Book II: Chapter 36
Bored out of my mind, at last I watched as Alan followed Miriam out of the cubby they’d been hiding in and back into the wooden stall they started from yesterday, and then out from there and into the Chapel of the Choir at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Miriam took a quick walk to the chapel’s entrance and, when she felt comfortable that the coast was clear, she motioned Alan to follow. I watched as they blended into a nearby tour group that was on its way to the piazza. Here Alan took a deep breath and even began to crack a smile.
Unfortunately his happy attitude was short lived – for as the tour group began leaving the atrium to exit the basilica, he and Miriam were suddenly awash in a new wave of people – a group of monks who surrounded them and, covertly yet forcibly, moved my friends towards the Patio of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
“What’s going on?” Alan asked the clergymen holding his arms.
“Resistance is futile.” One of the priests replied stoically, as he and his rank continued to maneuver their captives into an elevator.
“But we’ve already seen The Dome.” Miriam protested, still playing the part of tourist.
“Don’t worry, madam,” the same priest spoke again, “you’re not going Up.”
And with that, he inserted a key into the elevator panel and and caused the lift to go in a direction the public never went – Down.
“Oh joy,” Alan quipped, “yet another secret locale. I’ve had about enough of all this covert maneuvering for one day.”
None of the monks replied to that comment, but soon enough the ride was over and the priests forced their prey out into a dim corridor.
“Kneel!” The lead monk barked. “Kneel before The Hand of God!”
(Ah, that’s a bit over dramatic, don’t you think?)
From out of nowhere a menacing figure emerged – his presence oozing of an ancient <power>.
He was a mass of black robes – layers of heavy fabric obscuring his true form; and curiously enough, his face was hidden by a venetian mask – a full-face Carne Ricci, with golden highlights around the curved mouth, raised eyebrows, black fabric folds pluming out in all directions above the mask’s forehead, and pearls to outline the trim work.
It was none other than Cardinalate Giovanni Marrollo – the new Confuto Penitentiary of The Vatican
(Oh no, not this crazy mite again).
The cascade of robes that graced the macabre figure made it seem as if he were gliding over the walkway towards Alan and Miriam, and he didn’t stop his approach until he was nearly on top of them.
I saw suddenly Miriam blanch white and guessed that she had just tried using her Psychic Probe but was repelled – clearly not a good omen.
“Don’t look up to your superior, dog!” Their clergyman captor yelled, while his cohorts forced Alan and Miriam to bow their heads.
At last, the mystery man spoke, “I believe you have something that belongs to me?” And he held out his hand to Miriam.
Miriam kept her head down. “I don’t know what you’re talk—“
<SMACK!> One of the monks struck Alan with a vicious slap, sending him to the ground in a heap. And before he could yelp out in pain, his attacker laid into him with multiple kicks to the midsection while the other monks struggled to hold him open to more blows – and all the while the masked man looked upon the scene in stoic silence.
“STOP!” Miriam screamed. “STOP!!” She shook an arm free in order to reach into her pocket and pull out the Doomsday Missive.
“Ah, good.” The mystery man said as he accepted the scroll Miriam held out to him. “I was afraid you were going to make me ask you twice. That would not have turned out well for your friend here.”
For his part, Alan was trying hard to catch his breath. The side of his face was torn, his ear on that side was puffy and red, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his ribs was broken from those vicious kicks. Nonetheless, it was the look of dejection on his face that caught me most – disappointed to see that Miriam had just given up the object they had worked so hard to retrieve.
The mystery man cast but a glance at the scroll, and quickly pulled it into the overhanging sleeve of his right arm. “Well and good. Shall we?”
“Where are we going?” Miriam asked, as the guards forced them up.
<SMASH!> At a signal from the robed man, one of the monks pummeled Alan with a right cross to the jaw – buckling the professor’s knees. Then turning back to address Miriam, the masked leader advised, “I’d prefer that you not speak unless spoken to. But, since I was of a mind to tell you the answer to that question anyway, I’ll respond – after all, there is only one thing to do with you…” And he let the thought hang invitingly.
Luckily for Alan’s sake, Miriam didn’t take the bait and after it became obvious that she was not going to speak up – and thus give the monks a chance to further abuse Alan.
At last the masked man snickered, “I see that you learn quickly. In any event, you’ve been caught stealing priceless artifacts and the penalty for that offense is death.” And here he paused again, as if he had something distasteful in his mouth, before he continued with a sigh. “Nonetheless, only the Pope can deliver the verdict. And unfortunately it won’t be my puppet Francis; instead you’ll be taken to Benedict immediately so he can pronounce your fate.” Then in a more chipper tone, “After that, you’ll be given back to Friar James and his crew. They will oversee your… execution.”