Tuesday 23rd January 1923

Dearest Diary,

Any debate as to our next cause of action has been decided by Albert showing us the headlines of today’s newspaper. Amazingly the near riot at the opening night of Aida was not the headline news. Rather it was the murder of Arturo Faccia whose mutilated body was found overnight.

With no reason to stay in Milan we are leaving on the next train. We now have two parts of the Simulacrum as well as one set of the scrolls but there is still a lot of work to be done. And what of the mysterious book that appeared in our room and is now tucked away in Darling Antonio’s luggage? Who put it there and why?    

While we waited at the platform we noticed a dark haired young woman accompanied by an old woman that was probably her maid. She was dressed in morning attire and had clearly been crying. Father P went over to speak to the woman, no doubt to offer her some words of comfort.

We spotted the young woman again while we were in the dinning carriage and Father P took the opportunity to re-new their acquaintance. Dear Diary I must confess that the Good Father has been acting a little odd since our escapade in the Opera House last night. He seems to be constantly distracted by things; a view from the window, a pretty girl (not that the dark haired girl is all that attractive, not really). Latter on Father P told us that the woman was called Maria Stagliani and she was racing back to Venice because her father (one Giovanni Stagliani, a scholar in religion and philosophy) had passed away quite suddenly. Apparently he had contracted pneumonia after falling into one of the canals.

Of course I did not learn this till later on as, after an excellent lunch, Darling Antonio and I slipped back to our cabin to study our copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Darling Antonio had heard of this book, sometimes called “The Black Book” from his studies. From the first page I realised that translating it would tax my rather rusty German skills. It seemed to be the author’s (one Friedrich Wilhelm von Juntz) exploration of secret cults dedicated to the worship of pre-Christian, possibly pre-human gods. From his writing we could tell that von Juntz was no passive observer but joined in with the ghastly rituals and practices of these depraved cultists; nor did he spared any detail about what they got up to. I must admit that it all got too much, I begun to find the cabin stiflingly claustrophobic and then I fainted away all together! I’m embarrassed to admit that, when I came too, I was quite unnerved. I even remember begging Darling Antonio to throw the book away. Imagine, me begging!

Darling Antonio himself is not sounding well. He has been complaining of difficulty breathing. He puts the blame on being the first to touch the torso of the Simulacrum in much the same way that touching the arm seems to have effected Detective M’s own arm.

By the time we arrived in in Venice, at a little after five, I was much more my old self. It was already dark so I could not make out the city in any great detail; just the dark shapes of buildings, the lapping of water and the tolling of a distant bell.

There were cab pilots from the various local hotels hanging around the train station trying to get our business but we had already decided that we would be staying it the Gritti Palace Hotel. The cab drive from Gritti Palace was extremely well turned out in an immaculate uniform. Father P seemed especially impressed by it and seemed to be inspired to change in to a fresh outfit then and there. It was only the physical intervention of Detective M that stopped the Good Father from stripping off then and there. Really, what has come over the man?!

It was just as we were arranging to have our luggage transported to our hotel (and arranging for Father P to keep his trousers on) that Maria Stagliani drifted by. NO sooner had she stepped out of the station when she was accosted by seven men in the black uniform of Mussolini’s Black Shirts. It was quite clear that the one in charge, a rather unimpressive example of the male gender being both thin on top and fat around the middle, wanted Maria to go with him, even going as far as to grab hold of her arm. Proving that chivalry is far from dead the men of our little party rushed over to intervene. I of course went too but as I did I noticed that someone else was watching the goings on. A young man, no more than nineteen but with the sort of good looks that would ensure that he left a string of broken hearts in his wake as he grew older, had been leaning against the station wall. It looked like he too had started to go to Maria’s defence but, spotting the five of use getting set to intervene, thought better of it and made himself scarce.

The Black Shirt in charge, the fat ugly one, was still clinging on to Maria like a limpet and insisting that she would come with him when we reached the scene. Of course not that we could have understood any of it without Albert to translate. Surprise, surprise it turned out that fatty (“Alberto” we discovered) was something of a bully; happy to manhandle a woman but when confronted by five, clearly well-to-do foreigners who were unimpressed by his self-important bluster, he quickly backed down.

We took it upon ourselves to escort Maria to her home. This entailed a boat ride down the world famous Grand Canal. As I have already mentioned Dear Diary it was already dark and landmarks seemed to be few and far between, and within minutes of setting off I had completely lost track of where we were. I doubt that I could have found my way back to the station if I had needed to.

As we travelled we managed to pry out of Maria what the commotion with Fatty Alberto had all been about. It seemed that he was a would-be suitor who clearly saw Maria as fair game following the death of her father. I can’t say that I envied Maria his advances (although I have made love to less appealing men when my work required it). I asked about the young man that I saw hanging around the station. From my description Maria identified him as Georgio, the man that she would marry if she had her own way. Good grief; Fatty Alberto, Dreamy Georgio and Father P. What was it that men found irresistible about this girl? I would have to keep Darling Alberto on a short lead.

Soon enough we had dropped Maria off without further incident and then headed on to the Gritti Palace. When I first caught sight of the hotel I must admit that I was unimpressed by the place. Once inside, however, my fears were dispelled as it was just as luxurious as the guidebook promised.

I insisted that we all dress for dinner which was, of course, excellent. I had the Pasta and black squid ink with a very palatable wine. It took no effort at all to convince Darling Antonio that we should retire to our room as soon as dinner is done. I have just got time to finish this entry while Darling Antonio gets changed and then a night of passion awaits!


Topics: Horror on the Orient Express, Italy |

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