Friday 26th January 1923

Dearest Diary, what a day. It started with a murder, continued with a funeral and ended with an attempt on my life!

Venice was a gloomy place as we sat down for breakfast. Albert pointed out an article in the morning paper that there had been another, vicious murder overnight. A gondolier called Paulo was found torn to pieces and drained of his blood. It is Comte Fenalick, I know it. Does it make me a little…odd that I found it both horrifying and thrilling to think that he is out there? Just imagine being immortal.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, as we travelled through Venice that day it was easy to sense the growing fear that was welling up in the population; a maniac stalking the streets at night, the slowly rising waters becoming more and more polluted, talk of plague returned to the city after four hundred years. Some people are reporting that they saw Death himself punting a boat through the canals last night and perhaps they are right.

Today is the day of the funeral of Giovanni Stagliani so after breakfast I returned to my room with one of the hotel maids and made sure that I looked amazing. Luckily most of the bruises that I picked up in Milan had gone and a bit of make-up covered the few that remained. Even more luckily I had a black dress that was not too trashy and would do for a funeral. I contemplated bringing along a weapon just in case Fatty Alberto tried something at the funeral but decided against it; I would have four strapping men (five if you counted Detective M twice) and that would be protection enough for any girl.

Detective M’s boating friend arrived at 11 took us to the funeral. It is obvious really but with Venice being the way it is space for burials is hard to come-by so our destination was the Island of San Michele to the north of the main island. To get there we had to work our way through the hundreds of canals that criss-crossed the island. The icy mist that clung to the city didn’t help either and I will admit that within minutes I was hopelessly lost. Is was on that journey that we spotted the masked men for the first time. They wore long black robes and masks the colour of bleached bone; Bauta Masks Darling Antonio called them. Fleetingly, every now and again, we caught glances of the figures watching from bridges and canal paths only to disappear back in to the mist when they noticed that they had been spotted.

Despite this ominous sign we reached the island without being molested. San Michele was large and square, I guess that it was at least partially man-made, with a wall around the edge like a fortress and a few buildings. Inside it was rows and rows of tombs. A rather sobering sight.

The funeral itself was, to be honest, a chore. Like the dutiful daughter she no doubt was Maria cried herself hollow. Dreamy Georgio was there looking suitably heroic and dependable as (unfortunately) was Fatty Alberto, although I was impressed to see that he had had the backbone to come on his own. The coffin was extraordinary; as black as midnight with a convoluted stand on top that made the whole thing look like a giant, black wedding-cake. To be honest when I first saw it I had to smother a laugh. During the funeral I was sure that I saw the coffin move a little, especially when it was being carried in to the tomb, as if the weight inside was shifting about.

The ceremony seemed to take forever, their air was deathly cold and the lagoon stank. I was glad when it was all over and boats appeared out of the mist to shuttle us all back to the Stagliani house for a suitably sombre wake. Fatty Alberto was the very first to leave which was a good thing since all he had done was glare at Dreamy Georgio from across the room the whole time. When it was clear that all the other guests were departing Dreamy Georgio asked if we wanted to share a water taxi with him. Ah Georgio, how I resented the presence of my colleges at that point.

On the journey back I shared my observations of the “moving” coffin with Dreamy Georgio, he thought it odd but nothing sinister. We also mentioned the masked figures that we had seen. He thought that they might be connected with “Carnivale” but that it was still a few weeks away.

It was Detective M who first noticed that we seemed to be taking a very odd route back to the Gritti Palace. Using Albert as a translator he began to quiz the boatman about what was going on. The gondolier made excuses about some of the canals being blocked but it clear that he was guilty as sin. So none of us were the least surprised as, when he pulled up at the edge of a secluded square, we could see figures skulking around the edges. Who would they be; Fatty Alberto’s Black Shirts or the mask wearing strangers? It turned out that it was the former. Heroically Dreamy Alberto jumped off the boat, fists raised, to meet their challenge. We all climbed out to join him. I mentally berated myself for not having brought a weapon with me but Albert tossed me a stool from the gondola that would do in a pinch. Battle was joined. The Black Shirts had small, weighted saps. Dreamy Georgio clearly new how to box and lashed around himself with skill and confidence. Detective M had grabbed the gondolier’s oar and, despite its size, was swinging it about with abloom, clubbing a Black Shirt here and knocking another in to the water there. If there is one thing that I envy about men it is their animal strength. By comparison my blows, even with the stool as a makeshift club, were making very little head way as I ducked and weaved around my opponent.

