The No. 8 trolley clanged its bell as it stopped outside. Something was different. Joe’s room on the Monte Mario was at the back of the building, where he could not hear the street. He opened his eyes, suddenly aware of and delighted by Sandra’s smooth skin neatly fitting into every bend in his own body. The sun was not yet up, but the pre-dawn light leaked through the slats of the shutters.
Joe lay there, breathing as gently and evenly as possible. He did not want this moment to end, nor did he want to wake this wonderful person next to him.
“You’re not asleep, are you?” she said without moving.
“No, I’m just loving this moment.”
“Me, too.” They lay there for a few moments.
“What time was your boss coming for me?”
“I think about eight. Shall we have breakfast or something before he comes?”
“Mm. How about something first.” Joe nuzzled the back of her neck and pressed closer.
The phone rang.
Sandra grabbed her nightshirt on her way down the hall. When she came back, Joe was sitting on the bed, with the sheet over his lap. The alarm clock read six o’clock.
“That was Agent Redwood. Things are moving suddenly, and they need you. He is on his way here.”
Joe leapt from the bed. They hastily donned their clothes. While he washed his face and ran a comb through his hair, she brushed her hair in the bedroom. She grabbed some cookies and an apple and put them in a bag for him.
“No time to stop for food. He said to go down to the portone and hold it open. As soon as the police car pulls up, run out and jump in the back. He’ll get out to let you in.”
“What about you?”
“Actually, I have to go to work. A car’s on its way for Claudia and me again. We have to staff the offices this weekend. Go, now.”
She looked up at his eyes. They embraced and kissed, and she stepped back, He went out the door, adrenaline pumping and breathing with passion – a mixture that he had never experienced. He was not sure it was good for him, but he decided to revel in it as he took the stairs two at a time. He did not even think of the elevator.
He had been watching out the door for about a minute, when he saw the blue flashing light come speeding around the corner from the Piazzale Clodio. “A pantera!” he said to himself. The Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2 purred eerily considering the speed with which it approached. It came to a silent stop so fast that Joe expected burning rubber. A leaping panther, such a dark red that it was almost invisible, was the only interruption of the gleaming black finish on the car. Joe had never been inside a Ferrari, much less one of the famous police-equipped ones that were the envy of every police department in the world, and the bane of criminals used to out-running their police. The Italian police hired retired professional race car drivers to pilot the powerful cars.
The passenger door opened, and Agent Redwood leapt out. He pointed to the back seat. Joe ran out and jumped in. The FBI agent did a graceful body-flip into the front seat and closed the door in a single motion. The car silently accelerated to open highway speed in less than a block. The driver was a grim-faced man with chiseled features and very short, graying hair. He did not acknowledge them, but his eyes moved constantly as his face pointed forward.
“Sorry about the early call. Some very important people need to step in and stop the Generale and his people before this turns into a civil war between the Carabinieri and the Polizia.”
“Sandra didn’t tell me you would have a Ferrari pantera, sir.” Joe could not keep the awe out of his voice. The agent smiled.
“The Squadra Volante lends me this for special work. I’ve only ridden in one twice myself.”
“Andiamo all’ambasciata?” the driver asked. Are we going to the Embassy?
“Can you lead us back to your book bag?” Agent Redwood asked Joe.
“If it’s still there, yes.”
Twenty minutes later, the car was idling down the Via Lombardia. Agent Redwood ran to retrieve Joe’s from book bag from behind the phone booth and jumped back in the Ferrari. The FBI man looked the papers over as the Ferrari carried them down the Via Veneto and across the Piazza Barberini.
“This does it,” he said. “If we can move fast enough, we can nail them.”
The Ferrari was moving quickly through the traffic, occasionally aided by traffic police waving them through. But with only flashing lights in the window and no siren, it still took time. “Sirens are for chases and emergency calls,” Special Agent Redwood said.
They stopped near the locker at the Termini train station. This time, they were met by a plainclothes policeman. The agent took Joe’s locker key and retrieved the rest of Joe’s copies while he waited in the car.
The radio crackled, and the driver took a message down. He handed it to Mr. Redwood. The FBI man nodded and motioned to the plainclothesman to follow them. Joe saw the agent go to another pantera. The car was moving, and the siren started even before he closed the door.
“It’s happening, Joe. We caught the Generale trying to reach a military plane at Ciampino. He slipped out of the hospital almost as soon as he came to.”
