A YOUNG couple from Lancashire took a cycling holiday in Sicily. Renting bicycles on the mainland is virtually impossible and so they took their own brand new mountain bikes over on the plane at some cost.

The first few days were wonderful. They stuck to the island's easy coastal routes, planning to wait until their muscles had hardened before heading towards the mountainous inland for a more taxing second week. They had heard their friends' stories about the island's links with the mafia but they saw no sign of these and found people to be friendly and generous.

Alas, six days into the holiday, disaster struck. While they were eating lunch at a hotel in the country, some way outside Palermo, their bicycles were stolen.The hotel owner was distraught that such an incident should have taken place outside his premises. Theft from tourists was, he said, unheard of and he insisted they stay the night for free while he contacted his "associates" and established what had happened to the bikes. The couple were pessimistic about the chances of recovering their bikes but decided to take advantage of his hospitality.

The next morning, they emerged from their hotel to find, to their astonishment, their bikes, polished and waiting for them. Moreover, each had been fitted with a handlebar basket which was stuffed with local meat, wine, cheese, beer, bread and fruit. They thanked the hotel owner and asked him to pass on their gratitude to his associates before continuing on their way.

It wasn't until lunchtime when they had emptied their baskets for a picnic that they uncovered at the bottom of each one a brown envelope. And inside each envelope, wrapped in cotton wool, was a pair of human ears.

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