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Authors: David Hewson

The Fallen Angel

BOOK: The Fallen Angel
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DAVID
HEWSON
THE FALLEN ANGEL

MACMILLAN

. . . while I was painting her I felt all the time as if she were trying to escape from my gaze. She knows that her sorrow is so strange and so immense,
that she ought to be solitary forever, both for the world’s sake and her own; and this is the reason we feel such a distance between Beatrice and ourselves, even when our eyes meet hers. It
is infinitely heartbreaking to meet her glance, and to feel that nothing can be done to help or comfort her; neither does she ask help or comfort, knowing the hopelessness of her case better than
we do. She is a fallen angel – fallen, and yet sinless; and it is only this depth of sorrow, with its weight and darkness, that keeps her down upon earth, and brings her within our view even
while it sets her beyond our reach.

The Marble Faun
, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Contents

PART ONE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

PART TWO

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

PART THREE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

PART FOUR

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

PART FIVE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

PART SIX

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

PART SEVEN

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

PART EIGHT

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

PART NINE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

PART TEN

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

PART ELEVEN

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

PART ONE
ONE

It was the last Saturday of August, just past midnight. Nic Costa sat on a low semi-circular stone bench midway across the Garibaldi bridge, listening to the Tiber murmur
beneath him like some ancient spirit grumbling about the noise and dirt of the city.

To his left in Trastevere ran a steady stream of cars and crowded late-night buses taking people home to the suburbs, workers from the hotels and restaurants, diners and drinkers too tired or
impoverished to stay in the city any more. On the opposite side of the river, where this portion of the road bore the name Lungotevere de’ Cenci, the traffic flowed towards the centre, more
quietly at this time of night.

Rome was slowly, reluctantly, working its way towards sleep. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine himself at home in the countryside of the Appian Way, listening to nothing but the
distant echo of insomniac owls. Then, from both sides of the river, came the familiar sound of the weekend: loud, slurring voices, English, German, American, some he couldn’t name. The many
busy bars of Trastevere and the Campo dei Fiori were beginning to disgorge their customers onto the street and for the next few hours the uniformed police and Carabinieri who worked the graveyard
shift would find themselves dealing with the aftermath of an alcohol culture that was utterly alien to them. Most Romans didn’t much like getting drunk. Excess of this nature was socially
unacceptable, an embarrassment, though that night he’d had rather more wine than usual and didn’t regret it for a moment.

Further along the Tiber he could see a noisy bunch of young men and women stumbling across the ancient pedestrian bridge that joined Trastevere, near the Piazza Trilussa, with the
centro
storico
. Costa wished he had the time and energy to walk there, then further still, until he could see the Castel Sant’Angelo illuminated like some squat stone drum left behind by the
forgetful children of giants. Rome seemed magical, a fairy-tale city, on a drowsy evening such as this. And there were so many memories locked in these streets and lanes, the houses and churches
and palaces around him. Good and bad, some fresh, some fading into the muted, resigned acceptance he had come to recognize as a sign of age.

‘May I ask again? What happened in Calabria?’ inquired the woman seated next to him.

There was nothing like a
gelato
in the open air after midnight. He was three days into his summer holiday, one forced on him by the state police’s insistent human resources
department. Already he felt a little bored. Then along came unexpected company.

Costa licked his cone, bitter chocolate and fiery red pepper, thought for a moment and said, ‘It’s all been in the newspapers.’

‘The newspapers! Some of it. About you and Leo and the rest locking up a bunch of crooks and politicians then getting feted by Dario Sordi in the Quirinale Palace. Medals from the
president of Italy.’

‘It was one medal,’ he pointed out. ‘A very small one.’

‘So why did you need a party to celebrate?’

It was a good question. He hadn’t. It was their colleagues in the Questura who’d arranged that evening’s private celebration at a famous restaurant near the Pantheon. It was
there that, by accident, on his part at least, he had met the woman who was now by his side picking at a pistachio ice cream with mixed enthusiasm. Teresa Lupo had invited her without telling him,
and winked at him like some old-fashioned comic as she arrived. He felt sure he’d blushed, and hoped no one had noticed. And then he’d scarcely talked to anyone else all evening.

‘It’s disconcerting,’ she continued. ‘I turn my back for one moment and suddenly everything’s changed.’

‘You’ve been gone for nearly two years, not a moment. Of course things are different.’

Her round brown eyes glittered beneath the single iron lamp above them.

‘So I see,’ she said. ‘I’d like to know what happened in Calabria. To Gianni and Teresa. To Leo.’ She hesitated. ‘To Nic Costa too. Him most of
all.’

‘I laid to rest some ghosts,’ he said without thinking, and realized he was happy to hear those words escape his own lips. ‘Most of them really. But that’s a story for
another time.’

She put her small hand on his arm and moved a little closer. He was unable to take his attention away from her dark, inquisitive face, which was even prettier than he remembered, bearing the
signs of make-up and some personal attention which had never been there before.

