* 66 *
Eddie felt unexpectedly alone. Over the past few days, people had crowded in on him. No, that was unfair. Eddie had sort people out. He had used them as sounding boards, for his thoughts, ideas and fears - that had seemed so far-fetched - but had turned out to be even more bizarre and frightening than he had at first imagined.
“Chickens coming home to roost!” Eddie shouted towards Harry’s niche in the cemetery, as he passed.
Eddie did not want to put the confrontation with Vanessa off, not any longer. The chickens were coming home to roost. The rotten and deformed fruit of their relationship was falling from the tree. The shit and decay needed to be addressed, before it was allowed to contaminate any further. He was not sure how, but he was determined that Vanessa would pay for the duplicity that she had dealt, to so many people. She had abused and used Eddie. She had deceived Mary, both intellectually and maritally. Vanessa had abused her position within the party, for the benefit of a shit like Atkinson - and herself. She had attempted to reduce Eddie to penury - and to destroy his career.
There was barely anything that Eddie could think of that, in any way, redeemed the woman. Even the basic, instinctual desire that he had felt for her, the sex, was now shadowed by what he had experienced and felt with Marinella. And, because of what Vanessa had been doing, Marinella had been forced to leave! It was, Eddie thought, as if Vanessa were intent on taking everything from him - even the things that she knew nothing about!
Eddie realised that he was more angry than he could ever remember. He trawled through past hurts and insults - but he could remember nothing that had made him so ... there was no word to describe the fury that he felt for Vanessa.
Despite his earlier resolution; not to drink anything before the evening, as soon as he arrived at his house, Eddie made for the demijohn of home-made grappa. He drank half a glass immediately and took the remains into the living room. The answer machine blinked at him. There were messages. There may have been something on his e-mail - but Eddie was too tired and, quite suddenly, cold. He did not bother with the messages, the e-mail or even lighting the fire. He rolled himself in the duvet, that lay ready on the sofa, and was asleep in seconds.
Eddie dreamed of the previous night - with Marinella, in the little room above the restaurant. He seemed to remember every moment of it. Seeing her naked, for the first time; her beautiful young body. The squint in her eye that seemed to become more pronounced the closer that he was to her. The traces of scar tissue on her face. The warmth of her body. The speed with which her body responded to his caresses. He remembered every stroke, every kiss, every touch, of that long night. He, as he slept, remembered falling asleep. He was comfortable and warm. He was happy. He dreamed of waking, the door opening - the chink of light entering the room from the corridor beyond ...
Eddie woke with a start. He should have gone after her. Then he realised that it was the time before, that he remembered Marinella slipping out of the room, at dawn. He was confusing the two nights. Eddie shook his head and tried to bring reason to his dreams - his fantasies. He, he was sure, did not remember her going that morning. Before, she was just slipping out. Eddie knew that she would still be there. He was expecting to see her - if not that day - later, maybe, the following day. When she had left, that morning - the morning that he was dreaming about, he had not heard her go. She had not wakened him. Eddie was sure. He knew that Marinella was leaving. He knew that he would not see her that morning, later that day, or, possibly for some time - if ever.
Eddie sat up and reached for the undrunk, half-glass, of grappa. As he sipped at it he knew that he had made a mistake; he should have gone after Marinella. That is what he wanted. Even if it meant admitting that he had lost everything that Vanessa was attempting to take from him.
If the worst came to the worst, he could find a room, somewhere. He could get another job. He could stack shelves in the supermarket. He could wash-up in a restaurant. He could teach Italian to American students - or English to Italian ones - in Florence. He would not go back to England. Italy was his home. He had to be close to even the possibility of being with Marinella.
Eddie shook his head: “Romantic, fucking nonsense!” he admonished himself.
Eddie knew that he was too old to start all over again. He would not be able to stand the mind-numbing boredom of some menial job, working for some one else. He might be able to get some land ... he leapt at the thought - but logic quickly crushed it. He might very well be able to get some land. He might even be able to find the money to buy it - it was cheap. The reason that it was cheap, was because there was no way, even working eighteen hours a day, and claiming every possible European Union subsidy, that it could be made profitable.
“Romantic, fucking nonsense!” he repeated.
It was pointless, trying to think about a future. Not when there was a great dark curtain covering it. He would not know what possibilities lay ahead - not until he had settled things with Vanessa.
Eddie looked at the clock above the mantelpiece. A quarter to six. Just an hour and three quarters, before he was to be at Sandrino’s to meet Vanessa.
He turned the hot water on, for a shower, and went to the telephone answer machine. It told him that there were 4 messages. Eddie pushed the play button.
