The Rome Prophecy(91)
Author:Sam Christer


    The air seems to have been sucked out of the room.

    Tom and Valentina are speechless.

    Tom clears his throat and sits forward in his chair.

    Lorenzo looks towards him expectantly.

    ‘There’s something I should say.’

    Valentina looks surprised. She and Tom have barely spoken about the case in the last few days. They’ve been trying to forget it.

    ‘The man who took me into the tunnels.’

    Lorenzo names him. ‘Guilio Brygus Angelis.’

    ‘Guilio …’ Tom says it almost reverently. ‘He told me what had happened at Chiesa Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The sect members had recaptured Anna and taken her to the Bocca to frighten her and to find out if she’d told anyone about the temple and the rituals. They cut off her sister’s hand and said they would kill her and then do the same to Anna if she didn’t tell them the truth.’ Tom takes a breath to make sure he recounts things accurately. ‘Guilio appeared as Anna was screaming, and fought with the guards. During the fight, Anna picked up one of the ceremonial swords and killed the man who’d injured her sister.’

    Valentina interrupts. ‘That’s why the blood on her robe was AB and didn’t match that of the handless victim, which we now know was Rhesus negative and belonged to her sister.’

    Tom is unsure of the biological evidence. ‘I guess so; I’ll take your word for it. There’s more though that I need to tell you.’

    Lorenzo motions for him to continue.

    ‘In the panic, Anna ran off. The Galli took Mater and the injured sister away. Guilio was left with the dead guard. He put the body into a workman’s sheet that had been draped over the portico so that people couldn’t see inside. He carried the corpse to the boot of his car, then drove down to the Tiber and buried it beneath some rocks.’

    ‘What about the mutilation?’ asks Valentina. ‘Did Anna do that?’

    ‘No. Guilio did. At first he tried to make the death look like an accident. He laid the body down by the river, chopped out much of the stomach and threw it in the water. He then piled rocks on the corpse, probably causing the skull injuries, and fled.’

    ‘We’ll need you to make a statement.’ Lorenzo gathers the photographs and returns them to their file.

    Valentina wishes she was somewhere else. Anywhere other than back in the midst of already painful memories. She sits forward and tries to stay polite. ‘Are we free to go now?’

    ‘Not quite. There is still the note the child wrote for you. Uno momento.’

    He picks up the phone and dials his secretary.

    She doesn’t seem to be there.

    He hangs up and looks slightly annoyed. ‘Sorry. I am having no luck today.’

    Valentina gives him a resigned nod.

    ‘Still. I must not let you leave without the good news.’

    She looks bored. ‘Which is?’

    ‘The disciplinary charges against you and Federico have been dropped. I have spoken with our chief of staff and he has spoken to the Commandante Generale. You and Assante will both be reinstated tomorrow.’

    Valentina is relieved and shows it. ‘Grazie. What about Louisa Verdetti’s complaints against us?’

    ‘Withdrawn.’

    She raises an eyebrow. ‘And how is she?’

    ‘Getting better. The whole affair has shaken her up, as you would expect. Before you disappear, tell me, how do you feel about going back to work with Major Caesario?’

    Until now, Valentina hasn’t thought about it. She takes some seconds to answer and tries not to sound disrespectful. ‘I’m proud of the job I do and proud of how I do it. I will be pleased to be back at work.’

    ‘After a little holiday?’ suggests Tom.

    She smiles at him. ‘After a big holiday, I promise.’

    Lorenzo smiles at them both. They make a good couple. ‘Only, if you don’t want to work with Caesario, I’d be honoured to have you on my team in the GIS.’

    She looks surprised.

    ‘Don’t answer now. Vito Carvalho tells me I’d be lucky if you worked with us, and I believe him.’ Lorenzo checks his watch and gets up from his chair. ‘I’m afraid I must ask you to go now. I have some pressing matters.’

    Tom and Valentina scrape their chairs back and head towards the door.

    ‘Grazie,’ says Valentina. ‘I’m grateful for your help with my personal problem.’

    ‘You’re very welcome.’ He opens the door. ‘Let me walk you out.’

    Lorenzo walks alongside Valentina and makes small talk until they reach the end of the corridor.

    ‘This could be your office,’ he teases, pointing at a closed door with an empty nameplate.

    She treats him to a warm smile.

    He can see she’s interested in the job. ‘I’m serious. Go on, take a look inside.’

    She feels foolish. ‘Let me think about it, molto grazie.’

    Lorenzo won’t take no for an answer. He turns the brass knob and pushes the door open.

    The room is full.

    ‘Sorpreso!’ choruses a crowd of familiar faces.

    Party poppers and streamers explode and fill the air.

    Valentina almost cries as she spots her parents – and Vito Carvalho – clapping her. Alongside them is Louisa Verdetti.

    Finally she recognises half of the team from her own office at Carabinieri headquarters.

    The day couldn’t get better.

    Except it could.

    From out of the forest of legs, a small girl appears.

    Sweetheart is wearing a new bright blue dress and a smile that melts every heart in the room.

    Valentina picks her up and kisses her.

    Tom Shaman stands back a pace.

    He’s never loved anyone as much as he loves Valentina.

    He just hopes she understands why, when their holiday’s over, he is going to have to move on.





    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



    Big thanks to Luigi Bonomi for all his advice, tireless support and encouragement – there’s good reason why he’s regarded as the best in the business.

    I’m hugely indebted to Guy Rutty, Professor of Forensic Pathology, East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, University of Leicester and Dr Tom Rasmussen, Senior Lecturer and Head of Art History at the University of Manchester. Both gentlemen strived to keep me on the roads of realism and accuracy, any short cuts and inaccuracy are down to me and the pursuit of a good story rather than them.

    I’m grateful to all the wonderful team at Little, Brown but especially to Daniel Mallory and Thalia Proctor – I’d have been lost without their professionalism, smart observations and generous contributions. Thanks also to Jane Selley for the copy editing.

    Last but not least, immense thanks to my wife Donna who gives so unreservedly and bountifully of her time, patience, love and inspiration. I’d still be on page one without her.


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