Read The Angel of Milan Online
Authors: R. J. Grant
I continued up the ally to the next street while checking my hands and clothes for blood. Luckily, I still looked like I just left Sunday school.
Someone wanted me out of commission for a while, that was quite obvious. It didn’t take much imagination to decide who it was, either.
Giovanni, it all must come back to him. I knew he didn’t expect me to find out the bishop was investigating Crochi. And he certainly could not have imagined I would find out that he called Crochi. The only missing piece was that he didn’t want me to meet Del Cielo, but why?
I arrived back at St. Andrew in a foul mood, anger clouding my reason. However, before long,
I shook off my poor countenance and realigned my thoughts. The parlor seemed like a good place to sit a while and think through all I had learned that morning. Most of the residents were out, serving their various ministries.
There’s no lack of callings at St. Andrew
, I thought.
The only other soul in the parlor was a very elderly priest by the name of Father Ignatius. He didn’t seem to shave regularly, and today was no exception. Heavy white stubble covered his wrinkled face, possibly showing a loss of self awareness.
A funny bird
, I thought. He was certainly old enough to have retired to the old priest home in the country many years ago. But as far as I understood, it was his desire to live out his remaining years here at St. Andrew. The monsignor was credited with granting his request. Usually there is no place for old men in a rectory.
I watched him sleeping in his big armchair, a book on the floor, where it had fallen from his hand as he dozed off. I doubted very much that I would ever reach that point, but I didn’t envy him. Waiting for death in an armchair was not something to look forward to. I was sure my own end would be violent and quick. Mucking about and peeing my own pants was not likely.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the house keeper kept looking over at me with a angry expression every time she passed through the room. It became a little annoying not knowing what she found so objectionable about me. After the third time she passed through, I mumbled under my breath something to the affect of, “old crow.”
“I see she doesn’t like you much, either,” said Ignatius from the armchair.
“I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to wake you. I was just annoyed at the looks I’ve been getting from the house keeper.”
“Do not be surprised, my son. She doesn’t like you. In her eyes you don’t look any more like a priest than I do. We do not fit her expectation of the clergy. I’m afraid Teresa has found you objectionable,” he said with a little laugh. “If you wish, do as I do—skip shaving, and pretend to pick your underwear out of your ass every once in a while. It makes her crazy.”
It was plain to see that the old priest still had all his marbles.
Bravo for you, old man, you are still fighting back
, I thought.
“If she keeps it up, I will try your advice, but for the time being I will try not to antagonize her. She looks the type that would pray for your damnation.”
“I assure you, Adama, she does, and I also assure you she is diligent in her cause,” he said, ending with that little laugh again.
On that cheerful note, the old man seemed to doze off again. I pictured him walking about in her presence, pulling at the back of his baggy drawers. The image brought a smile to my face and determination to fight back, an attribute for which I needed little encouragement.
My mind again went to Giovanni. It was time to find that greasy bastard, and see just what he was all about. Evidence of his transgressions was circumstantial, but that was more than enough for me. I had no problem administering penance first, and then listening to his confession.
Do I hear an Amen?
It was not long before I tired of watching the old man sleep. The rest of the rectory was empty. Everyone was out doing whatever it is they do between morning Mass and dinner. I had often thought that the life of a parish priest must bring on excruciating depression. Visit the sick, bury the dead, and console those left behind. Ah, it must be a calling. I decided to go up to my quarters and stretch out for a while.
While walking up the stairs, I thought I heard a sound coming from my room. I approached quietly, and opened the door slowly to find a man looking through my closet. He wore the black suit of a priest.
“What are you doing?” I asked firmly.
The man turned with a startled look on his face, and guilt in the corners of his mouth. I was sure that he or whoever sent him had not expected me to be able to return today. I gave him a quick study; the haircut and the mustache didn’t look right. This was no priest. A quick glance at the rest of the room and I knew it had been searched rather roughly. He had my HK from the closet shelf in his hand, but it was still in the holster. He moved toward me in a threatening manner, expecting me to step aside and let him run by.
