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The murder of a vagabond and the disappearance of a child plunges a small town into panic. Both are linked by a house where Harry, the missing child, lives with his mother and brother. An old house, built inside an abandoned cursed slate quarry, full of mysteries. In fact, there have been many homeowners who have disappeared in the last century without leaving traces. These were precisely the mysteries Harry was trying to uncover. One above all: The Door to Nowhere. A strange door that lead nowhere, built on a wall in the house. Zuck’s grandfather, the murdered vagabond, had gone through it and knew what was on the other side. It is Davide, Harry’s older brother, who collects his legacy. Only by finding the way to cross that door will he be able to find his brother. What lies there is a thousand-old mystery, which originated in ancient Egypt, but still reaps victims.
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Illusion Novel # 17
Original Title: La porta sul nulla
Translated by Gaston Como
© 2018 Illusion
© 2016 Stefano Pastor
Graphics: Angela M.
All rights reserved
Harry waved his magic wand and declaimed: “Accio!”
The dried life did not move a millimeter and he just kicked it.
The cloak was entangled in a branch and immediately shook: “No! Don’t let it tear!”
It had been a struggle to get his mother to buy it, and more to get her permission to use it out of the house. He was now forced to hide it in a bag and wear it just at a distance.
It was the same for the glasses. He did not need glasses to see and was forced to steal a pair that had been forgotten on the small table of a bar; he knew his mother would not have bought them for him. But what kind of Harry would he have been without glasses?
No one understood him, his mother thought he was a stupid boy pretending to be a wizard, it was even worse with his brother Davide. Harry was convinced that his brother hated him and that he seized every opportunity to humiliate him. He even hit him sometimes.
But he would show them all! It was time for his revenge! They would no longer be able to say he was a poor idiot living in dreams. They would soon understand who he truly was!
It was not easy. He even had to sell the Black Lotus, Uncle Martin’s gift from his visit to the United States. The shopkeeper could not believe it was an original card and had offered very little for it. He was forced to accept, all the same, he was in dire need of the money.
Five hundred euros; five hundred euros to discover the truth; it was clear; he would not tell him anything for less than five hundred euros. He did not have that amount since his private stash reached roughly more than one hundred euros. After the Black Lotus, the bike was next, then all his best books, including the Harry Potter collection, even if that was heresy. And it was not enough. He had to keep selling everything he owned.
He had given him a taste, he had told him small anecdotes, just to prove he was not a boaster.
Harry had never believed it. Even if he was old, even if he was a vagabond, even if he was always drunk, lying on a park bench, he knew Zuck was saying the truth. Zuck knew about the mystery, he knew every stone in the house. Zuck was a great gentleman, deep down.
They had recognized each other; it took just a glance. There was the same fire in their eyes, the passion for mystery, for magic. Zuck was like him, he had been like that when he was young at least. When he was a child he was an explorer. He knew things, he had been around, he had seen stuff.
Harry had never been so excited in his whole life. He clutched his five hundred euros in his pockets. Soon, Zuck would tell him everything: how to open the door, what was on the other side, what secret it was hiding. Soon every mystery would be uncovered.
The park stretched along the whole mountain to the seashore. It was a famous park, where so many exotic plants grew. In winter, several children visited it, but now it was summer and people preferred tanning on the sand.
Harry was sweaty because that cloak was heavy. He would not have done otherwise, even if half the town laughed in his face. He was a wizard, a great wizard, and he would soon show the whole world. Another type of magic, very different from making stupid objects fly, the magic of knowledge.
Zuck was there, on his belly, still covered in newspaper sheets, even if it was already ten in the morning. No policeman was patrolling the park because it was too much in the suburbs, and so there was no risk of being disturbed.
“Zuck, I have it! I’ve found it!” Harry shouted.
He kept on sleeping, impassive, under that newspaper.
Harry wondered how he was not hot. Zuck was wearing two cloaks even in summer and also had a long beard, which was surely uncomfortable.
The newspaper was dirty.
Harry took a step forward. The newspaper was completely stained.
It was stained with red.
That shapeless bulk under the newspaper frightened him. On another occasion, he would have run away screaming. But not now, now he was a step away from the truth.
He threw a punch at the person lying down.
“Zuck, wake up!”
The newspaper swished, but he did not move.
Harry stood still and looked. The stains on the newspaper seemed to move. Seemed to grow, and they were red.
