Table of Contents
Chapter 9, part 1 appeared
in issue 127.
Chapter 9: Rome, Italy
Toni’s newly-found relative ushered him firmly but calmly out of the rear yard of the café, turning right into the Via de Fiori and then crossing several of the city’s most fashionable shopping streets, but keeping them well clear of the crowds and the policemen who were always stationed at the Spanish Steps. Rounding another corner shortly afterwards, they emerged into the quieter north side of the Piazza di Spagna, which boasted a few modest benches beneath the occasional shade of five tall palm trees, just a hundred metres away from the steps. No one was watching them — the crowds were all in front of them, looking away up towards the steps.
Giuseppe Marco Terleone sat down facing those crowds; he was not going to have his back to the action again! Toni silently followed suit. No words had been spoken since they left the café, he felt utterly out of his depth, and he had no idea what to do or say next.
Terleone paused for a minute or more, actively working to recover from the very slight loss of composure he had suffered during the recent events. He then decided he must attempt to re-start his acquaintance with his great-nephew and establish how he could best help him in the immediate future. He must forget about that indescribable brief encounter with the boy’s lovely companion. Yet his concentration was lapsing as fast as he tried to maintain it; he was inexplicably keen to hear the eventual ringing of Antonio’s phone.
But Carla could never make it ring. Instead, she suddenly appeared from behind their bench, smiling as usual, before Giuseppe had uttered a single word.
He was extremely surprised. He would never have expected her, or anyone else, to have been allowed to leave the café so quickly after the raid (whatever it was all about — he hadn’t bothered to ask ...); and how could she have been so lucky, even then, to stumble on them like this, so very quickly? But at the same time, it did not seem necessary for him to understand the answers to these questions; and this, in itself, was a blessed relief.
Then, glued to that bench in the heat of a Rome afternoon, Giuseppe Marco Terleone found himself again humming his favourite aria, and allowing himself to become completely engrossed in the woman in the pale blue suit who had sat down between Antonio and himself, and was now turning to face him.
* * *
There had been hurried consultations back on the Mater about how Carla should now proceed. It was out of the question to allow the Finder to vanish, at a stroke, as the engagement began ... there were too many people around for them to take that risk. But they could not countenance another promenade around the streets of Rome; they had Terleone by the scruff of his neck now, and they must hang on to him.
So ... Carla would have to carry out the engagement without disappearing. But that would bring several undesirable side effects. The whole affair would look rather strange to any observer, so it might have to be cut short at any time — and it would have to be conducted at low engagement energy levels. For both those reasons, they would probably not be able to take a full memory reading, nor plant their seeds in Terleone’s mind as deeply as they wished to.
But they had made their decision.
* * *
Toni Murano, unhappily embarrassed yet again, sat and fidgeted quite naturally as his great-uncle and their new shared girlfriend billed and cooed at each other. Then, as Giuseppe’s face went blank and his eyes glazed over, Carla took his head in her hands and seemed to kiss him fully on the lips. And again, and again. Terleone just took it all with a balmy smile. But not one of the Italian passers-by batted an eyelid. This was Rome, after all ...
Quo rapidly engaged with their very first Collector, moved him through a partial Transferral (they knew the human brain structures now, and could be quite selective), bypassed Briefing completely, and gave him some simple Missioning. They would re-engage him later. Right now, it was essential to get the ball rolling.
Not surprisingly, the strong-willed Giuseppe raised occasional muted objections to all of this — but Quo’s powers of persuasion were more than a match for the man. And the whole process took no more than seven Earth minutes.
Carla sat back in her space on the bench, took out her mirror, adjusted her hair and her lipstick, and would have lit up a cigarette if only the laws of radimotics had allowed it. Meanwhile, Don Giuseppe came slowly back down to earth, and Toni wondered just what might happen next ...
Terleone was fully alert again, and the romance had left his face. He had completely forgotten Toni’s story about sickness and a lost wallet. Or rather, he had been told to forget it. The boy would be able to cope without any special help from him. So the man with the new mission now looked down the bench to where Toni was still sitting, with barely a smile for Carla as his gaze passed her by ...
