Monday, May 18, 2009

Turandot

This story is being transferred from Blogger and almost rewritten on Wed evening, December 28th. It's still not ready on December 29th - best to wait as major changes are occurring all the time. This is from my time living in Sicilia and as the characters are all real life but embellished something awful, I need to be a bit careful how they are handled.
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Hotel staff

Signóre Failla, 57, Modica, Sicily, proprietor
Signóra Failla, 42, Modica, Sicily, proprietor
Vittoria Scirpa, 26, Scicli, Sicily, front desk
Francesco Giavatto, 27, Modica, Sicily, waiter
Tommaso Scirpa, 25, Cava d’Ispica, Sicily, waiter
Claudia Gintoli, 21, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Francesca Vindigni, 19, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Eleonora Iacono, 19, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Giuliana Licitra, 29, Frigintino, Sicily, former employee

IT delegates

Giovanni Criscione, 29, Milano, Italy, venture capital
Arturo Alecci, 29, Scicli, Sicily, freelance, venture capital
Massimiliano Pace, 37, Donnalucata, Sicily, Impada, systems expertise
Johannes Ilkka, 54, Helsinki, Suomi, Sitra, venture capital
Aino Ilkka, 27, Kerkola, Suomi, Tekes, programme co-designer
Ilmari Jokipii, 26, Helsinki, Suomi, Tekes, systems expertise
Jaakko Perttula, 26, Helsinki, Suomi, Tekes, systems expertise.
Yuri Federov, 41, St. Petersburg, Russia, Lukoil, venture capital
Natalia Beria, 38, Smolensk, Russia, Gotek, systems expertise
Marcel Dumont, 34, Orly, France, Techniques, systems expertise
Cédric Ratouis, 29, Iles de Paris, programme co-designer
Isabelle Ratouis, 27, Iles de Paris, systems expertise
Christa von Sievers, 51, Kempten, Bavaria, security issues
Tom Everard, 43, Tarporley, UK, Innovative Technologies, security packages
Robyn Young, 31, Tarporley, UK, Innovative Technologies, security packages
Vaclav Chmyz, 41, Warsaw, Polska, Juri Micha, venture capital
Paul Fox, 43, Auckland, New Zealand, venture capital
Maaka Rawiri, 28, Auckland, New Zealand, systems expertise
Salimah Rafa, 21, Tunisia, listed as IT expert but does not appear to be

Other characters

Simone Pierrine, of indeterminate age, mysterious resident of Modica
Signóre Pietro de Luca, 54, Palermo, Sicily, tenor
Alberto Tasca, 43, Modica, Sicily, police inspector
...

With the nightfall also came the welcome drop in temperature.

The electronic board in Piazza Garibaldi they'd scooted past on the way down to the beach at Pozzallo had registered 41 degrees but now it was a tolerable 29 degrees, which had people opening shutters and venturing outdoors.

The beginning of the conference had been set for August 15th at Hotel Palazzo Failla, high on Modica Alta. There were sensitivities between the north and south of Italia/Sicilia and as there was a fair amount of capital floating around in pockets of Sicilia, still untapped, then Massimiliano Pace, of Donnalucata, Sicily, through company Impada, together with Giovanni Criscione, of Milano and Arturo Alecci, of Scicli, had got it into their heads to advertise, through journals and social media, a tech conference where expertise could meet capital.

Almost every start-up in Europe and beyond had applied and a few venture capital providers had sniffed about, fronting for other names. The idea was a goer if they could cut the participants to manageable levels.

Robyn Young [Innovative Technologies] knew Modica through travel and having had her Sicilian fling with Francesco Giavatto who waited at this particular hotel, he rented a stone-walled room he called la Cava even further up the hill on Corso Regina Margherite and to this he brought Robyn back, they’d often be seated on the broad steps before the boarded up chiesa di San Giovanni, looking out over the lights of the city below and admiring it all, in peace.

