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Chipper was hungry, famished, if you like- and nervous, nervous as hell.
He didn’t like the touristy neighborhood, but what choice did he have? The Contessa or her cronies would not be roaming around the Spanish Steps in the early morning. Still, if any of her goons happen to recognize him, he would be arrested- with an arm or leg broken before they took him in.
The Countess Eleuthra was like that, vengeful- as vengeful as she was rich. As he was planning on leaving permanently, he could have taken everything the night before, milked the bitch dry. But he never did that to his marks. He even, utilizing his trademark restraint- and, just for fun’s sake, had convinced her to give her the key to her deposit box and then not taken anything from it. He left the only copy of that key on top of her jewelry box, after had discreetly removed the red diamond she had bragged about so much.
1. The rare jewel had gone for 525,000 EUR but then the stake diminished to almost nothing after he crashed on the rocky spokes of the roulette wheel. Worse, he had gotten fingered by security when somehow found out about the red diamond, a stone very few people knew or could recognize. Still, despite their incriminations, security only interrogated him and did not press charges. By the time they let him go, the Contessa had undoubtedly found that he had stolen it.
With the little money he had left, he caught a plane back to Rome. All his stuff was stored in a locker in a train station. And to his horror, someone had changed the damn lock when he was gone. How? Why?
Now, he was surrounded by the rapidly growing mass of people crowding Piazza di Spagna. This was a stupidest place to come to. The Contessa often shopped in the Piazza at the Patrizia Peppo shop, - mainly because an old acquaintance managed it.
But Chipper had good reason to be here, as he had been on the day he left for the Casino. A lot of Americans and Brits still hung around this place as they did when Keats and Shelley, the Romantic poets, made this the Steps famous. John Keats had even elected to die in the building that became the Keats/Shelley Museum. Joseph Severn and the famous poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley were buried near him in the Protestant Cemetery. Of all the places in Rome, nobody would think of finding him at the Museum. Rather, the goons would troll every bar and private poker room in Rome.
He looked down the street- because he needed sustenance and, with all this traffic, he needed to safely ensconced in an unlikely indoor environment. He saw a coffeehouse a few buildings down the street- kind of shabby compared to the other more elite hangouts around the Stairs, but with a 19th century espresso machine in the window. .
Seated a few feet away from the espresso machine, Barbara Sagredo waited for him, although he didn’t know it. She had been looking for him out the window for at least ten minutes in between chatting with her associates. The waiters in the back were staring at her and the tiny coterie of three women who surrounded her. From their dress and make-up, they could only surmise that Barbara was the Madame and her associates were components of her travelling brothel.
And that was what the women wanted everyone to think. Barbara was dressed meticulously for the part. She was a detective from the U. S., hired by the Contessa to nail another voracious predator on rich women. The women surrounding her were all Italian police undercover agents, customarily assigned to handle prostitution
Barbara had gotten this assignment because of that damn “Movie of the Week” special that had sent her hurtling all over the world to solve rich women’s problems with shameless hustlers. It had started with a Long Island heiress whose case she had solved and whose story had reached the tabloids. Once it was made into a television movie, it was translated into three different languages, including Italian, and shipped around the world. Chasing down hustlers hadn’t been her specialty. Before, she had specialized in corporate crime- but now she was the go-to detective for male hustlers. The Countess Eleuthra had seen the movie and had her do a deep background check on Paul Johansen, who had assumed the nickname, “Chipper.”
“Y did right to call us in, Barbara. It’s going to be real fun bring him in.” Kristina said in perfect English. Barbara nodded. Then, ou glancing at her cell, asked them to leave the table.
The girls had cleared out. Now Chipper walked in.
He looked around and spotted her immediately. It was amazing to see her here. He had not expected it at all. And yet, there she was, sipping espresso and reading a tall, slender book. It was a very beautiful folio of the poems of John Keats.
“May I join you?” he asked.
She looked up and shrugged. He sat down.
