"I could have made us invisible back there," the devil explained, "but being seen is part of the fun." He chuckled and glanced down at Renzo's still more-than-obvious bulge. "I knew you'd enjoy that."
A roaring sound followed them as they rocketed south. Strangely, the landscape below seemed discontinuous: Renzo recognized Pisa, Florence, Bologna, and other cities, but nothing of the land between them. It was as if he was viewing a montage of Italy from the air.
Just now they were over a part of Umbria, full of steep rocky hills. The devil gripped his arm a bit tighter as they tipped head downward and went into a dive. The strange steely aerodynamic whistle followed them down.
"Do you see that table below?" the devil shouted. "Grab the flowers as pass. Make sure you get them!"
An old wooden trestle table stood in a field, and a closely gathered bouquet of cultivated flowers lay freshly cut near one end of the table. The dark, nearly black, planks of the table came closer and closer as their speed increased and the scream of their dive rose to a ear-splitting pitch. "Get it or be damned!" the devil shouted, and Renzo made a fierce clutch that drove a splinter from the table deep under the nail of his middle finger. "Christ!" he shouted. But he had the flowers.
"Good job," the devil said smiling as they rose more gently back into the sky. "Put the roses in your left hand now. The next pickup will be easier." They drifted down into a warm updraft. "It's that basket of fruit," he commented. "As soon as you pick it up, we're out of here." Renzo felt his feet touch ground, and he flushed in relief. The wind aloft had burnished his face and ruffled his hair almost more than he could stand. His legs felt rubbery and the ground seemed to move beneath his feet. He shook his hands out, rubbed his face and began to smooth his hair.
"The fruit! The fruit!" the devil cried, and Renzo whirled about, looking for the basket. At last he saw it, sitting atop a stone wall. It was a pretty basket with a big round handle, and full of golden apples hot from the sun and fresh from the picking. As he took hold, a hand appeared from beyond the wall, an unmistakably feminine hand with limp wrist and pale sensual skin highlighted with peach and apple blushes and the most delicate, transparent nails.
The devil had his arm again, so he rose in the air as the rest of the girl emerged, looking for her basket. She was another of Botticelli's countless madonnas: virginal, round breasted, with perfect form and features, and exquistitely feminine and soft. Her mouth was small but framed by full luscious lips that opened in an oh! of astonishment to see Renzo and his friend ascend to the sky with her basket of apples.
As they rose, Renzo tried to shake loose a flower for her, but the devil stopped him. "Don't waste time on foolishness," he said. "We have a tight schedule here." Renzo gazed down at the space between her breasts, and she smiled and waved to him and pointed to his crotch. The bulge was still visible and a wet spot had appeared.
When Renzo next looked down, they were over Rome. "We're invisible now," the devil commented. "It's not worth the trouble it would cause, being seen by all these people. Hang on to those prizes," he said, "they're gifts for friends of yours."
"Friends of mine?" Renzo asked.
"Yes, do you remember that woman, that engineer, who works here in Rome? Isn't her name Tina something or other?"
When Renzo finally recalled and said her name, they stopped their forward flight and began descending toward an office building on the outskirts of Rome. Renzo frowned, wondering. He didn't recognize the building at all.
The devil said to him, "Pull your knees toward your chest. We need to perch on that narrow balcony over there."
Renzo did as he was asked, and they glided in like two birds and settled on a small and narrow balcony outside an office window. Inside was a woman seated at a desk, absorbed in her work, dressed in a light gray business suit and wearing glasses. The devil leaned forward and rapped on the glass. When the woman looked up, Renzo was started to recognize Tina. The devil smiled and turned to him. "The flowers are for her," he said.
Tina jumped up in pleased surprise and ran to open the window. The devil told Renzo, "I should explain that she can only see you. Remember, only the flowers are for her, not the fruit."
Tina got the window open with some effort. Once it was open, her words gushed out. "But Renzo, what are you doing out there? Are you crazy? How did you get here?"
Renzo shoved the flowers toward her. "I brought these for you," he said stupidly.
"How sweet!" she cried. "You remembered! Oh, how funny and sweet you are!" She leaned out and with some difficulty kissed him on both cheeks. The devil leaned toward Renzo and whispered in his ear, "Happy birthday, Tina." Renzo repeated the words and Tina laughed, hugging the flowers to her face and breathing their perfume.
Renzo felt himself float away from the window. Tina's eyes nearly popped from their sockets, and she shouted, "How can you do that? It's an amazing trick! Grazie tanto!"
"Auguri!" Renzo shouted as they floated away.
Soon they were out of sight of Tina, the building, and Rome itself. Renzo felt confused, and saw the sea far below them.
"Another country now," the devil commented.