Archive for December, 2007

Italian Job 8 – Deadmen dont Talk

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

The day was not going well and to be honest had got worse with the discovery that Hawthorn had popped his clogs in my car.  I suppose it was just as well we found him sooner rather than later, because with the way airport security is these days, if they wont let you take your nail clippers and deodorant on a flight,  they are bound to get tetchy about dragging a dead bloke on as hand baggage.

I was taken to a police station and an interpreter turned up very quickly to assist proceedings.  To cut a long story short I expected having to explain the dead man to be more pressing than the alleged art theft.  The police did not see it that way.  Number one on their list was the injuries to the two detectives.  I apologised and explained my position.  When I saw the female officer I had an even stronger case.  She was a raven haired Italian beauty and nobody in their right mind would go round thumping her.  Now she was a raven haired Italian beauty with a bruised chin and a broken knee cap.  She was not amused.

Her colleague had bitten his lip and broken a tooth when he hit the floor and a nasty looking cut it was too.  His chin was bruised and he was none too happy either.  I did make the point that I was in the house lawfully and it was them that ambushed you with guns having asked them to show themselves one tends to think the worst of someone.   They talked of assault charges.

Then they turned to the “Great Art Theft”.  I was able to access the documentation and details supporting my story.  You know its funny, but punters assume that just because one is in my trade and “freelance” one does not keep records or papers.  They confuse the pages of a novel with it’s mystery and intrigue with real life. Jeez I even have an accountant and a lawyer.  The accountant is good the lawyer is a right creep and pretty shite.  I was able, without too  much trouble, to get a copy of the receipt from the courier company who delivered the keys from the client faxed over.  Eventually that is.  It would seem that she had been getting large portions of compost dumped in her bush from her hunky gardener, and were planning to set up a little  love nest together.

How sordid.

They had been stripping the Italian house slowly but surely over the last few months.  Rather ironically and somewhat unfortunately for them, Hubby was shagging some young piece of totty and had decided to stop over at the Roman love pad.  Funnily enough he noticed the missing paintings and other little treasures and alerted the police.  He of course did not know that it was his operatic wife who was the villain so told her what was going on.  This gave her the edge and being one step ahead of him realised things were about to get awkward and so set me up to pick up the other bits, just in case.

I have always thought of the Italians as being a little bit slack and that their Police would reflect their laid back attitude.  Don’t believe a word of it.  They were shit hot and had everything verified and double checked in mega quick time.  Fortunately having rubbed shoulders with the boys in blue on several occasions I was able to provide a fair bit of documentary evidence to support my story.  Even so I was impressed when barely 3 hours after being carted of to the Spola negozia (cop shop) the boss detective came into to tell me that Hawthorn had died from some form of poisoning.

Well I’ll be.

We went through the rigmarole of what we had eaten and where and all that stuff. then he started with questions about medication and the like.  I couldn’t help and suggested they ring the family.  They had already had Thames Valley police do that and apparently he was in good health.  Still, look on the bright side they now knew he was dead so that was one job off my list.

Then we got to the “Did you kill him?” questions.  These were just daft but they had to be asked I suppose, but for crying out loud.  Then my mobile started ringing.  It was my private phone not work one.  The detective nodded at me and I was allowed to answer the call.  It was SIL, Dawn.  I explained I was a little tucked up and that I was trying to explain to the police why I had a dead man in my car.  She wanted to know where I was and who was in charge and then said she would get a lawyer to me immediately and hung up.

About 15 minutes later we were interupted by a uniform bloke.  There was a quick conversation and the detective left for few about 5 minutes.  When he came back he didn’t look too happy.

“you people have powerful friends” He spat

“I do?” I asked

“Si, I have spoken with your lawyer and somebody will be here soon”

“My lawyer?” I repeated

“Si”

“Porky Adamson, I dont think so” I laughed

“Not Adamson, no, Leech Carlavoti Leech, he is a famous and important lawyer”

“He is?” I asked again like a right spaz.

“Si” he confirmed with bad taste. “His firm handles big cases and for ….” It was too much for him.

To cut a long story short this very flash brief turned up and within 30 minutes I was a free man but had to return to Italy pending further enquiries.  I have since learnt that this lawyer bloke is a Mafia lawyer and worked for a certain high profilel Italian politician who had been accused of alls sorts of naughtiness before he took the top Policitcal job.  It would seem that Dawn had contacts in Italy that I don’t know of and she had pulled the strings to get me out.

