Monday, September 7.
Ivo Palazzi stood in the middle of his bedroom, the blood streaming down his face. "Mamma mia! Mi hai rovinato!"
"I haven't begun to ruin you, you miserable figlio di putana!" Donatella screamed at him.
They were both naked in the large bedroom of their apartment in Via Montemignaio. Donatella had the most sensuous, exciting body Ivo Palazzi had ever seen, and even now, as his life's blood poured from his face, from the terrible scratches she had inflicted on him, he felt a familiar stirring in his loins. Dio, she was beautiful. There was an innocent decadence about her that drove him wild. She had the face of a leopard, high cheekbones and slant eyes, full ripe lips, lips that nibbled him and sucked him and - but he must not think of that now. He picked up a white cloth from a chair to stanch the flow of blood, and too late he realized that it was his shirt. Donatella was standing in the middle of their huge double bed, yelling at him. "I hope you bleed to death! When I've finished with you, you filthy whoremonger, there won't be enough left for a gattino to shit on!"
For the hundredth time Ivo Palazzi wondered how he had gotten himself into this impossible situation. He had always prided himself on being the happiest of men, and all his friends had agreed with him. His friends? Everybody! Because Ivo had no enemies. In his bachelor days he had been a happy-go-lucky Roman without a care in the world, a Don Giovanni who was the envy of half the males in Italy. His philosophy was summed up in the phrase Farsi onore con una donna - "Honor oneself with a woman." It kept Ivo very busy. He was a true romantic. He kept falling in love, and each time he used his new love to help him forget his old love. Ivo adored women, and to him they were all beautiful, from the putane who plied their ancient trade along the Via Appia, to the high-fashion models strutting along the Via Condotti. The only girls Ivo did not care for were the Americans. They were too independent for his tastes. Besides, what could one expect of a nation whose language was so unromantic that they would translate the name of Giuseppe Verdi to Joe Green?
Ivo always managed to have a dozen girls in various states of preparation. There were five stages. In stage one were the girls he had just met. They received daily phone calls, flowers, slim volumes of erotic poetry. In stage two were those to whom he sent little gifts of Gucci scarves and porcelain boxes filled with Perugina chocolates. Those in stage three received jewelry and clothes and were taken to dinner at El Toula, or Taverna Flavia. Those in stage four shared Ivo's bed and enjoyed his formidable skills as a lover. An assignation with Ivo was a production. His beautifully decorated little apartment on the Via Margutta would be filled with flowers, garofani or papaveri, the music would be opera, classical or rock, according to the chosen girl's taste. Ivo was a superb cook, and one of his specialties, appropriately enough, was polio alla cacciatora, chicken of the hunter. After dinner, a bottle of chilled champagne to drink in bed...Ah, yes, Ivo loved stage four.
But stage five was probably the most delicate of them all. It consisted of a heartbreaking farewell speech, a generous parting gift and a tearful arrivederci.
But all that was in the past. Now Ivo Palazzi took a quick glance at his bleeding, scratched face in the mirror over his bed and was horrified. He looked as though he had been attacked by a mad threshing machine.
"Look at what you've done to me!" he cried. "Cora, I know you didn't mean it."
He moved over to the bed to take Donatella in his arms. Her soft arms flew around him and as he started to hug her, she buried her long fingernails in his naked back and clawed him like a wild animal. Ivo yelled with pain.
"Scream!" Donatella shouted. "If I had a knife, I'd cut your cazzo and ram it down your miserable throat"
"Please!" Ivo begged. "The children will hear you."
"Let them!" she shrieked. "It's time they found out what kind of monster their father is."
He took a step toward her. "Carissima - "
"Don't you touch me! I'd give my body to the first drunken syphilitic sailor I met on the streets before I'd ever let you come near me again."
Ivo drew himself up, his pride offended. "That is not the way I expected the mother of my children to talk to me."
"You want me to talk nice to you? You want me to stop treating you like the vermin you are?" Donatella's voice rose to a scream. "Then give me what I want!"
Ivo looked nervously toward the door. "Carissima - I can't. I don't have it."
"Then get it for me!" she cried. "You promised!"
She was beginning to get hysterical again, and Ivo decided the best thing for him to do was to get out of there quickly before the neighbors called the carabinieri again.
"It will take time to get a million dollars," he said soothingly. "But I'll - I'll find a way."
