Prose Header

Observation Two

Standing Divided

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
appeared in issue 226.

Chapter 6: Copenhagen, Denmark

part 1 of 2

Salvatore picked up his bags, pinned the newly-purchased rose to his jacket, locked the apartment door behind him, and walked the few hundred metres down to the Arsenale stop, in good time for the noon departure of the Alilaguna Airport Boat. Lucia was of course in close, unseen attendance, and would not be letting him out of her sight.

Terleone’s man in Venice, already seated at the rear of the passenger cabin, also watched him come on board, congratulating himself on guessing the researcher’s travel plan to the letter. And an hour later, just like Lucia, he discreetly followed his target off the boat and into the motor-coach for the short ride to the terminal building.

As the young Pirone waited unremarkably in the check-in queue for the Copenhagen flight, the older and equally unremarkable man idled past, slowed down but did not quite stop, and murmured ‘Meet me in the corner bar as soon as you’re ready.’

Fifteen minutes later, Salvatore was the proud possessor of a large quantity of cash — euros, Danish kroner, and US dollars, all in used, small denomination bills — and had also been promised that there would always be “more than enough” in his personal bank account.

* * *

For her first airborne pursuit of her protégé, Lucia — like Carla a few weeks earlier — had opted for a solo cross-continental flight, in close but invisible formation with the Scandinavian Airlines MD-81.

The two-hour flight landed ahead of schedule, and Salvatore was soon aboard a train speeding him direct to Copenhagen city centre, with a newly purchased tourist guide tucked into his jacket pocket. And from the station, under grey and cooling skies, it was only a fifteen minute stroll — for both him and his un-made observer — to the hotel on the Vesterbrogade. So by seven o’clock he was installed, showered, changed, and ready for action.

He had stuck with his original simple plan: to visit Marie-Anne at home straight away. If she wasn’t in, or it turned out she’d moved away — well, he would just have to go and watch her office building the next morning, and take it from there ...

* * *

Half-way through the previous year’s Christmas party at CKGS, a newly-joined manager had been introduced to Ms Marie-Anne Holden, and he had soon politely enquired: ‘So, tell me about yourself.’

She had glanced at her watch, and replied ‘Oh, I’m not very interesting, really, sir. And look, I’m sorry, but I have no time to spare now — I have lots to get done at home. But I’ll e-mail you later, if that’s OK?’

She had kept her promise, and done just that:

Well, Mr Larsen, this is me.

I was born in Copenhagen. I’m 25 years old. I’m 1.75 metres in height. I think I’m a bit thin. I normally keep my hair in a bun — I’m afraid you caught me in a rather casual moment! And I usually wear glasses, too!

I was educated at the University of Copenhagen (Faculty of Science, Geological Institute) ... a B.Sc. and M.Sc. course for a total of five years, from 1995-2000. This included six months spent in Venice, researching the lagoon and the city’s problems of flooding and sinking.

I’ve worked in the Public Relations department of CKGS since late 2000.

I like to wear practical clothes, and I think I’m efficient in everything I do. I keep myself to myself at work. And I accept rules — I don’t like rocking boats!

I like small amounts of healthy food — no luxuries allowed! I prefer staying in to going out. I enjoy certain sorts of very cool jazz music. I always visit art galleries when I’m travelling. I hate sports. I love reading, especially the biographies of little-known explorers.

I am in generally good health.

And you?

Mr Larsen had received the message, and had not subsequently wasted any more of the lady’s valuable time.

* * *

On the ground floor of an elegant building just off the Nørrebrogade, Salvatore knocked at the door of Marie-Anne’s apartment, and waited.

He had not attempted to get a haircut, and had brought no flowers or chocolates, but he was bearing some gifts: a giant pepperoni pizza (“their favourite”), and a CD of a local Venetian band to which they had danced, one evening several years earlier. They could listen to that together while they ate, he thought — she’d be in a good mood after that, and Lucia should be able to engage her easily, as called for by his current mission plan.

Lucia herself and the Chief were watching carefully, and hoping he was right.

Marie-Anne was indeed at home, as usual, and was very surprised to see her dowdy old flame flickering again on the doorstep. Without inviting him in, the tall young woman looked down upon the still-stooping figure, listened in silence to his little speech of re-introduction, and then studied his offerings.

‘Oh dear, Salvi — I’m a vegetarian now. I couldn’t possibly eat that! And this CD — pah, what a bunch of amateurs they were!’

