Venice Lost


Robert lolled on the red cushions of a sleek gondola with Rachel snuggling by his side. The boat’s bow rose and fell in the Grand Canal’s rough waters, but even when the gondolier maneuvered into a quiet mooring, the gentle rolling motion continued. Robert took Rachel’s moist hand and stepped ashore, but the sensation of movement didn’t stop. Annoyed, he opened his eyes and found himself lying on his back in a strange room. Rachel’s smiling face was instantly replaced by Lisa’s, who looked down at him while she gently rocked the bed. When he stared into her sun-shining face, last night’s memories sprang from their lair and pummeled him.
     Lisa was wrapped in a blue, cotton robe that made her look even more seductive than she had the night before. Wet hair tumbled over her forehead in disarray. Her smile beamed promises he couldn’t ignore, and he felt his body stirring again. How had he resisted her, he wondered? It was hard blending a fifty-year-old mind with a twenty-something body, and he couldn’t help feeling relief that she was leaving. He doubted he could resist her much longer.
     “It’s early, but I have to catch my train. There is bread and jam in the kitchen, if you want to eat something.” She reached down and touched his unshaven cheek with her hand. “There’s also an old razor on the bathroom sink. You can shave, if you like, before you go.”
     He took her hand and smiled. It was as warm and moist as Rachel’s in his dream. “Thanks, and yes to both offers.” He yearned to hold her, but she turned and left before he had time to do something stupid. After she was gone, he flung himself out of bed, pulled on his pants, and headed down the hall to the bathroom. He hoped there was time to grab a quick shower, as well as to shave.
     By the time Robert joined Lisa at the kitchen table, she had brushed her hair and put on a loose blouse and skirt. She looked as lovely as springtime, but he couldn’t keep his eyes from straying to the food. His appetite had not been this ravenous in years, and he devoured the bread and jam. Lisa watched him and smiled.
     “I am sorry you can’t stay longer,” she offered in an apologetic tone, “but my friends are expecting me. I must come back in a couple weeks, however, to work at a party given by one of the rich families. If you still need help, you can look for me then.”
     “Thanks for the offer,” he managed to say between mouthfuls. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out how to leave this place.”
     Lisa retrieved her purse from the couch. “I have some extra money. I think you might need it, yes? It’s not much, but enough to buy a train ticket.” She offered him a handful of crumpled lira.
     “I can’t take your money,” Robert objected. “You’re much too generous.” Yet, even as he protested, he thought about his watch. Maybe, he wouldn’t have to sell it after all.

     “That is the other thing my friends tell me. One, I’m too wild. Two, I’m always giving my money away. But I like to help people. So, you will make me happy if you take this money. As I said, it’s not much, but I think you need it more than me.”
     Robert gave Lisa a grateful hug and inhaled the mint scent of freshly bathed skin. Yes, he thought, it would help him. It would let him escape this seductive city, which had ensnared and isolated him. “Thank you, Lisa. I’m very lucky to have met you.”
     The light cloud cover that greeted them as they left the building turned the early morning sky the color of dull pewter. Small pools of water had gathered on the uneven pavement, evidence of recent showers. There was stillness in the air, broken here and there by an occasional figure scurrying across a square or down one of the many lanes on their way to work. The stillness reminded Robert of the opening scene of a play, a scene in which Venice held it breath and waited for its guests to rise and make their appearance on the city’s august stage.
     Lisa slung a rucksack over her shoulder, took Robert’s hand, and quietly walked with him towards the Grand Canal. Once there, she would catch an early vaporetto to the train station and disappear from his life. He toyed with the idea of accompanying her to Rome but thought better of it. It would do no good to prolong their momentary friendship, and he wanted to look for Rachel a while longer. It was better to say goodbye at the Accademia Bridge.
     When they reached the bridge, Lisa kissed him so fiercely his lips burned from her passion. “Goodbye, my handsome stranger,” she breathed into his ear. “Remember me.” She looked into his eyes, kissed him once more, and walked away. Robert’s gaze followed her until she disappeared over the curve of the bridge. A heavy weight of loneliness quickly descended upon him. Lisa had provided a momentary sanctuary from his nightmare, but now she was gone, and he was abandoned to his uncertain fate.
     At that hour, there was little evidence that the Venice he’d come to see with Rachel had slipped through his grasp. The buildings, back streets and canals were so timeless, they looked no different than when they arrived. This thought gave him pause. Could his world have returned to normal while he slept? Could Rachel be waiting for him at the hotel? He knew that made no sense, because it couldn’t explain Lisa’s presence this morning. As if to confirm his doubts, he pulled the lira Lisa had given him from his pocket and examined the bills. They looked very different from the euros he’d exchanged when he first arrived, and they told him nothing had changed. He sighed and counted the money. Was it enough to get him to the embassy in Rome? He hoped so. In the meantime, he had to face his demons. Thanks to Lisa, his stomach was full, and he was refreshed from his shower and shave, but he wasn’t any closer to finding the Venice he’d lost when he entered the Belini Hotel.

