Boscailo Littori escorted his wife, children, mother-in-law and two unmarried sisters-in-law into the Chapel of St Mark in the Basilica di Sant’Erasmo da Specola at half eleven on Friday morning. For once he was not wearing motorcycle leathers, instead he wore an immaculate, dark gray suit. After all, not only was it a wedding but he was escorting the mother of the bride. He appeared imperturbable. The adult women were nervous and wore pinks and reds. The three children, all under six, were merely excited. His mother-in-law, despite being a short woman, looked every inch Countess Strefagi in a silk, two-piece suit and an antique family brooch.
Desiderii sergeants acting as ushers gravely escorted the Countess Strefagi and her party to the front right hand pew. The left hand side of the chapel was full of Desideri and their dependents: the other children of the late Count Orazio, both legitimate and not, their spouses and children; the late Count’s sister, Domitilla Marostica, and her husband come all the way with their children and grandchildren from his estate up in the hills; the children, grandchildren and a widow of the late Count’s brothers; and senior members of the Desiderii organisation and their wives. The Desiderii enforcers, the men who worked directly to Rodolfo, and their wives sat on the right hand side, starting in the third pew from the front. Behind them sat various business connections whom it was politic to invite. The empty second pew behind the Strefagii seemed like an enormous gulf though Signorina Francesca Littori, age eighteen months, did her best to flirt with everyone in the third pew.
The bride was not expected for fifteen minutes after they arrived, Boscailo having allowed for accidents and delays in his planning, and the Strefagii women had expected to talk among themselves but they were not ignored. The usher had no sooner left them alone when a tall, blonde woman in her mid thirties rose from her place in the front Desiderii pew and walked over to the Countess. Holding out her hand to the bride’s mother she said, “Countess, you probably don’t know me but I’m Luciana Zanetti, Rodolfo’s eldest half-sister. We didn’t meet the other day because clothes aren’t my thing.” The Countess took her hand and they shook. “I realise that this might not be quite the time to discuss it but I was wondering if, given the outrageous manipulation of events by my brothers that brought us all here today, you might be interested in giving your patronage to a group I’m organising to campaign for the repeal of the last of the female financial asset laws? After all, we can own property and run businesses in our own right, we can vote and stand for election; why should we be considered property ourselves at any stage of our lives? As we can’t,” her eye twinkled, “Be appreciated or depreciated as assets on our fathers’ tax returns any longer, why should any of the ‘women as money’ laws remain in place?”
Sextia and Octavia were listening with interest. “You’re an activist?” Sextia asked brightly.
“Of course,” Luciana returned. “It runs in the family - Mama was an anti-vivisectionist. That’s how she came to bring Rodolfo’s mother home with her.”
Octavia asked cautiously and, perhaps, imprudently, “Your mother brought your father’s mistress into the house?”
“Yes,” agreed Luciana, “But it wasn’t quite the way that sounds. Mama was being driven home from some event one night when Rodolfo’s mama jumped out of a second storey window and landed on all fours almost beside the car. She was wearing a hospital gown and a lot of medical leads. Mama opened the car door and told her to get in. She did. Papa didn’t get involved until we had to lie about how long we’d known her.” Luciana paused, “And he was the one who got in the shower to help her scrub off the marker pen. I was too young to realise it at the time, but she’d been marked off with cutting lines...” She stared off into the distance. “Mama and her driver knew their number plate had been seen. While Papa was scrubbing off the marker, Mama and the other grown-up women were making it look like she’d been living with us for months. Everything else was to make the lies we told the police true.” She visibly took herself in hand. “That leads into an important side effect of the female financial asset laws. Did you realise that ninety percent of human transgenics produced in this country are female because the female financial asset laws make it easier to regain custody of them if they escape or are released?”
“The police would have taken Rodolfo’s mother back to be cut up?” Octavia, a generation younger than the events in question, was shocked.
“In those days, yes,” her mother confirmed, while Luciana nodded in agreement. “I remember signing the petition to strengthen the anti-vivisection laws the Bishop had in every church in the diocese and the Episcopal Guards finding evidence of corrupt collusion with corporate laboratories when they raided police stations on diocesan property.”
“Mama felt that the Police Commissioner’s public apology for the actions of her officers was one of her greatest triumphs,” reminisced Luciana.
