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Chapter 78

"We have the dagger. It's a Ferrara-steel blade with scarlet and blue tassels," said Retired Admiral Dourso, one of Petro's fellow Signori di Notte. "We have the witnesses—one who saw him lurking in the alley, and two who heard him utter angry threats at the bishop. You were there. It was the night he was arrested in that affray with the Knights and Servants of the Trinity."

Petro Dorma took a deep breath. "Bishop Capuletti was killed at about midnight?"

The admiral nodded. "The body was still warm when it was found, just before midnight. The clothes were barely wet. I'm sorry, Petro. I must take Marco Valdosta into custody."

Petro shook his head at his older colleague. "Admiral, I haven't had much sleep. I must tell you that some hours after midnight, I became an uncle."

It took the salt-and-pepper-haired admiral a few moments to work this out. "Valdosta's child?"

Petro thought the little girl looked very like its father. But that was another matter for later. "My sister, Angelina, has had a daughter, yes. The child is rather premature."

"Congratulations, Petro, but . . ."

"The birth was attended by the Doctor Rigannio, a midwife, my mother, Countess Marangoni—and Marco Valdosta. He assisted as he is learning to be a doctor. Angelina went into labor just before midnight, at the soiree at the Casa Antorini. Which, as you know, is near the Oratio del Cruciferi."

Petro walked over to the sideboard and poured each of them a glass of Vin Santo. He handed the admiral one of the Venetian-ware glasses. "So. Unless you wish to accuse my ward of witchcraft and having a doppelganger, I suggest you look elsewhere for a murderer. The time and distances traveled make it unlikely. The witnesses who actually saw him help with Angelina make it impossible."

When the admiral had left, Petro sat with his head in his hands. Someone had set out to deliberately incriminate Marco. It was pure luck that he had a cast-iron alibi. This was plainly an attack on Dorma. Somehow the deliberations of Council of Ten must have leaked. This lot was bad enough . . . without that Angelina had spent half her labor demanding that Caesare Aldanto be brought to her, and already this morning had summoned him to her bedside to demand the same.

* * *

An hour later the admiral was back. "Not Marco Valdosta. His brother."

* * *

Benito was struggling to wake up. Having his room at Dorma—which he'd been back in for less than two hours—invaded by Petro, another Signor di Notte, and two Schiopettieri was something of a shock.

It was even more of a shock when they wanted to know where the hell he'd been last night.

They didn't find his refusal to answer at all satisfactory.

"Benito Valdosta. I must ask you to dress and come with us," said the salt-and-pepper-haired ex-admiral turned Signor di Notte. "You will be charged with the murder of Bishop Pietro Capuletti."

* * *

"Ha!" Kat's grandfather came into the breakfast salon, where Kat was picking at a bowl of frumenty. "I told you, girl! Blood will out! They've arrested that damned Valdosta boy for murder!"

Kat's chair went flying. The fragile bowl was dropped, shattering on the fine intarsia floor as she leapt to her feet. She felt blood drain from her face. "What?"

The old man rubbed his hands in glee, ignoring the destruction. "That Valdosta-pig. I went to see Dourso this morning. Just checking things out for you, girl. And he was just on his way to arrest Marco Valdosta. For the murder of Bishop Pietro Capuletti. Ha!"

"Did you do this?" she demanded furiously. "Did you engineer this, Grandpapa?"

Lodovico Montescue shook his leonine old head. "I wish it were my doing. But they'll have his head, anyway," he said with great satisfaction.

Kat stared at him. "He wasn't even born when you had your stupid fight! You crazy old man! He doesn't even know who you are!" She stormed out.

"Katerina! Where are you going?" He hurried after her as fast as his old legs could manage.

Over her shoulder, Kat snapped: "To hand myself over to the justices at the Doge's palazzo, for murdering Bishop Capuletti."

"Stop, Katerina! You can't do tha—" His voice was cut off by the great front door closing. A passing gondolier answered her hail. And Kat, in a turmoil of emotion, set off to rescue Marco.

* * *

Marco Valdosta stared incredulously at his brother-in-law. "You just let them take him away?"