Joe was only half-listening. He was glued to the window as the morning traffic flew past him in a blur. His mouth was dry, and his heart was pumping. The Ferrari driver slalomed around the parked taxis and the fountain of the Piazza della Repubblica and accelerated down the middle of the straight Via Nazionale, mostly in the oncoming lane. In less than ninety seconds, he ran four stop lights and climbed two Roman Hills. Joe looked back. The other pantera was right behind them.
The cars turned into the Quirinale, the Presidential Palace, between two Corazzieri, Presidential Guards. The sun bathed the piazza and blazed off their armor and horsehair-topped helmets. The pantera glided silently past the inner courtyard where Joe and Nancy had walked to attend a concert in the Pauline Chapel. A liveried servant opened the door of the pantera, and a Corazziere officer led them up a wide grand marble staircase to the first floor. There, they turned into a large set of double doors, which the Corazziere guards closed behind them.
Joe found himself in a large meeting room, filled with men he recognized from the evening news. They stood around a large table covered with maps of Rome, Italy, and Western Europe. They were poring over the Arland documents. Agent Redwood joined them. Joe took a seat in a large armchair in a corner, happy to be ignored and feeling safe.
The men looked up at various times, ordering one or another of their assistants to run for file folders or answer questions. Sitting in his corner, Joe tried to hide his awe and be as inconspicuous as possible.
“Joe, would you come here?” Mr. Redwood’s voice startled him. Embarrassed, Joe got up and approached the table.
“Joe, these gentlemen would like to meet you.” He introduced the President, the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Interior and Defense, and an admiral from the Intelligence Service.
“You have rendered a great service to our country, Mr. Mather,” said the President in English. “Until this afternoon, we were hurtling toward the disintegration of democracy and a certain civil war. You have saved us from both.”
“Thank you, your Excellency,” Joe answered in Italian, looking at his feet and back up at the President. “I really just translated some stuff.” That brought a laugh from the men.
“Modest, too,” said the Minister of Defense. Joe remembered that this man had kept the job for the last four governments under three Prime Ministers, setting a record for political survival in the Italian Republic.
“Seriously, though, Mr. Mather,” said the admiral, “we have a question about two abbreviations in these two documents: ‘BR’ here and — here it is — ‘B-M’ here. We have seen those codes in other places, too.”
“‘BR stands for Brigate Rosse, sir, the Red Brigades,” said Joe. “Here is its code-word in this letter. This other letter explains that this one is a new group organizing somewhere in the North.”
“I’m not sure, sir, but I know it’s a group in Germany. It’s new, too, so there isn’t much about it. But I think the letters stand for two names, because the code-word for B-M is two words, Antonio e Cleopatra. Just once, I saw Cleopatra used alone, as if it were a person.”
“That’s remarkable,” said the admiral. “We have people in Germany who can follow that lead. Thank you very much.” Joe took that to be a dismissal. He looked at Agent Redwood, but the FBI man was talking intently to the President. Joe started back to the armchair.
“Un momento, giovanotto” one moment, young man. It was the President. Joe turned around.
“I am very sorry, Excellency. I thought the Admiral was dismissing me. I was just going back to the chair to wait.”
The President cut him off with a wave. “Relax, young man. It seems you’ve been wounded. Are you all right?”
“Really, I’m fine, Excellency. A lot of small cuts from glass, but it looks worse than it is.”
The President considered Joe’s wounds and looked over him. “I know what this youngster’s problem is. He’s hungry.” He smiled. “Am I right?”
Agent Redwood said, “Well, Excellency, I did collect him at dawn. I don’t think that he expected me that early.”
The President snapped his fingers, but the Corazziere officer was already moving toward Joe. “Please take him down to that legendary Army mess you have and see that he is properly fortified.”
“Certo, Eccellenza.” Certainly, Excellency.
“And notify his mother. Wait, maybe Mr. Redwood or the FBI should do that.”
“Excuse me, Excellency,” Joe said. “But she’s not here right now. She should be returning this afternoon.” The President seemed surprised.
“She is at a business meeting in Cologne this week, Excellency,” Agent Redwood explained. He looked at Joe. “The Polizia and the FBI have been collaborating. Mr. Arland called our New York office from Cologne. We think that he only just became aware of something amiss with the papers, but we put them both under surveillance. They have not left the hotel.”
“Shouldn’t the agents reveal themselves now?” Joe’s tone revealed his surprise, and some annoyance.
Agent Redwood caught Joe’s expression. “We’re satisfied that she is not involved in any of this. Mr. Arland called the FBI in New York to report his suspicions about what he thought were coded messages in the material he was sending to New York. We’re still checking out his story, so we have not assured ourselves that he is an unwitting participant in all this. Let me arrange for my colleague in Germany to brief your mother away from him.”
