Apr 27 2013 9:00am
The Body in the Piazza by Katherine Hall Page is the 21st traditional mystery featuring caterer extraordinaire Faith Fairchild, this time set in Italy (available April 30, 2013).
Faith Fairchild and her husband are celebrating a big anniversary with a trip to Italy, filled with exquisite indulgences—the art, the Chianti, the food, the Ferragamos! After a weekend in Rome, they'll travel to Tuscany, where Faith's former assistant Francesca has opened a cooking school.
But, along with pecorino, panna cotta, and Prosecco, it looks like murder and mayhem are also on the menu! On their first night in the Eternal City, the Fairchilds stumble upon a dying man in the Piazza Farnese. Mysterious characters from Rome resurface in Tuscany. And somebody is intent on sabotaging Francesca's new business. It's up to Faith to put everything right—and still whip up a mean Spaghetti alla Foriana, of course!
Faith Fairchild was drunk. Soused, sloshed, schnockered, pickled, potted, and looped—without a single sip of alcohol having crossed her lips. She was drunk on Rome. Intoxicating, inebriating Rome.
It had started before the plane had touched down when she glimpsed the sea—“Mare Nostrum,” “Our Sea,” the Romans had called it. Soon the coast gave way to towns, fields, and the green serpent that was the Tiber. On the bus from Fiumicino into the city, the views were not as spectacular, but there were occasional patches of brilliant roadside wildflowers and long rows of twisted pines—Respighi’s Pines of Rome—flashed by. Leaving the highway at the city limits, the streets narrowed abruptly. The flowers were in planters now outside stuccosheathed apartments and shops painted just as she had imagined them—yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber, deep rose—Italian Crayolas. Dense traffic had caused the bus to slow to a crawl, an imposing vessel upon a mighty ocean of motor scooters and tiny cars, darting perilously like schools of minnows into the oncoming traffic lane, honking as if the road had been usurped rather than the other way around. She’d laughed to herself at the host of metaphors Rome was already inspiring.
When the bus left the airport, it had been filled with the excited clamor of arrivals speaking so many different languages it was impossible to distinguish one from the next. As riders got off and others took their places, Italian dominated. They were probably talking about the weather or mundane problems at work or home, but their gestures, faces, and the musical quality of their voices suggested that they were debating Verdi versus Puccini or heady matters of state. Faith wished she had had time to study the language and vowed to sign up for at least an online course when she returned.
The bus stopped abruptly, immobilized by the traffic. “Could it always be like this?” Faith said to her husband. Tom Fairchild shrugged, intent on maintaining the tiny perimeter of space they’d claimed on the crowded bus.
“Scusi,” a man next to Faith said. “This morning it is a, how do you call it, ‘strike’? Yes, strike by the trasporto workers. It will be over in a few hours. It’s very usual.”
“What are they asking for?”
“Tutti. Enjoy your stay.” He got off and was soon making faster progress on the sidewalk than he had been on the bus. “Tutti”—Faith knew the word—“Everything.”
She didn’t mind the delay. It gave her more time to look out the windows. By the time they reached their stop and she stepped onto the Corso Vittorio Emanuele’s sidewalk, her head was already filled with the sight of places she’d only seen in photographs, paintings, or on the screen. She’d grabbed Tom’s arm repeatedly at the views—St. Peter’s, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Ponte Principe—and now as she wheeled her small suitcase—for once she’d packed lightly—across the street and into the Campo de’ Fiori toward their hotel, she grabbed his arm again. If heaven were in any way a reflection of life on earth, the Campo de’ Fiori market had to be the model. Stall after stall was filled with the kinds of produce she’d only seen in the pages of glossy food magazines. Artfully arranged crates of rubyred and pearlwhite radicchio, shiny dark eggplants, silken orange zucchini blossoms, and shimmering silverscaled fish, none of which had been sprayed with fixative or whatever else stylists used to achieve perfection for those photo shoots. One stall was filled with stacks of white porcelain, another with colorful pyramids of spices in cellowrap. All she needed was a large basket—and a kitchen. She stood transfixed before a display of more kinds of mushrooms than she had ever seen in her life and knew that she’d have to come back to Rome, rent an apartment, and cook. For now—and why had it taken her all these years to get to the Imperial City?—she would have to be satisfied with just dreaming.
