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state: first draft
last update: 1999 September 3

Killing Buddha

2. Avoid Talkative Strangers

By Kevin Kelleher



He was on the roof for a long time, perhaps a half an hour. There isn't really much to see: you walk along the sloping marble slabs, getting a little sun. There is nowhere to sit but on the roof itself, and the view of Milan is not extraordinary. All the buildings are the same height, more or less, so they blend into an even landscape.

At times, when the weather is good, you can see the Alps in the distance. This was one of those days: the air was clean and bright, and the mountains were quite clear and beautiful.

I have often gone to the Duomo's roof, and when I do, Japanese couples ask me to take their picture. Old women ask if they can lean on my arm as they descend or walk across the roof. People talk to me, perhaps because I don't wear dark glasses or look like a cold mannikin from a fashion magazine.

Renzo, on the other hand, stood alone, impeccably dressed, fully accessorized, shielded by his Raybans; a gray statue posed at just the right place on the roof, where he would be most striking. He did it unconsciously; it was a type of reflex. Perhaps some woman admired him and some man envied him, but no one spoke to him at all.

At least, until he was about to return to the ground.

Just as he turned to go, a well modulated voice said, "Excuse me."

Renzo turned. A man stood before him. Now it was Renzo's turn to feel uneasy. This man outdid him in every way.

His hair was jet black, full of rich sexy curls, and seemed to glisten with fresh oil.

His teeth were white like milk, perfectly aligned, and his smile was symmetric and manly.

His eyes were black on black, and his eyebrows and closely trimmed beard seemed feline. His tan, were it darker, would cause you to think of a panther: cool, poised, deadly.

His white shirt was blousy and full, open at the collar, and the collar flowed over his jacket. His pants fit like a second skin, and his shoes were a second skin on his small active feet.

In all, he looked as if he'd stepped from one of Salvadore Rosa's paintings -- drastically outdated but too beautiful and powerful to resist.

He gestured behind him and asked Renzo, "Did you see the Alps in the distance? It's not often that you see them."

Oddly enough, Renzo had missed the sight. Yet, there they were, far off, mountains made of clouds, or so they seemed. Beautiful, beckoning.

"You ski, don't you?" the man asked Renzo, who nodded. "Perfect, aren't they? One wishes one were there, fresh from the descent, blinded by the snow, flush with energy, raising one's goggles to a perfect blonde. Eh?"

Renzo laughed in spite of his dislike of talkative strangers. He nodded again, finding himself without a reply. The stranger went on.

"Even here in Milan it's a perfect day. The air is clear, the city is active yet calm, the temperature is ideal. One feels at one's best on such a day."

Renzo, again in spite of himself, was charmed yet wordless. He nodded once again and smiled broadly.

The stranger abruptly leaned closer. "Would you sell your soul for such a day?" he asked, almost hissing.

Renzo instinctively stepped back. "My what?" he said loudly, and jerked his arm as if the stranger were holding his sleeve. Enough of this, he told himself. Of course, the man's a nut. I should have known it when he started talking to me.


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