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Authors: Mary Jane Maffini

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BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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When I finally got there, Pieve San Simone was an unremarkable small town. Of course, unremarkable in Tuscan terms is still pretty damn amazing to a Canadian. I'd been on the road a long time and hadn't stopped to eat, or find a bathroom. I was starving, cold and miserable.

I scanned the cars parked at the periphery of the Pieve San Simone piazza. I didn't know what kind of car she had taken in the end, although my money was on a Volvo. There were plenty of Fiats, no Volvos. On the bright side, there was no sign of a black Mercedes or a pesky Citroën. The piazza is the centre of community life in Italy, and all around the Pieve San Simone piazza were shops for food and clothing, services, now closed until the morning. More important, there was a
, an
and two
, and they were hopping. When you want information, go where you find food.

First, I found a bathroom. Then I went to the payphone in the piazza and called Hazel. Still no answer. Alvin was next on my list.

“Did you get any better results from the security cameras?” I said.

“I'm fine, thank you very much, Camilla. I did get to finish going through them. I wish that on you some time. Six cameras going twenty-four hours a…”

“Get to the point, Alvin.”

“Okay, I tracked down the Super, and we found some more shots of the guy we saw in the corridor. And get this, he was caught on the camera at least three times. You can see his face clearly. Anyway, I got the best shot printed out. Maybe the best thing is to fax it to you.”

“Great, let me check my car fax.”

“Doesn't your hotel have a fax?”

“I don't have a hotel. I'm in Pieve San Simone—it's not the most cosmopolitan place in the world. I don't even know if the hotels will have private bathrooms.”

“Pieve San Simone? Hey, that's good, because…”

“I'll find a hotel, and I'll call you with the fax number. If they have one, which I doubt. In the meantime, keep trying Hazel's number. She's not answering, and she didn't mention going away or anything.”

“Wait, Camilla…”

“I'll call you back later. Gotta eat or I'll die.”

When I pushed open the door, the
was jammed with people, chatting away, drinking red wine and beer. I knew the food would be fast and plentiful and most likely good. I chose the lasagna, a green salad and a glass of red wine. I settled into a rough wooden chair at a wooden table and wolfed my meal. I was lucky I'd picked this place.

Afterwards, I had an espresso and asked about a place to stay with a fax. Everyone seemed to think the Albergo Maxim would be the best place for me. The Albergo Maxim was not far, up the hill from the piazza.

“Very good hotel for Americans,” someone said.

I wasn't sure what that meant. Not good for Italians? Expensive? Lousy food?

“I'm Canadian,” I said, pointing to the flag sewn on my backpack.

“Even better for Canadians,” was the answer. This was repeated in Italian so everyone could have a good laugh. Anything I can do to entertain. I put on what I figured was a good-natured grin.

After I listened to the location of everyone's cousins in Canada, I said, “Maybe my
has checked in there. We got separated in Florence. I am trying to catch up with her. She's been sick.”

The official English speaker translated that to the group. Everyone looked interested.
La nonna
continued to be magic.

I pulled out the picture, which made its way around from table to table.
O la nonna
, people said.

No one seemed to have seen Mrs. P. The consensus was that I would almost certainly find her at the hotel.

Ten minutes later, the nice young woman at the reception desk of the Albergo Maxim shook her head, making her silver and crystal earrings sparkle. Tears glistened in her eyes.

“I haven't seen your grandmother. We're not supposed to give information about guests, but if you are looking for your nonna…” She shrugged to show that where
s are concerned, all bets are off.

I smiled encouragingly.

“Sorry, no signora Parnell here. Perhaps she is staying at a pensione, or in another town?” Her forehead creased with concern at the thought of the wayward

“How about signora Wilkinson?”

She gave me an odd look and shook her head.

“Don't worry,” I said soothingly. “I'll find her.”

I got the fax number and checked in.

“You have a nice room,” the woman beamed. “Beautiful. It is on the third floor. Very big bed. Unfortunately, our elevator isn't working tonight.”

