Katie stretched luxuriously on the huge double bed, and gazed around the room. She couln't believe her luck to have landed in such a fantastic place. She slid down from the high, antique bed and opened the doors to the balcony. The night air was cool and smelled of the sea, and she could see the lights of the fishing boats as they left the harbour for the night's fishing. In the morning, she thought, I'm going to get up early and go for a walk along the beach.
Santa Neradia was a tiny fishing village at the very end of the Italian Riviera. A few miles up the coast and she'd have to pay three times the price that was being asked for this beautiful little apartment. She certainly hadn't expected her student's allowance to stretch far enough for anything as nice as this -- two huge rooms: a bedroom and a sitting room, both with large windows overlooking the street and the beach beyond it, with its pelicans and seagulls. She stepped back into the bedroom and admired its anatique furnishings. The Pensione Santa Neradia had all the flavour and atmosphere of the quaint fishing village from which it took its name. From the high ceilings, and heavy mahogany furniture, to the simple wooden cross on the lime-washed wall, it was all just as she imagined it would be, including the handsome desk clerk who spoke beautiful English with a romantic accent. Earlier in the day Katie's first glimpse of the village had filled her with delight. Pink stucco houses clung to the hillsides, seemingly in the mosst precarious positions. Every window held a window-box, and most balconies boasted a stone urn. Every part of the scene was joyful with a profusion of flowers. Lush vines crept around doorways and trellises and spilled over in charming trails of colour. Just like the travel posters, thought Katie.
She wandered into the sitting room and admired the neat little scrittoria with its supply of rubber-stamped stationery. I'll have to make time to write to Mum and Dad, she told herself. Tomorrow will be soon enough, and with that thought she turned out the lights in both rooms and climbed into bed, snuggling down with a contented sigh on the cloud-soft feather mattress. This was shaping up to be a great holiday.
She opened her eyes next morning to a rectangle of indigo sky with one lone star blinking near the corner. She lay still, watching the sky gradually grow pearly. Her bedside clock displayed 6.00 am. She swung herself over the side of the bed and padded across the floor to the door of the next room. She stopped short. The door was partly open, and she hesitated for only a moment. She must be mistaken. She must have just thought she closed it last night. After all, there was no real reason to close it . . . it was just her habit. She opened the door and was about to enter the room when she saw the man sprawled on the sofa. He appeared to be sound asleep. A mistake! was Katie's first thought. He's come into the wrong room by mistake. Then she saw the gun in his hand, the several days growth of beard on his face, and the blood on his shirt -- a lot of blood: it seemed to be still oozing from a wound. She could see the gleam of wetness in the morning light. She closed the door softly, and stood motionless in the same spot. It was hard to think. Try as she might to remain calm, fear was rising, and was soon clawing relentlessly at her throat. She shivered. What to do? She glanced at the telephone beside her bed. No, he might hear her. If he caught her trying to make a call he might kill her. What was on his mind anyway? Robbery? Rape? Murder? Then why had he waited? She thought of the few valuables she had brought to Santa Neradia -- her camera, a few pieces of jewellery, her travelleers' cheques -- would these items satisfy him? She looked once more towards the telephone, but again dismissed the thought. Perhaps she could creep past him while he was still asleep, and make her escape that way. But then she remembered her difficulty last night with the lock. It would make such a scraping and grating it would be sure to wake him beore she could get the door open. Again she looked at the telephone. If I don't call for help, he might kill me anyway.
She crept to the balcony, opened the doors and stepped outside. Not a soul was in sight on the street below. The fishing boats were returning but were still far out in the bay. She leant out through the geraniums . . . no way out there . . . too far down to jump, and nothing to cling to. Fear was tightening around her throat, and yet she seemed to move independently of it, as though she was a mere observer: surprised at the calm way she was analysing the situation. She moved back into the bedroom and picked up the telephone. It was quite close to the balcony and the cord was long. If she could take it outside, perhaps he wouldn't hear her.
The next ten minutes were an agony for her. "Pronto," said the operator in a sleepy voice.
