He followed the Cardinal through the grand hallway and out on a balcony, where a servant had already set up a light lunch for them. On the table was an antipasta platter with fresh seafood and in season vegetables, accompanied by a crystal decanter of white wine. The Cardinal took his seat at the table and started browsing the platter for what he wanted, while Absalom strolled towards the railing of the balcony and enjoyed the view: the Eternal City stretching out in all its glory in the far off background, rolling hills and small villages surrounded by farmer’s fields nearer by and the meticulously tended garden - set up in a style reminding him of the Boboli Gardens in Florence, or even the Parc de Versailles – in the foreground. Truly a magnificent view, most befitting a renaissance Nobleman. Which it probably had was, a few hundred years ago.
He joined the cardinal at the table, helped himself of the food and poured a glass of wine. The tableware seemed to be Venetian Murano; as always the Cardinal outdid himself with luxury. “He wouldn’t have survived two weeks in a Franciscan monastery,” he thought, with a smirk. He sampled the wine, finding it to be a bit sweet to his liking; yet again very suitable for the Cardinal with his sweet tooth. Having tasted the food and the wine, he lifted his eyes to the Cardinal, nodding for him to begin with the matter at hand.
The old man finished his bite, wiped the corner of his mouth with the ornamented linen napkin and begun talking. “It’s moments like these; a marvelous meal on a beautiful spring day, that make it all worth it. I’m always sending people out into the unknown facing God know what; with never enough information on what is going on and who might be responsible.” He twirled the wine in the glass, thoroughly enjoying sip, before going on. “As you saw in the video, we have a new zombie outbreak. That much is clear.”
“That much is clear,” Absalom repeated the words and took another bite from his plate.
“The video was filmed by one of ours. We had heard rumor about strange things going on and stationed him as a Deacon in a congregation in southern Sweden. While he is a capable fact-finder, what comes next is way above what he can handle.”
“So why not send in the Archangels to scorch them?” Absalom said, in between bites.
“This is not a matter to be handled by their rather heavy hands. It needs to be looked into further so we may find out if there is a new Gate about to open, or if this is simply a matter of an estranged someone who has managed to dibble in the dark secrets of the Necronomicon. That’s what we need you to find out. Also, if possible, please rid us of the Zombies before their presence is noticed by the Lambs.”
“Speaking of the Lambs, how come the local press hasn’t picked up on this yet? How much time do I have before the six o’clock news start referring to the Night of the Living Dead?”
“We already have a team of Shepherds on the ground, working on that angle. But as you said yourself, time is on the essence and we need for you to leave for Copenhagen as soon as possible. All the data we have has already been uploaded into your PDA and there’s a plane waiting at Campiano. I’ve also taken the liberty of sending some of my staff to your apartment to pack what you may need; they will meet you at the airport.”
“I guess this means my vacation is over?” Absalom said, while finishing the last of his food.
“I wouldn’t be too worried about that,” the Cardinal replied and then added with a smile on his face. “Hopefully, this will be a quick job, giving you plenty of time to play with your bambina when you return.”
“Speaking of her, please tell your staff to knock before barging in to pack.”
Absalom rose from the table and the two men said their goodbyes; the old man giving the younger man his blessing on his ventures into the unknown. Absalom left the Cardinal on the balcony and made his way back to the front of the palace, out the double doors and found his two escorts waiting by the SUV. They seemed to be in the middle of a discussion about who would win the Serie A in a few weeks time, with one hailing Inter and the other going for Juve. It didn’t make a lick of difference for him, just as long as Lazio would manage a European spot.
He cleared his throat loud enough to get their attention and one of them opened the back seat for him while the other got in up front and started the engine. Retaking his seat, he leaned back and relaxed as the car drove back towards Rome, heading for Campiano and whatever might await him when he got to Scandinavia.