Returning To Graphite
Interview of James McPartlin
News for June
Rapucinni's Weaversby Sarah Cuypers
"Diablo! May he choke on his own bobbins!" This and many other curses, some rather colourful, freely flowed from Guiliani's lips as he stormed into the bar. No one looked up; similar scenes had taken place often of late. With a face like a thundercloud Guiliani ordered something to drink. It did not contain nearly as much alcohol as he would have liked, but he was down to his last few copper coins.
A man sitting at a table on the left motioned to him. Guiliani recognized Malachini, a colleague whom he sometimes counted as a friend, but equally often as a rival. Today Guiliani considered him to be the former, as the other tailor had a full bottle of wine on the table before him. Next to the new bottle stood already an empty one that a barmaid was just clearing away. It appeared Malachini too had felt the need to drown his woes today.
Guiliani accepted the invitation and sat down on the other chair, opposite of Malachini. He set his own glass down with such force that the liquid splashed over the rim, further inciting his terrible mood.
"It takes little effort guessing the reason of your ire, my friend," Malachini said with sympathy.
"Rapucinni!" Guiliani spat out the name. "May the devil take him and string him up on his own loom!" He downed his glass in one go.
"Amen!" said Malachini with conviction and emptied his glass too. Reaching over to the bottle, he refilled both their glasses. Guiliani did not refuse.
"Another customer stolen?" Malachini inquired.
Guiliani looked on darkly. "The Contessa di Monte Ricci! One of my best customers! And you know very well, this may ruin me, Battista. The Contessa has many friends and much influence over them. I could have been introduced to the court! If it wasn't for that accursed, silver-tongued weasel of a Rapucinni. He will not rest, Battista, until he has prised each and every customer in the whole city away from us."
"Aye," agreed Malachini sombrely. "And the worst thing is that he is likely to succeed. Did you know that Moretti is leaving for Milan? That's the third tailor he has hounded out of town in one year. No, wait, the fourth already. Pieri vanished without a trace last month."
Guiliani cursed again. "How does he do it, Battista? Where does he get those elaborate fabrics at such prices? I know he has his own weavery, but still! So had Torra, and even he couldn't compete, he went bankrupt six months ago."
"Some say he has struck a deal with the devil himself," Malachini offered, "and that he's got the horned fellow tied to a loom, where he makes infernally beautiful fabrics day and night."
"Pah, I know the stories," said Guiliani dismissively. "Although it would explain why all our curses at Rapucinni's address are yet to have any effect."
"Hah! What I wouldn't give," said Malachini, "to have a peek into his weavery. You never see the weavers arrive or leave, never. And Rapucinni regularly has live cattle delivered on his doorstep. Cows, goats, sheep, you name it. He leads them inside, bleating and all, and they're never seen again. How do you explain that? Nay, I'm betting he's feeding them to the devil."
Guiliani grunted uninterestedly and drank deeply from his glass.
"At this rate," Malachini said, "I'll be following Moretti very soon. Barely had enough money this month to pay my apprentices. And I know for sure that the majority of them have already approached Rapucinni for work and training instead."
Guiliani snorted derisively. "As if that wolf in sheep's clothing would take on an apprentice! He's too concerned to have his trade-secrets exposed. And a wise move it is, I am sure all the tailors of this city combined would be willing to pay a veritable fortune to find out how Rapucinni manages it."
"That's a thing I would pay for to see", Malachini agreed as he again refilled their glasses. "Someone double-crossing Rapucinni for a change! Oh, he'd curse and invoke the Madonna and twist that ridiculous moustache of his in agony. How magnificent that would be!"
"It would even be better," Guiliani said wistfully, "if we could indeed find out how he does it. The money it would get us would go a long way in the debts he has caused me."
His companion rapidly rejected the idea. "Too dangerous, Antonio. Rapucinni seldom leaves his house and if the city guard catches you breaking in, you'll be in a lot more trouble, my friend."
"Pah, Rapucinni won't be home anytime soon," Guiliani countered glumly, "invited to a dinner at the Contessa's villa, he is, the fiend."
Their sorrows appeared to be good swimmers, and the bottle of wine soon became two bottles, and even three. But even the copious amounts of wine they consumed never quite managed to wash away the persistent wish to expose their joint rival. And as the alcohol flowed readily at expense of their very last coins, the risks involved seemed pitiful compared to the results they could reap.
