The Italian Connection – Part 1
The Italian Embassy
The warm sun was shining down as people walked to and fro, enjoying the day and the clear air.
For her part, Francesca di Cambrello was very thankful that so few people - other than Italians - understood the concept of Dietrologia. That oh so Italian idea that behind every action was some secret motivation that truly explained why an event had happened. Translated literally Dietrologia meant behind-ism, and it was an idea steeped in Italian theories of secrets and conspiracies whereby no action was explainable by purely unselfish motives, that there always had to be a hidden darker motive lurking in the background.
As she collected her purse and left her office, she figured that people back home might well conclude that the only reason she had started to date James Gordon was so as to meet his friend John Vosloo. That she was a spy and that John Vosloo was a South African military intelligence officer, would be all the information that most Italians would need to discern the assumption that she had deliberately bumped into the Deputy Prime Minister at that cocktail party and thus attracted James’s attention, so as thus to meet his friends the Vosloo’s.
It was of course nonsense; she had had no idea who John and Marianne Vosloo even were when she met James. It was only later when he introduced her to his best friends that she became aware that James even had a friend in the Intelligence business. Thinking on it, however, maybe some might say that using Dietrologia James had only asked her out so that his friend the lieutenant in Military Intelligence could in fact meet her.
“Oh it’s all too damn stupid and complicated even for me,” Francesca told herself as she stepped out of the Italian Embassy into the bright sunshine of a January Pretoria summers day.
“On such a lovely day as this who wants to twist their brains into knots?” Francesca asked herself as she checked her reflection in a shop window. What she saw was a tall, stunningly beautiful natural blonde, dressed in the very latest in chic Milan fashions, who drew both admiring looks from passing men, and envious looks from other women. As her commanding officer had told her back in Rome once, who would suspect that secretly she was a spy mistress running agents deep inside the South African government and military?
What would John Vosloo give to know that she was in fact a NATO agent codenamed ‘Bruin’ and that she was passing to her masters information on South African military and political plans and decisions virtually as soon as they were made, thanks to her network of agents.
“Well I can forget about all that, at least for the next couple of hours,” Francesca told herself as she signaled for a taxi, “and just enjoy a long leisurely lunch with James, John, and Marianne.”
“The Spaghetti House,” Francesca told the driver as she slipped into the back seat, sat back and relaxed as he headed the car into the traffic.
“Honestly there are times I despair of you both,” Francesca smiled as she threw her arms into the air in a very Italian manner, “you both come to an Italian restaurant and then – then you drink South African beer, and refuse to try the wine.”
“Give them time Francesca, one day you’ll teach them a few things about the finer things in life,” Marianne Vosloo giggled as she sipped the Chianti Classico that her friend had recommended as the perfect accompaniment to their lunch. She was wearing a grey jacket over a blue slip dress, while John Vosloo and James Gordon shook their heads. Both men were wearing open necked shirts and trousers, but the neat pressing of John’s betrayed his Army background.
“At least they are trying Italian food I suppose,” Francesca sighed, “I remember their reaction last month when we first came here.”
“Exactly,” Marianne laughed, “just remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“Just call us both van der Merwe,” James laughed as Francesca looked at the tall, broad-shouldered redhead.
“No!” Francesca laughed her melodic laugh, “I refuse to believe either of you is truly that stereotype.”
“Who says we aren’t?” John Vosloo spoke.
“Well I do for one,” his wife said as she looked daggers at him.
“Let’s change subjects shall we?” Francesca sensed that the situation needed defusing. She was aware from what Marianne had told her that the changes her friend was making in her life as she absorbed some of Francesca’s style and attitudes were causing certain tension in the Vosloo household.
James and his friends were all just a few years older then she was, but raised as they were in the backwaters of Rhodesia and South Africa, they lacked her sophistication. Oh they had style, that raw style she loved about this young country, but those centuries her family had of noble history still were inbred into her.
“I heard from Bram van der Byl that he’d like me to go look at a mine in Mazengwe he’s interested in investing in,” James spoke after a few moments of silence.
“A field trip from the university,” John said before he took another swig from his bottle, “just watch your step James. There’s a new leader coming to prominence there.”
“Kimba? I think I can handle a small man like him,” John said with a smile, “but it means I can meet up with Fergus and his wife. They’ll be visiting at the same time.”
Francesca looked at her watch, and said “oh my – I need to get back to work. Forgive me, darling,” she said as she got up and kissed James, before she walked out, Marianne accompanying her.
“Give Fergus my regards – and see if you can find out what’s happening in Zim,” she heard John say as they walked off…
“Remember I’m taking you out to the club to go riding at the weekend Francesca,” Marianne called out as the Italian climbed into her taxi.
“I’ll be there.”
“Where to Ma’am?” the driver asked as she closed the door.
“Italian Embassy please.”
“I meant to say,” Francesca heard her mother say as she sat in her apartment, resting her feet on the coffee table. “I ran into Natalya Buchenwald last Saturday.”
“You did Mama?” Francesca leaned back in her chair. “How was Natty?”
“Not good,” Dona Carlotta’s concern was obvious in her voice, “she wasn’t pregnant like she hoped.”
“Poor Natty, she so desperately wants to be a mother.”
“Are you still a…” the older woman’s voice hesitated over the words.
“Yes I’m still a virgin Mama, just like I said I would stay till I am married.” The younger woman laughed into the phone. “I told James that I’d promised the Virgin Mary that I’d not make love before my wedding night and he respects that.”
“Good. And by the way Francesca darling when will we finally meet this paragon of manly virtue?”
“In a few weeks I hope. I’m trying to persuade him to come to Rome with me when I come to visit.”
“Your Papa very much wishes to meet this man who has captured his daughter’s heart.”
“Oh – he wishes to have the talk with him, does he?”