‘I’m happy for you. Would you mind very much if . . . ?’

She took his arm and wound it around her shoulders. Then her head leaned against his and he felt her soft, curly black hair fall against his cheek.

He whispered, half to himself, ‘I remember the first time I saw you. It was in that little outpost of the Barberini where you kept your paintings. You were a nun.’

‘I was never a nun. I was a sister. I took simple vows, not solemn ones. How many times do I have to tell you this?’

‘Quite a lot, I imagine. Is that . . . possible?’

He heard, and felt, her laughter.

‘I don’t see why not. I’ve only been back three weeks. There’s time. All the time in the world really.’

But there isn’t, Costa thought.

‘It was winter,’ he recalled. Bleak midwinter. The bleakest ever. He’d seen his wife, Emily, die before his eyes. That loss, and its cruel, invisible twin, the associated guilt
over her murder, had almost broken his spirit. He’d wondered for a while if he would ever put that dark time behind him. It might have been impossible without this woman’s unexpected
intervention. ‘You wore a long black shapeless dress with a crucifix round your neck. You carried your life around in plastic bags. There was nothing in your world except painting and the
Church.’

‘Back then all of that was true.’

Emily’s loss still marked him, and always would. But it had become a familiar, background ache, a scar he had come to recognize and accept. The sight of her in those last moments, by the
mausoleum of Augustus, in the grip of the man who would kill her, no longer haunted him. Time attenuated everything after a while.

Feeling a little giddy from the wine Falcone had ordered throughout the evening, he took away his arm, turned and peered into Agata’s eyes. She was still the woman he’d first met.
Someone with the same intense curiosity, one which so often creased her high forehead with doubts and questions that this habit of fierce concentration had, with age, left the faintest of marks
there, like scars of the intellect.

‘The last time we met was at the airport. You were going to Malta to work for some humanitarian organization. You weren’t a nun or a sister or whatever any more. Your life still
seemed to be contained in plastic bags. You didn’t have art. I wasn’t sure you had the Church.’

‘You sound as if you were worried.’

‘Of course I was! You’d spent your entire life in a convent. You were going somewhere you didn’t know. To a life you didn’t understand.’

She folded her arms and glowered at him.

‘You’d lost your wife. And you were worried about me? Someone you barely knew? This constant selflessness of yours is ridiculous, Nic. You can’t worry about everyone. You have
to lose that habit.’

‘I have lost it. As much as I want to, anyway.’

‘Well done. I didn’t abandon painting by the way. Or the Church either. The first is your fault. You told me to go and see that Caravaggio in the Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
The
Beheading of St John the Baptist
.’

She edged further into his arms and placed her head on his shoulder.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s good, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a depiction of a man who’s just been executed. His murderer is reaching down to finish the job with a very small knife.’ She hesitated. ‘It’s wonderful.
I refused to go and see it for nearly eighteen months. When I went I took one look and knew I couldn’t stay out of the world forever. It’s like every other Caravaggio I’ve ever
seen: a call to life. A challenge, to face our fears.’

‘And the Church?’ he asked.

‘I’m still a good Catholic. I simply came to understand there are more definitions of the word “good” than I’d learned inside a convent. Also I missed Rome . .
.’ She closed her eyes. ‘. . . so very much.’ She smiled and looked back at the city, now growing somnolent beneath the clear night sky. ‘I grew up here. This place is my
life. I couldn’t leave it forever. Could you?’

‘Never. This job of yours . . .’ He still struggled with the idea of her earning a living like everyone else. ‘How did you get it?’

‘Hard work! How else? I didn’t sit in my cell all day, you know. I have the degree, the postgraduate qualifications, to teach the history of art anywhere in the world. Why do you
think those eminent men from the Palazzo Barberini used to come to me for an opinion?’

‘Because they valued it,’ he said quickly.

‘Quite. On Monday I become assistant professor at the Raffaello College in the Corso. It’s a school for foreign students. Not a public university exactly. Perhaps that will come
later. But it’s a job, the first I’ve ever had. Teaching spoilt brats the history of art. Caravaggio in particular. You, however, may attend my lectures for free.’

‘I will.’

‘No. I was joking. You know as much as I do about
him
. More in some ways. You can see into his head. I never will. Frankly I don’t want to.’

Her hand went to his hair. She stroked his head, as if amazed by their closeness.

‘Those ghosts really are gone, aren’t they?’ Agata Graziano whispered.

‘Exorcized,’ he said.

‘Don’t tell me what buried them. I don’t want to know. It’s enough that they’re dead.’

TWO

Costa felt awkward holding her. He still had a
gelato
in one hand, as did she, and it seemed inevitable that this experimental moment would culminate in a kiss. He was
happy with this idea, provided the evening ended there. He needed to think about Agata’s sudden reappearance in Rome a little more. In the morning, when his head was clearer, and hers
too.

She noticed his predicament with the ice cream, raised a single dark eyebrow, and nodded at the ground.

BOOK: The Fallen Angel
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