He hastily donned his undershorts and pants, and socks and shoes, while Donatella stormed around the room, her magnificent, firm breasts waving in the air, and Ivo thought to himself, My God, what a woman! How I adore her! He reached for his bloodstained shirt. There was no help for it He put it on, feeling the cold stickiness against his back and chest. He took a last look in the mirror. Small pools of blood were still oozing from the deep gashes where Donatella had raked her fingernails across his face.
"Carissima," Ivo moaned, "how am I ever going to explain this to my wife?"
Ivo Palazzi's wife was Simonetta Roffe, an heiress of the Italian branch of the Roffe family. Ivo had been a young architect when he had met Simonetta. His firm had sent him to supervise some changes in the Roffe villa at Porto Ercole. The instant Simonetta had set eyes on Ivo, his bachelor days were numbered. Ivo had gotten to the fourth stage with her on the first night, and found himself married to her a short time later. Simonetta was as determined as she was lovely, and she knew what she wanted: she wanted Ivo Palazzi. Thus it was that Ivo found himself transformed from a carefree bachelor to the husband of a beautiful young heiress. He gave up his architectural aspirations with no regrets and joined Roffe and Sons, with a magnificent office in EUR, the section of Rome started with such high hopes by the late, ill-fated Duce.
Ivo was a success with the firm from the beginning. He was intelligent, learned quickly, and everyone adored him. It was impossible not to adore Ivo. He was always smiling, always charming. His friends envied him his wonderful disposition and wondered how he did it. The answer was simple. Ivo kept the dark side of his nature buried. In fact, he was a deeply emotional man, capable of great volatile hatreds, capable of killing.
Ivo's marriage with Simonetta thrived. At first, he had feared that marriage would prove to be a bondage that would strangle his manhood to death, but his fears proved to be unfounded. He simply put himself on an austerity program, reducing the number of his girl friends, and everything went on as before.
Simonetta's father bought them a beautiful home in Olgiata, a large private estate twenty-five kilometers north of Rome, guarded by closed gates and manned by uniformed guards.
Simonetta was a wonderful wife. She loved Ivo and treated him like a king, which was no more than he felt he deserved. There was just one tiny flaw in Simonetta. When she became jealous, she turned into a savage. She had once suspected Ivo of taking a female buyer on a trip to Brazil. He was righteously indignant at the accusation. Before the argument was over, their entire house was a shambles. Not one dish or piece of furniture was left intact, and much of it had been broken over Ivo's head. Simonetta had gone after him with a butcher knife, threatening to kill him and then herself, and it had taken all of Ivo's strength to wrest the knife from her. They had wound up fighting on the floor, and Ivo had finally torn off her clothes and made her forget her anger. But after that incident Ivo became very discreet He had told the buyer he could not take any more trips with her, and he was careful never to let the faintest breath of suspicion touch him. He knew that he was the luckiest man in the world. Simonetta was young and beautiful and intelligent and rich. They enjoyed the same things and the same people. It was a perfect marriage, and Ivo sometimes found himself wondering, as he transferred a girl from stage two to stage three, and another stage four to stage five, why he kept on being unfaithful. Then he would shrug philosophically and say to himself, Someone has to make these women happy.
Ivo and Simonetta had been married for three years when Ivo met Donatella Spolini on a business trip to Sicily. It was more of an explosion than a meeting, two planets coming together and colliding. Where Simonetta had the slender, sweet body of a young woman sculpted by Manzu, Donatella had the sensuous, ripe body of a Rubens. Her face was exquisite and her green, smoldering eyes set Ivo aflame. They were in bed one hour after they had met, and Ivo, who had always prided himself on his prowess as a lover, found that he was the pupil and Donatella the teacher. She made him rise to heights he had never achieved before, and her body did things to his that he had never dreamed possible. She was an endless cornucopia of pleasure, and as Ivo lay in bed, his eyes closed, savoring incredible sensations, he knew he would be a fool to let Donatella go.
And so Donatella had become Ivo's mistress. The only condition she imposed was that he had to get rid of all the other women in his life, except his wife. Ivo had happily agreed That had been eight years ago, and in all that time Ivo had never been unfaithful to either his wife or his mistress. Satisfying two hungry women would have been enough to exhaust an ordinary man, but in Ivo's case it was exactly the opposite. When he made love to Simonetta he thought about Donatella and her ripe full body, and he was filled with lust. And when he made love to Donatella, he thought of Simonetta's sweet young breasts and tiny culo and he performed like a wild man. No matter which woman he was with, he felt that he was cheating on the other. It added enormously to his pleasure.
