Table of Contents
Chapter 12, part 1 appeared
in issue 131.
Chapter 12: Venice, Italy
The message passed to Toni was polite, but terse.
‘Antonio, you must leave Italy. The police are still hunting you. I am not concerned with what you may or may not have done. I simply want to help you. I am organising everything. You must trust me. I am sure you will be able to return home soon, once things have been sorted out.’
‘But, signore ...’
‘No, Antonio, there can be no arguments. Have you found somewhere to live?’ ... ‘Students? Good. Tell me the address.’ ... ‘Is there a telephone number?’ ... ‘Bene. I shall only use it in emergencies. Now, write down this address and read it back to me.’ ... ‘Good. Do you have a map?’ ... ‘Can you see it in the list of streets?’ ... ‘Good. You will go there at exactly twelve noon today. You will be expected. The gentleman who will receive you will explain everything. You must follow his instructions precisely. Is that clear?’
Terleone’s powers of persuasion were more than enough to ensure Toni’s compliance.
‘Good. We shall talk again soon, Antonio.’
And he was gone.
Toni put the receiver down and stared into space. He knew he should be resisting all this ... but he knew he couldn’t. So he would just have to carry on.
Right ... Calle della Regina ... yes, another little street, back down near the jazz club. Only a few minutes’ walk. Everything was a few minutes’ walk in Venice!
He crossed the Grand Canal, found an outdoor café, and ordered a coffee and pastry. And suddenly, there was Carla again. He pulled back a chair for her.
‘Carla, I have to leave Italy. I have to meet somebody at noon. They’ll be organising it all. I really don’t know what’s happening. Do you?’
‘No, Toni: we are all still being driven by events. But we are learning much, and we are hopeful that things will calm down soon. Do you know where you will be going?’
‘No — they haven’t told me yet.’
‘Well, let us hope it will not take too long. We wish to use the rest of the information Giuseppe supplied to us as soon as we can. But you are still in his hands at the moment ...’
‘So will you just be following me until things are sorted out?’
‘I will, Toni.’
* * *
His expectation of a “little street”, Toni discovered, was rather an over-estimate. Back-alley was a better description. And in its dingiest and narrowest stretch, he found the number he was after, chalked onto an otherwise anonymous old wooden door. Toni tapped on it very politely.
It was opened by a small elderly man, who let him in with a cautious ‘Buongiorno,’ immediately removed Toni’s sunglasses and smelly cap, tut-tutted at the state of his clothes, and spent the next three minutes simply staring intently at his face. He made a few notes, then picked up a tape, took several measurements of Toni’s head, and proceeded to his neck, shoulders, arms, chest, waist, hips, legs and feet. All noted down. Then Toni had to stand against the wall. Several light pencil marks were made. Finally, it was the bathroom scales.
At one point in this ritual, Toni felt he must speak.
‘What are you doing this for, sir?’
‘Sshhhh ...’ was the only reply. It did not seem much like “explaining everything”. But Toni waited.
When the measuring was finished, the old man looked him in the face again.
‘How old are you, signore?’
‘And eight months.’
‘Va bene.’ It was noted.
‘Do you have money?’
‘I have very little cash left ... and I have been told not to use my plastic cards.’
The old man pulled open a drawer, counted out three hundred euros, and handed them over. He then took a small piece of paper, wrote briefly, and passed it to Toni.
‘You will go to this address at two o’clock this afternoon. It is just around the corner. Do you have a map?’
He handed back the cap and sunglasses. Motioning Toni to put them on once more, he opened the front door just a few inches, peeked out, ushered him through, and closed it without ceremony. He then returned to his notes and picked up the telephone.
* * *
Well, at least they were organising his schedule nicely around meal times ...
Toni decided to get himself a proper lunch. He had a nasty feeling he might be travelling again soon. He wouldn’t worry about being near crowds ... Carla could look after herself: that at least was clear. She probably wouldn’t join him this time.
