Michelangelo's Notebook Part 19

There was a deep, guttural moan like the sound of some wounded animal, and then the lights went out. Finn screamed, the terrible scent of fresh-spilled blood suddenly in the air around her. She screamed again, feeling the air rush from her lungs as the stony floor of the tunnel rushed up to greet her. In the distance, echoing, came the flat hard sound of a shot being fired.

49.For a single terrible instant Finn felt consciousness failing her and a sudden vision of the last instant she had seen Peter's face appeared before her. Heart pounding, she got to her hands and knees then pushed herself to her feet. Screaming Valentine's name she stumbled forward, arms outstretched, fingers clawing at the empty air. She lurched to one side as something struck her hip with a grunt and she felt her cheek smack hard into the rough wooden surface of the door. She lost her balance and twisted away, smelling blood and the thick reek of some kind of cheap men's cologne or aftershave. It touched some kind of vague sense memory on the edge of conscious thought and then vanished. Close beside her she could hear the sound of ragged breathing and the dull hard sound of a bunched fist smashing into softer flesh. She fell to her knees again, realizing that the floor beneath her was smooth concrete now, not gravel. Bizarrely, filtered down from above her head she could hear the children playing in the park.

"I am the Baby Jesus.

I never, ever lie.

I am the Baby Jesus, And if you don't believe me, You will surely fry."

The children's voices were coming through the old ventilation system that brought fresh air down to the crypt, still somehow connected to the surface. Pushing to her feet a second time, arms outstretched again, Finn reached a smooth wall in the darkness and edged along it, feeling desperately for a light switch. The smell of blood had been replaced by something else: the heavy pungent odor of spilled gasoline. There was a horrible sighing sound and then the sound of something heavy crashing to the ground. She felt a plastic switch plate underneath her hand and flipped it upward. The lights came on again and she saw where she was.

The bunker was arch-roofed and enormous, at least a hundred feet on a side, stacked with aisles and rows of crates and wooden boxes, old suitcases, trunks and huge strapped sheet metal steamer chests that reached up to the ceiling, twenty feet overhead, interspersed with steel support beams installed to keep the old stonework from collapsing. A tall crate nearby was open and a Dutch master portrait by Franz Hals leaned against it. The label on the crate was clear, if faded, and had the distinct lightning bolt runes of the n.a.z.i SS. A steamer trunk was open beside it, filled almost to overflowing with thousands of old-fashioned spectacle rims, solid gold, lenses gone. Over everything was the reek of gasoline and out of the corner of her eye Finn saw the familiar red shape of a plastic five-gallon container. The twin narrow-gauge rails that ran into the room ended at a buffer made from a heavy slab of oak beam. A flat pallet dolly rested against the wood: a simple way of transporting plunder from the vault to the loading bay beneath the house on St. Luke's Place.

"Michael!"

"Here!"

The sound came from behind the large crate. Leading to it she saw a bright trail of fresh blood. She ran forward, pushing the crate out of the way. Valentine was pushing himself upright, grabbing at a pile of flat crates for support. At his feet lay the body of a man, still alive, clutching his belly, groaning, hands clasped around the haft of a long, bone-handled hunting knife. He was gray-haired, in his sixties and wearing some kind of olive drab-colored uniform-the uniform of a World War Two infantry sergeant, much too large on the small man's frame. Finn recognized him instantly.

"It's Fred!"

Valentine grunted painfully, finally standing erect. There was a large b.l.o.o.d.y slash across the shoulder of his heavy sweatshirt. "Who?"

"From the museum. He was a security guard," she answered faintly. "I used to say h.e.l.lo to him. Just a shy old man." She stared at Valentine's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"Just a graze. I'll live." He bent over the man on the floor. "I'm not so sure about him."

"What was he doing here-how did he know about this place?"

"Presumably he figured it out just like we did. From the looks of things, he was about to torch it all," answered Valentine. "G.o.d only knows why, and G.o.d knows who he thought he was." He looked at the uniform. There was a faded patch at the shoulder. A gold-and-red stepped pyramid on a blue background. Seventh Army. Cornwall's unit. He glanced out across the enormous vault and shook his head, then reached out with a b.l.o.o.d.y hand and touched his fingers to the side of the man's neck. "Faint," he said. "If we want any answers we'd better get him some help." Valentine stood again, weaving slightly, leaning against the crates at his side for support. "You go. Phone 911. Get the cops and an ambulance." He looked out across the room again. "We've got the evidence we need now. It all adds up: The Foundation, Cornwall, Crawley, Gatty, all the other names. All part of keeping this a secret. The more people who see this the better."

"You sure you'll be okay?"

"I'll be fine. Go."

Finn turned and ran.