“Why are you here?” she said.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “I don’t suppose-“
She looked at him scornfully and signaled the waiter. The waiter came by she ordered him some croissants and coffee without even looking up.
“Will that do?” she said sullenly.
“I would have liked eggs.”
“Well, too bad. Y should have brought some money.” ou
“I lost in yesterday- at a casino.”
He looked down. So did she, continuing to read Keats’ “The Eve of St. Mark” for the fortieth time. She longed to spend another leisurely afternoon in the Keats/Shelly museum, - but, no, she had to spend her only time in Italy with this evil looter of women’s hearts.. What he had done to the Contessa- and other women- was unthinkable. She tried to concentrate on the poem, while he gorged on his croissants and guzzled down his coffee.
Annoyed to the point of distraction, she suddenly heard him softly murmuring to himself in an articulate, but subdued accent. Her ears perked up as he recited, “O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung â€¨By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear, â€¨And pardon that thy secrets should be sung â€¨Even into thine own soft-conched ear.’
She looked up at him, startled, “That’s Ode to Psyche. I thought I was the only person in the world who had memorized it.”
“Do I detect a little burst of ego in your sweet bosom, dear lady?”
It was strange to feel a blush come on her face. “How do you like them?” she asked.
“Perhaps bare,” he said, looking down.
“No, your eggs,” she said, blushing even more.
“Scrambled,” he said.
She signaled again. The waiter brought the eggs to them quickly.
“Why are you here?”
Her pointed to the Folio. “I am like Keats. I have come to the Piazza di Spagna to die. The police are after me. I need someone to help me.”
“What did you do?”
“I stole some jewelry from a crazy Contessa. I know- it sounds like a movie.”
“. I have no place to put you- and I certainly am not going to give you any money.”
“No, you don’t get it. I don’t want you to give me refuge. I want you to help me die. I want you to kill me.”
“Kill you?” she said startled.
“When they catch me, it won’t just be for the Contessa. It will be for a dozen other women. And you know Italy- they’ll put me away forever.”
“Why me? Why would you ask a perfect stranger-?“
“Because you are not a perfect stranger. I followed you yesterday for hours- soon after you left the museum.”
“Y did not. Y said you were at the Casino.” ou ou
“The Casino was in Venice- an hour’s flight from here. I went there later in the evening. “
“Why the museum? Did you follow me there?”
“No, I found you there. I was looking for someone to help me, someone who had poetry deep in their soul.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“I know. Y spent most of your time in the library and some of it looking at the pictures. I spent my time behind bookshelves and ou around corners, staring at you.”
“Don’t you think you can get away? Y ou’re a world traveller. Y ou-“
“No. I don’t want to run anymore. I don’t to hide behind a false name. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to end it. “
“No, I can’t do it. But I will turn you in. “
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I’m the detective Eleuthra hired to catch you.”
He sat there, stunned. But then said, ““If you do, I will kill myself first,” he said, placing a gun at the end of the table.
She looked at him, startled- and something strange happened. It was a physiological thing. She felt her race as the blood drained out of her face. And then she went black. When she awoke, Kristina was pulling her hands off his wrist while others were restraining him from behind.
At first, she didn’t have a clue as to where she was. But when she looked up into his eyes- those startling blue eyes- she felt a warmth come over her- like the soothing warmth of a hot mineral bath.
He had been about to take his life. She was sure of it- but her grip saved him.
She took a breath. His expression was very strange- as if he had been struck by the same lightening that had hit her and caused to her to black out.
She looked at the ladies. They slowly released him. During that time, Chipper hardly moved, not even to sigh- but continued to stare at him.
“Ladies, you need to leave now,” she said. “I will handle things from here.”
“But, he was about to kill you, Barbara.”
“No, he wasn’t. He is depressed and was about to take his life. Thank you for your help. But I’m going to take him in. Don’t worry; I’m private- so I’ll give you the credit. We can meet at the station, at 4:00 PM.”
They all nodded and left.
