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Prognosis: Forever [MultiFormat]
eBook by Etienne

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Sequel to The Path to Forever Could you handle living forever, knowing you would watch your friends grow old and die? Could you handle loving someone, knowing you would live forever... without them? Marco Sartori d'Argenzio and his partner Danilo Rosati have created a family and settled in Aragoni, but they still face the challenge of Marco's family's legacy: Marco may live forever, but Dani will not, unless the secret to Marco's unique DNA is found. Marco and Dani are focused on their children and the future, not expecting the past to mar their happiness. A very real threat materializes in a bomb attack and brings with it a twist of fate: the incredible possibility of the future they dream of--living together forever. But it also brings the spectre of danger to hang over the entire d'Argenzio clan, and Marco and Dani will do everything they can to protect their family.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2011


2 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

Marco

"Wake up, Marco. Wake up," someone was saying over and over again.

I fought my way up through layers of sleep, part of me wanting to respond to the urgent voice, but the part of me that didn't want to do so won the battle and once again I succumbed to sleep.

"Come on, babe, this isn't like you."

"Go away," I heard myself saying, "and leave me alone, I wanta sleep some more."

"Marco d'Argenzio, get your ass out of that bed right now, or I'll take steps. You're attending a birthday party for your children in a couple of hours."

"You attend it," I said, "I'm gonna stay here in bed."

"Okay, babe, you asked for it."

There was blessed silence for a time; then something cold and liquid hit me in the face, and I sat bolt upright, shaking the water out of my face and hair.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I said.

"Taking steps, just like I promised."

"I was gonna get up."

"In this lifetime?" he said.

"In a bit."

"No, you weren't. You made that quite clear. What's the matter with you, anyhow? You've always been an early riser, and not only that, you usually wake up and hop out of bed ready for the day."

"Everybody's allowed to backslide once in a while, aren't they?" I said.

"Backslide, yes, but this was more like a landslide."

"That should be allowed too."

"Maybe, but not on your sons' birthday. The triplets are three today, and we've got a party to attend."

"Oh, yeah," I said. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Here, drink this, maybe it'll get your juices flowing."

A cup of steaming coffee was placed in my hand. "Crawl back into this bed for a few minutes, and I'll get both of our juices flowing."

"No time for that right now. What's the matter with you, anyway? Are you sick?"

I had a flashback to the night before. "Oh, shit, now I remember."

"Remember what?" he said.

"You went to sleep last night, but I tossed and turned for a bit. More than a bit--quite a long time, actually."

"Really," Dani said, suddenly very serious, "that's totally out of character for you."

"Yeah. Anyway, I got up, pulled on a robe, went to the den, and had a couple of snifters of brandy."

"And?"

"I crawled back in bed and slept like a baby," I said.

"More like a comatose baby. Are you sure you had only a couple of snifters?" he said.

"Geez, I wasn't really counting, so I don't know."

"Marco," Dani said, "we've been together nearly fifteen years, and this is totally out of character for you. Is something wrong?"

"I don't think so. I couldn't sleep, so I had too much brandy."

"Well, the two of us did polish off a fair amount of wine last night. Maybe the brandy finished you off."

"Yeah, I think it did."

"Anyhow, get into the bathroom and take that coffee with you."

"Yes, Sir," I said as I snapped to and saluted.

I went into the bathroom, took a sip of coffee, and stepped under a cold spray of water. Somewhat revived by that, I changed the temperature to warm, finished showering, and shaved. After I got dressed, I followed the smell of food into the kitchen, where Lucia, our live-in nanny, had all three boys in their high chairs and was supervising their breakfast.

"Something smells good," I said.

"I decided to cook this morning," Dani said. "Our usual bagels or cereal won't be enough to offset all the sweet stuff we'll probably be eating later."

"The coffee helped, but I need something solid."

I kissed Marcus, Bernardo, and Giovanni in turn, then settled myself in a chair at one end of the table. "Good morning, Lucia," I said.

"Good morning, Conte Marco."

"Are we back to that again? I don't feel like conte anything, especially this morning, and just because my uncle and his two children went over a cliff in the mountains doesn't change that fact."

"I'm sorry, Cousin Marco," she said.

"That's much better."