“I think he’s wondering how a South African man of Scots descent has managed to capture your heart,” Carlotta di Cambrello laughed.
“Well, I hope I can clear that up soon mama. I have to go – until next time…”
Pretoria Riding Academy
As Francesca got out of the car, she inhaled the scent of horses in the air and smiled. “So this is where you come to escape,” she said as she looked at Marianne, in her khaki blouse, jodhpurs and riding boots. Francesca was wearing an open necked blouse, her white scarf tied round her neck as a cravat, tan pants and short boots.
“Oh yes – reminds me of the past glories,” Marianne said with a smile as they walked to the stables – Francesca stopping as she saw the brunette standing there, saddling a horse.
“Alex,” Marianne said as they walked over, “this is an unexpected pleasure. Do you know Francesca di Cambrello? Francesca, this is Alex Green – she works for the government as well”
“No – it’s a real pleasure,” Alex said as she shook Francesca’s hand.
“Right – let me get our horses,” Marianne said as she walked off, Francesca looking at Alex – a person she knew far more than others realized. For example, she knew what Alexandra Green had in fact been born as Alessandra Verdi and that her family had changed their name simply to fit in better in Durban’s English speaking community, and that deep down she was in many ways as Italian in her outlook as Francesca was herself.
“Good morning Mouse,” Francesca whispered as they both saddled their horses.
“And good morning to you Bruin”
“I didn’t know you were a member of this club?”
“I don’t get to ride nearly as often as I’d like, but yes I’ve been a member for a couple of years.”
“So is this purely an accidental social contact?” Francesca checked nobody was listening.
“No I knew you rode most weekends and I urgently needed a meet.”
“You know that we shouldn’t be meeting at all?”
“I know, strictly speaking I should talk to Giancarlo, and he talks to you.”
“He’s the cutout.”
“And I shouldn’t even know who you are should I Francesca?”
“No, but you are too good at your job Alex and worked out who was the Case Officer for NATO.”
“It’s a case of mutually assured destruction if either of us betrays each others secret.”
“So we have learned to trust each other,” Francesca smiled, “anyway what is so urgent that you’ve broken both protocol and good trade practice to come see me directly?”
“Because some of the traffic crossing my desk at SACIC may relate to you and your activities, and I thought it right I gave you a heads up.”
“Now how can South African Combined Intelligence Command even have an idea who I am Alex? I work for the Italian embassy dealing with cultural matters, I’m really little more then a glorified clerk/typist dealing with enquiries.”
“Well our people are now convinced that there is a spy ring that has deeply penetrated us.” Alexandra took a breath, “they even have the codename ‘Bruin’.”
“Is that all they have?”
“Pretty much, but you better tighten up your procedures and proceed with caution Francesca.”
“Warning noted,” the Italian woman cinched her saddle.
“And be careful with John Vosloo, he’s not stupid.”
“I never thought he was – is that all?”
“No – let’s talk when we get back…”
“All right,” Francesca said as the horses were led away, “what do you have?”
“Have you heard of Mohammed al Salim?”
Francesca nodded as Alex said "He's acting as the
middleman in a deal between our government and the Chinese regarding the
purchase of Surface to Air missiles."
"Now you have my interest Mouse," Francesca
sat on a hay bale.
"We also think though that he is supplying said
SAM's to the ANC fighters..."
"If peace is coming isn't that irrelevant?"
"It could be," Alex thought carefully what
to say next. "There is strong intelligence that extreme elements might
still want to fight on even if the government reaches an accord with Mandela,
and that has my masters worried."
"Okay I get that."
"But what worries me more is that he might be
pulling a fast one on us all, and that he is conning everyone and just
pocketing as much as he can get away with."
"Well he wouldn't be the first arms dealer to do
"So I've asked Hennie to put his
counter-intelligence people to looking closely at al Salim while he's here in
South Africa..." Alex took a deep breath, "and I'm asking a huge
favour from you Bruin. Can you ask your bosses what they have on this
"I can ask."
"That he's screwing my current government doesn't
overly worry me, but I don't like the idea of him putting missiles in the hands
of those who might sabotage peace, and I especially hate the idea that he's
using us all in a get-rich-quick scheme."
"Okay I get all that, let me see what I can find out." Francesca nodded.
“Well, I have sent the request – now we wait,” Francesca said quietly as she made a note in her book, and then closed it up, putting that notebook and others into a bag and closing it before she walked to the far side of her bedroom. She allowed herself a small smile as she put the notebooks in one of the hidden drawers in the huge old oak bureau and closed it. The bureau was an antique that had historically lived in one of her family’s castles, but in bringing it to Pretoria she knew that it would function as a secure place to hide things without arousing suspicion as a safe might.
Picking up the cup, she sipped her tea and looked out of her window. That as experienced enough intelligence officer as the Mouse had thought it necessary to break cover and contact her like that worried her. It worried her almost as much as that night they’d been playing bridge and John Vosloo had proudly informed his wife and friends of his promotion into Military Intelligence, and that he was tasked to try and catch any spies working in Pretoria.
John and Marianne – she loved them both, but sometimes that little fear expressed herself in the back of her mind. John was good at his job – very good – and if Mouse had engaged his help to monitor this man, than that may distract him, but it also may attract his attention to other things. She had to hope the fact he was new in his position meant he tempered his actions…
As she lay on her bed in the dark Francesca let her mind drift to her relationship with James. Yes she knew she was in love with him, that he was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, but she was also far from unaware of the difficulties that becoming James’s wife would present. How she could ever tell him that she was a spy - and could she keep that fact a secret forever?
There was also the whole sex thing. She’d made a vow to go to her wedding bed a virgin, but that didn’t stop the feelings she felt inside, nor was she oblivious to the fact that most men found her highly desirable. Should she sleep with James? Should she break her oath? What would happen if she was outed as a spy, would she never know the touch of the man she loved?
