They met again at the bar of the Villa Kazar. Due to the cheerless weather the fairground was closed and the music boomed inside the discotheque. Sergio still had a bandage around his left forearm, but was swinging it with considerable verve.

Tristano leaned against the metallic shimmering bar, watched him and caught winks from other guys which he ignored the best he could. He saw a group of boys, standing together as if they had got lost in a forest of sexual offers and adventures. Exactly the same as Tristano felt, except that his sex drive was over boarding. Tristano didn't recognize himself anymore. Sex had played a minor role in his life so far, and that, what he had gotten of it, wasn't exactly satisfying. He still gazed at the group of boys, clutching the bottles with Campari-Mix, dressed up like upper class hustlers, but not feeling comfortable about it. Frightened they eyed the display of tattooed flesh and muscles, naked upper bodies, shirts crammed into the pockets of too tight jeans, leaving no mistake about size and sometimes hardness.

Tristano hardly noticed when someone leant beside him against the bar, until a sexy voice said softly "Ciao, bello."

Tristano stared into large anthracite eyes that looked blankly at him.

"I thought you would call", Sergio said. "I did that for the first time in my life." He screwed up one eye. "Giving out my private phone number I mean. I thought the red-head had forgotten to give it to you."

"Huh? Why should I call you? To set a date? I don't think I need to pay for sex." Tristano turned his body to him. "You left without a word. Do you know how that feels?"

"What do you want? This here", Sergio embraced the whole discotheque with his healthy arm, " is just body watching or a meat market as I used to say. Built up muscles with pea brains. It's about who has the longest cock and who beats the record of eleven ejaculations a night."

"Only eleven? Who's the record holder, a seventy year old man?" Tristano mocked with a straight face.

Sergio looked nonplussed, then he laughed out loud. He turned to the bar tender. "Two glasses of wine, please."

"Wine?" Tristano asked, but was pleased. He liked wine more than anything.

"It's the Villa Kazar and not any filthy pub", Sergio said. Tristano was glad that he wasn't pissed at him about the way he had accused him of being a call-boy.

Sergio clinked his glass with Tristano's. "You're lucky that I didn't take my reward from your wallet. Or do you have other treasures?" He grinned. "Don't pull such a face. I didn't want money because you're new to the scene." Sergio ran his fingers through Tristano's hair. A tender touch that Sergio stopped instantly. He looked around to see if anyone had caught him.

"Are you on duty then?" Tristano asked.

"On duty? I'm always on duty. It's my profession."

Tristano's look fell to Sergio's arm. "Were you seriously hurt?" he asked.

"It's all right. Just fractured." A whiff of seriousness scurried over his face. "That was completely shit. I hope they are all put into jail."

"Yeah", Tristano agreed, suddenly with a queasy feeling in his guts. What if it happened again? What if they weren't safe anymore? He hoped that Raniero had given all the names of the people involved.

Since there was playing a smooth melody, Sergio pulled Tristano by the front of his shirt to the dance floor and started to turn to the music, thigh to thigh and groin to groin, but still elegantly holding the wine glass in one hand. With the other he kneaded Tristano's arse. "You weren't anything like a rookie last night we met, bello", he cooed. "You've done it before, right? Have you met the policeman again?" Sergio's eyes were glowing. "I was pretty jealous, you know."

Tristano was taken aback and confused. Nonetheless he left himself to Sergio's guidance and the swaying of his hips. His well-stuffed package touched Tristano's from time to time. He thought it was all right to have a hard-on. But still he thought Sergio would not be able to develop feelings for someone who was just his fuck buddy. "What are you blabbering about? First you used me and threw me away like a discarded slipper and now you're jealous? Vito said that he had had you."

Sergio laughed, his head tucked in his neck. "You're right, mio bello. I can't afford feelings of any kind. Vito's a real sex bomb, by the way. Can I come to your place then?"

Tristano was shocked. "I don't have any money."

"Take it for free."


Sergio nibbled at his ear lobe. "For your innocence."

"What do you consider a sex bomb?" Tristano asked as Sergio was undressing him slowly near the aquarium that was the only source of light in the flat, except for the small lamp on his nightstand. But Sergio hadn't given him time to prepare anything. He was all over him like a soft blowing zephyr. "I thought you'd know. Haven't you fucked him?"

"He's on holiday. I've got only his phone number."

"What a pity", Sergio said indistinctly because he was sucking at Tristano's slip-covered cock, soaking the white fabric until it was translucent and Tristano's juice mingled with Sergio's saliva. "How... do you ... mean that?" Tristano panted with wobbling legs, protecting his back with the wardrobe.

"A pity for you..." Sergio muffled, sliding his palms over Tristano's thighs up into the slip, cupping his arse cheeks. "A sex bomb is somebody who can do it more often than eleven times a night." Now he pulled down the pants and swallowed the cock in one, slow-motion action.

"Can you?" Tristano's eyes were tightly closed and he withstood the urge to instantly squirt into Sergio's mouth. But he knew he couldn't hold on for long. The friction was exquisite, as was the warmth and the wetness. And Sergio was doing something with his hole; gyrating movements and a pressure that kept him moaning. It was too late - Sergio had to swallow his load and milked him like a farmer his cow until the last drop, finally licking the slit and sucking gingerly at the crown. "Have I told you that I love sex?" he said then, letting himself fall onto the carpet, pulling Tristano on top of him. "It's your turn. The first of eleven."

It had been a hot night, when Tristano came to his senses again. It wasn't anything like the night he had spent with Luca. That belonged to another life and to another quality of feelings. Sergio was pure sex, and only sex. And he didn't want to be paid - that was the best thing. When he awoke around 11 in the morning, he was alone again. But there was a letter on the night stand:

"Ciao bello,
Thanks for the night. Next time you'll break the record.

Was that a promise of a repeat or just the pure announcement that he would have sex with another? Why did he always have to vanish before he was awake? Why was there no breakfast together? Or a last cuddle?

Tristano stretched his body lazily and felt every muscle hurt, even those he hadn't any idea that they existed. Again the room smelled of male sex and the bedcovers smelled like him. He limped into the bathroom and turned on the hot water. He wished he had a tub to bath his crunched body, but so he had to made do with the stream of water, splashing upon his head, washing away all the smell and streaks and stains, only the hickeys he couldn't wash away.

The gloomy weather had made way for a brilliant late September summer's day when Tristano stepped upon the small balcony, overlooking the street. It was partially hidden by pine trees and allowed Tristano privacy. The block opposite was close. He had dressed in fresh pants and nothing else, and enjoyed the warmth of the low September sun. His cup of coffee in hand, he leaned against the rail. Of course he understood Sergio as what he was: a sex-maniac who had turned his hobby into profession so to speak. He had laid no claim to any kind of feelings, or commitments. It was just fun. Good. If Sergio never wanted money, Tristano could continue on until all eternity. At least until he was able to reach Vito. Is Vittorio his real name? he pondered. "The victorious", Tristano grinned to himself. Perhaps he would finally be the winner of his heart. It was about time he forgot about Luca. Despite the problems he had with Alessandro, he didn't seem to be determined to end his relationship, but hold on with a stamina very unusual for a guy his age. You could fall in love easily and each time with refreshed emotions, that was clear enough to Tristano. But was there more behind it? And what could that be? Anyway…. he was thrilled to see the development of the events. What would Alessandro decide? If Luca would still be on his side then. And if not…. Tristano looked into his empty coffee cup. Perhaps he could win his heart.

* * * * *

If Alessandro expected a Fury coming to visit him at the Lizard-tower, he was mistaken. Leoni was well-behaved, reluctant and deserved an Oscar for her performance as best actress in a B-movie. At least she had taken up his invitation - eagerly it seemed. She had refused the Ramazzotti-mix on the rocks, and gave the excuse of the pregnancy. Alessandro followed an urgent compulsion to laugh. As if the old Florentine families had ever followed any rules. It was quite the opposite: they wrote the rules. And now Leoni da Firenzuola would dance to his rules.

"Why can't we go upstairs to your room", Leoni whined, sitting uncomfortably on the kitchen chair. "You could light a fire, it's getting cool."

