Steps of Venice is my story today. I was thinking of maybe 200, maybe 500 words, but Venice took over and I’ve edited it down to just over 1000! And as you saw on Thursday, the photo from this week’s prompt at KL Caleys New2Writing.com is:

Steps – picture by Jemima Pett

Steps of Venice

“We’ll stay at Vicenza,” he said.

Hopes of a weekend in Venice faded with his departing back. “Why?”

My plaintive question hung in the air like so much mist, matching the seasonal cold temperature meeting warm streets of an autumnal London.

My phone pipped. Less suspicious.

Well, at least he answered.

He’d been paranoid ever since he’d decided that the markings on the glassware he’d been handling for a client were a code. A code he’d deciphered. It was a treasure trail. Everything else had flown from his brain—although he had consigned most of the client’s glassware on time. Just. 

Vicenza had the benefit of a luxury room in a top hotel, which we couldn’t afford at Venice prices. And less than an hour from Venice, which was easier to see on foot anyway. I admired the view from the balcony and sat down to a delicious breakfast.

“So what time is the train?”

“Ten twenty-eight. It’s the one we came in on, so only a short stop before it goes on. Then we can leave the station, go across the main bridge, through some alleyways, and onwards towards the Teatro. I’ve got the route on my phone, look.”

I took his phone and looked. How did he know it was just before the theatre? Remembering the last longwinded explanation he’d given me of why Venice, I just nodded.

“So we get to the Teatro, and then what?”

“We stop before we get to the Teatro. There was an old store, and there should be an apothecary mark on the wall. From there we take three paces towards the Teatro.”

“And then?”

“Then we should find whatever this code leads us to.”

“More coffee?”

He flicked a glance at his watch. “No. We should get to the station.”

Paranoia extended to missing trains, as well. We had more coffee and biscotti served at our seats, while gazing at the view of the coastline, with a smudge of an island further away. The train started to curve round, setting off to cross the causeway to the magical city of Venice, lying like a lady in the twinkling still waters of the Adriatic. Speedboats passed, racing in either direction, although there seemed to be some sort of traffic system in place.

Outside the station was everything I’d imagined—crowded waterside, gondolas for hire, sleek wooden cruisers as private limos, stouter ones as ordinary taxis, and the great tubs of ferry-like vaporetti that were the public transport.

“Shall we take a gondola?”

“No time. I told you, it’s a simple walk.  Should be no more than ten minutes.”

“Can we go to St Mark’s Square afterwards?”

“If there’s time.”

“We should make ourselves at least look like daytrippers.”

I was talking to his back again.

Some zigs and zags through narrow roads and alleyways, and twice going up and over the same narrow waterway, no more than a large ditch. Then through what appeared to be a private house, but turned out to be an archway to the next street. Then another side alley. I bumped into him as he stopped.

“There.”

“What?”

Yes, there was a shop, and a bridge ahead over which there was a sign saying ‘Teatro de Fenice’ and lots of other writing underneath it. 

“There’s still a shop. It hasn’t changed in all this time.”

“How old was the glassware?”

“Shh. Tell you later. Now for the mark.”

I examined the wall of the alley while he did the shop’s side. 

“Nothing!” He shook his head. “It must be here.”

“Is that what you wanted?” A notched triangle was just above my head. Just like one of those marks you sometimes get on houses that show the highest flood level.

“Yes!” He almost pranced, but then looked around, checking for observers. 

Nobody was taking any notice of a mad tourist.

“Now, three paces forward from here.”

He strode forward, ending on the top of the little bridge.

It was what they call a pregnant pause. 

His excited face turned into a frown, then relaxed into something between disappointment and anger. “There’s nothing here.” It was almost bewilderment.

“How big should the paces be?  You made very large steps.”

His shoulders dropping, he walked back. “Paces. I’m assuming Roman paces.”

“But this is Venice.  Wasn’t it independent?”

Silence. He wasn’t going to admit my point. He turned back to face the Teatro, matched himself against the mark, and walked three ordinary paces. “I’m half on, half off the bridge.”

“And…”

“Can’t see anything.” He leant over the side to look too.

“Steps. On the bridge. What if it meant steps, not paces. The third step from the mark?”

“I can translate runes, you know…” but he went onto the third step anyway. “Oh…”

I fumbled a surreptitious photo of him leaning over the railing and discovering some sort of hiding place.

He palmed something, and hid it in his inside jacket pocket. 

We did visit St Mark’s Square, which I loved, despite splashing through the water of high tide, and not having time to visit the Doge’s palace or the museum, or the clock, or the belltower. 

But we had one of the sleek limos to take us back to the station, which was amazing, since we buzzed under the Rialto Bridge and everything.

We restrained ourselves till we were back in our hotel in Vicenza. Inside a remarkably modern black container with a magnetic lid (which had held it in place all these years) was a message.

He read it, his cheeks tightening, and his eyes narrowing, until he threw it down on the bed, where the box bounced and the paper fluttered.

I rescued the paper. 

‘Congratulations! You have found my clue. Now it is your turn.  Leave the coded message in a place of your own artistry for someone to decipher. Add your own address on this paper, and cross out mine—after you have sent me a postcard. And replace it, of course. Thank you so much. Giacomo Poli.’

“Wasn’t Poli a famous Murano glassblower?”

“Yeah.”

I looked up Murano glass. “Flavio Poli. What if this was his son?”

“I really don’t care. What time’s the train tomorrow? Can we catch one tonight instead?”

“I’ll leave it to you, dear one.”

I’ll leave it all to you. I have my own bit of magic to carry out, using one of my artworks. And I’ll go back to Venice on my own, to continue the chain. Three steps from the apothecary mark.

© J M Pett 2021

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Flash Fiction | Steps of Venice #writephoto
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