If they wanted action, it was down the winding roads of Modica Alta, in the action centre of Modica Bassa below.

As this was summer and most Italians/Sicilians left town if they could for the seaside, there were generally rooms available, there were in this case and Tom could have one, Robyn would have one too until Francesco’s intentions became better known in her direction.

This city’s architecture, frankly, was living history, from the Chiaramonte influence to the gothic, to the Spanish to the Arabic. To even the most culturally dulled brain, the vibrancy of the past, the look of the whole area, meant it was a perfect place for a conference.

It was the 14th and there was to be an open air recital in front of the hotel, many artists, culminating in the appearance, at no small expense, of that great tenor of Palermo, Pietro de Luca. No one was going to miss this.

Up at the Cave, they could hear the first strains of music and realized they’d not have a seat, they’d been warned half of Modica would turn out for this.

Regina Margherite could not be walked down too quickly, on account of the greasy black residue on the asphalt, plus the 1 in 4 drop but they eventually made it to the bottom, turned left at Palazzo Napolino and there they all were - seated al fresco on wooden chairs in the narrow Piazza, the night sky clear, the traffic having dissipated, stillness around except for the artists at the far end up on that platform, partially silhouetted by the glow of lights from the lower town.

Francesco saw them, came through the crowd with a chair, with a young lady, also with a chair. They were in their best waiting and waitressing garb, of deep maroon, there were hugs, the chairs were offered, Francesco did the introductions in a whisper and they had to go and work.

‘Isn’t this lovely,’ whispered Tom, Robyn smiled.

Next thing they knew, the one they’d been introduced to as Giuliana appeared with a covered tray, covered presumably so other guests would not get ideas, she was beaming, she asked Robyn to pull the cloth back,  there were two wines, unfortunately in plastic beakers but no matter and then came the almond impanatigghi and canoli but tastiest of all was Giuliana, thought Tom, as she smiled down with a slightly bemused look.

She left quickly and offered morsels to other patrons as well.  The programme, which they’d now missed most of, had come to its climax, Signóre Pietro de Luca began Nessun Dorma and the whole of the hilltop fell silent, apart from Signóre de Luca of course, a heady moment no one there was going to forget in a hurry.

The piece came to its crashing finale, rapturous applause erupted, Tom looked round at the standing multitude wildly expressing their appreciation then, at almost the same moment, behind him and above, he caught the grotesque sight of a woman falling from an upstairs window, Signóre Failla also saw it, three waiters, plus Giuliana were already heading in that direction.

Robyn saw just the last part of the fall, she assumed they’d take the body inside the northern entrance bar immediately, probably incurring the wrath of the carabinieri but stopping hysteria before it began. In this, Signóre Failla was standing on his intergenerational position in the community and when one of the local officers, a sallow youth, assisted him, it was not the onlookers’ business any more.

Signóre Failla now appeared close to the stage, it was time for his speech to the dignitaries, to the performers, to the audience, his wife had begun without him and now he gathered himself, moved to the podium to further applause, waited for his wife to finish, then made a most emotional speech which had the performers almost blushing, everything wound up most satisfactorily, guests were urged to remain and enjoy the wine and snacks, at which the girls sprang up, took a tray each and Signóre Failla mingled with the throng, making small talk and graciously accepting accolades.

Francesco came over and nodded to him, the police would delay their arrival for twenty minutes, which was about the time it would take for the wine and morsels to be finished up, the crowd slowly drifted their separate ways, some to Ristorante La Gazza Ladra but most homewards and forty minutes later saw a group of seven gathered in the luncheon bar, being addressed by Alberto Tasca, chief officer for the area.

In a nutshell, with Giuliana and the front-desk man translating when necessary, it seemed the poor woman, Aino Ilkka, a Finn of 27 years from the Kerkola area near Lapland and one of the delegates, had decided to remain in her room throughout the performance, pleading a headache, husband Johannes, 54, had been seated outside during the recital and the most curious aspect was his immediate lack of emotion upon hearing of her demise.

Tasca had the theme of the conference clear in his head within ten minutes – Arturo Alecci explained what the whole conference was about, though Tasca had heard bits and pieces of course.

First cabs off the rank now for Tasca were Signóre Failla, Francesco, Tom,  Giuliana translating – and Robyn.

Si, Tom had seen the woman falling first. Si, it was almost as if she were diving into a swimming pool, not falling but difficult to ascertain in a split second.

Signóre Failla confirmed that he’d seen the headfirst movement of the lady, the view then obscured by a large potted tree, one of many dotted about the outside of the building. Had she seem deceased already? He shrugged, ‘How can I know?’ to which Tom chipped in that she’d certainly not been flailing or anything like that.

And so it went on. Next up was Giuliana, and Tom’s ears pricked up – he wanted to know about her and what was worse, she knew he did and went a little red, quickly glancing in his direction, then back.

Si, she was from Frigintini and helped out on occasions at the hotel, such events as this evening’s, for example. Si, she was a lady of leisure, aged 29 although she was studying for a degree in horticulture, from home. Tasco knew of the Licitra family in the Frigintini area and could understand this lady. Si, she’d learned English some four years earlier and had a smattering of that tongue. No, she’d seen almost nothing except where the falling lady had disappeared behind the awning.

Tasco had also picked up on the connection between Miss Licitra and the Englishman - there might be something more there, there might not.

The waiters and waitresses were interviewed - no one had been upstairs via the staircase during the recital but si, there was a staff exit from the far end of the luncheon bar, which led upstairs to a toilet and no, it was not possible to access the guest chambers from there.

Signóre Ilkka came through with Giovanni and made it plain from the outset that he wanted this thing over and done with and would the inspector or whatever he called himself kindly get on with it?

Giovanni winced, knowing from bitter experience how the Italian police could tie you up in red tape if you failed to respect their procedures and let them do it at their own pace. This man seemed to be heading for a fall, unless he knew something or somebody Giovanni wasn’t sure about.

Giuliana, the other staff and Tom finished up their coffees and the former now offered to drop the latter back at la Cava on the way home, as Robyn had agreed to stay on with Francesco for some time.

The car was parked over in the cliff edge carpark and to get there necessitated passing the point of impact on the ground. There was nothing there. Nothing, almost as if it had never happened.

Her car stopped at the top of the one way Corso Regina Margherite and it was an awkward moment. She was dog tired after that affair tonight, he was tongue-tied but both knew they’d enjoyed the first day of this association and the look exchanged confirmed it would continue, as a matter of fact – for lunch on the morrow.

‘Ciao, grazie,’ was said and each went home.

II

The word ‘conference’ did not accurately describe the get-together so much as ‘workshop’. It was a very hands-on affair, with the practical application and drawbacks at issue, the annoying obstacles were being brainstormed over and into this came the slight form of Alberto Tasco, apologizing and wishing to speak with Signóre Everard e Signórina Young again.

They excused themselves and went to the guest bar where Giuliana was waiting, something which caused him to immediately redden, a point not lost on anyone.

‘Signóre e Signórina,’ said Tasco, ‘I’d like you to cast your mind back to last night and describe again what you saw, not only at the scene of the tragedy but all the way along the side of the hotel. You see, both you and the young lady may have seen something but not noticed it, if you take my meaning.’

Tom nodded. ‘As you know, the left corner of the building was where it happened and you know, interestingly, the light was not on in that room or at least it didn’t appear to be. As we move to the right, the next part – I have no way of knowing where one room ends on that floor – it was also in darkness but as we approach the bar -’

‘Signóre, Signórina, may we go outside and can you demonstrate this to me?’

They all went out to the piazza.

‘From here to here, the other end of the bar, had a light on upstairs, the next part here also had but from there to the end had not. What think you, Robyn?’ She concurred. ‘Is that significant?’

