Rodolfo stood there, calmly and with a small smile on his face, watching his Starflower come towards him. Bartolo, looking at the bride’s gown, realised that he wasn’t overdressed or in fancy dress at all.
Out in the Piazza the taxi turned left out of the Via Ordinal and pulled up at the kerb opposite the parked wedding car.
Also in the Piazza but almost in front of the Episcopal Palace, three school boys looked around nervously. One of the two seventeen year olds carried a soccer ball and the fourteen year old was the other’s brother. “Where do you think she’d be?” The older boy without a soccer ball asked the question as he scanned the Piazza.
“Probably closer to the Basilica,” the boy with the ball, was quartering the far end of the Piazza with his eyes. “I wish the Count could get some of his men here.”
“They’re all way out of position, Umberto,” the other older boy replied, “The Count really doesn’t want anything to go wrong with this peace agreement, that’s why he’s got them all miles away from here today.”
“I get that,” Umberto replied, “But we can’t stop the Crazy Countess on our own. We need an adult. Maybe more than one.”
“Enrico, Umberto,” the younger boy spoke up, “What about the Episcopal Guard? They’re all over the Piazza because it’s diocesan property and the police can’t come here unless they have evidence or they’re invited. They can’t want a shooting in front of the Basilica.”
The older boys looked at each other then at the younger boy. “Federigo,” admitted his older brother, “That’s actually a really good idea.” The three of them looked around. “Trouble is,” he added, “Only the ones on the Palace gate and down near the Basilica are in uniform.”
“There are lots of minotaurs in the Episcopal Guard, aren’t there?” asked Umberto, his attention on a large man with curly brown hair, broad forehead and nose, protuberant ears and an impressive shoulder span who was sitting on a bollard and drinking a take away cup of coffee.
“Sure,” piped up Federigo, “Because of Bishop Russo giving sanctuary to the rescued first minotaurs.”
“Here goes then,” Umberto squared his shoulders and covered the twenty-odd feet between them and the man in civilian clothes then asked politely, the soccer ball still under his arm, “Excuse me sir, but are you in the Episcopal Guard?”
The man looked at him over the top of his coffee cup with clear, brown eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Someone tried to recruit us to attack some people who are at a wedding in the Basilica.” Umberto tried to be concise, factual and truthful. “We want to stop her without anyone getting hurt. We can’t do it on our own, we need help.”
The man reached into his jacket with his left hand, pulled out a brown leather wallet and flipped it open. One half held an identity card with his picture and the Papal, Episcopal and State seals. The other half held a palm-sized badge of the Episcopal Guard, all in metal and bright enamels. “I am Commissario Filippo Vaccaccio. If you’re spinning me a story you can expect things to go badly for you.”
“The woman is Helena, Dowager Countess Strefagi.” Umberto clarified. “The people in the Basilica are there for a Desiderii family wedding. My friend and I have text messages from her on our mobile phones.”
The two brothers had come up to join Umberto talking to the Commissario. “Federigo and I,” put in Enrico, “Think she might have access to some weapons our father hid away when Count Stefano was in charge. Our father,” the two brothers looked at each other, “Seemed to think that Count Terrence, as he is now, wouldn’t approve of them.”
The Commissario put away his ID card and badge. “Show me one of these text messages?” Umberto silently handed him his phone. “Huh. ‘17 old enough to do a man’s part. Meet me 10 to noon, Piazza Sant’E & I’ll give you work.’ That at least gives probable cause for moral endangerment of a minor.” He handed back the phone and looked at the three boys. “Do you know her by sight?”
“Yes,” said Enrico, gazing down the Piazza towards the Basilica, “And the Crazy Countess just got out of a taxi. That’s a very long bag she has with her.”
The others followed the direction of his gaze. “That’s her in the dark brown coat and the sunglasses,” confirmed Umberto.
