Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chapter 2

Beatrice stopped short of the quickly forming crowd, her natural squeamishness getting the better of her. If what she saw was real, and from the looks of the crowd and the screams of the onlookers, it was real, whoever had leapt from the tower was not a pretty sight.

But yet, something compelled her to push forward. She had to see if he (or was it a she? No. For some reason, Beatrice felt certain it had been a man she’d seen fall) could still be alive. Could anyone have survived such a fall? From that Tower? She gazed up at the levels, round and round, up and up. Why the hell did they let people up there anyway, she wondered? Yet she remembered a time, not so long ago, when she climbed the Tower, thrilled to wind up and up and round and round, then reaching the top and gazing down and out.

It had been exhilarating. Not so exhilarating today. Especially for the unfortunate soul who’d just jumped. Or had he been pushed?

Beatrice strained on her tiptoes to try to catch a glimpse of the victim. Could he have survived?

But she knew, even before she actually saw the pool of blood forming at the base of his skull that whoever he was and it was a he, was no more.

“Good heavens!” Trollope huffed behind her, “My dear Lady Beatrice, I beseech you to come away from this horrific tragedy. It can not be a sight that is proper for a lady such as yourself to behold.”

Beatrice felt a shiver run up and down her spine, fighting both her rising nausea and quick retort. She knew that Tony just had her best interests at heart, but still she couldn’t pull herself away from the horrendous sight.

The poor man! she thought. What could have been so horrible that he would hurl himself off the Tower? A lover’s quarrel? A business deal gone wrong?

And what if he hadn’t jumped? she thought. Though she couldn’t remember seeing anyone else near him. She’d been so far away. Maybe someone had been there. Behind him. A struggle had ensued. And this poor man had been pushed. Over the railing and down and down. The last moments of his life....

Beatrice stopped herself from imagining any further.

“Lady Beatrice?” Trollope placed a hand gently on her shoulder. “Are you perchance experiencing some ill-effects from the tragic mishap before you?”

Beatrice laughed softly in spite of her distress, “Yeah, Tony, something like that.” She slipped her arm through his, trying to still the wooziness, but the black veil fell, enveloping her consciousness.

Trollope caught her as she became limp in his arms, Gwenivere appearing just in time to help ease her friend down onto the grass.

“Oh, heavens! Lady Beatrice!” Trollope exclaimed as he knelt down at her side.

“She’ll be okay,” Gwenivere said. “This is how she always reacts to the sight of blood. I coulda told her that. But no stopping Bea when she’s on the move. And boy did she take off when she saw what's- his- face fall.....”

Gwenivere’s voice trailed off just as Beatrice came to. “What happened....?” she murmured, trying to sit up. “Where am I?”

“It’s okay, Bea,” Gwenivere brushed a dark curl out of her eyes. “You just fainted is all. Musta been the shock of seeing all that blood and the dead body and...”

“Enough!” Beatrice sat up, fighting the wooziness again. Stupid Gwenivere. She knew she was just trying to help but the vivid play by play wasn’t really what she needed at the moment.

“Oh, Darling!” Electra knelt down elegantly, her black cape cascading behind her. “Are you quite all right?”

Sighing, Beatrice shook the dizziness off, “Yeah, Mom, I’m fine. That poor guy though....” She nodded toward the crowd. “ain’t.”

“Yes, he does appear to be quite dead,” Electra pronounced. “No need for us to be exposed to such a messy unpleasantness. Let’s get you out of here, Darling....”

“Unpleasantness?” Beatrice sat up straight. “Mom! Someone just died for chrissakes! It’s a little more than unpleasant.”

“Well, whatever you say, Dear. I just don’t see why he had to end it all in front of us on this beautiful day during our once in a lifetime trip. If you are going to commit suicide, I think the least you can do is show a little consideration. Do it somewhere less....public and....”

“ Less public? Is that all you can think about, Mother? How this tragedy impacts your vacation?”