As she drifted off to sleep, she hoped the answers would be straightforward…
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
“Thank you Father,” Francesca said as she knelt in the confessional booth, her hands together in prayer as the priest gave her absolution for her confession. She was dressed simply if stylishly, in a blue dress coat, her handbag in front of her as she knelt on the stool.
“Go in peace, my child,” the priest said through the grill, Francesca nodding as she stood and collected her bag, the thin white envelope on the floor as she opened the door and stepped out.
“Thank you,” the man standing outside said as he took Francesca’s place, closing the confessional door as she walked to the pew. She knew he would see the envelope and take it with him in his jacket pocket as he left – a simple method, but so effective, even if she felt using the seal of the confessional was stretching things a little bit.
Giancarlo Pietri looked like every popular stereotype of an accountant. Tall, thin, with receding hair, and wearing small half framed glasses, he was far from most people’s image of a top spy, but from his desk in the financial comptroller’s office of the Ministry of Defence not only was he a major source of information, but also uniquely placed to be the principal agent in one of Francesca's spy rings.
He was also an extremely devout man and he regularly attended mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pretoria, whoever was going to suspect that the cathedral was being used as a place to pass information between him and his handler, the beautiful, but also very devout, Assistant Third Secretary for Cultural Affairs at the Italian Embassy, Francesca di Cambrello?
Francesca felt happier now knowing that Giancarlo had her request for information about al Salim, and his transactions with the government. Hopefully it would not take too many days for him to gather what she needed. With luck, she would also have the information from Rome to review by then as well…
The Italian Embassy
“Thank you,” Francesca said as she took the briefing document, and extracted the material inside. Quietly, she studied the briefing that had been sent to her from Rome. NATO was turning a blind eye to a lot of al Salim's activities it seems. He was involved in sanctions busting heavily, helping the de Klerk government purchase everything from oil to arms, but he was being tolerated because he was also supplying intelligence on several other 'clients' of his, ranging from Muslim militants to several so-called liberation movements.
"Alright he knows how to play the game," Francesca thought to herself as she looked at the face in the photograph, strong, but suspicious at the same time. It seemed obvious as well, at least to her eyes, that he had either corrupted, or was blackmailing a whole host of people to turn a blind eye towards what he was doing.
"I just hope and pray that Papa and Uncle Claudio aren't linked into this somehow," she said a little prayer. No, Mr al Salim was just the type of man her Papa would have nothing to do with, but she hoped others in the companies were just as scrupulous.
As she looked up and closed the file, placing it on her desk, she said “sir – is there something I can help you with?”
“The reception this Wednesday – we need to add a name to the invitation list. Will you send it to this man?”
“Of course, Sir,” Francesca said as she glanced at the card she was handed. It would be good to see the face of the enemy…
"Penny for them," James asked as the waiter walked away. Francesca looked at him and smiled as she said "Penny for what?"
"For whatever is going on inside that beautiful head of yours," the big man smiled, "I've never seen you so distracted."
"Oh it's nothing really," Francesca crossed her fingers while she lied, "it's just the Ministry of Culture back in Rome putting roadblocks in the way of my idea for an exhibition in Johannesburg."
"Why do you always say you are just a glorified
typist Francesca?" James smiled again, "this exhibition is actually
"I think it has more to do with the fact they
know I have family contacts who can help...and that I can maybe talk Papa into
sponsoring the exhibition, otherwise I'm sure I'd never be allowed even to
"Oh what it is to be rich and powerful."
James burst into laughter.
"I guess," Francesca smiled back at the man,
"anyway at least it's giving me the chance to something I believe in, even
if it is way above my usual work."
"Francesca di Cambrello I don't believe that you are half as stupid as you pretend to be." James held her hand.
“Oh – and just how do I give that impression?”
“I’ll tell you at your flat…”
"No James," Francesca pushed him away with a giggle, "you know very well that I promised the Holy Mother that I would go to my wedding a virgin."
"I know," he sighed, then shifted position on the sofa. "You are just so beautiful."
"Thank you," she smiled, "and I'm
sorry, but I take any vow I take with the utmost seriousness. We can kiss and
cuddle, but no I will not have sex with you."
"Fergus says that you are a tease," James
"Well Fergus thinks he can have any girl he likes.
He needs be glad he and I aren't dating."
"That would be interesting," James laughed
some more, "the man who thinks he is irresistible, meets the girl with the
lost secure chastity belt key."
"Well it's not quite how I think of myself," Francesca laughed as well.
“Well, he’s in town this weekend, so we can try then…”
The Italian Embassy
As Francesca sat in the back of the meeting room, to most people she was taking notes on the discussions of the senior diplomats about the exhibition that was to be held in Pretoria. She was listening carefully to some of the stories they were sharing over coffee, however, and taking mental notes.
When they talked about how they had dealt with things in the recent regime, however, she had to check the blood which was boiling inside her.
"Your job is not to take sides Francesca," she warned herself, “you are here to gather intelligence for Italy, and by extension for the NATO allies. Whatever your personal views regarding apartheid, or the actions of the revolutionary movement, you are simply in Pretoria to serve."
Francesca was always conscious about stepping outsides the boundaries of her job. Her legal training helped give her the discipline to act dispassionately in her clients’ interest, but still she did have opinions.
"Stop worrying," she told herself, "you've done this several times before. Who is ever going to think you are a spy?"
Telling herself that though was easy, and from being aware of the face that her heart was beating a little faster, she was still a little afraid of being exposed in a public meeting like this.
Discreetly she glance in the mirror of her compact to see if she could see anyone trailing her. But there was no-one, as a tall dark haired man came into the room and whispered into the South African diplomat’s ear.
“So we will talk further at the reception tomorrow?”
Francesca closed her notebook and stood up as the parties left, then checked her watch…
“Well, if nothing else, you look cleansed and refreshed by your visit this afternoon,” James said as he looked at John Vosloo, Marianne shaking her head as she looked at Francesca.
