From Chapter 5
Graun, April 1937
The ticking of the cuckoo clock in the inn’s empty dining room grew louder with only Angelo left at his breakfast. It said five after eight. Marco was very late, and Angelo was about to get up and drag his son out of his room, when the boy walked in, looking as if he had not slept all night. He watched as Marco took the seat across from him, poured himself a coffee, and spread butter and jam on his roll before sniffing at the plate of cheese. His grimace almost made Angelo laugh.
More than ever, Marco looked very much like a younger version of Angelo: the dark hair, the dimpled chin, the edges of his features more chiselled, as if a sculptor had worked overnight to define the young man who was emerging from beneath. It was Chiara’s eyes Marco had, the colour most definitely a d’Oro feature. When Marco turned his head, Angelo saw a smudge of shaving cream up near his ear. He reached over the table to swipe at it, but Marco ducked away in time.
“You’re really going to look the apprentice if you don’t pay better attention,” Angelo joked. “Except that it’s white behind your ear they’ll see, not green.”
Marco rubbed it off, then looked at him as if he were seeing him for the first time that morning. “You’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
“I have a meeting with the prefect at half past. Why are you so late?”
Marco shrugged, chewing. “Damn noises in that room. I swear there’s a ghost in there.”
“Was she at least pretty?”
Marco narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “Ha. Ha. Very funny.”
“I told you I would take that room. You can sleep in mine tonight—that is, if you get home before me.”
“You work me too hard, that’s all,” Marco muttered. He bit into his roll.
Angelo grinned and turned back to the notes he was reviewing for his meeting. The evening before, Stefano had informed Angelo that he’d seen Marco in town. Too busy to bring it up during their dinner, Angelo later remembered seeing a group of young men—around Marco’s age—dressed in the blue capes that signalled they were members of the Fascist youth group. Maybe Marco had met them and gone off last night after Angelo had gone to bed. Either way, it couldn’t hurt Marco to meet new people, get to know the locals.
The table moved as if bumped, and Angelo looked up to see Marco bending down to pick up the fork he’d dropped.
When he came back up, he quipped, “Are those the shoes you plan to wear to your meeting?”
Angelo lifted the tablecloth and peered at his Oxfords, a fine pair of brown leather shoes. “Why not?”
“Up here?” Marco said. “You’ll get them full of cow and ox shit on your way to see the prefect.”
Angelo shook his head. “Honestly, Marco, your language. Besides, I’ve only got the mountain boots, and they are not appropriate to meet politicians in.” He made a show of checking his son’s shoes. “And you?”
Marco jutted out a mud-caked boot from beneath the table. “Mother bought and packed them for me. I guess she didn’t think I’d be meeting with any dignitaries during this trip.”
Angelo chuckled, imagining the conversation Chiara must have had with Marco about what to wear. They had probably joked with one another, which was something that would never happen if all three of them were in the same room. The dynamic changed entirely when that was the case. Whenever Angelo teased his son, Chiara came to the boy’s defense. And where Chiara was concerned, Angelo could no longer banter with her whatsoever. They had once, a hundred years ago, been able to challenge one another’s wits, had often laughed together. But their attempts at teasing now was like peeling off fresh scabs. Every jab made them bleed just a little more, so their exchanges halted abruptly, as if one or the other had brushed up against an electrical wire.
“How are you getting on with the crew?” Angelo asked his son.
Marco shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I measure. I write. I check the statistics against the previous reports. Why do we have to do all this anyway?”
“It’s the law now. Any project this dated needs to be recalculated again.”
“Seems a waste of time,” Marco muttered.
“You’ll be back at your studies next Monday. You can report on your activities here and continue learning all those new interesting things.”
“Getting out of this place will be great anyway.”
But there was a look in Marco’s eye that made his statement sound hollow, as if he were just saying it because Angelo expected it. Those boys he’d met must have shown him a good time.
“Go on. Finish up your breakfast. I have to meet with the prefect in ten minutes, and you need to get back to work. Don’t forget—you’re on my time now.”
Marco tucked into his breakfast as if seeing it for the first time. Angelo was pleased that his son was thriving at his studies and that Marco took after him regarding his talent in mathematics and a keen eye for how things were built and designed, even if the boy did sometimes have that arrogance that comes with youth, of thinking they knew it all already.
“After this trip,” Angelo started, “I’d have an opportunity during the summer for you.”
Marco glanced up for a moment, then back at the sandwich he was making. “Do you think Grandfather will manage to buy this project?”
“I hope not.”
“Well, to begin with the Colonel’s idea of building this into the biggest reservoir in the north would mean submerging all those hamlets and this entire village for example. Now that I’ve brought you here, I thought you could imagine it for yourself. Where should these families go?”
Marco scowled. “You’re worried about the Tyroleans? They don’t even want to be here now that this is Italy. They’d just have to move, that’s all. After Grandfather’s company pays them off, they can do what they want.”
With these extracts, I hope you are able to decide for yourself whether to begin the series at Part 3 or start it from No Man's Land. A sample chapter of No Man's Land is available here.
Bolzano: Extract 1/5
Bolzano: Extract 2/5
Bolzano: Extract 3/5
Bolzano: Extract 5/5