‘Let me confirm – the room on the northern end, to the left here and behind the guests last night, from where the lady fell, did not have the room light on?’

‘Correct.’

‘What would you say if I was to tell you that that is not the room of Signóra Ilkka but of Signóra Failla herself, whenever they stay at the hotel?’

‘Extraordinary. Could you tell me where the dead lady’s room actually gave onto?’ Giuliana translated for Tasco.

‘Certainly, it was on the far side of the building, over the main corsa.’

‘I see.’

‘Yes,’ Tasco replied, this time in English,‘why would she choose this window?’

‘Or why would someone else have chosen this particular window?’

The inspector looked at Everard. ‘I’m asking all guests to give small word portraits of the others; I’d appreciate if you’d now give yours, Signóre e Signórina. Start with the fellow conference delegates.’

Robyn thought about it. ‘Johannes and Aino Ilkka. He’s a hard man in the business mould, she was softer and younger, the two not necessarily going together but there was also something not quite right about her. I had no time to think much more about it -’

‘Did you intend to?’

‘Well, yes. Quite apart from being an interesting field in itself, my work is in security programmes so yes, I intended to sum people up along the way.’

‘Go on please.’

‘Tom?’

‘Well yes, there was some sort of coldness between them which didn’t seem to fit the idea of a newly married couple with one many years the junior of the other.’

‘Signórina Licitra here is many years your junior.’

‘She is kind to us, we like her.’

Giuliana showed nothing on her face, Robyn smiled, the Inspector asked Tom to continue. He passed it to Robyn.

‘Salimah Rafa is interesting. As an Arab and presumably a Muslim, her presence at the conference puzzles me but was at the insistence of Arturo.’

‘And what do you make of that?’

‘I’d hope Arturo doesn’t have plans of his own for the distribution and sale of the finished product.’ Tasco smiled at her remark. ‘She doesn’t seem attached to anyone and yet she’s pretty pretty, in her early 20s. She couldn’t be orthodox, I wouldn’t have thought, otherwise where is her man and why is she dressed almost provocatively, in Muslim terms?

Paul Fox and Maaka Rawiri are the two New Zealanders. Not Maori, despite one of the names but can’t quite see why they’re at a European conference like this.’

‘Potential antipodaean distributor of the product?’ put in Tom.

She continued. ‘Marcel Dumont from Paris, Cédric Ratouis and the beautiful woman with him, Isabelle whom I presume is his wife, plus Massimiliano Pace from Donnalucata – they all seem logical. All are involved in the IT field in industry, the former connected with the finance in Paris.

Yuri Federov is logical. Vaclav Chmyz, the Pole, is also. Johannes Ilkka is the money from up north and the other Finns, Ilmari Jokipii and Jaakko Perttula, are the expertise.

Who else? Tom?

‘Christa von Sievers has reason to be here by virtue of her IT contribution but she also has an interesting association.’

‘Si, we know of that,’ murmured Tasco. Giuliana looked from one to the other and determined to ask Tom later. ‘Grazie, Signóre Everard, Signórina Young e Signóra  Licitra. And now perhaps, your views on the staff of this hotel.’

Tom looked at Robyn, she indicated he do it. ‘I’ll give them but even then, there were all the guests to take into consideration, those at the concert I mean. Anyone could have walked in, hearing the singing all around Modica Alta and any one of them could have been the one, should this have been a murder.’

‘You were once a member of military intelligence, low level, were you not, Signóre?’

‘Long ago, in a minor capacity, as you say.’

‘You have a special reason, do you not, to keep an eye on Signóra von Sievers?’

‘If you know that already, also on Yuri Federov’s sidekick, Natalia Beria.’

‘You’re being remarkably open, Signóre.’

‘Always pays when it can be discovered by a bit of research anyway. No doubt you’re aware of one of my personal missions.’

