Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Chapter Fourteen

"If you'll excuse me, I prefer to let a little air in here. It can get very stuffy, don't you think."

Bompanzini got up from his chair and walked over to the window and threw back the shutters, letting a rush of air into the room. He then picked up a bronze statue of a knight at arms mounted on a fine charger from his desk and placed it in pride of place on the window sill where it caught the light and sparkled most attractively.

"Now, if you'll seat yourself over there in the corner, my dear, I have a story to tell you. This may take a little while - my memory isn't what it used to be, so you will have to bear with the foibles of an old grey haired man like myself. Please help yourself to wine from the jug on the side table - it's a particularly fine, and very drinkable, vintage from my personal cellar. I sent for some more just before you arrived, so please don't be alarmed if you hear someone at the door. It will just be one of the servants".

Donatella thought that this was a somewhat odd thing to say - why would she be worried by a servant coming in the room to serve drinks? Then again, perhaps Bompanzini had assumed from her dishevelled state that she was a rural hick with no experience of living in a house with a domestic staff.

"Now, it must have been about three months ago that your father came to see me" ...

Three months previously ...

The three masted barque La Serenissima bobbed delicately at anchor in the warm August sunshine. The light of the late afternoon sun bouncing off the ripples in the harbour caused Antonio de Rossini to squint and he was grateful when he reached the shade of the harbour wall. He looked around for the tavern where he had arranged to meet the wine dealer Bompanzini who had promised a most lucrative arrangement that would be to their mutual benefit. The bell of the Campanile in the piazza San Marco sounded the hour and he knew that he was on time.

His eyes took a moment or two to adjust to the gloomy interior of the tavern, but when they did he spotted the merchant at a table towards the rear of the room already in conversation with a figure in a dark robe. The merchant waved him over and stood up to greet him, grasping Antonio's hand with both of his and shaking it effusively.

"Ah, my friend, how good it is that we could meet today. I promise you that this deal will make us all very wealthy men indeed. Now, if you will seat yourself at the table I will summon the serving wench to fetch us some more wine and we will get down to business"

He indicated the sombre black clad cleric already seated at the table.

"Allow me to introduce Monsignor Vittorio Carmelo who will be helping to bank roll this venture with some of the most considerable resources at his disposal."

The priest said little, beyond offering a curt nod. Antonio seated himself at the table and Bompanzini spread his hands in an expansive gesture.

"Well gentlemen, we have some fine wine, I have ordered us a plate of fresh oysters, harvested this morning and gently cooked in white wine, garlic and butter. Let us do business!"

At the last he raised his goblet and then drained it dry in a single gulp. He refilled it to brim with practiced ease and opened a leather binder with his other hand, retrieving a sheaf of papers and fanning them out on the table as if he were dealing a hand of cards.

"Let me give you summary, as it were. We can let the lawyers fight over the small details later on, but I think that you will find the basics of the agreement very much to you satisfaction."

The large florid man picked up a pepper pot and pushed it into the middle of a table.

"This is a consignment of Château Pétrus - a particularly fine and rare French wine, and needless to say astronomically valuable beyond the dreams of King Midas. It has been stored in the cellar of a certain monastery, not so very far from here, and records of its original ownership are, shall we say, in dispute. You will buy the consignment for the sum of one million ducats and ship it out under suitably doctored customs documentation, and I will facilitate its resale in a number of ports far away from here. The resale will net us a ten fold profit which we will split at a mutually agreed percentage, and you will ship the coins back here where they will be banked at the Rialto."

Antonio considered for a while before replying.

"It is a tempting offer, although you must understand that I do not make a habit of indulging in activities of a dubious nature"

"Dubious? You insult me, signor! All we wish to is avoid drawing unwanted attention to our business arrangements until the money is safely under lock and key in a secure vault"

"Of course, but a more significant problem is the initial funding. I do not have that kind of money available to invest at short notice."

"Ah, but that is the beauty of the scheme! Our good Monsignor Carmello will advance you a letter of credit assured against the value of your ships which will be repaid when our golden goose comes home to roost. You and I will travel with the shipment to ensure its safety and when we return home we will all be very rich men indeed"

Antonio swallowed whatever misgivings he was feeling and nodded his assent. This truly was a once in a life time opportunity, and he allowed his heart to over rule his head which usually counselled a cautious approach to business. He felt a rush of guilty excitement at the prospect of easy money.

"Very well, I agree. Let our clerks formalize the arrangements, but it principle I agree."

"Excellent! I assure you with every fibre of my being that you will not live to regret this deal! Now let us drink to fine wine, business and gold beyond measure!"



Signor Bompanzini paused in his telling of the tale.

“Have you had sufficient wine, my dear? I expect that you must be feeling tired by now. An arduous journey can often lead to exhaustion, in my experience. If you try to move your arms and legs it will probably feel as if they are made of lead weights. No – don’t try to speak, there really is no need”

Donatella had been feeling woozy for a while, and now when she tried to move the room began to spin alarmingly and her vision smeared as she moved her eyes.

“Wh – what have you done to me?” she managed to say through a mouth that felt as if was stuffed with cotton wool.

“Ah, that was a particularly strong wine I served you there, supplemented by a few drops of a little something extra that I like to reserve for … special occasions, shall we say.”

He chuckled and patted his breast pocket conspiratorially.

“Some of my associates will be here shortly. They know to watch for the statuette in the window as a signal that their services will be required for the care and attention of any particularly troublesome guests. “

Signor Alberto Bompanzini stood up and walked to door, and placed his hand on the handle. He paused for a moment.

“I expect that you would like to know exactly what became of your father, and the ship loaded with ducats to boot? Well, I think that that question will have to remain moot for a little while longer, as I fear you are about to take a journey into dream land.”

Now he opened the door, and a group of four rough looking men entered.

“Farewell my dear, I don’t expect that we shall meet again.”

He nodded at the men.

“She is all yours, boys. Play nicely now”

And with that, he closed the door behind him as Donatella slipped into unconsciousness.

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