"Well, it's not quite what I expected when I
joined MI," John shook his head before taking a drink of his beer,
"trailing someone isn't exactly the best job in the world."
"As a new officer you got to expect the shit jobs
Man," James laughed.
"It's what I told him," Marianne looked up
from the menu. "You have to start at the bottom."
"Ja that I know, but starting at the bottom in that damn Turkish Bath could have meant something very different."
"Poor John," Francesca laughed aloud whilst inwardly wondering if the Arabs visit to a bath house might have significance. She was aware of certain other parties who frequented that place – another thing to look into…
The Italian Embassy
The large reception room was filling up slowly, as the guests met, greeted each other and talked small talk – or not so small talk. Francesca made her way round the room, wearing a black cocktail dress which hugged her body, making sure she was seen by all.
Outwardly she was doing everything a relatively low level staffer should do at such a function, smiling, talking, being pleasant to everybody, but inside Francesca was processing everything she was seeing, and everything she was hearing. Receptions like this were a routine part of any diplomat’s life, but they took on an added importance for those engaged in intelligence work. A casual, but indiscreet word, could reveal far more than most people could even guess, and Francesca had been well trained by her masters in the art of listening.
As she looked over, she saw the olive skinned gentleman talking to the undersecretary for industry. Mr al Salim had been among the first arrivals and Francesca had quickly noticed that just as she was 'working' the room, then so was the Arab businessman, and that he was also very good at it. She'd noticed him conversing with the ambassador, but also that he'd talked to some of the guests from both other foreign embassies, and also the South African foreign ministry.
Yes the man certainly knew how to play the game. She saw him glance in her direction, and smile slightly as he nodded, and she hoped he had not really seen her.
Fortunately, the arrival of a certain red haired gentleman took her attention as she walked over and smiled.
"I'm so sorry I’m so late," James held his hands up in the air, "but blame the university administration, the meeting of the faculty council overran."
"So it wasn't just because you hate this type of event?" Francesca smiled as James took a glass of wine from one of the waiters.
the answer is no," he laughed.
are excused," she laughed as well.
"So did I miss much?" he said as he looked round, and nodded to John as he and Marianne stood with Hennie Botha, the two men in their uniforms.
"Not really, just the usual Pretoria gossip. I've already heard most of it at the club at the weekend."
and your gossip," James laughed again.
"Hey,” Francesca said as she hit him on the arm, “I'll have you know you men gossip just as much."
“Not about fashion though….”
“May I introduce Peter Hope to you? Peter has recently joined our Foreign Ministry as a Junior Officer. Peter, this is Mohammed al Salim.”
“Ah yes – I have heard we are negotiating with you over some contracts,” Peter said as he shook the Arab’s hand.
“Indeed – I am told that you may be in a position to assist me with part of those negotiations.”
“Oh,” Peter said quietly, “in what way?”
“One of the potential suppliers – perhaps we can talk later?”
As Francesca made her way back a short while later from the restroom, she was taken by the arm by the First Secretary. “Someone I want you to meet,” he said with a smile as she found herself been walked over to a man she had been watching, James accompanying her.
“And who is this we’re been taken to now,” he whispered into her ear as the man turned round, smiling as he did so.
Salim may I present Francesca di Cambrello, she's our cultural affairs
officer," the First Secretary made the introduction.
"And can I
present Dr James Gordon from the University of Pretoria," Francesca
to meet you both," the Arab nodded, "and can I ask what you do at the
university Dr Gordon?"
sounds interesting," al Salim smiled.
have to ask Miss di Cambrello, are you one of THE di Cambrello's?"
say," Francesca giggled as she slipped into her role as the slightly dizzy
"I have had the honour then of meeting your parents in Rome before."
“Oh – in what capacity?”
“I was representing a firm who wished to do some business with di Matello Electronics – your father and mother joined us for a dinner during a visit.”
“Ah, of course. I hope you found them well?”
“Very much so – a real pleasure to meet you as well, my dear lady,” Mohammed said quietly as he looked at her. “Forgive me – others I must meet…”
“I’ll get us some more drinks,” James said as he walked to the bar, leaving Francesca deep in thought.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave," Francesca inwardly sighed as she reflected on how much easier it would be if she didn't have to keep any secrets from James, if she could just tell him that she was both a serving naval officer, a fully qualified lawyer, and that far from having studied the history of art at the University of Pisa, she had in fact graduated from the Naval Academy at Livorno.
Oh – and most importantly, that she was an espionage agent.
"So what do you think Francesca?" she suddenly heard the ambassador's wife talk to her.
what?" she looked bemused.
James shook his head as he handed her a glass, "you looked like you were a
million miles away."
"Sorry," Francesca shook her head, "and I apologise Sophia, I hope you don't think I was being rude?"
"I was only asking what you think of my dress Francesca," the older woman laughed.
“I love it – where did you find it?”
“When I was last in London…”
The Italian Embassy
"Well what did we learn last night at the
reception?" Francesca asked the three officers as they sat around the
table in the secure meeting room.
"Beyond what is in our reports you mean?"
the air attaché asked as he sipped his coffee.
"I do," Francesca looked at the three faces.
How would most people understand that these officers, all of whom held higher
military rank then she did, reported to her, a 'humble typist', as head of La
Citadella's Pretoria station?
"Just much of the usual gossip," Guido Bonetti, the military attaché said as he sat back, "though I did overhear a tiny fragment of talk between your friend at counter-intelligence and his boss about trailing that Arab guest of the ambassador's. No idea though why they are interested in him though."
"I'd already heard that," Francesca leaned back and smiled. "He's the middleman in an arms deal and they are worried he is double dealing."
"Ah, I understand," Major Bonetti finished
his cup, 'they don't trust him?"