‘As, no doubt, are they. Which is why your prints on the window sill from where Signóra Ilkka fell did not lead to a rash of questions from me. Any thoughts on Ilmari Jokipii or Jaakko Perttula, from Finland?

‘Not particularly. Seem logical.’

‘Thank you.’



Hotel Palazzo Failla


III

In the luncheon bar, Francesco was waiting, Robyn glanced at Tom, he smiled, it was pretty clear the way the land lay. They disappeared.

Giuliana went and brought back foccaccie and chicken salads. ‘Tom, you wish to go to Marina di Modica or Sampieri with me this afternoon? I have some free time.’

‘Are you meeting up with your friends?’

She smiled. ‘No, I’m showing you the sights.’

‘I’d love that, Giuliana. Should I bring beach things?’

‘Si and I’ll pack some things to eat.’

‘Give me time to update myself on the morning’s doings upstairs and then I’ll join you. Where? At the car?’

‘Si.’

They all broke for the afternoon and he soon found himself in the silver Rav 4, being transported to Sampieri. Looking from the corner of his eye at the driver, he saw the typical dark-haired Italian with Sicilian overtones but her shyness did not seem to be what he’d heard about local denizens and even in his covert scrutiny, she went bright red and lost her English, so he swung over to very bad Italian which caused her to choke in turn and this was going to be a lovely day, thought Tom.



Francesco had done well, but his choice of car had Robyn intrigued. He might have gone for the Lambos or Ferraris but chose instead the Maserati, and not the Gran Cabrio either but the Ghibli
http://www.maserati.co.uk/maserati/gb/en/models/ghibli
He was making quite a statement to his partners and clientele with this choice – he understood style and beauty but was almost disdainful at the same time about outlaying huge amounts on frivolous machinery and power he could never use – for him, the machinery had to fulfil a function … and do it well.

Robyn liked that and his lack of pretence, his lack of this almost necessity of some Italian men to show off. In short, he was almost a bridge between the Italian and the Anglo. That he was even giving her the time of day was beyond the call of business and frankly, she was flattered.

They did not go to Porzallo but to a little place further down the coast, where it may have been rockier but was less populated.

She herself was no slouch in the looks department but neither did she play the femme-fatale, she was a canny operator and if Tom had been asked, a thoroughly nice person.  Why had they not … well?

Why do any two people not? Circumstances? Mixing business with pleasure, never got around to it?  Too much good friends? It wasn’t entirely off the drawing board but not for now.

That afternoon, with the rocky beach under the umbrella, the cool temperature of the cafe off the arcade in the middle of the stonewalled building – it was a slow build with Francesco and she … well, she loved it.

...

Hot.

That’s what the beach was, packed with locals and tourists, the sea breeze and umbrella barely reducing the stifling heat and Tom’s whiteness, compared to Giuliana’s light-olive colouring, stood out embarrassingly.

On the other hand, she clearly hadn’t been out in the sun much herself either, tan lines clearly demarcated and as she handed him the impanate and he handed her the water, there clearly had to be something else to help this day along.

They found it in a walk over the rocky shore, all the way to the old brick factory, the abandoned but dominating feature of the shoreline. Her flat sandals, so beloved of Italian women, were a bit treacherous and at one point she slipped, he caught her and that was the first contact taken care of.

An awkward time now ensued when neither could think what to say, they were walking very close, hands occasionally brushing against the other’s, he crossed the line and took hers, her fingers immediately slipping inside his, in total silence.

‘Tomas,’ she then said in a slightly elevated voice, once they’d reached the wall, ‘we go over there.’

‘There’ took them inside the wall and he had no idea of the legality of the thing but as the gate had been unlocked, he reasoned it was all right. The shade afforded by the eaves of the brickworks proper was a welcome relief, they both turned at the same time and the inevitable happened. Interestingly, though she’d allowed herself this far, now she was unsure and hung back and he flattered himself she still wanted … but just couldn’t.