He strolled back down to the Rialto Bridge and found a long row of restaurants spread along the north bank: the Riva del Vin. And there were outdoor tables, so he could maintain his disguise. He chose the Ristorante Canal Grande, no less, and for the next hour enjoyed some sights and sounds of tourist Venice, an excellent pizza and two glasses of fine house red wine.
* * *
At two o’clock he was back in the rabbit-warren; in Calle del Ravano this time, just beyond Ponte del Ravano ... and knocking at another nondescript old wooden door.
This one was opened by a well-dressed woman in her forties. She smiled a welcome. Toni felt more comfortable this time. But she said little as she went to work.
She sat him down in front of a large sink. On went a plastic cape. First she attacked his hair. The long, thick brown waves were soon lying all over the stone floor. Then a thorough wash and rinse. Then a darker brown dye. Then another long rinse, and a proper cut. ‘Bene,’ she said to herself. No mirror for him to monitor progress. Probably just as well.
Then she turned her attention to his stubble ... well, it was nearly three days’ growth by now. She tidied, looked dissatisfied (‘Not enough there yet, sir ...’), delved into a box, and carefully applied something all over his developing beard and moustache.
Finally she selected a pair of small and very fashionable spectacles (‘Plain plastic lenses, sir ... very lightweight’) and adjusted them till they fitted him perfectly. An identical pair, with dark lenses, was then prepared in the same way, placed in a soft case, and pressed into his hands.
When she had finished, she took off his plastic cape, stood back, smiled in satisfaction, then dramatically rotated his chair. Toni gasped. He did not recognise the face he suddenly saw in the wall mirror in front of him. Instead of a carelessly-combed young student, he saw a sophisticated, sharply-coiffured young blade. His reaction was exactly what she had hoped for ...
‘Sit over there now, please.’ She indicated a simple upright chair by the wall. For the first time he noticed the camera and the lights. When she was satisfied with his position, she took six exposures, carefully examining each result in the digital display, and encouraging him to relax again between each one.
Finally she led him back to the sink, the cape was deployed once again, and the “extras” she had applied to his face and chin were washed away.
‘It should look like the photographs by tomorrow evening, sir. That will be fine.’
‘Fine for what?’
‘Now, listen carefully,’ she said, ignoring his question and handing back his old sunglasses and cap. ‘You may move freely around the city, while you are waiting, but you must not get into any trouble. Is that clear?’
‘Yes, of course. And ... can I leave the cap off now?’
‘While you are out and about, yes. That is one reason for our speed! But you will need to put it on whenever you return to your room. Your student friends should not be allowed to see your new look. Keep away from them if you possibly can. Do not worry, it is only for another day ...’
‘But tomorrow you must be back in your room by three o’clock in the afternoon, wearing your old sunglasses and the cap, and you must not leave until a delivery has been made to you. It will be addressed to “Toni Farello”. That will be your name, tomorrow, for that delivery only. OK?’
‘And when you sign the courier’s document, with some scribble that looks like “Farello”, you must add the name “Anna” underneath.’
‘That’s my mother’s name!’
‘So you are unlikely to forget it, sir.’
‘As soon as you have fully studied the contents of the delivery, which will be of great benefit to you, you will call your contact in Rome again. Understood?’
She took the same precautions as his previous host, as she opened the front door.
‘It is clear, sir. Go now. Goodbye, and good luck.’
She closed the door and turned her attention to her camera and her personal computer. The short e-mail and its precious attachments were sent off ten minutes later.
* * *
Carla soon joined up with Toni again, and smiled her approval of his makeover. Then he told her of the enforced wait. She executed an almost perfect shrug of the shoulders.
So for the next twenty-four hours they toured the beautiful city. They visited the Square and the Basilica, the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace. They splashed out on a gondola ride (Toni was counting on something turning up), they marvelled at the Rialto, and they took a waterbus around the whole lagoon. In short, they did almost everything that two lovers would do on their first trip to Venice ...
