The Broker

Chapter Ten

She was strict and no fun, but also very motivational. If he could learn to speak Italian half as well as she spoke English, then he would be ahead of the pack. If she believed in constant repetition, then so did he.

As they were discussing his mother, an elderly gentleman entered the church and sat in the pew directly in front of them. He was soon lost in meditation and prayer. They decided to make a quiet exit. A light snow was still falling and they stopped at the first cafe for espresso and a smoke.

"Adesso, possiamo parlare della sua famiglia?" he asked. Can we talk about your family now?

She smiled, showed teeth, a rarity, and said, "Benissimo, Marco." Very good. "Ma, non possiamo. Mi displace." But, I'm sorry. We cannot.

"Perche non?" Why not?

"Abbiamo delle regole." We have rules.

"Dov'e suo marito?" Where is your husband?

"Qui, a Bologna." Here, in Bologna.

"Dov'e lavora?" Where does he work?

"Non lavora."

After her second cigarette they ventured back onto the covered sidewalks and began a thorough lesson about snow. She delivered a short sentence in English, and he was supposed to translate it. It is snowing. It never snows in Florida. Maybe it will snow tomorrow. It snowed twice last week. I love the snow. I don't like snow.

They skirted the edge of the main plaza and stayed under the porticoes. On Via Rizzoli they passed the store where Marco bought his boots and his parka and he thought she might like to hear his version of that event. He could handle most of the Italian. He let it pass, though, since she was so engrossed in the weather. At an intersection they stopped and looked at Le Due Torri, the two surviving towers that the Bolognesi were so proud of.

There were once more than two hundred towers, she said. Then she asked him to repeat the sentence. He tried, butchered the past tense and the number, and was then asked to repeat the damn sentence until he got it right.

In medieval times, for reasons present-day Italians cannot explain, their ancestors seized upon the unusual architectural compulsion of building tall slender towers in which to live. Since tribal wars and local hostilities were epidemic, the towers were meant principally for protection. They were effective lookout posts and valuable during attacks, though they proved to be less than practical as living quarters. To protect the food, the kitchens were often on the top floor, three hundred or so steps above the street, which made it difficult to find dependable domestic help. When fights broke out, the warring families were known to simply launch arrows and fling spears at each other from one offending tower to the other. No sense fighting in the streets like common folk.

They also became quite the status symbol. No self-respecting noble could allow his neighbor and/or rival to have a taller tower, so in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries a curious game of oneupmanship raged over the skyline of Bologna as the nobles tried to keep up with the Joneses. The city was nicknamed la turrita, the towered one. An English traveler described it as a "bed of asparagus."

By the fourteenth century organized government was gaining a foothold in Bologna, and those with vision knew that the warring nobles had to be reined in. The city, whenever it had enough muscle to get away with it, tore down many of the towers. Age and gravity took care of others; poor foundations crumbled after a few centuries.

In the late 1800s, a noisy campaign to tear them all down was narrowly approved. Only two survived-Asinelli and Garisenda. Both stand near each other at the Piazza di Porto Ravegnana. Neither stands exactly straight, with Garisenda drifting off to the north at an angle that rivals the more famous, and far prettier, one in Pisa. The two old survivors have evoked many colorful descriptions over the decades. A French poet likened them to two drunk sailors staggering home, trying to lean on one another for support. Ermanno's guidebook referred to them as the "Laurel and Hardy" of medieval architecture.

La Torre degli Asinelli was built in the early twelfth century, and, at 97.2 meters, is twice as tall as its partner. Garisenda began leaning as it was almost completed in the thirteenth century, and was chopped in half in an effort to stop the tilt. The Garisenda clan lost interest and abandoned the city in disgrace.

Marco had learned the history from Ermanno's book. Francesca didn't know this, and she, like all good guides, took fifteen cold minutes to talk about the famous towers. She formulated a simple sentence, delivered it perfectly, helped Marco stumble through it, then grudgingly went to the next one.

