Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Now, July 2017
‘The world is waiting to meet you’ reads a travel brochure’s headline held by the woman manoeuvring knuckled fingers around her mouth. ‘Waiting to meet me’, she muses coquettishly, eyes perusing the photo of a half-naked Australian surfer.
Her hollow-cheeked husband sits across from her, hunched over his copy of Le Monde. ‘I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse (Charles V, King of Spain, 1531)’ quotes the article holding his attention. This draws a philosophical ‘hmmm’ out of him before he launches into battle with the newspaper. Alas, Le Monde is in no way inclined to let itself be folded. So, the middle-aged man capitulates, scrunches up the rebellious paper, and slams it petulantly on the metallic table, rattling the breakfast set in its wake. This briefly interrupts his spouse’s tooth picking, arousing in her a silent mixture of condemnation and bafflement.
“Do you think Italian men are sexier than French?” He asks seemingly out of the blue whilst dipping a buttered-slice of baguette into his mug of caffè latte.
Paying him no mind, the woman gazes back at stunning photographs of idyllic beaches.
“Dearest? So, sexier or not?” He insists, trying to gain her attention. Drips of coffee dribble onto Le Monde.
“Wha’? I can’t hear you.” She cups her ear.
“Do. You. Think. Italian men. Are. Sexier. Than. French men?” He yells over the background racket.
“Not at all.” She dismisses his nonsense. Her distracted, hooded eyes drift to the rocky shore. “No pain-au-raisin for breakfast. And now, this...” She points towards the commotion and tuts. The scene unfolding beneath their hotel room is now finally drawing their blasé interest.
“Have a romantic break in Italy, they said.” The man grunts in agreement.
“Have. A. Romantic… Nothing, dear.” He waves it off and turns his attention back to his stubbornly scrunched up, and now coffee-stained, newspaper.
Amidst the small boats berthed on Manarola’s main street, groups of tourists are consoling one another. Flashing lights reflect against the town’s medieval watchtowers. Reporters hurry down a warren of narrow alleys, like a murder of vultures sensing a rotting carcass. Some have already set-up their top of the range cameras to capture the grisly scene in all its glorious technicolour detail. Others were being pushed back by the police. All of them covered their noses from the pervasive stench of rotting flesh.
Crouched down at the scene, an Italian police officer lifts his head. His shaded eyes take a comprehensive look at the tumble of brightly coloured, quaint buildings facing the shore.
The scrawny man who is having breakfast on the geranium-hung balcony, has the distinct impression that the officer is pointing in his direction. He swallows his mouthful of soggy bread in one noisy gulp. Their hotel phone rings and the couple exchange a silent look. Someone on the other end of the line summons them down in Italian.
“Detective Paoli.” Giandomenico extends his right hand whilst removing his branded sunglasses. The woman automatically readjusts her bouffant hair in response, while staring at Giandomenico a little longer than necessary. Giandomenico does not notice. Or, more accurately, he does not register it as an unusual reaction. This is not due to any arrogance on his part, it is what it is. Like a double espresso, everything suddenly becomes sharper for women in Giandomenico’s presence.
The detective switches on a recording app on his phone. The couple shakes hands with him whilst nodding sternly. Giandomenico waits for them to introduce themselves. But nothing is said.
“My colleague tells me you are French, is this correct?” Giandomenico interrupts the impromptu staring contest.
The man wedges his hands under his armpits and parts his legs a little wider in response. “We’re Corsican.” He defies, lifting his chin.
A faint smile sweeps across Giandomenico’s lips. Ok, so they are, indeed, French. To gather himself, the detective takes a fleeting glimpse at the locals being questioned on either side of him. His guess is they are local fishermen. The type that mainly fish on tourists during the high season. They look alike, the two Corsicans in front of him; flag-wavers, with the sort of calm composure that seeps hot blood.
“How long have you been staying at this hotel?” Giandomenico nods to the stunning building in full sight of the usually picturesque coastal inlet.
“A few days.”
“Did you notice anything unusual last night?”
In unison, the couple press their lips downward, before shaking their hair-sprayed heads, not one hair steps out of line as they do.
“Did you hear or see something out of the ordinary this morning?”
They shrug, their faces wear the same expression as before, Don Corleone-esque.
A few paces away, an Italian reporter shoves a fluffy microphone in front of an African-American man bursting out of an XXXL keep-fit polo shirt. “We heard a crash in the middle of the night. But not like cars crashing. More like crrr-raaash. Like a tree splitting, ya know?” His Southern American drawl speaks of steamboats and jazz and cuts as if equipped with an innate loudspeaker. “It felt to me, ‘hmmm this is odd.’ But personally, I thought that one of the boats fell off and crashed onto the rocks. Though when I opened our shutters this morning, hmmm, so, ah, I saw them…” He stops to wipe his eyes with the back of his meaty hand. The petite African-American woman next to him buries her head against his bulky, shuddering shoulders.
The camera moves away from the American tourists. The boat wreckage and the two bodies on the rocky inlet come into shot. The grey-skinned corpses are lying face down.
“The identity of the two deceased has yet to be established.” The feral Italian reporter starts to prate on. “But, it is no secret that Italy’s long coastline makes it one of the EU’s main targets for migrants. One government official recently warned of a new influx hitting Italy this summer, forecasting figures north of 4,000.” She pauses to let the dust of her indignation settle. “Only yesterday, diligent Italian coastguards are believed to have reported seeing men and women dangling infants over the side of rusting ships, threatening to throw their babies into the sea if they were turned back.” She turned her head towards the two dead bodies. Her brown ponytail enclaved within the gap in her cap flicks, bringing to mind the image of a cow shooing flies with her tail.
Giandomenico rolls his eyes at the reporter’s vacuous extrapolation, before turning his attention back to the uncooperative Corsican couple. “Your hotel room is directly above the scene. A boat smashed into the shore last night, but you heard and saw nothing of what that gentleman just described?”
The Corsican man tilts his head upward. “I’m sorry, detective, my wife and I didn’t understand this gentleman… We don’t speak Mac-uh-Dough-nald’s.”
Giandomenico chews the inside of his mouth.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED.