“Someone else? Like your brother?”

“I’d never forgive myself.”

“Why not? You’re a politician.”

“We’re not all bad.”

“Where is your brother?”

“I’ve no idea. Not here, thank God. We haven’t talked since he found out about the letters, and I’m enough of a liability for him. If he saw you—”

“Can we get down to business?” said Ezio.

“Of course. One good turn, and so on…Now, what was it you wanted again?”

“I want to know where Cesare’s banker is. Where he works. Where he lives. And most of all, who he is.”

Egidio was suddenly all briskness. “Right! I need to arrive with the money.” He spread his hands again. “Problem is, I have none.”

“I told you I’d get it for you. Just tell me how much. And where you are meeting this Banker.”

“I never know until I’m actually there. I usually go to one of three prearranged points. His associates meet me and take me to him.

“I owe ten thousand ducats.”

“No problem.”

“Sul serio?” Egidio almost beamed. “You have to stop this! You might actually give me hope!”

“Stay here. I’ll return with the money at sunset.”

Early in the evening, Ezio returned to an increasingly incredulous Egidio. He placed two heavy leather bags in the senator’s hands.

“You came back! You actually came back!”

“You waited.”

“I am a desperate man. I cannot believe you would just…do this.”

“There is a condition.”

“I knew it!”

“Listen,” Ezio said. “If you survive, and I hope you will, I want you to keep an eye on what’s going on politically in this city. And I want you to report everything you find to…” He hesitated, then said, “To Madonna Claudia, at the bordello they call the Rosa in Fiore. Especially anything you can pick up on the Borgia.” Ezio smiled inwardly. “Do you know the place?”

Egidio coughed. “I…I have a friend who sometimes frequents it.”

“Good.”

“What’ll you do with this information? Make the Borgia disappear?”

Ezio grinned. “I’m just…recruiting you.”

The senator looked at the bags of money. “I hate to give this to them.” He fell into a thoughtful silence, then said, “My brother has watched my back because we’re family. I hate the pezzo di merda, but he is still my brother.”

“He works for Cesare.”

Egidio pulled himself together. “Va bene. They sent me word of the meeting place this afternoon while you were gone. The timing’s perfect. They’re impatient for their money, so the meeting’s for tonight. I sweated blood, you know, when I told their messenger that I’d be sure to have their money ready for them.” He paused again. “We should go soon. What will you do? Follow me?”

“It wouldn’t look good if you didn’t seem to be alone.”

Egidio nodded. “Good. Just time for a glass of wine before we set off. Join me?”

“No.”

“Well, I certainly need one.”

THIRTY-ONE

Ezio followed the senator through another maze of streets, though these, leading closer to the Tiber, were also more familiar to him, and he passed monuments, squares, and fountains familiar to him, as well as building works—for the Borgia spent lavishly on palazzi and theaters and even galleries in quest of their own self-aggrandizement. At last Egidio halted in an attractive square formed by large private houses on two sides and a row of expensive shops on a third. On the fourth was a well-tended little park that sloped down toward the river. This was Egidio’s destination. He selected a stone bench and took up a position by it in the gathering gloom, looking left and right, but apparently unruffled. Ezio admired his poise—and it was also useful. Any sign of nervousness might have put the Banker’s minions on their guard.

Ezio took up a position by a cedar tree and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. Minutes after Egidio’s arrival, a tall man dressed in a livery he did not recognize came up to him. A badge on his shoulder showed, on one half of the crest, a red bull in a golden field, and on the other, broad black and gold horizontal stripes. Ezio was none the wiser for this.

“Good evening, Egidio,” the newcomer said. “It seems that you are ready to die like a gentleman!”

“That’s hardly friendly of you, Capitano,” replied Egidio. “Seeing that I have the money.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “Really? Well, that makes all the difference. The Banker will be most pleased. You came alone, I trust?”

“Do you see anyone else here?”

“Just follow me, furbacchione.”

They moved off, retracing their steps eastward, and crossed the Tiber. Ezio followed them at a discreet distance, but staying within earshot.

“Is there any news of my brother, Capitano?” asked Egidio as they walked.

“I can only tell you that Duke Cesare wishes very much to interview him. As soon as he returns from the Romagna, that is.”

“He’s all right, I hope.”

“If he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear.”

They continued in silence, and at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, turned north, in the direction of the Pantheon.

“What’ll happen to my money?” said Egidio. Ezio realized that he was pumping the captain for Ezio’s benefit. Clever man.

“Your money?” The captain snickered. “I hope all the interest’s there.”

“It is.”

“It had better be.”

“Well?”

“The Banker likes to be generous to his friends. He treats them well. He can afford to.”

“Treat you well, does he?”

“I like to think so.”

“How generous he is,” observed Egidio, with such heavy sarcasm that even the captain caught it.

“What did you say?” he asked threateningly, breaking his stride.

“Oh—nothing.”

“Come on—we’re there.”

The great bulk of the Pantheon rose out of the gloom in its cramped piazza. The tall Corinthian portico of the fifteen-hundred-year-old building, constructed as a temple to all the Roman gods but long since consecrated as a church, towered above them. In its shadow three men were waiting. Two were dressed similarly to the captain. The third was in civilian dress, a tall but dry and withered-looking man, whose fine robes sat ill on him. They greeted the captain, and the civilian nodded coldly at Egidio.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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