Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tomás Bozen - Chapter 6

Here's a new chapter in my novel in progress. Read and enjoy some of Tomás's adventures in the vicinity of Bolzano. I'd appreciate your comments about the characters or the story after you read this new chapter.


Tomás stretched out in bed to his full six-foot height. He liked the smooth feel of the crisp hotel sheets gliding over his naked body. He’d slept late in a most unusual hotel room. Sun beamed in through dormer windows set in the high ceiling above the sleeping loft. The other side of the king size bed was empty, but a rounded depression in the pillow reminded Tomás of who had been there before she left for the day’s meetings. He grinned, then buried his face in the depression and sucked in the essence she’d left behind. Nice….

Magdalena had driven the two of them to Bolzano in her Audi 80 Cabrio roadster. She had chosen the hotel, Albergo Greif, on Viale Stazione a half block from Piazza Walther in central Bolzano. She’d registered in both their names, but used her own credit card. Their spacious modern room on the hotel’s second upper floor was surprising. Tomás had expected something simpler, smaller. Decorated in modern Scandinavian style, the room was split into two levels with an open stairway leading up to a large sleeping loft. A pair of tall windows overlooking the street below gave the room a light, airy feeling. The whole place smelled clean and fresh, thanks to a diligent housekeeping crew. Tomás liked that…quite a change from his student digs.

Small copies of lesser-known art works, some of them overtly pornographic, hung in a groupings on a couple of the walls. Tomás imagined this sexy room would surely help him realize his hopes for a new kind of relationship with the beautiful Magdalena.

On the evening of their arrival in Bolzano, after a light meal at the nearby restaurant called La Torcia, Magdalena had ordered a bottle of the local Pinot Grigio for the room. The gentle wine went down easily as the two planned ways to share information from the restoration symposium. They talked about Tomás’s family and growing up in Ravenna. Magdalena told him of her own childhood in Modena and the tragedy of her parents death in an autostrada crash when she was fourteen years old.

They laughed together at some of the acrobatic sexual positions depicted in the prints on the room’s walls. Later, they had enjoyed every millimeter of the room’s large bed, sometimes mimicking the positions they had laughed about.

Next morning, Tomás threw aside the sheet and feather tick comforter. He stood next to the bed, stretched, and ran both hands through his hair—dark, thick, wavy hair that echoed his Italian heritage. Unfortunately, the only bathroom was on the lower level. Padding naked down the creaky stairs from the loft, scratching the scattering of dark hair on his chest, Tomás went into the bathroom and emptied his full bladder. He climbed into the oversized bathtub, closed the curtain and turned on the shower. “Ow,” he screamed, “Caldo! Troppo caldo!”

Water too hot was never a problem in the student apartment he shared in Bologna. He felt lucky when the water in that crowded bathroom was even warm—hot never happened. Toweling his taut body after the shower, Tomás smiled at remembering how things had worked out with Magdalena.  He loved her—he knew that for certain now. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, sleep with her every single night. Be with her every single day.

Alone until late afternoon when Magdalena returned from her symposium, he decided to see some of Bolzano’s sights, things he could tell Magdalena about in the evening, things they could laugh about together. The October day was cool and clear, so he dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and a pullover sweater, then took the elevator down to the hotel’s breakfast room.

“Buon giorno,” a smiling young woman said as she waved him toward a table in the corner of the room. “Caffé?

Buon giorno. Si, caffé e latte, per favore.

Tomás put his bulky room key fob on the table and walked over to the buffet. He chose orange juice, an assortment of cheeses and meats, and butter with orange marmalade to spread on a hard roll. Small pitchers of coffee and warm milk were on the table when he returned. Half way through the breakfast, he became aware of a growing sense of dread. Something he couldn’t explain, a general worry about nothing in particular. What could it be? It was a fine day, he had a beautiful woman, exploring Bolzano lay ahead. Nothing could be wrong. Yet, he couldn’t shake that feeling—a premonition that something bad was going to happen.

