Lorenzo and the Ligurian Sea
From the Savino Sisters Mystery Series. Since Italy To Die For has been discounted to $.99 at Amazon for a limited time, I’m pleased to include this excerpt for your reading pleasure.
To set the scene: Ellen Savino and her sister Margo have been vacationing in Italy. After Margo gets involved with a Florentine mime, the sisters decide to go their separate ways. Ellen sticks to the original travel plan and drives to a Bed and Breakfast located in La Spezia on the Ligurian Sea. Lorenzo Gentili, the villa’s reserved host, is not quite what Ellen expected but she chose to be independent of Margo and now must make the best of an uncomfortable situation.
From Ellen’s first person perspective …
Around ten o’clock I crawled into bed, only then realizing I’d be sleeping on top of a feather bed covering the mattress, a first for me and one I anticipated like a princess ignorant of the proverbial pea awaiting her discomfort. Those next four hours consisted of me punching pillows and flipping them over, tossing off the covers only to snuggle back into them. I finally pinpointed my unrelenting anxiety to the devil in Lorenzo’s Italian-style coffee instead of my oxymoron version, the simpering decaf.
Somewhere in the night cats were engaged in a vast conspiracy, their screeching worse than babies demanding their next meal. I grabbed a pair of shoes—the sandals that squeeze every one of my sensitive toes—and stomped to the window. But before I could launch the first of my feline attacks, a sudden breeze slapped against my face, so strong it closed both eyes. I opened them wide and on looking down, did a double take. There in the moonlit garden was my elusive woman, this time dressed in a flimsy nightgown and kneeling as she enticed the calico and Persian with a bowl of milk. Along the ledge of a gray stone wall more cats had gathered, a row of hungry spectators meowing as they waited their turn at the milk. The woman lifted her head and again waved for me to join her.
I leaned over the window sill. “First, tell me your name,” I called out, my voice cutting through the darkness of night.
She opened her palms and lifted her shoulders, as if to say she did not understand.
“Nome—par favore,” I all but shouted. To which the woman walked away, more like disappeared into the mist. No more games, especially after midnight. I stepped back, retreated to my bed, and burrowed under the covers where my imagination conjured up a newspaper article buried on page three of the La Spezia Giornale:
An insignificant American tourist has died from an overdose of arsenic-laced cream at the villa of the prominent Lorenzo Gentili, coincidentally on the tenth anniversary of his beloved wife’s mysterious disappearance. After completing a thorough investigation, the local carabinieri have confirmed Ellen Savino’s death to be a suicide, for lack of a better explanation. Arrangements for disposing of the remains are incomplete, pending notification of a sister believed to be cavorting in Firenze with an Egyptian mummy in need of a close shave.
Seven hours later and still groggy from a god-awful restless night, I still wasn’t convinced that caffeine-induced hysteria had produced the elusive cat woman. To hell with the late hour and creepy felines, I should’ve gone downstairs a second time and made friends with her. Too late now, the sort of story of a life filled with one too many could’ves, should’ves, would’ves. After a solitary breakfast of more caffeine tempered with hot latte and soft tomino cheese patted onto day-old bread heels, I followed Lorenzo down the path leading to the parking area, a walk which made me aware of his sloping shoulders and broad hipline, a far worse negative than the unfortunate nose cursing an otherwise ordinary face.
I found the calico cat perched on the hood of my rental but didn’t see the Persian. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called out.
Zero response. The creature was either dead or didn’t capice my English. Next time, if ever there’d be another trip to Italy, I vowed to learn a few more key Italian phrases instead of relying on Margo who listened to language tapes on her drive to and from work.
“You like the cats?” Lorenzo asked.
“Not really, just curious.”
He opened the passenger door and I climbed into his Mercedes van. With Lorenzo secured behind the wheel, we circled down the winding road, which afforded me a better view of the houses I’d hardly noticed the day before. None could match the understated pride of Lorenzo’s villa and confirmed I’d made the right choice.
After a few quiet moments I threw out a casual comment, for no other reason than to test his reaction. “About the cats, they were very busy during the night, lapping up milk the mysterious lady in your garden provided.”
He spoke without glancing in my direction. “Sometimes the moon plays tricks on my guests, especially those Americani who resist changes to their routine.”
Did he think this Americana a pushover? “I know what I saw, Lorenzo.”