Alessandro shook his head. So that she would have it easier seducing him, eh? His blue eyes studied her coolly. She was dressed in a loose dress as if she had to hide a baby-belly. She looked so ridiculous and of course she had put on this masquerade for the people on the streets to see: Leoni was going to her groom, chaste and with downcast eyes. "Will you keep up this charade?" he asked relaxed, sipping at his drink. "We both know very well what you're playing. And for the good old days you should stop this and be honest with me." He bent forward. "There never was a dally between us, right? You can't be so stupid to make a guy think that he's fucked a girl without having any memory of it. This baby is not mine. Whose is it?"

Leoni's first reaction was to deny. Then her brain kicked in and her green eyes started to radiate. "All right, Alessandro Gondi. Let's end this stupid game. I had hoped that you would fall in love with me again. But tried as I could, you only have that Montori-boy on your mind. You've got it bad, right? Amazing and surprising at the same time. As far as I know you've never fallen in love. Well… whatever you do in the future, you'll never learn the name of the baby's father."

Alessandro allowed himself the tiniest of a relieved breath. "Fine with me. Keep your secrets to yourself. What is the deal with Arrigo exactly then? Are you in need of money? I've heard your father's business isn't working out very well." 'And he has almost squandered the inheritance in Monte Carlo's gambling dens', he added bitchily in his mind.

Leoni's face was covered with frantic blotches from one second to the next. "Who's told you that?", she hissed, but then give in. "OK. We are broke. But you've got all the money, all the Gondi's money, earned over five centuries." She looked him straight in the eyes. "You aren't alone with your arrogant behaviour, Alessandro Gondi. I want my share. Arrigo promised me."

Alessandro thought quickly about the consequences. It was about money, nothing else. Arrigo spat upon the continuation of his family name. The Gondi's would die out. Definitely. But the da Firenzuola's would live on.

"You know I've never wanted to marry", he started, emptying his glass. He poured another Ramazzotti over the remaining ice cubes and squeezed a slice of lemon into it. "So, what I'm going to do is strictly against my principles, against my concept of life and against my plans I have with Luca. Don't laugh", he said sharply and with eyes, so cold, Leoni shuddered. She knew this stare very well. Not without good reason had the Gondi's survived through all the centuries - until their ridiculous end at the start of the 21st century. After all, their last offspring would rescue the money. With her help. Even if it was just a fake.

"Why didn't you talk to me right from the start?" Alessandro asked. "Why this fairytale opera?"

"It was all Arrigo's idea", she defended herself. "He knows I want you. I've never stopped wanting you." She had found the strength to talk calmly and in a reasonable manner. But inwardly everything was screaming. "As long as there was a little chance you could voluntarily marry me, without the pressure of your father's will - I took it. The result might be … bad and I have to put up with it. So… is it a deal? The marriage can be held whenever you want."

Alessandro stared into the brown liquid in his glass. The ice cubes clinked softly and melted slowly away. Luca would know what a sacrifice he was making. A piece of paper, an exchange of rings and a newborn baby. That was all that was needed to become the richest man in town. Like in the ancient days. "Deal", he said aloud. "With a few conditions."

Leoni looked expectantly at him.

"Everything remains as it is. We both stay in Pisa, continuing our study. No one will get wind of it. When the baby's one year old we'll have an unfortunate divorce."

"But...! Alessandro! I'm not a back stairs-relation! Soon everyone will see about my condition, and what then?" She straightened her back. "No", she said decidedly. "I want to live in your villa at Fiesole until the baby's coming. Anastasia will be there for my help. D'accordo?"

Alessandro arched his brows. "All the better." She was out of the way and he could continue as if nothing had happened. Arrigo had to prepare the prior of the Dominican church that he was unfortunately losing all the pretty money because the heir had thought twice and had turned into a expectant young groom, caring for his wife.

Leoni and Alessandro measured each other with looks. They were equal, they knew.