She glanced up and her eye was drawn to a rather forbidding looking bronze statue of a hooded monk that towered incongruously over the bright white canvas umbrellas sheltering wares, and she made a note to check the guidebook. Who was the enigmatic figure? Rabelais—didn’t he spend time in Italy?—would have been more appropriate. But nothing seemed to be curbing the bustling crowd’s appetite, and Faith realized that the sight of all this luscious food had awakened her own. She was starving.
They’d boarded the plane in Boston at dusk last night. Faith had brought her own repast, a ciabatta roll stuffed with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, sliced tomato, and basil that gave a nod toward her destination, while Tom had said he’d opt for whatever the galley served up. That had been “steak tips with seasonal vegetables.” She’d commented pointedly that the vegetables must represent some fifth or even sixth season as yet unknown to man and he’d responded by asking her to order a meal for herself. Like the old joke, the food might be lousy, but the portions were too small—especially in this case, when the airlines were cutting back on everything from pillows to peanuts. Tom had consumed his meal and hers, too, commenting that he liked the challenge of eating from those little trays with dollsize cutlery.
Faith was an unashamedly admitted food snob. It went with the territory. She’d started her successful catering business, Have Faith, in the Big Apple just before meeting Tom and restarted it in the more bucolic orchards of New England when their second child, Amy, began nursery school.
Since she’d eschewed the breakfast offered in flight—what looked like some kind of ancient Little Debbie snack cake and browncolored water passing for coffee (she’d sniffed Tom’s cup)—Faith hadn’t had any food for hours, never a good thing in her book, and the only question now, here in foodie paradise, was where to start?
“Happy, darling?” Tom asked. The trip was an anniversary one and had been his very own idea. “A significant anniversary deserves a significant marking,” he’d said.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. People didn’t do that in the Fairchilds’ neighborhood back home; they did in Rome.
“Very—and very hungry.”
“The hotel’s not far, so why don’t we check in and then eat? The rooms won’t be ready this early, but we can leave the bags.”
“Okay, but let me get one of these little tarts first,” Faith said. They were passing a bakery, the Forno Campo De’ Fiori smack on the square, and she had her eye on what looked like some kind of crostate oozing with apricots that was seductively displayed with other pastries, pizza, and panini in the window.
Tom decided he needed one, too, and several pignolistudded almond cookies. Munching contentedly, they were soon making their way across the market to the street leading to the hotel. As Faith passed the monk’s statue, the morning sun cast his shadow in their path and, feeling superstitious, she pulled Tom to the side to avoid walking through it. Kind of a “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” thing she told herself. She also told herself “better safe than sorry.” Nothing was going to spoil this trip.
She adored her two children: Ben, despite his occasional irritating teen attitude—had she and her younger sister, Hope, similarly known absolutely everything in the world at that age?—and Amy, feet still planted firmly in childhood with a passion for Harry Potter. Yes, Faith could honestly say that most of the time she not only loved her children but liked being with them. That said, she was joyfully anticipating the almost two weeks stretching out before her sans the crises that made up her everyday life: a science project due tomorrow and not started; a mean girl spreading rumors that Amy had B.O.; and every Sunday morning the mad dash to get the Reverend Thomas Fairchild in a clean collar and matching black socks—well sometimes one was navy blue. When Faith had mentioned the possibility of the trip to her closest friend and next-door neighbor, Pix Miller, Pix had immediately offered herself and husband, Sam, as in loco parentis not just in spirit but in fact. Empty nesters, they would simply move next door for the duration. “It will be fun,” she’d said. “And good practice for grandparenthood.” Pix was a bit older than Faith and like Virgil guiding Dante had steered her through the perilous shoals of everything from toilet training to how to get the teacher you wanted at Aleford Elementary.
After the Millers’ offer, the rest of the plans fell into place with surprising ease. Faith’s assistant, Niki Constantine, was more than capable of running things at Have Faith for the duration with the help of Trisha Phelan, one of the firm’s part-time workers. Niki was a new mom and had been bringing the baby to work with her, which would continue until, she told her boss, “The little darling learns to walk and becomes a nuisance.” Since she spent every waking minute of the tiny girl’s life cuddling her adoringly, Faith doubted Niki would regard Sofia as a “nuisance” even when the baby became ambulatory. Of course things could change once she hit her teens.
