Pope Leo stood at the window in his office that overlooked St. Peter’s Square, aware of the gravity contained in the folder he was firmly gripping in his hand.
Several minutes later, Leo heard Hugo’s familiar soft tap and anxiously turned towards the door as Contini entered the room with his usual vigorous saunter. As Hugo closed the door, Leo studied the primo cardinal as he approached him and waited for the abandonment of the traditional kissing of the papal ring, replaced only when they were alone by Contini’s familiar hug.
“Good afternoon, Holiness.”
Leo turned once again to the window and gazed out. “Are we not men of God, Silvio?”
“Your Holiness is the successor to Peter. I am simply a humble servant doing God’s work.”
For a reason that Leo was unable to immediately determine, Contini’s remark ignited an anger in him that was fueled by a visceral perception that he was being duped and in a heinous manner.
Leo turned and abruptly held up the folder he was holding. “Is this the work of God?”
While waiting for his friend to arrive Leo reminded himself to closely observe the expression on Contini’s face when he was confronted about the existence of Intcom, Inc. It was this facial expression that Leo had learned over the years, that betrayed the sincerity of Contini’s words or actions.
“I’m afraid that I don't know what His Holiness is referring to.”
There it was! Leo saw it. Although it was only a slight tightness of the lips, nonetheless it told him all he needed to know.
“I am referring to the IOR holding stock in a company that manufactures items used for birth control!” Leo said, as he opened the file and thrust it forwards.
“The Institute for Religious Works took this as collateral for a loan which was made to a certain company. We did not, Holiness, purchase these stocks.”
It was the offhanded manner in which Contini was explaining this unacceptable situation that infuriated Leo almost as much as the deed itself.
“Did you know what sort of company it was before accepting the stock?”
“No, Holiness. I did not.”
It was a lie and Leo knew it from the ever so brief pause before Contini’s response.
“You must rid the Vatican of this association immediately,” Leo demanded.
EXCERPT TWO -
Testa watched as Contini turned on his heels, waited for his swirling cape to catch up with him and adroitly inserted a passe-partout from his sterling silver key ring into the lock on his door and then entered his office.
He knows, Testa said to himself in a voice that shouted silently in his head as he meekly followed Contini into what was surely to become a verbal torture chamber from which he knew there would be no escape.
Contini hung his cape in the small closet that contained his personal filing cabinets and ledgers, then sat in the soft black leather swivel chair behind his imposing desk and turned on the halogen lamp resting there. “Please, close the door.”
Testa did as he was told.
“Come closer,” Contini said.
As Testa moved several feet forward he awkwardly stood in front of the cardinal as he felt his eyes hypnotically move to the theatrical glow that the lamp cast on the manila folder that rested under Contini’s folded hands.
Oh, my God, Testa said to himself as he swallowed hard, it was the Intcom, Inc., folder.
“How long have you been in my employ?”
“More than eight years, Eminence,” Testa said almost not recognizing the fluctuant voice that emanated from his throat.
“Tell me, in all that time did you often snoop around my office in my absence?”
It was the baneful look on Contini’s face more than the words themselves that almost left Testa speechless. “Eminence,…I was simply,…”
But he was cut off and just in time, Testa realized, because he knew that if he had been allowed to continue he would have, in a moment of anxiety, thrown himself upon the mercy of the man with the red sash sitting in front of him.
“I had no idea that you were a snoop.”
“No, Eminence. I’m not a snoop.”
“Then how did the Intcom file get from this room to the pope’s apartment?”
“The pope’s apartment? I have no idea.”
“Do you think perhaps it’s possible that the Intcom file decided to go its own way in life and walked over to Leo’s apartment for a papal blessing?”
Testa decided to try and placate Contini, after all he quickly reminded himself, you did screw up royally. However on the second track in his mind he also realized that it was still possible to avert a ruinous outcome to this calamity.
“It was simply a mistake, Eminence. I beg you to forgive me.”
“Oh course you do, nosey person,” Contini said.
As Testa stood there desperately wishing that he had not haphazardly chosen to use the word, ‘beg’, he tried unsuccessfully to glean even as much as a scintilla of a hint as to what Contini was thinking.
“That will be all.”
As Testa turned to leave the man’s office he was well aware that this entire matter went too smoothly. There was a silence that Testa would later think of as the quiet that preceded the ‘whooshing’ sound of the guillotine blade descending to its inescapable victim.
And then the blade struck.
“I mean exactly that.”
Testa turned to face Contini with a slightly confused look on his face.
“I beg your pardon, Eminence.”
“I said, that will be all.”
“Yes, Eminence, I understand.”
“No, I don’t understand, Eminence.”
“But just a moment ago you said that you did. Make up your mind. Do you understand, or don’t you?”
“I suppose I don’t, Eminence.”
“Then I will explain. When I said, ‘that will be all’, I simply meant that you are no longer employed here. Now do you understand?”
Contini was enjoying the indisputable shocked look that seemed frozen on Testa’s face.
“Oh, do snap out of it. You truly don’t think that a blunder of such proportions could go unpunished now do you?”
“It was a mistake, Eminence. I would never let such a thing happen again.”
“I intend to make certain of that, I can assure you.”
Testa decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. He realized that he was doomed in the office of the Secretariat of State of Vatican City. It had by now become an irretrievable situation, so what more did he have to lose by at least defending his mistakenly violating office procedure.
“I could tell certain members of the curia what I know about Intcom Incorporated.” “So now he adds blackmail to his other ill-reputed traits. You are a colossal disappointment to me. I’ve have treated you well and what do I get in return? Betrayal is what I get in return.”
“Causing you any trouble is the very last thing I would do, Eminence. However, I have served you well for these past eight years and I don’t want to lose my tenure in the Vatican. That’s all I’m merely saying. I would never make the same mistake again. In fact, this unfortunate incident will only assure you that I will be more vigilant from now on, Eminence.”
“You just tried to blackmail me, am I to suddenly forget that?”
“It was an extremely bad choice of words on my part, Eminence.”
The over confident intonation in Testa’s voice suggested to Contini, along with the insipid smirk on his employee’s face, a flagrant assault on his intelligence.
“If you will perhaps permit, Eminence, may I also add that someone new in your service could cause you additional hardships?”
“Oh? What a very interesting comment. Explain.”
“I’m only suggesting, Eminence, that I know how this office functions and the sensitive issues in which His Eminence conducts certain affairs. Given over to someone less loyal, the consequence could be somewhat cataclysmic to your Eminence.” Too many ‘Eminence’s’, Testa told himself, too supplicating.