He could not do this to him, not now!
He started shaking that bulk with both his arms, shouting: “Zuck, get up! Zuck!”
Some sheets fell to the ground and Harry froze.
Zuck was immobile, with his mouth wide open. Many of his teeth were gone and his mouth was red with blood. The skull had been unnaturally bashed in on one side. An eye had almost left the orbit. One of the arms was in a strange position, the hand was cracked and some fingers were broken. His clothes were stained with blood, just like his grey beard.
Harry rushed towards the body, and then he realized he was already dead and started shaking it: “You can’t do this to me!” he screamed. “Not now! You can’t!”
He even started punching it.
“Why didn’t you tell me? How can I find out now? How is the door opened, how?”
He felt filled with an irrational rage. He had done everything he had asked him, he had waited, he had even got the money, it could not end like this!
In the end, he stopped and took a step back. He stared at the body. It had been hit, he had been murdered, that was obvious.
He looked around with a shiver.
The Death Eaters must have arrived before him. They could still be around.
Rage took over him. He threw the wand to the ground and tore the cloak. Then he threw the glassed far away. What Death Eaters?! This was not a book and he was not Harry Potter. This was not a game either; he had been killed, someone had murdered him to stop him from speaking!
Someone knew about him, about what he was searching.
He continued to look around. Was he in danger? Was he? Would someone come for him as well?
He turned around and started running. He ran, and ran, without ever stopping.
It was almost midday when he got back home.
He had calmed down slightly. The danger he was in had moved to a second place; his thoughts were dominated by the great disappointment: almost a year of research, of patient reconstruction, of the investigation, all down the drain. Without Zuck there was nothing left, he would never find out how to cross the door.
No one would have believed him, even if he told them everything. They would tell him he was a stupid child, with his head in the clouds. Nevertheless, he was the only one that knew the mystery existed, that the door had to be crossed. Zuck knew it too, he was the only one that believes in it other than himself. When he was a child his grandfather taught him what to do and he ventured on the other side. Just a few steps, he did not dare go further, but that did not matter, for he was the only one that knew how to cross that threshold.
Now Zuck was dead and there was no one left. The mystery he had been obsessed with for months would remain the same forever: a mystery.
He looked at the house, the symbol of his defeat. It was hideous and frightening. It had been built inside a quarry that had eroded the mountain deeply, topped by quintals of rock that threatened to collapse from one moment to the other, it would forever conceal its secret.
The first time he saw he thought it was perfect. It looked like a sugar cube about to be swallowed by a huge mouth. His mother had only swallowed, his brother only said: “How disgusting!”
But he had started shouting, glowingly: “It’s perfect, let’s take it!”
For one he had won.
How bitter it is now! Now that the house had beaten him, that it had protected its secret! He no longer wanted to stop there, but he had no choice. He was too tired, destroyed.
He tried not to let himself be seen because he did not want to talk to anyone, but as soon as he opened the door he encountered his brother.
Davide was big, he was now sixteen years old, and he was a jerk. He was everything he was not. He was athletic, a bootlicker, he was mean to girls, he bullied the smallest, in this case with him.
Even now he gave him a sly look. “It was time, little asshole, mom was looking for you.” Then he spoke up, even if Harry begged with his eyes. “Mom! The idiot has returned!”
He hated him. Harry felt filled with hatred towards his brother and everyone else. His life was disgusting, he could not take it anymore. He just glanced at the entrance: the living room door was wide open, but there was no trace of his mother. So he threw himself towards the stairs and voluntarily pushed Davide as he did so.
“Asshole! Look where you’re going!”
It was a measly satisfaction, but Harry smiled as he ran up the stairs.
“Where did you leave the retard disguise?” Davide shouted at him as he went up.
He turned around in anger. He did not want to live there anymore. In that town, in that house; he did not want to attend that school where everyone hated him anymore. There had to be a solution to free himself from all this!
He got to the upper floor and turned left towards his room with his head hung low. He would say he was not hungry, he would lock himself in there, he did not want to see anyone.
He went right past Davide’s room, but he froze when he reached his. He looked in front of him. At the end of the corridor, there were two windows and between them a door.
It was open.
Harry stood agape. It could not be open, he had to be dreaming.
He could not. It was not possible. That was the secret Zuck had died for. Only he knew how to open that door. It was what he himself had been searching for months: how to cross it.