The Interior Minister nodded. “We need to be discreet, and not tip off Mr. Arland if he is still a person of interest.”
“Bring her here if they get back before we finish making the arrests,” said the President. He gestured to the Interior Minister and the FBI Agent. “You two can figure out how to proceed, but the signora needs to know where her son is as soon as possible.”
The President looked around, then turned to Joe. “Thank you, Mr. Mather. We will save our questions. Follow Lieutenant del Piave here. Get some food and we’ll see you later.”
“Thank you, Excellency.” Joe nodded and turned to follow the Corazziere officer.
They walked down the hall at a brisk pace. Joe was not short, but the Corazziere stood at least six feet five. His easy amble required a serious stride for Joe. He caught up as they made their way downstairs to the garrison area of the palace complex. Army personnel were walking in all directions, looking very purposeful. Now and again, a pair of sergeants were standing by a doorway chatting. They stopped and gave the Corazziere officer a sharp salute.
“Lieutenant del Piave,” Joe said, in Italian. “Any relation to the Cavaliere Giuseppe del Piave?”
“My father, sir. You know him?”
“Yes. I translated a book for him.”
“So, you are the young translator he was so excited about.”
Joe blushed. “Well, I didn’t know he was so excited.”
“Oh, yes.” He slowed and turned to smile at Joe. “You should have heard him carrying on at family dinner when he brought the book home. He beat my brothers and me over the head about how your Italian was better than our English, and shame on us.” He winked. “All in good humor, of course, but clearly he was impressed.”
Joe was silent. At that moment, his stomach growled. He could smell fresh baking. Del Piave led him through a crowded, noisy mess room where men were having breakfast. All were in uniform, mostly army. Some were Carabinieri, he noticed. Some were Corazzieri relaxing in their dress uniforms just coming off duty. Their helmets were held on special posts on the wall. No one paid attention to the lieutenant and the civilian. In the mess, enlisted men could happily ignore an officer just walking through.
Del Piave opened the swinging door to a small dining room off the back. Inside, officers were having the same breakfast, in relative quiet. He motioned Joe to a table and hung his helmet on a post.
“Are you having breakfast, too?”
“As a matter of fact, I was about to come down here when you were brought in. I had already turned over to my relief when I overheard the conversation about your hunger.”
They went up to the buffet and helped themselves to pastries and caffélatte. Del Piave also had some muesli and yoghurt. The teenager and the giant both filled their trays.
“Excuse me. I don’t want to offend, but aren’t the Corazzieri also Carabinieri?”
“Oh, yes, but we are a very special regiment of Carabinieri. In fact, we are the oldest military unit in the country.”
“Thirteenth century. The first royal guards were archers. The Corazzieri have been called that since the fourteenth century. Always the King’s personal guard, to protect him in battle mainly. Of course, with the Republic, our mission became to protect the President.”
Joe nodded. His mouth was full.
“I’ve always admired the Carabinieri,” he said after swallowing. “That is why this whole thing surprises me.”
Del Piave raised his finger to his lips. “Please don’t speak of what goes on upstairs outside the room. What you are seeing there is highly confidential.” He looked quickly around to be sure that no one was seated close enough to hear.
“Oh, sorry. No one told me about that part of it.”
“No problem. I am glad that I could be around to catch you before something got out.”
They ate in silence after that. A messman came to clear the table, and they stood. Del Piave collected his helmet.
“I am off duty, but I’ll walk you back to the command room.”
Joe walked back with him, struggling to match his stride.
At the door, he was greeted by another Corazziere officer, who nodded at his colleague, then closed the door behind him.
“Ah, Joe! Good to see you.” Agent Redwood waved him over. As Joe approached, the policeman handed him one of his latest letters. “Did you ever see this name before?”
Joe read the letter. The name “James Fountain” was circled in purple. “No, sir. I would have noticed, because purple isn’t usually used for people, just places, events, and organizations.”
“We noticed that, too. We think that this is the leader. We had our suspicions, but this clinches it.”
“No, Joe. An Italian from the North, Giacomo della Fontana. We have been watching him along with members of a neo-Fascist cell that he has several friends in. He’s a local politician in the MSI.” The Italian Social Movement was the right-wing political party closest to the neo-Fascists.
“Why has his name only come up now?”
“No idea, but your — or, rather, Arland’s – stash of correspondence is a gold mine for us. Everyone here can read the originals, and we can compare them to other data coming in.”
“So, Mr. Arland is involved?”
