Francine’s New Interest.
The next morning, grey clouds blocked sunlight. During Mass, it was dark inside the cathedral. However, some dawn light peeked through enough so that Fratelli could see the figures of his aunt Francine, Dina and Jack’s faint shadow seated near the back. Gianni stood beside Fratelli, holding a candle as he read the Scriptures. When Mass ended and Fratelli processed towards of the cathedral door, he shortly glanced towards Jack, wondering why he’d sat so far away.
He stood, folding his bishop’s miter beneath his arm, waiting for Jack to finally appear. He suddenly pulled his friend aside and asked,
“Why didn’t you sit closer?”
“Why didn’t you sit closer?”
“I like to observe from a distance.”
“You seem detached. Was my homily unpleasant?”
“No, you preached fine.”
Fratelli didn’t ask anything else though he felt curious as to his friend’s seeming aloofness. He granted Jack a farewell and rushed off.
Moreso, during breakfast, Jack wasn’t there. Seeing Fratelli eating alone, Gianni scurried in and plopped next to him. The boy grabbed a breadstick and while munching, he watched the cardinal intently. Fratelli didn’t acknowledge him.
“Your friend is ignoring you, isn’t he?” the boy mumbled.
“Gianni, please mind your own affairs…”
All afternoon, Fratelli stayed in his office, working, reading, drinking hot tea and cold water. He drew documents for several churches throughout Lucca then began composing a letter to Adreo. Leaning over the desk, he wondered what he could write to console the imprisoned priest.
A knock at the door disrupted his thoughts. He turned and saw Dina.
“Did you have a meeting with an artist by the name of Gino Siglio?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” Fratelli responded, tiredly rubbing his face, “I forgot. Tell him I will be there shortly.”
Hesitant, he put the pen down. His letter to Adreo would wait.
Coming into the parlor, he expected to see Gino standing alone, perhaps carrying a bag of paints or supplies, what he didn’t expect is Francine to be there with him.
“Hello Angelo,” she said sweetly.
“Don’t call me that,” Fratelli snapped.
“I apologize if this has caused inconvenience, Your Eminence,” Gino then said, “Your aunt Francine was walking the same way as I and I invited her to join me… She really is wonderful company.”
The cardinal arched his eyebrows wondering if they knew the same person. Francine grinned somewhat. After she sat down, Gino addressed him:
“I am honored to be commissioned by you, Most Reverend Lord Cardinal.”
Fratelli’s brows arched again. That was a title he seldom heard! He tried not to cringe from the obvious flattery.
Gino continued, “Whatever you would like, I’ll paint it!”
“I would like a Biblical scene…” Fratelli mused aloud, “Maybe the Holy Family: with Mary and Joseph and the little Jesus… Do include roses like in your angel painting- white or pink but not red. I think it will look splendid right here in the parlor.”
“It surely will!” Gino interjected.
Francine smiled, standing by Gino’s side, showing a set of perfect, white teeth.
“Everything he touches just becomes so beautiful…” she sighed.
After agreeing on what should be done and for what price, Fratelli and Gino excused themselves to walk in the garden. Because of blanketing clouds, summer sun didn’t blaze so harshly upon them. The flowers stretched petals wide into the sky, grass and bushes thrived glistening and green. Gino stopped adoring the pristine, white roses.
“How nicely these are kept, Your Eminence!”
Fratelli couldn’t accept credit for the roses. Last year, Dina had hired a gardener, much to his chagrin. Now, he seldom, if ever spent time working here. While they walked, he noticed how greatly, Gino’s fine, colorful garb blended with the garden blooms. He strutted boldly, almost like a peacock in resplendent green, black and gold. Fratelli silently hoped the man’s ego didn’t compromise his work.
They returned inside and drank chilled wine. Francine of course, brought Gino his glass. They whispered something Fratelli could not hear and finally Gino asked,
“Do you mind, Your Eminence, if I take your lovely aunt out to dinner?”
“Of course not,” Fratelli said flatly, though he suppressed a mild shudder at hearing the words “lovely” and “aunt” right next to eachother.
In fact, he hoped the two would leave soon.
~ ~ ~
At last, Fratelli was by himself. He crept into his office, sat and began thinking of how he should write Adreo. He would include a blessing certainly- and goodly hopes for his release. Soon as Fratelli touched the pen onto the paper, someone appeared in the doorway.
“What now?” the cardinal growled.
Ernesto leaned against the wall and announced, “I have great news: This morning, during our investigation, we concluded that after the stabbing occurred, the killer pushed Diego Pollini from behind, off the clock-tower’s third or second floor. We don’t believe Adreo could have been exactly where we found him… if he himself had done it…so he’s been released.”
Fratelli leapt from his chair with joy. He almost embraced Ernesto but held back.
“Oh praise God!” Fratelli shouted.
“Now, calm down Your Eminence,” Ernesto said, “He is still suspicious, after all we can’t ignore the idea he might be an accomplice, however, there is no further need to hold him at this point.”
“Where is he?”
“He’ll be returned here tonight.”
“Thanks be to God!”
The cardinal almost danced with frenzied joy. Ernesto laid a hand on his shoulder saying, “Your Eminence…”
Fratelli disregarded him, now running to the window and peering outside like an excited child.
