The Broker

Chapter Eight

"Did you see the kitchen?" Luigi asked, flipping on a light switch.

"Yes, it's perfect. How long do I stay here, Luigi?"

"I don't make those decisions. You know that."

"I know."

They were back in the den. "A couple of things," Luigi said. "First, Ermanno will come here each day to study. Eight until eleven, then two until five or whenever you wish to stop."

"Wonderful. Please get the boy a new flat, would you? His dump is an embarrassment to the American taxpayers."

"Second, this is a very quiet street, mainly apartments. Come and go quickly, don't chat with your neighbors, don't make any friends. Remember, Marco, you are leaving a trail. Make it wide enough and someone will find you."

"I heard you the first ten times."

"Then hear me again."

"Relax, Luigi. My neighbors will never see me, I promise. I like it here. It's much nicer than my prison cell."

The memorial service for Robert Critz was held in a country club-like mausoleum in a ritzy suburb of Philadelphia, the city of his birth but a place he'd avoided for at least the past thirty years. He died without a will and without a thought as to his final arrangements, leaving poor Mrs. Critz with the burden of not only getting him home from London but then deciding how to properly dispose of him. A son pressed the idea of cremation and a rather neat interment in a marble vault, one shielded from the weather. By that point Mrs. Critz would have agreed to almost any plan. Flying seven hours across the Atlantic (in coach) with her husband's remains somewhere below her, in a rather stark air-transport box made especially for dead humans, had nearly pushed her over the edge. And then there had been the chaos at the airport when no one was there to greet her and take charge. What a mess!

The service was by invitation only, a condition laid down by former president Arthur Morgan, who, after only two weeks on Barbados, was quite unwilling to return and be seen by anyone. If he was truly saddened by the death of his lifelong friend, he didn't show it. He'd haggled over the details of the service with the Critz family until he was almost asked to stay away. The date had been moved because of Morgan. The order of service didn't suit him. He reluctantly agreed to deliver a eulogy, but only if it could be very brief. Truth was, he'd never liked Mrs. Critz and she'd never liked him.

To the small circle of friends and family, it seemed implausible that Robert Critz would get so drunk in a London pub that he would stagger into a busy street and fall in front of a car. When the autopsy revealed a significant level of heroin, Mrs. Critz had become so distraught that she insisted that the report be sealed and buried. She had refused to tell even her children about the narcotic. She was absolutely certain her husband had never touched an illicit drug-he drank too much but few people knew it-but she nonetheless was determined to protect his good name.

The London police had readily agreed to lock away the autopsy findings and close the case. They had their questions all right, but they had many other cases to keep them busy, and they also had a widow who couldn't wait to get home and put it all behind her.

The service began at two on a Thursday afternoon-the time also dictated by Morgan so that the private jet could fly nonstop from Barbados to Philly International-and lasted for an hour. Eighty-two people had been invited, and fifty-one showed up, a fair majority of them more curious to see President Morgan than to say goodbye to ol' Critz. A semi-Protestant minister of some variety presided. Critz had not seen the inside of a church in forty years, except for weddings and funerals. The minister was faced with the difficult task of bringing to life the memory of a man he'd never met, and though he tried gamely he failed completely. He read from the book of Psalms. He offered a generic prayer that would've fit a deacon or a serial killer. He offered soothing words to the family, but, again, they were total strangers to him.

Rather than a heart-warming send-off, the service was as cold as the gray marble walls of the faux chapel. Morgan, with a bronze tan too ridiculous for February, attempted to humor the small crowd with some anecdotes about his old pal, but he came off as a man going through the motions and wanting desperately to get back on the jet.

Hours in the Caribbean sun had convinced Morgan that the blame for his disastrous reelection campaign could be placed squarely at the feet of Robert Critz. He'd told no one of this conclusion; there really was no one to confide in since the beach mansion was deserted except for him and the staff of natives. But he'd already begun to carry a grudge, to question the friendship.

