Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 2 Section 1

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 2 Section 1

Not even the sun smiling through the bars of the grey room could cheer the boy. He had come to hate the cross hanging above the steel-hinged door. Rage glowed inside him whenever he heard someone sing. Odious scars marred his thighs and shoulders, indicating the anguish and suppressed rebellions of past years. The bed creaked underneath him at the slightest stir. How many times he had heard this sound! How many times he had decided that this day would be the last! But he had not been brave enough to take his own life. He just sat there, miserable, waiting for the next task like a powerless slave. He had been trained to be a diviner. He was able to make contact with the spirit world. Was this perhaps the day? Would he die today?

He had already tried to escape twice, but his second attempt was avenged so brutally that the thought alone was enough to frighten him. Escape. He touched the hard-crusted wounds between his thighs. The electric shock had left a life-long memory in his skin.

‘You’ll have a visitor in an hour, Ma-gios!’ somebody shouted through the peephole. ‘Sort yourself out. Do you hear me?’

‘I do,’ he answered quietly.

‘Do you hear me?’

He roared a ‘Yes, sir!’ to his tormentor, who, not totally satisfied, hit the door with his fist. Utterly spent, the boy shuddered, dragged himself to his feet and staggered to the window. It was a scorching day outside. Sometimes, he was allowed into the yard, though not without an escort. But lately, he had not even felt like going out.

A great tit perched on the wild rose and tilted her ash-grey quill-feathers. At that moment, her partner flew to her side. They exchanged a few sentences in their unintelligible, squeaking tit language and flew away into the sun. Ma-gios burst into tears.

‘Mummy, Daddy, where are you? Daddy, why haven’t you come for me?’ He wrapped his fingers on the steel bars, his face petrified. His tears dropped into the plaster dust collected on the sill. He shut his eyelids as hard as he could. I must get out of here!

‘You know you can.’

Ma-gios turned, with his head bowed, but could see no one.

‘I won’t kill anybody,’ he answered and wiped his tears off.

‘You won’t succeed otherwise.’ The air crepitated. ‘I’m offering you a fair deal. You send me two souls and I’ll return your freedom.’

‘I can’t do that. Even if I die here, I must not kill.’

A small circle in the middle of the rag carpet sank into the floor and a snake of glittering moss-green light wound along the windowpane. He looked at the carpet but could not see anybody. It gave him the shivers.

‘Ma-gios, Kunga was killed,’ the Evil One whispered.

The boy knew that, if this one trump card of a sentence were true, all his counterarguments would be swept aside along with his integrity, his conscience and his common sense.

‘What? You’re lying! You lie all the time. Daddy is still waiting for me somewhere, he just doesn’t know where I am. He must have searched for me high and low.’

‘If you don’t believe me, ask Ennio. He’s visiting you soon anyway. He’ll be your guest but, I’m warning you, him you mustn’t kill, otherwise you won’t get out of here alive. Do you understand?’

Ma-gios’s lips were shaking with rage.

‘But who murdered him?’

‘At last! I expected you to ask that question before now. Do you remember the guard who left a few years ago?’

‘The one who beat me up with a rubber truncheon?’

‘Yes, but that was well deserved. You’d been at his throat. Lucky you weren’t killed.’


‘I already have his soul with me,’ the voice hissed. ‘He was killed in a pub brawl. That is, he was killed the day after he terminated his work here. You can’t generally quit the Alliance of Peoples alive, though no one working here knows that.’

‘That’s terrible.’

‘Not at all. On the contrary, it’s very useful. Damiano, however, is no loss. He was easily released from this world, he was so obdurately wicked.’

‘How do you mean he was released? Who released him?’

‘You don’t want me to utter his name. I can hardly say it.’

‘God? His permission is necessary?’

‘Yes, but don’t keep mentioning him.’

‘All right. And his friend, Claudio?’

‘He’s still here, working as a sentry, at the porter’s lodge of the place where your father was murdered.’