     Robert paused by the Grand Canal and watched as Venice slowly emerged from its sleep. The canal reminded him of a glistening snake winding through a forest of ancient buildings. It was becalmed at this early hour, its still waters mirroring the rows of gondolas resting at their moorings. When Lisa’s vaporetto rumbled beneath the Accademia Bridge, however, it ruffled the water’s surface and scattered the gondolas’ reflections. Fingers of sunlight peeked between the buildings and greeted the Venetians, who now appeared in greater numbers in the surrounding streets. While Robert watched, Venice stretched and roused itself from slumber.
     On impulse, he decided to follow the narrow streets beside the Canal instead of heading straight for the Piazza. As badly as he wanted to search for Rachel, he feared the outcome, and he wanted to delay his disappointment a little longer. Soon, he spotted muscled workers at the food market hefting crates of strawberries, beans and ripe tomatoes from barges and handing them to merchants, who stacked the produce in stalls near the water’s edge. While the tourists snuggled in their beds, Venice was preparing to feed itself. 
     Near the Rialto Bridge, he found the outdoor cafes he’d seen from the motor launch the day before. Dozens of orange and red plastic chairs were tilted against the tables bordering the Canal; droplets of rain water from last night’s shower stood in beaded patterns on the slick table tops. Robert considered walking further, but his burst of energy had waned. He had put off the inevitable long enough. It was time to face his fears.
     He crossed the bridge and retraced his route back to the Splendid Hotel. An older gentleman stood in Lisa’s place behind the counter when Robert entered. He asked about Rachel, but the man shook his head no. There was no one registered by the name of Grey, and the room where Robert had last seen his wife was registered to another couple. Nor had the clerk seen anyone fitting Rachel’s description. Robert wanted to plop down in one of the lobby’s chairs and wait for her to reappear, but he knew that idea was hopeless. Rachel was gone, and he was lost in a world he couldn’t begin to comprehend.
     He left the hotel and returned to the Piazza. Venice was awake, now, and tourists were already pouring into the square to admire its venerable buildings. He watched a woman open a bag of corn and spread the kernels across the pavement with quick flicks of her wrist. Her pose reminded him of a museum painting depicting a farmer sowing seeds in the ground. Dozens of pigeons instantly swarmed around her in a feeding frenzy of bobbing heads. 
     Robert drifted past the woman as he mulled over options. There was still a possibility that Rachel was caught in a similar time shift and was searching for him. If so, it made sense to stay near the hotel in case she returned. But for how long? He decided to wait until noon. If he didn’t find her by then, he would return to the train station and use Lisa’s lira to reach the nearest embassy. How the embassy could help, he wasn’t sure, but he hoped they would find a way to return him to the States, where he prayed his life would revert to normal.

