“Luigi! Luigi Torcelli!” said Egidio loudly, for Ezio’s benefit. “It’s good to see you again. Still the Banker’s agent, I see. Thought you’d have been promoted by now. Desk job and all that.”
“Shut up,” said the withered man.
“He’s got the money,” said the captain.
Torcelli’s eyes glittered. “Well, well! That will put my master in a good mood. He’s having a rather special party this evening, so I’m delivering your payment to him personally, at his palazzo. And I must hurry. Time is money. So give it here!”
Egidio clearly hated to comply, but the two underling guards leveled their halberds at him and he handed the bags over. “Oof!” he said. “It’s heavy. Glad to get shot of them!”
“Shut up,” snapped the agent once again. To the guards he said, “Hold him here until I get back.”
With that, he disappeared inside the cavernous, deserted church, closing its mighty, heavy doors firmly behind him.
Ezio needed to follow him, but there was no way he’d get through those doors, and anyway, first he had to get past the guards undetected. But Egidio must have guessed this, for he started up a line of banter with the uniforms, irritating them, but, above all, distracting them.
“Well, why not release me? I’ve paid up,” he said indignantly.
“What if you’ve sold us short?” replied the captain. “The money has to be counted first. You must see that.”
“What? Ten thousand ducats? It’ll take all night!”
“It has to be done.”
“If Luigi’s late, he’ll get the stick. I can imagine the kind of man the Banker must be!”
“You people certainly have a very limited vocabulary. Look, think of poor old Torcelli—if he doesn’t show up with the money soon, the Banker probably won’t let him join in the fun. Does he let his lackeys join in the fun?”
The captain cuffed the senator impatiently on the head, and Egidio fell silent, still grinning. He’d seen Ezio slip past and begin to climb the façade of the building in the direction of the dome behind it.
Once on the roof of the circular edifice, which the classical frontage partially concealed, Ezio made his way toward the round opening—the oculus—he knew was at its center. It would be a test of all his climbing skills, but once inside, he would find the agent and put the next phase of the plan, which was rapidly forming in his mind, into operation. The agent was about his size, though far less muscular, and his flowing robes would hide Ezio’s physique—if all went well.
The trickiest part would be lowering himself through the aperture at the dome’s apex and then finding some way of descending from there. But he’d been to the church before and knew that censers, hanging far below, were suspended by chains from this very roof. If he could reach one of them…if it would take his weight…
Well, there was no other way. Ezio knew full well that even he couldn’t climb, flylike, across the inner curve of a dome, coffered though it was, 140 feet above the cold grey flagstones of the floor.
He hung over the edge of the oculus and peered into the gloom beneath. A pinpoint of light far below showed where the agent was, seated on a bench that ran around the edge of the wall. He’d have the money next to him and be counting it by candlelight. Next, Ezio looked around for the chains. None was within reach, but if he could just…
He changed his position and lowered his legs over the edge of the circular opening, gripping it with both hands. It was a huge risk, but the chains looked solid and old, and far heavier than he’d thought. He looked at their fixtures in the ceiling, and as far as he could see they were set fast in the solid stone.
Well, there was nothing for it. Pushing hard with his hands, he threw himself forward and sideways into the void.
For a moment it seemed to him that he was suspended in the air, that the air even held him up, as water does a swimmer. But then he started to fall.
His arms flailed forward and he willed his body toward the nearest chain. And caught it! The links slipped under his gloves and he slid several feet before he was able to get a firm grip, but then he found himself swaying gently in the darkness. He listened. He had heard no sound, and it was too dark for the agent to see the chain swinging, from far below where he sat. Ezio looked toward the light. It still burned steadily and there were no calls of alarm.
Steadily, he lowered himself, down and down, until he was near the floor, perhaps twenty feet above it. He was quite close to the agent and could see his silhouette as he hunched over the money bags, the gold coins glinting in the the candlelight. Ezio could hear the man muttering and the gentle, rhythmic click of an abacus.
Suddenly, though, there was an awful, tearing sound from above. The fixture of the chain in the roof could bear the strain of the extra weight no longer and had ripped loose. Ezio let go of the chain as it went slack in his hands and threw himself forward, toward the candle. As he sailed through the air, he heard a startled “Who’s there?” from the agent, and a seemingly unending rattle as 140 feet of chain fell snaking to the floor. Ezio thanked God the church doors were closed: their thickness would deaden any sound from within.
Ezio fell upon the agent with his full weight, knocking the breath out of him. Both men sprawled on the floor, the agent spread-eagled beneath Ezio.
He wriggled free, but Ezio had him by the arm.
“Who are you? Christ protect me!” said the agent, terrified.
“I am sorry, friend,” said Ezio, releasing the hidden-blade.
“What? No! No!” the agent jabbered. “Look, take the money! It’s yours! It’s yours!”
Ezio adjusted his grip and drew the man close.
“Get away from me!”
“Requiescat in pace,” said Ezio.
Leaving the body on the floor, Ezio quickly stripped the agent of his outer robes and put them on over his own, drawing a scarf over his lower face and tipping the agent’s hat down low. The robes were a little snug on him, but it was not a noticeably bad fit. Then he finished transferring the money from the bags into the metal box the agent had brought for the purpose, where much of it was already neatly stacked. To it he added the account book, and, abandoning the abacus and the leather bags, he tucked the heavy box under his arm and made for the door. He had heard enough of the agent’s manner of speech to be able to emulate it tolerably, he hoped. Anyway, he’d have to chance it.