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The kidnapping for ransom of a beautiful American-born contessa poses Marshal Guarnaccia's gravest challenge.
The kidnapping for ransom of a beautiful American-born contessa poses Marshal Guarnaccia's gravest challenge.
`I'll do my best to tell you everything but the things I rememberare perhaps not what you need. And then, theytook my watch and, because I couldn't see or hear, I oftendrifted away from the real world and I could have lost secondsor days, even weeks.
`I do remember the beginning, though, because I wentover it a thousand times in my head in those first days, tryingto work out what I should have done, how I should havereacted. I went over it, reinventing it so that I escaped. Iscreamed for help, someone happened along, Leo came tomeet me—he sometimes did. I passed a lot of time reinventinglike that but it didn't change the present any morethan it changed what happened that night. I walked Tessieround the block. There was a freezing wind. I remember ithowling and a crash every so often as a tile fell into the roador a shutter broke loose. Tessie kept pulling at her lead, asusual. I never can understand how she can run so fast, scuttlingalong on her tiny legs—they beat and kicked her untilshe screamed. I don't want to talk about that.
`I came back into the piazza and was pushing at thedoors ... then ... nothing.
`I saw in the dark something like the blades of a fan spinningright in front of my nose and the world spinning withit. I wanted to be sick and I couldn't breathe. There was asmell of chloroform and I thought I was in hospital, cominground from an operation. I thought there would surely besomething to be sick into but I must have passed out again.
`This is a gap that's serious for you, I know because I don'tknow how long I'dbeen in the car when I next woke up. Iwas on the floor between the front and back seats and myface was pressed against the carpeting. Dust and fluff werein my mouth and nose. Beneath my face I could feel thespeed of the car, going straight, probably on a motorway.Something, I think a leather jacket, was covering me and itstank of sweat and another sour, greasy smell. I wanted toget it off my head because I couldn't breathe but I foundthat my hands were tied behind my back.
`"I'm suffocating! Uncover my head, I'm suffocating," Icried. A violent blow hit my ribs and I realized that therewas someone sitting with his feet on me. I tried to raise myhead.
`"You have to let me breathe! Please!"
`He kicked me in the head and said, "The bitch is awake."I heard some fumbling about and a tearing noise, then myhead was yanked back by the hair and his voice spoke rightin my ear.
`"Don't you ever, ever tell me what I have to do. D'you hearme? You're not in your fancy palazzo now. I'm in charge here,got that?"
`He put his boot under my chin and pulled my head backagainst the seat. Then he slapped a broad piece of stickingplaster over my mouth and pressed it hard. He kicked myhead back to the floor and covered it even more closely withthe smelly jacket. I was panic-stricken. My mouth was full ofdirt and the sticking plaster forced me to breathe that unbearablestink deeply through my nose. I lost control andscreamed, or tried to, but the screams got no further thanmy throat and were useless and painful.
`A voice from the front, not the driver, yelled, "What the fuck are you doing?"
`"I've plastered her mouth up. Bitch was making too much noise."
`"You dickhead! Get it off! Get it off! If she throws upafter the chloroform she'll choke to death. Get it off!" Iheard Tessie whining, then a yelp as someone hit her.
`The fingers fumbling under my nose stank of nicotine. Iheld my breath as the big plaster was ripped away. A few ofmy hairs had got tangled in there when he put it on, andthe pain as these, too, were ripped away was terrible. Istarted crying. They ignored me because they were still quarrelling.The one in front was furious.
`"You don't touch her unless I say so! I'm responsible forthe goods being intact and what I say goes."
`I tried to clean the fluff and grit from my tongue usingmy teeth and spitting. I breathed through my mouth toavoid at least some of the smell of stale sweat. The arm I waslying on had gone dead but I didn't try to shift my weight.I was afraid of the pain that would come with a return offeeling and afraid of the boot crashing down on my ribsagain.
`I was still fairly dozy from the chloroform but, althoughI might have suffered less, I couldn't let myself fall asleepagain. The feeling of suffocation, the darkness, my inabilityto move would have made dropping into sleep a sort ofdying. I decided to be still and quiet so the man abovewouldn't hurt me and to listen for clues about the lengthand direction of my journey. None came. After the rowabout the plaster they remained silent. What had I thought?That they'd say, "Oh, look, there's the turn-off for such andsuch a place?"
`Just miles and miles of road passing below me. Theweight of their silence above. The smell. Once I thought,"This is too ridiculous to be true. It's a nightmare. One ofthose nightmares when you can't move. I just have to waitand in a little while I'll wake up in the real world wherethese people don't exist."
