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     His pain had subsided to a dull ache, and Robert politely rebuffed Antonio’s offer to assist him. He stepped from the bobbing launch onto a floating platform and followed Lucrezia up a short flight of wide steps separating two perfectly matched, four-story buildings. Antonio stayed behind to secure the boat. The stairs led to a courtyard filled with large, leafy plants and delicate flowers.
     “We are on the first floor,” Lucrezia called out as they approached a heavy door braced with iron girders. She unlocked the door and led him into a carpeted hallway to a curved staircase. At the top of the stairs, Robert saw a pair of intricately carved, wooden doors that nearly reached the ten foot ceiling above his head. Lucrezia inserted her key again and with some effort pushed one of the doors open.
     “Papa, Mama,” she called as they entered a large foyer. “We have a visitor, and we must call Filippo to come look at him.”
     Robert followed Lucrezia through the entryway into a room that reminded him of the palace ballrooms he had seen on his first trip through Europe. The walls were awash in brilliant frescos. Some depicted scenes from ancient Venice; others showed elegantly dressed men and women arranged in natural poses; and still others bloomed with bouquets of flowers bursting from gilded vases. Ornately sculptured crown molding bordered a ceiling filled with octagon shapes framed by wooden lattices. Abstract designs filled each octagon, so that the entire ceiling became a labyrinth of muted colors and angular lines. Two enormous chandeliers accentuated the geometric patterns. 
     The highly polished hardwood floor was covered by a series of large, Persian rugs, comfortable sofas and cushioned chairs, all carefully arranged in intimate groupings to encourage social interaction among smaller groups. A grand piano stood at the far end of the room, framed by more than a dozen wooden shutters that covered a series of tall windows facing the Grand Canal. Dark-green, velvet drapes were gathered and pulled back on either side by golden ties. The shutters were closed against the morning sun, and the resulting low light added a sense of mystery to the elegant setting. The mood was accentuated by the room’s cool temperature and the kind of musky odor Robert associated with museums and libraries.
     Three closed doors prevented him from viewing the rest of the house. Just as he wondered what was behind them, the door opposite the foyer opened, and a slightly-built man in a frayed, pullover sweater and graying beard emerged carrying a handful of papers.
     “Well, Lucrezia, what is the problem? Why have you brought this young man home to us?” He eyed them both over the rims of his reading glasses. His frown showed his displeasure at being interrupted.
     “Antonio thought he was one of the ruffians who bothered me, and he hit him. His nose may be broken. It was our fault, so I wanted us to attend to him.”