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Excerpt: Murder Almighty (2005)

Mi benedi, Padre—Bless me, Father…” the shadowy figure recited in Italian, “for I have sinned.” The Roman collar of the penitent could be seen through the separating screen by the aged Italian cleric seated in the dimly lit center chamber of the confessional. The ancient church of Santa Anna d’Illuminata in Rome was deserted…except for the third man, kneeling in the near total darkness of the other penitent chamber.

As the elderly confessor listened carefully to the words of the young priest who had come to him tortured with guilt that evening, the man in the third chamber pressed his ear against the thin partition that separated him from the other two.

Bruno Cascio had not come to the church of Santa Anna to have his confession heard. As Cascio listened to the conversation, he heard the words he had expected—Santo Padre, the Holy Father. To be certain of his next move, he repeated in his mind what the penitent priest in the opposite chamber had said—I have killed the Holy Father!

Cascio did not listen to the rest of the confession. He already knew about the sophisticated undetectable poison that had been used, and the way it had been delivered. Cascio was too busy attaching the chunk of plastique explosive to the bottom of the partition before him. With a penlight he adjusted the fuse and quietly departed the confessional.

Quickly looking around to be sure there were no witnesses, Bruno Cascio walked briskly to the front vestibule and through the large wooden doors out into the darkened streets of the rundown neighborhood near Rome’s main railroad station. The only noises at this hour came from the clattering of his leather-soled shoes across the stone pavement.

By the time he had crossed the street and turned the corner, the electronic fuse had nearly expired in the confessional chamber he had vacated.

Cascio could envision the penitent priest lowering his tear-soaked face to accept the absolution of the elderly confessor, while he recited in Italian the words of his Act of Contrition, “O Dio mio…Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee—”

Bruno Cascio saw the flash of light that instantly illuminated the dark side street. A split-second later he heard the thunderous blast.

He did not look back.

Bruno Cascio was already thinking about his next target.
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