The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.
Like any good castle, it has strong defences, and I was looking for a moat and drawbridge, but it looks like the moat has become a lawn.
The very high walls in places no doubt were built to keep the enemy out
The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the last 900 years. It was part of the Florentine defences, and withstood, and succumbed to many battles with Siena, which is only 20 km away. More recently, it still bears the scars of artillery fire and bombing in WW2.
The room at the top of this tower would have an excellent view of the countryside.
Here you can see the old and the new, the red brick part of the rebuilding in the 1800’s in the style of an English Manor
We did not get to see where that archway led.
Nor what was behind door number one at the top of these stairs. Rest assured, many, many years ago someone wearing armour would have made the climb. It would not pass current occupational health and safety these days with a number of stairs before a landing.
Cappella di San Jacopo. Its foundations were laid in 1348.
Renovated in 1867-1869, it has a gabled façade preceded by a double stone staircase. The interior, with a crypt where the members of the Ricasoli family are buried, has a nave divided into three spans with cross vaults.
The 1,200 hectares of the property include 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 of olive groves, in the commune of Gaiole.
Who hasn’t been on one of these, particularly if you have an older brother or sister, and they have nothing better to do than give you a hard time.
You know what I mean, going on a mission to find or do something, knowing full well that you won’t find it, or complete it because it was a lost cause to start with.
Yes, it goes very well with another saying, a dog chasing its tail.
We’ve seen that, too, watching the poor dog go round and round without ever achieving anything.
Sounds like my day today.
And it doesn’t stop there, the pointless search could also be described as ‘searching for a needle in a haystack’.
That is, to my mind the very definition of a living nightmare.
The origin of the idiom, well that’s a little more complicated because there isn’t just one definition.
Coined by William Shakespeare, but not necessarily in the sort of language we can read easily – it’s a bit like my ability to translate Spanish to English. It does, however, refer to a ‘wild goose chase’.
Refers to, of all things 16th Century horseracing, and because I don’t have a time machine I can’t go back to fact-check. However, it refers to the other riders following the leader around the course, in much the same formation as geese flying through the air.
My little story to go with it:
If you are good at your job, and that is beginning to be noticed, your boss will find one of these ‘wild goose chases’ just for you, in an effort to make you look bad.
It happened to me once: my task was to search the basement, where old records were stored, for a folder that a former employee had thought they had filed it in the wrong storage box, a supposition supported by the fact the folder was now needed to clear up a clerical error and the file wasn’t in the specifically marked storage box.
My job was to search every one of the other 765 boxes stored haphazardly in the basement until I found it.
It was, I was told later, sitting on his desk the whole time, and when I couldn’t find it, was going to swoop in and say he’d found it.
Of course, it went missing before he could, so he got a bollicking for not storing the files properly, and I got the job to clean up the basement. I’m not sure who got the worst punishment.
I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.
The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritising.
But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.
Am I working for anyone now?
So, there I was, walking along the street, hands in pockets, trying to look like my whole world hadn’t come crashing down on me when a car pulled over to the side of the road.
I may have been down in the dumps but not that far that I wasn’t still aware of what was going on around me, the training had been that good, so I hung back a little from the curb and waited to see if was me they were after, or just some lucky rich person being dropped off.
And ready to disappear into the crowd, not that there was one, but there were three exits available and within momentary reach if necessary.
I watched the rear window go down slowly then saw a familiar face.
“Get in Mr Jackson. We have more to talk about.”
I hesitated like anyone with the training I had would, as any person with common sense would too, I guess.
“It’s perfectly safe, I assure you.” He sounded reassuring.
A glance into the car showed only him and the driver, who was getting out of the car. I watched him come around to the curbside and put his hand on the door handle.
“Sir,” he said.
He opened the door. Nobbin had moved to the other side.
I shrugged, then got in. A thought: how many people had got into cars such as this, and were never seen again?”
It was not a statistic that reached any of the newspapers. Only the end result, a body washed down the Thames, with no indication of who it was, or where they came from, and no identification, or means of identification available.
The door closed, the driver went back to the front of the car, and then gently eased the car out into the traffic.
“I’m sorry for the theatrics surrounding this meeting, but it is necessary. I’m sure you were told of the need for secrecy in this matter, and I’m just reinforcing that.”
