An extract from "Goodbyes, they often come in waves"
The Arno River had risen as a consequence of the torrential autumn rain, which had fallen relentlessly for nearly a week. In Firenze they were already waiting for the flood in a kind of distressed resignation. But in Capacciano there was no serious risk the river might burst its banks. When the Arno crossed the village it was just an average stream, still close to its source on mount Falterona. Even the growing flow would remain in the riverbed of the hilly Casentino area, dragging its ruinous power down to the plain. Notwithstanding the lack of immediate danger, several villagers, sheltered by large old-fashioned umbrellas–oddly all black–stood on the top of the banks, scanning the churning muddy water with distrust. They looked doubtful and slightly ill at ease, like a casual visitor stopping on the threshold of a hospital ward to give a quick glance at the patients. Amelio Sanchini, the mayor of Capacciano, called ‘Riccioli d’Oro’ (Golden Locks) because of his untimely and premature baldness, leaned carefully over the railings and cast a sidelong glance to the right, toward the Alpe di Catonaia buried in a dark shroud of heavy, leaden clouds. "Humph! The rain won't stop falling, at least for today…" Sanchini was a stately man in his forties, whose face–as if balancing the bald head–was adorned by a staggering dark beard and an equally impressive drooping moustache. His rather disquieting appearance made him look like a pirate or a cutthroat, at least at the very first sight, because it was immediately clear that the mayor of Capacciano was as meek as a lamb. "Good morning, mayor!" A tall man, endowed with a thick head of grizzled hair, which luckily excited no envy in 'Riccioli d'Oro', greeted him heartily. "It's still bucketing down, isn't it? How about coffee? At least we might have a chat without the nuisance of these open, dripping umbrellas
"Oh, Mr Reginald, good to see you! Actually I need to speak to you about something…Let's have a coffee, but my treat, I insist! What about Mrs Ellie? Isn't she with you today?" Reginald McKenzie shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "With such miserable weather…I suggested she stay at home. I didn't want her to catch a cold. But I already miss her. I know it will make you smile, and it probably sounds quite silly, mostly coming from a man of my age…" He smiled earnestly to justify himself. He had been living in an incredible dimension of total serenity and happiness for more than a year and he still could not fully believe his luck. The two men hastened to the coffee bar, nestled in a slightly decrepit old house of a bright shade of ochre, tucked away in a corner of the small main square. Over the door an old fashioned sign, shining with raindrops, read: 'RaBARbaro' (RhuBARb), in an intentional but mysterious botanic pun. They closed their dripping umbrellas and propped them against the wall, where other umbrellas were already waiting for their owners, surely holed up in the comforting dry warmth of the 'RaBARbaro'. Inside the café a small troop of patrons were drinking cups of espresso, standing by the counter, as Italians do. The barkeeper, a certain Lapo Tramontina, gave a slight, sober nod of greeting to Reginald and the mayor. Saying that Lapo was not loquacious would be a euphemism. He was very tall and lanky, with a melancholy, absent-minded look unlike the traditional stereotype of a perfect bartender. But he was a master in his field and his cappuccino was renowned. They said that people even came from Arezzo to taste it. Besides that, Lapo's wife, Rosalba, could bake the most delicious 'sfogliatelle' one might dream of. Nobody knew how he met her or how he persuaded her to leave her native island of Ischia, in the gulf of Napoli, to follow him to Capacciano. They had been married for several years by now and were probably happy together. Rosalba had never lost her Neapolitan accent and the patrons of the 'RaBARbaro' had become used to hearing her sing in the back of the café, while she kneaded her sfogliatelle and her baba, which so perfectly accompanied her husband’s specialty coffee beverages. "Two cappuccinos, please, Lapo!" The mayor asked. Lapo seemed indifferent to the order, but his hands started immediately working skilfully with the professional coffee machine which made a fine show behind the counter. He adjusted the pressure of the steam to infuse the milk with air, transforming it in soft foam. Then he poured it carefully over the surface of the coffee and added the master's touch, rotating cleverly the cups. Finally he put the cappuccinos in front of the mayor Sanchini and Reginald, who, even though it was not