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Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fortuno's Fate

Toe nails painted red were still on his mind when Fortuno Panzani woke amongst tousled sheets.  He drew in a long breath, trying to cement the memory of her to the thoughts that raced along his synapses.  The ghost scent of her perfume clung to the hairs of his nose.  It was enough to enflame his resolve once again.

When the sun set later tonight, there would be no retreat.  The steps had been in motion throughout weeks of preparation and it had sometimes felt to Fortuno that he was climbing up a Ferris wheel, each step of the plan more precarious and apt to totter or sway if not taken from exactly the right angle.  So many variables could send the whole thing crashing to the ground with the slightest breeze. 

He rose from the cotton cocoon and left the warmth of his body to dissipate in the morning air.  It was early, just coming dawn by the looks of the newborn pink hovering over the horizon.  Fitting he thought, for after today he would become a new man and he was eager after all this time waiting and watching to slip into his new skin and to show her what he was capable of.  He could take care of her and give her a life free of hungry clients.  He would take her to the sea, surf and sand where she could dance for him alone in the dark, and only when it pleased her.  His lips curled upward in the virgin rays of sunshine slipping past the open drapes.  Perhaps she would let him paint those toes of hers? 

After tonight he would shed the shroud of the unlucky, he would leave the shadows that followed him through life—the near misses like being born with the umbilical cord around his neck, the shock of a swollen tongue when fed biscotti baked with almonds or nearly hanging himself when his necktie got caught in the cage of an old fashioned elevator when he was eight in Milan. 

No more.  It was time.  It was his season to bask in the realities of an easy life.  No more fighting for everything, only to worry it would be taken again once in his grasp.  That was over now.  He had had enough.

He stood at the steamy mirror, wiped it and looked at his reflection, then grabbed a new razor and the shaving gel.  The blue gel felt smooth as he rubbed it to a white froth over his face.  The shave would have to be impeccable, just as the rest of his appearance.  Starting over the left cheek, he reveled in the feeling of the blades annihilating the remnants of his outgrown whiskers.  Small brisk strokes cleaned his cheeks, chin, under his nose and then his neck.  He splashed water over his face and swiped it with a towel; he almost didn’t recognize himself when he looked in the mirror again.

His raven locks glistened in the bathroom light. The new haircut was in the latest style and gave him a sporty successful look.  The hairdresser had tutored him in the use of the sculpting mud to get the casual look he wanted, he had been an apt student watching every step.

Next it was his pre-chosen attire.  The suit was a charcoal Gino Valentino with a solid mauve shirt and steel blue tie underneath.  Everything, including the shoes, had been chosen by the attendant in the store because he didn’t trust his choices when it came to fashion.  He had no idea what colors went with what or if one pattern should accompany another.  These inadequacies were not lost on the attendant, who tisked here and there at Fortuno’s beginning selections.  He had been lucky they had not kicked him out of the extravagant boutique; no doubt it had been the color of the bills that had clouded their vision, and allowed his purchase.  Previously he had donned frayed jeans, converse sneakers and shirts without thought.  The only thing that mattered half the time was if they were clean and not too far out of style.  All that had changed now though.  Thanks to the death of his uncle Guido and the plans left in his uncle’s will. 

There could be no room for error.  He was stepping into the role of a lifetime and this was no school play.  He had tried to come up with every possible scenario so he would be ready if anything should happen.  It was just in his nature.  When one drew from things unlucky, unseen and easily forgotten, nothing could be left to chance.  Fonturo had to rethink everything from different angles to make sure fate’s hands could be bent if not bound.  He had even gone so far as to concentrate on his speech patterns and mannerisms adapting those he wanted from the top actors he admired and successful looking businessmen in the local cafes.  It was now or never.  There was nothing more he could see to, other than putting one foot in front of the other and getting it done.

He dressed quickly, enjoying the feel of the unfamiliar fabric on his frame.  His spine seemed to stretch for the sky with the weight of the suit.  Today would be his. 

On the street he walked to where he parked the rented silver Saab 9-3, jumped in and headed west, to the Cane Nero Café.  There was no way he could take his old run down Fiat 500.  He could definitely get used to a car like this.  Just like the rest of the metamorphosis, this car would be a welcome change as he sloughed the old and glistened in the new.

The warm air caressed Forturo as he pulled on the door to the little cafe.  The scent of pastry had him salivating before he made it to his seat.  Selecting the third table from the door Fortuno had the vantage point to watch the Mediobanca across the street.  This was not his first visit to the café.  He had been here several times before scouting who came and went, forecasting a suitable costume so he would not stand out.  The waitress, who had served him previously, came and took his breakfast order.

“You are here again are you?” She smiled. “It must be Mama’s Cornetto’s no?”

He flashed bleached teeth, “Si, you read my mind, and an espresso per favore.” 

Fortuno watched her hips sway as she turned on her heel and went to fill his order.  She came back with a steaming croissant and coffee, set it before him then took her leave again.  He ate thinking about events in the immediate past.

Uncle Guido had been a bachelor all of his life.  He prided himself on being a ladies’ man and was proud of the fact that he never let a woman tie him down to the confines of a wedding bed.  Although Fonturo listened to many stories of his exploits, Fonturo always wondered if there was a deeper reason why Guido never married.  Perhaps he had an unconscious dissatisfaction with himself and was loath to find it echoed in the eyes of a woman, so he moved on before the women knew him too well.  Or perhaps it was because he was such a private man. 

