Michael,” she said, shaking hands with Duffy. “And is that a Gaelic accent I detect? Or is it just a speech impediment?”

Duffy looked at her with a droll face, then laughed. “We’re gonna get along just great,” he enthused. “Yes, Teri, my family hails from Ireland.”

“Alright, let’s get some food first,” Dominic urged. The three moved to the end of the cafeteria line. Each loaded an orange tray with various dishes offered along the food line. After paying for their meals, they returned to the table, then said grace before picking up their forks.

“Did you hear the pope dropped in here recently?” Teri asked the others, her large green eyes open in amazement. “Just walked in the door alone, picked up a tray, waited in line like everyone else, then started loading up his plate! People were blown away. The Holy Father is such a good man.”

“That even made the Vatican newspaper,” Dominic said. “Not that there’s that much else to report here. But it did make the front page.”

“How many people work in the Vatican?” Duffy asked.

Sister Teri’s face lit up. “Pope John Paul II was asked that question by a reporter once. His answer was, ‘About half’!”

Dominic and Duffy laughed, not having heard the anecdote before.

“Vatican City has around two thousand employees,” Dominic answered. “And three-quarters of them live outside the walls.”

“So, where are you from, Teri?” Duffy asked as a fork full of pan-fried cod found its way to his mouth.

“San Francisco,” she replied. “I used to work for Google as a network administrator until I chose to become a Pauline nun and devote my life to God’s technology. I mean, work.” She smiled coyly at the distinction.

“Ah, yes. The perils of the Paulines,” Duffy quipped.

“As if I hadn’t heard that one before,” Teri groaned.

“This is going to be a long lunch,” Dominic sighed. “I can see you two will be an unstoppable force together.”

“Where are you from, Ian?” Teri asked.

“I’m from the Bay Area, too,” he said. “I worked for Apple in Cupertino until Michael here offered me this plum assignment. We met through an old classmate of mine from Stanford who’s now an investment manager at the Vatican Bank. Milo Banducci. Do you know him?”

Teri wiped her mouth with a napkin before responding. “We haven’t met, but I’ve handled calls to him. I supervise the Vatican switchboard while also being the lead network admin here. Speaking of which, I understand you have need of a new computer system?”

Putting his fork down, Ian reached into his pocket and withdrew a small sheet of paper, sliding it across the table to Sister Teri.

“I did have a few things in mind …” he said, hoping there would be no pushback on his requests.

Teri feigned choking on her salad when she saw the list, at the top of which was a $30,000 price for one fully-outfitted Mac Pro alone.

“A guy needs what a guy needs to do the job,” he said, winking at her.

“You’ve maxed out the RAM?! And two Radeon Pro Vega graphic cards?! You do realize all this is coming from collection plates around the world, right?”

Dominic stepped in to allay Teri’s concerns. “This all has been laid out in my budget, which already has been approved by Cardinal Wolsey at the Secretariat for the Economy. I knew we’d need this kind of equipment for the project ahead of us, so you don’t have to sell anyone else on it. I already took the heat for it.”

“Well, I do admit to the sin of envy looking at this,” Teri said. “Mind if I play with—I mean, try it when it comes in? I’ve never used a Mac Pro before.”

“They’re awesome machines,” Duffy enthused, “and a suitable fit for the demands of our new project. I can’t wait to get started.”

“First, you’ll be getting a tour of the Archive,” Dominic said, “so you know the kinds of treasures you’ll be working with. The Vatican is the repository for many of mankind’s most remarkable achievements in written and artistic forms. I think you’ll be impressed, Ian.”

“Really looking forward to it, Michael. Will Sister Teri be joining us?”

Teri looked up from her plate, thick eyebrows arched above a hopeful face.

“Can I?” she begged. “Oh, please? I’d love to see the Secret Archives!”

“Sure, Teri, you can come as well,” Dominic said, grinning. “But prepare to be humbled.”

“Check. Humility was one of my sacred vows.”