Oh, well. I hauled my stuff up the three flights. One way to work off the vino, although I was glad I travelled light. The room was opulent in a late sixties kind of way, all red velvet and dark polished wood. I resisted the urge to lose myself in the seductively large bed. Instead, I took a quick shower, changed, and slashed on the Graffiti Red as a concession to the relentlessly groomed Italians.

I made my way to the first
. There were three in close proximity, and to my surprise, they were all doing business, despite the fact it was November. Suited me. I like ice cream. I love
. I had a
in the first one. No one there had seen Mrs. P.

I tried
, a mix of praline and milk chocolate, at the second spot. Strike two on the Mrs. P. front. The
was world class, though.

In the third one, which was full of teenagers, lots of booze bottles on the wall and a blaring television, I hit pay dirt. I ordered a pistachio. You have to get your greens somewhere.

Everyone seemed anxious to practice their high school English. A young man came forward.

He took the photo and stared at it with a look of importance on his handsome face. He turned to his friends and asked all the right questions. This triggered a storm of responses and a half-dozen parallel conversations. I did my best to concentrate on the conversations. People pointed. Unfortunately, they pointed in all four directions and some minor combinations, such as south south west.

After five minutes, it became apparent that some of these young people had seen Mrs. Parnell. A consensus emerged, and the young man made the announcement with pride. That afternoon, Mrs. Parnell had been seen up the hill, although not the same hill as the Albergo Maxim.

“Great!” I said. “I think she may be visiting a friend. I don't have the name of her friend.”

That struck them as odd. Not knowing the names of your
s friends was apparently peculiar.

“She was here during the war,” I said. “I have heard the stories many times. I wish I knew her friend's name.”

That had the ring of truth to it, I suppose. A few more comments were offered. None of them useful.

“You've helped a lot,” I said.
“Grazie a tutti,”
I added to the group.

No one seemed to remember exactly which street Mrs. P. had been seen on, only that she had been on foot, using her cane. This was not seen as anything unusual, since everyone in town walked everywhere. Someone had noticed her pausing to smoke a cigarette, which got a chuckle from the crowd, then she'd set off again, full of energy. A quiet girl piped up and said she'd seen the old lady driving a Volvo on the road near the top of the village. That got a laugh too.

I poked around town looking for her and her Volvo, because what else could I do? There's plenty of life in Italian towns in the evenings, and this evening was cool but dry, no nasty fog. People were still calling greetings to each other. Finally, after showing the photo to everyone I met, and walking till my feet hurt, I figured I wouldn't find her that night. I crossed the piazza to the payphone again. I got my own answering machine on the first ring. I left the fax number at the Albergo Maxim for Alvin.

As I crossed the empty piazza again, I noticed three black Mercedes. Maybe it was a convention? Maybe this was the most popular car in the country. There were just as many Fiats, and now, a blue Citroën, with no sign of the driver. Time to head to the hotel. That luxurious bed seemed like the best and safest idea.

There was nobody at the front desk when I crossed the lobby and headed up the stairs. I reached the landing and stopped. What was that? Someone was puffing up the stairs behind me. Holding my key, I raced up the stairs two at a time. Footsteps thundered behind me. I reached my door and fumbled with the key. Sometimes adrenaline works against you. I managed to open the door when the voice yelled, “Slow down.” I fell back against the door, and we both tumbled into the room. I only managed one gargling scream. Then I recognized the middle-aged, sandy-haired man who had landed on me.

I got to my feet with some dignity and shouted, “What the hell are you doing here?”

He picked himself up off the rug.

“You bastard,” I added.

Ray Deveau caught his breath. “What did you call me?”

“You heard me. Running off to Mexico with some bimbo.”

“What? What is the matter with you? Did I make a wrong turn? Is this Mexico?”

Of course, at that moment, I began to see a small hole in my theory.