"So I'm told, and having met the man himself last night, I can understand the concerns. Let’s leave him to our friends there."
"I picked up a little information regarding planning for integrating ANC approved officers into the military," Vittoria Scalise the very efficient female Naval attaché spoke, "Admiral Botha was laughing that his branch at least had little to fear because, and I quote, 'kaffirs don't like water'."
"Racist old bastard," Francesca shook her head, "it's dinosaurs like him who might derail all this yet."
"Did you meet a guy called Peter Hope
"I can't say I did Guido...Why?"
"He's a new junior officer in the Foreign
Ministry, but I've heard that name whispered as one of the nasties from
"Now why would they be putting one of those psychos in the ministry?" Francesca mused.
“Well, I also heard he’s been sent as part of a delegation to Rome to present some offers of trade deals.”
“Is he now?” Francesca closed her eyes as she said “inform headquarters, they may wish to keep an eye on him from a distance…”
As Francesca put the last of the plates away, she heard her telephone ringing, and walked into the main room, sitting down and smiling as she picked up the handset.
“Papa,” Francesca said with a smile as she sat back, “how is Mamma and Rome?”
“Your mamma is well,” her father said quietly, “but we have an – issue here for which I wish you to return home for a few days Francesca.”
“An issue? Papa has something happened?”
There was silence for a few minutes, and then she heard her father say “Claudio and I had a meeting today with Alberto di Matello. He seemed to be in good health, until he had to take a telephone call during our meeting, and then he had to leave suddenly.”
“di Matello? I heard that name in passing at a reception the other night – do they not make components for military equipment?”
“Indeed – a business Claudio and I are in the process of disengaging ourselves,” her father said “but when I called his home a short time ago to enquire after him, he told me his daughter has been…”
“His daughter Andrea was snatched from the Via Nationale this afternoon, and they have no idea who did it. Francesca, I know it is asking a great deal, but…”
“I will ask for leave to come papa,” Francesca said quietly, “and, with your permission, I will bring James for you both to meet him…”
Palazzo di Cambrello, Rome
As the car drove through the arched gates, and came to a stop in front of the entrance, James looked out at the large entrance, and then at Francesca.
“I know the time had to come soon,” he said quietly as he looked at Francesca, and ran his finger under the collar of his blue shirt, “but I did not expect it to happen quite so quickly. Just what am I doing here?”
“Meeting my parents,” Francesca said as she stepped out of the car, the light breeze blowing the pleats of her peach coloured skirt as the doors opened, James also getting out as a middle aged couple walked down the stairs. The man was obviously a military man, his blazer and pants neat, the tie knotted just right, but the woman was an older version of Francesca.
“Welcome home, my child,” the man said as he hugged Francesca, and kissed her on the cheek, “and I presume this is the young man you have told us so much about?”
“Indeed – James, meet my father, the Marchese di Cambrello, and my mother.”
“Call me Carlotta,” the woman said as she hugged James and kissed him on both cheeks, “and this is my husband Matteo. Come in, come in, we have coffee ready…”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet both of you,” James said as Francesca laughed, “and to visit your home. I was going to say your humble home, but…”
“Well, we like it,” the Marchese said as they walked inside. “We have prepared the guest room for you James. Francesca, perhaps you would like to show James to the main guest room before you join us?”
“Of course, Mamma – this way,” Francesca said as they walked up the main staircase, James looking at the paintings and frescos on the ceiling and walls. Eventually, Francesca showed him into a large room, the windows looking out towards the dome of St Peters.
"Francesca,” he said quietly, “I knew your family was rich, but I didn't know just how magnificent your home was."
"You wait till you see our place in Naples," Francesca giggled, slipping her arm in his as the watched the servant bring in the suitcase.
"Just how many houses does your family actually
"Define house?" merriment danced in the
beautiful blonde’s eyes, "do castles count as houses?"
"I'm not sure I know how I even start to answer
that," James said as he looked round the huge bedroom.
"Let me just say that we do own several more
places shall I?"
“Now, get washed – Simon will unpack your things, and then we can join Mamma and Papa for coffee…”
"So young man,” Matteo said as James sat down, “I
understand you teach Mining Engineering?"
"I do Marchese," James said quietly,
fidgeting as his hostess poured the coffee, while her husband interrogated him.
"Did my daughter ever tell you that we have a
mining division within our family business?"
"She did." James took a cup from the
Marchesa, and said “I am just beginning to grasp how wide your business
"Have you ever considered leaving the academic
realm and taking a job in industry?"
"I do a little consulting work,” James said. “I recently advised a friend of ours – Fergus
MacLean – about his interests in Zimbabwe, but if I'm being honest I prefer
"You could earn a lot more outside..."
"I make a good salary," James interrupted,
and then realized the Marchese was looking at him with a smile.
"So you could support my daughter?"
"Don't let him bully you," Dona Carlotta
intervened, "when we were a courting couple, my Papa grilled him on
whether he could support me on a naval officer’s salary and he didn't like that
question himself, so you don't need answer."
"I know your family is extremely rich,"
James looked at both the Marchese, and the Marchesa, "but I'll be honest -
Francesca and I are still really getting to know each other. If one day I do
ask her to marry me, that I think is the right time to talk about the
differences in our incomes."
"A very good answer young man. A very good answer indeed," Don Matteo said as Francesca came in, wearing a white blouse and pants. “So do you have any relatives?”
“An uncle – he is a minister in the Church of Scotland,” James said as the telephone rang, the housekeeper appearing as Dona Carlotta walked out.
"Matteo it is Claudio," Dona Carlotta held the telephone up for her husband.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Don Matteo said as he went
to the table outside, Francesca listening intently.
“How are you old friend?...That is good...So how is
the investigation going?" the Marchese spoke into the handset.
"Investigation?" James whispered into
"The daughter of the head of one of the
subsidiary companies has been kidnapped," she whispered back.
