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Authors: Lawrence Wright

God's Favorite

BOOK: God's Favorite
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CONTENTS

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Author's Note

About the Author

TO WENDY WEIL

CHAPTER
1

F
OR TWENTY
minutes the policeman sat with the villagers watching the golden frog. As long as the frog did not move, the Indians from the village did not move, and therefore the policeman waited, knowing that there was no need to hurry. If he broke the frog's spell it might be seen as a bad omen, and so he rested on his haunches, as he remembered doing in his own village many years before.

The frog seemed to be growing ever more powerful as it defended the little patch of sunlight that squeezed through the guayacan trees in the ravine. Its ancient wedge-shaped face pointed directly at the policeman, as if he knew that the matter now rested between them. But the frog was in no hurry, either. He was in a paradise of flies. He was sleepy from eating, and the lids bobbed on his gold-slitted black eyes, but he gripped the sides of the large canvas mailbag like a miser clutching his purse. Two human feet protruded from the mailbag.

“And who discovered this?” the policeman said in a low voice.

After a pause the oldest of the men responded, “The boy. He came to fish in the river.”

The policeman saw a child half-hidden behind his mother's dress.

“At what time of day?”

“It was evening.”

The policeman absorbed the fact that a night and part of the morning had passed before anyone had come to El Roblito to notify him. Perhaps they wanted to own this mystery for a while, before giving it to him. Certainly the frog had not been sitting here all that time.

The policeman glanced at his camera and thought about taking photographs of the scene, but then he saw the villagers shift like grass stirring in the slightest breeze, and so he relaxed again into mindlessness. He was scarcely aware of how much time passed before a cloud shadowed the mailbag and the frog leapt into the ferns, but when the villagers abruptly rose to their feet, he understood that he could now go about his work.

The policeman unrolled a yellow tape that he tied to bushes and trees in a rough square around the crime scene. This was what the villagers expected, and they nodded approvingly, having seen such actions on television. The policeman took his time. He was alone in this outpost, and he did not feel that he had the authority to order the villagers to leave. Also, he enjoyed making a show of professionalism. He put on rubber gloves and took out a plastic bag from his kit, along with a pair of tweezers. There was a gum wrapper on the ground that he picked up and examined.

“Has anyone been down here?” he asked in general.

The Indians looked at one another, and the same old man responded, “No.”

The policeman took photographs of the footprints on the edge of the ravine, then walked down to the riverbank to get water for the plaster casts. He knew what the villagers were waiting for, but he also knew that their anticipation was worth savoring. They would not hurry him.

He could tell from the tire tracks that the body had been dumped out of a truck with double tires on the back, and already
that worried him, because the only such trucks he knew of in the area belonged to the Panama Defense Forces. He did not want to find one of their victims. It was also obvious that the body was meant to be found. There were hundreds of square miles of jungle around them, places few humans had ever passed through, but this village was just across the border of Costa Rica, along a road everyone used. It appeared that the body had been driven across the river and dumped in the nearest ravine. Done quickly but carelessly. With arrogance. This also worried him.

Finally the policeman moved through the electric curtain of flies. He looked closely at the weave of the mailbag. There was some printing on the underside that he could just see, so now he touched the bag and felt the sodden heaviness. It took real force to turn the bag to one side, so that the twisted, naked knees of the corpse inside were now pointing upward, and the bare, exposed feet were hanging in the air.
U.S. MAIL
, it said on the bag. The policeman lowered the bag into its original position and sat back on the ferns.

Presently, he stood and began to tug roughly at the bag, but the body was stiff and ungainly and did not come loose willingly. He had to grasp one of the legs to work the knees through the opening. He did not like to touch the dead, and he could sense the villagers withdrawing a bit into their own reluctance. It was not like anything else. The hardness of the limbs felt wrong and alien. The hair on the dead man's legs was repulsive to him, but he could not stop until he had gotten the body out of the bag. His audience was quietly insistent on this.

Now that the bloody legs were out, the policeman pulled again on the corners of the mailbag, and he felt the canvas surrender its cargo. He heard the villagers gasp, and one of the women screamed, but his own thoughts had not yet focused on what he was actually seeing. The wrongness was blinding his senses. And then he understood that the corpse's head was gone.

He did not mean to vomit, it just came out of him, perfectly naturally and spontaneously. He stood gaping in surprise at the
sight and at his own violent reaction. Then he came to himself and began to do the things he knew he was expected to do. He took pictures. It helped to see the corpse through the lens; it was as if he were viewing something in another element, underwater, as it were.

