The envelope lay in a large glass bowl on a carved antique table at the foot of the staircase. It was addressed to Signore Delvecchio, Gabriel's work name. He picked up the envelope and sliced it open with his forefinger. Plain dove-gray paper, heavy bond, no letterhead. Precise careful handwriting, unsigned. He lifted it to his nose. No scent.
Gabriel began to read. The painting hung in the drawing room, a Raphael, Portrait of a Young Man. A reservation had been made for him at the Dolder Grand Hotel, about a mile away on the other side of the Zrichberg. There was food in the refrigerator. The owner would return to Zurich the following day. He would appreciate it greatly if Signore Delvecchio could begin work without delay.
Gabriel slipped the note into his pocket. So, a Raphael. It would be his second. Five years ago he had restored a small devotional piece, a Madonna and Child, based on the renowned composition of Leonardo. Gabriel could feel a tingling sensation spreading over the tips of his fingers. It was a marvelous opportunity. He was glad he had taken the job, regardless of the unorthodox arrangements.
He stepped through a passageway into a large room. It was dark, no lights burning, the heavy curtains tightly drawn. Despite the gloom he had the sensation of Middle European aristocratic clutter.
He took a few steps forward. Beneath his feet the carpet was damp. The air tasted of salt and rust. It was an odor Gabriel had smelled before. He reached down, touched his fingers to the carpet, and brought them to his face.
He was standing in blood.
The Oriental carpet was faded and very old, and so was the dead man sprawled in the center of it. He lay face-down, and in death he was reaching forward with his right hand. He wore a double-vented blue blazer, shiny with wear in the back, and gray flannel trousers. His shoes were brown suede. One shoe, the right, had a thickened heel and sole. The trousers had ridden up along his lower leg. The skin was shockingly white, like exposed bone. The socks were mismatched.
Gabriel squatted on his haunches with the casualness of someone who was at ease around the dead. The corpse had been a tiny man; five feet in height, no more. He lay in profile, the left side of the face exposed. Through the blood, Gabriel could see a square jaw and a delicate cheekbone. The hair was thick and snowy white. It appeared that the man had been shot once, through the left eye, and that the slug had exited the back of the skull. Judging from the size of the exit wound, the weapon was a rather large-caliber handgun. Gabriel looked up and saw that the slug had shattered the mirror above the large fireplace. He suspected the old man had been dead a few hours.
He supposed he should telephone the police, but then he imagined the situation from their point of view. A foreigner in an expensive home, a corpse shot through the eye. At the very least, he would be detained for questioning. Gabriel couldn't allow that to happen.
He rose and turned his gaze from the dead man to the Raphael. A striking image: a beautiful young man in semi-profile, sensuously lit. Gabriel guessed it had been painted while Raphael was living and working in Florence, probably between 1504 and 1508. Too bad about the old man; it would have been a pleasure to restore such a painting.
He walked back to the entrance hall, stopped and looked down. He had tracked blood across the marble floor. There was nothing to be done about it. In circumstances like these he had been trained to leave quickly without worrying about making a bit of a mess or noise.
He collected his cases, opened the door, and stepped outside. It was raining harder now, and by the time he reached the gate at the end of the flagstone walk he was no longer leaving bloody footprints.
He walked quickly until he came to a thoroughfare: the Kr"abhlstrasse. The Number 6 tram slithered down the slope of the hill. He raced it to the next stop, walking quickly but not running, and hopped on without a ticket.
Reprinted from The English Assassin by Daniel Silva by permission of The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © March 2002, Daniel Silva. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
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