And so Tom and Faith would eat, drink, and be merry. Just the two of them, the way they had begun all those years ago.
Meeting at a wedding reception Have Faith was catering at the Riverside Church on New York’s Upper West Side, what Faith did not realize until the wee small hours of that fateful night was that the handsome friend of the groom had come to town from Massachusetts to perform the ceremony, changing out of his robes immediately afterward. Earlier in the evening, Tom Fairchild had literally swept her off her feet: one dance as the party was winding down, one song—Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love”—and one ride across Central Park in one of those horse-drawn carriages she’d previously thought strictly for tourists, never realizing how impossibly, absurdly romantic they were. When Tom had revealed his occupation, surprised that she hadn’t known, it was too late. She was hooked.
Daughters and granddaughters of men of the cloth, Faith and Hope, a year younger, had made a pact to avoid that particular fabric, knowing the kind of fishbowl existence it meant. Years earlier their mother, Jane Lennox, a Manhattan native, had put her well-shod foot down, insisting that her fiancé, the Reverend Lawrence Sibley, could tend to a congregation in her hometown as well as any other place. Sin was not dependent on locale. Well, perhaps in some cases, but she had been firm, and he accepted the call to a parish on the city’s Upper East Side. Jane, a real estate lawyer, found them a bargain duplex when their daughters were born. Not exactly a moss-covered drafty old manse with inadequate hot water, but the Sibley girls had still had to grow up under a congregation’s omnipresent eye—“Are those girls old enough for that kind of makeup?” and “Did you hear about the way the Sibley girls danced at the Young People’s last get-together?” Hope’s occupation—she’d gone straight from Sesame Street to Wall Street with her own subscription to the Journal before she turned ten-—met with general approval, Faith’s years in the wilderness trying to figure out what and who she wanted to be less so. Even when she did finally find her true calling, the parish was puzzled. “A cook?”
Not until raves started appearing in the Times and elsewhere did they wake up and smell the coffee—coffee it was exceedingly hard to get booked.
Tom was consulting the map. Rome was new to him, too. They’d been to Northern Italy during their honeymoon, but no farther south than Siena.
“We came down Vicolo del Gallo, so this is definitely the Piazza Farnese. The hotel should be on that street over to the side there.” He pointed.
“More like an alley,” Faith said, hoping it would be quiet. The piazza was almost empty, especially compared to the neighboring market square. She knew from the hotel’s online information that the imposing building across from them was the Palazzo Farnese, built during the Renaissance. For many years it had been home to the French embassy. A French flag and the flag of the European Union hung above the wide main entrance. Two ornate fountains that looked like huge bathtubs occupied opposite ends of the large cobbled square.
Another thing to check out in the guide, Faith said to herself. There had to be a story behind them. She’d had every intention of reading up on Roman history and the major sights but, in the end, skimmed the introductions in several books and told herself that this way she’d be coming to everything fresh. She’d memorized a few key phrases that would take her far: “Quanto costa?” and “Vorrei mangiare.” “How much?” and “I want to eat something.” She wouldn’t need Berlitz for deciphering a menu. Faith’s food linguistic skills spanned all nations.
Her plan was to wander, eat, and wander some more. Emilio Bizzi, an old friend originally from Italy who lived near Aleford, where Tom’s church, First Parish, was, had given them his Late Renaissance, Early Baroque suggestions, a tour the Fairchilds were already calling “The Caravaggio, Bernini, Borromini Trail.” It would be fun to follow it all over the city, giving them a focus for the three days they had for this part of the trip. She wasn’t going to miss the Colosseum, though. Or the Spanish Steps. Or the Trevi Fountain. Or . . . they’d just have to come back.
“Come on, there’s the hotel,” Faith urged Tom, picking up her speed. “We can eat our lunch by the Bernini fountain in the Piazza Navona across from Borromini’s church and then find the nearest Caravaggio. Three birds in one fell swoop.”
