Chapter 17: Burglary

Tuesday morning, Joe stayed home. He called Jack Arland and made an appointment to meet the next day after lunch. He spent the rest of the morning carefully proof-reading all his work. He marked up so much, that he decided to type up what he could.

Angela fed him the lunch he missed, as promised. She had turned the pasta into a cold salad, and the stew-like spezzato di manzo was just as hearty re-heated as fresh. After lunch, he went back to work in his room. He told Angela he would not be home for lunch the next day. By the time Nancy came home, he had typed all the letters and half the magazine articles.

Joe finished typing the magazine articles the next morning, after Nancy left for work. About ten-thirty, he gathered up all the translations and the files of everything else. He put everything in his book bag, along with a file folder and a large safety pin.

=*=*=*=

Joe looked out for the stranger on the Vespa, but he was nowhere to be seen. I hope this means they really don’t know who I am and where I live, Joe thought.

He drove to Termini, the main train station downtown. He put the full set of carbon copies and his handwritten drafts in a locker. He planned to visit the locker at odd times during the week. He used the large safety pin to secure the locker key inside his bag, so it could not fall out if the bag were up-ended.

Then he drove to the Embassy Annex. Sandra was busy with a delegation of visitors, but she pointed him to the photocopier. He made a set of copies, put them in a large envelope and marked it for Agent Redwood.

After lunch in the grill, Joe walked up the Via Veneto to his appointment with Jack. The Smithson executive was waiting at a table at the Café de Paris when Joe arrived. Joe ordered a doppio espresso and pulled the set of files from his book bag.

“I hope you don’t mind if I start typing these things. Since finishing that coffee table book for Mr. del Piave, I can type faster than I can write. It isn’t pretty, but it’s more legible. What do you think?”

“You’re right, Joe. This is good. It’s a lot of material, too. Can I write you a check?”

“Sure, as long as it’s in lire, sir. Make it out to J.J. Mather.”

Jack had another thick file for him. Within a few minutes, Joe was on his way. Again, no sign of the man on the Vespa. The main office of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro was across the street from the Embassy Annex. Joe deposited his check then crossed back to the USIS library.

He worked at the library for about a half-hour until he realized that he was finishing the drafts more quickly than he expected. His dictionaries and his typewriter were at home. His mother never came home during the day, so he packed up.

Still a little nervous, he kept checking his rear-view mirror and sneaking looks around when he made turns. Only a two-wheeled vehicle could have kept up, so he felt reasonably sure that no one followed him.

The next day, Joe put on a light sport coat and a tie and rode back to the Embassy. He parked a block away and walked to the Annex. Sandra seemed intent on some typing when Joe walked in. Her face brightened. Joe had never felt so welcome anywhere as in Sandra’s office.

“Hi, Joe,” she said. “How’s the word sleuth today?”

“OK, thanks.”

“Do you know Mr. Wolcowski?”

“Not well. I see his son at Cub Scout den meetings.”

“He mentioned that you were a Den Chief when I made the appointment.”

Sandra picked up a file and came around the desk. She gave his hand a squeeze. “Come on, it’s across the street. Agent Redwood had to go to a meeting with the Italian State Police.”

First Minister Steve Wolcowski was the senior assistant to the Ambassador, and therefore the senior professional Foreign Service Officer in Rome. Joe and Sandra waited in the anteroom until the First Minister arrived, hurrying from the Ambassador’s office. He was a tall slender man, but with very broad shoulders. His physique and his glasses made Joe think of Clark Kent in the Superman comics.

“Hello, Sandra, Joe. Sorry I’m running behind a little. Won’t you please come in?” He motioned to the door. “Claudia, would you please hold all my calls except the Ambassador?”

Inside, he closed the door and took a breath as if to gather his thoughts and calm down.

“Please sit down.” Steve Wolcowski took a chair around a coffee table across from them. “Joe, it seems strange to see you in civilian clothes. Louie likes you a lot.”

“Thanks, sir,” said Joe, “he’s a good Scout.”

The older man leaned forward on his knees. “Joe, I don’t have much time, but I’ve read Agent Redwood’s file on what you told him. We’ve been trying to crack this connection for months. This is the most serious crisis this country has faced since the Second World War, and you may have saved many lives.”

Joe blushed. “I don’t know about that, sir. It just seemed that I couldn’t sit on that information.”

“You did the right thing.” Wolcowski looked at his watch. “Do you have any questions for me?”

