When I returned downstairs, wearing bermudas and acting as if my badly misplaced welcome erection had never taken place, Luca was dragging heavy plastic bags from the car into the kitchen while carefully avoiding eye contact.
“Is Angelo all right?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
“Is he in
“Yes.” Luca slammed another two bags on the kitchen table. “He´s driving around in his jeep, followed by the police.”
“Damn,” I muttered. “This is getting out of hand.”
“You said it.”
To keep myself from flinging a Barilla tomato and basil jar at him, I started putting the groceries away and offered, sincerely, “I´m really sorry that you´ve gotten involved with all this.”
He didn´t answer, but I thought I saw a sneer at the edge of my vision. Admittedly, he had plenty of good reasons to be angry with me, but the bitching was starting to get on my nerves. I delicately set the last Barilla jar into the cupboard. When I turned back, he was staring at me with a curious expression.
“Would you show me around? I´d like to see the house.”
“Sure,” I said.
I took him upstairs and showed him the bathroom, pointing at a few curious features of the architecture, then lead him to the bedrooms. He gave a fleeting glance into the provisional, unfinished one, and stepped into mine, looking around, his eyes moving from the computer to the books, and to the open cupboard where I kept my clothes. He observed the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling with refined distaste before turning to me.
“He fucks both Jan and you, doesn´t he?”
I looked surprised – I was – but for a brief moment he had read the answer in my eyes, and we both acknowledged the passing of information.
“You bastard. I bet you have threesomes here together.” His hands were gathering into fists.
We stood still, staring at each other across the room.
Denying the truth had been the best approach, I decided. I had done Luca a favor, making it easier for him to believe Angelo when later tonight big fists would be convincing him about Angelo never having cheated on his boyfriends. Possibly they´d even avoid a trip to the emergency room. Besides, I was sure that the only reason Luca had asked the question was to stir up another fight with Angelo; maybe their sex life had been boring lately.
I had to hand it to Luca: he was playing the part quite well, standing under the bare light bulb like a picture of triumphant, righteous indignation in expensive trousers and a retro t-shirt, and with the perfect haircut. He was very good-looking, safely beyond any caprices of personal tastes, with a sheen that more frequently comes with money than with education and eyes like two magnificent pieces of glass surrounded by a world not up to their standards. The moment of triumph was quickly passing, though. The postponed recognition that he´d have to deal with the results of his ruse was inescapably catching up with him, and there was an intimation of deeper feeling in his eyes, perhaps betrayed by their inability to fully express their owner.
“How you must have laughed at me,” he said, his full curved lips turning white.
It wasn´t true but I could only shrug, as if saying he was imagining things, but it turned out to be an unwise gesture from my part. He wasn´t going to lower himself to actually hit me, so he looked around the room, wild-eyed, and grabbed the first thing at his reach, the notebook computer lying on top of the bed. With a snarl he hurled the offending present from Angelo out of the window, but the power cord snagged and spoiled the trajectory, rather detracting from the gesture. The edge of the computer smashed a window pane before disappearing into the night and landing on something outside with an ominous, loud metallic clang.
There was a brief flicker of horror on his face as he took a step toward the window to assess the damage to his BMW, all other considerations forgotten. Then he stopped and turned back to me. His mouth opened, but not a word came out, and he marched past me and down the stairs, slamming the front door behind him. A moment later a crashing sound echoed from the front yard as he finished off the poor computer, before climbing in his car and speeding away.
I stood at the window with a sinking feeling, watching the receding flashes of brakelights as he assaulted the winding country road, and tried to figure out what would happen next. None of the possibilities looked good, and I wondered if Angelo´s fists would be able to resolve the situation this time, after the mortifying scene that had just played out. I glanced around, taking stock of what to take with me if I had to leave in a hurry. The only bag I had was an old rucksack Angelo hadn´t bothered to take back to
It was Ivan, the little spy, undoubtedly having taken advantage of his telescope once again, and I wondered if it was time to present him with a pair of infrared night goggles. When I opened the door he was standing in the shadow of the house, studying the remains of the computer.
He glanced up at me and asked, puzzled, as he slipped in, “Was that Angelo?”
“No. That was his boyfriend.”
“The spoiled bitch?”
The kid had extracted more pillow talk information than was good for him. “I never used those words.”
“Well, I got the picture. Besides, I didn´t think it was you who threw the computer out. What happened?”
I told him everything, including the sex between me and Angelo, hoping that the knowledge would send him back to Marinella and out of the harm´s way. For a while it seemed like the plan might work, with him standing in the kitchen with his back to the sink, hands clasping at the edge of the counter and his face as pale as his knuckles. He thought it over, and when he spoke his voice was thick.
“That´s sort of like me and Marinella, isn´t it,” he said.
“Well, not really,” I answered, not at all pleased with his reasoning but unable to find a more convincing retort. “Listen, I think I should go for a long walk, just in case Luca does something stupid.”
“I´ll bring the telescope out and we set it somewhere we can see the house,” he said instantly.
“I don´t think that´s necessary,” I curbed his enthusiasm. “But I think I´ll bring some clothes, just in case.” And a bottle of lube, most definitely.