Back in the hotel lobby he decided he’d better call home, make sure the family was alright. He dialed Ravenna on his cell phone. Right away he heard his mother’s, “Pronto.”

“How are you, Mama? I’m spending a few days in Bolzano with my professor.”

“Tomás! I’m fine, son. What are you doing in Bolzano?”

“How is Papa? Is everybody else okay?”

“We’re all fine—why do you ask?

“No special reason, just wondered. Like I told you, I’m in Bolzano and I….”

 “Bolzano! Oh my god, Tomás.” He heard the faint click of Mama’s rosary beads slipping out of her pocket. “Are you okay? I saw a report on TV about some kind of trouble in the mountains around Bolzano. You be careful up there.”

“What kind of trouble, Mama? What did you hear?”

“I don’t know, son. You know how I am with the news—never pay much attention unless it’s right here…. Tomás, I didn’t know you were going to Bolzano.”

“I didn’t know either, until a little while ago, or I’d have told you. I’ll probably be back in Bologna by the end of the week. How is Papa doing? Are his legs better?”

“Much better. He’s working every day on one of the old buildings in the Piazza del Popolo. It’s an important restoration and they need good stone masons for the job.”

“And Papa’s the best, for sure. Give him a kiss for me.”

“Okay, son. Just you be careful. Find out about that trouble in the mountains, and stay away from there. Ask somebody. They can tell you what it is.”

“I will, Mama. Hug everybody at home for me. Think about me when you make the pumpkin ravioli this week. Ciao, Mama. I love you. A più tardi.

Tomás clicked off the cell phone. What could Mama be talking about? Trouble in the mountains? Something on the news? He asked the desk clerk if he knew anything about it, and the clerk told him there’d been a minor earthquake somewhere up in the mountains. Not really close to Bolzano. Farther east, near the border, somewhere around Cortina.

“Earthquake?” Tomás said. “Anybody hurt?”

“No. No injuries reported. No significant damage. Just a little rumble, un terremotito.”

Reassured, Tomás tried to push Mama’s worries aside and forget about his own sense of foreboding. He left the hotel and walked to Piazza Walther for a look at the square and the cathedral on its western side. The Gothic duomo’s patterned green and yellow roof and its tall bell tower decorated with elaborate carvings glistened in the bright morning sun. In the center of the piazza a marble monument stood tall, depicting the German poet, Walther von der Vogelweide, for whom the piazza was named. People milled about here and there, some shopping, some sipping a midmorning espresso at out-of-doors tables, others just seated in the warming sunlight.

Plantings of white alyssum and red geraniums brightened the corners of the piazza, and its far end included the stalls of a colorful fruit and vegetable market. Locals carrying shopping bags worried over a huge assortment of everything from oranges, shallots, and artichokes to beans, peaches, and peppers, looking for the ripest specimens. Braids of garlic and mesh bags of lemons hanging from the overhead beams gave the whole market a crisp fragrance. Some shoppers bargained for blooming pots of tulips or cyclamen for a sunny windowsill, or for a bunch of cut sunflowers to fill a vase.

The air flowing down from the mountains was cooler than Tomás expected, but the sunny day and the bright blue sky buoyed his spirits and made it easy to forget his premonitions and enjoy the adventure. He walked on  through the piazza to Via dei Portici, a broad shopping street lined with arcaded buildings, shops, and sidewalk cafés, where he continued toward the destination that drew him like a magnet,  the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology. He felt compelled to have a look at Ötzi, the five thousand year old “Iceman” found years before in the Alps north of Bolzano. His boyhood questions about the Iceman, his might-have-been ancestor, still burned inside him, and this museum was exactly what he needed to extinguish that fire. He hadn’t told Magdalena about his obsession with that frozen relic, hadn’t told her how the Iceman’s story had consumed him for almost a decade of his life.

Laughing at remembering how he’d fretted over whether the Ice Man might be his own modern relative, Tomás spotted the multistory museum at the corner of Via Museo. Converted from a 19th century bank to house a museum displaying the archeology of the region, the building’s fancy brickwork on the lower floor was a flashback to that earlier time. The museum had become the permanent home of Ötzi, the Iceman in 1998.