     Robert was so lost in his thoughts, he hardly noticed the bull-of-a-man storming towards him, and he didn’t see the man’s giant fist until it slammed into his face. There was a moment of excruciating pain followed by a sense of falling. Then, there was nothing.
     Pitch-black. Voices muttered in the darkness, but he couldn’t hear them clearly because of the drums pounding in his head. Memories of an angry face and a violent fist flashed through his mind. Someone had hit him! Now, he was lying on his back on the hard pavement, his body aching from the fall. Why he’d been attacked, he had no idea, but Robert thought it best to remain still for awhile. Light began to filter through his fluttering eyelids, and the voices became clearer. 
     “You idiot, this is not one of the men I described to you. He looks nothing like either of them.” It was a woman’s voice. Angry, yet cool and controlled. Wait a minute, he thought. She was speaking Italian, yet he understood her. He had tried to learn a few of the basic phrases for the trip, but nothing like this. How was it possible that he knew what she was saying?
     “You said he was wearing a blue shirt and had black hair,” a husky, male voice responded defensively. 
     “And tall, you imbecile. Over six feet. And Italian. This poor fellow isn’t six feet tall, and he certainly is not Italian.” The woman’s voice again. Even more furious than before.
     “Okay, I’m sorry. It sure looked like the guy you described.” The husky voice grew reticent.
     Robert opened his eyes fully and found himself looking up at a crowd of curious onlookers. At first, the faces were blurred, but as his eyesight cleared, he saw the flawless vision of an angel floating before him. The vision belonged to a young woman kneeling beside him. For a moment, he thought he was in heaven and the saintly woman had come to rescue him.
     “You look like an angel,” he murmured, giving voice to his ruminations. He realized he spoke to her in English. He didn’t seem capable of thinking or speaking in Italian, even though he’d understood every word she said.
     The woman smiled at his unexpected comment, and her face blossomed like a glorious, summer morning. What an elegant face it was! Delicate, pale lips, high cheek bones, a slightly upturned nose, all framed in a wreath of lustrous, black hair. And skin so finely ingrained it appeared translucent. By her looks, he estimated her to be in her early twenties, but she was so poised he couldn’t be certain. He was starting to feel foolish lying there on his back, but when he tried to rise, sirens blared inside his head.
     “He’s waking up,” she announced in Italian to the crowd. Then, in English, “Please accept my apologies for my brother’s stupid behavior. He mistook you for someone else.”

     Her smile shifted to concern. “Your nose is bleeding. Antonio, give me your handkerchief.” She accepted the handkerchief from an oversized, young man standing beside her and pressed it gently to Robert’s nose. He winced at the pain but said nothing. “You must let our family doctor look at you. I fear Antonio may have broken your nose.”
     The man who had assaulted him was called Antonio, and he was this angel’s brother. Robert sifted through these bits of information, looking for clues to what had happened. Who was she, and why was her brother attacking people? 
     “Antonio must be pretty angry at the man he’s looking for,” Robert said at last. He tried to smile, but his face hurt too much.
     “It is a family matter.” Her response was formal, but amusement at his attempted humor lifted the corners of her mouth. “Someone was bothering me. Antonio wanted to protect me. That is all. Our home is not far. We will take you there and call the doctor.” Then in Italian, “Antonio, help him up. We must get him to the launch and take him home.”
     Antonio knelt down and leveraged his powerful arms under Robert’s legs and shoulders. “I can walk,” Robert objected as Antonio hoisted him into the air. The big man ignored his protest and carried him through the parting crowd towards the Grand Canal. The young woman strode purposefully ahead of them to one of the motor launches moored next to the Piazza. Without a word, Antonio placed Robert in the back seat of the boat. The young woman followed with the graceful step of a ballerina and settled in beside him.
     Antonio took the controls, and they were soon whisking up the Grand Canal past the same vistas he had viewed with Rachel less than twenty-four hours ago. Except that had been twenty-seven years in the future! Such convoluted reasoning only magnified the searing pain behind his eyes and cheek bones, so he ignored these thoughts and concentrated on his nose. The bleeding had abated, but he kept the spattered handkerchief pressed against his nostrils.
     Robert tried to observe his companion without being obvious. Her erect posture gave her a regal bearing that suggested a formal upbringing, but when she turned her face to the wind and let her hair cascade behind her, he was reminded of a girl riding a roller coaster. Her silk blouse and tailored pants looked expensive, yet she wore no jewelry, not even a watch. She exuded an understated elegance that he associated with self-confidence and wealth. When she returned his gaze, her eyes sparkled with the fire of black star sapphires. An awkward silence fell between them.