A breeze off the river was blowing her thick honey-colored hair across her face. She pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head to keep her locks in place and get a better sense of where she was. From the street, the hotel looked like the ancient monastery it once had been. The Fairchilds paused a moment to take it all in. The outer front door, which had been pulled back, was painted deep blue; its thickness suggested a fortress more than a place dedicated to worship. Large stone urns overflowing with scarlet geraniums flanked the inner door, which led into the lobby. Definitely not Motel 6, Faith thought, or any other U.S. chain. If this lovely space had been stamped out by a cookie cutter, she wanted one for her own batterie de cuisine—someone had exquisite taste. As she moved toward the desk across the gray-and-white marble tiles, she thought about the silent feet of the monks that must have trod here as well and realized that following all sorts of footsteps was going to be one of their greatest pleasures this trip—from the Etruscans to the Romans to Renaissance princes and Baroque beauties with a glance ahead at all those Daisy Millers on the Grand Tour of Europe. Perhaps ending up with Fellini and La Dolce Vita?
“Buon giorno, may I help you?” a pleasant-looking man asked from behind the desk. “Are you checking in?”
What about us shouts American? Faith wondered to herself. It used to be you could tell someone’s nationality from his or her shoes. Then she realized that the name of the U.S. airline was easy to see on their luggage tags and English was more than a good guess.
“Buon giorno,” Tom said. Faith was proud of his accent, especially since he knew less Italian than she did. “We’re the Fairchilds.”
The man virtually leaped around the counter, hand outstretched to grab Tom’s. “Francesca’s friends! I am Paolo! Anything I can do, you must just ask. Francesca and I are from the same village,” he added as he shook Faith’s hand heartily as well. Those magic words: “From the same village,” “Same hometown,” “Went to school together.” Shared space, the international Open Sesame. Faith had known that Francesca, one of the main reasons they had selected Italy as their anniversary destination, knew someone at the hotel. It was why they had booked it, but it was a stroke of luck to meet Paolo the minute they walked in.
Francesca Rossi had been eighteen when she came to New York City with a carefully guarded secret and plan. She was on a student visa and started working for Have Faith when Faith’s assistant Josie Wells went to open her own restaurant, now a legend, in Richmond, Virginia. Francesca grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother in Tuscany, and Faith had been happy to have the young woman on her staff that tumultuous spring just before Faith’s marriage to Tom. It hadn’t been long before she realized that Francesca was keeping more than her nona’s ragu recipe from her. In the weeks that followed, employer and employee bonded on the quest to right an ancient wrong, its roots in post–World War II Italy. Francesca went back home, and the Fairchilds had a joyous visit with her and her family on their honeymoon soon after. The newlyweds had been feted by what seemed like the entire population of the town, high in the mountains outside Florence.
A few years later Francesca herself settled down, marrying Gianni Rossi, a very distant cousin who managed the family vineyard and olive groves. Children and plain old life kept Faith and Francesca from seeing each other in person—the Rossis never made the oft-promised visit to the States, and the Fairchilds didn’t get back to Italy—but the two women had stayed in close touch.
Besides wanting to see Francesca and her family, the Fairchilds were in Italy as gourmet guinea pigs. Francesca had been giving small group and individual cooking lessons for years, relying on word of mouth to promote herself. Now she and her husband had set themselves up as a full-fledged culinary school offering weeklong classes that included accommodations, trips to local markets, and other excursions. Francesca had called Faith, begging her to come for the first session to help work out any kinks that might arise.
When she mentioned the call to Tom, Faith had been extremely surprised when he suggested they make Francesca’s venture the destination for an anniversary trip. Tom’s culinary expertise extended to grilled cheese sandwiches, opening a can of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup, and his tour de force: pouring boiling water through a small strainer filled with his favorite Irish Breakfast tea leaves. He was also very good at ordering pizza from Aleford’s Country Pizza, extra sauce, extra cheese, no anchovies. Faith had explained he might encounter an anchovy or possibly something else overly pungent or unfamiliar—she was thinking lardo, that savory cured pork fat, which looked like what it was, but Tom had dismissed her admittedly halfhearted misgivings—she really wanted to go—and said he’d try anything. Plus, he’d always wanted to learn to make pasta from scratch. Who knew? The school was in the middle of a vineyard, which might have had something to do with his enthusiasm, but Faith accepted Tom’s newfound interest for whatever it was and mentally started packing.
