Adam Schell

The Second Missing Chapter

Pope Leon the XI, Part II

Who dare disturb me?

–It is I, your Holiness, Nicoli. May I come in?

You certainly may not! You rude, discourteous cur, can you not see that the Pope keeps his door shut?

–Of course, your Holiness, how rude of me. It is just that today is Sunday, your Holiness. Mass.

Do you think that the Vicar of Christ does not know what day it is?

–Certainly not, your Holiness.

Then why must I be bothered with this insight? This is Rome, is it not, you idiot? Are there not a legion of useless cardinals and bishops loitering about who could lead a mass?

–Of course, your Holiness, a legion.

Then leave me to my sleep, you bothersome gnat.

–It is just, your Holiness, that the bishops worry, you have been little seen for ten days.

Then let them worry. They worry over what they love.

–Of course, your Holiness, a great and worrisome love.

Then let me rest, you meddling woman!

–Of course, your Holiness, it is just that today is the Mass to Commemorate the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Nicoli, you incompetent scoundrel! Get in here this instant! Why do you hate me so? Why did you not inform me of this? Do you wish to see me humiliated? Who more holy a saint than John? Where are my dressers, my robes, my bath? No, wait. Do not beckon them yet. Nicoli, get in here! Why did you not tell me of this?

–Your Holiness, you were so consumed by your task that you forbid me to disturb you.

Then you should have written this information in a note.

–But your Holiness, I did. Look here, upon your floor, a half-dozen notes for you.

Do not mock me, you ingrate! You know very well that I have been engaged in battle for the very soul of Christendom.

–Of course, your Holiness, and may you be victorious.

How dare you doubt me? I have already won.

–Already won?

Do not be coy with me, you imbecile. You need only look to your own cat to see what is done.

–Your Holiness?

Oh, stop blubbering. Since when were you such an animal lover?

–But…

A poison must be tested, Nicoli. When one strikes at the devil, the aim must be true.

–But your Holiness…

Oh, shut up, Nicoli. What greater a death than to die in service to the Lord?

–What does a cat know of Christ, your Holiness?

All things know of Christ, you blasphemous wretch! Now stop your sniffling and draw for me a bath. I will buy you a new cat, Nicoli.

–Your Holiness, those scratches on your hands?

From that vile cat of yours. It had no appetite for fig jam.

–Fig Jam, your Holiness?

Yes, fat Roman figs cooked down with honey and thyme and a mortal trio of arsenic and death cap mushroom and vine of Sodom.

–But why fig jam, your Holiness?

Because the devil has a sweet tooth. I remember that wretched cousin of mine loved his sweets and jams and pastries.

–And so do children, your Holiness.

What mean you by that, you ingrate?

–Nothing, your Holiness.

God divines my hand, Nicoli, and the fig jam’s delivery.

–Of course, your Holiness. Nevertheless, let us guarantee its delivery. I will see to it that it be served only to the Duke upon his return.

His return? What do you speak of? The devil-Duke summers at his country villa as has always been the case.

–Not according to my sources, your Holiness.

What! Where is he then?

–I know not, your Holiness. I know only that he was caught in flagrante delicto, quite an embarrassing moment, I’m told, and has been missing from his villa for some days now.

You incompetent idiot! Why was this not brought to my attention?

–Your Holiness need only check the unopened notes upon the floor.

Do not mock me, you thankless wretch!

–But what does it matter, your Holiness? Surely you have not had the fig jam delivered?

–Your Holiness?

Shut up, you blabbering woman! Is my bath yet full? Good God, how long must I wait?

–Your Holiness, he has a child, a wife and innocent servants.

Do not doubt me, you faithless heretic. What is due the devil will be delivered to the devil. God will see to that. Now get that cat of yours out of here – it’s starting to stink – and call for my dressers. I must look especially regal today, Nicoli, especially regal.