He gave Toni some clear and simple instructions, in English: to switch on his mobile phone and leave it on (Carla frowned; that did not feel right); to dictate its number for Terleone to write down; and to wait for him to call them during the next twenty-four hours. By then, he assured him, he would have worked out where Toni and Carla should be moving on to next. Toni did what he was told. Carla frowned again.
Finally, Giuseppe took the street plan that was still in Toni’s hands, carefully wrote a few letters and numbers in the margin, drew a circle in the map area itself, and handed it back. Then, without another word, he walked swiftly away.
Quickly calling his office at the Parliament building and making his excuses for the afternoon meeting that was just about to begin, he hailed the first free taxi he could find and directed the driver to his other, less ornate place of work. His mission for Quo was set quite clearly in his mind. He made straight for his private office and placed three phone calls in quick succession.
The first was to an Italian Member of the European Parliament, a gentleman who was well aware that Terleone possessed some interesting knowledge of his business affairs, which he was very keen should remain concealed. It was not the first time he had been politely asked for information in exchange for Terleone’s silence.
‘Yes, signore, I have a rather unusual request. Please take a little time to identify and provide me with the name of a colleague MEP possessing, in your considered opinion, an extremely high level of political and moral integrity, and an untarnished reputation. Perhaps you would like to work on this for an hour or two this afternoon, to ensure an excellent result, and call me on the usual number at eight o’clock? Bene. Molte grazie, signore.’
The second call was to the head of the research group within his own department.
The final call was to the personal extension of a bishop in the Vatican City.
He then unlocked a drawer of his desk, selected the first of six brand new mobile phones which were stored neatly alongside one another, and re-locked the drawer. Strolling casually out into the afternoon sunshine and onto a busy street, he proceeded to place several very private calls, putting out feelers and discreet inquiries as to why exactly that particular café had been raided so soon after his arrival ...
* * *
Carla and Toni sat silently together under the palms for quite some time, each happy with the other’s company, but each preoccupied with very different thoughts. Finally, Toni remembered to hold up his sheet of paper again, and the co-ordinates of the café were promptly sent to the Mater.
Then, at Carla’s gentle insistence, he consulted his map, and worked out an indirect route to the address of the town apartment which, in response to Quo’s direct order, Terleone had written in the margin. Taking great pains to keep Carla clear of all passers-by, which forced a laboriously slow pace, they made their way along many side-streets until, after nearly an hour, they finally reached the impressive apartment block halfway up the hill of the Via Veneto. Pausing for a moment, apparently for a further map consultation, Toni switched on his GPS again, reassured himself it was fully operational, and took two more fixes.
* * *
At three twenty-five, a woman wearing beige check trousers, carrying a bright red anorak, and consuming a double cheeseburger and fries was detained outside a fast-food restaurant not far from Via Frattina. Despite the protestations of her husband and two other married couples travelling with them, she was destined to spend the night in a police cell while the various interested authorities ignored diplomatic protests and decided what charges, if any, they could press. The investigating officer would finally be forced to acknowledge that displaying bad taste (multiple counts) was not actually a criminal offence, even in Rome, and she would be released late the following morning, given a small amount of Poor Fund cash in compensation, and provided with clear directions to a nearby fashion house and a good restaurant for lunch.
* * *
With the special fix taken, Toni and Carla sat down again, this time at another pavement café. At her request, Toni took out his sheet of paper, copied down the co-ordinates of Terleone’s apartment, and then held the paper up for her, allowing them to be safely read by the Mater.
Then he ordered a beer, and Carla allowed him to gather his thoughts once more.
‘Quo suggested we should see the sights,’ he finally offered. ‘We haven’t had much time for that yet! Shall we make our way down to the Trevi Fountain? It’s really beautiful in the photographs. But I suppose it could be very crowded. Or there’s the Colosseum ... there should be more space for you there, and it looks incredible! And we must look for a hotel room. And we ... sorry, I mean, I could think about an early dinner. I’m absolutely famished ...’