As soon as Leoni had left the palazzo Alessandro made his way to his uncle's office where he sat bent over his books and controlled the proceeds of his Tuscan villa and the leather factory. His face was pinched when his nephew burst into his office, ignoring the secretary and throwing himself into the leather chair opposite. "Listen, zio", he started. His eyes weren't steady, but wandered everywhere, too troubled to fix his uncle gaze. "We've made a deal, Leoni and I. We'll marry at the soonest date. I'm going back to Pisa and she's staying at Fiesole. Mother won't mind, will she?" A brief sneer appeared upon his face. "She's staying there until the baby comes. It's your job to convince the monks that this baby is mine because it isn't. You could have spared yourself all of this filthy little drama. I'm not a boy you can't talk to, you know. We've always both been fond of clear details. Right?"

Arrigo smelled the alcohol. Apparently Alessandro had drunk more than he could take. "Congratulations, son. I had almost given up faith in Leoni's abilities. D'accordo, let's play open: Leoni was despairing because you didn't want to sleep with her. She gave you drugs, but that had the result that you weren't able to do anything. Instead of being horny you were sleeping like a log." He interrupted himself and grinned. "A pity for her." The grin vanished and his forefinger pierced the air. " But I said that you'll stay here with Leoni at Firenze and stop your study at Pisa. You might remember we considered that at the very start of this drama", he said sharply but Alessandro interrupted him. "No way, zio. This time you play by my rules. I'm the one setting the conditions. And I say, it's Pisa and my life with Luca Montori or you can forget about the money, capisce?"

Arrigo glared at him, black eyes brooding like a swampy hole. He chewed on his tongue, then he had to admit defeat. He slowly lifted his hands and grinned. "All right, all right. Whatever you want. Too bad the baby will only be a bastard. Not that anyone needs to know. Now let's get to the next part of our little deal. It will take me some effort to convince the doctors that the baby's yours, right? Remember, the lawyers of the monks aren't daft. Perhaps we can arrange a real baby for you and her. and the house of the Gondi's. Just as proof for the lawyers…. So, I guess it's only fair if let's say 25 percent of the inheritance goes on me?" He closed one eye and winked with the other.

"Whatever it takes." Alessandro rose and stretched out his hand. "Deal."

Arrigo shook his nephew's hand.

Alessandro went straight to the first bar, buying two bottles of Ramazzotti. He was determined to lock himself in and get drunk. He was pissed at himself; the coolness with which he had carried through all this was just a mask. At home, he ran upstairs to his room under the roof and threw himself in the wicker chair upon the open loggia. He opened the bottle and poured the brown liquid over some ice cubes.

Had he sold out his convictions? Was it immoral, especially towards Leoni? She had told him she would love him still, and wanted him back. That was certainly her problem, not his. She had given him enough for that matter. And what would happen if she lost the baby? Then they would have married in vain and all the money would be lost.

Desperately he swallowed the schnapps and cursed his father. How on earth had he come up with such a wacky idea? Could nobody stop it? Alessandro crowed. It was indeed absurd. The obstinate minds of the Gondi's was legendary. Not without reason had they held on in this town for so long. Even longer than anyone else, except Leoni's family and the Pucci's. And the Montori's naturally… Hadn't Luca told him once that his family had been wool weavers and dyers, delivering to the court of the Medici's and had received the family palazzo from the last Medici as thank for loyal service? Alessandro nodded to himself and poured his second glass.

But anyhow, he couldn't whitewash himself from the fact of having sold his future and his soul for money. But who - facing such a hard decision - would act differently? Even his sincere Luca had seen in the end that he too would succumb to the lure of the money - probably. On further consideration, Alessandro wasn't to lose anything since he still had his boyfriend AND would get the money in the end. He just had to care for Leoni. Anastasia and the villa in the hilly town of Fiesole was exactly the right place for a too thin, pregnant woman. He grinned. Well done, Alessandro. And poured out his third glass.

It was oppressively sultry on this September afternoon and not even up here was a tiny breeze blowing. Alessandro plucked his shirt from his body and sat only in his trousers. In a couple of days he had to say good bye to Florence and Luca. Arrigo had tried to force him to stay here and give up his study, but Arrigo had to realize in the end that this would be the most stupid thing that he could do. Nobody would buy it, that Alessandro married Leoni out of love if everyone saw him making out with Luca in public. On the other hand - Alessandro poured out his fourth glass - who seriously cared about someone playing on both teams. One would decide - in the end.