Toni crept in very late that evening, after his student friends had finally switched off the house lights and gone to bed. And with a great effort of will, and a lot of help from his wristwatch alarm, he was up and straight out again before seven o’clock, for the rest of his free time with Carla.
So when he returned to the empty lodgings at two-thirty that afternoon, to await the arrival of the messenger, he had managed to avoid all contact with his generous new house-mates since that boozy Wednesday night.
* * *
An unremarkable man stepped off the train from Rome, pulled a large wheeled suitcase down from behind him, and walked with several dozen tourists along the platform and out of the station entrance. He passed the Scalzi bridge and entered the Lista di Spagna. Then, deviating from the route that Toni had taken two days earlier, he turned right and soon penetrated the gloom of a small local delivery agent’s office, in a basement room close to the Grand Canal.
He negotiated the immediate delivery of the suitcase to Sr. Toni Farello, and paid cash in advance, with the promise of a further large cash bonus on production of the signed receipt exactly thirty minutes later.
He then tailed the courier expertly. He observed the bell being rung, the door being opened by the young man in the sunglasses and cap, and the form being signed without incident. And he followed as the courier hurried straight back to the office with a close eye on the time and the bonus. He was glad there was no need for any corrective action, on such a pleasant day. Five minutes later, he presented himself at the office as arranged, checked and pocketed the receipt with its code word written precisely as expected, and handed over a further cash sum that was twice what he had promised. The courier looked up in surprise. The visitor put a single finger to his lips, and looked the man straight in the eyes. The message was clearly received.
* * *
Toni opened the suitcase. It was full of clothes — shirts, trousers, pullovers, jackets, socks, shoes, underwear — and everything else you would pack for a long holiday. He had no doubt it would all fit perfectly. Then, near the bottom, he found a bulky, unmarked brown envelope. He shivered. Then he tore it open.
A passport, with his own sharp new photo — but in the name of Rafael Luis Barola. A bank card in the same name, with its PIN hand-written on a little sticky yellow label. But no credit card. An extremely thick wad of used twenty-euro notes! A smaller quantity of Czech currency. A sheet of plain paper with a single line of text: firstname.lastname@example.org — p/w gaudi777. A mobile phone and charger, with another yellow label: “CALL ME NOW USING THIS — G.” And a smaller envelope with the words “Learn me, burn me” written on the outside. He opened this more cautiously. Another single sheet of paper.
Your name is Rafael Luis Barola (but if you ever forget and accidentally call yourself Toni, simply explain that it is a “pop star” nickname which you were given at school, and it stuck). You were born on 4 February 1982.
Five months before me, thought Toni. So you are now twenty-one, Rafael!
Your mother died when you were two years old. You never saw your father. You were brought up by foster parents in Barcelona.
That was where Toni was born and had lived until he was thirteen! But of course Terleone knew that. And of course it had to be so ...
Practise the signature you see on your new passport. When it comes easily, sign the bank card. Memorise its PIN, then burn the label when you burn this note.
Then spend a little time developing your new history further. Names for your foster parents; what you would have been doing in Barcelona since the age of thirteen; and so on. It is better for you to invent these things for yourself. You will manage.
Now, telephone me at once.
‘Rafael? It is good to hear from you. Are you well?’ ... ‘Good. Do you understand everything you have received?’ ... ‘Yes, you can use the bank card anywhere, just like a credit card. There will always be adequate funds.’ ... ‘Yes, but you need not worry about him. He died aged fifteen.’ ... ‘No, fifteen days ...
‘Now, Rafael — remember, you are Rafael! — you must depart as soon as you can. Make sure you dispose of all your old papers carefully. The Italian police are still very interested in you, believe me. So I have made some arrangements.
‘I have a friend whose son is presently studying music in Prague. I have told them that you might be visiting the city soon, and they have agreed to assist you if you should do so. I want you to go there immediately. The young man will welcome you and help you to find your feet. Enjoy a little holiday. Relax. Listen to some good music. Meanwhile, we can both take some time to think more carefully about how you should later proceed.’
