A short vacation is all Stefano wants ... but he gets a whole new family instead. And then, someone shoots at him. Can he find out who it was before it's too late?
Commissario Garini wants nothing better than to enjoy a romantic vacation with his wife Carlina on the beautiful Italian island, Sardinia. But within a few hours, all plans go awry. To his great dismay, he discovers he has a large (and hitherto unknown) family just as eccentric as his in-laws. The very next morning, he survives an attack by the skin of his teeth. His whole world comes crashing down. Is it possible his family isn't as delighted about his sudden appearance as they pretended to be?
Holiday Death is a charming and amusing cozy crime that continues the popular series 'Temptation in Florence'. However, as a whole new set of characters is introduced in this book, it can very well be read on its own.
He froze and refused to turn around. Maybe it would go away, whatever it was, if he didn’t look. “Please don’t tell me one of your family members has followed us as a surprise.”
She shook her head in slow motion. “No. On the contrary.”
“On the contrary? What on earth do you mean?”
“A man just came in. He … he looks exactly like you. Only thirty years older.”
Stefano whipped around. For a moment, it felt as if the universe tilted on its axis, as if he was staring into a mirror after a surprise time travel. His very own light eyes stared at him, surrounded by a fine net of wrinkles. The nose, the shape of the chin … it looked as if the same mold had been used. Experience and time had blurred the edges somewhat, but when the man’s head moved up in sharp surprise, the likeliness was so uncanny that Stefano instinctively recoiled. The man was as tall as he was, only age had stooped him a little. He wore a loose tunic made of some home-spun material, and that, reassuringly, made Stefano sure he wasn’t seeing an older version of himself. He would never wear anything as shapeless as this.
The older version of himself came closer, not taking his gaze for one second off Stefano. “Who are you?” he said.
Stefano jumped. It sounded like his own voice. “Garini,” he managed to say.
“Garini is my name,” the man replied.
A rushing sound filled Stefano’s ears. He threw a glance at his wife. Carlina sat like a statue and stared at them, but at least, she hadn’t suddenly aged. Stefano cleared his throat. “My name is Stefano Garini.”
“I am Francesco Garini.” The man spoke with calm dignity.
Stefano’s relief was immense. This wasn’t an older version of himself, and he wasn’t having an out-of-body experience.
“But this is amazing, amazing!” A rotund man with a shock of black hair bounced up to them and clapped his hands. “I’ve never seen anything like it! Who on earth are you? Why have we never met before?” He turned to Francesco. “Is it possible our father sowed a few wild oats? I wouldn’t have thought it of him.”
Francesco made a short move with his hand. “Of course not, Luigi. This man is much too young.”
Stefano slowly got up.
Just then, a woman appeared behind the short Luigi, and Stefano suffered the second shock that night. Here was the female version of Francesco and himself, tall, almost bony, with the typical Garini nose and thin mouth. However, quite unlike her brother Francesco, she had an indefinable air of elegance about her. Maybe because of her black-rimmed glasses, or maybe it was the black sheath dress. She looked as if she was sure of her place in the world, self-confident and settled. Intelligent eyes sized him up, then a hand was thrust out to him. “It looks like we’re related. My name is Eleanora Mori, born Garini.”
Carlina made a strangled sound in her throat.
Stefano was speechless.
“Who was your father?” Francesco asked.
“Alfredo Garini,” Carlina replied when it became apparent that Stefano wasn’t yet able to speak. “We’re from Florence, and I’m Stefano’s wife, Carlina.”
Luigi bounced forward and pressed her hand, taking it into both of his. “Delighted to get to know you, Carlina!” Without letting go of her hand, he turned to his brother. “This is family, Francesco! Alfredo’s son and his wife! What an incredible surprise!”
Finally, Stefano found his voice. “Have a seat,” he said. “I believe we have quite a bit of catching up to do.”
Francesco looked at him with a wry smile. “You’ve got to excuse me if I’m staring, but it feels really strange to see my younger self again in such an unexpected way.”
Stefano smiled. “I know exactly how you feel.”