He didn't linger when the service finally ran out of gas and came to an end. He offered obligatory hugs to Mrs. Critz and her children, spoke briefly with some old friends, promised to see them in a few weeks, then rushed away with his mandatory Secret Service escort. News cameras had been stationed along a fence outside the grounds, but they caught no glimpse of the former president. He was ducking in the rear of one of two black vans. Five hours later he was by the pool watching another Caribbean sunset.

Though the memorial drew a small crowd, it nonetheless was being keenly observed by others. While it was actually in progress, Teddy Maynard had a list of all fifty-one people in attendance. There was no one suspicious. No name raised an eyebrow.

The killing was clean. The autopsy was buried, thanks in part to Mrs. Critz, and thanks also in part to strings pulled at levels much higher than the London police. The body was now ashes and the world would quickly forget about Robert Critz. His idiotic foray into the Backman disappearance had ended with no damage to the plan.

The FBI had tried, and failed, to mount a hidden camera inside the chapel. The owner had balked, then refused to bend despite enormous pressure. He did allow hidden cameras outside, and these provided close shots of all the mourners as they entered and left. The live feeds were edited, the list of fifty-one quickly compiled, and an hour after the service ended the director was given a briefing.

The day before the death of Robert Critz, the FBI received some startling information. It was completely unexpected, unsolicited, and delivered by a desperate corporate crook staring at forty years in a federal prison. He'd been the manager of a large mutual fund who had been caught slamming fees; just another Wall Street scandal involving only a few billion bucks. But his mutual fund was owned by an international banking cabal, and over the years the crook had worked his way into the inner core of the organization. The fund was so profitable, thanks in no small measure to his talent for skimming, that the profits could not be ignored. He was voted onto the board of directors and given a luxury condo in Bermuda, the corporate headquarters for his very secretive company.

In his desperation to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison, he became willing to share secrets. Banking secrets. Offshore dirt. He claimed he could prove that former president Morgan, during his last day in office, had sold at least one pardon for $3 million. The money had been wired from a bank on Grand Cayman to a bank in Singapore, both banks being secretly controlled by the cabal he'd just left. The money was still hiding in Singapore, in an account opened by a shell corporation that was really owned by an old crony of Morgan's. The money, according to the snitch, was intended for Morgan's use.

When the wire transfers and the accounts were confirmed by the FBI, a deal was suddenly put on the table. The crook was now facing only two years of light house arrest. Cash for a presidential pardon was such a sensational crime that it became a high priority at the Hoover Building.

The informant was unable to identify whose money had left Grand Cayman, but it seemed quite obvious to the FBI that only two of the people pardoned by Morgan had the potential of paying such a bribe. The first and likeliest was Duke Mongo, the geriatric billionaire who held the record for the most dollars illegally hidden from the IRS, at least by an individual. The corporate category was still open for debate. However, the informant felt strongly that Mongo was not involved because he had a long, ugly history with the banks in question. He preferred the Swiss, and this was verified by the FBI.

The second suspect was, of course, Joel Backman. Such a bribe would not be unexpected from an operator like Backman. And while the FBI had believed for many years that he had not hidden a fortune, there had always been doubt. When he was the broker he had relationships with banks in both Switzerland and the Caribbean. He had a web of shadow}' friends, contacts in important places. Bribes, payoffs, campaign contributions, lobbying fees-it was all familiar turf for the broker.

The director of the FBI was an embattled soul named Anthony Price. Three years earlier he had been appointed by President Morgan, who then tried to fire him six months later. Price begged for more time and got it, but the two fought constantly. For some reason he could never quite remember, Price had also decided to prove his manhood by crossing swords with Teddy Maynard. Teddy hadn't lost many battles in the CIA's secret war with the FBI, and he certainly wasn't frightened by Anthony Price, the latest in a long line of lame ducks.

But Teddy didn't know about the cash-for-pardon conspiracy that now consumed the director of the FBI. The new President had vowed to get rid of Anthony Price and revamp his agency. He'd also promised to finally put Maynard out to pasture, but such threats had been heard many times in Washington.

