Birettas & Poison: The Novel

Dear Reader, I have decided to post a little something that a friend of mine and I collaborated on two years ago when we were very bored, much like now.  I would like to thank Chris McQueeny for providing me with the original transcript of our little story.  Once I have posted everything we came up with I will continue writing it on my own.  We decided to try our own hand on those fun “church conspiracy” stories one sees all over the place, and which, I must admit, I have a special fondness for.  Please pardon any inappropriate language or other things that might disturb, this is a murder-mystery so you have been warned.

This first section was written by Chris, the next installment will be my continuation of it.  And now I invite you to go ahead and enjoy the show.

The night hung placidly over Bergen, as nights tend to do at this hour. But for the belches of the occasional drunken aristocrat wandering the streets after a house party, Bergen Square was silent. Not a man was stirring except one man. He was a Monsignor. This Monsignor was a tall, fat, and elaborately-dressed Monsignor, of about thirty years of age, and he was walking quickly and furtively across the Square. Suddenly affecting a calm and collected gait, he strode past the still-lit offices of the Bergen Inquisitor, where an early morning edition was being printed. Some distance away, he turned into a dark alley, stopped, and took the biretta off his head.

“What the devil was that turn? The sixth left? The fifth right?…,” he muttered, checking a scrap of paper taken from the hat. Walking again, he eventually made his way to a sheer wall of granite, the side of a massive building, ornamented with columns and Latin inscriptions. Clearly, it was Ellicott’s most imposing building: the new Archiepiscopal Palace, recently remodeled to the exacting specifications of Archbishop Cuthbert. The Monsignor stopped before a small side door, and drew a slim felt roll from his biretta. Using the lock-picks with the easy precision of an expert burglar, he soon gained entrance to the Palace. Several corridors later, he slipped into a small, dark room. Feeling around him, he soon found that he was in the right place: his hands met a smooth, cold, metallic surface which glimmered in the dim light. It was an organ-pipe.

Making his way through numerous side rooms, the Monsignor emerged into a vast chamber, in the centre of which the great organ’s console sedately stood. It was a massive five-manual affair, evidently confidnt about itself, and not stirred by this clerical interloper. The Monsignor inched across the polished marble floor, thanking God that he had worn silent shoes for this little enterprise. Striking a match, he was about to search the console when he suddenly stopped. “No,” he thought, “we have to do this properly.” Rummaging around his cassock, he drew out a taper candle and lit it from the match. “Much better.” Before his eyes were the banks of hand-labeled stops.

“It can’t possibly be called that, can’t possibly!” Peering at the rows of little labels, he again resorted to the scrap of paper stuffed in his biretta. “Ah, there it is…” He paused for a few seconds. “Fuchsschwanz? Crazy old bastard, I don’t even want to know.” He pulled the stop. It fell off into his hand, having no visible effect. Vexed, he slumped down onto the stool. Immediately there was an quiet hissing sound, and the stool plummeted through the floor, dropping at least five storeys. The Monsignor was not a cowardly man, but even he could not suppress a scream as he fell.

At last, he was there! It was the greatest triumph of a career which had taken him more than once to the Royal Forestry Commission, also known to some insiders as the Mercian Secret Service. But gaining entrance to this room was beyond his wildest dreams. In all of Hanover, only the Brotherhood and the Archbishop himself knew that this place even existed. It was no mere musty cellar, such as you might find in any vast palace. It was the Secret Archives of the Church of Mercia.

But the Monsignor knew immediately that he didn’t have long. That scream must have alerted someone; the Archbishop was nearly deaf after playing the Palace organ frequently during the month of his tenure so far, but surely he wasn’t living alone. The Monsignor rushed into the long, narrow room, re-lighting his candle as he did so. By its dim and stuttering light could be seen shelves stretching for at least a hundred feet, far more than he could search in this time. Fortunately, it turned out that he wouldn’t have to.

As he strode forward, his foot caught on the lengthy train of his cassock. “Damn it to the fiery hells!” he swore as he fell into a nearby bookcase, which chose this moment to liberate all of its volumes from their captivity. For a few moments he lay supine under the heavy weight of books, carefully considering how he would slay Barbiconi, Ecclesiastical Tailor, for managing to botch the cut of a simple robe. Admittedly he had demanded it without the piping usually accorded to his rank, and this anarchistic sentiment may have shocked the old man. But that is hardly an excuse.

Just as he was pulling himself up through the books, he saw something which took his breath away. There it was, sitting innocently in the folds of his rochet, as if it had not started more wars than money and sex put together: the object which the Brotherhood had vainly sought to acquire for nearly twenty years. It was a small black envelope, no more than three inches by four, and closed with a seal of immaculate red wax. In the wax, one could still see a faint coat of arms, now over one hundred years old. He was one of the few people who would recognize these arms. But there was no time for that now. He stood up, dusted off his once-neat apparel, and…

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