Inside the building, Tomás hurried past the museum’s general archeology exhibits to reach the display of things related to Ötzi himself. He was surprised to learn the Iceman might not actually have been naked. True, the body looked naked when he was found, but excavation of his frozen resting place also uncovered a fur robe, a cape, a furry cap, and shoes made of leather and grass. A copper-bladed ax and a flint dagger were found nearby, and a fur quiver contained a bow and several arrows. 

Reading the museum’s wall-mounted displays, he discovered scientists had estimated Ötzi’s age at death to have been about 45 years. His copper axe was of particular interest, since it was several centuries older than copper smelting technology was believed to have existed in Europe. X-rays of the mummy’s joints had showed signs of wear and tear, and investigators speculated that the sets of short parallel lines tattooed on his body could be related to primitive pain relief treatments similar to acupuncture.

One of the displays detailed analysis of pollen and dust grains found in Ötzi’s body. That analysis and the minerals in his tooth enamel suggested that he spent his childhood in the Isarco River Valley north of Bolzano, somewhere near the present-day village of Feldthurns. “My god,” Tomás said out loud. “That’s not much more than twenty-five kilometers from right here. My dad grew up in Feldthurns. My uncles and cousins still live there.” Nearby museum visitors looked at him with frowns, until he said, “Mi dispiace, signori. Mio Papà…. ” The frowns turned to smiles. One stranger patted him on the shoulder and said, “Va bene.”

Wandering on, Tomás finally reached the Iceman himself. The museum displayed the frozen body in a climate controlled chamber replicating the glacier in which Ötzi was found. A thick glass window allowed visitors to view the body directly. The man was naked after all.

Tomás was beside himself. At long last he was looking at the real thing, the Iceman’s mummified corpse, the corpse that had haunted his waking hours for so long, the corpse he felt more certain than ever was his own ancestor. Maybe those tattoos were not medical treatments, maybe they were artistic decorations, maybe Ötzi was an early Italian artist. All of those thoughts strengthened his feeling of kinship with the frozen Iceman. He found the prehistoric man’s excellent state of preservation a gratifying tribute to the glacier and to modern technology. He smiled when he realized Ötzi was in better condition than some of the ancient paintings Magdalena had shared with him.

A couple of hours in the museum satisfied Tomás he’d learned all there was to know about the Iceman. He felt a little hungry when he left the building, so he stopped in a small café to have a cheese and tomato pizza and a glass of beer. Wary of adding to his credit card balance, he opted for paying the few Euros in cash. After the pizza it was still early, so he went looking for another thing that intrigued him about Bolzano.

He walked to the far end of town, to the valley station of the Funivia del Renon, a 4,600 meter cable car that carried visitors up the mountain to the resort village of Soprabolzano in a little more than ten minutes. Mama had warned him to stay away from the mountains, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Tomás was surprised to find the signage in and around the funivia was bilingual, Italian and German. Makes sense, he thought. Bolzano’s less than sixty-five kilometers from the Austrian border. He had no problem getting used to the bilingual idea—he just ignored the German words, concentrated on the Italian.

He paid the fare in cash, just about depleting his wallet. The 35-passenger cable car was practically empty, only one group on board—they looked like parents and their two young children, a boy and a girl, on a family outing. The boy was probably about six years old, the girl a little younger. When Tomás took a seat opposite the family the little boy grinned at him and said, “Buon giorno.” His mother smiled and nodded. The boy’s father said nothing, he leaned near a window and seemed to be studying the heavy coach’s supporting cables.

As the car soared out of the station and climbed over the edge of the city, Tomás admired the green mountain scenery. Minutes later he could see snow covered alps to the north and, far below, the tall, beige, steeple-like rock formations known as Piramidi di terra. Everything was quiet, peaceful—incredibly beautiful high in the air like that. Quiet and peaceful until suddenly, without warning, the car jolted to a halt and began to sway wildly from side-to-side. Tomás could see they were no more than two hundred meters from the mountain station. What the hell? The thing was not supposed to stop until it reached that destination.

