Deep Bay Relic - A Christian Mystery Suspense

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A thin, David Niven mustache accented a wiry frame. He shook it off and hurried to board the plane for the last leg of his journey to Florence. After the eighteen-hour trip from California, Gabe felt relieved to see his name on a placard held high by a stocky chauffeur in a tailored black jacket.

Rinaldo had to repeat a few of the words until Gabe nodded that he understood. He led the way through the small terminal on the edge of Florence, threading them through the huge crowd that filled every corner. All the faces looked expectantly in one direction as they jockeyed for closer positions.

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Rinaldo did not share his mirth. The Cardinal is hoping to bring a common sense agreement between a contingent of churches and the American Religious Cultural Center. And he exudes a personal charisma that makes him well respected. They reached a sleek black limousine, and Rinaldo opened the door. Gabe slid into the cloud-soft leather seat and they drove to Siena, the city that held the Dolcini ancestral home. For years, he had heard comments about the Palazzo Dolcini and had secretly dreamed of visiting it.

Now it was time. His father had done everything possible to break the ties—married a woman from a competing Sienese neighborhood, moved his family to the United States, and refused to have anything to do with the Conte. Gabe thought it was time to put an end to a lot of unnecessary drama. A little over an hour later, Rinaldo opened the limo door and led Gabe to the entrance. Stepping across the wooden threshold into the foyer of the magnificent residence, Gabe realized that nothing had prepared him for the opulence that greeted him.

He felt as though he had traveled back in time—the same way he had felt when entering the duomo in Siena years ago. The palazzo beckoned, luring him to explore within its grand walls. High gilded ceilings, frescoed in luxurious hues, pulled his eyes upward. Scanning across the stuccoed walls that displayed centuries-old oil paintings, his breath caught. He stepped nearer. Gabe turned and was pleased to see a vibrant, silver-haired gentleman, sporting a distinguished white beard and mustache.

I have dreamed of this meeting for thirty-four years—my grandson, in my home. This was the real deal. The faint aroma of expensive cigars conjured up scenes from an historical novel. More magnificent oil paintings filled the walls. This was heaven. Louis motioned for him to sit by the fireplace in one of two high-backed chairs. The rich leather accentuated the ornately carved wood of the arms and legs. Wine glasses and a porcelain plate filled with prosciutto , pecorino cheese, and green olives sat on the intricate pietre dure , a stone-painted table that stood between them.

After a few moments, Rinaldo appeared in a black vest, now serving as the butler, and poured the wine. Louis raised his glass. I swore I would drink it with you when you were old enough. Gabe swirled the red liquid in the crystal glass. He could detect the bouquet long before he tilted the glass to breathe in the aroma. He smiled at his grandfather, as they tasted the wine together. Year thirty-four proved to be a magic number for the celebratory bottle. Though smooth as silk, the liquid burst with flavor in his mouth.

Two days later, Gabe met Louis as he was descending the stairs to the grand foyer. Though quite distant as relatives go, Marcus is my best friend. I consider him a brother. His own excitement grew more with each passing day. Life was rich here, and not just the money. If he could conjure up the perfect character for a grandfather, Louis fit the image. His eyes misted again—a frequent happening since Gabe had arrived. Entering the Chianti region, Gabe marveled at the vineyards that stretched over every hill and valley. Soon, a road sign announced the town of Radda.

Rinaldo slowed to accommodate the massive number of shopping tourists. Gabe grinned as he studied the varied architecture of the mansions set close to the tree-lined streets. Charm exuded from every building and iron fence. They turned into the driveway of a once impressive home, ancient compared to its neighbors. Struggling vines and grass seemed at home with fallen roof tiles and the stone balustrades lying on their sides. Piles of stones sat abandoned next to a new section of house that gaped open through a partially framed wall. Louis studied the signs of decay and sighed.

He glanced at Gabe. His wife died, and he was left in a wheelchair with four young daughters to care for. He tells me all is well and will not accept my help. But look at this, Gabriel. Louis introduced her as Signorina Gemma. She blushed at Gabe and extended a graceful hand. Marcus reached out and gave Gabe a hearty shake with a strong hand. Welcome to my home. They sat down, and Louis wasted no time. When will you let me help with this restoration?

The remark made Gabe uncomfortable, but Marcus seemed to take no offense. Instead, he shook his head.

