Late hours trickled by. At last, when streaks of dawn pierced the sky with pinkish hues, Cardinal Fratelli stood before the great window in his bedroom, watching sunrise climb from behind the hills.
Silently, Ernesto’s dark figure lingered. His dreary eyelids drooped and he tiredly paced back and forth. Slowly, he turned to walk away. Abruptly, Fratelli cried out,
“Ernesto, don’t you leave me. We must talk about this.”
His hand eagerly beckoned.
“I’ve been standing right here about half an hour and now, all of sudden, you need me?” Ernesto quipped.
Fratelli sunk into his chair, collapsing dramatically. He mused a moment, then began:
“This is awful- very awful… I can’t believe you consider Father Adreo capable of murder. He is so shy and cautious, always mindful. How could you?”
“I don’t think Adreo killed anyone,” Ernesto replied, “But I swore an oath to perform my duties as constable unto the greatest ability and that means abiding by the city’s laws and orderly seeking justice. I don’t like it either but Adreo is accountable here and must be examined…”
“But he is entirely innocent!”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know.”
Ernesto’s sudden snicker came out more like a hiss. His tired mouth couldn’t properly make the sound. Nor could his eyes convey the exact exasperation he felt. However, Fratelli must have possessed greater vexation for he emotively stroked the jeweled cross around his neck and mumbled. Not understanding, not entirely caring, Ernesto turned around.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going home…”
Ernesto looked back to see Fratelli leaping from his chair, almost knocking his leg against it in an excited scramble to stand. He stumbled forth and exclaimed: “By the grace of God, I will prove him guiltless!”
“And how will you go about that?” Ernesto asked, incredulous.
“Easily: by use of my God-given reason. There must be something amiss, some detail you overlooked…”
“So says the high churchman to the seasoned law-officer?”
“You think I am jesting.”
“No, I think you are over-tired and coming up with fanciful ideas. Angelo- Your Eminence, leave this situation to us. I promise I’ll try to clear Father Adreo…”
“Let me help you.”
Ernesto withdrew, tiptoed across the room and began to quietly open the door when Fratelli loudly slammed it shut with one arm. He then backed against it.
“I won’t allow you to leave until you accept my help,” he cautiously whispered, as if everyone in the house wasn’t already rudely awakened.
“You stubborn, stubborn cardinal!”
“…We are brothers,” Fratelli said.
His warm, amber eyes shined plaintively; almost youthful. There was something so familiar in that stare; Ernesto nearly forgot that he spent his whole childhood without once seeing it.
“Okay…okay” he whined, “Just stop looking at me like that- it’s beneath you.”
Fratelli hastily reclaimed his dignity then folded his arms and shuffled away. Sorely tired, he didn’t mind when Ernesto exited and left him pondering alone in the dark. Sitting in his chair, lost amidst circling thoughts, he fell asleep.
Feeling a sharp nudge, Fratelli awoke. He shook the cluttered thoughts from his head, blinked tiredly and glanced up at Dina. Her light-blue, cotton dress glowed in late afternoon sun. Wryly, she smiled and let him stand.
“I had the most-terrible night, the worst in all my life…except perhaps that one night when I fell down the stairs…” Fratelli mumbled.
“Yes, I know,” she answered, “I heard everything.”
“Dina, you eavesdropped?”
“Of course I did…Forgive me, Your Eminence, I was worried.”
He sighed. Let me worry about myself, he silently thought.
The Great Artist.
“Merciful Lord, you alone judge the just man, you alone are bread for the righteous. I admit that I may have not always prayed as I ought. Verily, I sometimes asked, O God, out of the vanity of my heart, for selfish things. However, I bring to you a matter more important than preserving my happiness- or my hairline…
Father, as thine own Son was falsely accused, I pray you deliver my son, Adreo who is unjustly held against his will…well, I think he is!”
A sudden, uneasy quietness settled over the dim space where Fratelli knelt praying. Far from the cranky scowl he wore that morning, his face showed a stoic stillness. He cleared his throat and continued:
“Lord Christ, I devoutly implore you to grant me wisdom where I lack it- and discretion also…”
Unsure of what else to say, the cardinal hushed, nervously crossed himself and stood. Impatiently, he left the cathedral and encountered a woman clad in silken, pink skirts. Shaking her auburn locks, peering with shrewd, green eyes, she politely grinned and greeted him:
“Why, good evening Angelo!”
Fratelli started walking past her when she reached for his arm.
“Oh Angelo, I have wonderful news,” she said.
What now? He paused in his tracks, listening as she rambled:
“I’m surprised you don’t already know this, being supposedly cultured as you are, but one of the greatest artists in all of Europe is coming here to Lucca. Have you heard of Gino Siglio? Of course you have. Well, his works are on display at the Museo D’Arte. Why don’t you come with me this evening?”
“I am busy this evening,” Fratelli answered.
“Angelo, we never do anything together. It’s almost as if I don’t even have a nephew,” she lamented.
Bristling, Fratelli responded, “Stop calling me “Angelo”.”
Lifting a dainty, gloved hand, Francine giggled. Noticing his strained face, her smile faded. She glanced away, briefly distracted by a white bird that fluttered in treetops above, then re-addressed him:
“I’m sorry…Your Eminence…Would you like to go out with your dear Aunt Francine this evening?”