For all his excellent qualities Darling Antonio was not a fighter and all he did was flit around the edge of the scrum avoiding trouble. Father P, by comparison, was in the thick of it although I found his choice of weapon, a tasselled cushion from the boat, a little odd.

It did not take the Black Shirts long to realise that they had picked a fight that they could not win and those that were still conscious made a break for the street. Most of us were okay. Father P had a few bruises but Albert fared the worst. He had come off second best in a fight with a Black Shirt and his face was a mask of blood. As we gathered our wits we noticed another of these masked figures watching us from the entrance to the square. Detective M made a dash for him but the spy ran off, throwing off pursuit in the maze of mist filled alleyways.

We decided to make ourselves scarce. Before we left the square I took a moment to help myself to help myself to one of the Black Shirt’s saps. We found another seclude spot and took a few moments to try and clean Albert up. We washed off the blood but I don’t think we did his injuries any good.

We parted ways with Dreamy Georgio when we reached the Gritti Palace. Back inside we had something to eat and discussed our next move. The decision was reached that retrieving the leg was our first priority. Once that was done we could investigating the other oddities going on in Venice but had the luxury of being able to skip town if things got out of hand.

If we were going to rob a church, it occurred to me, than we would probably need disguises. Dreamy Georgio had mentioned that Bauta Masks, like the ones our mysterious spies had worn, were easily available. That gave me an idea, although probably one my instructors at The Reptile House would not have approved of. The afternoon was waning but there was still time to do a little shopping, I would head out apparently alone but with Detective M would follow at a discrete distance. If, as I suspected, our movements were being observed by the masked spies they might find the prospect of a lone target irresistible. And so it was that I found myself walking along a misty and increasingly foul smelling canal path looking for a shop to purchase masks apparently oblivious to any danger while in fact my eyes and ears peeled for the smallest hint of trouble. I thought that I was ready for trouble but I was almost taken off guard when a spectral figure in a black robe and bone white mask materialised out of the shadows. I barely had time to register the slashing, curved knife blade in his hand. Desperately I dodged back. My life flashed before my eyes but the murderous blade missed my throat but less than an inch. This guys was not playing round but before he could try again Detective M came charging out of the mist and slammed bodily in to my attacked, sending him crashing to the ground. I heard the sound of the masked figures weapon skitter away and, ignoring Detective M’s order to run, I took the opportunity to close in and plant a satisfying kick in to my attacker’s ribs. The masked man was not done yet though. He had a second blade and was able, with a few deft swings, to make himself enough room to get to his feet and make a run for it. I wanted to give chase but Detective M was not up for it. We settled for retrieving my attacker’s lost weapon. Looking at it confirmed the impression that I had formed as I saw the knife swinging for my head, it was the same sort of hooked, skinning knife that our assailants in Milan had used. Either the Brotherhood of the Skin had followed us from Milan or, more likely, the cult was more wide spread than we believed and this was a local chapter.  After a short debate we continued with my original errand, purchasing six Bauta Masks and black cloaks before heading back to the hotel.

When I got back to my suite I was surprised to see Darling Antonio looking wide eyed and sweaty. It was clear that he been using his schoolboy German, and a dictionary, to skim through The Black Book. With a shudder I remembered the brief passages that I had read on the train, no one the poor dear looked like he had seen a ghost. The thought of what Darling Antonio may have read in that book scared me more than anything else that happened today. 


Topics: Horror on the Orient Express, Italy |

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