The Italian Letters- Chapter 4
Chapter 1-3 of The Italian Letters are attached to The Cairo Codex e-book now on sale
from Amazon. Here is Chapter 4:
The Italian Letters
“Unrequited love is the only possible way to give yourself
to another without being held in indentured servitude.”
-Bauvard, Some Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic
Her head still spinning from the museum visit, Justine parked her Spider in front of Chez Anna and checked in. She climbed the stairs to her room, threw open the shutters, and gazed out on the valley below, the sea beyond. Her mind floated back to the carved mirror in the ceiling of the tomb, the married couple in a warm, respectful relationship on the sarcophagus lid in the museum. Riveting images of men and women together . . . what did she know now?
The iron four-poster bed, covered with a white quilted coverlet, coaxed her to take off her shoes and dirt-encrusted khakis and relax with her latest purchase—D.H. Lawrence’s Virgin and the Gypsy, a quick read that the author had written for his stepdaughter, Barbara. She was again surprised by Lawrence’s ability to write with such sensuality without explicitly describing sexual consummation (until Lady Chatterley, that is):
. . . And through his body, wrapped round her strange and lithe and powerful, like tentacles, rippled with shuddering as an electric current, still the rigid tension of the muscles that held her clenched steadied them both, and gradually the sickening violence of the shuddering, caused by shock, abated, in his body first, then in hers, and the warmth revived between them. And as it roused, their tortured semi-conscious minds became unconscious, they passed away into sleep.
An hour later, Justine was awakened by a cool air drifting in from the sea. Stretching and shivering, she took a warm shower and dressed in a white silk blouse and clean khaki slacks. She was ready for dinner with her father.
It was a short walk back down a narrow street, hugged by fourteenth-century stone houses, to the fish restaurant Morgan had suggested. The theatrical owner and chef came from Napoli, and therefore was immediately held suspect by locals. The Ristorante Vladimiro ai Bastioni boasted the best Napolitano seafood outside of Rome . . . and Napoli, of course. Two diners at the table in the intimate room. One was her apprehensive father.
“Good evening, Dad,” she said in a lighthearted tone. “I see you’ve started on our bottle of wine.”
The other man turned toward her. She gasped. “Oh . . . Amir! What a surprise! I didn’t know you were here.” Her voice sounded slightly accusatory.
Morgan looked puzzled.
Amir met Justine’s questioning stare. “Do you think I’m following you?”
Justine blushed. “It entered my mind.”
“Whoa! Hold on here!” Morgan nearly shouted. “If I’d thought there was something between you two, I’d never have hired Amir without talking with you, Justine.”
“There is nothing between us.” Justine’s voice was confident.
Amir looked wounded. He turned toward the mustard stucco walls, dotted with framed photos and commendations to the owner as a much younger man. “Quite an array of accomplishments,” he noted, and picked up his wine. “Your father’s offering me a job. Archaeologist on the new dig.”
Morgan glanced at each of his guests, one at a time. He squinted. “You do know that I’ve known this young man since he was a mere whippersnapper.”
“Of course, Dad. I was just caught off guard.”
“Now for the wine. A little celebration,” Morgan said. “Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, tears of the Christ. I thought it apropos. Made from the Coda di Volpe, tail of the fox, to be exact.” He poured them each a glass. “Did you get some rest?” he asked, cautious with his daughter.
“I couldn’t rest until I went to the museum. Remarkable!”
“How so?” asked Amir.
“I visited it on my first day in town,” Morgan interrupted. “Impressive structure, but not much of a museum. At least, it doesn’t live up to the reputation of the necropolis itself.” He sipped his wine, watching them closely over the rim of his glass.
“You asked why I found it remarkable, Amir,” she said, ignoring her father. “I found it not only informative but moving. Particularly the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple. There seemed to be such an equal, respectful relationship among Etruscan men and women.” Picking up her wine glass, she held it suspended in her right hand until she concluded her impassioned description, then she took her first sip.
Amir nodded, captivated by her passion.
“You read too much into things, honey,” said Morgan. A flicker of regret moved through his eyes.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Her comment surprised both of them. Morgan relaxed into a familiar grin. He didn’t anticipate what was coming.
“Women are gifted with intuitive powers denied to men. Perhaps men are just defective women.” She saluted the two men with her glass, winked, and suggested that they order.
Amir laughed wholly, a laugh that Justine loved, and looked around for the menu.
“So true, Justine. So true.” Morgan also laughed with unrestrained fullness. “We don’t order here. Giuseppe tells us what we want to eat.” He motioned to the owner, who walked toward the table, his majestic stride practiced for a more abundant audience. “What delightful dishes do you have for us tonight, my friend?” Morgan had become a regular patron, one who was treated with the reverence of family.
