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The Cardinal's Blade

by Joseph D'Agnese

About the Author: Joseph D'Agnese is a journalist, author and ghostwriter who has written for both adults and children alike. He is a three-time finalist for the Derringer Award for his short mystery fiction, and one of his stories appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories 2015 anthology, guest-edited by author James Patterson. D'Agnese lives with his wife in North Carolina.


The footsteps tipped him off. The hooded man paused along the cobblestones and whirled. His fingers closed on the garments of the ragged youth who had been following him and flung the boy against the wall of the nearest palazzo.

It was night, and the lanes of this particular rione of Rome were remarkably silent. The hooded man had to squint to make out the lad’s face.

“Signor,” the boy said, “I beg your—” His breath froze when the tip of a dagger came to rest under his right eyeball.

“You were saying?” said the hooded man.

“I meant you no harm, Signor.”

“Drop it. Drop it now, or your eye hits the ground first.”

The youth unclenched his left hand. A stout club fell to the stones with a thunk. The hooded man eased a breath from his lungs. “I seek Baldani,” he said. “I’m told he lives in this quarter.”

“What, the learned man? The doctor?”

The hooded man waggled his head, as if unwilling to concede either point. “Doctor? Ha. Where?”

The youth pointed with his eyes. “That way. Three doors down. This side. Want me to take you?”

“I want you to go. And if I ever see you again on the same street where I am passing, I’ll take it as permission to—”

He lowered the blade to the boy’s throat.

“No, Signor.”

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