We weren't actually cousins--given that she was descended from one of my numerous half-brothers, Lucia was actually my great-niece, many times removed. My father's operatives had discovered a small group of his long-lost descendants living in a remote village in Sicily, and Lucia was from that village. She wanted to go to college, but her rather old-fashioned parents hadn't wanted her to live in a dormitory, so she came to live with us and act as a nanny for the boys.

Lucia, having finished feeding the boys, lifted them out of their chairs, placed them on the floor, and shooed them to their bedroom. Dani placed a plate in front of me along with a glass of orange juice.

"Alone at last," I said.

"Enjoy it while you can."

"Yeah," I said.

"Want to tell me what kept you up last night?"

"As I may have told you over dinner, I had a pretty rotten day at the hospital."

"Yeah, I remember," he said, "but you've had rotten days before."

"Then I had to sit in on a Council session."

"So?" he said.

"There were a lot of very long discussions."

"So?"

"Babe, they don't just discuss things, they talk them to death. They talk about a topic until they've driven it into the ground, run a stake through its heart, and decapitated it."

"Surely it can't be that bad," he said

"Believe me, it is. I don't know how Father stands it, and he's been sitting in those meetings longer than I care to think about."

"What were they talking about?" he said.

"The main subject on the agenda last night revolved around whether or not to issue more residency visas to foreigners."

"That doesn't sound too complicated," he said.

"One would think. Of the twelve members of the Council, about a third think the more people we have living and working here in the Duchy the better, another third see new residents as taking jobs and food away from existing residents, and the rest of them either don't care or would prefer to maintain the status quo just because it is the status quo."

"So, what happened?" he said. "Did they make a decision?"

"Are you kidding? After an hour of circular discussions and positing the same arguments over and over again, they finally agreed to table the proposal until a later meeting."

"No shit!"

"No shit. Anyway, you know Father expects me to stand in for him while he's on his honeymoon, and I have no doubt that he expects me to do so on a permanent basis when he decides that it's time for him to retire from the scene. Knowing that, I lay in bed last night picturing endless decades of interminable meetings.... It was a very depressing thought, and, unlike counting sheep, it was not an inducement to sleep."

That made him laugh.

"Babe," I said, "it isn't funny."

"Of course it is, Marco, and self-pity doesn't become you. In fact, it's not even like you, so snap out of it."

"I guess."

"No question about it, it just ain't you. Besides which, you've got a full plate today. Your father, who just happens to be il Duca d'Aragoni, is throwing a birthday bash for his three youngest grandchildren."

"Dani," I said, "in a little over twenty-four-hundred years, my father has sired several hundred children, who have in turn produced thousands of descendants of their own. Three more aren't that big of a deal to him."

"You'd never know that to hear him tell it. Besides, the triplets are the sons of his youngest son."

"Youngest for now... but not for long. Remember, he and Angelina are getting married in June."

"True, but they may not be able to have children right away. Don't forget the five-year gap between active phases."

That was true. Father and his long-lived direct male descendants, myself included, might well represent the next step in human evolution, but Mother Nature gives and Mother Nature takes away. In simple terms, we only have normal fertility for about six months every five years. Angelina, we had determined, represented the female side of that next step, in that she only became fertile in a similar timeframe.

"Yeah," I said, "and time will tell."

"In any case, the boys will get a kick out of it."

"Speaking of the boys," I said, "are you ever gonna give some serious thought to having offspring of your own?"

"Babe, we've had this conversation countless times. My brothers are breeding like rabbits, so the Rosati name isn't gonna die out any time soon. Besides which, I just don't feel that particular urge. As far as I'm concerned, the triplets are as much mine as they are yours."

"No argument there. Tell me again when we're expected in the park?"

The complex of buildings in which we lived were adjacent to il Castello d'Aragoni and were collectively referred to as il Castello, even though they were several hundred years newer than the medieval castle nearby, which tourists paid a modest fee to tour. The castle complex sat in several acres of parkland and was in turn surrounded by walls, with the city of Aragoni spread out beyond the walls on all sides.

"The party starts at eleven, followed by a picnic-style lunch."

"Have you checked the weather?" I said.

"It may be spring, but the mean elevation of the plateau of Aragoni is four thousand feet, so it'll be a bit cool."

