The Church of Lost Souls 9
The moment I woke up, my eyes pinged open and my left hand reached down to pick up my shorts. Fingering its way to the back pocket I pushed open the hole and lifted out a note. This wasn’t just any note, it was a 100,000 lira note.
I lay back again and held it above my head in wonderment.
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘if there ever was a God of Lost Souls he came to my aid last night.’
I’d slept well too. Remembering what Sofia had said about my chart I was keen to learn her results. Also keen to see her was my penis, which I gave a little workout before getting up.
What she’d said about the old cult in Naples had left an uncomfortable feeling in my gut and as I showered I recalled the old man watching me from under the street light and then driving off as if he’d seen what he wanted to see. I wondered if it was the old man from the joke shop, obviously, but couldn’t work out why he’d be interested in me. Maybe he’d placed the note in my path to see whether I’d keep it or hand it in to the management.
I wondered if I should tell Paolo and Sofia about it. They knew I was completely broke and that I was in the process of asking Mum to send some money but one thing was certain, I didn’t want to lie to them.
When I arrived at their tents they were up and making coffee on the rug.
‘I got your chart done,’ said Sofia, her hands over her cup.
‘How did I do?’ I asked, feigning disinterest.
‘Very well actually,’ she said, passing a folded sheet of A4 to me.
‘Thank you,’ I said. Opening it up I saw two small graphs surrounded by minute handwriting in neatly detailed boxes.
‘We can go through it tonight if you like,’ said Sofia.
‘Yes, right now we have a mission on our hands,’ said Paolo, lighting up a cigarette as we got up to leave.
When we sat down on the bus I told them about the money.
‘Listen,’ I said, ‘you know when I went back to my room last night?’ They nodded. ‘Well, I found some money on the pavement.’ I pulled out the note and waited.
Sofia swiped it from my hand and said ‘it’s mine now’ with a cheeky grin, then Paolo swiped it from her.
‘No,’ he said, imitating Fagin, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Seriously,’ I said. ‘What shall I do with it? Should I hand it in?’
There followed a heated debate, after which it was decided that I should keep the money until someone came forward as its owner, at which time I’d call Mum, ask for her to send some money and pay the person back when I got it.
It took a day or two to receive funds through Western Union and then there was the time it would take for Mum to go to her bank and arrange the transfer but this seemed the best proposition, assuming the person could wait to be reimbursed.
When we got to the bus depot I treated the gang to coffee and pastries at the café. Here, we hunkered down to devise a plan of action.
I told them that if we saw two burly Italian idiots outside the joke shop we had to retreat. Sofia enquired about them and I explained what had happened.
We left the café and walked in single file down the skinny pavements of the back streets. I noticed that there were rooms available again at the pensione and sniggered to myself. Sofia asked what was so funny and I told her that was where I’d stayed before going to Naples. When she looked up and saw the name of the place, which I’d never noticed before, her eyes widened.
‘That’s weird,’ she said. ‘That’s really weird’. I asked her why and she told me she’d tell me later.
As we approached the corner from where the joke shop could be viewed I slowed the pace down.
‘That’s it,’ I said, pointing to the blue steel sheets across the road. I looked up and down the street for the idiots but they were nowhere so we proceeded to the door next to the joke shop.
It wasn’t long before someone opened the door and went into the street. Just as it was about to shut I trapped my foot in the gap, opened it up and entered. The gang followed forthwith.
Walking through the passageway in a huddle, I thought about the bit in The Wizard of Oz when they finally get to meet the wizard, another fake.
‘Oh aunty Ann,’ I said, trying to imitate Judy Garland as we edged slowly towards the courtyard.
Paolo and Sofia got the joke and in no time at all our spluttering could be stifled no longer. Bursting into laughter we ran over to the door and scarpered up the road, screaming with laughter.
Once we’d composed ourselves, we went back but this time the two beefy Italians were there so we retreated again. Sofia offered to see if the coast was clear after a while and came back with news that the idiots were hanging around the hairdresser opposite the joke shop. She reckoned they knew the people there.
The Spanish Steps were only a minute away so we went and had a think there. It felt good being in company as we watched the world go by. I remembered with fondness the times I’d sat alone in the evenings, and I reminisced as if it was from another time completely.
On our return a short while later we found that the idiots had gone so we made our way to the door and stood there.
An old woman lugging a decrepit trolley laden with vegetables approached the door after a bit. She gazed at us, fiddling around with her keys, and then she was gone. As before I jammed my foot into the gap just before it shut, waited a short while for the lady to go on her way and then opened it up.
Again we entered the passageway and made our way slowly towards the courtyard.
From the furthermost point of the passageway we found the courtyard to be empty. The old man’s chair had been moved to a far corner.
Forgetting for an instant that Paolo had met the old man too, I asked him to go to the middle of the courtyard to see if whether the manhole had any signs of recent use. If so, I knew my theory that The Church of Lost Souls was underneath would seem more credible to him.
When he made it clear that he wasn’t prepared to do this, Sofia stepped into the courtyard and inspected the manhole for herself.
We watched as she stood over it, changing her posture to look at it from different angles. At one point she knelt down to inspect a certain area more carefully, which she felt with her fingertips.
As she got up Paolo and I made for the door, opened it and let Sofia through before parting one by one.
Back in the street, Sofia set a fair pace as we waddled in single file along the back streets towards the café.
‘Were there any signs of the manhole being tampered with?’ I asked as we entered.
‘Yes, there were,’ she said. ‘And that’s not all, there was blood there too. I felt it.’
‘Was it dry?’ I asked. I don’t know why I asked that and nor did Paolo and Sofia but she answered that it felt dry.
‘The only reason I ask is because maybe the girl from the joke shop was put down there. Seems like the right sort of place to hide a body, the Church of Lost Souls.’
They didn’t find the joke funny and again I felt stupid for saying it. ‘Look, I’m sorry but this whole thing is freaking me out and when I get freaked out I make silly jokes. It’s a coping mechanism.’
‘It’s OK, James, we get that, but there’s something else I should tell you,’ she said. ‘There was an emblem on the manhole that I think I recognized.’
‘What was it?’ asked Paolo.
‘You won’t believe me but I think it belongs to The Cult of Purgative Souls. I’m sure of it,’ she said.
‘Holy shit,’ said Paolo.
‘And get this,’ she said, ‘James, you know that pensione you stayed at?’ I nodded like Dumbo. ‘It’s called Il Pezzentelle.’
‘And?’ I asked.
‘Il Pezzentelle are the purgative souls of the cult I was telling you about last night.’