"Asinelli has four hundred and ninety-eight steps to the top," she said.

"Andiamo," Marco said quickly. Let his go. They entered the thick foundation through a narrow door, followed a tight circular staircase up fifty feet or so to where the ticket booth had been stuck in a corner. He bought two tickets at three euros each, and they started the climb. The tower was hollow, with the stairs fixed to the outside walls.

Francesca said she hadn't climbed it in at least ten years, and seemed excited about their little adventure. She took off, up the narrow, sturdy oak steps, with Marco keeping his distance behind. An occasional small open window allowed light and cold air to filter in. "Pace yourself," she called over her shoulder, in English, as she slowly pulled away from Marco. On that snowy February afternoon there were no others climbing to the top of the city.

He paced himself and she was soon out of sight. About halfway up, he stopped at a large window so the wind could cool his face. He caught his breath, then took off again, even slower now. A few minutes later, he stopped again, his heart pounding away, his lungs working overtime, his mind wondering if he could make it. After 498 steps he finally emerged from the boxlike attic and stepped onto the top of the tower. Francesca was smoking a cigarette, gazing upon her beautiful city, no sign of sweat anywhere on her face.

The view from the top was panoramic. The red tile roofs of the city were covered with two inches of snow. The pale green dome of San Bartolomeo was directly under them, refusing any accumulation. "On a clear day, you can see the Adriatic Sea to the east, and the Alps to the north," she said, still in English. "It's just beautiful, even in the snow."

"Just beautiful," he said, almost panting. The wind whipped through the metal bars between the brick posts, and it was much colder above Bologna than on its streets.

"The tower is the fifth-tallest structure in old Italy," she said proudly. He was certain she could name the other four.

"Why was this tower saved?" he asked.

"Two reasons, I think. It was well designed and well built. The Asinelli family was strong and powerful. And it was used as a prison briefly in the fourteenth century, when many of the other towers were demolished. Truthfully, no one really knows why this one was spared." Three hundred feet up, and she was a different person. Her eyes were alive, her voice radiant.

"This always reminds me of why I love my city," she said with a rare smile. Not at him, not at anything he said, but at the rooftops and skyline of Bologna. They stepped to the other side and looked in the distance to the southwest. On a hill above the city they could see the outline of Santuario di San Luca, the guardian angel of the city.

"Have you been there?" she asked.


"We'll do it one day when the weather is nice, okay?"


"We have so much to see."

Maybe he wouldn't fire her after all. He was so starved for companionship, especially from the opposite sex, that he could tolerate her aloofness and sadness and mood swings. He would study even harder to gain her approval.

If the climb to the top of the Asinelli Tower had buoyed her spirits, the trip down brought back the same old dour demeanor. They had a quick espresso near the towers and said goodbye. As she walked away, no superficial hug, no cheek-pecking, not even a cursory handshake, he decided he would give her one more week.

He put her on secret probation. She had seven days to become nice, or he'd simply stop the lessons. Life was too short.

She was very pretty, though.

The envelope had been opened by his secretary, just like all the other mail from yesterday and the day before. But inside the first en velope was another, this one addressed simply to Neal Backman. In bold print on the front and back were the dire warnings: personal,


"You might want to look at the one on top," the secretary said as she hauled in his daily stack of mail at 9:00 a.m. "The envelope was postmarked two days ago in York, Pennsylvania." When she closed the door behind her, Neal examined the envelope. It was light brown in color, with no markings other than what had been hand-printed by the sender. The printing look vaguely familiar.

With a letter opener, he slowly cut along the top of the envelope, then pulled out a single sheet of folded white paper. It was from his father. It was a shock, but then it was not.

