The Vatican Children
After the events of in Everett Washington, Father Niccolo Paladina decides to assist Arthur in hunting down the Bishop and bringing him to justice for the crimes he has committed. He knows that the Bishop has something big planned against the Church.
Arthur, on the other hand, is hoping to find some redemption for his actions against The Ninth Circle and atone for his mistakes. Atonement, however, can be difficult to come by...
Especially when the stakes are so high.
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Outside, leaves and gravel crunched when a car pulled up to Arthur’s cabin in the forests of Colorado. He’d expected it, so it didn’t cause him any concern, and he didn’t realize anything had gone amiss, in fact, until a second door slammed shut.
Alarmed, he jumped up from the couch he’d sat resting on and slid his gun off the coffee table. Then he made his way over to the window, careful to stay out of view. Had his hideout become compromised? He had anticipated that Father Niccolo Paladina would arrive just about now, but he had also expected for the priest to come alone.
His newly finished cabin sat deep in the middle of uninhabited forestry in Colorado, and it served as his sanctuary away from civilization. It would prove difficult to find even with a map and closely-detailed directions, which meant that either Niccolo had brought a friend with him—which would be bad—or someone else had just driven up.
Weapon held ready, he flipped the curtain aside and peeked out through the small gap.
Not his revolver sat in his hand, though, a fact which made him feel practically naked as he leaned against the wall. His revolver lay under the pillow in his bedroom. What he held was a tranquilizer gun designed to fire darts.
It didn’t feel as heavy as his weapon of choice, the Colt revolver, which made it awkward in his hands. Also, it held only three darts and seemed cumbersome and tricky to load. He shifted it in his hand continually, willing it to become more comforting.
Arthur had opted to carry it, though, because he wanted to get used to using it. Some comfort lay in knowing his revolver waited nearby, along with a pair of shotguns and an assault rifle, but hopefully, he wouldn’t need any of them.
When he saw the car sitting in front of his cabin, though, he relaxed and let out a sigh. In hindsight, he should have known: only one person would be brazen enough to bring a friend to his sanctuary uninvited.
“Frieda,” he mumbled, sliding the tranquilizer gun away into his shoulder holster.
Frieda had just climbed out of the little blue sedan and now walked toward the cabin. She spoke to someone on the other side of the car, and it took a second for that person to walk around the hood and into his sightline.
“Uh oh.” He groaned.
This was perfectly bad timing.
Arthur rushed over to the door of his cabin and out onto the front porch. Hastily, he closed the door behind him and used his body to block it.
“Hey, Frieda. Uh … what’s up?”
The woman stopped walking midstride, a suspicious frown blooming on her face.
“Hi, Arthur.” She put out a hand to stop Abigail, and then turned her attention back to Arthur. “We’ve come here to visit.”
“You didn’t call ahead.”
“I didn’t think we had to,” she said, nodding toward Abigail.
Abigail looked exhausted from the long drive, but she stood beaming at Arthur. The girl was closing in on her eighth birthday—by the best guesses of multiple physicians—and had long black hair and a narrow face.
He had to admit, just seeing her caused his heart to race and filled him with emotion. She represented his second chance at life, a chance to try again. This time, he would get it right.
She acted nothing like the little girl he had saved in the manor of West Virginia. Back then, those ten months ago, she had worn torn and tattered clothes and a vacant expression in her eyes, the broken shell of a little girl who had undergone years of torture and abuse.
Now, she just looked like a normal youngster.
Abigail seemed about to run up to hug him, but she could sense the tension between him and Frieda. Instead, she kept glancing between them, a look of confusion on her young face.
“You don’t have to call ahead,” Arthur said. “I just expected someone else to show up, and you two caught me off-guard. What are you doing here?”
“We came to visit.” Frieda folded her arms across her chest and gave him one of her famous looks of disapproval. “We’ve come out of our way, but it’s been a few weeks since you checked in with us in person, and we wanted to make sure you were doing all right. What are you doing?”
The real question she asked was: What are you hiding? Arthur flashed her a look that he hoped conveyed they shouldn’t discuss this in front of others. He didn’t want to talk to her about it at all, but especially not in front of Abigail.
“As I said, I’m waiting for someone else to get here.”
“Who? That priest you met in Everett? Did the Vatican clear him to work with you?”
He hesitated. “Yes, but not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t ask for clearance from the Vatican. Not yet, at least.”
Arthur ignored the look of shock on Frieda’s face. He strode down the front steps of his cabin and wrapped Abigail in a hug. Then he lifted her up in the air and swung her around.
“Abi,” he said. “It’s so great to see you!”
She hugged him back and giggled as he spun her. “I missed you!” she said.
He looked over Abigail’s shoulder at Frieda. She seemed about to say something else, so he mouthed, Not a good time.
Frieda held up her hands in question and raised her eyebrows, but she didn’t say anything. Gently, Arthur set Abigail back onto the leaves and dirt. He knelt in front of her so that they came eye-to-eye.
“Been stuck in the car for a long time, huh?”
“Yep,” she said. “It was so boring.”
With a grin, he glanced at Frieda, and then leaned closer to Abigail to whisper conspiratorially, “I know what you mean. Did she just listen to her classical music?”
Abigail giggled and whispered, “The whole way.”
He laughed. “Do you want to go play?”
She nodded. “Uh huh.”
“I think I have a soccer ball out behind the cabin. Not a lot of room to run around in the woods, but it’s better than nothing. If you want to go find it, I’ll come right out, and we can kick it around some.”
When she headed for the front door of the cabin, he caught her arm and pointed to the west. “Not that way. Head around the side.”
Abigail nodded and then took off running in the direction he had pointed. He didn’t have a soccer ball out there just now—it sat in one of the closets inside the cabin—but he figured searching for it would keep Abigail busy for at least a few minutes.
Once she went out of earshot, he turned to face Frieda and her withering expression of annoyance. She still had her arms folded across her chest, and if looks could kill …
“What did you do?”
“Why would you assume that I did something?” he said as innocently as he could.
Her silence spoke volumes. Awkward, he stared at her, and finally, she let out an exaggerated sigh and rubbed her forehead.
“Arthur. How long have we known each other?”
“A long time. Too long, you might say.”
“Exactly. Now, will you tell me what you have hidden from me in your cabin, or do I have to tear the place down and find out for myself?”