The blood of Christ . . . the cup of salvation . . .
People gathered around the slumped body in the pew. Overhead, the frankincense swung its peaceful arcs. Hulohot wheeled wildly in the center aisle and scanned the church. He’s got to be here! He spun back toward the altar.
Thirty rows ahead, holy communion was proceeding uninterrupted. Padre Gustaphes Herrera, the head chalice bearer, glanced curiously at the quiet commotion in one of the center pews; he was not concerned. Sometimes some of the older folks were overcome by the holy spirit and passed out. A little air usually did the trick.
Meanwhile, Hulohot was searching frantically. Becker was nowhere in sight. A hundred or so people were kneeling at the long altar receiving communion. Hulohot wondered if Becker was one of them. He scanned their backs. He was prepared to shoot from fifty yards away and make a dash for it.
* * *
El cuerpo de Jesus, el pan del cielo.
The young priest serving Becker communion gave him a disapproving stare. He could understand the stranger’s eagerness to receive communion, but it was no excuse to cut inline.
Becker bowed his head and chewed the wafer as best he could. He sensed something was happening behind him, some sort of disturbance. He thought of the man from whom he’d bought the jacket and hoped he had listened to his warning and not taken Becker’s in exchange. He started to turn and look, but he feared the wire‑rim glasses would be staring back. He crouched in hopes his black jacket was covering the back of his khaki pants. It was not.
The chalice was coming quickly from his right. People were already swallowing their wine, crossing themselves, and standing to leave. Slow down! Becker was in no hurry to leave the altar. But with two thousand people waiting for communion and only eight priests serving, it was considered bad form to linger over a sip of wine.
* * *
The chalice was just to the right of Becker when Hulohot spotted the mismatched khaki pants. “Estas ya muerto,” he hissed softly. “You’re already dead.” Hulohot moved up the center aisle. The time for subtlety had passed. Two shots in the back, and he would grab the ring and run. The biggest taxi stand in Seville was half a block away on Mateus Gago. He reached for his weapon.
Adios, Senor Becker . . .
* * *
La sangre de Cristo, la copa de la salvacion.
The thick scent of red wine filled Becker’s nostrils as Padre Herrera lowered the hand‑polished, silver chalice. Little early for drinking, Becker thought as he leaned forward. But as the silver goblet dropped past eye level, there was a blur of movement. A figure, coming fast, his shape warped in the reflection of the cup.
Becker saw a flash of metal, a weapon being drawn. Instantly, unconsciously, like a runner from a starting block at the sound of a gun, Becker was vaulting forward. The priest fell back in horror as the chalice sailed through the air, and red wine rained down on white marble. Priests and altar boys went scattering as Becker dove over the communion rail. A silencer coughed out a single shot. Becker landed hard, and the shot exploded in the marble floor beside him. An instant later he was tumbling down three granite stairs into the valle, a narrow passageway through which the clergy entered, allowing them to rise onto the altar as if by divine grace.
At the bottom of the steps, he stumbled and dove. Becker felt himself sliding out of control across the slick polished stone. A dagger of pain shot though his gut as he landed on his side. A moment later he was stumbling through a curtained entryway and down a set of wooden stairs.
Pain. Becker was running, through a dressing room. It was dark. There were screams from the altar. Loud footsteps in pursuit. Becker burst through a set of double doors and stumbled into some sort of study. It was dark, furnished with rich Orientals and polished mahogany. On the far wall was a life‑size crucifix. Becker staggered to a stop. Dead end. He was at the tip of the cross. He could hear Hulohot closing fast. Becker stared at the crucifix and cursed his bad luck.
“Goddamn it!” he screamed.
There was the sudden sound of breaking glass to Becker’s left. He wheeled. A man in red robes gasped and turned to eye Becker in horror. Like a cat caught with a canary, the holy man wiped his mouth and tried to hide the broken bottle of holy communion wine at his feet.
“Salida!” Becker demanded. “Salida!” Let me out!
Cardinal Guerra reacted on instinct. A demon had entered his sacred chambers screaming for deliverance from the house of God. Guerra would grant him that wish‑immediately. The demon had entered at a most inopportune moment.
Pale, the cardinal pointed to a curtain on the wall to his left. Hidden behind the curtain was a door. He’d installed it three years ago. It led directly to the courtyard outside. The cardinal had grown tired of exiting the church through the front door like a common sinner.