Monday, 3 November 2008

Chapter Six

Donatella had had enough of playing hide and seek.

She pushed out from behind the tapestry and cleared her throat.

"Silvio, would you care to explain exactly what has passed here tonight, and more importantly what we are going to do about it?"

Her brother stared at her, mouth agape, in shock and astonishment to see his sister emerge from hiding, clad all in black like a thief in the night.

"I could very well ask you the same question, sister. What on earth are you doing sneaking around in the dark? How did you get in without being seen?"

"Do you still think that I spend my time at home embroidering dresses and pressing flowers? I have to do something to keep myself amused, and besides, I had an inkling that something was badly wrong and I seem to have been proved correct."

"Very well, come through to the office. It seems I owe you an explanation, although I still don't really understand it myself. As far as I can discern, it seems that shortly before he left on his voyage our father signed an agreement to finance our shipping operations in the Levant, with repayments to start when the fleet returns, or when requested by the lenders if certain conditions were not met."

"I can't believe that he would gamble the whole company on an uncertain return like that. It is completely out of his nature. Did he say anything to you about his plans?"

"Nothing at all. He was going to discuss a trading opportunity, but as far as I know that was all. Those men showed me his signature and it looked genuine to me."

Silvio walked to the window and looked out at the canal below. He sighed heavily and leaned against the sill.

"The question remains, what are we going to do?"

Donatella thought carefully before replying.

"Do you have the ships manifest for the vessel that father was due to sail on?"

"Yes - but why? What will that tell us? It's just the document that is filed with the port authorities in the event of the ship being declared lost at sea. It's a bureaucratic formality - nothing more."

"Humour me, please"

Her brother scanned the shelves of the study and selected a large leather bound ledger and placed it on the table. He opened it and leafed through the pages before finding the section that he was looking for. A list of cargo and passengers was attached to the page with a pin, and he removed it.

Donatella scanned the document looking for anything that might strike her as unusual. A cargo of wool, bolts of cloth, wine and salt, with more goods to be taken on board at Ravenna - a port less than one hundred miles to the south. There were just two passengers listed as being on board - a wine merchant called Lucio Bompanzini and a Father Carmelo, both contracted to travel for the first leg of the voyage only.

"Silvio, what was the name of the ship?"

"It's listed at the bottom, above the signatures of the captain and the harbor master"

Donatella scanned to the end of the page - the ship was called 'La Serenissima', after her home port.

"Well brother, I think that we need to start by finding out exactly what happened in Ravenna, and whether father was still on board when La Serenissima departed."

"How do you plan to do that?"

"I'll take a fast horse and I can be there before mid day tomorrow. I suggest that you talk to our creditors and try and raise the payment due. Talk to the lawyers too, and see if they can unpick that contract. There really is no time to waste."

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