Bewildering Stories

Table of Contents
Chapter 9, part 2 appeared
in issue 128.

Observation One:
Singing of promises ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 9: Rome, Italy

part 3

Terleone selected a second pristine mobile phone from his drawer, hurried out of the rear of the building and into another busy street, and called Toni’s number.

‘Antonio? This is your new friend. Do not say anything yet. Listen carefully and do exactly as I say.

‘The police are searching for you. They have a photograph.

‘You must leave Rome at once. Do not ask why — just trust me. You must never use your present mobile phone again after this — do you understand?’ ... ‘Nor your passport, nor your identity card. Is that clear?’ ... ‘Now — are you near any shops?’ ... ‘Have you got plenty of cash?’ ... ‘Good. Buy a large pair of sunglasses, a large baseball cap, and something to go on top of the clothes you’re wearing. Pay cash. Put them all on straight away. Make sure you tuck all that hair under the cap! Then you must both take a taxi straight to Termini station, and go to Venice. Pay cash for everything. Find somewhere to stay ... somewhere private. As soon as you are settled in, call me from a street phone. Write this down ...’

And he read out the number of yet another mobile phone.

‘Read that back’ ... ‘Right. Nobody else knows that number, Antonio. When it rings, I shall know it is you calling. Then I shall tell you what to do next. Meanwhile, keep the sunglasses and the cap on at all times. And stop shaving. Is that all clear?’ ... ‘Good — now switch off your phone and go, my boy!’

Terleone rang straight off, praying that the call had not been monitored, praying that his regular confessions were appreciated. His prayers would, as usual, be answered, with eight minutes to spare.

Then, using his regular mobile phone, he spoke briefly again to his Head of Research, and modified his earlier request. ‘No problem,’ he was assured; the new information he sought would be provided to him within half an hour.

* * *

Toni switched off his phone, sighed deeply, and was again obliged to explain to Carla about yet more problems.

Her continuing concerns were therefore proving quite justified. Although Terleone probably was actively pursuing the mission which he had been rather hurriedly given, he was obviously working to a very different agenda as well.

But resigning herself in her turn to the situation, and deciding that this level of confusion must, after all, be closer to the norm on Earth than she and her colleagues had expected, she nodded her acceptance of Toni’s enforced new plans.

So she waited outside a nearby drugstore until he emerged wearing a khaki cap, a pair of less than fashionable sunglasses and a navy-blue cagoule. Then she pointed out that a taxi was luckily dropping off its previous fare only a few metres away. Without ceremony, Toni rushed straight for it, pulled the rear door open, jumped in and moved over. Carla slid elegantly alongside him. Then he reached back across her and slammed the door.

The traffic was moving much more slowly at this hour of the day. Neither of them was speaking. They were both too bemused by the ever-changing situation. There would be quiet time for proper conversation soon, they both hoped ...

Then Toni suddenly had a thought: ‘Are you going to join me on the train?’

‘Will it be crowded?’

‘I don’t know. Yes, probably ... it’s the rush hour now.’

‘Then I must not, Toni. We don’t want any hysterics from the other passengers. I will leave the taxi soon, and follow you in the usual way. If you do get the chance to find a quiet corner, I might be able to join you for a while. That would be nice. But whatever happens, I will watch you as you leave the train. I must see where you are spending the night. Then I have more work to do, while you sleep. I will meet up with you again in the morning, I promise ...’

The traffic had halted. Carla spotted a suitable doorway, Toni opened the nearside door, for appearance’s sake, and she slid out. Nobody was watching as she simply evaporated in the shadows ...

* * *

Toni studied the railway timetables, suddenly realising how exhausted he was again. He had been up since four-thirty, he had only eaten some crisps and a small pizza, and his brain hadn’t stopped buzzing all day. Yes, plenty of trains to Venice ... but it would be hours before he got there, and then he’d need to find somewhere to stay, very late in the evening. But the trains stopped at Florence ... and that was only about an hour and a half away. He would break the journey there. Carla would cope.

He stood in line for some time to buy his ticket, and paid in cash. Yes, Terleone had said he must pay for everything in cash. He still had plenty of euros left but, with ten minutes to spare before the next departure, he hurried over to a dispenser to draw some more. He always felt happier anyway with plenty of real notes in his pocket, as well as plastic. He inserted his bank debit card.

This transaction cannot be completed ... please try later.

But the card was returned to him. Strange. There was always plenty of money in his account; his parents saw to that. So he tried with his credit card instead. The same result. Must be a faulty machine. But there were no others immediately visible, and the next train was due to leave in four minutes. He would get more cash at the other end ... in the morning.

Then, in their different ways, Toni and Carla boarded the 1830 express to Florence.

* * *

The police cars, invoked by a string of alerts initiated by the computer systems of two separate banks, converged on Rome Termini six minutes after the train departed. For over an hour, the officers scoured the station for Antonio Felipe Murano.

* * *

As the train slowed down and stopped, ninety minutes after its departure, Toni stood up, and Carla, who was tracking him carefully from outside, prepared to follow him. She spotted the station sign: Firenze S.M Novella. This was presumably not Venice. But once again she had to tag along, still not back in the metaphorical driver’s seat ...

A single policeman languidly watched the station entrance from behind the wheel of his patrol car. Trying to get cash, they had radioed. So he probably hadn’t bought a ticket at that stage, anyway. Could have got on any number of trains since then. And this one had left Rome only five minutes after he’d tried to use the machine. Not likely to be on this one, then. More likely the one arriving at half-past eight. If he was actually getting off here in Florence. If he was going north. If he was planning to catch a train in the first place. Probably still in Rome.

And seeing, in the rush hour crowd, nobody obviously matching that vague broadcast description of a smartly-dressed student with long flopping dark hair and a shiny face, he resigned himself to another twenty-five minutes of tedium before the arrival of the next train, which held more promise. Then he would be able to drive back and go off-shift ...

* * *

Toni separated himself from the large group of commuters who had unknowingly helped to conceal him from those less-than-eagle eyes, and began his search for a small hotel. He soon spotted one, and yes, they had vacancies.

Passaporto, per favore.

‘Ah, I’m sorry ...’, he mumbled in his broken Italian, putting on his little-dog-lost face again. ‘It was stolen this afternoon in Rome. I’ve reported it to the police. And my embassy says they will sort it all out tomorrow. But I have an important interview here early in the morning, so I had to come. I’m very sorry ...’

The owner hesitated for a few moments. He then consulted his list, offering Toni his most expensive room, after adding 25% to the official rate. ‘Cash in advance. Take it or leave it. Out of the place before seven o’clock. If anyone asks, you did not stay here. OK?’

‘OK,’ said Toni gratefully, and handed over a lot of money.

He climbed the stairs with all his energy sapped, unlocked the door of his room, shuffled inside, and dumped his rucksack on the king-size bed.

Carla, following close behind, noted the position of the room and then left him to rest at last.

Retracing the route she had just followed, she was back in the centre of Rome within seconds, readying herself to appear unannounced at the now-known and adequately-calibrated co-ordinates of the city home of Don Giuseppe Marco Terleone.

Proceed to chapter 10 ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

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