“Just who are you? And, for that matter, those people back in that building? Or, if it’s not too hard to wrap your head around, who the hell have I been working for?”
“Good questions, all. At least now I can speak freely. As you can, Mr Jackson.”
“Except I have no idea who’s side you’re on, I’m on, or anyone for that matter. This is not what I signed up for.”
“Well, to put some perspective on your situation, Mr Jackson, you were not supposed to live to tell about it. It was an operation that was created with one purpose in mind, to find an agent named
William O’Connor, and kill him. And everyone in the team assigned to the task.”
“By Severin and Maury? If so, why didn’t they kill me in the alley along with this O’Connor?”
“That is a mystery to all of us.”
“And those people back in the room. Who the hell were they?”
“Operations. Trying to find out how a sub-section could be created and function within their purview and not be detected. That’s what it was, run by two agents who had been expelled a few months back, but who were clever enough to work around all of the safeguards, recruit four agents, and then go after the man who caused the end of their careers.”
“Simple, it seems.”
“Very. And, if it had not been for you, we would never have known who or why.”
“Perhaps we should be thankful there was an explosion then, otherwise we’d all be dead.”
“Or not, because as far as I know, that was part of the operation, designed to take the target, you and the surveillance member behind you. It only did a third the job. It didn’t go off at the critical moment. No one was seriously hurt, by the way.”
“Critical but stable. He’ll survive.”
“The police who were accusing me of being the bomber?”
“Our people trying to delay you, so our man could get away. Seems they trained you better than we expected. Did O’Connor say anything to you?”
“There wasn’t much time before I found him, and Severin shot him.”
“Anything at all?”
“He knew who I was.”
“Then he knew the whole team, and who was running it.”
“He killed two of them.”
“In self-defence. They were not only surveillance but also assassins. Different training before they joined your group.”
I had thought there was something odd about them.
“Anything else,” he asked again.
“Yes. He said to tell you he found something he should, and that the evidence is… And that’s when he was shot. He didn’t tell me where it was.”
“He didn’t have to. We had set up three prearranged drop sites, so it must be in one of those. Here’s my card.”
He handed me a white card with a name and a phone number. The name was not Nobbin.
“If this Severin contacts you again, call me. I am available any hour of the day or night on that number.”
“If he doesn’t?”
“Then you will hear from me in the not too distant future. The fact you’re a survivor tells me you are resourceful and have the makings of a good agent, one I can use in my department.”
“And those others back at the office?”
“You won’t hear from them again.”
The car stopped outside an underground staircase.
“This is your stop, Mr Jackson. Thank you for your co-operation.”
Perhaps my career wasn’t in tatters. I got out of the car, and watched it leave before heading for the underground, his card safely tucked away in my pocket.
In the spy business, it pays not to make solid plans, just have an idea of what you might do, and execute it.
When it goes wrong, as it inevitably does, then you can always say, “I knew it was going to fail” and feel good about it.
Expecting a plan to work without it going south is like winning the lottery. What are the odds?
What you can rely on every time is human nature. Yes, sometimes the bad guy is thoroughly bad and goes off the reservation, but that’s the exception. Counterspy measures always include an element of ‘what’s in it for me’ when an opportunity comes up.
So, David and Susan get captured. It’s the easiest way in.
Then Susan escapes in the middle of a freak storm with torrential rain that has a visibility range of ten feet at best. Enough time for her to disappear.
It’s all part of the plan.
Others search for her, while David is taken to the main compound, assessing the odds and situation as he goes. He ends up in a cell, left to ponder his fate, and then dragged out for interrogation.
Not exactly part of the plan, but he does learn something new, and quite disconcerting. Someone close to him is a traitor.
There’s something to be said for a story that starts like a James Bond movie, throwing you straight in the deep end, a perfect way of getting to know the main character, David, or is that Alistair?
A retired spy, well not so much a spy as a retired errand boy, David’s rather wry description of his talents, and a woman that most men would give their left arm for, not exactly the ideal couple, but there is a spark in a meeting that may or may not have been a set up.
But as the story progressed, the question I kept asking myself was why he’d bother.
And, page after unrelenting page, you find out.
Susan is exactly the sort of woman the pique his interest. Then, inexplicably, she disappears. That might have been the end to it, but Prendergast, that shadowy enigma, David’s ex boss who loves playing games with real people, gives him an ultimatum, find her or come back to work.
