Fratelli’s heart thumped in his chest. Slowly, he stooped down and examined the shoes. Discovering one side badly damaged, and a piece scraped off, he almost shrieked. Covering his mouth, he stood, tiptoed down the hallway and peered into the parlor where Gino was working. Maybe this was a coincidence? After all, fancy shoes did damage easily. How could he be so sure the missing piece came from that same shoe?
He shook his head, trying to think clearly. Suddenly, an idea emerged in his mind. Coming back into the parlor, Fratelli sat in a nearby chair, watching as Gino diligently painted. His delicate hand molded shapes and colors. Mary’s swaddled figure, he outlined in deep blue. He hated to interrupt but asked anyway:
“I sure feel sorry for what happened to your friend Diego, he was your friend right?”
Gino stopped, looked over his shoulder and replied, “We worked together every now and then…I really didn’t know him well.”
Fratelli clasped his hands. He really didn’t know what else to say. He just sat…and observed. However, his anxiety grew very perceptible to Gino who turned and politely stated, “Your Eminence, I know you are very interested in my work- and I’m honored by this, however, I feel your presence is distracting me.”
Why should he apologize? It was his own house…well, the Church’s house… Fratelli moved past the door then silently peered around the threshold.
“I know you are still there, Good Eminence…”
He crept back to where Gino’s shoes were and again looked closely at the damaged one. Feeling shivers, he wondered if a murderer were right here, in his house.
Dreadfully nervous, Fratelli summoned Dina and met with her in the kitchen. In case things became dangerous, he wanted her away from the house. Seeing his uneasiness, she asked him:
“Your Eminence, what is the matter now?”
“I want you to get Ernesto for me…”
“But it’s noon and it’s raining, and he may be very busy at work.”
Thinking quickly, Fratelli answered:
“Then I give you the rest of the day off, go home!”
“Then I give you the rest of the day off, go home!”
She began protesting then hushed, eyed him strangely and seeing he was serious, gathered her things to leave. He waited until she left before walking into the parlor.
“I’m going to the market,” he announced.
Gino gazed at him.
“It’s raining, Your Eminence.”
“Well I like the rain!” he asserted, proudly crossing his arms.
Although he didn’t say anything more, Gino’s face displayed a fine smile. The cardinal added:
“You can stay here and help yourself to the wine, I’ll return shortly.”
Fratelli donned his shoes, grabbed his draping, red cloak, wrapped it around himself and dashed outside.
Soon as he stepped onto the street, his robes became wet. Lifting them up around his knees, he sprinted across the piazza. He hoped to find Ernesto soon as he looked rather foolish out there in the rain; a soggy, red figure running down the street.
He suddenly halted in front of a figure on horseback.
“Ernesto, is that you?”
“Yes, Angelo. What are you doing out here? You are soaking wet.”
Dropping the hem of his cassock, letting it clump forlornly around his feet, he replied, “Yes…I’m aware of that.”
Ernesto dismounted and escorted Fratelli beneath an alcove. Cold water rushed from the roof, away from them and pooled along a ditch on the street. The cardinal removed his red skullcap and wrung water out of it. Then he futilely put it back on his soaked head.
“Your Eminence, just look at you!”
“Ernesto, there’s something I must tell you…I found a pair of alligator shoes- and one’s missing a piece from it. The same color as the one you had shown me.”
“At my house- at my house! They belong to Gino Siglio!”
Ernesto’s eyes widened. He paced back to his horse and quickly mounted. Passing Fratelli, he said:
“Go ahead home Angelo and I’ll follow you…”
Reluctantly, Fratelli plodded home. He walked over a few rain puddles though doing his best to avoid them. His shoes were drenched, his finery water-logged and heavy. He looked altogether pathetic by the time he reached home. Ernesto waited beneath a tree as he came inside, tracking mud and water all over the carpet. Dina would be very upset at him…
He removed his shoes and put his red cap atop the hat rack. It slid, weighed down by moisture and fell. Fratelli sighed, shrugging. He promised he’d pick it up later.
Fratelli went into the parlor and discovered it dark and empty. Gino was nowhere to be seen! Running back, he told Ernesto and the constable came in after him. He looked for the shoes but found them neither.
“It seems he knew what you were up to, Your Eminence… What did you tell him before you left?”
“I said I was going to the market.”
“Oh, Angelo that is so transparent!”
“I am sorry, so sorry Ernesto. I failed you.”
