A hazy reminiscence from our last Italian trip...
In Florence it always rains at night in September.
It can be cozy - or murderous. I dodged maniac scooters and cars as I ran down the narrow cobbled streets with lights glinting off them like slivers of ice and ducked in for the 8 pm seating at my favorite neighborhood trattoria. A little vino, a dish of white beans in tomato sauce, maybe try the sole, some sambuca.
She was tall and dark and slender, her eyes flashing with centuries of Florentine pride and passion. She moved as smoothly and naturally as a river running swiftly between rocky banks, and when she walked into a room everyone would turn and gaze. It was another of her talents that she could slip out of a room without anyone noticing, just the soft scent of perfume, a swift rustle of silk and she would be gone. She was my main contact in this city of brick and stone and soot-stained art, and I had no reason not to trust her. Sure, her last contact here had come to a bad end in vat of boiling rotini, but that was five years ago.
We opened a bottle of Chianti -not the kind you buy back in the States for $5 a bottle, the good stuff. The waiter came with a plate of porcini quickly grilled and drizzled with a little olive oil. She made small talk, asked about my flight, pushed the plate toward me and I reached out with my fork...
Something about the glint in her eye set off an alarm in the back of my mind. The Chianti was working, but there was still that danger flag. I hesitated and she frowned and reached for something in her purse. I wasn't looking, not really, but I saw the cracked leather spine of a small book in there. Faded guilt lettering stamped on the red spine label told me all I needed to know -it was the mushrooms.
I reached for the purse and she struggled with me for a moment, then gave up and went limp. I took the book and handed the purse back to her. Everyone in the trattoria was frozen, watching us. I knew better than to make a move. She gave me a quick, wry smile and got up and walked quickly out the door. No point following. I knew I'd never see her again. I finished off my Chianti and left. I've kept that little 18th century book on poisonous mushrooms for a dozen years, but now I'm going to sell it.
I'm a bookseller.
That's my job.