The Demon Catchers of Milan (10 page)

BOOK: The Demon Catchers of Milan
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“No, you should come with us. It’s not good for you to be cooped up here so much,” he said, and I couldn’t hide my delight. Cooped up? More and more often, I felt I could hardly breathe.

After Égide arrived and we were out on the street, I could tell Giuliano was watching for something. Emilio had fallen back, on the phone with the curlfrond again, the unseen Alba. I think I would have spent a lot more energy trying not to be jealous if Giuliano hadn’t been scanning the street this way and that.

“Uh … Nonno? Do you expect another attack?” I finally asked, nervous as heck.

“What? No, no,” he replied. I didn’t get much more out of him while we visited the baker, the greengrocer, the tobacconist’s—where he bought not cigarettes but bus and subway passes—and the odd shop that sold everything from salad spinners to cheap kitchen magnets. While I was staring at a plastic Nativity set in the window, Emilio’s phone rang again.


Pronto. Ciao
, Signore Galeazzo. Now—slow down. Right. Are you at home? No, we’re not at the shop. Where are you? Ha! We’re just around the corner from you. Wait right where you are.”

Just then, Giuliano came out of the shop, handing another bag to his grandson.

“Paolo Galeazzo’s around the corner,” said Emilio. “We need to go to his grandmother
now
.”

They both looked at me, no doubt wondering what to do with me.

“No time to take her home,” said Giuliano shortly.

We were already out the door of the shop.

“Call Francesco, Anna Maria. Tell them our route. We need them to walk with us. You have your—?”

Emilio nodded and touched his chest pocket.

“I think we can manage,” Giuliano said thoughtfully. “Yes, Francesco and Anna Maria, both.”

Of course: to protect me. Emilio nodded. Stunned, I watched him struggle with bags and cell phone for a moment. Then I took the bags from him so he could call.

A few minutes later, we found Paolo Galeazzo standing outside a bookstore. Giuliano made hasty introductions as we began to walk.

“I was coming to get you,” said Paolo. He was a skinny guy, almost thinner than Francesco, his narrow face white with fear. He and Giuliano began to speak together in low voices as we hurried forward. My stomach knotted with fear and excitement. I didn’t like seeing Giuliano so focused on Paolo, and with Emilio still talking on the phone, I felt unguarded. I hunched my shoulders.

After Emilio had spoken to Francesco and Anna Maria, he put his phone away, looked at me, and shook his head.

“We have to find another way,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”

“Tell me about it,” I rolled my eyes. My shoulders loosened.

“Ah, well, even if there wasn’t this problem … When we do
let you go out alone, Mia, you should still be very careful. It’s a big city.”

“I know,” I said, and I couldn’t keep the longing out of my voice. He laughed.

“Of course you want to explore. Well, we are working on it.”

I wanted to ask how, but as we turned the corner onto the Via Monte di Pietà, a more important question plagued me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation of the night before.

I asked Emilio, “Should I really be tagging along?”

He smiled his one-corner-up smile. “Do you have a choice?”

“Well—”

We hurried forward in silence. Finally I gave up and said, “I’m just afraid I’ll be in the way. I don’t know anything about what you do.”

The word I used—“afraid,”
timoroso
, was too small to do the job it had to, and I felt the same way.

“But you want to know,” he stated simply. “You must know. At least I think so.”

“Yes.” My voice shook even though I didn’t want it to. “Emilio …”

“Yes?”

I lowered my voice, pretty sure we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff in the street.

“In the shop, last night … I’ve figured out that I wasn’t supposed to see that guy.”

I didn’t tell him how.

I believe Emilio was never a fool, not from the moment he was born; yet the look he gave me then made me think that perhaps he had never really seen me before. He lowered his voice, too.

“You did, did you?”

He smiled at me. I waited a moment, then asked, “He said that your grandfather told him to watch that street.”

“Yes.”

“And you said that the candles had warned you.”

“Yes.”

“So the candles tell us things?”

I had never said “us” like this before. I wondered if he noticed, or if it would bother him that I spoke of myself alongside him and the other demon catchers.