“Not tonight,” he replied, “I have other things to do.”
“Come now. You can read your bible or powder your miter some other time.”
Fratelli rolled his eyes.
“That is all you think I do, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, what do you do?”
Fratelli scowled, pursing his lips lest he say something he might regret. Anxiously, his interlocking fingers reached and toyed with his golden ring. There was perhaps no way of changing her mind… He said a courteous farewell and darted out of sight.
Inside, Fratelli sat in the parlor as Dina brought him a cold glass of water. He wiped some sweat from his forehead and gratefully drank. Soon as Dina began to leave, a boy with light, golden-brown hair- no older than thirteen, scampered in. He was Gianni, Dina’s newly adopted son. Right away, he set about, curiously touching various books and statuettes in the room. Dina turned back to scold him when Fratelli instead spoke,
“Gianni, seeing as you have so much energy and don’t know what to do with it, how would you like to serve at the altar for Sunday’s Mass?”
Smiling Fratelli told him, “Good, we will practice tomorrow evening the things you are to do…”
Dina grinned as the boy ran off down the hallway.
“Would you like some more water, Your Eminence?” she then asked.
“If you do not mind, I would love some tea…I just spoke with my Aunt Francine and she may be whisking me off some place tonight that I’d rather not go… Netherless, I will have my hands full.”
She nodded, removed the empty glass and left. By himself, able to think over the many things that hounded his mind, Fratelli rested, looking out the window. Summer sun blazed brightly over green gardens. A few birds sang a lazy song. How he wished to go upstairs and steal a short nap… However, Dina shortly came back with a hot pot of tea and he remembered that work waited.
As evening crept closer, Fratelli paused in his office amidst paper-work and various church documents just as Dina called him to dinner. Peacefully, he sat eating his supper of roasted tomatoes, ham and olives when Francine entered the dining room, clad in a lavish, blue silk dress, fanning herself with an embroidered, oriental fan. From his place beside Fratelli, Father Rodrigo peered up. Fratelli hurried to finish, not saying anything about this rude imposition, and met Francine in the hallway.
“I’m so glad you could come with me!” she shouted, “This will be a wonderful, just splendid night!”
For some reason, he wasn’t extremely excited.
En route to the Museo D’Arte, Fratelli sat across from Francine in a sumptuous stagecoach. It was actually more sumptuous than he preferred but again, he kept silent, only looking out the window every now and then, while fastidiously wiping a smudge from his golden cross. Thoughts of Father Adreo sitting alone, imprisoned occupied his mind. Early the next morning, he would meet with Ernesto and discuss this. Yet, Fratelli couldn’t quite wait. It was all he thought about even as they pulled up before the bustling, brightly-lit piazza.
Francine and Fratelli climbed out into the open, balmy night air. People milled to the right and left, some parting as they approached. It was hard to ignore both of them: Francine in her royal blue attire and Fratelli wearing his bright, scarlet robes. Crowds stopped and eyed them. Francine waved and laughed, happy to be seen- especially with the cardinal in tow. Fratelli hid his face and snuck inside.
In the foyer of the grand Museo, a huge picture greeted them. Depicted there on a scale of pastel pinks, greens and blues: two women, wearing similar dresses, with similar features, gesturing and yelling at eachother while a letter lay on the table before them. Their emotional expressions flashed hot and excited.
…Fratelli knew the feeling.
“Ooh look at this one!” Francine cried.
Hesitantly, he stepped into a large corridor. His eyes followed Francine’s gesture to a smaller- but far more beauteous picture. Stopped in a rose-garden, an angel alighted from heaven, pure white wings outspread, halo shimmering like the sun. Her gentle, bare feet caressed the flowers. He blinked twice, finding it hard to believe this was simply rendered from paint on a flat canvas.
The booming voice startled Fratelli so badly; he jumped and almost fled from the room. A slender, tall man approached, donned in elegant clothes, his reddish-brown hair covered by a black, felt hat. Dramatically, the man bowed and kissed Fratelli’s ring. His rich umber eyes stared directly.
“In case you do not know who I am already, I am Gino Siglio, yes, I am the artist.”
Francine swooned, vigorously fanning herself and hanging on his every word.
“This picture, yes… an angel perched among the roses, she is the sweetest rose! It took me a year to get everything just perfect- her face, her hair- each rose petal beneath her feet. It appears you like it very much, Your Eminence, don’t you?”
Fratelli stood transfixed by this man’s forceful personality. Slowly, he uttered:
“It is beautiful, yes”
“Will you buy it?”
“I may want you to paint something else for me, we’ll talk later.”
Gino smiled broadly, took the cardinal’s hand and again kissed his ring, then he spun away to speak with another onlooker. Francine beamed, staring silently at him. Fratelli nervously exited the corridor. Chasing after, Francine gasped:
“You are going to commission something? I can’t believe how great this is! He is so great!”
Fratelli stopped and gazed at her awkwardly.
“What is with you?” he hissed.
“I like handsome men!”
“I’m handsome, you don’t like me…”
“Handsome- and talented…”