“Calamari Ripieni and Pescespado o Tonno Alla Stemperata, signore. Giuseppe’s best. Only for you.” He clustered his chubby fingers into a bud and pressed them to his pursed lips. His smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“Squid and tuna?” Justine asked, turning toward her father.
“Tonight, no tuna. Swordfish, my lovely signorina. Calamari stuffed with pecorino and prosciutto,” Giuseppe said in his rich Genoan accent. “And who is this beauty with you tonight, signore?”
“Ah, forgive me. Meet my daughter, Justine.” Giuseppe bowed deeply and kissed Justine’s hand. His gallantry charmed her. “And, this young man is my colleague, Amir El Shabry.”
Amir smiled and bowed slightly.
“Everything sounds wonderful,” Justine assured him, flashing her most beguiling smile.
The chef came to stand next to Giuseppe. “My friend here prepares the swordfish with olives and raisins and capers. Delicious,” said her father. The rotund chef hurried back to his open kitchen.
Two hours later, compliments about the glorious seafood paid, the three of them exhausted from speculating about the work to come in Cerveteri, the evening was winding down. With the second bottle of wine, tensions had relaxed and the three had become playful, recalling the years Morgan had taken Lucrezia and Justine with him on dig assignments in Egypt. Amir had tagged along, fascinated by Justine’s buoyant crinoline skirts, at children’s parties at his family home in Cairo. Morgan’s partner and mentor, Amir’s grandfather, Ibrahim El Shabry, had brought the families together on festive occasions. Being Egyptian, Lucrezia had forever been the guide and the star of any occasion.
Justine watched Amir closely as he picked at his dinner. Both Justine and her father knew that Egyptians tended to shy away from exotic cuisine. She had almost forgotten how handsome he was with his rumpled, curly black hair and piercing dark eyes. So sensual, so sexy.
“I’ll walk you back to Anna’s. That’s where you’re staying—right?” asked Amir.
“Thank you, Amir. Dad—you coming?”
“I’ll nurse my brandy.” Morgan pointed to the owner. “Giuseppe and I have some lies to exchange.”
“Why did you say there was nothing between us?” Amir asked as they turned the corner and started west down the narrow, darkened street. “We’ve been through a lot together. How about the kidnapping? Finding the Virgin Mary’s comb? My brother’s death?”
Justine shivered. He was right. They had been through a great deal together. Perhaps she didn’t want her father to know how intertwined they really were. They had desired one another, but refused to act on those feelings. Besides, she knew she wasn’t entirely over her affair with her betraying Egyptian lover, Nasser. Her father had been pressuring her on the details. “I know, you’re right, Amir. I’m sorry. But why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Going to be working with Dad? You have my e-mail.”
Amir took a deep breath. They had arrived in front of Anna’s. “I’d like to come up for a few minutes. At least try to resolve some misconceptions.”
Justine let the comment pass. She opened the outside door with her key and started up the stairs. Amir followed. The door to her room was unlocked. Inside, she turned to face him. “So, what’s the story here?”
“I assumed your father would tell you—and, frankly, as you said at dinner, I feared you’d think I was following you.”
“Were you?” she challenged.
“Justine, you know I’ve wanted to get back into the field for a long time . . . but there is some truth in your hunch. I did want to be nearer to you.” He stepped closer, moonlight catching the side of her face, her white blouse.
“So you relied upon my father to be the intermediary? To inform me of your intentions?” Her voice rose, eyes flashing. She reached over and turned on the table lamp. “I think you know I don’t like being treated like a little girl, especially when my father is concerned. Please don’t communicate with me through him.”
Amir looked confused, miserable, angry. “Why are you overreacting like this? I thought you’d be glad to see me!” He grabbed her by the shoulders. Their fiery eyes met, and held. Her body stiffened—then, breathing deeply, relaxed.
She let her head drop onto his chest. He softened his grip, wrapped his arms around her, holding her, and both began weeping, exhausted by the old desire that now seized them. They began breathing together, the near panting that marked longing. Finally, he raised her chin to meet his and kissed her tenderly, the embrace long, delicious, leading to hunger, then to demand. Shivering, she pushed him back, enveloping him with her eyes. He was handsome, sensual beyond belief. Slowly she began to unbutton her blouse.
He took her in his arms, spun her back toward the bed and let them both fall, press into her quilt. He kissed her with near desperation, born of unrequited obsession.
She held him tightly as they embraced, her legs wrapped around him now, and rolled on the bed. They slowed as they flourished in each other’s bodies, exploring with touch, caressing, finding the heat of buried passion. Shadows danced across the walls, then stilled. No words were spoken before they fell into a deep sleep.
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