Hellsing Fan Fiction ❯ Rock and a Hard Place ❯ Chapter 1
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Rock and a Hard Place
I stood talking on a public phone, in the center of the Piazza facing the Basilica of St. Peter, surrounded by Renaissance magnificence in architecture and sculpture. Ahead of me was the Vatican City, now bathed in ruddy gold as the sun set.
It was an impressive sight. A monument to the glory of God and achievement of Man.
Big deal. To me, it was just the fanciest detention hall I'd ever been sent to.
“--well, yes, I do have a cell phone,” I said. "So why call you from a public phone?" I closed my eyes and shook my head. This was one of the very few places where Walter showed his age. "Walter, if you think this is a risk, what would talking on a cell phone be? Or have you forgotten that all cell phones are essentially radios? I might as well stand on top of the Basilica, and yell into a megaphone."
All around me, people drifted by in twos and threes, mainly pointing and chattering in languages that I recognized but didn't understand.
"Oh. I had forgotten." There was a startling moment of clarity on the phone line, as well as around me. Walter sounded chagrined.
"Can't remember everything," I said. "But seriously, Walter. What angel of mercy do I have to thank for this assignment?"
There was a moment of silence. Somewhere in the distance, a bird trilled. "Besides yourself, you mean?" Lousy reception or not, the acerbic tone of his voice came through, loud and clear. "Need I remind you that you're there on temporary leave doing a routine job, simply to keep you out of trouble?"
Oh, yeah. I supposed I deserved that.
"That was the plan," I said. "But plans are about to change, I think."
"Whatever makes you say that?"
"Because whoever it was that sent me here didn't got wind of the latest doings from the Vatican," I explained. "Apparently the Pope decided to call an emergency summit. It seems the College of Cardinals wants to coordinate their efforts with all the special divisions. They're holding a banquet tonight at the Papal palace. I just got Tony's e-mail."
"You mean to say--"
I glanced aside. A priest passed me. Nothing unusual there. This place was full of them
By his trajectory I had to guess that he was on his way to the Vatican. His ash-pale hair was drawn back in a ponytail.
Long hair on a priest? Now that was unusual. Then his face turned in my direction, and I got a good look at him. I recognized him right away, and wished I hadn't. Eighty degrees plus in the Vatican City, and I was suddenly cold.
"Well, well," I said, trying to sound more casual than I felt. "I just saw Enrico Maxwell pass by. And where Maxwell is, can Anderson be far away?"
There was a burst of static on the line. I could barely make out Walter's response, spoken in a tense whisper, "Dear God."
I wasn't surprised by his response. I was shocked. Walter, the angel of death, was afraid of Anderson? Next to Alucard, Walter was the deadliest man I knew.
Oh, granted I'd heard Walter talk about Iscariot Division, so I knew Anderson was supposed to be bad mojo. But was he that bad?
"That's right," I said. "Guess who's coming to dinner?"
Another long silence followed. "This is unexpected." Walter's voice sounded distressed.
"I won't disagree," I said. Just outside the Vatican City walls, an angry motorist had taken up permanent residence on the horn of his vehicle. "But are things that bad yet? It's not like I've met him. The only reason I know who it is is because you pointed him out to me once."
"Yes. I recall the occasion. Listen to me, Evan. Whatever you do, don't underestimate him," said Walter. "As little as Sir Integral may seem to think of him, he is a formidable foe. And he may be many things, but careless is not amongst them."
"Still, what are the odds he'll remember me?" I tried to remember if Maxwell had even seen me. “I barely remember him.”
"Are you willing to stake your life on that?" I was willing to bet that Walter was smiling now, although I wasn't. "Sir Integral must be apprised of the situation immediately."
"Like it's going to do me any good," I said. I looked at my watch and waited.
"Quite," came the tart reply. "As important as you may think you are, there are other considerations right now."
I chuckled. Five seconds. "Wondered if you'd bite on that." I did a cursory sweep of the area, trying to reassure myself that I wasn't being watched. "I mean, let's be realistic. It's not like I have any importance to Hellsing, after all."
"You didn't, you mean. Until now," Walter gently corrected me. "Your presence there may yet prove useful."
"Why?" I didn't like the sound of that.
