Left to Envy by Blake Pierce

CHAPTER ONE





Dawn introduced itself with interloping rays of gold through the multicolored glass, hiding things in the shadows of the archways. The sunlight scattered the colors from the stained glass windows across the long, swirling, circular mosaic floors. Docent Vicente stood behind the cordoned velvet ropes, one hand resting against the wooden privacy partition and his other resting delicately on the cool, silver knob of a queue divider. He smiled from where he stood in the threshold of the structure. For ten years, he’d been providing tours through the heart of culture itself, and yet every day he felt the same sensation of wonder as the first time he’d set foot in the Sistine Chapel.

More than half a millennium in age, heralding stories of a time past but also suggesting of others to come. Not just the masterwork paintings, or the mosaic craftsmanship, but also a sense of holiness, of awe.

He stood in the doorway, peering along the ground, breathing softly to himself and murmuring a quiet Latin prayer—a morning ritual before every tour. A small consecration, an offering to join the many voices lifted up over the centuries.

Vicente heard movement and he turned, smoothing the front of his uniform and glancing along the hall, in the opposite direction of the main room.

A custodian was pushing a small red bucket on wheels, a mop angled and brushing the man’s shoulder. Vicente smiled and gave a little wave, still murmuring the prayer beneath his breath.

“Saluto. Ready for the day?” the custodian asked.

Vicente racked his brain. Timothe, he recalled. This was the man’s name, yes? Yes.

He paused the cadence of his prayer for a moment and adjusted his sleeves. “Buongiorno, Timothe,” he said, pausing, looking for a reaction. Nothing apparent, suggesting he’d correctly remembered the name. “Ready for our visitors?”

The custodian grunted, silver keys jingling where he pulled them and began finagling with a small supply closet tucked behind the entrance foyer. Not all history could be perfectly maintained—some additions, perhaps. But not to the heart of it all.

“Tourists arriving soon,” said Timothe. “My work is done.”

“And good work, too,” said Docent Vicente. “Today will be a special day. I can feel it.”

“Special—I hope. Perhaps this means no one will stick gum on the walls this time. Nor spill orange juice in the chapel.”

Vicente bit his lip at the mere thought. He huffed a breath, shaking his head. “I certainly hope not. Good day!”

The custodian waved vaguely, stowing his supplies and then moving off, away from the doors leading into the heart of the chapel.

For his part, Vicente turned. He felt a niggling sensation of unease at the thought of gum or orange juice anywhere in the chapel. They had strict rules about food.

The sensation of worry turned into an itch, somewhere just near the base of his neck, prickling along his spine. Muttering darkly to himself, Vicente turned and strode through the wooden divider for the first time, beneath the refracted, multicolored light. He strode beneath the site of the rectangular paintings, swirling about the room and to the Drunkenness of Noah. His gaze swept the cordoned areas. No sign of juice or gum, at least. The custodians, perhaps, had done their job the night before.

He made a mental note to remind the tourists this morning of the food policy. The way some people treated history itself…

He shook his head, turning away now.

And then stopped.

A small pool of juice dappled the mosaic floor, just beneath the painting in the ceiling of David and Goliath.

He stared, blinked. A droplet fell, crimson, stippling the smooth ground and speckling the lip of the wall. He frowned, leaning in closer. He murmured the quiet Latin prayer, shaking his head as he did.

Cherry juice?

No. Too thick.

He blinked as another droplet fell as if from the sky itself, tapping against the already formed pool of red. Vicente turned slowly, with much care. He twisted and looked up.

There, hidden in the shadows of an arch, against Judith and Holofernes which hadn’t been visible from the wooden divider, he spotted a dark form.

A sudden chill erupted down his spine. His arms prickled and his mouth went dry.

“H-hello?” he called. A demon was on the ceiling!

But no. A second later, he realized. Not a demon. A person. A person suspended by wires and hooks.

A corpse stuck to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Vicente stared, peering up as lifeless eyes glared back, hooks through flesh sent more droplets of red splattering to the ground, and taut metal wires gouged into the ceiling itself.

Only then, as he stared at the horrific image, did Vicente stumble back, nearly slipping on the blood, shouting as loud as any brimstone priest, “Timothe! Timothe! Call the police!”





CHAPTER TWO





Seven days earlier…



Adele moved with quick, sure-footed steps along the garden path of the Parc Monceau back in Paris. Her breathing came slow, regimented, careful. She found some of the air a strained gasp…

This should have been her first warning.

Adele moved closer to the new crime scene. The new piece of brutal art added to the portfolio of her mother’s killer. As she drew closer, crossing the caution-tape boundary, her heart hammered some more. She found it difficult to breathe.

This should have been her second warning.