"Has there been no word?...Do I need talk to the
Prime Minister myself?"..."What did the Interior Minister say?"
"He can just phone the Prime Minister?"
"He can James," the Marchesa smiled, "it's sometimes frightening the privileges that our family wealth grants us."
Francesca nodded, saying nothing as she wondered what she could do…
Glancing at her watch, she said "James darling I have to go see someone at the Foreign Ministry on a work related thing, will you be alright here with my parents?"
"He won't be alone if you introduce us," a female voice said in a melodic tone as a blonde appeared in the doorway.
"That is true, but dare I leave him alone with
you Elia darling" Francesca laughed as she stood up and kissed the
newcomer on both cheeks.
"Darling I'll have you known I am as pure in
heart as you are..."
"It's the rest of your body then that has the
reputation eh?" Francesca laughed again.
"I'm offended," the younger girl laughed as
"I'm sorry I couldn't be here for your 18th birthday party Elia darling, but I hope you liked my present.”
"It was wonderful – but who is this Adonis?"
"Alright,” Francesca said with a laugh, “James this creature is Elia Scaraponi and she's in her final year at my old school in Switzerland before going to the Sorbonne. Elia this is James Gordon."
"It's lovely to meet you,” James blushed as the girl kissed him.
"So how do you two know each other?"
"Oh our families have strong personal..."
"And business ties don't forget Francesca."
Elia sat down, "it seems like I've known Francesca all my life."
"Anyway I must go darling," Francesca looked
at her watch, "I should be back in an hour."
"I'll leave you in Elia and my Mamma's care, just
please don't believe half of what they tell you about me."
"I'll try not to."
"Ciao," Francesca smiled again as she kissed James on the cheek.
It was a non-descript building off the Via di Napoli – but as Francesca walked through the front doors, the two men on either side stood to attention as she approached the desk.
“Lieutenant,” the officer at the desk said as he stood to attention, “the General awaits you inside.” Francesca nodded as she walked through, and along several corridors, before she knocked on a door.
As she walked in, she stood in front of the desk, standing to attention as she saluted the uniformed officer sitting there.
“Lieutenant di Cambrello – at ease,” he said as he indicated a seat.
“Thank you Sir, and thank you for authorizing my return.”
“Well, I know you are a family friend – and although you cannot operate legally as an officer here, your help is appreciated.”
“Perhaps you can brief me on what happened?”
Looking at a file, her commanding officer said “at 14.30 on Thursday, Andrea di Matello was walking down the Via di Nationale, when a grey vans was seen to pull up in front of her, and two men jumped out.”
“IC Male, tall, and wearing suits and dark glasses. One of them shot her bodyguard, while the other dragged her into the van before it was driven off. The bodyguard is recovering in hospital.”
“Has a ransom demand been received?”
“Not that we know of, but your father is making enquiries as well at the highest level. What have you heard?”
“Only it may be connected to the man I asked for information on.”
Her commanding officer sat back, and rubbed his chin as he said “we do have witness reports the men spoke some sort of Dutch. Could it be Afrikkans?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because Captain John Vosloo, his wife Marianne, and an Alex Green from SAIS arrived in Rome an hour ago. I believe you know the Vosloos – and who he works for?”
Francesca nodded as she said “I will make enquiries and keep you informed Sir.”
“Good – dismissed Lieutenant.”
Palazzo di Cambrella
"Please call me Carlotta James," the older lady smiled as she served them both tea on the terrace, "you have a question?”
“Indeed - what does someone like yourself do with her life?"
Dona Carlotta smiled as she sat back. "A good direct question James. I like that."
"I just hope I wasn't being rude?"
"No you weren't. I like people who say what they
"It's probably the Scot in me," James
"Far too many people are frightened of, or
intimidated, by the power and riches that we possess. I don't think you are
"Oh I'm a little scared," James said with a smile as he sipped his tea.
"That I find hard to believe," the Marchesa sipped her own tea. "Anyway returning to your question, I enjoy gardening, I enjoy going to the opera, and I enjoy driving my cars far too fast...But I think I get the most satisfaction from my work with the church and the various charities that I support."
"Francesca told me once that your faith is as important to you, as hers is to her."
Carlotta looked at the young man, before she said "Are
you a religious man James?"
"In my way I suppose. My cousin George is rather
more so though."
"The one who is the Presbyterian minister?"
"May I ask a question?"
"When you and my daughter have children, will you
object to them being raised in our Roman Catholic faith?"
"You are assuming that one day we will get
married Carlotta," James looked out towards the dome of St Peter's.
"I think if my daughter gets her way then you will do." the Marchesa finished her tea, "and I have to warn you there is a tradition of strong willed women in both my own, but particularly within the di Cambrello family. We are used to getting what we want, and my daughter I think wants you."
James allowed himself a little smile as he said "Francesca
is a remarkable woman."
"That she is. Anyway returning to my original
question, will you mind your children being raised as Catholics?"
"Knowing how important her religion is to
Francesca, let me just say I see that as a likely outcome."
"Good," Don Carlotta paused a second,
"by the way has she ever told you that in her turn Francesca will become
the Marchesa di Cambrello in her own right?"
"Your husband has no male heirs?"
"No. My Francesca is the last person in a
thousand year unbroken line. It means she carries on her shoulders a huge
"I look around and I can see that," James
"Her ancestry brings her large advantages in
life, but it also means that she carries within her a very large duty to
preserve all this, and to hand it on safely to her own descendants. Do you
understand that young man?"
"I think I'm beginning to," he nodded.
It was a scene
seen everywhere as Francesca sat on the floor at her Mothers feet, and Don Carlotta
gently stroked her daughters hair.
"So Mama now you've finally met him,” Francesca said as she looked up and smiled, “what do you think of my James?"
