The office was sweltering.
De Bocca’s desk was jammed up next to the open window, the sole source of any
fresh air in the narrow interior he shared with Maria1, Maria2 and Mario. Their
boss, of course, sat in his own office behind frosted glass with a rotating fan
You’d think sitting next to the window would be the prime piece of real estate in
the office, but it just made De Bocca a prime target. He was not only covered in a
thin coating of pollution at the end of each day – but he’d also become the buffet
of choice for seemingly every mosquito the Arno had to offer.
With a loud smack he’d just killed his 11th victim of the morning; which had
already made a meal of him, so now there was his blood – or at least he assumed
it was his – spattered over his desk.
Now everyone in the office was looking at him. He did his best to look
nonchalant, rifling papers and ignoring their looks.
He squeezed his way past their desks and went into the small kitchenette area to
wash his hands. De Bocca paused and looked at his reflection: Everything about
him seemed to be retreating – his hair, his chin. Even his eyes seemed to be
pulling back from the world, recoiling back under his ever-thickening brows. Ten
years he’d been here, shepherding mostly-bored tourists around and around the
key sites of Florence before they hurried off to somewhere else. Imagine the
endless iterations of iPhoto he was in, standing in the background pointing at
something. Probably with red-eye.
He glanced back into the main room, walls covered with yellowing posters of the
city. Sitting farthest away, closest to the boss’s office, was Maria1, the once-
favourite, still clinging onto her desk and her pride (and her number) by her
fingernails. She’d only recently lost her long battle with obesity, finally
surrendering only after being dumped as the boss’s mistress six months ago at
the office Christmas party. She’d been dropped for:
Maria2, the third tour guide in the office, who’d arrived a month before
Christmas, who had rejected any approaches from de Bocca with a firmness and
focus that seemed older than her years. She was now the boss’s current
favourite. And there’d been much subdued laughter in the office (at least from de
Bocca) when Maria2 came in one day wearing the exact same style of jewellery
that the boss had previously bought for Maria1. He could only imagine it was
engraved the same as well. Maria2 had clearly set her sights on getting Maria1’s
desk, since that was closest to her paramour, but those battlelines had been
drawn up months before, and the trenches weren’t shifting.
And then there was Mario, sitting nearest, his glossy black hair almost blinding.
Mario who had arrived eighteen months ago and who was now the number one
tour guide. Mario, with his easy charm and good looks who everyone loved.
Mario, who put his hand on de Bocca’s shoulder last week to show his support
after de Bocca had been arguing with his wife on the phone, tired of her lies
about suspicious absences.
Mario, whose fingers smelled like de Bocca’s wife.
De Bocca was going to have to do something about that.
Maria1 was approaching his desk now, holding up the print outs for the 14:30
tour. In the heady days after her fall from grace, she’d initially sought an ally
against Maria2, and had even attempted a half-hearted seduction of de Bocca at
an office outing in order to try and make their boss jealous. But then she realised
that de Bocca in fact lusted after Maria 2 as well. So now she was just sullen.
They’d long ago reached the stage of her not even fake smiling at him.
A stale breeze, already squeezed through too many lungs, stirred the pages and
his desk calendar. Since the boss was too cheap to buy them new flip-top desk
calendars for the last three years, de Bocca had simply taken to coating all the
days in tippex on his and hand writing them all in for each month as it appeared.
Now the pages were coated with dense corals of tippex, making the pages heavy
like parchment. He could scrape away at them, he supposed, to try and find a
level of diary notes when he was happier.
But then he wondered if he’d ever actually been happy.
2:31PM. The two buses had been honking and grinding at each other like braying
dinosaurs. Their brakes were hissing, juddering the interior. They were duelling
for the single coach parking space in front of the Palazzo – and both Mario and de
Bocca were refusing to back down as their passengers looked on powerlessly.
The bus drivers, clearly the designated lieutenants in this cold war between
Mario and De Bocca, were yelling obscenities at each other, punctuated by stabs
at the horn, realising the loss of face at stake. They seethed behind their
windscreens, promising dreadful things to their opponent – threats to be
forgotten once they returned to their garage to play cards. But for now, it was
De Bocca, though, blinked first, worried that his timetable was going to be
thrown for the entire day. Mario triumphed again, and now de Bocca was forced
to watch as Mario skipped down the steps of his coach in his accustomed victory
dance right outside the entrance while De Bocca was banished with his group to
the outer fringe of the car park.
