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Observation Three

Changing Hearts

by Michael E. Lloyd


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Chapter 32: Spoleto, Italy

The Mater’s work in Venice was complete, and Salvatore was back on his own again. But his new-found professional vigour would slowly begin to change that solitary way of life into one of increasing celebrity, and hopefully with fine new friends to surround him with honest respect and maybe even love. The Chief had done what she could to ready him for that significant but very desirable new world.

And now there was some more practical business to conclude in Italy.

It was nearly six o’clock. The flight from Dublin to Madrid was still progressing nicely, but it was time for the Handlers to exchange places. Lucia would wind down from her emotional farewell to Salvi by quietly monitoring the radimote which remained faithfully attached to Toni and Maelene. Carla, meanwhile, would pick up the other radimote, still hovering unseen in Venice, as she and Quo prepared to re-open their long-standing relationship with the Mater’s retained patron, Don Giuseppe Marco Terleone.

* * *

Carla had been thinking carefully about the best strategy for locating their man.

Since the junior civil servant Salvatore had already left his office in Venice by five o’clock that Friday afternoon, there was not much likelihood, more than an hour later, of finding a very senior civil servant still at his one of desks in the various Parliament buildings of Rome. And they knew that Terleone normally only used his luxurious town apartment during the working week. But Carla would begin there, she decided, in case he had not yet left for the country.

Moving smoothly southwards across Italy to the famed co-ordinates of the highly secure Via Veneto front door, she passed straight inside, up the lift shaft, and into the apartment itself. The Mater’s systems never forgot a route. But her rapid trip had been in vain — the place was neat, tidy, and fully shuttered, with no suggestion that Terleone was still in the city. Fair enough. They had faced the same situation exactly a month before ...

Hmm. It would be a good two hours’ drive for him, out into the Umbrian Hills. But maybe he had left work very early, to avoid Rome’s notorious rush hour? That’s what a man in his position should be able to do, right?


She found him relaxing, all alone, in the drawing room of his country house, nestled in the woods on the fringes of a small hillside village not too far from Spoleto. The elegant space was filled with the majestic sounds of his favourite Puccini opera.

Just perfect, thought Quo, and Carla could not argue with that.

Terleone would not recognise her straight away, of course, despite their several previous encounters. But when she gently called his name, and he turned to face this unthinkable intrusion with sudden trepidation, her smile was as disarming and irresistible as when he had first espied her in that fashionable café on the Via Frattina.

His concern and anger evaporated, and he sank meekly back into the sofa. Carla reached out and drew him in once more, and Quo went to work on the limited and final re-engagement of their reluctant benefactor.

So, you now recall all that is necessary of our previous affairs, signore.

‘I believe that is the case, Quo.’

Good. And let me begin this evening’s little chat by expressing my admiration for your delightful villa.

‘Grazie mille! Sì, la Casa Nostra è una cosa molto bella.’

Ah, CSN&Y ...

‘I beg your pardon?’

A trifle. Something from your niece Anna’s musical heritage ...

‘I do not recall an opera with such words in the libretto.’

Not an opera, Giuseppe. A case of Déjà Vu. Now, may I next ask after the health of your family?

‘We are all well, thank you — and the grandchildren are a constant delight!’

Excellent. And the broader family ...?

‘I’m not at all sure what you mean.’

Oh, come now, signore. Let us not revert to such childish games. I shall not insult either of us by discussing it further. Although the subject is, as they say, germane ...

‘Kindly get on with it, Quo!’

As you wish.

You remember well, of course, your young great-nephew Antonio. And you now recall clearly again a little of the assistance you have given to him and others, in many different ways, over the past ten weeks.

We should like you, henceforth, to assume your mantle of a latter-day Robin Hood with redoubled fervour.

Firstly, I am delighted to inform you that Toni appears to be deeply in love, and we have high hopes for a happy future for him and his new innamorata Maelene. We trust you will show your own delight at this fine news, on his twenty-first birthday in a few weeks’ time, by transferring a very substantial gift into his personal bank account. I shall supply you with all the necessary information in a moment. And we are confident that this transaction, like the others, should attract no undue attention from the regulatory authorities. After all, Antonio truly is family ...

And of course, Toni and Maelene will have no knowledge of the original provenance of those funds. They will continue to assume that you are personally very rich and very, very generous. Ignorance is usually bliss.

‘Quo, I must protest. Of course I have unbounded love for my niece, and her husband, and their fine son Antonio. Of course I was planning to send him special birthday wishes and a suitable present in July. But to be railroaded by you in this cavalier manner, and to be expected to give the boy so large a sum of money ...’

... is precisely what is happening, Giuseppe — or should I rather call you Janus? And there is, as so often in your particular world, no option to refuse. I know that you will soon realise the futility of any further objection.

