Alessandro had come but he didn't waste much time greeting Luca. He just picked him up and followed Luca's directions to Enzio Celli's factory. Enzio had been warned in advance by his nephew and so he cut short the furious Gondi.

"Listen, Alessandro. I just wanted to do my best. I couldn't know it was so precious to you. Or that it was precious in any way." He put down his half-moon glasses and pressed the top of his nose. This Gondi-lad sometimes had an aggressive attitude which he couldn't allow. He deserved respect at his age. "I wasn't able to read the strange scribbling, at least not to comprehend what was going on in the book." He paused and sipped the coffee, he had prepared for all of them. "The mayor has insisted in offering this curiosity to Florence's museums." He pulled a face and Alessandro interpreted it the right way. His uncle, the mayor, wanted to appear as patron of the art's, like the principes did in the old days. Pah.

"Sure, it carried the coat of arms of the Gondi's", Alessandro admitted. "But it was mine."

"I don't have to tell you that a finding of this value has to be made available to the public", Enzio objected. "Everyone needs to see it. And I've read that the diary solves a riddle unsolved for centuries."

"And I'm dying to learn it. Do you know anything about it?" He looked at Luca, sitting there like a heap of misfortune. Luca's heart pounded fast in his chest. "I've found the missing sheets of paper", he said subdued.

"What?" Alessandro's face reddened. "Where? How? And what does it say? Where's Masaccio's grave?"

"In Rome. They buried him at the graveyard of San Clemente, without a headstone", Luca said quietly.

Alessandro stared at him. "So I was right!" he managed to say. "I need to read it, where are the missing sheets? Don't say you put them back into the diary."

"I did."

Alessandro shoock his head. "Where's the book now?"

"Still at the Opificio", Enzio said. "I took it to Professore Coppo Travisero."

"Coppo? Isn't he your teacher?"

Luca nodded helplessly. So Coppo was responsible for all this trouble? He couldn't believe it. But then, Coppo was just doing his job. He couldn't know that Luca was the secret owner.

"I repaired the leather binding, if you're interested", Enzio began. "It looks almost like before. But with the paper I needed advise. I remembered the Opificio has a Masolino-Masaccio-project running." He leaned back. "It was exactly the right place to take it."

Alessandro nodded to himself. Yes. The right place to lose his treasure.

"My precious, my precious!" Luca said furiously as they sat in Alessandro's Ferrari again. "You talk like Gollum! A thing of this worth belongs to everyone. It's a world cultural treasure."

Alessandro snorted. "But I found it. And it was our secret. You betrayed me. And you weren't careful and I asked you to be."

"Then you shouldn't have given it to a jerk like me", Luca snapped. He slid to the farthest corner of his seat and stared out on the streets.

Despite it being a Saturday the workshop was open in the mornings and even Coppo was there when they asked the porter. They were guided to the back, through large scientific rooms, exhibits and microscopes, into a room with a large glass box in the middle of it. Devices for black- and infrared lamps hung above it and inside Luca saw the diary, carefully pressed between two glass plates. Coppo, in a white smock, turned, shoving his glasses up over his forehead. Next to him was a guy of his age in casual dresss, peering over his shoulder.

"Luca?" His eyes scurried over the lad next to him. "Alessandro Gondi! What gives us this pleasure? No, wait, I can guess myself." He pointed over to the glass box.

Alessandro nodded. "Buon giorno", he said briefly. "I want to pick up my property."

Coppo blinked while Luca stepped nervously from one foot to the other. He was embarrassed by this scene in front of his teacher. The other guy examined both lads attentively.

Coppo pulled himself together and straightened his back. "This book was given to me by Signore Enzio Celli because it was damaged. We found the coat of arms of your family." He looked at Alessandro. "The mayor was delighted, as he hadn't any clue about this precious treasure his family had carried through the centuries." His grey eyes became a shade darker. "Why did you never report this finding?"

"Because there never was a finding. It belonged to me. Always."

The man next to Coppo put his hand upon Coppo's shoulder. Luca's teacher relaxed. "I haven't introduced you. This is my partner. Bruno Salviati." Bruno gave them a brief smile.

Alessandro addressed him with a brief nod and guided his eyes back to Coppo, waiting. Coppo beckoned them both over to the apparatus, hovering over Masolino's diary, which lay open under the protecting pane of glass Bruno let down the shutters and Coppo turned on the infrared light and directed it over the coat of arms. "Federico di Ser Lapo di Gondi", Coppo read the almost faded inscription. "1530. That was the year of the fall of Florence, besieged by the Spanish and Papal troops. Sometime in that terrible jumble this diary must have been saved and came into the possession of your ancestor."