De Bocca could see his group scowling at him as they lumbered down the steps,
making the coach shake with each footfall and then gathering outside in a
dissatisfied, mutinous clump. He could see them looking enviously towards the
tinkling laughter coming from Mario’s group as he told yet another doubtless
amusing anecdote with practised ease and slipped into the cool interior of the
De Bocca was tempted just to stay inside the cool bus. To leave his group in the
lurch and just tell the driver to drive, drive. Anywhere. Somewhere glistening,
clean and new. Somewhere with no history.
But of course, such a place doesn’t exist.
“The floor is original 16th Century, to match the ceiling.”
This was a particularly dense tour group, but de Bocca was really trying,
desperate to make up for the coldness he’d felt since the bus incident. Most of
them had rented the acoustic tour guide headset outside, so he was competing
with the strident tones of Brad Pitt, and clearly failing.
He ran his hand around his collar. It came away dark with grey sweat. De Bocca
was unsurprised; he’d long suspected he was actually sweating out the pollution
of the city he’d been ingesting all this time. He’d hoped that being outside the
office would clear his head, but the oppressive atmosphere was just as strong
here. At least it was cooler in the Royal Apartments of the Palazzo Pitti. He’d
always felt at home here, somehow, away from the more imposing monuments
of the rest of the city. But this group was clearly going to be rough. He was
dreading their feedback on the website afterwards. He’d seen their eyes glaze
over as he launched into a lengthy lecture about the decline of the Medici family
and their first fall from grace leading to the expulsion of Piero II – that was when
they’d switched loyalties to their canned Brad Pitt tours.
A least it meant he could rest his ragged throat. He popped another of his antacid
pills while they were all studying a portrait of Eleanor of Toledo. He’d had to
hurry his lunch on the tour bus when they’d cut short their visit to the Duomo as
his driver had reminded him that Mario would shortly be departing to beat them
to the parking space – and he could still feel the pasta straining to escape.
So when Eleanor’s portrait winked at him, he first just assumed it was just some
side effect of his savage indigestion. But then she coughed, politely, and started
talking to him in a beautifully cultured voice, like a fine cold-pressed olive oil
being poured into his ear. “So when are you planning to confront your wife?”
De Bocca looked around the bundle of misshapen backpacked tourists,
panicking, trying to see if any of them had overheard, but they seemed oblivious.
Eleanor coughed again, trying to get his attention, but he ignored her, casting his
eyes elsewhere, anywhere, and quickly tried to usher his group into the next
room, stepping through the doorway into another apartment. But she yelled
after him, “You can’t just keep ignoring it, you know!”
He was sweating now. And, wiping it from his eyes, he found that his
perspiration was almost black. What the hell was his breathing in? He was going
to have to talk to the boss about the open window. It was doing horrible things to
But the portrait of Cosimo de’Medici in the next room just started rolling its eyes
at him, disdainfully: “He’s learned, like me, not to listen to you.” Eleanor shrieked
from the next room, launching into a particularly offensive series of epithets
while Cosimo just laughed at her.
Making desperate excuses, De Bocca hurried from the group, trying to move
them to a room without paintings, but all of them were following him with their
eyes now, whistling in that universal language of builders to women. He could
hear them all chattering now, their voices echoing from other floors.
He sprinted past a confused looking Mario, who interrupted his earnest flirting
with a young American student to look after him.
De Bocca was running through the rooms now, trying to find an exit, blocking his
ears and just looking at his feet. But the cacophony was growing. He staggered
through a door, only to find himself in the Vasari corridor, staring at a seemingly
endless series of self-portraits, all eager to share their views with him about his
That was when everything went black and he collapsed.
And then things got really weird.
He was lying on the floor. Where his forehead touched the smooth marble it felt
wonderfully cool. This was the most relaxed he’d been in years, he realised. It
didn't even bother him that he could see his blood slowly pooling in front of his
eyes. Even less so that it appeared completely black to him. It must be a trick of
the light, he thought. And the same thing struck him when he saw a reflection of
scarlet slippers appear in them. Beautiful embroidery, he thought.
