The Next Day – In Florence

Florence is a tourist town.  Like Venice, it’s full of trudging backpacks with sensible shoes, queueing up and sitting down and taking photographs and spending money.  Every day (there is no tourist “season” anymore) from dawn until way beyond dark, the narrow medieval streets are overwhelmed by these grim-faced invaders.  But unlike Venice, in Florence, a few streets away from David and the Uffizi, there’s another city – Firenze – a tough little Tuscan town that hasn’t changed its ways since the Medici held sway on the banks of the Arno.  Dreyfus, Emily and Janet Miller chose to stay in a hotel deep in the heart of tourist country.  It overlooked the river and was within shouting distance of the Ponte Vecchio – three more anonymous foreign faces in the shadow of the Basilica.  Dreyfus would find Firenze later; right now, he was just trying to keep up with Emily’s rapid fire Italian — and Janet’s awkward what-do-I-do-with-my-hands was getting on his nerves.

“They’re going to meet us at a restaurant by the school,” Emily said as she gathered their passports, “I’ve sent the luggage up, and I’ve got directions.”

The man behind the reception desk caught Dreyfus’s eye, and they nodded acknowledgement.  Sydney’s package had arrived.  Dreyfus would pick it up later.

“I need – uh – I need, I need to change …” Janet half stood and pulled at her shirt.

“No, Jans– you’re fine.”  Emily stepped over, straightened her friend’s button line and brushed her hair back with her fingers.  “C’mon, we have to go.”

A few streets, a few turns, a few shops and shoppers, and fifteen silent walking minutes later, they found Piazza degli Strozzi.  It was long and thin, bright and grey and paved with new stones.  There were two sets of outdoor tables ahead of them, and from there, across the square, a dark-haired woman stood up.  A second, two — then steps, faster steps, a heel-clicking half run and the three women met and hugged and cried and clung to each other like rescued survivors.  Dreyfus slowed.  None of this was his, and he knew enough to casually stay away.  By the time he reached them, the tears were being sniffled and swallowed and hunted by Kleenex.  Through the sorrys and sympathies, there was suddenly a man with his hand out and …

“Jans, here– use this …”

“Let me see what …”

“Oh, Magpie. I knew you’d come.  I just couldn’t …”

Magpie? Dreyfus made a note to save that for a better time.

“Sinclair, isn’t it?”  The hand had a voice, and Dreyfus reached forward. “James Montrose, we met …”

“Yes, I remember.  My condolences.  This is a terrible time for you.”

“It’s a bad business.” Montrose’s voice shook against his middleclass upbringing.  For a few seconds they stood there, two men awkwardly aware they couldn’t help the women next to them, rescue them, make it better – fix anything.  They were without purpose.  But that changed.  A heavy Mercedes slowly rolled through the square and stopped beside them.  The driver got out.  In the afternoon sun, he wore a black leather jacket.

“Riccardo Ciampi,” he said at them.

Dreyfus looked at Emily.  She was surprised but nodded her approval.

Dreyfus turned back to Montrose.  “I’m very sorry, but I have some business to take care of, and it simply can’t wait.  Maybe we can get together later.”  Then he looked back to Emily: “Go ahead.  I’ll find you.”  As Dreyfus walked over to the car, the driver opened the rear passenger door.

Florence isn’t a large place, but it’s not built for automobiles, so it took the driver some time to cross the river and get to where he wanted to go.  Finally, he stopped beside a three-table restaurant, stuck on a narrow Y street corner.  He got out and opened the door for Dreyfus.  Dreyfus got out and saw a woman sitting at the furthest table.  She was of an age, certainly more than sixty, but after that ….  She was too handsome to have ever been a great beauty, but her cheekbones made her attractive, and her eyes made her interesting.

“You are Dreyfus Sinclair.” It wasn’t a question, and there was only a trace of Italian pronunciation.

Dreyfus nodded and didn’t wait for an invitation to sit down. “And you are?”

