I could still hear the singing. It was strangely pitched, between melody and chant. I realised it was coming from the floor below. I went downstairs, following the sound. There was a corridor off the landing. I stumbled to the end of it and opened a door. The sight that confronted me was of Maria Pia almost completely covered in spatters of paint, without which she would have been naked. She was oblivious of my entry, but remained intent on her purpose – which was daubing a vast sheet – a canvas – spread out on the floor. She was walking its perimeter in a sort of stalking motion, as if sneaking through jungle. The singing continued, accompanying the movements of her body, rising and falling in pitch as she stooped to make a mark with a long wand, tipped with a brush. There were words to her song. Occasionally I could detect a rhyme but the words themselves were strange to me: perhaps a dialect. I noticed, propped against the wall, a mirror; an unframed rectangle of glass that might have come from a barber’s shop. Maria Pia was observing her movements in its reflection, and it seemed she was transcribing some essence of them onto the canvas on the floor. Then I saw there was a second reflection. Someone was sitting in the corner behind the door I’d just opened: it was Matteo; he was wearing a bathrobe. The scene was one of domesticity, almost.
Catching sight of me, he seemed at pains to prevent the spell being broken. He half whispered, ‘Maria Pia needs to be like this, to make her paintings. It’s a psychic state, a trance if you like.’
I was in no mood to be hushed; I felt suddenly angry at being used for their games. I was the Visigoths entering Rome, I was Attila before Vienna, I was the Rolling Stones on the road. The paints that Maria Pia was using stood in a cluster of open pots, just off the canvas. I took a swing at them with my foot. I was evidently not properly connected up with the physical world, because only one went over, but it was enough. Maria Pia stopped and looked, seeing me for the first time.
‘How much juice did you put in your drinks?’ I barked.
‘Juice? It wasn’t—’
‘LSD, I mean. You know what I’m talking about.’
Matteo looked uncomfortable but prepared to talk me down. He was going to be a trickcyclist. This was psychodrama.
‘It’s not so simple. What is a lot? The quantities are always very small. The effects vary according to the individual—’
‘Stop being a fucking Jesuit. You’ve done this plenty of times before. A lot or a little? That’s all I’m asking…’
‘Perhaps a significant amount – but it’s not guesswork, you understand. This is a controlled situation…’
Maria Pia was staring at me, her face welling like a bruise. The pool of paint spreading on the floor shimmered a rainbow of vibrating colours. I wanted to slap her, I wanted to pull her down into the ooze. I was the Visigoths, I was Attila etc. etc. A fly was buzzing in the light shade. My guardian, it was sending me a message: something significant. I veered out of the room, and headed downstairs, where I could hear voices. I was still thirsty.
On the first floor was a sitting-room. It had a latter-day elegance: moulded ceiling; a fireplace from the Risorgimento; gilded mirror over. There was a record player in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a midden of LPs. Nothing was playing, but a couple of girls were dancing barefoot. One was Laura. On a beanbag in the corner, Casanova lay like a satrap, his hand absently cradling the breast of a girl who looked to be asleep.
I went up to Laura, who drew me into a strange three-way huddle with the other girl, her dance partner.
‘Adam, Adam, listen, I need to tell you…’ Her voice was a confidential whisper. She looked over her shoulder into the corner, and giggled. ‘No, just listen, will you…’ Her voice became school-marmish.
‘I am listening,’ I said, waiting. She giggled again.
’It’s Casanova. He says he wants me. He says it’s his droit du seigneur…’
‘What are you talking about? The guy’s a creep.’
‘I wanna get laid. You have…’ Her mouth had a lascivious twist. She laughed, then a thought crossed her mind like cloud shadow through a sunlit vale. ’Creep. You’re right. Big creep. But then he is Casanova. Does it count as creepy if that’s who you are?’
‘What do you mean “if that’s who you are”? He’s just a jerk in Fauntleroy bags.’
’No, no he is Casanova, he is really.’ She looked at me wide-eyed, desperate that I should believe her. ‘You are Casanova, you are, aren’t you?’ she said, turning round to address the reclining satyr on his gingham throne.
‘A descendant, yes,’ Casanova nodded sententiously.
‘You see,’ said Laura, vindicated. ’It’s like destiny. He fucks, fucks, fucks, and fucks again. He fucks ’em all. He fucked Maria Pia. That’s when all the trouble started, with Danny—’
‘What trouble? Danny, where is he?’
Laura looked troubled. ‘He got really angry. He was with Maria Pia. He thought he was. Then he found… He just started lashing out at everyone, raging…’
‘The guy was freakin’ everyone out,’ Casanova spoke up from the corner. ‘We had to put him in the cooler. For his own sake. Bad trip!’
‘Where is he? What have you done with him?’ I looked Casanova in the eye with murder in my heart. ‘Where’s my fucking mate?’
‘Hey cool, man. It’s all cool. He’s just downstairs, in the bathroom…’
I didn’t stop to hear any more. I was the man in the poncho. I had a town to clean up. I turned to go out of the door.
‘Casanova. He died of pox. That was his destiny. Stay away from him,’ I said to Laura over my shoulder as I went.