Perhaps two hundred feet of dunes and dried out grass separated the sea from the road and the bars, and a tall hedge running along the road provided further protection from curious eyes. We stood in the shadows for a while, waiting for the humid night breeze from the sea to at least partially dry us, and started then awkwardly to pull on our clothes. A couple, holding hands, walked by but paid no attention to two people in partial state of undress, no doubt their minds occupied by similar plans. The wind picked up a few words of their murmur, and I tensed up alarmed when I thought I heard them mention Ivan´s name although they couldn´t possibly have recognized us in the dark. I must have heard wrong, and even if I hadn´t, it wasn´t such an unusual name in
Completely lost, never having been to Torre del Lago, Ivan grabbed my hand as we stumbled across the dunes towards the dead end of the seafront road where, after the last two gay bars, the cruising area began. I had remembered the place correctly; there was enough light from the stars and the bars to make it possible to see people´s outlines but not their faces. A sandy track snaked its way from the road to a clearing at the edge of the pine forest where it split into a number of paths leading into the darkness, rather like Medea´s hair, and black shapes were slowly drifting about, trying to figure out their peers´ vital numbers by the few visible cues available. The low thump of bass from the nearest bar pervaded the air, like a quick heartbeat. Ivan´s wristwatch, with its brief blue glow, indicated 11:36pm.
“Are they really having sex in there,” he murmured into my ear, incredulous and rather excited.
“Yes they are,” I answered, pulling him close and slipping my tongue into his mouth. His lips were still a bit salty with seawater, and as I licked them clean I felt his body respond. “It´s not yet,” I added suggestively.
For a moment he thought I was being serious, and let out a little gasp with the idea of plunging into the darkness where anything might happen.
Perhaps it was better to reassure him. “We don´t have time, Angelo´s probably here already.”
I explained him that one of the paths from the clearing went straight through the forest to a road where people parked their cars when they came to the beach during daytime, and that was the most likely route we´d take with Angelo. He´d be relatively easy to recognize even as a mere dark outline, with his height and muscles. After a couple of minutes no one matching him walked by, however, and every now and then I had to display the not so subtle signs of disinterest when someone veered close by to see if either one of us was worth a try. Ivan was too curious and excited to send out the proper signals, so I was constantly pegged as the nasty jealous lover. Now that we were doing little else but standing still, the air started feeling cold, and the humidity seeping in from the sea seemed to be condensing everywhere. Each time I shifted my feet, clammy blades of grass tickled my ankles like a myriad of cold steel knives. A couple, deep in conversation, walked towards the clearing from the bars and unwilling to interrupt their gossiping stopped not far from us before entering the woods. This time I was certain I heard them mention my name – there weren´t too many Eriks around in
“No one believes it´s a coincidence,” he said dismissively to his more average-shaped friend. “Of course the kid arranged for the house, they must have known each other already in
“I don´t know,” the other hesitated. “I mean, an underage dumb kid like that…”
I could feel Ivan stiffen with indignation next to me.
“He´s seventeen, that´s old enough,” the box boy replied. “If my neighbors had had a kid like that I´d have ended up in jail, too. Have you seen the photos?”
“I sure have.”
“And guess what I heard just this week? A friend of mine has a friend who has a gay friend at the police, and they have a big problem with fingerprints.”
“What kind of problem?” the other one said, almost matching my own interest, despite the weak hearsay connection.
“OK, this a secret, they don´t want anyone to know because it would mess up the investigation,” the nodding box said lowering his voice, as if he hadn´t already told the story innumerable times during the evening, and I lost the beginning before I managed to move a little closer.
“…the prints on the gate and the front door. I mean, how is that possible? It was Gabriele´s house, he was at home, but there was not a single fingerprint of his on the door handles!”
I could feel Ivan´s hand grab my arm, almost convulsively.
“That´s weird,” the friend said, impressed.
“There were only Dario´s and Erik´s prints, you know, Dario the guy who found him? And that bumbling police officer´s, the one who entered first.”
It was disconcerting to hear strangers use my name with such familiarity, as if we´d been friends for ages.
The box continued, “So what they think is that someone may have wiped the door handles before Erik went in.” He paused to let the implications sink in, before finishing, “So the two made-up thugs Angelo reported to the police really were there. I guess they didn´t want to alarm Gabriele, walking in already wearing murder gloves.”
“Why aren´t they telling this?”
“They have no other evidence, none, and it won´t stand in court. And it´s Gabriele Zaigler, for heaven´s sake! Why would those two thugs have been there? Think about it for just a second!”
“The mafia money laundering,” his friend said darkly.