     “My name is Rob Grey,” he offered to ease the tension.
     “How impolite of me!” she exclaimed. She shook her head as if scolding herself. “I have been so worried about this horrible mistake, I have forgotten all my manners.” She held out her hand and shook his. “My name is Lucrezia Adrea Vicentino. My family has lived in Venice for over four hundred years, and I must once more apologize on their behalf. We will see that you get the very best care. Where are you from Mr. Grey?” She rested her hands in her lap and stared at him with such intensity, he became mesmerized by her pitch-dark eyes.
     “Please, call me Rob. I’m from the U.S. California to be exact. But my family has lived there for less than fifty years.” Her face lit up at his simple joke, and he laughed despite the pain.
     “You have a nice humor, Rob Grey. I like that. Are you here with your family?”
     Lucrezia’s unexpected question unsettled him. His answer depended on what time period they were discussing. How could he explain it to her? Lucrezia observed his hesitation. 
     “I am sorry if my question is too . . . nosy I think is the word?” Her eyes widened and her hand flew to her mouth at the irony of her words. “Forgive me, I did not mean to be impolite.”
     Robert removed the handkerchief from his nose with a chuckle. “It’s okay. To answer your question, I was with someone when I arrived, but not now. And you can talk to me in Italian, if you wish. I seem to understand your language. I just can’t speak it.”
     “I’m sorry you’re alone.” Lucrezia said quickly in Italian. She was obviously more comfortable in her own language. “It’s sad, I think, to be alone in Venice. Even though I have lived here my entire life, I still find my city captivating. Of course, I would be happier if there were fewer tourists, but that is the price we pay for such an enchanting city, don’t you think?” She glanced up as they approached a mooring. “Well, here we are.”
     Lucrezia gestured towards one of the picturesque, Byzantine-styled buildings lining the Grand Canal. Antonio promptly slipped the launch between a pair of navy-blue poles marked with twin, gold crests. The family crest, Robert wondered?

     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.”

     Robert noted that while Lucrezia spoke with deference to her father, she didn’t ask permission or apologize for bringing him there. The woman had strength as well as poise.
     “You are right, of course,” her father replied. “Rosa,” he called. “Rosa, come here a moment.”
     A fetching girl with rounded features, pug nose, and luminous eyes hurried into the room from a second doorway. She wiped her hands on an apron tied around her waist, glanced at Robert, then shyly looked away. Robert noticed that she avoided direct eye contact with everyone in the room.
     “Rosa, go fetch Filippo, and hurry.” She nodded, removed her apron, and rushed out the front door.
     “Come, sit here.” Lucrezia’s father directed Robert to one of the comfortable sofas, where he sat down with relief. The pain throbbed unmercifully behind his eyes when he moved, and he was grateful for the opportunity to rest. A large mirror on the far wall tempted him to see how much damage had been done, but the idea of getting up discouraged him. He was also hesitant to face himself in a mirror again so soon. Memories of the image he’d seen in that bathroom near the train station still made him flinch.
     “Father, this is Robert Grey. He is from America. California to be exact.” Lucrezia smiled at Robert’s earlier humor. “He was walking in the Piazza when Antonio hit him.”
     Lucrezia’s father stepped forward and extended his free hand. “My name is Leonardo Vicentino, and I must apologize for my son’s behavior. He does not always use the best judgment, but he means well.”
     Leonardo sat down in one of the facing chairs and motioned for Lucrezia to join him. Despite his physical discomfort, Robert observed the man with interest. His features were so delicate and his build so slight, it was hard to associate him with the hulking son who had attacked Robert in the square. His serious demeanor showed concern, yet he remained cool and aloof, a behavior accentuated by his stiff posture. Robert felt more like a subject being granted an audience than someone who had just been so rudely introduced by Antonio to the man’s family. He guessed Leonardo to be in his early fifties, which made him Robert’s contemporary in age and experience, but he knew Leonardo’s view of him would be quite different. No doubt he saw in Robert an immature, young American exploring Venice, which was an apt description of him in his youth. The dichotomy between his real age and his appearance created a difficult situation. Robert considered himself the man’s equal, but he had to pretend to be somebody not much older than a boy. Doing otherwise would be disrespectful, and Robert sensed that respect was terribly important to this man.