Of course that left the small matter of one dead Hawthorn, but that was not me problem.  I had been hired to find him and to try to get him home, the fact he croaked in Transit was not my fault.  That being said though I did wonder how he died.

I managed to get back to the airport without incident and eventually got a flight back to the UK.  I had only just got off the plane when the phone rang again it was Dawn she was at the airport and would meet me when I got through.  She sounded pretty weird.

I got the sneaking suspicion that my long day was not over.

Italian Job 7/Dawn 2 – Dozing In The Car

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

The rest of my meal passed without comment.  Hawthorn chatted away in a more relaxed and amiable way than he had done before.  Despite this there was a cold edge to him which did not endear him to me.  We were having a second grappa before hitting the sack when my mobile rang, it was Dawn the SIL.

“Norman, I cant go I have to tell him” She blurted out.  She sounded pissed, but I wasn’t sure that she was.

“Hang on a mo chicken, I thought we had a deal” I said sternly

“Oh Norman what am I going to do?” She said with that desperation people have in a tight corner.

“If in doubt do and say nowt” I said “Thats the deal for the moment.  Sit tight and I will come straight down to see you as soon as I get back, which will either be tomorrow night or first thing the morning after”

“Promise” she said sort of coyly

“I promise” I said reassuringly “Now then do as I say, sit tight and dont do anything until we have had a good chance to talk OK”

She sniffed but sounded brighter

“Yeah OK…Thanks”

“No problem, no off to bed and get a good nights kip, the sooner you get to bed the sooner tomorrow will come and we can chat, I will ring you in the morning to check in  alright”

“Yes thanks I’m good now I have talked to you”

“Speak tomorrow”

“Norman” she said urgently

“Yes?” I said

“Thanks, I err …love you”

She rang off before I could say “You do!”

The next morning was clear and bright but a fresh breeze was blowing.  Hawthorn and I checked out of the hotel and headed back towards Rome.  All I had to do was pick up the works of art and then get to the airport.  In theory it would take about an hour or so to fet to the outskirts of Rome and then round the Grande Roccordo Anulare GRA for short till we were sort of North before heading to Oligata.  The GRA masquerades as the ring road around the city.  In truth it switches from car park during rush hours to race track at other times.  We hit it about 10.30 and it was not too manic.

We got to Olgiata which is what you would call a sort of exclusive housing estate.  There is a golf course/country club in the the middle and there are some quite swish gaffs.  Apparently the king of Afghanistan lived here when he was in exile.  The houses are a mix of styles and size.  Some are mini palaces others are modest unassuming villas.  I spoke to the security bod at the gate house and he gave me directions to the address.

The house was a reasonable sized, light pink villa covered in ivy and set in about an acre of garden.  The short drive to the house was lined with olive trees and there was a kidney shaped swimming pool in the garden.  It was pleasant and affluent feel without being ostentatious.

Fucking hark at me, through the bloody keyhole or house hunting with Norm!

Hawthorn had been quiet for the last half hour and sat there looking more or less straight ahead.  I stopped the car in front the of the house and he gave a little nod I think he was dozing in the morning sunshine.

I got out saying I would be about 10 minutes if that.

I had the front door key and was a bit surprised to see the shutters upstairs were open as security in Italy is a big thing.  Burglary is a big problem in Rome and here the burglars often inject sleeping gas into bedrooms to stupefy the occupants before they do any thieving.

The front door opened into a large sort of hall with steps down into a large living room.  At the far end directly opposite the entrance was a large set of patio doors.  In fact they almost made up the whole wall and must have been about 4 m in length.  As soon as I was in I could smell something.  Cannabis, stale alcohol and something else, something sweeter.  One of the paintings and the sculpture were ij the living area and as the place was pretty devoid of pictures or nicnacs, they were not oo hard to find and the other painting was in the dinning area to the right.  In fact with hindsight the place was rather bare.

I had just got the bits together when I heard something.  I dont know what it was but I knew I was not alone in the house.  I listened again, and I could hear something upstairs.  I went up the open plan marble stairs and just at the top I saw a shadow of somebody moving in a room to the right.  I walked very quietly toward the room and I heard the unmistakeable click of safety catch coming off.  I reached into my pocket for my knife.  There was a shuffle from behind a door to the left.

