According to Luke
By Rosanne Dingli
The Paludio di Sant’Antonio was deserted. The dull lonely echo of Jana’s footsteps rebounded off stone walls and flagstones underfoot. At the sudden sensation that someone paced right behind her she whirled and flinched at the blurred presence – less than a metre away – of a man. Surprise and panic hit her as he lunged suddenly, reaching for her shoulder. She gasped and pulled back.
‘God!’ She heard herself exclaim, but took two quick steps back. ‘God!’ She ducked when his hand shot out again, and swung the hand that held her keys, aiming for his face. But she missed. She grunted, tried again, but he hit her, sharply across the upper arm, so she lost balance. Falling to the flagstones and rolling, she heard a sound she knew came from her own chest, a deep groan as she exhaled.
A rough hand fumbled quickly for the bag slung around her body. She rolled away, but a sharp pain on one side and disbelief stopped her. He kicked her. He kicked her and as her bag was tugged, she felt his hand dip, seek, and retract so quickly she could not shift away to avoid it.
‘Hey!’ She shouted at last. ‘Hey! You can’t ... you – ...’
He was already bounding off. The only sound left was her gasping and her keys rattling once more when she kicked them as she rose. She brushed away tears of frustration, shrugged back her hair and dusted her sides. ‘Ugh!’ Panting, she stroked away imaginary dirt, and disgust with it. Her shoulders slumped, but she turned resolutely towards her front door, and squared them quickly, raising her chin. Consciously, she braced herself against frustration and the sense of being alone and vulnerable. She was alone, but she was fine: nothing happened. The key turned quickly, and she was soon upstairs and under the shower.
‘You have a bruise on your chin.’
Jana was not sure whether she enjoyed the Australian priest’s scrutiny.
He was not going to press her for details, but it might be a relief to tell. ‘I was mugged.’ Noting the surprise in his eyes, she went on to tell him what happened the night she separated the panels. ‘Someone followed me when I cut through to the Arsenale to take the wooden bridge past Torri.’
‘When was this?’
‘Two nights ago – the night I separated the panels.’
‘How late was it? It can’t be safe to …’
Why should he care? ‘Oh look – I’ve been walking home after dark for months. Venice is not what you’d call wild. Sometimes you get a gaggle of young men ...’ She paused. ‘This wasn’t that kind of thing at all. And I was that close to home. I thought I knew who it was, you see.’
Rob raised an eyebrow.
She cut in quickly. ‘But it wasn’t. And he tried to take my bag.’
‘What – that pouch thing you wear across ...’ He was observant.
‘Yeah, I sometimes take work home on a portable drive, one of those USB hard drives Johan bought.’ She gestured with her hands to signify a flat rectangular object a bit longer than a pack of cigarettes. ‘It’s gone. That’s all he took.’
‘Did you see what he looked like?’
‘Not really.’ Jana lowered her eyes – and remembered how surprised she was that it was not Giacomo. It was shock, rather than the attack, that had undermined her. She shivered and then shrugged. She was so wrong. But Giacomo had stalked her for so long she had grown used to the feeling. Thinking about it made her half forget she sat there with an Australian priest; the curator of the artefact she still found posed so many questions.
He had returned to the lab sooner than expected, eager to learn more about the icon. There was progress to show him, and he seemed pleased with what he saw, even though she had to explain each step.
‘I’m going to get a coffee.’ He dipped a hand into the pocket of his soutane. ‘Would you like one?’
‘Oh, if you’re going, a cappuccino would be nice.’
‘Grab your coat.’
Coat? She thought he meant he would whip down to the piazza and bring up cardboard cups. This man intended to walk out there with her – in his cassock or soutane or whatever the thing was called. A priest and a technician having a coffee together: how cosy.
‘Coming?’ There was something like amusement on his face.
They were lucky to get a shady table near Santa Maria Formosa. The place was full of tourists.
The priest angled his head to look at her chin. ‘Aren’t you going to report it?’
‘Anita did. A form went out to the police, and the insurance office will sort it out with Johan. It’s not a big deal – those things only cost about a hundred Euros now. It held less than two gigs of material – the rest of the drive was empty.’
‘And you?’ His eyes were piercing, his gaze disconcerting.
She was not usually this put out by a direct stare. ‘I’m fine.’ She might as well say what was on her mind to this Australian who was something like a breath of fresh air from home.
He waited, shifting in the café chair, looking intently into his empty cup and then at her.
‘I think they wanted what was on it.’
Rob Anderson sat up straight. His look altered with his posture. ‘Oh?’ He looked around the crowd and back at Jana. ‘What was on it? Why do you think that?’
‘The print-outs I made of my notes as well ... they disappeared yesterday afternoon – I put them on Antonio’s desk. When I went back after an hour they weren’t there.’
‘He must have picked them up by mistake.’
‘You don’t know Antonio. He’s too careful for that.’
‘So you think the two incidents are connected?’
‘I don’t know. It happened too quickly. It was a shock.’ She did not say she had thought the stalker was Giacomo, her ex-partner.
‘Will you see a doctor?’
‘Course not!’ She raised a hand to her chin. ‘It’s nothing. It’ll go dark blue and then yellow.’
He smiled at her practical ease.
‘I have a funny feeling about this job.’ She watched his expression as she said the words. ‘This didn’t feel like ordinary theft. They didn’t take my wallet, just the USB drive. I can’t explain – I got the feeling they were after what was on it – my notes about the icon.’
The unexpected way he said our suddenly connected them, made them some kind of unlikely team. Her stomach lurched uncomfortably. It was bad enough getting shaken about over an inexpensive device. Now this Australian priest was giving them a double role in whatever was going on.
She looked away. ‘Your icon.’