His mobile played a melody. Alessandro wanted to call Luca to tell him the news, but he didn't feel anything like having a meaningful talk. Nonetheless he answered with a slurring voice telling Luca that he should come over.

"You was right, gioia", Alessandro blabbered drunkenly. "Leoni had given me drugs. She hoped I would be horny as hell for her then, but the result was I got tired and my memory was erased. Pah". He laughed.

Luca had put him onto the sofa to lie down, and taken away the almost empty bottle of Ramazzotti. "Will you be a witness to my marriage? You promised me to support every decision I'd make, remember?" He hiccuped and his eyes fluttered.

Luca shook his head. So the inner swine had won, he thought sadly. For money Alessandro had sold all his arrogance, his pride and perhaps his love-life. Luca couldn't imagine how life would then be in reality, when Sandro had a wife and a baby to care for. That was the most strangest thing that he could envisage.

Alessandro snored softly. Luca sighed. He examined the room with his eyes, then he stepped up to the bookcase and peered through its glass doors. He pulled out some heavy volumes, telling of Florence's history, about the history of art. He even found Giorgio Vasari's Compendium of Italian artists and looked up the names of Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masolino and Masaccio, skimming through their curriculum vitae. Recently those names had become so familiar to him that he knew them almost like good friends. Therefore he pulled out Masolino's diary from the drawer, where Alessandro had put it in again. He hesitated, then he vanished downstairs to the kitchen and returned in the elevator with a cup of hot coffee to sit at the small table and absorbed himself again in a tale that had been told 575 years ago.

Budapest, Luglio 1429

"We were arguing about everything. Me and Tommaso and Giovanni - "Lo Scheggia". His "splinter" seduced me every night, so that I do not know anymore what is heads or tails. I could not resist. I had been corrupted to the inner core. How can someone like me - a decent, pious man, be so unstinting, so weak-willed so to succumb to his dirty needs? I could not find an answer. How could I ever find a way out of this sick, lewd relationship? Dear God, forgive me, I've visited brothels that exist only for that purpose and might be able to guide a fallen man to the right way back. I do not know. I had never felt the same - as there in Tommaso's arms. Never so alive, never so wanted. Never so full of fire. Rome is indeed a den of iniquity.

Tommaso's brother led us into special establishments where the man is pleased by a man And I swear to God Almighty that I have seen more than one time a red cardinal's robes sinking to the floor and catamites sucking lecherously at the centre of their old bodies... You see, I dare to call the things by their names. My feather pen trembles, but it trembles for avidity. More than one time I let myself be seduced by experienced men's hands; by mouths, promising Heaven rather than Hell. They were orgies to my eyes: Tommaso and me and Giovanni and countless men and nobody knew who was doing what with whom. I was drunk. I was blind. I was eternally hungry. I was...

I knew Giovanni wanted his brother for himself. I was always in his way. It was an unhealthy connection, obscene and incestuous.

In Rome we painted by day and at night we surrendered to the most unspeakable acts. The chapel of the Santa Catarina di Alessandria had been a commission of work for me, but of course Tommaso had followed me, leaving the unfinished Brancacci-chapel and Florence behind us. I had insisted it was either us both - for the public master and pupil - or neither of us and the priest of the church of San Clemente would have to look for another painter. I knew very well that there was no one like my Tommaso. 'Masaccio' - as they lovingly called him. To me they never referred to his big stature, but to the greatness of his enormous talent, and the development the Art of painting had made, thanks to him. I was not his master. I was his pupil. In every direction. But Tommaso and Giovanni were made from the same stuff. Fiery, merciless, extreme, all consuming, ruthless and infinite ... I have no word for it. Free perhaps. No, this is not the word. They were filled with desire I could not ease. I was the buffer between both. And one day I knew I would be only in their way.