“Do I come here if I can’t reach Mr. Redwood for some reason?”

“Straight here. Tell no one about any of this except Agent Redwood, Sandra or me. Even Claudia, my secretary, doesn’t know about this. She’s been told to interrupt whatever I’m doing if you show up, but that’s all.”

“What about after hours?”

“Go to our homes. Do you know where everyone lives?”

“Yes, sir.” The Foreign Service Office looked from Joe to Sandra, surprised.

“I took care of that already,” Sandra said.

“Good,” said the First Minister. “I hope we can help the Government head off this coup smoothly and without trouble, but we don’t know all the leaders yet.”

“Isn’t General Arcibaldo the boss, sir?” asked Joe.

“Not quite. He is the principal public figure, but the real power is behind the scenes. It’s a narrow field of suspects. In fact, the best information we have is what you translated. They may be identified in some letter or clipping you haven’t gotten to yet.”

“That’s a scary thought,” said Joe. “What if Mr. Arland never gives me that?”

“Then we’ll have done the best we can. Does there seem to be any order to the way he’s pulling the material out?”

“I thought it was by customer accounts, sir. Usually everything in one file is about the same company.”

The First Minister smiled. “Of course, Joe. Our people are too fixed on the political and military stuff. These are business files after all. Sandra, pass that on to Jim, would you?”

Sandra smiled. “We already noticed, sir. It reinforces the point that Jack Arland may not know about this.”

“Or that he is very, very clever.” Steve Wolcowski looked at his watch again. “Do you have any other questions, Joe?”

“No, sir. Thanks for being available. I know how busy you are.”

“You and your work are a top priority now, Joe. Just keep the copies coming and press on as naturally as possible.” He stood up. They shook hands and left.

Joe and Sandra walked back to the Embassy Annex. They stopped at the newsstand in the entrance. They each bought a copy of the Rome Daily American and the International Herald Tribune. Sandra paused outside the newsstand.

“You have my number now.” She smiled. “Call me some time when we don’t have a case to work on.”

Joe felt the heat go up the back of his neck. “Sure, thanks. See ya.” He felt like he had four left feet as he walked out the door into the street.

Still looking out for the stranger on the Vespa, Joe drove home. He was beginning to wonder if he was becoming too edgy. He decided he was not when he caught sight of the police cars outside his apartment building. Somehow, he knew they were not there for one of the neighbors.

Inside, a police private was trying to console a distraught Angela, seated in the hall. Every piece of furniture had been moved aside and was now askew. Every drawer and cabinet door was open, and the contents were on the floor.

A plainclothes detective came out of the kitchen. He was about Joe’s height, but dark-haired and muscular under the nondescript gray suit he wore.

““Scusi, signore,” Excuse me, sir,” Joe said, “but what has happened?”

“And who are you?”

“I live here. Joe Mather. Do you need my documents?”

Before the detective could answer, a wail came from the housekeeper.

“Oh, signorino,” Angela cried. “I only went shopping. No more than two hours.”

Joe put his arms around her shoulders. “Calm down, Angela, this is not your fault,” he said. “In fact, it has nothing to do with you.”

“That’s right, signora,” said the policeman.

“I won’t need your passport, Mr. Mather,” said the detective. “It looks like a sloppy burglary attempt. We won’t know until you inventory everything. Your housekeeper saw two men running from the apartment as she walked up the stairs, so she did not surprise them. They finished stealing whatever they came for.”

Angela took some more deep breaths. “I have to pick this up. The signora must not see this mess.”

“We already called her at work,” said the detective. “Please do not put anything back until we finish here. We will need a statement from each of you.”

Nancy Mather arrived at that point. The detective introduced himself and questioned her, while Angela slowly recovered. He let them go through the mess in the house to see if anything obvious was missing.

“We won’t know for sure until we finish putting everything away,” Nancy told him, “but I don’t see everything from my jewelry box on the floor.”

“Value?”

“A couple of bracelets and a string of fake pearls. Not worth a lot, they’ll find.”

“Where is your television?” asked the detective.

“We don’t have one.”

The detective nodded to the sergeant who had just packed his bag after taking photographs and lifting some prints from the front door and some cabinet doors. “I think that is all for now. Please come to the station no later than tomorrow evening to sign your sworn statements. That should give you time to see if anything else is missing.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.” Nancy held the door for the policemen as they left.

As his footsteps receded on the marble outside, Nancy, Angela and Joe stood motionless looking at each other. Angela looked wide-eyed and afraid. She turned quietly toward the kitchen.