‘Oh, Marie-Anne, I thought you really liked them.’

‘Listen, Salvi ...’

Across the entrance hall, the door of the living room opened, revealing Ms Holden’s large and puzzled fiancé in largely undressed glory.

‘Hey, I didn’t know you’d ordered dinner, honey!’

Salvatore’s limited life experience had left him with no frame of reference for any of this. But there was not a cruel streak in him. So without blinking, he just went native.

‘It’s OK, sir. My mistake. Wrong address. And the pizza’s nearly cold now. I’ll go back for a new one. Er ... maybe you’d like a slice anyway?’

The big guy silently shook his head, for several different reasons.

‘Good move. Yes. Right, then. I’ll be off. Right. Goodbye then, sir, madam ...’

And as he turned on his heels and scurried away, he added, under his breath and in his finest Canadian accent, ‘So long, Marie-Anne.’

Up in her Handler’s Studio, Lucia, who had been indistinguishably “with” Salvatore throughout this delightful encounter, accepted without question the Chief Surveyor’s immediate proposition that their naïve new assistant’s engagement strategy was quite simply doomed. They would need to intervene and take proper control of all further events in Copenhagen.

The young man’s suggestion of pizza for dinner, accompanied by throwbacks to “old times”, had not done the trick with the ice-maiden. No, they would need to hook their Marie-Anne by baser means. For her lunch tomorrow, they would offer the special menu, with smoky Danish bacon on the side ...

Salvatore wandered back across the bridge at the Pablinge Sø and into Ørsteds Park, and found himself an empty bench near the statue of Joan of Arc. He ate his very cold pizza all alone, but as usual he really didn’t mind too much. He reflected briefly on his failure to warm up Marie-Anne, as instructed; but he soon shrugged his shoulders, and assumed it would be OK to try again the next day, along the lines of his original fallback plan.

Satisfied with this decision, he ambled down to the Tivoli Gardens. It had been a long and strange day, and he didn’t have the energy to seek out anything more sophisticated. So he just strolled around the big and rather empty entertainment complex, looking briefly at each attraction, but not taking advantage of any of them.

It started to drizzle, and he was contemplating an early return to his hotel. But then he heard the sound of a clarinet penetrating the darkening air, and he quickly tracked down the trad jazz quintet that had just begun a performance in the Harmony Pavilion. He bought a large beer, found a table with a parasol to keep him dry, and sat down to enjoy the music.

Ciao, Salvi.

He turned to find Lucia sitting perkily on a spare chair beside him.

‘Oh, hello there! What a nice surprise. I wondered when I’d see you again. This band’s not bad, is it?’

She smiled and looked him straight in the eyes. ‘It’s very nice, Salvi. Now, come here ...’

He suddenly hoped for a little kiss, but as usual only got more deeply involved.

Well, Salvatore, that did not quite go as planned.

‘I’m sorry, Chief. I was really surprised she didn’t like the CD ...’

I think that says it all, my friend. No matter — we are used to such setbacks. In fact we now regard them as the norm. I suspect each of us has much to learn before we can expect to make smooth and rapid progress.

So Lucia and I will take the next initiative, I think. And we can let you have a little time off, to avoid any further unfortunate contacts with Marie-Anne.

‘Oh, Chief, I was hoping to get another chance with her tomorrow ...’

No, Salvatore. I think you might do well to stand back and judge for yourself that such a tactic would help none of us. Tomorrow you should simply do some sightseeing — and Lucia will join you for the morning, at least.

But you are still very important to us — in fact, we need a little of your insight and specialised experience at once.

‘Well, if you insist, Chief — I’ll do as you say. And how can I help?’

Nothing too arduous. We’d just like you to whistle a few bars of one of Marie-Anne’s favourite songs for us. Whenever you’re ready ...

The whistling had been performed with out-of-tune relish, and the Mater’s keen sense of hearing had distinguished it clearly from the unrelated backing of the fine jazz band.

Salvatore found himself alone again at the table. He took out his pocket guide to Copenhagen and made a few loose plans for the next day. Then he drained his beer glass, turned up the collar of his jacket, braved the worsening rain, and hurried out of the Gardens and back down the Vesterbrogade.

By the time he reached his hotel, there were no petals left on his little yellow rose.

* * *

He had a very restless night, but close to dawn he fell into a deep, exhausted sleep, and was only awoken by the gentle calling of his name.