"I was thinking about rain, fool."

"Oh, that. There's a twenty percent chance of rain."

At the appointed time, Dani and I (with Lucia's help) gathered up the tribe and carefully strapped a harness around each boy's upper body before we headed for the elevator. We were each carrying one of the boys, but when we got to the main entrance of our building, we secured leashes to their harnesses and allowed them to walk on their own, subject to the restraints of the leash each of us held. Our building, one of three identical multi-story structures, dated back a couple of hundred years. In addition to apartments, the three buildings housed the administrative offices of the Aragoni Group and all of its many subsidiaries. They stood side by side, somewhat to the rear of il Castello d'Aragoni, the medieval castle--which was why the group of buildings comprising the castle complex were collectively referred to as il Castello. My father lived in a fourth and somewhat smaller building behind the three. The particular area of the park we were heading for was about a hundred yards from our building and contained a playground area for kids. When we arrived, there were already a dozen or more rug rats on the swings and slides and other equipment, so we unhooked the leashes and allowed the boys to join the fun, monitored closely by Lucia.

As we stood watching the boys play, I looked around the park. Dani and I had lived in Aragoni for more than four years and we still knew very few people--mostly because we were away two, sometimes more, weekends every month. We spent a weekend every month at my grandmother's villa in Tuscany, visiting with her and my mother. Another weekend was devoted to a visit to Conti, where I, in my capacity as il Conte di Conti, had duties and obligations. Once in a while my grandmother came to Conti for the weekend when we were there, which spared us the obligation of a trip to Tuscany. I was startled out of my reverie by a familiar voice.

"You look lost in thought, Squirt."

"Hey, Gert," I said. "You're absolutely right--I was totally lost in thought."

Gertrude McClanahan had been persuaded at the time of the triplets' birth to leave semi-retirement in Boston and take the job of head nurse at the hospital in Aragoni where I worked. She had begun calling me "Squirt" during my residency at Mass General some years before.

"Deep thoughts?" she said.

"Hardly that. I was just reflecting on the fact that after four years, Dani and I still don't know very many people here."

"How could you?" she said. "You're gone so much, and when you're here you're tied up with the kids. Kids do that to you, you know."

"There speaks the voice of experience."

"Damn straight. Been there, done that, as the young folks say."

I spotted a familiar couple coming toward us and said, "Here comes the instigator of all this merriment with his bride-to-be."

"They make a nice couple," Gert said.

"You don't think the Duke is too old for her?" Dani said, joining the conversation.

"For the man to be twenty or so years older isn't always a bad thing," she said.

Gert, if only you knew. I wonder how you'd feel if you knew my father's true age?

"You think?" Dani said.

"Yes, I do," she said.

"Hello, Father, Angelina," I said. "I can't remember whether or not you've met our friend Mrs. McClanahan."

"Ah, yes," Father said, "the nurses' supervisor at the hospital that you recommended to Dr. Sanderson. Good to see you again. Mrs. McClanahan, have you met my fiancee Angelina Decaminada."

Introductions completed, we chatted until everyone was distracted by the arrival of a couple of people wearing clown costumes and carrying balloons. The children got so excited by that momentous event that further conversation was impossible. Two hours later, Dani, Lucia, and I herded three tired little boys back into our building and up to their room where, once in bed, they were asleep in minutes.

"I don't know about you guys," I said as we looked at three sleeping toddlers, "but I'm ready for a nap myself."

"Yeah," Dani said. "Works for me."

"I have some studying to do," Lucia said.

* * * *

Chapter Two

Marco

The day of the wedding was almost upon us, and the Duchy of Aragoni was bustling with activity in preparation for the festivities. Members of Father's far-flung family were arriving from all over the world, and there were literally no rooms at the inn--any inn. All of the vacant suites in the castle complex were occupied, as were the spare bedrooms of most residents, and there were "siamo al completo" signs in front of every hotel and bed-and-breakfast facility in the city and surrounding countryside. The wedding was to take place on Sunday, and a series of celebratory performances were to be held in the new Concert Hall at the university.