The family sitting across from him went berserk, both children crying, the woman screaming at her husband in Italian. “I told you this was not a good day for the cable car. That earthquake is not finished, not yet. I told you it was too soon, but no, you said it was alright—and look where it got us.” She hugged her children close and rolled her eyes skyward, as if preparing to die. “Mother of God, hear my prayer.” She crossed herself, practically choking her daughter by the movement of her arm. “In the name of Jesus, fruit of thy womb, protect my babies. Keep us safe.
Her husband acted paralyzed with fear. White-knuckled, his hands grasped the back of his seat so hard his fingers dug into the fake leather covering. The man was wild-eyed but he did nothing, said nothing. He sat motionless, staring at the floor like he’d willed himself somewhere far away from the crippled cable car.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tomás Bozen -- Chapter 5

Tomás is still in Bologna, but that is soon to change. Enjoy another chapter--and leave me some feedback in a Comment.


 Tomás was a good student. By the end of the first semester his hard work had caught the notice of the university faculty and won him an internship in art restoration at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna’s huge art museum. Already a great fan of the Pinacoteca, Tomás was overjoyed. For two semesters he would work under the tutelage of Magdalena Carbonesi, the museum’s principal restoration expert.

Professor Carbonesi, born in nearby Modena, was a rising star in the world of art restoration. Only six years older than Tomás, she had clawed her way upward through the Bologna museum’s restoration hierarchy and quickly reached its top ranks.

 Tomás marveled at the great opportunity the internship represented. As soon as he received the award he telephoned Ravenna to share the good news. “I’ll be working right alongside Professor Carbonesi in the restoration lab for two whole semesters, Mama. She’s a real pro in art restoration. Be sure to tell Papà how important that is for me.”

 “She?” Mama said. “How old is this Carbonesi woman, Tomás? Is she married?”

 “She’s around thirty, more or less. I don’t know if she’s married, Mama. Why does that matter?”

 “I don’t like my baby running around with an older woman.”

“Aw, Mama, I won’t be running around with her. She’ll be my teacher. Don’t worry about that stuff—I’m a big boy now.”

Tomás decided his big news deserved a special dinner to celebrate with his roommates. After his conversation with Mama, he left the university early and stopped by a grocer near the apartment to pick up some pane, parmigiano, and pasta. He chose farfalle for the pasta because he thought the little butterflies looked festive. He selected funghi, carne, and pomodori to use in a rich Bolognese sauce for his pasta, and he selected the cheapest bottle of vino rosso he could find. They kept a supply of olive oil, garlic, onions, and spices at the apartment on San Vitale for those rare times when one of them made dinner at home. For dessert Tomás picked a large container of gelato con nocciola—hazelnut was his personal favorite.

Roberto was the first of his roommates to come home that evening. “Oh, man,” he called from the front door, “something smells mighty good.” Homing in on the kitchen, he said, “Yo, Tomás, I didn’t know you were a cook, man. Where’d you learn all this stuff?”

“Don’t worry about it, Roberto. I have a Mama, I learned a few things. Dinner’ll be ready as soon as the others get here. Open that bottle of wine for me, will you?”

Vino, too. What are we celebrating—did you get laid or something?”

“I’ll tell you all about it later. Just open the wine.”

 Giuseppe and Lucrezia were equally impressed with Tomás’s work in the kitchen. Puzzled by the mystery of it all, they sat in the dining room sipping wine and trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, after Tomás served the pasta, Lucrezia said, “Okay, Tomás, we can’t wait any longer. Tell us what this is all about. You made us a lovely dinner, and we appreciate it…but why?”

Roberto said, “Yeah, why did you do it, man?” He winked at Giuseppe. “I told him I think he got laid and wants to celebrate the big event.”

“Hush up. That’s enough of that,” Luci said.

Giuseppe touched Tomás’s arm. “Come on—it’s nothing like that, is it? Tell us Tomás—tell us why you did all this?”