“What you believe you saw, signorina.”
Lorenzo set his condescending jaw into silent mode, hands gripping the steering wheel as he maneuvered the fifteen hairpin curves I didn’t have time to count when I’d been the one driving. He didn’t speak again until we reached the main road. He repeated the particulars of my boat tour and where we should meet that evening: nine o’clock, Church of San Giovanni Battista in the heart of Monterosso. When he dropped me off at the harbor, his last words were a reminder about the glaring rays of the afternoon sun, which at ten-twenty on this morning were hiding behind a mass of hazy clouds.
I bought my ticket and boarded a crowded vessel scheduled for stops at four of the five coastal villages, weather permitting. The motorboat departed at ten-thirty and moved with ease through the calm bay. After reaching the Ligurian Sea, the boat started bouncing over rough waters, forcing me to spread my feet into a sea legs stance and to wrap my hands around a deck rail lined with the more resilient passengers. I did manage to release one hand long enough to snap a few photos of rolling waves battering the coast before a powerful swell drenched my hair and made me consider going below with those passengers having the common sense I lacked. Don’t be such a wuss, I mumbled to myself and resolved to stay top deck.
Our boat approached Riomaggiore’s harbor with determination and after several failed attempts the captain finally executed a successful docking. Waves rocked the vessel as busy crewmen lashed its gangplank to the mooring, and anxious passengers pressed forward, waiting for permission to disembark. I sidestepped one of two metal eyes securing the deck ropes before shifting my weight to accommodate the boat’s erratic rhythm. As soon as I reached my comfort level, the boat surprised me and all of the passengers with a raise of its bow to accommodate the incoming water. The sturdy woman who’d been swaying in front of me slammed her rear end into my stomach and we both hit the deck. She yelled a string of what could only be described as obscenities in an unfamiliar language, her dead weight crushing me into the protruding metal eye. It inflicted pain on my hip and butt so excruciating I wanted to scream but didn’t have enough oxygen for a single peep. The passengers surrounding us reacted with dumbfounded expressions until one man came forward and extended his hand to Dead Weight. After pulling her up, he did the same for me.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” said the man whose accent told me he was an okay American guy. He helped me to a seat along the bow, all the while talking about my near disaster. “Not a single rail or safety precaution on the entire boat. Back home you’d have good cause for a lawsuit. Too bad those issues don’t apply here.”
I nodded although my immediate concern centered on sucking in some much-needed air before attempting to speak.
Dead Weight took one look at me, pressed her hands against chubby cheeks, and sputtered an apology I couldn’t begin to understand yet managed a second nod to show my acceptance. She held onto her hat with one hand, tugged on her handbag with the other. Somehow during the commotion my handbag had gotten tangled up with hers and after much unwinding she undid the two of them, patted hers protectively, and passed mine to me.
“Scuzi, signorina, you all right?” asked one of the crewmen who handed me a bottle of water.
“I’m not sure,” I choked out, having found my wind. I rubbed my throbbing thigh, and was relieved not to discover a broken femur.
“Perhaps you should get off at a later stop.” The crewman edged away from me, his boat duties more important than any injuries I might’ve suffered.
“Si, grazie,” I said.
The crewman was right. Blinking away tears, I repositioned myself to watch able-bodied passengers step onto the swaying dock, and from there onto the rocky terrain of Riomaggiore where they began climbing the stone walkway leading to this ancient village, a terraced showplace of structures painted pastel shades of red, yellow, ecru, terracotta, and green.
Dammit, I belonged out there with those tourists taking each step with the assurance of owning it. If only Margo had stuck to our original plan, I wouldn’t be suffering such agony now. Who knows, we might’ve taken a later tour, or endured this one shoulder to shoulder, laughing as our brave boat battled the treacherous Ligurian waters.
Memo to self:
1) Bitch-slap Margo as soon as we meet at Malpensa Airport.
2) Arrange for separate seating on our flight home.
3) Tell Mom the gorgeous daughter behaved like a selfish, common slut, thus causing great bodily damage to the daughter stuck with a beautiful mind.
4) Keep silk scarf purchased in Florence for myself instead of giving it to Margo for her birthday.
5) Quit blaming Margo for everything that goes wrong in my life. Sorry, Sis.
6) Pray for less envy and more self-discipline.
End of excerpt.