Saturday, 15 November 2008

Chapter Eighteen

The boat sculled across the moonlit harbour, the gentle sound of the oars rhythmically slapping the water the only sound to be heard. Antonio had with him the documents from Bompanzini and he rehearsed in his mind the words that he intended to say. Behind him, the Serenissima was weighing anchor and preparing to sail out of reach of the hands that wished to lay their hands on the substantial cargo of gold that she was carrying.

Antonio felt the boat bump up against the jetty and disembarked with a sure footed ease that came from having lived in a city that relied on the sea and also on the canals for its daily transportation needs. The sea could be a cruel mistress, but at the same time a benificent provider and an open doorway of opportunity. The sea allowed for the trade which was the lifeblood of Venice, and had seen it rise from a collection of disparate tribes eaking out a living on the one hundred or so islands in the marshy lagoon that fell between the land and the sea, to one of the most powerful and influential cities on Earth.

Children in Venice learned to be equally at home on dry land and jumping off and on any number of skiffs, gondolas, dinghies, barges, dorys and row boats. Antonio recalled the first time that he had fallen into the stinking waters of the canal near the grand palazzo that his family had owned for generations, and the stern lecture that he had received from his mother about the state of his clothes and also the quiet congratulation that his father had given him on having the presence of mind to be able to tread water and make his way to a ladder and the safety of solid ground. His father's motto had been the harsh but fair words "Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won't drown" and he supposed that he had proved himself not to be a duffer.

Antonio abandoned his childhood reminicences as he approached Bompanzini's office. A light still burned in an upper window, and Antonio did not hestitate before rapping sharply on the heavy iron-bound oak door with the large door knocker. He did not have long to wait before a servant opened the door and escorted him inside.

Bompanzini's initial look of surprise turned to expansive pleasure as he shook Antonio's hand warmly.

"My dear friend, business partner and colleague! You are a day earlier than we expecting! I trust that the gold is being safely unloaded as we speak? I shall send men to supervise forthwith. Now, I trust you will take a glass of wine to celebrate our mutual enrichment?"

Antonio broke into Bompanzini's effusive monologue.

"Very well, I will take a glass of wine with you, but we have important matters to discuss before the gold is unloaded."

Bompanzini's look of pleasure quickly changed to one of surprise and then a darker mood of anger and malevolence.

"What is this? I trust you have a very good explanation? Some very influential people are trusting that this deal will be concluded with no room for error or misunderstanding. If anything should go awry then I assure you that the consequences will be most serious, and that things could go very badly for you - very badly indeed!"

Rossini judged from Bompanzini's burst of furious anger that he had been correct in his judgement that there was more to this deal than met the eye. It was time to play his trump card in this particular game of bluff and counter bluff. He brought out the leather document case and opened it to display the paper work within.

"Do you recognise these documents?" he asked

"Yes, of course - the invoices and receipts for the wine. What of them?"

"How about this particular document?" said Antonio producing the list of names from amidst the other papers.

"Sweet Mary, mother of God, where did you get that? Carmello will kill me! Give it to me now, I order you". Bompanzi purpled in the face and he made a futile effort to grab the piece of paper from Antonio's hand.

"Not until you explain what it means, and I'll thank you to moderate your tone with me, sir1"

Bompanzi turned away and poured a glass of wine from a jug on the small side table.

"Very well, I will explain all. I apologise for my sharp words. It has been a very long day, and I will feel much happier when this business is safely concluded and we can both enjoy the fruits of our labours. Now, will you join me in a glass of wine? Please?"

"Very well" Antonio took the glass and drank from it, noticing the heavy, cloying sweetness that seemed to go to his head almost immediately.

"Good, now please sit down and I will explain. Close your eyes if you are tired. Now, the list is of no concern of yours - it is purely a matter for Father Carmello."

Antonio found himself falling backwards, the room spinning around him as he collapsed to the floor. He retained a degree of consciousness and was aware of Carmello entering the room and conferring with Bompanzini.

"You fool! You were not supposed to drug him until we had the gold safely in our hands! The Serenissima could be leagues away by now. If we don't have that gold to pay the agreed retainers our plans will be in jeopardy."

"But Father Carmello, he has seen the list" Bompanzini pleaded.

"Which will tell him precisely nothing, you fat and careless oaf! Now, we must think carefully - I have a safe place to hold di Rossini captive until we can trace the ship and the gold. You must be aware that his family will be looking for him - I trust that you can deal with any inquiries without making any more mistakes?"

Antonio di Rossini knew nothing further as he slipped into unconsciousness.

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