Fratelli’s heart thumped in his chest. Slowly, he stooped down and examined the shoes. Discovering one side badly damaged, and a piece scraped off, he almost shrieked. Covering his mouth, he stood, tiptoed down the hallway and peered into the parlor where Gino was working. Maybe this was a coincidence? After all, fancy shoes did damage easily. How could he be so sure the missing piece came from that same shoe?
He shook his head, trying to think clearly. Suddenly, an idea emerged in his mind. Coming back into the parlor, Fratelli sat in a nearby chair, watching as Gino diligently painted. His delicate hand molded shapes and colors. Mary’s swaddled figure, he outlined in deep blue. He hated to interrupt but asked anyway:
“I sure feel sorry for what happened to your friend Diego, he was your friend right?”
Gino stopped, looked over his shoulder and replied, “We worked together every now and then…I really didn’t know him well.”
Fratelli clasped his hands. He really didn’t know what else to say. He just sat…and observed. However, his anxiety grew very perceptible to Gino who turned and politely stated, “Your Eminence, I know you are very interested in my work- and I’m honored by this, however, I feel your presence is distracting me.”
Why should he apologize? It was his own house…well, the Church’s house… Fratelli moved past the door then silently peered around the threshold.
“I know you are still there, Good Eminence…”
He crept back to where Gino’s shoes were and again looked closely at the damaged one. Feeling shivers, he wondered if a murderer were right here, in his house.
Dreadfully nervous, Fratelli summoned Dina and met with her in the kitchen. In case things became dangerous, he wanted her away from the house. Seeing his uneasiness, she asked him:
“Your Eminence, what is the matter now?”
“I want you to get Ernesto for me…”
“But it’s noon and it’s raining, and he may be very busy at work.”
Thinking quickly, Fratelli answered:
“Then I give you the rest of the day off, go home!”
She began protesting then hushed, eyed him strangely and seeing he was serious, gathered her things to leave. He waited until she left before walking into the parlor.
“I’m going to the market,” he announced.
Gino gazed at him.
“It’s raining, Your Eminence.”
“Well I like the rain!” he asserted, proudly crossing his arms.
Although he didn’t say anything more, Gino’s face displayed a fine smile. The cardinal added:
“You can stay here and help yourself to the wine, I’ll return shortly.”
Fratelli donned his shoes, grabbed his draping, red cloak, wrapped it around himself and dashed outside.
Soon as he stepped onto the street, his robes became wet. Lifting them up around his knees, he sprinted across the piazza. He hoped to find Ernesto soon as he looked rather foolish out there in the rain; a soggy, red figure running down the street.
He suddenly halted in front of a figure on horseback.
“Ernesto, is that you?”
“Yes, Angelo. What are you doing out here? You are soaking wet.”
Dropping the hem of his cassock, letting it clump forlornly around his feet, he replied, “Yes…I’m aware of that.”
Ernesto dismounted and escorted Fratelli beneath an alcove. Cold water rushed from the roof, away from them and pooled along a ditch on the street. The cardinal removed his red skullcap and wrung water out of it. Then he futilely put it back on his soaked head.
“Your Eminence, just look at you!”
“Ernesto, there’s something I must tell you…I found a pair of alligator shoes- and one’s missing a piece from it. The same color as the one you had shown me.”
“At my house- at my house! They belong to Gino Siglio!”
Ernesto’s eyes widened. He paced back to his horse and quickly mounted. Passing Fratelli, he said:
“Go ahead home Angelo and I’ll follow you…”
Reluctantly, Fratelli plodded home, walking over rain puddles though doing his best to avoid them. His shoes were drenched, his finery water-logged and heavy. He looked altogether pathetic by the time he reached home. Ernesto waited beneath a tree as he came inside, tracking mud and water all over the carpet. Dina would be very upset at him…
He removed his shoes and put his red cap atop the hat rack. It slid, weighed down by moisture and fell. Fratelli sighed, shrugging. He promised he’d pick it up later.
Fratelli went into the parlor and discovered it dark and empty. Gino was nowhere to be seen! Running back, he told Ernesto and the constable came in after him. He looked for the shoes but found them neither.
“It seems he knew what you were up to, Your Eminence… What did you tell him before you left?”
“I said I was going to the market.”
“Oh, Angelo that is so transparent!”
“I am sorry, so sorry Ernesto. I failed you.”
“No you didn’t, you helped me. Putting Gino to flight only makes him look all the more guilty. Now let’s find him.”