The Italian Connection – Part 2
Palazzo di Cambrello
“May I have a word with you, Sir,” James said to Matteo, Carlotta raising an eyebrow and looking at Francesca as the two men stood and left the room.
“I have no idea, Mamma,” she said quietly, as she looked to the doorway, sipping from her coffee cup as she did so.
“He has not…”
“No – I mean, he has not got on one knee or asked me, if that is what you are asking…”
“Well this is a surprise,” Alex said as she saw John Vosloo coming towards the tables from the entrance.
“Alex? I had no idea you were coming to Rome as well – ready to eat?”
"Very much so. So why are you here John?" Alex whispered as they stood in line at the hotel's breakfast buffet.
John shook his head as he selected some bread. "I could ask the same you know Alex."
Alex shrugged as she said "I just decided I
needed a break for a few days."
"Ja and pigs might fly."
"John Vosloo what would I be doing in Rome
working? You know very well I'm an analyst not a field agent. I sit behind a
desk for heaven’s sake."
"And that I know is a load of crap...I've heard
several whispered stories that suggest you know very well how to get your hands
"Think what you want," she shrugged her shoulders.
"Anyway why are you here?"
"Hennie wanted to know who the Arab is seeing
here in Rome. He thought the invite to Francesca di Cambrello's place gave me a
"Isn't that Marianne's friend who works in the
Italian Embassy?" Alex hoped that sounded as though she didn't really know
who Francesca was.
"Ja, she brought my friend James home to meet her
"So have you seen where she lives?"
"Ja, it's a damn palace. I hope James knows what
he's letting himself in for."
"I'd heard she was rich."
"Anyway returning to what we started talking
about, do I need phone Pretoria to check on you?"
"Please, they'll only repeat what I said...I'm on
"Alex darling, what are you doing here?" they both heard Marianne's voice.
“As I was saying to John, taking a short vacation.”
“Well, come and join us – tell us what you have seen so far…”
Francesca sat at the end of the long table, dressed for once in her Naval uniform, looking at the other people as she completed her report. She had been woken by the summons, and had to make an excuse of wanting to visit a shop in order to be there.
"So in your opinion what is going on Lieutenant?" Admiral Fabrisi said as he looked his protege directly in the eye.
“And the simple version please," General
Andreotti the Carabinieri representative added. "We have all read your
"I will try," Francesca nervously played
with the cuff of her uniform jacket. "Put simply I think the South
Africans are desperate to acquire up to date missile electronics, and are
using Mr al Salim as their middle man. All while at the same times using dirty
tricks, including a kidnapping, to ensure they acquire just what they
"Are there any other possible explanations for this Lieutenant?" Maria Riva from the Prime Minister’s office asked.
"If there are then I can't see them," Francesca smiled at the woman who was not only a close friend of her family, but stood out as the only person in civilian clothes in a room full of uniforms.
"Why have the South Africans also sent other
agents do you think?" the Admiral asked.
"It's the way their intelligence agencies work
sir. Often one group is not told what another is doing."
"Isn't that a recipe for chaos?" Colonel
"It can be Sir. In this case agents tasked with
watching Mr al Salim are actually compromising in some ways a Stratkom dirty
"Can we make use of that?" General Andreotti
"I believe so Sir. I am an – acquaintance of their officer here, and I think we can ensure he is pointed in a suitable direction. Discretely, of course."
“Naturally,” the Admiral said, “your family connection to the kidnapped person should mean you play no part in this.”
“I am playing a part, sir – that of the concerned friend.”
“Very well then – keep us informed,” the Admiral said as he stood up.
“Sir,” Francesca said as she stood and saluted, then breathed a sigh of relief as the other officers left.
"So how does it feel to be back in uniform
Francesca?" Maria Riva asked as they left the room together.
"A little strange Aunt Maria, and I had to
scramble a way to change into it without my parents seeing, after I was told I
needed to report in uniform."
"One day,” Maria said quietly, “your parents will
have to be told that you are still a serving officer working in intelligence
"I know, but I'm more worried about what James
will say then I am by what they will when the truth comes out."
"Ah your young man," the older woman
smiled kindly, "I look forward to meeting him when we come to dinner
tonight. Your mother says I will be impressed?"
"Mamma likes him a lot."
"I could tell."
"Will Sandro be coming with you?"
"Yes he has the night off from the
"Does he still want to be a plastic surgeon when
he has finished his surgical training?"
"So he says. But you fear what would happen if he knew the truth?”
Francesca nodded as she said “I do – he is a wonderful man, but very – rigid in his views.”
“Well, take care – I do not want to see you get hurt in this…”
Palazzo di Cambrello
"So who are the guests tonight Francesca?" James asked as he let her fix his bow tie.
"Well,” Francesca said as she straightened the knot, “the Riva's are old friends of my parents. He works for the Defence Ministry, she works for the Prime Minister’s office, and their son Sandro is a recently qualified doctor."
"Rather the type of people I was sure after
meeting them that I knew your parents knew," James smiled as Francesca
stood back and checked how he looked in the unfamiliar dinner suit. He looked at Francesca, in her light blue
evening dress, and wondered what she would say if she knew what he knew.
"You met Elia of course,” Francesca continued, “she's
coming with her parents."
"The Scaraponi family, even I'm aware who they
"My Uncle Claudio, his wife and a couple of their
children. Natalya Buchenwald who is an old school friend of mine, and of course
John and Marianne."
"Okay," the tall bearded man nodded, "so do I pass inspection?"
“Oh yes you do – come on, let’s go down…”
As they entered the room, Carlotta turned and smiled. “James, come and meet Claudio,” she said as she took him by the arm, and Francesca walked over to join Marianne in her ivory evening dress.
"So did John say what James talked to my Papa
about last night?" she asked quietly.
"No, and he got very shifty when I asked,"
Marianne sipped her pre-dinner drink.
"Something is definitely going on,” Francesca said
with a smile, “and it’s driving me crazy that I don't know what."
"It’s why I think my husband will be a good
spy...He can keep secrets."
