In the village I saw a young woman, cute in her white helmet, sunglasses, and skimpy bathing suit. She stopped suddenly, and spread her long brown slim legs to keep her motorino balanced. She raised her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God!” she said.
I turned. A red-faced guy had a chubby gray-haired man in a headlock. With his free hand he threw punches. The gray-haired guy swung wildly, landing a few in return. A big German tourbus stopped, and people peered through the windows. Some came out to get a better look at the brawl. In a minute two blue-shirted and jack-booted polizia rushed in, and pried the combatants apart. The red-faced guy was still spitting his fury. He wanted to break free and kill gray-hair. Finally, after much shouting and cursing, the two calmed down and were sent on their way. The polizia made no arrests because no damage had been done. These things happen.
When I got back home, Francesca’s e-mail said: “Call me.” Nothing more.
I knew the peace wouldn’t last. Something would come up that would set my heart beating again, and it would come only when I had finally become comfortable not knowing anything. Francesca obviously had some news. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear it.
“Well?” Francesca said.
“Well what?” I replied.
“Don’t you want to know what happened?”
“Of course I do. Tell me.”
“My dad has hired a detective. Also he’s been talking to a couple friends of his, who are New York State Troopers.”
“But no news.”
“No, not yet. But give them time. The detective is a good one, very expensive.”
“I suppose that I’ll be hearing a knock on my door soon.”
“No, I told my dad that Vittoria wasn’t with you in Ischia. And he believes me.”
“When a married woman goes missing, though, the first guy on the list is her lover.”
“Don’t worry. Nobody will bother you.”
“My dad got everybody together yesterday. He said a few words.”
“So tell me.”
“He said, ‘Yes you are all correct. Vittoria was adopted.’ But he said it was a long story that he needs to tell her first.”
“Did he say where she was from?”
“He didn’t want to tell us very much. He said she was not from anyone in the family.”
“That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Back then my mom had my two brothers, and then she couldn’t have any more kids. They both wanted a girl.”
A two-heartbeat pause.
“So that means YOU were adopted as well!” I said.
“No. A year after Vittoria’s adoption my mom got pregnant with me.”
“Yes, that often happens.”
“Then Vincenzo and Mario kept asking my dad questions about who Vittoria’s real mother was. Finally Dad said, okay. He told us she was a famous movie star who was filming on the island 30 years ago.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Which famous movie star?”
I blinked. Utterly unbelivable.
“Hello? Are you still there?” Francesca said.
“Yes. I’m here. But this is incredible.”
“Well, don’t you see a resemblance?”
Maria Marrella. Academy Award winning sex goddess of the 70s. A tall blonde. A great actress.
“Yes,” I finally said. “There is a resemblance.”
Things began to fall into place. Vittoria’s eagerness for mischief, her role-playing. It all came from her birth mother. And of course her real origin had to be kept secret. Maria Marrella had been married and divorced a half dozen times. The tabloids regularly ran stories about her romantic involvement with every one of her leading men, as well as a succession of directors. One scandal after another. Totally outrageous behavior all around.
“I imagine Vittoria will be happy to learn this, once she finally reappears.”
“She’s too confused right now.”
“But this will eliminate all the confusion. Everything makes sense.”
“She’ll be angry.”
“Because her real mother didn’t have time for her, that’s why.”
“But your parents did. They raised her as one of their own. And they never imagined the secret would ever come out.”
“That’s exactly what my dad said. Never in a million years.”