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One holiday a life time.., p.1
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       One Holiday, a Life-time Memory, p.1

           Rene Natan
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One Holiday, a Life-time Memory
One Holiday, a Life-time Memory

  by Rene Natan

  Copyright © 2012 Rene Natan

  All Rights Reserved.

  Contact: [email protected]

  One Holiday, a Life-time Memory

  Early June 1989, Northern Italy

  Larry Burton took a big bite from his salami sandwich and turned a page of the manual entitled Learn Italian in Six Easy Lessons. He was having a snack in a small restaurant near Angera, on the shores of Lago Maggiore. With a Bachelor of Arts degree and aspirations for a photography career, Larry had arrived in Italy to get close to the culture that had produced so many famous masterpieces. First he’d landed in Zurich on a chartered flight, then hitchhiked across Switzerland with fairly comfortable rides until he had reached the foot of Mount St. Gottard. After a day spent in Andermatt looking for a ride, he’d finally climbed onto the cabin of a heavily-loaded truck heading toward the Italian border. The truck had followed the A2-freeway up to Bellinzona, where it had branched off to a smaller road. This last leg of his trip had been bumpy as the load of tin sheets often shifted from one side to the other; it had, however, given him a chance to admire the imposing mountains, the gardens filled with azaleas in bloom and the picturesque Borromeo Islands.

  When the truck had stopped in Angera to make its delivery at the La Tre Esse plant, Larry had thanked the driver, got a ball cap out of his oversized backpack, slipped it on and jumped out of the truck. He intended to spend a few days wandering on his own.

  Temporarily putting his linguistic ambitions on hold, Larry exchanged the manual he had in his hands for a road map, trying to figure out how to go south from where he was.

  The owner of the small restaurant, which was a stop for truck drivers, looked at him.

  “Dà un’occhiata al banco, per favour,” he said.

  “Io non ca‑pi‑re,” replied Larry using a sentence he’d just learned.

  The owner switched to English.

  “Keep an eye on the counter, will you? My name is Dino.”

  “What?” Larry asked. “Sure, I’ll be glad to.”

  “I go across the road to see my daughter. She works over there.” He pointed to a plant with the fluorescent sign La Tre Esse; underneath, three words: Scatole, Scatoline, Scatolone. “They make tin containers of any size.”

  Dino slipped off the big white apron he was wearing, took the cash register’s key and left.

  It doesn’t make any sense; no sense at all, thought Larry sipping his beer without enthusiasm as it was warm, instead of cold as he’d expected. The owner doesn’t trust the people who might wander into his shop, and yet, he asks me, a total stranger, to look after his place! He took another bite from his salami sandwich. Well, foreign country, foreign habits. Larry returned to studying the road map.

  Suddenly a thin woman rushed into the restaurant, deposited a bag on the chair close to him and said, “Look after my tote bag, please. I have to go.” She made a beeline for the washrooms.

  It’s my day, thought Larry. Elected guardian on the spot. I must have an honest face.

  Shrouded in a cloud of dust, two buses rocketed on the unpaved road almost at the same time and stopped close to the plant, one facing the other. Clearly, they were heading in opposite directions. About 50 workers moved fast, trying to get on either transportation as if their lives depended on it.

  The young woman reappeared soon after.

  “Thanks,” she said to Larry, opening her green eyes wide and giving him a quick smile. “My name is Regina, Regina Howard.” She looked around. “Oh, am I hungry! I haven’t eaten all day.” She grabbed two pastries and a bottle of juice from the glass dispenser and deposited a note on top of the counter. She was ready to take off when two men, chatting and laughing loudly, neared the door of the restaurant—one was in an army-like camouflage outfit, the other wore a pair of jeans and a loose chequered shirt.

  “Oh, here they are! Again! I have to hide.” Regina gave Larry an imploring look and joined her hands in prayer. “Please, please, don’t give me away. My life is in danger.” She grabbed her bag and hid behind the chairs and overturned tables that were stacked in one corner.

  The two men walked in and looked around.

