Today’s Fiction Friday excerpt is from Ann Margaret Lewis’s Gold Medal winning book, “Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.” My Catholic Fiction review is here. The novel’s website is here. Thank you, Ann!
“Good Lord.” Harden’s face grew pale. “Rosalinda—!”
Pope Leo blanched as well. Tapping his right fist in his opposite hand, he turned to look out the window behind him. The rain clouds had now blotted the sun, making it seem as dusk in the early afternoon sky.
The pope turned back to us, his dark eyes flashing with decision. “Giocomo!” He commanded suddenly. “Come here.”
Father Dionisio came quickly to his master’s side.
“Remove your cassock.”
“Subito!” As Leo spoke, he lifted the pectoral cross over his head and set it on the table. He then unwrapped the sash from around his waist and tossed it on his chair. “Presto! Presto! We have no time to waste.”
Hurriedly, the young man unbuttoned his cassock even as Leo unbuttoned his own. Holmes came around the table and knelt to help Leo with the lower buttons.
“What on earth —?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” said Holmes.
Dionisio removed his cassock and stood in simple black shirt, clerical collar and black trousers. Holmes helped Leo slip out of his white cassock and into the black gown provided by Dionisio. The black was almost the right size, though fuller through the midsection due to Dionisio’s thicker frame.
“You’re not serious, Holiness,” said Harden. “You’re not actually leaving the Vatican. Someone may recognise you—”
“‘If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship,’” Leo replied, quoting what I later learned was Aquinas. “‘He would keep it in port forever.’” He buttoned the top of the cassock while Dionisio crouched to fasten the bottom. “We must go. An innocent child is in danger for my sake.”
“Signore Harden is right, Holiness,” said Dionisio from floor. “This is madness.”
“Basta.” Leo pulled the young man from the ground by the elbow. He gestured emphatically with an open hand to the top of his head. “Portami un cappello. Presto!” Dionisio dashed into the next room. “And black stockings and shoes—ah, never mind I’ll find something.” The pontiff marched with remarkable energy into a side room that I guessed to be his sleeping area and returned promptly with black calf-length boots. His gentleman servant now trailed him protesting in rapid Italian as His Holiness moved. While the pontiff sat on a small bench to kick off his red slippers and pull on the boots, the agitated servant knelt beside him rambling so quickly that neither Harden nor I could decipher any meaning from him.
Apparently the meaning didn’t register to Leo either. “Basta, basta, BASTA!” He barked, stomping his boot-covered foot. He pointed a thumb to his chest. “Ego sum Petros!” He made sweeping gesture to drive the man from in front of him. “Vai!” Struck with terror, the butler dodged from the old man’s path as Leo charged to a baroque style cherry wood cabinet. From it he removed a worn, black leather case that he tucked under his arm. He finished buttoning his cuffs and Dionisio returned with a small, wide-brimmed black hat, which Leo snatched from him. He then plucked off his white zucchetto and slapped it into the bewildered priest’s hands.
“Allora, Signori,” Leo said to us, dropping the black hat on his head. “Andiamo.”
“You’ve forgotten one detail, Padre,” said Holmes, in reference to the pope’s new attire.
“L’anello.” Holmes held up his right hand and pointed to his fourth finger.
“Ah.” Leo pulled the fisherman’s ring from his finger and dropped it into the left pocket of the black cassock. The young priest then handed him a tall black umbrella, and Leo set its end to the floor with authoritative thud.
It is amazing how clothes can change the appearance of a man. Where once stood the proverbial Vicar of Christ on Earth, now stood a simple, venerable Italian priest. Strangely, he resembled the aged Italian cleric persona Holmes once adopted to avoid the notice of Professor Moriarty.
I glanced at Holmes and saw him giving me a knowing grin. “Very well then,” he said. “As the man says—let’s go.”
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