Carla was pensive. ‘Yes, Toni, I am happy to take another walk. But I feel that things are still not under proper control, and I do not see a clear path into the future. This is not how it should be. I truly wish to enjoy the beauty of Rome with you ... the pleasure will fulfil me more than you can know. But something is not right. We have not been able to engage with your great-uncle in the way that we wished — and there have been so many disturbances since we met. I feel the need to re-gather my strength and be ready to take the initiative again, if necessary ...’
Toni did not understand very much of this. The words sounded more like Quo’s than Carla’s. But he heard the honesty in her voice, and saw it on her face. ‘That’s fine, Carla. It’s still a lovely afternoon. No plans, then! Let’s just stroll and enjoy it, and see what the evening brings ...’
‘Thank you, Toni. You are very understanding. I promise to share my thoughts with you again as soon as I am ready.’
* * *
The InterSB co-ordinator in the Rome special branch HQ had become fascinated by the increasingly striking parallels between the Bilbao and Rome alerts. Both now included different mystery women (and they were still searching for theirs, despite the arrest of that tourist!). Then, at four-fifteen, the co-ordinator was alerted to the appearance of a new item that had just been just filed in the database by the Spanish Intelligence Agency. It described the events of the day before, in much the same terms as the earlier report from the Bilbao special branch officer, and announced the formal downgrading of the incident to “top secret”. But in addition to the largely similar descriptions, it included a photograph of the young music student, labelled “released, no charge”. She instantly printed the complete item and, in the absence of her sergeant, hand-delivered it to the inspector himself.
That was the last thing he needed! So that dandy bureaucrat was even involved with an international terrorist suspect! For the student Murano was obviously not an innocent bystander after all. And right now, he and the sergeant were the only ones who knew it! But the muted warnings given to him quite clearly, earlier that afternoon, as he was persuaded to allow the smooth operator and his boyfriend to leave the bar at once, were weighing heavily upon him. He told the waiting co-ordinator to leave it with him for a few moments. ‘Something rings a bell here ... let me think about it ...’
* * *
Giuseppe Terleone’s contacts had not let him down. He had been shown that latest intelligence report, including the photograph of his own great-nephew, a full six minutes before it was picked up by the Rome special branch. It had been hard to control his shock as he dismissed the messenger ...
He was now a very worried man. This was close to getting out of hand. He knew exactly how he would normally handle this sort of public threat to his carefully orchestrated private world. But Antonio was family. He had no choice. And there was this other new business that he was somehow being forced to pursue. He must continue to pay attention to that. He suspected that Antonio was linked in with it, though he couldn’t work out why he had come to that conclusion.
So his instincts were telling him he must do all he could to help his young relative and that amazing sister-in-arms ...
What had he done to deserve this? Well, that inspector had better remember the warning he had received ...
He needed to clear the decks, to give himself some breathing space, to plan his way out of this, without these urgent pressures. Yes ... he would have to spirit the boy away from the police hunt in Rome, and then somehow get him out of the country. That would be expensive in time and money. Calling Antonio’s mobile phone would be a big risk now. But ... no, there was no other way, with all those influences bearing down on him, and no time to lose — they had probably started the manhunt already ...
He made his decision.
* * *
The police inspector had made his decision, too. He closed his office door and phoned his sergeant, who had been out for the past half-hour and would not yet have had the challenge of discussing the latest news with his colleagues. He reminded him, very firmly once again, to forget that the boy and the smartly-dressed man were ever seen in the café, and told him that he was about to report that he now remembered spotting the newly-revealed suspect, Murano, walking down the street away from the scene, just as they had arrived. Another manhunt would begin immediately. And he would order the full monitoring of the student’s famous mobile phone, and his bank and credit cards. But, he stressed to his uncomfortable subordinate, absolutely no mention would ever be made of the man in the cashmere coat.
The barman and the waiter had already been given the same sound advice, as the inspector left the café. And, because none of the staff had spotted the fleeting appearance of a woman in a pale blue suit, the police officers would never even learn of her existence.
To be continued ...