Toni’s weak protests got him nowhere, but he did not really mind. Although he was increasingly experiencing nagging doubts, concerns about things that he probably should have been resolving, these were all so ill-defined that they evaporated whenever he tried to turn his thoughts towards them.
So he just breathed a deep sigh, and answered ‘Very well, sir.’
‘You should go by train to Prague. It will be far less risky than the airports for this journey. Once you are safely out of Italy, there should be no problems with flying elsewhere, if you wish to. Here is the name and number of the son of my friend ...’
Toni read it back, as usual.
‘Va bene. Finally, Rafael, I suggest you should only try to contact me in a dire emergency. Will you agree?’ ... ‘Thank you. And now I must say goodbye ... and good luck, my boy.’
‘Goodbye, sir ... and I really must thank you ...’
But Terleone was gone.
‘Are we moving on, Toni?’
He turned around. Carla was leaning against the table.
‘Oh, hello,’ he murmured, and was immediately ashamed at his apparent nonchalance. ‘I’m sorry, Carla ... yes, I think we are. My great-uncle’s arranged it all. I have a new name, and a new phone, and lots of money and clothes, as you can see.
‘We must go to Prague, in the Czech Republic. Uncle Giuseppe has given me the address of someone I can contact there ...’
‘Very well, Toni. Perhaps we can start our mission properly again once we arrive.’
‘I hope so, Carla,’ he said, wondering what he meant by that mechanical response.
He turned back to Terleone’s letter and carefully read it again. When he looked up, Carla had disappeared.
* * *
He practised his new signature on the back of the letter, until he was happy with it. Then he signed the bank card and memorised its PIN.
He found some matches in the kitchen, and burned the letter, its envelope, and the sticky labels in the ashtray. Then he decided he should also burn the pieces of paper with the addresses of the students’ lodgings and the two mysterious little houses he had visited the day before. He put all the remains into a small plastic bag, which he tied up and dumped in the kitchen bin.
Then he changed into some brand new clothes, put on the plain-lens glasses, and checked his latest image in the mirror. OK! Smart!
He tucked his toilet bag into the brand new suitcase. He took his bunch of keys, his old passport and identity card, his old plastic cards and everything else from his wallet, and put them all in the large brown envelope. Then he added the piece of paper with the phone numbers of both Giuseppe and his friend’s son in Prague. He placed the envelope at the bottom of his rucksack, alongside his old phone and all his other bits and pieces. Finally, he stuffed all his old clothes back into the rucksack. Then he stowed it at the bottom of the suitcase. He would decide what to do with it later ...
His wallet was then recharged with plenty of cash in two currencies, his new bank card and the note with his new e-mail ID. He put the rest of his new cash into another pocket of his new jacket.
Next, he sat down for a few minutes and did what the letter had instructed. He thought up some names for his “foster parents”, and he tried to imagine how he might have spent the last few years in Barcelona.
Then he took several twenty-euro bills from his pocket and placed them on the table under his door key, with a very brief note: “Grazie — Toni.”
He opened the front door and checked for approaching students. All clear. He knew that Carla would follow, and would join him when the time was right. He slammed the door and, trundling the suitcase behind him, he set off towards Santa Lucia station.
* * *
As he passed Santa Maria di Nazareth for the last time, he thought suddenly of Paula. She would have visited her own church many times since last Monday, he was certain. Whereas he rarely went inside one, especially the Catholic ones — except as a tourist, of course. That was probably their biggest point of difference ...
He stopped in his tracks, turned to the right and entered the church, the noise from his suitcase wheels disturbing the dull and musty silence. He sat quietly for several minutes in the back row of chairs, with many layers of indefinable guilt weighing on his shoulders. Then, for no apparent reason, the weights lifted. His blithe nonchalance had returned.
He strode back out of the church, turned right and walked into the station forecourt. Antonio Murano was in hibernation. Rafael Barola was abroad ...
To be continued ...