“That’s one thing they do,” he said, nodding just like Giuliano. Again I was struck by the similarity between them, a family likeness of gesture and habits of speech far more than feature. Left to myself, I never would have guessed that the short, gray, elderly man heading down the street in front of us bore any blood relation to the young man beside me, with his eyes like storms and his fallen-star hair.

“What else do the candles do? And the—that guy?” I asked.

“Think about it some, and tell me what you think, and I will tell you whether you are right,” he said.

“Why can’t you just tell me?”

My words stopped Emilio dead in the street.

“When your government tells you your city is safe, do you
believe them? When your mother tells you a boy is bad, do you believe her?”

“No, yes, sometimes, but—”

“But should you?”

“I don’t think so, but—”

“Your government can’t see everything, and your mother judges boys by the standards of her youth. This doesn’t mean your government is wrong or that your mother is not wise, though, does it?”

“No.”

“Yet it does mean that you don’t just take their word for everything. So why should we just tell you things? Would you be wise to take our word for it? Why should you trust us more than your own senses?”

Why indeed? I wondered if he knew I had heard them in the night, whispering in the kitchen about how I had seen that spirit guy in the shop, had understood what he’d said. I went on, “But you know you know more than I do. Your grandfather, too. Your senses know more than my senses.”

“Maybe they do. But I wasn’t born that way. We all had to train our senses. So do you.

“Our family mostly tells the truth, Mia, but you should not just believe what you are told. You’re not a child. You must become accustomed to seeing the world with your own eyes, catching the details that everyone wants you to miss.”

“What details?”

“Keep watching. But, Mia, you already don’t believe what
you’re told. Why should you believe me or my grandfather? Keep watching. Keep your eyes open.”

“Okay.” I sighed. Great. I couldn’t have a tiny amount of security in this crazy situation. I waited a minute before pursuing another subject.

“So. Signora Galeazzo. That’s who that guy was talking about, right? Her house. Somebody was coming back. Somebody was going to take a long time to get there. So, if I’m using my own senses here,” I added sarcastically, “I’m guessing not some living person.”

“Definitely not living,” said Emilio.

“And?”

“We don’t know much else. We know a bit about the history of the neighborhood. We’ve known she was coming for some time, but we’ve only known where her thoughts were bent a little more recently. There’s a way. You can tell.…”

For a moment, I pitied him as he paused—I guessed he was trying to decide what he could and couldn’t tell me—and then I got mean. My sister hates it when I do that, but I figured I was justified.

“How?” I asked, sweet and completely innocent. Right.

He looked over at me.

“It’s hard to explain, especially right now,” he said loftily.

Sure, Emilio. Sure
. I frowned and kept walking until my curiosity took over again.

“So, are we talking about another—another demon?” I asked, lowering my voice even further.
Demon
was one of the
first Italian words I had ever learned, even though I hadn’t really wanted to. I had run across it in the dictionary one night looking for something else, and since it was very similar to the English word, just an extra
E
on the end,
demone
, my eyes had been drawn to it like some miserable lodestone.

“We don’t think so,” Emilio replied. “We’re not entirely sure, but we think instead it’s a
fantasma
.”

“A fantasy?”

“A ghost. An unquiet spirit, a restless spirit,” he said, speaking in English for the first time since he had warned me about the candles.
“Un fantasma. Uno spirito irrequieto.”

“An unquiet spirit”—what a phrase. I felt as if somebody had touched the back of my neck with fingers that had been frozen under the earth for a long, long time.


Ciao
, Anna Maria.
Ciao
, Francesco,” said Emilio, for our cousins had just caught up with us. Anna Maria goggled at me like I was a dish she was going to have to send back to the kitchen. I tried to ignore her, but it was hard; she was so cool, so amazingly dressed, such a model. She looked like she’d just come from a photo shoot. It was odd to think she was only three years older than me.


Ciao
, Mia,” said Francesco, patting my arm. “Remember, I’m the boy, so I get the
O
.”

He laughed. I tried to.

“A thousand thanks, Cousin,” I said, and getting to say that little word,
cugino
, cheered me up a little.

Anna Maria fixed that.

“Why are you bringing her, anyway?” she asked Emilio, just loudly enough for me to hear.