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But let us talk about your grandson, here, eh? Gabe blushed at the praise, but it fed his soul. Before Gabe had time to evaluate his comment, Gemma brought in a tray of espresso and biscotti. Again, she blushed as she sat it down in front of Gabe and left the men to talk. Marcus nodded his head toward the door through which she had disappeared. Her only purpose is taking care of me. How will she meet a husband if she does nothing more than buy groceries and clean this old villa? Louis patted him on the back. I do not think you have to worry about that one.

Louis took a sip of his coffee. Marcus smiled. I suppose they take after me, relentless in their business interests around the country. At least that is how I used to be. Each needs leadership, but my health tethers me to this chair. My eldest daughter has taken the burden upon herself and is especially driven beyond what is good for her. Louis stepped back through the door and sat down again, his face stern.

This is not good for the community or for you. And you can tell Gemma to quit spreading my business around town. For over an hour, Gabe witnessed the ongoing controversies the two men obviously enjoyed rehashing. They argued about the harvest and local politics until Gabe eventually stifled a yawn. Perhaps you would like to see the plans I created for the renovation here, eh?

He realized that the stones piled in the front yard would cover a new portico that wrapped around the front of the villa. The portico supported a second story patio that would provide a view across the street and overlook the vineyards and mountains beyond. It was obvious to Gabe that Marcus had been a powerful force before his accident. Handsome and confident, it would have been out of character for this man to ask for help prior to his injury. But what about now? Louis cleared his throat. I will see you on Saturday evening, eh? Outside, Rinaldo sprang out of the waiting limo and opened the door for them.

Gabe turned back and imagined the renovation plans from the outside. Louis eased in and frowned. Marcus and his wife worked on them together until she died. When they were almost home, he rolled down the center window and spoke to Rinaldo. I wanted to have him fitted for his tuxedo today, but my body refuses to cooperate.

Gabe grinned back, aware of his matching indentation, and basked in the connection. His grandfather had filled him with many stories about the family treasures housed in the 1,year-old structure. Gabe fingered the crystal water glass that remained on the table. Translucent alabaster chandeliers provided soft illumination for a hard subject.

Gabe glanced up in surprise. Surely, his father had notified him of her death. But no, Gabe could see the anticipation in his eyes. Louis sank back in the tall chair, his strong hands gripping the claws carved on the walnut arms. His face held such pain that Gabe trained his attention on the red and gold pattern of the carpet underfoot.

He dreaded what would come next. A simple question, but the answer held so much torment. She was lost in a mudslide while we were hiking in the mountains. An anguished gasp escaped the old man. Am I that much of a monster that my own son would stab my heart this way?

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Gabriel, am I? Gabe called for Rinaldo and rose to get help, but Louis motioned for him to sit. His grandfather waited for an answer. This was a monstrous thing to be done to you. His father had been heartless, except where Angelica had been concerned. Rinaldo appeared from his quarters opposite the kitchen, took one look at his employer, and reached for his medication from the sideboard. Gabe left and pulled the door closed, wishing he could lock out the fear that hid in the shadows of his mind.

Craving the growing bond with his grandfather had made him vulnerable. He had been close to revealing his darkest secret. But with truth came consequences. Shaken, he escaped to the ballroom where all the preparations to honor him were taking place. Empty crates that had contained his paintings lay in neat stacks. As soon as he had accepted the invitation, Conte Dolcini had notified Serena Romano, a popular art dealer, to make it happen. And it was happening. Thin and wiry, with her face pulled tight at the hand of a surgeon, she looked anything but serene. A string of emotionally charged Italian streamed out of her mouth, causing alarm in the eyes of the young men who were not moving fast enough after lunch.

They had only four more days to finish the details. When she explained the significance of the night to Gabe, her self-importance seemed to cause her head to rise to new heights. Their children have only heard tales about the palazzo. They are thrilled to be included on the guest list to see you, the famous American painter. She was less forthcoming with other information, but Gabe was able to pull a few facts together.

Although his grandfather carried on a vast array of business responsibilities, the Palazzo Dolcini had not opened its doors for an event in four decades, not since its mistress, Contessa Dolcini was murdered. He glanced around the fabulous ballroom. His paintings rested on magnificent gilded easels placed with artistic precision around the massive space.

The second story room was ablaze with light as Serena checked for shadows and glare that might hinder the viewing of his pieces. He is for now. Today, he longed for sanctuary. He needed to center—to remind himself of all he had accomplished through diligence and hard work. Why could one memory strip him bare so easily? As he meandered along a wide path that circled the large lawn, the beauty of the symmetry was nearly lost on him.

