The stranger immediately apologized, took a step back, and spread his hands wide as if to show that he meant no harm.
"I'm sorry." he said, "Quite sorry to startle you. I've done it again, haven't I? My apologies. Oh, you could say I'm obsessed with a certain topic. In fact, I drive everybody crazy with it. And now I've made you think that I'm some sort of looney." He laughed. "Well, I assure you that I meant no harm." He sighed and looked about.
For some reason Renzo didn't walk away. On any other day, with any other person, he would not have stayed another moment. No excuse would be necessary. Perhaps he might have smiled, more or less politely, but certainly he would have turned and gone.
Instead he stood there, still wordless, looking at the man.
The two were silent until Renzo's stomach groaned.
"Ah, the inner man speaks. Are you hungry?" the stranger asked. "I think a crisp panino would be just the thing, don't you agree? Let it be my treat; I feel so foolish for startling you back there."
Renzo nodded once more, and the two descended from the Duomo roof.
They immediately entered the Galleria, a beautiful domed mall, came out on the other side near La Scala, walked by the statue of Leonardo da Vinci, crossed the street and found a little paninoteca where soon they were quietly doing justice to four small sandwiches and two cold beers.
There was still some beer in their tall glasses when the stranger began to speak again. "I'm writing a book, you see." Here he quietly belched. "Or I'm thinking of writing a book, I don't know. Anyway, the long and the short of it is a new twist on the Faust story, you know?"
The stranger sighed. "Faust, Faust, Faust. Do you know the story?"
A distant memory flickered at the back of Renzo's skull.
The stranger tried to prompt him: "Marlowe? Goethe?"
"Philip Marlowe?" Renzo hazarded.
The stranger let out a trail of air like a balloon deflating. "No, no, no. Faust sells his soul to the devil. Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about it; so did Goethe."
"Um," grunted Renzo, not sure whether he knew or not. The beer made him feel a bit dull.
"I don't want to bore you," the stranger said. "Let's get some coffee, shall we?"