I thought we’d go out, said Alfredo, for breakfast.
It was promising to be a hot day and I had come down in a t-shirt and shorts. Alfredo on the other hand was soberly dressed in slacks, loafers and an open-necked shirt.
Am I dressed OK? I said.
He smiled self-deprecatingly.
Assassins never wear shorts.
We walked in silence the short distance to a trattoria. A big woman of a certain age came out of the door and waved her arms when she saw him.
Excuse me, Alfredo muttered.
He also raised his arms.
Ah! Bella! Bella! Molto, molto, molto bella! he said, giving little whoops.
He capered in front of the woman, bandy-legged. I imagine that the formal message intended was that such was the enormity of what he carried between his thighs that it was impossible to bring them anything like together. He threw one arm around her and fondled her bottom with the other.
She noticed me and let loose a torrent of Italian. The only word that I could recognise was ‘fratelli’.
She says that we must be identical twins, said Alfredo, running his hands through his thick black curls. The woman grabbed us both to her bosom, one in each arm and one to each breast, and then guided us to a table in the corner. With much kissing of fingers and more business at her bottom Alfredo ordered some coffee and tea, a plate of cooked meat and some bread.
‘Molto bella’, I said, or ‘molta bella’?
‘Molto’, he said. Adverb.
Where do you come from? Originally?
He gave me the look deserved by someone who has just been thoughtless, and said nothing.
The first thing to do was to sort out the problem of our shared passport. Surprisingly, this turned out not to be difficult. The solution would not have occurred to me but it was no doubt something that Alfredo had done before. I cannot of course reveal it but there is absolutely no chance now of either of us spending the night in prison in Port-au-Prince.
And you? he said. Alablague. Funny name.
Huguenot, I said. Kettering.
I embarked on a brief account of the Edict of Nantes and its revocation, but he indicated that that was unnecessary.
Our business was done, or so it seemed.
Did you ever, I said, have a failure again, or was our darling Harold the only one?
He was silent for a moment, no doubt wondering how much he could reveal to me.
Are you setting out after this? You’ll need more than bread inside you.
And he ordered me a small plate of the local pasta.
It’s delicious, he said. You only find it around here.
He named it, pronouncing it clearly so that I would remember. Since it is so specifically local and since I am determined to preserve his identity I will call it merely ‘–i’.
Your –i look indeed delicious. Take a forkful. No, I insist. Yes, so they are. With nothing but black pepper, olive oil and a little garlic they are practically perfect. So much more toothsome than most other pasta. But I think you were about to tell me about another failure on your part.
Curiously, he said, there was one. And it was the only one apart from Wilson where my sympathy was with the victim. It was for the Russians, and it was in London. Another outsourcing.
The mafia or the state?
He looked at me kindly, as if, again, I had let myself down.
Let’s just say that my employers found it hilarious that I had previously done work for the brutal Putino family in Salerno. Literally hilarious. How they laughed. My target lived in London in exile. He was a nasty cantankerous old man, with a smelly beard and a noisy conviction that all his misfortunes were the personal responsibility of the Perpetual President. This was only partly true, but it was decided that he should be eliminated. Do you remember the man who was murdered with a poisoned umbrella?
Yes, him. That was the Bulgarians but the Russians thought that it would be a lark to use the same method on my man. So I was duly kitted out. I objected to that too. I like to use my own ways and means.
It was a sunny evening, which made my umbrella doubly silly. There was a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Notting Hill and my man was to be there. He always was on these occasions. And there he was pontificating to whoever would listen.
I dropped my fork into my –i.
Alfredo, what was the occasion of the demonstration?
He told me.
You’re not going to believe this. I was there too. The better half dragged me along. Let me tell you my story and you tell me if it isn’t true.
I thought back to that evening. I remembered the man with the beard and my subliminal thought that he might have washed first. Nothing much had happened. We had stood there. Some people had shouted. Banners were raised. The goons inside the embassy no doubt photographed us but no one came out. Then we all went off for a drink. There was only the one tiny incident.
You thrust out your umbrella, I said. Between you and your victim a clumsy Englishman trod on it. Surprisingly it broke clean through. The Englishman was angry. He said, ‘You idiot!’. He thought it best to get his retaliation in first. You, surprisingly, did not stop to argue, but grabbed the wreckage and ran. Am I right?
For the first time Alfredo looked at me with affection.
I think you might just be my guardian angel, he said, as well as my double. Finish your –i. They’re much too good to waste and you won’t be able to get them in Stratford. You know, he said, this is like one of those great metaphysical novels by one of the South American magic realists.
South American magic realists? You really are foreign, aren’t you? I was thinking more of a television comedy series,