Authors: Maria Grazia Swan
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DEATH UNDER THE VENICE MOON
MARIA GRAZIA SWAN
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Copyright © 2014 by Maria Grazia Swan
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Special thanks to Federica Rossi Parrino, my Chioggia contact, for sharing facts I had forgotten and to Marco Dalla Valle for all his knowledge regarding autostrade and other automobiles related details.
This book is dedicated to all my relatives from Chioggia, including the ones from the past.
Venice, Italy, October
The heavy doors closed with a swoosh. I stopped and scanned the wall of humanity squeezed behind the crowd barriers. Only the eyes of strangers looked back.
My hope to encounter a friendly smile or familiar face faded.
I walked by the crowd of people waiting for disembarking passengers to clear customs, my hand steady on the rolling luggage, my head held high, my heart a heap of shards.
He is not here. What will I do?
I kept on walking. The damn autumn sun reflecting on the fountains outside the glass walls caused my eyes to tear up.
I didn't ask for much. A hug, a comforting word. He promised.
I'd forgotten how small the arrival terminal of Venice Marco Polo airport was. Except for the noise level, it felt like a tea parlor compared to Los Angeles International.
What could have possibly been so important to keep him from meeting me?
"Signora York. Signora York."
I searched for a face to match the voice. A tall woman ran toward me. "Signora York, sorry to be late." She spoke Italian, and for inexplicable reasons, I found it soothing.
Long legs inside knee-high black boots and skintight jeans, a charcoal sweater and matching, loosely quilted vest. Under the terminal lights her hair appeared to be a rusty brown. Who was this woman calling my name as she approached? I had no doubt; I'd never met her before.
"Signora York." Between words she made sucking, gasp-like noises. "Sorry to have you wait. There was an accident on the
." She stopped and studied my face. "You don't know who I am, do you?"
I shook my head.
She offered her hand. "Pia. Pia Bartolomei? Surely your son Kyle must have told you? About me—us? No?" It was her turn to shake her head. A smirk replaced the forced smile. "No, of course not. So typical." She tried to take the suitcase handle from me. I resisted.
"Where is Kyle?" I asked.
She fidgeted with her hair, a single braid resting on her right shoulder. "Roma. Cinecitta. Last two days. He had no choice." Her voice laced with resentment.
Resentment for my presence or my son's absence?
We faced each other, this Pia, who stood a whole head taller, and I. Where did my son find these women? Always so tall. What was that thing he said? "Can I help it if I like roses with long stems?"
"Signorina Bartolomei, did Kyle—has my son told you where I should meet him?" Awkward.
"Please, call me Pia. I'm to drive you to the condo. Kyle hopes to be able to come up to Venice in two days after they wrap the interior shots."
"You mean in two days he'll be completely done filming? I had no idea."
"No, not really. A few retakes are scheduled here. That's why he thought it would be easier for you to stay put. Jet lag and such."
We crossed an airport parking lot reminiscent of similar large, generic parking areas in America, like those at Walmart. The wheels of my suitcase made squeaky sounds. While the inside arrival space had been packed with people, the parking lot looked empty.
I had visited Italy two years before, but this was my first time landing at Marco Polo in six years. A glimpse of the Laguna and St Mark's Campanile had delighted my eyes as the plane started its descent. I always felt sorry for first-time visitors when they realized that Venice's airport was actually not in Venice.
I trailed Pia by a few steps. We didn't have a thing to talk about. She stopped beside a two-door, faded green VW and clicked a remote in her hand. The hatchback opened. She waited, her eyes on me. Got it. I slid my suitcase into the back of the car, and she slammed it shut. A weathered
I heart NY
sticker on the back bumper made me smile.
The tension between us—palpable. When I turned to buckle the seatbelt I noticed a lanyard dangling from the rearview mirror, a square badge attached to it. Even without my reading glasses the name stood out: Pia Bartolomei. The word above her name was in even larger print. PRESS. And then I remembered.
, the girl from RAI TV. How silly of me. You were at Kyle's hearing two years ago, in California. You were doing a special about second-generation Italians in America."
She kept her hand on the ignition key without starting the car, and smiled. "He did tell you about me." A long sigh.
I went on. "Yes, he did, and I must say he was quite smitten. Apparently he still is." I smiled back.
We went from silent strangers to gabbing friends thanks to a single word—PRESS. I asked her to call me Lella.
October hadn't affected the trees lining the access to the airport. Perhaps the warm weather accounted for the green lingering on the branches. Anywhere but here such a stately entrance would suit a high-end private school better than an international airport. Then again, Marco Polo was unique, built for modern comfort amongst splashes from the past—a statue here, a fountain there.
"So where is this condo? Is it Kyle's?" I asked
"Lella, I can't believe Kyle hasn't even talked to you about the accommodations. The condo belongs to Cruz."
"Tom Cruise?" I assumed she mispronounced English names.
"Oh, no, no." A short laugh. "Manuel De La Cruz, you know—the actor?" She glanced at me sideways, apparently astonished by my ignorance. The name meant nothing.