I did step aside, however, I also clothes-lined him with my forearm, catching him dead in the throat as intended. His body was immediately horizontal in midair, and seemed to float for an instant before falling flat on his back at my feet with a thud. The gun fell beside him as he reached to hold his throat, and I reached for his hair. I dragged him by the head across the floor with all my might, sitting him up against the bed.
“What are you looking for? Who are you? Whom are you working for?” I said, in rapid succession.
He gargled something unintelligible between choking on his own spit.
, I thought,
. I probably ruptured his larynx; there’d be no conversation with this one for a long, long time. While he gagged and wheezed uncontrollably, I tore open his pockets, finding a billfold and an Italian drivers license.
“Murhaf Bestani—well, well. Syrian by the sound of the name, but apparently living here for quite some time.” I left him struggling to breath at the bedside and opened the window, stealing a peek at the courtyard below—empty. Turning back, I found him trying to crawl to the doorway.
“Not so fast, Murhaf. You and I are not done yet,” I said, dragging him by the hair again to put him back where I left him.
“I suppose I will get nothing more from you on this matter, but I can’t just let you go. I think you are going to attempt an escape out the window into the ally. Out the window it is for you, Murhaf.”
The man’s eyes bulged, and he began to gurgle even more while trying to struggle from my grasp. He had no chance as I tightened my grip on his hair, spinning him backwards to me, and grabbing his groin with my other hand. One good upward yank and he all but jumped out the window for me.
The window was only on the second story, but I knew that dropping him in his present condition all but guaranteed he would crack his head on the concrete in one way or another. Even if it didn’t kill him, I was sure he would be unconscious in a hospital for an extended period. Poor bastard, he couldn’t even scream on the way down.
I closed the window and quickly tidied up my quarters.
Best I disappear until after someone finds him
, I thought. Time to take a walk on the avenue. I slipped back downstairs and out the door without being seen. Maybe a good walk would clear my head from the irritation I was still feeling at Giovanni.
However, the walk had not cleared my head one bit, and I was still in a bad mood when I returned to the rectory about two hours later. The police were just removing a body bag from the building. I was pleased to see that Murhaf had not survived the fall; he would be one less loose end to contend with. Dinard was standing on the steps with the monsignor, and I saw his face redden as I approached. He immediately stepped inside as if to avoid me.
I stopped to speak with the monsignor, displaying shock at the event. For the time being, it was assumed the dead man was a thief who had fallen off a drainpipe near to where he was found. I expressed my sorrow with much pious expression, and excused myself to retire to my quarters. There are times when a group of turned collars is useful for blunting a police investigation, especially in Italy. With a little luck, the injury to his larynx would also be overlooked in the autopsy.
Opening the door, I was surprised to find a man in my room again, but this time it was Father Dinard. He was sitting at my desk chair, arms folded and resting on his enormous belly, with his hands inside his sleeves in his usual pose. He remained silent for a long moment, and finally, when he couldn’t resist any longer, he asked the question.
“Father Adama, did you have anything to do with that man’s death?”
“Father, how can you ask such a question?”
“You are not answering the question, Father. The kitchen is directly below your quarters, and I heard a scuffle moments before I heard a thud in the court yard.”
It would not do to try to bullshit Dinard. Despite appearances, he was an astute little man with an acute sense of awareness. There was nothing to do but confess.
“Yes, Father, I threw him out the window.”
“Good! ...God forgive me… He was a known thug and murderer—a blight on Milano. Here, I removed this just before the police arrived, just in case they searched your room.”
Taking his hands out of his sleeves, he offered me my holstered HK. I casually took it from him and hooked the conceal holster inside my waste band.
“Thank you Father. That would have been difficult to explain, now wouldn’t it?
“Yes, I supposed it would.”
To my surprise, he didn’t ask any more questions, but rose from the chair to leave me. At the door, he paused and turned with a frown on his face.
“Adama, I am very good at judging character. If I had thought for one moment that your actions were unrighteous, I would have revealed to the police what I suspected. Please do not prove my judgment wrong. I would be most disappointed.” With that, he was gone.