The place was dead quite and in these circumstances the silence is deafening indication of human presence.

“COME OUT ” I shouted. They didn’t but my reaction caused a slight shock and I could see from the shadow to the right that it was something they were not expecting.  I moved forward quickly and quietly and I could see the vague shadow that the person was unsure about what to do.

He who hesitates is lost and whoever was in the door hesitated.  I didn’t.  In the seconds of their indecision I was into the room.  They were in the middle of the door way as I went through.  They were shorter than me maybe 5’6 tall, longish dark hair and not very heavy.  The instep of my right foot crashed into their left knee and the down the shin.  I powered forward and simultaneously pushed the open right hand into the throat and then upwards.  This  combined movement caused the ambusher to crash to the floor in a howl of surprise and pain.  I moved forward and my left foot was in contact with their body almost before they hit the ground.  The wind left them and the gun clattered to the floor and across the marble tiles.  I grabbed their hair with my left hand and yanked them up to their feet and took their right hand in “approved hold” They now stood on tip toes and howled in pain.

I turned to face the door just as a man appeared pointing a Berretta 92 pistol at me.  This gun is used by many police forces throughout the world.  It is a good gun.  A quick glance at the weapon on the floor confirmed that it too was a Berretta.

“STOP POLICE” The man shouted with a strong Italian accent.  That confirmed my suspicion “PUT HER DOWN”.

I didn’t.

“Who are you and what are you doing?”  I asked

“Police we ask questions.  Put her down”

I had half twigged it was a young woman when I picked her up by the hair so easily.  This was due to her lack of weight and abundance of hair.

This had all the hall marks of something going badly wrong if you hadn’t guesses that for yourself!

“If I let go of her she will hit the floor and hurt herself even more” I said “Why dont I move her to the bed and put her down gently over there”

He blabbered something in Italian.

“Do you want me to drop her on the the floor that’s fine by me, but she wont thank you, its up to you”

I could see he was unsure now.

“I will put her over there”.  Three steps and I was by the bed and I dropped her down on to it.  She was not going to die but she was not feeling so hot.

I moved away.  “Do you want to check she is OK? I wont do anything I promise”

He kept the gun on me and shouted something to the girl. She croaked a response.

“Put you hands up” he shouted and I did as asked as I coiuld hear footsteps echoing through the building and sirens in the distance.

“What’s going on?” I asked

“You know” he spat back

“No actually I dont.  I came here to pick up some things for the owner and there you are hiding and ready to ambush me”

He moved forward quickly and I knew he was going to try to hit me.  I dropped into a crouch and pitched forward.  He fell over me and hit the marbled floor chin first like a sack of spuds.  I stood up and he went base over apex.

I sat down and waited for the rest of the police to arrive.  When they di they were slightly taken aback.  I was sitting on a chair the female officer was on the bed groaning like a porn star and the other geezer was picking himself off the floor.  Two guns lay at either side of the room.

The first policeman was a uniformed senior officer and the second some kind of detective.  They looked around and said something in Italian then the uniform bloke said “What is going on?”

“I just asked him that and he tried to knock my head off” I said pointing at the prostrate plod.  There then followed a lot of yabbering in Italain and to cut a long story short they had been tipped off that an English art thief was going to break in and steal some works of art.  Apparently he had already stolen several pieces and this was to be his last pickup.  Guess who they thought was the Pink Panther.

I was in the middle of my explanation when another uniformed Police officer came into the room and something to the two senior blokes.

“Signor Norman I have another question for you before you go any further” said the Uniform man

“Yes what is it?” I asked

“Why do you have a dead man in your car?”

Minx

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

For all those people that have contacted me re the missing Minx.  I can tell you that she has contacted me and is OK.

Italian Job 6- Who’s Who

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I was not too delighted when Hawthorn said his story was about to get to get complicated.  I had a nagging feeling that I knew where this was going.  It was getting nippy and Hawthorn was looking tired, so I suggested we head back to the hotel.  My bloody head was really sore and I was wondering how come such a small bump could hurt so much.  My man didn’t talk for quite a while and then suddenly said “What happened to you head?”

I told him about the woman and the vase and about how I was just wondering why it hurt so much.

He laughed a genuine hearty laugh and when he smiled the years and worry fell away. He started to chat in a light hearted amiable way and we even cracked a few jokes.  At the hotel we agreed we would freshen up and meet in half an hour and continue our conversation over some grub.

