Chapter 1.1
Chapter 1.2
Chapter 1.3
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30


Chapter 1

Part 1

Dias swept up the fragments of his nightmare, damning Piro and his bacteria cultures for causing his agitated sleep as the pale blue remnants of his table lamp rattled into the dustbin. He imagined the 70 year old man overcome by generations of his unnatural offspring in an accident long expected by many. For some of his colleagues, the demise of the old doctor would put an end to a difficult cohabitation. Then, as he did every morning, Dias flung open the bedroom shutters; the low wall of climbing geraniums beside the house seemed to blink at him in the blinding white light and, as his eyes became accustomed to the glare, he could make out the uneven carpet of yellow daisies on the lighthouse hill. Still squinting, he crossed the dim and sparsely furnished living room to the other side of the small house, pushed open the shutters to the terrace, and drew in a deep breath of sea air. Not a ripple marred the slick surface of the cove below which reflected the pale azure sky; the early morning sun caught in the gentle swells of the open sea beyond, flashing brightly before disappearing into the breaking waves. Dias stepped out of his pajama bottoms and began the descent.

His morning ritual had been disturbed by disquieting thoughts recently. The sea, it seemed to Dias, was slowly taking possession of his little domain. Where only months before there had been a stairway leading down the bank and through the wall that separated the garden from the beach, there was now only a pile of rubble that obstructed the path and made his downward climb arduous. The last storms of winter had finished the job, he noted. Even his once wide, fine sanded beach on the peninsula which jutted into the gulf of Casteddu was becoming narrower year by year.

As he stepped onto the beach, the German Shepherd that had adopted him came running, lunging, leaping, and making quick turns in the air. The dog lived wild on the lighthouse hill, foraging for himself since he had been abandoned, but was as regular as Dias himself in his morning habits. Dias chose the longest piece of driftwood he could find and threw it along the shoreline. Then slowly he waded into the water. It was so still and flat at that early hour that his long, rhythmic strokes raised a gentle wake behind him as he swam toward the open sea. The sound of the dog barking echoed against the curve of the cove and out to him.

A few hundred yards out, he rolled onto his back and crossed his arms under his head. He was alone in the sea: the fishing boats had already come in to dock in Casteddu and the yachts were still making ready to leave the harbor. Lazily turning his head from side to side, he could take in the wide gulf of Casteddu, from the hills of Capoterra on the west to the Seven Brothers mountain range to the east, with his own storm besieged house in the cove straight ahead and the lighthouse perched atop the hill. He could see the premature browning of the hills. It was going to be an exceptionally hot summer. To the left, where the gulf was widest, was Casteddu, shimmering in the morning haze. And below him, there was 60 feet of clear water.


The waters of the Gulf of Casteddu

His eyes rolled back. Not yet quite awake, he let himself fall into a second sleep, lulled by docile waves, sun burning on his chest and glistening in the drops of water on his lashes. His arms relaxed and ran along his lean body as if moving by the order of nature.. His ecstasy was interrupted by a faint call from the shore, followed by the barking of the dog. Unwillingly, he set for shore with slow strokes. Only later, as he was leaving the house after a shower and a light breakfast, did he discover the cause of the interruption. Pinned to the door was a note: "You're hard to find Dr. Dias. I'd like very much to talk to you. Please call me at the newspaper." It was signed Ersila Soro, and below was the number of the "Island Union." He closed the house and took the bumpy, dusty road along the precipice to Casteddu.

* * * *




On his morning drive to work, especially in late spring when nature was at its best, Dias could imagine the impression the city made on those arriving from the sea. Those who came to Casteddu by ship were eternally fascinated by the view of the city from the port: above the port walkway and the variegated landscape of roofs of the lower quarter, the old city loomed like an immense ship run aground. Dias knew that inhabitants of the lower city still called it the Castello, and the respectful way they pronounced the word evoked memories of the oppressors who had come from the sea and had taken possession of the stronghold on the hill. Even now, the Castello was shared by the Clinic of Infectious Diseases, the prison, the Prefecture, and various offices of bureaucratic oppression.

Dias knew the old saying of the port district which claimed that no good could come from above; its inhabitants weren't fond of raising their eyes to the hill that blocked their morning sun. The pale yellow facade of the Clinic, which extended the width of the hill, blinded them and made their blood run cold. When someone was said to have to go up to the Castello, heads would shake and tongues would click in sympathy, as if only an incurable disease or an imminent death could take them there.

Nevertheless, the decision, at the end of the 19th century, to transform the convent on the edge of the hill into a general hospital had been considered a gesture of foresight and benevolence. With the exception of the Tower, the rooms which looked out over the lower city and the sea were reserved for the patients, whose spirits could not help but soar at the generous view of the gulf. The operating rooms and, later, the labs and x-ray rooms, were situated on the inner courtyard, part of which still belonged to the Sisters, or on the dark and narrow streets of Castello. But, as foresight is never enough, the hospital was soon found to be insufficient for the needs of a city which was expanding as rapidly as apartments could be built for inland emigrants. Soon the hospital had spread its tentacles back into Castello and down the eastern and western slopes into the newly developed areas, opening specialized clinics in renovated old buildings. Only the Clinic of Infectious Diseases and Surgery remained on the edge of the hill.


