“You did WHAT?”
“You did WHAT?” asked Roberto Moretti of his nephew, who sat across a broad desk from him, squirming in his chair like a naughty schoolboy.
They were in Moretti’s huge apartment, cool with the shutters closed against the mid-day sun. Italian dwellings – Italian buildings – do not have the same feel as those in Northern Europe, those of England in particular. However much money has been spent on designer interiors and modern fittings, the rooms retain that cavernous, old-fashioned feel, because of being so large, with high ceilings and big doorframes.
Moretti’s rooms were very comfortably furnished, with expensive dark wood cupboards, ornate sofas, fancy lamps and original works of modern art on the walls. The apartment contained two large rooms both of which could be described as a lounge. But it wasn’t into one of these that Luca had been invited. It was into this smaller room he had been ushered, the one which was dominated by a big, largely empty desk, and a couple of plain upright chairs – and which rather begged the question of why someone would need an office in their own home, when they had a massive fully furnished, fully staffed campaign office in the town hall just down the road.
Luca knew the answer, of course. The line between private and business matters was a bit blurred in the Moretti family. And as for staff – well, why exactly did someone need two burly young men who looked and behaved like security guards to be standing just behind the door of a room in their own house? Again, Luca knew the answer. But before today he had not felt bothered or threatened by the presence of such men, because he had been so certain they were on the same side as he was. Right now he didn’t feel so sure.
His uncle sighed, leaning back and looking up at the fan which rotated slowly and quietly above the desk. “Let me get this straight. A woman who you have been involved with, and who trusted you and cared for you, came to you and demonstrated an astonishing secret, proving that she had the ability to read from material which was hidden from her. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Uncle,” said Luca miserably, wondering why the fan was having no effect on keeping sweat from saturating his shirt.
“And so,” Roberto’s gaze dropped slowly from the fan to his nephew’s face. “You immediately threw her out and have now lost touch with her.”
“Yes,” Luca tried to explain, “I threw her out! I was shocked and upset, it reminded me, you know, of the business of the little girl, my sister.”
Moretti seemed to dismiss this with a wave of his hand. “She wrote you letters, this woman. She tried to speak to you afterwards, you say – but you refused even to see her again.”
“It felt like things were ruined for me!” Luca felt a little more defensive now. “I thought she was mad!”
His uncle placed his hands on the table and used them to help push himself to his feet. He was a little on the heavy side and his lower back was beginning to give him some pain. He walked across to the window and peered through the gap in the shutters, appearing to study for a moment something which had caught his interest.
“And it never occurred to you to consider,” he continued after a while. “Just how incredibly useful such a skill might be, to a – politician?”
Luca raised his eyes, though not his head, and glared at his Uncle’s profile. “So I was supposed to turn my wife into your spy? To further your interests? I thought you were successful enough already. I wanted my own life, a normal life. I just wanted to be happy, away from all this!”
“Your own life?” said Moretti, his tone amused. “You really think your little successes in the film industry have all been down to your precocious talent? Luca, you are who you are, your father is who he is. You can never escape your family, your destiny.”
Luca bridled and flushed with anger at this suggestion that his achievements in his chosen career had not been obtained unaided. He knew his work was good! He knew his talents were genuine! And his father had promised to let him find his own way, he was sure they had achieved an understanding.
“You care for your family, for your mother, surely?”
“Of course I do! What has this got to do with Laura?”
Moretti came and sat down again, shaking his head. “Such an opportunity, Luca. For such an amazing opportunity to have presented itself, and for you not to have seen the potential – seen what incredible POWER this woman could have given us, given you.”
“Power.” Luca felt half angry, half defeated. “What about risk? Maybe I saw the potential for risk – risk to my future wife.”
“But I don’t believe you did, I don’t believe you considered this issue in a very appropriate manner at all.” Moretti’s face was stern. “I have to say, I’m disappointed in you. Your father would be disappointed.”
Now Luca had spent the last few weeks in an agony of regret and dismay at the sudden loss of his love, and of the calm and happy future he had hoped she would assist him to attain. After much deliberation, he had come to his somewhat notorious uncle in the hope of using his many and varied resources to help find Laura, so that Luca could backtrack. Speak to her at least, and maybe change his mind.
He had wanted his uncle’s help. He had not expected to be belittled with respect to his life’s work, and castigated for not having immediately recognised Laura’s abilities as a potential asset to his family’s interests.
He was overcome with a huge urge to get up and walk out, and never see this awful man or this forbidding room ever again. But did that mean he was giving up on finding Laura? Maybe if he truly loved her, he should leave her be – keep her safe, away from all this. He didn’t know what he wanted any more.
Moretti must have seen the signs or made his own decision about whether the interview was over.
“Go,” he said, dismissing Luca with a jerk of a wave. “We will help you find her. Then we will speak again, and see what can be done.”
Biting his tongue on a variety of retorts, Luca stood up and headed for the door, trying to stay calm as he pushed passed the two men standing patiently on guard in the corridor and headed down the broad stone stairway to the street. Once outside, he slipped into the nearest shaded alleyway and leaned heavily against a wall. He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know what to do. His life suddenly seemed too complicated, and too dangerous. A tortured sob escaped his throat.
Moretti had watched him leave from behind the ancient shutters. He called out to his two assistants.
“You,” he pointed at his favourite. “Follow him, quickly.”
The man scuttled out.
“And you.” The second man listened carefully. “Find out whether he had any joint bank accounts or credit cards with this woman. “We’ll start by following the money, a tried and tested strategy, in my experience. If it doesn’t work,” he turned away from the window, and looked his assistant in the eye. “I have some other ideas.”