"That he can," Francesca smiled.
"By the way thank you for the invite
"James said he might need the support of some
familiar faces," the Italian laughed.
"I don't know why, he and your Mother are getting
along like a house on fire."
"They are, aren't they? You’d almost think – no…"
Marianne smiled as she said "In the meantime I feel like a poor country cousin."
"Nonsense darling, you are my best friend, you should be here."
“Is she bothering you again my dear,” John said as he came over.
“Not at all,” Marianne said as the housekeeper came in and said “dinner is served.”
“Excellent,” Matteo said as he looked round, “shall we go in?”
"So was there ever a Pope from the di Cambrello
family?" John Vosloo asked his host as they ate their food.
"A couple of my Renaissance ancestors went into
conclaves believing they would emerge wearing the Papal tiara." Don Matteo
looked at a couple of pictures on the wall. "However in the way these
things usually worked they came out of the conclave still mere cardinals."
"I'm not sure that as public a role as being Pope
would have suited a di Cambrello anyway," Flavio Riva spoke.
"Why not?" John asked.
"Oh because I think they have always enjoyed
exercising their immense power quietly from the shadows."
"From what I've seen I get that," James
nodded, "being in the limelight isn't their thing."
"How many people are even aware that this family
owns the AII hotel chain for example?" Natalya asked.
"Not many I would think," Martina Morelli ventured, "and at least Matteo I know wishes it was far less well known that Carlotta inherited the Zambrotta empire. It’s why he and Carlotta both prefer that my husband is the public face of the companies."
“You own… Marchesa, that is one of the largest industrial firms in the world.”
“True,” Carlotta said with a smile, “and it all began with bicycles…”
"Forgive me for being rude Lieutenant…”
“Yes, sir,” John Vosloo said as he looked at Flavio.
“Well, you do not strike me as being the kind of officer who is content to spend his days sitting behind a desk," Flavio Riva looked at the tall man carefully.
"If I'm being honest Sir I don't think I am either," John smiled.
"My husband has fought in a lot of places while
he was an NCO that I'm told I can't mention," Marianne smiled.
"Oh you were commissioned from the ranks then
John?" Don Matteo asked.
"I was,” John said as he patted his mouth, “and for some reason when I became an officer they suddenly decided to post me to Pretoria."
"That sort of thing happens I know," Flavio nodded, "we have been known to do just as stupid things in our own forces, putting officers behind desks who would be better employed on other duties."
"Indeed," Maria Riva smiled inwardly that she knew the truth that John Vosloo was actually engaged in counter-intelligence, never mind Francesca’s true role.
As she lay
there, alone, frightened, indeed terrified, she tried to forget what her
parents had told her about the kidnappings carried out by the Red Brigades and
other extremist groups in years past.
tried to remember all that she'd been told about what to do, and how to survive
something like this, when the Carabinieri had come to talk to them at school.
antagonize them," she remembered those words. Giulia her best friend had
theorized when they talked about it afterwards that nervous people in any decisions
are more likely to stupid, or violent, things. "So alright," she told
herself, "I must try and be calm, and try not to upset the bastards."
"Why me though?" the question would not stop coming into her brain. She knew her Papa was an important man, but compared to a lot of her friends families hers wasn't that rich. What did these people want?
They spoke a language she did not understand, harsh, brittle, and they were strong men - softly she heard herself start to sob again as she thought of her Mamma and wondered if she would ever see her and Papa again.
As the door opened, she looked up to see their leader come in. He was carrying a tray with food and water on it, and said “if you promise to behave, I’ll let you sit up and eat.”
It was the first kind thing any of them had done, she nodded as he untied her wrists and helped her to sit up, peeling the tape away and then putting the table over her legs.
“I know you’re scared, but this will be over soon,” he said as he stroked her hair, strangely gently, and she looked at him again, wondering why a man so handsome would have done this…
Palazzio di Cambrello
"So I understand that you are letting Luisa leave Rome Carlotta?" Martina Morelli asked her old friend as the assistant housekeeper served the ladies their drinks in the drawing room.
"Well with Sara retiring we need someone to take over running the Naples house,” Carlotta said, “and she is originally from there."
"She is exceedingly good at her job, as I told you years ago if she ever wanted to leave your service I'd hire her in a flash."
"I remember," Dona Carlotta laughed,
"but I think she will be best placed at the Palazzo Sentova."
"Our family may be a dynasty," Francesca
sipped her drink, "but we are so lucky in that some of the people that
work for us come from families that have done so for generations."
"So do you have anyone work for you in South
Africa?" Elia asked.
"No my flat really isn't big enough to need
someone. I cook and clean for myself."
"I told Mamma that not everyone in South Africa has black servants," Sara Morelli said as she looked at her mother.
“Well, one day, we shall see – especially if you and your hunk of a man marry,” Martina said as the group laughed…
“Gentlemen you may smoke if you desire,” Matteo said as the men sat in the other room, before he walked over to where his business partner Claudio was standing.
“Still no news,” he whispered, frowning as the businessman shook his head.
"I've told the children that until this is settled that they aren't to go anywhere without having one of our security people accompany them Matteo," Claudio paused, "they don't like it of course but if the extremists are resorting to these kinds of things again, I don't think we can afford to take chances."
"If Francesca was younger I would certainly be doing the same," Don Matteo twirled his brandy, "but I think she's aware enough to look after herself."
some of the bombings, etc, we take precautions in South Africa," James
looked thoughtful, "but as John has often said to me, if we let our lives
be cramped too much then we've let the bad guys win."
"He has a
point," Sandro Riva adjusted his black rimmed glasses.
"Well I refuse to take risks with my children," Claudio took a puff of his cigar, "I have a friend whose daughter was kidnapped and killed in 1978, even though her father met the kidnappers demand and paid the ransom."
“Indeed – we must await the demands and then act accordingly…”
“Forgive my impertinence, Lieutenant,” Flavio Riva said as he stood with John, “it is so rarely these days I meet military men outside of uniform.”
