Following his prayers, Fratelli sat sipping tea on the veranda, watching the sunrise, feeling a cool breeze touch his face. Gino arrived early, stretched his canvas and began to paint. Francine soon visited and sat, observing him before Fratelli chased her out. He didn’t want any distractions, he wanted a thought-provoking, prayerful picture of the Holy Family, without a hint of the romantic silliness he could sense fluttering between them.
He invited Gino to eat lunch with him. The artist gladly joined washing and wiping paint from his hands before helping himself to prosciutto and pasta salad.
“Thank you so much, Your Eminence,” he said now reaching for the tea.
“Here, let me pour it for you,” Fratelli offered.
He poured the tea into Gino’s white, porcelain cup then refilled his own. Deep inside, Fratelli mused that this was going to be a fine day…
Back in his mind, he wondered where Jack was, having not seen him since dinner, last night, and ventured out into the garden. Some birds flew overhead; a lone duck waded in the fountain and fragrant roses nodded in the light breeze. Carefree, he quickened pace and spoke a joyous prayer:
“Thank you, O Lord, for the beauty of your creation. How the flowers and the birds and the still waters betray your majesty! I thank you for delivering my son, Adreo from prison, O Liberty, O Beauty!”
Reaching the iron fence, at the garden’s other end, Fratelli finally sighted Jack.
“Hail, O Friend!” he cried out.
“Good afternoon Angelo,” Jack replied, “You are in very high spirits today.”
“Yes, I am aren’t I?”
Jack smiled. Fratelli put an arm around him and said:
“Come into the parlor, I want to show you something.”
Jack followed him inside. They crossed the hallway and entered the parlor where Gino was busy at work, painting outlines of three soft figures.
“See, I hired Gino Siglio to paint a portrait of the Holy Family!” Fratelli excitedly said.
Jack smiled weakly though he didn’t seem very excited himself. Actually, his fair face displayed a faint disappointment. Noticing, Fratelli led him into the other room and asked,
“Is something the matter?”
Jack’s lips quivered as he hesitated.
“Jack, ever since you came here…you have been acting different,” Fratelli nervously began, “You haven’t been coming to Mass, you have avoided me at prayer, you haven’t kissed my ring once since you’ve got here, not that it’s very important but I thought…well…”
Sitting down, Jack took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and answered; “I’m not the same Angelo. After you left for seminary, I did a lot of soul-searching of my own. I studied the Holy Bible, the Word of God, day and night. Something deep inside was bothering me and I knew I had been doing things wrong all my life….I left the Catholic Church…for a more pure kind of Christianity…I am a Methodist now.”
The color drained from Fratelli’s face. He looked like a ghost in red robes. He felt stricken with hurt and betrayal…almost sick. Feebly, he sat down, his mind scrambling for something to say. All that came out was a rather thoughtless utterance:
“You’re an apostate.”
“No, I’m Protestant.”
Jack shrugged frustrated. He stood up saying, “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
Then, in a huff, he left the reeling cardinal behind. Flustered, his heart pounding and angry, Fratelli also unseated. He swiftly strolled outside. He didn’t know what to say or what to do but only walked in a circle, tightly clenching his fists. How could his friend do this? So much for a fine day, he thought.
Coming back inside, Fratelli didn’t see a pair of men’s boots sitting in the hallway and tripped right over them. Frantically, he grabbed a nearby hat-rack but it went tumbling down with him. Hearing a clatter, Ernesto appeared, saw the fallen cardinal then the boots and suddenly cried out: “Your Eminence, I’m so sorry!! I didn’t realize they were in the way.”
He helped Fratelli up, dusted off his red cassock and grabbed his hand.
“Please forgive my carelessness,” he begged.
Irritably, Fratelli replied, “Why are you even here?”
Picking up the hat-rack, putting it back in the proper place, Ernesto answered, “We found another piece of evidence…unless you don’t care anymore.”
“No, I care, I care. I really do want to help you- but I’ve just had the most awful day…”
“I am sorry, my brother,” Ernesto said.
Fratelli opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He crossed his arms and glanced towards the parlor.
“I believe Gino has left by now, shall we meet in there?”
“No, your bedroom would be more private.”
“But it’s a mess up there!”
Dina emerged from the kitchen, hearing them argue, she interrupted,
“It is not messy anymore, now go upstairs. You’re making a racket down here.”
“It is not messy anymore, now go upstairs. You’re making a racket down here.”
Entering Fratelli’s bedroom, Ernesto closed the door and locked it while Fratelli sat in his favorite chair by the window. Quietly, Ernesto neared. He pulled a folded napkin from his pants pocket, unfolded it and revealed a sliver of fine, dyed leather…only it didn’t look exactly like leather.
