Holiday greetings to everyone who celebrates this season and to those who do not, my best wishes to you for a prosperous 2015. Today we'll start the first of a six week preview that will give you a taste of The Venetian Masquerades. The three volume series will kick off the new year in a bundle that will have special pricing. Let's start with the first book in the series: "What Hides Behind the Mask."
The menacing two-note theme from JAWS rent the early morning stillness and woke Chiara
Mackenzie Davis from a deep sleep. She switched on the nightstand lamp, glanced at the bedside clock, and flipped open her cellphone.
“Chas, what’s wrong?” The ringtone alerted her to the caller’s identity, and phone calls from family members at four o’clock in the morning never delivered good news.
“I received a call about Francesca from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.” Chas’s voice broke and she heard raw emotion seep through his customary clipped tones.
Chiara shook her head to clear the fogginess caused by the rude awakening. “Nonna? What does a luxury hotel in Italy have to do with her?”
“A maid entered her room and found her—” his voice broke off. He waited a few seconds and then continued, “Nonna’s dead, Chiara. The police found my contact information in her
things and notified me.”
“Oh no, someone made a mistake. She’s at home. Why do the police think it’s Nonna?”
“They found her passport in her purse. The police wouldn’t tell me anything—only to send someone to Venice or come myself. I don’t know what happened.” His voice rasped with sudden
anger and bewilderment. “Why would an eighty-four year old woman go to Venice by herself without telling anyone?”
A mixture of stunned disbelief and sorrow overwhelmed her and had Chiara waiting a minute before she responded. “I have no idea. She said nothing to me about a trip before I left for
New York. I’m at a conference.”
“I know, but not any longer. I’ll make travel arrangements for us and let you know what they are. With luck, I can catch a connecting flight through New York and pick you up there. I’ll
get back to you as soon as I have something.” Chas’s voice now held the cool authority of his chosen profession as a litigator—a skill honed in law school. All emotion leached away as duty
overcame shock and grief.
“Chas… I’ve enough in the way of clothes although you’d better bring me a couple of outfits suitable for mourning. Maybe my black silk suit, you know the one, and one or two casual
outfits.” Chiara’s mind raced ahead to what they would face when they arrived in Venice.
“I’ll get the things put together for you. You don’t mind if Mary goes through your closet and drawers do you?” Chas asked the question out of politeness.
“No, of course not, tell her to pack anything she thinks I might need.” His housekeeper often helped Chiara at the house so it wasn’t as if a stranger would paw through her possessions. “How long will we be gone?”
Chas thought for a minute before he answered. “Not sure. I won’t know until we get there and talk to the authorities. I’ll call you back as soon as I have definite travel arrangements. Get
yourself ready to go.”
He disconnected on the curt order, but Chiara continued to stare at the phone in shocked disbelief. The flash of the backlight as it darkened the screen penetrated her daze and she closed
the phone with an absent-minded flip of her wrist while she tried to absorb the information. Grief aside, the shock Nonna died in Venice—somewhere she had no reason to be, in a luxury hotel—something foreign to her habitual thrift-minded outlook, floated in the realm beyond comprehension. Three days earlier, Chiara had left the house they shared in northern Virginia
and her grandmother had been doing what a Nonna does best—cooking and admonishing her granddaughter to find a nice Italian—better yet, a Venetian—man to marry. Someone made a mistake. This isn’t happening.
Chiara packed and prepared to check out of the hotel. The routine task helped to settle her nerves. At eight o’clock, she called her department head to tell her what happened and that she had to leave. Since she’d given her own presentation on the first day of the conference, she could leave early without disruption to the rest of the proceedings. Chiara paced around the room as she waited for Chas to call her back.
* * * *
Chas spent the early morning on the phone with the airline and managed to book flights for Chiara and himself that routed him through JFK. The itinerary added seven hours to the normal
flight time to Italy, but it prevented Chiara from making the trip separate from him. He called her back and gave her their flight information. Afterward, he called Mary and arranged for her to
meet him at Francesca’s house. He made one final call before he left the office. His mother’s housekeeper answered the phone.