“Well, I am here as a guest of Francesca,” John said as he sipped his drink, “so I believe uniform would not be the order of the day.”
“Indeed – you showed great discretion in that. So how do you know Francesca?”
“James Gordon is an old friend of ours, so when we arrived for a holiday Francesca invited us as well – she and Marianne are also very close friends.”
“So this young man – do you think he is the one for her?”
John slowly nodded as he said “I think he may be…”
“But I do not understand – you are so cruel to me, and now you are so kind?”
“Andrea – may I call you Andrea,” Peter said a she stroked her hair back from her head, “I know you are scared, and you were right to be – but I promise you, it will all be over soon, and then you will be back safe with your family.”
“But those you work with…”
“Do not fear – I will not allow them to harm a hair on the head of someone as beautiful as you.”
She blushed as she said “you think I am beautiful.”
“I do – tomorrow, Andrea, I want you to speak to your father, tell him what we want from him. Will you do that for me?”
“If I do – will you not bind me again?”
“I regret to say I must,” Peter relied, “but I will not tie you so tightly. So will you?”
Andrea looked at him, and slowly nodded as he said “good – put your hands together in prayer.” As she did so, he tied her wrists together, and then helped her to lie down before he tied her legs together, and then her ankles, securing the end of the rope to the bed.
“Thank you – you are very kind,” she said as he tore a fresh strip of tape off.
“Forgive me,” Peter whispered as, to her surprise, he kissed her, and then covered her lips. She watched him turn and smile before he walked out, a strange warm feeling coming over her…
Palazzo di Cambrello
“There you are,” Carlotta said as Matteo led the men folk in, “we were about to send out a search party!”
“We are on time, as always,” the Marchese said with a smile, “so what have you been talking about?”
“What an amazing sight,” Marianne said as she and John stood outside the large structure, John nodding as he took a picture, one eye on Mohammed al Salim as he stood nearby. He then turned quickly away as the Arab was joined by a dark haired man, and then walked off together.
“What the hell is he doing here, and talking to him,” John said quietly.
“Work – I’ll meet you back at the hotel later,” John said, Marianne shaking her head as he followed the two men to the Metro station. He made sure to stay out of their line of sight as they hopped on a train, then off again at Circo Massimo and going onto the street.
John followed a few steps behind as they walked down the hill, then across the river into Travestere, and through the side streets before they slipped into a small three story house. He made a note of the location then stepped into a local bar.
The barman pointed to the wall, John thanking him as he walked over and dialed a number, then put some coins in.
“Hennie, it’s John – our mark just met up with Peter Hope. What the hell are that goon squad doing in Rome?”
“I’ve been trying to find out,” Major Botha said over the handset, “but they’re so tight up their own…”
“I get the analogy – Hennie, what do I do?”
“Maintain the watching brief for now – if you are made, then you can talk, but not before, understood?”
“Understood, sir,” John said as he watched the two men leave, and he put the handset down, walking a discrete distance behind them as they made their way back towards the river.
Palazzo di Cambrello
As Francesca sat with James, looking out over the city, he said quietly “so what do you have planned for today?”
“I need to go on an errand this morning,” Francesca said with a smile, “but I have an idea. Why don’t we go to the zoo this afternoon?”
“I see enough wild animals as it is,” James laughed.
“True – but there is also the Gallery of Modern Art, so we can spend some time there.” She kissed him gently on the cheek, before she said “I meant to ask – what did you wish to ask Papa?”
“I’ll tell you later,” James said with a smile, Francesca shaking her head as she stood up and smoothed down the skirt of her peach dress. As she walked off, he fished into his pocket and took something out, looking at it before he put it back in.
“Who was that man,” Andrea said as she held the paper cup in her hands, the rope holding her wrists together in front of her, another band tied round her waist and holding her in the chair, a third tied round her ankles and to the chair leg.
“He is a businessman,” Peter said as he stood in front of her, “who wishes your father to do something for him, and asked for our help.”
“Is that why you took me?”
“It is,” Peter said with a smile, “and I want you to tell your father that you are safe, and to do what he is told to do. He loves you very much, doesn’t he?”
As Andrea nodded, Peter reached down and stroked her hair from her eyes. She looked up at him, and smiled as she said “why are you so kind to me, when you have taken me from my family?”
“Because I find you very attractive. Does that shock you?” He looked into her eyes as she stared back, and then smiled as she shook her head. “No,” she replied, “I find you very handsome. Perhaps…”
She was silenced as Peter gently kissed her lips, and she returned the kiss, her eyes closing as well. They continued for a few minutes, before Peter heard footsteps approaching and broke the kiss, putting a finger to his lips.
One of the other men came in, holding the large mobile phone as Peter dialed a number, and then held it to his head.
“Signor di Matello? Say nothing, listen carefully…”
He held the handset to Andrea’s head, as she whispered “Papa? Please, listen to me…”
“The call could not be traced?
“I see – they must have one of those new mobile phones and used it. Very well then – analyze the tape for background noise and clues, and keep me informed.”
The Admiral put the telephone down, and looked at Francesca.
“So is it a monetary ransom?”
“No – its details of the targeting systems they are developing for NATO,” the admiral said as he sat back. “They have given him twenty four hours, or else… What do our political masters say?”
"The Prime Minister is in favour of us deporting them all, and doing it now" Maria Riva looked at the various military people, "and that includes your friend Mr Vosloo Lieutenant," she continued as she looked directly at Francesca.
"No, we need to let this play out a little further yet, if only for the protection of the hostage" Admiral Fabrisi spoke.
angry as she slowly said "We cannot have foreign spies using Rome as a
Citadella is well aware of that Mrs Riva," General Andreotti looked
serious, "but if we act prematurely we risk exposing Lieutenant di
Cambrello, and one of her agents, to the South Africans as well as the life of
Andrea di Matello!"
Lieutenant," the Admiral nodded.
Francesca took a deep breath as she looked round the table. "In all operations there are risks and dangers. There are also casualties. Peter Hope and his friends are not above creating a very bloody scene if cornered. If we are to keep innocent casualties to a minimum we may have to let certain things happen, and let certain go, to ensure we win the larger victory."
