The FBI safe house was the only one of its kind left in Rhode Island; it had been initially set up as a surveillance unit after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, and was located on the second and third floors of a commercial building in downtown Providence, directly across the street from the former law offices of a suspected Al-Qaeda sympathizer who was eventually prosecuted. Its original purpose now abandoned, the FBI had since re-outfitted the property into an operations suite with separate apartments, and only in the last year had begun using it as temporary housing for its itinerant agents. The phony placards in and around the building indicated that the second and third floors were occupied by an import/export business, but the private access of the underground parking lot, as well as the building’s card-key security system to the elevator and each floor, made it a doubly safe location for all types of FBI operations.
In an odd way it all felt so normal to Cathy Hildebrant. It looked almost identical to her former digs in Boston, but that she should be staying there with Sam Markham gave Cathy a sense of being home-a feeling of being a newlywed, like when she was first setting up house with Steve Rogers.
Cathy tried not to think of her ex-husband-tried not to think about the images from The Sculptor’s DVD that had been branded into her brain. She knew deep down that it was not her fault and that The Michelangelo Killer had begun hunting victims even before he’d ever heard of Dr. Catherine Hildebrant. But more than the degree of her culpability in her ex-husband’s death, Cathy tried not to think about the mixed feelings she had now that he was gone. No, she would never have wished what The Michelangelo Killer had done to him even on her worst enemy; but what chewed away at Cathy’s guts was the feeling that she had lost him twice, and that, as much as she hated to admit it, the first time around had been harder than the second.
There’ll be time to sort it out later was her mantra-the same one she had repeated to herself over and over during her mother’s battle with breast cancer. Yet instead of following up with encouraging words to stay focused, to finish her book and secure tenure, Cathy now had a new tagline: after I catch The Michelangelo Killer.
Cathy stood before the bathroom mirror and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She did not like how she looked with blond highlights. They made her look cheap, she thought, like a porn star. But it had to be done as part of the deal with Burrell and Boston. What would take more getting used to would be the contact lenses-she had never liked those; they always felt dry and made her eyes look puffy. Again, another necessity, but she would take along her black-rimmed glasses with her just in case. The worst, however, was when she donned her sunglasses. She thought she looked silly. Like a porno-Asian La Femme Nikita.
“You ready?” asked Markham, his head poking through the bathroom door. His presence calmed her, grounded her, but at the same time made her feel ashamed. Yes, despite everything that had happened since she met him, Cathy actually felt happy to finally be alone with him again.
“Yes,” she said. “If you don’t mind being seen with me.”
Markham kissed her neck and left her at the sink. They had spent the night in each other’s arms-made love like a pair of adulterers into the wee hours of the morning-and Cathy’s nostrils were still filled with the strange scent of her hair coloring and Sam Markham’s cologne.
As Cathy brushed her teeth, she suddenly had the impulse to call Janet Polk-to open her cell phone and leave her surrogate mother a quick message saying she was okay. But that’s a no-no, Cathy thought. Yes, Cathy knew damn well that she was not supposed to talk with anyone other than the FBI until Bill Burrell gave the go ahead-another part of her agreement with Burrell which, like her hair, she regretted. Cathy had not spoken to Janet and Dan since she left the hospital; she had gotten messages to them through Rachel Sullivan, but still she felt guilty, for Cathy knew how worried Janet was since learning about the murder of Steve Rogers.
There’ll be time to sort it out later.
Cathy emerged from the bathroom to find Markham standing in the middle of the common area-his copy of Slumbering in the Stone open before him as if he were an actor about to give a reading.
“What is it?” Cathy asked.
“Nothing, really. Just trying to gather myself before we go-overtired, I think.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, ever since the teleconference with Quantico yesterday, there’s a quote in your chapter on the Piet`a that’s been bothering me-a quote attributed to Michelangelo himself, and related by his contemporary biographer, Ascanio Condivi.”
“You mean the quote regarding the Madonna’s youthful appearance?”