Price suddenly had a beautiful opportunity to secure his job, and possibly eliminate Maynard at the same time. He went to the White House and briefed the national security advisor, who'd been confirmed the day before, on the suspicious account in Singapore. He strongly implicated former president Morgan in the scheme. He argued that Joel Backman should be located and hauled back to the United States for questioning and possible indictment. If proven to be true, it would be an earthshaking scandal, unique and truly historic.

The national security advisor listened intently. After the briefing, he walked directly to the office of the vice president, cleared out the staffers, locked the door, and unloaded everything he'd just heard. Together, they told the President.

As usual, there was no love lost between the new man in the Oval Office and his predecessor. Their campaign had been loaded with the same mean-spiritedness and dirty tricks that have become standard behavior in American politics. Even after a landslide of historic proportions and the thrill of reaching the White House, the new President was unwilling to rise above the mud. He adored the idea of once again humiliating Arthur Morgan. He could see himself, after a sensational trial and conviction, stepping in at the last minute with a pardon of his own to salvage the image of the presidency.

What a moment!

At six the following morning, the vice president was driven in his usual armed caravan to the CIA headquarters at Langley. Director Maynard had been summoned to the White House, but, suspecting some ploy, had begged off, claiming he was suffering from vertigo and confined to his office by his doctors. He often slept and ate there, especially when his vertigo was in high gear and kept him dizzy. Vertigo was one of his many handy ailments.

The meeting was brief. Teddy was sitting at the end of his long conference table, in his wheelchair, wrapped tightly in blankets, with Hoby at his side. The vice president entered with only one aide, and after some awkward chitchat about the new administration and such, he said, "Mr. Maynard, I'm here on behalf of the President."

"Of course you are," Teddy said with a very tight smile. He was expecting to be fired; finally, after eighteen years and numerous threats, this was it. Finally, a president with the stones to replace Teddy Maynard. He had prepped Hoby for the moment. As they waited for the vice president, Teddy had laid out his fears.

Hoby was scribbling on his customary legal pad, waiting to write the words he'd been dreading for many years: Mr. Maynard, the President requests your resignation.

Instead, the vice president said something completely unexpected. "Mr. Maynard, the President wants to know about Joel Back - man."

Nothing made Teddy Maynard flinch. "What about him?" he said without hesitation.

"He wants to know where he is and how long it will take to bring him home."


"I can't say."

"Then neither can I."

"Its very important to the President."

"I appreciate that. But Mr. Backman is very important to our operations right now."

The vice president blinked first. He glanced at his aide, who was consumed with his own note-taking and completely useless. They would not under any circumstances tell the CIA about the wire transfers and the bribes for pardons. Teddy would figure out a way to use that information to his advantage. He would steal their little nugget and survive yet another day. No sir, Teddy would either play ball with them or finally get himself fired.

The vice president inched forward on his elbows and said, "The President is not going to compromise on this, Mr. Maynard. He will have this information, and he'll have it very soon. Otherwise, he will ask for your resignation."

"He won't get it."

"Need I remind you that you serve at his pleasure?"

"You need not."

"Very well. The lines are clear. You come to the White House with the Backman file and discuss it with us at length, or the CIA will soon have a new director."

"Such bluntness is rare among your breed, sir, with all due respect."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

The meeting was over.

Leaking like an old dike, the Hoover Building practically sprayed gossip onto the streets of Washington. And there to collect it was, among man}' others, Dan Sandberg of The Washington Post. His sources, though, were far better than those of the average investigative journalist, and it wasn't long before he picked up the scent of the pardon scandal. He worked an old mole in the new White House and got a partial confirmation. The outline of the story began to take shape, but Sandberg knew the hard details would be virtually impossible to confirm. He stood no chance of seeing the wire-transfer records.

But if it happened to be true-a sitting president selling pardons for some serious retirement cash-Sandberg could not imagine a bigger story. A former president indicted, put on trial, maybe convicted and sent to jail. It was unthinkable.

He was at his landfill of a desk when the call came from London. It was an old friend, another hard-charging reporter who wrote for The Guardian. They talked a few minutes about the new administration, which was the official topic in Washington. It was, after all, early February with heavy snow on the ground and Congress mired in its annual committee work. Life was relatively slow and there was little else to talk about.