"I think that if I was 25 years younger and that I'd never met your Papa, that I might be fighting you for him Francesca my darling."
pretty special isn't he?"
Carlotta smiled as she said "I think he's very special."
"Do you think Papa really likes him?"
he likes him very much dearest daughter. We always said we hoped you'd find a
man who loved you for being yourself, not just because you are a di Cambrello.
Someone who wasn't after your fortune, or alternatively someone who let you
dominate them totally."
gives as good as he gets when we fight," Francesca looked up and smiled.
Papa say yes if one day he asks for my hand?"
"Yes, and when James does ask I think for Matteo and I it will be one of the happiest days of our lives."
“What are you talking about,” James said as he came in with Don Matteo.
“Dreams, James, dreams…”
As they sat round the dinner table, the sound of music
coming from the street below, Francesca said "Papa do you remember a man called Mohammed al
is familiar," he paused in thought, "Arab chap, rumoured to have his
fingers in many pies?"
"Can I ask
why you asked if I knew him darling?"
was a guest at our recent reception at the embassy and he mentioned he'd met
you and Mamma."
Matteo nodded as he said "What did he talk to you about?"
"Oh mainly my exhibition. I’m not the kind of person that visitors say important things to you know?"
are doing that job I'll never know..."
we've had this discussion before you know," Francesca interrupted.
say that as a fully qualified advocate you should be using the brains and
talents that God gave you in a more productive role then handling cultural
matters in one of our embassies."
it," Francesca grinned.
additionally one day will I ever get a straight answer as to whether you are
still in the navy or not?" Don Matteo paused, "I know for a fact that
your uniforms are still hanging in one of your closets."
matter if I was still in the navy Papa?"
explain a few things," he looked at his daughter seriously. "I often
get the feeling you are keeping secrets from us dearest daughter."
"One day I'll tell you everything Papa," Francesca spoke quietly, "but for now can I please ask that you and mamma just trust me?"
It was a non-descript building in a terrace, but if you managed to get in the front door, past the armed men, and into the back room you would see the blonde haired young woman, tied spread-eagled to the bed, white tape over her mouth and eyes as she struggled.
“Why on earth have we lifted her,” the burly man with close cropped hair said as he looked at his commanding officer.
“We were ordered to,” Peter Hope said as he watched her, “to facilitate a deal the powers that be want to take place. And if we have some fun in the mean time?” He smiled – an evil smile as they both nodded.
"Have you enjoyed your visit so far darling?" Francesca asked as they walked to their bedrooms.
"I actually have," he smiled, "your parents have been wonderful, not how I expected them to be at all."
did you think they were going to be like then?"
this stupid idea they'd be aloof, standoffish, snobbish..."
what do you think they are?"
James smiled as he said "Open and welcoming. They could not have been kinder.”
"Even when Papa was grilling you about your 'prospects'?"
"Yes even then," James laughed.
have you learned about me from them?"
love you totally, that they are immensely proud of you..." James paused.
before he said "I was going to say that I think they think you are keeping
secrets from them."
everybody has secrets."
"Francesca just please promise me that you'll always try to tell me as much as you can please...And please, please, never lie to me. I think it would break my heart if I ever found out what I think I know about you turned out to be untrue."
“OF course,” Francesca said as she kissed him. “Tomorrow I take you to the Castella des Angeles – but for now, sleep well…”
there is a question that I need to ask," the Marchese spoke as they sat on
the terrace eating breakfast, "if you and my daughter do eventually decide
that you want to spend the rest of your lives with each other, would that life
be lived in Africa, or here in Italy?"
"I had thought of that," Dona Carlotta whispered as she sipped her coffee.
"I don't know," James took a moment to think, "My home is in South Africa, and I suppose I've always seen myself living there."
"Can you see Francesca there with you?"
"Actually I can. Political and social change is coming to my country, and its coming fast. I think the next few years are going to bring exciting changes and I know your daughter has at least interested in seeing what develops."
"I can understand her saying that," Don Matteo nodded, "but I will not live forever, and her home, and the duties that will inevitably come her way will dictate she is based in Europe, hopefully still in Italy."
"I know Papa, but I am hoping that will be many years off," Francesca said as she ate a bite from her roll.
Palazzo di Cambrello
“Good morning,” the butler said as he opened the door, looking at the young couple standing on the stairs as the taxi drove off, “May I help you?”
"We were invited for morning coffee by Francesca," the man said in a South African accent.
"Your names please?"
"John and Marianne Vosloo," Francesca smiled as she descended the stair case. "Don't bother Luigi," she called out, "I'll show them through."
“Of course, Miss Francesca,” the older man said as she walked over to the couple.
"Hello," Marianne smiled as Francesca hugged her, and kissed her on both cheeks.
"Well hello to you. "I know you always told us you lived in a big house," Marianne shook her head as she looked round, "but this is a bit beyond big."
"What,” Francesca laughed, “this humble shack?"
"HUMBLE SHACK!" John looked amazed as the blonde kissed him.
"Come out on the terrace, I just got changed after going to mass. If he's where I left him James should still be there."
As Alex came over to the concierge desk, the young woman behind said “a message for you.”
“Thank you,” Alex said as she took the envelope, holding it as she returned to her room and then opening it.
"Meet me at that place we had ice cream when we
were students at 1600 Hours...B" Alex read the message that had been left
at her hotel reception desk. She knew that Francesca had taken emergency leave
and flown home to Rome, she had wondered how long her own arrival would take to
The message in itself said everything and nothing, it looked like a perfectly ordinary invitation to meet an old friend, just as was intended. Only the suspicious would see it as an invitation from a spy mistress to meet an agent.
For a second Alex thought hard, "where did we have ice cream?" she asked herself, and then remembered the place behind the Spanish Steps where she and several other midshipmen from Livorno had gone that day they all visited Rome on leave from the academy.
