Cardinal Giuseppe Valenchio walked off the elevator as if nothing out of the normal was on his mind. The hallway lights of the Vatican Two apartments had already been dimmed as was the custom after 7:00 PM.
Sister Margret’s apartment was the first door to the left of the elevator. He knocked and she answered right away.
“Father,” she said. “The hour is getting late.”
He stiffened and cleared his throat softly. “Yes, Sister, I know the time. I only need a couple of minutes.”
She ushered him in with a wave of her hand. He looked down the long corridor to the left then right. Satisfied no one had seen him he stepped inside beside her and showed himself to the living area.
She followed him in and stood silent. He took a seat on one of two small padded armchairs which faced each other under a window overlooking the promenade below. He motioned to the other and she moved and sat facing him, emotion devoid from her face.
“Sister,” he began in a low quieted voice. “Your indiscretion has become obvious. It can no longer be concealed under the draped cloth of your habit.”
“Did his Holiness send you?”
“No. This is between you and me, and God, Sister—but surely you must know you can no longer be of service in your current, state,” he said directly. “As his secretary, you are the other face people associate with his Papacy.”
“This, indiscretion, this state, was not my choosing. It was forced on me, Father. Just as the Order has forced it many times. I—,“
“Sister,” he interrupted giving a pause to reorder his thoughts. “How many meetings have you rescheduled to different venues in this past month? A great many. Now, you need to take some time, come to term. We can call it a sabbatical if you want.” Cardinal Valenchio looked down at her midsection and motioned with his open hand at it. “I guess, from the size, you are what now? Seven months?” He clasped his hands together in his lap and looked up into Sister Margret’s eyes. He drew his lips in taunt. His eyes sad, expressed an empathy and sorrow without judgment. “Tomorrow I will talk with Mother Mary and have a replacement sent up to work in your absence.”
“Father, where would you have me go? I’ve no family other than this church. Now you want me to go and hide, alone?” Sister Margret’s voice began to strain but still it grew louder. “This Cardinal’s wrong will not be hidden away. I will not be shamed to run to, and hide in, a convent to be judged by a callous Mother Superior. Tomorrow I will ask his Holiness for his guidance and—,”
Cardinal Valenchio stood abruptly cutting her off.
“You will not,” he said, his voice forceful and stern. “You have done quite enough already to inconvenience His Holiness’ work. Tomorrow the guards will not grant you admittance.”
Sister Margret slowly stood, her eyes locked on his showed her determination. “Then I will see him now,” she declared.
The Cardinal moved himself between her and the door. “I cannot allow that, Sister. It is the time of the Adoration.”
“Good night to you, Father. You can see yourself out now.”
“I will not. Not until we have this is resolved.”
She stepped toward him, “I will resolve this with the Holy Father at dinner service.”
He raised his hands and grabbed her shoulders. “No you won’t,” he told her.
“Get out of my way, Father,” she demanded.
His face started to turn bright pink as anger filled him from within. “No! Stop this insolence. Sit down, Sister,” he yelled as he pushed her back with a mighty force.
Sister Margret grabbed out at him before she stumbled back. Her balance unstable, she fell backward over the closest armchair. The back of her head hit hard on the tile floor as the rest of her weight bared down over her neck. Her body landed limp and deformed in a contorted circle behind the chair.
The Cardinal did not hesitate and rushed to her side. “Sister?” he said. “Sister, please. I didn’t mean—,” his words cut short by the site of a small pooling of blood as it slowly grew and started to spread outward from beside her head.
He reached out his fingers toward her but stopped midway and made a fist, not wanting to know the truth. But, he had to be certain. He took in a large breath and held it in as he touched the side of her throat with two fingers. There was no pulse. He pulled his hand back instantly with the realization of what he had done.
“Oh, God,” he said, slowly standing, his hand covering his mouth. His eyes shifting around as he stared at her searching his mind for what to do.
He reached down into his cassock’s pocket and retrieved a small handkerchief then turned to the door and looked out the peephole. The hallway was empty. He closed his eyes and let out a small sigh of relief making it a silent prayer. The small red silk kerchief easily slid over the knob of the door. He turned it careful to wipe it clean as he did and opened it. He stepped out into the hall locking it behind him as he hurried to the elevator.
On the ride down his mind replayed the events. He tried to justify them, telling himself he would not let another scandal touch the Vicar of Christ, not in this house Peter had built. He lied to himself, he was doing God’s work and God had worked through him in a mysterious way this night.