Climbing season seemed to have begun quietly this year. Maybe it was because Fall had lingered longer than normal. Maybe it was because the economy wasn’t particularly healthy but either way, I was down on hotel bookings.
I had a cousin who was a whiz at web design, so I decided to call her and ask if she could help improve my web-page but, in the meantime, I thought a good Spring clean was in order. Or, a Fall clean, if I was being accurate. My little hotel consisted of ten rooms, a restaurant, meeting room, reception area and was situated in a valley near Monte Gavia in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. A stone’s throw from Switzerland.
Passo Di Gavia ran by our front door, which was the main route either from Switzerland to the north or the mountain towns to the south, like Ponte Di Legno, where I purchased most of my provisions.
Looking out the window of one of the guest’s rooms, I gazed at the beautiful snow-covered mountains and valley. I could also see the sun light shimmer on the little mountain stream that ran down the centre of the valley, but I refused to acknowledge the other hotel / refuge across the way! There wasn’t as much snow as the same time as last year and the roads were salted and relatively clear.
The air was crisp, the sky was so blue that it looked fake and I remembered that it was a day just like today, when I had first come across this little piece of heaven on earth, named Rifugio Di Lombardi. I was twenty years old, had been hiking that day and immediately fell in love with the place. The old owner, Savino had spoken to me for hours, told me stories of travelers and the history of the area over some hearty minestrone, crusty bread and wine. Twenty years later, I’m still here along with my wife, Simonetta, who I had met while skiing.
We were both in our mid-twenties, not paying attention to where we were going and literally ran into each other. She fared OK but I received a nice little bump on the head for my troubles. Initially, we were angry and started blaming each other, then toward the end of our argument, we started laughing! I asked her if she wanted to get a drink and we had been inseparable ever since.
I stood there daydreaming and reminiscing for a few moments when something caught my eye from the direction of the old Alpine church. It looked like two men and a woman were walking toward our hotel and I praised God that the road passed right by us. We didn’t have any bookings today, meaning they might be walk-ins, so I called out to my wife and told her to prepare to greet our guests, just in case.
Five minutes later, three people walked into our hotel. They seemed very tired, dirty and not really dressed for hiking or mountain climbing, but I had seen all sorts of weird and wacky people that had no clue of what they were doing over the years.
“Welcome to the Rifugio Di Lombardi. My name is Giovani. How can I help you today?”
I asked with a big smile. The three travelers were in their twenties and seemed a little unsure on how to proceed, then one of the men turned to me and said,
“We’re interested in staying here for the night. Are there any rooms available?”
“I think we can squeeze you in. How many rooms would we be needing?”
I asked and this time, it was the other man that answered,
“Just one room. Do you have one that has a queen size bed and a trundle bed?”
“Yes, we do. In fact, they all do!”
I then went through the process of checking them in then my wife directed them to their room. A few moments later, Simonetta approached me and said,
“Bello… Did you notice that the girl seemed frightened?”
“Uhm… no. I was just so happy that we had guests. Let’s keep our ears and eyes open, just in case.”
We went back to our daily duties then around four in the afternoon, two Carabinieri highway patrol entered our hotel and asked me some questions about a car accident that occurred about ten kilometres north from us.
I was always confused as why people made fun of the Carabinieri. The served a vital role and many people didn’t realize that they were military and not police.
“There aren’t many cars that use this road. What type of car was it?”
“A big powerful BMW. It looked like they slid off the road, damaged two tires then hit a large boulder, side on. There’s no sign of the occupants but then again, it was a stolen car and they probably didn’t want to hang around.”
Then it hit me. Three travelers coming from the north… Not dressed for trekking and apparently, the girl seemed nervous. It was then that I turned to the Carabinieri and quietly said,
“We had three guests join us about five hours ago. Two men and a woman who seemed a little out of place and my wife thought that the woman seemed scared.”
The two Carabinieri called it in then asked me to direct them to their room.
“Do you have another set of keys?”
Asked one of the officers and I went behind the counter to get them but before we ascended upstairs, the officer instructed,
“Knock on the door and ask if everything is OK with the room… Go.”
We arrived at the room and the Carabinieri drew their guns. I did as they asked but we didn’t get a response. After a few attempts, I opened the door and found the room to be… empty.
“Is this the right room?”
Asked the same officer.
“Yes! Unless they broke into another room or…”
It was then that I looked up at the small access panel to the roof space and found it slightly ajar. Suddenly, we heard loud banging and screaming from downstairs so the Carabinieri and I rushed down and found my wife and the young lady I met earlier that day, held at gunpoint.
“Don’t move or they’re dead!”
Yelled one of the men, then the other demanded,
“Put your guns on the floor and kick them over to us!”
The officers hesitated for just a moment, before doing what they were instructed then a few moments later, two groups of cars coming from different directions, parked in front of the hotel. Two of the cars were Police, while a dark colored Mercedes, was not.
The two groups then jumped out and used their cars as cover, so ‘another’ standoff was in progress, while in the distance, a helicopter could be heard approaching.
The peace and quite that I had always loved had been shattered with stress and the prospect of violence - I had no idea how this could be resolved. The two men then started inching toward the exit with their captives, then one of the Carabinieri said,
“Where do you think you are going? There’ll be more police cars and helicopters on their way so even if you walk out of here or get into your car, we will still follow you. Give up and I promise that we’ll show leniency. If you don’t and someone gets hurt, we will follow you to the ends of the earth.”
Outside, screaming could be heard from both groups of people while it was deathly quiet in the hotel. I saw that the resolve in the abductor’s faces had started to change to resignation and after a few terse minutes, they released their captives, who ran behind the two officers.
The captors then dropped their guns, placed their hands on their heads and turned around, while the officers picked up their guns, withdrew their handcuffs and placed them under arrest. After all the excitement of the past few minutes, it happened quite calmly and quietly then the officers escorted their charges out of the hotel.
The outside standoff then ended as quickly as it started, once another two police cars and police vans arrived on the scene. Time seemed to slow down and speed up at the same time, while the criminals were charged and escorted into the awaiting vans.
Once they were secure, they interviewed me, my wife and the young girl who was apparently abducted from Paris. She had been kidnapped so the criminals could extort money from her wealthy father who was now on his way to pick her up from the local police station.
A few hours later, all that was left was the car that the second group of criminals arrived in, but my wife and I were still in shock. I tried to snap myself out of it and the only lucid thing I could say was,
“Room 102 is low on toilet paper.”
Simonetta then turned to me, blinked a few times and said,
“I’ll take care of it. We have minestrone left over from last night. Do you want that for dinner?”
I nodded in reply, then said,
“I’ll get a bottle of the good limoncello to have afterwards. I think we need it. The news channel said that there might be snow tomorrow.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, we had other police officers come and ask additional questions, along with reporters. We did our best to plug our hotel and it was probably a month before we started to get a decent night’s sleep.
Six months later, the incident had become an interesting memory. Another story that we could regale our guests with, in addition to tales of blizzards, lost hikers and ghosts.
The story of the unexpected guests.