"And what difference does that make?" Alessandro interrupted him. "It only proves this diary belongs to our family."

Bruno opened the shutters and turned off the red light. "That is true", he said with a pleasant, dark voice, "but are you aware that you've prevented the solution of a riddle, scientists were starving to solve? Especially you, studying art history, should know the meaning of this. You aren't the only one to lay claim to knowledge."

Alessandro stared coolly at him and found him not worth an answer.

Luca cringed inwardly. Alessandro was behaving like a spoilt brat. Coppo though continued single-mindedly, "You know that we have to send a board of inquiry to Rome to find out whether Masolino spoke the truth? If we are lucky we'll find the grave. And if not", he paused, "you have helped us a great deal. Thanks for caring so long for this treasure." Luca seemed to see a hint of a smile in Coppo's eyes.

For a brief moment Alessandro relaxed and felt flattered. Just the way Coppo wanted him to. "It wouldn't be your misfortune", Coppo continued. "Everyone will know whom we have to thank."

Alessandro stared at his book. "Can I see it? I mean..." Luca stepped closer and touched Alessandro's hand. "A last time?"

Instantly Coppo lifted the glass pane and pulled on thin gloves. He took the diary cautiously, but didn't insist Alessandro putting on gloves as well. He needed the bare touch. And anyway, considering the many years it was used by the Gondis it was in astonishingly good condition.

Alessandro took it and leafed through the pages, tenderly touching the sheets and Masolino's fancy handwriting. The final and long missed sheets were careful ly attached. He took it to a chair and sat down to read them.

"and then.... a red veil clouded my eyes. I saw Giovanni's self-contented grin. He was not bothered by the movement of the earth and the increasing, threatening rush behind the chapel's wall, where the pent-up water of the Tiber forced its way to find an exit because the small opening of the Cloaca could not hold the waters anymore. Some of it seeped through the wall near the trodden down ground, lain with marble. Stones started to break loose.

Giovanni grinned cheekily into my face but Tommaso never moved. Still his brother performed his obnoxious movements within my beloved Tommaso. I couldn't suffer it any longer. Tommaso was mine.

Through all the roaring I groped for a tool and finally felt a lump of wood between by fingers. I never heard my desperate cry. Nothing. Everything faded out, except my unbridled anger and scorn. I wanted to wipe Giovanni's grin from his face. I struck out and slipped off and instead hit the back of Tommaso's head. He slumped to the ground.

The roaring increased and exploded into a gush of waters, blasting the chapel's wall. The Tiber washed us out and the ground gave in. Giovanni and I fell deeper and deeper, into the middle of a pulp of mud and rats, branches and human rubbish. Despairingly I tried to hold onto something. Giovanni dragged me deeper. My eyes were glued half shut but I recognized old marble pillars and a church's apse not belonging to the church we were workinged in.

The heavy mud pulled us deeper until we crashed into complete darkness. Only the hole in the ceiling gave a little light.

I'm not sure how long we had been laying there. Giovanni hardly breathed, while I was listening to the whistling in my lungs and tried to move my limpbs. I rolled onto my side and tried to get to my feet. Giovanni moaned and held his skull.

It was a grotto with a vaulted ceiling. On the side walls stony benches were modelled. A stench of death and putrefaction was in the air. In the pale light I recognized a block of marble where Giovanni had hit his head.

Pictures peeled off the stone: a warrior in oriental clothing, a tall cap upon his head and a raven upon his shoulder. He stabbed a mighty bull and his feet crouched a dog, snake and scorpion. And at both his sides two men were placed. Changing light turned them into grotesque faces. I saw a uplifted torch in one hand; the other man held down his torch."

"Cautopates", Alessandro whispered while Luca at his side had sucked in his breath sharply, although he knew the story already. He had sat upon the arm cover and was reading as well, while Coppo and Bruno had withdrawn into a corner, talking with quiet voices.

"I was startled when I heard Giovanni's roaring cry. He banged his fists upon the stony benches. "Tommaso! Where are you?" he shouted up to the opening in the ceiling. Nobody answered. The roaring of the water had subsided and it was gradually growing quiet. Still dazed from the events I roamed the small space between the benches and the marble block. I didn't know the meaning of this image. I wished I could light the stony torches the men were carrying.

"You! It's your fault!", Giovanni shouted and jumped at my throat.
"You've killed my brother!"