“Normally the rooms are not ready yet, but I will check. I think yours might be,” Paolo said, going back behind the desk. He picked up the phone and soon turned to them smiling even more broadly, if that was possible.
“I think you will like this one, but do not hesitate to tell me if you want another or need anything. I will show you the elevator,” he said, handing them a large key attached to a heavy length of brass elaborately embossed with the name of the hotel.
As he led the way through a pleasant sitting area and a small bar, he said, “I know you are here for this new project of Francesca and Gianni’s, the cooking school. Some of the other people taking the course are staying here, too. A few arrived like you today, some have been here all week. Tutti è molto simpatico.”
Faith was happy to hear this, although Paolo had already struck her as someone who always looked at the glass as half full and would declare most people molto simpatico. She wanted to keep these precious days in Rome to themselves, however, and did not intend to try to track down and assess their fellow students. Time enough when they would be rubbing elbows with them in the Rossis’ cucina.
Paolo ushered the Fairchilds into the tiny elevator and they went up to the third floor, locating their room at the end of a curved hallway. Room 309 was spacious with a high ceiling, soft, pale-green damask-patterned wallpaper, and heavy darker green and gold silk curtains, which Faith immediately pulled all the way back from the tall windows, flooding the space with the late morning light.
“Look, Tom, palm trees!” she cried.
He came over by her side. “Mediterranean, not Floridian, but tropical nonetheless.” He kissed her lightly as he said, “I love that it takes only a couple of palm trees to make you happy. And to think my sister told me after she met you at the shower that you were going to be ‘very high maintenance.’ ”
He kissed her harder, pulling her away from the window. Even as she felt her body responding, Faith spared a fleeting thought for her sister-in-law, who had tried so hard to marry her brother off to someone of her choosing. Tom had never mentioned the “high maintenance” comment before, but it came as no surprise and was
the least of Betsey’s almost lethal endeavor.
“Nice-looking bed. Good size,” Tom was murmuring.
Faith recalled the hotel’s description of their double rooms. “A letto matrimoniale.”
Tom was already pulling down the spread.
“An apt, very apt, term, don’t you think, Mrs. Fairchild?”
“So long as we don’t fall asleep. Everyone says the way to get over jet lag is to stay up as late as possible and get on the local time.”
“Oh, I have no intention of falling asleep,” Tom said. “And unless I miss my guess, you don’t either.”
And then there weren’t any more words.
Afterward Tom did fall asleep. He suddenly went from wide awake to deep slumber, and Faith didn’t have the heart to disturb him. She lay on her side, looking at him. He hadn’t changed much since their chance meeting at the catering job she’d blessed ever since. The laugh lines around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes were more defined, as were the ones on his forehead—the ones that didn’t come from laughing. There was a bit more salt in his rusty brown hair, but he was as lean as ever, despite being what her aunt Chat called upon meeting him, “a big, hungry boy.” During the early days of their marriage, Faith had been astounded at how fast milk and other staples of Tom’s diet ran out. Now she had two of these boys; Ben had inherited both his Dad’s metabolism and food preferences.
She slipped from between the sheets and got dressed. One of the things Faith had also noted from the hotel’s Web site was its rooftop terrace. She left a note about her whereabouts on her pillow, grabbed the key, guidebook, the small travel journal her sister had given her, and a bottle of water before tiptoeing out the door. A silent exit wasn’t necessary, as her husband routinely slept through major thunderstorms and only awoke if one of the children or Faith sneezed, but she felt it was more dramatic—and Rome was drama personified, or whatever the term was for places. As she climbed the stairs across from the elevator, assuming they would lead to the terrace, she thought of all those Hollywood extravaganzas—Ben Hur, Spartacus, and Cleopatra (where there was as much drama onscreen as off). They might be cheesy, but they were fun to watch.