Dear Neal:Feb. 21

I'm safe for now but I doubt it will last. I need your help. I have no address, no phone, no fax, and I'm not sure I would use them if I could. I need access to e-mail, something that cannot be traced. I have no idea how to do this, but I know you can figure it out. I have no computer and no money. There is a good chance you are being watched, so whatever you do, you must not leave a trail. Cover your tracks. Cover mine. Trust no one. Watch everything. Hide this letter, then destroy it. Send me as much money as possible. You know I'll pay it back. Never use your real name on anything. Use the following address:

Sr. Rudolph Viscovitch, Universita degli Studi, University of Bologna, Via Zamboni 22, 44041, Bologna, Italy. Use two envelopes - the first for Viscovitch, the second for me. In your note to him ask him to hold the package for Marco Lazzeri.

Hurry.'Love, Marco

Neal placed the letter on his desk and walked over to lock his door. He sat on a small leather sofa and tried to arrange his thoughts. He had already decided his father was out of the country, otherwise he would've made contact weeks earlier. Why was he in Italy? Why was the letter mailed from York, Pennsylvania?

Neal's wife had never met her father-in-law. He'd been in prison for two years when they met and married. They had sent photos of the wedding, and later a photo of their child, Joel's second granddaughter.

Joel was not a topic Neal liked to talk about it. Or think about.

He had been a lousy father, absent for most of his childhood, and his astounding plunge from power had embarrassed everyone close to him. Neal had grudgingly sent letters and cards during the incarceration, but he could truthfully say, at least to himself and his wife, that he did not miss his father. He'd rarely been around the man.

Now he was back, asking for money that Neal did not have, assuming with no hesitation that Neal would do exactly as he was instructed, perfectly willing to endanger someone else.

Neal walked to his desk and read the letter again, then again. It was the same scarcely readable chicken scratch he'd seen throughout his life. And it was his same method of operation, whether at home or at the office. Do this, this, and this, and everything will work. Do it my way, and do it now! Hurry! Risk everything because I need you.

And what if everything worked smoothly and the broker came back? He certainly wouldn't have time for Neal and the granddaughter. If given the chance, Joel Backman, fifty-two, would once again rise to glory in the power circles of Washington. He'd make the right friends, hustle the right clients, marry the right woman, find the right partners, and within a year he'd once again work from a vast office where he would charge outrageous fees and bully congressmen.

Life had been much simpler with his father in prison.

What would he tell Lisa, his wife? Honey, that $2,000 we have buried in our savings account has just been spoken for. Plus a few hundred bucks for an encrypted e-mail system. And you and the baby keep the doors locked at all times because life just became much more dangerous.

With the day shot to hell, Neal buzzed his secretary and asked her to hold his calls. He stretched out on the sofa, kicked off his loafers, closed his eyes, and began massaging his temples.

In the nasty little war between the CIA and the FBI, both sides often used certain journalists for tactical reasons. Preemptive strikes could be launched, counterattacks blunted, hasty retreats glossed over, even damage control could be implemented by manipulating the press. Dan Sandberg had cultivated sources on both sides for almost twenty years and was perfectly willing to be used when the information was correct, and exclusive. He was also willing to assume the role of courier, cautiously moving between the armies with sensitive gossip to see how much the other side knew. In his effort to confirm the story that the FBI was investigating a cash-for-pardon scandal, he contacted his most reliable source at the CIA. He was met with the usual stonewall, one that lasted less than forty-eight hours.

His contact at Langley was Rusty Lowell, a frazzled career man with shifting titles. Whatever he was paid to do, his real job was watching the press and advising Teddy Maynard on how to use and abuse it. He was not a snitch, not one to pass along anything that wasn't true. After years of working at the relationship, Sandberg was reasonably confident that most of what he got from Lowell was doled out by Teddy himself.

They met at Tysons Corner Mall, over in Virginia, just off the Beltway, in the back of a cheap pizzeria on the upper-level food court. They each bought one slice of pepperoni and cheese and a soft drink, then found a booth where no one could see them. The usual rules applied: (1) everything was off the record and deep background; (2) Lowell would give the green light before Sandberg could run any story; and (3) if anything Lowell said was contradicted by another source, he, Lowell, would have the chance to review it and offer the last word.

