Liz Fallon has inveigled her way to Corsica by taking a fluff assignment to cover Professor Nicoli’s announcement at the Università di Corsica Pasquale Paoli about the mysterious mazzeri and quite unexpectedly meets Antoine Scafani for the first time.
The Professor’s voice turned tremulous. “I am currently seeking funding for an investigation to be—”
The same voice, louder and more agitated, drowned her out. “You expect the Corsican people to provide funds for this hogwash. We have more important issues to deal with. We are waging a war for independence. Several hundred voices are being raised outside these doors at this very moment. While we sit listening to fairy tales, they are out marching in solidarity for self-determination for all of us.”
An even deeper male voice boomed out from the aisle. “You underestimate the importance of the Professor’s work. She is a true heroine, as much as any bearer of the Moor’s head. For decades, she has been dedicated to the preservation of our history and culture.”
I watched as the owner of the voice, whose words had silenced the interloper, strode toward the podium. I couldn’t see his face but the mass of dark curls dangling above a set of self-assured shoulders captured my attention. As he addressed the audience, I studied his chestnut-colored eyes and the pulsating muscles of his jaw. “Every invader from the Romans to the Visigoths to the French has tried to eradicate our spiritual beliefs—whether it is the signadoras who bring healing, or the mazzeri, who announce impending deaths. Suppressing local customs and beliefs is an invader’s way of keeping a people subjugated. Our comrades outside understand this well.”
I felt my throat go dry as the man paused and looked directly at me, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly.
As another derogatory comment flew at the Professor, the man on the stage curled a protective arm around her frail shoulders and spit out a long string of expletives in lingua corsa. I twisted in my seat just in time to see the gatecrasher’s face twist in anger as he hurled back an insulting rejoinder.
Suddenly, the noise of slamming of doors and rankled voices erupted from the back of the auditorium. I spun around to see a flood of protestors storming down the side aisles, their Moor’s head banners cutting through the air like scythes through ripe wheat. As I looked back to the podium, a second contingent thudded in from behind the curtains and took up a military stance across the front of the stage causing the professor’s champion to whisk her away. I muttered a few choice words of my own as the opportunity to meet the Professor and finish up my phony baloney research assignment got blown to hell.
I hadn’t given a thought to my own safety until that very moment. But as the chants of the protestors became more frenzied, I started scanning the room for camouflage clothing, masks, or gun muzzles, anything that could presage a hostage situation. I saw only Levis and passionate faces, more fervent than threatening.
Just as I let my shoulders relax, a loud bang echoed from the wings. A shot? I couldn’t tell. The audience wasn’t waiting to find out and broke for the exits. I jumped out of my own seat, threw my backpack over my shoulder, and shoved my way through the line of demonstrators filling the aisle. I was about to reach for my duffle bag when one of our placards smacked me across the cheek. The next thing I knew, a strong hand was gripping my upper arm and jerking me back against the wall. I wrenched myself free only to discover that I was being manhandled by the Professor’s defender. He scolded the man with the placard, who instantly offered up a sheepish nod of apology.
“Forgive my friend, Mademoiselle. We should be more welcoming to our English friends.”
“I’m not British.”
“Ah, American. My apologies again. Permit me to introduce myself. Antoine Scafani. Can I help you get out of here?”
The name Scafani set off alarm bells in my head. Hadn’t I just read about a man named Scafani in one of Benatar’s reports? Something about an unsolved assassination. This could turn into my first lead about Benatar and his son’s disappearance. I started to introduce myself as Lisabetta Falcucci but thought better of it. “Liz Fallon,” I finally said. “I’m here to cover the Professor’s announcement about the mazzeri.”