“Thank you,” said a cultivated voice.
Reluctantly, considering how lovely the floor felt, he raised his eyes to the figure
attached to the slippers and saw a rather short figure with greasy hair, wearing a
clearly very expensive replica of a renaissance gown in a luxurious deep red,
capped with a flat hat.
“I’m here to help you,” explained the figure, looking at him not unkindly.
“Is this about my wife?”
“Isn’t everything about your wife?”
“but actually,” the figure continued, “this is really about Mario.”
“The man sleeping with your wife.”
“You know about that?”
The figure shrugged. “The way you go on I think everyone knows about it.”
De Bocca made a small noise in his throat. It was a mix of phlegm and voice.
The figure continued: “But unlike everyone else, I want to help.”
“Because I feel responsible. You’re a Medici. Just like me.”
And now De Bocca could see the resemblance from a painting. It was Cosimo de
Medici standing in front of him. Who’d died in 1464.
“But I’m not a Medici. My name’s de Bocca.”
Cosimo smiled. His teeth were surprisingly white. “You’re 3% Medici. That’s
And he leaned forward a little, and reached out his hand. It smelled ever so
slightly of almonds.
They were walking along the gallery, now. The paintings had tried to carry on
with their unwanted Greek (or in this case Florentine) chorus, but Cosimo had
yelled at them to shut up, and now they just glowered for the most part, or stuck
out their oily tongues as they moved past.
“So what does this mean?”
“Well, think of it as an intervention.”
“Yes. Basically we want you to let your inner Medici – out.”
De Bocca began to feel a little woozy at this point. He put his hand to his forehead
and it came away sticky with blood. He leaned on the figure for support.
“This all seems a little crazy.”
“No, my friend, what seems a little crazy is that you haven’t done anything about
He pulled back from Cosimo, who stared at him, unblinkingly.
“Like what? What am I supposed to do?”
“What any Medici would do in this situation.” The figure smiled. “Kill him.”
At that point, things got a little hazy. There was some talk about various means of
execution and their respective merits, as well as a lengthy digression on the
subject of galliards.
And then everything went black and de Bocca woke up in hospital.
The first person he saw, naturally, was Mario. He was leaning over de Bocca’s
bed with a look of abject concern on his face. Which was actually because he was
trying to reach across the mattress to retrieve one of his pens that had fallen out
and was now stuck between the bed and the wall. His tongue was jutting out, a
habit he was prone to while deep in concentration. But then again, deep in
concentration for Mario was probably trying to remembe his address. Or the
address of the last lady he screwed. Which was probably De Bocca’s home
address, come to think of it.
As de Bocca looked at the slightly too-plump face, glistening like an oil painting,
with the slightly unnatural sheen that was meant to mark out cannibals, he
realised something: Mario wasn’t a threat. He was an annoyance, a mosquito.
And, almost without him thinking, and in a half dream-like state, de Bocca’s
hands lazily rose up from his sides. And then clamped down around Mario’s
With one hand down the back of the mattress, Mario was locked in place, and too
surprised to do anything other than gurgle like a porpoise trying to mug an
aquarium worker for fish. But even that, and the sight of his purple veiny tongue,
was enough to enrage de Bocca even further. He applied more and more
pressure, watching with a sense of glee as Mario’s eyes rolled up in their sockets.
He could feel the windpipe starting to give.
De Bocca’s head reluctantly turned from the increasingly purple Mario and he
saw his wife sitting on the other side of the bed. He dropped Mario at the same
time as she dropped her glossy magazine. She threw herself on the bed to hug
him, burying her face in his bandages. While she sobbed, repeatedly whispering
how worried she’d been, all de Bocca was listening to was Mario’s rasping and
ragged breaths from where he’d fallen beside the bed.
De Bocca returned her hug. For a moment his doubts faded. But then a cough. His
eyes snapped open and over his wife’s shoulder was Cosimo. And the look of
disappointment in his eyes was palpable as he slowly shook his head.
“Why didn’t you finish the job?” The figure asked.