“It is a piece from a shoe that we found on the clock-tower’s second floor, most likely scraped off during some kind of struggle. Since Diego was wearing black, leather shoes, we believe it may belong to the killer,” Ernesto said.
Fratelli tried to take the sliver and examine it but Ernesto pulled it away. Frustrated, the cardinal asked, “What is that made of? I’ve never really seen that fabric before.”
“It’s alligator skin.”
Fratelli arched his brows, confused as Ernesto continued, “This is a new fashion among the extremely wealthy, an exotic material- see here the scaly pattern.”
“Odd…” Fratelli remarked, feeling it with one finger.
Ernesto suddenly withdrew the scrap, re-wrapped it and put it away.
“Now I brought that here just for you. So you can be a pair of eyes for me and look around to see if anyone is wearing shoes that match.” He said.
“Yes, yes,” Fratelli replied.
“Did you ever look for that knife?”
“I truly did, but there is no such blade in this house. Too strangely-shaped for any real use…”
“Good for stabbing people...”
The cardinal gazed aside. Then they stared at each other tensely, reminded how serious this situation really was. Ernesto nervously twiddling his thumbs then finally spoke again:
“Your Eminence, since we are brothers, may I ask you for something?”
“Surely,” Fratelli responded.
Ernesto hesitantly asked, “Has anyone lately confessed to murder?”
“You mean within the sacrament? You know I can’t tell you that.”
“But Your Eminence…”
“No, I cannot break the seal of confession- it’s a sacred, inviolable thing.”
Ernesto thought a minute then rephrased his question:
“Did someone not confess to murder?”
“Do you think I am dull-witted?” Fratelli irately said, “Leave me alone!”
For several more minutes they stood, not saying anything, awkwardly exchanging gazes. Ernesto eventually said farewell and prepared to leave. Fratelli mused for a second then yanked Ernesto’s sleeve, asking:
“How is Michele? It’s been so long since I’ve seen her.”
“She is doing well. Not sick anymore. However, she is certain by now she is not pregnant.”
The cardinal frowned, somewhat disappointed.
“Don’t worry,” Ernesto told him, “We’ve got enough at this time to worry about.”
“I suppose you are correct.”
Fratelli silently gestured a blessing as his brother left. Then he sat back down, his head heavy with thoughts. Indeed, he was so preoccupied with himself, his own problems… I should really be alert and watch, he told himself. How lazy have I been!
During dinner, Cardinal Fratelli hardly ate, pondering who would wear alligator skin shoes and wondered where such a fabric might come from. He set his round, red cap on the table before him and idly eyed it. Focusing on that little, red dot helped him think but still, the thoughts ran in a circle.
Matters worsened when Jack came into the dining room, sat down and saying nothing, began to eat. Their tense and rather hostile glances darted back and forth. Fratelli felt a great divide between them, a coldness. Tolerating this no longer, he opened his mouth to speak. However, Jack spoke first;
“You show me where in the Bible it says I must kiss a man’s ring and I’ll do it.”
Fratelli’s forehead wrinkled as he retorted, “Where in the Bible does it say everything must be in the Bible?”
“Easy for you to say,” Jack quipped, “You listen to the pope instead.”
“-and you follow yourself. Which is worse?”
They sounded like two children arguing in a school-yard.
“You bow to statues!”
“You bow to a book!”
“At least, I don’t cannibalistically feed on Jesus!”
“Well, at least, I don’t hate his mother!”
Angrily, they simultaneously got up and stormed away, in opposite directions, just as Dina emerged ready to pour the wine. She gazed around the empty room quizzically and shrugged.
At dawn, Fratelli hesitantly awoke. Glumly, he dressed for morning- prayer and Mass. He hoped to see Ernesto there in monk’s habit, hiding within a cathedral niche but did not. Perhaps he took his stakeout elsewhere?
Rainclouds began congregating in the sky matching the cardinal’s grey mood. Light rain began to fall. He disregarded the weather while walking home and strode his garden for a while. Carefully fingering a rose, he drew it to his nostrils and inhaled sweet fragrance.
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord,” he whispered, “and clean eyes that I may see and discern only the truth you wish for me to see. Keep the nuisances of my sinful mind at bay… as you surely understand, I am upset. I regret saying harsh words towards my friend Jack, but Lord, he has hurt me deeply and I don’t know what to do. Help me to show kindness despite it all.”
The realization suddenly hit him: He couldn’t do it alone.
“Yes, how greatly I need you…” he concluded aloud.
Returning indoors, he found Gino at work in the parlor. The artist walked, circling around his canvas around in silken socks. His shoes had been left by the door. Remembering his own, wet shoes, Fratelli immediately removed them. Setting his ornate, red shoes down, he noticed Gino wore an even more ornate pair of shoes, made of strange, scaly leather- alligator.