Deep Midnight Page 1


The moon was full. Huge in the sky, a brilliant, iridescent orb that seemed to stare down mockingly at the earth.

Though his night vision was excellent, it helped him to see.

From the Campanile, he had chosen to survey the city. He looked out at the dazzle of the evening; at the people milling about, at the clear beauty of the dark sky far above, and he felt his tension and awareness increase.



The first true night of celebration. The first night of the grand balls . . .

Fat Tuesday.

The delirium of it all.

Tonight. They would strike tonight.

For far below, crowding the streets, alleyways, and canals, were all manner of masqueraders.

Musicians, entertainers, stilt-walkers, rich and poor, all were out for a night of pretense, playacting, charades. The world here now was shadow, despite the lights that spilled forth in the city, despite the lanterns so many of the players carried.

Fat Tuesday . . .

The feast before Lent.

Yes, they would seek to feast tonight. And they would do so. Glut themselves . . .

Unless ...

Silently, with the grace and skill of the natural born predator, he left his perch.

And entered the city.

Jordan Riley threw open the shutters at the window in her room at the Hotel Danieli, looking out at the loud and festive world around her. From her vantage point, she could see the waters of the Canale di San Marco, and down toward the Grand Canal; she could see the vaporettos, gondolas, and streams of people coming and going from the docks. Across the water was the magnificent dome of the church of Santa Maria della Salute. And, stretching her body out the open window, she could see, to her right, the beginnings of St. Mark’s Square, the site of unbelievable revelry. The night was wild with the sounds of laugher and music, and everywhere there was camaraderie, joviality. The pre-Lent celebration might be well known and loved in other great cities as well, but Jordan didn’t think that anyone else, anywhere, knew how to celebrate Carnevale quite the way the Venetians did.

No matter how strange, they were elegant as well.

“Jordan, ready?”

She turned around. Her cousin Jared was standing in her doorway, though, if she hadn’t known it was Jared, she wouldn’t have had the least idea that it was he. He’d come as the dottore, a popular costume here. Plagues had once consumed Venice, so the dottore wore a mask with a huge nose, usually beaked?reminiscent of the covering doctors had worn to combat the fetid vapors. The masks were elaborate, frightening. Jared wore a voluminous, hooded cloak as well; he hadn’t been inclined to dress in anything as foppish as a Renaissance costume. The cloak and mask were easily donned; maybe that was why the costume was so popular.

“Ready? Yes! I can’t wait. It’s incredible out there!” She’d been to Venice several times before, but never for Carnevale. This year Jared and his wife, Cindy, had talked her into accompanying them to the festival. She felt a little awkward, being with the two of them but on her own at tonight’s costume ball?unescorted. She felt just a bit like a fifth wheel. She spoke enough Italian to order room service and find her way around, but though it was true that many Venetians spoke English, she was afraid she’d find herself seated next to strangers with whom she couldn’t begin to converse. Still, the excitement of the trip had outweighed the fear.

“Thank God! I thought you were going to try to weasel out tonight!” he told her.

“Me? Weasel out? Not on your life!” Of course, she was lying. She’d been thinking of doing exactly that until darkness had fallen, the music had begun, and the sheer vibrance of the evening had awakened a spirit of total devil-may-care adventure in her. Surely, there would be someone with whom she could talk, dance, and while away the hours.

“You’re smashing, by the way,” he told her.

She walked from the window and dipped a curtsy to him. “Thanks.” She’d rented her costume at the last minute, but it was spectacular. Renaissance?a popular era here?

and festooned with sequins, faux jewels, and an overlay of lace. The gown had been available because Jordan happened to be petite?five three, standing very straight?and an even hundred pounds. The dress had been made for a young woman who’d had to cancel about a month ago, and no one the right size had arrived since.

“Smashing?and you look taller.”

“It’s the shoes,” she told him, showing him the period shoes she wore. She wondered, however, if they’d really worn such wretched heels in times gone by. Surely, this kind of heel was a modern nod to women’s vanity.

“Let’s hope you don’t shrink like Granny Jay. You’ll be down to nothing.”

“Go ahead. Be cruel because you got all the ‘tall’ genes,” she told him. Strange. He was so tall; she was so petite. But they had both inherited very deep green eyes from their Granny Jay. That, and her penchant for new places, people, and cities such as Venice, with its truly unique character.

“Down to nothing,” he repeated with a teasing sigh. She thought that he was grinning behind his mask.

“Can you walk in those?”

