Yes, you’re reading this right. You’re about to get a look at the first, redone chapter of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1).
You might remember that I pulled this one from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.
And right now, it’s up for order from Amazon.And if you have no idea what A Pius Man is … wow, you have to be new here. It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History…. okay, that, and writing the biographies of older vampires.
Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man in the coming days. You have been warned.
A Pious Cop
Giovanni Figlia stood in the lobby of Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport in a solid black polo shirt and a black suit jacket. The color scheme made him seem shorter than his 5’9” height. His hand ached for his Beretta to reassure himself that he was still armed, but instead he ran his fingers through his thick dark hair.
It must be something about Americans that brings out the Clint Eastwood in people.
He scanned the crowd for his target, comparing each face with the photograph he had memorized down to the dots on the color printout: hazel eyes, brown hair, Germanic cheekbones, not bad-looking. Wilhelmina Goldberg, a former member of the Americans’ National Security Agency, with degrees in esoteric languages and mathematics, had transferred into her current profession some time ago, and was supposed to be good at it.
Now all I have to do is hunt her down.
“Looking for me?”
Figlia looked down. Three feet away from him stood a woman just under five feet tall. He recognized her as Goldberg; she wore black jeans and a tight-fitting, long-sleeved turtleneck. Over one shoulder she carried a duffel bag as large as she was. She also dragged a wheeled suitcase as big as Figlia.
“Io ho pensato che Lei ha…supposed to be in formal attire,” he said in his own combination of Italian and English. He glanced at her. “Not attracting attention.”
She replied in crisp, formal Italian. “On the former, you thought wrong. As for the latter…” she looked down at her chest and shot him a look. “If 28B passes for attention-getting in Italy, you people need to open a Playboy, pop a Viagra, and get a life.”
Giovanni Figlia stepped to one side. “This way?”
“You lead. I don’t want you stepping on my equipment. You want this job done, we’ll need this intact.”
He led. Goldberg moved forward. “You’re Gianni, right?”
“Mi chiamo Figlia, si.” I’m Figlia, yes.
“I’m surprised,” she told him. “You’re the head of this outfit; why would you meet me?”
Figlia shrugged. “Because I like to get out of the office every once in a while. And we’ll be working together for a while. We might as well get used to each other, starting now.”
“Done. Where’s our first stop?”
“The Vatican.” Figlia stepped around more passengers just getting in and made his way to the automatic doors. It was still dark outside, despite the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning.
“What are you packing?” she asked.
Figlia blinked. “This is Italy. What do you think?”
Wilhelmina Goldberg rolled her eyes. “Beretta, then.” She looked around before answering. “I just got on a plane from Spain with security that’s a joke. I’m carrying a Sig and they didn’t even notice. Forgive me for wondering about Europeans.” She pronounced it Euro-peons. “We’re not exactly in a safe business.”
When Giovanni Figlia stopped at a four-door silver Jetta, Goldberg shrugged. “Not a bad little toy. You own it?”
“Depends on my wife.” He smiled. “Come on, I’ll load the bags.”
Goldberg laughed. “No way in hell, buddy. I’ll manage. You just start this thing up.”
Once she loaded herself into the passenger seat, he sped away.
“You know, I’m halfway surprised that you carry outside of your target area.”
Figlia glanced at her briefly. “You expected me to live on a hundred-acre leash? Check my gun at the colonnade?”
“Given your line of work, I’m surprised they allow you to have a gun.”
“Don’t worry, we’re allowed to shoot back. There are some situations where force is required. Mind if I ask you something?”
She shrugged. “Whatever.”
“What’s your religion?”
“I’m Jewish…Orthodox,” she added as an afterthought. “My parents say an Orthodox Jew is a ‘real Jew’ … you don’t want to hear what they have to say about the others.” Goldberg shrugged. “So, tell me a little bit about what you do here.”
They continued to discuss their mutual professions, the conversation punctuated long enough for her to look out at the city and take an occasional photo with her iPhone. He began to decelerate as he followed the Tiber River and hung a right onto the Via della Conciliazione, making a right in front of the colonnade, onto Via Ottaviano.
It led right to their target, the Vatican.
At that moment, one of the buildings exploded in a massive fireball, dropping glass, brick and debris down upon their car in a shower of destruction. A moment later, another object smashed into the hood of Figlia’s car, smashing the windshield, and denting the hood in front of him.
Giovanni Figlia instinctively swerved away from the explosion, and braked hard. The object on his windshield stayed there.
After a few seconds, Goldberg and Figlia got out of the car and studied the scene, wondering if it was safe to go check the damage. She bounced up on her toes to check what had killed Figlia’s car. It was the body of a young-looking, olive-skinned male…without a face.
“Between 25 and 35?” Figlia asked.
“…Sounds like a serial-killer profile,” she answered.
Figlia grunted and again wanted to reach for his gun. He glanced at the short, pixie-like woman and muttered, “Damn Americans. Here for fifteen minutes and Dante’s Inferno rises to surface level.”
