Uncle Ringo stiffened but said nothing as the two men approached. When they came into our lamplight I saw that the taller one, his upper body approximating a rain barrel, was in a white button-down with the sleeves rolled up and somewhat comically sporting a black waistcoat about two sizes too small.
The other man, obviously the leader, was short—shorter even than me. His suit was black pinstripe with a lilac pocket handkerchief and matching fedora. It was clear that he and Ringo had a history.
“Vito here tells me that a new distillation of your famous Saragossa was decocted and bottled last night.”
“Word travels fast.”
“He tells me he intercepted a Navajo gentleman, an acquaintance of yours, attempting to flee with six bottles bearing your trademark.”
Ringo sighed. “Spare me the story, Lorenzo. I already know what happened. Let me guess. You stole it?”
“If only it could have ended so amicably. No, Vito offered your friend what I feel was suitable compensation. But unfortunately, rather than surrender the bottles to us, your friend destroyed them by smashing them on the street. Vito returned the gesture in like manner to his head. So, as you can see, all your work from last night is lost. But this is a pleasant surprise. I see you have a fresh infusion.”
I saw Ringo’s head sink and his mouth harden. “Tom Nightingale is like a father to me, Lorenzo.”
“Then I suggest you hurry to St Aloysius for a visit. He may still be alive.”
“You surprise me, Lorenzo. I didn’t know I was dealing with such animals. What happened to winning in Monaco?”
“I heard from our mutual friend Gianni that, despite your vow never to do so again, you had considered producing your demon liquor once more. And this interests me almost as much as auto racing. If your product is as good as it was in 1953, then there is considerably more money to be made than in winning the Mille Miglia.”
I had never heard of the Mille Miglia. Big surprise, it’s an Italian sports car race. Ringo, I learned, had actually competed in it from 50 to 52. His name had appeared in La Stampa among the list of other finishers.
Ringo was a smoldering volcano. “Gianni is not your friend,” he said in a tense voice.
Meanwhile I’m listening. Gianni? Who the hell is…my God, I thought, was he talking about Gianni Lancia?
“My rival then. My nemesis. What does it matter?”
“How did you find this place?”
“After our encounter with Mr. Nightingale, we came to find you. I watched as you picked up your nephew and zoom out of town at what I must say was an astonishing speed, jeopardizing not only your own but the young man’s life in a reckless haste. You should be careful of your uncle, young man,” he said to me. “He can be very impulsive, and indeed, very treacherous. Has he told you about what happened in Turin last year?”
“Leave the kid out of it Lorenzo.”
“Very well. There should be no question as to why I’m here Reginald.”
“Forget it. I don’t see any gun. Pretty low of you to crack an old man like Nightingale in the skull. But I’m not so old. And even so, as you can see, it’s not even bottled yet. Try to get rough with us and I’ll do like Nightingale and spill the pot of fresh brew onto the floor.”
Lorenzo chuckled. “So predictable. That’s why I like you. You know? You make my job so easy. Reggie. Well, sometimes.” He gave a subtle gesture over his shoulder.
“In America, it’s Ringo.”
I heard a commotion outside the barn door and a muffled scream. Another of Lorenzo’s gorillas appeared against the lightening morning sky wrestling Dimity forward, squirming and kicking, her hands tied behind her back and a gag in her mouth.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed the table to keep myself upright. Ringo gave a bitter sigh.
“You really are an animal, Lorenzo.”