Home > Left to Envy (Adele Sharp #6)(9)

Left to Envy (Adele Sharp #6)(9)
Author: Blake Pierce

A truly breathtaking view. She could get used to this. Adele tried not to smile at the thought, and finally closed her eyes, refocusing.

She’d been impressed Agent Leoni had memorized the riddle so quickly. And now she cycled through it in her own mind.

 

The high place of the Great

never the Virgin’s fault

met an empire’s fate

pillars of nations fall

 

A few points of the riddle stood out in particular. Especially the part about the virgin. This seemed the most specific clue.

What did it mean, though? If she knew the answer, perhaps the clue would be obvious. And how about the portion that mentioned the high point?

A mountain? A skyscraper? Maybe some old tower.

A high point. A virgin. She cycled in her mind through the riddle, her eyes still shut, watching the words spin across her closed gaze.

If she wanted to beat the killer to his next destination, she would have to figure out the clue before he killed again.

She opened her eyes and glanced at Leoni once more.

He gnawed on the corner of his lip, displaying a focus, a concentration she had yet to see. Normally, up to this point, his expressions had been so eased and guarded.

“Any hits?” she asked. As she spoke, she couldn’t bring herself to look away from his eyes—dark, deep, contemplative. John was in France. She didn’t know what to make of all that. Sometimes distractions were best when packaged in beauty.

“No hits,” Leoni said. “But it’s not done yet.”

“We’re looking at guests’ details and employees, yes?”

Leoni nodded. “Notre Dame doesn’t have an extensive list of guests. But in the gift shop outside we can cross-reference payment info. That’s what I’m doing.”

“Right, good. And employees?”

“Checking back ten years. Anyone who might be associated with both those locations. Do you have any ideas about the riddle?”

Adele sighed, looking away from Leoni for the first time and glancing at one of the vending machines in the back of the precinct break room.

She nibbled on the corner of her lip. “I can’t be sure,” she said. “It’s not exactly specific enough. It’s the sort of thing, I think, that will make sense once we know the location. But until then, it could mean anything. High point? It could be a mountain, it could be a tall building. It might be a metaphor. And this part about the virgin. I’m thinking St. Mary, or maybe someone else.”

“Maybe another cathedral?”

“Could be. I can’t be sure.”

Just then, Agent Leoni’s gaze flicked back toward the computer, and his eyebrows flicked up, just briefly.

“Anything?” she asked.

His eyebrows retreated, leaving the strange Superman curl of hair to return to its normal peak.

“One hit,” he said.

Adele waited.

“A tour guide, he worked at both locations in the last five years. First Notre Dame, but he left when that big fire closed it down temporarily. Then at the Sistine Chapel. He’s been working there since.”

“Name?”

“Robert Ager.”

“Robert?”

He looked up. “You know the guy?”

“No. Just, I know someone who shares the name. Do we have an address for Mr. Ager?”

Leoni was nodding and Adele pushed aside thoughts of the riddle and got to her feet, moving away from the break room table. She waited for Leoni to join her by the door, and then together, they began to move up the hall of the precinct toward where they’d parked their car. “Should we bring backup?” Leoni asked.

“No time. If we’re on the move, the killer is too.”

Adele took the lead, passing Leoni as the two of them hurried with rapid footfalls toward their waiting vehicle.

 

***

 

Leoni pulled the vehicle up to the white and beige two-story home behind a brick wall in the Trastevere residential neighborhood. The wind brushed softly against the car, inhibited by the beige and stone buildings, the scatterings of marble water fountains and the old structures looming into the sky.

The doors sprang open as Adele exited the car in a rush, stepping onto the low, street-level sidewalk marked by fading white paint. She looked over. “Did you call ahead?”

Leoni shook his head across the top of the car. “Didn’t want to give him a chance to set his alibi.”

Adele’s hair, miraculously, had become tidier over the intervening hours. Quick glances into the rearview mirror and reflective, tinted windows had given her the opportunity to readjust what normally would require a good half hour in front of the bathroom mirror.

She looked to Agent Leoni as he rounded the car and joined her on the sidewalk. She wasn’t used to her partner waiting for her to take the lead. Agent John Renee would often stalk straight up to a suspect’s house, indifferent to whether Adele joined him or not. Leoni had a more measured approach.

She wasn’t sure why she kept thinking about John. He wasn’t here. Adele sighed, moving up the sidewalk, between the open space of the encircling brick wall and up the three slab concrete steps.

Adele raised a hand and tapped against the green wooden door of the two-story home. Across from them, they faced a building that looked like a cross between a chapel and a small-town school. Between the buildings, an ornate fountain was filled with water pattering over the edges of three leveled discs.

A few seconds passed in the remarkable residential district of Rome. Neither of the agents spoke, preferring silence for the moment. Adele kept musing over the riddle in her mind. High point. Something about that stood out to her. She had sent a request to the precinct, coupled with contacts in Interpol, to arrange a list of all the highest places in Europe. Any tall tourist attraction.

She had also asked for a list of St. Mary’s cathedrals and churches—anything to do with a virgin.

She cleared her throat, swallowing back a sudden spurt of embarrassment at an errant thought. She was starting to feel more in common with St. Mary than ever. Something about Leoni in his neat suit, with the soft, fragrant cologne and flawless, movie star good looks, only reminded her of this.

She knocked again, but no answer. Adele crossed her arms and glanced back at Leoni.

“You’re sure about the address?”

“I’m sure.”

She raised an eyebrow and said, “Want to double-check?”

Leoni didn’t sigh in frustration, and he didn’t blink. His jaw tightened, just a bit, but then relaxed, and he breathed slowly, patiently, as he fished his phone out of his pocket. Dutifully, he opened to the appropriate file, glanced down, and nodded once. “We’re at the right place. Today is his day off.”

Adele huffed, pushing a hand through her hair and turning to face the countryside of Bucchianico. Her eyes flicked along the small trees planted in rows across a rustic two-lane road.

“Maybe he’s out with friends…”

Before she had finished, though, there was a quiet screech of tires, and then the slamming door of a car. Both she and Leoni glanced toward the street. A small van had pulled up behind where they had parked.

A round man with a double chin and a cheerful disposition was whistling, carrying a paper bag full of groceries. A long loaf of bread extended past a visible gray carton of eggs over the top of the bag. He braced the groceries against his shoulder as he closed the trunk to his vehicle, clicked the automatic locks, and, still whistling, began moving toward the two-story home.

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