"Anything on the death of Bob Critz?" his friend asked.

"No, just a funeral yesterday," Sandberg replied. "Why?"

"A few questions about how the poor chap went down, you know. That, and we can't get near the autopsy."

"What kind of questions? I thought it was open-and-shut."

"Maybe, but it got shut really fast. Nothing concrete, mind you, just fishing to see if there's anything amiss over there."

"I'll make some calls," Sandberg said, already very suspicious.

''Do that. Let's talk in a day or so."

Sandberg hung up and stared at his blank computer monitor. Critz would certainly have been present when the last-minute pardons were granted by Morgan. Given their paranoia, there was a good chance that only Critz was in the Oval Office with Morgan when the decisions were made and the paperwork signed.

Perhaps Critz knew too much.

Three hours later, Sandberg left Dulles for London.

Long before dawn, Marco once again awoke in a strange bed in a strange place, and for a long time worked hard gathering his thoughts-recalling his movements, analyzing his bizarre situation, planning the day ahead, trying to forget his past while trying to predict what might happen in the next twelve hours. Sleep was fitful at best. He had dozed for a few hours; it felt like four or five but he couldn't be sure because his rather warm little room was completely dark. He removed the earphones; as usual, he'd fallen asleep sometime after midnight with happy Italian dialogue ringing in his ears.

He was thankful for the heat. They'd frozen him at Rudley and his last hotel stop had been just as cold. The new apartment had thick walls and windows and a heating system that worked overtime. When he decided the day was properly organized, he slowly placed his feet on the very warm tile floor and again thanked Luigi for the change of residence.

How long he might stay here was uncertain, like most of the future they'd planned for him. He switched on the light and checked his watch-almost five. In the bathroom he switched on another light and studied himself in the mirror. The growth under his nose and along the sides of his mouth and covering his chin was coming in quite a bit grayer than he had hoped. In fact, after a week of cultivation, it was now obvious that his goatee would be at least 90 percent gray, with just a few lonely specks of dark brown thrown in. What the hell. He was fifty-two years old. It was part of the disguise and looked quite distinctive. With the thin face, hollow cheeks, short haircut, and little funky rectangular designer eyeglass frames, he could easily pass for Marco Lazzeri on any street in Bologna. Or Milan or Florence or all the other places he wanted to visit.

An hour later he stepped outside, under the cold, silent porticoes built by laborers who'd been dead for three hundred years. The wind was sharp and biting, and once again he reminded himself to complain to his handler about the lack of proper winter clothing, Marco didn't read papers and didht watch television and thus had no idea about weather forecasts. But it was certainly getting colder.

He hustled along under the low porticoes of Via Fondazza, headed toward the university, the only person moving about. He refused to use the map tucked away in his pocket. If he got lost he might pull it out and concede a momentary defeat, but he was determined to learn the city by walking and observing. Thirty minutes later, with the sun finally showing some life, he emerged onto Via Irnerio on the northern edge of the university section. Two blocks east and he saw the pale green sign for Bar Fontana. Through the front window he saw a shock of gray hair. Rudolph was already there.

Out of habit, Marco waited for a moment. He glanced down Via Irnerio, from the direction he'd just come, waiting for someone to sneak out of the shadows like a silent bloodhound. When no one appeared, he went inside.

"My friend Marco," Rudolph said with a smile as they exchanged greetings. "Please sit."

The cafe was half full, with the same academic types buried in their morning papers, lost in their own worlds. Marco ordered a cappuccino while Rudolph refilled his meerschaum pipe. A pleasant aroma engulfed their little corner of the place.

"Got your note the other day," Rudolph was saying as he shot a cloud of pipe smoke across the table. "Sorry I missed you. So where have you been?"

Marco had been nowhere, but as the laid-back Canadian tourist with Italian roots he had put together a mock itinerary. "A few days in Florence," he said.

"Ah, what a beautiful city."

They talked about Florence for a while, with Marco rambling on about the sites and art and history of a place he knew only from a cheap guidebook Ermanno had loaned him. It was in Italian, of course, which meant he'd labored hours with a dictionary translating it into something he could kick back and forth with Rudolph as if he'd spent weeks there.