Tomás told them about his good fortune. He shared all the details of winning the internship starting the next semester. “I’ll be working full time with Professor Magdalena Carbonesi at the museum. Her reputation is the greatest and it’ll be my first real taste of art restoration. Not only that, guys, but I’ll get university credits at the same time.”

“Well, congratulations,” Lucrezia said, raising her glass in a toast. “We’re all happy for you, aren’t we, guys?”

Glad the waiting was over and eager for another drink of wine, the others joined in the toast. Roberto said, “Yeah, man, that’s really great.”

Giuseppe refilled all their glasses, draining the wine bottle. He grinned and winked at Tomás. “I hear Professor Carbonesi is a real looker. Have you met her yet.”

“No. I’m supposed to go over there next week to talk to her.”

Lucrezia raised her eyebrows and cracked a little smile. “Well, I think I know who Carbonesi is. If I’m right, you’d better be careful, Tomás. From what I hear, she could be a real ball breaker.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing, really. But she’s not married—maybe she had a bad experience with a man; or maybe she just hates all men for some reason. She sure bulldozed her way to the top of her department in record time.”

Tomás knew his roommates’ comments were only half serious so he didn’t worry too much about any of them The museum internship was important to him. He was convinced growing up with his sister, Anna, had taught him everything he needed to know about getting along with troublesome women. He knew could handle any problems with Professor Carbonesi, but he was a little nervous when he went to her department at the Pinacoteca for their first meeting.

The restoration department was in a dark corner of the museum’s basement, not the kind of place most visitors would look for. Tomás had trouble finding Carbonesi’s office. After wandering through a maze of hallways reeking of turpentine and varnish he finally came to a closed door bearing her name on a small bronze plaque: Magdalena Carbonesi, PhD. He tapped on the door and waited. No answer. He knocked harder, then he heard a soft feminine voice say, “Come in, Mr. Bozen.”

Still edgy about the meeting, he pushed the door open. He was stunned for a moment by the looks of the woman he saw working at an easel on the other side of the room. The only natural light in the place came from a pair of high windows above the easel, sunlight that reflected like a halo from her dark brown hair. She was one of the most beautiful women Tomás had ever seen, not the professor type at all.  She looked younger than the thirty years he’d guessed, but there was nothing girlish about her. Tall and thin, her body was definitely womanly, even under the white lab coat she was wearing. She had pulled her hair back in a loose ponytail held in place by a small gold clasp. She turned from the easel and smiled at Tomás, her brown eyes sparkling like deep pools of dark liquid. Ball breaker? Not hardly—not this one.

“Professor Carbonesi, I’m Tomás Bozen. How’d you know it was me at the door?”

She pulled off a pair of latex gloves and glanced at a clock on the wall, then walked toward Tomás  with her hand extended. “It’s time for your appointment. I expected you to be prompt.”

He took her hand—small and soft he noticed. “Well, I do try. They told me I should see you about the internship I’ll be starting next semester.”

“Right. Your instructors gave you a fine recommendation, Bozen. They showed me some of your drawings, and I agree with them. I look forward to working with you. By the way, do call me Magdalena when we’re working. The Professor thing is a little too formal for me.”

The two talked for a while about the kinds of restorations they’d work on during Tomás’s internship. “You’ll have to be ready for long hours,” Magdalena said. “When I get started on a project I like to work on it day and night until it’s finished. It’s kind of like reading a good book—you can’t put it down until you know how it comes out.”

“I can do that. I look forward to the experience.”

“We may have to travel from time to time,” she said. “I do some work for Di Brera over in Milano and a few other museums.”

“Great, I’d like that. Have you studied the mosaics in Ravenna? That’s what first got me interested in Italian art—my father showed them to me a long time ago.”

Magdalena smiled. “Well we won’t be doing any mosaic work here, Tomás, but they are beautiful aren’t they? I know them well.”

Their conversation went on for half an hour. Magdalena showed him the painting she was working on—a very old canvas that had been damaged by rainwater from a roof leak. They talked about how they would work together on projects like that one and how she would teach him about the artists as well as all the techniques for restoration of paintings.

