Part 1 is here.
Julia had reasonable Italian and easily picked up the words for "disgusting" and "drunk" from a well-heeled couple leaving the hotel lobby, but as she peered in, stunned by the kerfuffle in such a neighbourhood, it quickly became apparent that drunkenness was not the problem here. The concierge and a colleague she assumed to be the maitre d' were haranguing a third man, who was doubled over in a chair across from the desk. From the state of his face and his rumpled linen shirt and jeans, Julia could understand why the couple who had just left must have thought he was drunk. But what she couldn't understand was the hostility of the hotel staff.
There was a sudden angry roar from the man as the concierge attempted to grab him by the arm and pull him from the chair, and the man stood up, pale, with big dark rings round his eyes.
Julia walked in further.
"For heaven's sake — I can't believe you're treating me this way," the man bellowed, shaking himself free.
Julia was stunned to hear English.
"All I need is another night in my room ..."
"But Signor, we are so very sorry," whined the maitre d', wringing his hands and looking about. Catching sight of Julia, he determined to placate this angry guest quickly and calm the scene before any more inquisitive onlookers gathered.
"It is the Paleo, you understand? We are fully booked ... your room ..."
"But goddammit, I'm sick!"
"I understand Signor, permit us to get you to hospital ..."
"I don't need hospital, I've seen a doctor; I just need sleep."
"May I suggest our sister hotel a Firenze?"
"Jesus, I'm not fit to travel — look at me!"
"It's just not possible, Signor ... !"
"I've never been treated so bbb ..." The Englishman retched with a shudder and put his hand to his mouth, at which point both the concierge and the maitre d' ran in panicky circles looking for suitable containers — not that the superb hotel decor ran to anything modern and plastic.
With great effort, the guest staggered off towards the lift at the back of the lobby and, Julia presumed, the men's room.
"Ah Signora, buon giorno ..." In the temporary lull, the concierge now turned his attention towards Julia and flashed her a weary but practised smile. "Have you a reservation?"
"No." Julia shot a wry glance at her plastic supermarket bag and post office parcel. Unlikely she'd ever be checking into such a hotel any time soon. She spoke in English.
"I was just passing and heard the commotion."
"Er, yes? And?"
"Your guest says he is unwell — why can't you let him stay another night?"
The smile dropped and the tone was icy. "And this concerns La Signora because ...?"
"Well, I ..."
"The Paleo starts in a little under a week, Signora, and the hotel has been booked for months in readiness. We do not have a room for the Signor, not even a cupboard. Not even a couch."
"But you must know somewhere he could stay, surely?"
"Aren't you in the slightest concerned about him?"
The maitre d' inhaled sniffily in a facial manoeuvre that involved both eyebrows, pivoted on his heel and returned to his desk, conversation over.
Julia picked up her stuff and was about to walk off when the guest reappeared in the lobby, looking, as her mother would have said, like Death warmed up. He had a suitcase and a big leather messenger bag across his body.
"Call me a cab."
Out of the blue, Julia called out, "Come with me. I'll try to find you somewhere to recuperate."
Watched with relief by the concierge and the maitre d', the big man walked towards her, too sick to argue, though his eyes softened with gratitude as he looked at her.
"Try not to speak, you'll need your energy to get to my car," Julia ordered, wondering what in the world she had got herself into - where would she take him? It was true, the entire town was in Paleo fever. Even in the village where she was living, a good eight kilometres away, every pension and hotel room was taken.
"Can you manage?" He was unable to walk very fast, and by the time they had reached the next corner, he sat heavily on some church steps.
"I'm sorry ..." he started, but Julia shooshed him.
"Look, you stay here a mo," she said, putting down her parcels and pulling her hair back from her face. "Look after all my stuff, and I'll go and get my car. It's parked outside the walls, about five minutes away from here, and I'll try to drive as close as I can to here."
He nodded but said nothing.
"Now stay here, okay? Don't wander off, or I'll never find you."
He looked up at her and she caught the ghost of a smile. "I'm unlikely to get anywhere," he said. "I'll be right here."
She had gone just a few steps when she flew back to his side. "My name is Julia, Julia Yates."
"Connor. James Connor." He took her outstretched hand in a warm, firm grip.
"Don't move, okay?"
Fifteen minutes later, Julia was driving gingerly towards her village with James Connor beside her, the back seat crammed with her packages and his luggage. She had not even thought about where to take him, or about how she would find him somewhere else to stay, but just drove towards her house as if on autopilot.
"How are you doing?" she asked as she swung off the main road and into a narrow lane.
"Been better — I can't thank you enough ... but where are you taking me exactly?"
Julia realised with a jolt that he hadn't a clue where the crazy lady was going.
"Oh god, sorry — I just thought you'd better stay at my place tonight and then when you feel up to it tomorrow, we can hunt round for somewhere else — is that okay?"
He nodded, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the cool of the car window.
* Who is this James Connor and what is he doing in Sienna?
* Who is this Julia Yates and what is she doing in Sienna? How old is she, what does she look like and how attractive is she?
* Has she never heard of Stranger Danger?
Find out in part three ...