The University of Aragoni was home to one of the most respected music schools in Europe, and the new Concert Hall (actually a complex of three venues of different sizes) had been completed last year. The principal hall was also home to the largest pipe organ in Europe, and my father had funded an additional set of trompettes en chamade, or horizontal trumpets, to be installed in honor of his bride. They were officially named the Serafina Trumpets after the name which appeared on her birth certificate.

Angelina had been raised as an orphan, and Father's operatives had, after a lengthy investigation, discovered that Angelina's mother had changed her birth name after she'd fled the village where she was living with her husband--literally in the middle of the night, taking her infant daughter with her. Angelina and her mother had simply disappeared that night, and nobody, including her husband, knew where she had gone. Her mother had been killed in an accident when Angelina was about three years old. Her body had been recently exhumed, and radiocarbon dating of the bones had proven her age to have been approximately two hundred at the time of her death. This had been our first real proof that Angelina's female ancestors were, like the male members of our family, long lived.

On the Tuesday morning before the wedding, Sal, our assigned security person and bodyguard, drove us to the airport to meet the Aragoni Group's US-based Gulfstream, which was carrying several members of the family to Aragoni along with Dr. Thomas Foster and his partner Noah Webster. Tom had performed the dedicatory recital on the new pipe organ the previous year, and Noah, who was a bass/baritone, had presented a vocal recital in the smaller hall. Father had been so taken by their performances that he had engaged them to provide the music for the wedding, and both men were scheduled to perform in concert as well. Tom and Noah had become friends of ours and were staying with us. As usual, the jet taxied up to the hangar, was towed into it, and the hangar doors were closed before anyone disembarked. Several people, whom I didn't recognize but to most of whom I was probably related, exited the plane before the familiar faces of Tom and Noah appeared in the doorway. When they reached the spot where we were standing, we exchanged hugs.

"Gosh," I said, "it's so good to see you guys again."

"Likewise," Tom said.

"Yeah," Noah said, "and he's really looking forward to playing that organ again."

With Sal's help, we got the SUV loaded with our guests' bags and headed back to town and the castle complex.

"What's first on your agenda, Tom?" I said.

"A visit to the baths and a massage, if you please."

"What a surprise," Dani said. "We remember how much you guys enjoyed the baths when you were here before."

"Yeah," Tom said, "where else can you go and find baths patterned after the baths in ancient Rome?"

"We found it amazing," Noah added, "and we've told a lot of people about them."

"I hope you told them that there were two baths," I said, "one for tourists, and another smaller facility for family and guests."

"Absolutely," he said.

"Yeah," I said. "Did you ever install a hot tub on your deck? You talked about it."

"You bet we did," Noah said, "and we're really enjoying it."

"I've got a copy of the official schedule for you, Tom," I said, "and a list of the times when you'll have access to the organs at the concert hall and at the cathedral. A lot of the concert hall times seem to be very late in the evening."

"That was by request," Tom said. "Remember, I'm doing the concert for free in exchange for a specified amount of access to the organ and the hall for recording sessions. There are fewer scheduling conflicts late in the evening and less chance of being interrupted."

"The world premiere recording of the organ that Tom made last year has sold really well," Noah said. "We've had to order more copies from the company that manufactures the CDs."

"I've been on your website," I said, "and there are a lot of CDs listed on it."

"Yeah," Tom said, "it took a while for sales to take off, but it's become a steady source of revenue for us."

Sal pulled into the parking garage, dropped us off at the elevators, and a few minutes later we were upstairs in our apartment. "You're in the same bedroom you were in last year, guys," Dani said. "Do you want to unpack before we go down to the baths?"

"Just give us a couple of minutes to change into fresh clothes," Tom said, "and we'll be ready to go."

When Tom and Noah emerged from their bedroom, I handed each of them a plastic keycard. "Here you go," I said. "You remember how things work--you'll need this to get in and out of the building, among other things."

"Absolutely," Tom said.

We went down to the baths and spent some time in the calidarium; then while our guests took advantage of the massage services, we moved to the tepidarium for a while. We timed things so that when we went to the showers we met Tom and Noah there.

"Feel better?" I said.

"You know we do," Tom said. "A hot soak and a massage should be offered after every transatlantic flight."

"Yeah," Noah said. "By the way, is it just me or are the baths a lot more crowded than they were last time we were here?"

"They're more crowded," I said. "Both the castle and the city are full of guests from all over the world, and many of them are distant cousins."

