After spending a week on ‘our beach,’ we met Rudi and Gabi, a charming German couple, who had mounted a large tent, with all conceivable outdoor gear, on a hill overlooking the bay.
Gabi was an attractive girl with full breasts, and a silhouette that spoke of frequent gymnastics, while Rudi was about ten years older, but looking toned and tanned. There was an immediate sympathy between us all, and when they invited us over for late drinks and dinner, we readily accepted.
Before leaving them in the early hours of morning, Rudi suggested we join him later that day in an diving excursion down the rocky part of the bay, as it was supposed to offer a special view of local marine life, unique of its kind. I was delighted to accept, but Catharina said she wasn’t fond of diving with gear, and it was only after Rudi explained we would use only simple snorkels, enough to explore the sights, that she ultimately agreed to come along.
Returning to our tent, I walked ahead of Catharina, when she tenderly put her hand on my shoulder, obliging me to turn around.
“Are you still enjoying us?” she whispered huskily, smiling her crooked smile.
“Can’t you tell, Catia?” I said, drawing her into me…
Later that day, after snorkeling for almost two hours, and enjoying breathtaking underwater scenes, the weather changed unexpectedly, and suddenly became tempestuous. Catharina had already gone ashore, because she tired more quickly, or had lost interest, I wasn’t sure which.
High waves, that seemed to come out of nowhere, drove us towards the rocks, and I started to swim frantically for shelter while Rudi made attempts to help me find firm ground. But a huge wave lifted us up and literally threw us against the protruding rocks. Fortunately, with the strength of desperation, I managed to hold on to a rock, before the water receded and could drag me back to repeat its mortal cycle, and succeeded to climb to safety. Rudi, even though being much more experienced, was less fortunate, and was thrown back, only to be crushed again against the rocks by the water that only minutes before looked so splendidly peaceful.
Hearing my shouts, Catharina came running, and climbed down the rocky part of the bay, only to see Rudi in a desperate situation. He still had the courage, however, to tell us to back off because of the dangerous sea. Catharina and I were beckoning Rudi to reach a firm place where we thought we could haul him ashore, away from the deadly rocks. But when he was only a few feet away from us, reaching for our outstretched hands, there was a sudden swish, and the next moment a harpoon from a spear gun protruded from Rudi’s throat.
Horrified and alarmed, we looked around, but were unable to see where the harpoon had come from. Seconds later, Rudi’s limp body floated face down, while being thrown against the rocks again and again by the unmerciful waves. The harpoon that was sticking out of the back of his neck pointed towards the dark, overcast sky.
It took almost two hours before a Coast Guard crew, accompanied by local policemen that were called in by two American boys on the beach, managed to recover Rudi’s body, which by then had lost all human resemblance.
A police investigation followed, but was eventually abandoned for lack of evidence, and put down to a freak fishing accident. In shock over these events, Catharina and I remained apprehensive, especially in the light of what had occurred after leaving the Convent of San Bonifacio, now two weeks ago.
Even though we tried to support her as well as we could, Rudi’s girlfriend Gabi remained inconsolable, but she surprised us by not making the obvious decision to return straight home with the body of her friend. She said she wanted to stay on Elba for as long as it would take her to come to terms with the disastrous turn of events. We decided to stay with her for at least a while.
The weather seemed unlikely to improve anytime soon, and the forecasts on the radio confirmed what we already knew. The following days our cautious state of mind made us more vigilant of our surroundings, and twice we spotted a man walking along the beach in the drizzling rain, seemingly without purpose. Throughout these sad and rainy days we listened to Gabi’s stories about Rudi, and how they had met only a year before during a family reunion in Karlsruhe, after which they had become inseparable. This summer vacation had been their first, and after spending some time in Florence, they had decided to take the ferry to Elba.
The evening before our departure, Gabi prepared us Rudi’s favorite dish, a special German dessert called ‘Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte.’
It was still raining the next morning, and saying farewell to Gabi was an emotional event. She gave me a picture of herself in which she posed naked on hands and knees, looking sideways into the camera, within the background a traffic sign revealing the number 85*. I pocketed the picture, and forgot all about it. Strangely enough, it was only years later that it struck me as being a peculiar gift.
I still own that picture.
Being the only available family member of the two remaining heirs, Brunella Colonna took over the reins of her Aunt Francesca’s immense estate, after her demise. Although there didn’t seem to be a reason to be overly wary of possible attempts on her life anymore, she rarely left the grounds of the estate, and continued to live a relatively reclusive existence.
Twice she had visited her sister in Italy over the past decade, but during the last few years, each time that she started to make plans to visit Lauredana, something related to her aunt’s estate and business would occur that required her personal attendance, and forced her to suspend her travelling plans for another year.
The last letter she received from her sister was an awkward one, and she couldn’t even tell if it was actually in Lauredana’s own handwriting. To Brunella’s dismay, their contact had been infrequent since the days her sister had become a nun, and even their sporadic encounters didn’t have the spontaneity and warmth she remembered from their youth. What she didn’t realize, then, was that each time they met in the convent, her sister was drugged, and there was always unfaltering surveillance, making it impossible to talk freely.
It was only on the boat back to Livorno that Catharina and I felt we were able to start speculating on what could possibly have happened on that dark day that Rudi was killed. What the police had eventually called ‘a freak fishing accident’ never convinced us, nor did the police, for that matter.
“Cosimo!” I blurted out suddenly.
Catharina watched me intensely with a weird grimace.
“Remember our first morning on Elba? Cosimo carried a spear gun, and I remember thinking that crabs and lobsters are caught with nets and traps, but at the time I hadn’t given the matter more thought,” I said.
Catharina looked distraught and pensive, her eyes staring deeply into mine, as if trying to find the rest of the answer there. I knew her mind to be as sharp as a tack, and wondered breathlessly how she would react to my hypothesis.
“You are right. Two creepy incidents, one with fatal outcome. We are beyond assuming innocent causes,” she said, turning her gaze to the porthole and the dark sea outside.
Disembarking in the pouring rain at the port of Livorno, we observed a tall, slender man holding an umbrella, watching us from the quay.
It was Uncle Salvatore.
(Continued in Chapter Eight – The Concierge)
(Continued in Chapter Eight – The Concierge)