Gabriel and the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
Reading Moscow Rules. Gabriel, an art restorer, has been working on the Martyrdom of St Erasmus for the Vatican Museum. Gabriel is also an Israeli agent and his boss and friend Navot meets him in Assisi to tell him a Russian journalist wants to talk to him. Gabriel and Navot visit the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi as they talk, making a stop at Francis' tomb (video at the bottom of the post gives a brief view of the interior of the basilica) ....
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They left the restaurant in darkness and joined a procession of brown-robed Capuchin friars filing slowly along the narrow street toward the Basilica di San Francesco. A cool wind was chasing about the vast forecourt. Uzi Navot lowered himself onto a stone bench and spoke of death.
“His name was Aleksandr Lubin. He worked for a magazine called Moskovsky Gazeta. He was killed in a hotel room in Courchevel a few days after Christmas. At the time, the rest of the world didn’t take much notice. As you may recall, its attention was focused on London, where the daughter of the American ambassador had just been rescued from the clutches of the Sword of Allah.”
Gabriel sat down next to Navot and watched two boys playing football near the steps of the basilica.
“The Gazeta claimed that Lubin went to Courchevel on holiday, but the French police concluded otherwise. They said he was there on an assignment. Unfortunately, there was nothing in his room to indicate exactly what that assignment might be.”
“How did he die?”
“A single stab wound to the chest.”
“That’s not easily done.”
“Better yet, the killer managed to do it in a way that no one heard a thing. It’s a small hotel with poor security. No one even remembered seeing him.”
“So it would appear.”
“Russian journalists are dropping like flies these days, Uzi. What does this have to do with us?”
“Three days ago, our embassy in Rome received a phone call. It was from a man claiming to be Boris Ostrovsky, the Gazeta’s editor in chief. He said he had an important message to pass along regarding a grave threat to the security of the West and to the State of Israel. He said he wanted to meet with someone from Israeli intelligence in order to explain the nature of this threat.”
“What is it?”
“We don’t know yet. You see, Ostrovsky wants to meet with a specific agent of Israeli intelligence, a man who has made a habit of getting his picture in the paper saving the lives of important people.”
The flash of a camera illuminated the forecourt like lightning. Navot and Gabriel stood in unison and started toward the basilica. Five minutes later, after descending a long flight of steps, they were seated in the gloom of the Lower Church before the Tomb of St. Francis. Navot spoke in a whisper.
“We tried to explain to Ostrovsky that you weren’t free to take a meeting at the moment, but I’m afraid he’s not the sort to take no for an answer.” He looked at the tomb. “Are the old boy’s bones really in there?”
Gabriel shook his head. “The Church keeps the exact location of the remains a carefully guarded secret because of relic hunters.”
Navot pondered this piece of information in silence for a moment, then continued with his briefing. “ King Saul Boulevard has determined that Boris Ostrovsky is a credible figure. And they’re eager to hear what he has to say.”
“And they want me to meet with him?”
Navot gave a single nod of his big head.
“Let someone else do it, Uzi. I’m on my honeymoon, remember? Besides, it goes against every convention of tradecraft. We don’t agree to the demands of walk-ins. We meet with whom we want under circumstances of our choosing.”
“The assassin is lecturing the agent-runner about matters of tradecraft? ”
A nun in full habit materialized out of the gloom and pointed toward a sign that forbade talking in the area surrounding the tomb. Gabriel apologized and led Navot into the nave, where a group of Americans were listening intently to a lecture by a cassocked priest. No one appeared to notice the two Israeli spies conversing softly before a stand of votive candles.
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