`The nightmare didn't end but the car journey did. I feltthrough the floor of the car a different sort of road, a roadwith curves and junctions, then a rougher country road. Thecar stopped. When they tumbled me out into the cold nightair I was grateful for the sheepskin coat and the comfortablefur boots I had worn to take Tessie out ... I'm sorry.
`Please don't be distressed by my crying. It's not even crying,really, just accumulated pain and tension unloading. Asif my body were crying, not me, if you can understand that.You see? I can smile at the same time, which shows it's onlya physical reaction. I have every reason to be happy now,haven't I?
`It was then that they kicked and beat Tessie and one ofthem picked her up and threw her body away.
`We were walking. I couldn't see at all. This was real darkness,thick, oppressive darkness that confuses your senses,makes you lose your balance. We were battling against theicy wind, too. I was pushed and pulled along. It wasn't along walk that time, first on the stones and grit of the countryroad, then on soft earth and big slabs of stone, then ontufts of short grass. I didn't see anything but I felt thechanges through the rubber soles of my boots. Then westarted climbing. It was difficult to keep my balance sincemy hands were still tied and the blackness around gave meno points of reference. Once I stumbled and, unable to savemyself by throwing an arm out, I crashed into the man infront of me. He swore and kicked back violently so that ithurt even through my boot and unbalanced me even moreso that I fell. I was pulled up by the hair.
`"On your feet, Contessina. Move."
`As I tried to get up, I realized that I urgently needed topee and that, as a result of the anaesthetic or perhaps thecold, I could do nothing about holding it.
`"I need to pee."
`They pushed me a little to one side. "Do it there."
`My sheepskin coat was an encumbrance and I was wearingtrousers with a zip fastener at the side. "I can't! Myhands!"
They cut me free but it was too late. I was already wetand perhaps only half of it went on the grass. After that, Iwas cold, my legs were wet, and I thought, "Whatever it isthat's happening to me, I can't survive it. These are thethings that will destroy me, not kicks in the ribs." But theuphill walking was so difficult that I was forced to concentratejust on keeping my balance, and once I got back intothe rhythm of the climb the wetness warmed up and probablyeven started to dry. I know it sounds strange, even impossible,but I remember that in the midst of all my fearand misery I teased myself, saying, as we do to our children,"Why didn't you go before you came out?" and I wanted togiggle. I expect it was just nervous strain. The children ... Ican't wait to see them. Will it be long?
`We stopped that night in a cave of some sort. I was madeto crawl a long way in until we reached a part where it waspossible to sit or kneel but not to stand up. Kneeling, I couldfeel the roof of it with my head.
`"Feel to your right. There's a mattress."
`I felt it. I could smell it.
`"Crawl onto it and lie on your back. Now reach behindyour head and find the things that are there."
`A plastic bottle of water, a plastic bedpan, a roll of toiletpaper.
`"Now give me your right hand." I felt a chain beingwrapped around my wrist and padlocked. Then the chain'sweight down the length of my left leg, where it was woundround and padlocked again, the noise of more length ofchain being attached somewhere in the cave. To an ironstaple in the wall perhaps. But why so tight? What could Ihave done if it had been just a bit less tight? Where could Ihave gone? Surely there was no need to block my circulationlike that.
`"Hold out your left hand."
`He put something into it, something cold and wet andheavy, like a dead thing. I shuddered. He closed my handover it and pushed it up towards my mouth, his nicotine-smellingfingers right under my nose. "Eat."
`It was meat of some sort—I think perhaps boiled chickensince it was so wet and slippery. It smelled strongly of garlic.I'm a vegetarian but I knew better, even then, than to protest.It would certainly provoke another blow and some verbalabuse and, besides, if I wanted to survive, I had no choicebut to eat whatever came my way. I bit into the cold, slitheryflesh and forced myself to chew it. I chewed two lumps of itbut I couldn't swallow. I tried but I had no saliva and tryingto force it down made me retch.
`"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I can't swallow. It's not thefood—it's very good—perhaps it's because of the chloroform.I just can't swallow. I'm so sorry." Like someone at adinner party refusing second helpings. "I couldn't possiblybut it was wonderful—no, really...." It was a long time beforeI was offered anything else but there was nothing Icould have done. He made me drink some of the water. Icouldn't open the bottle with one hand—later I learned toturn the screw top with my teeth—so he opened it for me.I took it from him—though even that was difficult to managewith one hand, the bottle being soft plastic and full—soI wouldn't have to smell his fingers again. Then I thoughtit odd that Nicotine Fingers was the only one with me. Hadthe others, whoever drove the car and the front-seat passengerwho'd said he was the boss, gone away? I think they hadbecause after I'd drunk the water I heard him fumblingabout for a bit and then, without another word, his footstepswent away from me and I heard the rustle of his clothing ashe crawled towards the exit. I remained tense, straining myears, terrified of one or all of them returning, of more blows,of their raping me, chained as I was. Of their discovery ofmy shameful wetness, of their finding me as smelly as Ifound them. I may have lain like that for hours before Irealized that they weren't coming back. Nobody was coming.This was forever. They could ask for a ransom at their leisure,and if I stayed here tied up they need take no risks ofbeing seen bringing me food. There was no reason why anyoneshould ever find me.