“Well,” Electra stood up, frowning, “it does. I was having such a lovely day until this person took it upon himself to hurl himself off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Though I’ll have to grant him that it is a most dramatic way to go if one must take one’s own life.”

“Is that all you think about, Electra?” Gwenivere asked. “The theater of it all?”

“Why Gwenivere,” Electra turned toward her, smiling sweetly, “I had no idea you possessed such powers of observation.”

“Can it, Electra. There’s a dead man here and whether it was suicide or whether it was murder, someone has lost his life.”

“Do you really think he could have been murdered?” Lizzie piped in, her violet eyes sparkling.

“That’s an excellent question,” a deep baritone interrupted the little group’s debate.

Electra glanced up, giving a dazzling smile to the handsome Italian hunk standing before them. “I am Electra Zane,” she held out her hand for him. “The Electra Zane.”

He took her hand, bent to kiss it, but then thought better of it under the circumstances. “Pleased to meet you Signore Zane.” He paused for a moment to jot her name down. “I am Detective Angelo Giannini. And I just have to ask you ladies if you saw anything that looked suspicious.”

“Suspicious?” Electra cooed.

“Yes, well, it appears to be a simple case of suicide,” Detective Angelo stared up at the Tower. “But I need to investigate all angles, just in case there was any foul play.”

“Oh, I can think of some foul play if you’re game,” Lizzie smirked.
“And you are?” Detective Angelo gave her a stern nod.

“Lizzie Eustace,” she extended her hand and glanced over at Electra. “The Lizzie Eustace. Of The Eustace Diamonds.”

“The Eustace Diamonds,” Detective Angelo shook his head. Who were these people? And why weren’t they more upset over what they’d just witnessed?

Standing now, Beatrice eyed him seriously, taking in his dark handsome good looks, slim hips and long legs. Not bad she thought to herself. Remembering how Dante had just abandoned her, she gave herself permission to indulge in a little murderous flirtation. “Detective Angelo,” she smiled, “I’m Beatrice Zane.”

“Signora Zane?” Detective Angelo took her hand, bending to brush it lightly with his lips.

“I saw him jump,” she declared, allowing her hand to linger in his for a moment longer than was necessary.

“Did you?” he asked. “Tell me exactly what you saw, Signora.”

“Well, I....” She paused. How much should she say? Did she really want to get involved here? And it wasn’t just the investigation of a mysterious death that she was worried about. Detective Angelo was deliciously dangerous. And Beatrice Zane was notoriously weak.

Angelo stared at her, his dark eyes sending a different kind of shiver up her spine.

Oh what the hell, she thought. “Yes, I saw him jump and I think that I saw
someone else too. Nearby. Behind him...and...”
“Indeed?” Angelo eyed her. “Are you certain?”
“Well, I think so.... I mean....I....”
“Perhaps I better ask you to come downtown with me to make a more detailed statement. As I mentioned before, it appears to be nothing more than a tragic suicide. However, if you say you saw another party...”

“I...” Beatrice bit her lower lip. Shit. What the hell had she gotten herself into now?

“Bea?” Gwenivere interrupted, “Are you sure? You know you just fainted and maybe that affected your memory and...”

Beatrice shook her head. Why the hell did Gwenivere always have to screw things up for her? She knew what she saw. She saw the man fall. She saw someone in the shadows, lurking behind him....Or had she? Beatrice frowned, trying to retrieve the elusive image.

“Uh, yeah, maybe Gwenivere is right.”
“Gwenivere?” Detective Angelo jotted her name down in his pad under the other women’s.

“Yes, Gwenivere Lake. And my friend here,” she circled a protective arm around Beatrice’s slim waist, “has just had quite a shock. We all have. We were actually in the middle of a family squabble when Bea here saw this poor man fall. I really don’t know how much any of us can help,” she shrugged.

Angelo nodded. Were these women shitting him or did they really have some evidence that would help with his investigation?

“I know what I saw!” Beatrice cried, pulling away from her friend. Damn Gwenivere. She was not going to be cowed into telling the truth. Or a lie. “I saw the man fall and I’m pretty sure there was someone else there.”