I pushed him aside, suddenly strong. My whole body was aching and yet I did not care. My eyes had found another gleam of light and had detected a small staircase, partly hidden in mud. I rushed to it like an animal escaping his cage and crept on all fours upwards, followed by Giovanni. A surge of good air greeted us when we reached the upper level. A partly filled church that looked ancient. And another staircase. I don't know how deep we had been under the earth but finally we reached a hidden exit that brought us to new life. Giovanni ran shouting and screaming into the chapel of our disaster. His brother had vanished. The opening, where the Tiber had forced itself into the chapel, had dried, leaving churned up earth. The waters must have taken my Tommaso with it.

Despairingly I sat upon the earth. I smelled my own stench, felt the heaviness of my clothes and my hair hanging all over. I had killed Tommaso. The Tiber had carried him away from me.

Wet with tears I followed Giovanni, who had ran out, following the path to the Tiber.

We found him then, laying half-hidden in the shrubs, close to the water. Mud gargled around his body. Giovanni turned his body and saw his open eyes. Bloody eyes. He did not breath.

I cannot describe how I felt. Giovanni stabbed me with his stares as he lifted his brother and carried him like a child.

At the cemetery of San Clemente we buried him. His grave carries no stone. Only his name will be carved for all times into my heart."

Alessandro's fingers hovered trembling over the final page. "Something good came from you spilling the coffee", he said finally. He closed the book and stroked over the surface. Then he turned to Coppo and Bruno. "Thanks for letting me read it."

Coppo nodded briefly. "The least I could do. From matching Masolino's signing of different paintings we can verify it's his own handwriting. You've made the town of Florence a precious gift, Alessandro. Thank you for that."

Alessandro took Luca's hand and entwined his fingers with his own. "Sorry for snapping at you", he said to the older men.

"The mayor provides money for the expedition to Rome", Coppo continued, approaching the boys.

"The cemetery... is it still there?" Luca asked.

Coppo nodded. "A small one for the priests and priors. It will be a hell of a job. The leader of San Clemente has agreed though." He smiled. "It was a highly interesting read. I guess not everyone will be pleased to find out the true being of those masterful painters. Well, perhaps it will contribute to the understanding that people are what they are." He gave Bruno a tender glance.

"Um, about the place under the earth", Luca asked, "what was it?"

"The Mithreaum beneath San Clemente. Masolino found the gathering place of the believers, probably Roman soldiers. It was discovered in 1861 when the archaeologists examined the church and explored the remains of the church beneath San Clemente and below that the Mithreaum. Apparently Masolino was the first to discover it."

"Do you think the torch bearer and the god upon the cemetery of the Holy Gates is the same?" Alessandro asked.

"You mean the toppled God with the torch? It might be. But the ancient idea of a flame of life that ceases, symbolized by a bent down torch, is omnipotent."

Alessandro turned. He said good-bye, looking over his shoulder and left the room. Luca followed him.


"Sunrise- and dawn", Alessandro said. "Mithras' companions. Life and death. First there was the bull stepping out of the moon, seeing the stars. He felt the exciting greatness of the universe that he wanted to possess. And then he saw Mithras, the Persian God, born in a grotto on the 25th of December, and upon his shoulder was the raven."

They had driven up the street a short way passing San Marco to the Giardino dei semplici, the former Medici's botanical garden, one of the first in Europe. They sat upon a bench and enjoyed the rays of the sun upon their faces.

"The bull knew instantly that it was the holy raven of the God Apollo who was sending his message: bull and human have to fight and in the end one of them has to die", Alessandro continued softly. A fight followed, like none of the stars had ever seen. The competitors were equal. And then dog, snake and scorpion came rushing to Mithras' help. The bull knew his fate was sealed.

Mithras honoured the sacrificed bull and thanked the stars for the new created life because from the blood of the bull all good things on earth awoke. Dog and snake lapped the blood and the scorpion bit into the bull's testicles and from its semen the world was created."

"A creation myth", Luca said.

"Right. The Persian version. Well, the scorpion was hurt as well, and his blood became the germ cell of all evil, infecting the world at the same time. Apollo though, in whose name everything happened, provided an opulent victorious dinner and brought his hero up to his own elysium fields. Mithras was now a God himself: the one of the sun, light and of all good things."

Luca could have sat there for ever and listened to Alessandro's tales. He would become a good guide, considering his wide range of knowledge. "Do you think the expedition will find the grave?"

"If they're lucky... perhaps some unclassified bones. Well, in the end it doesn't count. Now we know the story."

He laughed suddenly relieved. "And tonight there's a party. Where do you want to go?"

Instantly Luca flinched. He had enough of partying lately. Every time he wanted to celebrate something happened.

"Party?" he repeated. "Let's have a party of our own", he begged. "I want to be alone with you."