And so, when the bar closed, and they were asked to go home, their feet led them staggeringly towards the city quarter where Rapucinni's house and weavery stood. Malachini, who clearly handled drink worse than Guiliani, was mostly babbling and leant heavily on his friend. Guiliani, still in possession of a larger portion of his wits, had difficulty keeping him steady. Finally, he lost his grip and Malachini slipped to the ground against a house. The tailor hardly noticed it in his wine-induced slumber.
"Your loss," Guiliani muttered after Malachini failed to respond after some prodding. He would find out Rapucinni's secrets on his own and went on, leaving his friend sleeping against the wall.
It took him a while to find his quarry's house in the dark and deserted streets. Rapucinni's weavery looked dark and deserted too, when Guiliani found finally it. He kept close against the wall and hid behind a cart that stood on the street. As Rapucinni had blocked and barred every window, Guiliani would have to create his own. For this he had borrowed a hand-drill from the carpenter's toolbox the craftsman had been foolish enough to leave outside.
But after barely an inch, the drill struck something hard and unyielding. Guiliani cursed; the customer-thief of a Rapucinni had taken precautions against prying eyes! The walls of the weavery were made of brick and finished with wooden panels on the outside. A strange design.
Any other day this might have deterred Guiliani, but now, fuelled by strong wine, he became all the more insistent on getting inside. He returned to the front entrance of the house. All still lay quiet. Nervously, he glanced around. He would have to be quick about this. The door lock was surprisingly simple, and forgoing subtle stealth, Guiliani could force it open on the first try. He slipped in as quietly as he could.
Feeling around, he made his way to a candle and lit it. The house was sparingly dressed with furniture and everything looked dusty. Rapucinni's housekeeper should need a stern talking-to -- if he had a housekeeper at all, judging by the dirty state of the room.
He searched the house. Rapucinni's desk was quickly located, but offered few insights, other than a clients' list that Guiliani knew painfully well. A number of them had been his clients once upon a time.
A door leading to the back of the house proved more interesting. Behind it, he could hear the low sounds of working looms. Where there people still working at this late an hour? He would have to be careful then, not to be caught. The door was unlocked. Quietly Guiliani turned the door handle and every so slowly pushed the door open, hoping it was not the squeaky sort.
He found himself on a wide balcony in a large hall. Lamps hung before him and below he could hear the tell-tale sounds of looms. Gingerly he stepped forward with bated breath to finally look down upon Rapucinni's mysterious weavers.
He could see three looms, one large and two smaller ones. There wasn't a sign of a chained devil anywhere, but there still was something very wrong. At first Guiliani thought the looms moved on their own, but when his eyes became more accustomed to the brighter lamp-light he could see the hundreds, perhaps thousands of little weavers: spiders. Every beam of the loom was covered with spiders, in all sizes, shapes and colours. So these were the source of Rapucinni's expensive fabrics.
Guiliani let his breath escape in a sigh as he took in the sight. He had at last uncovered Rapucinni's secret. With a certain amount of glee he realised this discovery could not only make him rich, but it would also be the ruin of Rapucinni. If Rapucinni's clients found out he had been clothing them in spider web -- albeit exquisite spider web -- they'd be furious! And no doubt embarrassed enough to pay a nice sum to prevent this from becoming public knowledge. Grinning widely, Guiliani could not wait to see how the lovely Contessa di Monte Ricci would react to this startling little revelation.
But he should not linger, he decided. Now that he had seen the inside of the weavery, he could not risk getting caught. He slowly retreated towards the door. It occurred to him only belatedly that this precious secret was rather poorly defended. Only a simple lock stood between discovery and Rapucinni's weavers. How had he kept them hidden for so long? Surely there must have been more people attempting to learn Rapucinni's secret, why had none succeeded before?
His thoughts were interrupted as he felt a sudden sting in his neck. It was as if a fire was kindled in his blood, that spread from his neck throughout his limbs as quick as lightning. With a strangled cry he fell to the ground, trashing in pain. Shivering and gasping, he unsteadily reached towards the door, only to find out that his legs refused to obey him any longer.
"Ten eyes see more than two," a soft, unseen voice answered his unspoken question in his ear.
Below, Guiliani could hear the looms grind to a halt. The weavers had become aware of the commotion above. Silence fell, filled with eerie anticipation.
"And we do grow tired of cows and goats once in a while," the tiny voice at his ear added with audible relish.
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