Beatrice turned and glared at Gwenivere, triumphant.

Rolling her big brown eyes, Gwenivere Lake shrugged. Whatever. Once Beatrice got it into her head to tell a story. Well, there was no way anyone was gonna stop her.

Sighing, Antonio signaled for his partner to lead them to the bus and take them to headquarters.

“I’ll need all of you ladies to follow Detective Giancarlo so he can take you to the station to answer a few more questions.”

“Now?” Beatrice asked, suddenly feeling like she needed to lie down.
“Si, si, Signora,” Detective Giancarlo motioned for them to follow him.
“But actually, Detective,” Beatrice began, “Gwenivere is right. I did just faint and I’m not feeling so hot.”

“It won’t take long, Signora Zane,” Angelo smiled grimly.

“Pardon my intrusion,” Trollope had wandered off and now had returned. “But I must postulate that this tragic death is most certainly one of a sinister murderer and not suicide as I am certain you will ascertain, Detective.”

“And how do you know this?” Angelo asked.

“For the simple reason that this man, this character, my character if you will, while undergoing a period of intense melancholia, would nevertheless never commit such a heinous crime as the one you suspect:that is taking his own life by his own hand. Or in this case, by his own leap. Yes, he had lost much. His wife. His business. A promising political career. But yet, I know that he, Phineas Finn, would never take his own life. Why such a desperate action would be of the utmost cowardice for one such as Mr. Finn. And I can attest most assuredly that Mr. Finn was no coward!”

“And you are?” Angelo asked.

“Trollope. Anthony Trollope.”
“The Anthony Trollope?” Detective Angelo raised one dark eyebrow.
“Ah, my good man, you know of my work?”
“I do indeed! Why Phineas Finn is one of my heroes.”

“What a marvelous coincidence. Why you will understand my hypothesis intimately then. For the man at the bottom of the tower is none other than he.” Trollope shook his head, sadly.

“Phineas Finn?” Beatrice asked. “Wasn’t he in some shootout with that crazy bastard, Kennedy?”

“Indeed he was, Lady Beatrice.” Trollope beamed. “I am most flattered that you recall that splendid plot.”

“I bet he’s talking about one of his characters,” Gwenivere whispered to no one in particular.

“Yes,” Lizzie asserted. “That scoundrel Robert Kennedy. Not that I’m any big fan of Lady Laura’s but I don’t blame her for running away from him.”

“If I remember correctly,” Angelo was thinking out loud, “Robert Kennedy was driven to madness not only by his wife’s desertion, but also because of our hero, Phineas Finn’s rescue of her and her undying love for him. Yet didn’t Kennedy succumb to his own melancholia in the end?”

“Precisely!” Trollope beamed. “Bravo, Detective Angelo!

“Yet how can the man here be your Phineas Finn?” Angelo asked, stroking his handsome chin. “After all, he was a work of fiction, si?”

“Ah, Detective,” Trollope nodded. “That he was. And as such he lived on in my imagination. At least until now.” Again, Trollope shook his head sadly.

“So see!” Beatrice flared. “There was someone else! It wasn’t a suicide. Tony here says so and if he says so, well, he’s writing the story, right?”

“Oh, give it up, Beatrice,” Lizzie sneered. “You know you didn’t see anything. It’s all in your head as usual!”

“My head!” Beatrice cried. “We’re talking Tony’s head here. Besides, I know what I saw! And if you try to....” Beatrice stepped toward her, drawing a fist back.

“Ladies, ladies!” Dante strode into the middle of the group, pulling his wife back from her attack. “Is this the way you’re going to behave the entire trip?”

“And you are?” Angelo sighed, his head spinning. It did appear that suicide was the most likely explanation, but yet, Trollope seemed to believe that the victim was a character from one of his novels. How could this be? And for that matter, how could Trollope be? If it was Phineas Finn at the base of the tower, then it did make sense that his melancholia may have driven him to leap. On the other hand, the Signora Beatrice seems fairly certain that she saw someone else on the balcony before Finn leapt to his death.