“Exactly. Remember what happened with the Giulio Andreotti trial?”
I had no idea who Giulio Andreotti was, but the friend let out a knowing snort, and then added, “Everybody in the bar was talking about the Bonamici divorce.”
“Who´s Bonamici,” I whispered into Ivan´s ear very cautiously, even if the box boy already knew quite well he had an audience, and Ivan responded with two high-end brand names, quite well-known internationally.
The boxer let out a wicked chuckle. “He´s not the only one. There´s Cipriani – that right-wing member of the
“No,” was the flabbergasted answer. “The president of the
“Right. And they´re from the same political party, by the way. But everyone already knew he´s a closet case.”
“His number wasn´t found on Erik´s phone, he´s too smart for that, but the police traced his calls just the same.”
I was sort of taken aback by the news. I had no idea who these men were, couldn´t match the names with faces, but the titles sounded rather impressive anyway. The box mentioned two other men, but when I turned to Ivan he could only shrug in the darkness. Disappointingly, not all my clients were household names.
“So maybe he´s not guilty after all,” the other guy mused.
“Of course he´s not,” the box boy snapped. “But he´ll get convicted anyway. And I´m so bored with the whole story, that´s all everyone´s been talking about the whole night and the whole summer, blah blah blah. And there are so many curious people, too,” he added, with a poignant glance at our direction.
The friends parted ways and proceeded into the woods, to opposite directions, to make sure they wouldn´t unwittingly perform fellatio on each other under the dark trees.
“Did you hear that,” Ivan said, excited.
“I did, and he´s right, I´ll get convicted if Angelo doesn´t show up soon.”
It was ten past already, and knowing Angelo he would have been here already had been able to make it.
“How long will the boat be safe where it is?” I asked Ivan.
“I have no idea,” he answered nervously. “But I´d guess until Coast Guard sees it in radar.”
After a while, Ivan whispered, “I need to go for a pee,” and hesitantly disappeared into the nearest thicket.
I was left standing alone and suddenly all the men walking by slowed down as they passed by and, after some scrutiny, stepped closer. I turned my back but didn´t want to move away, to make sure Ivan would find me, and then one of them walked right in front of me and encouraged either by drink or a joint snapped his lighter on at close range. Seeing my face his eyes first widened and he started to smile, but soon the smile turned into a puzzled frown, exactly like Ivan´s when he had seen me for the first time by the pool, and then he gasped, taking a step backwards. My first instict had been to punch him out cold, but not being a habitual fighter I suspected it wouldn´t happen as quickly and elegantly as on TV, and would more likely result in him lying on the ground with a bloody nose, screaming for help, and me nursing a couple of broken bones in my hand, probably screaming almost as loudly as he would. So I smiled.
The effect was remarkable. Horror-struck, the man dropped the lighter and took two tentative steps back, almost stumbling in the sudden darkness, and gasped again.
“It´s he- him,” he cried out thinly. “Erik - Erik Loefgren! He´s here!”
As he turned and fled, a voice called out from the bushes, “And I´ve got Prince Harry´s dick in my mouth!”
Ivan was instantly back, grabbing my arm, pulling me this way and that, unsure where we should go, to the boat or into the woods, and I was just about to turn to the direction where we´d left the boat when a tall figure strode towards us across the clearing.
“It´s me,” Angelo rumbled with his low unmistakable voice. “This way.”
Hanging onto his coattails, figuratively speaking, we rushed into the darkness and towards the road on the other side of the forest. Soon all light from the bars was left behind and the tall pitch-black trees crowded closer to us, leaving only a narrow path of stars above as our guide, and we had to slow down to an agitated octogenarian pace.
“Sorry I was late,” Angelo said, his hand pressing on my shoulder. “There had been an accident on the Autostrada near
“Jan is waiting in the car,” he said, almost stepping off the path in his hurry. “Where have you been since you left the house?”
“Ivan stole a yacht.”
“What?” Angelo shot a glance backwards, despite the darkness, and the tone of his voice changed. “Wait – he´s still here with us?”
“Of course I am,” Ivan answered, but I could tell he´d been taken aback by Angelo´s tone.
“Ivan, you can´t come along,” Angelo said, stopping to glare back at me. “I thought that was clear.”
“It´s not, and if I go back the police will get their hands on me in half an hour,” Ivan stated firmly, having regained his self-assurance. “The friends of that fool back there will believe him, and sooner or later they´ll call the police, but they won´t have any proof without me.”