The rooftop terrace was not a terrace but a roof, an extremely large one surrounded by a low wall and iron railings. It was the top of not only the former monastery but also of the buildings immediately adjacent, creating a flat open space that extended almost back to the Piazza Farnese. Faith leaned over the railing and peered down to the narrow street. She could see some children kicking a ball around one of the fountains and the corner of the newsstand next to a caffè. Two priests were strolling slowly toward the piazza; their long, dark, welltailored robes seemed a cut above the similar garb she’d noted on American priests. Cassocks by Armani?
The rooftop area that belonged to the hotel had been outfitted with several small tables and chairs. They would have been at home in a garden—whitepainted ornamental cast iron and, like the hotel keys, not going anywhere.
Planters overflowed with several kinds of geraniums, ivy, and bright ruffled petunias. She smelled jasmine and located a wall of it screening a small canvas swing for two. The perfect spot to toast their arrival once Tom woke up, Faith thought. They might be able to pick up a bottle of something at the small grocery store they’d passed near the Campo de’ Fiori.
She went over to the opposite side of the roof and looked down at her palm trees. Someone had placed large terracotta pots of small lemon and orange trees in a row in front of the wall as an additional barrier. The nearby elevator shaft had been disguised by a trompe l’oeil espaliered orchard with small birds. The fresco was faded and peeling, which, for Faith, added to its charm. She walked to the far end of the roof.
It was impossible to sit still when there was so much to see—domes and steeples piercing the Della Robbia blue sky; a glimpse of the Tiber; the large formal garden that belonged to the French embassy; balconies, some strung with wash, all with pots of flowers; and open windows revealing someone reading at a desk, a small kitchen with just a hand stirring a pot visible, and a cat asleep in the middle of a sundappled bed. Seagulls circling overhead made her think of their cottage on the coast of Maine, but these cries were different. Laughing gulls with Italian accents? There were no additional barriers here aside from the railings, broken in spots, and she drew back hastily.
Returning to the table where she had left her things, she drank some water. It was a warm day, not hot. Perfect weather. Perfect setting. She heard the door from the stairs open and turned, expecting to see Tom, but it was another man, who immediately said “Buon giorno” and lifted the Panama hat he was wearing. He was carrying two books and after Faith returned the greeting, he walked toward the jasminesheltered swing. Passing her table, he paused and picked up her guidebook.
“British or American?” he asked.
“American. And yes, I’ve never been to Rome before.”
He laughed. “Then please allow me to give you an essential piece of advice, admittedly cribbed from E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, and urge you to emancipate yourself from your Baedeker or whatever you have purchased as its modernday equivalent.”
“That would not be difficult, as I have not yet had time to read any of it, but surely I will need it to know what things are,” Faith said, feeling as if she had stepped into a Forster or James novel and only just preventing herself from adding, “kind sir,” to her remark. For that she would have needed a hat herself, or parasol. His British accent, more reminiscent of Sir Alec Guinness than Sir Mick, intensified the notion.
“You already have everything you need in order to ascertain the true nature of things.” Her new friend, for she instantly hoped he would become one, pointed to his eyes, ears, mouth, and head.
“May I?” He indicated the empty seat across from her.
“Please,” she said, wishing she had more than a bottle of water. The scene called for vino and small plates of antipasti. As he sat down, she asked, “Is a map permitted?”
He raised his hands in mock horror. “Worse than a guidebook! The point of travel is to get lost. But perhaps you are one of those travelers who needs to be able to tell one’s friends that one ‘did’ the Borghese, the Sistine Chapel, and so on.”
“No, we’re not like that. We do have a bit of a plan—a friend gave a suggestion. We call it the Caravaggio, Bernini, Borromini Trail. We thought we’d wander from one artist to the other.”
“I thought you seemed like a sensible woman. I can always tell. A focal point is different from a checklist, as you surely know.”
He leaned back in the chair and stretched his long legs out. He was wearing light tan trousers and a well-pressed white linen shirt. His feet, however, were incongruously clad in dusty brown suede desert boots.
