Authors: Vincent Zandri
He runs across the stony bottom
of the now dry lake bed until he comes to the cavern-like entrance. Leaning
over, he peers down into the abyss. Cool, rich, sweetly organic smelling air
emerges from the depths.
“But what of my sheep?” he asks
himself aloud. “Father is all alone and he is depending upon me. But what harm
can come from exploring this massive opening in the earth, even if only for a
few moments, to see what secrets it holds?”
That’s when it comes to him. The
flying object. Maybe this cave was its destination all along. Maybe the cave is
a home for whoever—or whatever—flies inside the machine?
Moving to the edge of the cave,
he stumbles, loses his balance, his right foot pushing a loose stone over the
edge so that it falls into the opening. The stone lands, coming into contact
with what sounds like a pool of water. The sound of the splash resonates up and
out of the cave’s mouth.
Sitting down, he hangs his legs
over the opening. Then, rolling onto his stomach, he gradually lowers himself
into the hole, his feet searching desperately for a foothold. When he finds
one, he realizes happily that he will be able to climb down into the cave using
only his hands and feet. Slowly, he descends into the cave, his hands gripping
the stone outcroppings, his feet balancing on the small, narrow, stair-tread-like
ledges until, finally, he finds himself standing on the cave floor, only the
light from the mid-day sun illuminating him.
He looks one way, spots the pool
of crystal clear water.
He looks the opposite way, sees
a pitch black shaft tall enough to accompany a man of great height without his
having to lower his head. The shaft is somehow claustrophobic and frightening.
It also possesses a strange smell that’s different from the sweet organic scent
that hovers over the pool. It’s a smell that reminds him of smoke, but also of
the fire pit inside the swordsmith’s hut in the center of Florence. An acrid,
almost toxic, odor that consists of burnt metals and gases. Knowing he won’t
get very far without a lamp of some kind, he, nonetheless, finds himself drawn
to the shaft. His body trembles and his heart beats ferociously in his chest.
“What secrets do you possess?”
he whispers aloud, his voice echoing inside the stone cavern.
When the voice from deep inside
the shaft answers him, asking, “What is it you wish to know?” the boy grows so
dizzy he feels he might faint.
He breathes in and out,
attempting to steady himself. To regain control.
“Who is it?” he says. “Who’s
there? Are you the man from the flying machine?”
“Come forward, Leonardo da Vinci,”
the voice says. “I shall tell you everything. I shall give you the answers you
And with that, the shaft becomes
engulfed in a light so bright, the boy must shield his eyes with his hand. Once
more lowering his hand, he begins to see something gradually taking shape
against the light. A silhouette of a man. A muscular man whose straight legs
are spread shoulder width apart, his arms fully extended at the shoulders, his
long, wavy hair draping his face like the depictions he’s seen of Jesus Christ
so many times before inside the galleries of Florence.
“Come forward, Leonardo,” the
man says, voice deep, commanding, resonating. A voice not of this world. “It’s
time you come face to face with your destiny.”
The boy is so enthralled with
the man, his voice, his dark image, he forgets to breathe.
“But there is one thing you must
remember. The knowledge you seek will not come without a price.”
The boy suddenly remembers to
breathe. “And what shall this price be, good sir?”
“Turn around and you shall see.”
The boy turns. The figure that
stares him down is a woman. A woman he’s not laid eyes upon in years. His
mother. Instead of hair, she sports a nest of live snakes. One of which lashes
out, bites the boy on the neck.
“My God!” he screams. “I am
going to die!”
“You have much to learn, young
Leonardo. For the price of knowledge is not only death, it is birth, death, and
rebirth. It is also, eternal life.”
69 Via Guelfa
“You sure you’re not married?” I say, rolling over onto my left
side on the bed, facing the open French windows of the bedroom, the night air
cool and clean on our naked skin, the light of the brilliant moon bathing us
like it must have bathed the Renaissance masters of the past. Caravaggio, Michelangelo
… da Vinci. If we crane our necks just so, we can spot the golden cupula
that rests on top of the Duomo (the dome Brunelleschi built nearly six hundred
years ago) less than a half-mile away in the center of the city.
From the cobbled streets below
comes the noise of young revelers as they return from the bars and retire to
their hostels. Across the street, a humble family which consists of a young
man, equally young woman, and their little boy will already be fast asleep as
the mouthwatering aromas of pizza and roasted meats still waft up from the
trattoria several doors down on the right. Farther down on the left is the
Korean brothel, which is situated directly across the street from an old
convent that now houses indigent, elderly women. Sometimes, on any given late
morning, you might spot one of the Korean prostitutes leaving the house dressed
in nothing but a red silken robe, a plastic bag filled with food in her hand,
which she will then hang on the big wood door of the old convent. Who says
sinners don’t have hearts?
Go not but for the grace of God
“No, I’m not married,” the woman
says with a smile, her long, wavy, black hair veiling her smooth, almost pure-milky,
brown-eyed face. Her small, but firm, breasts soak in the moonlight, along with
her flat tummy and beautifully shaped legs. “I’m far too young for a husband,”
she adds, leaning into me, kissing me tenderly on the mouth. “But not too young
for a lover like you, Chase Baker.”
The Italian woman, whose name is
Andrea Gallo, captured my attention the moment I pulled into the Goose for my
usual early evening beer. She was dressed in a knee-length beige skirt, tall
black leather boots, and a red wine colored cotton turtleneck sweater. As far
as I could tell, she wore no bra and her humble, but lovely, breasts burst
forth from the sweater in a way that nearly brought me to tears.
