Thirty minutes later Agata sat in the back of the car with Costa, sorting through the contents of a plastic grocery bag: books, notepads, pens, and pencils.
She didn’t say much until the vehicle rounded the Piazza Borghese and came to a halt at the top of the little alley, some twenty metres short of the small crowd of spectators and a couple of photographers who stood, bored and stationary, outside the yellow barrier of tape now beginning to look old from the rain and mud.
“This city seems different from a car,” Agata mused. “I prefer walking. Don’t you?”
“No sane person drives in Rome,” he replied with feeling.
“In that case this is a city of lunatics,” Rosa Prabakaran cut in from the front seat. “Sister Agata, do you mind if I make a suggestion?”
The car had stopped. The two guard vehicles were either side, front and back. Officers were getting out, checking the area, as was Rosa, with a professional, calm intent Costa liked.
“You can’t drag your life around with you in a grocery bag,” Rosa said suddenly, then passed something over from the front seat. It was a smart new satchel in black leather with a shiny silver buckle. “Please take this. A gift from the Questura.”
Costa caught her eye. This was surely not from the police fund. The thing had all the hallmarks of the cheap yet serviceable goods Rosa’s father sold to tourists from his stall near the Trevi Fountain.
“I’m worried you will lose something from one of those bags,” she added. “This is purely practical…”
Agata took it from her and stared at the shiny leather, sniffing it for a moment and wrinkling her dark nose at the smell.
“Grocery bags have served me well for a very long time,” she noted.
“You’re not walking from convent to work and back, a few minutes each day. Not anymore.” Rosa was adamant. “Please.”
Agata shrugged and took the thing, flipped up the buckle, then prepared to empty the entire contents of one bag by the simple act of turning it upside down over the satchel’s open mouth.
She stopped, staring inside, then reached in and delicately removed a black metal object there. It was a small police-issue handgun.
“What is this?” she asked. “No. That was a stupid thing to say. I know what this is. Why do you want me to have it? That’s impossible.”
“Guns are not useful in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them,” Costa remarked. “What on earth are you thinking, Agente?”
“Commissario Esposito spoke to me before we left, sir,” she replied. “He wants Sister Agata to have this and for me to give her instructions on how to use it if necessary. It won’t come to that. Nevertheless…”
Agata held the gun in front of her, touching the black metal gingerly, as if it were something poisonous.
“Those are your orders, Rosa, not mine,” she muttered.
“Why did Commissario Esposito suggest this?” Costa asked, furious the man had never raised the subject directly.
The duty guard officers were beginning to mill around the car door, anxious to move. Costa persisted.
“What operational reasons?”
Rosa frowned. “Sister, do you have any idea what the Camorra is?”
She shook her head. The hair didn’t move anymore. The crucifix around her neck, lying on the cream business shirt, and the bulky, scruffy boots apart, Agata Graziano no longer looked the woman she still felt herself to be.
“Should I?” she asked.
“There is no reason whatsoever,” Costa snapped, angry that Esposito, for some reason, had not used him to approach Agata on such a sensitive matter. “The Camorra are criminals.”
Agata stared at him, wide-eyed, curious. “Just ‘criminals’?”
“They’re a criminal fraternity based in Naples, though they have arms, tentacles, everywhere in Italy, and in Europe and America too,” he went on. “Imagine a kindred organisation to the Sicilians, the mafiosi. I imagine you’ve heard of them.”
“As I told you once before, I am not a monk.”
“Quite,” he answered. “What on earth has this to do with us?”
Rosa wasn’t taking the proffered gun from her.
“They’re good Catholics, too, mainly,” she said. “At least they think of themselves that way. We heard from Naples this morning that one of them, a man who is occasionally friendly with the police there, wanted to warn us of something he’d heard. That a Roman, one unidentified, at least someone he was unwilling to name, was seeking someone to carry out an attack, and looking to pay well for assistance.” She gazed at Agata, a mournful look in her brown eyes. “He said the target was to be a Catholic nun.”
“I am not—”
Rosa put her hand on Agata’s tightly clenched fingers. “We know. But the name he had was yours. This is good news, Sister, trust me. At least we are forewarned. We also know that no one accepted the commission. The man was appalled by the very idea and believed those in the Camorra would feel the same. But they are just a few criminals among many. Franco Malaspina knows more and he has money that shouts very loudly. So please…” The policewoman pushed the weapon back over the seat. “Do this for me,” she added. “I will show you how to handle a gun safely should the need arise. But it won’t. We will protect you. Nic and I and” — she indicated the officers beyond the door — “all of us. This will not be necessary. It’s simply a precaution.”
Agata uttered a small, slight curse and, with pointed disdain, placed the weapon back where it came from.
“I like the bag, Agente,” she conceded with a curt brusqueness. “Thank you for that.”