Ma-gios was overcome with hatred again. But he swallowed his tears.

‘How did he die?’

‘His head was smashed in with a steel rod.’

Silence descended. Perhaps the boy wanted to mourn for his father this way. The tit couple returned and their piping ‘teacher, teacher’ filled the courtyard.

‘Well?’ the Evil One, at the end of his tether, enquired.

‘I still don’t know.’

‘I’ll give you the power. Just let me know.’

‘All right,’ Ma-gios whimpered. ‘It’s all over with me anyhow.’

The lock turned soon after and Ennio Marino appeared. He was followed by an armed guard.

‘Greetings, my child!’ he shouted. ‘Handcuffs,’ he said to the guard, who carried out the protocol instantly: pulling out his gun, cocking it and waiting while Ennio clasped the metal rings on the boy’s thin wrists. He could not see why such a fuss was made about a scrawny boy of fifty kilos. He slipped his weapon into its holster and stood by the door. Ennio sprawled comfortably in the chair on the other side of the table.

‘Ma-gios, I’ve brought you something to read,’ he said and pushed the latest issue of Il Messaggero before him.

‘Flip to page eight. The last article. Can you read it? Out loud!’

The boy went through the lines haltingly. Ennio, squirming in his seat, could hardly wait for the end.

Forni a gas?’

‘Gas furnaces,’ came the lightning retort. ‘Just read it.’

When the boy got to the end of the short article, Ennio cleared his throat.

‘So, have you understood? I’ll summarize for you anyway. The newspaper states that the gas furnace in a plastics factory in Glasgow blew up on Tuesday. The police report excludes a terrorist act, however, they don’t know exactly what happened. According to our informants, a member of an anti-Vatican group used to work in the plant but quit at the beginning of 2004. And now, in May, there was an explosion.’

‘But what does the Vatican have to do with this plastics factory?’

‘If you weren’t locked up here, I couldn’t let you know, but nothing is at stake in this situation. Do you know what the IOR is?’

‘I haven’t a clue.’

Istituto per le Opere di Religione.’

‘Institute for—’

‘—the Works of Religion, or rather, The Institute for Religious Transactions.’

‘Is that a kind of bank?’

‘You’ve put your finger on it. It’s the Vatican bank, and it has interests in the plant in Glasgow.’

‘In a plastics plant?’

‘Exactly. But not only there. It’s going to be your job to find out where this Arabic bloke who’d done it could be, as he’s disappeared into thin air. He’s called Abdal-Ati. I can’t recall his other name just now, Anyway—’

‘No!’ Ma-gios interrupted.

‘I don’t get it, Ma-gios. What do you mean “no”?’

The boy’s face darkened.

‘Did you have my father murdered?’

Ennio was unable to conceal his bewilderment.

‘What are you talking about, son?’

‘Was it really Damiano who did it?’ the boy asked, clenching his fist, though it was handcuffed to the radiator.

The archbishop, realizing Ma-gios had learnt the truth from somewhere, sighed. Denying it would only make him weaker. Ennio knew that, from the beginning, Ma-gios had thought him a coward.

‘It was an accident.’

‘Murder is no accident!’ the boy screamed.

Ennio smiled a cool smile.

‘And now, what’re you going to do? Would you like to try the new electric shock machine? That’s what you’re going to get for this behaviour.’

The nostrils of the boy expanded at this. He closed his eyes and murmured, ‘Yes, my answer is yes. Give me strength, Prince of evil!’ He bellowed and tore the handcuffs off the radiator like bagels; the pipe bent into a U-shape from the terrible force. He flung away the table separating him from the archbishop and, seizing his wiry body, hurled him like a stick at the guard, who was busy unbuckling his holster. Raging, with bloodshot eyes and swollen veins, he jumped on Ennio again and grabbed his neck. He could have broken his occipital bone in a second, but threw him against the wall instead. The archbishop slid to the floor in a swoon. I could wash the floor with you, thought Ma-gios in his rage. The guard was screaming with fear when the boy, having transformed into a brute, ripped his weapon off his waist and folded it up in front of his eyes.