  “Il padrone?” One asked.

  Larry opened his arms in the universal gesture of lack of understanding.

  “Where is Dino, the owner?” Strangely enough, the man in the army outfit spoke English.

  “He went across the road to meet his daughter.” A guardian, and a dispenser of information. My career is advancing fast. In no time I’ll direct the traffic, thought Larry, amused.

  “Anybody else here?” the same man asked. He looked around suspiciously.

  “Nope.” Larry shook his head to reinforce his words.

  “Baldo,” said the man in the camouflage, “Let’s go outside and find the security man in charge of the plant.”

  “Fine, Tony,” Baldo answered.

  They left, scattering in different directions.

  Without moving his head, Larry glanced at the corner where Regina hid.

  “It’s safe for the time being,” he said, keeping his voice down.

  “Are the buses gone?” asked Regina, showing her face from behind the chairs.

  “Not yet. But the doors are closed. They’re ready to leave.” He continued looking out the window, “They’re moving now.”

  Baldo and Tony were talking to Dino and to a man dressed in a gray uniform with La Tre Esse embossed on the back.

  Stay down,” Larry told Regina, “They’re coming back with Dino and another man.”

  The four men entered the restaurant.

  “We should have used some muscle when we spotted her,” Tony said, keeping his voice low. “Now we’ve lost her.”

  “I believe she boarded one of the buses,” Baldo said. “What a commotion! We should have checked them before they left. But everybody was in such a damned hurry!”

  “We couldn’t really show our pistols and rifles with all those people around!” Tony replied.

  The three men grouped in front of the counter, while Dino took his place behind it.

  “Dino,” said Tony, “Make three espressos laced with grappa. We really need it. What a day!” He turned towards the plant’s security man and said, in accented Italian, “Mario, se ti accorgi di qualcosa di strano o vedi una ragazza aggirarsi qui intorno, telefona a questo numero (Mario, if anything unusual happens or if you see a girl drifting around here, call this number).” He scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to Mario.

  “E perchè (Why)?” Mario asked. “Io dipendo dall’ufficio principale in Luino: stando agli ordini, devo telefonare lì se c’è qualcosa di strano. (I report to the main office in Luino. According to my orders I should call them if there’s something strange).”

  “Fà come ti ho detto! (Just do it!),” said Tony authoritatively. “È una faccenda seria, roba da polizia. Non posso spiegarti di più (It’s serious. It’s a police matter. I can’t say more).”

  “Va bene (Fine),” said Mario, still unconvinced.

  Baldo, Tony and Mario quickly drank their coffee and left.

  Larry could hear Regina’s teeth rattle. Within a short moment, Larry saw two men departing in a dark green Fiat, while Mario headed toward the parking lot.

  “Time to go,” Larry said aloud, and got up to pay Dino at the counter. He smiled at the restaurant’s owner. “I like to walk when the sun is down. By the way, I’ve seen a nice loaf of bread in your kitchen—I hope you didn’t mind me peeping through the open door. I wonder if I could buy it from you. It’d be nice to munch on it while I walk.”

  “What?” exclaimed Dino surpr
ised by the elaborate speech.

  “What I mean is that I’d like to buy your bread,” rephrased Larry pointing to the loaf of bread.

  “Sure. No charge,” said the owner. “That’s for guarding the fort.”

  While Dino entered the kitchen, Larry signalled Regina to get out.

  “Thanks,” Larry said as Dino returned. “It has been a very interesting stopover. I like to watch real people in their natural surroundings and observe how they behave.”

  He didn’t wait for Dino to reply or engage him in further conversation. He strode out and took Regina by the arm. They crossed the road.

  “Why were you afraid of the authorities?” he asked her.

  “Those were no authorities. The man in the army outfit wore a police’s badge, true, but he’s still a bad guy, believe me. I’ll stay with you; you handled yourself very well.”

  “Thank you. You can write me a letter of reference, in case I decide to enter the criminal world. The problem is that now there are two people in trouble instead of one. By the way, my name is Larry Burton, from Canada.”