“Mrs. Martin, is my mother available?”
“No, I’m sorry; she’s working out with her trainer. May I take a message for her?”
“Please, if you would tell her I called and ask her to call me at her convenience. Thanks.” He’d postponed the call as long as possible since he knew how she’d react. He’d forgotten her
morning schedule, but the fact she wasn’t home gave him a temporary reprieve. Chas left the office bound for the McLean house where Chiara and Francesca lived.
Mary met him at the door. “Señor Chas, what happened to Señora Francesca?” Her tear-stained face and twisting hands exhibited her own grief.
“We’re not sure yet, Mary. All I know is what I told you on the phone. Chiara and I will fly to Italy this afternoon. Would you please choose appropriate clothes for her and pack them in as
small a bag as you can manage? I’d like to carry it on the plane with me to New York. Go through her closet; find her black silk suit, and whatever else you think she needs under the
circumstances. Pack two or three casual outfits and comfortable shoes for her, too. I don’t imagine she has any with her in New York. I’ll be in Francesca’s office and—” Chas broke off as the phone rang. He hurried into the master bedroom and picked up the extension on the nightstand. “Severino Residence, Chas Weston speaking.”
“Mr. Weston, I have your mother on the other line. Do you want to call her back or should I conference her through to you?” His secretary’s strained voice indicated his mother had given her the third degree.
“Tell her to hang up, and I’ll call her back in five minutes. You go take a walk and get yourself a cup of coffee.” Chas loved his mother, but he had few illusions about how difficult she could be when she dealt with others. He exhaled in frustration, went downstairs, and sat at the desk in the corner of the library. While he waited for his mother to pick up the phone, he pulled out the drawer labeled Documents and looked for the file that contained Chiara’s passport. As he located it, he noticed the two sealed envelopes attached to it with a paper clip: one addressed to him and the other to Chiara in Francesca’s distinctive script. Before he could break the seal on his, Moira Davis answered the phone.
“Chas, what do you mean by calling me at eight o’clock in the morning? You know I work with my trainer every day at that time. What’s so important?” Moira’s irritation gave her soft
voice a harsh edge.
“Mother, I know, however, this is an emergency. I needed to let you know Francesca has passed away. Chiara and I have reservations this afternoon on a flight to Venice to take care of
things.” Chas didn’t want to tell his mother anything she didn’t have to know, but he knew she’d demand some explanation beyond what he’d just told her.
“If the old witch died, why are you the one to go anyplace? She’s Mackenzie’s grandmother, not yours. Why drag you to Venice of all places?”
“Mother, please. I’m Francesca’s executor so I’m going in my professional capacity as well as Chiara’s next of kin.” Chas switched to the tone of voice he used to soothe hostile witnesses in court, but it didn’t make any difference.
“I fail to see why you persist in the fiction either of those women is anything to you. It’s just like Mackenzie to take advantage of your professional expertise instead of finding someone better suited to her own cultural background. I hope you don’t expect me to attend the funeral.”
“Mother, that’s enough. I’ve handled Francesca’s affairs for the last ten years and I’ll go on doing so for as long as necessary. Not only do I have a legal obligation, but I also loved
Francesca…and I’ll continue to stand by and advise Chiara for as long as she wants me.” Chas fought to contain his irritation. “Whether you decide to attend the funeral is your decision. I’ll
advise you of the arrangements as soon as we know what the situation is. Now, let’s say no more about this. I don’t know yet how long we’ll be gone, and I’ll call you as soon as I have more
information. I hope if Chiara doesn’t wish to stay at Francesca’s you’ll welcome her back into her childhood home.” The steel in Chas’s voice warned her not to argue with him.
Moira hesitated. “Well, of course, if she wishes, but I doubt either she or I would find the arrangement suitable. After all, she hasn’t lived here for ten years.”
His mother’s tone of voice told Chas she’d comply, but only if she didn’t have a choice. He decided if Chiara didn’t want to live in the McLean house, he’d make other arrangements for her. (To be continued...)