Hawthorn took me to a restaurant he said was good.  When we got there the proprietor and staff greeted him warmly and they spoke in quick fire Italian.  There were smiles, handshakes and typical Italian hand movements and body language.  I was introduced as a friend of the family from England and I was given a hearty handshake and big smile from all.  As an ace detective I decided this was not the first time he had been here and his Italian was better than that of somebody who had got themselves a Linguaphone course.

We ordered two beers and then started to talk

“You said your story was complicated” I said bringing is back to the job in hand “Do you think you could enlighten me a little?”

He smiled good naturedly “I like you.  You have no pretence,  no bullshit you want to know something and you ask.  Although I suspect you can make enemies easily, but I don’t suppose you worry too much about that do you?”

I smiled back

“Ok, well it is not really that complicated, and I suspect somebody like you will have most of the pieces in a sort of order already, but let me save time and put it together for you.  After all if you are going to help me you need to know the truth”

I nodded “Give it to me in a nut shell”

He laughed and as he did so I could see that he was not a frail old man that you could have mistaken him for at the cemetery earlier, but a tough cookie who was just getting on a bit. He took a swig of beer.

“No Bullshit.  My real name is Christopher Andriolli and I am an American born to an Italian father and a German mother in New York.  My Father was a devout Catholic and my mother a staunch German Lutheran.  Believe me when I say we did not discuss religion at home, but they each held their faith and I shared both and they were very much in love if not a bit eccentric.   I spoke German and Italian, but because we had more Italian family near us and lived in an Italian neighbourhood I spoke more Italian than German. Only in America.”

He shook his head gave a typical Italian shrug and looked down at his beer.

“I was good at school and won a scholarship to Harvard and studied structural engineering.  It was funded by some Italian foundation.  Mafia probably, but hey, who was I to complain.  Any way the war broke out, and because of my language skills and profession I was drafted to the intelligence service. I came into my own at the time of the Italian and Scilly campaign and I was sent here to put my language skills to best use.  The allies advance on Rome was blocked here in Casino and the powers that be really wanted the monastery bombing.  That’s the American way, they get a bee in their bonnet and their answer is to bomb the fuck out of the place in the misguided hope that it will solve the problem.  Of course it doesn’t, it just gets worse.  Here, ‘Nam, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and I suppose Iran in the future.”

“The problem was that there was a British officer here Called Clark Hawthorn, he had established that there were no Germans in the abbey and kept reporting this in his intelligence briefs to Allied High Command.  I don’t quite know why he had been sent here to work for the British Intelligence because he was really a fish out of water.  He was an easy going English gent and I think the only reason was because he was an architect and had done some studies on the monastery at Casino and spent a lot of time inside the building.  Our side felt that if I could get architectural information from him which I could look at from a structural point of view to aid the capture of the building.  They also felt that if I could manufacture intelligence to persuade Hawthorn that there were Germans in the building he would report this back to the the Brits who would be happier about the assault on the abbey”

“But where does Cratego fit in”

“Ah yes Cratego, I was coming to him.  Rather Ironically Cratego is Hawthorn in Italian and was the sort of code word for the operation.  But…Frank Cratego was a very courageous American Army Captain.  I worked with Frank and the story got around that Frank had got behind the German lines and infiltrated the locals and was getting information from the monastery to me.”

“And was he?” I asked

“No Frank was killed almost as soon as we got here.  He was almost blown to bits.  I kept his dog tags and didn’t know what the hell to do, but I didn’t let on.  I had reports and information sent from Frank and eventually I was able to undermine the less favourable but more accurate reports from Hawthorn.  It wasn’t anything personal, in fact Clark and I became friends.  As I said he was very British from a comfortable background well educated and handsome.  He was a very likeable and charming man.  I was with him when he got the news that his parents had been killed.  He was alone in the world, as his brother had been killed in South Africa or somewhere like that.”

He paused and we both took hefty gulps of beer.

“Out of courtesy I told him a couple of days before the raid that the bombers were coming.  The morning of the raid It was really bitterly cold and I saw Hawthorn making his way in a direction I would not expect, so I followed him.  He went to a funny little sort of shepherds hut which was a sort of little cave or grotto with some stones around it.  He went in and I could hear a baby.  I went in and there was Clark with this young girl and a baby.  The baby was real small and feeding from her mother.  I had never seen a baby feeding before and the sight was one that burnt into my mind.  I don’t know if it was the sight of one life drawing life from another human when so many of us were so hell bent on killing each other,  or whether it was just the sight of such a beautiful girls breast but I know it is the most powerful thing I ever saw.”