We threw some clothes and a loaf of bread into the backpack, then added a couple of tomatoes, a package of smoked ham and a bottle of spring water to fill the bag to capacity. All the while I kept an eye on Ivan, calculating the chances he´d obey me if I told him to go and leave me on my own, but the look on his face spoke clearly. I should have known better than to hook up with a teenager full of determination and enthusiasm for what he regarded as his first serious affair. With another man, at least.
Leaving the lights on, we slipped out of the door and into the shadows. Lightnings still occasionally lit up distant clouds towering over the higher mountains of the inland, and helped us dodge the ditches and occasional potholes while we walked across the fields towards the garden of his house where, Ivan claimed, he knew a perfect spot for us to keep an eye on the valley even without his precious telescope. It was near the top of the hill, within a copse of trees, and from a safe distance from the main building. As soon as we arrived, he was off to the house, and after a few minutes he returned with a blanket and a carton of ice cream, and two spoons. We settled down comfortably, soon feeding each other and giggling quietly in the dark when the ice cream ended up where it wasn’t supposed to.
I was licking away a dab of strawberry from his neck when I suddenly felt his body tense up.
Sitting up, I looked around, alarmed, and caught a glimpse of blue light in the direction of the town. Then it was gone.
“A police car,” Ivan said, almost inaudibly, his ice cream forgotten. “Probably a coincidence.”
Neither of us resumed eating, and as we sat still, in silence, I felt his hand creep into mine. The nervous, playful atmosphere had been shattered and, perhaps for the first time, he realized that the trouble coming my way was real and in the long run, inevitable. He pulled himself closer, shivering a little, and rubbed his head on my shoulder. His body was warm in the cool night air. Another car passed through the town, and then another. Neither one was flashing blue lights.
“A rush hour,” I whispered, and when the lights of the fourth one lit up the distant main street I added, “This could be it, kid.”
“I´ll hide you in the cellar,” Ivan murmured. “No one ever goes there. You´ll be safe until tomorrow night.”
I shook my head. “If they´re really coming after me, you go back to your room and stay there.”
“Can you hear that?” Ivan asked softly.
There was a low hum in the night, from the direction of the valley. Then three dark cars emerged from the night and crept into the faint circle of light cast from the windows of Carlo´s house, and as we slowly stood up and withdrew deeper into the copse several policemen got out of the first two cars, some of them quickly disappearing behind the house. Suddenly, the headlights of several more cars approaching along the road were turned on, along with their flickering blue lights, and from the back of one of the cars already outside Carlo´s house a man let out two German shepherds.
“They´ve got sniffer dogs,” Ivan gasped.
For a second, we both stared at the scene, frozen. Then I managed to gather some of my wits.
“Go,” I ordered, turning around, but he grabbed me by the arms.
“The dogs will find you in five minutes,” he said. “Your only chance is to let me help you. You know the road behind this hill?” He didn´t wait for an answer. “Run down there. I´ll catch up with you on my scooter, the police won´t stop me when I drive by alone, and I´ll take you far enough to be safe from the dogs. There are a bunch of small roads in this area from farm to farm, they can´t block all of them.”
What he was saying made sense, but I still hesitated. This was the moment to make my decision. I could do the right thing, send the kid home and be caught; or I could continue my scramble for freedom, in ever more squalid terms, dragging Angelo and Ivan and whoever else helped me down. I was about to turn and walk back to Carlo´s house when a thought occurred to me: I hadn´t done it. I was not the murderer. A hustler, yes, and a runaway and a troublemaker, and probably not the most marvellous human being around, but not a murderer. It wasn´t my fault that the Italian police were either negligent or incompetent; if they weren´t doing their job, it was fully in other people´s rights to help me, and in mine to be helped. Even in the worst case scenario, I could hardly imagine Ivan being punished with more than a harsh reprimand if his involvement came to light. One look at him, and all the judges could do was to forgive him his youthful trustfulness. No such clemency would be extended to Angelo, however, and to keep running was to keep him from harm.
I nodded and gave Ivan a quick hug, caressing one of his cute protruding ears, and started the rush down the uneven, dark hillside. After a while there was the sound of his scooter starting, and I thought I heard a dog bark. Then one of my feet hit a shallow pothole, reaching the ground only a fraction of a second later than it should have, but the delay was enough to send an adrenaline shock through my body and I almost fell, more due to the shock than actual loss of balance. I slowed down, and headed towards the pale winding line of the dirt road barely visible in the night. The sound of Ivan´s scooter became audible once again, and soon the single headlight pierced the darkness as he appeared behind one of the hills. One look at his direction made me lose my night vision and I had to slow down again, and I realized that he´d drive by before I could reach the road. Maddeningly, I was only twenty feet from the road as he roared past, too deafened by the motor to hear my calls, and there was nothing else to be done but run after him, feeling desperate and stupid. He soon turned back, however, and his lights picked me up. I thought it wise to jump off the road and away from the beam of light as soon as I was sure he´d seen me. A few moments later I was behind him on the scooter, frantically pulling on a helmet he had handed out from the back casket, and grabbing him by the waist with one arm as he speeded up the scooter like a madman. The rutted old road was in horrible condition and we kept jouncing in all directions as he steered this way and that to avoid the worst of the potholes, and somehow he managed to keep us away from the ditches.
“Where are we going?” I yelled over the motor and the wind.
“Torre di Pisa.”