Just then, the waiter came up with the antipasti misti del mare Stefano and Carlina had ordered. It wasn’t the young one who had taken their orders, but an older man, all dressed in black, with black-framed glasses. He looked from Francesco to Stefano and promptly dropped the dish.
It banged with a deafening crash to the ground, and little bits of salmon and squid jumped everywhere. All the guests in the restaurant turned to watch, and an excited murmur went through the room, like wind shaking tree-tops.
Luigi kept on jumping like a ball and announced to the room at large, “This is my nephew from Firenze!”
“But Luigi,” the old waiter said. “You don’t have a nephew.” He eyed Stefano. “Though he certainly looks like Francesco when he was younger. My, how this takes me back. It’s uncanny.”
“He’s Alfredo’s son,” Eleanora stated in a cool voice that easily carried through the room.
“Alfredo? Your eldest brother? But he died!” The waiter looked surprised.
“Apparently not.” She turned to Stefano.
“Is your father still alive?”
A funny expression flitted across her face.
“Who said he was dead?” Stefano asked.
“Our father did. That was typical of him. If he didn’t like something, he tended to pretend it wasn’t there.” Luigi pulled out a chair and dropped into it. “Vino!” he shouted. “We need to celebrate this … this family reunion!”
“Subito.” The waiter bent to pick up some broken pieces and a bit of lobster from the floor, then vanished into the direction of the kitchen.
Luigi reached into the bread basket across the table and broke off a piece of the typical wafer-thin Sardinian bread, pane carasau. “What an incredible surprise. I have to eat something, or I’ll faint.”
“Is he still alive?” Stefano asked. “My … grandfather?” It sounded odd as he said the word.
“Oh, no. He died five years ago.” Luigi stuffed a piece of the crackling paper bread into his mouth. “He had a coronary.”
“And your mother?” My grandmother. He couldn’t wrap his head around the concept. His father had always said they had died long ago.
“Oh, she died right after Eleanora’s birth. That was the reason for all our problems.”
“What do you mean?” Carlina bent forward.
“Well, without a wife to hold him back and make him more mellow, our father was able to develop all kinds of strange ideas.”
“He wasn’t that bad.” Francesco lowered himself into a chair. “Just a bit extreme.”
Eleanora took a seat between her brothers. “He was a misogynist and didn’t expect anything good from women. Ever.”
Stefano’s eyebrows went up. “Meaning?”
“Meaning when your father fell in love with a girl from Tuscany, he said he wouldn’t allow the match because she wasn’t the right sort.”
“And what would have been the right sort?” Carlina asked.
“Well, a Sardinian, of course.”
Stefano swallowed while the thoughts whirled through his head. Suddenly, he had an instant family that seemed to be just as intense and layered as the Mantoni clan. And at the same time, he felt like a complete stranger. For the first time ever, he was at the receiving end of being classed as a foreigner, someone you shouldn’t trust just because of your origin. It was more sobering than expected.
Something wet touched his ankle. He jumped and looked underneath the table. “What on earth?” He came up again and looked at Carlina. “There’s a pig down there.” Maybe this was a strange dream after all.
Carlina threw him an incredulous look, then lifted the tablecloth to check for herself. “You’re right.” Her voice trembled with suppressed laughter. “I wonder where it came from.”
Luigi bent across the table. “Ah, I see you’ve met Gloria Sniffle.”
“Gloria Sniffle?” Carlina’s voice sounded faint.
“Yes, yes.” Luigi beamed at her. “She’s my favorite pig.” He looked at the door, and his face darkened. “There’s my wife. Please don’t tell her about Gloria. She doesn’t approve of pigs in restaurants, but I don’t see any difference from a dog. Gloria is very clean. I wash her regularly. Besides, Gloria gets lonely if she’s all alone at home.”
Stefano threw a quick glance at Carlina. From the way her mouth trembled, he knew she was just about to explode into laughter.
Luigi jumped up, reminding him once again of a rubber ball. “Paula, you won’t believe what happened tonight: We found a nephew we knew nothing about. Let me present Stefano and his wife Carlina to you.”
