On the first day of the holiday, Colin Ashby was stretched out on the bed
covered only by a sheet. The sun, forcing its way round the edges of the heavy
drapes cast just enough light to see where his blood had sprayed across the
suede upholstered headboard, and the pleasing watercolour rendering of Lake Como
hung above. At the time of the discovery Colin Ashby's wife Julie, running along
the edge of the lake, far from the hotel, did not hear the screams of the
unfortunate chamber maid.
The holiday had come as a complete surprise to Julie and Colin. A letter,
from Angela Osborne of Tricorn Travel, addressed to Julie, invited her and a
partner to travel to Lake Como and spend a week at the Hotel Serbelloni in
Bellagio. The writer of the letter extolled Julie's reputation as a travel
critic and blogger, and expressed admiration of her weekly column in the
Guardian. The holiday was gratis, on the proviso that Julie would write and
publish an article about the establishment. The hotel management and staff would
be unaware of Julie's professional interest; she would be a secret guest.
The holiday offer could not have arrived at a better time. After a
whirlwind courtship, Julie and Colin had hardly been married a week; an
impromptu honeymoon would be the icing on the cake. The letter, along with two
airline tickets, fluttered to the tiled floor as they embraced, laughed and
danced in the kitchen of her apartment.
Landing at Milan airport in glorious sunshine, they emerged, luggage in
tow, from the terminal to scan the unfamiliar surroundings for a taxi. To her
surprise, a man standing near the door held a card with her name scrawled across
it in capital letters. So much for travelling incognito she thought, as she
introduced herself to the driver. They sat in silent absorption of the scenery
and themselves as the car effortlessly negotiated the narrow roads leading to
Como. The car stopped at the edge of the lake where the Hydrofoil would take
them on the last leg of their journey. As they turned to thank the taciturn
driver the car was already moving away. They enjoyed the swift journey across
the lake and were soon making love on the king-sized bed in their luxuriously
Later, in the dimming of the day, after a pleasant dinner, they had sat on
the patio in elegant wicker chairs looking out over the placid waters of the
lake that held the image of the mountains beyond. As the sun slowly set, their
first evening deteriorated as slightly drunk they argued. A flute, half full,
had been unbalanced and fell on the paving scattering shards of glass that
glisten and sparkled in the lamplight. Julie, shocked and upset at this turn of
events, had gone to bed alone.
After formally identifying the body of her husband, Julie numb with shock,
stared out of hotel manager's office window. She failed to see or appreciate the
beauty of the vista; the late morning sun touching the mountains on the far side
of the lake. The policewoman who had earlier taken her statement now sat beside
her on one side of the rosewood desk. A senior officer of some sort sat
opposite, silently reading her words. The harsh chainsaw rasp of a moped filled
the room, then faded as the officer looked up and spoke.
'So, Signora. You have told me the last time you saw your husband was when
you closed the curtains of your suite. Signor Ashby was sat where you left him,
while a waiter swept up the broken glass around him." Said the inspector.' Then,
unable to sleep, at sunrise you went out running. Yes?"
'Yes,' Julie confirmed in a barely audible voice.
'And yet,' continued the inspector, 'your husband, your late husband was
found in your room, in your bed. Murdered.'
'I don't understand... I can't explain....he wasn't ..'
'Perhaps then, you could explain, please, the argument.'
'We quarrelled about my family, my father, my sister. They didn't attend
our wedding. He, Colin, that is, didn't want them there, or my friends. He
wanted a quiet affair. There were other things......... I'm not sure if I knew
him at all.'
'Then, I may not shock you a great deal if I tell you that Colin Ashby is
not your late husband's name. Another interesting discrepancy in your story is
that the company that you tell me arranged your visit, Tricorn Travel, does not
exist. The only facts at my disposal are you and, forgive me, a corpse.'
'But the letter. Angela Osborne's letter is in the bedroom, in my
briefcase. My mobile, the texts..........'
'There is nothing in your room. No letter, no briefcase, no
Julie held her her tear stained face in her hands.
'However, for now I cannot connect you the to crime. The modus operandi
points to others," said the inspector. 'I have arranged for you to stay in Como.
My assistant will accompany you. Please do not leave the town until I give you
permission to do so.'
During the afternoon the weather changed. Dark ominous clouds gathered
above the slate grey water. The atmosphere became oppressive. The dull vista
mirrored her mood as Julie, sitting in a lakeside cafe, watched the hydrofoil
cut through the still water as it sped towards Como. Only the day before, she
thought, the car had dropped them off here in Como and she and Colin had taken
the same boat to Bellagio; Colin, or whoever he actually was.
'There will be a storm soon,' said a voice behind her, 'then this thick
unpleasant air will clear.'
'Do I know you?' said Julie looking up.
'No, but, by a strange twist of fate, we are related.'
'May I?' The young woman asked in accented English, indicating that she
would like to sit, to join Julie at her table.
Despite the absence of an invitation, the woman sat. But this discourtesy
was soon forgotten as Carlotta Trovato related a strange, but to Julie, a
Carlotta's story began in London in the summer of 2014. At the time she was
estranged from her family in Sicily; a disagreement, a collision of an impetuous
daughter and an overbearing father. She moved to London and found work in a
recruitment company in the Strand. One client she managed was an importer of
'My client was a handsome man and attractive. A relationship developed. I
was, as you say, swept off my feet. Like you, Julie, I married James, or 'Colin'
as you know him,' said Carlotta. 'I had an inheritance from my grandmother which
he persuaded me to invest in his company. A company, that like him, did not
exist. To cut a long, very long story short; he disappeared, I was left
destitute. In time I was reconciled with my family, and with my father. Then at
the beginning of this year, a friend, one I had made in London, a follower of
your blog, read the exciting news of your engagement to marry. And, of course,
she recognised your fiancé, my husband.'
'My God!' whispered Julia as she recognised the familiar theme.
'It was our mutual husband's misfortune that I am the beloved daughter of
Don Diego Trovato,' said Carlotta, 'He is the head of a Cosca, a clan of the
Siciliano Cosca Nostra, the Mafioso.'
A clap of thunder almost drowned out her last few words and large rain
drops landed on the cafe umbrella like stones.
'I am sorry it was necessary to involve you, to bring you here,' said
Carlotta. 'But, there is nothing to connect you with all this. The police know
investigation is futile; this crime of honour will remain unsolved. Go back to
your world, pick up your life and move on. You will soon discover that your
money is still in your late husband's account; you are of course now the next of
kin. My inheritance from my grandmother? Well, that is gone. But my father is
For the second time in the day Julia sat with her tear-stained face in her
hands. The deceit, all the lies, death; It was all too much, too much.
Carlotta Trovato leaned forward, touched her hands lightly, almost
affectionately. 'Of course, we have not met nor spoken of this
matter.' Then, standing up , she walked away into the rain.
About the author
Sandy's poems The Caress of Spring and The Arc of Time have been included in the
international poetry anthology Indra's Net published by Bennison Books. All
profits are donated to Book Bus, a charity that provides libraries for children
in Africa, Asia and South America.
Indra's Net is available from Amazon.