“Vera Luce Alla Sua Fonta,” Dan O’Shea

Vera Luce Alla Sua Fonta

By:  Dan O’Shea

“That worth anything?” Aquila nodded toward the painting on the east wall.  Targets he worked with were pretty high end, so sometimes on a job, if something said money to him, he’d grab it.  Put the cops off, get them thinking robbery gone wrong.

“Compelling, isn’t it?”  Voland, from behind his desk.  “But the painting’s provenance is not established.  The artist is named Sammael.  An unknown, I’m afraid. This work is a self-portrait entitled Vera Luce Alla Sua Fonte.”

“Looks old.” What Aquila knew about art, old meant money.  Looked at the painting again.  To him, art was just stuff you turned into cash, but this thing, it got to him.  This thing, he wanted.

“Very old.  There is a family connection to the artist. Vanity, I suppose. I may be the only Sammael collector in the world. I could work to establish a market, but . . .” a little shug a little smile.  Aquila got it.  It’s not like this Voland fuck needed the money.  And the family thing, he looked back at the painting again.  Yeah.  He could see that.  Definitely.

Weird job.  First off, Voland wasn’t tied in to anybody.  Not the Italians, not the Columbians, not the Russians.  Nobody’d even heard of the fuck.  Then it turns out this guy is rich.  Not like mob boss rich, but like Bill Gates rich.  But nobody knew where the money came from.  So that’s weird.  But the real weird was this – the guy had put the hit out on himself.

And he’d asked for Aquila by name.  Said he’d never settled for anything but the best and he had no reason to start doing so now.  Said Aquila should approach it like he did any job, scout the target, learn the territory.  He’d sent the plane tickets, provided the villa outside Sienna, a new Audi A8, said Aquila could consider it a vacation if he liked.

And Aquila liked.  Been three weeks. Had some great meals, and it turns out when you’re in a ten-grand-a-week villa and driving eighty grand worth of car around, the local girls get real accommodating.  Then he got the note.  Expensive paper, like parchment.  Please join me at Ten O’Clock this evening to conclude our  business.  Voland.

“Now, if you were thinking of taking some art . . .”

Aquila opened his mouth to interrupt.  What this guy was paying, Aquila didn’t need to supplement the deal.  He might grab something, but, Jesus, no need to insult the guy. Voland cut him off.

“ . . . Mr. Aquila, please. There is no need to protest.  I’m well aware of your MO.  I was just going to suggest the Bosch.  Well known, of course, so you would have to use your contacts to find a private buyer, but even with the discount associated with such transactions, it would fetch quite a sum.”

The Bosch.  Voland had pointed it out on the way in.  Hell, Aquila guessed, demons tormenting people, one of them cranking what looked like a giant corkscrew up some guy’s ass.  Come to think of it, that other painting, the Samuel or whatever, that had a religious vibe, too.  The whole place did.

“Looks like hell,” Aquila said.

“Literally or figuratively?”

“Both.  Why you wanna look at that everyday?”

“A moral compass, perhaps? Bosch meant for it to prick one’s conscience. To remind us we had turned from the obedient service of God and had forfeited the grace of his love. It illustrates the torments that await the damned.”

Aquila’s mind flashed to that day when he was 12. Just finished the altar boy gig at the 6:00 AM mass, him in the sacristy, pulling the cassock over his head, and suddenly Father Murphy is there, and he’s got his cock out, and he’s shoving Aquila to his knees, and Aquila is doing what he’s told ‘cause the guy’s a fucking priest and  . . .

“I figure whatever torments we got coming, they happen here,” Aquila said.

“You reject God then?  You are not a believer?”

“Reject makes it sound like the guy’s standing here and I’m telling him to fuck off.  He ain’t here.  Fuck we talking about this for anyway?  You know what I do.  You expecting a priest?  You need last rights or some schmuck in a dress to corn hole you on your way out, you got the wrong guy.”

Voland gave a thin smile.  “Just delaying things I suppose.  There is much about life one will miss.”  Voland placed a pistol on the desk.  “The Pistole Parabellum 1908,” Voland said. “The Luger, in the vernacular.  The toggle-lock design.

“Always heard they were unreliable.”

“Yes.  A short load in one of the rounds and the recoil mechanism would jam. Not much tolerance for dirt.  A perfect instrument too refined for an imperfect world.  None of that sloppy compromise that makes an AK-47 such an ugly, human weapon.”

Aquila picked up the pistol.  It was sexy as hell.  This and that Samuel painting, that’s what he was taking.  Fuck that Bosch devil shit.  Voland smiling at him.  Weird fuck, not how you ought to look when you’re going to die.  And then Aquila felt himself putting the gun to his own temple.

“If you could turn to the left just a bit, please,” Voland said. “I’d rather you didn’t sully the painting.”  And Aquila knew, and knew if he could believe, just believe, that it was still not too late, and he tried to remember the prayer from when he was a kid, the one the priest had made them say together after . . . well, just after.  The Act of Contrition.  But his finger was already squeezing the trigger.  How did it start?  “Oh my God . . .”

The Luger finished the prayer.


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