“Yes. In your discussion of the various reasons as to why Michelangelo might have sculpted his Piet`a with the Virgin Mary as a young woman, you say that the artist himself told Condivi, ‘Don’t you know that chaste women stay fresh much longer than those who are not chaste? How much more so then with the Virgin, who never had even the slightest lascivious desire that might alter her appearance?’”
“Why should that bother you?”
“Well, as we saw with his Bacchus, The Sculptor is well aware of the baggage the contemporary context of his Piet`a would carry along with it-that is, how our knowledge of where the pieces came from would affect our perception of it. As we learned with Bacchus-where we, the viewer, see both the mythology of the Roman god and the satyr wound up into the lives of Tommy Campbell and Michael Wenick-when we look at The Sculptor’s Piet`a, we see the story of the Virgin and Christ, but we also see the stories of the prostitutes-the lascivious desires of their lives. Our minds see the contradiction of the holy and the impure all at once.”
“So you think the message in this case is ultimately one of blasphemy?”
“I don’t know, but I just can’t help thinking there’s something I’m missing-something that connects your chapter in Slumbering in the Stone to The Sculptor’s use of prostitutes for his Piet`a-something that goes beyond just the convenience of readily available material.”
“He didn’t only use prostitutes,” Cathy said blandly.
“I’m sorry, Cathy. I know that. But-and you’ll have to forgive me-but I’m thinking it goes beyond the victims’ professions, if you will, to the concept of sin, of sexual impurity. In The Sculptor’s eyes, you see, all of the victims he used for his Piet`a were sinners with regard to sex-which brings me to something else you wrote when you spoke of Michelangelo’s influences for his Piet`a. You say, ‘Another possible explanation as to why Michelangelo chose to portray his Virgin as a young mother is that he was heavily influenced by Dante’s Divine Comedy. We know that the artist was not only an admirer, but also a scholar of Dante’s work, and therefore must have been familiar with Saint Bernard’s prayer in Canto 33 of Paradiso, which begins, “Virgin mother, daughter of your son.” Here we see the relationship of the Virgin and her Son played out against the inherent contradiction of the Holy Trinity, wherein God exists in three forms: the Father, the Son (God incarnate as Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Thus, when taken in this undeniably “incestuous” context, if God is both the Father and Son, then the Virgin Mary is both Christ’s mother and His daughter, as well as his wife. One can then argue that Michelangelo is embodying this contradicting but parallel trinity in terms of the figures’ similar ages-a contradiction wherein the father-daughter/ mother-son/husband-wife relationship is skewed, existing in a spiritual realm outside of time, wherein physical age is only a “relative,” earthly index.’”
“So you think then that the Piet`a might represent to The Sculptor some kind of warped, confused relationship between a mother and son?”
“I don’t know, Cathy,” Markham sighed. “Maybe I’m just overtired. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into it all. But when you think about how much trouble The Sculptor went through to get the Gambardelli Piet`a, it might indicate that we were wrong about its relationship to his victims. Don’t misunderstand me, Cathy. I still think the killer wanted the marble of the statue to connect his victims to his sculptures. And although that plan might have changed, might have evolved into something else when he began focusing on his Bacchus, we now know that we were correct in our theory that The Sculptor had experimented with women before he moved on to males and full figures. However, even though The Sculptor wanted to use a male for the body of his Virgin to get the proportions and the breast placement correct, as well as to embody Michelangelo’s point of view on the female figure in general, I just can’t ignore the differences between how The Michelangelo Killer constructed his Piet`a and his Bacchus. When you look at the fact that he used three separate human entities for the Virgin herself, and when you take into account that you discuss in your chapter on the Piet`a the relationship between the Virgin and Christ as a contradicting yet parallel trinity to the traditional Christian Holy Trinity-well, it’s a bizarre coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
“Never mind all the metaphorical and moral implications that go along with such a reading of this parallel, incestuous, impure trinity.”
“Is that why we’re going to see the Reverend Bonetti again today?”
“Yes,” said Sam Markham. “I honestly haven’t a clue exactly what or why, but something tells me that there’s more to The Sculptor’s theft of the Gambardelli Piet`a than we first realized.”