Joe looked around the library to see if anyone was interested in him. The librarian was shelving books on the other side of the large room. A college student was sleeping head down on a thick book two tables away. A gray-haired pensioner sat in one of the armchairs with his back to Joe, reading the International Herald Tribune.
Joe spread out his notes and the copies of past letters. His hands shook as he traced the path of the correspondence and magazine clippings.
God, what do I do now? he thought. The only person he could think of who would know what to do with this was Doug Redwood’s father, who was the FBI liaison in Rome. His office should be in the Annex building above the USIS library.
Joe packed up his bag and walked around to the inside entrance of the Annex. He paused to check the building directory across from the American newsstand concession in the entrance way. The FBI representative’s office was on the third floor. Joe almost pushed through the heavy doors into the spacious lobby and turned to the broad stair case to his left. He took the steps two at a time and arrived at Room 335 a little breathless. He knocked on the door and opened it gently. The office was furnished in a mix of rich wooden furniture and US Government-issue metal file cabinets. The walls were a neutral color, with the ubiquitous portraits of the President and J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI Director.
His jaw dropped.
Sandra was standing behind the desk in the waiting room, sorting papers. She wore a white angora sweater with a plaid skirt, and her hair was in a ponytail. She gasped and beamed a smile as wide as the Mississippi.
“Hello, Joe, what a wonderful surprise. How did you find me?”
“I didn’t know you worked here. You never told me.”
“One of the reasons they like me. I don’t blab about where I work.” She winked and smiled.
“I’m looking for Agent Redwood. Is he in?” He thought her eyebrows sagged just a little, then perked back up.
“No, he’s at lunch. Did he tell you to come?”
“No. An emergency just came up and I didn’t have time to call ahead. Will he be back soon?” Joe’s stomach growled. He had completely forgotten about food until now.
“In about twenty minutes. You could wait or come back. He has a pretty busy afternoon. Can I make an appointment for you?”
“I guess so. Can it be right after he gets back?”
“Sure. But only for fifteen minutes. He has a meeting after that.”
“OK, thanks. You know the name.” He returned her smile. “You probably know Doug, too, right?”
“Of course, Doug really likes your Vespa. I heard him pestering his father for one.” The way she looked at him made the heat run up Joe’s neck to his ears.
“I hope it hasn’t gotten Doug in any trouble.”
“No. Just wishing. You don’t have to stand there.” She pointed to the couch behind the coffee table.
“Thanks, Sandra, but I was thinking of running down to the grill in the basement really quick. I missed lunch and I could use a burger. I don’t get those at home.” He started for the door, then remembered Angela.
“Could I use the phone for a minute?”
“Sure,” said Sandra, turning her telephone around on the desk.
Joe asked the Embassy operator for an outside line and dialed home.
“Angela, mi dispiace. I’m sorry. I got so busy at the library, I forgot to come home. Now I have an appointment here at the Embassy and I can’t make it.”
“That’s OK, signorino. It will keep. I’ll make you eat it tomorrow.” Joe could picture her smile. She always acted tough. “I hope she’s cute!”
“She is, Angela,” said Joe, looking at Sandra. He blushed in spite of himself, caught by surprise. Angela said goodbye, and he hung up.
“You’re pretty fast with the Italian, Joe,” Sandra said. “After a year, I’m still learning.”
“I grew up here. It’s no big deal when you’re a little kid.” Joe said, relieved that she had not understood the high-speed exchange with Angela. “Have you eaten?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I’ll be right back.”
“Hello, Mr. Redwood.”
“Oh, hi, Joe.” The FBI agent pointed to the other chair at the table. “I was just finishing up. You can have the table.”
“Actually, sir, I need to see you. Sandra gave me an appointment right after lunch. I didn’t know you were down here.”
“You interested in the FBI?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought about it. I came to show you something I’ve come across that bothers me. I am not sure what to make of it.”
Agent Redwood glanced around the room. “Want to tell me here?”
“Probably not. It’s a collection of correspondence I’ve translated and my notes. I need to let you look at it and ask me questions.”
“Well, finish your burgers, and I’ll wait for you upstairs. OK?”
“Yes, sir. Thanks.”