“Was it his child?” I asked

“I don’t know, I don’t think it could be, because I don’t think he had been deployed there long enough.  As it is we will never know, because at that moment a shell landed almost on top of us.  I think a spotter must have seen my movements because as I said it landed almost on top of us. The mother was killed and Hawthorn was really badly hurt.  By some miracle I was stunned but not really hurt and neither was the baby who carried on feeding from her mothers breast.  I was with Hawthorn when he died he begged me to look after the baby.  Jeez I don’t know what he thought I could do.  Here I was in the middle of Hell on Earth and he wanted me to be Mary Poppins.”

“What did you do?”

“Well funnily enough not a lot.  He died, Hawthorn that is and I took his tags and the baby.  I don’t quite know what I thought I was going to do, I suppose I was in some kind of shock. I picked up the baby and left the hut and then I dont really know what happened but I woke up what was several days later in a field hospital.  The baby and I  had been found by a Canadian unit and dragged to relative safety.  I dont know how this happened but they thought I was Hawthorn.  I was not really in a position to put them right.  In transpires I had taken a round through the chest and had some kind of head injury.  I was asking about the baby and they assumed that the kid was mine. It all sounds weird, but you have to remember this was real war and it was just chaos.” He looked me in the eyes “I think you know the sort of situation I am talking about”

I nodded, I didn’t say anything, this was his watershed and not the time for me to speak.

“So there I was Clark Hawthorn.  The assumption was that this kid was  mine from some local woman.  I must have told them something about the girl and Hawthorn and the bodies were found at some point and buried.  Quite a bit of time elapsed before I really came to realise quite what had happened and found myself as Clark Hawthorn.  Of course by this time the Canadians notified the US Army that Andriolli had died in action.  An administrative faux pas.  I tried telling them they had made a mistake but they just assumed I was gibbering.”

We drained our glasses as our food arrived and the cork was pulled from a bottle of Chianti.

“I sat there thinking and it occurred to me that Hawthorn had no family but he had money and a comfortable way of life normally.  I on the other hand had a wife who I hated and had married for some reason or other”

“You were married” I interjected

“Ah yes I forgot to mention Helen.  What a mistake.  She was a real beauty and we met at College but she was a horrible woman.  I would have happily killed her several times over.  Being sent overseas was a merciful relief just to get away from her.  Two months after I was reported Killed she married my so called best friend.  Actually I was still in hospital.  So I just sort of fell into the Hawthorn thing.  I told them that Frank was dead and I had his tags, but they knew that anyway as they ahd found them in my pocket and put two and two together”

“And the baby” I asked

“Ah yes the baby.  Well she had been placed with some nuns for safe keeping and as I said the assumption was that she was my kid.  As I was now an English Aristocrat I acted Like one and demanded that my child be returned to me so I could take her back to England.  And do you know they handed her over just like that.”

We ate in silence for a few minutes.

“What are you going to do?” He asked.  I looked up from my excellent grub and saw fear and worry etched into his face.

“I am going to take you back home to your daughter and family.”

“Are you going to tell them about all this” He whispered

“Who?”

“The authorities, my family”

“No.  I was asked by a group of people who love you very much to come and find you and to make sure you were OK. If you were Ok they wanted me to ask you to come home to them.  They love you and are worried about you.  You the man.  You have been a good father and a good grandfather.”

“Yes but” He interrupted “Its all a lie, all false I am not who i say I am”

“That’s bollocks” I said crossly ” You are you. Granted your official title has changed, but you looked after a total strangers child and raised her as your own.  Where’s the lie there.  Don’t go giving me this psycho analytical socio economic fucking bullshit pal and don’t go fucking up some else life at this stage by seeing a burning bush and telling them you have found god or whatever and need to ease your conscience.  Take this chat as your confession and then take your secret to the grave.  If you believe in the here after you can make your peace when you get to the other side, but for the time being whilst you are this side keep your mouth shut and say bugger all or I personally will ensure that you answer to his nibs sooner than you would like.”

“How’s your food?” He asked amiably