Nancy blew out a powerful breath. Joe could not remember ever seeing her so angry.

“We have to go back to the States,” she said. Her glance cast about the entrance hall of the apartment as if looking for something. She strode off to her room. Soon Joe could hear her going through drawers and purses. Then she stormed into her office, slamming the door. More crashing about. Joe wavered, not sure whether to stay to offer some kind of comfort, start an argument about leaving Rome, or go to his room.

“Mom, it isn’t any safer there,” he said, half-heartedly. He was sure she could not hear him. He paused with his hand on the door handle. His mother threw the door open and came charging out. Joe jumped aside.

“Angela!” she shouted, heading toward the kitchen. “Abbiamo delle sigarette?” She wanted a smoke.

“Mom, –“

“Just get off my case, will you?” she snapped. “Right now, I need a smoke, and –“

She crashed into Angela coming to her call. The shorter woman fell against the side table, knocking a statue to the floor. The arm broke off, leaving the fallen figure looking like the Venus de Milo.

“Oh, no! signora, mi dispiace.” I’m sorry. Angela looked at her signora and froze, caught between fear and bewilderment.

“Mom – “

“Out of this! Why don’t you have a butt or two hidden away, like other teenagers?”

Joe did not recognize his own voice. “You know I don’t smoke, and you know I don’t like smoke, and neither does Angela here. That was not fair, Mom.”

“Joe, don’t you raise your voice to me!”

“Well, you’re having trouble hearing me!”

Nancy’s championship backhand crossed his cheek like a two-by-four. Joe staggered to the wall. He tasted blood in his mouth. He was raising his fists when he heard a wail behind him.

“Angela!” he cried and turned to the sobbing servant.

Ma che fate? Che succede?” What are you doing? What is happening?

They looked at Nancy. She stood like a statue, her hand still raised over her shoulder at the end of her follow-through, shock across her face.

“Oh, my God? What is happening to us?” she rushed to Angela and hugged her. “I’m sorry. Joe, I’m so scared right now.” The anger rushed out of Joe like a flood. He put his arms around the two women.

“Mom, I can run across the street for some cigarettes,” he said in English. “It will only take a minute.”

Nancy Mather disengaged herself and reached for her purse. Angela’s sobbing changed to heavy breathing, then she gained control of herself.

Nancy drew out a ten-thousand lire note and extended it to Joe. He let go of Angela and stood up.

Nancy suddenly pulled the bill back and shoved it in her purse.

“No!” she said in Italian, looking at both of them. “That’s part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s all talk about this after we get the worst of this mess put away.”

She picked up the statue and put it back on the side table, laying the broken arm next to it. As if on cue, Angela and Joe went to their parts of the house and started putting drawers and shelves back in their places and picking up the scattered items. With something to do with their hands, they all seemed to recover. Each worked silently, knowing that the conversation would have to be resumed, but not wanting to bring it up.

By the time Angela was supposed to go home, they had the apartment back in presentable order. Nancy and Joe offered to get take Angela home in a taxi, but she declined.

“I want to sit quietly and think,” she said. “I can do that on the bus.” She hoisted her shopping bags to her sides and walked slowly out to the street.

=*=*=*=

Nancy and Joe ate in the kitchen. Neither felt much like talking, and each brought something to read to the table. But they both had the same thing on their minds and each kept looking up from the unturned pages of their books to catch the other staring at them.

“I know you’re right about not moving back to the States,” she said finally. “It’s not any safer, and we both need you to finish high school here.”

“I wish there were something I could do.” Joe closed his book. “It tears me up to see you so upset. More than any fear I might have.”

“I know, but I have to deal with my own fears. You can’t do that for me.”

That night Joe realized that his transistor radio was gone. They made another careful pass through the house, but only the cheap jewelry and the radio were missing.

Nancy went to work late the next morning. She wanted to see how Angela was. The housekeeper seemed fully recovered and intent on planning Joe’s lunch and doing some deep cleaning.

After Nancy went to work. Joe walked over to the Cavalieri Hilton Hotel and used a public phone to call Agent Redwood’s office.

“Hello, Sandra. This is Joe. Our flat was burglarized yesterday. It’s been a zoo, and I couldn’t –”

“Oh, that’s terrible.” She interrupted him. “Hold on.” After a pause, she said, “Mr. Redwood has to meet some people near your place in an hour. Could he meet you in the coffee shop in about thirty minutes?”

“Sure, great. Thanks.”