The only carabinieri in the area ran to the scene, leaving his motorcycle behind. He let out a small string of curses, ran back to his vehicle, and immediately radioed for help.
The police were the first responders, followed immediately by the fire department. The firemen quickly moved to douse the flames with the fire hose. Giovanni Figlia tackled the main man on the hose, grabbing him before he could attach the hose to its water supply.
“What are you doing?” the fireman shouted. He tried to fight back, but Figlia had already locked one arm into place, totally immobilizing him.
“You’re going to wash away all evidence of the bomb,” Figlia growled. “Use a fire extinguisher or buckets.”
The other firefighters didn’t know what to make of him. He was an utterly unremarkable fellow in basic black. With the addition of a white collar, he could have been wearing a priest’s uniform … if the material were better. He wasn’t even that big, but held the burliest member of their team immobile with minimal effort.
Figlia shoved the firefighter aside, and reached into his inner jacket pocket before someone shot up. He pulled out a wallet and flashed his identification, as well as his badge. “Commandatore Giovanni Figlia, Vatican’s Central Office of Vigilance. That body over there is dead, and not only is my car a secondary crime scene, do you see that line?” He pointed to a white painted line on the cobblestone street. “Sixty years ago, the Nazis put that line down to clearly mark the territory. This side, right now, is Rome.” He sidestepped to in front of his car and pointed toward the colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Where I’m standing now is Vatican City.”
Wilhelmina Goldberg laughed. “Now you see why American cops call firemen the evidence destruction unit.”
The fireman scowled at her. She was short, so she wasn’t a member of Figlia’s security force. Her dye job was obvious and ugly, so she wasn’t working for the Vatican. Her accent sounded more like American actors trying too hard to sound like she was from New York City, and so became a self-parody. “And what are you? His puttana?”
She shook her head, unconcerned as she reached into her pocket. “First of all, you’re thinking more like a Calabrese.” She pulled out a leather wallet of her own and flipped it open. “Second, I’m a consultant: Wilhelmina Goldberg of the United States Secret Service.”
Giovanni Figlia looked around frantically, hoping no one else would try to wash away the evidence. A shiny silver object caught his attention, and he narrowed his eyes, focusing on…the cover for a hotel serving tray?
“And,” he continued, “the explosion radius extends into my jurisdiction. I have a body and half a crime scene over here—you only have half a crime scene, I win. I’ll head up there myself, if you don’t mind…and if you do, too bad. Frankly, if you’d like to do something useful, secure the street!”
Figlia caught a familiar sight at the edge of his peripheral vision. The black cassock of a priest was more than enough to identify him as such from thirty yards away. It looked like the priest gave the crowd more attention than he had given the scene of the crime, which was odd—most of the time, far too many people wanted to look at the destruction. At that distance, the only other detail he could make out was the man’s silver hair.
“Padre! Venga, per favore!”
The priest looked up, then left, then right, and finally, he shrugged and stepped forward cautiously, eyeing the building as though he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t collapse.
“What’s with the priest?” she asked, sotto voce.
“He might be able to provide a barricade between you and the polizia when they arrive. Have him standing by ready to give the corpse last rites, while you snap photos of the body. I suspect we won’t get another chance for pictures after this.”
Goldberg gave him a look as though he had sprouted three heads. “You want a murder case?”
He flashed a Casanova grin. “I’m going to check the room. Stay close to the priest.”
She raised an eyebrow. Before she could make a scathing remark, Figlia bolted into the damaged hotel and flew up the stairs.
Wilhelmina Goldberg looked over her shoulder at the body-covered car, absentmindedly tapping her iPhone for photos. “And I thought this would be a nice, quiet little trip—some consulting, audit security, but no, I get the one cop on the planet who makes Hoover look mildly sane,” she muttered in English.
“Excuse me,” came a gentle voice from right next to her, also speaking in English.
She adjusted her line of sight to the priest, only a foot away from her, and tried not to jump. Do priests in Rome get ninja training?
The priest was … odd. He had a piercing set of violet eyes. And while his hair was solid silver, there were only a few lines on his face, so he couldn’t have been older than forty. If she were sending out an APB or a BOLO for him, she would have actually said he was only about 5’6” – maybe 5’8”, she was looking up at him, and his shoulders were slumped.
Goldberg bunched her lips, trying to figure out how to speak to a priest over a corpse. “Uh. Hello …Father … could you wait a moment while I take a few pictures of this poor schlub?”
He nodded. “Of course. Are you a friend of Gianni’s?”
She shrugged and turned to the corpse. Goldberg twisted her lip and stepped around the priest to get back into the car. She slid onto the seat and clicked at the corpse through the windshield, getting every possible angle with her phone.
Click. “I’m a consultant.”
“From … New York, I presume by the accent.” Click. There was another flash from the phone flash. “I grew up there … briefly. It’s an odd story.”