Nothing like an offer that’s a double edged sword!
A dragon for a mother, a sister he didn’t know about, Susan’s BFF who is not what she seems or a friend indeed, and Susan’s father who, up till David meets her, couldn’t be less interested, his nemesis proves to be the impossible dream, and he’s always just that one step behind.
When the rollercoaster finally came to a halt, and I could start breathing again, it was an ending that was completely unexpected.
Whether right or wrong they eventually get what they want.
It’s clear to David by the time he reaches the compound, that firstly the girl who was supposedly a prisoner is not there, probably wasn’t there in the first place, but that’s no surprise, secondly had they caught Alisha, then she would be on display when they arrived, and thirdly, there was always the weasel type interrogator bristling with overconfidence waiting in the wings.
And if there was a fourthly, it would be that he would receive ‘the softening up’ process before the first interrogation.
He was not disappointed. The second in so many weeks, or what felt like it, the bruises on the bruises were like a badge of honour.
But that’s the problem with weaselly interrogators who think they hold all the cards, when the tables are turned, they become cowered cowards.
He underestimated David’s resolve. He underestimated Alisha’s determination to remain uncaptured, and he didn’t know about David’s secret weapon.
That is until they came knocking on the door.
His overconfident interrogator, thinking that he held all the cards and that David would be leaving in a body bag, spills the beans.
50 photographs, 50 stories, of which there is one of the 50 below.
They all start with –
A picture paints … well, as many words as you like. For instance:
And, the story:
Have you ever watched your hopes and dreams simply just fly away?
Everything I thought I wanted and needed had just left in an aeroplane, and although I said I was not going to, i came to the airport to see the plane leave. Not the person on it, that would have been far too difficult and emotional, but perhaps it was symbolic, the end of one life and the start of another.
But no matter what I thought or felt, we had both come to the right decision. She needed the opportunity to spread her wings. It was probably not the best idea for her to apply for the job without telling me, but I understood her reasons.
She was in a rut. Though her job was a very good one, it was not as demanding as she had expected, particularly after the last promotion, but with it came resentment from others on her level, that she, the youngest of the group would get the position.
It was something that had been weighing down of her for the last three months, and if noticed it, the late nights, the moodiness, sometimes a flash of temper. I knew she had one, no one could have such red hair and not, but she had always kept it in check.
And, then there was us, together, and after seven years, it felt like we were going nowhere. Perhaps that was down to my lack of ambition, and though she never said it, lack of sophistication. It hadn’t been an issue, well, not until her last promotion, and the fact she had to entertain more, and frankly I felt like an embarrassment to her.
So, there it was, three days ago, the beginning of the weekend, and we had planned to go away for a few days and take stock. We both acknowledged we needed to talk, but it never seemed the right time.
It was then she said she had quit her job and found a new one. Starting the following Monday.
Ok, that took me by surprise, not so much that it something I sort of guessed might happen, but that she would just blurt it out.
I think that right then, at that moment, I could feel her frustration with everything around her.
What surprised her was my reaction. None.
I simply asked where who, and when.
A world-class newspaper, in New York, and she had to be there in a week.
It was all the time I had left with her.
I remember I just shrugged and asked if the planned weekend away was off.
She stood on the other side of the kitchen counter, hands around a cup of coffee she had just poured, and that one thing I remembered was the lone tear that ran down her cheek.
Is that all you want to know?
I did, yes, but we had lost that intimacy we used to have when she would have told me what was happening, and we would have brainstormed solutions. I might be a cabinet maker but I still had a brain, was what I overheard her tell a friend once.
There’s not much to ask, I said. You’ve been desperately unhappy and haven’t been able to hide it all that well, you have been under a lot of pressure trying to deal with a group of troglodytes, and you’ve been leaning on Bentley’s shoulder instead of mine, and I get it, he’s got more experience in that place, and the politics that go with it, and is still an ally.
Her immediate superior and instrumental in her getting the position, but unlike some men in his position he had not taken advantage of a situation like some men would. And even if she had made a move, which I doubted, that was not the sort of woman she was, he would have politely declined.
One of the very few happily married men in that organisation, so I heard.
So, she said, you’re not just a pretty face.