“There were witnesses,” answered De Bocca.
“What?” Asked his wife, pulling her head sharply back to look at him, concern on
her face. A concern that de Bocca now realised was probably false. But
beautifully performed all the same. And he realised, at that moment, just how
much he loved her.
Cosimo made a universal wanking gesture towards him that was probably as old
It wasn’t difficult to persuade Mario that his near-death experience had simply
come from a misbalancing of medication at the hospital. After all, Mario couldn’t
understand why anyone would actually want to kill him. So he left, mollified. As
he exited the room, de Bocca looked for any sign of a glance between him and his
wife, but couldn’t see anything.
After that de Bocca returned home, hoping that perhaps his wife’s embrace and
evident relief that he hadn’t died might lead to some more physical intimacy
between them. He was feeling curiously empowered and emboldened – but she
fled to the opposite corner of the bed, complaining that his head bandage
reminded her too much of “The English Patient.”
So de Bocca lay in the dark, eyes glittering, and seethed. And between him and
his wife on the bed reclined the form of Cosimo, wearing the same scarlet gown
but this capped with a matching eye mask. His snoring kept De Bocca awake all
De Bocca was back in work the next day, ignoring Doctor’s orders.
The first thing he did, when he came into the office, was to slam shut the window.
He got disapproving looks all day as the temperature in the office soared. But the
thin sheen of sweat on Maria 2’s neck and bosom were worth it. And he didn’t
feel the heat at all.
He could sense that Maria 1 was desperate to say something to him, but a series
of sharp stares and a deliberate policy of typing furiously at his keyboard
whenever she seemed about to open her mouth soon put a stop to that. Even
Mario seemed somewhat subdued, fingering his neck unconsciously whenever
he looked at him.
At lunchtime, Cosimo was waiting for de Bocca outside when he stepped out to
eat at the trattoria on the corner.
“I’ve noticed that he lives yet,’ was all he said, sniffing through his prominent
nose as he fell into step beside him. De Bocca was plotting though, and shook his
head when Cosimo pointedly tried to hand him a plastic take away knife at the
check out as a potential murder weapon. No, this was going to require subtlety
That afternoon, de Bocca sat at his desk and got to work. He didn’t even notice
the offending window having been opened in his absence. He somehow
navigated the ancient schedule program and found out when he next shared a
tour slot with Mario. The next day. 9AM. Both of them due at the Palazzo Pitti
He looked up in triumph just as Mario walked in again, looking flushed, claiming
he’d gone to the bank and complaining about the queues and weren’t they
getting worse and worse.
De Bocca could see right through his façade. Mario noticed his glance and went
silent. Maria1 and Maria2 were too busy undermining each other with memos to
even look up.
De Bocca got up and made some mumbling excuses and stepped outside. It was a
simple matter to get a taxi to the coach company they used. The drivers were all
sitting outside, shirts slung over their chairs, engrossed in a card game. De
Bocca’s started on his carefully-planned story about leaving something on the
bus but they just waved him in.
He stepped inside his coach and saw the scarlet slippers propped up on the
dashboard immediately. Cosimo asked if de Bocca had anything to drink and
when de Bocca shook his head and pulled out a screwdriver and got to work on
the brakes, he sulked.
But de Bocca could feel his eyes burning into his back as he carefully unscrewed
the bolts around the pedal. And he felt something else, almost a paternal pride.
He finished his work, nodded to Cosimo, and then left him sitting there, listening
to something on the radio, and headed back to the office. He had to hide his smile
Cosimo was shovelling down de Bocca’s cold and unfinished dinner while de
Bocca raged inside. His wife had taken early to bed, complaining of tiredness.
But de Bocca knew. He’d smelled the bed sheets the second he came home. They
were freshly washed. Mario had been here.
Cosimo, eyes alive, was watching him intently.
“What are you going to do about her?”
De Bocca looked at him. “What would you suggest?”
“Being trapped in a loveless marriage is quite a revenge.”
“I wouldn’t call it loveless exactly,” sputtered de Bocca.
Cosimo coughed. De Bocca gave him a look. Then Cosimo sprang to his feet with
the dexterity of a man half his age and not even vaguely dead.
“Right. Let’s go out. I wanna get rat-arsed.”
The following morning, de Bocca was slumped on the coach. He’d barely
managed to get through the opening introductory speech to his group without
throwing up. The night before was mostly a blur. All he remembered were a few
snapshots of debauchery: Mostly Cosimo with his coterie of women at the club,
and then Cosimo dancing on a table.
The tourists’ gaudy get-ups were hardly helping, and the brief glimpses he got of
himself as they took selfies with him showed that he had the unhealthy pallor of
a badly made-up corpse after the morticians had run out of preservatives.
De Bocca peeked at his watch as they approached the Palazzo Pitti. They lurched,
narrowly avoiding a suicidal Vesta and for a moment, de Bocca worried that the
brakes might have given out too soon. But they held.
De Bocca was somewhat disappointed that there was no sign of Cosimo – he was
going to miss his moment of triumph.
He looked at his watch again, mentally counting down the seconds to Mario’s bus
arriving. As they turned into the car park, there it was, right on time, bearing
down on the single parking space outside the ticket office. De Bocca snuck a
glance at his driver, who’d seen the conflict looming himself and immediately
jammed his foot down on the accelerator, determined to get revenge for their
previous encounter, all amity forgotten. But thanks to the work de Bocca had
done on the accelerator, they were just too slow, and Mario’s bus roared with a
note of triumph into the space. Mario, of course, was the first out and bounded
down the steps to mark his triumph with his usual dance, hands raised to the sky
and a beatific smile on his face.
Which was precisely when the brakes failed and de Bocca’s bus ran straight into
him with a sound not unlike a suitcase being ripped open by an overzealous
customs official. Mario vanished out of sight, but there was a thick arterial spray
over the windscreen.
De Bocca looked away, not even having to feign his horror. The driver was frozen
and the screams from the other bus were mercifully dampened by the double
glazed windows. But de Bocca could see their horrified faces – and at least one of
them with their cameraphone.
Cosimo, of course, showed up at just that moment and leaned forward to have a
better look, his scarlet cap butting against the magic tree air freshener hanging
from the rearview mirror. He gave de Bocca a big thumbs up.
Mario’s funeral was, of course, a deeply sad affair. His wife and child were there,
looking shellshocked. De Bocca was amazed at the ornate heavy coffin they’d
bought for Mario, especially considering his body had been flat as a pancake
when the emergency services had finally backed up the two buses.
The driver had been taken away under arrest, and de Bocca had shaken his head
sadly at him as he was bundled into a police car.
As the coffin was creakingly lowered into the earth, de Bocca sneaked a glimpse
at his wife. He thought he could sense some light had gone out of her eyes. But he
didn't feel a sense of satisfaction. He felt something else: hunger.
And quick as a flash Cosimo was there, beside him. De Bocca could smell him
before he saw him. The slight almond smell, tinged with – copper? Blood?
“This is just the beginning, “ he whispered.
De Bocca stared at him.
“Now only one person stands between you and everlasting glory,” and Cosimo
nodded his head at someone standing on the far side of the grave. De Bocca
Of course. His boss.
There he was, looking very small in his worn black suit, trying and failing to
console his bawling wife. De Bocca thought he looked old and frail. Weak. A
De Bocca’s eyes, of course, strayed to Maria2, looking glamorous as ever in a veil.
If he eliminated his boss then he could have her as well. In his lovely cool office
with the fan. He could have her while she was dictating, with all that cool air
washing over both of their naked bodies, while Maria1 typed angrily in the next
His boss looked up at him at that moment. And their eyes met. De Bocca saw
something in them. An understanding? As his boss turned away, part-leading,
part-leaning on his wife, de Bocca realised that he had to do it soon, before
anyone suspected anything.
And, beside him, Cosimo smiled.
Back at his apartment, de Bocca went straight to the bathroom and opened the
medicine cabinet. There, arrayed neatly, were all his wife’s various medications.
He lined them up, and pulling on his glasses, started looking at them. Cosimo was
there too, perched on the toilet, somehow managing to make it look regal. De
Bocca kept handing him bottles and Cosimo kept shaking his head, tutting.
They were so engrossed that de Bocca almost missed his wife calling his name
through the door. She said she was worried about him, that he’d changed, and
that she was going to go and stay with her mother. De Bocca grunted in response,
trying to shush Cosimo who was humming something. Eventually he heard her
move away and the front door close.
Cosimo tugged on his sleeve. De Bocca looked at him. Cosimo was grinning as he
held up one of the bottles.
De Bocca strode into the office the next morning, early, expecting to be the first
there. But both Marias were already at their desks, and neither looked up at him.
He briefly loitered by Maria2, hoping to offer her some comforting words, but
she kept her head down, rescheduling all the tours for the next month. De Bocca
satisfied himself with a quick sniff of her hair and then darted over to his own
desk. The shadowy figure of his boss could be seen through the frosted windows
of his office. He squeezed past Mario’s unoccupied desk, still untouched, and
immediately saw that someone had shoved a book under the window to prop it
open. This, naturally, infuriated him.
De Bocca quickly snatched it up, letting the window slam shut, and glowered
around the room. But neither of the Marias would meet his accusing gaze.
He glanced at the book. It was a dog-eared copy of “The Prince.” De Bocca looked
up sharply. Did they know? He knew he had to move quickly.
With a cough, he made his way into the kitchen, careful not to touch Mario’s desk
as he pushed past it again. He wanted to say something to the Marias, something
comforting and wise, something that would return their world to the way it was,
but nothing came to mind, so he hurried on.
The coffee machine was still warm to the touch, and he carefully nursed its
ancient parts into gouting an espresso, using its strangulated gurgles to disguise
opening the paper bag and pill bottle, quickly dumping the entire contents into
the cup before throwing away all the incriminating evidence.
He risked a glimpse in the mirror over the sink as he fought to slow his heart.
And he liked what he saw. There was a steely determination in his eyes. And
even his hair seemed glossier. He saw Cosimo walk in behind him, squeezing into
the narrow kitchen. Cosimo nodded amiably, and started rummaging for a
De Bocca carefully poured the coffee into the cup, and stirred. His hands were
shaking, but not with fear, no, but with excitement. He was alarmed to see,
though, that the pills were rising to the surface. He stirred faster, trying to push
the partly-dissolved clump to the bottom of the cup, but it kept dancing around
the rim. So he decided to place the spoon over them to hold them down. De Bocca
took a deep breath and, carefully lifting the cup with its precious cargo, he
walked back through the office and headed for the boss’s office.
Maria1 looked up at him as he brushed past her. There was something quizzical
in her stare, but de Bocca ignored her, raised his hand and rapped on the boss’s
There was an answering call from inside. De Bocca risked a glance at the figure of
Cosimo beside him, happily nibbling on a biscuit, and then opened the door.
His boss was sitting behind the parapet of his desk. It was empty of papers, as
usual, and dominated the small interior, not unlike an aircraft carrier in a
bathtub. He smiled as he looked up at de Bocca and motioned for him to come in.
“Just the man I wanted to see.” He pointed to the chair opposite, which de Bocca
slid into, momentarily basking in the blast of cool air from the fan.
His boss sat there. De Bocca carefully pushed the espresso over the desk towards
him. His boss nodded in appreciation, then stared at him.
“Things have been somewhat difficult lately,” he pronounced, staring at the
ceiling. “I’ve been meaning to ask you: How’s morale out there?”
De Bocca cleared his throat and then realised with horror that the spoon had
shifted in the coffee cup and the dense ball of pills had risen to the surface,
melted into a tumorous clump.
He stammered a response, hoping to distract his boss as he lifted up the cup,
discarding the spoon, and raised it to his lips.
“It’s – as expected. Accidents happen.”
The cup was nearly there. Nearly. Suddenly his boss stopped raising it and
muttered “Yes. It was horrible. My wife was inconsolable.”
But de Bocca wasn’t listening, his eyes were fixated on the cup, and the slowly
spinning ball of death within. Cosimo, pressed to his side in the narrow space,
was holding his breath.
Then, with a smooth motion, his boss returned the cup to his desk and reached
for a cabinet beside him. De Bocca was starting to sweat now, feeling clammy in
the tomblike cold of the office.