“Bye, Joe. Be careful.” She rang off quickly. Joe was a little surprised, but then he realized that Sandra had carefully managed the call so that nobody listening would know from the conversation where Joe was or any details about the burglary. There had not even been time to trace the call. She’s good, Joe thought, smiling as he walked to the coffee shop.

Exactly thirty minutes later, Special Agent Redwood walked in and took a seat at Joe’s table.

“Tell me about it.”

Joe recounted as much detail as he could. The FBI man quizzed him about what he knew about the two men, from what Angela had said.

“The fact that they were so thorough means two things, Joe. One, they didn’t find what they were looking for. Two, they weren’t really burglars. The missing stuff is a cover to make it look like a burglary. Real burglars wouldn’t have gone through the whole house. They would have concentrated on the bedrooms and living room, and spent their time loading the high-value items they could find quickly.”

“I thought burglars worked at night.”

“That’s another reason I don’t think this is a burglary. Burglars do often work during the day, but not in a house with a domestic servant who is likely to return at any time. They probably had Angela and you under surveillance for some time. When they saw her go shopping, they knew about how much time they had to find what they were looking for.”

“They left such a mess.” Joe shivered involuntarily.

“Part of the show, Joe. They are trying to scare you while making themselves look amateurish. Let me ask you now, was there anything that wasn’t out of order as you think of it? Or something that might have been taken or looked at, maybe that wasn’t where it belonged. Where’s your translation work?”

“In the book bag with me.”

“Do you have a waste basket in your room? Where’s your trash from translating?”

“I keep it all with me. When it gets too much, I trash it away from the house, like here at the hotel, your office or the library.” Mr. Redwood raised his eyebrows.” I do that to keep Mom or Angela from discovering what I’m working on,” Joe continued. “After the scene in England, you know.”

“Good,” said the Agent. “So, anything that wasn’t moved.”

Joe thought for a moment. “My typewriter,” he said. “Something strange.”

Mr. Redwood motioned for him to go on.

“It has a new ribbon,” Joe said. “I remember that it was getting faint, and I meant to buy a new one. Today it typed fresh and dark.”

“You must have a cloth ribbon.”

“Why, yes,” said Joe.

“That proves my point, Joe. When was the last time you had that typewriter out of the house?”

“In June. I took it to the Galleria Cinese to work on the book for Mr. del Piave.”

“That means they’ve been watching you for a long time if they brought a fresh ribbon with them and tried to make it look like the typewriter hadn’t been disturbed.”

“Why my typewriter ribbon, sir?”

“It was a mistake, Joe. Most modern electric typewriters have plastic ribbons that only go under the keys once. They hit the paper like a strip of carbon paper. You can read what the machine typed by looking at the letters in the used part of the ribbon. Whoever sent them probably just told them to replace the ribbon, not knowing it was an old-style typewriter with a cloth ribbon. The thieves just did what they were told by buying a compatible cloth ribbon and stealing your old one.” Agent Redwood looked at his watch, then signaled the waiter for the bill. “I have another appointment. Are you and your mother going to be OK?”

“I think so. I mean, what can we do now?”

“For one thing, change the locks on both doors, not just the damaged one out front.”

“The Police detective told us to do that.”

“And keep the doors to the balcony locked when no one is home. They can still get in, but not without your knowing that they were there.”

“Angela or I are always the last to leave during the day. We can make sure of that.”

“For now, let’s let the world keep thinking this is a burglary, but don’t take anything for granted. I don’t think they’ll harm you directly. They can’t afford the publicity.” Doug’s father rose and shook Joe’s hand. “Call me, anytime – about anything. They may be good, Joe, but you’re not alone.”

“Thanks, sir.”

Joe picked up his rucksack and walked home. Angela was dusting in the living room. He closed the door leading to the small balcony off the kitchen and went to his room to read.

After Nancy returned home, the Mathers and Angela walked to the Commissariato, the local police station in the piazzale at the end of the street. They told the police what they had found – or, rather, what they had not found, which was not much.

“Amateurs in a hurry,” concluded the detective lieutenant. “Just to be safe from any others, remember to lock all the doors when you leave – including the balcony.”

It took an hour for the police sergeant to type their sworn statements on the long, official paper required for such things. They signed the statements and left the station. Angela caught the bus outside the station.

Joe and Nancy decided to eat at the trattoria near the Police station. Neither felt much like going home. In fact, home felt different.

========

(to be continued)

JT

2 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Burglary

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