I heard something that sounded suspiciously like a sigh. "Focus on details is a worthy ability. But think, Evan. Do try to see the bigger picture. Can a conclave of the Vatican high council mean anything good for the Hellsing Institute?"
"All right. I see the picture. I'm sure Sir Hellsing would love to know what they're up to." So would I, now. Maybe I was developing a death wish.
"Take no unnecessary risks, young Evan." Sound advice from one of the all-time masters of survival. "Do nothing to bring attention to yourself. Thanks to misfortune, you are now in far greater danger than you know."
"Yeah, the story of my life," I said, trying to grasp the full measure of the hornet's nest I had just been thrust into.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Startled, I took a step back. It turned out to be an ordinary guy, a generic European tourist in his late forties. Evaporating salt-and-pepper hair combed optimistically, tacky clothes, two cameras and an expensive pair of binoculars. Apparently the other phones were in use, and he was tired of waiting.
"Got to go, Walter," I said, while making what I hoped were placating hand gestures.
"If you learn anything, let us know at once" said Walter. "And take care of yourself."
"I will do that," I answered. "Over and out."
I hung up the phone, and strode off, my mind seething with questions. The first had to do with surviving my stay. The second had to do with finding out why the Vatican was on the warpath. The third had to do with what on earth Tony had in mind for me. Oddly, it was the last that concerned me most of all. There was a reason I didn't take library science in college.
Walter would have said my priorities were somewhat skewed. I didn't doubt him for a heartbeat.
In the meantime, it was time to make connections. I pulled out my cell phone, and hit the auto-dialer. The phone rang twice, then someone answered. "Buon giorno, ciò è la biblioteca di Vatican. Parlare di Fratello Antonio Turitto."
I had to grin at that. I knew the guy on the other end from long ago in high school, when he was a hacker and I was just a hell raiser. At the time, nobody believed him when he said he wanted to be a monk. They laughed at him for studying Greek and Latin, and reading the Bible instead of chasing girls and fixing cars.
Ten years and an assignment to the Vatican Library later, nobody was laughing anymore.
Except for me. But then I always laughed at him. What were friends for?
"Hey, Tony," I said. "How's tricks?"
I saw Tony approach, and waved to him. Brother Antonio Turitto, as he was known to others, was the result of an Italian father and a Swedish mother. Pale skinned and dark haired with a swimmer's build, he tanned in a heartbeat, and his hair bleached to near white any time he went outdoors. But the one place his Italian ancestry really showed was the shape of his dark brown eyes, that always reminded me of Michelangelo's David.
"So when did you get here?" Tony looked at me closely. For once he was wearing civvies, instead of the habit he normally favored. Dark pleated front trousers, long-sleeved button down white shirt, black tie. He looked good, even if he did look like somebody's pallbearer.
He was a complete knockout, too. When he entered the Seminary, half the women in St. Paul went into mourning.
"About an hours ago," I said. I grabbed my luggage, and motioned Tony to lead the way. "Why are you staring at me like that?"
"There's something different about you," said Tony, as we walked along. "You do realize the last time I saw you was over five years ago?"
That long? I blinked.
"I hadn't," I admitted. "So what's different?"
Tony kept looking at me. "Well, your hair's longer, and you've lost weight," he said.
"But there's something else. I can't put my finger on it."
"While you seemed to have gained weight,” I pointed out. Tony now sported a roll around his middle. No surprise there. Library work wasn't rigorous or aerobic.
“Yeah, the sedentary life,” Tony sighed. “I need to work out more.” He kept staring at me.
I stared at me now. “Maybe it's what I'm wearing," I suggested, wondering why it was so important to him. I was still in my work clothes, not having bothered to change.
Which meant that I was wearing a long sleeved white shirt, black double-breasted vest, black trousers, maroon and gold diagonally striped tie. Right now, we could have both attended to the guest of honor at that hypothetical funeral.
"Maybe,” said Tony. “I never saw you dress like that before."
"Part of the job," I said. "At least ever since I started working at Hell--"
Suddenly Tony's hand covered my mouth. "Keep it down, stupid," he snapped. "That name is never mentioned here."
I pried his hand from my face. "Okay, okay, I get the point," I acknowledged. "What does it mean?"
