Beware of SPOILERS for Devoted to the Don
Originally, Róisín was going to help Finch find Luca after his kidnapping at the Colosseum – and Luca was actually being held in the Vatican Necropolis, rather than one of the other Roman catacombs. Róisín was going to help Finch get into the Vatican. However, I cut this chapter out a day after first drafting it.
Why? Well, the book was already hella long. It slowed down the action too much, and I also needed to change the details of Luca’s location. It was becoming waaaaay too complicated to explain why the Swiss Guard hadn’t noticed a couple of terrorists dragging their unconscious kidnappee into the Vatican.
I did struggle with cutting this, because I loved Finch’s Brando-in-Streetcar moment of shouting up at Róisín’s window, and I did like the idea of Finch and Róisín burying the hatchet and working together, with Róisín showing where her loyalties actually lie. (Family is actually a driving value for Róisín, despite what Finch thinks about her.) But I also felt like it was too early to “clear” Róisín in the book as a potential suspect.
And finally, this sequence had to lead to the moment where Luca accepted that Finch could hold his own in Luca’s world – and Finch had to earn that moment by working alone to save him.
So in the end, the chapter got the chop. But here it is, for interest’s sake, unedited and unproofed, so forgive any typos!
Obtaining a gun and a knife is a surprisingly simple operation, although the contact Teo gave me took some convincing that I was who I said I was. Even after using the password, he looked doubtful. It was only when I told him, in halting Italian, because all my Italian has flown from my mind under stress, that I was there on behalf of Don Morelli, that he nodded, took me through into a cement-walled backroom, and let me take my pick of the weapons on offer.
I took the smallest gun he had, because it’s the only one Luca has trained me with, and a knife. If I get to a point where I’m left with no other option than the knife, it might mean we’re both dead anyway, but I took it just in case.
Next stop is back at the Vatican. I wander around St. Peter’s Square, which has no guards or railings to keep people in order at this time of night, staring intently at my phone and then at the Basilica.
If the IFF have powerful contacts inside the Vatican, we’re screwed. But do they? Could they? Sure, maybe there are one or two Irish Cardinals with sympathies, but I can’t believe the wider Catholic Church is all that concerned with a tiny terrorist organization’s nationalist goals.
I wildly consider calling Aidan, asking him how to break into the Vatican. But…
I turn slowly from the Basilica, looking down Via della Conciliazione, and then to the right.
“‘We’re staying at…Santo Something,’” I mutter, trying to remember Róisín’s exact words. I bring up the map again on my phone and find it almost immediately: Casa Santo Spirito, a small lodging house just on the edge of the Vatican. It’s almost as good a position as our hotel, except it looks like you have to be a legit pilgrim to stay there.
I am all alone here in Rome. But that means Luca is, too. The only person in this whole city who I know, who I might be able to trust, is my sister. My sister who hates me and who told me never to contact her again and who might even be the one who told the IFF where we were going tonight.
But Róisín knows the Vatican. I’d bet my life on it. I’d bet Luca’s life on it.
She’d at least be able to make a suggestion about where he’s likely to be, and she might even have contacts in the Vatican who can help.
I start jogging before I even shut off the phone, and thirty seconds later, I’m staring at a modest archway, topped by a small iron cross and barred by a black gate. At the top of the arch is a painting of some angel talking to a woman in blue. I go up to the gate and tug it, but it’s locked tight. I rattle it again, and then my eye is caught by a speaker and a button next to the gate.
I press the button, which makes a furious buzzing noise, and then I press it again and again until someone answers in irritable Italian. It is almost two a.m. and I guess for the spiritual this is probably pretty late.
“Hey, yeah, I need to speak to one of your guests,” I say in English, because I just can’t do Italian for this. “Róisín Donovan?”
Whoever is on the other end of the buzzer hangs up.
I buzz again, short sharp bursts, then one long one leaning on the button, until it stops buzzing at all. Well, shit. Either I broke it, or a certain someone has disconnected it.
So I take a few steps back from the door, put my hands to my mouth, and start doing my best Brando in Streetcar impression.
“Ro-sheeen!” I shout. “Ro-sheeeen! Ro-SHEEEEN!” I keep it up until lights start coming on in the small windows of the building, until one of the windows opens and a very angry gray-haired head appears and tells me off in fast Italian, until the head is replaced by one more familiar to me.
“Howie!” Róisín hisses. “Shut up!”
At last. “I need you,” I call up.
She speaks in an angry whisper, as though we don’t have an audience. “Are you drunk?”
“No. And I’m not high, either, before you ask. I need you.”
“No, you don’t! And I told you—”
“Ro, they took him.” My voice breaks a little, and I have to take a breath, try to keep my shit together.
She stares down at me, her face in shadows. Someone behind her says something, and I recognize the tone if not the words: imperious, angry, instructional. She glances back at them, then back at me. “Hang on,” she says, and disappears from the window.
It slams shut behind her, and I wait there below like she told me to, although I’m not sure if she’s even going to come down, if she’s just pretending she will to keep me quiet. But as quiet returns to the streets around me, I can hear something from inside the apparently impregnable prison; the same strident voice I heard before, getting louder and louder, and when the door behind the black gate finally opens, I can hear what it’s saying.
“—you have disgraced your vows, Sister! Do not think that we will allow you—”
Over the top of it comes a complaining Italian woman, probably the same one who hung up on me.
“I’m very sorry,” a third voice says firmly, loudly, “but I’m in a hurry.” For a moment I think it’s Mom. But it’s Róisín, using Mom’s most ball-shriveling tone that she used whenever she wanted to do something and someone was standing in her way. “Excuse me, please, there’s an emergency. Signora—yes, that’s right, if you’d just open the gate for me—”
Still muttering in Italian, and using words that even to my ear seem inappropriate to use this close to the Vatican, the angry gray-haired woman comes to the gate and begins clattering through keys. I stand on one side of the gate staring at Róisín, and she stares back at me.