‘You’ll die now,’ Ma-gios snarled at the writhing man and seized his jaw. His fingers sank into his enemy’s flesh, making him howl in pain and, kneeling on the guard’s chest, he pressed his back to the floor. He squeezed his neck with his other hand and tore off his skull like a leaf of parchment.

Ma-gios, possessed by an uncontrollable fury in his eyes, swept along the corridor towards the porter’s cubicle. He was possessed by joy when he took sight of Claudio. Hearing the baleful noises, Claudio took out his hunting knife. He clutched the dagger in his left hand and an expandable baton in his right, and waited for the attack. Ma-gios hurled himself at the guard without thinking, providing Claudio with a good opportunity. The guard rolled onto his back and plunged his dagger into his attacker’s shoulder. Ma-gios gave a yowl and wrenched the dagger from Claudio’s hand, but the man used the baton to hit him on the head with all his might. The steel ball welded to the end of the metal rod broke through Ma-gios’s skull. Unfazed, the boy drove the dagger into the guard’s eye socket. The cracking of bones was interrupted by a frantic scream, and Claudio died. Whimpering, the boy held his bloody head. The pain there blunted even that from the stab wound in his arm.

Ma-gios tried to rip the door open but it would not budge. He tore a bunch of keys from the guard’s belt and, with bloody fingers, tried to find the one that would fit the lock. Finally he found it and got out. He found himself in another courtyard. Having been allowed into this garden years before, he had some memory of where the gate was and started running towards it. Some nuns, basking in the sun, dispersed like pigeons when they caught sight of the boy. He glided between two trees and climbed up the stone wall behind the hedge like a cat. On reaching the top, he swooned. Pain welled up from his shoulder, his sleeves were soaked in blood. But he had no time to waste. As shouts sounded from behind him, he flung himself down on the ground.

A new world unfolded before him. The windows of cars shot the rays of the sun into his eyes. He felt as if he was dreaming and had tumbled into the future. A bus with darkened windows puffed beside him, all was colour and activity. People were talking into flat radios kept to their ears while they passed him. As if they were calling others on the telephone, but without wires?

He broke into a run again but his legs were weakening. His vision blurred. A little girl in a flower-patterned hat pointed at him but her mother pulled her away. He ran past them and they looked after him. He swayed. The woman screamed and the girl began to cry. Everything was spinning: the shoes of the passers-by, the cars, everything. At last, he caught sight of an alley. A few more steps and I can disappear. The thought kept ringing in his brain. He felt so dizzy that he had to lower himself on all fours.

Then hands grabbed him and turned him on his back. He did not resist, he knew he would die there. A well-dressed man towered over him and rattled something into the radio at his ear as he knelt by his side. Ma-gios was overcome by peace. This is death. He stretched out on the pavement and stared into the sky. Pigeons were flying above him, a snow-white balloon was swept towards the clouds by the wind. Is that my soul? I’m done for. Daddy, I’m coming to see you … see you … He passed out.

In the meantime Ennio Marino came to in Ma-gios’s cell with a bleeding nose and lurched towards the door. He was nearly scared to death when he tripped over the headless body of the guard. Splashing across the sea of blood, he reached the corridor. At the porter’s cubicle, nuns surrounded the remains of the guard that lay in another pool of blood. He lurched further down the corridor. The nuns ran up to him.

‘Father Marino! What’s happened? Who committed this terrible act?’

‘Ma-gios. You’d better clean it all up. But, Mother Bianca, not a word to anyone. I’ll do away with the two corpses, let that be my concern. Hurry up, sisters!’

