"I could get used to this." Nearby Hope was clearly thinking along similar lines. Marlena's smile broadened, and she stretched luxuriously.
"Me too. More cherries?"
"No thanks. I've barely got started on these grapes." Taking a moment to rub some of the water from her hair with a towel, Hope leaned back to let the sun fall on her face. "Everybody should have a swimming pool."
"And a gun-scare to keep it clear of other swimmers?" asked Marlena. Hope hesitated.
"Would it be very mean of me to say yes?" In answer Marlena giggled slightly.
"Probably. I don't think I'd argue with you right now, though." She turned her head to watch Bo and John swimming lengths, and smiled at the sight of them. "It's certainly nice to have some peace and quiet for a while. A chance to relax properly. I'm half-afraid to leave the hotel, though, in case it's not really all over."
"The newspapers this morning were all about the death of Marie le Noir. Car chases and guns, and a famous jewel thief dying in a dramatic crash? It's the sort of thing that journalists kill for. They'll see to it that the message spreads. It might be sensible to take care for the next day or two just in case, but I'd imagine that the danger has passed." Hope frowned. "Although there is still the matter of that death threat that John received back in Salem. We never did find out where that came from, did we."
"No. I suppose I was hoping that it would cease to be a problem once news of Marie's death got about." Marlena's eyes lingered on the familiar shape of her husband, gliding apparently effortlessly just beneath the surface of the water. "I don't really understand why anybody would have wanted to threaten to kill him for investigating her anyway. Maybe it was her way of warning him off?"
"Maybe." Hope's police instincts wouldn't allow her to dismiss it that easily. Nonetheless, she changed the subject, well aware that Marlena just wanted to unwind. "So have you seen Roman today?"
"Briefly, this morning. He was off to meet Rachel. I think they're planning to spend as much time together as they can before we all go back to Salem."
"That's good. I rather like her. She dealt pretty well with being kidnapped, I thought."
"She did." They had all had dinner together the previous evening, and Rachel had turned out to be enjoyable company. The fact that her father's employees had chased them for several days, and had shot up two towns in the process, might have been an issue between them, but as it turned out it had been easily forgotten. Marlena had been pleased to see how well the woman got along with Roman, and how much he seemed to enjoy her company. They had various shared interests, something that she and Roman had never really had, and it was good to see him relax and let his guard down a little. Whether the relationship would last with thousands of miles between them remained to be seen, but for the time being at least it seemed to be going well. That was as much as anybody could ask for.
"You two had enough lazing yet?" Hauling himself out of the swimming pool, Bo made a point of splashing Hope. She threw a grape at him, which was as energetic as she felt inclined to be.
"No. Have you two had enough exercise?"
"I guess." He sat down on a deckchair beside her, and flicked water at her until she hit him with a towel. "Any coffee left?"
"Should be." She made as though to get up, but he put out a hand to still her, and went instead. John joined him a second later, and Bo poured a cup for him as well.
"Thanks, partner." Trying to towel off his hair and drink the coffee at the same time, with varying degrees of success, John went to sit down at the edge of the pool. It was a perfect day for lazing about, and he was almost content just to stay where he was until it got dark. "Doing anything today?" he asked. Bo sat back down on his deckchair.
"Sleeping?" he suggested. Hope smiled.
"I like that idea. Seems a shame to be in a place like this and not go out on the water, though. Maybe we can hire a boat for the afternoon."
"Take some food with us, and eat while we sail." Bo smiled, the notion clearly appealing to him. "Yeah. How about you two? Want to join us?"
"We've got plans," John told him with a smile. Marlena sat up slightly.
"Didn't I tell you?" His expression was teasing, his eyes opened wide in mock innocence, and she threw her robe at him. He laughed, emerging from beneath it with his hair awry, the last of his coffee spilling across the paving stones. He looked so happy that it was a shock to see the laughter die suddenly in his eyes, his body tensing up in an instant. Marlena felt herself tensing up in response, without quite knowing why. She got her answer a second later. Shoes clicked on stone, sharp and measured, the stride of somebody walking with a swagger. She didn't need to wonder who it was. John's reaction told her, even if the footsteps themselves didn't. There was nobody else who would make him freeze like that, without even being in sight.