"So what are you suggesting Lieutenant?" Mrs Riva looked at her through her large glasses.
“I believe that I and my fellow agent can rescue the hostage, and defuse the situation, with minimal casualties. We have a rough indication of where they have her, and through the contacts with Lieutenant Vosloo, gived he has been assigned to tail al Salim, we may be able to narrow it down further.”
“And if you get the location,” Admiral Fabrisi said.
“We go in at night, using tranquilizer darts and smoke bombs, and get her out, nullifying their plan to steal state secrets and also freeing the hostage with minimal fuss.”
“And the agents?”
“Once we have her safe, then move in, arrest and deport them. And yes,” she said as she looked at Maria, “you would also need to – persuade the Vosloos to leave of their own recognisance. I think they would be amenable to that, if the situation is explained by a suitable authority.”
The Admiral looked round the table, as the senior officers nodded. “It is an elegant solution – but there is one issue. Mohamed al Salim – what do we do with him?”
The table looked at Maria as she tapped her pen on the table. "I have to add that our American friends have asked the Prime Minister directly that we do nothing to interfere with the Arab." Maria again glanced round the room.
"But all the evidence we have?" General Andreotti objected.
"Is to be ignored. It would seem he has powerful friends within
both the CIA, and the American government."
"They consider him an asset," Colonel di
Parma of the civil police looked displeased as he looked at Maria.
"So he is both off limits to us, and someone to
whom we must turn a blind eye?" the Admiral asked.
"That is what I've been directed to say,"
Maria took a deep breath. "The consequences of our letting him go are
amongst those casualties that Lieutenant di Cambrello mentioned. Our political
masters however have little choice in this matter."
"So I'm to warn Mouse off? So that she can't
pursue him either?" Francesca asked.
"The Americans would rather she didn't. Lieutenant Vosloo is a military man – our
request will be conveyed through channels, as part of the move to remove him as
"But the damage that both sides might do with the weapons he is supplying in South Africa?"
"Are none of our business Lieutenant," Maria Riva looked severely at the younger woman, "and I would hope that you will convince your agent that for the greater good she leaves well alone."
"Lieutenant you have your orders," the
Admiral gave her a chilling look. "Carry them out."
"Yes Sir," Francesca stood and saluted, before she left the room, walking to the desk of the adjutant outside and writing a note.
“Have this hand delivered to the reception desk at the Hotel Internationale” she said as she wrote a name on the envelope, and then handed it over, before she left the office.
Palazzio di Cambrello
"Signora Riva Miss Francesca," the butler
announced as Francesca looked up, surprised to see her aunt come in.
"Thank you Luigi," she eventually said as
she stood and kissed her visitor on both cheeks.
"Good afternoon Francesca, I hope you do not my calling on you unexpectedly," Maria said as she looked at the young woman.
"Of course not. Coffee please," Francesca said as she signaled to the servant, who bowed and walked out.
"May I sit?"
Francesca indicated the seat on the other side of the low table as they
both sat down. A moment later, the maid
brought in a tray, placing it on the table before she left and closed the door
"Is it safe for us to talk?" Maria asked as
she looked round.
"Yes - Mamma and Papa have taken James to the
diamond district so he can show them how he can look at raw stones and tell
just by looking where they come from, and I will be meeting him at the zoo
"That is a very useful skill," Maria took a
deep breath as she accepted the cup. "Look, Francesca - I want to talk
about what happened earlier."
Francesca sat back, taking a sip from her own cup before she said “I
think the situation was made perfectly clear.”
"Look,” Maria said as she put the cup down and
sat forward, “I'm talking now as your aunt, not as one of your commanders
"That I know you feel both hurt and betrayed, and that your sense of right and wrong has been violated. But,” Maria said quietly, “if you are going to stay working in intelligence Francesca you must understand things like this happen. We may not like them, but we have to do what we are ordered." Maria took another breath. "All our actions have consequences, you must accept those."
"Even when one of those consequences means that James will not be able to have his best friend stand beside him at our wedding?"
"I'm afraid so. John Vosloo seems a nice man, but we really do need put a prohibition on his reentry into Italy for at least some period of time. If we are to deal with this cell, then others are going to be caught in the fallout. He may not like it, but I suspect he will accept it, and so will James on this occasion."
Francesca nodded as she said “I understand that, Aunt Maria – but I do not like it. I need to learn to put my personal feelings behind me, I suppose – and act surprised and disappointed when the news breaks.”
“We will work to make it as painless as possible for them,” Maria said as she took another sip of her coffee. “That much we can do.”
"Can I ask
a question Aunt?" Francesca said quietly.
Uncle Flavio know you are the Prime Ministers link to the intelligence
Maria smiled as she shook her head. "Not totally. He knows a little of what I do, but just as I don't ask him about work, he doesn't ask me too many questions. Why do you ask?"
"Because I'm afraid what James will say when one day he finds out what I've been doing." Francesca paused, "and I guess I'm hoping someday I'll be allowed to tell him at least a little so it doesn't come as a total shock when it does all come out."
"You know that will be impossible darling. Just as you can never tell your parents, he must never know."
“Papa was asking why I do not wear my uniform any more. I think he suspects, but…”
“But he will not ask, true?”
“Because he is a career officer as well, and trusts you are under orders.” Putting her empty coffee cup down, Maria said "and darling, be very careful around your friend Lieutenant Vosloo, it's his business to catch you, even if now he has no idea who you are."
I've been taking a risk even being friends with he and his wife."
Fabrisi has talked of pulling you out of Pretoria because of this you
didn't,” Francesca said as she rubbed her eyes.
“But I'm not surprised."
"It's only because what your networks are supplying is so important that we have left you in place. I am glad you are going to marry, but tread very carefully – tonight, and from now on."
Bioparco di Roma
As they walked past the caged birds, Francesca holding James’ arm, he looked round and said “all right, you are correct again – this is truly a little piece of heaven.”
