As he approached the door, it opened and the captain called through it, “Everything going well in there?”
“Well, hurry up, Luigi, or we’ll be late.”
Ezio emerged into the portico.
“The count is complete?”
“Va bene,” said the captain. Then, turning to the men who held Egidio, he crisply ordered: “Kill him.”
“Wait!” said Ezio.
“Don’t kill him.”
The captain looked surprised. “But that’s…that’s hardly usual procedure, is it, Luigi? Besides, do you know what this guy’s done?”
“I have my orders. From the Banker himself. This man is to be spared.”
“May I ask why?”
“Do you question the commands of the Banker?”
The captain shrugged and nodded to the guards, who let go their hold of the senator.
“Lucky you,” he said to Egidio, who had the sense not to glance at Ezio before hastening off, without another word.
The captain turned to Ezio. “OK, Luigi. Lead the way.”
Ezio hesitated. He was stumped, as he had no idea where to go. He hefted the box. “This is heavy. Have the guards carry it between them.”
He passed the box over but still didn’t move.
The guards waited.
“Ser Luigi,” said the captain after a few moments, “with respect, we must get this to the Banker on time. Of course, I am not questioning your authority…but should we not get going?”
What was the point of buying time to think? Ezio knew he’d have to work on a hunch. It was likely that the Banker would live somewhere in the vicinity either of the Castel Sant’Angelo or of the Vatican. But which? He plumped for the Castel Sant’Angelo and started off in a westerly direction. His security detail looked at one another, but followed him. Even so, he sensed their disquiet, and indeed, after they had gone a little way, he heard the two guardsmen whispering:
“Is this some kind of test?”
“Perhaps we’re too early?”
“Maybe we’re taking a roundabout route deliberately—for some reason.”
Finally the captain tapped him on the shoulder and said: “Luigi—are you all right?”
“Of course I am!”
“Then—again with respect—why are you taking us toward the Tiber?”
“Ah—I did wonder. Normally we just go straight there.”
“This is a particularly important consignment,” said Ezio, hoping it was. But the captain didn’t bat an eyelid.
While they had stopped to talk, one of the guards muttered to the other, “Load of rubbish, if you ask me. This kind of arsing about makes me wish I were still a blacksmith.”
“I’m starving. I want to go home,” muttered the other. “Stuff the security. It’s only a couple of blocks north of here.”
Hearing this, Ezio breathed a sigh of relief, for his mind had flashed on the location of the palazzo of the other banker, Agostino Chigi, who dealt with the Pope’s affairs. That was a little to the northeast of where they were now. It stood to reason that Cesare’s banker’s place would not be far away—in the financial district. What a fool he’d been not to think of that before. But it had been another busy day.
“We’ve made enough of a detour,” he said decisively. “We’ll take a direct route from here.”
He set off toward the Palazzo Chigi and was reassured by the sense of relief he got from his companions. After a while, the captain even decided to take the lead. They adopted a brisk pace and very soon reached a district of clean, broad streets. The large and well-lit marble edifice they then headed for had different guards on duty at the foot of its entrance steps and in front of the imposing double front door at their head.
Evidently, Ezio’s party was expected.
“Not before time,” said the leader of the new guards, who clearly outranked the captain. Turning to Ezio, he added, “Hand over the box to my men, Luigi. I’ll see the Banker gets it. But you’d better come, too. There’s someone here who wants to talk to you.” He looked around. “Where’s Senator Troche?”
“Dealt with as ordered,” said Ezio quickly, before anyone else could answer.
“Good,” replied the guard leader gruffly.
Ezio followed the box, now in the hands of the new guards, up the steps. Behind him, the captain made to follow.
“Not you,” said the guard leader.
“We can’t go in?”
“Not tonight. You and your men are to join the patrol here. And you might send one of them to fetch another detachment. We’re on full security. Orders of Duke Cesare.”
“Porco puttana,” growled one of Ezio’s guards, the former blacksmith, to his mate.
Ezio pricked up his ears. Cesare? He’s here?—he thought to himself, his mind racing, and he went through the open doors into an entrance hall ablaze with light and, luckily, thronged with people.
The captain and the guard leader were still arguing about the extra patrol duty when a detachment of papal city police came up to them on the double. They were out of breath, and concern showed on their faces.
“What is it, Sergeant?” the guard leader said to their commander.
“Perdone, Colonnello—but we’ve just been on the beat near the Pantheon—the doors were open—”
“And so we investigated. I sent some men in—”
“Spit it out, man!”
“We found Messer Torcelli, sir. Murdered.”
“Luigi?” The guard leader turned to look up at the front door, through which Ezio had just disappeared. “Nonsense. He arrived here a few minutes ago. With the money. Must be some mistake.”
Ezio, after having quickly and discreetly divested himself of Luigi’s outer garments and hidden them behind a column, made his way through the crowd of richly attired guests, many of them wearing masks, keeping a close eye on the guards with the box of money. He drew nearer to them as they approached an attendant in fine livery, to whom they handed it.
“For the Banker,” said one of the guards.
The attendant nodded and, carrying the box with ease, turned to make his way toward the back of the hall. Ezio was about to follow when he was joined by three girls, who brushed against him. Their dress was as opulent as that of the other guests, but their décolletage left little to the imagination. With a shock both of surprise and pleasure, Ezio recognized them as courtesans from the Rosa in Fiore. He’d obviously underestimated his sister. No wonder she was so furious with him.