“Um. I practice in heels a lot,” she assured him. “It’s the only way to see over counters, and manage to climb up on a bar stool, when necessary.”

“Hey! You two, let’s get going?it’s late!”

Cindy, dressed in black Victorian mourning, came to the doorway. Like Jared, she was tall.

“Jordan! Great shoes. Maybe people won’t think you’re my child tonight!” Jordan groaned. “Cindy! You’re going to torture me, too?”

“Torture you. I’m only five years older?and people ask me if I’m the mother!” She shuddered.

“You’re both smashing!” Jared said. “Two of the greatest beauties. .. there. That’s said and done. Now, shall we go?”

A few minutes later, they passed through the centuries-old lobby of the gracious hotel. Even the bellmen carried masks, and everyone greeted everyone. It was a night for compliments, fun, and eternal smiles.

They left the hotel and came out on the walk before the canal. The pavement was thronged. People jostled people, and apologies were given in dozens of different languages. Jared, tall as he was, craned his neck to see over the people. Water taxis, vaporettos and gondolas all used the docks in front of the Danieli, and the place was simply packed.

“Girls, wait here just a minute. Our launch might be around the other side,” Jared told them.

With a sweep of his cape, he walked away.

Jordan and Cindy moved toward the canal, away from the stream of pedestrian traffic, and waited while Jared went off to find the private launch which was to bring them to the ball. An annual event, the ball was always held in an historical palazzo, and was always one of the most prestigious events of the night.

Jared’s surname was Riley, just as Jordan’s, but his mother had been a Genovese. Loving all things Italian, he had become the Venetian rep for a major American travel firm. He spent almost as much time in Italy now as he did in the States. His Italian was excellent Jordan wished hers was better. A man jostled her, paused, tipped his hat, and went into a long apology. Having no idea what he was saying, she smiled and nodded and told him, “Prego, prego!” Literally I pray you in English, it was, in Italian, a catchall for almost anything. He smiled, tipped his hat again, and went on.

“I’m going to have to keep a good eye on you all night!” Cindy told her. “That rat was trying to pick you up!”

“Cindy, that was mean. How do you know he was a rat?”

Cindy laughed, shaking back her long blond hair? very different tonight from its usual sleek cascade down her back, since she was wearing it in tight little ringlets. “He was dressed as a rat, Jordan, weren’t you paying attention?”

“Oh!” Jordan murmured. “No, I saw the tail and the gray felt on his shoulders, but. . .”

“Rat,” Cindy warned. “Renaissance rat, but a rat just the same. We’d best be careful. I imagine that there are a lot of rats out tonight. And wolves. And you look like prime bait.”

“Girls!” Jared said, hurrying back over to them. “We’ve got to move down by St. Mark’s Square?our fellow is way in back in the launch line, and he thinks he can get us easier ahead.”

“Um, we need to move. The rats and wolves and basic slime-buckets are after Little Red, here.”

“Little Red?” Jared demanded. This time, Jordan thought that he was frowning with confusion as he looked at her, but he was still wearing his mask, so she really couldn’t tell. “Her hair is as black as pitch, what’s little ‘red’ about her?”

“Never mind?he’s no sense at all for fantasy,” Cindy told Jordan, shaking her head with rueful affection.

“We simply need to take care of your cousin, dear. She’s far too delectable looking this evening.”

“I guess,” Jared murmured, and she knew he was staring at her. “Maybe you’re right. Jordan, are those boobs all yours?”

“Jared, how rude!” Cindy protested.

Jordan laughed, her hands on her hips. “Yes, Jared, they are. How about you? What’s behind that codpiece?”

“Thank God we’re in Italy and everyone on the street isn’t understanding the two of you!” Cindy exclaimed. “Can we get going?”

They made their way through the crowd. Jordan was glad that Jared had such a firm hold on her arm; she could look around, stare, enjoy the sights and sounds.

The weather was crisp and cool, the city was wonderfully alive. Lights dazzled on the water, and each reflection caught in the shimmering canal was more beautiful, more colorful, and more fantastic.

Even the absurd was stunningly beautiful. The costumes ranged from elaborate period outfits, to fantasy, to animal. Birds strutted incredible plumage, cats were sleek and bejewelled. Newscasters from around the world interviewed people here and there; cameras whirred, music blared from the Square, voices and laughter rose above it all. They might celebrate in other places, Jordan thought again, but Venice was unique in its love of the sheer sophistication of dress-up; natives and visitors alike vied to be gorgeous.

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