“I told you it would be,” Francesca said with a smile as she looked at her boyfriend, “and it meant we could take some time to ourselves – and I still haven’t had an answer to my question.”
“Which one was that?”
She smiled even more as she looked at him, as they approached a central square, and said “you know which one?”
“Yeah – actually I do,” James said with a smile as they stopped in front of a violinist, who finished one song to the applause of the small crowd, and then started to play.
“He’s playing our song,” James said as the opening notes of the theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service filled the air. “Which makes this a perfect moment.”
“For what?” Francesca looked at James, and then gasped as he knelt on one knee, and took a small box from his pocket, opening it as he said “Francesca, will you marry me?”
She stared at him, as the violinist stopped, the crowd turning and watching as she started to nod, tears appearing as she said “yes…”
From the side of the square, Alex Green watched, a smile playing on her lips as James helped Francesca to stand and then kissed her as the crowd applauded. She had got the message, but this was not the moment to interrupt…
“I cannot believe you asked me,” Francesca said as they sat in the restaurant, a waiter pouring champagne into two glasses as James smiled, “did you ask Pa… Oh, THAT is what you were talking about!”
“Indeed – but we have said nothing to your mother yet,” James said as he passed her a glass. “Thank you.”
“For saying yes,” James said as he toasted her, and then took a sip. “Excuse me,” he said as he stood up and walked to the rest room.
“Thank you,” Francesca whispered as Alex stood next to her, “we have to find out where they are and move tonight. Can you find out anything from John?”
“Won’t you be seeing him today?”
“No – James and I have business to conduct at home. We meet at eleven outside the hotel.”
“Do I need to be prepared?”
“Yes – and this is to protect our country as well as rescue a friend.”
“Marianne,” Alex said as she met Marianne in the lobby, “where is that husband of yours?”
“Talking to his lords and masters – want a drink?”
“Please – so what has happened,” Alex asked as they walked into the bar.
“I have no idea – we were about to go into the Colosseum when… Work done?”
“For now – whisky please,” John said to the waiter. As he looked round, he turned suddenly as he saw Peter Hope walk past the lobby.
“What is he up to,” Alex whispered as she watched him.
“He’s doing some sort of deal with al Salim – and I think it’s to do with that kidnapped girl. Hennie says to keep watching.”
Alex nodded as she sipped her drink. “Have you managed to follow him?”
“He and al Salim met at a place in Travestere – I popped into a bar opposite where they went in.”
“Do you remember the name of the bar?”
John sat back and thought for a moment, and then said “Cajo and Gajo – I think it’s at the Piazza san Castillo. Why?”
“Is it worth alerting the Italian authorities?”
John shook his head as he looked at Marianne. “No – this is really an internal matter, I need to figure out what to do…”
Alex nodded and then smiled. “I wonder if he would have a drink with me…”
Palazzio di Cambrello
“Thank you, Maria,” Carlotta said as she watched the housekeeper take the plates away, Matteo smiling as he looked at his daughter. “So how was the zoo today?”
“It was – interesting, Mamma,” Francesca said as James wiped his chain. “Marchesa, I think that there is something that I need to say.”
“And that is James,” Carlotta said, and amused expression in her eyes.
“That Francesca has paid me the very great honour of agreeing to become my wife.”
Carlotta looked at Francesca, as she blushed and nodded, and then at her husband as he smiled, and then back at James.
“Have you nothing to say, Mamma?”
“I… I…” Carlotta stood up and walked to James, kissing him on both cheeks and then crying as she hugged her daughter.
“My congratulations, my child,” Matteo said as he kissed Francesca. “Doubtless your mother will talk to you later on arrangements, but for now – is this what you truly want?”
“Yes Papa – it is…”
"James have you ever been to Naples?" Carlotta asked as she took him to one side.
"No I haven't Dona Carlotta," he shook his head, "this is my first visit to Italy."
"So you do
not know of the Basilica of Santa Chiarra?"
by the fact that you are raising it then I take it has some significance?"
does," the Italian woman sipped her coffee. "Countless generations of
di Cambrello's are buried there..."
"And I am
guessing were married there?" James smiled as he interrupted.
"Well,” James said as he sat with her, “I guessed when I asked for Francesca's hand that I was letting myself in for something big, but can a lapsed Presbyterian like myself be married in such a place?"
"You can. So can I take it you have no objections to my arranging your wedding in Naples?"
Carlotta I'm still adjusting my brain to the idea that in marrying Francesca I
am becoming part of all this," he gestured to the room around them,
"and yes inside me I have several objections. But I love your daughter,
and I want her to have the wedding of her dreams, so please go ahead and make
"I can ask
your cousin to deliver a blessing if that will help?"
Since he and his wife are my only relatives they will be there, he might as
well work a little."
"As you say, he might as well earn his supper," Carlotta laughed.
Cajo and Gajo
Peter Hope was not a happy man as he entered the bar, and say al Salim sitting at a table, putting some beef into his mouth and then taking a drink from his glass of wine.
“Why have you asked for a meeting now,” he said as she sat down, “we are at a very critical stage of the operation, and I have a deadline to meet.”
“Oh I appreciate that,” Mohamed said with a smile, “but I just wanted to check again some of the details of our business tomorrow. It is – a thing I regularly do.”
Peter sat and ordered some wine, before he said “I understand your caution, but you can trust me, my friend.” He looked at the Arabian gentleman, before he said “So, what exactly is it you wish to double check?”
“When the exchange is made, you are going to provide me with the full details of the design, correct?”
“That is correct, once we have verified the material,” Peter said, “one of my group is an electronics expert, and you will have them within the hour of the exchange.”
Nodding, al Salim took another drink from his wine. “It would be far easier if I was to accompany you to the exchange – see the material myself before you take it. Then we have – mutual assurance.”
Peter smiled and shook his head. “I understand your conecern, ym friend, but you must trust me – you will have the relevant information to pass on to your contacts as we have agreed. I will send you the details of where it can eb collected – and it is best you are not seen as part of our operation. I would hate to see such a promising working relationship end on suspicion of each other.”