Fonturo looked down at his hands.  Yes, his uncle had been a man of secrets, and it was possible that Fonturo was the only person in the world at this moment who truly knew the extent of it. 

Guido had a fondness of keys, which developed into a fondness of lists, and finally a fond respect for what those keys and lists combined, held within them.  All that potential power.  And it was not until the will had been read and the envelope that held his uncle’s confessions had been handed over to him, still sealed, that Fonturo finally understood why his uncle had chosen such a solitary life. 

Guido had been employed as the bank manager at the very Mediobanca that Fonturo sat watching across the street in the café. His uncle had been a frequent patron in this very café, and spoke of it many times in his detailed letters to Fonturo in the confession.  He could have written one of the letters here at this table I am sitting at now.  Fonturo thought.  Guido told Fonturo how he had started his scheme with the bank deposit boxes.  Echoing how he had studied the intricacies of lock smithing necessary to copy and make the keys in the basement of his house after hours. 

He detailed that when someone signed out one of the deposit boxes, two keys were involved, one master that the manager or assistant manager of the bank use which turns to the left.  Then the patron is assigned another key that was assigned to the particular box purchased that turns to the right.  There is never any list of what the patron puts in the box.  Strict privacy is adhered to when a client is in the vault which meant that after the box was opened, the client was left alone to conduct their business.  And because only the patrons personal box was opened when a client went in the vault, cameras were not needed.

All Guido had to do was make sure he had a copy of both the master key and all the patron’s keys and then he would have access to all the boxes contents.  At first the going had been rough, the key cutting machine was loud and could be heard in his neighborhood at night so he had to construct a room and muffle the sound as best he could.  Then went through dozens and dozens of keys before he got the hang of it, but with practice he got better and faster at performing the task.  Soon he was rifling through the contents of the most of the boxes.  Others could not be obtained because they had been purchased before his uncle had put his plan in motion.   

Guido had gone to work listing the contents of each of the boxes and who they belonged to along with the account numbers of the patrons.  This was just a peek at what was actually there because at any time the client could add or remove something from the box when he was not there or when he was with another client.  But he was kept abreast of such changes with the daily deposit box log that listed the comings and goings of clients and employees within the vault.  The lists his uncle kept were more of a suggestion of the contents. 

Guido had his fingers on deeds, bonds, contracts, photo negatives, birth certificates, money, rare jewels, passports, and living wills.  But what Fonturo’s uncle was most pleased to find were things like a second set of books, or the set of photos that would have been very uncomfortable to a certain individual in the municipal government.  Or tapes that had proven the infidelity of husbands or wives, and then there were the secret diaries.   These were things that had proven lucrative.  Once it was known that they had been seen and were in his possession. 

Apparently they had been quite happy to keep things quiet paying Guido for his silence.  As his uncle knew they would be, after all he knew how much these people had in their accounts and would never ask for more then what he thought they could afford.  He didn’t want to upset the applecart, only shift the apples his way a little.   

Now that Guido had passed, Fortuno had to get into the vault and take what he could before those that had been blackmailed by Guido heard word of his passing.  It was a simple case of getting in and out with the specifics of the last list that Guido had made.  The list that covered all the boxes of consequence.  This is what Guido would have done had time allowed him to retire. 

Armed with a letter drafted by Guido’s estate lawyer, Fortuno made an appointment to meet with the new acting management of the bank.  Under the façade guise of clearing out the remaining safety deposit boxes of his late uncle, Fortuno would clean house.  It was perfect.

Fortuno left some euros on the table and strode out of the café and across the street to the bank.


No one saw what happened until it was too late.  The object had been blocked by the sun and so many of them had been firmly focused on what was going on in front of them.  They had been like chattel engrossed in the daily grind.  But when they heard the roar and then the explosion, their eyes widened and panic ensued, even though many didn’t know what they were running from. 

The waitress came out of the Cane Nero Café to see what had happened.  Her ears ringing and her wrist was bloody when she touched her face.  She figured her face had been cut when the windows facing the street had blown in.  Screaming people ran for their lives as car alarms shrieked in a five block radius.

Down the street a silver car had been hit by something black and burnt.  It looked like it was made of a metal.  The top of the roof had been smashed in and had crumpled the frame up on both ends, so it almost looked like a giant had come and wrapped both ends of the car around what had come from the sky.  She could smell burning rubber and something that reminded her of cooking meat.  Sirens began to echo and grow closer. 

She put her hand to her head looking in the direction of the approaching wails.  Her head felt as though it would be the next thing to explode, her temples throbbed so hard that she was sure if someone was standing next to her they would see them doing so.

It was in the middle of that thought that she spotted the satchel.  Black leather that looked like it was recently new, only a scuff or two on one side.  She looked up and down the street to see if anyone was coming to claim ownership.  She was alone but wondered if she should pick it up or leave it for the officers on their way.  Finally curiosity won.  She opened the bag, and saw the money, jewels and papers inside.  She almost dropped it again.  Again she looked around to make sure no one was looking at her and saw what she had found.  Then a waitress no more; she took off running down the street.