“You said he owed money to Cesare’s banker. Is he here?”
She shrugged. “You’ll probably find him on the Campidoglio. Surely you don’t need my help for that.”
“What does he look like?”
“Oh—let me see—average?”
“Don’t play games with me, sister!”
Claudia relented slightly. “He’s maybe sixty, lean, worried looking, clean shaven, grey hair, your height or a little less. Name’s Egidio Troche. Stubborn type, Ezio, pessimistic, set in his ways. You’ll have your work cut out trying to get around him.”
“Thank you.” Ezio looked at her hard. “Now—I intend to track down this ‘Banker’ and kill him. I’ve a pretty shrewd idea who he is, but I need to find out where he lives. This senator could lead me to him.”
“The Banker’s security’s pretty tight. So would yours be, if you were in a position like his.”
“You think mine isn’t?”
“As if I cared.”
“Listen, Claudia—if I’m tough with you, it’s because I worry about you.”
“You’re doing well—”
“Thank you, kind sir—”
“—but I need you to organize a big job for me. Once I have neutralized this Banker, I need your girls to get his money to a place of safety.”
“Just let me know when—or should I say, if—you succeed.”
In a dark mood, Ezio set off for the Capitoline Hill, the administrative center of Rome. He was greeted by a busy scene. There were several senators going about their business in the broad piazza around which the government buildings were arranged, accompanied by secretaries and assistants, who carried papers in leather folders and bustled after their masters as they moved from building to building, all trying to look as busy and as important as possible. Ezio, as far as he could, blended into the melee, keeping a watchful eye out for a man answering the description Claudia had given him. As he moved through the crowd, he kept his ears pricked for any hint he might pick up about his quarry. There certainly wasn’t any sign of Egidio among the senators at the moment, though he seemed to be providing his colleagues with a lively topic of conversation.
“Egidio’s been asking for money again,” said one.
“When doesn’t he? What’s it for this time?”
“Oh, some proposal to reduce the number of public executions.”
Ezio moved on to another knot of senators and there gleaned more information. He wasn’t sure, from what he heard, whether Egidio was a militant (and therefore foolish) liberal reformer or a rather ham-fisted con man.
“Egidio’s petitioning for an end to the torturing of witnesses in the criminal courts,” someone in the next group was saying.
“Fat chance!” replied the harassed-looking man he was talking to. “It’s just a front, anyway. All he really wants the money for is to pay off his debts!”
“And he wants to get rid of exemption licenses.”
“Please! Like that’s going to happen! Every citizen who feels mistreated by our laws should surely be allowed to pay for an exemption from those laws! It’s our duty! After all, it’s our own Holy Father who brought the exemption licenses in—and he’s following the example of Christ Himself—’Blessed are the merciful’!”
Another Borgia scam for making money, thought Ezio, while the other senator rejoined, “Why should we give any money to Egidio? Everyone knows what he’d do with it.”
The two men laughed and went about their business.
Ezio’s attention was attracted then to a small group of Borgia guards in their mulberry-and-yellow uniforms, but Ezio noticed that these had Cesare’s personal crest—two red bulls, quartered with fleurs-de-lis—sewn onto their doublets. As they always spelled trouble, he made his way over to them and saw, as he approached, that they had surrounded a senator. The other senators were carrying on as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, but Ezio could see that they left plenty of space between the guards and themselves.
The unfortunate senator answered Claudia’s description perfectly.
“No more arguing,” the guards’ sergeant was saying.
“Your payment’s fallen due,” added his corporal. “A debt’s a debt.”
Egidio had dropped any pretense of dignity. He was pleading. “Make an exception for an old man!” he quavered. “I beg of you!”
“No,” snarled the sergeant, nodding to two of his men, who seized Egidio and threw him to the ground. “The Banker has sent us to collect—and you know what that means!”
“Look—give me until tomorrow—this evening!—I’ll have the money ready then!”
“Not good enough,” responded the sergeant, kicking the senator hard in the stomach. He stepped back and the corporal and the two other guards set about belaboring the prostrate old man.
“That won’t get you your money,” said Ezio, stepping forward.
“Who are you? Friend of his?”
“I’m a concerned bystander.”
“Well, you can take your concern and fuck off with it! And mind your own fucking business!”
The sergeant, as Ezio had hoped, had stepped too close. With practiced ease he slipped the catch on his hidden-blade and, raising his arm, swept it across the guard’s exposed throat just above the gorget he was wearing. The other guards watched, rooted to the spot in astonishment as their leader fell to his knees, his hands futilely scrabbling at the wound to stanch the fountaining blood. Before they could react, Ezio was upon them, and, a matter of seconds later, the three of them had joined their sergeant on the Other Side, all with their throats slit. Ezio’s mission left no time for swordplay—only swift, efficient killing.
The piazza had emptied as if by magic. Ezio helped the senator to his feet. There was blood on the man’s clothes and he looked—and indeed was—in a state of shock. But it was shock mingled with relief.
“We’d better get out of here,” Ezio said to him.
“I know a place. Follow me,” Egidio replied, and he set off with remarkable speed for an alleyway between two of the larger government buildings. They hastened down it and turned left, then down some stairs into a basement area and to a door. This the senator quickly unlocked, and he ushered Ezio into a small, dark, but comfortable-looking apartment.