He wiped the blood from his face with a cloth, slopped back into the room and gave himself a moment to think. His soles were sticky with blood. He groped in his pocket for his mobile. The display was cracked but it was still working, fortunately. We must take care. If Ma-gios leads the police here, there must be nobody here who he might recognise … Nobody! Ma-gios must be found and silenced instantly. He dialled some numbers.

‘Hello? Tito?’

‘Yes,’ a man’s husky voice replied.

‘You need to get here urgently. There are two bodies to take to the crematorium.’

A short silence ensued.

‘Very well, sir. They didn’t die naturally, right?’

‘No, they didn’t.’

‘Any witnesses? Do they also need to be cremated?’ the man asked, laughing.

‘No, Tito. The bodies were only seen by a few of the sisters, but they’re reliable. Two guards were killed.’

‘Damiano and Claudio?’

‘No, Damiano died in a pub brawl a while back. Claudio has now met his fate, and this other unhappy sod too. Poor soul. He’d only worked for us for half a year. He has a family and three little kids. At home they only knew he was a security guard in the Vatican.’

‘Well, Damiano’s no loss, actually,’ Tito croaked. ‘He was possessed by the devil.’

‘That’s exactly why he was special, I suppose. His master has taken him back. But that’s no matter. When can you get here?’

‘In half an hour if I hurry. His master has taken him back? What the hell are you talking about?’

‘Nothing, I haven’t said a word. Well, hurry up, this is an emergency.’

He turned off the phone and sank into the chair.

‘Don’t worry about it, Ennio. I wanted the boy free,’ someone whispered. Ennio looked up suddenly.

‘My lord?’

His face was tickled by a breeze.

‘Yes. But you should have known that. Two of a kind wise up to each other.’

Ennio shoes made a crunching sound as he wrenched them from the drying blood on the floor. He touched his broken nose.

‘Don’t you think you’ve given him too much power? Two guards have died.’

‘Don’t ever question me!’ The air vibrated with anger. ‘What do you mortals know about the world?’

‘Please, don’t be angry with your ignorant servant, my lord, but I don’t understand the connection.’

‘Oh, you fool! Besides the fact that my world has been enriched by two souls, I’ve got Ma-gios on credit as well. The wrath of the Almighty shall pursue him to the grave, where I’ll be able to get him. He won’t understand – he’s already forgotten everything. If I return his memory, he’ll probably commit suicide: his conscience will drive him to his death. In which case he’ll be mine sooner.’

‘And when is he getting back his memory?’ inquired Ennio, squirming on his chair with a painful expression.

While feeling his swollen nose, he got the answer too.

‘Ennio, Ennio! You’re anxious about your little empire, aren’t you? I understand, seeing how much struggle it has cost you to create it. Rest assured, you won’t be alive when all comes to light.’

‘My grateful thanks for that.’

‘Don’t be grateful for it, I haven’t told you how long you’re going to stay alive.’

Ennio’s face turned white; the Evil One was laughing. Hearing noises from the entrance, the archbishop stood up. The nuns must have returned.

‘Sit down, Ennio! Now that Ma-gios’s service is complete and you’ve sent him off with your fatherly blessing, I’m giving you a new task.’

Ennio winced.

‘Do not interrupt me. I’m offering you another human to replace Ma-gios.’

A fluffy cumulus floating in front of the sun cast a shadow on the cell. The archbishop pricked up his ears.

‘Do you remember the lost girl you escorted back to her parents at the Vatican about ten years ago?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Ennio frowned, trying to remember.

‘Her mother was bawling like a nursery of hungry babies. Of course you recall that.’

‘That fair-haired one in Saint Peter’s Square? Oh, yes. I don’t know how she could have reached the cathedral without her parents.’

‘Yes, that’s the one. I’d led her to you, to let you see and feel her.’

‘She had the eyes of an angel.’ Ennio mused. ‘But when I touched her, I was shaken by something. It was interesting.’

‘Weren’t you sick afterwards?’

‘How do you know?’ He bolted upright and stared forward. ‘Oh yes, sorry. You know.’