Terleone paused, as something long-hidden deep inside his soul put two and two together and came up with a number much larger than four.

‘Very well then, Quo. Because, as you say, he is family. And now, please leave me in peace!’

Oh, we have not finished yet, sir.

While in America, we uncovered a rather unsavoury little business, which we were thankfully able to close down with hopefully minimal lasting damage to those involved. Now, a part of that wind-up operation involves substantial financial compensation for, among others, the unfortunate “victims” of the enterprise’s ill-judged actions.

The cash element of that compensation is a small proportion of the total, but it still amounts to many millions of U.S. dollars. We should like you to make some amends for your own very dubious business activities over the decades by furnishing that money to a discreet intermediary via immediate bank transfer. Once again, I shall make you directly aware of all necessary details before we are finished here today ...

‘That is preposterous, Quo! This time I absolutely do refuse!’

I think not, Giuseppe.

The power level of the Missioning Sphere circuit was raised a couple of notches, and that did the trick nicely.

‘Enough, then! Now will you please just go!’

Not yet sir. We have one more offer to make.

We should like you to give us a much longer-term promise. Put simply, we wish you and your business associates to establish a very generous, regular financial contribution, sine die, to the ongoing challenge of saving the drowning city of Venice.

‘I have very little to do with Venice, Quo. I have no family there, for one thing ...’

No immediate family, I agree. But, in truth, you have many other connections, do you not? I remember well how speedily you arranged for Toni’s urgent departure from Rome, the moment he began to pose a threat to your other world. You sent him straight to Venice, and you effortlessly arranged every aspect of building his new identity and re-provisioning him in that city. Venice is a big part of your life, Don Giuseppe, and you will indeed show your deep gratitude for all it has given you and yours, by giving back to it for the rest of your days, and beyond.

‘This is quite intolerable ...’

Up again went the power level of the Missioning Sphere.

There. I think that should be sufficient encouragement, Giuseppe. And you now have all the information you need to proceed.

The urbane tyrant realised, once more, that there was no escaping from a grip very similar to those he had long deployed himself.

‘So, you win again, Quo.’

Not I, sir. Your country and its people will be the ones to gain from this. And I hope you will, some day, discover sufficient grace to become proud of what sadly has to be, for now, a still-unwilling action on your part.

‘Enough of the patronising!’

Not quite the right word in my case, sir, but your message is clear. And it may now surprise you to be reminded that I intend to furnish you with a small personal reward in exchange for all your bounteous gestures, past and future.

‘A reward for me?’

Yes, indeed. I solemnly promised you as much, in one of our previous meetings — in your private office in Rome, in fact. A Doman keeps her promises, sir, to her very best ability.

‘Hah! So, what have you brought me? Something to reinforce your disdain? A knife which I must help you twist? Or something more devilish? An exploding cigar, perhaps?’

Very jocular, Don Terleone — and, I feel, sadly inappropriate. I can see this will continue to be an uphill struggle for you.

I have brought nothing along with me. That is physically impossible for both Carla and myself, as I suspect you are well aware. But in the next few days, a small package will be arriving at your Rome apartment, direct from an Internet bookseller.

‘I have little time for reading, Quo.’

I have already arranged for your busy brain to regularly make a little time for this particular assignment, signore.

‘All right, all right ... I can see you’re dying to tell me. What book is it?’

Not one book, Giuseppe, but two. Your own Holy Bible, and a broad-ranging, objective treatise on the sacred texts of many of the other religions of your Earth.

For us, the worship of any deity is alien, and we do not offer you these works to press any such worship upon you. But we have learnt that each of them also contains much that reflects our own way of living. Let me simply label it as “Domanism” — the words “respect” and “altruism” and “charity” perhaps characterise it most neatly — and commend the sacred texts to you for such messages alone. You will know now how to seek them out.

‘I really should like to discuss this further, Quo ...’

I do not think that would be productive, sir. We have exercised great restraint in our actions here today, in an effort to help you find a better way of life. We hold the power, of course, to force you to embrace a far more righteous code of behaviour, and at once — but that is not our way. We prefer to do only the minimum needed to set new wheels in motion. The rest must follow in response to the callings of your own soul.

‘I will not be manipulated in this way!’

Regrettably, sir, such insistence on your part is for once misguided. But let us put it down to a natural, initial denial of your new reality. The die is cast. Recognise that as soon as you can, and move on and hopefully upward.

And it is now time for us to depart. You may cease your background funding of our Illuminators, and you will forget almost every aspect of our joint dealings and the events of the past ten weeks — including, once it is made, your promised donation to the American compensation fund.

But you will, of course, forever remember your imminent birthday gift to your great-nephew, and you will never dishonour your new, ongoing obligations to Venice.

Goodbye, Don Giuseppe. May the grace of true charity possess your heart, some fine day.

Proceed to Chapter 33 ...

Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd

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