Par for the course for a cabinet maker whose university degree is in psychology. It doesn’t take rocket science to see what was happening to you. I just didn’t think it was my place to jump in unless you asked me, and when you didn’t, well, that told me everything I needed to know.
Yes, our relationship had a use by date, and it was in the next few days.
I was thinking, she said, that you might come with me, you can make cabinets anywhere.
I could, but I think the real problem wasn’t just the job. It was everything around her and going with her, that would just be a constant reminder of what had been holding her back. I didn’t want that for her and said so.
Then the only question left was, what do we do now?
Go shopping for suitcases. Bags to pack, and places to go.
Getting on the roller coaster is easy. On the beginning, it’s a slow easy ride, followed by the slow climb to the top. It’s much like some relationships, they start out easy, they require a little work to get to the next level, follows by the adrenaline rush when it all comes together.
What most people forget is that what comes down must go back up, and life is pretty much a roller coaster with highs and lows.
Our roller coaster had just come or of the final turn and we were braking so that it stops at the station.
There was no question of going with her to New York. Yes, I promised I’d come over and visit her, but that was a promise with crossed fingers behind my back. After a few months in t the new job the last thing shed want was a reminder of what she left behind. New friends new life.
We packed her bags, three out everything she didn’t want, a free trips to the op shop with stiff she knew others would like to have, and basically, by the time she was ready to go, there was nothing left of her in the apartment, or anywhere.
Her friends would be seeing her off at the airport, and that’s when I told her I was not coming, that moment the taxi arrived to take her away forever. I remember standing there, watching the taxi go. It was going to be, and was, as hard as it was to watch the plane leave.
So, there I was, finally staring at the blank sky, around me a dozen other plane spotters, a rather motley crew of plane enthusiasts.
Already that morning there’s been 6 different types of plane depart, and I could hear another winding up its engines for take-off.
People coming, people going.
Maybe I would go to New York in a couple of months, not to see her, but just see what the attraction was. Or maybe I would drop in, just to see how she was.
As one of my friends told me when I gave him the news, the future is never written in stone, and it’s about time you broadened your horizons.
Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.
I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.
But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.
Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.
Back at the hospital with Boggs
Nadia dropped me off at the hospital where Boggs had been taken. She offered to come in with me, but I said Boggs might not be too receptive to any Cossatinos given the circumstances of where we found him, adding I was not trying to be disrespectful until I found out what happened.
It was still possible he had ended up on the beach after being dealt with by her father, brother, or some of their gang. I could have expressed myself better because there was no mistaking that look she gave me.
Coming on top of the admission she almost forced out of me, about trust, I got the impression that the rapport we had built up was slipping away, much like sand through fingers.
Watching her drive off, I wondered if that might be the last time we spoke. It was, I had come to the conclusion on the way back from the beach, a relationship fraught with many problems, in my case, being with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and in hers, well, I was not sure what her expectations were.
If only she wasn’t a Cossatino.
I went in the main entrance, asked at the admissions counter where Boggs was, giving my name, and stated the fact I was his best friend. I was expecting to be told the only visitors could be direct relatives.
It elicited a phone call which on any other occasion I might have dismissed as hospital protocol, but in this instance, and the grave expression on the admission clerk’s face told me this was different.
When she hung up the phone she told me to sit, someone would come to get me. Several minutes later the Sheriff came out of the doors leading into the emergency department.
It looked serious if the sheriff was involved. I was hoping Boggs had not succumbed to his injuries, even after the medics has said his survival prospects were good.
“Sam. I was hoping you would come to see Boggs.”
“How is he?”
“Uncooperative to the extent of truculent.”
“He’s awake then.”
“Aside from exposure, and a thorough shaking up, there’s little wrong with him a night or two won’t fix. But, there’s a small problem with the Cossatinos. They claim he stole a document from their residence, and they want to charge him with trespassing and theft. He had nothing with him when they brought him here.”
“Maybe they were chasing him and he hid it somewhere.”
“Maybe, but he’s not talking. Perhaps you could persuade him to tell you because we need a statement, or I’ll have to charge him, pending an investigation.”
“I’m not exactly his best friend at the moment.”
“Because of Nadia?”