Alessandro wrinkled his forehead. "Well, if you want to. Tell me about your friend Tristano."

"Well, Tris has parties of his own with the hustlers. Last time we went to Villa Kazar, he had hardly left when some leather-jerks caused a fight and were chucked out."

"A fight? The mysterious leather-guys? Were you hurt?"

"No, I fled with Luciano."

Alessandro looked concerned. "You hide more secrets than I thought, gioia. Why did you never tell me? And why is the community suddenly in danger? I take it they attacked gays, right?"

Luca nodded. Alessandro sat broodingly. "You mean no place feels safe anymore? Therefore you don't want to go out, right?"

Luca nodded once more.

"And what are the police saying? Nothing, as usual, right? The problems of this minor community doesn't bother them the least. Great. Well, then we'll have to solve the problems by ourselves. Luciano, you said? Did he keep his filthy hands off of you?"

Luca grinned. "He's nice actually. Did you know he's positive?"

"Everybody knows. He doesn't keeps it secret thankfully."

They wandered through the paths between the beds and exotic herbaceous plants, between low palms and orchids. "What do you mean, solve our problems ourselves? You want to start a fight with them?" Luca asked.

"Why not?"

Luca heard the excited tone in Alessandro's voice. Just the same as when he had spoken about the Calcio in Costume. That match he had won. But could he win another? And what would be the price this time?

Alessandro had finally given in and they had their own celebration. They loved each other in the shine of uncountable candles, and Luca sensed that Alessandro had forgiven him completely. He said nothing about Leoni and her welfare and Luca didn't want to ask in case he disturbed the sensitive mood.

"What happened to Masolino afterwards?" Luca asked, laying on his stomach, his head close to Alessandro's naked shoulder.

"Well, in the train of Cardinal Branda Castiglione he left for Hungary where he apparently wrote down his diary of the unhappy events. Perhaps it was pressuring him too much. I've read in 1435 he followed the cardinal to his hometown in Lombardy, where he painted, with other major Tuscan artists, the frescos in the Collegiate choir, some of the rooms in the Cardinal's palace and, most importantly, a spectacular section of the Baptistery."

"He found another patron so to speak? And perhaps another lover."

"Perhaps. I wonder why Masaccio's brother didn't kill him, fiery as he was." Alessandro turned also onto his stomach and looked into Luca's face. "A pair of fiery brothers, and Masolino in between."

"You think he died from the strike on the head or that he drowned in the Tiber?"

Alessandro shrugged. "What will the people say when they read this? Another one of those faggots."

Luca grinned weakly. "Our town was built by faggots."

"Quite right." Alessandro leaned in and kissed Luca's nose. Then his palm slid along Luca's back and returned as light as a feather. Luca purred.

* * * * *

Over the next two weeks Luca was busy drawing his clay model of the lizard and transferring it onto the stone, Coppo had cut into two halves. He had been at the workshop with the machines, the one his brothers worked in. He couldn't work with the divider alone, so Coppo gladly helped him.

"Hello amore, I've been working at the machines, mind you! My father helped me to cut a minor stone, and then I tried to follow the drawn lines and managed a sort of square, then a triangle and today a circle! Well, it isn't perfect, but I'm mighty proud of myself. :)"

Alessandro took the thin plate of white alabaster that had fallen from the envelope and examined it. It had the form of a triangle and almost perfect shape. He grinned.

"Tris has become completely besotted by those call-boys. He spends every evening with them. One night he dragged me to the hangout where Sergio was performing on stage. It was hot, I can tell you. Apparently Tris wants to pump up like those guys for he goes to the gym. Shall I go with him? Would you like me like Arnie Schwarzenegger, eh?

Masolino's diary will be ceremoniously presented to the public next Saturday morning at the Opificio. Of course you are invited as "founder" of the treasure. Attached is your invitation card. It will be the most important exhibit of the collection. My teacher is proud of you.

Everything's quiet on the homophobic front. At least for now. I haven't heard of other attacks.

Well, that was the news.

I miss you, mille baci,


Alessandro took the card and studied it. Well, then, he thought. Farewell to the treasure. It might have found a better place than the dusty drawer. He put the card along with Luca's self cut plate upon his night stand and went out. It was too much of a pleasant October's day to stay in.

Thoughts of Leoni clouded his good mood though. He had received a letter from her, complaining about the state she was in. Slowly her pregnancy was for everyone to see and she suffered from boredom up there in the hills of Fiesole. She complained about her swollen ankles and about the puking every morning that wouldn't subside. As if it was his fault, Alessandro thought, though he felt a little pity for Leoni. Perhaps he would visit her next weekend.

Autunno 7