It was Saturday night, in the holiday month of August, and the traffic grew steadily heavier as we approached the coast. Ivan therefore judged it relatively safe to use certain stretches of main roads every now and then, even though it made us both feel horribly exposed. About an hour into the journey we entered the outskirts of a small town, keeping a wary eye on all the approaching headlights, and stopped at an automated gas station to fill the scooter up. Thankful for the emergency funds Angelo had left me, I gave Ivan two bills for the machine and stood by, stretching my legs, as he proceeded with the smelly job. Once he was finished, he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket and checked the display.
“Eleven missed calls,” he grumbled, looking worried. “My parents. I have to call them back.”
He pressed a couple of keys, and the call was answered even before he had time to lift the phone to his ear.
“I´m fine, just fine,” he said, with the appropriate amount of teenage irritation. “I´m over at Enzo´s, in
A truck carrying two huge concrete elements rumbled into the parking lot, contradicting Ivan´s claims about the imaginary Enzo, and he had to wait for a moment before the call could be continued. Once the driver had turned off the engine Ivan resumed the conversation, listening for a while, and then interrupted, innocently, “Oh, that was why the police stopped me?” However, hearing the answer his expression clouded, he squinted, and then a frown appeared. “No, of course not. What, you let those dogs into the house?”
His focus shifted to me from the call, even as he listened to the anxious warbling voice from the other end. The next question was for my benefit. “What did you say? The dogs ran straight into my room? Why would they do that?”
The pitch of his mother´s voice rose. “That´s what we want to know, too.” More incomprehensible talk followed.
“No. No,” Ivan answered. “If they say that, they´re crazy. No, I´m not coming home, I´m in
Someone else came on the phone, with a deeper voice. His father. I thought I heard something like “The dogs were howling around the bed, for Chrissakes-“
Ivan listened for a while, and then interrupted, “If they want to look for me, let them. I don´t care.” Now he was starting to look anxious himself, defying his own father, not an easy task for an Italian. “Listen, I have to go now-“
“He´s with you isn´t he?” This time I could hear his father´s voice quite clearly. “Is he holding you hostage?”
“Don´t be stupid,” Ivan snapped, but his face had turned pale. “I´m just fine. I have to go now. I´ll be home tomorrow morning.”
He ended the call before his father could answer, and started to push the phone back into his pocket, his hand shaking.
“Ivan, the phone leaves a trace,” I said. “When the police checks it they know where we are.”
He nodded, and was starting to turn it off when he saw the truck he hadn´t paid much attention to before.
“It has Roman licence plates,” he said contemplatively, thought about it for a second, and then pitched the phone into a hollow in one of the concrete elements. “At the rate my parents keep calling the battery will go dead pretty soon, but there should be a nice southward trace by then.”
I stared at him, impressed. “You just threw away your music collection.”
He shrugged. “I´ll download it again.”
“Ivan.” I started, gnawed my lip, knowing how stubborn the kid was. “Maybe you really should go back. If your parents think that you´ve been kidnapped they´ll go crazy with worry.”
“That´s what they´ll say,” Ivan answered with a sneer. “For the neighbors´ sake. And stop telling me what to do, thank you.”
“So what are we doing?”
“First I thought I´d take you to our boat for the night but it doesn´t seem like a good idea now,” he said unhappily, but then immediately added. “I have a plan B, though.”
“Which is?” I didn´t want to sound sceptical, but I was beginning to think we were on a dead end street and driving too fast.
“Have you ever seen anyone alone on a boat in
I thought about it for a second, and shook my head. The images that came to my mind all pertained to white boats crammed to capacity by young men wearing speedos and usually making a lot of noise.
“I´ll call a friend,” he said, pulling on his helmet.
The apparent lack of details about his plan worried me as we took to the road again. Also, I had to get in touch with Angelo as soon as possible, supposing he hadn´t already been locked up.
The trip had taken longer than expected, and morning was drawing closer. The traffic, however, only seemed to be getting heavier and I suspected that not all the drivers had abstained from drinking. Luckily they kept the police busy enough, and the one patrol car that passed by never saw us thanks to two cars Ivan strategically wedged us in between. The sun was already lighting up the edges of the highest clouds to the east when we entered a small, pictoresque coastal town and found a functioning phone booth, a minor miracle. This time, as I waited, I didn´t take my helmet off to keep my blond hair hidden. The call itself didn´t take long but I noticed that the machine gave no coins back.
“I got Roberto on his cell phone,” he started. “He´s in Marocco with his family.”
“Damn,” I cursed. “Listen-“
“Wait,” he interrupted. “His grandmother is at home. Robbie will call her, and she´ll give us the key to the marina where their boat is moored. We can stay there for a day or two.”
“What did you tell him? Won´t he call the police as soon as the news comes out?”
“I didn´t have to tell him anything, he´s in Marocco,” Ivan reminded me. “I only implied that I needed a place where I could take a girl behind Marinella´s back.”
“The ever valid Italian excuse,” I muttered, shaking my head disapprovingly as if I could afford it. “What about the granny? She won´t even open the door if you don´t show respect and take the helmet off.”
“Right… well, I´ll tell her it´s my brother´s, and so small that it nearly rips my ears off when I put it on or take it off.”
“I don´t know about your brother but the rest of the story is no lie,” I laughed, earning a hard cuff on the side of my helmet.
