The Rome Prophecy(9)
Author:Sam Christer


    The sisters of the mortal world look frightened.

    They should not.

    Mother will care for them. Mother will transform them.

    Feet apart, they stand in innocence and clumsily begin their incantations. Uncertain hands touch genitals, wombs, hearts and foreheads.

    Hesitant fingers stretch to the sky and reach out to Her.

    Soon She will reach out to them.

    We will eat from the drum.

    We will drink from the cymbal.

    We will be immortal.

    This is how it is written.

    This is how it will be.





    13



    Valentina rings Federico back but only gets his voicemail.

    She’s left with no choice but to head off to the hospital.

    Her long-dreamt-of moment of intimacy has been ruined, and a part of her fears it may never happen again.

    Work certainly has a way of screwing with your personal life.

    She hangs up and turns back to Tom. ‘Sorry.’

    His lip is smeared shiny red, and from the salty taste on her own lips she realises it’s blood. Her blood. The realisation is strangely exciting.

    ‘What’s wrong?’ He stands in a no-man’s land between before she kissed him and what happens next.

    ‘I have to go. Emergency at work. All that clichéd stuff.’

    He smiles. ‘I understand. I guess clichés are clichés because they get said so often.’

    Small talk. The moment’s certainly gone. She gathers her stuff and heads for the door, sensing a trace of awkwardness in the air.

    She’s still cursing Federico as she fires up her Fiat and drives to the Policlinico.

    It’s an awful place to navigate around. Most of the multi-storeyed buildings seem to be salmon-coloured with green shutters. Hilly roads open up into smart areas of lawn, and some giant palms and occasional flagpoles make the place look almost like a holiday hotel that’s seen better days.

    Inside, a maze of depressingly dark corridors lead her to the psychiatric unit, where she finds Federico the Interrupter sitting in the reception area looking over notes in a pocket book.

    ‘Buonasera,’ grunts Valentina. ‘I hope this is every bit as urgent as you said.’

    The Lieutenant looks up and is startled to see his boss in a fetching floral dress, wearing make-up and with her hair down. ‘Buonasera. I see I ruined something. Scusi. I’m afraid it is important. Our prisoner has told us her name.’

    Valentina’s not impressed. ‘Oh, bene.’

    ‘She even wrote it in my notebook for me.’ He swivels it around so she can see.

    ‘Cassandra? What is this?’ She scowls at him, ‘She writes down I am Cassandra and you call me out on a Saturday night to get only a Christian name. You could have told me that on the phone, Federico.’

    ‘I could. But that’s not the point.’ He flicks through several other pages. ‘Take a look at all this. She damn near filled my book with her writing. Read it and then see if you still want to kick my balls for dragging you out here.’ He thrusts the notebook at her.

    Valentina takes it and peers at the old-fashioned handwriting: I am Cassandra, a proud and noble descendant of the house of Savyna, and I am not afraid to die.

    The woman’s handwriting is creepy. It’s been done with such pressure on the pen it looks intense, violent, almost as if it’s been carved into the paper.

    The people of Cosmedin have come out in force today. Out for me. They line their piss-soaked streets and drip like grease from the windows of their shabby tenements, screaming and spitting at me as I am paraded before them.

    Valentina can’t help but speed-read the rest. Key lines jump out at her: I will take my secret to the grave … the secret I shelter within my bosom … this terrible ceremony … La Bocca della Verità … I see only the basket and in it my severed hand … My secret is safe.

    ‘She wrote this in front of you?’

    Federico nods.

    ‘And did this obviously deluded woman explain any of it?’

    He shakes his head. ‘She still hasn’t spoken. Hasn’t said a word.’ He takes the notes back, turns a page and points out another section. ‘Read this.’

    Valentina takes it from him.

    The thief looks at the strange stone he’s plundered, a dull black triangle on a plaited cord, and is dumbstruck by disappointment. Fool. He’ll never know what it’s worth.

    She wrinkles her nose. ‘I don’t understand. Is all this hand-severing about some petty theft?’

    ‘No,’ Federico hands over a plastic bag, ‘It’s about this.’

    Valentina’s eyes widen.

    Inside is a triangular black stone on a necklace made from rope. ‘Bizarre. This is the necklace from the woman’s story. Fact and fiction are all messed up together.’ She glances around. ‘They’ve certainly got her in the right place.’ She hands back the evidence bag. ‘Where did you get it? Wasn’t she searched at the police station?’

    He folds it up and replaces it in his pocket. ‘She was, but they didn’t find it.’

    ‘What? Those idiots missed something around her neck?’

    ‘Not quite. The prisoner had stuffed it …’ He puts his hand between his legs. ‘The nursing staff found it.’

    ‘How strange that she wanted to hide it. The thing doesn’t look worth much. Is it hollow?’

    ‘No.’

    ‘Nothing concealed inside it?’

    ‘Not that I could tell. I’ll send it to Forensics when we’re done here. Now do you understand why I called you?’

    ‘Si.’ She realises she’s been short with him. ‘I’m sorry. This case has sort of ruined my weekend, both last night and tonight.’

    ‘Big plans?’ He tilts his eyes up and down her dress.

    Valentina shoots him a look that says it’s none of his business. She’s still holding his notebook. She taps it against her other hand. ‘What do you think of her writing? Is it some way of justifying that she’s chopped someone’s hand off? Groundwork for an insanity plea?’

    ‘Perhaps. Maybe it’s more than a hand she’s chopped off.’

    Valentina takes his point. ‘There’s still no sign of a victim, so we could be looking at full dismemberment.’

    ‘Could be. It’s certainly not unreasonable to think we’re going to find other body parts spread across the city.’

    ‘You’re right.’ She hands back the notebook. ‘Can you get some copies of that made?’

    ‘Done already.’ He reaches over to a hard chair on his left and picks up a stack of stapled photocopies. ‘The nurses’ office has a printer. A young sister in there pressed all the buttons for me.’ He gives her a playful smile.

    ‘I bet she did.’ Valentina takes a copy. ‘Let’s go and ask our mystery girl about all this nonsense.’

    ‘I really don’t think so,’ says a woman approaching them. ‘I’m Louisa Verdetti, the unit director, and I’m afraid you’re not going to see this patient until I’ve finished my diagnosis.’ Verdetti is in her late thirties, with short dark hair, and looks as though she was born to wear a white doctor’s coat and dangle expensive black glasses from the tip of her nose. She nods contemptuously towards Federico. ‘Your colleague shouldn’t even have been in the room with her, let alone tried to ask questions. She’s clearly in a very disturbed state of mind and—’

    Valentina can’t help but interrupt. ‘Doctor, whatever state of mind your patient is in, it’s nothing compared to that of the woman whose hand she chopped off.’

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