* 24 *
Eddie’s second course arrived: rabbit umido, chunks of boney flesh stewed with olives accompanied by a tomato and mozzarella salad. Eddie finished the entire bowl - and the rest of the wine. He was not going to even leave the dregs for Luca.
Eddie took his coffee and grappa onto the patio. There was an argument about to break out, amongst the card players, who had been gathering in the bar, after finishing their lunches, either at home or in the restaurant. Eddie had heard it all before. It involved the merits of two of the leading Italian Football clubs, Juventus and Fiorentina. A realistic answer could have been found in the back pages of La Repubblica - but statistics were never what this argument was about. It was an only slightly disguised political debate. Fiorentina, being less than an hour’s drive away, was the local club but it tended to be supported by optimists with a Rightest political bent. Juventes was favoured by supporters of the Left. The problem for Eddie was that he had already scanned the newspaper’s sport’s section. Fiorentina were ten places ahead of Juventes in the league. However the impetus for this particular debate arose from the fact that Fiorentina had, the previous evening been knocked out of the European Cup by the English club from London, Arsenal. Arsenal, the argument was going, because they played in red, were obviously a socialist club ... Nonsense of course - but that was not unusual in the bar, after a good lunch. Juventes, as almost always, had failed even to qualify for the competition - but that, according to the protagonist, was irrelevant.
Eddie was trying to work out what he was going to do. He had heard nothing from Vanessa since she had stormed out of their bedroom at the hotel. He had learned little or nothing from her e-mails, except that she was involved in a one way dialogue with an ex-banker - ex-Tory. Eddie could not even work out what Atkinson was saying to her - let alone why she seemed never to answer his e-mails. There seemed little logic in anything that was going on - especially the introduction of Marinella as a, prospective, new romantic interest for him.
Eddie decided that as there was nothing that he could do about either Vanessa ... or about Marinella, he may as well use his time constructively, by clearing up his land. He tapped his pocket for his pipe - then realised that he had left it in his flimsy raincoat, at the house. He neither could be bothered, nor really wanted to walk back to get it. Eddie took his empty cup and glass back into the bar. The ‘football discussion’ was becoming inflamed everybody; everybody except Luca who was watching with a bemused detachment from behind his counter, seemed to be involved. The cards, from the game, had been abandoned in the middle of the table while the argument took precedence. Eddie left them to it and walked up the stairs. He paused by the lavatory and wondered, for a moment, once again, about the German, before he continued up the stairs.
Michelle was perched on the table in the middle of the kitchen. He was sweating. It looked as if almost every pot, pan and utensil had been used for that day’s lunch. They were piled in a great heap in the sink, waiting for someone to get round to scrubbing them up and ready for dinner. Lunch had, it seemed, been busier than Eddie realised.
“Been hard at it, then?” Eddie asked from the doorway.
Michelle looked up and smiled. He theatrically wiped the sweat from his brow and flicked his hand towards the floor.
“Not really - a bit,” he corrected himself. “I made a mistake. I thought that I might get some of the work done ... the ...”
“Prep?” Eddie suggested the English word.
“Prep,” agreed Michelle, “prep, for the weekend, I thought I might get some of that done - on a quiet day.”
“Not so quiet, though?”
“Not too bad but Rachel took off, before lunch really started, and Luca has been sulking, so I got no help at all.”
“No change there,” Eddie tried to encourage Michelle.
Michelle winked at Eddie. They both knew that was not true. Michelle might be the skill but it was Rachel who did the real running around and pushing.
“What do you want, then?” Michelle asked.
“Got some papers?” Michelle did not understand. Eddie mimed rolling a cigarette. “Fag papers?”
“Oh,” Michelle realised and reached into the tunic of his whites. “Only this pack. How many you want?”
“Two, three. I left the pipe at the house,” Eddie explained.
Michelle stripped five or six papers from the pack and, without leaving his perch, offered them to Eddie who was forced to go and collect them. Eddie stuffed the proffered papers into the top pocket of his jacket.
“Thanks,” said Eddie and began to back out of the kitchen.
“You going to your shed?”
“A bit of work.”
“Then a long smoke?”
“Maybe,” Eddie shrugged. He was beginning to think of doing something else but the thought had not quite resolved itself. “Thanks,” Eddie repeated.
“You said,” said Michelle.
Eddie nodded and left the kitchen. Just out of view, he stopped - then turned back. Michelle was staring blankly at the wall opposite him. He really did look worn-out.
“I meant, thanks for everything,” said Eddie.
Michelle looked up for a moment, then, without words, and with a tired arm, waved Eddie away.
Eddie pulled his rake from the ‘lock-up’ and set about gathering the fallen branches into a neat pile. There were fewer falls than he had thought so it took him even less time than he had expected and gave him less time to come to a decision about what he had been thinking about. The branches were ready for the fire that he planned in the next day or two - when they had had a chance to dry out a bit. Eddie returned the rake to the shed and pulled a bag of marijuana from the stove. He had given one pack to Michelle, but there was still plenty left. They would not have to consider making a purchase until well after Christmas, though it irked Eddie that he was unable to grow enough, not without it becoming over-obvious, to be self-sufficient. Harry had been ... that thought again ... but he had more land and it was more discreet than Eddie’s track by the road.
As Eddie walked up the track he inspected and approved his work. Nobody would be complaining about the state of his land, not until the next wind. He looked up to where he could see the roof of his house - then down to where he may have been able to see Mary’s, if it were not for the rotting chestnuts and pines. Somebody, someday, was going to have to do something about them, before a falling branch caused a serious injury. It did happen and then there were protracted investigations to try and find out whom the land belonged to - and court cases that sometimes resulted in heavy settlements. At least, Eddie thought, someone was making money from this land - even if most of it went to the lawyers.
Eddie was still undecided as to what to do. He did not want to sit about the house trying to fathom the unfathomable. He did not really want to return to the bar. Michelle had made it clear that there were no answers there, and if he did he would only drink too much. What he had been thinking about was talking with Mary. He had not seen her since the afternoon that Vanessa had arrived - and Mary had dropped the first of the bombshells on him. Eddie had no desire to re-open that can of worms - but now there was more that had been added to the confused mess that he was becoming entangled in. He needed to talk to someone, someone who might be able and willing to throw some light into the shadows that were encroaching on him.
Mary was not the least biased of audiences but his options were running out and if she new anything about Marinella Eddie was sure that he could persuade her to talk.