the first time, couldn't help feeling childishly pleased to see his initial sketched elegantly on the foam. The personalized cappuccinos were one of the surprising creations of the RaBARbaro owner. Reginald reached out gluttonously for one sfogliatella, while the mayor chose an almond croissant. Then he whispered in Reginald's ear: "I'd like to speak to you about something a little confidential. If it's okay with you, it would be better to sit at that table in the corner, we might have a more private conversation…" Reginald, a bit puzzled, nodded in assent and they took their cups and pastries to move to a more discrete place, while the other patrons remained at the counter. Then he looked interrogatively at the mayor, biting into the sfogliatella, wonderfully crispy outside and filled with a soft mixture of ricotta cheese, cinnamon and candied citrus. "I know it will sound silly to you," said Sanchini, "but my wife is tormenting me and I cannot persuade her to let it be. She claims I have to do something to reopen the investigation on a case already completely closed and solved. You'll wonder why I'm telling you all this…" Sanchini hesitated, trying to find the right words. "You see, Mr Reginald, this is a small village, people talk, there are rumours… In short, apart from the official version of facts, people say that you and the other owners of the farm 'L'Oliveto', how to say? Uhm, that you all are really the ones who solved the crime; you know what I mean, that awful story about the murdered girl, for which our fellow citizen, Giorgio Cini the photographer, was groundlessly charged. Of course you were right to stay out of all that, but, well, people say that Mr Peter was a police detective once and Mr William knows life well and he has a real investigative talent. My wife is aware of all this, so if you were so kind to listen to her and then reassure her that there is no reason to suspect anything fishy, she'd probably listen to you and leave me in peace…" He stopped, waiting for his interlocutor's reaction, to guess what direction he might take to continue. Reginald was taken by surprise, but also felt intrigued. "Please, Mr Sanchini, if you think we might be useful, don't hesitate. But frankly, I don't see what we might do for your wife…" "Oh, let me explain a bit more. Then you'll decide. Maybe you can speak to your friends at the farm and then perhaps meet my wife. She doesn't listen to me, but I think she would listen to you. She holds all of you in high esteem." Amelio Sanchini sighed like a furnace and gulped down half his cappuccino. "My wife had a very close, dear friend, Iris Ciancaleoni. They had been schoolmates. Iris was the only daughter of a magnate, the owner of the most important ceramics and pottery factory in the region. She got married a few months before us. Obviously we attended the wedding, an extraordinary party. My wife was the bride's maid. A few years later Settimio Ciancaleoni, Iris' father, suddenly died. A heart attack. But Iris had always been intelligent and strong willed; she took over the reins of the factory and made it flourish and prosper even more than before. My wife and Iris could not meet each other as often as before, since she was extremely busy with her management tasks, but they had always remained in touch. She told me that, in the last months, Iris seemed to be worried or maybe nervous, but she never told her about any particular problem. At least I don't think so. Just to make a long story short, about two years ago, Iris' husband, one Sabatino Alunni, persuaded her to take a break for a holiday cruise. Unfortunately it appears poor Iris suffered with a serious form of depression–surely due to the work pressure. While the cruise ship was on the open sea, she committed suicide. Her body was never found. "Of course the police investigation was long, careful and accurate. All suspicions were against the husband at the beginning, but he had an unassailable alibi, since he was never alone when his wife disappeared and he was the first one to ask for a search of the whole cruise ship. He could prove his absolute innocence and really was devastated by the loss of his wife. "He was investigated and observed for a long time, but the evidence never favoured him as a suspect. The case was finally dismissed as suicide. "But recently my wife has heard that Iris' widower is going to get married again and has gotten it into her head that there's something very suspicious and that Iris didn't commit suicide, but was killed. I don't know what to do. She insists I must go to the police and persuade them to reopen the case, but…Oh well, you can see what I mean!" Reginald sipped the rest of his cappuccino with renewed