Lunch was a succession of many small courses. A chef would have exclaimed over the elegant simplicity and the flavoursome local ingredients, I was too busy cramming it into my mouth. I was drinking water, a taste of the wine during the tour had been a delight, but I knew wine at lunchtime would only make me want to sleep all afternoon, besides, someone had to drive.
Egg had brought up the matter of his mother’s visit during a miniature but delightfully dressed green salad, but Giorgio had denied seeing her at all this year. Giorgio then regaled us with the story of how he and Egg’s mother had retrieved a statue from Talamone harbour without local officials, fishermen or the mob having a clue what they were doing. It was a ridiculous and convoluted tale of cleverness and daring with many grand hand gestures and interludes for refills of wineglasses.
“But when we found out the elephant was afraid of snow we knew we would never get the statue over the Alps, so we sat down and drank a bottle of wine each,” Giorgio explained over a tiny but perfectly delicious tiramisu. “That was a mistake, the elephant was a mean drunk. So we left the statue there and gave up the whole caper, which is how she got to be where she is today.”
He gestured out of the window. I turned my head to see the statue stood at the end of the driveway, smiling at me. The smile was earnest, maybe a little sad and not the same expression as I recalled her having when we arrived. As I stared she gestured her fingers in a ‘come here’ sort of motion, I put my spoon down slow and deliberately.
“I just have to powder my nose,” I said. “Excuse me.”
I let myself out of the dining room and along the corridor, but instead of going into the bathroom I tip-toed through the entrance hall out slipped out of the front door. Standing on the step and feeling a little foolish, I stared at the statue daring it to move again. Just as I had convinced myself that it had been my imagination she beckoned me over with her fingers.
Gingerly, I shuffled closer to statue. I swallowed, cleared my throat and was just about to ask her what she wanted when I heard the front door close behind me. Shocked, I whirled around, Isabella was standing on the step, observing me.
“She wants to warn you,” Isabella said. “ Giorgio has lied to you.”
“He has?” My heart hammered as though I had been caught pocketing the silverware.
“You boyfriend’s mother, she was here,” she explained. “I think she came not to see Giorgio but to talk to Rosamundi. That’s what I call her.” She gestured at the statue.
“What did they talk about?” I asked.
“Oh, Rosamundi never says anything, but Diana was talking about a man she no longer loved, she then asked Giorgio where her daughter was.” Diana, it was the first time I had ever heard her called anything but Mother.
“Her daughter, Aphelia?” My eyes flicked towards the dining room window, but the men were still talking and drinking, unaware of our conversation.
“No, she called her Machwa,” she replied. “He said she was in Amani Na Miti, but I don’t know where that is. There is one more thing, the wine they are drinking, it is special. Soon Giorgio will make your boyfriend an offer and he will be unable to refuse. You must take him away from here quickly.”
“Is that how you...? “ I could not resist asking.
“Oh, no. It is me that keeps him here,” she said. “I do my best to keep his business from hurting people, but some days I fear for his soul. Now, quickly before hands are shook.”
“Thank you, Isabella.” I turned to the statue. “Thank you, too, Rosamundi.” She did not respond.
As I re-entered the dining room Giorgio was offering Egg a cigar and Egg was accepting.
“You, know, a man with your talents could go along way over here,” Giorgio said. “In fact, what would you say if I offered you a position in my organisation?”
Egg was about to open his mouth so I got in quickly.
“Sorry, no business decisions while we’re on holiday, you know the rule,” I pulled an unresisting Egg to his feet and started to usher him out of the door. “It’s been lovely, thank you for the lunch, but I just noticed the time and Egg promised to take me to the opera this evening. If we don’t set off now I’ll never have time to do my hair properly.”
Despite protestations from our host I managed to manoeuvre Egg out of the font door and into the car. As we pulled away Isabella waved and I waved back. Giorgio has a suspicious look on his face and I hoped that Isabella had not done anything to put herself in danger, but she seemed unconcerned.