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五渔村（CinqueTerre），位于意大利利古里亚大区(Liguria)拉斯佩齐亚省海沿岸地区，是蒙特罗索（Monterosso al Mare）、维尔纳扎（Vernazza）、科尔尼利亚（Corniglia）、马纳罗拉（Manarola）及里奥马焦雷（Riomaggiore）这五个悬崖边上的村镇的统称。
Italy – Present Day
The man picked her up in Vernazza, apicturesque village perched along the rugged coastline of the ItalianRiviera.
From his salt-and-pepper hair, and hislined face, Maria guessed he was in his early 50s. He bought her a drink, then dinner, then anew dress and a pair of pumps and a few other things, spending lavishly on herin the quaint village shops.
There were no pretenses. They went to his plush villa, which affordeda breathtaking view of the sea. When sheasked his name, he looked at her with his brooding dark eyes and said, “Arenames important, cara?”
All she knew was that he was a businessmanfrom Rome. She supposed it didn’tmatter.
They were soon hungrily making love to eachother on the king-sized bed. She hadn’texpected such energy out of a man his age—he was insatiable. She often had to fake orgasms with older men,but not with this one.
They spent most of the weekend in thebedroom. In between sexual bouts, theyhiked up and down the cobblestone streets of the village, admiring the view andthe lovely, narrow houses that were painted in pink, blue and yellowpastels. They gorged themselves on thelocal cuisine—cappon magro, a pyramidmade of fresh vegetables and a half dozen different types of fish, and the torta pasqualina, a cake made of 18layers of light pasta and stuffed with ricottacheese.
They spoke very little. Maria didn’t care. Words might break the spell, and she didn’twant this to end.
On the third day, he felt that he had wonthe girl’s trust.
The experiment he wanted to perform was fartoo important to delegate to one of his lieutenants. There was much riding on the outcome. He needed to see the results first hand.
But he had to be careful.
When she lay in his arms, spent, he said, “Did you know I am celebrating this weekend,cara?” He stroked one of her full, firmbreasts. “You are a gift to myself.”
She looked up at him with liquid browneyes. “What do you mean? What are you celebrating?”
He rose naked from the bed and picked up asmall leather Gucci bag that was sitting on the coffee table. He knew she was curious about what wasinside—he had been carrying it around everywhere they went, keeping it close atall times.
When he opened it, she gave a little gasp.
The satchel was packed with crisp, new U.S.$100 bills.
“So much money,” she said in a hush. “Where did it come from?”
“I sold a flat in Portofino, a dilapidatedhovel I have been trying to rid myself of for years. I finally found an American gullible enoughto buy it, but he insisted on paying part cash. It’s only about fifty thousand dollars.”
Even though she was trying to hide it, hecould see the greed in her 21-year-old eyes. She was a velina, a softhooker who survived on her good looks, roaming up and down the Riviera, livingoff one rich man after another, staying a few days or weeks in a villa oronboard a yacht until the current sponsor tired of her and threw her out, afterwhich she moved on to the next.
He said, “I was thinking of driving up toSan Remo and trying my luck. Have youever been to the casino there?”
“No,” she lied.
“You’d love it—it’s the largest casino inItaly. All the richest people gamblethere.” He also happened to know thatthe establishment had just updated its currency verifying machines with thelatest software.
He motioned to the cash, feigningfrustration. “Unfortunately, I left mypassport in Rome. There’s no way tochange this kind of money without one.”
“I could change it for you,” she blurted,but then checked herself. “I mean, ifyou want me to.” When he didn’t react,she said, “I have my passport right here,” and reached over to her purse andproduced it.
He smiled. He already knew she had a valid passport. He also knew that she had left her home inNaples at the age of 16, and was unknown to anyone in these parts.
Ten minutes later, they were driving up thecoast, heading towards San Remo in a metallic blue Porsche cabriolet, the windblowing through their hair. It was justbefore sunset. The highway ran up anddown the rugged cliffs along the shore. Soon, the sky exploded into a riot of orange and indigo and violet.
Maria was excited, looking forward to a fewmore days of luxurious meals, plush accommodations, and expensivepresents. Maybe he would buy her adiamond bracelet at the casino gift shop. Why not?
When they reached San Remo, he surprisedher again. He pulled up in front of thesidewalk that led to the casino entrance and handed her the Gucci bag. “Take that inside and convert all of it tocasino chips.” He motioned to the otherside of the street. “I’m going to have acup of coffee and catch up on a few business calls I have to make.”
Maria was astounded that he was going tolet her walk away with all that cash. When she got out of the car, he leaned over and looked up at her andsmiled. “Try not to gamble it all awaybefore I get there!”
She walked up the long sidewalk towards thecasino. When the uniformed man openedthe door for her, she glanced over her shoulder. Her generous friend was just sitting down atone of the tables at the cafe. He wavedat her.