He followed her glance. “I walk a great deal—and it’s also an affectation. Like the hat. My name, by the way, is Frederick Ives and I am called ‘Freddy.’ I also have a ridiculous middle name, which I will reveal upon closer acquaintance, one I am positive will ensue. Now tell me who you are, literally. Not simply your name—a good place to start—but tell me all. You said ‘we,’ so you are not a solo traveler and I am quite, quite sure you are not with some sort of ghastly American tour group. Since you are wearing a wedding band I assume a husband is somewhere about, more’s the pity. Although you could be a divorcée wearing a ring to stave off unwanted attention, inevitable with such beautiful eyes, or sadly a widow, but I don’t often have that kind of luck.”
In Rome for only a few hours and here she was, already dallying in a pleasant, harmless flirtation! Faith had pictured exchanging a meaningful glance with one or more handsome signors, but with native speakers the kind of wordplay she was engaged in at the moment would have been far beyond her linguistic skills. To have such luck a few hours off the plane! And Frederick—“Freddy”—Ives was not unattractive. Not at all. An older man. She guessed he was in his late forties. She studied him more carefully.
Freddy’s hat was covering his hair and what she could see was fair, hard to determine whether any of the threads were silver, or missing. His initial, courtly gesture had not provided more than a second’s glance at what lay beneath. His boots had obviously taken him into sunny climes, as his face and arms were deeply tanned, making his blue eyes quite startling. Why was it that some men grew even more attractive with age, while women were fighting a good fight, eventually surrendering to the inevitable—comfortable shoes and Not Your Daughter’s Jeans?
Faith took a breath and fervently wished she could change the water into wine to suit the mood, but that was not her department. How to tell all? Where to start? She followed his suggestion. “My name is Faith Fairchild—”
“I’m so glad,” he interrupted. “It’s perfect for a heroine. I was trembling with fear that it might be ‘Mabel’ or ‘Maude.’ No, I take that back. I like ‘Maude,’ just not for you. Go on.”
Somewhat nonplussed, Faith plunged back into the conversation, giving Freddy the Cliffs-Notes version of her life so far, which seemed to delight him, and he further interrupted only twice to comment on how extremely unlikely it was that she should be a cook—“One thinks of Mrs. Beeton”—and also a minister’s wife—“too Trollope.”
Faith was enjoying herself very much. All these literary allusions. As an English major she’d pictured herself married to someone who would read what she read and they’d sit sipping sherry in front of the fire, discussing books while little Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice) and little Nicholas (The Great Gatsby and Nickleby) slept in their wee trundles overhead. Thank goodness she had met Tom instead, and while they shared some of the same tastes in reading, they had totally avoided tweeness.
Still it had its attractions. Just as she was about to ask Freddy for his own vita, the door from the hotel opened and this time it was Tom, followed by a member of the hotel staff bearing a tray with a bottle of Prosecco in an ice bucket and several little bowls with olives, nuts, and some sort of Italian Chex Mix equivalent. Faith jumped up and hugged her husband in delight.
“Ah, the bridegroom cometh,” Freddy said, standing also.
“Tom, this is Frederick Ives. Freddy, this is my husband, Tom Fairchild.”
“I think we need another glass if you would, Antonio,” Tom said, putting his hand out to greet his wife’s new companion, who immediately shook it heartily, saying, “I would not dream of intruding. You are obviously a man of exquisite sensibilities, and priorities. I envy you this moment in your maiden Roman Holiday. First times are rare in life.”
Tom laughed. “That’s exactly how I feel. La dolce vita.” The men exchanged looks, and it was Faith’s turn to laugh. Schoolboys, both of them.
Freddy picked up the books he hadn’t opened. One was a small notebook; the other was a copy of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.
“I would be honored if you would be my guests for dinner tonight at an hostaria not far from here. I selfishly want to watch your enchanting wife’s face as she tastes their carciofi alla giudia and your nice one, too, Reverend Tom, when you drink the golden Frascati from my friend, the owner’s, private source in the Alban Hills.” He paused and then added in a surprisingly intense voice, “I don’t know when I will be in Rome again, and I won’t be here long this time.”
The Fairchilds accepted his invitation. Nine o’clock at Hostaria Giggetto on the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. Their host would meet them there.
Antonio was opening the door for Freddy when Faith realized she had an unanswered question.
“But what do you do? You never said.”
“Oh, I write guidebooks. Ciao.”
Copyright ©2013 Katherine Hall Page
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Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” She has also been a nominee for the Edgar Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband.