Table of Contents
Chapter 12, part 2 appeared
in issue 132.
Chapter 13: Behind the Tears
Just as Toni was emerging from his unplanned visit to the church in Venice, Paula Ramírez was leaving her own church in Bilbao. As Toni had surmised, it was her fifth visit that week ... and on this occasion, it was to seek forgiveness.
* * *
Five days earlier, she had attended morning Mass as usual with her parents and her younger brother, and had then attempted a normal Sunday at home — rehearsing the cello, watching TV, doing some light aerobics in her room, and looking hard at her slim young body in the mirror.
But as the evening approached, she had found herself overwhelmed by multiple emotions and deep feelings of guilt. So she had returned alone to the church — and this time, to the confessional.
She had forced herself to spend Monday morning at the Conservatorio, in her lectures and ensemble rehearsals. Then, just before three o'clock, she had gone for her rendezvous with Toni, to tell him the secret that was certain to shock him. But, for the first time in their ten months together, he had not appeared. And he had not phoned.
After waiting half an hour, she had gone home, repeatedly trying to call him. She had returned to town in the early evening, and had visited his apartment twice, both before and after her aerobics session. No answer. And she had continued to try to reach him by phone.
The next day she had gone back into town especially early, taken a detour to Toni’s apartment yet again, and constantly tried his phones all morning ... but with no success. She had been stuck in rehearsals all afternoon. Then, returning home in the early evening, she had found his letter waiting for her.
I’ve decided I’ve spent too long here in Bilbao, with my parents, in the family home. I love the Conservatorio, and my music, and I still adore you, but I need to break away. I’ve seen so little of the world. I want to travel, but I know that, at this time, you do not.
I’m going to discover Europe, and maybe I’ll go farther afield. Please don’t worry if you can’t contact me. I’ll be fine. I just need to be myself ... for the very first time.
With my love, Toni
In a state of great confusion, and with very mixed motives, Paula had abandoned her regular evening aerobics, compelled instead to return again to her church in search of clarity and guidance.
But the next morning she had woken with a completely clear conscience. Toni's decision to leave had taken away the opportunity to tell him to his face what he had to be told, and relieved her worries about his immediate reaction or the long-term effects.
So she had gone off to the Conservatorio for a relatively normal day.
* * *
Toni's parents had returned from their stay with the Murano family in Barcelona early that Wednesday evening. A special branch officer had watched their homecoming, then called his inspector. She had been happy to allow the couple a few minutes to settle back in. So they had read Toni’s letter, but scarcely digested its surprising contents, when the doorbell rang.
Their relief, when told that the presence of the police was nothing to do with Toni’s health or safety, had been short-lived. They had been utterly stunned to hear of the events in Bilbao and Rome. Willing to accept — but not understanding why — that it was Toni who had been apprehended by mistake in Bilbao, they would not however believe that it was their son who had been spotted by the policeman in Rome.
They could not deny the coincidences in the two incidents, and the fact that Toni had abruptly decided to leave the country very early the previous day, and had passed through immigration at Rome airport only hours before the terrorist scare. But Toni's father had pointed out quickly and vehemently that there seemed to be little real evidence against his son, beyond the word of a single Italian policeman on a sighting that had not been corroborated in any other way. He had insisted he would be taking the matter up with the inspector’s superiors the next morning.
And then the inspector had decided that there was not much more she could achieve that evening, and a lot she could lose. So she had left the Murano household in some kind of peace for the night.
Her officers would interview the parents formally in the morning, and over the following days they would pursue investigations into the broader family, which would reveal various connections in Barcelona and elsewhere. These would all be checked out, and the interesting Roman civil servant would of course be a priority. But Signor Terleone would turn out to be singularly unavailable until late on the Friday evening, and by then he would have forgotten everything about Toni’s visit, and would regrettably be unable to provide any information on the subject. And, of course, because the Rome inspector and his sergeant both valued their futures, no connection would ever be made between Giuseppe, his great-nephew, and that fashionable bar ...
And later in the week, after another very similar transmission incident with no reports of anybody matching Toni’s description, there would be a significant downgrading of his status as a potential suspect — since, as his father had observed, it was only based on the verbal report of one policeman, and could just have been a bit of wishful thinking, or worse. So the all-ports alert for him across Europe would be reduced in intensity, and would effectively be shut down a few days later. Particularly since there had been no actual terrorist incidents to implicate him or anybody else in any actual plots. Just those very strange radio transmissions.
* * *
After the officer had left, Anna Murano had been adamant, and her husband had not disagreed, that until things were a great deal clearer, the whole business of the police should not be discussed with anybody else, including their families.
So, when she had telephoned Paula later that evening, she had made no mention of the inspector’s visit. She had talked only of Toni's letter, which turned out to match the one Paula had received almost word for word. They had shared some mutual sympathy, but neither had gained any new insights, for the teenager gave no hint of the secret that was still preoccupying her. They had ended the conversation simply promising to contact each other as soon as they learned anything new.
Toni's mother and father continued, of course, to call his mobile phone for days and days afterwards, but every time they tried, it was reported to be switched off.
* * *
On the Thursday, Paula had lunched with a close friend to celebrate a momentous decision. She had not returned to the Conservatorio that afternoon. And in the evening she had gone to her church again: this time, simply to give thanks.
But the following evening, after writing her reply to Toni’s letter and posting it to his parents’ home, marked “For Toni to open when he returns”, she was back at the church once more, seeking forgiveness for all the hurt that must surely now be caused.
And as she emerged from that so-familiar place, she knew that she would never again feel able to pass through its doors.
Like her lost boyfriend, Paula Mercedes Ramírez was now a new person with a fresh new life.