Left to Envy – Blake Pierce

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. She came to a halt, staring at the corpse. Fingers missing. A lacework of cuts and curling wounds, like some horrendous painting slashed into the flesh of the young woman. Marion Elise Ramon. A coincidence her middle name matched Adele’s mother’s? Unlikely. Even the wounds, the missing fingers, the brutal torture matched Elise Romei’s own crime scene. Also found on the side of a running trail in a quiet park, left to be discovered. Adele started hyperventilating. For a moment, she felt like she couldn’t draw breath.

She stared, her body starting to tremble, to shake, from her thighs, to her stomach, up her chest and arms. Her whole form shook in the park, though the weather was mild and she’d only been strolling. The shaking grew so bad, her gasping worsened so she couldn’t look. She tore her gaze away. “Agent Sharp?” a voice called from near the crime scene. “Agent Sharp, are you—” She ignored it, turning, still shaking. For a moment, it felt like her knees would collapse. She’d never had a panic attack before. At least, not one this powerful. She found tears slipping down her cheeks for no reason at all.

She took a stumbling step away from the crime scene, then another. Images of her own mother suddenly appeared in her mind, flashing across her eyes. “Agent Sharp?” the voice called. She ignored it, stumbling away, fleeing, faster, faster. As she moved away from the crime scene, the shaking grew easier. The pain in her chest lessened. She found she could begin to breathe again by the time she reached the car. Gasping, trembling now, she threw herself into the vehicle and pulled away… refusing to look back… Seven days had passed since that walk in the park in Paris. Her breathing had improved, the shakings were gone—mostly. But the images remained.

Adele sat with her head against the white-painted wall of her bedroom back in Germany. She shivered as the images continued to whir across her eyes, though she’d closed them. She clenched, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to blockade the cavalcade of horrendous imaginings. A week since she’d visited that crime scene. A week since the memories had bobbed to the surface. Now, she was in Germany. She’d fled France and the pressure that came with her job. She opened her eyes, leaning back on her old bed. The last time she’d slept in this room had been nearly two decades ago. Her father’s house creaked like she remembered; sometimes, the floorboards protesting movement as her father made his way around the kitchen and living room downstairs.

Other times, the roof and the walls, seemingly of their own accord, groaned with old age. Adele sighed where she lay, her eyes fixated on the low ceiling of her childhood room. The bed was firmer than she remembered. But even some of her old, less-loved stuffed animals remained, sitting on a small chest against the opposite wall. The same desk, the same paint color, the same bed —everything the same. The only difference was the new metal lock on the inside of her door. All the bedrooms had them now after the home invasion where her father had nearly died. Then, the killer had also seemed connected to her mother’s death. Again, back in this house, history seemed to be repeating itself. There was little doubt in Adele’s mind the killer of Marion Elise Ramon was a copycat.

The details were too specific. Even the torturous wounds matched the same carnage wrought on Elise all those years ago. Plus the name—the middle name. The killer was taunting her. She’d kicked a hornet’s nest, visiting a chocolate bar factory a few weeks ago. Asking questions. And now, she had the killer’s response. Another woman butchered in an empty park. Though her eyes were now open, the same images flashed across her mind. Bleeding… bleeding… always bleeding.

She saw her own mother, pictures from that crime scene playing like a slideshow through her subconscious. She shivered and rolled in the bed, facing the blue wall as if to block out the procession of horror. The thoughts had chased her from France to Germany. Medical leave. Mental health. Adele actually winced at the memory of speaking to Foucault, requesting time off. He’d been more than understanding, but her own pride had taken a hit. What did the others think of her? Agent Paige? John? Robert? She should have dived headfirst into the case—gone after the killer. But… but she simply hadn’t been able to. For a week now, she felt weakened, beleaguered.

An exhaustion and fatigue she’d rarely felt before. Once, perhaps. Depression, they’d said. After her mother’s death. Now, she was squarely back in the horrible, dark, lonely room of her own mind. Back in her father’s house. The two of them hadn’t really even reconciled yet, not after he’d concealed information on her mother’s case. The same case now haunting her. But she’d had nowhere else to go, and, to his credit, he hadn’t turned her away. They’d even managed a couple of cordial conversations over bowls of soup—about anything besides work.

As if summoning him with thought alone, Adele heard the creak of the stairs outside her room. She jarred, blinking, looking over at her closed door. Knuckles knocked quietly. She shivered. “Adele?” her father said. She’d flat out refused to be called by her last name any longer, and, though it had taken some getting used to, her father had finally relented. “Busy,” she called to the door. “Just—just checking. Are you all right?” Adele drew her blanket up around her shoulders, her eyes sealed shut for a moment, staving off a sudden headache. “Fine… I’m fine,” she said.

“Look, Adele, I—I…” Her father stumbled over the words. “It’s been a week. You’ve barely left your room. I just wanted to—” “We had dinner together last night,” she retorted, frowning now. “That was two nights ago, Adele. I’m beginning to worry about you.” Adele breathed slowly, feeling a flutter of unease in her chest. Even the thought of fear seemed to bring it raging back for no reason at all. She quelled the sense and exhaled through her nose, breathing slowly. “I’m fine, Dad.

It’s fine.” Another long, awkward pause. For a moment, she thought perhaps he’d left, though she hadn’t heard his footsteps on the stairs. Then he spoke rapidly, as if worried he might not get the words out. “Look, Adele, if this is about your mother’s case…” She rolled her eyes up and puffed a geyser of exasperated breath at the ceiling. “Damn it, Dad— not now. I said I’m busy.” She felt a flash of regret at the words. Was she being harsh? It was hard to tell. Confusion was part of the panic, she’d been told.