The tables grew crowded and the latecomers packed around the bar. Luigi had explained to him early on that in Europe when you get a table, it's yours for the day. No one is rushed out the door so someone can be seated. A cup of coffee, a newspaper, something to smoke, and it doesn't matter how long you hold a table while others come and go.

They ordered another round and Rudolph repacked his pipe. For the first time Marco noticed tobacco stains on the wild whiskers closest to his mouth. On the table were three morning newspapers, all Italian.

"Is there a good English newspaper here in Bologna?" Marco asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I don't know. Sometimes I'd like to know what's happening across the ocean."

"I'll pick up the Herald Tribune occasionally. It makes me so happy that I live here, away from all the crime and traffic and pollution and politicians and scandals. US. society is so rotten. And the government is the height of hypocrisy-the world's brightest democracy. Hah! Congress is bought and paid for by the rich."

When he looked as though he wanted to spit, Rudolph suddenly sucked on his pipe and began grinding away on the stem. Marco held his breath, waiting for another venomous assault on the United States. A moment passed; they both sipped coffee.

"I hate the US. government," Rudolph grumbled bitterly.

Attaboy, thought Marco. "What about the Canadian?" he asked.

"I give you higher marks. Slightly higher."

Marco pretended to be relieved and decided to change the subject. He said he was thinking of going to Venice next. Of course, Rudolph had been there many times and had lots of advice. Marco ac tually took notes, as if he couldn't wait to hop a train. And then there was Milano, though Rudolph wasn't too keen on it because of all the "right-wing fascists" lurking there. "It was Mussolini's center of power, you know," he said, leaning in low as if the other Communists in Bar Fontana might erupt in violence at the very mention of the little dictator's name.

When it became apparent that Rudolph was willing to sit and talk through most of the morning, Marco began his exit. They agreed to meet at the same place, same time, the following Monday.

A light snow had begun, enough to leave tracks for the delivery vans on Via Irnerio. As Marco left the warm cafe behind, he once again marveled at the foresight of Bologna's ancient city planners who designed some twenty miles of covered sidewalks in the old town. He went a few blocks farther east and turned south on Via dell' Indipendenza, a wide elegant avenue built in the 1870s so the higher classes who lived in the center would have an easy walk to the train station north of town. When he crossed Via Marsala he stepped in a pile of shoveled snow and flinched as the frozen mush soaked his right foot.

He cursed Luigi for his inadequate wardrobe-if it was going to snow then common sense would dictate that a person needed some boots. This led to a lengthy internal tirade about the lack of funding Marco felt he was receiving from whoever in hell was in charge of his current cover. They'd dumped him in Bologna, Italy, and they were obviously spending a fair amount on language lessons and safe houses and personnel and certainly food to keep him alive. In his opinion, they were wasting valuable time and money. The better plan would be to sneak him into London or Sydney where there were lots of Americans and everyone spoke English. He could blend in much easier.

The man himself strode alongside him. "Buon giorno," Luigi said.

Marco stopped, smiled, offered a handshake and said, "Well, buon giorno, Luigi. Are you following me again?"

"No. I was out for a walk, saw you pass on the other side of the street. I love the snow, Marco. How about you?"

They were walking again, at a leisurely pace. Marco wanted to believe his friend, but he doubted if their meeting was an accident. "It's okay. It's much prettier here in Bologna than in Washington, D.C., during rush hour traffic. What, exactly, do you do all day long, Luigi? Mind if I ask?"

"Not at all. You can ask all you want."

"That's what I figured. Look, I have two complaints. Actually three."

"No surprise. Have you had coffee?"

"Yes, but I'll take some more."

Luigi nodded to a small corner cafe just ahead. They stepped inside and found all the tables taken, so they stood along the crowded bar and sipped espresso. "What's the first complaint?" Luigi said in a low voice.

Marco moved closer, they were practically nose to nose. "The first two complaints are closely related. First, it's the money. I don't want a lot, but I would like to have some sort of stipend. No one likes to be broke, Luigi. I'd feel better if I had a little cash in my pocket and knew I didn't have to hoard it."