Actually, given that I was the son of il Duca and many of the visitors were his sons and grandsons many times removed, the relationship was slightly different.

"No kidding?" Noah said.

"No kidding. This wedding is a big deal, and it's given a lot of people an excuse to have the sort of family gathering that only happens once every generation or so. Dani and I have been to at least half a dozen State dinners in the past ten days, and I've totally lost count of how many relatives I've met for the first time."

"You're just upset because you have to attend those Council meetings," Dani said.

"Babe," I said, "I'll trade places with you in a heartbeat."

"He doesn't like meetings," Dani said.

"Correction," I said, "I don't like interminable meetings, during which things are discussed ad nauseam and decisions are seldom made."

"Then why don't you do something about it?" Dani said.

"Like what?"

"Geez, I don't know. Wait a minute, doesn't the US Senate have some sort of rule they can use to end debate?" Dani said.

"Oh, yeah, it's called 'cloture'," I said. "I'm gonna have a talk with my father about that."

"Way to go, Marco," Dani said. "Kick ass and bring 'em into the twenty-first century."

"Are you guys hungry?" I said.

"Hardly," Tom said. "We were served a huge breakfast just before we crossed the coastline of Europe."

"I'll second that," Noah said.

"The concert hall is available until three o'clock if you want to go over there now," I said.

"You bet," Tom said. "I can't wait to get my hands on that new trumpet stop."

"By three, we'll probably be ready for lunch," Noah said.

"What are we waiting for?" Dani said.

"You don't have to go with us," Tom said, "if you have other things to do. I remember how to get there."

"That's okay," I said. "We'll go with you, wait until you're settled, and then go shopping or something. Also, I need to call someone over there to have them meet us in the hall--they've assigned a different student to you this time and I have a contact number for him."

"What happened to the old one?" Noah said.

"He's doing some graduate work in the States," Tom said. "I get an occasional e-mail from him, don't you remember?"

"Yeah, now that you mention it."

I made the call, then we headed to the elevators. Once we were out of the building and waiting for the tram, we had a conversation about lunch. "Any favorite places that you recall from your last visit?" I asked our guests.

"Not really," Noah said, "they were all wonderful."

"Yeah, and our favorite spot, which as you know is Poco, will be jammed because it's in the heart of the old quarter/tourist area."

"What about that little Greek restaurant that Andreas and Nick took us to last month?" Dani said. "It's definitely not in the main tourist area."

"Yeah, and as I recall, you guys like Greek food."

"If it's anything like the dinner that Nick cooked for us last time we were here," Tom said, "it'll be just fine."

"That's settled, then," I said. "Papa's it is."

"Papa's?" Noah parroted.

"The full name of the restaurant is Miklos Papageorgiou," Dani said, "but the name is almost unpronounceable, so people refer to it as Papa's."

"Here comes the tram," I said.

Both cars of the tram were full--standing room only. Fortunately it was a short ride to the university, and we were soon at the concert hall stop. When we walked up to the hall, Tom's helper was waiting for us at the side door and greeted him effusively. The guy was an organ major who had attended last year's concert and was more than a little bit in awe of Tom's talent. He led us into the hall and turned on the lights.

"I still can't get over how much this concert hall resembles a Gothic cathedral," Noah said.

"I think that was the intent of its designers," I said. "Here in the Duchy, most building materials, especially lumber, have to be imported. On the other hand we have an unlimited supply of native stone in the surrounding mountains, and the quarries have been active for some two thousand years."

"The guy who helped me last year," Tom said, "told me that the well-known acoustics of stone buildings were a major influence, as well."

Indeed, the building resembled a Gothic cathedral externally and, for that matter, from the inside as well, the only difference being that the east end of the structure contained a stage rather than a choir area and ambulatory. Most of the organ pipes were highly visible as they were mounted in ornate cases attached to the east end of the building. I turned to look at the gallery organ, whose case surrounded and framed the windows high on the west wall.

"I guess that's the new trumpet stop," I said, pointing at a carefully arranged bank of shiny gold pipes protruding from the gallery organ.

"Yes, Sir," the student said. "The Serafina Trumpets operate on an extremely high wind pressure, and they are really loud. Would you like to hear them?"