As he nodded, Mohamed raised his glass.
“I thought the Koran banned alcohol?”
“A common misconception – it calls for abstention so that prayer and worship are not affected, but not an outright ban. It is only the most literal of interpretations that call for a ban.”
“Such as in Iran?”
“And other places – such as my homeland. I, on the other hand, am a libertarian in such matters. I will await your details for the exchange.”
Peter nodded as he stood up and walked off, a tall man from another table walking over and sitting with Mohamed.
“I want you and your partner to watch the house – I have a bad feeling about this exchange…”
As Alex stepped out of the hotel, she zipped up her black leather jacket and stuck her gloved hands into her pockets, and then smiled as the black car drew up, the passenger door opening before she jumped in.
“Where did you get the car from,” she asked as Francesca drove off, “and how did your family take the news?”
“Need to know, and need to know. We’ll park near the Ponte Fabricio and walk across from there.”
“Are we prepared?”
“Rucksacks in the back – hope you brought a hat...”
As they walked off the Ponte Cestio and crossed the main road, Francesca was looking from side to side, her hair up and under a black wool hat. Both women were wearing black leather jackets, pants and sneakers, with a small rucksack on their back.
“How far to this restaurant?”
“Twenty minutes – the word from the head is that the exchange is planned for six tomorrow morning, so we should have enough time.”
“If – and it’s a big if – we can find the house she is being held in.”
“That is the wondrous thing about this city – we party late if we desire, and the locals see all. Come on – we find the bar, and we ask quietly.”
"By the way, do you still speak Italian with that Genoese accent of your parents Mouse?" Francesca asked as they prepared for the action to come.
"Sì certo che lo faccio Francesca. Perché stai chiedendo?"
"Good," the Italian laughed softly,
"from here on we speak Italian only. They can't get a hint that you are
one of 'them'."
“One of them?" Alex looked puzzled. "Oh you
mean that I'm South African?"
"Yes we don't need them suspecting one of their own."
Nodding, Alex said “what happens when we get her out?”
“I called in a favour – there is a car shadowing us, when we get Andrea out, we get her into the car and then walk away.”
Nodding, Alex said “and we let al Salim go?”
“Yeah – he will be the one that got away,” Francesca said quietly, “this time…”
As they walked into the square, they saw the open restaurants, bars and cafes, people talking as they sat both inside and on the pavements. “Quiet night,” Francesca said as they looked round.
“This is a quiet night?”
“You need to get out more,” Francesca said with a smile as they entered the Piazza san Castillo, and sat outside the bar.
“Ladies – a late night?”
“Indeed,” Francesca said to the waiter. “Two glasses of wine. Mostly locals tonight?”
“Apart from him – the big guy,” he said as he poured the wine, Alex watching the big white man. “Comes this time every night, takes six servings of pasta and beers over to that house there. Tourists who do not like to mix, I think.”
Francesca nodded as she said “their loss. Excellent vintage?”
“thank you,” the wiater said as he walked off, both woman watching the man as he walked back across the square.
“Glock or something under that windcheater,” Francesca said as she watched him walk into a three story house, closing the door before a light went on behind a second floor window.
“Let’s take a moment to finish this wine, and then we can do this…”
“Always through the rear entrance?”
Francesca nodded as she used a set of lock picks to open the rear door to the house. As the door opened out, the two women slipped in, Alex waiting as Francesca closed the door, and then they made their way out to the main entrance hallway.
“Seems quiet so far,” Francesca whispered, as she checked the gun she had in her waistband.
“Oh yes – I have no desire to actually kill anyone,” the taller woman whispered as they slowly made their way up the staircase, moving slowly, carefully, making sure they made as little noise as possible.
“So my father has agreed to do as you ask?”
“I believe so,” Peter said as he sat with Andrea on the bed, her hand in his, “I regret to say we will need to tightly bind, gag and blindfold you once more, but when that is done you will be in the bosom of your family again.”
Nodding, Andrea looked into Peter’s eyes, and smiled as she said “I was wondering – it would be nice if we could meet again, outside of this…”
“I think it would be nice as well – but I would need a promise from you, not to reveal my part in what had happened.”
The young woman smiled as she put her hand to his cheek, and said “I promise.”
“Good – but it is time.”
Andrea nodded as she turned, looking over her shoulder as Peter picked up a length of rope, and started to bind her wrists together behind her back.
Francesca stopped and listened outside a door, as Alex looked nervously from side to side.
“This is the apartment that matches where the light went on,” Francesca whispered, “if those bastards are in there, they’ll have one person watching her, and the others in a room, one listening to the door.”
“So how do we get in with the element of surprise,” Alex whispered back.
“Look in your backpack.”
As Alex slipped her backpack off and opened it, she took out two steel canisters.
“Precisely – I’ll open the door, and we roll one in before we move in. Shoot to bring down anyone who runs out – no time to ask if friend or foe.”
Alex nodded as she held the gun in her hand, watching as Francesca worked…
“There – now, close your eyes.”
Andrea nodded as she mumbled “Fhnkuhh” through the knotted scarf that was tied into her mouth, her lips closing over the silk wad as the band was tied tightly round her head. She heard the ripping sound, and then the tension, the pulling in her skin as a wide strip of tape was pressed over her eyelids.
“She ready then?”
Peter nodded as he turned, and then said “what are you doing” quietly as his partner produced a gun.
“We got our orders, boss.”
“From whom? Not from me.”
“I know – but we,” the man said as he looked into Peter’s eyes, “are concerned you are getting too close to the objective here, and I have been authorized to…”
“Shut the fuck up,” Peter said as the left hook felled the second man, Andrea twisting her head as she mumbled “whtshhpphnnn?” He walked back over and put his hand on her shoulder, whispering “remain calm” before he left the room.
“Hey boss,” one of the other three men said as he walked into the front room, “food here for you.”
“Any of you want to argue over the way I am handling this case?”
The other men looked at each other before the man said “nope – why? And where is Pietre?”