Overhead, the tips of the ancient olive trees intermingled, providing a welcome respite from the unusual September heat. Statues of Roman women holding fruit or vegetables seemed to pause along the path. He had already bypassed most of them when the extended hand of a magnificent bronze reached out to him.

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A bearded Greek warrior stood elevated on a round pedestal. The sculptor had wrought the realistic musculature of the chest and body in great detail. Gabe studied the rounded skull, certain it was once crowned with a helmet. What were the chances his grandfather had purchased a third warrior, clandestinely rescued from the shallow water? Where Gabe refused to take part in adventures, Ralph created one spectacular event after another. Gabe colored.

Ralph had thrown that insult at him all that summer. But he was thirty-four now. All grown up. Gabe looked at the wild hair and clothes and grinned. But Gabe could hardly call it a smile. Then I finds out my cuz is here to get all glorified. Ralph eyed him. Ralph cocked his chin up. Gabe stared after him. Strange guy. A moment later, Rinaldo emerged from around a precisely carved hedge. Why did it always come back to Angelica? Gabe was not interested in continuing the conversation. He strolled the perimeter walk, stretching out the time and keeping a lookout for more Greek bronzes.

None showed themselves. Arriving at a stone railing, he peered over and was astonished. Below lay a large seating area arranged like a small Roman amphitheater. A strong breeze blew up from the half-circle stage below and teased his black curls away from his eyes.

He followed its direction and glanced back at the palazzo where his grandfather waited. The wind shifted. It was impossible to tell from which direction it came or to where it journeyed. Could it be that simple to change the direction of his life? It was time. He trudged up the broad steps to the side entrance. Inside, the house was quiet. Rinaldo led him to the open door of a small chapel and left. Standing at the entrance, Gabe realized it had been ages since he had entered a chapel. The peculiar atmosphere here was different from anything he had experienced before.

The aesthetics of the narrow room were impressive. Its vaulted ceiling highlighted a magnificent glass centerpiece set high on one of its stone walls.

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Sun filtered through the five-foot rose window that displayed stained glass of every color. The soft light danced its rainbow illumination over seven rows of benches in the otherwise dusky room. Gabe stood still.

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A gentle presence and distant singing filled him, causing a slow swell in his heart. He listened harder, but the song was not audible. A movement in the front of the chapel startled him. Louis changed his weight on the altar where he knelt, head in hands. Gabe eased forward and heard his grandfather praying. And now, Angelica. Only You know the depth of my agony. Startled, Louis turned. His face solemn, he patted the bench.

Tell me about Angelica. Gabe rubbed his forehead. The peace vanished. He hid a nervous swallow and sat on the other end of the smooth wooden bench, hesitating before beginning the story. The terrain was rough and wild, but Angelica was a gazelle, skipping from rock to rock, until a storm moved in without warning. Our father rushed us down the mountain in the torrent that followed. He had returned her loyalty with treachery.

Shutting his eyes against the image, Gabe straightened. I need to rest now. Back in his room, Gabe fell into the blue overstuffed chair. He snatched his wallet from the end table and fished through the dark pockets until his fingers touched the slick edge of the small photo. As he studied her confidant face, a new sensation grew inside his gut. Anger seized him, pushing out the guilt. Condemnation rushed back. Nice try. Would he now blame her? He shrugged. There had been enough blame. Staring at nothing, he fought against the certainty that if the courageous Conte Louis Dolcini—master horseman and proud patron of his family—knew the rest of the story, he would cancel the art exhibit and send him packing.

Gabe would have no way of paying his bills. His mother would be left homeless.

His stomach knotted against the threat that hovered just out of his control. When would his past stay in the past? Though a blazing fire added ambiance to the dining room, none of its warmth reached Gabe while he waited at the table for dinner. He glanced through the large carved arch and listened. Louis spoke on the phone in the library, giving Gabe time to collect himself from the distressing afternoon.

Rinaldo set another platter on the table. When the call was finished, Louis entered the room and commenced with dinner. He seemed at peace compared to his anguish in the chapel this afternoon. At least one of them was. In spite of the nervous twinges in his stomach, Gabe managed to consume a good portion of each course. Louis shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

I took it upon myself to break my own horses until one of them broke me. The simple explanation caught Gabe off-guard. This man embodied everything his father was not. He took failure in stride. Did not cast blame. Rinaldo cleared their dishes and left the room. Louis spoke in a low tone. Nevertheless, I let you tell your story, now will you let me tell mine?