Maria was tempted to try and run away withthe money. But she wasn’t some stupid puttana—she knew better than to try andsteal from a man like him.
Carrying the Gucci bag in one hand andfeeling very chic and powerful, she went inside the busy currencyexchange.
There were security cameras above eachcounter. Then she noticed a sign on thewall:
- WARNING -
ANYONE CAUGHT TRYING TO PASS AS MUCH AS ONE COUNTERFEIT BANKNOTE ONTHESE PREMISES WILL BE TURNED OVER TO THE POLICE
Of course the money she had to changewasn’t fake—she had nothing to worry about.
“Casino chips, please,” she told the maleclerk, emptying the bag on the counter.
She was disappointed with his reaction—heonly looked bored. “Passport?” he said.
Maria handed it over.
He studied the document, then took a few ofthe bills and studied them, rubbing them between practiced fingers.
Maria was suddenly terrified. What if this money was fake? She didn’t knowthe man who had brought her here! Hecould be a criminal!
With a sinking feeling, she wondered if shewas being used to change counterfeit currency.
The clerk began feeding stacks of the notesinto a big, complicated-looking machine. It had a red digital display that showed the total amount, the numbersescalating as the bills were swallowed up.
If any of the money was fake, it was toolate now. She would be arrested on thespot, just like the sign said. And theman who had supposedly given it to her? Conveniently disappeared.
“Here you are, signora,” the clerk finally said. He handed her a handsome, leather-crafted carrier that was loaded withcasino chips.
ThankGod, she thought, greatly relieved. She let out a little laugh as she carried thechips into the casino. It was silly ofher to think badly of the man she had just spent the last three days in bedwith—he was a nice person, she had known it from the start.
She began playing roulette, betting only€50 at a time.
A few minutes later, her friend showed up.
“Ah, there you are!” he said, rushing overto her. He took the chips and placed adrink in her hand and gave her a warm smile. “Come, cara—I will teach youhow to play baccarat.”
He gambled recklessly that night, delightedwith the results of the experiment. Within several hours, he had lost €15,000worth of chips, but he didn’t care. Itwas a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money he would make in thecoming months. He gave Maria €10,000 inchips to gamble with and sat back and watched her lose it.
By 3 am, she was tipsy, and he was gettingtired.
“Let’s go back to Vernazza,” he said,stopping her before she placed another bet.
“Vernazza?” she said. She looked disappointed. “I thought we wouldstay here...”
“It’s silly to waste money on a hotel roomhere when I own a beautiful villa so close by.”
A guilty look flickered across herface. “I’m sorry I lost all thatmoney...”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “It was thrilling, wasn’t it?”
By the time they were back at the villa, hefound his second wind. He drove hislean, hard body into the young girl, bringing her to a series of toe-curlingorgasms.
They lay there for a few minutes, and thenhe suddenly rose from the bed and started putting on his pants. “I’m buzzing with energy—I can’t sleep. Let’s go for a walk.”
“A walk? Now?”
“Come,” he said, pulling on her hand. “The fresh air will make you feel better.”
“But it’s so late...”
He ignored her protests and helped her getdressed, making sure she wore only her own clothes and not anything that he’dbought for her. When she reached for herwristwatch, he grabbed her hand and impatiently said, “For God’s sake, cara, you’re not going to a fashionshow!”
It was windy outside, the sky just hintingat the coming dawn. They walked up thehill, along the cliffs.
Vernazza is part of a cluster of fivevillages known as the Cinque Terre. They veered off in the direction ofCorniglia, the next closest village, which was only 3 km to the south. The path soon became so narrow that they hadto walk single file.
“Be careful, cara,” he said, letting her move ahead of him. “It’s slippery in places.”
The sea along this particular stretch ofcoastline was always rough, the waves breaking over clusters of jagged rocksthat were covered with razor-sharp coral. It was not uncommon for hikers to slip and fall down the sheer 200-foot cliffface. Within minutes, their bodies werepulverized into bloody slabs of unidentifiable gristle and bone.
“Isn’t the view incredible?” he said,stopping her after the path widened again.
“Yes,” Maria said, snuggling her back upagainst his warm chest. Far below, thewaves were exploding over the rocks, the spray filling the air with brine.
He kissed the top of her head, hugging hertightly. It was a shame. She was a beautiful girl—he was alreadydeveloping a paternal, protective feeling for her.
Even though the fake $100 bills had passedthrough the casino’s verifying machine, they would eventually be detected. She had shown her face on video. Her passport had been in the camera’s fieldof view as well.
He gently turned her around and kissed heragain, aggressively, shoving his tongue deeply into her mouth.
When he drew away, her eyes widened—all atonce, somehow, she understood everything.
He shoved her into the abyss.
A few minutes later, he placed a call to anumber at a sprawling dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.
A deep voice answered on the otherend. “Da?”
“I have good news, my friend. Our experiment was a smashing success.”