`I didn't cry. I think we cry to attract help and comfort,don't you agree? That's why babies cry, after all. They can'tmove about or speak, they can't control their lives, orderfood when they're hungry, change themselves when they'rewet. They can only cry, but they cry in the knowledge thatsomeone must come, the faith that someone must come.Well, I had all of a baby's problems. I was wet and cold,lonely and hungry. I did even start a feeble cry but it peteredout. Nothing came. There was no one to hear, not even animaginary person who ought to hear. I was buried alive andthe world would go on without me.
`I didn't protest about dying. We all have to die. I protestedagainst not dying my own particular death, my bodycarefully disposed of. I wanted people to say goodbye to me.I wanted a grave with flowers on it. We don't like thinkingabout death but, when we're forced to, as I was, we do carehow we die just as we care how we live. It's the last thing we doand it should surely be an appropriate finale to what we did inlife. I had a lot of time to think, you see, but these are not thethings you need to know though you sit there so patiently listening.I'm cold ... Do you have another of these blankets?They're from the cells, aren't they?—Oh, I don't mind. Afterall, I'm an ex-prisoner myself. Thank you.
`That was the longest night. I didn't sleep at all. I still hadthat sensation of falling asleep being an acceptance of death.If I had to die in this cave I would remain vigilant. I wouldlive as hard as it is possible to live chained up in darkness.My brain, after all, was functioning, and they say that starvationalerts the brain even more and that it is a happydeath, ending in a sort of euphoric delirium.
`Still, the darkness oppressed me. It was that completedarkness that occurs only deep in the country. It isn't justan absence of sufficient light to see by but an imprisoningforce with a life of its own. It makes you hallucinate after awhile. Your brain invents information because it receivesnone. Worms of dancing light, strange shapes that loom upat high speed so you want to dodge them. Total silence, too,plays the same tricks, making you invent noises, voices, anythingto fill the void.
`I wanted to order my thoughts, to think over my life andsay goodbye to it. I suppose I was trying to regain some sortof dignity, but those tricks of the brain made it impossible,leaving me tormented and confused. Fighting to breathe,too. How big was this cave? How much air was available tome? Had they blocked up the entrance? Death by suffocationwas the worst thing I could imagine. I'm not really claustrophobicbut, for instance, I'm not much of a swimmerbecause I could never bear my head being in the water. Myson used to laugh at me because I swam with my head boltupright like a duck and he'd swim along behind me in imitation.
`It was fear of suffocation that made me move, pushingmyself into a sitting position with my left hand and thenfeeling around me. That helped, to know I could cutthrough the imprisoning blackness with my hand. I couldfeel the wall of the cave behind my head where the waterand the other things were, and I could touch the ceiling,but in front and beside me there was space. I shuffled forward,following the direction of the chain, pushing with myfree left hand. Not only was there space, I could sense afaint current of air coming in from outside. If air could getin, then light could, too.
`I shuffled back on the mattress and lay down to think. Ibecame calmer. Filling my head with thoughts and imagesof my own choosing kept out the hallucinations created bythe black silence around me. Doing something, examiningthe space around me, had calmed me down. I did morethings. First I used the bedpan, holding it rather clumsilywith my left hand, then dried myself with the toilet roll. Ipushed the bedpan away to my left and reached for thebottle of water. That was difficult and I spilled a lot on themattress but I managed to drink some. Although I was verycold, my mouth was hot and dry and my lips chapped, asthough I were feverish. The water was so good, so good andsatisfying, delicious like a fine white wine. I drank to occupymyself but found I was thirsty after the walk and the longhours of fear. Swallowing the water gave me so much joy, itstaste—and its meaning. If they'd left me here to die, wouldthere be water? Would there be a bedpan and even toiletpaper? If you find it hard to understand how a sip of watercould fill me with joy, how much more difficult to understandhow eagerly I waited for the return of my kidnappers.And, as if to celebrate this happy thought, dawn came. I sawthe pale shape of my own hand, then ghostly bouldersaround me, the huge iron staple I was chained to, the wayout. It didn't get really light so far inside the cave but ifthere was enough light to see by, it meant that outside theday must be bright. I was full of energy then. I shuffled tothe back of the mattress and with a flat stone from the floorI wrote something on the wall—something I knew Leowould understand and know for sure it was me—I did it lowdown so I could hide it with a little pile of stones.