“He had a disagreement with my fist,” Peter said quietly, and then he turned suddenly as he heard the front door open, and then the band before smoke started to fill the room.
“What the hell…” He reached into his jacket and drew a Luger out, walking out into the hallway which was now filled with thick grey smoke – smoke which seemed to get thicker as a second smoke bomb went off. Through watery eyes, he saw two women run in, and aimed his pistol at them – only to feel a sharp pain as a dart hit him in the leg, and he fell to the floor. As his vision blurred, he looked at the smaller of the two women as she stopped to check his pulse, while the second one entered the main room and he heard a series of soft phuts.
Alex watched as his eyes closed, and then stood up, looking in the room at the other three men lay prostrate on the floor.
“That’s four – where’s the other two,” Francesca said – and then she watched as Alex aimed her dart gun and fired at the man who appeared from behind the chair, seeing him fall to the floor. The two women made their way down the room as they heard a muffled female voice call out “HASHHHTHHHRRRR?”
“One still to…” Alex almost tripped over Pietre as he lay unconscious on the floor, and then they saw the bound and gagged woman sitting on the bed, tape over her eyes. Putting the dart guns back into the rucksacks, Alex and Francesca lifted Andrea between them, and made their way through the smoke filled corridor, the woman struggling between them.
“Wait here,” Francesca said to Alex as she held Andrea up, and looked out of the door, using a flashlight to signal before a car drew up, the driver opening the rear doors as they lifted Andrea in.
“Carabinieri are on their way – disappear,” the driver said as he got behind the wheel and drove off. Alex and Francesca looked at each other, and then made their way back to the Piazza, not seeing the red light in the doorway.
Mohamed al Salim allowed herself a smile as he saw the two women walk away, memorizing what he could of their faces. Whoever they were, they were professionals – and he had not heard gunshots, so somehow they had disabled that bunch of idiots. It was a pity that this particular deal was going to fall through, as he watched and heard the sirens, saw the blue flashing lights as the cars drew up, but there would be other opportunities.
“You were right to summon me,” he said to the other two men, “this project is concluded. Book us on the first flight to London in the morning…”
As Alex came into the reception area, she was surprised to see Marianne standing by her cases, as John stood by the desk talking to the clerk.
“Marianne – what’s happened,” she said as she came over.
“I’m not sure – John had a phone call early this morning, and he told me to pack. I think he’s been summoned back for something.”
“That is about the size of it,” John said as he came over. “My mission here is at an end – Hennie ordered me back as soon as practically possible.”
“Well, I personally am sorry to hear that,” Alex said as she saw James Gordon coming into the lobby.
“John, Marianne – leaving already?”
“I’m afraid so James – come and see us when you get back.”
“I need to – I may need your help with something,” James said with a smile.
“Oh,” Marianne said with a smile, “what?”
“Wedding arrangements – Francesca and I are engaged as of yesterday. The wedding to be in Naples at some point to be decided.”
He saw a slight twitch in John’s face before Marianne smiled and said “congratulations – when are you coming back?”
“Day after tomorrow – join us for dinner when we get back and we’ll talk then?”
“I look forward to it,” James said as john took Alex to one side, leaving him talking to Marianne.
“I have orders for you as well – take no further action against Mohamed al Salim.”
“Orders from the very top – no contact whatsoever or interference. I like it less than you, but that’s the word.”
“And the goon squad?”
“I have no idea…”
Leonardo da Vinci Airport
Peter looked round as he and his team were escorted onto the plane, and waited until the handcuffs were removed before he took his seat.
“Enjoy your trip,” General Andreotti said as he looked at the group, and then two men sat opposite sides of them as the stewardess came past.
“Of course,” Peter said as he took a copy of the paper, and looked at the front page, the picture of Francesca di Cambrello on the front page announcing her engagement. He looked at the picture, wondering where he had seen her recently, and then he looked up to see John and Marianne Vosloo making their way to their seats…
“And that completes my report, sir,” Francesca said as she faced her commanding officers.
“Your agent, Mouse?”
“Leaves tonight to resume her duties.”
“Andrea was safely returned to her family – she will need time to recover, but is unharmed,” Maria said as she looked at a pad.
“Left on an early flight to London. We have informed the British authorities.”
"Sir I have a question,” Francesca said quietly. “Why, if his contacts in the US are so good, did al Salim steer the South Africans here to Italy when they needed missile technology? Surely the Americans could supply it?"
"The American's don't want to be seen doing business with South Africa Lieutenant," Maria Riva spoke before the Admiral could. "They have a huge anti South Africa lobby and, at least visibly, they want to keep their hands clean."
"So 'we' get used so they have full deniability?"
"It is sadly how things work," General
"With regards to Mr al Salim I have information
that might be relevant to share," Colonel Bonucci spoke.
"Should I leave the room then Sir?"
"No,” he said quietly, “you perhaps need listen
to this Lieutenant so you understand what is going on."
"Is this what was in my in tray this
"It is Signora Riva," the Colonel nodded.
"Well may the rest of us learn?" the Admiral asked quietly.
"It seems the Americans are hearing that Saddam Hussein might be turning his eyes towards Kuwait, and the CIA is using al Salim's contacts in both Iran and Kuwait to both gather intelligence, and for him to do a little behind the scenes diplomacy."
"Hence why they don't want us interfering with
"Exactly Admiral," the Colonel nodded.
“The strange world of espionage,” the Admiral said quietly. “Very well, Lieutenant, return to your duties.”
“Sir,” Francesca said as she stood, saluted and left the room.
"So what should I be putting in her report
Maria?" the Admiral asked as Francesca closed the door behind herself.
Maria took her glasses off and placed them carefully on the table, rubbing her eyes as she said "That is up to you Giovanni. What do you think you ought to say?"
"I'm not sure," the Admiral smiled, "it's why I rather hoped you had an opinion. I'll admit to being a trifle biased in her favour. Her father and I were at Livorno together."
"Well I've known her since the day she was born,
it's very hard for me to be impartial as well."
