Francine was absolutely horrified to discover the killer had been courting her. She stomped out of the room, indignantly crying:
“And I let him kiss me on the cheek!”
Ernesto sat by Fratelli’s bed as he laid there, a warm cloth on his head, wrapped up in thick covers. Early morning light seeped through the windows, casting floors and walls dusty yellow. Neither had slept very well. Fratelli shifted, stared at his brother then coughed. Dina came in and replaced the cloth with a warmer, fresher one.
“See, Your Eminence, this is precisely what happens when you go out in the rain,” she admonished, “Now you have a cold.”
Fratelli groaned as she stuck a thermometer in his mouth.
“Stop being babyish,” she told him.
After examining the thermometer, she frowned, shook her head and told him to stay in bed. Of course, he protested:
“But what about my appointments to hear confessions?”
“There are two other priests who can do it.”
Fratelli grumbled but became silent when she fiercely glared back. Ernesto stood and took his hand.
“Get well, my brother,” he said gently, “And thank you by the way… for possibly saving our lives.”
“It was nothing- really,” Fratelli’s voice cracked.
Ernesto smiled and departed, treading softly as not to cause any disturbance.
Fratelli slept till late noon. He woke up in a dark, candle-lit room and reluctantly ate the cold porridge at his table. This was likely all he would be allowed to eat until he got better. He finished it, frowned from the bitter, starchy taste then walked towards the window and looked outside. Green gardens and trees swayed in lazy summer wind. The white roses peeked up at him. He felt sun shine through the glass, caressing his face. How he longed to be out there…
Then, he paced across the room, feeling quite bored with himself, his empty musings. He sat in his chair, ceased looking out the window and stared at the patterned ceiling tiles. He began counting them. 2, 4, 6, 8…What was he doing?
His legs feeling strong, Fratelli decided to quietly sneak downstairs and into the chapel. He owed God a thanksgiving, for the killer’s capture and Ernesto’s safety- and his own welfare. Kneeling down in cool darkness pierced by three solemn candles and the twinkling, red sanctuary lamp, Fratelli mumbled:
“My hope is in you, O Lord and you will never fail me. You protected me, even when danger lurked in my house. Although I am upset my painting will never be finished, that is least important…”
He at once began coughing. Raptly, he covered his mouth with a linen handkerchief- but it was too late. Dina overheard, entered the chapel and scolded him:
“Your Eminence, get back upstairs! I told you to stay in bed.”
“I’m going…I’m going,” he said hoarsely.
“You’ll never get well if you keep wandering around the house!”
Grudgingly, Fratelli retreated upstairs and lay down. He grew rather bored, unable to sleep and asked for his bible. Dina brought it from the library and gladly, he opened to a favorite place, reading in peaceful contemplation.
The door creaked open.
“Come in,” Fratelli sighed, laying the bible at his side.
Jack emerged, walking softly and sat on the chair next to him. His face seemed sullen. Fratelli wordlessly peered up at him then coughed.
“I hope you feel better soon, Angelo…actually I came up here to apologize for the way I’ve been acting lately. Even if we don’t see eye to eye on religious matters- it’s no way to treat an old friend.”
Fratelli weakly smiled then replied, “I’m sorry too. Sorry I called you “apostate” and said you worshiped a book… I realize that we both do follow the same Savior.”
“I know,” Jack said, “I shouldn’t have said what I said either. Stubborn and silly me, I could have kissed your ring- at least to show pride for who you’ve become. I’m afraid I may have started the whole fiasco.”
“It’s just a piece of jewelry; I shouldn’t have behaved as if it were so important.”
They looked at each other, both now smiling. Fratelli felt residual humiliation but stuffed it deep inside. This friendship mattered more than his bruised pride. A general relief and joy spread over them. Jack patted Fratelli’s arm fondly, stood and concluded, “I hope you’ll be strutting around in those vestments in no time, my friend.”
Fratelli laughed then watched him go. Then he rolled over, burying his face beneath the warm covers, trying to get some sleep.
