It was a glorious summer’s day and it seemed like all of Tuscany had come to The Luca Cathedral of San Martino to celebrate the wedding of Maria Vincenzo and Luigi Gammetto.
Government ministers and high court judges and business associates of the bride’s father Gianni Vincenzo and girls from the society pages and members of the ruling families – the Gambinis, the Corleonis and the Ducas – all packed out the bustling pews in the great dome hall.
Sunlight streamed through the stain glass windows, beaming its golden glow over the elegantly dressed guests. The ivory and purple flower arches at the entrance sweetened the air with the faint smell of lavender and hibiscus, and a young baritone in a tightly-fitting tux crooned La Vita e Bella as the beaming bride and an emotional Signor Vincenzo made their slow procession down the aisle. The ceremony went without a hitch and pretty soon all of the wedding party were flooding out of the cathedral and into the streets, into the fresh midday air, ready to attend the event of the season.
After the ceremony, a concord of super cars – Maseratis and Lamborghinis and Ferraris – careered their way up the tree-lined avenues of the Tuscan hills, racing to get to the Vincenzo mansion, which was perched atop a magical landscape in the ancient village of Pitigliano.
I borrowed my father’s 1967 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow for the day, not wishing to turn up in my banged out Astra, as I wanted to keep up appearances with the coterie of Tuscan power couples that would be attending. As the Rolls zigged and zagged over the rough-cobbled streets, climbing higher and higher into the Tuscan hills, I came to the golden gates of the Casa di Vincenzo, the entrance to the mansion’s grounds. A security guard at the gates waved me in and then I was driving tepidly through the winding forest avenue that led up to the house.
The mansion itself looked more like a castle for a Roman emperor than a home. Its sandy walls and various red tiled roofs cast a long shadow over the lush green lawns, where expensive Italian cars were trying to park. Guests gushed in through the double-height entrance, creating a stream of black and white suits that looked like the tongue of a dragon coming out of the palace’s mouth.
I made my way inside amongst the guests, walked through the labyrinth of passageways that ran through the house and came out into the spectacular Venetian gardens that were covered with rows upon rows of white tables for the wedding party.
As I was a bachelor, I was put on the singles table, number 11, next to Lindsey Grantham, the darling daughter of an American property magnate who worked with Gianni Vincenzo, and a rather odd, bespectacled man named Roberto Finci, who worked for the Vincenzo construction company. After our introductions, I spent most of my time talking to Lindsey, hoping that the intoxicating atmosphere of love and joy and laughter that the wedding imbued would create a little spark of romance between us. I felt almost rudely interrupted when I could hear the chinking of glasses that demanded silence for the start of the speeches.
The first person to speak was the Mayor of Tuscany, Niccolò Pucci, an over-weight man in a double-breasted tux, who stood in between the bride and Giannia Vincenzo for his address.
“Signori and Signore,” he bellowed, “far be it from me to interrupt this delicious Tuscan feast. However, I could not let this opportunity go by without giving my best wishes to the happy couple. I have known Maria all of her life and I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone here today, when I wish both Maria and Luigi a lifetime of happy blessings together.”
With that, the Mayor shook the hand of Gianni Vincenzo, to the deafening applause of the crowd.
I went back to talking to Lindsey, keen to keep Roberto from joining in and we slipped back into conversation.
The afternoon progressed like that for hours. Courses of seafood and prosciutto and calamari and salami came and went, wine poured freely, and Lindsey and I danced with the rest of the party for what felt like eternity.
As the afternoon sun descended in the reddening sky, creating a faint chill in the air, and when the bride and groom seemed to have disappeared amongst the guests, I could see on the head bridal table Gianni Vincenzo and Mayor Pucci having a heated discussion. The Mayor seemed to be animatedly upset, almost as if he was trying to apologise, and Signor Vincenzo had a passive expression on his face. The two men then stood up and started walking together towards the garden doors of the casa, quickly followed by three more men behind them.
I can’t explain why, perhaps it was just overwrought curiosity mixed with too much wine, perhaps it was to impress Lindsey, but I told her I was going to follow them and proceeded to walk between the tables into the house.
As I was walking back through the reddish-brown corridors of bedrooms and bathrooms that formed the mansion, I could hear a muffled argument coming from one of the rooms.
I intrepidly approached the office where the commotion was coming from, stood by the unlocked door, which was slightly ajar on his hinges, and stood in dead-silence trying to listen in.
I strained to hear their Italian conversation and could make out only certain words here and there. Mayor Pucci seemed to say something about a contratto, a contract, then I heard the word pagamento, which I knew from going to the bank meant payment, then he seemed to go quiet.
A muffled voice came from the door, which I can only imagine was the voice of Signor Vincenzo, and then there was the loud bang of a gun. The noise reverberated around my ears, giving me a fright so hard it nearly stopped my heart. I began to feel light-headed from the wine and fear and confusion, and felt myself falling forward. My lifeless body pushed through the door and I landed headfirst inside the office, passing out for what must have been a few minutes.
As I came to, I could see three of Signor Vincenzo’s men standing over me, giving me a quizzical look, and behind them, their boss was sitting calm-faced at his large oak-panelled desk.
I turned my head to the right and could see Mayor Pucci slumped over in a round wooden chair, his face ashen and pale, his shirt stained with crimson.
“Why were you spying on me?” Signor Vincenzo bellowed, not getting up from his desk. “Take him upstairs.”
I felt a giant fist come down hard on my face, pushing the back of my head against the hard wooden floor, and with that, I closed my eyes again and slipped back into the inky black of unconsciousness.