"What it means," said Tony, "is that privacy is nonexistent. There's always some factional dispute going on. As a result, somebody is always monitoring everything you do or say."
"If that's the case, why am I here?" I had to know.
"Because I'm doing a favor for my best friend," said Tony. "You'd do the same for me, wouldn't you?"
I would. But that wasn't the point.
"And since we're on the subject, how'd you manage to get me in? I thought the Vatican types were paranoid about their library," I pointed out. Tony's bosses would love me twice as much if they knew who my real employer was.
"Simple," said Tony. "They don't know you're here yet. Here's the car.”
I looked at a nondescript black Ford sedan of recent vintage that had to belong to the Abbey. It just wasn't Tony's style.
Tony opened the trunk for me and I stuffed everything I had in it. Part of the downside of dressing better was all the luggage that went with it.
"Tony,” I said. “I know you're a genius. But how on earth are you going to persuade these people that I'm something I'm not?"
"Not as hard as you think," said Tony. "Mainly in thanks to whoever thought it was okay for half the staff to go on vacation at the same time. Right now, we're swamped with shelving, filing and a multitude of other tasks that don't require a degree in Library Science to perform. If anyone asks, you're a Library Science major from my old parish, putting in some volunteer time. So you're doing me a favor, too."
"Oh," I said.
"The Vice Prefect owes me one, anyway," said Tony.
Are you willing to stake your life on that? I could still hear Walter's words. Not that I had any reason to doubt Tony. But I couldn't help thinking him overconfident about his plan.
"Tony," I said. "You have no idea just how much I hope you're right."
I leaned against the doorway, watching the city lights. I'd settled in and made myself as comfortable as I was likely to in a monastery. Although I had been assured that there were smoking areas within the walls, I still felt more comfortable doing it outside.
It occurred to me that I was as far away from home as I had ever been in my life. Minnesota now seemed as distant as Mars, and as alien. Daily memories I had taken for granted had become a handful of scattered images, like the fleeting impressions of a dream just as I woke.
I felt rootless and detached. I had no connections to Minnesota anymore, and my connection to England was a tenuous thread at best. Here I was just another foreign stranger among many. The notion that I was now one of many millions of people of no significance disturbed me.
I lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and reconsidered it.
On second thought, I still didn't like it. This was just not a good time to be alone. I didn't like that, either.
Just then, I heard someone from the street hail me. What timing.
"Buona sera, signore Smith." Whoever it was had an Italian accent and a pleasant tenor voice. I turned to look. Father Enrico Maxwell now approached me from the Basilica.
I felt apprehension, like a jolt of static electricity. Apparently he did remember me. So much for a quiet, relaxing evening.
"Buona sera, Father Maxwell," I replied in kind. No sense in pretending I didn't recognize him. "Call me Evan. What brings you here?"
Maxwell smiled. "Since my duties brought me here, I stopped by to bid you welcome to our community. As you Americans would say, a social call?”
“Something like that,” I said. Social, my ass. And all that just to tell me he knew where I lived. So?
Have you ever been to the Vatican City?" Maxwell now stood beside me, a smile on that handsome face.
I took a long drag. "I'm afraid I haven't had that pleasure," I admitted, exhaling slowly. "It is a remarkable place."
"Remarkable, si," said Maxwell. "And a long way from Hellsing." His voice was smooth, utterly bland, but I could read the subtext as easily as he intended. The message was clear. I was in enemy territory and on my own.
"I could ask you what brings you, Evan," he continued. "But I have no need."
A huge silence opened between us, and grew with every passing moment.
"Don't you now?" I broke the silence, finishing my cigarette. "Maybe you'll explain it to me, then." I dropped it, and put it out with a twist of my foot. I knew Enrico would read that as calling his bluff. He would never know how close to the truth it really was.
Maxwell smiled. His expression was that of a shark at a nude beach.
"If I must,” said Maxwell, with a shrug. “How it must sadden you to be exiled from your country in such a fashion," he purred. "What a pity to know that you are not guilty, yet still you cannot return home."
I remained silent, all the while I could feel myself blanch. So not only did he know about the warrant, he could have me arrested and deported any time it pleased him. But how did he know?
"I see," I said, my voice devoid of expression. I wasn't about to give him any more than that. “Kind of you to be concerned.”