~ ~ ~
On a blustery, Wednesday morning, Fratelli had recovered enough to celebrate Mass. Happily he walked across the altar, wearing emerald-colored vestments, and stood at the center where he could see everyone. Jack was visible, not in the front but neither far towards the back. Michele and Ernesto sat closeby, eagerly watching as Gianni came forth and took the Book of Gospels from Fratelli’s hands. He set it on a left table and stood meekly, hands folded together as if in prayer. Not taking eyes off the congregation, Fratelli donned his plain, white miter. He hoped it was not crooked or too loose.
“Upon this day, we read in the Scriptures: “Surely I have restrained and composed my soul, like a weaned child with its mother: my soul within me is as a weaned child. (1)” What does this mean for us? Are we to become like children?
Aren’t we already so much like children? How often do we cry out for help, begging for our needs to be met, just like little children? How we tell him our troubles and fears! Whenever we do, Our Father in Heaven surely hears us. He is ever-watchful, guarding us night and day. The Lord sleeps nor slumbers. Indeed, all who are here have seen a child resting, restrained and composed in its mother’s arms, not caring for anything, perfectly safe and secure.
Thus, The Lord wishes for us to quiet our souls in his arms. He wants to become the world to us, so that our entire world consists of him. Our thoughts, our comfort and needs- all in him. In this embrace, we meet perfect peace. The soul wants nothing more. It cries out not. It is weaned from the world and one with God.”
How protected and blessed I am, Fratelli swiftly mused. He sat down silently engulfed in comfort. Yes, even throughout the dangerous moments of the past weeks, he was always cared for!
At home, in the parlor, he rested, closing his eyes against the flooding sun. He stirred hearing footsteps and looked upon Ernesto. His brother took the chair across from him, leaned and spoke:
“I want you to know everything is alright. No one else had been hurt and Gino confessed to the whole murder.”
“He did? Well don’t just sit there, tell me about it! What possessed this poor soul to take another man’s life?”
“Gino realized that during their fellowship of four years, Diego wasn’t paying entirely for his work, he was in essence, cheating him, keeping the leftover money for himself. Gino met with Diego on the clock-tower’s second floor, they talked and he demanded the money owed after all this time. Diego wouldn’t budge and… you know how the story ends.”
Fratelli leaned back, reflecting, resting his chin on one hand.
“This is precisely why it is written in Scripture that the love of money is the root of all evil…”
Dina came in and brought two glasses of wine. Fratelli thanked her. They relaxed, slowly sipping, enjoying the sunny afternoon. Ernesto opened his mouth, about to speak but then stopped himself. He simply didn’t intend on ruining this moment.
Michele entered the room, unintentionally breaking their silence. Her face beamed radiantly as the sun which shone through the windows.
“My dear,” Ernesto said, unseating and embracing her.
“Before I go to speak with Dina, there is something I wish to tell you both.”
The two men looked towards her, attentively listening. Michele flashed her pearly teeth and said, “This morning I felt sick again but didn’t want to say anything till after Mass. Moreso, this time, I know for sure, I am pregnant. I feel it and I know it.”
“Do you?” Ernesto inquired, taking her arm.
“Yes! I am sure!”
She slapped his hand in a loving annoyance. Fratelli slowly smiled, watching the happy couple again embrace, their faces touching and laughing. He wasn’t certain how to respond and still remained, gawking speechless when Michele left. Ernesto sat down, finished his glass of wine and joyfully grinned. Feeling very warm, Fratelli went to remove the red cap from his head but discovered it wasn’t there. Posture stiffened, he looked around and didn’t see it.
“I’ve lost my zucchetto,” he exclaimed, “Ernesto get up, maybe you are sitting on it?”
His brother stood up. No hat.
Fratelli frantically got up, searching around his chair.
“It’s missing!” he cried.
“Calm down, Your Eminence, It’s got to be somewhere…”
Gianni suddenly strolled past them, arms folded behind him and whistling; his golden-brown hair crowned by a red zucchetto. In one sweeping, haughty gesture, the cardinal snatched this away, put it on his own head then sat back down. He crossed his arms and huffed.
~ The End