“Eddie,” it was Marinella. She sounded as if she were speaking from a railway station, a pay-phone? “I am sorry - I just could not say good-bye this morning. I feared that if I woke you - I would never be able to leave. I had to go. I hope that you do not find out why. I have no idea how things are going to work out - so can make no promises. Except that, I hope, soon ...”
The machine bleeped. Time had run out. ‘Soon’, what? Eddie thought as the machine bleeped again. The 2nd message:
“Damn machine! I will not be able to call again, not for a while,” Marinella continued, “please do not use my mobile number. E-mail - if you have a problem,” did Marinella laugh? “Good luck, tonight. I mean that - so much. I promise; I will see you soon,” her voice sounded sad and distant.
The machine bleeped again. The 3rd message:
“Eddie,” It was Michelle, speaking on his mobile. There was heavy traffic in the background. He was not in the village. “I will collect you, at about a quarter to seven. Remember; your car is not working? A quarter to seven. See you then.”
The machine bleeped. The 4th message:
“I may be a little late,” Vanessa, calling from a mobile. No background noise.
Great! Eddie thought, she was busy enjoying herself with her new friends. He quickly realised that the version of Vanessa, he was going to meet, when she arrived at Sandrino’s, was not going to be of the sober variety. The meeting was going to be even worse than he had feared. Alcohol and Vanessa did not mix. Not in quantity. It might have been the residual Irish genes - but a combination, of Vanessa and too much wine, tended to be explosive.
Eddie turned the computer on and went to shower. He dressed himself in cord trousers, white shirt and his favourite tweed jacket, checked his pockets for wallet, handkerchief, change and keys and went back down stairs.
Eddie called up his e-mail. There were thirteen messages waiting for him, on the computer. Twelve were addressed to, or from, Vanessa and one for him. He opened his first.
“Please be careful. I care. X M - Soon!”
Eddie sat back and looked at the eight words on the screen. She really did care! He felt like a little boy, in a playground, who had just been told by a friend of a friend, that the girl he always tried to sit next to in morning assembly, actually liked him. It was transparent, innocent, joy. Eddie looked at the message until the screen saver switched itself on and began to rotate its pictures.
Eddie opened Vanessa’s e-mails, one by one, and just as quickly discarded them. They were the usual, departmental and constituency bulletins, casual questions, not deserving attention, an itinerary ... Eddie turned back to the itinerary: Vanessa was booked on a flight for London, out of Florence, on Thursday. Just two days from then. Everything was to be resolved by then. Vanessa would not leave things in the hands of solicitors or agents. Sorting him out, was something that she was going to do, herself. Eddie felt ridiculously relieved; in just two days the nightmare would be over - one way or another.
The next message was from Piers Atkinson - or at least it was sent from his e-mail account.
“Booked. Meeting at M&M - 1.00. Just P & J - You & Me. Well done, girl! - R.”
It was not as obscurely written as those that came from Piers, in fact, the meaning was quite clear to Eddie. It confirmed what he and Michelle had thought, earlier; they were meeting for lunch, one o’clock at Martino and Maurzcio’s. Piers was bringing ‘J’, The way that the names were set out suggested that they were two couples, Vanessa was to be with Randolph. Perhaps more than Eddie believed had been confirmed? Even then, looking at the evidence, Eddie found it difficult to believe. Vanessa was sleeping with her, gay, future husband’s, brother. This man was a baronet, the owner of half of Shropshire and the head of a bank, which was involved in large-scale international bribery.
The reason that Eddie did not believe it was because; the Vanessa that he knew, was the same one, that had attended his classes at the university. He did not know her any more. The Vanessa that he believed in, was perfectly capable of the most merciless behaviour, but there was reason behind it, sometimes obscure but there was usually some good reason. What she appeared to be doing was vindictive and self-serving. She had, over the years, changed - horribly and irreparably - changed.
It might have been a process so slow that Eddie had not noticed it, however, others had. Mary, who had, at one time, been friendly with Vanessa, had fallen out with her years before, as had Rachel. Michelle had given discreet but firm warnings. Mary had, bluntly, told Eddie that he ought to remove himself from his wife - and that was before they knew about the car factory, the bribery, the bank and the rest of the dirt that Vanessa had happily waded into. Eddie found it all so difficult to believe, because he had chosen not to see Vanessa as she was. He had always preferred to recall her as he first knew her. He had deluded himself, and had been doing so for years. It was as simple as that.
Eddie, mindlessly and unseeing, stared at the pictures on the screen saver, going through their rotation. He just turned himself off, unable or unwilling to think about anything.
The doorbell rang.