The FBI agent took his tray to the counter, even though there were bus-boys cleaning up the tables. Joe watched him fold up his newspaper as he headed for the stairs. He did it in one swift movement, tucking it the way newspaper delivery boys do. It made a tight club, so the paper was easy to throw. Joe had wanted to deliver papers on his bicycle but growing up in a city of apartment buildings and news kiosks made that impossible.
Joe was hungry and ate fast. Agent Redwood was still talking to Sandra in the front office when Joe walked in.
“Come in, Joe, let’s see what you have.” The FBI agent motioned to his office door.
It was a large office. The afternoon sun picked up the reds of a hand-woven Bukhara carpet and gave the walls a pink cast. On one wall hung dozens of plaques and pictures, mementos of a career that spanned the globe and twenty years. It occurred to Joe that this assignment might be considered a reward for top agents.
There was a six-foot long conference table across from the desk. Agent Redwood motioned again, and Joe emptied his book bag.
“Did you know I do some translating for my mother’s company, sir?”
“Smithson Italia. No, but it doesn’t surprise me. You’re more fluent in Italian than most Italians I’ve met.”
“Thank you, sir.” Joe arranged the letters in order on the table, with his code word notes next to each one. “Well, there’s a new vice-president at Smithson, Jack Arland.”
“I know Jack.” The FBI man nodded for Joe to go on.
“Mr. Arland speaks Italian well enough, even if the accent is thick, but he can’t read it fast enough to get through the backlog of files he needs to read. He’s the only one in the office who isn’t bilingual, and he said he doesn’t want the others, especially my mother, to know just how weak his Italian is. So he hired me to translate the stuff in the files that he can’t read.”
“I take it this is between you and him, and your mother isn’t supposed to know.”
“That’s right, sir. Mom brings other material home, and the deal is that I always do the Smithson work for her first. That’s why it’s taken so long to translate some of this.”
Agent Redwood began to read the letters as they talked. He stood over the neat rows and read the letters without picking them up.
“Are you sure your mother doesn’t know about this?”
“If she does, she has me fooled. It’s been the biggest strain in my life to keep this secret with Mr. Arland. I’ve gotten in trouble in school and almost lost it on our vacation in England.”
“This is very interesting, Joe.”
“It all came together this morning when I translated the April 13th letter from Munich.” He passed the agent the draft he had just done. “Until then, I couldn’t understand why all the military information and details about the neo-Nazi groups meant anything to a drug company in Italy.”
Agent Redwood let out a low, long whistle. “Jesus, Joe, I think you’ve stumbled on something really big here.” He leaned closely over the Munich letter. “This backs up indications we’ve been getting elsewhere about both the timing of a right-wing coup and about foreign leftist groups active in Italy.”
“At this point, I knew I had to tell someone. You were the only person I knew who could tell me where to take it.”
“You’re in the right place, Joe. My job here – besides recruiting bright young men like you for the FBI –” he grinned and winked, “is to help fight international terrorism and conduct counterespionage. A lot of the information the FBI uses at home comes from Italy, and it flows through my office. It’s a classic example of international police work in action.”
Joe was silent. He felt a relief and a building excitement at the same time.
“Doesn’t the CIA do that?”
“No, Joe. They spy on other countries; the FBI tries to catch foreign spies working against the US: that’s counter-espionage.”
“I guess your paths don’t cross much then.”
“Not at all, unless there are double-agents or moles involved. Then it gets very complicated.”
“I get it.” Joe recognized the concepts from his recent readings. A double agent in the CIA would be a threat that the FBI would want to uncover. And a sleeper or mole, a spy hiding in one’s own organization, was every intelligence agency’s nightmare.
“What about this stuff, sir? Is Mr. Arland in trouble? Should I take this stuff back to him?”
“Absolutely, Joe. You must not give Jack any hint at all that you have seen me or anyone else with this. We need time to check him out – and this information. He may be perfectly innocent. After all, this looks like real company correspondence. Do you have any reason to worry about him?”
“I don’t think so. He gets awfully uptight sometimes, but then, I can’t turn his material around quickly and secretly when other work comes in from Smithson.”
“OK, then. You just keep up the work as normally as you have. Could I make copies of this?”
“That would take me a long time, sir, but I could do that for you. I really don’t want to leave any of this behind as long as I have undelivered work.”
Agent Redwood laughed. “I meant we would copy it. Right now. Sandra!”