“Where do you want to go, Chipper?”
“I want to go to Keats grave.”
“I am not offing you there,” she said sternly.
“I know. I have no family. I just want to say good-bye… to something”
An hour later, they were at the Protestant cemetery, where Keats was buried. They sat in front of the grave, a strange one- for the stone had no name or date, just the weird inscription, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”
THIS GRAVE CONTAINSâ€¨ ALL THAT WAS MORTAL OFâ€¨A YOUNG ENGLISH POETâ€¨ WHOâ€¨ ON HIS DEATH-BEDâ€¨ IN THE BITTERNESS OF HIS HEART â€¨at the malicious power of his enemiesâ€¨desired these words to be engraved â€¨on his tombstoneâ€¨" HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAMEâ€¨ WAS WRIT IN WATER"â€¨ FEB 24 1821
“See how bitter he was. … He knew he was too young to die.” Chipper paused. “But I am not. Y must help me. Don’t make me ou rot in prison. Let me die here,in the Protestant Cemetery. Even if I can’t be buried here, my ghost will haunt this graveyard with Keats and Shelly and their friend, Severn.”
“No, we wouldn’t want you to rot in prison, would we?”
Chipper smiled. “See, you are on my side now. Y have your gun, of course.” ou
“It’s not that I don’t like you, Barbara. I just think you’re perfect for the job.”
“Y I am,” she said. pulling a small gun out of her purse and putting it on her lap. She was staring quietly at him. He noticed her es, lips were luscious and hot pink. He tried not to think of that.
“There is a problem,” she said.
He felt something funny- like an electric charge. Was it Keats’ ghost? Was it some kind of demonic entity, waiting eagerly to pull him into the lower worlds? If so, why was it so disturbingly pleasant?
“The problem is- since I love you, it would be very hard to kill you. ”
Her words shocked him. He tried to evade them- to change the subject, despite the beads of sweat he felt forming on his brow, despite the strange palpitations of his heart. This is what he had felt since he had first seen her, a magnetism, a deep and profound enchantment with her every moment, a wonder of the softness of her voice, the extreme sexuality of her dress and the profundity of her thinking.
“I will not go to prison,” he said.
“No you will not. I will not let you.” She looked down at her gun. He closed his eyes- as though he now knew she was going to fire.
He heard her laugh. Nothing had happened.
Now the charge in the air was palpable. He never knew why had chosen that poem to quote to her. He had quoted it because somehow he knew she was the apex of his dreams incarnate- yes, the very goddess of Keats’ “Ode to Psyche.” He was trying to make love to her through poetry. He had loved her from the moment he had seen her in the Museum. And, knowing how unworthy he was for the likes of her, he had wanted to die.
“When I look at you,” she said, with those steely blue eyes, so tempered by guilt and self-disdain- I see something I haven’t remembered for a long time, since I got in this damn business-“
“What do you mean?”
“I have had the idea of you- since the beginning of time. I have never felt this way. Everything ‘romantic’ was just a poor substitute, aspartame instead of honey.”
How could he have not realized- from the first moment he had seen her, she was like a perfumed neodymium magnet- drawing him into her wonderfully, expansive force field? All that hustling, all that lying- it was because that other part of his soul was somewhere else. Somewhere at the other end of the world.
“Do you really think would kill you, Chipper?” she said. “And I will fight for you tenaciously- to save you, but also to save me- from this empty, worthless life of mine. Surely you feel something?“
Her words shocked him to the core. He didn’t say anything- but he knew that she knew. How could she not.
“Later, we will go to the airport- and we will-“ she began.
“But, I have nothing. No money. No passport.”
She pushed close to him. felt their hearts beating furiously together.
“No, my love, you are wrong. Y have everything.” ou
The sun was setting. She pulled something out of her purse and held it up to the dying sun. It was the red diamond. She pressed it against her white blouse. It sparkled gloriously.
“How’d you get it? Was it you that-”
“Does it matter?” she said, melting into his arms.
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