When Paul Calleja learns his great-uncle has died, he travels to Malta to deal with his estate - and realises how much he didn't know about Larry. He meets Angelo – a local handyman and artist’s model – who is concealing an extraordinary secret. And soon Paul and Angelo are plunged into complications which have a profound effect on their lives – and on their chances of sharing a future together.
"So," Paul said as he piled the contents of the bag in the center of the table. "I have a project in mind and I think I'll need some practical help. Dig in, by the way." He nudged the packets of sandwiches closer to Angelo. "Did you make that bookcase, carve the design?"
"Yes, but - "
"Great! How are you at making picture frames? Not necessarily the all gilt and mitered corners type, but some carved, some made of driftwood, kind of folksy-artsy?"
"I can do that," Angelo replied, opening up the nearest packet. "As long as I have the design to follow. Why?"READ MORE
"Uncle Larry painted Malta most of his life and never did anything with the pictures, other than give some away to friends. People should see them. So I figured an exhibition is needed. I have a friend who's going to arrange one for New York, and one for Valletta. But other than the ones he has on the walls, none of his works are framed. You and I, we go through them, decide which ones are show-worthy, then get them all set up. Will you help me with that? For a fee, of course, a sliding scale depending on the size of frame and work entailed. There's no fixed timetable. We could fit it around any other jobs you have lined up," he added quickly.
Angelo nodded. "That would be helpful. I have commitments."
"So where else do you work?"
"Anywhere on the island I'm needed."
"Gozo as well?"
Angelo shook his head. "Just Malta."
Paul recalled the images his uncle had captured over the decades, and suddenly realized that in all of them the men seemed to be the same age, mid to late twenties, thirty at the most. None of Angelo as a child, none of his father and grandfather as youthful or aged. That struck him as strange, until simple logic told him Larry and his obsession had idealized the Flezilju men and their flawless handsomeness. Then something else dawned on him. Angelo's looks were too perfect. Too symmetrical. In every person, regardless of age, race or gender, the left and right sides of their faces were not mirror images. Angelo's were. Cosmetic surgery? No, couldn't be, that was crazy. All that flawlessness could have been bland, featureless, but it wasn't. The man's vibrant personality blazed through, filling Paul's awareness. He lost track of where he was and what he was thinking.
"If you intend to help with the sanding, you'll need to wear different clothes," Angelo said, startling him.
"I will?" He looked down at his dark red polo shirt and black jeans. "Oh. Yeah. Dust."
"Yes," Angelo said kindly, as of one agreeing with a toddler. "Dust."
Paul glanced up and chuckled ruefully. "I'll go home and change, then."
It didn't take Paul long to drive back to Valletta. This time he left the car in the large parking lot outside the walls, but as he hurried into Freedom Square, he remembered he hadn't packed anything scruffy enough for messy work. So instead of going to the hotel, he went straight to the apartment. There were still rooms he hadn't revisited, including the one Uncle Larry had designated as his. With any luck nothing would have been changed since his last visit. Which meant his belongings would still be in the massive Victorian armoire, large enough to hide the doorway to Narnia, and its matching chest.
His old bedroom was unchanged and in need of dusting, though Paul gave it no more than a cursory glance. Tomorrow he'd get stuck into a day of housework and move in. He dug through the clothes folded away in the drawers of the chest and took out an old green tee-shirt, and a pair of jeans washed so often the faded blue denim was as soft as suede. He changed into them, then, instead of leaving, Paul went up to the rooftop studio.
Once again he went through the portfolio case holding the images of the Flezilju men, and laid them out in chronological order. They covered every flat surface in the studio, leaned up against the walls and racks. He moved from picture to picture, from the oldest to the most recent, and his puzzlement grew. The likenesses were too exact. For a moment he wondered if his uncle had inserted the modern Angelo into older paintings, but that seemed too absurd. Yet so did the theory that three generations of men shared the exact same symmetrical lines of bone structure, the exact shape of eyebrows and lips. If he hadn't known about the dates on the backs of the paintings, Paul would have assumed they were all of the same man. He swore and ran down the stairs.
In the living room, he stopped in front of the maybe-Caravaggio and stared at the angel. Stared at the same facial structure, mouth and eyebrows.
"Fuck me," he whispered.
It was the same man.COLLAPSE
"Stunning cover for a stunning book. …When the story unfolds you soon realise that Angelo is much more than you first think, and the tones of a much older tale begin to become twisted into Paul’s world."
Length: 52,000 words/194 pages