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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life Stories

Blackfriars Bridge
Paul Valentine

I was unashamedly unkempt. I always thought I was like the adverts for second hand clothing ‘well used but clean’. I continued to daydream in the brilliant sunshine whilst drinking the world’s best coffee in the Via San Marco. ‘Lega Umana’, the poster said, ‘best pop act of 1981’. There was something compelling about the phrase ‘Human League’. I wondered whether the Pope would sit in the top berth as a matter of course, or would it be Martin Sheen as the world’s top earner. How could it possible be the Pope if women were barred from their own league…

‘Escusi? Mr Colson?
An extremely jittery lady woke me from my dreamy interlude.
‘Oh Yes,…do sit er…?’
‘No I have no time. My name is Sister Carmel. I understand that you are investigating the death of Monsegnieur Dwyer?’
‘I will meet you here at one o’clock sharp. Then we will walk to San Pietro Vincoli. I must go, I have to cross the bridge now.’

With a hardly discernable wave she was gone. I went to my room to think. I thought about my earlier audience with Cardinal Paolinni. I remember thinking that his eyes did not seem to work in harmony, they were rather like two ends of the same bridge, worn down by the constant traffic over the years. He told me that Dwyer had worked in finance at the Vatican but was sent back to England after having been discovered with a chorister.

The only lead in the murder of Monsignieur Dwyer and his boyfriend, was that the naked boy had crawled to a drawer to pull out a coin of Pope John Paul the First which had been struck just two years earlier. He then fell back and died clutching the coin in his right hand and an orange table cloth in the other. The police believed the coin to be some sort of clue.

As I approached the bar door I was followed in by someone who was vaguely familiar.
…‘Hello Jim fancy a coffee?
‘I know you, you’re a…’
‘...that’s right, and I’ve got a proposal for you…come on.
‘I’m afraid I’m meeting someone.’ I sat down at my usual table.
‘Sister Carmel?... He sat down in front of me. 'She was found drowned in the Tiber about an hour ago.’
‘I just find this very weird. I investigate a small time murder in London, which leads me to Rome. Then a nun is murdered and I’m picked up by MI5. This is one equation that doesn’t figure.’
‘Not a bad analogy my friend. It does add up – just that you forgot a pretty large sum on the right.'
‘You’ve lost me.’
‘Power! And because its political power – that’s exactly why I’m sitting here. You see this is not a simultaneous equation, it’s a three dimensional quadratic equation. You think cause and effect. Not here. This isn’t pinball, its Einstein’s laws of time and space; shares are bought in China, a nun dies in Italy, 3000 nazi war criminals are given new lives by the Vatican. And all these games happen above the board.’
‘Not only have you lost me, your moving much further away.' I told him.
‘You are sitting in the real-time arena of arguably the most powerful organisation in the world. Remember the old thing about America sneezes, the world catches a cold? You know this because of democracy. What you don’t know is that it was the Vatican that spread the virus.’
‘I thought Israel was the powerhouse.’
‘Ah, a general misconception, there are many more Catholics in the US than Jews, and its wealth is in the hands of its people. Therefore in times of stress – it takes endless meetings, endless arguments and endless chess movements before the whole process is back to exactly where it started. The Vatican has almost infinite resource, the control of the world mafia, and spooks in every single country. They are accountable to no one and can act within seconds.
‘I thought they were accountable to God?’
‘Again my friend your lack of theological knowledge surprises me: They are God, well allegedly, and are charged to do His will.’
‘Ok thanks for the lecture but I don’t see what this has to do with me or the Pope?’
‘Oh Jim, …the Pope has been a sort of saintly puppet in all this since about the mid forteenth century. Pope John Paul the First thought he’d put a stop to the power structure – he lasted just 33 days. And where you were a week ago no-one in any kind of power would give a monkeys foreskin, but where you are now is ‘persona maximus’’.
‘Are you trying to tell me that history isn’t history unless the Vatican have sanctioned it? JFK’s death?; WW2?'
‘Of course it takes at least two to tango, but you’re getting the idea. You may not have realised it but you were ‘weighed in the balance’ earlier today, just like Nebuchadnesser.
‘Don’t be so melodramatic.’
‘Listen Colson, I’m going way over my brief here. If they had even the slightest hint that Sister Carmel had passed information to you, you would now be in the morgue and you wouldn’t even get a column centimetre in your own paper!’
‘And how do you know she didn’t give me anything?’
‘Because you would be several shades paler and would have attempted to leave a lot earlier, and I wouldn’t be meeting you because like I said you would be in the morgue.’
‘Sadly, you may have a point, but why are you here?’
‘Her Majesty, unlike things Vatican, has a very keen sense of honour regarding subjects that help even the lowest members of her household.’
‘I’m afraid you’ve lost me again.’
‘Didn’t John Plod ask you for help in the London Paedo case?.’
‘God yes! Yes Chief Inspector Loudon’
‘Amazing really, I wouldn’t have expected John Plod to have seen the connection between a papal coin and Italy, but I guess miracles are bound to happen in this particular line of work…Come on – we’ve spent too long here already.’

