(Editor’s Note: Apologies to those who have wondered about Claire’s absence. She took another holiday—well, I call it a holiday, though naturally I am the last to know when or where she goes—and only resurfaced today. Neither threats nor cajolery make the slightest difference. She is really the most irritating person.
Well, enough of that: The last time we heard from her, Claire was lying on the floor of Marco’s aerie, having lost consciousness—we don’t know how--while spying on a mysterious treetop prowler on a cold winter night—the same night in which Marco’s mentor Max was found murdered in Marco’s Porsche, which the police removed from the river—oh, I can’t go on. You’ll just have to read the previous installments…)
I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. The face hovering over me was intimately familiar: cropped hair, the color of dark roasted espresso, café au lait skin, a devastatingly handsome face, down to the cleft in the chin and chiseled cheekbones. Full lips, with a slight curl that could be mistaken for a smirk. Brilliant blue eyes…
I tried to raise my head. “Easy. You’ve had a nasty fall. Don’t move if it hurts.” His voice was reassuring, warm, mellifluous. So why did I suddenly feel warning prickles running up my spine?
I forced myself to sit up even though my head was throbbing and touched the back of my skull. Well, no wonder it hurt. There was a lump the size of the proverbial goose egg. My hair was stiff, probably with dried blood. Another surge of nausea welled up in my throat and I broke out in a cold sweat. Great. Now I’m going to throw up in front of—
“Who are you?” I blurted out.
He laughed easily and sat back on his heels. “Smart girl. Not everyone can tell us apart. Marco said you would know right away.”
“Sorry,” I squinted at him. “I’m not following. You’re—who are you?”
“I’m Maffeo, Claire. Marco’s twin. “ He narrowed his eyes and looked at me intently.
“Oh, right...Maffeo. It’s my head...I guess I'm all mixed up.” I had been married to Marco for four years and never, ever was there a whisper, a hint, even a glimmer that he had a brother, much less an identical twin brother.
“He’s the older actually, by 28 minutes and 17 seconds…at least that’s what our mother always said.” Maffeo looked at me quizzically, crinkling the corners of his eyes just the way that Marco did. “He did tell you about me, didn’t he?”
My mind was racing. What should I do? Admit that I didn’t have a clue, or play along? I decided to be evasive. “I’m going to stand up now,” I said.
He grasped my hand and pulled me to my feet. His skin was soft and smooth. Marco’s palms were calloused, an explorer’s hands, and I had found that oddly appealing at times. I took a wobbly step and sat down in the worn leather library chair.
“So, Maffeo,” I began, peering at shambles of Marco’s study. “Did you do this?”
“God, no, Claire,” he said, surprised. “Marco called me and said he needed my help, so I came. I got here a couple of hours ago. I kept ringing the doorbell, but nobody answered. Then I came around back and saw the light, so I climbed up and found you unconscious and--what is this place?”
“It’s where Marco worked. Works,” I corrected myself. Why was I using past tense? “He said he needed help? When was that?”
“Last week. I’m still jet-lagged--probably last Monday. I was on a boat in the Moluccas with a bunch of Portuguese divers. Had to finish the tour, catch the Twin Otter back to Ternate, get to Jakarta, then Singapore, L.A. and here. I’ve been traveling for 52 hours.”
I looked at Maffeo more closely. His eyes were bloodshot and he was unshaven. He appeared tired. Maybe his story was true. Maybe he had come all the way from Indonesia to help Marco. As if he knew what I was thinking, he pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, put one in his mouth and struck a match. A sweet, spicy fragrance filled the air, a scent I hadn’t smelled since our honeymoon in Bali.
“Incense!” I said to Marco, as we stepped into the sleek marble lobby of the Jakarta airport. I was so happy be in the land of white pepper and nutmeg that I could hardly control myself. “Kreteks,” he laughed. “Clove cigarettes. Everyone smokes them here. You can always tell—all the men have holes in their silk shirts. The cloves crackle and pop when they get hot and burn holes in their clothes.”
Monday. That was the day before Marco disappeared. I woke up on Tuesday and he was gone.
“What exactly did he say to you?” I asked.
“Hard to remember.” He rubbed his hand over his close-cropped hair, exactly the way Marco would do when he was thinking. It was strange, like looking at a mirror image of the man I’d been living with, yet knowing it was off kilter.
“ I was on the boat with these divers and one of them was having a rough go—first dive and all. My mobile rang, it was my brother and he said something about trouble. It was going to take two of us to handle it.” He took a drag on the kretek and looked around at the ripped books and smashed frames “I’d call this trouble."
“And you just got on a plane and came here?” I asked. “After not seeing him for—for how long?”
“Look, I don’t expect you to understand this, but we’re close. We don’t have to—“ He broke off angrily. I knew that quick flash of anger—I’d seen it a hundred times. “Look, I came to help. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on. Where is Marco?”
Suddenly I knew what was bothering me. Maffeo was Marco’s mirror image. There was a scar on his left cheek, not the right. But like Marco’s it was crescent-shaped. Marco told me he came by his scar years ago when an intoxicated curandero mistook him for a black dog, who, as everyone in Mexico knows, is the way the devil disguises himself when he’s up to his tricks.
So how did Matteo get the same scar on the opposite cheek?