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CHAPTER 79

“THE KING HIMSELF,” Commander Garza muttered again, his voice resonating across the palace armory. “I still can’t fathom that my arrest order came from the king himself. After all my years of service.”

Mónica Martín placed a silencing finger to her lips and glanced through the suits of armor at the entryway to make sure the guards were not listening. “I told you, Bishop Valdespino has the king’s ear, and has convinced His Majesty that tonight’s accusations against him are your doing, and that you’re somehow framing him.”

I’ve become the king’s sacrificial lamb, Garza realized, always having suspected that if the king were forced to choose between his Guardia Real commander or Valdespino, he would choose Valdespino; the two men had been lifelong friends, and spiritual connections always trumped professional ones.

Even so, Garza could not help but feel that something about Mónica’s explanation wasn’t entirely logical. “The kidnapping story,” he said. “You’re telling me that it was ordered by the king?”

“Yes, His Majesty called me directly. He ordered me to announce that Ambra Vidal had been abducted. He had concocted the kidnapping story in an effort to save the reputation of the future queen—to soften the appearance that she had literally run off with another man.” Martín gave Garza an annoyed look. “Why are you questioning me about this? Especially now that you know the king phoned Agent Fonseca with the same kidnapping story?”

“I can’t believe the king would ever risk falsely accusing a prominent American of kidnapping,” Garza argued. “He’d have to be—”

“Insane?” she interrupted.

Garza stared in silence.

“Commander,” Martín pressed, “remember that His Majesty is failing. Maybe this was just a case of bad judgment?”

“Or a moment of brilliance,” Garza offered. “Reckless or not, the future queen is now safe and accounted for, in the hands of the Guardia.”

“Exactly.” Martín eyed him carefully. “So what’s bothering you?”

“Valdespino,” Garza said. “I admit I don’t like him, but my gut says he can’t possibly be behind Kirsch’s murder, or any of the rest of it.”

“Why not?” Her tone was acerbic. “Because he’s a priest? I’m pretty sure our Inquisition taught us a few things about the Church’s willingness to justify drastic measures. In my opinion, Valdespino is self-righteous, ruthless, opportunistic, and overly secretive. Am I missing something?”

“You are,” Garza fired back, startled to find himself defending the bishop. “Valdespino is everything you say he is, but he is also a person for whom tradition and dignity are everything. The king—who trusts almost no one—has steadfastly trusted the bishop for decades now. I find it very hard to believe that the king’s confidant could ever commit the kind of treachery we’re talking about.”

Martín sighed and pulled out her cell phone. “Commander, I hate to undermine your faith in the bishop, but I need you to see this. Suresh showed it to me.” She pressed a few buttons and handed Garza her phone.

The screen displayed a long text message.

“This is a screenshot of a text message Bishop Valdespino received tonight,” she whispered. “Read it. I guarantee it will change your mind.”

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