Paula was a tall woman who looked as if she was used to running marathons, thin and lean. She had shoulder-length hair, black with gray streaks, but her age mostly showed in her forehead, which was creased into a perpetual frown, and the deep lines that showed all around her mouth. Her redeeming feature was a pair of perfectly curved eyebrows that looked like half-moons. These lifted now in surprise, but that was the only emotion she showed. “Nice to meet you.” Her voice was low and pleasant.
“He’s Alfredo’s son. You know, my brother who disappeared when I was fifteen!”
“Interesting.” It sounded a bit dry. “You decided to look up the family after all these years?”
“No.” Stefano shook his head. “I booked the holiday here because I knew my father came from this region, but I had no idea there’s still family here.”
Francesco stared at him. “Your father never told you about his brothers and his sister?”
“So, meeting you here was sheer coincidence?” Paula asked.
Her arched eyebrows wandered a bit higher, but she didn’t say anything.
Stefano had the impression he had to defend himself, explain that he really had had no idea, but he held himself back, not really knowing why. Perhaps it was the tacit admission that you’re in a weak position if you start to defend yourself.
“It was an incredible surprise,” Carlina confirmed.
“I can imagine.” Paula’s gaze went to the floor, and for an instant, her body got rigid. “How often have I said that we can’t take this pig to the restaurant, Luigi?”
Luigi jumped a little and managed to look surprised. “No, really? Is Gloria here, too?” He bent down and scratched the little pig behind the ears. “How did you do that, little one? Naughty girl.”
Paula sighed. “Drop it, Luigi. She didn’t get into your car by accident.”
Luigi straightened. “Actually, I don’t see a problem. After all, dogs are admitted if they behave, and Gloria is always quiet and gentle.”
Eleanora had watched her brother’s pig with a quivering mouth. Now she relaxed her lips into a grin. “You might not believe it, but Luigi is in fact a butcher.”
Carlina made a funny sound in her throat. “A butcher?”
“Yeah, why not?” Luigi lifted both hands. “I can love animals and still be a butcher. That’s no contradiction.”
Francesco lifted his chin. “I don’t understand it either, but we’ve discussed this often enough.” He smiled at Stefano and Carlina.
His uncle’s face, so much like his own, still made Stefano a bit woozy.
Francesco pursed his mouth. “I don’t believe in slaughtering helpless animals and –“
Paula interrupted her brother-in-law with a sigh. “Please, let’s not hash through this again. We all know your position, and I say it’s not natural to eat only vegan. I mean, look at you. You’re way too thin.”
Francesco pressed his lips together. “All right, then tell me about the latest rumor I’ve heard. Is it true you’re planning to open your sixth store in Olbia? You’re rich enough already. Why this constant accumulation of more wealth, more power, more carcasses?”
Paula reddened. “It’s no sin to enlarge a business. If I don’t do it, someone else will. That’s the law of the market. Personally, I’m glad our customers love our sausages, and I see no need at all to refuse to serve them when I’ve got all I need at my fingertips.”
“Then it’s true? You’re planning the sixth store?”
“Who talked?” Paula threw Luigi a threatening look.
Her husband lifted a vague hand. “Pula is a small town, dear.” His gaze didn’t meet hers. Instead, he dived underneath the table again to scratch the little pig.
Carlina frowned. “Aren’t we in Chia?”
“We are,” Eleanora confirmed. “Pula is about twenty minutes from here by car, and it's where we all live. We especially came to this restaurant for Easter because it’s famous for its seafood.”
At this moment, a woman stopped by their table. “Hello there, what a surprise! Are you having dinner here, too?”
Stefano looked up and caught his breath. He was used to seeing beautiful women – the Mantoni clan had their fair share – but this woman exuded a vitality and sensuousness that went beyond her undeniably attractive body. She was medium sized, curved in all the right places, and her full mouth seemed like an invitation to laughter and happiness. Her black hair fell full and straight down her back, and she had the undefinable air of the rich, though he couldn’t exactly tell where it came from. The broad golden rings in her ears were matched by an equally broad golden necklace. They could have been costume jewelry, but somehow, he didn’t think so. It was difficult to estimate her age. She looked about fifteen years younger than his aunts and uncles, probably around forty.