His boss swung back to face him, a bottle of whiskey in his hand, and a glass in
the other. He poured some into his coffee cup, pushing the ball of pills under the
surface and then drizzled a carefully rationed measure into the glass for de
Bocca, who gratefully took it. He must have seen, de Bocca thought, mustn’t he?
But then his boss raised the cup to his lips, and de Bocca simply copied his
movements, too terrified to say anything. Cosimo was repeating something
under his breath, some old saying, over and over again. Was it a prayer?
The cup was poised at his boss’s lips. De Bocca was certain he was going to look
down, any second. He tried to think of something to say, anything, but all his
calm had left him.
And then his boss put the cup down again, and spoke.
“Today is, of course, a sad day.”
De Bocca was shrieking DRINK IT DRINK IT in his head.
“But with sadness comes opportunity.”
The room was silent except for the ticking of the fan in the corner.
“Thoughts, naturally, turn to the future.”
DRINK IT DRINK IT DRINK IT.
He was idly stirring his cup now, thankfully without looking at it, but surely he’d
take a glance? The pills were spinning around in the cup now, tapping against the
sides. De Bocca realised he’d stopped breathing completely. Cosimo looked at
him sharply as he started to make small squeaking sounds.
His boss looked at him. De Bocca froze.
“With Mario’s sad – departure – you are now our number one tour guide. Mario,
to be frank, hadn’t been focussed on his work for some time. Women. That was
his downfall, am I right?”
De Bocca managed a quick nod. His boss had to see him sweating, he had to.
“And I’m getting old. Someone else needs to take over. And I’m looking at you.
How does that sound?”
De Bocca’s face warped like old wood into something resembling a smile.
His boss smiled, the lower half of his face suddenly exploding with teeth:
“Excellent. Shall we drink to our bright future together?”
And he raised the cup. And brought it to his lips.
Somewhere, church bells started ringing, and a heavenly choir began in De
Bocca’s head. A single bright beam of light shone in through the window, haloed
around his head.
They raised their glasses, de Bocca downing his in one.
Only noticing, as he lowered it, that his boss hadn’t drunk.
And had lost his smile.
“Like I would ever let a snake like you take charge of my company,” he snarled,
emptying the cup into his wastebasket.
De Bocca seemed to be seeing double all of a sudden. His breath started to feel
Perhaps he was seeing things, but there seemed to be someone indistinct
standing behind his boss. Someone wearing a gown. A green one. At first he
thought it might be Cosimo, but he was standing beside him, looking worried.
“You see,” his boss continued, languidly, “I’m from an old family. You don't get
much past us.”
“W-which family?” gasped de Bocca.
His boss leaned back in his chair: “The Borgias.”
And the figure behind him finally became clear to de Bocca. He recognised her
from the gallery: Lucretia Borgia. And she was smiling at him. Cosimo gasped.
“You see, I manipulated everything. I wanted Mario dead. He’d been sleeping
with my wife for years. But I made you think it was yours. Now he’s gone, and
you’re going thanks to this rather viciously poisoned whiskey, and now I’ve
gotten rid of all my threats.” And he sat there, Buddha-like. And high-fived
Cosimo was frozen, his face blanched.
De Bocca gagged. His heartbeat was throbbing in his head. His vision was
tunnelling as he clawed at his shirt collar. He had to focus everything just to keep
gulping down breaths, but he could feel his lungs shrinking.
With a jolt, he shoved back the wooden chair and backed unsteadily towards the
door, his feet seeming to weigh a ton. He staggered from the room, back into the
sweltering office, everything dimming around him.
As he lunged outside, he saw both Marias look up in shock.
And behind both of them, he caught a quick glimpse of ghostly figures dressed in
antique garb. Ghosts they weren’t even aware of. Everyone, he realised, is
haunted. Everyone has that shadowy figure urgently whispering beside them.
But only some bother to listen.
His eyes went to Cosimo as he dropped to the ground, as though all his muscles
had stopped working. He gurgled, pleadingly, as Cosimo knelt over him.
Cosimo shrugged apologetically under his scarlet gown: “I guess 3% Medici isn’t
And everything went black.