As an investigative journalist, Sandberg hated the rules. However, Lowell had never been wrong, and he was not talking to anyone else. If Sandberg wanted to mine this rich source, he had to play by the rules.

"They've found some money," Sandberg began. "And they think it's linked to a pardon."

Lowell's eyes always betrayed him because he was never deceitful. They narrowed immediately and it was obvious that this was something new.

"Does the CIA know this?" Sandberg asked.

"No," Lowell said bluntly. He had never been afraid of the truth. "We've been watching some accounts offshore, but nothing's happened. How much money?"

"A lot. I don't know how much. And I don't know how they found it."

"Where did it come from?"

"They don't know for sure, but they're desperate to link it to Joel Backman. They're talking to the White House."

"And not us."

"Evidently not. It reeks of politics. They'd love to pin a scandal on President Morgan, and Backman would be the perfect conspirator."

"Duke Mongo would be a nice target too."

"Yes, but he's practically dead. He's had a long, colorful career as a tax cheat, but now he's out to pasture. Backman has secrets. They want to haul him back, run him through the grinder over at Justice, blow the top off Washington for a few months. It will humiliate Morgan."

"The economy's sliding like hell. What a wonderful diversion."

"Like I said, it's all about politics."

Lowell finally took a bite of pizza and chewed it quickly as he thought. "Can't be Backman. They're way off target."

"You're sure."

"I'm positive. Backman had no idea a pardon was in the works. We literally yanked him out of his cell in the middle of the night, made him sign some papers, then shipped him out of the country before sunrise."

"And where did he go?"

"Hell, I don't know. And if I did I wouldn't tell you. The point is that Backman had no time to arrange a bribe. He was buried so deep in prison he couldn't even dream of a pardon. It was Teddy's idea, not his. Backman's not their man."

"They intend to find him."

"Why? He's a free man, fully pardoned, not some convict on the run. He can't be extradited, unless of course they squeeze an indictment."

"Which they can do."

Lowell frowned at the table for a second or two. "I can't see an indictment. They have no proof. They have some suspicious money sitting in a bank, as you say, but they don't know where it came from. I assure you it's not Backman's money."

"Can they find him?"

"They're gonna put the pressure on Teddy, and that's why I wanted to talk." He shoved the half-eaten pizza aside and leaned in closer. "There will soon be a meeting in the Oval Office. Teddy will be there, and he'll be asked by the President to see the sensitive stuff on Backman. He will refuse. Then it's showdown time. Will the Prez have the guts to fire the old man?"

"Will he?"

"Probably. At least Teddy is expecting it. This is his fourth president, which, as you know, is a record, and the first three have all wanted to fire him. Now, though, he's old and ready to go."

"He's been old and ready to go forever."

"True, but he's run a tight ship. This time it's different."

"Why doesn't he just resign?"

"Because he's a cranky1, contrary, stubborn old son of a bitch, you know that."

"That's well established."

"And if he gets fired, he's not going peacefully. He'd like balanced coverage."

"Balanced coverage" was their long-standing buzzword for "slant it our way."

Sandberg slid his pizza away too and cracked his knuckles. "Here's the story as I see it," he said, part of the ritual. "After eighteen years of solid leadership at the CIA, Teddy Maynard gets sacked by a brand-new president. The reason is that Maynard refused to divulge details of sensitive ongoing operations. He stood his ground to protect national security, and stared down the President, who, along with the FBI, wants classified information so that it, the FBI, can pursue an investigation relating to pardons granted by former president Morgan."

"You cannot mention Backman."

"I'm not ready to use names. I don't have confirmation."

"I assure you the money did not come from Backman. And if you use his name at this point, there's a chance he'll see it and do something stupid."

"Like what?"

"Like, run for his life."

"Why is that stupid?"

"Because we don't want him running for his life."

"You want him dead?"

"Of course. That's the plan. We want to see who kills him."

