On Tuesday we gave you an excerpt from 'Red Dust and Dancing Horses' by Beth Cato. Today, you can read an excerpt from 'Rafael' by Evey Brett herself:
“Si sente bene, Padre?”
It wasn’t the driver who’d spoken, but a policeman mounted on a handsome bay mare. Concern radiated from him, which didn’t help my poor head, but after so many years in the priesthood, I’d learned how to wear a serene expression no matter the circumstances. “Sto bene, grazie.” That was the extent of pure Italian I could speak, though since my native tongue was Catalan and I had studied Latin since I could read, I understood a good deal of the city’s babble.
The horse nudged my shoulder with her nose and let out a soft snort, as if she knew I was lying. I stroked her soft muzzle, calmed by her gentle presence. The throbbing in my head eased just enough to be bearable.
“Buon giorno,” the policeman said and directed his horse through the crowd. By then the driver had fetched my bag, which he handed off to a waiting porter. After a few deep breaths, I was able to steady myself and take stock of my new surroundings. The hotel’s façade seemed to glorify the city’s history, with stone lions flanking the columns and a gigantic fountain showing a mural of Bacchus in the midst of a wine-fueled orgy. I thought it a work of art, but Generalissimo Franco would have deemed the scene morally reprehensible and had it destroyed.
But this wasn’t Spain, and for a little while, at least, I didn’t have to worry about internment or being killed if I did or said the wrong thing. My greatest worry now was being able to cope with the crowds while not revealing my affliction.
I followed the porter into a lobby buzzing with guests, mustachioed men and women in lurid dresses and tall bouffant hairstyles. It took all of my effort to keep from being overwhelmed by the intensity of their thoughts and emotions, which transformed my headache into a sensation akin to ice picks driving through my skull.
Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes, wishing I’d been able to find an excuse to keep from attending a conference on alternative healing, but my superior had insisted. “You spend so much time alone, Rafael. Besides, with your dedication to your patients, there’s no one better to represent us.”
The irony was that I was interested in all aspects of healing, though much of it was because I was desperate to ease the pain of others and thus spare myself. So when the Salesian Pontifical University had offered to sponsor a Spanish candidate, I’d been sent. And while it was a relief to be free of Spain’s dictatorship, however briefly, I couldn’t risk letting my guard down.
The porter led me to the registration desk. A few minutes later I had a key and a room which, the attendant assured me, had an excellent view of Olympic stadium built three years before in 1960. She gestured down the hall. “The conference is to your left and through the double doors. You can’t miss it.”
The porter held up my bag. “I’ll put this in your room and see that everything’s perfect.”
“Thank you.” I handed him a tip and caught a flash of pleasure as he grinned and departed.
The foyer was crowded with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and practitioners of every sort of healing including energetic, herbal and spiritual. I checked in at the welcome desk, picked up my name tag which dangled from a lanyard, then wandered around to get my bearings, exchanging nods with a few Vatican priests. Cigarette smoke drifted through the air, increasing my malaise.
I was about to head toward the elevators when my skin tingled. Something uncomfortable, something akin to electricity. The sensation traveled through my body, lodging there and filling me with sickening unease. I lost what little control I had. Emotions tumbled into my mind, nauseating with their intensity. I struggled against my rising terror. There was evil in this place. Someone—something—was filled with an insatiable hunger all too similar to that which I’d gleaned from many of the soldiers and politicians in Spain.
Frightened, I looked around. No one else seemed to have noticed anything amiss. Priests, doctors, laymen—there were so many people present that I couldn’t tell from where the vileness emanated. My first impulsive thought was that someone had followed me from Barcelona, intent on exposing me. Then I caught hold of myself. There was no reason for them to tail me. I’d been careful to keep my secret.