Ivo bought Donatella a beautiful apartment in Via Montemignaio, and he was with her every moment that he could manage. He would arrange to be away on a sudden business trip and, instead of leaving, he would spend the time in bed with Donatella. He would stop by to see her on his way to the office, and he would spend his afternoon siestas with her. Once, when Ivo sailed to New York on the QE 2 with Simonetta, he installed Donatella in a cabin one deck below. They were the five most stimulating days of Ivo's life.
On the evening that Simonetta announced to Ivo that she was pregnant, Ivo was filled with an indescribable joy. A week later Donatella informed Ivo that she was pregnant, and Ivo's cup ranneth over. Why, he asked himself, are the gods so good to me? In all humility, Ivo sometimes felt that he did not deserve all the great pleasures that were being bestowed upon him.
In due course Simonetta gave birth to a girl and a week later Donatella gave birth to a boy. What more could any man ask? But the gods were not finished with Ivo. A short time later, Donatella informed Ivo that she was pregnant again, and the following week Simonetta also became pregnant. Nine months later, Donatella gave Ivo another son and Simonetta presented her husband with another daughter. Four months later, both women were pregnant again and this time they gave birth on the same day. Ivo frantically raced from the Salvator Mundi, where Simonetta was encouched, to the Clinica Santa Chiara where Ivo had taken Donatella. He sped from hospital to hospital, driving on the Raccordo Anulare, waving to the girls sitting in front of their little tents along the sides of the road, under pink umbrellas, waiting for customers. Ivo was driving too fast to see their faces, but he loved them all and wished them well.
Donatella gave birth to another boy and Simonetta to another girl.
Sometimes Ivo wished it had been the other way around. It was ironical that his wife had borne him daughters and his mistress had borne him sons, for he would have liked male heirs to carry on his name. Still, he was a contented man. He had three children with outdoor plumbing, and three children with indoor plumbing. He adored them and he was wonderful to them, remembering their birthdays, their saints' days, and their names. The girls were called Isabella and Benedetta and Camilla. The boys were Francesco and Carlo and Luca.
As the children grew older, life began to get more complicated for Ivo. Including his wife, his mistress and his six children, Ivo had to cope with eight birthdays, eight saints' days, and two of every holiday. He made sure that the children's schools were well separated. The girls were sent to Saint Dominique, the French convent on the Via Cassia, and the boys to Massimo, the Jesuit school in EUR. Ivo met and charmed all their teachers, helped the children with their homework, played with them, fixed their broken toys. It taxed all of Ivo's ingenuity to handle two families and keep them apart, but he managed. He was truly an exemplary father, husband and lover. On Christmas Day he stayed home with Simonetta, Isabella, Benedetta and Camilla. On Befana, the sixth of January, Ivo dressed up as the Befana, the witch, and handed out presents and carbone, the black rock candy prized by children, to Francesco, Carlo and Luca.
Ivo's wife and his mistress were lovely, and his children were bright and beautiful, and he was proud of them all. Life was wonderful.
And then the gods shat in Ivo Palazzi's face.
As in the case of most major disasters, this one struck without any warning.
Ivo had made love to Simonetta that morning before breakfast, and then had gone directly to his office, where he did a profitable morning's work. At one o'clock he told his secretary - male, at Simonetta's insistence - that he would be at a meeting the rest of the afternoon.
Smiling at the thought of the pleasures that lay ahead of him, Ivo circled the construction that blocked the street along the Lungo Tevere, where they had been building a subway for the past seventeen years, crossed the bridge to the Corso Francia, and thirty minutes later was driving into his garage at Via Montemignaio. The instant Ivo opened the door of the apartment, he knew something was terribly wrong. Francesco, Carlo and Luca were clustered around Donatella, sobbing, and as Ivo walked toward Donatella, she looked at him with an expression of such hatred on her face that for a moment Ivo thought he must have entered the wrong apartment.
"Stronzo!" she screamed at him.
Ivo looked around him, bewildered. "Carissima - children - what's wrong? What have I done?"
Donatella rose to her feet "Here's what you've done!" She threw a copy of the magazine Oggi in his face. "Look at it!"
Bewildered, Ivo reached down and picked up the magazine. Staring out from the cover was a photograph of himself, Simonetta and their three daughters. The caption read: "Padre di Famiglia."
Dio! He had forgotten all about it Months before, the magazine had asked permission to do a story about him and he had foolishly agreed. But Ivo had never dreamed that it would be given this prominence. He looked over at his sobbing mistress and children, and said, "I can explain this..."
"Their schoolmates have already explained it," Donatella shrieked. "My children came home crying because everybody at school is calling them bastards!"
