The Shroud
By Barry Friedman
Published by Authors Choice Press 
April 2002; 0-595-20637-9; 227 pages

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The Shroud by Barry FriedmanTHE SHROUD

Vincenzo Rossi told the fat poliziotto that the first thing he knew he’s lying on the floor with the biggest headache he’d ever had. They sat facing each other in Rossi’s office located in a transept off the cathedral’s sanctuary. The office was so small their knees touched. The policeman’s blue uniform coat gaped open, his belly sloshing over his belt, his blue tie food-stained. In one hand he held a pad, in the other, a pencil. He seemed to be writing down every word Rossi said.


“You were sleeping, no?” the fat poliziotto said.


Rossi caught the accusation his eyes fill with tears. “Thirty-three years I been a guard here at the Duomo and never--not once, did I sleep on the job.” He felt like adding, “you fat slob.” He pointed to his head. “How you think I got this lump? You think I hit myself? And then I tied up my own hands behind my back?” He massaged the tender red circles around his wrists where the wire had cut into his skin. If the porter who’d come in to clean shortly after midnight hadn’t found him on the floor, dazed and trussed up, he might have lain there until morning.


The cop gazed at Rossi’s head and reached forward to touch the small bandage behind Rossi’s left ear. The doctor who’d been called wanted to take him to the hospital for observation but Rossi refused. He was still on duty and would stay until Dominic relieved him.


“Hmm,” was the fat cop’s comment. He wet the tip of his pencil with his tongue and scribbled in his pad, then snapped it shut. “What were you doing?”


“Reading.” Rossi glanced at the torn and wrinkled pages of Corriere della Sera that littered the floor.

“So you didn’t hear them come in.”

 

Rossi shook his head and winced as pain shot from his eyeballs to the back of his skull. The cop was probably trying to trick him. He quickly added, “I don’t know if was ‘them’ or ‘him’ or maybe even ‘her.’” He got up, squeezed himself between the cop’s chair and the wall, and started for the door. He had answered all the questions he was going to.

The fat cop said, “Hey, where you going?”


“I gotta talk to His Eminence.”


The cop put out his hand to stop him, Rossi pushed it away and kept going. He entered the dimly-lit nave, the rows of pews empty since a police guard had been placed at the entrance to the cathedral. He genuflected and quickly crossed himself. Behind him, he heard the cop’s chair squeaking on the cement floor, knew he was coming after him, but figured he wasn’t going to make a big fuss in the sanctity of the Duomo. Using the backs of the pews for support, Rossi hurried down the left side aisle, then ducked into a narrow passageway leading to the rear entrance of the left transept. Except for a few low voltage bulbs that hung from the ceiling and cast pools of light, the passageway was dark. It was also dank from centuries of moisture that constantly seeped through its stone walls. The cop’s footfalls could no longer be heard; he’d probably decided not to follow knowing that Rossi couldn’t get out of the cathedral without passing him. Rossi inched his way, slipping over the marble floor, toward a light in the apse where the cardinal and detectives had gone. A few steps further and he could hear voices, one unmistakably that of Cardinal Fenocci. As the apse came into view he made out the scarlet skullcap. His heart raced. How was he going to explain to His Eminence what had happened. He had seen the old man fly into a rage at much less important mistakes. And wasn’t this a mistake? A mistake of his judgment? Of course, he should have been more alert since he, Vincenzo Rossi, was charged with the responsibility of guarding one of the Catholic Church’s--no, Christianity’s-- most valued treasures: the priceless coverlet that had draped the Lord Jesus Christ’s body after He had been cut down from the Cross. The Shroud of Turin.


Hunching as though it might make him a smaller target, Rossi limped through the gate of iron grillwork into the apse, most of its space taken up by a long table covered with a cloth that draped all sides to the floor. About two years ago he had watched a crew of four build the vault below that very table. The vault was constructed from a block of aluminum about three meters long and wide, and one meter high with a lid of thick crystal. Within it rested the silver reliquary that held the Shroud. No. He corrected himself. The reliquary had held the Shroud. Only a privileged few knew where the Shroud had been hidden . So how then could…? Never mind, too late to think of that now. What had happened, happened. Above the table, hanging like a rectangular pennant, was a cloth replica, one-third the size of the real Shroud. A plate glass the size of a store window partitioned the apse from the sanctuary. Through it visitors could peer while a guide would point out on the replica the features of the image on the Shroud.

The coffin-like silver reliquary, its lid open, had been removed from the vault, and now rested on the table. In front of the table, hunched over on a canvas-back chair sat Agostino Cardinal Fenocci. Alongside him, one arm resting on the back of the cardinal’s chair as though to protect him, stood Virgilio Caprio, his secretary. Two men in dark suits, the detectives, were leaning into the reliquary, playing the beams of their flashlights into its interior where the Shroud had been locked. But, of course, the Shroud was not there. Because of Vincenzo Giovanni Carlo Rossi’s carelessness it was God only knows. Gone. Stolen. A treasure, a strip of linen about one meter in width and four meters in length, the cloth in which Joseph of Arimathea had wrapped the body of Jesus after he had taken him down from the cross, a cloth that had been in the custody of the Cardinal of Turin since 1578. Rossi recalled the chill that had coursed through his body the first time he stood less than a meter from the Shroud and had witnessed with his own eyes the imprint of Jesus, the splotches of His blood on the cloth. He was that close to God. And now…


“You are the guard who was on duty?” The detective with a walrus mustache wearing a neatly-pressed suit spoke in a tone that Rossi interpreted as implying he was involved in the theft.


Rossi nodded. Why couldn’t this have happened on a night when Tonini was on guard duty? But, no. He would not wish this disgrace on Dominic or anyone else. He dropped to a knee before the cardinal and reached for his hand. “Your Eminence.”


Cardinal Fenocci withdrew his hand, his lips curled downward, his brows drawn, his face a mask of disgust. He would not allow this incompetent to kiss his ring.

“Please, Eminence. Let me explain.”


The cardinal’s lips trembled, his face paled. “What is there to explain?” he rasped, the words echoing in the hollow chamber. “You allowed someone to--to…” He left the rest unsaid and turned his head. As far as he was concerned this idiota no longer existed.


One of the detectives grasped Rossi’s arm. “Go back to the sanctuary and wait. We want to ask you some questions.”


Caprio said, “Come Vincenzo. I will go with you.”

Copyright 2002 Barry Friedman
Reprinted with permission.

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Synopsis

Jesus!

Why would anyone steal the SHROUD OF TURIN?

And return it mutilated…four segments cut out of the linen…segments containing blood stains…the blood of ?

THE SHROUD.

From Rome to Turin to Cervinia in the Italian Alps. From the Seychelles to Edinburgh, Interpol investigator Arturo Benavivo tracks the clues…a track with more twists, turns, and helices than a roller coaster ride… the closer he gets to the solution, the more dangerous it becomes for Benavivo and his family…until he unravels the answer.in this thrilling biotech page-turner.

THE SHROUD

Of the many stories written about the ancient burial cloth, none has a finale such as this…it will take your breath away.

Note: THE SHROUD won runner-up for Best Suspense Novel in the 2002 San Diego Book Awards.

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Author

Barry Friedman, an 85-year-old retired orthopaedic surgeon now in his second career, is on his way to fulfilling his ambition of being the Grandma Moses of fiction writing. He has received awards for teaching and research. His published writings include newspaper articles and short stories in national magazines in addition to a number of scientific papers. When he and his wife are not traveling or visiting with their three children and their families, they are at their home in Southern California.

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