Except for the boat, I thought, but said nothing. I knew Ivan wouldn´t back down, and trying to convince him would be a lengthy waste of time with someone like Angelo who wasn´t accustomed having his authority questioned, especially by a teenager. Unwilling to verbally confirm Ivan´s half-truth, I gave Angelo a shove and got him moving.
“Accomplice to kidnapping a minor, then,” he grumbled.
“You can´t be charged with anything if I say I came along willingly,” Ivan said at Angelo´s back.
There was no reply, and undoubtedly another clash would ensue as soon as we reached the car. But when we finally left the forest behind and scampered to the road I got a surprise: instead of a car, Angelo had brought a small camper van.
“Let´s get in before anyone can see us,” he said, with a sharp glance at Ivan as he let us in.
Jan was waiting for us, in the passenger seat, and only gave us a nod with a hint of a serious smile as he recognized me. Angelo walked around the car, got on, and started the ignition.
“Get on the floor where no one can see you,” he ordered, backing the car on the road from under the trees.
There was a tiny kitchen area, complete with a table surrounded by wide couch-like seats on three sides, a door that probably lead into a claustrophobically small toilet, hopefully with a shower, and a living-room area with barely enough room for another couch. Up, above Angelo and Jan, was a ledge fitted with a queen-size bed. With some prodding I discovered that the mattress of the couch next to us could be pulled out, and I set it on the floor. Ivan flopped down next to me and we lay back in silence, watching the street lights flicker by, casting odd moving shadows inside the van.
“Where did you get this thing?” I asked after a few minutes when I thought I saw Angelo´s shoulders relax a little.
“An old college friend of mine from
“Has there been any – trouble? With the police I mean,” I added quickly, not wanting to discuss Luca yet.
“I was questioned for half an hour in Questura on Sunday,” Angelo answered over his shoulder. “In the middle of the afternoon, so I couldn´t go to the beach.”
“Right, the worst thing imaginable,” I said. “Why only half an hour?”
“The whole thing was organized just for appearance´s sake. With the alibi Luca gave me I´m pretty much untouchable.”
“I see.” Again, I wondered about Luca´s family connections, and since it had been Angelo to bring up his name I asked, “And where´s he now?”
Angelo shrugged. “The twerp flew to
“That´s so cruel of you.”
Ivan glanced at me, at loss. Jan was staring ahead, sphinx-like, as if he hadn´t been listening at all.
“What about Carlo?” I asked. “What happens when they find out you know him?”
“I called and warned him. He´ll forget to mention my name.”
“I heard that many people believe I organized the safe house,” Ivan intervened, his campaign to win Angelo over getting in first gear. “That´ll make things easier until Erik´s been cleared, won´t it?”
Briefly lit by a passing streetlight, Jan glanced back at Ivan with an inscrutable expression that could have been anything from suspicion to lust. I was startled with the idea, but then, it would only be natural if Jan and Ivan hit it off. Despite the more pressing matters at hand, the thought lead me to speculate about the sleeping arrangements.
“I´ve heard that one, too,” Angelo conceded. “It does help, for the time being. In the end the truth will come out, though.”
“The later, the better,” Ivan said, relieved by the fact that he´d been deigned with an answer.
I´d forgotten how intimidating Angelo could be, and wondered if Jan´s silence had something to do with it.
“So, where are we going?” I asked.
“Jan´s friends will pick you up there on Ferragosto, from a beach,” Angelo said, glancing at his side.
Jan gave him a silent nod, but then found it necessary to add, “Some people my friends know.”
“And take me where?”
“I´ve heard about that country, but I´m not quite sure where it is,” I quipped.
“We aren´t either. Not yet,” was Angelo´s reply.
Great, I thought, but said nothing to avoid offending Jan who was, after all, putting his neck on the line.
It was an odd way to travel, lying on a soft mattress on the floor of a house, sort of. Then the procession of street lights vanished as Angelo took us to some small country road, and Ivan snuggled up closer to me. His presence remained a brief comfort, however, as it crossed my mind that these were the only friends I had in this world, and Ferragosto and the Gallipoli beach were now less than a week away. I had every reason to believe that Jan´s contacts, not friends as he had pointed out himself, were the same people who forced their human cargo into the black nighttime sea at gunpoint whenever Guardia Costiera intervened; men, women and children alike, with no concern whether they could swim or not. I resolved to carry some kind of a weapon on board, given the fact that my simple disappearence would remove any risk the traffickers might face. The headlights of a car going the opposite direction briefly glared into the interior of the van, and I realized Jan´s head was no longer in sight, lowered somewhere below the back of the wide single front seat, and there was a hint of a lazy smile I recognized on Angelo´s lips.