And yet it was open, it was no miracle. Not wide open, just a chink, but it was not closed without a doubt.
He drew strength and walked towards it. Behind the chink there was darkness, but he already knew this from Zuck’s stories.
He touched the handle with a shaky hand and opened the door completely.
He took a step forward.
“Well, where is he?”
Davide shrugged and pointed to the stairs.
The woman held her head high and shouted: “Stop whatever you are doing and come down to eat!”
Lorena Arrighi was young. Sometimes she was annoyed at having to introduce those kids to her children because no one wanted to believe her. She had given birth to Davide when she was eighteen, and six years later came Enrico. There were no fathers, at least she did not consider them important enough to let them know of the kids’ conception. She had strange ideas on some subjects.
Later on, they both learned through other ways. One of them vanished, the other had insisted on contributing to the maintenance of the child. She had never spoken of marriage.
She had never told her children they were stepbrothers, but she was certain they had understood that all the same. Enrico had uncles, and even a grandfather, while Davide did not.
They could not be any more different. Davide was perfect, he was not naughty; he was the son any mother would ever want. Enrico was a catastrophe. He lived in a dream world, convinced of being a copy of Harry Potter, if he was not Harry Potter himself, to the point of them being forced to call him Harry. But that was not the only problem. Enrico was antisocial, he was a catastrophe at school, and as if that was not enough, he was always in a fight with someone.
“What did he tell you?” she asked her son.
He just shrugged as he walked towards the living room. “I don’t know! He’s troubled, as usual.”
Lorena took the opposite direction. “Don’t start playing now. We’ll eat in five minutes.”
No sooner had she started walking towards the kitchen that there was a knock on the door. “Could you go?” she shouted, but then she wondered if her son had not heard it, or worse ignored it, so she was forced to go back.
Davide, on the other hand, had opened the door. “It’s the police mom.”
She took a step forward. There were two policemen, but only one of them introduced himself: “Lieutenant Salviati, madam. We’re looking for your son; we must ask him some questions.”
He was young, even younger than her. He had funny sideburns that reminded her of Elvis Presley and wore his hat in spite of the hot weather.
Lorena exchanged a look with his son.
The policeman understood. “Not this one, the other one. Ehm… Harry…”
He had no idea what his name was, to be honest. He had not had enough time to find out. When they found the cloak next to the Zuccoli’s body, someone recognized it. There was only one person that would wear that cloak, and it was that boy that tried to emulate Harry Potter. He had been pointed to his address.
“He’s on the upper floor”, Davide said quickly. “I’ll go get him.”
There was a strange light in his eyes as if he hoped his brother had got into trouble.
“You aren’t going anywhere!” his mother blurted, and then she asked the policeman: “What has happened?”
“Nothing to worry about, madam, we just have to ask him a few questions.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“No, no!” the policeman said, and in fact, he was convinced of that. Poor Zuccoli had been slaughtered while he slept, and there was no doubt that it a gang of thugs had pulled the stunt. Despite Harry’s cloak being found next to the body, he was not a suspect. But the policeman had been told that he was a friend of that vagabond, he visited frequently, so it was possible that he had seen something.
“His testimony could be very useful.”
Lorena asked them in. “What happened?”
Davide trembled on the desire of calling his brother. He looked at the stairs to see if the little child was spying on them.
“A disgrace”, the lieutenant admitted. “We have reasons to believe your son could be of assistance.”
“A disgrace? What kind of disgrace?”
“Some Alberto Zuccoli died.”
Lorena sighed. “Zuck!” then she added: “I had told him not to meet him anymore. I didn’t have anything against him, but Enrico is just a little boy and that man was always drunk. It wasn’t right that they spent so much time together.”
“Right, I understand madam.”
Lorena frowned. “How did it happen?”
She understood by the look of the policeman. That tramp lived in the street, a bad ending was inevitable.
“He’ll be upset. He liked him.” She made a decision and turned to Davide. “Show them in, I’ll go and talk to Enrico.”
Davide was a bit disappointed but also happy with the idea of learning a bit more about what happened to his brother’s stinky alter ego.
He led them in, while Lorena went up the stairs.
The policemen were impressed when they got to the living room. Davide hid a smile. It had happened to him as well, the first time he set foot in that house. The living room measured a beautiful twelve meters and was originally conceived as a ballroom.