Gabe nodded. He wanted to know what his grandfather had done that was so horrific his father had shut him out of their lives. Ralph had been mute on the subject when he had visited. As far as Gabe could see, Louis was kind and generous. Do I really want to know? His gut tightened. The truth could ruin everything. Louis cleared his throat and began. In , the Pope ordered a chapel built on its crest around a miracle—the authentic sword in the stone. You could drive there tomorrow. The stone is solid and the story is of the purely miraculous variety—unless some scientist can explain how the solid rock melted in that one specific place just in time for Galgano Guidotti to stick his blade into it—then immediately became solid again.

So far, no assertions of that kind have been made. A few years ago, vandals used a sledgehammer and broke off the hilt. However, they were caught, and the sword studied. Scientists verified it as twelfth century and reattached it to the blade. It is now protected with a transparent cover and iron bars. Banking on a scientific explanation, Gabe let it go. I never considered the legend beginning anywhere besides the British Isles—or that the idea could have come from some historical… story.

With the beginning this eccentric, Gabe braced himself for the rest and downed the last of his hot tea. These are what matter most. The history of every family member—along with their deeds, good or bad—has contributed to who we are. He peered at Gabe. Gabriel Russo Dolcini, it is vital that you know these things. The conte looked so intent, that Gabe nodded his head. He let out the breath he had been holding and leaned forward. With evident relief, Louis smiled, easing years off his tired face. Clapping his hands together with anticipation, he rose to his feet. Gabe followed the straight-backed man through an arched entry. Steps led downward, disappearing into the shadows.

His grandfather flipped a switch that lit the sconces lining the stairwell. A host of carved brass snakes coiled around metal torches that illuminated the steps. With care, Louis grabbed an iron rail that was hammered into an elegant twist, and ambled down two sets of stairs. Gabe readied himself to steady the older man should he falter, but he never did.

Soon, they were in a subterranean part of the palazzo that he had not yet explored. They reached a massive oak door somewhere below ground, and Louis unlocked the ancient deadbolt with a brass key. Short of breath, he turned. Will you keep this vow of silence? Though it seemed a bit cryptic, Gabe saw nothing particularly sinister about the request. He had never been a gossip. His grandfather nodded, and his broad shoulders relaxed. They entered a cold room furnished with dark antique furniture. Louis stopped at one end of the room in front of a huge mirror that covered a six-by-ten-foot section of wall.

The frame sported gilded birds of prey, their talons and beaks aimed toward their unsuspecting quarry. Gabe shivered as a chill passed through the room and into his body. He moved aside while the mirrored wall swung outward, allowing them to step over the threshold and pass into a large hidden room. Once inside, he switched on an electric candelabrum and closed the door with a lever. In the ample glow, the nearly empty, castle-like room seemed to swallow them.

A desk, two chairs, and a large globe, floating in its iron support, huddled together in one spot. On one wall, tall wooden shelves stood empty except for a few dozen books, stacks of paper, and small art objects. All the architectural elements in the room—the floors, walls, and arches that held up the domed ceiling—were made of icy stone. The room retained a constant chill, and Gabe imagined he had landed in the middle ages. It was sinister. And fabulous. He touched a thick leather book on a near shelf.

A shadow of disapproval passed over the older man.

And it is true that some deviated sharply from their vows. Later, when they became rich and powerful, there existed even more self-interest and corruption. But who of us has not wrestled with that? Gabe cleared his throat. And to guard articles pertaining to Christianity. Again, Gabe felt perplexed that Louis held such a biased opinion.

Louis leaned his forearms on the back of a chair and clasped his fingers. Beginning in , he spent two years defending the Holy Land, but was appalled at the violence he found there. To add to his grief, charges of heresy and pagan worship had been directed at the Templars.

He wrote to his wife about the moral decay in Jerusalem. That which has touched our Lord fills us with the hope that our broken bodies shall also be caught up in the resurrection. Yet the very object we protect with our lives and secrecy brings these charges upon us. Gabe parried. It was then moved to Valencia in the fourteenth century.

His grandfather donned a patient expression. A screech reverberated off the walls as Gabe dragged the chair over the rough, mottled stone. The conte sat down in the opposing chair and continued.