The woman offered a brown earthen jug.  Dreyfus reached over and poured himself a glass of deep red wine.

“Our grapes.  Do you eat?”

Dreyfus nodded and tasted the wine.  There was no suggestion of a toast.  He nodded again, set the glass down and waited.

“I am Martina Ciampi.  My son is a busy man, so I will help you with the dead English girl.” 

He turned his head slightly in a question.  Martina Ciampi smiled.

“When an English girl dies in Italy, everyone wants answers.”

Dreyfus noticed there was no traffic, no people walking, no anything except the two of them and the man standing by the car.  And even though it was a warm afternoon, most of the upper windows of the buildings around them were shuttered.  It made Dreyfus extremely aware that the gun he’d asked Sydney to get for him was sitting in a box back at the hotel.

“I don’t care about answers.  All I want to know is who gave her the White Powder.  Tell me that and we can be friends.”

A young woman came out of the tiny restaurant with a wooden platter of sliced meat, quartered tomatoes, bread and cheese.  She set it down on the table and turned away without looking at anything.

“Everyone knows Dreyfus Sinclair is a bad enemy.”  Martina stabbed a single slice of meat off the tray and held it in the air “But is he a good friend?” She slid the meat off the knife with her teeth.

“Everyone knows?”

“Powerful men have long arms, and when Jonathon McCormick sends you as his fist, people talk.  They say you’re untouchable.”

Dreyfus laughed, cut a piece of cheese and ate it off his knife.

“People say a lot of things, and this has nothing to do with Jonathan McCormick.”

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were an honest man.” Martina pointed to the tray.  “Wild boar.  Good for the stomach.”  She leaned sideways, reached into a large bag at her feet, brought out two pale blue folders and put them on the table.

“This is the police report.  It will be released with the girl’s body in two days.  Drug overdose, very sad.  It’s written in English.  You can read it if you like, but,” the woman slowly shook her head, “It’s a … a fantasy.”

Dreyfus took a slice of wild boar sausage, put it on a piece of bread and ate it.  He didn’t touch the folder.

“This is the other report, in Italian.  Will I tell you what it says?”

“Please.”  Dreyfus continued chewing and reached for his wine.

“The English girl,” Martina opened the folder and read from the first page, “Jordyn Janet Montrose died of pulmonary aspiration.”

Dreyfus swallowed, “She choked on her own vomit?”

Martina looked up from the page.

“The needle?”

“There was no heroin in her body except around the puncture wound.”

“So why,” Dreyfus reached his index finger over and tapped the file, “This?”

Martina tilted her head.  Dreyfus thought about it for a couple of seconds.  Clearly this woman was enjoying this a lot more than he was.  It was time to speed things up.

“Alright.  I’m not playing cat-and-mouse all afternoon.  Thanks for the vino.”  Dreyfus finished the glass, set it down and stood up.  The man at the car straightened.

“Hmm, just so.  He said you were direct.” Martina closed the folder and motioned for Dreyfus to sit down, “We’ll be direct, you and I.  Your pretty English girl had a bad reaction to anesthetic and died on an operating table.  There was vaginal bruising and bleeding.”

“Abortion?” Dreyfus interrupted.  Now he was confused.  He sat down.

“No,” Martina sipped her wine, “They were gathering eggs.  Like a farmer in the hen house.”

Sunny Italian afternoons are for lazy conversations about art and love and beauty; they’re not about greasy alleyways and murky light and wicked men with dirty fingers.  It was immediately clear to Dreyfus Sinclair – a random drug overdose was unfortunate but palatable; an abducted teenager, harvested for parts, was not for public consumption.  He felt like he needed a shower, but he poured another glass of wine.  After a few seconds …

“Alright.  Who?  And where do I find them?”

3 thoughts on “The Next Day – In Florence

  1. Ah. Your writing, as always, draws me in, already i feel immense sadness for what the young girl suffered. Sadly this is really happening somewhere in the world – aren’t there horrid specimens of our species out there.

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