In the quiet hill country of Italy, Bernardo's body is discovered propped up against the statue of St. Francis of Assis in the medieval church where for years he served as altar boy. A red cell phone, presented to local nun and teacher Sister Angela by Montriano Police Detective DiMarco, alerts her of the crime. Her investigative abilities are needed to solve this perplexing case. Complicated by pressure from the bishop's deputy, Father Sergio, who questions the compatibility of her role as part-time police detective with her teaching vocation, the nun struggles to understand the victim's relationship to the powerful families involved in the production of l'oro verde, the region's famous olive oil; its green gold. Sister Angela and the inspector learn that young Bernardo was not who he seemed to be.
Power, deception, love, and the darkest of family secrets rock the small village of Montriano and the olive orchards and vineyards that cloak the landscape around it.
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Bernardo slipped into the dark church where he paused to let his eyes adjust, but he didn’t really need to. He knew the layout by heart. A foot to his right, his eyes settled on the offertory candles, all of which had flickered out. The smell of hot wax and incense had been overpowered by the musty stones and decomposed humanity that had inhabited the pews over centuries. Bernardo loved that
“He’s coming,” he whispered to the figure on the crucifix.
Turning his back to the altar, he gazed down the long aisle, racking his slow and unreliable brain for a place to hide. Then it came to him. He remembered a small crawl space behind the vault of Giovanni Cardinal Bartoli who oversaw the diocese in the 1400s. A sleeping body, carved in granite, lay sprawled over the stone lid. When he was nine, Bernardo once watched in horror as his cousin, Tonino, and his friend, Piero, tried to pry the lid open to see if the body was still there. The cover wouldn’t budge because the top was far too heavy, but years later, Bernardo still dreamt about the shriveled corpse with yellowing teeth jumping out at him.
A marble statue of St. Francis of Assisi stood over the tomb, his arms outstretched and his fingers that once supported a bird, broken off long ago. Bernardo knew the story of the saint’s life and felt protected by him. When praying, he would often run his fingers over the smooth folds of the robe, feeling uncomfortable because he had heard the preserved piece of the saint’s vestment was actually rough and warn.
He knew he would be safe, having hidden here before. Tonino once tried to find him in the church and couldn’t. He could see Tonino, though, observing him through a tiny hole, trying not to laugh when Tonino scratched his head. With his cheek against the floor, Bernardo could make out the sanctuary and altar with the range of a mouse peering through its front door.
Thump-ka-thump. The steps got louder until he heard the familiar right-then-left rattle of the knob.
Thump-ka-thump. He watched a figure cross the floor in front of the sanctuary, pausing to cross himself at the altar.
Bernardo wanted to cross himself too but couldn’t extricate his right hand from the narrow space beside him. His breaths were short as he waited—waited for his pursuer to turn and try to find him.
The figure finally spun to face the pews, and Bernardo realized his it had no face. The cowled visage topped a long coarse robe. Was he crippled? Why did he waddle and why did he hold his side?
More labored steps, and the shadow passed out of Bernardo’s line of sight. Thump-ka-thump, thump-ka-thump. The steps got louder.
And suddenly, they stopped! Drawn toward the victim like a magnet, feet suddenly appeared directly in front of the young man’s peephole!
Bernardo thought his heart had stopped. Screwing up his eyes, he examined the pair of shoes not a foot away. The rough fabric of the robe draped gracefully over the highly-polished shoe tops, and when the toes turned toward him, Bernardo watched the folds sweep eerily to readjust themselves.
Relieved, the boy slithered backward out of his hiding place. “Father, please forgive me. I have no place to go,” he whispered as he struggled to his feet.