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 appointed room.
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 cellphone.......nothing.'
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 familiar story.
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 fine wines.
'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 satisfied.'
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.