That evening Tomás brought home another bottle of wine and described every detail of his first meeting with Magdalena to his roommates, including her drop-dead good looks. Over the following weeks Roberto and Giuseppe created daily opportunities to tease him about his upcoming work with the beautiful professor. Lucrezia stayed quieter than the other two—no more talk about what she knew, or did not know, about Professor Carbonesi. The rest of the semester passed quickly. Tomás was excited as a schoolboy when it was finally time to report to the restoration department and begin the internship.

In a short time young Tomás himself became Magdalena’s pet project. She was comfortable working day and night alongside a handsome student in the museum’s restoration studios. Tomás was captivated by the professor and welcomed their growing closeness. She was never put off by his teasing flirtation.

From time to time she treated him to dinner at one of her favorite places, where elegant pastas and the wines of northern Italy replaced his usual student fare of mortadella, cheese, and beer. On one such occasion she took him to a popular restaurant on Via Mascarella in the heart of the city.  The place was called Cantina Bentivoglio, and it was only a fifteen minute walk from Tomás’s apartment on Via San Vitale, so they planned to meet at the restaurant. When he arrived he found Magdalena seated in the restaurant’s foyer. What the…? Magdalena was not alone.

When Tomás walked in, Magdalena stood up and gave him a casual hug. “Tomás, this is my roommate, Maria Garfalo. Maria teaches culinary arts and I wanted to show her this restaurant. They have a nice demonstration of some tricks of the trade for making pasta.”

“Oh hi, Maria,” he said, shaking her hand, then he frowned at Magdalena. “I thought we were going to eat. I didn’t know we had to make our own pasta.”

Magdalena laughed. “No, silly—we are going to eat, but first I want to go to the pasta demonstration. We’ll have dinner out here afterward—they usually have a few musicians playing acoustic jazz during dinner. You’ll like it, I think.”

The meeting room for the demonstration was decorated with examples of many kinds of dried pasta and the tools for making them, some modern, some historic. Chairs for a small group were arranged facing an over-sized table finished with fresh looking wood like a gigantic cutting board. Wooden rolling pins of several types were scattered about the table. After a while, a woman wearing a white uniform greeted them and demonstrated the art of combining semolina flour with eggs and a little olive oil and salt to create any kind of pasta you like. After mixing, kneading, rolling and cutting she hung the newborn pasta on wooden racks to dry.

Most of the demonstration was old hat to Tomás—he’d watched his Mama do things like that for years, but Maria had a few questions about the exact blend of ingredients and the techniques for rolling and cutting the pasta into a variety of shapes. She wanted advice about making flavored pastas using spinach, tomatoes, or red peppers, even strawberry pastas for dessert dishes.

Afterward they had dinner in the main dining room, listening to the wail of a saxophone accompanied by a single bass. Dinner was excellent—Tomás wondered out loud whether they ate the same pasta they saw being made. He was still peeved about Maria joining  them without advance warning, and about Magdalena humoring her with that boring pasta demonstration. He’d earlier allowed himself to fantasize that this might be the night he’d finally go home with Magdalena at the end of the evening.

 Roberto had planted that seed when Tomás told him where they were going for dinner. “Sweet music, good food, vino—sounds like a hot night to me, man.” But that was not to be. Instead of a hot night with Magdalena, Tomás had too much vino, and he was a little unsteady walking home alone after dinner. When he trudged nosily into the apartment Roberto was watching a mystery drama on TV. “What happened, man? You’re not supposed to be here. Did she kick you out?”

“No, Roberto. She didn’t kick me out. She brought her roommate to have dinner with us—not exactly a romantic night.”

“Roommate? A guy?”

No, not a guy. Her roommate’s a woman named Maria.”

“Oh well.” He grinned. “Two for the price of one—that’s hot, man. Maybe I can meet the roommate. Is she as cute as the professor?”

Tomás didn’t answer. He drug himself into his bedroom and fell across the bed without undressing. After a while Giuseppe tiptoed into the room and pulled off Tomás’s shoes, jacket, and trousers. He covered him with a blanket and turned off the light.

