The Rome Prophecy(3)
Author:Sam Christer

    JP lowers himself on to the boards alongside his friend and catches his eye. ‘You seem so very far away. Somewhere wonderful?’

    ‘Just thinking of the past. Moments like this make you reminisce.’

    ‘Aah, that is not good. Not tonight. Tonight is about making memories, not recalling them. When you are old and your bones will not let you climb the Eiffel Tower, then you have time to remember.’

    Tom gets to his feet. ‘You have a point.’ He peers out over the safety barrier and waves into the distance. ‘Goodbye, Paris.’

    ‘Aah, non.’ Jean-Paul throws his arms wide. ‘We do not say goodbye, you know this; we say au revoir, it is less permanent.’

    Tom turns his back on the city and faces his friend. ‘I know, but I really think this may be more of a goodbye than an au revoir. I don’t think I’m going to be coming back from Rome.’

    ‘You have the wanderlust again?’

    He nods. ‘A little.’

    ‘Or is it more a womanlust than wanderlust?’ JP studies Tom’s eyes, ‘Are you planning to make a home in her bed?’

    He laughs. ‘I’m planning no such thing.’

    ‘But it is possible, yes?’

    ‘Jean-Paul, as a Frenchman, you know that when it comes to matters of the heart, anything is possible, but— ’

    ‘So,’ he jumps in again, ‘maybe you do have a little plan, yes?’

    ‘Maybe I have a little plan, no. Listen, Valentina and I go back a long way. We met in Venice soon after I left the priesthood in Los Angeles. She was a lieutenant in the Carabinieri and—’

    ‘And she was the first love of your life. The first one to introduce you to the magical intimacy of womanhood?’

    Tom frowns. ‘No! No, she was not. And no, we were not intimate in any way. Valentina was—’

    ‘But you would like to have been.’ He leans close to his friend’s face, a sparkle in his eyes, ‘This Valentina, I sense she is a Roman beauty who has stolen your heart, and now, like a brave Gaul, you will swim oceans and climb mountains to be with her again.’

    ‘What a hopeless Casanova you are.’ Tom shakes his head in amusement. ‘Are you in the least bit interested in the true version, or do you just want to make up your own romantic fantasy?’

    ‘Oui. I am very interested. Though I am not sure the truth will be as satisfying as the fantasy.’

    ‘I’m sure it won’t be. Valentina is a friend. A good friend. We’ve kept in touch – phone calls, email, that kind of thing. She’s just been promoted in the Carabinieri, so I’m going over to celebrate with her.’

    ‘I understand.’ JP fights back a grin. ‘An Italian woman invites you to stay with her and celebrate. This is as good as a proposal of marriage.’

    ‘Only if you’re a crazy Frenchman.’

    ‘To that I plead guilty.’ He flicks the last of his cigarette into the black abyss and watches it fall like a firefly. ‘You didn’t say how you met her.’

    ‘You didn’t ask.’

    ‘Come, it is a long way down, you can tell me as we go.’ JP leads the way to the lift. ‘A woman in uniform! Just the thought of it is exquisite.’

    Tom hits the call button and hears great winding engines clunk and whirr below them. ‘She locked me in one of her cells and interviewed me in connection with a murder.’

    He frowns. ‘A murder? I cannot see anyone imagining you to be a murderer. Though you fight well enough – for an American.’

    ‘She had good cause, Jean-Paul. I’d just told her how I’d killed two men in LA. And she had every reason to think I’d killed again.’


    I lie in the dirt of the square.

    The last of my blood drips slowly like warm red butter oozing from my butchered wrist.

    My life is ebbing away.

    Perhaps I will even die before the sun reappears from the grey, melancholic clouds above me.

    I hope not.

    I pray to see the great god’s face one final time before I pass.

    Voices swirl above me.

    They are not those of the soldiers – they are all gone now and are no doubt drawing rewards for their public chore. Some will already be bedding whores in the Aventine while telling stories of my demise.

    No matter.

    My dignity is preserved for eternity. I have a place in history.

    One day, when my secret is out, I will be respected and honoured for both my silence and my sacrifice.

    Without the guards, I am at the mercy of the mob, and they have no compassion. I see the plebs staring down their noses at me. Some scoff and spit in my face. Others loot the last of my jewellery and cloth. The hands of crude boys explore my cooling flesh.

    I feel nothing.

    Certainly no pain.

    The agony engendered by the sword is thankfully too great for my mind to interpret. I do not scream. Nor do I cry or whimper. I cloak my suffering in a blanket of noble silence.

    In the haze of faces above me there are none I recognise. No sign of my brutish husband. No tears from my shamed parents. Not even a last farewell from my friends.

    But I am not alone.

    My sisters are gathering. They are reaching out from the afterlife and wrapping their arms around me. I am ready to join them and to rejoice.

    I am ready to be reborn in the spirit of another sister.

    Ready to live beyond the grave.



    The Fiat splutters its way south-west down Viale della Piramide Cestia, then right on to Via Marmorata, running parallel to Circus Maximus.

    Cars are strewn at angles across the middle of the road near the Piazza dell’Emporio. An argument is heating up. Irate drivers are fencing with fingers around a steaming bonnet and busted trunk.

    Once Valentina squeezes through the bottleneck and the cacophony of blaring car horns, it’s plain sailing along the banks of the Tiber, down the Lungotevere Aventino and Via Ponte Rotto.

    She checks her street map as she turns right on to the Piazza della Bocca della Verità and promises herself that tomorrow she’ll find time to buy a sat nav.

    She knows she’s arrived when the famous Romanesque bell tower of the chiesa comes into view.

    Valentina slides the Punto into an envelope-sized space opposite the church and parallel to a spectacular fountain that on another occasion she’d love to linger around. She locks up and walks across to a young officer guarding the taped-off scene. He watches her every step and gives her shapely form an approving smile.

    Before the young soldier can embarrass either of them, she flashes her Carabinieri ID. ‘Captain Morassi. I’m looking for Lieutenant Assante.’

    The tape-minder loses his flirtatious smile. ‘The lieutenant’s inside.’ He nods courteously.

    ‘Grazie.’ Valentina ducks the fluttering ribbon and before entering through a side door takes a quick look around. The main street is open and wide – maybe taking six lanes of traffic during rush hour – and there are parking places nearby for tourist coaches. Even given the lateness of the hour, it’s likely that whatever has happened here was seen by someone.

    ‘Buonasera, Capitano.’ The voice floats out of the cool, waxy darkness of the church interior, long before Valentina sees its owner. Federico Assante looks like a ghost in the pale light. He is in his early thirties, of average height, with thinning black hair cut too short to help his full-moon face.

    ‘Buonasera.’ Valentina shakes his hand. ‘So, what exactly went on here?’

    ‘A good question. Let me show you.’ He walks her part way through the side of the church. ‘Do you know anything about this chiesa?’

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