"Kyle and Cruz are working together. That's partly why they're sharing the condo. The place belongs to one of Cruz's…friends." Another laugh. More snort than laugh, really. "She hardly ever comes to Italy. Anyway, Cruz plays the long-lost older brother. It would be correct to assume he is the main attraction, as the movie title is
The Lost Heir
. I'm not saying Kyle's part isn't important, but Cruz is well known in Italy, while Kyle is new to the game here."
"Yeah, you know, he doesn't have any major motion pictures in Italy yet. Cruz is a household name. This is not a reflection of talent, only of popularity among moviegoers." The last part was added in a hurry, as if she were making sure not to offend me. "By the way, Kyle sent a
for you to use. I'm afraid your phone doesn’t work here."
He did think about his mom after all.
We drove in the opposite direction from the arrows indicating Venezia, entering a busy industrial area with many intersecting roads. Where were we headed? Pia's driving was a little jolting. Each time she changed gears was a reminder the car had a manual shift. The road signs Pia seemed to follow clearly stated Ravenna and Chioggia. That confused me.
"Pia, where is this condo? Isn't Venezia the other way?"
"We are driving to Chioggia, the miniature Venezia, as the locals like to call it. This is no ordinary condo. It comes with its own story, and it's all connected to the film industry."
I didn't know what to say. Too many sleepless nights left me mentally exhausted and dazed, in no small part due to my last-minute decision to fly to Italy, which resulted in an atrocious schedule with several connecting flights.
She glanced at me. "The mother of the present owner was an extra in a French movie made in Chioggia. She had a major crush on Jean-Paul Belmondo, the actor. Was there more than a crush? Who knows? That was in the sixties. I wasn't even born."
"Anyway," Pia went on, "when the old palace used in one of the scenes was remodeled, subdivided, and sold, she bought one of the apartments. Upon her death it became property of her only daughter, who lives in France. The heiress apparently finds Chioggia too small and boring for her tastes, but she hasn't gotten around to selling the place, so she lets Cruz use it. I'm sure he knows how to show his appreciation."
The idle chatter kept my driver's attention occupied. For that I was thankful. The last thing I wanted was for Pia to notice my own state of turmoil and ask questions. Even I wasn't ready to face the reason I boarded that flight to Venice.
What have I done?
I spent two years convincing myself I was a changed woman—positive, strong, sure of myself. Ready to speak my mind, no matter the consequences. Done pretending all was well. No more smiling while my heart ached.
Wasted years. Nothing had changed. When it came down to it, I didn't speak my mind. I ran.
I lay staring at the artsy plaster medallion centering the ornate ceiling of a bedroom in someone else's home. I had been drifting in and out of sleep for the last two hours, aware I broke another one of my clever self-appointed rules: never go to sleep upon arrival just because you're tired. Always wait at least until nine p.m.
I have to do something. Anything to keep the unbearable ache of missing Larry from assaulting my heart again.
It's five p.m.
Morning in California. He should be up. What about her? Would they be sharing the first cup of coffee of the day or lingering in bed following a night of passion?
Stop it. Drowning in loneliness.
After a quick tour of the place, Pia mumbled something about an assignment out of the region. Before leaving she showed me how to work the
, an old-fashioned intercom that allowed communication with the concierge. She assured me Kyle would call as soon as he was done working and would answer my questions.
played a familiar tune, "California Girls." Kyle's sense of humor.
"Mom, welcome to Italy. Sorry I couldn't be there to meet you. Is everything okay?"
"Um, well, we can talk about it when I see you."
Would I have jumped on a plane and flown halfway around the world uninvited if everything were okay?
"I'm hoping to get up there by tomorrow afternoon. You didn't give me much notice you were coming. What's gotten into you? Itchy feet, like they say?" He laughed, or pretended to. "What did you do with Flash?"
Flash was my cat and my beloved companion. "Sabrina, from the mission. I hired her teenage daughter to take care of Flash." Silence.
"Look." We spoke at the same time.
"You go first," I suggested.
"Mom, I'm not sure what's going on, why you decided to come visit. I'm happy you did, whatever the reason. There should be food and drinks, clean towels, and all that stuff at the condo. If you don't find something, use the
. Augusta, the concierge, will get you whatever you need ASAP. She's really good that way. Oh, before I forget, Cruz is on his way up."
"Up? You mean up the stairs? Now?"
His laugh, real. "No, no, he is coming up to Chioggia. He left Rome this morning, but you never know with him. Anyway, he has his own key and he's very…noisy. I don't want you to be frightened. He's stopping by the condo to pick up some stuff, then he'll probably be gone. You should write down my number in case you need to reach me."
"Kyle, where are you staying?" Why did Larry have to bring her to his place, our place?
"Me? Oh, you mean here in Rome? The studio maintains a place for out-of-town personnel. Very nice, actually. They also provided me with a car. It's sort of a cute story. I drive a newly redesigned Ford Focus with automatic transmission, very rare in Italy. Their personnel liaison didn't think I could drive a stick shift. Should have brought pictures of my Porsche." He sounded so carefree and happy. "But Carolyn is in town, and I've been her chauffeur and tour guide a couple of evenings after work."