“Why didn't you call me?” Ray dusted off his knees and sank onto the bed.

“Do you have high blood pressure?” I said. “Your face is all red.”

“No diversionary tactics, please.”

“I did call you,” I said.

“You didn't.”

“Did. Umpteen times. At home, at work, on your cell.”

“It doesn't work over here.”

“Mine neither. Your work message said you were on vacation, and your daughters said you went to Mexico with some woman.”

“They said what?”

“Well, they implied it. I guess.”

“And you believed that?”

“You had to be part of the conversations to understand. It made sense at the time.”

“A tip for the future. Don't let teenage girls be your major source of information. Particularly if the girls in question have lost their mother not that long ago and aren't interested in the old man finding anyone to replace her in his affections.”

“Okay, point taken. What are you doing here, Ray?”

“What do you think? You're racing all over Italy, reporting murders and hit-and-runs and attacks. Alvin can be really irritating, by the way.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. I've been calling him regularly. That's how I found out you were here. He was supposed to tell you to get in touch with me.”

“I guess he did, in his own Alvin way. Maybe I wasn't listening. Never mind.”

“I've been on your trail since Florence.”

“By any chance, have you been driving a blue Citroën?”

“I knew you were trying to give me the slip.”

“I didn't realize it was you. I'm sure glad it was.”

“Well, that's good. I'm really glad to see you too. Especially alive. Hey, is this a queen-sized bed?”

“Yes,” I said, flopping down on it. “That's romantic.”

“Yeah, good luck finding a waiter with a margarita in this burg.”

* * *

“I didn't realize that you snored,” Ray said in the morning.

“Right, like you don't.”

“How would you know? You were sawing logs all night. With your mouth open too. That some kind of test for me?”

The day had gotten off to a good start. It felt great having Ray there. He was bound to have theories about the best way to find Mrs. P., and since he was a cop, I was less likely to get arrested in the process.

Over breakfast, I filled him in on everything that had happened from the time I'd arrived in Italy. I didn't even skip over the embarrassing incident in the car rental garage. I told him what I'd learned and what I'd concluded, which was not much.

“It must have something to do with this Harrison Jones. Alvin is working on getting information on him. He's going to try to find Hazel. She's a gossip, and she might have something interesting to add. Alvin has a few things to do. It's better to keep him busy and, face it, we need all the help we can get,” I said.

“Let me make some calls after breakfast,” Ray said. “We'll find out about this guy.”

Who needs margaritas on the beach when you have a guy who'll make a call without being badgered?

We were on our third espresso when the young woman from the front desk rushed into the dining room waving a piece of paper.

“This is great. It's the fax from Alvin,” I said to Ray.

We leaned over to get a good look at the two faxed pages.

“Well, it would be great if you could make out the image,” I complained.

“No kidding. Just a blob, and this must have used up most of the ink in the hotel fax machine,” Ray said.

“So we're no further ahead. So much for digital images. They're always a bit fuzzy anyway.”

“Digital? He has it in digital form?” Ray's eyebrows shot up. “Why doesn't he e-mail them to you?”

“How am I supposed to get e-mail in Italy? I can't even get my cellphone to work.”

“Internet cafés are all over the place. There's one right on the piazza.”

“Really? I guess I didn't notice.”

“I'll do it for you.” Ray scribbled on a piece of paper. “Give Alvin my e-mail address, and we're in business.”

“I'm glad you're on the team, Ray.”

Ray might have been on the team, but when I got to the payphone, apparently Alvin wasn't. No answer. I left a voicemail and hoped Ray's e-mail address didn't get mangled.

Ray was leaning against the wall in the hotel lobby when I rejoined him. His arms were crossed, and he looked a lot more relaxed than I felt. He said, “Where to next?”

“We'll be knocking on doors here, trying to find out if anyone saw Mrs. P. in town. After that, there's only the one town left. Alcielo. It's not far from here, the next town of any size. If we don't find her there, I don't know what to do.”

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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