“It was disgusting seeing them together all the time”, he began with disdain. “The little asshole never left him alone, always behind him like a puppy.” He turned to look at the cop. “What happened to him?”
Lieutenant Salviati wondered if it was time to divulge certain news. He would have to speak about it with the other brother, so it was useless being reticent.
“He’s been killed.”
Davide was not expecting that. “Who?”
“That’s what we want to ask your brother.”
He immediately found all that funny: “Do you think he did it?”
“It was not done by a single hand.”
The coroner only needed a quick look before the body was taken away, to declare with all certainty that the blows inflicted on the body were produced by different hands and weapons. Even the strength used was of different nature. Some blows were nothing but abrasions, others were caused by ferocity.
“Who could it have been?”
“Do you know anything about it?”
He shelled his eyes. “Me?”
“Maybe it was the children that wanted to have some fun. Under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
He shook his head. “I don’t meddle with certain people.” Then he added thoughtfully: “Also here, in this town!”
The policeman sighed. Something like this had happened a few days ago. After the beating, they tried to light him on fire, but the tramp managed to escape and the three criminals were arrested. And so it was discovered that they had a clean record, and all of them came from good families. They admitted doing it out of fun since they were bored.
“It’s possible that your brother saw something.”
Davide was perplexed. “While he was killed? How can you know?”
“He left his cloak next to the body.”
What an idiot, Davide thought. No one but a poor idiot would behave like that. It was so common of him to get in trouble. Another thought made way through Davide’s mind: that idiot never left his magic cloak; he loved it with his life. Him leaving it seemed suspicious to say the least.
“What was the relationship your brother and Mr. Zuccoli had?”
Davide shook those thoughts out of his head and answered with disdain. “Oh, Zuck’s grandfather built this house.”
The policeman was not sure he had understood the link. “So?”
Davide shrugged. “The idiot is obsessed with discovering everything about this house; according to him, it hides a mystery. He’s driven us mad; it’s been going on for months. The library, the land register, and he even bothered you. He wanted to know everything.”
“I don’t see what this has to do with Mr. Zuccoli.”
“Zuck’s grandfather was one of the builders that built it. He was just an apprentice since he was just twelve years old. It was more than a century ago.”
“How do you know these things?”
“The idiot won’t speak of anything else! We’re out of our minds because of him. He bothers everyone. He’s been tracing anyone related to this building for months.”
Davide spoke in a spooky voice, giggling. “Because this house is cursed!”
“Eh? Does your brother claim this?”
“Not really, it’s an old story. It’s been going on for a century. That’s why he’s obsessed with it.”
“What story? Can you tell me?”
He did not make it in time because Lorena came back to the room. “You’re wrong, Harry isn’t here.”
“But mom!” Davide answered quickly. “I even spoke to him! I saw him go up! Barely five minutes before they arrived!” and he pointed at the policemen.
“Well, I’ve looked everywhere and I can assure you there’s no one here.”
“I swear it!”
The policemen exchanged looks, then the lieutenant asked: “Is there another exit?”
Both mother and child shook their heads.
“Maybe he left through the window”, the other policeman suggested.
Davide burst into laughter. “Him? You don’t know him! He suffers from vertigo, he would never manage.”
“Then where is he?”
Davide kept insisting. “He’s gone up, I’m sure of it!”
“Can we take a look too?” the lieutenant proposed.
Lorena was uncertain, she did not like the police strolling through her house, but she liked looking like a liar even less. “Do as you please, look wherever you want.”
He nodded at his subject and returned to the entrance. Davide ran behind them before his mother could say anything. “I’ll help you!”
When they reached the upper floor they were faced with the long corridor.
“What a big house it is”, the lieutenant mentioned. “Are you the only ones living here?”
“Immense”, Davide confirmed.
“Why such a big house? Do you really need it?”
Davide winked: “The rent is ridiculous. Because of the curse, remember?”
The policemen split and went room by room, searching for every hiding spot. They even leaned out the windows, but the façade did not have ledges and below them was a four-meter fall on a solid rock.
Eventually, they reached the bottom of the wide corridor and found themselves in front of that last door. “Where does this one lead?” the lieutenant asked.
Davide burst into laughter. “This is one of the house’s mysteries that fascinate the idiot. Do you see those windows? Lean toward them.”
The policemen exchanged looks and split, each reaching one of the windows. Between them was the last door.