The body was covered with purple contusions and deep wounds that were not meant to kill. The genitals were swollen to the size of mangoes. The policeman did not want to think about what the man had endured before death spared him. He knew that he was going to become very drunk tonight.

When he had taken enough photos of the front, he took a breath, then heaved the body over. Now he saw something else that he didn't want to see:
F-8
was crudely carved into the dead man's back.

The policeman stood. He reached into his evidence bag and took out the gum wrapper, which he dropped back onto the ground. There would be no further investigation.

T
HE LIBRARY
of the papal nunciature was a pleasantly formal room, and although the building lacked the most basic tropical appliances—central air-conditioning and a dehumidifier—the library itself remained remarkably cool and free of mildew, a sanctuary from the steam-bath climate and the unnerving, noisy vitality of Panama City. The library floors were made of Italian marble, and the walls of thick limestone bricks in the classic colonial style. Here is where Monseñor Henri-Auguste Morette, the official representative of the Vatican, spent most of his working days. Morette was seventy-one years old, and although he was still hearty and erect, lately he had begun to bend and shrink with age, so that his hatchet nose and great Gallic ears appeared to have been borrowed from a much larger man. His skin—so unsuited to the tropics—was starkly pale and marbled with blue veins, and his thin, white hair lay close to his skull. All this pallor was in shocking contrast to his shining dark eyes and his riotous,
exclamatory black eyebrows, which gave him a look of predatory ferocity.

Many vanquished opponents had underestimated Morette's cunning and resourcefulness. His native talent for intrigue had been sharpened to a fine edge by twelve years of Vatican politics. Within this intimate arena, Archbishop Morette had been a figure of speculation and controversy. His excoriating intelligence and snapping wit set him apart from the bureaucratic herd, and his linguistic skills—he was fluent in five languages—made him indispensable within the Vatican Secretariat of State. Even his most jealous colleagues had marked him as a future member of the College of Cardinals, while conspiring to limit his influence.

In the end, however, it was Morette who brought himself down, through a turn of events that would otherwise have seemed like a great advance. He gained an appointment to the powerful—and much feared—Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which at that time was conducting a purge of free-thinking theologians, particularly Latin American liberationists. It was a job he attacked with characteristic vigor. At his hand, many of the finest priests in the church were expelled or humiliated into submission. Morette personally took no position on the great doctrinal battle in which he played one of the leading roles. It was not his task to debate theology, only to implement policy. Gradually, however, he began to notice the change in the expressions of his colleagues when he entered a room or sat at the table with them for dinner. They were afraid of him. Some hated him. He could see them struggling to be civil.

There was a penalty to be paid for serving his office so efficiently. Morette recognized the forces that were being arrayed against him, and recognized that his own position was becoming increasingly hopeless. He would be sacrificed. Like a marauding knight on a chessboard, he had accomplished his mission. Now he would be taken. In the larger game it was a tactical necessity.

The attack came in the form of a whispering campaign. His faith was called into question. This did not surprise him. He had
never been pious. He quickly made a confession of his loss of faith and was sent to a kind of spiritual rehabilitation center on the southern coast of Sicily. When he returned to Rome six months later, his standing was so reduced that he was transferred back to the Secretariat of State, which banished him from the center of power to this remote, rather disgraceful posting.

Much like a prisoner facing a lengthy sentence, the Nuncio had arrived in Panama with a crate of books and crossword puzzles in various languages, which he hoped would occupy his years of exile. Included in the crate were thirty-seven volumes of Aquinas. He had told himself that Aquinas was going to be his great pursuit; he had remembered the
Summa Theologica
as his passion in seminary; but after forcing himself through four hundred pages of commentaries, he put the books back on the shelves. In a subversive frame of mind, he then thought of writing his long-postponed, definitive treatise on the history of appearances by the Virgin, but he discovered that he somehow had lost interest in the Marian cult as well. The artifacts of belief seemed only curiosities now; there was nothing vital there to grip his interest. For long stretches of time, the Nuncio confined himself to his study, watching Mexican soap operas and playing bridge by correspondence.

By nature, however, the Nuncio was not a hermit. He was a man of the world. He enjoyed good wine and lively talk. To his surprise and immense pleasure he soon awakened to the fact that both were readily available in this amusing little country to which he had been pocketed. Panamanians rarely took themselves seriously—a delightful quality. They were dedicated to pleasure and business and the multilayered intimacy of society. The entire country was Rome all over again, the Nuncio thought, soft and shallow but also beautiful and dear.

BOOK: God's Favorite
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