Click. “I don’t doubt it.” You’ve decided to spend the rest of your life without sex, so you must be odd somehow.
“So what kind of consultant work do you do?”
Click. She checked the quality of the photos, and then slid out of the car. “Security.”
I’d ask how you know Figlia, she thought. But he called you Father without using a name, so I’m guessing he only knows you because of the outfit, and you only know of him because he’s papal security.
“Ah. Of course,” the priest answered.
Commander Figlia wouldn’t hire out some lone American gun-toting security hack, he thought. You’re Secret Service, aren’t you? Not very talkative, either.
They turned the body over once she had taken all of the photos she needed.
The priest knew exactly who this man was, and knew him well—his entire life story, in fact. He had been raised as a red-diaper baby in a family loyal to the brigate rosso, the Italian Red Army.
He performed the last rites over the body, blessing him as he went on into the next world. Rest in peace, you schmuck.
Giovanni Figlia walked into what was left of the hotel room, and he took it in with a sweep of his eyes. On the floor was another dead man, a hole clearly visible under his chin. This second corpse—Gerrity, according to the hotel people he passed on his way up here—was on its back, hands out like a crucified martyr. Furniture had been scattered across the room, thrown against the wall, much of it shattered.
Figlia rubbed the back of his neck. “Benone, a double cross.”
One of the hotel staff in the hall raised a brow. “Scusi, signore? Non capisco.”
Figlia waved at the room. “The spherical pattern of the bomb suggests a normal explosive, not plastique—plastique tends to be directional. Besides, you can smell the black powder, si? Maybe homemade.”
He looked into the ceiling, and saw silver forks embedded like shrapnel, surrounded by other pieces of metal. I wonder if it matches the tray lid that landed outside. Below the forks were wheels, separated by a flat metal sheet pressed into the carpet.
“Serving cart,” Figlia muttered.
“Che?” a bellboy asked. What?
He carefully stepped around the body and pointed at the sheet of metal. “The lower level of the serving tray, beneath the forks.” His eyes flickered across the room as though they were tracking a soccer ball. “Not to mention the silverware in the walls, the bed, the floor, as well as the plate fragments—either he had a grand celebration with an American fraternity, or they came from a full room-service cart that exploded.”
He pointed out the shattered window. “Our amico on the street wore a busboy’s white coat; assume the cart was his. The cart is in the center of the room; too far inside if he was lugging dirty place settings all over the hallway. He would have stayed outside in the hall and collected them. This person on the floor is dead from the nice neat bullet hole under his chin. Given the position of the cart, it had to have been pulled around this man’s body—the poor fool probably opened up for his killer.” He made brief eye contact with the men out in the hall. “That killer is, by the way, the one who ruined my car.” He waved at Gerrity’s corpse. “At least this man’s killer. Who killed the busboy is another quandary. He was killed with the explosion from his own cart, so it is either stupidity on the busboy’s part, or murder on someone else’s.”
Figlia walked over to the window, and shouted out, in English, “Signora Goldberg, look around for a pistol! I’ll check up here!”
He stepped back from the window, looking back as he did so. He opened up his cellular phone and hit autodial. “Veronica, bella, could you please bring the team down to the hotel?”
Veronica Fisher smiled; he could hear it in her voice. “Which hotel?”
“Outside the colonnade,” Figlia told her. “Follow the smoke; we have a bomb, black powder composition.”
“Some priest playing with leftover fireworks?”
“A double homicide.”
Fisher paused a moment. “Gianni, isn’t the hotel outside our jurisdiction?”
“The body isn’t. You’ll also have to process what’s left of our car.”
Fisher, who was Figlia’s forensics expert as well as his wife, paused a moment. “The bomb destroyed the Jetta?”
“No, the corpse did it.” Figlia paused for a moment, wondering if that was a double entendre, as the corpse had done both the first murder and the destruction to the car. Perhaps in American English. “I’ll have the locals secure the crime scene.”
“You sound like the FBI back home.”
“Heaven forbid. A più tardi. I won’t be here when you arrive, I have a guest.”
“You picked him up?” Fisher asked.
Figlia furrowed his brow. “Him?”
There was some light laughter. “You weren’t sent to pick up Hashim Abasi? Remember, the Egyptian coordinating with you about Josh’s visit … what am I, your secretary?”
Figlia felt like the dead man had it easy. “I’ll get him as soon as possible.”
The Secret Service agent, Goldberg, leaned against the door of the dead car, glancing at the priest. “When did he start thinking he was a homicide detective?”
The priest said, “You should ask him about it sometime.”
Commander Figlia dashed out of the hotel and waved at Goldberg to follow him. She offered the priest her hand. “It’s been nice talking with you, Father…?”
“Francis Williams, of the Compania.”
“Ah, a Jesuit.”
The priest smiled. “Just call me Frank.”
And, if you’ve done that….
The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.
The Love at First Bite series.