The opened the windows and leaned out. Their looks met outside. The façade was perfectly smooth. There was absolutely nothing where the door should have been.
They closed the windows and stood there, looking at the door. One of them tried to open it, even if it was obvious that it was a bulwark.
“What does it mean?” the lieutenant asked. “Why was it put there?”
Davide shrugged. “Don’t ask me those questions. Try my idiot brother, when you find him.”
“I don’t like you calling him an idiot, stop that.”
“What do I have to do with all this? He started it! I want to be called Harry, from now on you have to call me that! Well, I told him! Don’t you like your name? Do you want to be called something else? Then I’ll call you idiot, which is appropriate.”
Lorena shook her head. “I don’t like it all the same. He’s your brother, you mustn’t treat him like that.”
“I’m not hurting him in any way.”
“No one must treat him like that. You must protect him.”
“What’s going on in your mind?”
Lorena sat on the sofa. They had been waiting for two hours, but there was no trace of Harry. She had started worrying and suspecting he was hiding on purpose. Was it possible that the policemen were right and that he helped in the murder?
“Everyone picks on him and bully him. I don’t like it, and I don’t like you doing it either.”
Davide snorted noisily and sat with his legs open wide on the armrest. “Have you seen how he dresses? He truly looks like an idiot.”
“He’s a child, Davide. He’s only ten, he plays. Don’t you remember when you were ten?”
“I never behaved like that.”
“He’s not you. It’s more difficult for him. A new city, a new house, he lost all his friends.”
“We’ve been here for a year! He’s had all the time in the world to mingle, but he doesn’t want to. You’ve also made a mistake, you’ve conceded on everything. This madness had to be stopped in its tracks.”
“He wasn’t hurting anyone!”
“Well, now you see the result.”
Lorena grimaced and her son realized he had exaggerated. “They’ll find him, you’ll see; don’t worry.”
“What if he really helped in that murder? He may be in danger; you realize that, don’t you?”
Davide tried to pretend to be worried, even if deep down his brother’s disappearance was liberation to him. “I can go for a walk.”
Lorena frowned. “Do you think this is good timing? And where would you go?”
He took on an angelic and offended look. “I’ll go look for him, obviously! What did you think?”
Lorena’s frown faded, but not completely: “And where will you look for him?”
He shrugged. “In the places, he’s usually at. Even if he’s hiding there’s a chance he’ll show up if I call him.”
She was still not convinced. “The police told us not to move, to wait here.”
“He told you.”
He was right, only one person was needed to stand by the phone in case someone called, but Lorena preferred some company.
She had not taken Harry’s disappearance well. At first, she thought it was a stunt and so it was still too soon to worry. The policeman told her that from a first analysis Zuck’s murder had probably taken place between eight and ten in the morning, it was possible that Harry was still at home at that time. But she was not sure.
Was he afraid? Was he terrified? Was that why he was hiding? Lorena did not know: though she had given birth to him, she could not understand the child sometimes. He was too strange, with his head in the clouds.
Davide was too insistent. She doubted that he was dying to find his brother, it was more likely that he had a meeting with his friends. The rest could also be a starting point: Harry had made himself famous to everyone, through the city, maybe someone had seen him.
“Go, go, but don’t take too long. Remember I’m all alone here and I’m terrified.”
Davide tried to smile. “Stay calm, nothing happened to him!”
She stayed in the living room and heard him leave. He did not even give her a kiss, he considered himself too old for certain things.
She had made a mistake by choosing that house, now she was certain of it. Everything had been too easy, too perfect; it was inevitable that sooner or later a catch would appear.
And Harry… she was also guilty of indulging him. In the beginning, she had even helped him, she had considered it an adventure to experience together. She had even had fun.
She sighed. How about now?
Davide was already getting undressed as he ran on the beach. Lidia lay on a towel and had undone her bra to sunbathe her back.
By the time he took the last jump and sat next to her he was in his bathing suit.
“Have you heard about my brother?” he asked her.
Lidia lifted her head, being careful not to rise too much and show her naked breast. “Have they found him yet?”
“Who knows where he is hiding!”
She frowned. “So what are you doing here?”
“It was too depressing back home. I was fed up with pretending to be sad. There are some things that I don’t like.”
“Don’t joke with that.”
“You too? Do you think I should worry about that little idiot?”
“He’s your brother.”
