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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: 078 The Phantom Of Venice
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“Not in the least. And you couldn’t have shown up at a better time,” Nancy assured him.

Don took Nancy to a charming old inn, the Antica Locanda Montin, well off the tourist track in the Dorsoduro, a quiet residential area on the Right Bank, near the southern end of the Grand Canal. “My favorite eating place in Venice,” said Don. “In fact, I had a room here before I was invited to stay at the palazzo.”

The inn occupied a seventeenth-century building with a quaint lantern hanging over the front door. It was run by two brothers and favored by writers and artists, as indicated by paintings hanging on the walls. Don led the way to an inner courtyard where tables were arranged in a tree-shaded arbor. Nancy fell in love with the place at once.

“Do you really have something to tell me about
Pietro and the glassworks?” she asked when they were seated.

Don smiled sheepishly. “Not really. It was just an excuse to—to have you all to myself for the evening.”

“I’m glad,” Nancy said softly, and their eyes met. She knew at that moment that a new, wonderful relationship had begun. The attraction that had sprung up when Don had seized her in his arms to save her from falling into the lagoon was now flowing strongly between them.

Both began to talk at once, then broke off, laughing. “When we first met,” Nancy confided, “I thought you didn’t like me.”

Don shook his head. “Far from it. I found you so attractive, it . . . it frightened me.”

“Don’t tell me you’re all that bashful?”

“Not exactly. I intended to explain over dinner tonight, but now I suddenly seem to be losing my nerve again.”

Nancy was puzzled, but she was enjoying their tète-â-tète too much to press him.

The dinner of
grigliata misti,
mixed seafood grill, was delicious, and dessert even more so—a mouthwatering wild-strawberry torte smothered with cream. Nancy reflected with a giggle that it would have sent her plump hometown girl friend, Bess Marvin, into swooning ecstasy!

Conversation ranged over all sorts of topics, including the Marchese’s masquerade ball the following
evening. “I’m going as a masked
bravo,
an old-time hit-man,” Don chuckled. He recommended a shop where a wide assortment of costumes could be rented inexpensively.

Nancy was floating on a cloud when they returned to the palace. She went looking for her father and found him in a sitting room, listening as Katrina van Holst, seated at a piano, played a heart-melting Chopin sonata.

My goodness, Nancy thought with a gentle inward smile, are things getting serious?

“Well! We missed you at dinner, honey,” Carson Drew remarked as she came into the room.

“I suspect she and Don didn’t miss the rest of us in the least,” Katrina added humorously.

Tara Egan was waiting in their room. She seemed in a contrary mood. Nancy gathered that Gianni Spinelli had taken her to dinner at some not very romantic spot, and that Tara was still feeling resentful over the afternoon’s events.

“I don’t understand you at all, Nancy!” she complained. “Are you in love with Gianni?”

Nancy was surprised that her own attitude hadn’t seemed obvious. “Not at all,” she declared. “Cross my heart, Tara!”

“Then why don’t you stop playing games? You didn’t
have
to come sightseeing with us!”

For the life of her, Nancy couldn’t think how to reply. How could she possibly explain that she
thought Tara was emotionally vulnerable and that Gianni was just a macho stud, out to exploit her longing for affection and romance?

In the end, she shrugged, “I’m sorry, Tara. From now on I’ll try to stay out of the way.”

Tara seemed mollified and ready to make up. Nevertheless, the bedtime atmosphere remained a trifle strained. Luckily Nancy was tired from her long, full day and quickly drifted off to sleep.

She was awakened some time later by a piercing scream. She jerked upright, striving to clear away the mists of sleep from her brain.

A faint sheen of moonlight was filtering into the room through the draperied windows—enough to reveal a dark something or someone in the center of the room.

Nancy’s heart leapt to her mouth. She reached out in the gloom, groping for her bedside lamp, and switched it on.

A hooded figure was moving toward Tara’s bed! It seemed to hear Nancy’s stifled gasp and whirled around sharply.

Her eyes widened in horror as she saw a hideous skull face!

9
Ghost Story

Nancy willed herself to leap out of bed and confront the ghastly intruder. But she was petrified with fright and her limbs refused to obey.