  “I’m from—” She looked down the hill and said abruptly, “Quick, quick, let’s hide inside here.” Regina tugged at the front door of La Tre Esse. The door opened. “I recognized the silhouette of the Fiat, behind that turn, down the hill. Somebody’s coming back. Let’s hide.” She pulled Larry inside the small office and took cover behind a filing cabinet. “Where are they now?”

  “In the parking lot. I can’t see who they are, yet. Oh…only one man in the car; he’s climbing out.” Larry watched attentively through the door’s glass partition. “It’s the man in plainclothes, the one with the chequered shirt, Baldo, I think.”

  “What is he doing?” Regina asked.

  “He’s approaching Mario.” He paused. “He’s fighting with him, actually. He wants Mario’s keys, but Mario won’t give them. Mario looks mad. He’s pushing Baldo away.”

  “Baldo, is he leaving?”

  “No. He entered the restaurant. Oh, Mario’s coming this way.” Larry moved away from the door. “He’s coming right here.”

  Larry lay flush against a nook of the warehouse’s office; Regina crouched behind the metal filing cabinet.

  Mario entered the premises, went around the desk and walked to the back of the office. He checked the big door leading to the warehouse.

  “Non c’è nessuno, e lo stabilimento è chiuso a chiave (Nobody’s here, and the warehouse’s locked),” he murmured to himself. “C’è gente che non ha niente da fare. Inventano storie per sentirsi importanti. (There’re people who have nothing to do. They invent stories to feel important.)” He locked the door on his way out.

  Larry and Regina stayed still for a while; then Larry went back to his peeping position. “Baldo’s in front of the store, sipping a beer. Mario is marching toward him. He talks to Baldo and he gestures him to leave. Now Baldo’s upset.”

  Regina was still curled up behind the cabinet.

  “Finally Baldo’s leaving,” said Larry, as the squeaking of tires resounded all over. “We’re lucky.” He breathed with relief.

  Regina got up and stood close to Larry. She was shaking and her teeth rattled again.

  “What did you do to them?” Larry asked. “They sounded pretty mad at you.” She didn’t answer. “It’s so bad that you don’t want to talk about it, eh?”

  “They wanted something.”

  “Something you stole, I suppose.”

  “Not quite, too long to explain.”

  “We can go to the police as soon as we’re out of here.”

  “No, no! One of them—the one who spoke English—had a police badge hanging on his belt,” Regina said. “I don’t want to go there.”

  “These fellows aren’t the gentle type—you need protection.”

  “I have all the protection I need if you stay with me. Please...please.”

  “You’ll damage your teeth if you don’t stop rattling them.”

  “I had a rough day,” she said softly. “And I’m very scared. Stay with me, please.”

  “You must have studied acting. You can play the high-class or the poor girl quite well. Even your voice and accent change accordingly.”

  Regina was very close to him. Larry could still feel her shaking. He put his arm around her shoulders to reassure her.

  “I understand you’re scared,” he said. “But I can’t protect you. Besides, I’m not available for private work, assuming you could pay me.” He glanced at Regina’s body. “In one way or another.”

  “Oh…” She opened her eyes wide. “Too bad.”

  Larry couldn’t resist. “I’ll stay with you until the situation clears up. Good enough?” He pulled Regina close to his body and held her so until she stopped shaking. “We should walk until we find help,” he finally said. “We’ve two problems, though. We can be easily spotted on the road and we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

  “I know the area. There’s a small town about 10 kilometres from here. We can stay away from the main road by just walking southeast.”

  “That’s some useful information, now that it’s getting dark.”

  “There’s some sort of country road, not paved. Not much bigger than a walking path. It crosses the woods over a couple of hills and winds around a small lake. It ends up east of Caprionno.”

  “That’s better. You really know the area!”

  They unlocked the door, brushed against the plant’s wall to avoid being seen, and in no time they were on their way. They walked for almost three hours, Regina leading the way.

  As Regina spotted an abandoned hut near the road, she stopped.

