To afford the nuns seclusion it had been made accessible only by horse or helicopter.
Of course Raul chose the latter.
The convent was an ancient sprawling building that no one could get to, set on the crest of the valley overlooking the wild Sicilian Strait.
Its inaccessibility made it the perfect retreat, and Raul had to hand it to Bastiano for his foresight.
Not that he would admit that.
Raul boarded the helicopter and saw his orders had been followed. There was a bunch of lilies there, which, after meeting with Bastiano, he would take to Maria’s grave.
He would arrive unannounced.
Raul had sworn never to return.
Only for Lydia he did.
It would be kinder, perhaps, not to look out of the helicopter window and at first he chose not to. The last time he had been home it had been on a commercial flight and then a frantic taxi ride to the valley.
Raul had been eighteen then, and he recalled the taxi driver asking him to pay the fare in advance before agreeing to take him.
He looked, and the view was starting to become familiar. Even if he had never seen it from this vantage point, the lie of this land was etched on the dark side of his soul.
There were the fields that the Contis and Di Savos had fought over for generations, and yet the wine had never made either family their fortune—and Raul’s palate now knew it never would.
His stomach turned in on itself, and it had nothing to do with the sudden banking of the chopper, more the view of the schoolyard, and beyond it to what had been his family home.
He could hear his childish lies to his father.
‘Mamma has been here all day.’
‘I think she went to breakfast with Loretta.’
And now perhaps he understood why Lydia did not take photos, for there were memories you did not want to see.
Raul hadn’t lied just to save himself.
He had lied to cover for his mother.
Over and over and over.
And then he recalled her more cheerful dispositions. When she would sing and start to go out more, and Raul’s lies to his father would have to begin again.
There was the church, and to the side the tombstones.
Raul’s history stretched beneath him and there was nothing he wanted to see.
But he made himself look.
The ocean was wild and choppy, crashing onto jagged rocks, and then he saw it.
Far from falling into disrepair the old convent now stood proud, and he remembered his mother’s tears when it had closed down.
Had it really been her dream?
The chopper landed and Raul climbed out.
He thought Security might halt him, but he walked across the lush lawn and towards the gateway without confrontation.
There was a sign for Reception and Raul headed towards it. He walked past a fountain and then ignored the bell and pushed open a heavy arched door.
There were downlights—a modern touch that softened the stone walls—and at a desk sat a young woman wearing what looked like a dental nurse’s uniform.
With a smile she asked Raul if she could help him.
‘Si.’ Raul nodded. ‘I am here to speak with Bastiano.’
No frown marred her Botoxed brow, but Raul could see the worry in her eyes as she checked the computer, even though her smile stayed in place.
‘May I have your name?’
‘Raul Di Savo...’
She must be just about due to have her anti-wrinkle injections topped up, for now a line formed between her brow and the smile faded.
Oh, that name—even now—was known in the valley.
‘Do you have an appointment?’
‘No,’ Raul responded. ‘He isn’t expecting me...’
‘On the contrary.’
Bastiano’s voice arrived before he did, and Raul looked up as he emerged from the shadows of the archway. A glint of sun captured the scar on his cheek, and Raul thought he looked like the devil himself appearing.
‘Bastiano.’ Raul didn’t even attempt to keep the ice from his voice. ‘I would like to speak with you.’
‘I rather thought that you might,’ Bastiano said, his response equally cool. His indubitable charm would never be wasted on Raul. ‘Come this way.’
Raul followed him through the arch and they walked along a cloister that looked down on a quadrangle where a small group were sitting in the afternoon sun, talking. They glanced up at the two dark-suited men, for there was a foreboding energy about them that drew attention.
Even the receptionist had followed, and stood watching as they disappeared into the old refectory.
The darkness was welcome, and the windows were like photo frames, setting off a view of the Sicilian Strait that roared in the distance.
‘Take a seat,’ Bastiano offered.
It would be churlish to stand, Raul knew, when he was here for a favour, so as Bastiano moved behind his desk Raul sat at the other side.