Ennio felt something weird in his shoulders.

‘I’m touching you right now. Don’t you feel sick, dizzy or hot?’

‘No, I don’t,’ the archbishop murmured and tried to turn around.

‘Don’t! Just stay like that. You don’t feel sick because you’re mine, but that girl is under patronage. I’ve been yearning for her for years. Her protection makes her unapproachable.’

‘What can I do then?’

‘Of course, she hasn’t been protected that way. She’s an average girl, not a princess in a high tower.’

‘So she’s been protected by the other world? I mean …’

‘Don’t say it!’ Satan shouted at him. ‘You fool!’

Deathly silence descended on them, then the Tempter spoke again.

‘Now that Ma-gios has gone “on leave”, you’ll have the time to find out how to get near her. You have a body, you can do it. I can only get to her when you’ve succeeded, so hurry up.’

Ennio raised his arms in the air in incomprehension.

‘Good God! But I don’t even know her name. Slow down, my lord.’

‘Watch your mouth,’ he replied angrily. ‘If He doesn’t kill you for blasphemy, then I’ll call you to me. I’ve warned you not to mention his name before me. Anyway, Adriano will call you about this matter. I’ve finished.’ And the devil disappeared with the draught slipping through the window.

Ennio looked to the side. The four sisters were standing in the doorway, mops at the ready, and whispering.

‘To whom have you been talking, sir?’

Ennio replied wearily. ‘I was thinking out loud. And now, action, sisters, it’s very dirty here. Clean the fence too, and go out into the street as well. If you find any traces of blood, simply clean them off, preferably after dark. I don’t want the police to come sniffing around here. I hope that beast has already kicked the bucket.’

Ennio buried his face in his palms and wondered what was more dangerous, a howling beast, or a silently squirming poisonous snake. I have to silence Ma-gios forever, because the moment that damned devil of a boy starts to remember, I’m finished.

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 11

Read my novel online – The Good, the Bad and the Beast – Part 1 Section 11

The date was 20 October 1995. The Bergmann family home resembled a busy  ants’ nest, as did Cape Canaveral in Florida. There, they were attempting to get the space shuttle Columbia into the atmosphere without an explosion on that day. Here, the Bergmanns were preparing to fly to the city of the emperors later that afternoon. But, for now, they still had a lot to do around the house.

‘Oh Rome, Rome the wonderful!’ Edith sighed. ‘I wonder how much it has changed.’

The woman took a few dancing steps with the broom in her arms.

‘Probably not a bit.’ Joseph broke the heady atmosphere. ‘The Colosseum is still round.’

Edith snorted, still dancing.

The South African man who murdered his victims in Johannesburg and Pretoria has been accused of killing at least forty women and a boy. 31-year-old Moses Sithole was seized by police with a hatchet in his hand at his Johannesburg hideout. After a lengthy standoff …

The latest news update poured out of the television while Angela was watering the potted plants.

‘Have you packed the passports? And your wallet? And pack the plane reservations, too, would you please?’

‘Yes, darling, all’s done, we’re ready to leave. Let’s put the luggage in the car. I don’t think you’d need to clean half the house again before leaving.’

‘I know, Joey, but this way I can see better what we might have left behind. I keep forgetting things anyway. The camera! Have you packed it?’

‘Yes, I have.’

‘Slippers? Map? Toothbrushes?’

‘All in. Get changed, Angela.’

Angela ran upstairs to her room with her fair hair swinging around her little head. Edith, flashing around the house like a fireball, drew the curtains, shut off the water at the mains. She kept everything and everybody under control.

‘You can get ready too, my love. We should leave as soon as possible, who knows what traffic’s going to be like.’

‘You’d better lock the garage, and put the lawnmower in too.’

‘But Edith, we’re only away for three days. The house won’t be robbed. This place is so out of the way, and the neighbours keep an eye on our house all the time.’ But he knew how ineffectual his protestations were.

‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ve told the old neighbour as well.’

‘Oh, all right then …’

He rolled the lawnmower into the garage as if to sleep and put a gigantic lock on the creaking door. By the time he got back, Angela was already in her red, ladybird-dotted windcheater. She smiled at him.

‘Daddy, we can leave,’ she chirped, beaming in the middle of the room.

‘The Italian dictionary,’ Mother buzzed past them.

Even Angela laughed at this. Edith sneered, ‘All right, you perfidious lot. Tease if you like. At least I won’t miss anything.’

Within half an hour they were on their way towards Budapest. Although the sky was clear, the trees along the road were torn by rough blasts of wind and some frightened rabbits crossed before them. The hunting season had begun. The jeep, drunk on spritzers of Super 98 petrol, ate the distance, often at top speed. It would at least burn the soot out of the engine.

‘I hope we can avoid the Friday traffic jam.’

‘I very much hope so,’ murmured Edith. ‘We’ve got to be there two hours before take off. Angela, honey, won’t you be too hot in that raincoat? The heating’s on.’

‘No, Mummy, let me keep it on.’

Edith shrugged. She did not suspect that Angela only had the raincoat on in case otherworldly visitors made the top of the car disappear again. Otherwise, I’d get soaked, Angela thought.

Cars were crawling in Budapest, wrapped in a cloud of smoke so dense that Nagykörút, one of the main thoroughfares, kept spitting them into the other main streets. Joseph was only able to crawl along at a snail’s pace. The family kept silent. In their minds, they were already flying above the clouds.

The airport enchanted them. It was as if they had been dropped in a different world. But the check-in gate really upset them: Edith had to leave behind her favourite paper scissors, Joseph his penknife, forever.

’We should’ve put them into the suitcase,’ Edith grumbled; and they could see she felt really ashamed.

‘Daddy, how does an airplane hang on to the sky?’ Angela asked as their plane took off late in the afternoon.

‘Well, how shall I explain, dear? The wing of the airplane is tilted, and the engine propels it so fast that not all air can tumble under the wings within such a short time, so the air pushes the wings upwards.’

‘Well, Joseph, you’d never make a physicist,’ Edith cut in and placed a warm kiss on her husband’s forehead.

‘Oh, you queen of retorts, you!’

‘I? No, just let’s be precise.’

‘Why, Mummy, why’s that?’

‘Come here, sweetie, I’ll draw it for you,’ Edith answered.

She tore a page out of a notebook and began drawing.

‘This here’s the cross-section of the wing … here comes the air … here it tumbles as Daddy told you …’ she purred into Angela’s ears and soon explained how lift overcame and then balanced the force of gravity.

The Boeing was climbing higher and higher into the sky like the king of birds and their ears popped.

‘You’re really professional, honey, but I’m turning in a bit professionally now,’ Joseph said and closed his eyes.

In his dream he was walking in the forest near home with Angela. Soon, they reached a clearing. The savoury smell of roasting lard and stinging, onion-smelling smoke welcomed them. There were two figures sitting at the campfire: Ricky, the postman, with his broken leg, and Zümi the unfortunate driver of the rubbish truck. They were both drinking brandy, whooping and stuffing slices of bread with bits of roasted onion. When they saw him, they yelled out so mightily that a nearby oak tree broke in half.

He walked up to them carefully and almost accepted the spit holding the lard when something on the ground caught his eye. Fire glowed among the clumps of grass as if the surface had been perforated. Every time Ricky or his mate stamped their feet, wider rips appeared in the ground. Joseph tried to warn them of the danger but they did not take the slightest notice. He began to back away from them, holding on to Angela, then turned and broke into a run, pushing his daughter in front of him. With a sharp, tearing noise Ricky and his friend disappeared into a flaming abyss. The fiery crack extended towards them, Angela screamed. Joseph picked up his daughter and ran towards the trees as fast as his legs could carry him. He managed to put Angela onto a branch but the ground was already melting the soles of his shoes and he began to tumble down.