`"Lie on the mattress face down!" I did as I was told andsomeone crawled into the cave.
`My head was lifted and I heard tearing and cutting.
`Big plasters were pressed onto each of my eyes, then along, wide strip from temple to temple, carefully pressedand modelled round my nose. It wasn't Nicotine Fingers andI recognized the voice of the one who had shouted, "I'mresponsible for the goods being intact." I tried to feel hishand—the size of it would give me an idea of his generalsize—and he hit me a blow that sent my face deep into themattress.
`"Don't try playing the policeman with us! And don'tmove unless you're told to move. And, if you've any sense,you won't let yourself cry with those plasters on. It'll burnyou till you scream."
`They knew their business. He unchained me. I wanted toturn over and massage my wrist and ankle where the chainhad almost stopped my circulation but I didn't dare.
`"Get on all fours. Follow me."
`I crawled out of the cave behind him and someone waitingthere dragged me to my feet. The freezing wind attackedme, almost throwing me off balance, a wind whose cuttingedge was at my face but whose low, menacing moan wasmiles away. I sensed an infinite space around me. I smelledsnow, and even behind the sticking plaster I could feel adazzling light.
`"Jesus fucking Christ!"
`"Now what do we do?"
`"Shut up! Just shut up!"
`The one in charge was angry, panicked even. I recognizedhis voice easily but I wasn't sure about whoever hadsaid, "Now what do we do?" The driver from last night, perhaps.He hadn't spoken in the car. The accents were Florentine,strong and rough.
`"You've made a mistake, haven't you? You don't wantme—I'm not rich enough—"
`A slap across the face. "Keep your fancy mouth shut. Giveme your left hand." I held it out. "Feel that—I said feel it!Don't drag on it to help yourself. Just keep your hand on itas you walk. If he stops, you stop. When he walks, you walk.Move!" He prodded me with what I guessed was the barrelof a gun.
`I felt the rough canvas of a rucksack which the boss infront was carrying. I tried to do as I was told and walkedwith my left hand touching the rucksack very lightly. I feltthe snow crunch under my feet. I knew we were very highup, not just because of the snow but because the wind's low-pitchedwhine came from far away below us, not above. Wewere on a stony track which sloped away from us steeply onour right and, because it was so narrow and my bootsweren't suitable for such rough ground, I stumbled on thosestones that stuck up out of the dry snow. How could I helpsaving myself by clutching at the rucksack?
`Immediately I was kicked from in front. "Don't drag onme, you stupid bitch!" The one behind pulled me up andthumped me in the back.
`"On your feet! Don't drag on the rucksack and don't tryfalling as an excuse to touch one of us or you'll get thisacross your face." He pushed the barrel of the gun againstmy cheek and then put my hand back on the rucksack."Walk!"
`I hadn't fallen on purpose, I hadn't! But I didn't darespeak in case another blow came. I wanted to talk. I wantedto ask them why they were doing this to me. I wasn't richenough for this. Why wasn't it someone really rich who'dnever had to struggle, who'd had it easy? The sort of personthese types felt they had a right to hate and punish. Iwanted to say, "Not me! Not me!" I wanted to tell them thatI had been poor and had to struggle to bring up my childrenand that I'd worked so hard, for so many years. Didn't Ideserve at least a few years of tranquillity between the problemsof poverty and the problems of riches? It was so ridiculousthat I should be kidnapped before even having timeto finish paying my debts.
`But I didn't dare and what difference would it havemade? They'd labelled me a rich bitch and I had to staylabelled for the benefit of their consciences. That's true, Ipromise you. You wouldn't believe how they preached at meover the weeks, how they justified their greed and cruelty.
`Anyway, I didn't dare speak so I walked. My body in thesheepskin became overheated with the effort but my headand especially my ears ached with cold. I couldn't feel myhands anymore so it was difficult to tell whether I was touchingthe rucksack half the time. I tried for a while to keepmy right hand in my pocket but I needed it for balance,sensing the abyss to my right where my boot kept slippingdown off the path. Each time I stumbled they hit me andcursed me. We walked all day, and it seemed to me thatalmost all the time we were climbing. We never stopped fora rest, and I knew that they were nervous, afraid even. Somethingwas wrong. That remark they'd made when they got agood look at me that morning ... Perhaps I was right. Theyhad made a mistake and didn't want me at all. Perhaps theywould make me walk in circles for miles and then leave mesomewhere near civilization. After all, I hadn't seen any oftheir faces. I couldn't identify them, they were safe from me.
`Still without stopping, the one behind reached over meand took something from the rucksack. He put a plastic bottleinto my right hand.
`"Can't we stop? I'm afraid of falling."
Excerpted from Property of Blood by Magdalen Nabb. Copyright © 1999 by Magdalen Nabb and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.