Tomás groaned when he awoke the next morning. His brain was in a fog. He stumbled out of his bedroom in his boxers to find Lucrezia for advice about curing a hangover. “That’s easy,” she said. “Just take two aspirin and I’ll make you a magic elixir that’ll do the trick in no time.”

“Magic elixir? What’s in it?”

“Nothing much. It’s just a big shot of whiskey in a tall glass of iced milk.”

“Yuk. I don’t want to be drunk, I just want to feel better.”

“Trust me, you’ll feel better. And, Tomás, don’t let Roberto’s crazy talk get you so excited next time. Magdalena Carbonesi is your teacher, not your lover. Don’t forget that, kiddo.”

“But she’s usually so nice to me, Luci.” He scratched he stubble on his chin. “I think I’m in love with her.”

“Oh boy,” Lucrezia said. “Sounds like big trouble to me. Just be careful, Tomás. You need somebody closer to your own age.”

Luci’s elixir did cure the hangover. Later Tomás wondered exactly what she had in mind when she said “somebody closer to your own age,” but he didn’t ask. Magdalena was not all that old, and sometimes, when they were alone in the restoration lab, she acted younger than Lucrezia.

He arrived at the museum later than usual that day. “I want to apologize, Professor Carbonesi.”

“Apologize? What for? You’re not late enough to worry about it.”

“That’s not it, Professor. I think I was a little rude to Maria last night.”

“Hey, cut out the Professor business. You were not rude to Maria—besides, she thinks you’re a real cute guy. Come on over here and have a look at this new project Di Brera sent us.”

She had stretched an old-looking canvas out on her easel. “This Caravaggio had some minor damage from a fire in one of their storage rooms.”

Caravaggio excited Tomás and he quickly scanned the large canvas from top to bottom. He’d never been this close to an actual Caravaggio—he was afraid to touch it.

Magdalena said, “As you can see, it’s not badly damaged, but when they examined this burned section they found another painting underneath Caravaggio’s brush strokes. They thought the under-painting looked very old. When they analyzed the pigments they concluded Tintoretto or one of his contemporaries might have done the original painting.”

“You mean, Caravaggio painted over an older canvas? Why would he do that?”

“Money, Tomás, money. In that time some of the artists were wild men, and Caravaggio was one of them. Maybe he was burning with inspiration and had no money for a new canvas. I can imagine Caravaggio believed his painting would be a big improvement, so he just grabbed the nearest available canvas and worked right over the older painting.”

“So, what are we supposed to do with it?”

“They commissioned us to authenticate the under-painting, then figure out a way to safely remove the Caravaggio to a clean canvas and preserve them both.” She leaned close to show Tomás her ideas about how to tackle the tedious task of separating the priceless paintings. “First, we have to authenticate the older painting, then figure out a way to separate the two without damaging either one.” The smell of her hair and the scent of her body drove Tomás to distraction.

Work on the project was meticulous. It became a day and night job for Magdalena and Tomás and they spent many hours together poring over the old canvas. Near the end of the first semester of Tomás’s internship, Magdalena invited him to travel with her to Bolzano for a week-long symposium on advanced techniques for restoration of ancient paintings.

“Will we take the Caravaggio with us?”

“No, no. I can’t risk travelling with it. But I will show my photographs to the experts at the symposium and pick their brains about the safest ways to separate the paintings. I’ll drive to Bolzano in my car. We can share a hotel room to save expenses. In the evening we can review the proceedings of that day’s symposium and discuss them in detail.”

Oh my god—share a hotel room. What an invitation for a horny young student—how could he wish for more? Tomás imagined what Magdalena’s proposal might involve, and the possibilities excited him. He did hope he could learn about some of the things top restoration experts discussed with each other, but more than that he hoped the shared week would lead to a new kind of relationship with the beautiful older woman he’d fallen for. Ignoring Lucrezia’s counsel and the teasing of his other roommates, he happily accepted Magdalena’s offer.