Petro threw up his hands helplessly. "He has witnesses. A Ferrara-made knife with house tassels. I'll swear it's not Benito's. But it looks bad. And then your brother refuses to say where he was last night."

Marco steepled his long slim fingers. "Ten to one he'll have been doing something for Caesare Aldanto. Probably with Maria."

Dorma leaned forward. "Who is this Maria?"

There was no sense in pulling punches. "She's a canal-girl—the one who was abducted by the Dandelos. She lives with Caesare Aldanto. He's worth asking about this. If anyone will help Benito, it's him."

"I'll have some of my people go out and fetch him." He stopped Marco's reply. "You will stay right here, Marco. Under my eye. You'll accompany me to hear the galliot captain address the Senate at midday. You will be seen. This is intended as an attack on Dorma. I wish I knew by whom."

Marco shook his head. "The knife is too obvious, Petro. Why would he leave it behind?"

"Exactly," said Petro. "But they'll claim it was wrestled from his grasp by the dying man."

Marco took a deep breath. "Who are these witnesses, Petro? And tell me about this knife."

"By the description, the knife is one with the main gauche you and Benito carry. As for the witnesses, it's a Filippo Recchia and Vittorio Toromelli. Boys from respectable rising families."

Petro Dorma was one of the most phlegmatic of the Case Vecchie. He was totally unprepared for Marco's harsh laughter. He positively gaped.

Marco stood up. "Petro, I think we can deal with this and find out for you exactly who is trying to get at you. Can we arrange to see the justices before the Senate address?"

"It should be possible, yes," said Petro. "Why?"

Marco smiled like a shark. "They came here looking for me first, right? Recchia and his buddy Toromelli know me. I'm willing to bet they don't know Benito. They know I have a younger brother. But he doesn't show up at the Accademia. And he hasn't been to any major functions with you."

"We're trying to polish out the rough spots," said Petro with a smile. "He's been to three private soirees. He should have been at last night's one. That would have been the first time you were 'on show' together."

"They claimed they saw me. Then, when you provided an alibi for me . . . they changed it hastily to Benito. We're going to trap them. They don't know that we don't even look alike."

* * *

Dorma realized that Marco was right. They don't look alike, not in the least. If I hadn't known—if Duke Dell'este had not warned me—I never would have guessed they were brothers. Even half-brothers.

Petro sat back in his chair and rubbed his hands. "That's not all," he said. "They claim to have heard you swearing revenge on the night of that abortive raid by the Knots on that supposed Strega circle. Except for the time when you were in with me—alone without anyone to claim to have listened—you were with the injured. Including a Knight of the Holy Trinity."

He rose and began pacing slowly about. "I wonder if the injured have been called as witnesses? I'll ask the abbot to send that knight to the justices. Sachs should agree—he wants back into my good books after that fiasco at the Accademia."

Dorma rang a bell, and then he wrote a hasty note. The runner came up and was dispatched.

"Well, I think we shall go across to the Doge's palace."

"Good," said Marco, grimly. "Because I have another string to this bow. If that blade is like this one, if we can get it to Ferrara, then my grandfather can tell us exactly who it was sold to. I want them."

Petro looked at the intent, pacing Marco. "I've never seen you like this before, my boy."

"They threaten my family, Petro. Filippo Recchia has let his little grudge against me put Benito in prison for murder. I won't allow that. If necessary I will kill him and his friend myself. Because I can if I have to. Or I will pay Aldanto to do it."

Petro stared at his young brother-in-law. He had never seen Marco in such a state, and was just realizing that the years in the marshes had left an imprint. A rather savage one. "I glad we're family, Valdosta," he said wryly.

* * *

The Piazza San Marco was already crowded. All ten of the justices were in their chambers. Most of the senators were also there in the palace. It was not hard for someone of Petro Dorma's standing to ask the chief justice with two of his colleagues to have a preliminary hearing on the holding in captivity of the suspected murderer Benito Valdosta, with a couple of eminent senators for witnesses. "This affair is political," explained Petro. "We are likely to take political actions this afternoon, so this may have a bearing."

Two Schiopettieri were sent off to find Masters Filippo Recchia and Vittorio Toromelli. Marco was able to direct them to a couple of likely taverns. Another three were sent to round up another five boys of between Marco and Benito's age.

