The Fixers #5

"There he is," said Seb. "That must be Ricci."

Gretchen squinted. On the bridge over the canal stood a lone figure, looking down at the water.

"Should we go to him?"

"And what?" asked Seb. "Tell him he's making the right decision?"

"I don't know," said Gretchen. She looked at the Englishman, annoyed. "You don't have to be so snarky."

"Snarky?" Seb eyes twinkled. "Is that even a word?"

Gretchen opened her mouth to retort, but Seb suddenly shushed her.

"There's someone else," he said. He pointed to the opposite side of the canal.

There, a hooded figure paused at the far end of the bridge, then seemed to scan the area, as if expecting someone or something. Ricci noticed too, and was now looking in the newcomer's direction.

As she and Seb watched, the stranger met Ricci's gaze and hailed the painter by waving one hand, then began walking out onto the bridge.

Beside her, Seb cursed. "That's our guy, alright. I waited too bloody long." He strode out of the shadows, towards the bridge.


He looked back over his shoulder. "Make sure Ricci jumps."

"What? How?" She hurried after him.

Together, they reached the bridge and began crossing. Ahead, the hooded stranger, who was just entering conversation with Ricci, paused, seeing the two of them approach.

The stranger took a couple of steps back, away from Ricci, eyeing her and Seb. The painter turned his head in their direction as well, confusion on his face.

Suddenly, the figure turned and darted back the opposite way. Seb muttered another curse.

"Make him jump," Seb told her, and then he took off running in pursuit.

"Wait! Seb!" Gretchen reached out a hand after him in a futile gesture. She watched the Englishman race across the bridge, past a startled Ricci, and after the retreating stranger.

An awkward moment then ensued, wherein the confused painter swiveled his head between the footrace disappearing off to his right, and to his left, where Gretchen, who no doubt wore an equally confused look, stood watching him.

All the painter wanted to do, she thought, was end his life in peace.

She, on the other hand, had just died, and now she found herself in a strange place, traveling through time.

And Seb had left the two of them alone together. Was he crazy?

* * *

"What is all this commotion?" the painter asked, flustered.

He waved his hand in the direction Seb and the stranger had run. Gretchen approached the painter, holding her hands out to calm him.

"I really don't know," she said. "I'm sorry about that."

"You know that man?" Ricci asked.

"I know one of them," she told him.

Suddenly, her eyes widened. "Hey! You're speaking English!"

"What?" asked the painter, bewildered. "What the devil are talking about? I know not a word of that tongue."

"But you're . . . ." Gretchen paused, confused. "You can understand me?"

Ricci threw his hands up, awkwardly. "God in Heaven above!" he cried. "Of course I can understand you, woman."

Apparently, Seb had failed to mention the bracelet also translated languages.

"You're Venetian is perfectly clear," the painter continued, "although your meaning utterly confounds me. Perhaps you should have your head examined?"

"Me?" Gretchen gaped. "Hey, I'm not the one about to jump off of a bridge, pal."

Ricci's eyes widened. He opened his mouth, then shut it and looked away.

Suddenly, Gretchen felt sorry for the poor man. Whatever it was eating him up inside, it had driven him to destroy his life's work; now, he was here on this bridge, ready to die. And even that wasn't working out for him.

After a moment, his eyes returned to hers. "It's true," he said, at last, "what you say. Is it so obvious?" He took a long, slow step towards the edge.

She didn't answer.

"What's the use? All I've ever wanted to do is paint -- to be like the Great Leonardo, or da Cadore. To be adored, respected. To paint a masterpiece." He shook his head. "But I'm nothing. I cannot paint, nor draw. There is no masterpiece in me."

"Hey," she said, "come on. That's not true." She wanted to reach out, to soothe the poor man.

Wait. What was she doing? She was supposed to be convincing him to jump.

She cleared her throat. "I mean, it may be true."

Ricci pulled his tortured face up. "What?"

"I mean," she stumbled, "there's, uh, no masterpiece in me, either. Or in most of us."

Okay, Gretchen, where are you going with this?

"Right," she continued. "For example, when I was in high school, I really wanted to be in a band. I loved music. I wanted to write songs and be famous, you know? Only, I couldn't play any instruments. I could sing okay, but I got nervous in front of other people. Anyway, I had a couple of friends who could play, so we put together a band - we called ourselves Parental Guidance." Gretchen smiled, remembering. "We rehearsed a few times and then we played our first gig at this party." She began laughing. "Oh my God! It was a total disaster. We sucked so bad."

Her laughter faded as she realized Ricci was staring at her like she had grown horns from her forehead, or a third arm.

"Dear woman, what in the wide world are you talking about?"

Gretchen felt her cheeks growing hot. She cleared her throat again.

"Look," she said. "The point is, some people are meant to make music, and others are meant to enjoy it. You may love painting and art and all that, but maybe you're not meant to create it. Maybe you're just supposed to appreciate it, you know. Just acknowledge the masterpieces of others."

Her words appeared to have an effect on the painter, but not as she intended. "I could be wrong, though," she quickly added. She was messing her first mission all up!

"No," said Ricci, the pained look slowly leaving his face. "I think perhaps you're right." He almost smiled.

"No, no. I'm probably wrong."

"Yes, I see now! I've been far too hard on myself! You've saved my life, dear woman. And we haven't even been properly introduced. Tell me blessed angel, who has seen straight into the heart and soul of me - what is your name, that I might savor it's exquisite feel upon my lips." He began unlace his coat.

"Whoa, there buddy," she said, backing up a step. "Let's not get crazy. We just met, okay? I don't even know you." She shook her head. Gretchen, you idiot! You're fucking it all up. "Let's think this through, alright? I mean, things are still pretty lousy."

"No," he said. "No, I've never felt more certain of anything in my life. I want to live!"

Gretchen stood before the man, speechless. She couldn't have had this effect on the man, if she'd been trying to save him!

He finished loosening his coat, and pulled it over his head. Gretchen's eyes widened. Draped across his shoulders and tied around his waist, were several thick chains. From his neck, a large stone hung, tied in place with even more chain.

He wasn't messing around! The weight of all that would surely drag him down and hold him under the water. He really was going to kill himself.

At that moment, from the end of the bridge, she saw someone approaching. It was Seb returning! He strode directly towards her and Ricci. The painter, seeing that she had become distracted, turned to look.

Seb's gaze passed over both of them as he drew close. "Still here, I see," he said through his teeth.

"Your friend saved my life!" the painter told him.

Gretchen put her forehead in her palm, and shook her head.

"Did she?" asked Seb. "Isn't that swell? She's such a sweet girl." He put his arm over the painter's shoulders and led him another step closer to the edge of the bridge.

They were now facing away from Gretchen, but she could hear their words.

"Giancarlo," said Seb, "I'm very sorry. I really am."

"About what?"

"I've seen your work. It's really not that bad." He paused, looking out at the water.

After a moment, he snapped his head around to look at Gretchen. "Bloody hell!" he exclaimed. "The painting . . . ." He trailed off, mouth hung open.

"I don't understand," said Ricci.

Seb shook his head, as if returning from a trance. "Like I said," Seb turned to look at the painter, "you seem like a good bloke. I'm very sorry."

Without warning, he pushed Ricci off the bridge. The painter cried out. An instant later, he landed with a splash in the water below.

Gretchen ran to the edge, looking down. There was no sign of the man.

She turned on Seb. "What have you done?" she cried.

Seb grabbed her shoulder.

"Len," he said, "bring us home."

Continue to The Fixers #6

No comments:

Post a Comment