Still, just in case, she added, “Sorry. Look, I’d love to chat in an hour. Would that be okay? We can watch TV or something.” Her father seemed relieved at this olive branch and cleared his throat—a muffled, gurgling sound through the wooden door. “Great, sounds great, Sharp—er, Adele. Yes. I’ll make some chowder soup.” Then, mercifully, at last, she heard his retreating footsteps moving back down the stairs and leaving her to her solace. Adele breathed again, in for five seconds, out for seven, slow, calm… Her father was the only other person who understood the pain, the horror of it all. He processed it in other ways, but there was something about grief that required company.

Adele sighed, sitting up now and massaging her head. She felt a shuddering headache where she sat, and blinked. For six days now, languishing around the house, she didn’t feel better for it. She felt stuck, like a car in mud, spinning its wheels. John Renee had offered some words earlier in the week, speaking from his own past of loss and pain. But she didn’t need a shrink. Every other area with John seemed to be stuck also. Maybe even in the same mud pit. Except in that circumstance, instead of a car, she felt like a stick. Completely helpless.

“Christ,” she muttered, remembering their last conversation. “…Are you sure?” he’d said, his voice over the phone. “If there’s anything I can do…” “No, John,” she’d said, in the same bed she now found herself in, watching videos on her phone. “Maybe… maybe I need some space. It’s all so heavy.” “Right,” he said. “Space.” “I think”—she had coughed—“I think maybe we need to back of , you know? What do you think?” “Sounds appropriate. All right, Adele. If there’s anything you need.

” That had been the last she’d spoken with her partner. She’d worried that by asking for space, he’d want to do the opposite. John Renee was notorious for defying expectations. But he’d actually respected her words. She appreciated this at the least. Some battles were best fought alone. John wouldn’t understand—he couldn’t. Adele sighed again in frustration, lying in bed. She wasn’t sure what else to do—it felt like she’d curled up, allowing her emotions to pummel her, ganging up with her thoughts. Just then, a quiet buzzing sound emanated from the chest across from her bed.

She blinked and looked over, spotting a glowing blue light, then groaned. For a moment, she considered ignoring the phone. But then, deciding whoever was on the other end couldn’t be worse than her own subconscious, she got up, still groaning, and, with what felt like lead in her feet, she stumbled over to the chest and snagged the phone. “What?” she said. “Hello, Adele,” said a familiar voice. She sighed softly now. “Hey, Robert.” Her old mentor and friend was just another one of the dishes waiting to be served from the back burner of calamity. Terminally ill. Yet he’d gone back to work during treatments.

A few months left, perhaps a year? Maybe more. She sighed as another jolt of sheer despair rattled her dwindling form. “My dear, how are you?” “I’m fine—how are you?” “Marvelous. I have a job for you.” Adele blinked. Frowned. Then cursed, loud. “Damn it, Robert. Did Foucault put you up to this?” Her mentor cleared his throat delicately on the other side. “No, dear.

No, of course not. It was a… mutual consideration.” Then, in a gentler, more personable tone, he said, “You can’t tell me you don’t want to get out of the house, dear. It’s been a week. Your father called Agent Renee yesterday. Said he was worried. Said you’ve been cooped up—” “He did what?” she said, finding some of the anxiety in her chest replaced by a surge of fury. “Damn it. How does he even have John’s number?” “I don’t know, dear,” Robert said in a tone suggesting he would have patted her cheek if they’d been in the same room. “Damn it.

Foucault knows I’m on leave.” Robert swallowed delicately. “He seemed to believe that if I called, you might be more willing to listen.” “A job? It’s not—” “No! Not that one, of course not. Foucault is industrious, not cruel. No. A different job.” “Robert, no. No—I’m sorry, I can’t.” “Adele, they’re asking for you specifically.

” “And I’m refusing, specifically.” Robert huffed in frustration on the other end. For the normally even-tempered Frenchman this was as good as a scream. “This is a career-maker, Adele. They’re asking for you specifically. Understand? The others involved are in over their heads.” “A career-maker? Sounds like more stress, Robert. I don’t think—” “Adele, you’re a hunter. Hunters need to hunt. Not hunting isn’t going to stress you out less—it’ll make things worse.

Do what you were made to do! Not in France,” he added quickly. “I understand. But… But they’re asking for you, Adele. Do you know how rare that is?” She sighed, gnawing on her lip. All sorts of thoughts flashed through her mind. Robert was ill. Did she really want to disappoint him? Besides, her career mattered to her. It mattered to her family’s legacy. It mattered for more reasons than she even could properly articulate. In a numb, quiet voice, she murmured, “Where is it?” “You’re interested.

” “Tell me where first.” “The Sistine Chapel.” Adele hesitated, her eyebrows inching closer for a moment. Now, a niggling in her mind arose over the other emotions. A feeling recently foreign but which she recognized now as burgeoning curiosity. Even a bloodhound with a cold still yearned for a scent to chase. This wasn’t the same as the case in France, was it? This case would be in the Vatican, far away from the prying eyes of DGSI employees. Far away from it all. Practically a vacation. She winced.

What could it hurt to hear Robert out? Just to listen, that was all. She didn’t have to take the case. Adele breathed softly, and then, with a roll of her eyes, she said, “I’m not agreeing. No, don’t smile. I can hear you smiling. Just tell me about the case.”

.

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