     “Our family doctor will see to your nose at once,” Leonardo continued. “Where are you staying while in Venice?” Robert knew this question was merely polite conversation, but it further complicated the role he was expected to play. How would it look to admit he had no lodgings? 
     “I was supposed to stay at the Splendid Hotel, but it didn’t work out,” he responded at last. “I don’t have a place to stay just now.”
     “Yes, Venice hotels can be quite bothersome, making too many reservations then not having enough space. They are too greedy, I think.” Leonardo fidgeted with the papers in his hand, a tell-tale sign that he was anxious to return to his work.
     They sat staring at each other. Robert couldn’t decide what more to say, so he shifted his attention to Lucrezia. Her posture was just as erect as Leonardo’s. The two made him think of old portraits depicting people who possessed wealth and social status. Lucrezia had a model’s figure, slim and small breasted, but her poise was more regal than sensual. He knew if he had met her twenty-seven years ago, he would’ve lacked the confidence and maturity this young woman expected in men. He would’ve had no idea how to behave or talk to her. The fifty-year-old Rob, on the other hand, was quite at ease observing and even admiring her. This thought reminded him of just how preposterous his situation had become. He was a modern day Jekyll and Hyde, living in a body borrowed from another place in time.
     Rosa broke the awkward silence when she reappeared with the doctor they called Filippo. He was about Leonardo’s age but with a much heavier build and a less severe manner. In contrast to Leonardo, he was formally dressed in coat and tie and carried a small black bag much like the ones Rob had seen in old movies.
     Filippo gently probed the bones and noted the swelling. “It’s most likely broken, but it might only be bruised,” he announced. “There is no way to know until the swelling subsides. An x-ray isn’t necessary unless the swelling persists. In any case, it’s a small break at most and will heal itself in a few weeks.” He gave Robert a small bottle of pills he had removed from his bag and stuffed cotton up each nostril. Then, he carefully wrapped a small splint and bandage over the nose.

     “I recommend complete rest for a day or two,” he concluded. “Sleep with your head elevated on an extra pillow and apply ice packs until the swelling subsides. The medication I gave you is enough for three days. It will ease the pain while your nose heals. It would be best not to undertake any unnecessary travel or strenuous activity during that time.” Once he was finished, he closed his bag, bid everyone a good day, and left.
     As soon as Filippo was gone, Lucrezia turned to her father. “If Rob doesn’t have a place to stay, then he should stay here. It’s only right.”
     Leonardo raised his eyebrows at his daughter to let her know he wasn’t thrilled at her proposal. He quickly regained his neutral expression, however, and turned his attention to Robert. “Is there anywhere you must be today?” 
     “No. My plans are . . . uncertain at the moment. I was thinking about leaving Venice, but I can wait a day or two.”
     “Then it is decided.” Leonardo slapped his papers on his knee and stood up. He turned to Rosa. “Ask the Signora to join us and go make up the first guestroom.” Then to Robert. “I will introduce you to my wife. After that, you may want to lie down awhile. There is blood on your shirt. We will find you something to wear. One of my shirts, perhaps. Antonio is too big. Rosa will attend to it.”
     After Rosa had hurried from the room, there was a moment of strained silence as everybody tried to think what to do or say next. Leonardo remained standing and glanced quickly towards the open doorway where Rosa had disappeared. Robert wondered if he should stand up as well, but Lucrezia gave no indication that she was ready to rise, and his throbbing head urged him to remain seated as long as possible.
     The awkward moment passed when a movement caught Robert’s eye, and he glanced towards the doorway in time to see a woman entering the room. He had always believed that the looks of the mother foretold the looks of the daughter, and when he saw the Signora, he knew Lucrezia could look forward to a maturing beauty that would knock men’s breath away. Tall, statuesque, and elegant, the Signora swept into the room with such grace, the world seemed to hesitate for a heartbeat. She could have been a diva stepping onto a stage, or a queen attending court. Her presence riveted everyone’s attention, and for the first time, Robert saw Lucrezia’s self-assurance waver. Her expression had not changed, but he noted how her head bowed slightly and her facial muscles tightened.
     “Dear, this is Robert from America.” Leonardo offered a hand to his lovely wife. “I’m sorry young man, what was your last name?”