50.Finn ran through the twisting pa.s.sageway, her breath coming in hard gasps, her mind whirling with a thousand different thoughts and images as she tried to concentrate on the matter at hand. It didn't work and as she made her way back to the bas.e.m.e.nt of the Grange Foundation all she could think about was the drawn, pale face of the dying man on the floor of the bunker, the knife sticking out of the upper end of his gut, the thick, blood-black gout of color spreading across the front of his white shirt, his slim, piano player's fingers clutching at the blade's bony handle.

She reached the end of the tunnel and stumbled out into the circular chamber behind the hidden doorway in the bas.e.m.e.nt of the house on St. Luke's Place. She stopped, rearing back, eyes wide. Lieutenant Vincent Delaney of the New York Police Department was squatting over the figure of a man slumped against the stone wall of the room. A man with half of his face blown into a b.l.o.o.d.y pulp, disfigured beyond recognition except for the white circlet of a Roman collar, b.l.o.o.d.y around his neck. A priest. A priest with the flat black shape of an automatic pistol in his hand. As Finn stopped, gasping for breath, the policeman rose and turned, the Glock that had killed the man still in his hand-the sound of the shot she'd heard half a lifetime ago at the other end of the tunnel.

"Miss Ryan," he said slowly, "I knew you'd turn up eventually. Still with your new friend, Valentine?"

"How did you know about that?"

"I know more than you think."

"Why are you here?" She stared at the shrunken form of the dead priest. "What's going on?"

"Is Valentine with you?"

"What is a priest doing here?"

"He's not a priest. He's a hired killer. An a.s.sa.s.sin."

"He killed Peter?" Her head was beginning to spin, the connections she'd been making disintegrating and flying in all directions, sense and logic vanishing.

"No. Peter was an accident. It was meant to be you."

"Why?"

"Because you stumbled onto the drawing. If you'd pursued it, you would eventually have made your way here. You had to be stopped." He paused. "I asked you a question. Is Valentine with you?"

"Yes."

"The child?"

"What child?" This was insane.

"Botte. Frederico. An old man now."

"Fred? The security guard?"

"He's always been referred to as the child. Every man was once a child. This one has been dangerous from the moment of his conception."

"You're out of your mind," Finn whispered.

"What are you talking about? There's a vault full of stolen, looted art back there! Billions of dollars! People have been murdered to cover up the fact of its existence. What does an old man have to do with it? For that matter, what do you have to do with it?" She looked down at the corpse huddled against the wall. "Or him?"

"I'm more than just a policeman, Miss Ryan," said Delaney quietly. "And the people I work for have secrets to keep-old secrets. It's never been about the art. It's always been about the child. We thought we had him and then we lost him. He'd started to kill again. If the wrong people catch him, the truth will come out. That can't be allowed to happen. The Church is in enough trouble as it is. This would be the end." He nodded in the direction of the dead man. "He worked for another faction who believed that your death would be enough, who craved power more than protection. To reach your h.o.a.rd of looted art and steal it back, they would have risked everything."

"He was trying to destroy it," whispered Finn. "A thousand years of priceless beauty and he was going to burn it all." She paused, bewildered, staring at the policeman. "Who is he?"

"Eugenio Pacelli's son. The b.a.s.t.a.r.d child of a pope, held ransom by the n.a.z.is for blackmail, for services rendered, for your looted treasure until they ran into James Cornwall and his own group of thieves, his own band of n.a.z.is: American ones."

"Carduss. Greyfriars. The Grange Foundation."

"If you wish. Much more than that now."

"How did you find this place?"

"I followed the priest. I knew he'd eventually lead me to the child. He found out where the freak had been living but he was already gone."

"The freak, as you call him, is dead," said Valentine, stepping out of the tunnel. Startled, Delaney turned, the Glock in his hand coming up, its aim centering on Valentine's chest. "It's over."

"Not quite," said Delaney. "Just a little bit of housekeeping."

"We're housekeeping?" said Finn.

"He means murder," explained Valentine. "He can't leave us alive. He knows none of this can be made public. He's right. Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, is about to be canonized. It's bad enough he's been called Hitler's Pope, but fathering a child? Vatican spies and a.s.sa.s.sins-real ones, not just imaginary ones of some paranoid Hollywood script-wouldn't look good on the front page of the New York Times." Valentine took half a step forward, turning his body slightly, offering Delaney a fractionally smaller target.

"Something like that."

In that moment Finn knew exactly what was going to happen. Any second now, Valentine, sublimely and with idiot chivalry, was going to make his move, distracting the policeman and giving her at least the faint possibility of escape. What was that silly thing her mother used to say? Faint heart ne'er won fair lady? Sometimes she wondered how the world had continued to exist in the face of that kind of thinking, Helen of Troy being a prime example.

