Saturday, March 22, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 5

Previously

Divine intervention

Chris was not one of those people who loves being woken by an alarm telling him it is time to get up and go to work. Staring at the leering face of the thug threatening to emasculate him did however make Chris reflect on how comparatively gentle the alarm clock was.

"Sorry about Beppe," he said, playing for time. "I didn't mean to hurt him."

"You didn't mean to hurt him when you knocked him down a flight of stairs? You little bag of shit."

"Well I just needed to get away, I didn't think he would hurt himself so bad."

"Shut it! Just tell me where the fucking stick is or I will slit your throat now."

"The memory stick? I've actually got a few with me." This was actually true. Chris always carried a memory stick on his keyring and he had also left Ireland with two others lying at the bottom of his bag for no good reason.

"You know what I mean. The one you were given on the train. I want it!"

"Oh yeah, that one," said Chris drowsily. He was drowsy, of course, but he was playing up feeling drowsier than he was in the hope of playing this out until a chance came for him to do something.

"That one! Where is it?" Versace Man's voice was now rising well above a whisper.

"Uh, I left it somewhere…"

"Where? Where is it?" He slapped Chris roughly. "I don't have time for your bullshit. Tell me where it is or I kill you now and find it myself."

"Ow! It's hard to think if you keep hitting me."

"Oh yeah?" He hit Chris again.

"Jesus Christ, that hurt."

"Do you want some more? Where's the fucking stick?"

"Jesus, let me get my breath back."

"Where's the fucking stick?"

"It's somewhere."

"Somewhere? Somewhere? Fuck this existential bullshit! I will find it myself. You die now!"

He brought the knife down to Chris's throat. Chris should have been terrified but all he could feel was a faint sense of disappointment that he had not made it to Greece ("I've always wanted to see the Acropolis," he thought) nor had he had it out with Deirdre. And he had not brought the memory stick to Athens. That last point seemed like the most disappointing, even though it was the least relevant to his original goals for setting off on this journey. It just seemed annoying to not see the story through to the end. Then he almost smiled as he realised that for him this was the end.

Chris managed to think a lot of things in the second after the thug signalled that he was about to slit his throat. He then saw the leering face of Versace Man disappear from his immediate proximity. Now the thug was standing, grasping at his own throat, around which something white was twisted tightly. And behind him was a grim-faced Father Antoinio, who seemed to be garrotting the thug with a towel. The thug's eyes bulged horribly and his tongue stuck out of his mouth flailing about as though it was a prehensile entity that might just somehow be able to rescue Versace Man from the fatal hold. Chris himself was unable to react. The shock of finding that his life was not ending after all had left him almost catatonic.

Father Antonio choked Versace Man to near unconsciousness and then threw him roughly to the ground, where he lay coughing for breath. "Are you alright?" said the priest. The question jerked Chris out of his stupor.

"Just about. Christ, you saved my life."

"There is no need for blasphemy."

"Sorry Father," said Chris sheepishly.

"Don't worry, I have heard worse, and you have more of an excuse than many others."

The priest picked up the telephone beside Chris's bed, dialled reception and barked something in an imperative tone, all the while watching Versace Man carefully. Chris made out the word "Policia". The priest hung up.

"I was finishing my drink when this poor soul came skulking in. I could tell at a glance that he was not a resident here and so I followed him up as he came upstairs and broke into what I know see is your room. When I heard his voice inside I realised that there was someone in here, so I had to act straight away. I hope he did not hurt you badly. And indeed, I hope this fellow recovers enough to repent of his sinful ways."

"No, I'm fine," said Chris. He was a bit shaken but his rescue was now making him feel almost euphoric. He was beginning to think of himself as invincible. If he was in trouble then he would either be able to escape by his own efforts, as in the cathedral, or Providence would send him a rescuer, as it had with Father Antonio.

The police arrived soon enough. Versace Man was carted off into custody. Chris was required to answer questions (many of which were basically the same question over and over again) and then to write out a statement on the incident. He neglected to mention anything about he memory stick (which he had established was still safely in his jacket pocket). He also said nothing about the earlier incident in the Duomo and instead made it seem as though Versace Man's assault was just a random attempt to violently rob a tourist. The lead detective assured Chris that they had enough evidence to put his assailant away for some time. "We will find some other crimes for him to be accused of," the detective said reassuringly. "In Italy we like to think of ourselves as a hospitable and welcoming people - except of course with regards to Muslims and illegal immigrants. So we act most severely against any lowlife who disturbs our tourist friends. That piece of trash will be in prison for quite some time, I can assure you of this."

"Great," said Chris.

The detective went on to assure Chris that his deposition would almost certainly be all that was required of him, but that the proper authorities would contact him in due course if he was needed to testify in court ("Which would of course involve another trip to Milan for you, but this time staying in one of our finest hotels, all at the expense of the magistrates"). In the meantime he was free to leave town. This was something of a relief to Chris, as he had feared being held up long enough for someone to connect him to the cathedral affray, from which all kinds of complications could ensue. The policemen bade Chris a good night and went on their way. As did Father Antonio.

It was now so far into the night that it would not be that long before Chris would need to leave to catch his early train. He was too excited to sleep and he reckoned that by the time he calmed down enough to drop off it would be time to head off to the station. So he showered and dressed and then read some more of his book before heading down to the station earlier than he needed to.

In the deserted streets and the emerging glow of the morning the city had an eerie quality. Walking alone up the long avenue to the station, one now largely bereft of traffic, he felt like he was the only living person in the city. He could see people sleeping rough underneath the overhanging buildings, but their sleeping bags made them look more like cocooned chrysalids than anything more closely related to the human race. The looming station ahead appeared more out of proportion now than it had in the full daylight, striking Chris as being almost like a living entity or something that had been extruded by an army of giant ants rather than something raised into being by the work of human hands. Yet once inside, even at this early hour, the station was a hive of human activity, with people arriving and leaving and running to catch underground trains almost as much as they would at any other time. Chris went to one of the station caf├ęs for a coffee and croissant, sitting down this time, and then he made his way to the platform for his train to Bari.


The story continues

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