He woke up with a start, drops of sweat rolling down his forehead.

‘Are you all right, Joseph? Having a bad dream?’ his wife asked him. ‘Feeling too warm? We’re descending to land soon. Oh, Rome, I can’t wait!’

Joseph wiped his forehead and looked at Angela.

‘She’s sure to like it too. After all, she won this trip for us.’

The setting sun sliced through the windows of the plane and along the seats when they landed. As the masses of passengers flowed to the exit, Angela clung to her mother’s hand, yawning and clasping her favourite teddy bear to her chest. Her stomach was still churning even though they had nothing to fear from turbulence any more.

‘Let’s hurry, Mummy!’ she shrieked over the murmur. ‘I don’t like being here. Flying is for birdies. Can we go home by bus instead?’

‘You won’t think anything of it on the return flight, honey.’

‘But I don’t want to fly!’

‘Well, all right. We’ll see what we can do.’ She was trying to appease the child, but Angela kept screeching.

‘I hate flying!’

People around them fell silent, some of them even turned round. As they left the plane, a stewardess slipped an airline key ring into her hand.

‘Here you are, girlie. I got it in a faraway land, but I’m giving it to you. You’ll see what a lovely place Rome is.’

‘Thank you,’ Angela answered, pacified.

‘You’re welcome, dear. I’m Petronella, and what’s your name?’


‘Well, well, Angela. You really look like a little angel. Be as good as an angel, then.’

The little girl swallowed and wanted to reply but a passenger further behind called out, ‘What’s happened, why isn’t the queue moving on?’ The stewardess waved to Edith to move on.

At arrivals, they took a taxi and melted into the sooty maze of the jungle of cars. As the taxi moved along, they watched the Italian ‘highway code’ being put into action before their eyes. Scooters making break-neck twists cut in front of them; tourists scampered like ghosts across the most congested sections, trusting to the reflexes of drivers; a pickup magically made room where there was none between their taxi and the microbus before them.

Fantastico!’ the taxi driver hollered and added a string of flashy oaths, referring to the pickup driver’s mother, in all probability.

At last they reached the hotel. The glass door opened and a bellman in a red jacket hurried up to them, taking care to carry all their baggage as far as possible. They could not avoid giving a tip.

Excitement woke them up early the following morning as they had planned to visit Saint Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. The murmur of the waking city filtered through the curtains, sometimes interrupted by a loud honk or the rumbling of trams. Angela emerged happily from below her blanket, her crown of fair hair almost shining against the bedclothes.

‘Mummy, I had such a strange dream. But I didn’t get scared.’

‘Is that right, sweetie?’ Having learnt from earlier experience, she went on, asking, ‘and where did you go in your dream? Were we there too?’

‘Yes. I dreamt that I lost the way at the airport and you both disappeared. I looked for you everywhere: in shops, toilets, the waiting area. I got really scared but then a very nice tall man in a grey suit came up to me and told me you were waiting for me at the entrance. Then he showed me the way to you.’

‘So your dream had a happy ending, right? It wasn’t a nightmare, after all.’ For Edith, the matter was closed. She continued planning the best way to get to the Vatican. She already had three routes in her mind. She walked to the window. A little grey spider was wrestling with her fruit-fly breakfast.

‘Mummy, that tall man was actually a bit weird. He had green light pouring from his buttonholes and a sword hanging from his side. And he was invisible to you. He also said I’d have to show him my gratitude for finding you.’

Edith was startled because the spider had paralyzed the fruit fly, whose little legs were painfully sticking out in every direction.

‘Don’t you think the tall man had a duty to take a lost child back to her parents?’ She turned to her daughter.

Angela began to think.

‘I don’t know, Mum, but I felt he could have killed me with a single sweep of his sword.’

‘What are you talking about? Little girls are not cut down with swords.’

