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Authors: Louise Marley

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BOOK: The Brahms Deception
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He made his way past the lines of
carabinieri
to the security exit, where escorts waited with lettered signs. Gregson had promised someone would come to meet him. He scanned the little crowd of people, wondering who they would send. His eye fell on a petite young woman in jeans and a black blazer, stretching her arms to hold her sign above the heads of the other people. He was pretty sure it had been made out of a cut-up paper bag. It read “Dr. North” in hastily scrawled letters. He crossed to her, set his duffel at his feet, and held out his hand. “I'm not actually
Dr.
North,” he said, by way of introduction. “But I am Kristian North. Headed for the Remote Research Clinic in Castagno?”
She eyed him, as if doubtful he could be the right person. He said,
“Parla inglese?
Or do you want to see my passport?”
She laughed, and lowered her sign.
“No, signore,”
she said. “Your passport isn't necessary. I do speak English. It is only that the clinic sent me to pick up a Dr. North, and you seem too young.”
“Not so young. And no doctorate,” he said, then added, “Not yet, in any case.”
She smiled. She had eyes so dark they were nearly black, and thick black lashes. “After your transfer,
sì?

He grinned back at her.
“Sì.”
“Come, then,” she said. “We will go to the car.” She bent to pick up his duffel bag.
He seized it first, and lifted it out of her reach. “Come on,” he said, laughing. “I'm twice your size.”
“No, no,” she said pertly. Her hair was as black as her lashes, a curly mop that looked as if it wouldn't tolerate a hairbrush. When she tossed her head, her hair fell every which way, despite several combs that were evidently meant to restrain it. “Not twice. Perhaps a few inches.”
“A foot at least.”
She wrinkled her nose dismissively, then pointed to an exit. “Do you have other bags?”
He shouldered his briefcase, and nodded to the duffel bag. “No. This is it.”

Bene
.
Mi chiamo
Chiara.”

Piacere
. Kris.”
“Piacere,
Kris.
Benvenuto in Italia.”
“Grazie.”
He nodded his understanding, glad his Italian stretched at least that far. He was more or less fluent in German, but his Italian was the traveler's sort, hastily scraped together for an undergraduate trip and neglected afterward. Chiara led the way out of the airport at a brisk pace, stuffing her sign into a recycling bin near the sliding doors. Kristian followed, wishing he had made time to brush his teeth and comb his hair before getting off his second flight. He felt as scruffy as a stray dog. He also felt wide awake, but it was the edgy sort of wakefulness that would give way to exhaustion when it wore off, the way he had felt after studying all night for exams. Or after being awake for hours while the Foundation technicians mapped his brain waves.
They were soon on their way out of Pisa in a green Fiat with cracked upholstery and boxes of electrical equipment jammed into the backseat. Chiara drove fast, but well, and Kristian gazed around him in wonder. Though it was dark, the principal sights of the city were lighted. He caught his breath at the sight of the illumined lopsided tower in the distance, twisting in his seat to catch the last glimpse of it. Chiara smiled when he turned back. “You have not been to Pisa before?”
“No, just Rome and Venice.”
“Then you must see a bit of Tuscany. And my own city, Firenze.”
“Yes. Someday.”
They crossed a bridge, and as Kristian tried to peer down at the river beneath them Chiara said offhandedly, “This is the Arno.”
“Oh!” he said. “Puccini.”
She gave him a sidelong glance. “You are thinking of
Gianni Schicchi
.”
“Yes. ‘O mio babbino caro.' I played it often for—for a singer I knew.”
He was glad of the stoplights that gave him a chance to look more closely at the old terra-cotta houses and apartment buildings, the Baroque façades of businesses.
“I am sorry there is no time to show you some of the sights,” she said.
“Are we going directly to the clinic?”

Sì
. I hope you are not too tired.”
“I slept on the plane. At least I tried.”

Bene
. It requires a couple of hours to reach Castagno. Sleep now if you like.”
“I don't think I could.”
She cast him another glance. “My driving scares you, perhaps?”
He laughed. “No. Your driving doesn't scare me.”
“Bene.”
“Can you tell me what's happening at the clinic? Any change?”
“Do you mean with Miss Bannister? No. There is no change. Everyone is very worried. When they are not on the telephone to Chicago, they are working on their computers.”
“Does anyone have a theory?”
She shook her head, and a comb dropped out of her cloud of hair. She snatched it before it could hit the dashboard, and thrust it back into the tangle, seemingly at random. “No,” she said. “It is very strange.” She put on her turn signal, and made a hard left onto a two-lane road leading out into what looked like empty fields in the starlit darkness. “She lies there as if she is asleep. Like the story—what is it in English? The
principessa
who sleeps a hundred years?”
“Sleeping Beauty?”

Sì,
Sleeping Beauty. No one can wake her.”
“They didn't use the EMP, then?”
“No. It is a risk. I don't like this pulse, because no one is certain what it will do.”
Kristian considered this, trying to remember everything he had read when he was still in the running for the transfer. The electromagnetic pulse was Braunstein's idea, an emergency remedy for a situation no one ever expected would really arise. It was meant to jar the transferee back to the present, but there had been no real reason to test it. “Worst case,” Kristian mused aloud, “brain damage.”