There was no way around it. He was going to have to haul them all in.

“Dante Fitzgerald,” Dante extended a hand to shake. “This one’s better half,” he squeezed Beatrice close.

“Stop it!” she shook him off. “I was in the middle of trying to explain to Detective Angelo how I saw someone else behind the guy who jumped. I don’t think it was suicide. I think someone pushed him.”

“Do you now?” Dante chuckled.
“Well, Detective, I guess this means you’ll be taking her off my hands for a while?”
“Looks that way, Sir.”
“Great. This means we can all head off to Lucca anyway. Lizzie? Rex? Electra? You all game?”

“I can NOT believe you’re all going to Lucca still!” Beatrice cried.

Shrugging, Rex grinned sheepishly, “I didn’t see anything. So, yeah, why not? It’s getting dark, Bea, and we can’t do anything for this poor fella. So why not? You wanna go, don’t you Lizzie?”

“Of course she does,” Gwenivere scoffed.
Dante shrugged, and then headed back away from the crowd. “You comin?” he asked.
“Hey, wait for me!” Rex called after him.
“I can’t decide,” she glanced around the little group. “I mean, suicide is so well.....unseemly, but if it is murder, well then....”

“I think you all better come with me to the station,” Angelo announced, exasperated.

“The police station?” Lizzie cooed. “It’s all so exciting. Like we’re in the middle of an Italian Mafioso Movie.”
“In your dreams,” Gwenivere scoffed.

“I would be most interested in your professional opinion of the victim’s mental capacity at the time of his unfortunate decision to forgo his life as he knew it,” Trollope said. “Especially as regards to your knowledge of my work and my characters’ motivations.”

“I’ll meet you all in about an hour,” Angelo noted. “You go with my partner here. Giancarlo, can you please take these good people down to the station? I’ll be there as soon as things are wrapped up here. I need to wait for the medical examiner.”

“Va beni, Detective. This way folks.”

Leading the way out of the square toward the waiting bus, Beatrice’s mind swirled. She knew she knew something. But what it was she wasn’t quite sure of.

“Shit, that’s what you’re taking us to town in?” she cried.
“That’s it, Signora,” Giancarlo faked a gallant bow to show them up the steps of the police issued bus.
“I’m gonna end up on a goddamn bus after all,” Beatrice muttered.
“Excuse me, Signora?”

“Nothing,” Beatrice sighed as she grabbed the rail and stepped gingerly up the dilapidated steps of the creaky old bus.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chapter 1

“I will not take some goddamn bus to Lucca!” Beatrice declared, challenging anyone in the little group to defy her. The Leaning Tower of Pisa loomed in the background, tourists milling about, posing at slants for pictures to send back home.

“Beatrice, honey, be reasonable....” Gwenivere soothed.

“Reasonable? I am being reasonable! It’s the rest of you who’ve lost your minds! What the hell are you thinking?” She waved one slim arm dramatically toward the murky sun low in the sky. “It’s going to be dark in an hour and you all want to climb on some stupid dilapidated bus and rumble on down to Lucca in the dark?”

“How do you know it’ll be dilapidated?” Lizzie asked, taunting.

Beatrice laughed ruefully, “It’s Italy for chrissakes! All the buses are dilapidated.”

Lizzie smiled slyly, glancing over at Dante who shrugged and sauntered away from the group.

“Lady Beatrice, if you will only calm yourself for a moment and deliberate
upon the infinite possibilities of such a charming excursion through the Italian countryside rich with lore and.....” Trollope began.

“Piss off, Tony!” she flashed. “The countryside ain’t so charming on some goddamn contrivance without a bathroom. Hell. The trains in this country are bad enough. I’m sure there’s no bathroom on the buses. And I am not going to put myself through that in order to see a bunch of goddamn medieval castles and shit.”