Sandberg settled back against the hard plastic bench and looked away. Lowell picked slices of pepperoni off his cold rubbery pizza, and for a long time they thought in silence. Sandberg drained his Diet Coke, and finally said, "Teddy somehow convinced Morgan to pardon Backman, who's stashed away somewhere as bait for the kill."

Lowell was looking away but nodding.

"And the killing will answer some questions over at Langley?"

"Perhaps. That's the plan."

"Does Backman know why he was pardoned?"

"We certainly haven't told him, but he's fairly bright."

"Who's after him?"

"Some very dangerous people who carry grudges."

"Do you know who?"

A nod, a shrug, a nonanswer. "There are several with potential. We'll watch closely and maybe learn something. Maybe not."

"And why are they carrying grudges?"

Lowell laughed at the ridiculous question. "Nice try, Dan. You've been asking that for six years now. Look, I gotta go. Work on the balanced piece and let me see it."

"When is the meeting with the President?"

"Not sure. As soon as he gets back."

"And if Teddy's terminated?"

"You'll be the first person I call."

As a small-town lawyer in Culpeper, Virginia, Neal Backman was earning far less than what he had dreamed about in law school. Back then, his father's firm was such a force in D.C. that he could easily see himself making the big bucks after only a few years of practice. The greenest associates at Backman, Pratt 8c Boiling started at $100,000 a year, and a rising junior partner thirty years of age would earn three times as much. During his second year of law school, a local magazine put the broker on the cover and talked about his expensive toys. His income was estimated at $10 million a year. This had caused quite a stir around law school, something Neal was not uncomfortable with. He could remember thinking how wonderful the future would be with all that earning potential.

However, less than a year after signing on as a green associate, he was sacked by the firm after his father pled guilty, and was literally thrown out of the building.

But Neal had soon stopped dreaming of the big money and the glitzy lifestyle. He was perfectly content to practice law with a nice little firm on Main Street and hopefully take home $50,000 a year. Lisa stopped working when their daughter was born. She managed the finances and kept their lives on budget.

After a sleepless night, he awoke with a rough idea of how to proceed. The most painful issue had been whether or not to tell his wife. Once he decided not to, the plan began to take shape. He went to the office at eight, as usual, and puttered online for an hour and a half, until he was sure the bank was open. As he walked down Main Street he found it impossible to believe that there might be people lurking nearby watching his movements. Still, he would take no chances.

Richard Koley ran the nearest branch of Piedmont National Bank. They went to church together, hunted grouse, played softball for the Rotary Club. Neal's law firm had banked there forever. The lobby was empty at such an early hour, and Richard was already at his desk with a tall cup of coffee, The Wall Street Journal, and evidently very little to do. He was pleasantly surprised to see Neal, and for twenty minutes they talked about college basketball. When they eventually got around to business, Richard said, "So what can I do for you?"

"Just curious," Neal said casually, delivering lines he'd been rehearsing all morning. "How much might I borrow with just my signature?"

"Bit of a jam, huh?" Richard was grabbing the mouse and already glancing at the monitor, where all answers were stored.

"No, nothing like that. Rates are so low and I've got my eye on a hot stock."

"Not a bad strategy, really, though I certainly can't advertise it. With the Dow at ten thousand again you wonder why more folks don't load up with credit and buy stocks. It would certainly be good for the old bank." He managed an awkward banker's chuckle at his own quick humor. "Income range?" he asked, tapping keys, somber-faced now.

"It varies," Neal said. "Sixty to eighty."

Richard frowned even more, and Neal couldn't tell if it was because he was sad to learn his friend made so little, or because his friend earned so much more than he. Hed never know. Small-town banks were not known for overpaying their people.

"Total debts, outside the mortgage?" he asked, tapping again.

"Hmmm, let's see." Neal closed his eyes and ran through the math again. His mortgage was almost $200,000 and Piedmont held that. Lisa was so opposed to debt that their own little balance sheet was remarkably clean. "Car loan of about twenty grand," he said. "Maybe a thousand or so on the credit cards. Not much, really."