"How much?"

"Oh, I don't know. I haven't negotiated an allowance in a long time. What about a hundred euros a week for starters. That way I can buy newspapers, books, magazines, food-you know, just the basics. Uncle Sam's paying my rent and I'm very grateful. Come to think of it, he's been paying my rent for the past six years."

"You could still be in prison, you know."

"Oh, thank you, Luigi. I hadn't thought of that."

"I'm sorry, that was unkind on my-"

"Listen, Luigi, I'm lucky to be here, okay. But, at the same time, I am now a fully pardoned citizen of some country, not sure which one, but I have the right to be treated with a little dignity. I don't like being broke, and I don't like begging for money. I want the promise of a hundred euros a week."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you."

"The second complaint?"

"I would like some money so I can buy some clothes. Right now my feet are freezing because it's snowing outside and I don't have proper footwear. I'd also like a heavier coat, perhaps a couple of sweaters."

Til get them."

"No, I want to buy them, Luigi. Get me the cash and I'll do my own shopping. It's not asking too much."

Til try."

They backed away a few inches and each took a sip. "The third complaint?" Luigi said.

"It's Ermanno. He's losing interest very fast. We spend six hours a day together and he's getting bored with the whole thing."

Luigi rolled his eyes in frustration. "I can't just snap my fingers and find another language teacher, Marco."

"You teach me. I like you, Luigi, we have good times together. You know Ermanno is dull. He's young and wants to be in school. But you would be a great teacher."

"I am not a teacher."

"Then please find someone else. Ermanno doesn't want to do it. I'm afraid I'm not making much progress."

Luigi looked away and watched two elderly gentlemen enter and shuffle by. "I think he's leaving anyway," he said. "Like you said, he really wants to go back to school."

"How long will my lessons last?"

Luigi shook his head as if he had no idea. "That's not my decision."

"I have a fourth complaint."

"Five, six, seven. Let's hear them all, then maybe we could go a week with no complaints."

"You've heard it before, Luigi. It's sort of my standing objection."

"Is that a lawyer thing?"

"You've watched too much American television. I really want to be transferred to London. There are ten million people there, they all speak English. I won't waste ten hours a day trying to learn a language. Don't get me wrong, Luigi, I love Italian. The more I study, the more beautiful it becomes. But, come on, if you're going to hide me, then stash me someplace where I can survive."

"I've already passed this along, Marco. I'm not making these decisions."

"I know, I know. Just keep the pressure on, please."

"Let's go."

The snow was heavier as they left the cafe and resumed their walk under the covered sidewalk. Smartly dressed businessmen hustled by them on the way to work. The early shoppers were out-mainly housewives headed for the market. The street itself was busy as small cars and scooters dodged the city buses and tried to avoid the accumulating slush.

"How often does it snow here?" Marco asked. aA few times each winter. Not much, and we have these lovely porticoes to keep us dry."

"Good call."

"Some date back a thousand years. We have more than any other city in the world, did you know that?"

"No. I have very little to read, Luigi. If I had some money then I could buy books, then I could read and learn such things."

"I'll have the money at lunch."

"And where is lunch?"

"Ristorante Cesarina, Via San Stefano, one o'clock?"

"How can I refuse?"

Luigi was sitting with a woman at a table near the front of the restaurant when Marco entered, five minutes early. A serious conversation had just been interrupted. The woman stood, reluctantly, and offered a limp hand and a somber face as Luigi introduced her as Signora Francesca Ferro. She was attractive, in her mid-forties, perhaps a bit too old for Luigi, who tended to gawk at the university girls. She radiated an air of sophisticated irritation. Marco wanted to say: Excuse me, but I was invited here for lunch.

As they settled into their seats Marco noticed what was left of two fully smoked cigarettes in the ashtray. Luigi his water glass was almost completely empty. The two had been sitting there for at least twenty minutes. In very deliberate Italian, Luigi said to Marco, "Signora Ferro is a language teacher and a local guide." Pause, to which Marco offered a weak "Si."