No matter, he thought, it could also have been that she’d realized the futility with one such as him or hadn’t liked what she’d found close up. They’d take it as it came. He ventured another kiss on spec, she allowed it and tried a couple of daring moves herself, then pulled back again. That at least confirmed something to him.

Well, all right, let’s move on.

She led through the gate first, he following, there was a soft ‘phut’ sound and he caught the bullet in the right arm, just below the shoulder, falling to the ground.

IV

In his hospital bed in la Sorda, Giuliana had been beside him for some time but his next visitor was Alberto Tasca. Tom smiled semi-apologetically as the inspector brought a chair over and sat down.

Tom and Giuliana assured the man – they’d seen no one suspicious but yes, Tom could speculate on who it might have been; it might be worth following up on the Germans and Russians.

Tasco thanked him and took his leave.

Twenty-five minutes later, of all people, the Pole Vaclav Chmyz appeared and immediately the communication barrier was the problem, though he knew some Italian.

Chmyz was clearly uneasy but as neither Giuliana nor Tom were making any moves to converse, the man decided to come out with it. He’d seen Natalia Beria at Sampieri. Had he told the inspector? Not yet.

The visit concluded soon after, with thanks for the information and Giuliana now stated the obvious: ‘There were many people at Sampieri yesterday, Tomas, including this man Chmyz himself. Everyone had to go somewhere to escape the heat and we have three main beaches. It might mean something but it might not.’

Now she became uneasy. ‘Tomas, you know … back at the brick factory ...’

‘That’s your business, you have your own reasons, your lips were sweet, that’s all I know and all I want to know.’

‘I’d like to tell you, to explain. I can’t.’

‘Then don’t,’ he smiled and she took his hand.

V

The conference was going ahead as per schedule but the security aspects had been left towards the end, for when Robyn and Tom could talk about them with the other security people.

Now, in an annoying development, just as he was being briefed, the inspector appeared and wanted to talk.

As Tom wasn’t altogether mobile in his condition, he’d taken an upstairs room for the remaining two days and this was the venue for the questioning. The inspector had brought Giuliana with him and she didn’t seem too put out by it.

‘Signóre Everard, why do you think Signóra Ilkka went out of that particular window? Why would either she or someone else wish the tragedy to be so visible?’

‘At first I thought it was to make a point to her husband for some reason known only to the two of them. It still might have been but there were anomalies. Why from the corner room, behind the audience, behind him even? He didn’t see it happen. It could have been a love thing and she reasoned that so close to the northern bar entrance, it would be taken care of very quickly.

One thing which puzzled me was this high dive – she landed head first. Now either that was to ensure instant death and no lingering pain or else, if it had been his doing, how had she taken that trajectory?

I thought it through and it seems to me that that room was being used because it was only the window without security devices. Signóra Failla didn’t need such things and I speculate they weren’t covered by local planning laws. Therefore Aino did it herself and took a swan dive.’

Tasco rubbed his chin and said, ‘Regulations cover all windows. That window did have security devices but they’d been disabled. Also, they’re not primarily to prevent people jumping out but to prevent undesirables getting in.’

‘So someone might have been trying to get in to rob Signóra Failla’s room, met Aino and threw her out.’

‘Why was she in that room at that moment?’

‘I don’t know, Inspector. You tell me and while you’re about it, you might tell me why anyone would want to break in at that moment, during a concert and with people milling around on the main street as well as in the piazza?’

‘Si, my thoughts also.’

‘Let’s face it, anyone could have come in the door of the northern bar -’

‘No, it was locked.’

‘Then the boys who got her inside the hotel did it very quickly.’

‘Si, that is so.’

‘It’s complicated.’

‘It is. Now, do you see any connection with the attack on you and that on Signóra Ilkka?’

‘I think they might be separate, the reason for my own having already occurred to you.’

VI

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That's as far as I've got t 14:50 on Thurs, Dec 29th.

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