“Yeah, everyone is always reminding me of that. As if it was some kind of merit.”
“Don’t speak like that.”
“But you can’t stand him either!”
She rose, holding her bathing suit with one hand. “I never said such a thing!”
“Hey, he’s not dead, don’t sanctify him.”
“Well, I don’t like it all the same! Terrible things are being said on the street.”
“About my brother?”
“About what happened to Zuck. It’s terrifying. He had never hurt anyone. He was always in front of the supermarket, remember? He would help the old ladies carry the groceries for a small tip.”
“And then he would blow it all in booze.”
“So? Did that bother you?”
“Do you think it was any of us?”
“What do you mean?”
“The police think so. They say a gang of teenagers did it; a band of thugs.”
“What do we have to do in all this?”
“Maybe you heard about any gangs, you’ve always been here, I still don’t know many people.”
Lidia shook her head and turned to ask him to strap her bra.
“I never heard anything like that. You’ll see they won’t let us go out in the evening anymore.”
“With a gang of assassins walking the streets?”
“We aren’t hobos.”
“Even worse, don’t you think?”
They were interrupted by a shrill voice. “So? Are there any news about your brother?”
Fabio and Mattia got there running, dripping water, and kneeled around them. They were their classmates, they had known each other forever and they had been Lidia’s classmates until high school. Davide was the last one to arrive, but he had integrated perfectly.
They could not be any more different. Fabio was a bit shorter than average, with a muscular body and jet-black hair. He was perfectly tanned and a charming smile. Mattia, on the other hand, was a beanpole of a pale color, instead of getting a tan under the sun, like everyone else, he took on a fiery red coloration. His hair was also reddish and his face was covered with freckles.
Davide was something in between the other two. He was blonde, with longer hair than average and a medium height. When they walked together they all seemed in scale.
Lidia was fantastic, the most beautiful girl in the class, everyone was secretly in love with her, but Davide had managed to win her over. Him, the one that came last.
This had not influenced their friendship, all of them were together all the time, even when Davide would have desired some intimacy with his girl.
“What stunt has your brother pulled now?” Mattia asked him.
“What do I know? I’m not his nanny.”
“It’s not nice what happened to Zuck, it’s not nice at all.”
Mattia was not a genius, everyone understood that even the teachers, but he had other virtues: he knew how to be funny and was good-hearted, always ready to do something for his friends.
Davide shook his head. “We don’t know if Harry has anything to do with this. Maybe he wasn’t even there.”
Lidia turned around to look at him in surprise. It was the first time Davide called his brother Harry and he had not even realized it.
“Are they looking for him?” Mattia asked, and Fabio answered: “Of course they’re looking for him! Haven’t you seen how many policemen are on the street?”
Then he turned to Davide: “Why are you here?”
Davide was starting to understand that maybe it had not been a good idea to go to the beach. He rose to his feet. “I came here for a swim!”
He left them there, without adding anything else, and ran into the water.
“You’re talking about your son… Enrico, right?”
Lieutenant Salviati was uneasy in that immense room. But, above all, Lorena’s look intimated him. Him not bringing good news seemed evident from the time she opened the door.
“Could someone have hurt him?”
The boy was missing. Under other circumstances he Salviati would have no doubts: the boy had helped in the murder and the murderers had made him disappear. But it was his brother’s testimony to contradict these entire hypotheses. How reliable was it? Did the boy really come back home? And if he did, how did he manage to leave?
“It’s more likely that he’s hiding.”
Lorena thought so as well, she was not even surprised either. They had no confidence in him lately, and Harry noticed that. She even got to the point of mocking him herself. But what else could she do? Harry was exaggerating, he had lost all contact with reality.
She started walking up and down the room and stretched her arms, pointing at the whole house. “I wouldn’t have chosen it, even if it was a bargain; it was Harry who insisted.” She giggled nervously. “Oh, he wasn’t Harry back then.”
“Why wouldn’t you have chosen it?”
“For many reasons. Such a big house isn’t comfortable. There are eleven rooms, you do realize that, right? And we’re just three. And enormous rooms too! Do you think it’s easy keeping them tidy? Then, the location: it’s horrible. We’re too far into the outskirts, and the mountain hanging over in that way! Do you think I was able to get some sleep during the first months? I was afraid the mountain would collapse on top of us.”