Roberto´s house was only a two minutes´ drive away, an old-fashioned villa surrounded by a small but lush garden, and while I waited outside Ivan went in to charm the old lady. Soon he returned, with a wide grin and a happily jangling set of keys.
“She´s a bit addle-brained, I think,” he said with good-humored Italian straight-forwardness. “Not only did she give me the marina key, but the one to the boat as well. We can go and have a ride if there´s enough gas in the tank.”
“Won´t the marina janitor, or whatever his title is, call the police when a boat disappears?”
“First he´ll call the granny, and she´ll say that everything´s all right,” Ivan answered.
“Are you sure?”
“If we stay holed in the boat it´ll look more suspicious than taking it out,” Ivan reasoned. “And we´ll get a sunstroke hiding in the cabin all day.”
Still, the idea of going pleasure-boating while half the police force of the country was chasing us seemed a bit outlandish. On the other hand, frolicking in the sea would hardly be what was expected of us, and to spend the afternoon slowly rogering Ivan in the cabin, with all the rope one was sure to have available on a boat, and no one within earshot, was not an invitation easily turned down. Besides, if the shore patrol caught us in the act, with Ivan helplessly tied up, no further proof of his innocence would be necessary.
We found an open bar and bought a cache of food, and got some change for me to call Angelo. Back at the phone booth I put a call through to the emergency number Angelo had given me. Thankfully, the cell phone number was working, but it rang several times before Jan answered sounding sleepy and alarmed at the same time.
“Jan, this is a friend of Angelo´s,” I started, but he interrupted me right away.
“He told me that… eh, someone, might call and leave a message.” His voice was suddenly quite friendly, and I remembered our first and only meeting in the villa by the lake and on what a different footing we´d been then.
“Great… listen, would you tell him to meet me tomorrow, that´s Monday, in the pine woods near the bars at ? The bars - he´ll know what I´m talking about.”
“All right,” Jan answered, sounding a little puzzled.
“If either one can´t be there on Monday, I´ll be there on Tuesday at the same time,” I added quickly.
“I´ll tell him,” Jan promised. “I hope to see you soon. Take care.”
We began the last leg of the ride, leaving the town behind, and soon I noticed that there were unmistakable glimpses of rippling blue water in between copses of trees to the right side of the road.
“What´s that?” I shouted over the wind, pointing at the water. “Not the sea already?”
I was somewhat stunned by the answer, and nearly dropped the heavy shopping bag I was holding between us. The River Arno, whose almost holy waters, albeit rather polluted ones, had run under the Ponte Vecchio in Florence probably only yesterday, and here we were obliviously riding a scooter right next to it as if it were little more than just another ditch. Traveling in
Then Ivan slowed down, his head scanning the riverside trees and bushes, apparently looking for a hiding place for the scooter. Suddenly a salty sea breeze penetrated into my helmet, and delivered the wave of exhilaration that the first smell of sea always brings. Ahead of us, above another copse of luscious trees, I could now see the edge of a forest of gently swaying white masts. Ivan found a place he judged safe enough, and after drudging the scooter into a thicket across a narrow field, hoping that the two cars that passed by in the meanwhile didn´t find our actions alarmingly odd, we headed for the marina. The gate was still locked this early in the morning, and after seeing we had the key the only person about, an expensively groomed tall man tinkering with the ropes of his sailboat, didn´t ask us any questions despite quizzically following us with his eyes. Under his watchful gaze Ivan lead us to the motorboat, and jumped on board.
The boat had looked deceptively small from the outside, as I discovered that the cabin nevertheless had room for two beds and a tiny kitchen, and a cleverly hidden toilet. Despite the size the only correct word for the vehicle was yacht, with its white streamlined shape, enough room on the front deck for sunbathing, and the back designed for an easy descent into water for a swim. The chromed railings were spotless, and the whole thing gleamed with almost blinding brightness in the early morning sun. We ducked into the cabin and pulled off our helmets with a sigh of relief, but there was not enough time to start fussing with the groceries.
“How are we going to get out of here with that snoop out there?” I asked.
“We´ll improvise,” Ivan answered, familiar with the boat.
He rummaged through a series of minuscule cupboards and came up with a dusty baseball cap, a whitish rag that had clearly been used for cleaning the kitchen and perhaps something nastier as well, and a pair of sunglasses so old that the lenses were scratched useless. In the process he also found a black-and-white portable TV set, with a five-inch screen.
“You go sunbathing on the front deck-“ he started.
“What are you saying?” I interrupted, uncomprehending and shocked by the mere idea of exposing myself publicly after the weeks spent inside the farmhouse.
“Boat thieves don´t sunbathe at work,” Ivan explained. “We cover your hair with the rag, and these sunglasses are so large that I bet they belong to Roberto´s mother. If no one can see her wrinkles with these, they won´t recognize you either.”
“All right, you´re the expert on boat behavior,” I agreed warily as he tried on the baseball cap, pulling it down to cover his face.
Once my disguise was ready, including bare chest, Ivan switched on the motor, ran a quick checklist including the amount of gas we had, and told me to step outside and give him instructions lest we hit the jetty and attract our relentlessly curious neighbor. Careful to keep my back towards him, I managed to guide us away from the quayside, and as we inched our way towards the center of