What really struck me was not her
breasts, or her apparent youth, or her height which was a full two or three
inches more vertical than my own, but the purple beret she wore on her head.
The way it defied gravity by hanging at an angle over her right shoulder, and
the way it made her black hair seem all the thicker and wavier and more inviting.
It accentuated her dark, full, wet eyes.
Her lips were painted with a
glistening red lipstick, and it was all I could do not to ask her to marry me
on the spot. She looked like someone born not of this century, but early in the
last one. A woman who might have been witness to the Spanish Civil War or
perhaps Paris during the Nazi occupation. I half expected to hear bombs
bursting outside the wide windows of the Goose while a hand-cranked gramophone spun
scratchy Edith Piaf records and exhausted partisans entered through the door,
rifles slung over their shoulders, their leather jackets damp, their faces
tired and gruff, hand-rolled cigarettes dangling from the corners of their
mouths. Clearly, Andrea was a woman born for an era and age long since passed.
To be truthful, I thought myself
too old for her.
Single, middle-aged men can do all
right in Florence with the younger generation, but this woman was out of my
league at any age. Which is why she took me by total surprise when she said, “Chase
Baker, the famous bestselling novelist, I presume?” Her voice was accented.
Italian. Most likely from the north. But then, I’ve been known to be wrong
about dialects. In any case, her English was excellent.
I turned one way and then the
other. She was addressing me, of course, but I was neither famous nor
bestselling—at least in terms of the James Pattersons and Dan Browns of the literary
world—but what the hell. It didn’t hurt to hear the words coming from someone
as stunning as her.
The obvious question: “How’d you
guess my name, gorgeous?”
Chase the flattery hound.
When she smiled from across the bar,
little dimples formed on her rosy cheeks. They made me want to melt.
“The owners told me you like to
come here for a drink after work.”
“They blew my cover like that? Now
the entire city is gonna converge on the Goose. I won’t get any peace.” I drank
some beer. Then, “And speaking of coming here often, why haven’t I met you
“I only just started yesterday.”
Frowning. “Sadly, you didn’t come in.”
I shook my head.
“I had a tour group,” I said. “The
thirty-minute walking tour of Florence highlights turned into far too many
hours when my two French clients insisted on stopping for a quick apperitivo at
The blood rushed to my cheeks. “That
would be tour guide/client privilege.”
“Your reputation precedes you,
Chase Baker,” she said with a slow wink of her eye. “But tell me something,
what is such a successful author doing running tours?”
A shot of ice water shot up and
down my spine. I’m blowing a cover I had no part in creating.
“Let’s just say that a writer needs
something to write about. Guiding the occasional tour group gives me plenty of
material to work with.” Along with the much needed
. But, I
decided not to let on about that. Why diminish her rather divine vision of me?
Folding her arms over her beautiful
chest. “Like two French girls, I suppose.”
In my head, recollections of too
much grappa at Harry’s, then accompanying the French girls back to the Hotel
Opera in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the invitation for a night cap in their
suite, another couple of grappas, some Motown spinning on the stereo, some
dirty dancing going on in the sitting room while I watched from the couch…
I’d woken up early that next
morning just after sunrise, slipped out of the king-sized bed from between the two
sleeping beauties, put on my pants and boots, collected the rest of my clothes
and finished getting dressed out in the hall, ceiling-mounted CCTV cameras be
damned. It didn’t dawn on me until I got back home that I’d never collected my
fee for the tour.
At least I got out before they
could pilfer my wallet.
My eyes peeled on the beautiful
woman and her purple beret, I drank down the rest of my beer and decided I’d
better leave before I spilled too much Chase Baker reality to her. A rather
unglamorous reality. Slipping off my stool, I placed a five euro note on the
“I’ll be seeing you, kid.”
“Oh, wait,” she said, reaching
under the bar. She pulled out a copy of my first novel,
The Shroud Key
Something else that took me by surprise. “One of my favorite books,” she added.
“You write so much better than that Mr. Brown character, because you actually
live your adventures. Will you give me the pleasure of signing it for me?”
The ice in my spine replaced with
pure warmth. “It would be my pleasure, believe me.”
That’s how I got to ask her for a
name, and that’s when she told me she was just getting off work. And that’s
when she asked me to have a drink with her.
“You still got it, Baker,” I
whispered to myself, praying I wasn’t dreaming. “You still got skills.”
But then, I’m not sure I actually
believed it. It was, however, nice to think it, even for a little while.
That was four of the most beautiful
hours of my life ago.
Now, as I lie beside Andrea,
pressed against her warm, smooth body, I feel the blood returning to the proper
places. My hands begin their inevitable searching, petting, touching. Like we’ve
only just shed our clothing seconds, not hours, ago.
“I think I’m falling for you, baby,”
I whisper. “You could be the one I’ve been waiting for all my life.”
“Such pretty words coming from a
writer,” she says before moving closer into me, kissing me softly, passionately.
The front door opens downstairs. I
don’t give it a whole lot of thought, considering my present company, and the
adult activities we’re engaged in. The door slams shut. I attribute the late hour
rudeness to some college kids who’ve rented the downstairs apartment for the week
off Airbnb. But then, I hear footsteps. Hard lug soles slapping the stone
treads. More than one set of footsteps. Three men, I’m judging. Maybe four.
My built-in shit detector kick-starts.
Tells me to wake up. I sit up straight.