Trollope allowed himself an imperceptible raise of an eyebrow. Lady Beatrice, though one of his most charming companions, did, in fact, often display a most unladylike propensity for colorful language. He knew that he should be accustomed to her momentary emotional outbursts, for indeed, that was usually all they were; however, she still managed to take him aback when she flashed such explicatives in his direction.

“Hey,” Dante took a few steps back toward her, gently laying a hand on her shoulder. “If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to go. But for me, who knows when I’ll be in Italy again? I’d like to see the town.”

Beatrice glared at him, “Easy for you to say! All I’m asking is that you people give me just a little consideration....”

“Sweetie,” Electra began, her attempt at a motherly show of support straining her Botox, “we all sympathize with you. Lord knows it’s no picnic for me to hop on dirty old bus and rattle about the countryside for God knows how long....”

“It’s 57 minutes,” Rex interrupted, grinning stupidly. “At least that’s what the schedule said down at the train station."

Electra ignored him, taking a moment to gaze at the tilting tower back dropped by the blue sky only found in Italy. “I have to agree with Dante,” she smiled over at him, “as strange as that sounds. But we don’t know when we’ll be back in Italy again. The food. The people. The fashion. Actually, there is that show in Milan next fall that I must remind my people to...”

“Okay, Mom, enough,” Beatrice rolled her eyes, sighing. Why she thought it had been a good idea to bring her mother on this trip, she’ll never know. She musta been crazy! “You can pretend all you want to care about my welfare, but we all know it’s always all about you.”

“Of course it is,” Electra smiled serenely, laughing softly as she glanced around the little group fidgeting. “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my precious Baby Girl.”

“Cut the crap, Mom.”

“Ladies, ladies,” Dante strolled back to stand between the two women. “Like you said, Bea, it’s getting dark. I for one didn’t come to Italy to listen to you two go at it.”

“Oh, isn’t that rich!” Beatrice flashed. “I just don’t understand how you people can be so cold and unfeeling and....” Beatrice felt the telltale shaking of her lower lip, her face tighten. She was not going to let herself cry, goddammit! No way was she going to give them all the satisfaction of seeing her break. To hell with them all!

“Listen, Bea,” Gwenivere began. “I don’t need to see another stupid medieval city. I’m tired too and don’t mind taking the train back to Florence with you if you want the company.”

“There, you see?” Dante grinned. “Problem solved. You two can take the train back to Florence and the rest of us will head off to Lucca before hell freezes over.”

“I can’t believe you!” Beatrice cried, the tears spilling out in spite of her best effort. Why the hell does he always do this? “How can you belittle me, demean me at a time like this? How can you just dismiss me that way? Telling me to just go off with Gwenivere like that? Abandon me like that?”

Dante shook his head, “Hey, Honey, I was just kidding around. Trying to lighten the mood.”

“Well, it’s not light!”

“Yeah, it’s getting darker and darker,” Lizzie piped in. “And I for one am not sticking around for the Marriage Drama,” She turned round, slipping her arm through Rex’s, “You comin?”

Eyeing the group nervously, Rex ran his hand through his sandy mane, “Sure, I guess...”

“Oh, just leave me!” Beatrice cried, wiping a tear from her cheek, and then waving her hand Lucca-ward, dismissing them. “All of you, just get the hell out of here!”

“Beatrice,” Dante took her aside, “simmer down. We’re in a public place. A foreign country here. No need for the histrionics. Just go with Gwen back to Florence and I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Fuck you!” Beatrice cried, yanking her arm away from his.

“Lady Beatrice,” Trollope soothed, alarmed at his friend’s upset, “I too would forfeit the journey to Lucca to accompany you if this would help to ameliorate your distress.”

“Hey, guys?” Rex called back, “Can we get going now? It really is.....


The screams rang out into the crowded square.

Turning round, Beatrice watched in horror as a dark limp figure fell from the tower, landing with a horrible thunk on the grassy lawn.

“Oh my God,” she murmured, glancing round at the group, before kicking off her stilettos and running toward the crowd which had quickly gathered around the fallen body.