Richard nodded his approval and never took his eyes off the monitor. When his fingers left the keyboard, he shrugged and turned into the generous banker. "We could do three thousand on a signature. Six percent interest, for twelve months."

Since he'd never borrowed with no collateral, Neal wasn't sure what to expect. He had no idea what his signature would command, but somehow $3,000 sounded about right. "Can you go four thousand?" he asked.

Another frown, another hard study of the monitor, then it revealed the answer. "Sure, why not? I know where to find you, don't I?"

"Good. I'll keep you posted on the stock."

"Is this a hot tip, something on the inside?"

"Give me a month. If the price goes up, I'll come back and brag a little."

"Fair enough."

Richard was opening a drawer, looking for forms. Neal said, "Look, Richard, this is just between us boys, okay? Know what I mean? Lisa won't be signing the papers."

"No problem," the banker said, the epitome of discretion. "My wife doesn't know half of what I do on the financial end. Women just don't understand."

"You got it. And along those lines, would it be possible to get the funds in cash?"

A pause, a puzzled look, but then anything was possible at Piedmont National. ''Sure, give me an hour or so."

"I need to run to the office and sue a guy, okay? I'll be back around noon to sign everything and get the money."

Neal hustled to his office, two blocks away, with a nervous pain in his stomach. Lisa would kill him if she found out, and in a small town secrets were hard to bury. In four years of a very happy marriage they had made all decisions together. Explaining the loan would be painful, though she would probably come around if he told the truth.

Repaying the money would pose a challenge. His father had always been one to make easy promises. Sometimes he came through, sometimes he didn't, and he was never too concerned one way or the other. But that was the old Joel Backman. The new one was a desperate man with no friends, no one to trust.

What the hell. It was only $4,000. Richard would keep it quiet. Neal would worry about the loan later. He was, after all, a lawyer. He could squeeze in some extra fees here and there, put in a few more hours.

His primary concern at that moment was the package to be shipped to Rudolph Viscovitch.

With the cash bulging in his pocket, Neal fled Culpeper during the lunch hour and hurried up to Alexandria, ninety minutes away. He found the store, Chatter, in a small strip mall on Russell Road, a mile or so from the Potomac River. It advertised itself online as the place to go for the latest in telecom gadgetry, and one of the few places in the United States where one could purchase unlocked cell phones that would work in Europe. As he browsed for a few moments, he was astounded at the selection of phones, pagers, computers, satellite phones-everything one could possibly need to keep in touch. He couldn't browse for long-there was a four o'clock deposition in his office. Lisa would be making one of her many daily check-ins to see what, if anything, was happening downtown.

He asked a clerk to show him the Ankyo 850 PC Pocket Smart - phone, the greatest technological marvel to hit the market in the past ninety days. The clerk removed it from a display case and, with great enthusiasm, switched languages and described it as "Full QWERTY keyboard, tri-band operation on five continents, eighty megabyte built-in memory, high-speed data connectivity with EGPRS, wireless LAN access, Bluetooth wireless technology, IPv4 and IPv6 dual stack support, infrared, Pop-Port interface, Symbian operating system version 7.0S, Series 80 platform."

"Automatic switching between bands?"


"Covered by European networks?'

"Of course."

The smartphone was slightly larger than the typical business phone, but it was comfortable in the hand. It had a smooth metallic surface with a rough plastic back cover that prevented sliding when in use.

"It's larger," the clerk was saying. "But it's packed with goodies - e-mail, multimedia messaging, camera, video player, complete word processing, Internet browsing-and complete wireless access almost anywhere in the world. Where are you going with it?"


"It's ready to go. You'll just need to open an account with a service provider."

Opening an account meant paperwork. Paperwork meant leaving a trail, something Neal was determined not to do. "What about a prepaid SIM card?" he asked.

"We got 'em. For Italy it's called a TIM-Telecom Italia Mobile. It's the largest provider in Italy, covers about ninety-five percent of the country."

