'Hmm... What about the cleaners in Venice, who came in the day after your dinner party? Or one of the catering staff?'
'I don't think it could have been the caterers because we were all still around long after they'd packed up and gone. As for the cleaners, I imagine they'd have been too scared to steal anything, with my uncle's governant— housekeeper— right there, keeping a beady eye on them. Besides, I already checked, and all the staff who came that morning have been with the company for years. My family has used them many, many times before. And why steal something on that particular day, with all of us still hanging around, when they've had so many other opportunities?'
'So you think it boils down to being one of your guests?'
Sandro nodded, looking absolutely miserable. 'It almost has to be.'
'Does the fact that you discovered the two artefacts— the ring and the painting— in London point to anyone in particular?'
'Not necessarily. All my friends live or work both here and in Italy. As I said, I went to school with the guys, and the girls are the daughters of my parents' friends as well as being part of my crowd, I mean.' He ran his hands through his beautiful hair. 'It's an absolute nightmare.'
'I can see it's not an ideal situation. Have you told any of them about any of this?'
'I wasn't going to, but Katy kind of hinted at something she'd noticed while they were all in Venice. The worst thing of all is that Suzy was one of the guests. Suppose it's her? What on earth would I do?'
'But I love her,' he said.
Ah, the artlessness of youth, I thought. I patted his hand in Great-Aunty mode. 'I'm sure we can sort this out, one way or another. Meanwhile, right now I've got to get to another appointment, so I'll have to leave very soon.'
'Will you help me? You knowing my parents and all?'
I sighed. 'I'll try. But I really can't see how much assistance I can offer. So I warn you, I absolutely can't promise anything.'
'Thank you, cara Alessandra!' He beamed at me, as though all his troubles were over. I wished I felt as much confidence.
'Remind me why we came here,' I said.
'It's supposed to be the in-est place in town,' said my companion, though he sounded doubtful, as if he might have made a mistake and come to the wrong pub. He looked away from me as he said it.
I squirmed a bit on the tiny barstool I was sitting on, set up next to a high Frisbee-sized table on a stick which barely had room to hold our glasses and a small bowl of mixed nuts.
'That would be as in the most in, would it?' I gave the phrase an ironic little twist, and hoped my lips didn't have one too.
The guy wasn't digging the sarcasm. He stared round the room, attention on almost anyone else but me. Just as well, or he'd have picked up my mood by now. Been aware of the atmosphere on my side of the table. The place was heaving with posers and pseuds, City-types for the most part. Hedge-fund managers, financial consultants, bankers, eyeing up the competition, scoping out the potential, white linen or blue-striped cotton shirts unbuttoned at the neck with silk ties trailing from pockets just to assure their panting public that they had one. Diamond studs in earlobes, faces gleaming with moisturiser. More Louis Vuitton wallets than you could shake a stick at. One or two were even wearing funky designer sunglasses. Oh, please. Sunnies, at this time of night, in this dimly lit bar? But perhaps I was being uncharitable and they all had chronic eye problems. None of them seemed to be in the slightest bit worried about the results of the recent referendum and the dire financial prognostications issuing daily from government sources.
Boredom had set in maybe twenty minutes ago. ...
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.