The Lombardi Emeralds – Episode 10

The windows in the high ceilinged drawing room overlooked the lake, letting in a cool afternoon breeze. The room, a fine example of the Baroque period of architecture, was exquisitely furnished. In a far corner May noticed a harpsichord and remembered reading how music had played a significant role in the fashions of the time.

Her footsteps echoed over the floorboards as she walked towards Sr Lombardi. To May’s consternation there appeared to be no other guests. Two menservants were bustling discreetly around a low table setting it for a traditional English tea, their every move supervised by Sr Lombardi.

“There you are,” he greeted May. “I trust you will forgive me if I don’t stand up. I was taught a gentleman always stands to greet a lady but today my legs do not want to obey the commands of my brain.”

It was easy to smile at such a charming man. Despite his advanced years it was obvious Auguste Lombardi still took great care over his appearance.

“Please, sit down.” He gestured towards a padded seat. “You may go. We will serve ourselves. Thank you,” he said, dismissing the two menservants.

“I was expecting a party.” May looked round the room.

“We are having a party, aren’t we? Tea for two, like the song.” The dent in the centre of his chin deepened as he smiled at her.

Ever since Vin had broken the news of Auguste’s invitation she had been on tenterhooks. She was convinced Sr Lombardi held the key to her past and that was why she had wanted this interview but now the moment was here she realised how ill prepared she was.

“You are comfortable in the studio?” he asked as May passed him a cup of Earl Grey.

“Very. Thank you. It was most kind of you to offer it to me.” May felt like a character in an afternoon matinee making polite drawing-room conversation. “And is it you I have to thank for the dress, too, and the sandals?”

Auguste looked blank.

“I know nothing about such things. My housekeeper takes care of my guests’ needs. I am glad you liked them.”

“I have been hearing about your attempts to gain admittance to the villa.” He spoke slowly and carefully. Auguste raised a hand to silence May as she attempted to interrupt. “You have tenacity, a quality I admire and respect. I understand you took on one of my security guards?”

“And lost,” May admitted. “He wouldn’t let me in.”

“Quite right and proper, but now you are here, please have a cucumber sandwich. See, the crusts have been cut off and they are on white bread in the traditional English style.”

May dutifully helped herself to a sandwich.

“Talking of the studio,” Auguste stirred his tea, “history has it Napoleon Bonaparte slept there.”

“In the studio?” May dropped her sandwich on to her plate.

“There are many such stories about the villa. I do not question them – I merely tell them to my guests to break the ice. It usually works.” He leaned forward and placed a sandwich on his own plate. “However, I can assure you the frescoes in this room are genuine.” May looked up at the ceiling.

“They are beautiful,” she agreed.

“Have we met before?” Auguste enquired. Although it was a seemingly innocent question, May suspected it was a loaded one and she needed to choose her words carefully.

“No, we haven’t.” She coughed and swallowed the last of her cucumber sandwich.

May suspected in his day Auguste had been a bit of a rogue. She didn’t doubt he used the same chat-up lines on all his female guests.

“You are smiling, good. Perhaps you would do me the kindness of pouring me another cup of tea before we get down to business. Have you had sufficient to eat?”

Assuring him she had, May leaned back in her padded chair and did her best to remain confident.

“Is this your first trip to my country?” “I was born in Milan,” May replied.

“Is your mother Italian?”

“No, she is English.”

“At the risk of sounding inquisitive, what was she doing in Italy?”

“I don’t know.”

“And your father – what can you tell me about him?”

May looked down at her hands, uncertain how to respond.

“Nothing,” she admitted in a quiet voice.

“We seem to have drawn a blank, don’t we?”

Auguste sounded sympathetic for which May was relieved. She had half expected him to call the two menservants back and have her escorted off the premises.

“Tell me about yourself,” he invited.

“I’m an actress,” May replied.

“My dear May – I may call you by your first name?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You can’t blame me for being intrigued by your presence here. Most of my birthday guests are extremely tedious and have limited conversational skills. When I am told a young English woman has tried to gain access to the villa and is prepared to assume a false identity in order to do so you can appreciate my position. I am intrigued. I see you as a challenge and I don’t know about you but I am enjoying myself.

“I insist you stay until you have sorted out the gaps in your mother’s life, the real reason for your visit. I am right, aren’t I?” May realised it would not do to underestimate Auguste Lombardi. He was nobody’s fool. “I presume your mother is not with you.”


“And was it her invitation you used in your attempts to gain admittance to the villa?”


“Very resourceful of you.”

“Do you know why my mother was invited to your birthday celebrations?”

“You will have to take up matters of that nature with Florence.” Auguste dismissed the question as it were of little importance. “I was not involved in any of the arrangements.” May lapsed into silence. “Might I enquire what your mother thought of the subterfuge and why she didn’t come to the party with you?”

“She’s on her way to Australia with my grandmother.”

“I see.”

“She is entertainments manager for a cruise company and they are going to visit a friend of my grandmother’s in Melbourne.”

“And are you married?” Auguste asked.

“I am not married.” May glanced down to a faded head and shoulders photo on a side table. “Was this your wife?” she asked in a soft voice.

A look of intense sadness crossed Auguste’s face.

“She was so beautiful.” His voice was a husky croak. “My Giovanna.”


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!