It had been raining for a week and the chapel was damp and cold. We had a constant fire on to dry the daily task of freschi we had worked on. Giovanni came to bring food and wine to celebrate Tommaso's birthday. It was the twenty-first of December and we could hear the Cloaca Maxima gargling next to the chapel's walls - the great drainpipe built by the ancient Romans that gathered and carried all the dirt and excrement and rats and threw it into the soft-flowing Tiber. By this weeks rain the river had gained an unknown depth and strength and was threatening the lower banks where the poor had settled in their wooden, crooked houses, where the mud never dried and each summer malaria diminished the count of wrecked people. The popes never cared what happened to the former dazzling field of Mars - the military build up place for Rome's troops. Today they enthroned in their new palace at the Quirinale, guarded by nothing except the fickle goodwill of Rome's inhabitants. Emperor Nero said "The best protection is the love of my folk". Phoney. Poor, misguided fool.

I watched Giovanni's hand sneaking under Tommaso's painter's coat I knew Tommaso was naked underneath, and saw the unmistakable movements I used to know so well; I had been witness to it too many times. Giovanni looked directly into my eyes, with his sneering, derisive expression, as if to lure me and keep me apart, he certainly wanted his brother for himself. I had drank the pure wine. Together with the fire's heat it was going to my head, and my blood started to boil in my veins. It was not anything like the heat of a forbidden desire - it was wrath. Despair. I saw Tommaso resting his arms on the walls - the holy walls, we had covered with the deeds of Santa Catharina, pushing out his buttocks. Giovanni hid the view of it partly with his body and his unmistakable, ancient sexual movements. Again he turned his head to look for me. Inviting eyes. "You can take me from behind" he said.

The rush in my ears was deafening, until I realized it was not in my ears but in reality. The Cloaca Maxima. Water streamed in breathtaking speed through the canal, bringing sand and tree branches, washing away the stone. The ground staggered.

In a last despairing movement I jumped upon Giovanni. With a soundless cry my hands found his neck. I wanted to murder him. Tommaso was mine! My pupil. My teacher. And then "

Luca forgot the cup in his hand. Again he was so involved that he had forgotten time and place, but as he turned the page there was nothing, just the little patches on the left side of the glue binding, that told him that the diary had finished brutally, abruptly by the ripping out of the pages. He startled when his mobile rang and a good splash of his coffee spilled over the open book, on its last page, soaking the ancient leather binding with its nasty grey-brown colour. Luca cried out loud, dropped the cup and ran with the book into the bathroom where he hastily grabbed a towel to wipe off the coffee. Too late. It had eaten deeply into the old, brittle paper. The leather binding loosened and fell partly off from the wooden book cover. He pressed the towel upon the scarred, well thumbed leather and dabbed the pages that tore under his movements. Luca cursed. Masolino's handwriting started to vanish in front of Luca's eyes. Mad with despair he opened the cupboards and pulled out the fan. He switched it on and waved the warm air stream over the paper, that got instantly curled , but dried Masolino's letters. Completely devastated Luca sank upon the toilet lid. He had to find a bookbinder and instantly before Sandro would get wind of it!

He sneaked back to look at Alessandro, who snored happily. He would have a fit if he saw what Luca had done to his biggest treasure. Completely bewildered he sorted his thoughts. First he had to hide the book. No, first he had to let it dry as best as he could, then he needed a book binder to repair the soaked and torn leather, and perhaps a paper expert to care for the diary as a whole. His father came to his mind. No, out of the question. Rosso's uncle had a leather-shop. He didn't do books, but at least he had knowledge about the material. Yes.

Thirdly he had to convince Alessandro that everything was in order. He removed the towel he had wrapped around the book and saw the soaked, old, tattered and well-thumbed binding, half falling off the book. He sighed. As best as he could he hid it in the drawer half covered by Sandro's stuff. He tiptoed to the sofa and shook Sandro's shoulder. "Do you want something to eat?" he asked him. Alessandro woke up with a jolt, then he moaned.

"Geez, my head."

Luca nodded. "You have to tell me the story. I'm waiting. Instead of that, you got tanked up."