Not today, she thought to herself. Not today and not on my account. She realized that she had the bunch of duplicate keys in her hand and gently she eased the long jagged door key for the Toyota into her fist, end pointing out. She hesitated for a second, swallowing, her eyes flickering to Valentine, knowing desperately that she didn't have what it took, the courage or the foolishness, the anger or even the basic instinct for self-preservation. Jesus! She was from Ohio! This kind of thing didn't happen! She was a girl!

"Bulls.h.i.t!" she whispered. Delaney turned, his eyes on her again, widening as she danced toward him, a single blinding image of Michaelangelo's dissection drawing of the woman in her mind. Valentine moved as she did, and for a fatal instant the policeman froze, unable to decide.

Finn's balled fist struck him in the neck and the gun went off, shattering the light over his head and throwing Finn into darkness for the second time, shards of gla.s.s scattering everywhere. She felt the length of the newly cut car key tear into Delaney's flesh, the rough burrs of the stabbing metal shaft ripping through his external carotid artery, blood suddenly pumping up and splashing across Finn's cheek. The Glock fired a second time, the bullet tearing past her ear, the muzzle flash lighting up the gouge she'd torn with the key and Delaney staggering back, free hand clapped to the spurting wound. He dropped to his knees in front of the body of the man from Rome, life draining away in measured pulses as he fell and darkness furled inward once again.

51.She sat on the front steps of the elegant old house on St. Luke's Place and looked out through the rustling trees to the park beyond. The children were still skipping as darkness fell. The lights of the night city were blossoming everywhere. She could hear Valentine on the reception phone, calling everyone he could think of in the press. The police were on their way, as were the FBI. He'd called Barrie Kornitzer as well, who would now get busy spreading the story across the World Wide Web. Notoriety would keep them safe enough, at least for the time being.

The next hours and days were going to be a nightmare, but at least the killing was over, and slowly, very slowly, the pent-up fear was fading. In a little while she'd figure out some way of getting in touch with her mother and begin to tell her at least some of what had happened, perhaps even a little bit about Michael Valentine and the drawing she'd discovered from Michelangelo's notebook. But not yet. All she really wanted now was to rest. She listened to the invisible children, chanting: "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Once they were, but now they're gone.

Judas, Andrew, they're both dead.

Then came Paul, who lost his head."

Finally, she dropped her head down onto her folded arms. In the distance the first sirens began to wail. It was over now, but she knew that really it had just begun. Behind her, through the open door she could hear the quiet sounds of Valentine on the telephone. In the park, beyond the trees, the children's voices faded like a dark dream.

"Simon he was simple.

Andrew came to grief.

Thomas was a doubter.

Judas was a thief."

Finn smiled to herself and closed her eyes, and then, for a moment at least, she slept.

Author's Note.

Much of the information contained in Michelangelo's Notebook is true. Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, is known to have had an intimate relationship with his niece, Katherine Annunzio, while he was both Papal Nuncio in Berlin and later as Vatican secretary of state, a post he held until 1939, when he was elected pope. It is also known that his niece was confined in a convent in northern Italy and committed suicide shortly after the birth of her son. There is no conclusive evidence as to the fate of the child although some Vatican historians have speculated that Pacelli's close friend, Archbishop Francis Joseph, Cardinal Spellman of New York, may have helped in the child's relocation to the United States. Spellman, as chaplain to the United States Army, was in Rome during the closing days of the second world war.

It is also known that there was a direct relationship between Pacelli and the disappearance of the so-called Gold Train, as well as six truckloads of looted art hijacked by a.s.sociates of Gerhard Utikal, Paris director of the ERR unit directing the theft of art from France, Belgium and Holland. Utikal's fate, at least officially, is still a mystery although there is some evidence that he escaped to South America through the so-called Vatican ratlines.

A large amount of looted art, including a startling quant.i.ty of ecclesiastical works, has recently been showing up in the United States. The largest amount of this art, commonly referred to as the Quedlingburg Treasure has now been returned to its rightful owners.

The annual world market for stolen, looted and otherwise misappropriated artwork and antiquities, including that held by museums and public galleries, exceeds five billion dollars. The vast majority of art looted during Hitler's Third Reich has never been found. The looted artworks mentioned in the story, such as the painting by Juan Gris and Rembrandt's Raising of Lazarus, are all real.

There really was a convent/maternity home occupying the site of 421 Hudson Street in New York, and the children's playground directly across the street really was once a large burial ground occupying two city blocks of Greenwich Village, including the churchyard once favored by Edgar Allan Poe on his midnight rambles. There is no Number 11 St. Luke's Place, but the exterior of Number 10 was used as the facade of the Huxtable residence on the Bill Cosby show of the 1980s.

The notebook known to have been used by Michelangelo for his human anatomy drawings has never been found.

end.

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