  “I can’t take another step,” she said. “My feet hurt.” She walked in, threw her bag far away and dropped her flannel jacket on the ground. She slumped on top of it.

  Larry lay close to her.

  Around ten o’clock in the morning Larry woke up. There was no sign of Regina. He rose, shook off the specks of hay that had stuck to his jeans and sports coat and stepped outside. He was thirsty and famished.

  Regina was walking toward him, two big cups of coffee in her hands, and the inseparable bag across her shoulders.

  “Mission accomplished,” she said proudly and cheerfully. “Food, drinks and money.”

  Her auburn hair was shining; her eyes were bright green and her smile revealed white, even teeth.

  Larry took the cups from her hands while Regina freed her bag and opened it.

  “What did you do—and how—and whatever you did—how could you have done it so fast?”

  Regina got out three paper bags and said softly, “I went to a place where there’s money and got some.” She shook her head, leaned back, and gave Larry a mischievous look.

  “You didn’t have time to rob a bank. Besides, you didn’t carry any weapons.”

  “How do you know?”

  “I searched you,” Larry said and shot her a teasing look.

  The first brioche disappeared fast in Regina’s mouth. She gestured Larry to get some.

  “So, how did you search me?” she asked.

  “First, I searched your purse.”

  “My tote bag, you mean,” said Regina, her mouth full.

  “The big thing you carry around…Then I searched your pockets—all of them. No weapons, no money. Nothing, not even in your slacks pockets. I checked those while you slept close to me, almost on top of me. You were very cold.”

  “I see.” Regina remained impassive, digging into each bag with equal enthusiasm. She savoured every sip of coffee and each bite of food from three pastries. “I feel better now. Would you accompany me to Milan? I’ll be safe, there.”

  Larry looked at her. I like her, he thought. It’s a pity she’s so wild.

  “What do you think?” asked Regina. She dipped into one of the paper bags and grabbed a donut.

  “That you’re in a lot of trouble. And too beautiful to spend your life in jail.”

  “Why would anybody want to lock me

  Larry couldn’t hide his impatience and threw his eyes around. “You think everything’s a game. It isn’t a game to be chased—not by the mob and not by the law.”

  Regina stopped chewing for a moment. “You worry too much. Just enjoy these donuts. They’re fabulous.”

  Larry finished his coffee and stood up.

  “Thank you for breakfast,” he said. He grabbed his backpack and slid it onto his shoulders.

  “Where are you going?”

  “To live my life and continue my vacation.”

  “Wait! You can’t leave!”

  Larry stopped.

  “You didn’t try one of the croissants with almonds, yet. Their taste is out of this world.”

  Larry looked at her genuine smile, her delicate hand proffering the almost empty bag. He twitched once more with impatience, grabbed the last croissant, and knelt with one leg close to her.

  “How did you get this stuff?”

  “I know the town. There’s a pawn shop. I pawned my pearl necklace, and got some money.”

  “How much?”

  “The equivalent of a thousand dollars.” Regina finished her donut and gathered all the garbage in one of the paper bags.

  Larry got up. “You’re impossible. You can’t say one word of truth—not even by mistake. I’m going. Alone. Good luck; you’ll need it.”

  Larry had walked half an hour on a completely deserted road when the sound of an engine made him look behind him. A car going in his direction was approaching. He stuck out his thumb. When he realized that Regina drove the vehicle, it was too late.

  “Handsome, would you like a ride?” she asked. “No charge.”

  “Thanks,” said Larry and got in. “It’d be probably no use asking you how you got the car.”

  “With the money I got from the pawn shop. The car rental didn’t open until eleven. There wasn’t any reason to rush.”

  “How logical.”

  They drove a long stretch without talking. Finally Regina spoke.

  “In less than half an hour we’ll be in Milan,” she said. “You’ll be free.”

  Larry was nonplused when he realized he wanted to be with her. That’s probably how she conducts her business, he mused, making people feeling obliged to help her. She’s a mixture of kindness, wildness and candour. And all packed in a very nice body.

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