Suddenly jolted, Fratelli paused and sheepishly toyed with his ring.
“There’s no need to yell, I’m right here.”
Ernesto sighed. He waited a moment then continued:
“We also can’t rule out the fact that Adreo knows several things and therefore…the killer may come looking for him.”
“Yes, for him…”
“Oh no!” Fratelli cried, “What are we going to do?”
“Let’s think of something?” Ernesto replied, his voice calm and assuring.
“You mean us- together?”
The parlor clock ticked monotonous as minutes dragged by. Dina brought a pot of tea as Ernesto and Fratelli sat across from each other, thinking… quietly brooding.
Ernesto sat up then spoke:
“I know of a place where many people go daily, from all over Lucca. A great place for listening- and watching.”
“And where is that?” asked Fratelli who neatly lifted the hem of his scarlet cassock and removed his house-slippers. Somehow, being comfortable helped him think. Ernesto glanced at him and answered:
“But Ernesto, that is the house of God!”
“It is also the largest center of the community, like the piazza- but with more closed spaces and whispering.”
“I don’t like it…”
“Angelo- Your Eminence, don’t you want to catch this murderer? He could be lurking about waiting for the chance to get rid of Adreo- or someone else.”
“Yes, I do wish to help. So I suppose you will bring all your officers into the cathedral, running amuck, looking for a killer…and ruining the sacred silence.”
“No, no, it won’t be like that,” Ernesto laughed, “This will be a stakeout: where I will watch carefully and anonymously.”
Fratelli now laughed, “You are the constable and the cardinal’s brother nonetheless- hardly anonymous.”
“That’s why I need a disguise of sorts. I’d have to be someone you would expect to be lingering around the cathedral for long hours- maybe something clerical?”
Taken aback, Fratelli exclaimed:
“Posing as a clergyman? I cannot condone that!”
He pondered to himself, eyes squinted from the effort, his forehead comically wrinkled, then added,
“However, I do have an old monk’s habit that might just fit you…”
Ernesto nodded. It was perfect.
Fratelli donned his slippers, strode upstairs, fetched the worn, white-wool habit and brought it down. Ernesto threw the habit over his head, wrestling to straighten the baggy cloth but it fit perfectly. Fratelli stepped back and snickered. His brother looked rather goofy as a monk. Ernesto pulled the hood over his head, folded his hands as in prayer and marched out of the room.
“Yes you look very anonymous and religious,” Fratelli remarked stepping behind him.
Leisurely, they walked outside, around the gardens and rested upon the stone fountain’s edge. Four or so ducks flew overhead. They both sighed, breathing in fresh air. Eventually, Fratelli spoke,
“Ernesto shouldn’t any believable monk speak good Latin?’
“Yes, why didn’t I think of that! Your Eminence, teach me some Latin prayers.”
Putting a hand on his chin, Fratelli thought a minute then uttered:
“Deus in adjutorium meum intende. (1)”
Fratelli laughed then repeated it slower.
“I can’t get all that,” Ernesto said, feeling muddled.
“De-us in ad-yu-to-rium, me-um in-tende”
Lifting a hand in the air with precision, Ernesto slowly annunciated:
“De-us in ad-yu-to-rium.. me-um in-tende…”
“Yes, that is perfect!” Fratelli said, smiling widely.
He watched as the ducks returned and landed softly in the fountain’s basin. They squawked loudly and floated in circles. It seemed a waste not to enjoy this fine, summer day.
Noticing evening shadows lengthen, Ernesto stood.
“I should be going now,” he said, “You will know where to find me- although don’t treat me like Ernesto- in fact, don’t treat me like anybody…”
“I know, I know…” Fratelli replied, waving his hand.
Ernesto departed, walking towards the looming cathedral just as Father Adreo came into the yard. Fratelli instantly unseated and approached him. In rapt gesture, the priest knelt down, took Fratelli’s hand and after kissing his ring, leaned his face against it and said, “I am so heartily sorry…I will never do anything so foolish or suspicious again!”
“Get up Adreo,” Fratelli whispered, shaken with sympathy, “You are safe here, safe in the shelter of the Lord.”
~ ~ ~
Sun set behind the hills. Within the spacious, shadowy cathedral, Father Rodrigo strolled while Gianni trailed behind him, lighting candles against encroaching dark. They wordlessly kneeled before the high-altar, mouthed some inaudible prayer and then left.
Ernesto observed them and stayed motionless until he had to scratch his nose. Suddenly two people passed and instinctually, he crossed himself blurting out: “Deus in ad-yu-to-rium, meum in-tende!”
He then made a triple cross, as Catholics did before the reading of the Gospel: one cross over his forehead, one over his mouth and another over his chest. He looked very pious indeed. Now, he listened as voices conversed. The first, a female voice said:
“It’s very bold, you bringing me here.”
It was Francine.
The other, a hearty male voice; that he recognized as Gino Siglio’s, replied, “Why do you say so?”
“Because, if His Eminence finds us dallying and flirting here, he will kill you!”
“Be assured, my lady, that I’m not afraid of anything- not a thing.”
She laughed. He lightly kissed her check, said goodnight then swiftly walked back. Ernesto hunched over, looking as diminutive as possible. No one noticed him there at all.