As we left through the front door the spook gave the bartender a nod and moments later a small Fiat pulled up.
‘Streuth, I had at least expected a Lamborghini.’
‘Don’t believe everything you see in films…most of it’s rubbish. A Milanese hitman couldn’t possibly imagine anybody else but a Roman driving a Fiat 500, and if anybody else was, they would either be an escapee from a lunatic asylum or Spanish…and before you ask I haven’t a clue; they just think Spaniards are very strange.’

On the flight home I felt neither nervous nor talkative. I turned on one of these new fangled CD players and was listening to the lento from Vaughan Williams fifth symphony. Both the experience and the music were fascinating, but when interwoven with the events of the past few days, seemed subliminally to explain everything: The whole point of which was that there was no point. We and all our ideas seem to drift like rivers over the lands, burbling, bubbling and sparkling our arrogant way to the various seas of death - where our dead ideas mingle with others through the centuries of man’s struggle - chiefly with himself.

And so as I trudged home that night lightheaded and disorientated, I realised something that everyone involved in this affair had overlooked. The main clues for me were: Pope, bridge and the colour orange. This now suggested to me that these murders had not been carried out by the mafia, or temporal associations. They had been sanctioned under the same ‘papal bull’ that John Paul the First had declared just four years ago when he had mobilised the ‘hounds of God’ to bring the Mafia connections to an end. Though murdered shortly afterwards, it was clear that his message had not died with him: It was the Dominicans who had performed the murders. They had been given a licence to kill centuries earlier in order to wipe out heresy. They could only perform such acts by ‘crossing the bridge’ over the pit of burning souls – the ‘offortorium’ that Dante had ‘borrowed’ for his Inferno. Carmel had already given me what she had intended.

As soon as I got in, my answerphone was beeping with 15 messages. I went through them until I came to one from my spook friend.
"Hi Jim…Just thought I’d let you know that a leading Italian Banker has gone missing and his secretary committed involuntary suicide by apparently jumping off his fourth floor balcony claiming that the bank was the biggest global organiser of ‘ponzi’ credit. Since he is one of the four biggest cheeses in the banking world, this means that the Vatican has just dropped his bank on one of their marble floors. Oh my! Good talking to you….bzzzz".

Although hardly in, I decided to go for a drive to clear my head. I drove fairly aimlessly in my new Audi Quatro. I loved driving along Millbank when it was empty and smelling the tide in the river, I looked at the clock on the dash, 4.10am. I looked up and was startled by blue flashing lights just as I passed Temple station. I stopped in front of the police car, and found an old friend of mine in charge.
"Well, look what the tide’s thrown up; Jim Colson…am I to assume that murderers are now cut deals with writers for a percentage?
"I’ve just this minute got back from Italy, and yes it’ll sound strange but I was just passing."
"Matey ‘ere was Italian himself, quite a rich one as I can make out."

My stomach tightened as I saw the body lying there with a brick still visible out of the fly of his trousers… I noticed that he had been hung with thick orange plastic rope, the type found on building sites – presumably where the bricks and rubble came from.
"How do you know it’s murder John?"
"Well although we’ve not established a great deal, it would not be possible for a man of his weight, and wearing those shoes even in daylight, to walk on that scaffold and to pull himself up to that point, to then throw himself into the river below. Even without five bricks and several kilo’s of Paddy’s best mix.’
"You said that he’s Italian?"
"His names Glen Roberto Calvi" according to the passport, although we are not convinced by it.'

It was only as I returned to my car that my blood seemed to curdle. I noticed the name of the station - Blackfriars. That would mean that the body was hung underneath the pulpit of the Blackfriars Bridge. For Blackfriars read Dominicans! I sat down in the drivers seat and immediately threw up in the road.

I realised now that much of what my spook friend had said was probably true. A blackness grew within me from that day, and I have come to hate institutional power. I looked over to the east facing the way Calvi had done before he had disappeared under the Thames. None of us grow up I thought to myself, we simply become more sophisticated in our playground games. Then I turned around and drove home.

© Paul Valentine Feb 2009
Paul is studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

Furher Reading:
Dante’s Inferno
St Peters Squared: Roberto Calvi and the P2 Affair
Question of the day The first Calvi Mystery: Was his death suicide or murder?

More Stories in Dreamscapes


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