Alessandro looked surprised. "That's a new tone." He sat upright and held his head. Then everything flooded back. The blood and the memories. And still the task to tell Luca the truth. His gaze fell upon the parquet and the scattered cup. "What have you done here? Were you trying to wake me up?"

Luca hid his blush by bending down and picking up the shards. Holy shit. The brown liquid had soaked itself into the wood. Today wasn't his day, he thought quivering, but managed to clean up the shards dumping them in the bathroom's trash bin. "Sorry about that." He remembered all of a sudden the cause of the drama and pulled out his mobile. Rosso's number appeared. Good. The right man at the right time. "Water?" he asked, pulling a bottle from the little fridge in the corner.

Thankful Alessandro opened it and drank thirstily.

"I assume you had plenty reason to get drunk", Luca said, and flashed his eyes at him. "Before you started to snore you told me Leoni had given you drugs and asked me if I'd be a witness to your marriage. Congratulations, by the way."

"Ouch", Alessandro said. "That was harsh." He looked sheepishly. "I deserve the reproach, don't I." He pulled Luca next to him upon the sofa. "I'm sorry, gioia. But you must listen to me now very carefully. Promise?"

Luca didn't want to. He was still shaking from the accident that had happened to him, and he sat on hot coals wanting to look for help for the book. But how could he do it when Sandro was here?

"I need the short version, Sandro, I need to see Rosso urgently."

"Oh, you prefer the redhead to me?" Alessandro asked him playfully, but Luca ignored it. He knew anyway what was to come.

"OK. You told me lately that you would support every decision of mine. Today I had a talk with Leoni and she dropped all of her masks. She told me though that she's still after me, but will agree to a marriage. First to give the baby a decent name, second because Zio Arrigo had promised her money when she got me to come around. Well, she did."

Luca's face was closed. Alessandro took his shoulders. "I'm doing it for us. You'll never be poor again."

"I'm not poor."

"Sure you are. Think of all the things we can do together. Travel the world! Eat caviar and drink champagne every day. You could have a car and a new leather suit for every day made by Emilio Pucci. All I need to do is to sign a paper. The rest Leoni has to care for. I hope she won't mess it up."

Luca stared at him with wide eyes. He didn't know what to say. Surely Leoni had brought herself into this situation. But… "So, Leoni swears that you never slept with her?"

Alessandro nodded.

At least that was a relief. "And… what do you want from me now? That I jump for joy? Hooray, I'm going to be rich? What's to say that you'll want to share your money with me? For how long?"

Alessandro's face lost its enthusiasm. "You don't agree, right?" he said, suddenly listless.

"How can I? My boyfriend's going to get married."

"But you said you would support me. I relied on you. I trusted you that you wouldn't mind."

"Yeah." Luca dropped his head. What would Giano say? Rosso. Tristano. His parents. Dante and Marcello... Alessandro had made a laughing stock of Luca Montori. But then... the people didn't know that Alessandro Gondi was gay. Or they had just assumed it. It didn't matter in the long run. If Luca wanted to keep Alessandro he had to put up with it. But did he want him still? "You've never told me that you even like me", he said.

"But I've shown you." Alessandro laughed bitterly. "Nobody has ever told me that they like ME."

"Leoni has."

Alessandro set aside the water bottle and looked seriously into Luca's eyes. "I like you, Luca. I don't want to lose you."

Luca saw how hard it was for him to say something like that and he swallowed dryly. "You do it just for me?"

"For us."

Luca felt strangely powerful. Alessandro had given in. He was small. Remorseful. Regretful. He had said for the first time that he felt something for Luca. And his eyes told him that it was the truth. Yet Luca couldn't be happy. He was disappointed. Even though Sandro pulled him into his lap, holding him tight - there was something broken. On the brink of making a bond - there on the beach at Forte dei Marmi - it had loosened again all too soon. The gap of their upbringing and status was too big - for Luca insurmountable. Alessandro was too much the child of his family, as much as he might deny it. Even though he might fight it as long as he could - he would always be the last offspring of a noble Florentine house.

Luca stared at the last Gondi-Lucertola without really seeing him. Alessandro's mouth moved but the words didn't reach Luca's ears. But nonetheless he didn't want to give up. He liked Sandro too much. To see his mask slowly friable to reveal a vulnerable, tender core was amazing.

