I’m having a pretty good time figuring out where Pietro is going. In reading this, you know as much as I do:
I learned to swim in the ocean. I jumped off of high cliffs into its depths, challenged my friends to distance swims, went on fishing trips with my father at all manners of the day and night in search of various catches. What I’d never done was pay for passage in coin, expected to sit out of the way and keep my hands to myself.
It was a relief to come to dock after four days of twiddling my thumbs, watching new sailors learn knots I’d teethed on, and hearing the snap of unsecured canvas and being shooed away so it could be handled by the sailors. They were plenty good at their jobs, but I’d never learned how to sit idle and I wasn’t sure I’d ever learn to like it, sign of luxury it might be.
I had Viola’s mother’s bag slung over my shoulder when I descended the gangway. It had plenty of room still in it, but she insisted it was good luck. Judging by the various repairs from tears (stabs?), fire, and unidentifiable stains, I was willing to concede. Her mother terrified me in the best of ways; I’d spent many a sleepless night imagining the horrors from her stories of travel.
I shifted the bag into a more comfortable position and headed into the town. I stayed close to the stone wall so as not to be in the way, and noted the colors and seals on the various flags as I walked. I recognized a few of the smaller ones and made note of those I didn’t.
There were several inns and taverns and prostitution houses near the docks, but I passed them and continued into the town. The buildings were no taller, no closer, than those from my home, but I still felt cramped. The sun was far from setting, but the streets were darker. There was trash tossed about and feral animals that shied from me fearfully. I passed under tall laundry lines stretched across the alleys and dodged the occasional puddle before finding a much wider, and brighter, main street.
I realized I’d been in more of a residential area before and now could see the difference – here were shops and eateries with hawkers whistling and singing for attention, dancing with flags and even a fire-breather. She saw my grin of awe and winked, making me blush as brightly as her flames and she laughed carelessly, spinning faster.
I saw a child waving me down with a sheet of paper and took a small coin from my pocket, trading him.
“Where do I find the bank?” I asked him, folding and tucking the paper away in my vest.
He tilted his head like a puppy and pointed further down the street. “Keep left, master, and mind you don’t shine. You look new already.”
I knuckled my forelock in thanks and he turned away to wave down someone else. With his words in my head, I straightened and kept my eyes forward. I eased the excitement from my face and replaced it with a look of purpose. I lengthened my stride and kept a hand gripped on the leather brace of my bag so that the muscles of my arm flexed warningly.
The bank was an enormous building, threatening in its grace. High windows seemed to stare down on me, scrutinizing my intentions. Four guards in matching livery stood at the entrance armed with spears and swords, shields planted beside them. I wondered when it was the last time they’d been used. They eyed me as I walked by, but did nothing else.
Inside was more marble than I’d seen in my life. I wondered how much money they could have saved if they hadn’t spent it on this kind of extravagance, and then remembered that was the point. People with money are trusted with money. The only way to show you have money is to spend it. I fought back a look of derision and approached a porter, who greeted me with a neutral expression.
“Help you, master?”
“I’m looking to withdraw from my account.” He kept the surprise from his face fairly well, but I saw the passing expression.
“You’ll want to speak to that woman there,” he gestured. “She’ll be most capable of assisting you.”
I nodded in thanks and approached her desk. She’d seen the porter’s gesture and so waited for me and motioned to the chair when I was near.
“Just arrived?” she asked politely.
“I have, yes.” I set my bag on the floor beside me, my foot through the strap.
“How long at sea?”
“Four days. No storms.”
“Is this your first visit?”
“To the bank or the mainland?”
She smiled crookedly and I copied her.
“Do you have an account with us, or is it in the name of another?”
“My father’s. He recently passed.”
“I’m terribly sorry.”
“Do you have your letter of inheritance and account?”
I took the leather folder out of my bag and slid it across the desk. I’d removed all of the documentation that they didn’t need so that it was now my book of accounts. My letter of inheritance was on top. She read it thoroughly and nodded, then switched to the next page. Her eyebrows rose in surprise.
“You have a few accounts, I see. It will take me some time to verify these; would you like to take your ease in our lounge? It’s more private.”
I stood to follow her, and slung my bag back onto my shoulder. “What should I call you?”
She glanced over her shoulder and said, “Oriana Giordano, sir. How would you like to be addressed?”
I started to answer as I normally did and corrected myself. “Don Gentillini will be fine.”
She inclined her head and led me down a hallway. Two more guards were posted here and again they eyed me, but let us enter the room, the lounge, without issue. I expected they were more for response than proactive action.
I raised an eyebrow and Oriana Giordano said, “I expect it’s not what you’re used to.” She was correct, but I expected she’d be surprised to know why. “Is there anything you need?” she asked when I didn’t move.
I shook my head and smiled at her. “No, I expect I’ll be quite comfortable. Thank you.”
“I expect not to be too long. Should you need anything, the guard can fetch a porter and they’ll bring you anything you’d like.” I gave her a shallow bow and she looked surprised, returning one a bit deeper before leaving.
There were only two other people in the lounge, neither seated near the other. One was staring at a painting, one knee crossed over the other and foot bouncing impatiently. She glanced toward me and away almost immediately. The other was watching me with interest over the top of a green-bound book.
I turned away from them both to take in the rest of the room. No windows, but there were several large pieces of art, mostly of distant places to help the room seem larger. The floor was carpeted in a plush maroon and the seats were in soft leather. I expected the set cost more than Davide’s home. A long table was set with various light finger-foods and small bottles of alcohol. A shelf took up an entire wall, covered with books.
I perused the volumes, not really taking them in. I wondered how long Oriana Giordano would need to gather the information on my accounts.
“You’re out of place.” The reading woman had replaced her volume on the shelf and was eyeing me with interest.
“So are you,” I answered.
She blinked in surprise. “Why do you say that?” she asked with a frown.
I let my top lip curl in the smallest smile and turned away toward a piece of art showing a forest scene. I’d never seen so many trees and it intrigued me.
“Have you ever been?” she asked, coming up beside me.
“Not in recent memory,” I replied.
She scoffed. “You’re barely in boots and you speak like that. Raised in court, were you?” She glanced at my bag, my clothes. “Been a long vacation, I imagine.”
“Are you so concerned that I’ve seen through your disguise? Whom would I tell?”
Her lips pursed and she looked back at the painting, though I imagined she didn’t see any of it.
“What is your name?” I asked.
She scoffed again.
“Very well. What would you have me call you?”
“Prevot will do fine,” she finally answered.
“And I am Don Gentillini.”
“What brings you here, Don?”
“The same that brings anyone to a bank – acquisition and organization of funds.”
“But this bank in particular,” she continued, her voice lower. I strained to hear.
I matched her volume. “Where else?”
A small smile played about her lips at my answer. “I like you Don Gentillini,” she said. “I would like to speak with you in a more private setting.”
I bowed my head in acknowledgement. “I only intend to stay for a short time, but would enjoy a continued conversation, I’m sure.”
The door opened and a nervous porter entered. He saw Prevot and came to attention.
“That’s for me,” she said. “Where are you staying?”
“I’ve only just arrived and have made no arrangements.”
“I will leave my information with Oriana Giordano once I am settled. You can call on her here to find me.”
Prevot dipped her chin. “Happy hunting, Don Gentillini.”
I watched her leave with the harried-looking porter and turned back to the painting. In truth, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It seemed I’d discovered something unusual while only pretending to know more than I did. Father’s tactics were already coming in handy and even if Prevot proved to be no more than another bout of strategic conversation, I could use the practice.
March 23, 2021