“No you didn’t, you helped me. Putting Gino to flight only makes him look all the more guilty. Now let’s find him.”
Frantically, Ernesto and Fratelli searched the cardinal’s villa. Fratelli ventured upstairs, downstairs and into the kitchen while Ernesto stayed, searching through Gino’s supplies, which had been left behind. He retrieved a triangular item, caked with dried paint from a nearby handbag. Peeling paint off of it, he revealed a spade-like, flat blade.
Fratelli heard him calling and dashed downstairs, almost stumbling over the furrowed rug on his way into the parlor.
“What is it?”
“Look,” Ernesto said, holding up the blade, “Turns out the knife wasn’t a knife at all- but some piece of painter’s equipment.”
“Dear Lord!” the cardinal exclaimed, crossing himself, “The real murderer- was in my house- the whole time!”
“Well, he’s not in your house anymore. We’ve got to find him before he leaves the city.”
“Say…Ernesto, do you still have that monk’s habit?”
“Yes I do…I was thinking the exact same thing…”
Ernesto recovered the monk’s habit and threw the garment over his head. After Fratelli tied the cord belt, Ernesto said to him:
“You wait here”
“But I want to help you…”
“Your Eminence, this is very dangerous.”
“So you’re staying here?”
~ ~ ~
The rain lessened, becoming a fine, hovering fog. Gino Siglio tied his long cloak around himself on his way to the local stables, where he rented a horse. Quickly walking onto the street, he mounted his horse and trotted towards the city gates. If he were to gallop, it would look suspicious, so he paced his mount leisurely. Chill air brushed against him. Though day had been hot, night grew rather cold and he hugged his cloak closer.
As Gino neared the city’s huge, stone gates, a shadow on horseback met him. Panicked, he reached for the gun at his belt but only seeing a white-clad monk, he didn’t draw the weapon.
“Good evening, brother,” he said casually.
“God bless you,” the monk replied, “Can I ask you for directions? You see, I’m trying to get to the little church on the other side of Lucca but Lord have mercy, I seemed to have lost my way…”
At once, another rider appeared. It was Timotheo, sitting strait, sword drawn but held low.
“Good evening sir,” he said approaching, “May we stop you a moment?”
Gino laughed and suddenly, brandished his gun, holding it out. Instantly, Ernesto drew his gun, pointing at Gino. The three stood, frozen.
“Why did you kill Diego Pollini?” Timotheo asked.
Gino wryly frowned and growled his answer: “You would have killed him too if he cheated you out of as much money as he cheated me!”
“I don’t think so…”
“It doesn’t matter, you’re going next!”
Meanwhile Cardinal Fratelli trekked through the street on horseback. He leaned over, peering about and searched the alleyways and buildings for sign of Ernesto. His horse began acting unruly, snorting and stomping. Nervously, he gripped the reigns tighter. He had left in haste and didn’t care which horse the stable loaned him. It figured he would choose a badly-behaved one. Despite his promise to stay safely at home, he felt Ernesto was in danger and needed to reach him soon. However, this horse didn’t seem intent on getting anywhere. It halted, balked then circled.
“You lazy beast!” Fratelli hissed, kicking the horse’s side, “Go!”
And they were off! Fratelli clutched the reigns for dear-life as the horse swiftly sprinted, its hooves clopping over pavement, at dizzying speed. Wind buffeted Fratelli’s face and he squinted, barely able to see.
“Whoa, stop- stop!” the terrified cardinal yelled.
Ernesto trembled, touching his finger to the gun’s trigger, wondering if Gino would fire at Timotheo at any time. Stinging sweat beaded on his brow but he ignored it, eyes staring intently forward. Then they all heard a frantic shouting and Gino whirled, watching a screaming, bright scarlet figure blur past. It gave Timotheo just enough time. He lunged, wrestled the gun from Gino’s hand and knocked him onto the ground. Ernesto dismounted then quickly shackled him. His fear loosened and succumbed to a faint sense of relief- even joy. The killer was caught at last. Now…to catch that cardinal.
They found Fratelli on a far roadside, heaving and leaning against the horse’s lathery neck. Both were exhausted and pitiful-looking.
“Come on Your Eminence, let’s go home,” Ernesto said, taking the reins.
Now, the horse obediently followed, head held low, his finicky spirit worn out.
“Are you alright?” Fratelli tiredly mumbled.
“Yes, completely unscathed- and Timotheo too. We’ve caught him.”
“Oh, praise God!”