She’s really mad.
But not quite as mad as the loud-voiced woman behind her who, having failed to shame my sister with threats, has taken to reciting a vengeful Our Father instead, with special emphasis on the as we forgive those who trespass against us line.
“Thank you,” Róisín says politely to the Italian key-holder, as the gate swings open. “Please lock up again behind me.”
She completely ignores the loud prayer, takes a few quick steps to me, shrugging her backpack into place again on one shoulder, and takes my hand. “Come on, Howie.” She marches me away from the hotel, and I’m transported back to my childhood, like I’m back at Innisfree and I’ve been making trouble with the summer camp kids across the forest, and my big sister Róisín has been sent by Mom to fetch me back.
“Who was that cranky lady?” I whisper after we’ve got far enough away that the voices have been swallowed up by the noises of the city at night.
“Did I just get you kicked out of your prayer circle? I’d feel real guilty about that, if I had.”
Her hand tightens almost painfully on mine, and she pulls me on past the colonnades of the Vatican, back towards my hotel. “Just tell me what happened,” she says.
It takes less time than I thought it would to explain the ins and outs of tonight to Róisín, who listens carefully, sitting on the brocade sofa in our hotel sitting room while I pace back and forth. She asks the occasional clarifying question, but other than that, she just seems to think a lot. She reminds me of Luca in that way.
Luca. Every time I think of him, my heart freezes. What if they’ve hurt him? What if they just kept him alive long enough to bait the hook for me, and they killed him moments after I last heard his voice? What if—
“Howie,” Róisín says, “you need to calm down. Show me this tracker app.”
I pull up the app on my phone and show her. She zooms in, out, in again. “You’re sure this is accurate?”
“I think my crime boss husband would be pretty particular about accuracy on these tracers,” I tell her. “So, yeah. It’s accurate.” Sarcasm is not going to help my cause any, but I’m stressed as hell.
Róisín’s religious training—or maybe just her cool-headed nature—allows her to ignore it, thankfully. “Is there a way to tell how far away from ground level the person is? I mean, for example, which story of a tall building they might be on?” She looks up at me.
“Um,” I say, and frown. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never tried.” I don’t use the app much. Luca asked me not to, unless it was an emergency. He said the less I knew about where he was, the more plausible deniability I’d have with the Feds, if I ever needed it. Me being me, of course I ignored that, and for the first few days, I checked in every five minutes, just because it was fun to see everywhere my husband was going during his day. But the novelty wore off. I stopped checking in so often, and never bothered to try any of the other capabilities of the app.
Róisín has already stabbed her finger down on the Settings, and is going through the options. “Okay,” she says, a few minutes later. “It can tell us specific depth or height measurements.”
“And?” I ask eagerly, coming to sit next to her on the sofa.
“Give me a second,” she says, and for the first time, sounds a little irritated.
I try to be patient, and look around the room so I’m not following her every movement on the app. Her bag is in the corner of the room where she dropped it. It’s stuffed full, and I wonder exactly what she brought with her. It’s not like she would have known what she needed to take when I was screaming for her on the street.
Why is it so full? Does she have terrorist stuff in there? My eyes travel from the bag to my sister. She’s dressed in the same hoodie and leggings she was wearing earlier in the day, and sneakers. Does she have a weapon tucked away under that baggy hoodie?
“Do you have a gun?” I blurt out.
She raises one eyebrow, but doesn’t even look my way. “Of course not. Now, look, Howie, I’ve figured it out—” She points at my phone and I transfer my attention.
I made my choice the second I started yelling for her outside her hotel. I’m trusting my sister.
For the moment.
I squint where she’s pointing. “But that says…”
“Under the Vatican.”
“Like, in a basement?”
“No.” She looks up, out the window towards the Apostolic Palace in the background of the view outside. “Don’t you know what’s under Vatican City?” She gives a small smile. “Of course not. Why would you?”
“Well?” I ask impatiently. “Are you going to enlighten me?”
I let a beat pass before I say slowly, “You mean a cemetery?”
“I mean the Vatican Necropolis. That’s what it’s called. It’s where Saint Peter was buried—”
I can’t stop my snort. “Sure, okay.”
“If you don’t want my help—” Róisín begins.
“I do,” I reply quickly. “I do want your help. So there’s some big cemetery underground, and that’s where they’ve taken Luca?”
“A Necropolis, not a cemetery,” she sighs.
“What’s the difference?” I say, and I mean it in a let’s move on way, but Róisín takes it as a please explain.
“The word ‘necropolis’ comes from the Greek. It means, literally, the city of the dead. The Vatican Necropolis is made up of a series of mausoleums. It’s like walking through a city street—an ancient city street—but the houses are all homes of the dead.” Her eyes meet mine, and she holds my gaze, as though to impart something significant. “And it’s not currently open to the public. Even when it is, you have to book in advance, and there are all sorts of restrictions on how many people can enter. And there are still guards around, protecting it from intruders. So if these IFF people have taken Luca there, it means…”
“They’ve had inside help.” I look down at the regular, bleeping light on the app again. When Luca was in the hospital, one of the machines he was hooked up to monitored his heartbeat. The pulsing light reminds me of that, as though it’s his heart, still pumping strong, even in the middle of some city of the dead.
And who knows Death better than me?
“Do you know where the entrance is?” I ask Róisín.
“Yes. But it’s one a.m. and it’s not open even in business hours.”
“Do you know someone who can get us in there?” She hesitates, and I know she does. “Come on, Ro. Spill it.”
“There is someone I know who works at the Vatican Museum…”