“I do but my duty as a priest and a Christian,” said Maxwell. Somehow I had the feeling that he was just getting warmed up. “Oh, but then you are not Christian, are you, Evan?”
“No,” I said. I was not going to let him goad me into anything stupid. “What can I say? It just never happened.” I forced a smile just to annoy him. Two could play at that game.
"A shame I had not met you when you were younger," said Maxwell. His voice lowered and took on an ingratiating tone. "I'm sure you were a charming woman."
My brain froze in shock, and my jaw dropped. "How the hell would you know that?"
Didn't mean to say that, but that had to be the last thing I had expected to hear, and definitely not from him. It caught me completely off-guard. How did he know all this stuff?
Maxwell took a step closer to me, letting his eyes roam over my body. His lips curved in a smirk, both insolent and knowing. "Because a man knows," he breathed.
Just like that, I wanted to crawl into myself. Even though I was fully clothed, the expression on Maxwell's face left me feeling not only naked, but dirty and used. All without having laid a finger on me.
At the same time, I wanted to twist his head around until it faced backwards, just so I wouldn't have to look at that slimy expression any longer. I was so furious, both with him and with myself for letting him get to me, I couldn't speak.
Maxwell laughed at my obvious outrage and humiliation. "A pleasure to have met you, Evan," he said, sauntering away. "Ciao, cara mia."
Another cheap shot. He couldn't be bothered to use the masculine form, and made sure I knew it, too. I stared at him in impotent fury, wondering what Walter would have to say about this. I could see no reason for him to know. As far as I was concerned, this was personal.
“Who were you talking to?”
I glanced behind me. Tony had followed the sound of my voice and now stood behind me.
“Father Maxwell,” I said, the tone of my voice flat. “He came to pay his respects.”
“Father Enrico Maxwell?” Tony gaped at me. “You mean to say he was here?”
“That's the only one I know,” I said. Tony was acting weird. “What's with you all of a sudden? You know something about him that I don't?”
“That's hard to say,” said Tony, frowning in concentration. “I don't really know anything, except the rumors, of course. Right now, the word is that he's the Holy Father's fair-haired boy. Someone who could do no wrong and literally get away with murder. I would not want to be on his bad side for anything.”
“Like I didn't figure that out already,” I said. “Thanks for the warning. But you're a little late.”
“What happened?” Tony eyed me in suspicion.
Truthfully? Nothing much,” I said. “But during that nothing much, he casually let it drop just how much he knows about me. And that my ass was on a platter any time he wanted to slice it up and serve it.”
“But what could he possibly do to you?” Tony was confused now.
“Tony,” I said. “He knows everything about me. Everything. Figure it out.”
Tony figured it out. He winced.
“Just how long do you think it would take the U.S. government to extradite me back to Mississippi?” I lit another cigarette. Damn. If I lived long enough, I was going to have a really bad habit.
“Domine Iesu,” breathed Tony. Forgetting himself, he lapsed into rapid-fire Latin.
I watched the show. “Having fun yet?” I hadn't seen Tony go quite so Catholic on me since he was ordained. Something sure had him spooked.
Tony shook his head, still mumbling. “…miserere mei et salva me.” He crossed himself.
At least it was brief. The only words I could make out were something about “save me.” Like he had anything to worry about.
“What I would like to know,” I said, “is just how he got the information.”
Tony mumbled something to the ground, and looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“Just say it,” I said. Better to know than to wonder.
“I think it was from me,” he confessed. “I think my phone line is being monitored.”
“Tony,” I said. “Why didn't you tell me this?”
“Tell you what?” said Tony, getting irritable. “Electronic surveillance is not the same as it used to be, Evan. I used to be able to hear a wiretap. But wiretaps have gone the way of Hollerith decks and keypunches.” He shook his head. “I wasn't sure until you told me your story, anyway. Here, give me one of those.”
Too late to worry about it now. I passed a cigarette over. “I thought you quit smoking years ago,” I said, striking a match for him.
He lit up. “I did,” he answered. “But right now I need one.” He glanced at me. “Since when do you chain smoke?”
I looked at my watch. “Since about ten minutes ago,” I said.
Italian for good evening.