‘Leona. I take it you have not seen this?’
This was my mother’s iPad, in the case I bought her for her birthday in the days when iPads were fat. The gadgetry might have moved through several incarnations but the iPad case was still the same, except that she’d had to pad it with folded paper to stop the super-slender gizmo sliding around inside. Funny the things you notice when you’re trying your hardest to concentrate on being demure to head off a whole load of trouble.
I took the iPad, case and all, with due circumspection. I never thought of myself as a coward, but if there were two people in the world who could make me tremble they were my parents when they were united in purpose – and that purpose was bringing me to book. In the past few years that hadn’t happened often, because since they’d divorced the task of imposing discipline was one that they’d tossed from one to the other like a ticking bomb in a deadly game of pass-the-parcel. And anyway – I had to remind myself of this – as I was a grown adult, they had no control over me or what I did.
This last thought offered me neither consolation nor courage as I sat, head dutifully bowed making a detailed study of my shoes, in the bar of one of Edinburgh’s best hotels. I’d barely taken my seat before they’d started into me. I’d thought at least they’d have the decency to let me order a drink. ‘No.’
‘Read it,’ recommended my mother, in a voice cold enough to shatter steel.
I touched the screen with a cautious finger and it leapt into light to reproach me. An online edition of an Italian language magazine. That was no problem. I was a fluent Italian speaker. And anyway, the piece was very short.
A dramatic incident disturbed wealthy guests at an upmarket hotel in the resort of Sirmione, on Lake Garda, earlier this week, with the attempted kidnap of heiress Leona Castellano.
I lifted my eyes, an unladylike curse withering on my lips as I saw the look on her face. ‘Oh.’
‘Keep reading, Leona.’
‘Miss Castellano, 21, from Scotland, inherited €100m following the death of her grandfather, Marco Castellano, in August last year, and was visiting Sirmione on holiday with a friend. Her stay at the Hotel Villa Martino was rudely interrupted by an attempt to abduct her, thought to be for a ransom. The attempt was foiled by the prompt action of the hotel staff, and the police were not involved. The potential attackers left the premises before they could reach Miss Castellano, who was unhurt and has now returned to Edinburgh, where she is studying Italian.
‘We take our responsibility for protecting our guests very seriously indeed,’ hotel manager Nico Manfredi said, ‘but beyond that I don’t wish to comment.’
My eye lingered a little longer than necessary on the accompanying photo of Nico, pictured in front of the hotel. It was slightly out of focus and badly exposed, but even so it couldn’t hide how attractive he was. I read on.
Marco Castellano was born in the town of Desenzano, also on Lake Garda, and left Italy for London, where he made his fortune in building and other businesses.
That was it. I laid the iPad down on the table and cast around for some positives. ‘At least it doesn’t mention the feud.’
‘It does not,’ allowed Mum with extreme care, as if she were in court and giving testimony for her life, ‘mention that your grandfather and Faustino Manfredi had a disagreement. No. We should be thankful for that. And also thankful, I suppose, that there is no picture of you and that no other media outlet seems to find it newsworthy. But beyond that…’ She took the iPad, closed it, laid it back down on the table, and sat back, punishing me with silence.
‘It’s inaccurate,’ I said, in some desperation. ‘At so many levels. Really.’
My parents sat and waited.
‘It isn’t €100 million. It’s only around seventy million.’ Though that was enough; more than enough. ‘And I’m not from Scotland. I’m from Surrey. So they got that wrong.’ And the rest was pretty much all wrong, too.
‘Regardless,’ noted Dad, in the driest of tones which somehow hinted that he might be about to laugh, ‘I hope you understand the implications of what you’ve done.’
‘Yes, Mum. Yes, Dad.’ I kept one thought at the forefront of my mind for the moment when I might be brave enough to turn it into words. I’m twenty-one and I can do what I like.
No, this wasn’t the moment for anything other than humility. And anyway, there was something else that festered in my brain, and had done since the kidnap attempt which had come much closer to fruition than the website suggested. Nico Manfredi, how dare you?
It was just as well for him that he was over a thousand miles away.