He glanced at the signora and smiled, to which she responded with a forced smile of her own. She appeared to be bored with him already.

Luigi continued in Italian. "She is your new Italian teacher. Ermanno will teach you in the mornings, and Signora Ferro in the after noons." Marco understood all of it. He managed a fake smile in her direction and said, "Va bene." That's good.

"Ermanno wants to resume his studies at the university next week," Luigi said.

"I thought so," Marco said in English.

Francesca fired up another cigarette and crunched her full red lips around it. She exhaled a huge cloud of smoke and said, "So, how is your Italian?" It was a rich, almost husky voice, one no doubt enriched by years of smoking. Her English was slow, very refined, and without an accent.

"Terrible," Marco said.

"He's doing fine," Luigi said. The waiter delivered a bottle of mineral water and handed over three menus. La signora disappeared behind hers. Marco followed her lead. A long silent spell followed as they contemplated food and ignored each other.

When the menus finally came down she said to Marco, "I'd like to hear you order in Italian."

"No problem," he said. He'd found some things he could pronounce without drawing laughter. The waiter appeared with his pen and Marco said, "Si, allora, vorrei un'insalata di pomodori, e una mezza porzione di lasagna." Yes, okay, I'd like a salad with tomatoes and a half portion of lasagna. Once again he was very thankful for transatlantic goodies such as spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, and pizza.

"Non c'e male," she said. Not bad.

She and Luigi stopped smoking when the salads arrived. Eating gave them a break in the awkward conversation. No wine was ordered, though much was needed.

His past, her present, and Luigi's shadowy occupation were all off-limits, so they bobbed and weaved through the meal with light talk about the weather, almost all of it mercifully in English.

When the espressos were finished Luigi grabbed the check and they hurried from the restaurant. In the process, and while Francesca wasn't looking, he slid an envelope to Marco and whispered, "Here are some euros."


The snow was gone, the sun was up and bright. Luigi left them at the Piazza Maggiore and vanished, as only he could do. They walked in silence for a while, until she said, "Che cosa vorrebbe vedere?" What would you like to see?

Marco had yet to step inside the main cathedral, the Basilica di San Petronio. They walked to its sweeping front steps and stopped. "It's both beautiful and sad," she said in English, with the first hint of a British accent. "It was conceived by the city council as a civic temple, not a cathedral, in direct opposition to the pope in Rome. The original design was for it to be even larger than Saint Peter's Cathedral, but along the way the plans fell short. Rome opposed it, and diverted money elsewhere, some of which went to the founding of the university."

"When was it built?" Marco asked.

"Say that in Italian," she instructed.

"I can't."

"Then listen: 'Quando e stata costruita?' Repeat that for me."

Marco repeated it four times before she was satisfied.

"I don't believe in books or tapes or such things," she said as they continued to gaze upward at the vast cathedral. "I believe in conversation, and more conversation. To learn to speak the language, then you have to speak it, over and over and over, just like when you were a child."

"Where did you learn English?" he asked.

"I can't answer that. I've been instructed to say nothing about my past. And yours too."

For a split second, Marco came very close to turning around and walking away. He was sick of people who couldn't talk to him, who dodged his questions, who acted as if the whole world was filled with spies. He was sick of the games.

He was a free man, he kept telling himself, completely able to come and go and make whatever decision he felt like. If he got sick of Luigi and Ermanno and now Signora Ferro, then he could tell the whole bunch, in Italian, to choke on a panino.

"It was begun in 1390, and things went smoothly for the first hundred years or so," she said. The bottom third of the facade was a handsome pink marble; the upper two-thirds was an ugly brown brick that hadn't been layered with the marble. "Then it fell on hard times. Obviously, the outside was never completed."

"It's not particularly pretty."

"No, but it's quite intriguing. Would you like to see the inside?"

What else was he supposed to do for the next three hours? "Certamente," he said.

They climbed the steps and stopped at the front door. She looked at a sign and said, "Mi dica." Tell me. "What time does the church close?"

Marco frowned hard, rehearsed some words, and said, "La chiesa chiude alle sei." The church closes at six.


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