Another scream by Tara sent the weird phantom darting toward the doorway. It seemed to pause for just a moment, as if reluctant to be driven out by mere flesh-and-blood humans. Then as Nancy finally launched herself out of bed, it streaked into the corridor and the door closed behind it.

Nancy started in pursuit, only to stop short as Tara cried out fearfully, “Oh, my God—no! Don’t go, Nancy! Don’t leave me—
please!”

She sounded hysterical. Nancy turned and hurried to her bedside and put her arms around the terrified girl. “It’s all right, Tara! There’s nothing to be afraid of! The spook’s gone now, whatever it was!”

“Oh, N-N-Nancy! Did you see its face?”

“Yes. . . . I was hoping you hadn’t,” the teen sleuth added with wry humor, trying to relieve the tension.

“It was h-h-horrible!” declared Tara, shuddering. “When I woke up, that thing was coming toward me—and j-just for a second, the moonlight shone on its face! It was like a
skull!”

The recollection brought on another spasm of weeping. Nancy held her close until the sobs died away. Then she rose from Tara’s bedside and started toward the doorway.

“For heaven’s sake, Nancy—be careful!”

She opened the door and looked out. The corridor was in semi-darkness, illumined only by the dim glow from a light in the gallery overlooking the ground floor. As Nancy’s eyes adjusted, she peered intently in both directions, but there was no sign of the ghostly midnight marauder.

With a sigh of relief, she closed the door. “Whatever, or whoever, it was—is gone now!”

Apparently the inner walls of the old palazzo were solid enough to have muffled Tara’s screams. They seemed not to have disturbed the household.

“What should we do, Nancy?”

“Good question. We could wake up the servants, I suppose, but I doubt if they’d appreciate it.”

The two were feeling calmer now. In the end,
they settled back on their pillows and pulled up the covers. Tara kept her bedside light on as they chatted drowsily. Minutes later, both girls had fallen asleep.

Next morning, a maid brought them coffee and croissants. Tara tried to ask her if the palazzo was haunted, but the maid’s English was too poor to carry on a conversation.

Soon after the girls finished dressing, there was a knock on the door. It was Domenic, the butler. “The maid, Eufemia,” he grumbled in his hollow, heavily accented voice, “she say you see something last night.”

“We certainly did,” said Nancy.

Tara described the spook and repeated her question about the palazzo being haunted.

Domenic seemed both sullen and upset. “This is foolish talk,” he scolded. “Only girls and women see any ghost.”

“This wasn’t just ’any ghost’,” Nancy retorted. “We’re talking about a terrifying figure that came into our room last night. Into
this
room right here!” She was determined not to let him evade the issue, as he had done yesterday afternoon when she wanted him to serve tea in the courtyard.

“Si, si, capisco,”
Domenic nodded impatiently. “You tell me you see a ghost. What can I say?” He shrugged his bony shoulders. “This Palazzo Falcone, it is very old. Many times
donne
think they see something
in the dark. Some see death’s-head, like you say now. Maybe it is true, maybe they just imagine so. Who knows?”

The butler rambled on, shrugging and lapsing into Italian. The girls finally gave up. But on the way down to breakfast, they encountered the Marchese himself on the staircase.

“Is your palazzo haunted?” Nancy asked.

“Haunted?” The Marchese’s face went blank. But when the girls described the apparition they had seen, and the butler’s reaction to their story, he nodded understandingly. “Ah,
si,
the ghost! So Domenic has told you our old family legend, eh?”

“Not really. You mean the Palazzo Falcone has a legendary ghost?”

“Indeed it does.” He explained that, centuries ago, a member of the Falcone family had been accused of plotting against the Doge, the elected head of the Most Serene Republic. So the dreaded- Council of Ten, which controlled the secret police, had sentenced him to death.

The Falcones’ kinsman was never seen again. It was assumed that he had been executed by the official strangler. But rumors persisted that he had been glimpsed at the palazzo, at first as a fugitive in hiding and later as a ghost with a death’s-head.

Tara shuddered. “Are you saying that’s what Nancy and I saw last night?”

“No, no, my dear, I’m only telling you the legend. I
am devastated that you have suffered such an unnerving experience, whatever the reason, and I apologize deeply. If it will help at all,” he added, “I can assure you that there has never been any report of my restless ancestor harming anyone!”

