The Reverend Robert Bonetti watched them from his office window-had requested on the telephone that they enter at the back of the church so as not to disturb his parishioners, who would be coming and going all day for confession. When he saw them emerge from the Trailblazer, at first the old priest did not recognize the blond woman with the sunglasses who accompanied the FBI agent named Markham. Only when they passed outside his window did Father Bonetti realize the pretty art history professor from Brown University had finally decided to come out of hiding.
Although Reverend Bonetti rarely watched television or sat in front of a computer screen, and although he preferred to read or watch his tiny collection of old black-and-white movies on the rectory’s ancient VCR, even he knew what had happened to Catherine Hildebrant-to her ex-husband, yes, but also to her. Bonetti knew that the media was claiming it was her book, Slumbering in the Stone, that had inspired The Michelangelo Killer to commit his atrocities; he knew that, since the death of her husband, she had withdrawn from the public eye-probably had gone into protective custody, the papers said. Oh yes, he had read the news stories, had seen Hildebrant’s picture many times on Meghan O’Neill’s Special Report: The Michelangelo Killer series on Channel 9. And now there were the rumors that the first statue-the one with the football player and that poor little boy from Cranston -had originally been dedicated to her, too.
When he heard the outside door slam, Father Bonetti’s heart went out to Catherine Hildebrant as it had so many times over the last couple of weeks. But he needed to move quickly, and just as the knock came at his office door, the old priest slipped the copy of Slumbering in the Stone that he had picked up a week earlier into his desk drawer.
Cathy entered first, followed by Markham.
“Dr. Hildebrant,” said Reverend Bonetti, offering his hand. “Despite the circumstances, it truly is a pleasure to see you again. I won’t pretend that I don’t know what’s happened to you over the last few weeks. But let me first offer my condolences for your loss, and second, my support in this difficult time. If there’s anything I can do, you’ll tell me?”
“Thank you, Father.”
Another round of pleasantries, and the three of them took their seats around Father Bonetti’s desk.
“Now,” said the priest. “To what do I owe this return visit?”
“I’d like to ask you a few more questions, Father,” said Markham. “Specifically with regard to your Gambardelli Piet`a.”
“I’m not sure what else I can tell you. I’ve seen the police photos, the composite sketches of your man. There’s no one I know who fits that bill, and certainly no one that could afford twenty-five thousand dollars for a statue.”
“I understand that, Father. But I was hoping you could perhaps tell us a little more about the statue itself. You said that there was originally a picture of it on your Web site?”
“Yes. It was a photograph of the votive chapel-the one off the main church that I showed you-the one that currently houses our replacement Piet`a.”
“Was there anything on the Web site, however-a caption or an accompanying description-that identified the statue specifically as a Gambardelli Piet`a?”
“Not that I recall, no.”
“The picture then-was it a close-up of the statue, or taken at a distance?”
“I guess you could say it was taken at a distance. It has been a tradition at St. Bart’s for many years to move the pyramid of votive candles into the main church after Thanksgiving in order to accommodate the three life-size Nativity statues that occupy the chapel during the Christmas holiday. I believe it was around that time that the photograph was taken. There is no manger to house the Nativity-just the architecture of the chapel itself-so the Gambardelli Piet`a would have been visible against the wall behind the statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“The family who donated the Piet`a,” Markham continued. “What was their name?”
“Well, now,” said the priest, leaning back in his leather chair. “For the life of me, I can’t remember. If you’ll recall, our original Piet`a was donated a few years before I arrived. There was a plaque engraved with the family’s name at its base, but of course that was stolen along with the statue. I’m ashamed to admit, Agent Markham, that-for all the time I’ve spent in this church-I’m not sure I ever knew the family’s name. Strange isn’t it? How you can pass by something every day and not really see it?”
“And you never had the plaque replaced?”
“No. The family who donated the statue moved away many years ago. Matter of fact, if my memory serves me, they hadn’t lived here for decades before I arrived-moved to a wealthier neighborhood-the gift of the Piet`a being a bit of sentimentality on the part of one of their old matriarchs, I take it. However, our deacon at the time of the theft, a Scalabrini who has since moved on, took it upon himself to track them down. He did find someone-a daughter I think-but the person to whom he spoke said not to bother having another plaque made, as the family did not want to be associated with our church anymore.”
Markham and Cathy exchanged a look.
“This deacon,” said the FBI agent. “Do you know how he discovered the family’s name? Are there records of donations and things of the like in your files?”
“I assume that’s where he found it, yes-perhaps also from asking around the congregation.”
“And these records, these files-do you still have them?”