Eleanora said, “Maristella, this is Stefano Garini, Alfredo’s son.”
Maristella’s dark eyes widened. “Who’s Alfredo?”
“Alfredo is our eldest brother,” Luigi cut in.
Maristella blinked. “There was another one?”
“Yes.” Paula’s reply was curt to the point of rudeness.
Maristella smiled and revealed pearly teeth. “I didn’t know.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know yet. After all, you only moved here six months ago.” Paula’s voice was clipped.
Okay, here’s another one who’s made to feel like an outsider. Stefano smiled at Maristella to make up for Paula’s rudeness.
Maristella stared at him. “The family likeness is incredible.”
Eleanora nodded. “Yes.” She turned to Carlina and Stefano. “Maristella inherited the farm next to Francesco six months ago.”
Maristella laughed. “And what a shock that was! I came full of expectations, all set to enjoy my inheritance, and all I got was a rickety farm building with some useless wild-flowers.”
Francesco looked perturbed. “But Maristella, you shouldn’t talk like that. The farm is a functioning ecological system with distinctive wildlife. Your great-uncle cherished nature.”
Maristella gave him a charming smile. “I admit it’s pretty. If you don’t count all the crawling bugs, that is. But how on earth can I make a living off it?”
“Your great-uncle could,” Francesco said.
“Yes, but his way does not correspond to the way I want to live.”
“We all know you want to live in luxury,” Paula said with distinct bitterness in her voice.
The two women looked at each other, Paula lean and muscular, with her mouth tightly pressed together, while Maristella eyed Paula like one of the creeping bugs she’d just mentioned.
Luigi once again dived beneath the table to scratch Gloria. As an evasive technique, it was superb. No wonder he refused to go out without his pig in tow.
Eleanora, who didn’t seem to have noticed anything, once again turned to Carlina and Stefano. “Maristella comes from Iglesias, a town a bit farther inland. Iglesias used to be quite prosperous due to several silver and coal mines, but they’ve all been abandoned now, so the town appears a bit like a ghost town.”
“It’s a lot like a ghost town,” Maristella corrected. “But if you’re born and bred there, it’s hard to leave. We sardi are fiercely proud of our villages.”
“Then why did you move here?” Paula asked.
Maristella ignored her. “In fact, I have the honor of being part of the procession which will take place on May first in Cagliari. It’s the biggest religious procession of the year on the island, as our patron, Sant'Efisio, will be carried from his church in Cagliari along the coast to Pula and back. It takes three days, and all the villages take part.”
Paula stared at her in lively astonishment. “They allow you to be part of the procession?”
Maristella smiled, once again revealing her shining teeth. “Yes. I’ve already prepared my costume.”
“It sounds interesting,” Carlina said. “We’ll still be here on May first.”
Eleanora nodded. “In that case, you really have to go. The procession is indeed a sight to behold because every village has a different traditional costume. The people who represent their villages dress up and walk in the procession. Each village carries a banner that shows the name of the town, but if you know your way around, you don’t need them. The costumes are so distinctive you can easily recognize which village they belong to.”
Luigi appeared from beneath the table and beamed at them all. “But the most magnificent part are the horses. Every dignitary of the island is offered a ride on a beautiful horse.”
“What happens if they can’t ride?” Stefano asked.
“Oh, in that case someone walks next to them,” Maristella answered with a nonchalant gesture.
The waiter came back and took their orders. When Luigi murmured something to him, Paula cut in. “You can’t order the sebadas now, Luigi. That’s dessert.”
Luigi reddened. “But I’d like to have them now.” He looked at the waiter. “Two, please. And serve them right now, with the antipasti.”
“What is a sebada?” Carlina asked.
Eleanora smiled. “One of our typical Sardinian desserts. It’s fried dough filled with ricotta cheese and dribbled with bitter honey.”
Paula bent towards her husband. “You might just as well be honest and admit you’re ordering them for the pig.”
Luigi gave Carlina and Stefano an apologetic look. “Gloria Sniffle is very partial to them.”