Til take it."

Neal slid down the lower part of the cover to reveal a full keypad. The clerk explained, "It's best to hold it with both hands and type with the thumbs. You can't fit all ten fingers on the keypad." He took it from Neal and demonstrated the preferred method of thumb-typing.

"Got it," Neal said. Til take it."

The price was $925 plus tax, plus another $89 for the TIM card. Neal paid in cash as he simultaneously declined the extended warranty, rebate registration, owners program, anything that would create paperwork and leave a trail. The clerk asked for his name and address and Neal declined. At one point he said, with great irritation, "Is it possible to simply pay for this and leave?"

"Well, sure, I guess," the clerk said.

"Then let's do it. I'm in a hurry."

He left and drove half a mile to a large office supply store. He quickly found a Hewlett-Packard Tablet PC with integrated wireless capability. Another $440 got invested in his father's security, though Neal would keep the laptop and hide it in his office. Using a map he'd downloaded, he found the PackagePost in another strip mall nearby. Inside, at a shipping desk, he hurriedly wrote two pages of instructions for his father, then folded them into an envelope containing a letter and more instructions he'd prepared earlier that morning. When he was certain no one was watching, he wedged twenty $100 bills in the small black carrying case that came with the Ankyo marvel. Then he placed the letter and the instructions, the smartphone, and the case inside a mailing carton from the store. He sealed it tightly, and on the outside he wrote with a black marker please hold for marco lazzeri. The carton was then placed inside another, slightly larger one that was addressed to Rudolph Viscovitch at Via Zamboni 22, Bologna. The return address was PackagePost, 8851 Braddock Road, Alexandria, Virginia 22302. Because he had no choice, he left his name, address, and phone number on the registry, in case the package got returned. The clerk weighed the package and asked about insurance. Neal declined, and prevented more paperwork. The clerk added the international stamps, and finally said, "Total is eighteen dollars and twenty cents."

Neal paid him and was assured again that it would be mailed that afternoon.

In the semidarkness of his small apartment, Marco went through his early-morning routine with his usual efficiency. Except for prison, when he had little choice and no motivation to hit the ground running, he'd never been one to linger after waking. There was too much to do, too much to see. He'd often arrived at his office before 6:00 a.m. breathing fire and looking for the day's first brawl, and often after only three or four hours of sleep.

Those habits were returning now. He wasn't attacking each day, wasn't looking for a fight, but there were other challenges.

He showered in less than three minutes, another old habit that was aided mightily on Via Fondazza by a severe shortage of warm water. Over the lavatory he shaved and worked carefully around the quite handsome growth he was cultivating on his face. The mustache was almost complete; the chin was solid gray. He looked nothing like Joel Backman, nor did he sound like him. He was training himself to speak much slower and in a softer voice. And of course he was doing so in another language.

His quick morning routine included a little espionage. Beside his bed was a chest of drawers where he kept his things. Four drawers, all the same size, with the last one six inches above the floor. He took a very thin strand of white thread he'd unraveled from a bed sheet; the same thread he used every day. He licked both ends, leaving as much saliva as possible, then stuck one end under the bottom of the last drawer. The other end was stuck to the side brace of the chest, so that when the drawer was opened the invisible thread was pulled out of position.

Someone, Luigi he presumed, entered his room every day while he was studying with either Ermanno or Francesca and went through the drawers.

His desk was in the small living room, under the only window. On it he kept an assortment of papers, notepads, books; Ermanno's guide to Bologna, a few copies of the Herald Tribune, a sad collection of free shopping guides he'd gathered from Gypsies who passed them out on the streets, his well-used Italian-English dictionary, and the growing pile of study aids Ermanno was burdening him with. The desk was only moderately well organized, a condition that irritated him. His old lawyer's desk, one that wouldn't fit in his current living room, had been famous for its meticulous order. A secretary fussed over it late every afternoon.

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.