"Sure," I said.

He climbed on the bench, pushed a few buttons, pressed a single key on one of the manuals, and a deep brassy sound filled the hall. Before that sound had stopped reverberating in the room, he played a short fanfare.

"Oh, my God," Dani said, "I think my goose bumps had goose bumps of their own from that."

The student slid off the bench, Tom took his place, and they began to discuss what stops to use for what pieces. "I think that's our cue to go," I said.

"We'll see you at three," Noah said. "On the other hand, if you come back around two thirty, Tom might be ready to give you a run-through of the piece he composed for the dedication of the trumpets."

"Then we'll see you at two thirty," I said.

We left the concert hall and took the tram to the central train station. Then we spent an hour or so wandering around the old shopping district and quickly found that the street that was set aside for pedestrians was literally wall-to-wall people.

"Gonna be a lot of happy merchants when the festivities are over," Dani said while we sat at an outdoor cafe table and drank a glass of wine.

"No kidding. I guess that means our tenants won't have a problem paying their rent this month."

"Fool. They've never had a problem, and you know it. Investing in that building was a smart move on your part."

"I seem to recall hearing a certain amount of skepticism from you at the time."

"I just hadn't thought it through, that's all," he said.

After I had inherited the title of il Conte di Conti a few years earlier, it was discovered that one of the Conti Group's managers had been stealing from the business for years and had bribed the auditors in the process. We had sued the auditing firm and won a huge settlement, most of which we had reinvested in the business. I had withdrawn some of the surplus for my personal use and had set up a holding company which purchased a couple of commercial buildings. The rental income was being invested in other properties.

"By the time we're ready to retire, we'll have more than enough rental income to live pretty much as we like," I said.

"Babe, we could do that now," he said.

"Don't forget we have three sons to raise. At some point, they're gonna need to be sent off to a good boarding school."

"Yeah, and we haven't really talked about that."

"True," I said, "and the best schools have waiting lists."

"You could probably get them into your old school as, what's the term--'legacy students'?"

"I was kind of thinking about Eton," I said, "but it might not be a bad idea for them to go to school in the States, and if they're going to do that, Groton is one of the best."

"In either case, they'd be fluent in English by the time they've finished."

"Speaking of which," I said, "we need to start using English at home with them, at least part of the time."

"Yeah, and I think Lucia is kind of eager to polish her English skills as well."

"The more languages they grow up speaking, the better off they'll be," I said.

"By the way, are we still gonna enroll in the next Etruscan language course?"

"You bet."

As far as the rest of the world knew, nobody had spoken Etruscan for more than two millennia, and the last man known to have been able to read the language was the Emperor Claudius. Father had grown up speaking Etruscan because several members of his family were scholars, and it was now regarded as the "secret" language of the family. Had I been raised in Aragoni, I would have grown up speaking the language--the fact that I had been born and raised in the States had prevented that from happening.

"Ready to go back to il Castello and check out a car?" I said.

"Sure. I just hope they're not all taken."

"Not to worry--I made a reservation."

"When did you do that?" he said.

"The minute I was handed Tom's rehearsal schedule."

"That's my boy--thinking ahead."

We walked back to the train station and caught the next tram headed home. When we got to the castle complex, we went into the parking garage, picked up the car, and drove back to the concert hall and parked. Inside the hall, we found Tom deep in conversation with the organ student.

"You guys are just in time," Noah said as we walked up to the console. "Tom's about a minute or two away from doing a complete run-through of his Toccata and Fugue for Dueling Trumpets."

"In that case," I said, "we'll settle down in the front row."

Dani and I left the stage, went to the front row, and picked a pair of seats which gave us a clear view of Tom's hands and feet. To say that we were blown away during the next fifteen minutes would be an understatement. The toccata section of the piece was a bit subdued at first, and even my untrained ear could tell that Tom was using it to demonstrate what I had learned were nearly all of the reed stops in the organ. The toccata came to a glorious climax, and then there was a brief pause. After the pause, a single trumpet stop in the main organ was used to play a short theme. That theme was echoed by a really loud trumpet stop from the gallery organ at the rear of the hall, after which the duel began in earnest with each section of the organ seemingly vying to outdo the other with variations on the theme. Of course the new Serafina Trumpets won by simply overpowering the competition. When the last remnant of sound died, Dani and I applauded enthusiastically.

