“Domestic frescos are so rare,” Professor Verita explained. “People who had enough money sponsored works in churches or on civic projects, for the prestige. They only spent this sort of money at home if they entertained a lot for business or politics. Frankly,” he gave an expressive shrug and hand gesture, “I’ll be doing well to limit the involvement of the History and Art faculties to this. It doesn’t help,” he added darkly, “That in the late 1800s anyone who had money plastered over their frescos and redecorated in white and gold.”
“We can hope,” added one of the earnest young people, a red haired girl in jeans and a checked shirt, “That no-one used a sledge hammer here, the way they did in the Palazzo Borghese in Fossi Piceno. If the picture is intact we could learn a lot about the man who built this house.” She smiled at Rodolfo and Astanthe as if she were offering them a treat.
“I already know as much as I need to about the mind of the man who built this house,” Rodolfo said suppressingly, “He built his foyer to be a killing zone with a false door to give the illusion of an easier way out of the trap.”
“Rubia!” Professor Verita spoke sharply to the student, “Don’t repeat that to anyone yet. Don Rodolfo,” he turned back to the engaged couple, “I don’t doubt your expertise on the subject of-,” he stopped, looking for a polite word.
“Ambushes,” supplied Rodolfo with a feral grin.
“Ambushes,” the professor graciously accepted the help, “But do you want to get more of my colleagues involved?”
“More?” Rodolpho looked around the room sceptically.
“These are a few of my own students plus some curating experts,” Professor Verita said dismissively. “I’m talking about more professors from different schools.” He paused, “Pure historians, political scientists, anyone at all with a theory on Pietro IV and condottori will want to come and look. Some of them,” he gave his words significance, “Can pull rank on me.”
“As the owners without let or hindrance,” Rodolfo smiled, “We can pull rank on all of you. Why don’t we talk terms?”
“Of course, Don Rodolfo.” Professor Verita smiled amiably. “I am happy to do so.”
“Rodolfo,” Astanthe tugged at his sleeve, “Can we talk for a moment in the next room, first.”
He looked down at her, a little surprised. “Of course, my dear.” He looked back at the other man. “Professor, excuse us for a moment please.”
“Of course.” The professor smiled indulgently.
A few moments later in the ballroom next door Rodolfo asked, “Well? The professor may feel you’ve given him the advantage by pulling me away just as we were about to start negotiations.”
“Tell him I wanted to make sure they’re going to bring their equipment in through the front door and not through my kitchen. Brush it off as my foible if you have to.” She looked apologetic and added softly, “I’m sorry if you feel I’ve made you lose face in front of the professor but,” her voice firmed, “I’ve listened to a few years’ of Skein’s dinner table conversation now. He says that the public museums and art galleries always try to get the householder to pay all their expenses in cases like this.” Rodolfo’s face sharpened with interest. “We want the top layer of plaster to come off to see how much of the fresco is still there and if it can be made presentable we’ll want it restored in situ, right?”
“I agree,” he nodded, “I don’t think we should pay for the time of the professor’s PhD students or for any other professors who come to research their theories.”
“On the other hand,” she suggested, “We don’t charge them rent, they don’t take over my kitchen, plus they stock the bathroom they use and clean it.”
“And we set their working hours,” Rodolfo grinned, “Not on weekends, not after five in the evening and not before nine in the morning.”
“And not this Friday at all!” Astanthe grabbed his lapels and pulled on them, then kissed him firmly when he leant forward in response.
“Definitely not.” He kissed her back for a few moments then they broke apart and he offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
She took it and smiled up at him, “Definitely.”
They swept back into the dining room. “Professor.” Rodolfo’s voice echoed in the room and everyone looked at him. “Interesting acoustics,” he muttered in an aside to Astanthe and then said to the Professor who was walking over to them, “Let’s start with your working hours.”