Admiral Fabrisi smiled as he said "My personal
connection is why I had Paolo Amberllini be the one to approach her at the
Academy about working for La Citadella.
It has proven, I feel, to be a successful approach as well. She showed planning, resourcefulness and
"I remember us both spending hours discussing
whether we had the right to use her obvious talents in our line of work,” Maria
said quietly as there was a nock on the door “given that we know her family,
and that this would all need be kept secret from Matteo and Carlotta."
"Well at least we abandoned that plan to put her
into Russia as a double double."
"It would have broken her parents heart if they
thought she was both a communist and a traitor." Maria sighed. "at
least we spared them both that."
"But she is still an agent, and now it seems she
will be adding a husband to those she can never reveal the truth about herself
to," the Admiral signaled his adjutant to put the coffee tray on the table
as he entered.
"Can I add a word to this conversation,"
General Andreotti spoke as the junior officer withdrew. "Last night I
think the Lieutenant showed that she might have some abilities to work the
dirty end of our business."
"Wet work?" the Admiral lifted an eyebrow.
"Would we waste her brain by using her basically
as a thug?"
"I'm happy you said 'used' Giovanni," Maria
looked daggers at her colleagues. "can you imagine that lovely girl doing
something as degrading as becoming a killer?"
"Probably not," the Admiral sipped his
coffee, "but Marco is right, I think that it's buried deep within her that
she might be able to do that if she was desperate enough."
"Francesca would be exploited in that fashion by La Citadella basically over my dead body," Maria Riva spoke in a deadly serious tone.
“I know you do not like that aspect of our work…”
“Like is a strong word – I tolerate it. But I cannot, and will not, condone approaching her to work in that area. It would destroy her.” Maria stood up, collected her papers, and walked out.
As the door closed, Admiral Fabrisi looked round the table. “I will make a note of your thoughts General – let us hope we never need to use it.”
The di Matello residence
Andrea looked up from where she was sitting as Carlotta and Matteo came in. “Andrea my dear,” Carlotta said as she sat down and held the younger woman’s hands, “how are you?”
“Tired, sore,” Andrea said quietly, “But I have at least rested. I was unaware of my rescue until the police removed my blindfold and started to untie me at the hospital.”
“We have no idea who her rescuers are” her mother said as she and her father stood to the side, “but we are grateful and in their debt. Matteo?”
“No – I have no idea, and they are telling me nothing,” Matteo said, “but I am glad it is over. Alberto, may we talk outside?”
The two men nodded as they went out, Andrea’s mother and Carlotta sitting with her as she rubbed her arms. She had not mentioned she had smelt the perfume, knew it was two women – and she wondered what had happened to Peter…
Palazzo di Cambrello
you made any decisions?" Dona Carlotta asked as the couple entered the
dining room holding hands.
Mamma," Francesca smiled, "I rang Gianni Versace and he and his
sister will design my wedding dress for me."
also decided that while we will not count it as our official wedding that James
and I will undergo a civil service in Pretoria before we go to Naples."
"May I ask
why?" Don Matteo spoke.
lot of our South African friends may not be able to come to the actual wedding,
and we would like to do something that they can attend."
"Ah I see
the logic," the older man smiled.
be legally married, but we have both agreed our 'real' marriage will be in the
basilica," Francesca sat down. "I hope you don't mind Mamma?"
something I'd have thought of, but yes given the circumstance I will agree."
"And my wedding night will be in Naples," Francesca smiled shyly at James.
“Excellent – well, this is your last night here. Let us enjoy the occasion, and we will meet again in Naples next month.”
“We do need to consider the question of your bridesmaids,” Carlotta said as they sat down, “do you have any thoughts Francesca?”
“A few – Natalya as a maid of honour, and Ella – and I want to ask Diana du Grechy.”
“Well, they are both of a similar age – we shall do that,” Carlotta said with a smile. “James, on your side?”
“I need to think about it – maybe Danny.”
“Daniel? But he calls you Indiana Jones,” Francesca laughed.
“It’s a joke – ever since he got me that hat,” James laughed in return.
"So any thoughts on who you will have as your
photographer darling?" Dona Carlotta asked as they finished their last
dinner before Francesca and James returned to South Africa.
"Well Gianni recommended that American friend of
his Jack Linklater,” Francesca said, “but I was thinking of asking Tony."
"Well large weddings are something he is renowned
for," Matteo smiled a gentle smile.
"That was my thought Papa."
"James you will need me to let have a list of all the people you wish to be invited."
"I've started scribbling a few names in a book,”
James said, “When I get back, I’ll finalize it and send a fax through to your
"Good," Carlotta paused to think, "now
you both know that there are many 'official' guests I must invite?"
"So Francesca informed me. It actually blows my
mind that these people 'must' come to my wedding."
"It's an inconvenience, but they would be hurt
and insulted if they were not invited..."
"Do you remember the fuss because we forgot some
people Carlotta my love?" Don Matteo interrupted his wife.
"I do," Carlotta smiled as she reached out
and touched her husband’s hand.
"Can I say that I hope that if Francesca and I
are half as blessed as you both are then we will have a wonderful
"Oh I'm sure you will have a long and very happy
marriage James," Matteo smiled again, "just like ours."
"We hope so," Francesca looked at her parents, "and that with God's blessing we can give you lots of grandchildren for you to spoil."
Three months later
“I assure you, papa, mama, I will be fine” Andre di Matello said as she hugged her parents, and then left the Savoy, the young concierge touching his hat as she went out. It was a cool summer’s day, the last one of the visit they had all taken to get over the events of earlier that year, and she wanted some time to herself.
She looked up and down the road and then turned to the left, walking to Trafalgar Square and then through Admiralty Arch into St James’ Park. As she made her way to the lake, she smiled at the people who walked past, and then sat herself down, looking at the swans on the calm water.
“Such a calm spot in a bustling city.”
Andrea smiled as she turned to look at the man sitting next to him. “Hello – it has been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed – but I am glad you were able to come and see me today.”
“Of course I do, my love,” Andrea said as she turned and kissed Peter Hope, him returning the kiss…