"Bravo, Tom," I said when we were again on the stage, standing beside the console.

"That was totally awesome," Dani said.

"I think we're ready for lunch," Noah said, "just as soon as I gather up all of this music."

"I've invited Gianni to join us," Tom said. "I trust that was okay."

Gianni was the organ major who had been assigned to Tom. He was also organist at St. Mary's Anglican Cathedral in Aragoni.

"Absolutely," I said. "Gianni, I hope you like Greek food because we're going to Papa's."

"I love Greek food, Signor Conte," Gianni said, "and I'm well acquainted with Papa's."

"We're ready when you guys are," I said.

"Give us a minute to unplug the console and roll it out of the way," Gianni said. "The symphony will be using the hall for the next several hours."

We watched, fascinated, as Tom helped Gianni drape a quilted cover over the console and bench, both of which were mounted on a low, rolling platform. The cover had obviously been made to order because it fit like a glove. Then Gianni knelt down, carefully unplugged some cables, and he and Tom rolled the console off stage and into a compartment built into the side wall. Gianni closed the double doors to the compartment and locked it.

"All right," he said, "now she is safe."

"She?" I parroted.

"I think of all consoles as she," he said, "because back home, the organ consoles in both of the churches where I have played can be temperamental bitches."

Tom laughed and said, "Having encountered a number of temperamental consoles in the past, I can certainly relate to that."

"Those cables you unplugged were pretty small," Dani said, "considering all the signals they must carry."

His remark caused Gianni to smile politely and Tom to laugh outright.

"What's so funny?" Dani said.

"In the old days before computers," Tom said, "there would have been a cable as thick as a fire hose running from the wall to the console, which contained a separate wire for each of the many thousands of pipes, along with dozens of wires for controls and other things, and it couldn't be unplugged; and if one of those wires got broken somehow, fixing it was difficult. When microchips came along, the controls became computerized and the signals from the console to the organ travel over a single Ethernet cable."

"That's progress," Gianni said.

Our guests thoroughly enjoyed eating at Papa's. Tom and Noah discussed the menu and, wanting to try everything, seemed to be at an impasse until Dani stepped into the discussion. "Tom," Dani said, "why don't you order one combination platter and Noah can order the other one? That way, you'll have at least five different dishes between you and you can share them."

"Works for me," Noah said.

"Yeah," Tom said, "let's go for it."

Over our meal, we learned that Gianni was from Buenos Aires, his grandparents having emigrated from Italy to Argentina just before World War II. "I'd never have guessed it," I said. "You speak Italian like a native."

"We lived in a neighborhood that was mostly Italian," he said, "and it was my cradle language. I didn't actually learn a lot of Spanish until I started school."

"There are a number of historic organs in Buenos Aires that bear the name of Cavaille-Coll, the famous nineteenth-century organ builder," Tom said, "have you played any of them?"

"Yeah," Gianni said, "there are something like twenty of them, although only one is considered to be pure Cavaille-Coll--the others bear the prefix Mutin, which is the name of the man who headed the company when they were installed. To answer your question, yes, I've played two or three of them, most of which were in pretty bad shape."

"Tom has performed at Saint-Sulpice in Paris," Noah said, "and they have one of the best organs by that builder."

That comment by Noah sent Tom and Gianni off on a jargon-filled discussion of pipe organs that left the rest of us behind. Noah looked at Dani and me, shrugged, and said, "This happens a lot when we're on the road."

"Don't worry about it," I said, "they're enjoying themselves."

"Yeah," he said.

We finished lunch and drove Gianni back to the University. Before he got out of the car, he and Tom compared schedules and arranged to meet for Tom's next rehearsal. We arrived in our apartment just in time to help Lucia supervise the triplets' supper, so I said, "You're on your own, guys. Dani and I are gonna get domestic for a while. Then I've got to attend a meeting of the Council, which will kill the rest of my evening."

"Don't worry about it, Marco," Tom said. "We know where everything is."

"Yeah," Noah said. "We'll probably spend some time online catching up with e-mail and things, go back to the baths for a soak, have a couple of glasses of wine, and crash."


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