Esatto
. I would not allow it.”
“You wouldn't allow it? Do you have that authority?”
She cast him another glance, and in the light from the dashboard he saw her lips curve in amusement. “I do,” she said.
“You're a technician, then.”
“No.
Dottoressa
.”
His eyebrows rose. “They sent a doctor to drive me from the airport?”
“There was no one else to come. The physician assistant, Max McDonald, is monitoring Miss Bannister, and the transfer engineer—Elliott Bailey—is trying to understand what has happened. He is the most upset. He has not slept, I think, in days, though I have warned him this isn't good.”
“Does the clinic
need
a doctor?”
“Technically, no. Max would be fine, with another PA to assist him. But I needed a job. I have only just finished my residency. The Foundation brought me in to assist Max. When Miss Bannister did not wake up, they asked me to stay. Otherwise, the job would be finished by now.”
“She's okay, isn't she?”
Chiara shrugged. “Physically, she is fine. Her heart and lungs are all functioning normally. I don't know what is happening with her mind.”
“But they can see if anything has changed. They mapped her, obviously.”
As they mapped me. Hours and hours under the damned machine. And then they chose someone else.
“The scans look the same to me, but I am not a—what is it in English?—a neurologist. I trained in general practice.”
“You speak perfect English,” Kristian said.
“No, no! I make many mistakes.”
“Not so many,” he said, shaking his head.
“I should make none at all. I studied a year in Cleveland.”
“Your accent is beautiful.”
“Grazie mille.”
They came to another highway, and drove through starlit countryside for a time. Kristian could make out the contorted shapes of grapevines, bare now in winter, stretching away from the highway in long lines like midnight dancers. The outlines of the hills were gentle in the darkness, and he felt oddly cozy in the tiny car, his feet warmed by its noisy heater. What would it be like, he wondered, to wake in summer, in sunlight, in another time? He shivered with anticipation, thrilled anew by the prospect.
Chiara noticed. “Are you cold?”
“Nope. Excited.”
“Ah. You like to take chances.”
“The transfer process is well tested. I don't think I'm taking chances.”
“But Miss Bannister—?”
“She must have done something wrong.”
“I hope you are right, Kristian. We would not want to damage your brain.”
He shot her a surprised look, and then burst out in laughter. “Please,” he said. “Don't ‘damage my brain.' I promise to come back on my own!”
“It is very kind of you to come and try to help her.”
“Oh, no. I'm not being kind. Doctor, I—”
“Chiara,
per favore
.”
“Thank you. Chiara. It's a lovely name.” He turned to gaze out into the darkness. “It may look as if I'm being noble, but I'm not here for altruistic reasons.”
“Altru—?”
“Selfless. Not selfish. Altruistic.”
“Ah. Al-tru-istic. Altruistic.”
“Right. It's not that I don't care about Frederica, exactly, but—I wanted to be the one to observe Brahms. To go to 1861. For some reason they chose Frederica Bannister instead, and now—here we are. This is my second chance.” He turned back to face her. “Sometimes one person's disaster is another one's opportunity.”
“Certo,”
she said easily. “We all have our own reasons.”
Chiara turned out of the highway into a narrow road that ran through a small village. The buildings seemed to come right to the road, with no gardens or porches. No lights showed from any of them except a single neon sign that read
Farmacia
. “This is San Felice,” she said. “We will go up the hill to Castagno. Perhaps twenty minutes.”
“Right.” Kristian knew all about the clinic, built in a former summer resort in the tiny, centuries-old hamlet of twelve houses. The village hosted an arts festival in the summer months, but the twisting mountain road they now drove kept tourists to a minimum in the winter. Castagno had been glad to turn one of their villas over to the Foundation.
“The
castello
of San Felice is on your right,” Chiara said as she negotiated a tight curve. “It is a hotel now. Very beautiful, and a wonderful restaurant.” He looked up at it, but no lights showed from the road and he couldn't make out much.
Clouds had rolled in to obscure the stars, but as they swept past the drive leading up to the castle a half-moon shone in the east, shedding a vague glow on the landscape. The headlights of the Fiat pierced hedges and flashed across the stone abutments of narrow bridges. It all seemed unreal, zipping through the Italian night in the little overstuffed Fiat, on unfamiliar roads, past buildings of alien shapes and colors. The dreamlike quality of the moment was accentuated by jet lag and the flood of emotions broken loose by Gregson's call of the night before. Or was it now two nights? Kristian had lost track somewhere over the Atlantic.
Chiara interrupted his bemusement. “So, you are a Brahms scholar?”
He turned in his seat so he could watch her profile. She had a small, pointed chin and a rather short nose. He tried to picture her in a doctor's white coat, but he couldn't imagine it. She had taken off her blazer and thrown it in the back on top of the piles of equipment. Underneath it she wore a red tee shirt. She looked like a high school girl. “Actually,” he said, “I was a Schumann scholar. Clara, not Robert.”
“Really? Somehow this is surprising.”
“Why? Because she was a woman?”
Chiara, with a small laugh, took both hands off the steering wheel to press her palms together in a classic Italian gesture. “You men! Not everything is about gender, you know. But I thought it would be Brahms, because of this project.”
“Well, it is now. I started with Clara Schumann. Now it's Brahms.”
Chiara's eyes flashed briefly in the moonlight. “You no longer study her? You have given her up?”
“My doctoral dissertation,” Kristian said. Remembered anger flared in his chest, but he took a slow breath to quench it. “My topic was rejected.”
Feminist Influences in the Songs of Clara Schumann. They said no one would care.
“My second choice was Brahms,
p dolce
.”
BOOK: The Brahms Deception
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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