“Well, I could always enjoy some Gelato…”
Pallasio di Cambrello
“The Countess Buchenwald.”
Francesca turned suddenly as she saw the tall blonde standing there, wearing a white jacket over a pale yellow dress. “Natty? What are you doing here?”
“I was visiting a friend in the area, and heard you were in town, so I thought I would see how you are,” Natasha Buchenwald said as Francesca hugged her.
“Well, you are most welcome – come in,” she said as they went into the parlour, sitting down before Francesca said "How are you really Natty?"
"I'm fine thank you," the German woman smiled.
Francesca held her hand, "Mamma told me you had another false alarm."
a couple of tears appeared in the slightly older woman's eyes, "she told
did...So really how are you feeling Natty?"
deflated, cursing that it was only my damn irregular menstrual cycle."
disappointed as I am, I thought we both hoped this time it was for real."
in Munich, he has a meeting with my brother."
your brother, still making life tough for his children?"
might say so."
of course say as Furstenheim's they need do what they must do," Francesca
smiled, "you are both far too hard on Sigi and Klaus."
will agree to disagree," Natalya Buchenwald made a visible effort to pull
herself together, "so when do I meet this man of yours?"
"Shortly darling, I left them watching the news about that mutilated body pulled out of the Tiber this morning."
The Spanish Steps
"Do you mind if I sit with you?" the tourist
asked as she sat down to the side of the high stone steps, holding a carton
with some gelato in it.
"Not at all," the tall blonde woman smiled
as she replied.
"Thank you.” As she sat down, she put a book down and said “My guide book says this is a great place to eat real Italian ice cream."
"A lot of people say that."
“Thank you for agreeing to meet,” Alex said as she looked at Francesca.
“I was surprised to hear you and John had been sent here – why are you here?”
“On orders,” Alex said as she swallowed a little of the pale frozen dessert. “al Salim is now a person of interest to both my department and John’s, hence our arrival.”
“And you have heard the other news?”
“We were briefed – that is why I wanted to meet, to compare notes,” Alex said as they watched the tourists taking photos of each other on the steps.
"So does al Salim know you have followed him here from Pretoria Alex?"
Shaking her head, Alex said “I don't think so. I've been very careful and I hope he doesn't even realize that my department, and me in particular, are taking an interest in what he is up to."
“So, the key question.”
“Well, let me say one other thing – I happened to hear on the grapevine that a StratKom group arrived two days ago.”
Nodding, Francesca said “I know – Peter Hope was flagged when he came through security. So my question is this - how sure are you that this relates to this kidnapping, and is it Hope and those StratKom thugs who are responsibility?"
"We haven't been told anything officially,” Alex said as she wiped her chin, “but my sixth sense says yes it is the kind of crap that they pull Francesca."
"But what is in it for them and their
"I only know what that report I passed you said about how badly SA was lagging in terms of missile electronics. My guess is that if they help al Salim to acquire the best current bits then that they see it as the way to bust the sanctions prohibiting the rest of the world selling it to us."
"That makes sense," Francesca thought deeply as she took a lick of ice cream. “The world is changing fast around us.”
really understand all these microchip, and other tech developments,” Alex said
quietly, “but from what little I do know our world, and our lives, are indeed going
to change rapidly in the next few years."
hear," Francesca paused. "Papa and Uncle Claudio keep saying that our
companies need get to the front of what is happening if we are to
what I know of your family isn't that what it always does? Discover the next
big thing and start making it?"
so," Francesca said with a shrug.
certainly going to change 'our' business you know."
"Espionage will become even more so the realm of the technicians," Alex smiled, "agents like us working with physical intelligence will become dinosaurs."
“Oh I think there will always be a need for the physical,” Francesca said with a smile. “Alex, if you hear anything, get a message to me. I want to end this in a way that ensures nobody gets hurt or uncovered.”
Nodding, Alex stood up, smiled and walked away, Francesca watching her go and then smiling as James walked over. “There you are,” he said as he kissed her, “come on – I want us to go somewhere.”
“And where would that be,” Francesca said as she followed James past the designed shops, and then down some side streets, until they emerged in a small square, Francesca smiling as she looked at the crowds round the large fountain.
“You are a romantic at heart,” Francesca said as she stood with him in front of the Trevi Fountain, watching as he held a coin in his hand, turned and then threw it over his shoulder. “What did you wish for?”
“I will tell you later,” James said with a smile, “your turn.”
Francesca smiled as she turned her back to the fountain, closed her eyes, and then tossed a coin over her shoulder. “I’ll tell you when you tell me,” Francesca said when she opened her eyes and saw James looking at her.
As he walked down the maze of side streets, Peter Hope was looking carefully from side to side, ever wary, ever alert to problems. It was a skill he had learned in his years in South Africa, and was proving useful in this new role.
Slipping through the entrance to the restaurant, he smiled as he saw his contact sitting in a table by the side. As he walked over, he bowed slightly and said “blessings on you, Mohammed al Salim.”
“Blessings on you,” the swarthy man said as he indicated a seat, watching as Peter did as he had requested. “How is your guest?”
“Scared – but my men can deal with that. We have contacted her family, and warned them of what may happen if they formally contact the authorities.”
“Formally? What about informal contact?”
“They have very well placed friends, and I suspect they may have put feelers out, but I would hope the well been of their daughter would override all other considerations.”
Mohammed nodded as he said “I trust to your expertise in this matter. So when will the actual request be made?”
“We will arrange delivery of the demands tomorrow,” Peter said quietly as he picked up the glass of wine the waiter had poured for him. “I am confident we will bring this to a swift and satisfactory solution for all concerned.”
“Excellent – I do not want her harmed, my friend.”
“That depends on her family, and them playing ball…”
At a table across the floor, John looked across. He knew who that was sitting with the target, and he knew he would have to call Hennie when he got back to the hotel.