"Well now. This is nice, yes? My favourite fellow guests, all enjoying this pleasant sunshine. You have picked a fine spot to enjoy the weather, I think." Beaming cheerfully, Stefano nodded at everybody in turn - everybody except John, who remained sitting with his back to him at the edge of the pool. "I am surprised, though. I had thought that you would be dashing back to Salem, Marlena. You have a new granddaughter to visit. That must be very exciting for you. I understand that Samantha is very anxious to introduce you to the new addition."
"What do you know about it?" She felt very uneasy all of a sudden; very exposed, dressed only in her swimsuit. The compulsion to reach for a towel or a robe was strong, but she fought it. She had been enjoying the sun. She was not going to let him ruin things for her now. He shrugged.
"I know only what Elvis tells me. We spoke earlier. He assures me that the baby is delightful, but then he seems to have quite the soft streak where children are concerned. There is still no sign of his baby, however. This latest DiMera is taking its time."
"Maybe it's realised what it's being born into," suggested Bo. "It's decided it would rather stay where it is."
"Ha. Most amusing, Bo. Yes, most amusing." Stefano's smile did not waver, and the lines at the corners of his eyes crinkled and deepened. "And what of you, John? Are you in no hurry to return to Salem?"
"I'd rather make sure I'm not going to have an army chasing after me first." He turned slightly, compelled more by common courtesy than through any desire to interact properly with Stefano. "Besides, Marlena needs to relax before she goes back to meet a new baby."
"Perhaps. Perhaps." The older man spread his arms in a genial shrug. "But I think for now I at least am finished with Europe. I came to bid you all farewell. I will be returning to Salem myself shortly, so I will see you all again there."
"We can't wait," muttered Hope. He gave no sign that he had heard, his attention, as usual, almost entirely taken up by John and Marlena. After a moment John got up, and heading over to his wife, sat down beside her, wrapping his towel around her shoulders. She smiled, and her hand instinctively found his.
"I must confess, John, I was expecting a visit from you before now. When you did not turn up, I thought that I would give you the opportunity before I leave. This is neutral ground, after all, and I think you would be happier speaking here than visiting me in Salem."
"Oh?" John's gaze held his, in an effort to keep Stefano's eyes from straying back to Marlena. "I can't think of anything I've got to stay to you, old man."
"It could be that I have something to say to you, though. A message perhaps?" A smile played about across DiMera's face. "Still, if you do not wish to hear it, then that is your affair I suppose." He waited a moment, but John made no effort to speak up. Marlena could feel him tensing up beside her, but it was quite clear that he was not willing to play into his enemy's hands. She understood, but it worried her nonetheless.
"Is it safe for you to take messages?" she asked in the end. "I thought that your phones were being tapped."
"Generally, Marlena, one cannot tap humans. And the message was delivered by one of those, not by telephone." His eyes darted from her to John and back again. "Well, no matter. If you would like to hear the message, I will be in my room for a short while yet. I have some business to conduct, whilst my pilot readies my jet for the flight back to Salem. Perhaps I will see you later."
"I doubt it," John told him. "Doc and I are leaving on a trip soon. We won't be back until tomorrow."
"Indeed?" One of Stefano's eyebrows rose slightly. "Anywhere interesting, may one inquire?"
"I'm not sure why 'one' would want to. We're just going to take a look around the place. See what we can of this part of the world." He pointed up. "By air. So no chance of any unexpected tails."
"Most pragmatic. You will be flying yourself, I take it?"
"I will, yes."