News traveled fast in this town, or was it like the sheriff once told me another time I’d got into trouble, nothing happened in his town that he didn’t know about. Or my mother told him to tell me she was bad news, which was the most likely scenario.
“She is not the sort of girl you want to be with. You know as well as I do what the Cossatinos are like, and that’s all of them, Sam, without exception.”
My mother had spoken to him because those were her words. The sheriff had to be more diplomatic.
“What happened to cutting people some slack? Have you considered she might be different?”
“She has a file, Sam.”
It was all he needed to say. I wanted to believe her, but discounting all the rumors and stories I’d heard about her was not going to justify overlooking the obvious.
“Message received and understood. Is Boggs up to taking visitors?”
“Yes. Follow me.”
We went through the doors leading to the emergency department, down a corridor where ambulance patients in various stages of distress were lined up waiting to be processed, it was a busy night. At the end, we turned right where there were several rooms, one of which had a policeman standing outside.
A nod from the sheriff and the policeman opened the door and I went in. The sheriff didn’t follow me.
Boggs was almost sitting up, staring out the window, until the door closed when he turned to see who had come into the room. When he saw me, he turned back to the window.
Then I noticed a girl sitting in the chair beside the bed, almost obscured from view. It took a moment to recognize her, Charlene, the sheriff’s daughter.
With my attention elsewhere, I walked into a man who was hurrying in the opposite direction. He was a big man with a scar running down the left side of his face from eye socket to mouth, and who was also wearing a black shirt with a red tie.
That was all I remembered as my heart almost stopped.
He apologized as he stepped to one side, the same way I stepped, as I also muttered an apology.
I kept my eyes down. He was not the sort of man I wanted to recognize later in a lineup. I stepped to the other side and so did he. It was one of those situations. Finally getting out of sync, he kept going in his direction, and I towards the bus, which was now pulling away from the curb.
Getting my breath back, I just stood riveted to the spot watching it join the traffic. I looked back over my shoulder, but the man I’d run into had gone. I shrugged and looked at my watch. It would be a few minutes before the next bus arrived.
Wait, or walk? I could also go by subway, but it was a long walk to the station. What the hell, I needed the exercise.
At the first intersection, the ‘Walk’ sign had just flashed to ‘Don’t Walk’. I thought I’d save a few minutes by not waiting for the next green light. As I stepped onto the road, I heard the screeching of tires.
A yellow car stopped inches from me.
It was a high powered sports car, perhaps a Lamborghini. I knew what they looked like because Marcus Bartleby owned one, as did every other junior executive in the city with a rich father.
Everyone stopped to look at me, then the car. It was that sort of car. I could see the driver through the windscreen shaking his fist, and I could see he was yelling too, but I couldn’t hear him. I stepped back onto the sidewalk, and he drove on. The moment had passed and everyone went back to their business.
My heart rate hadn’t come down from the last encounter. Now it was approaching cardiac arrest, so I took a few minutes and several sets of lights to regain composure.
At the next intersection, I waited for the green light, and then a few seconds more, just to be sure. I was no longer in a hurry.
At the next, I heard what sounded like a gunshot. A few people looked around, worried expressions on their faces, but when it happened again, I saw it was an old car backfiring. I also saw another yellow car, much the same as the one before, stopped on the side of the road. I thought nothing of it, other than it was the second yellow car I’d seen.
At the next intersection, I realized I was subconsciously heading towards Harry’s new bar. It was somewhere on 6th Avenue, so I continued walking in what I thought was the right direction.
I don’t know why I looked behind me at the next intersection, but I did. There was another yellow car on the side of the road, not far from me. It, too, looked the same as the original Lamborghini, and I was starting to think it was not a coincidence.
Moments after crossing the road, I heard the roar of a sports car engine and saw the yellow car accelerate past me. As it passed by, I saw there were two people in it, and the blurry image of the passenger; a large man with a red tie.
Now my imagination was playing tricks.
It could not be the same man. He was going in a different direction.
In the few minutes I’d been standing on the pavement, it had started to snow; early for this time of year, and marking the start of what could be a long cold winter. I shuddered, and it was not necessarily because of the temperature.
I looked up and saw a neon light advertising a bar, coincidentally the one Harry had ‘found’ and, looking once in the direction of the departing yellow car, I decided to go in. I would have a few drinks and then leave by the back door if it had one.