"Give me the police," whispered Katie.
"Scusa?" said the operator.
"Non posso lei sentire!"
Katie spoke as loudly as she dared. "Give me the police!"
"Scusa, non capisco!" Katie was getting desperate. She forced herself to be calm and try to remember some of the Italian words she'd learned before she left home. Police -- Polizia. "Give me the Polizia!"
"Polizia -- si, si, uno momento."
Katie waited, holding her breath: every nerve straining to catch any sound that might come from the other room. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of waiting, she heard the hum and click as the operator connected her call.
"Hello, do you speak English?"
"Si Signorina, I understand you."
"There is a man in my apartment who should not be here."
"Why did you let him in, Signorina?"
"I didn't! He got in somehow whilel I was asleep. He has a gun!"
"A gun -- are you sure?"
"Yes I'm sure. Please, I'm very frightened. Can you please come quickly?" She gave the address and replaced the telephone. The silence of the room now was such a contrast to the sound of her voice, that she was sure he must have heard her. Silently she eased open the door to the sitting room. He was still asleep. She closed the door.
She went once more to the balcony. The sun had risen and was gilding the railings and making little halos around the dewy geraniums. Katie shivered again and this time she realized she was still wearing only her thin nightie. She donned her robe and went again onto the balcony to wait for the police to arrive. Ten minutes passed. It seemed like ten hours. She kept looking from one end of the street to the other, willing them to come. After twenty minutes of Katie's agonized impatience they came. Two motorcycles roared down the street, raising clouds of dust, and coming to a screaming halt right in front of the Pensione. Katie could not believe the stupidity. She held up her arms to them and put her finger across her lips in mute request, but they didn't seem to notice. Instead, they began shouting to her in Italian. She couldn't respond -- even if she had understood.
She stepped backwards, hoping that if she was out of sight they would stop shouting. She leaned back against the cold glass of the balcony door, her heart pounding. She could still hear them. What on earth were they doing? She eased forward till she could peer through the foliage. Oh no! They were arguing with one another. She began to panic. Any moment now the man in the next room would wake up. What would he do to her? She darted to the bed and climbed in. Perhaps if he thought she was asleep he wouldn't know it was she who'd called the police. She lay in the bed shivering, her eyes tightly closed. She heard a sound . . . it sounded like a sob. She opened her eyes to see the large man with the gun standing by the bed, and there were tears streaming down his face. Katie lay staring up at him, afraid to move, wondering, why doesn't he hit me? Why doesn't he say something? And all the while the man just stood there, the gun held limply at his side, and the tears making dark splashes on his dusty shoes. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity to Katie, the police opened the outer door with the key they'd been given at the front desk. The man was arrested and taken away.
Later, in the lobby with the desk clerk, Katie said, "It all seemed like an anti-climax. There was no fuss, no struggle; he just went quietly without fiving evan a hint as to why he was in my room."
"As soon as the police saw him, they knew why he was in your room," said the desk clerk. "That man is well-known to the police. He is Domenico Andaglio, and he's been on the run ever since he killed his pregnant wife. In fact," he consulted his register, "it was a year ago to this very day when he and his wife had been staying in that same apartment."
Katie was shocked. "But why did he kill his wife?"
"Who knows? An argument? A fit of jealousy? No-one knows why."
Upstairs once more Katie silently entered the bedroom. There was blood on the carpet beside the bed. Remembering her terrifying ordeal, she fancied she could still smell the blood and the sweat as when he'd stood over her. She sstepped out onto the balcony, with its bdright sunlight and profusion of flowers. The aromatic perfume of the Geraniums mingled with the fresh salty air. It all seemed rather incongruous now, as she thought of the tears, and the pain in the eyes of the man with the gun, and about the murdered young wife, and about the baby who had never had a chance to live. The fishermen worked with the night's catch and called happily to one another. Katie resented the way the world seemed to be going on as usual. Above her a small innocent-looking cloud drifted by, and the seagulls wheeled and dipped in the blue, blue sky of Santa Neradia.