pleasure, taking the time to think over what the mayor had just told him. In a corner of his mind a warning bell started ringing, suggesting to him that maybe Mrs Sanchini wasn't talking through her hat. But how could he take an assignment in the name of his friends? Besides, the whole matter seemed quite delicate. Amelio Sanchini was staring at him with the look of a child expecting to be reassured of his rights in a quarrel with schoolmates. The stocky mayor really resembled an actor dressed up for a Disney's film, something like "Blackbeard The Pirate" or who-knows-what-else. Reginald had never had much chance to go to the cinema in his life and by now people went even less often to theatres to see films, but since he had the incredible luck of marrying his wonderful Ellie–he could not help smiling with infinite tenderness thinking of her–like many middle-aged couple they had taken the habit of watching several films on TV and he'd somehow recouped his former lack of familiarity with cinema production. There was nothing menacing in Sanchini's expression. He reminded Reginald of a rather childish, but frankly amusing, character from a phantasmagorical film he had watched with Ellie some time ago. So also the mayor's strange story sounded to him like an improbable film plot. But Sanchini was obviously waiting for an answer, which Reginald couldn't deny him. Reginald had never been able to disappoint people. "I see, Mr Sanchini. I can understand your situation. Very often women trust their apparently irrational perceptions more than the logic of facts, but it doesn't mean that their way of approaching a topic is necessarily wrong. Anyway I'm sure your wife was questioned by the police at the time of that, uhm, sad episode and she expressed her doubts, if she had any and clearly the detectives took everything into due consideration…" Sanchini shook his big, bald head with resigned fatalism. "That's just it, Mr Reginald. When the inquiry was in progress my wife didn't seem to find anything suspicious in poor Iris' suicide. Of course she was deeply saddened and shocked by her dear friend's death, but she accepted it. We tried to give our moral support and sympathy to Sabatino, even though we had never been his personal friends. He appeared to be really devastated by his grief and he refused our invitations saying he had to save his mental energy to keep running the factory, because it was what Iris would have wanted. Then he got really absorbed by work and we hadn't heard from him very often. It's only when my wife heard he was going to get married again that she started thinking these inane thoughts about Iris's death. I think it's only because inside herself, maybe unconsciously, she can't accept that Sabatino loves another woman, she thinks he's betraying Iris' memory. But it's absurd. Sabatino Alunni is more or less in his forties. I think he's as old as me, and I'm forty-five. Of course I'd be devastated if I lost my Loredana, God forbid, but if I did I couldn't exclude to make a new life for myself one day…after that." The mayor stopped speaking and passed his hand over his eyes, as if the simple thought of losing his wife could move him to tears. Reginald suddenly realized he could not remember the features of the woman who was obviously dearly loved by her husband, even though he was sure he had met Mrs Sanchini several times. Still he felt the need to reassure Sanchini that he would pay attention to his trouble. "Well, if you really think our advice might help your wife calm down, I suppose you two could come to our restaurant for dinner one of these days, as our welcome guests, of course. Mrs Sanchini could clarify her concerns and then we might try to…" The mayor didn't let him finish and grabbed with both hands Reginald's hand which disappeared inside them, like a thin slice of ham between two generous slices of bread. "Oh, thank you, thank you. Just tell me when and we'll come with infinite pleasure. Please, let me order you another cappuccino or maybe would you like something else?" "Oh, no, thanks, I'm fine. I have to go to the farm before I get home to see my wife and it's already a bit late. But I'll call you in the afternoon, after I talk to Peter and William." Reginald freed himself with difficulty from the mayor's powerful hold and went to recover his umbrella, which was faithfully awaiting him by the coffee bar entry. He was aware of the inquisitive and curious looks of the other patrons, who had not been able to hear his conversation with Sanchini, but had guessed it might be something interesting enough to enliven the monotonous daily routine of the village. The dogged rain kept falling and Reginald smelled something in the air that reminded him of the Irish weather from his former life. He drove carefully up to the farm; he had never been a passionate driver and still found a bit hard to drive on the right. Luckily the country road was empty so he felt no need to hurry. There wasn't that much work at the Bed & Breakfast these weeks. It was low season and the bad weather didn't make people want to book a holiday in a country farm, even if it did sit atop a Tuscany hill. But William's small and smart restaurant was, as always, very busy. There was no low season for the fashionable and by now well appreciated 'Mr W.'s Seven Tables'. The tables were always booked, even months in advance. They accepted the reservations in the order they received them, without making any exception for so called 'VIP's', who often thought that their pseudo-fame would be enough to give them privileged access. But William always kept the seventh table free for anyone who might arrive at the last moment, often just ordinary people. Reginald parked in the main courtyard of the farm. He still felt relieved when he reached his destination safely and could leave his car. However, he didn't dare reveal his unreasonable fear to his wife, who was an excellent, self-confident driver instead. Gulliver, Peter's big hairy dog of indeterminate breed with an inexplicable liking for rain, greeted him with a totally unbidden enthusiasm as soon as he got out of the car. Fortunately Peter appeared to call off that remarkably huge ball of wet fur. In the cosy warmth of his studio, where Peter had followed him, Reginald briefly informed his friend about his meeting with mayor Sanchini. Peter, still miraculously and naturally suntanned even in the rainy late autumn, was pensive listening to Reginald, as if the petty episode had stirred something deeper in his mind. Finally he spoke with his usual calm and firm tone of voice, just veiled with a slight unease. "Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to seize. I intended to speak to you about a confused feeling creeping about my mind for a while, but maybe it only needed the right moment to crystalize." Immediately Reginald felt alarmed, even though he had no idea about what Peter was talking about. Simply it was painful for him to imagine his friends having sorrows. "I…I didn't realize there was something wrong…" “No, no, take it easy.” Peter immediately tried to calm him down, since he well knew how empathic Reginald was. “There’s no problem, at least I hope not. You see, it’s William. You know how restless he is. You and I, Reginald, we’re less complicated souls.” He grinned lightly. “William is different. People like us are happy living in peace and we get uneasy with change. We’re creatures of habit. But William needs stimulating challenges; he’s not comfortable with routine, even if it’s as enjoyable as our daily life here. “Of course he likes living with people he loves, and he enjoys playing in his restaurant. But that’s not enough for him. He needs intellectual stimulation to feel alive. Lately, I get the impression he’s bored. Of course, everything is fine between us. It’s not that. But odd as it may seem to you and me, everything goes almost too smoothly here for him.” With a melancholy smile, Peter continued. “Even those of us most close and dear to William don’t know much about his life before we met him. Shreds of his past resurface now and then, giving me the troubling impression that he endured much more than he’s allowed me to guess. I know, more or less, that he suffered with depression for a while, although it may have been a long time ago. “I’m worried, Reginald. I’m worried William might slide into some form of manic-depression if there’s nothing to break the repetitive rhythms of his life. Of course it’s not happening yet, but I’m afraid of this risk. So, to make a long story short, I do think the potentially intriguing case of Mrs Sanchini’s suspicions—whether well founded or not—might be a speculative diversion for him. For sure, William will be amused to hear her story.” Reginald nodded. "So it's settled, then. If you think it's okay, I'll call Sanchini to invite him and his wife to our restaurant tomorrow evening. Of course I know in advance that Ellie would like to be present, too. She so enjoyed her role in our inquiry to clear Giorgio of the murder charge, and I think she turned out to have the makings of an amateur detective!" "Who has the makings of an amateur detective?" William Collins, wearing jeans and a black jumper which made him look even taller, winked cheerfully at his friends, who couldn't tell if he'd heard more of their conversation or not. But after all, one never knew anything exactly about William Collins.