Excerpt of A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
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"Always a mistake," the Italian remarks. "Where are you staying,
Oberstabsarzt? Would you like to come back another day?"
Schramm shakes his head stubbornly. "'Dammte Schpageddi-Fresser.
Italians're always late! Where is that shit of a priest?"
"Lie down, Herr Doktor." Schramm feels his legs lifted onto the pew. "Rest your eyes. The priest will come, and then we'll get you back where
"No, thank you," Schramm says firmly. "Hell exists, you know. Any combat
soldier can tell you that." The other man stops moving. "I knew you'd
un'erstan'! So heaven's real, too! Logic, ja?"
Their moment of communion is over. "I myself am not a devout Catholic,"
the Samaritan informs him regretfully. "My opinions about heaven and hell
needn't trouble you."
"Righ' . . . righ'." Almost asleep, Schramm mumbles, "You're not a
bad fellow . . ."
Moments later, he is snoring like a tank engine, and does not hear the hoot of
delighted laughter that echoes through the basilica. "Did you hear that,
Sisters?" his intepreter asks. "The Nazi says I'm not a bad fellow!"
"For a spaghetti chomper," Suora Fossette amends solemnly.
Musical giggles are quickly stifled when swift footsteps and whispering fabric
announce a priest's approach. "Grüss Gott, mein Herr," he says,
shooting a stern look at the novices. "I am Osvaldo Tomitz, secretary to His
Excellency Archbishop Tirassa."
"Don Osvaldo! Piacere: a pleasure to meet you!" says a well-dressed
civilian. "I'm Renzo Leoni."
Tomitz's confusion is plain. Suora Marta undoubtedly told him that the man
wishing to confess is an obnoxious German drunk. "How may I be of service to
"Ah, but I am not the one who sought your services, Don Osvaldo." Leading
the way toward the confessionals, Leoni presents a Waffen-SS officer passed
out cold on a pew.
Nose wrinkling at the sour smell of vomit and brandy, Tomitz snorts. "So
that's the Aryan superman we've heard so much about."
"Yes. Disappointing, really," Leoni concurs, but his eyes are on the
priest. "Tomitz, Tomitz . . . You're from Trieste, aren't you? Your
family's in shipping!"
Don Osvaldo draws himself up, surprised by recognition. In his early forties,
of medium height and medium weight, with medium-brown hair framing regular
features, not one of which is memorable, Osvaldo Tomitz must introduce himself
repeatedly to people who have already met him. "My father was with Lloyds
Adriatico. We moved here when the Genoa office opened a branch in
Sant'Andrea. How did you know?"
"The name is Austrian. The German is Habsburg. The Italian is Veneto. Ergo:
Trieste! As for the rest? I cheated: my father was a commercial photographer.
Lloyds was a good customer. I met your father when I was a boy. You must have
been in seminary by then. How is Signor Tomitz?"
"He passed away last year. I was teaching at Tortona. I asked for a position
here so I could be nearer my mother."
"My sympathies, Don Osvaldo. My mother, too, is a widow."
Satisfied to have established a connection, Leoni returns his attention to the
drunk. With an almost professional efficiency, he pats the Nazi down and
removes the man's wallet. "Herr Doktor Oberstabsarzt Werner Schramm is
with the Waffen-SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Hausser's Second Armored
Corps, late of the Russian front . . . Currently staying at the Bellavista.
He's in Sant'Andrea on two weeks' leave." Leoni looks up, puzzled.
"Odd," Osvaldo agrees. "To come from such a hell, and spend his leave in
"Why not Venice, I wonder? Or Florence, or Rome?" Leoni glances
apologetically at the frescoes. "No offense, Padre, but San Giobatta is not
exactly a top draw." Leoni replaces the wallet and resumes his frisk.
Withdrawing a silver cigarette case, he offers its contents to the priest with
exploratory hospitality. "Prego! Take half," he urges. "PleaseI'm
sure the doctor would insist."
Excerpted from A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, pages
9-16. Copyright © 2005 by Mary Doria
Russell. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.