“I would think so. But to be honest, Agent Markham, I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking for them. Any records older than five years we move to the basement, where they’re stacked in a dead files pile along with all the documents that were transferred from the old church after its renovation in the late 1960s-stuff going back almost a hundred years. Ironically, it was the deacon’s search for that family’s name that was our motivation to start cleaning house down there. However, even if you did find the actual record of the donation, Agent Markham, you might still have to track down the surviving family members like our man did three years ago. If you’d like, I can find out from the Scalabrini Fathers where the deacon is stationed-can ask him if he remembers the last name, where the family is living now, and can get back to you early next week.”
“Under normal circumstances, that would be fine, Father. But, with the murder of Cathy’s ex-husband, with the discovery of the Piet`a two weeks ago in Exeter, there is every indication that The Michelangelo Killer is going to kill again-and soon. Hence, we need to follow up on every lead as quickly as possible.”
“Yes,” said the priest. “I read about it in the papers. The authorities, the media seems to think his next public exhibition will be the statue of David. Indeed, I’m willing to bet that sales of your book, Dr. Hildebrant, have skyrocketed with amateur sleuths looking for a way to prevent the crime, to solve the case before the FBI does.”
Cathy was silent.
“You’re probably right, Father Bonetti,” said Markham. “So you see why it’s extremely important that we get that family’s name as soon as possible.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, Agent Markham, why would the FBI be interested in a family who donated a statue over thirty years ago? What does any of this have to do with The Michelangelo Killer, other than you think that he stole our Piet`a?”
“I know he stole it, Father Bonetti. And to be quite frank with you, I’m not exactly sure what I might find on the other side of this-that is, if and when I’m able contact the family in question. And to be even more frank, your stolen statue is the only solid lead I have to go on at the moment, the only place for sure I know The Michelangelo Killer was other than the scenes of the murders and the exhibitions of his statues. However, one thing I do know, Father, is that the theft was not random-meaning, I don’t think the killer saw your Piet`a on the Internet. No, I think The Michelangelo Killer had known about the statue from the beginning. He may have sat in this church many times over the years-perhaps became fascinated with it as a child. After all, the last time we met, you yourself said that everything was connected.”
“Yes I did, didn’t I,” said the priest, his thoughts far away.
“So please, Father, would you be so kind as to let us look through your records?”
Reverend Bonetti smiled and nodded his consent. He led Cathy and Markham to a stack of boxes in the basement-three deep against a wall, and piled almost to the ceiling in some places.
“You have quite a task ahead of you,” said the priest. “The deacon began organizing the files himself with the intention of throwing most of them out. Fortunately for you, as you can see from the labels on the newer boxes, he got only as far as 1994 before he was called to move on. The boxes in the back are from the old church, so you needn’t bother with those. I can’t guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for, Agent Markham, but if the document is still here, and if the deacon did in fact return it to the box in which he found it, I would assume it’s in one of these boxes toward the front.”
“Thank you, Father,” said Markham.
“You’ll have to excuse me now, as I must get upstairs for confession. I’ll be back down to check on you in an hour. If you find what you’re looking for before then, please let yourselves out the back door. I only ask that you leave the original document behind.”
“I’ll say my farewells to you now in the event I miss you.” The old priest took Cathy’s hand. “Dr. Hildebrant, may God give you strength and courage in this difficult time.”
“Thank you, Father.”
Reverend Bonetti smiled and disappeared up the stairs.
Cathy and Markham began in earnest-did not bother with the files that the nameless deacon had already organized. What made their search even more difficult, however, was that many of the boxes contained files mixed from different years-some, from different decades, as if they had been moved to the basement gradually and at random over a long period of time. It was tedious work, and about an hour into their search, Cathy’s mind wandered to a bizarre flashback of a game show she used to watch with her mother when she was a child. The New Treasure Hunt it was called. She could not exactly remember its premise-just vague images of women looking through presents in search of money-but it starred a guy named Geoff Edwards-that she knew for sure. Cathy could recall her mother saying that he was handsome-had not thought of the show or its host in decades. Indeed, she was so taken by this unexpected trip down memory lane that she almost dismissed the document lying limply in her lap.
Cathy found herself sitting on the floor, staring down absently at a long list of names dated for the fiscal year of 1976-1977. On the last page, under the heading, “MISCELLANEOUS DONATIONS,” the following entry had been circled:
Marble reproduction of Michelangelo’s Piet`a.
Artist, Antonio Gambardelli.
Donated in memory of Filomena Manzera.
Insurance value: $10,000.
But even more telling was the name and telephone number scrawled at the top of the page:
Shirley Manzera, 401-555-6641 (E.G.)
E.G., Cathy thought. East Greenwich .
“I found it,” she exclaimed, handing Markham the paper.
The FBI agent scanned it hungrily.
“We got lucky,” he said finally. “The phone number-Father Bonetti and our mystery deacon have come through for us.”