The Clinic of Infectious Diseases

Sister Maria, wearing mourning on her blue and white habit, accosted Dias impatiently when he arrived at the door of the Clinic. Eight children from the Cooley's Disease Hospital had been admitted the night before, she informed him; the havoc they were creating and the lack of space in general were only two of the things she had on her mind. The visits, she urged, would have to take place immediately or he would have to carry on without her: the Archbishop had died and she was taking an uncharacteristic leave of absence. Dias permitted himself to comment that the patients would feel her absence, half realizing he was only egging her on. She rose to the veiled reproof at once: surely he could appreciate the fact that the illuminated soul of one of God's highest servants took priority over the rotting flesh of common mortals. In a serious tone, Dias conveyed his condolences and suggested that a few days leave would be appropriate. After all, it wasn't every day that an Archbishop died.

She didn't bother to comment. "Immediately or tomorrow," she stated, rather than asked, again.

And Dias had no choice but to answer, "Immediately, then, with the hepatitis ward last."

That solved, Sister Maria went directly on to her next important business. She moved closer to Dias and, in a loud whisper that barely hid her excitement, asked, "Have you heard about the murder at the Lido?"

Dias hadn't yet read the morning paper and said so. Indeed, if he had known the effect this event would have on his life, he would have listened more carefully to Sister Maria's delightfully outrageous account of the murder of a certain nightclub owner called Basciu. As it was, he listened impatiently and answered distractedly something about hard times.

"On the contrary," she rebutted quickly, "the times are right." In answer to his knotted brow, she went on to explain: "The Lido was a den of perversion and sin. He, in His wisdom, metes out the just punishment."

"It seems to me," said Dias, not wishing to continue the discussion but unable to stop it, "that God is a little out of his element. Didn't you say the man was shot?"

"God's ways are mysterious," was her predictable answer and she crossed her big arms on her chest. Irritated with himself for having fallen into one of Sister Maria's sermons, Dias fell silent. There was no way, he thought, to shake the old sister's faith, and, all in all, despite the occasional annoyance it gave him, it was something he envied in her.

In the last two rooms, reserved for patients with infectious hepatitis, Dias usually went alone. Sister Maria had never actually refused to go beyond those doors that would have been beneath her, but each day, as regularly as clockwork, as they were terminating their room to room rounds, some pressing matter that demanded her personal attention arose and she was called away. This had gone on for six years, since the institution of the separate hepatitis ward. For some time, Dias had tried to circumvent her unspoken refusal to enter the ward, had heard her mutterings as she shuffled off down the hall about the "work of the Devil", till at last he had given up. Now each morning, with increasing anticipation and amusement, he awaited the dramatic, if not highly plausible, motive which would allow her to avoid facing the young addicts in the ward.

That day he spent only a short time in the female ward and went next door. In the last room, large enough to accommodate eight beds, a group of patients, nearly all young men of around 20, were standing around the bed of a patient who had been admitted that morning. Wane and yellow, the boy looked up at them half frightened, half amused, from his reclining position. The oldest patient in the circle greeted Dias with a grin as he entered.


Hepatitis B Virus

"Pretty, isn't he?" he asked. "Looks like a canary."

"Vittorio would rather have one than be one," said another, causing a little skirmish and a round of chirps and obscenities.

Dias pushed past them and introduced himself to the boy, asking him to come to his office for a complete checkup after the siesta. Then he turned to Vittorio.

"How's your breathing?" he asked.

Vittorio was around 40, of medium height, and with his thick mustache, black eyes, and full lips he had the look of a turn-of-the-century anarchist, which wasn't far from what was said about him. Or that was how he had looked, thought Dias, until he had started losing weight. He was looking increasingly like the other patients on the second floor where he was assigned.

"Better, much better," Vittorio answered. "Is it set for tomorrow then?"

"Your last exams were fine," Dias said. "You can even leave today if you wish." "If I wish?" was Vittorio's joyous response.

While Dias proceeded to check his patients, the others celebrated Vittorio's good fortune, and when he had finished, Vittorio followed him out into the hall. "See you, suckers," Vittorio called out from the door, "I'll think about you on the beach."

In the hall, his swaggering air disappeared. "The others are saying..." he began, "I mean, upstairs they are saying that I might not be welcome down here much longer..."

Dias took him by the arm. "Our guru is showing signs of human weakness," he said.

"A guru to a bunch of kids," Vittorio replied, causing Dias to sneak a more critical glance at him. Never, and he had nursed Vittorio through two long bouts with hepatitis before this last recovery, had he heard this tone from him.

"Don't listen to them," Dias finally answered when they had reached the door of his study. "People talk. They get bored in the hospital." And after reminding him to go by the administrative desk for his dismissal papers, he bid him a more cheerful goodbye than he felt.

A busy morning was still ahead of him. The son of Police Commissario Virfi, he knew, was among the eight children who had been sent to him for tests. The poor boy had contracted something through transfusions.

* * *

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