"Good." Stefano smiled, and his eyes once again sought out Marlena's. "In that case, I can be quite sure that you will be in good hands, my dear. I will bid you farewell, and bon voyage as well then, yes? Good day." He snapped off what was almost a half-bow, then with the briefest hesitation, as though still expecting John to reconsider about the 'message', he turned smartly on his heel and began to walk away. He had gone just a few yards before John rose to his feet and called out his name. The response was immediate. A bright smile lighting his face, Stefano turned back, eyes aglow with obvious mockery.
"Yes, John? Is there something that I can do for you?"
"Maybe." It was tempting to ask about the message. The inference was obvious - it was something from Marie, and he did want to hear what it was. To have to ask Stefano for it was too much, however. He was not prepared to do that. Instead, closing the distance between them at a measured pace, and keeping his expression as neutral as he could, he met the other man's gaze with one of matching confidence and self-possession. "Actually I have a question for you."
"Of course, John. Of course. Please, ask away." A sense of victory coloured the words, and John allowed himself a brief smile. Let Stefano have his little games; John could play his own, too, at times. He folded his arms, far more relaxed now, and not feeling in any way as underdressed this time as when he had been confronted by Stefano in the gym a couple of days before.
"It's something that Maury mentioned, actually. What do you know about a treasure ship?"
"A treasure ship?" Thrown off guard by the query, Stefano frowned, a hint of suspicion replacing the triumph in his eyes. "Why do you ask about a treasure ship? What treasure ship?"
"I don't know. He told me that back in about 1981 I was trying to get away from you. Your control slipping, maybe? Anyway, he said that I went to him asking about some money to finance the escape, and offered a treasure ship as collateral. Much though I hate to admit it, I am actually quite interested. You been branching out into maritime salvage, old man?"
"Treasure ship..." The words came out as a whisper. "Then..." The expression on DiMera's face darkened, and his jaw clenched tightly. His anger, usually so well controlled, was for a brief second very obvious indeed. "Then you did find it." A smile drew itself across the taut, darkening face, and a faintly forced-sounding cheer crept into his voice. "Very clever, John. Well played, I must say. Very well played. Yes, we went searching for a treasure ship. There is no harm in telling you, I suppose. It was reputed to have sunk whilst on a journey from India some hundred years ago. I had to leave the search early because of urgent business in Italy, and I left you to finish up the operation alone. Just for a few days."
"And he found it," put in Bo, beginning to smile. Stefano didn't look at him, but the flash of rage that crossed his face at the comment was unmistakable. He drew in a slow breath.
"Yes, it would appear so. What else did Maurice say to you, John?"
"That we didn't go through with the deal. I didn't turn up to the rendezvous."
"No." For a moment the triumph returned to Stefano's eyes. "You were persuaded not to leave me." He reached out, and his left hand brushed John's right shoulder, behind which lay the Phoenix tattoo. "You always did know your place." John managed a smile, resisting the urge to flinch back.
"So I knew where it was, and I never told you? I guess I didn't 'know my place' all that well after all. And then a few years later somebody wiped all my memories." His eyes gleamed, the mockery there easily matching Stefano's of earlier. "Whoops."
"Hmm." Stefano's eyes were blazing, though his face and voice remained far less readable. "And no doubt you think that this is funny, yes?"
"I do," Hope piped up. Bo, far less circumspect than any of the others, laughed out loud. Stefano did not look at either of them. Instead he held John's gaze for a moment longer, before a smile crept back out across his face.
"Well played," he repeated, and his hand went again to John's shoulder, clapping it in an apparently friendly manner. It lingered, however, squeezing with a subtle but unmistakable force. "This subject is not closed, my friend, be sure of that. Have a good flight, both of you. I will see you again in Salem." His hand fell away, and he raised it in a brief salute to Marlena. "Good day." With that he turned and left, striding swiftly back into the hotel. John remained where he was for a moment, staring after the older man, letting his breathing and heart rate return to normal. It had been an interesting encounter, and he didn't regret it, but he couldn't help but wonder where it would ultimately lead. Today, tomorrow, three years from now - with Stefano it was impossible to tell. And turning about, with the air of a man who needed to wash himself clean, he headed back into the pool.