Sandra opened the door. “Yes, Mr. Redwood?”
“Show Joe here how to use the new Xerox machine. Poor lad has been hand-copying all this material as he works. We need a copy of all of it.”
“Yes, sir. You have a meeting across the street,” she said. They gathered the papers on the table, while the FBI agent collected his notes from the desk and put them in his briefcase.
“Sandra, I want Joe to know that he has somewhere to turn with this material if something happens to me. Would you introduce him to Steve Wolcowski if he’s in? Make an appointment for him if Steve is out, and I’ll go along.”
“Mr. Wolcowski will be at your meeting this afternoon. I’ll set it up with Claudia for later in the week.”
Agent Redwood moved swiftly out the door, with an athletic grace that explained where Doug got his ability on the basketball court. Sandra led Joe to a small room next to the reception area. She showed him the shiny Xerox Model 660.
“I don’t know how we won the Second World War without this,” she said. She fed the sheets in one at a time. Warm copies spilled out slowly from the bottom of the machine. Joe looked in and saw that the glow coming from the machine was due to a glowing hot wire.
“Why doesn’t the paper catch fire?” he asked.
“Special paper. Kind of expensive, but still cheaper than paying me to retype everything. And we get the pictures and handwriting.”
“Amazing.” Joe put the originals back in his book bag. “Thanks. Could I come use the machine again?”
“Please do. We will need copies of all your work. Besides, I wouldn’t mind seeing you in here again.” Joe felt that heat under his ear again. He managed a small wave and left quickly.
Joe floated down the stairs and out to where his Vespa was parked. The feeling crashed when he saw the clock on the street outside the Embassy Annex. His mother would be home soon. He preferred to beat her back to take the spotlight off his own activity. He did not need any close calls like the bed-and-breakfast in Salisbury. That his mother’s company may be involved in this had him even more worried.
Joe passed long lines of jammed traffic on the way home. About halfway home, he noticed a man on a Vespa 125 moving through traffic behind him. That’s odd, he thought. People on larger scooters don’t usually pass like that. Joe caught a yellow light at the river, and the stranger ran the red behind him. Now, that’s very odd, Joe thought again.
He seemed to be medium height, slim, with black hair and a pale complexion. He had the high cheekbones and the sharp, aquiline nose typical of native Romans. He wore a dark leather jacket, which seemed too much for a summer day.
Joe took a few turns among the large blocks around Viale delle Milizie, heading first towards Piazza del Risorgimento and the Vatican, then back toward the river and Castel Sant’Angelo. A bus crossed between them at Castel Sant’Angelo, and Joe switched back into an alley and quickly into the courtyard of an apartment building. He stopped and walked back to get a view of the street. The stranger had paused at the corner and was looking around. He finally drove up the Viale della Conciliazione toward Saint Peter’s.
Joe pulled back into traffic and headed upriver through the side streets. He took the smaller back road that climbed Monte Mario rather than the Viale delle Medaglie d’Oro favored by most. That allowed him to look across the intersection and get a clear view of the street and sidewalks around his house as he approached. But he had lost the stranger.
“Ciao, Angela,” he shouted as he let himself in, “Is my mother home?”
“Not yet, signorino.”
Joe stashed his book bag in his closet and went to the telephone in the living room.
“Mr. Redwood’s office.” Sandra’s voice bounced like her hair. Joe smiled at the image. “Hello, pronto?”
“Hi, Sandra. It’s Joe. About the appointment with Mr. Wolcowski.”
“Can you come in Thursday about ten?”
“Sure. Uh. By the way, I think I was followed coming home today.”
“I think so. This guy on a Vespa followed me in and out of traffic from your place all the way to Piazzale Clodio. I even wandered around the neighborhood near Piazzale Flaminio and stopped at a café, but he was right there all the time.”
“So he knows where you live?”
“Not from following me. I gave him the slip behind the Castel Sant’Angelo and took the back road up Monte Mario.”
“Very good, Joe.” The way she said it made Joe’s ears get warm again. “I’ll tell Mr. Redwood.”
“Where is Mr. Wolcowski’s office?”
“If you come here about nine forty-five, I’ll take you there.”
“OK. See ya.” They hung up.
The front door opened. The heels hit the floor in the entrance hall.
“Hi, Mom,” Joe shouted. “How was your day?”
(to be continued)