She smiled faintly. “Do you know what Davide called it? Dragon’s Tooth; it really looks like a tooth in a dragon’s fangs.”
“Your son said something about a curse.”
“You should know more about this than me. Isn’t this your city?”
Salviati shook his head. “I’m afraid not, I transferred here just a couple of years ago.”
Lorena sprawled a little. “You too!” she sighed. “I don’t know if there’s a curse. I only know this house was rather unfortunate, so were its inhabitants, at least.”
“What happened to them?”
“To be honest I don’t know much, Harry took an interest in these things.”
It seemed to Salviati she had turned reticent all of a sudden, and he asked in astonishment: “Did any murders take place?”
He regretted not having investigated anymore, but he had not had enough time. And then, what did a vagabond’s murder have to do with a boy’s fantasies?
“No, no, nothing like it.”
Salviati sighed in relief, but Lorena added immediately after: “Disappearances.”
It was a word she would have preferred not to say, especially at that time. “But a long time ago, a very long time ago.”
She sat down with him again. “We were informed of this. The lady working for the agency had told us everything. She told us the house had a bad reputation and that was why they had not been ablet o rent it, and they were never able to talk about selling it.”
“Whose is it?”
“It belongs to a bank now; it has for more than 50 years. It’s been vacant for so long, and every time it was inhabited problems eventually took place. No, it’s not true, not always. The last tenant lived here for twenty-five years until she transferred to a retirement home. But first… However, they’re dead and buried, they no longer matter to anyone, only Harry took an interest.”
“What interested him?”
“The house; he said it was strange, that it hid something, that it made no sense.”
It was a strange choice of words. “Sense?”
“Yes, it made no sense that it was built here. It was a quarry, you see? They were digging through the mountain. And then they left everything there and built this house right in the middle.”
“Maybe the quarry wasn’t productive anymore.”
“No, I think it had to do with a marriage, Harry talked to me about it once. It was meant to be the house for the newlyweds or something like that.”
“For the quarry’s owner?”
“His daughter, I think. But something went wrong. Her husband disappeared after a few months living here and from there on the legend started.”
“And this happened a long time ago.”
“In 1904, or 1905, I can’t remember. Harry droned on with those dates in his memory. Not his school lessons, his mind was impervious to that, but he knew everything about this rubbish.”
She stopped there because she realized she had talked about her son in the past tense and found it a dire omen.
“So what was your son looking for exactly?”
“This house’s story, he was certain it hid a mystery.”
“What about that door up there?”
Lorena could not hold back a giggle. “Oh, that! There’s no mystery in that. I saw the original blueprints for this building. It was a greenhouse; the greenhouse was designed next to the house. It would be accessed through a walkway through that door. A staircase was also designed, but then nothing was done.”
“What do I know? Maybe the daughter was very impatient with getting married and didn’t want to wait any longer. It took two years to build this house, it would have certainly taken some more months to build the greenhouse.”
Salviati was perplexed: “A greenhouse… here?”
Precisely; the mountain always cast a shadow. During the day the sun rarely reached the house.
“I’m only telling you what I saw at the land register. The originally deposited seedlings; Harry even got a copy, it should be in his room if you’re interested.”
He shook his head. “And Zuck?”
“It was my fault, I’m afraid. Harry was obsessed. He had managed to find the names of some of the workers that participated in building the house.”
“He was convinced that it was hiding something.”
“He said… but it’s absurd, there’s no point in talking about it.”
“No, please… Tell me, anything can prove useful.”
“He was convinced that they had discovered something in that cave. That’s why work in the quarry was stopped and a house was built there, to hide it.”
“Aleandro Federico Alemanno. He was an important man at the time. He didn’t own just the quarry; he was the owner of many activities in the town, even a bank.”
“What did he find?”
“I don’t know, but Harry recovered newspaper articles on the strike, and then…”
“Wait, explain yourself.”
“Well, we went to the library to look for news. There was a newspaper article, it must be the one in his room. Alemanno brought people from other places to build it. But those working at the quarry, who had been fired, rebelled. They watched over the quarry, preventing those workers, who they called strikebreakers, from setting foot in it. In the end, they reached an agreement and Alemanno hired some of them in the places of the so-called strikebreakers. He was forced to do so, I think because work had been stopped for months. The article mentioned the names of the five workers that were hired.”
Salviati started to understand. “Was one of these Zuccoli?”
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