The last remark was spoken with a sympathetic smile. Clearly, he was inclined to write off the weird specter as a figment of their imagination.

After breakfast the girls set out for a day of sightseeing and shopping. Nancy proposed that they go first to see the
Ca d’Oro,
or House of Gold. It had caught her eye when she arrived in Venice and seemed to her the loveliest palace on the Grand Canal. “The guidebook says it was built for a pair of wealthy newlyweds,” she told Tara. “Once upon a time, it was actually covered with gold.”

“Wow! They
must
have been rich!”

Viewed from the water, it looked as light and airy as a dream, with three stories of delicate columns and lacy arches. The girls entered on the land side, through a courtyard with a pink marble wellhead, and ascended a flight of stone stairs to the interior.

The palace was now a museum, filled with paintings and sculpture. As they wandered about, the two friends separated, each following her own interests. Tara became absorbed in a collection of doll-sized, bronze statuettes.

Nancy was looking for a picture by Titian, mentioned in the guidebook. Her interest in this artist’s
work had first been mere curiosity, prompted by hearing her own red-gold hair described as “titian.” But the more of his paintings she saw, the more she had come to admire his vivid use of color, which had revolutionized the art of the High Renaissance.

The particular work of Titian in the Ca d’Oro was a voluptuous painting of Venus decked with pearls. How magnificent! What artistry! Nancy marveled. For that matter, what a woman! she mentally added, with an admiring twinkle.

“Her hair is almost as beautiful as yours, eh?” said a masculine voice behind her.

Nancy turned coldly, vexed at the way the spell had been broken, and even more vexed by the fact that the speaker was Gianni Spinelli.

“What are you doing here?” she snapped.

“The same thing you are doing,
cara
—worshiping beauty.”

“Please! Spare me your corny line!” Nancy retorted, tight-lipped. “You’ve been seeing too many movies.”

“Movie stars no longer turn me on,” Gianni said softly, “now that I have seen
you . . . !”

Nancy felt angry and helpless, all the more so since she couldn’t help thinking how handsome he looked with his curly dark hair, finely chiseled features and muscular grace.

Gianni seemed to sense what was going through her mind. He smiled confidently and took a step toward her.

He must have followed us here, Nancy realized, and just waited for a chance like this!

The thought of being spied on by someone like Gianni filled her with distaste. And what if Tara should walk into the room and find them together, especially after her jealous outburst the night before!

“Please go away,” she said aloud.

Instead he came a step closer. She could smell his masculine scent and the fragrance of his after-shave cologne. A panicky feeling of weakness assailed her.

Suddenly he seized her in his arms and kissed her! For a moment Nancy was too shocked to resist—and perhaps part of her responded to the warmth of his lips on hers.

Then fury and sheer indignation took over. She broke free of his embrace and slapped him hard. Her sapphire eyes were blazing.

“Leave me alone,” she warned between her teeth, “or I’ll call a guard!”

Gianni’s face went as white as her own, except for the reddish imprint of her hand on his cheek. “So, you are in love with that American
grullo
from the glass factory!” he muttered in a voice thick with rage.

Then he turned abruptly and walked out of the room. Nancy was trembling.

Luckily she had recovered her poise by the time Tara rejoined her. But the encounter with Gianni had spoiled her pleasure in their tour of the House of Gold.

Tara was eager to window-shop, so after leaving the Ca d’Oro the girls caught a water bus to the Rialto. This famous covered bridge over the Grand Canal was lined with a double arcade of shops. Goods of all kinds were on display—jewelry, fabrics, glassware, shoes, lingerie, linens—every possible item, it seemed, to tempt the buyer. Tara was unable to pass up a gaily embroidered peasant blouse. Nancy bought a sleek pair of leather gloves for Hannah and an elegant silk tie for her father.

As they made their way down the marble steps on the eastern side of the bridge, Nancy felt a slight tug on her shoulder bag. She glanced around quickly, but in the swarming crowd, it was impossible to tell who might have snatched at it in passing, or even whether it had been done on purpose.

Then she saw what had caused the tug.

A folded slip of paper was tucked under the flap of her bag!

BOOK: 078 The Phantom Of Venice
2.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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