Salvi ... Salvi ... buongiorno. Rise and shine — it’s well past nine!’

He opened one eye. Lucia was sitting at the dressing table and pretending to apply some make-up. Not a lot of her was reflected in the mirror, but he was too tired to notice.

She raised her voice considerably. ‘Pull yourself together, pal, and get some breakfast. Then we can see the town. The sun’s out again!’

They started at the Rådhuspladsen — the huge Town Hall Square at the south of the long pedestrianised area. Surrounded by a patchwork quilt of imposing architectural styles, Salvatore felt both quite at home, and also very far away from his own beloved St Mark’s Square. But he wasn’t a great talker, and Lucia too was content to observe the scene in relative silence.

Then, avoiding passers-by with care, they strolled through the friendly city centre streets and down to the charming quayside of Nyhavn. Salvatore found his tongue at last.

‘Isn’t this pretty, Lucia! It reminds me of Amsterdam. And I really do feel at home here, with a little canal to comfort me!’

‘I’m glad you’re a bit happier now, Salvi. And it looks like a good spot for a coffee — or maybe even a small beer, no?’

‘Dead right!’

They found an empty table, and Salvatore, remembering his first briefing and his occasional good manners, drew back a chair to allow his companion to sit down without undue squeezing.

‘Thank you, kind sir!’ she pretended to mock; but she meant it sincerely. She was very slowly warming to her unsolicited new friend.

‘So,’ she continued, after Salvatore had in fact plumped for a caffè latte, ‘you’ve been to the north of Europe before? To Amsterdam? It’s funny — we didn’t pick that up ...’

‘Oh no, Lucia ... I’ve only ever seen it in photographs and films. But it looks just like this!’

‘Ah, right. That’s reassuring. But you have travelled abroad a bit, haven’t you? To Austria, and Germany, and Switzerland ...’

‘Hmm — well, we never had too much money at home. So I didn’t go on any foreign holidays, unlike most of the other kids at school. But yes, my parents took me to Vienna on the train for my sixteenth birthday. We spent the weekend there. It was very impressive ... but I think I was too young to appreciate it.

‘And in a couple of university vacations I visited Munich and Zurich on my own — by train again. They’re the only trips I’ve ever bothered to make. I’ve spent my money on other things.’

‘So yesterday really was the first time you’ve been on a jet plane?’

‘Yes. It was very different ...’

‘How exciting for you! And I know how it feels ... I did my first flight yesterday, too! But it’s also a bit strange, Salvi, because we know you’ve been up in smaller planes many times before ...’

‘That’s right. I’d wanted to fly since I was very young, but of course it was always out of the question, financially. But when I started at university, I met a guy whose uncle was an instructor at the Aeroclub on the Venice Lido, and I ended up doing lots of early web site work for them in the evenings, in exchange for free lessons.

‘It took me nearly two years, but I got my licence. I only managed to pay all the other costs because my Grandmother had left me a bit of cash in her will, “for the little kid who always wanted wings”. And now I go flying just often enough to keep the licence valid. It’s expensive, but it’s great!

‘And I still have some money left over each month to give to my parents. I hope Papà will be able to retire soon — they both deserve a good rest, after all they’ve done for us.’

‘Salvi, I think that’s all quite marvellous. Bravo!’

He smiled cautiously and sipped at his coffee.

‘OK,’ said Lucia, after waiting in vain once more for some small show of interest in her. ‘I have work to do now, on my own. But first, you must tell me the names of all the places you plan to visit for the rest of the day. Then I’ll be able to come looking for you if we need you urgently. If I don’t meet up with you, you should be back in your hotel room by six o’clock, and stay there until I arrive. We must not lose you, my friend ...’

* * *

Lucia absorbed the planned itinerary and then hurried away, and Salvatore set off for his little solo tour.

He began with a gentle walk up to the impressive Castellet citadel, followed by the obligatory peep at the very Little Mermaid at the mouth of the harbour. The sea breeze had sharpened his appetite now, and he picked up a sandwich to munch as he ambled back towards the city centre.

He stopped for a while at Amelienborg Square, stunned by the vast elegance of the Palace mansions that were the daily home of the Queen and her close family. He was a little sorry he’d missed the famous Changing of the Guard — that only happened once a day, in the morning — but he’d never been one for much ceremony; he preferred quiet contemplation. So he was content. But he was resolved to see a little more of Danish royal life at first hand ...

Proceed to chapter 6, part 2 ...

Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd

Home Page