     “Grey, father,” Lucezia interjected before Robert could answer. “His name is Robert Grey.” Her confidence had returned after her brief setback.
     “Please call me Rob,” he said as he slowly got to his feet. “Nobody calls me Robert at home.” 
     The Signora stepped forward, took his right hand in both of hers, and looked into his eyes. The gesture was so exquisite, he had to resist the impulse to bow and kiss her hand. A slight smile played at the corners of her mouth, as if she knew her impact on him and enjoyed his momentary discomfort. Robert detected the scent of roses in the lustrous, black hair that flowed about her neck in a carefully bushed coiffure. 
     “I very much regret what happened to you, Rob. Rosa told me about your unfortunate encounter with my son. Please accept our hospitality and our apologies.”
     She stood inches taller than Robert, and even though her face had yielded tiny concessions to time -- a few crinkled lines about the eyes and mouth and a hint of sagging tissue along her cheeks -- her beauty radiated with the power of a nearby sun. Yet her beauty was only a part of her aura. When she looked at him, he felt he was the center of her world. Her eyes told him nothing else mattered but his comfort and happiness. It was an intoxicating feeling.
     Robert realized how he must look to her: a disheveled and flustered youth whose wrinkled clothes needed changing. As he withstood the Signora’s inspection, he silently thanked Lisa for the chance to shower and shave that morning. Still, he found the intensity of her gaze unnerving and awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
     “Look at your nose.” She lifted a manicured hand towards his face but never touched him. Instead, her fingers outlined his bandages like a painter sketching in the air. “You must rest now, yes? We will talk more later, when you feel better. Lucrezia, will you show him to the guestroom? I must talk to your father.” The Signora turned away so suddenly, that Robert felt he’d just been dismissed from her court.
     Lucrezia led him down a long, carpeted hallway with numerous closed doors on either side, each interspersed by porcelain vases, small tables, and gilded mirrors.
     “Mama can be too dramatic sometimes,” Lucrezia said after they were far enough down the hallway not to be overheard. “You must excuse her.”
     “I thought she was quite charming.”
     “Yes, charming. She can be when it suits her.” She spoke without rancor, but he sensed an undercurrent in her feelings towards her mother. He remembered her reaction when the Signora first entered the living room. Was it jealousy, he wondered, or intimidation? A belief, perhaps, that she could never shine as brightly as her mother.

     Lucrezia opened a door revealing an oversized bed chamber that needed more furniture than the tall, four-poster bed, upholstered chair, end tables, lamps, and armoire which filled less than half the room. The lack of other furniture gave the room a cavernous feeling, despite the area rugs covering the highly polished, hardwood floor and the dark drapes framing the windows to his left. Sunlight streaming through the windows brightened the mood considerably, however, and highlighted the yellows and blues in the mini-patterned wallpaper that covered the walls.
     She closed the drapes, dousing the light and throwing the room into shadow. “There is a bathroom across the hall. Rosa will put fresh towels in it for you and bring a bag of ice for your nose. I will have her fetch you a clean shirt, as well. Rest now, and we can decide what you should do later.” She gave him a brief smile and left.
     The doctor’s medication was working. By the time Rosa brought the ice bag, Robert’s head was so fuzzy, it was all he could do to climb the wooden stepping stool beside the bed. He quickly lay back on the pillows with the bag of ice against his nose. Well, he mused, who could have imagined a few hours ago that he would be resting in one of the four-hundred-year-old palaces he had admired with Rachel during their ride along the Canal? If she could only see him now. 
     A dark cloud of loneliness swept over him when he thought about Rachel, so he forced his thoughts back to the Vicentinos. It was hard to imagine the lineage of one family living in this place for four centuries. They were a curious lot. Antonio didn’t seem too bright, although Robert had to admit the young man had been quite attentive, once the confusion about his identity had been cleared up. Leonardo and the Signora were a very strange pairing. The Signora appeared so much more elegant and authoritative than her husband. Her presence filled the room. Even Lucrezia’s demeanor had wavered in her company. Leonardo, on the other hand, looked like he belonged in a library doing research or cataloging books. Hardly the proper image for someone who was the head of one of Venice’s oldest families, he thought.
     Lucrezia was remarkably poised for such a young woman. Robert couldn’t help evaluating her from the perspective of a father who had a daughter of his own. Lucrezia demonstrated a level of maturity that was quite advanced for her age, yet she called her parents mama and papa. An interesting contrast. And who were the “ruffians” that had bothered her enough for Antonio to strike out like that?
     Finally, Robert thought about the hints he had seen regarding the Vicentinos’ circumstances. Their natural grace and aristocratic behavior reflected a family of wealth and stature, yet there were small clues that made him wonder if things were as they should be. The furnishings in the living room were exquisite, but the guest room was under-furnished. And where were the servants? As far as he could tell, Rosa was the only one, and she was a mere girl. Were they as wealthy as they seemed, or did the grand surroundings mask a different reality?
     While these questions intrigued him, there was a more immediate issue to be resolved. He still had Lisa’s lira, and he desperately wanted to unravel his nightmare. But the doctor had advised against traveling for a day or two. Should he stay with the Vicentinos, assuming they would have him? If not, where could he go? As these questions whirled through his head, it seemed as though his options were shrinking by the minute. The medication finally dulled his mind to the point that he could no longer deal with his dilemma, so he placed the bag of ice on the night stand and laid his head back on the pillows. Soon, he slipped into a soundless void.