Holiday in Venice
by Gwil Williams
They walked quickly, the thin pale man leading and the burly red-faced one hurrying breathlessly behind. They passed the Bridge of Sighs without a glance. When they came to the corner by the gondola station they turned right.
Suddenly there it was, the Venetian Cathedral of St. Mark; the home of the saint whose body had disappeared from Egypt twelve centuries ago. A small multitude standing in a circle of pigeons with their guide shielded their eyes against the sun's low glare, looked to the high places, tried to make out four splendid horses on the rooftop over the entrance.
It was a cold day in January. There would be no need to queue.
The thin man, wearing a new Aldo Colitti raincoat and a pair of dark sunglasses, went briskly up the front steps and into the silent dimly lit hallway where a wooden stall seemed to groan under its burden of a thousand postcards and countless trinkets. His companion made for the nearby Floriani and a café latte.
The thin man went quickly through a narrow entrance and ascended the stone stairway beyond. He counted the forty steps. They were steeper and narrower than he had expected and he was grateful for the shiny brass handrails on either side. On the tiny landing a neat youth in a black suit sat behind a small wooden desk. The man paid him with a few coins and entered the room beyond.
The crumbling walls were showing their great age. Here and there a few religious artefacts were on display. But it was not these he had come to see. He walked across the stone floor, his footsteps echoing loudly, and entered a second room where a shaft of weak sunlight from a high window struggled valiantly to penetrate the gloom. Without stopping, the man crossed to a third and equally dimly lit room. Here he stopped and removed his sunglasses. A smile like a summer sunrise spread quickly across his pale face. They were indeed there as fine as he had been told they would be.
The four of them, side by glorious side, were facing him; frozen as it were, in mid-prance. Their handsome green-stained bronze sides and chests were criss-crossed with thousands of fine scratches intended, it is believed, to catch the sunlight. They were the most remarkable things he had ever seen; nostrils flared, mouths open, heads held high and nearly two thousand years old.
From a dark corner a priest in a black cassock appeared and quietly approached the horses. He stroked their flanks, patted their muzzles and kissed their faces. Then he turned to the thin man and spoke. “The identity of their creator and their place of origin remains a complete mystery. These four magnificent beasts stolen years ago from Turkey, and from somewhere else before that, stand here, as you can see, in this cathedral loft. They stand frozen in time as if waiting for their inevitable riders.”
“And on the roof over the cathedral entrance are the copies,” said the thin man.
“Exactly,” said the priest.
When the thin man emerged into Palazzo San Marco it was raining. He quickly found his companion in the Café Floriani.
“Come, Watson,” he said. “We have no time to lose.”
“What is it, Holmes?” said the other.
“It's as I should have suspected. They're fakes.”
“You mean the horses…”
“No, Watson, the Aldo Colitti raincoats. I'm soaked to the skin.”
©2004 Gwil Williams
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