"Cora, I - "
"My landlord and the neighbors treated us like we were lepers. We can't hold up our heads anymore. I have to get them out of here."
Ivo stared at her, shocked. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm leaving Rome, and I'm taking my sons with me."
"They're mine too," he shouted. "You can't do it."
"Try to stop me and I'll kill you!"
It was a nightmare. Ivo stood there, watching his three sons and his beloved mistress in hysterics, and he thought, This can't be happening to me.
But Donatella was not finished with him. "Before we go," she announced, "I want one million dollars. In cash."
It was so ridiculous that Ivo started to laugh. "A million - "
"Either that, or I telephone your wife."
That had happened six months earlier. Donatella had not carried out her threat - not yet - but Ivo knew she would. Each week she had increased the pressure. She would telephone him at his office and say, "I don't care how you get the money. Do it!"
There was only one way that Ivo could possibly obtain such a huge sum. He had to be able to sell the stock in Roffe and Sons. It was Sam Roffe who was blocking the sale, Sam who was jeopardizing Ivo's marriage, his future. He had to be stopped. If one knew the right people, anything could be done.
What hurt Ivo more than anything was that Donatella - his darling, passionate mistress - would not let him touch her. Ivo was permitted to visit the children every day, but the bedroom was off limits.
"After you give me the money," Donatella promised, "then I will let you make love to me."
It was out of desperation that Ivo telephoned Donatella one afternoon and said, "I'm coming right over. The money is arranged."
He would make love to her first and placate her later. It had not worked out that way. He had managed to undress her, and when they were both naked, he had told her the truth. "I don't have the money yet, cara, but one day soon - "
It was then that she had attacked him like a wild animal.
Ivo was thinking of these things now, as he drove away from Donatella's apartment (as he now thought of it) and turned north onto the crowded Via Cassia, toward his home at Olgiata. He glanced at his face in the rearview mirror. The bleeding had lessened, but the scratches were raw-looking and discolored. He looked down at his shirt, stained with blood. How was he going to explain to Simonetta the scratches on his face and his back? For one reckless moment Ivo actually considered telling her the truth, but dismissed the thought as quickly as it came into his head. He might - he just might - have been able to confess to Simonetta that in a moment of mental aberration he had gone to bed with a girl and gotten her pregnant, and he might - he just might - have gotten away with a whole skin. But three children? Over a period of three years? His life would not be worth a five-lire piece. There was no way he could avoid going home now, for they were expecting guests for dinner, and Simonetta would be waiting for him. Ivo was trapped. His marriage was finished. Only San Gennaro, the patron saint of miracles, could help him. Ivo's eye was caught by a sign at the side of the Via Cassia. He suddenly slammed on the brakes, turned off the highway and brought the car to a stop.
Thirty minutes later, Ivo drove through the gates of Olgiata. Ignoring the stares of the guards as they saw his torn-up face and bloodstained shirt, Ivo drove along the winding roads, came to the turn that led to his driveway, and pulled up in front of his house. He parked the car, opened the front door of the house and walked into the living room. Simonetta and Isabella, their eldest daughter, were in the room. A look of shock came over Simonetta's face as she saw her husband.
"Ivo! What happened?"
Ivo smiled awkwardly, trying to ignore the pain it cost, and admitted sheepishly, "I'm afraid I did something stupid, cara - "
Simonetta was moving closer, studying the scratches on his face, and Ivo could see her eyes begin to narrow. When she spoke, her voice was frosty. "Who scratched your face?"
"Tiberio," Ivo announced. From behind his back he produced a large, spitting, ugly gray cat that leaped out of his arms and raced off. "I bought it for Isabella, but the damned thing attacked me while I was trying to put in its case."
"Povero amore mio!" Instantly, Simonetta was at his side. "Angelo mio! Come upstairs and lie down, I'll get the doctor. I'll get some iodine. I'll - "
"No, no! I'm fine," Ivo said bravely. He winced as she put her arms around him. "Careful! I'm afraid he's clawed my back, too."
"Amore! How you must be suffering!"
"No, really," Ivo said. "I feel good." And he meant it.
The front doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Simonetta said.
"No, I'll get it," Ivo said quickly. "I - I'm expecting some important papers from the office."
He hurried to the front door and opened it.
A messenger, dressed in a gray uniform, handed him an envelope. Inside was a teletype from Rhys Williams. Ivo read the message rapidly. He stood there for a long, long time.
Then he took a deep breath and went upstairs to get ready for his guests.