They waited on them and the arrival of the Knights of the Holy Trinity.

* * *

Abbot Sachs looked thin on patience. He didn't get up when Erik entered but remained at his piled scriptorium. "I have all this correspondence from our courier out of Trieste, and now this note from Dorma. It seems better-natured than our last encounter. And we could still use the man's good graces. He wants Von Gherens and any other of the Knights or Servants of the Holy Trinity who were with the injured in that raid of ours at the Accademia. Go, Ritter. Take Von Gherens. He is up on his feet again. Brother Uriel helped attend him too, along with that student. Take Uriel along. Go." He shooed.

Erik was only too glad to go. The embassy had been full of things going on for the last while that he wasn't on top of—and whose consequences for Manfred worried him. He wanted out, for both of them. He didn't ask permission to take Manfred. He could always claim that he'd needed Manfred to support Von Gherens. So what if Manfred had been safe at the embassy—actually, with Francesca—that night?

The palace was crowded, but a couple of Schiopettieri were waiting for them at the doors, and escorted them to Petro Dorma, who was sitting with a couple of the Venetian justices, and a stripling Erik recognized. It was Dorma's ward. Yes, he had been there at the raid. Von Gherens probably owed his leg to the boy, and one of the students probably his life. Erik hadn't put two and two together at the time. There had been other things on his mind.

Petro Dorma greeted them. "So Abbot Sachs was not able to come personally? A pity. But never mind. We need you as witnesses to the truth or falsehood of a particularly unpleasant accusation. We are questioning statements allegedly made by this young man. Do any of you recognize him?" He pointed at his ward. Uriel, Von Gherens and Erik all nodded.

Dorma smiled. "Right. If you don't mind, could you wait in the antechamber? You will be called one at a time. I've sent for some wine."

Manfred brightened visibly. "I'll stay here and look after the wine," he said cheerfully. "I wasn't there."

Dorma smiled humorlessly. "I suspect the 'Accusers' might well not have been there, either. This way, gentlemen."

* * *

Filippo Recchia, the handsome and wealthy champion fencer, looked sulky, angry, and just a little overawed. His sycophant Vittorio just looked terrified. They were led one at a time to bear witness. Dorma insisted they each testify separately.

Recchia spoke first, his face stiff but seemingly calm. "He was angry. He said to that friend of his, Rafael de Tomaso. 'I wish we'd killed all of these German monks and knights. I wish we could get rid of Bishop Capuletti. I would do it myself if I had half the chance.'"

One of the Justices pointed at Marco: "And it was definitely this man who said that?"

Both Filippo, and then Vittorio, confirmed the statement. Yes. They knew him well. Would recognize him with certainty.

"But it was not him you saw lurking in the alley next to the Fondamenta Pruili," the justice asked Recchia.

"I thought so, Your Honor, but I realized I must be mistaken and it must be his brother."

"Ah. But you saw him well enough to recognize him?"

Recchia crossed himself. "My oath on it."

"Thank you. Stand down, Signor Recchia."

Marco watched as the first of the knights was called. What if he were part of this conspiracy? Fear of the Knots and their reputation rose in his throat as the young blond knight with the chiseled features took the stand.

Unnecessarily, it seemed. "No. He was with us all the time from when the Schiopettieri arrived, until we were summoned individually."

"And did he at any stage say anything about killing anyone?"

The knight, Erik Hakkonsen, frowned. "No. Definitely not. He said very little. His attention was on the wounded. A good young fellow. An innocent bystander who came to provide assistance, that's all. The Knights of the Holy Trinity are in his debt."

"And do you remember these two?"

The blond knight pointed at Vittorio. "Him. He was very drunk. Kept singing. Some of your Schiopettieri would remember him."

The justices then called the next witness, Von Gherens, who seconded Hakkonsen's statements and echoed his praise of Marco.

Then Brother Uriel came along. As usual he didn't mince his words. "They swore they heard what?" he demanded. When told again, he snorted derisively. "Absolute lies. They've broken their oath sworn on the Holy Bible. Get your Metropolitan to excommunicate them."