“No. We just confirmed that with the FBI in New York and offices in the different places originating the documents. Apparently, he was funneling duplicates of documents for the information of the people in New York who were helping to finance the coup. It was a clever setup: apparently, the conspirators bought enough stock in Smithson to get on the “major investor list”, then started using the Rome office – through Arland – to keep informed. We still don’t know how information went the other way yet. Arland couldn’t have had any idea, and apparently, he knew none of the major players, and none of them knew him.”
“He did mention at the beginning that everyone else had read the material he had given me, that it was from the files. That is why I was surprised that lately nothing has been less than a few weeks old.”
The Commander of the State Police waved at the FBI agent. Redwood excused himself and went around the table. Joe was about to go to the chair against the wall, when a Navy commander approached him.
“Mr. Mather, I am Commander Mario Perla.” He shook hands with Joe. “I work in SIFAR, the Military Intelligence Service.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir. How can I help?” Joe looked at the pile of copies of his translation work.
“It’s a bit tedious, but I would like to sit down with you and record the exact chronological order of the translations.”
“I think that they’re all dated, sir.”
“Yes, but we would like to be sure of two things: one, the chronological order in which you received the translations, and two, check to make sure that the attachments – those magazine articles and such – are attached to the correct letters in this pile.”
“Yes, sir, I can do that.” They walked over to one of the small tables near a catering setup that was serving coffee and snacks. Joe reviewed each of the “jobs” with Perla, while the naval officer took notes on an A4-sized note pad.
It was after noon when Commander Perla finally stacked the papers together for the last time and gathered his notes. He shook Joe’s hand and walked over to the other corner of the room, where an Army officer and a civilian were waiting. The trio began comparing notes, periodically walking over to one or more of the senior officers around the map table to answer questions or provide new information.
“That was a useful session, Joe.” Joe started as Agent Redwood came up from behind him.
“Sorry, sir, you caught me in a daze.” Joe got up.
“Sit down, Joe. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
“Coffee would be nice, sir. Thanks.”
Agent Redwood came back with two cups of espresso and sat down across from Joe. “How sure are you about Jack Arland’s ability in Italian?”
“Well, I’m not an expert, but he tries very hard. He still can’t follow a conversation at normal speed.”
“Normal Italian or normal American speed?” the agent smiled.
“Normal Italian, sir” Joe said with a chuckle. “People get used to slowing down when they have to talk to him. My mother and I both have to explain the conversation at other times.”
“Can he read it?”
“That’s coming slowly, too, as far as I can tell. Mom said that he couldn’t read anything more complicated than a menu until after Christmas. Until about a month ago, if he didn’t keep the business letters in their files, he couldn’t get them back together, because they all looked the same to him. I had to be careful to keep the source documents and the target translations together when I delivered them.”
“What happened a month ago?”
“Nothing. That’s just when I noticed that he was asking me about various lines in the letters and guessing them right more often than not. Like I said, he was trying hard.”
“That jives with our background checks. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere that he could have learned fluent Italian in his past. That’s a relief. Now we don’t have to arrest him at the airport.”
Joe’s eyes sat up suddenly. “Are they back?”
“Not yet, but they’re in the air. We couldn’t get your mother aside before they left, because our agent never could catch her without Mr. Arland. Our backup plan was to arrest him when we brought your mother here from Ciampino. In fact, I’ll go pick them up right after lunch.”
“Can I come?”
“You’d better not, Joe. We’re only beginning the first round of arrests. Until we have certain players in custody, we don’t want you out there. We think that they don’t know what we have here, so they’re still looking for you and your papers.”
“Any idea how long I’ll be here?”
“Probably you’ll be able to go home tonight, assuming we get the right people off the street by then.” Agent Redwood looked at his watch. “Hey, what do you say we get some lunch?”
They got up and walked toward the door to the hallway that led to the Army Garrison mess hall.
“Where will you be taking my mother and Mr. Arland?”
“I’ll be bringing your mother straight to the Quirinale. We don’t think that she’ll be safe until you are.”
“And Mr. Arland?”
“He’ll be our guest, but you won’t see him at first. We’ll be doing in-depth interviews, so we can sort out exactly how these people used him.”
As they left the command room, the conversation switched to the prospects for the school basketball team. Doug Redwood would be team captain for his senior year. The FBI agent walked him back to the command room after lunch and turned him over to the Corazziere at the door.
“You’re a big help in there, Joe. I’ll see you in a bit with your mother.”
“Thank you, sir. See you later.”
He stepped inside. The multiservice team that had been pouring over the translations saw him and stood back from their table. Commander Perla waved him over.
(to be continued)