In the morning he left Alessandro's bed and tiptoed to the drawer, opened it soundlessly and pulled out the diary. The leather binding had dried but was now crumbly and stiff; the brittle pages almost crumbled between his fingers. Luca suppressed a heavy sigh. Cautiously he wrapped the book into a handkerchief and placed it into his rucksack.

Alessandro didn't bat an eyelid when Luca sat beside the sleeping body. How good he looked with his slightly crooked nose and the scar, dividing his eyebrow. How innocent and gentle. Secretly he wished he wasn't so caught up with Alessandro's personality. It would be easier then to break up. Luca wasn't sure if he could take it: all the things to come if Alessandro really wanted to hold his promise given to the family and Leoni. Luca couldn't be sure. You could never be sure concerning a Gondi-Lucertola. The quick and cold-blooded reactions to different circumstances had been a requirement to survive. And this family carried way too much of it.

He wrote him a short note and left the house with his rucksack. On the streets he dialed Rosso's number.

Luca breathed in the clean air on the whitewashed morning as the violet sky hung wide and clear over the town - a blue cupola over the red-white cupola of the cathedral. The tan coloured, steep clock tower of the Badia pierced the glassy air. Masaccio's brother had had his workshop here, he remembered. Following Palazzo Pazzi he crossed the small piazza, taking the same path the author of the diary had taken almost six hundred years ago. What amazed him the most was, that every little piece of history, each stone and every work of art, was the same today. They were still there, in a living museum. Hard to live in by all means, but in some ways exciting. The typical Florentine took it for granted.

Luca encircled the knave of the cathedral, passed the Opificio, his working place, and turned into a street with a block of flats from the 40's: ochre coloured and flat roofed. Rosso was standing in front of the door, obviously waiting for him.

"Where are the brothers?" Luca asked.

"Mother's taken them to the doc. They seemed to have caught a cold." Rosso sneezed as proof.

"Oh dear. You've got it too."

Rosso waved off. "Tell me about the book." His green eyes flashed feverish. He took Luca's arm and went with him into the nearest bar to buy two tramezzini and two milk coffees.

Luca sighed. "You mustn't tell anyone about this, promise me that first."

Rosso rolled his eyes. "How can I help when I can't tell anyone. You've messed up a book, so, what's the problem? Zio Enzio will repair it, don't worry." He sneezed.

Luca still hesitated. "Well, the thing is. It's a very old book. Actually it belongs in a museum, but Sandro doesn't want to give it away. It's his treasure, you know." He hesitated. Would the painters Masaccio and Masolino have any meaning to Rosso? He was sure they would. The art lessons of school weren't that long ago. Slowly he pulled the book from his rucksack and partly unwrapped it. "Oh", Rosso said, eyeing the torn leather. "What's that?" Rosso pulled cautiously at a tiny tag, peering out from under the part of the leather binding that was still intact. He pulled until he could shove it to the back of the book where the binding was missing and looked surprised at it. "There's something hidden here."

Luca's mouth was dry and he swallowed hard. Together they stared at the brittle, blotched pages. They were lighter in colour than the others. If they were what Luca was thinking they were, they had been hidden there for centuries. "Does it belong to the book?" Rosso asked, sniffing, before he pulled out a tissue and blew his nose.

Luca nodded. He didn't dare to touch the paper, nor to read it, even if his mind screamed for it. This must be the last and final pages, Masolino - or somebody else - had ripped them from the diary to hide them between wooden book cover and leather binding. "Don't you want to read it?" Rosso was already pulling at the paper pages until they fell upon the table top. They were covered with Masolino's handwriting that Luca had become familiar with. Quickly he skimmed through them while Rosso squinted his eyes in effort to decipher the letters. So it was true... Masaccio had vanished from the earth. And Luca now knew why. And where to. He knew more than Alessandro.

"Sorry, I can't read this. What's it saying?"

"Long story. Can we go to your uncle?" Very cautiously Luca took the pages with the tips of his fingers and put them between the other pages of the diary.

Autunno 3