“Because it’s time she learned what we do,” he answered calmly. He glanced over at me and added, “From the outside.”

“What does Nonno think?”

“He thinks,” said Emilio slowly and deliberately, “that if she can see messengers, guess correctly about the candles, and come out alive from the possession of one of the most powerful demons we confront, she has as much right to be here as you do.”


Maria
, Emilio! Take it easy,” Anna Maria said as if she hadn’t meant to totally question everything, but of course she had. Still, his words warmed me, even if there wasn’t much truth in them, since I was only there because they hadn’t had time to take me home.

“Ah! Signora Galeazzo’s house,” said Francesco, sounding relieved.

NINE

Gas Roses

W
e stopped at an old stone building, its facings scarred and pitted where many mopeds had parked and scraped along the wall. Iron rings were set in some of the stones; I knew from my reading that people used to tie horses to them. There were marks higher up on the stones, too, round pits and other scratches and scars. A sturdy rosebush grew out of a tiny bit of fenced earth, cigarette butts clustered around its roots, a few last blossoms glowing against the dirty wall.

Giuliano faced the house, examining it. I wondered why we didn’t rush inside, and Paolo Galeazzo, shifting anxiously from foot to foot, clearly did, too. Emilio put a hand on his arm and said, “In a moment. It’s all right,” in a voice that could have calmed an earthquake. Paolo stood still.

Giuliano stepped forward and smelled the roses, then nodded, frowning. “Emilio,” he commanded, gesturing at the roses.

Emilio smelled them. “Ah,” he said, sounding slightly surprised.

Next was Francesco, whose giant nose ought to be useful here, I thought, although I also wondered why the boys got to go first. Maybe because they were older?

“Oh,” said Francesco, looking thoughtful.

Then Anna Maria stepped up, looking as if she thought what I thought—that this must look like a very weird family to anyone passing in the street, with all of us taking turns smelling roses. Just the same, she bent down and inhaled deeply.

“Huh,” she said, and glared at the roses.

As everyone else turned to go inside, I thought,
Hey, what about my turn?
So I darted forward to smell them myself.

The roses smelled, well, like roses. They smelled wonderful, in fact, despite the autumn cold, which should have sapped all their scent away by this time. Except—

“Almonds?” I asked aloud. Then I laughed at myself, adding, “Almonds, but bitter. Odd. And there’s something else, something cold.”

My relations, already at the door, frowned at me as if I’d done something wrong, and too late I realized I should have just grunted, if I was going to smell the roses at all. Paolo Galeazzo was staring at all of us. But didn’t this concern him, too?

Giuliano jerked his head at the door, giving me a look that was hard to read. I obeyed and followed everyone in.

Once inside, we paused in the entrance hall to the apartment.
All the Della Torres reached into their coat pockets and pulled out small, battered, black leather cases like the one I had seen Uncle Matteo open at the dinner table, each one with gilded lettering running in columns down the front, and brass or iron fittings. I noticed small differences: Emilio’s had a deep scar on its underside; Francesco’s had a very short column of lettering; Anna Maria’s just looked tremendously old; Giuliano’s had scorch marks.

“Emilio book, Anna Maria bell, myself candle,” ordered Giuliano. “Francesco, I need you to look after Mia.”

Francesco grunted. I could hear his disappointment.

“Mia,” said Giuliano. “I need you to watch and keep hold of yourself. Keep out of the way,” he said kindly enough that it didn’t hurt to hear it. “Use your meditation.” I wondered what good that would do, but Giuliano held my eyes for a moment until I nodded. Oh,
Santa Maria
, how hard was this going to be? What was going to happen? He just scared me more. Then Paolo opened the door to the next room.

The ceilings were high, the room dark. I couldn’t figure out why we didn’t just turn on the light. Old, heavy, wooden furniture stood like a sinister audience in the shadows. After a moment, my eyes adjusting to the dimness, I raised my head.

A woman floated high in the air.

I’m not a screamy girl. I don’t squeal at spiders or rats. I screamed now. I was surprised how little sound came out.

BOOK: The Demon Catchers of Milan
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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