‘Why not?’

‘Just because.’

‘Is it bad manners?’

‘Yes.’ Her mother laughed. ‘It’s bad manners.’

The girl slid from under the cover and, with a smile, reappeared in the bathroom. Edith sat down on her daughter’s bed and ran her hand along the sheet, which was still warm from her little body. She adored Angela’s clean morning scent of snow-flowers, which innocently hiding under the cover.

‘She’s our greatest treasure.’

‘Yes, she is,’ Edith answered, looking at Joseph. Her eyes moistened. ‘So we’ll have to take very great care of her.’

For a few seconds, they looked into each other’s eyes.

‘I’m glad we’ve come, Joseph. And we can thank Angela for this too. If she hadn’t collected all those labels!’

‘We can rest a little at last.’

‘You’re wrong there,’ the wife replied with a self-satisfied smile. ‘We really have to get a move on if we want to see all of Rome.’

The man tapped his forehead. ‘Edith!’

Angela was crooning a song in the bathroom, splashing at the tap. Her mother admonished her.

‘Hurry up, honey! We’d like to get in there too. Don’t use up all the hot water from the boiler.’

The singing ceased.

‘But Mum, there isn’t a boiler here.’

‘You’re right, sweetie. What a keen observer you are!’

‘The best!’ Angela strutted out of the bathroom.

Joseph walked to the window and caught sight of the spider, which was now weaving a capsule around the fruit fly with swift movements.

‘Edith, have you seen this spider? It’s fixed this poor sod of a fruit fly.’

‘You’d save everybody, wouldn’t you? But that’s life: the strong always defeat the weak.’

‘But who’s the strongest here?’ her husband mumbled.

After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, they took a bus to the Vatican. The bus-load of tourists with a variegated palette of skin colours, face shapes and attire of all shades from sky blue to golden brown was an interesting sight. They were jolted towards the Vatican and quashed together like fish in a tin.

Suddenly, Angela cried out, ‘Mummy, Daddy, I can see the dome!’ And yes, there in the distance loomed the egg-shaped dome of Saint Peter’s.

‘Sweetie, how do you know it’s called a dome?’

‘Mummy, you said “It has a huge dome on top of it”. Then I asked the teacher and she drew it on the blackboard. She drew it exactly like this.’

They wrestled their way off the bus, crossed Saint Peter’s Square and stood in the three hundred metre long queue. While waiting, they admired the perfect symmetry of the colonnade, its strict proportions, and watched the hundreds of pigeons marching like armies from one statue to the other.

‘Joseph, where is Angela?’ asked Edith suddenly.

‘I can’t see her.’

‘Oh, my God!’

They looked for her among the tourists, terrified. The queue of those waiting instantly closed behind them.

‘Angela! Angela!’ Edith cried, tears already flowing down her cheeks. A dreadful scenario unfolded in front of her eyes, like in a silent movie. She imagined Angela being bundled into a van and the driver speeding away. Angela’s face was showered with cruel slaps as she fought tooth and nail, until, finally overcome, she collapsed, crying quietly. Edith was going berserk.

‘No! Joseph, no! Damn it, search faster. Why weren’t you keeping an eye on her? Why weren’t we keeping an eye on her?’

They rummaged back and forth in the crowd like moles, looking everywhere, but did not find her. A few Japanese faces stared back at them enquiringly, others were commiserating with them and whispered. Joseph took out Angela’s photo and, drawing on all his linguistic ability, tried to extract something from the people loitering about and taking photos.

Only one couple remembered Angela’s face because the girl had bumped into them about fifty metres from her parents. Edith cried and laughed at the same time.

‘So she wasn’t kidnapped? Then she must be somewhere here. Search for her!’ They set out into the enormous square, Joseph working in from the left, Edith from the right, but the crowd did not reveal their lost treasure. When Joseph reached his wife, she was at the edge of the square in a circle of people. She was on her knees, wailing.

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