“Vacchetti, by the cut,” commented the Commissario as he stood and put his cup down on top of the bollard. “I’ve heard that Helena Strefagi has expensive tastes. That bag looks heavy and there’s at least one item in it that runs its full length.” He narrowed his eyes and began to stroll towards the Basilica. “We can’t get to her before she could get something out of the bag and we’ll start getting the lunchtime crowds in a few minutes. I’d use the radio but the closest of our men is practically on top of her – she’d hear everything he did and I’ll bet he’s about to stop traffic for her to cross the road.”
“I think I can get us a minute or two,” Umberto said quietly as he dropped his school backpack on the ground, the contents making a solid thud as it hit the paving. He stepped away from the others, bounced the soccer ball twice, then on the third bounce he threw himself sideways in the air and kicked the ball with the top of his foot. As the ball flew through the air just above shoulder height Umberto fell to the ground with an, “Oomph!” Before he could get to his feet the ball hit the woman in the dark brown coat in the head and she fell to the ground.
The Episcopal Guardsman almost next to her hurried over in concern as the soccer ball bounced away into traffic. The driver of the wedding car in front of the Basilica and the similarly dressed man he was talking with looked on in surprise from the far side of the road as the Guardsman suddenly pulled his sidearm to point it at the prone woman and started talking hurriedly in to his radio. From where he was the Commissario could see the glint of sunlight on metal from the long bag.
“Are you all right?” The Commissario looked at Umberto with concern.
“Yes, thank you sir,” the boy carefully stood up and rubbed an elbow. “That is so much easier on turf.”
“Good, because I believe it behoves us to jog over there.” The Commissario spoke calmly but uniformed men were now running from a side gate of the Episcopal Palace towards the scene on the pavement opposite the Basilica.
Helena Strefagi came to her senses to find herself lying on the ground. She had absolutely no idea of how she’d gotten there. The last thing she could remember was getting out of the taxi. The bag wasn’t in her hand any more, where was the bag? As she turned her eye to look for it the barrel, the business end of a handgun pointed at her caught her eye. It was suddenly the most important thing in the world. More important, even, than the missing bag.
“Signora.” It was a deep, calm, authoritative male voice. “Please don’t move or the guardsman will feel obliged to shoot you. Also, you had a nasty fall and banged your head – moving around may aggravate any injuries you have sustained.”
“I am Helena, Countess Strefagi,” she protested, “And I insist on being allowed to go on my way with my property!”
“You are the Dowager Countess Strefagi,” the calm voice corrected and she realised that the speaker must be directly behind her head, “And as you have been found in possession of firearms belonging to an illegal category of weapons, you have been witnessed in commission of a crime and found in possession of evidence of that crime. Therefore I am placing you under arrest. I must advise you that any statement you make may be used against you at your trial. If you cannot afford an attorney then a public defender will be appointed to your case. You will be transferred from here by ambulance to the Municipal Hospital where you will be examined and treated under the direction of the police doctor. Whom do you wish me to advise of your arrest?”
At the end of the nuptial Mass the congregation followed the happy couple out of the Chapel into the body of the Basilica and then out the front entrance to the wedding car. Most of them looked with interest at the remains of police activity on the far side of the road but as they were watching the last car drove off and the Episcopal Guardsmen on foot dispersed. An enforcer who’d been watching the car with the driver made a quiet report to Count Bartolo while Rodolfo and Astanthe got into the car and were driven off to wedding photos and the reception.
Later that afternoon Commissario Vaccaccio was shown into an office inside the Episcopal Palace. One large enough to have three windows facing the Piazza and high enough to see over the gate to the Basilica. “Your Excellency wanted to see me?” The big man was subtly deferential. The Bishop was, after all, the man he ultimately worked for and represented.
“Yes, indeed.” The middle aged man in the black cassock smiled, something that took ten years off his apparent age. “I happened to be looking out the window a little before noon. It was a most extraordinary scene. I realise that you will have had no chance to write your report yet but I was hoping you could sit with me for a few minutes,” he indicated a comfortable guest chair, “And tell me what was in the bag that prompted the drawing of an issued weapon?”