Excerpt: From The Last Cato

      All things of great beauty—from works of art to sacred objects—suffer the unstoppable effects of the passage of time, just as we do. Their life begins the moment their human creator, aware or not of being in harmony with the infinite, puts the finishing touches on them and surrenders them to the world. Over the centuries, life also brings them closer to old age and death. While Time withers and destroys us, it bestows upon them a new type of beauty that human aging could never dream of. Not for anything in the world would I want to see the Coliseum rebuilt, its walls and terraced seats in perfect condition, or coat the Parthenon with a gaudy paint job, or give the Victory of Samothrace a head.

     Deeply absorbed in my work, I gave those thoughts free rein as my fingertips caressed one of the rough corners of the parchment manuscript in front of me. I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I didn’t hear Dr. William Baker, secretary of the archives, knock at my door, nor did I hear him turn the handle or open the door and look in. When I finally noticed him, he seemed as though he had been standing in the doorway to my office for eternity.

     “Dr. Salina,” Baker whispered, not daring to cross the threshold, “Reverend Father Ramondino has entreated me to request that you proceed to his office immediately.”

     I looked up from my manuscript and took off my glasses to get a better look at the secretary. He had the same perplexed look on his oval face as I had. Baker was a small, compact American. His features reflected his family heritage, and he could have easily passed for southern European. He had thick tortoiseshell glasses and thin hair, part blond, part gray, which he meticulously combed to cover as much of his shiny scalp as possible.

     “Forgive me Doctor,” I replied sharply, my eyes wide. “Can you please repeat what you just said?”
“His most Reverend Father Ramondino wants to see you in his office right away.”
“The prefect wants to see me? Me?” I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Guglielmo Ramondino was the executive director of the Vatican’s Classified Archives, second only to his Excellency Monsignor Oliveira. I could count on one hand the number of times he had summoned me or one of my colleagues to his office.

      Baker let a slight smile come to his lips and nodded.
“Do you happen to know why he wants to see me?”
“No, Dr. Salina, but I’m certain it’s very important.”
Still smiling, he closed the door softly and disappeared. By then, I was in the throes of an anxiety attack: sweaty palms, dry mouth, racing heart and trembling legs.