“I suppose,” offered the Countess Strefagi hesitantly, “That Rodolfo’s mother died... I’m so sorry,” she reached out her hand towards the other woman, “But I swear that Terrence and I didn’t know...”
“Oh, we’ve always known that,” Luciana patted the offered hand kindly. “Our enforcers had your house under surveillance and your phones tapped that night, or so they told us in the aftermath. Count Amato managed to blindside and insult so many people with the attack on my father the night before your father-in-law’s funeral, it’s a wonder he lived as long as he did afterwards. Of course, if Count Terrence had been involved, I doubt Rodolfo would be marrying your daughter today.”
There was a slightly embarrassed silence from all the Strefagi women which made Luciana hurry on, “All of us have told Bartolo and Rodolfo what we think of their behaviour. Seraglia,” she indicated one of two feline-looking blonde women in third left-hand pew, seated with husbands, children and a man their age with cat-like ears, “Gave them a tongue lashing I wouldn’t have dared, but then, she’s pregnant again.” She added, “None of us can see why, if Rodolfo liked her, he couldn’t just introduce himself and invite her for coffee.”
Sextia offered drily, “Perhaps it was the whole feud thing with our uncle killing your parents after your father turned our grandfather into a slowly dying invalid, and so on, back who knows how many generations?”
“There is that,” admitted Luciana soberly, “But I still think my brothers have behaved badly.”
Outside, a black limousine pulled up at the kerb in front of the main entrance to the Basilica. Inside, in the back seat, a dapper man with grey hair turned to the young woman beside him and said, “Are you ready, Astanthe? If you don’t want to marry my godson and you’re only doing this because you think you have to, just tell me and we’ll work something else out.” He smiled kindly. “As his godfather it is my job to keep an eye on him and stop him going astray. He’s not too old for me whack him up the back of the head and tell him he’s got it all wrong.”
Astanthe smiled back. “Thank you, Signor Patrelli, but I do want to marry Rodolfo, very much.” She blushed.
He patted her hand. “Very well then. Shall we make our entrance?”
Back inside the Chapel of St Mark an usher walked briskly down the right wall to knock on a door tucked to one side.
“She’s here already,” Luciana commented in surprise. “I’d better get back to my seat. I’ll see you again at the reception.” She hurried back to her place beside her husband.
Her veil hanging over her face now she was in the Basilica and her free hand holding up her skirt to ensure she didn’t step on it, Astanthe made her way to the entrance of the Chapel of Saint Mark, allowing herself to be guided by Rodolfo’s godfather. They paused in the Chapel’s entrance while the congregation stood, and then two of them genuflected. Astanthe would have moved forward straight away but Michele Patrelli put his hand over hers and said quietly, “Wait a moment for the hymn to start. Let them look at you. This is your moment.”
Without turning her head Astanthe quietly replied, “I didn’t expect him to be so beautiful.”
The older man chuckled quietly. “You’re the bride. You’re supposed to be the beautiful one.”
“Yes.” He could hear the laugh in her voice. “But I’m allowed to think the groom is beautiful, aren’t I?”
Deaf Zia Lynetta, the widow of Count Orazio’s second brother and the only survivor of her generation, whispered more loudly than she realised to Shiloh, her foreign-born daughter-in-law, “That can't be the bride, can it? Ah, well, at least she’s not pretending nothing happened and I do like what she’s done with it. Silly boys!”
Outside in the Piazza Sant’Erasmo da Specola a taxi entered from the east, down the Via Ordinal. In it Helena Strefagi fumed. The Strefagi had no drive, no aggression; she’d had to show them what needed to be done for years. And how dare that accountant’s daughter strike her? Well, she was going to lead by example. Terrence might have pushed her into a tiny apartment in her own home, he might have cut her funds, but she would still show the Strefagi that she knew how to advance their best interests. It would help if those boys turned up, seventeen was quite old enough for them to stop being school boys and start being foot soldiers, whatever foolishness Terrence had in mind but they’d seemed curiously reluctant on the phone. At least she had the weapons, her hand rested on the long heavy bag beside her on the seat of the taxi. She had been right to keep those caches secret.
Inside the Chapel as the congregation began the first hymn, Signor Patrelli and Astanthe began to progress down the aisle towards the altar, Rodolfo and Bartolo his best man, and the presiding priest, Monsignor Failo, who was Rodolfo’s other godfather.