Vittorio went pale, but Filippo laughed. "Who do you believe? Good Venetians—or foreigners and half-bloods like this Valdosta? He's mongrel Ferrarese, not Venetian. And Ferrara will be history soon."

The chief justice just shook his head. "Signor Recchia. Come through to the next room and point out the younger Valdosta. You did see him clearly, did you not?"

"It wasn't daylight, but I saw him clearly enough to think it was Marco Valdosta at first." Recchia spoke with supreme confidence.

* * *

The confidence disappeared when he saw the six young men, all wearing Dorma-blue.

"He's not here . . ."

"Indeed, he is," countered the chief justice sternly. "Point him out, put your hand on his shoulder."

Eventually Recchia chose the tallest. A young man with straight dark hair. "Him. He's Valdosta."

The young man accused got a very alarmed look on his face. "I am not!" he protested. "I'm Enrico Battista. Everyone will tell you so! I'm just a pastry cook."

Benito, curly-haired, stocky Benito, who had been through very little sleep, arrested for murder, thrust in jail, hauled out and made to dress in Dorma livery by two Schiopettieri and wait while this . . . figlio di una puttana lied about him, started laughing. And then, before anyone could intervene, he hopped forward and grabbed Filippo Recchia by the silk shirtfront. Marco watched as Benito kneed straight-nosed, handsome Filippo champion-of-the-fencing-salle-Recchia in the testicles—and then punched his face, once, twice, as he bent forward.

Marco noticed that the huge, solid young knight who had wandered in put his glass down and clapped. Once, twice, before the Schiopettieri dragged Benito off Recchia.

The chief justice managed to keep an absolute straight face. He was possibly the only one in the chamber to do so. "Perjury and the bearing of false witness, especially in such a serious case as this is a serious offense, with which you will be charged, Filippo Recchia and Vittorio Toromelli. Your false testimony also places you under extreme suspicion of being party to the murder. . . ."

"I was in Zianetti's!" choked Recchia, still clutching his groin. "I can prove it. I was nowhere near the scene. I just heard about the dagger and—"

"Enough." The chief justice silenced him. "Benito Valdosta. Brawling in public places carries certain penalties. You are hereby fined one ducat, considering the extreme provocation. When that is paid you are free to go." Then he paused. "Wait. There is still the matter of the dagger and your whereabouts last night."

"Ahem." Petro cleared his throat. "The dagger was a transparent attempt to put blame on Valdosta. Anyone could buy one and color the tassels. Only a fool would use such a weapon—and leave it on the scene, eh, Your Honor? In my opinion, it's a base political thrust at Dorma, as the Valdosta boys are my wards and my kin."

Again, he cleared his throat. "As for the refusal to say where he was, Your Honor . . . a gentleman's obligations, you understand . . . a young lady by the name of Maria—no last names, please!—surely no one will insist . . ."

Marco watched his younger brother blush absolutely puce. "How the hell did you know?" Benito demanded.

Not even the chief justice could keep a straight face any more.

The door to the chamber burst open. Marco saw an extremely distraught, sobbing Case Vecchie woman standing there. It took him a few moments of incredulous staring to realize that it was Kat.

"I . . ." She swallowed. "I've come to confess! I murdered Bishop Capuletti. On the Fondamenta Pruili—last night, just before midnight."

The chief justice looked at her "Ah. The mysterious Maria."

She looked at him in puzzlement. "No. Katerina Montescue."

A look of wary understanding dawned across the chief justice's face. He was, after all, a man of about sixty who knew a great deal about the wrangles of the various families of the Case Vecchie. He looked at Benito "Valdosta . . ." Then at Kat. "And you would be Lodovico Montescue's granddaughter?" His voice held both understanding and trepidation.

Kat nodded.

The chief justice shook his head. "No wonder . . ." He sighed. "I suppose I can expect old Lodovico here any minute with real murder in mind?"

The Campanile bell chimed. When it was still, the chief justice continued. "But right now I am going to listen to the captain of that galliot. Out. All of you except Recchia and Toromelli. They can remain with the Schiopettieri until I return." He looked at Benito. "You might have been safer in jail, boy."


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