Wake the Dead [Kydon Chronicles Book 5] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Robert Legleitner
eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: America's gay Indiana Jones is back in a thrilling new adventure. In post WWII Europe, gay spies, Kydon Schmidt and Robin Wyngate, track missing dead men in Italy. Are they vampires, the un-dead, or fleeing Nazi war criminals?
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, Published: ebook, 2004
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2007
This eBook is part of the following series:
* * * *
ITALY, FEBRUARY 1946
Death was in his hand. The man calling himself Signor Dicosta held an amber capsule, easily swallowed, and then blessed release and freedom. Many people, if not most, believed or hoped that death was only the gateway to a better life. He was fortunate. He knew it.
Dicosta beckoned the waiter and ordered steamed shellfish. His command of Italian was not good, he had to repeat himself, and that annoyed him.
The elderly quartet rattled sheet music. Three white-haired men and a fragile old woman no larger than her cello began playing "Musette's Waltz." None of the patrons seemed to notice them. Dicosta lit a cigarette as the waiter served the wine. A man and woman came in and took a table near him. The smell of rain and wet wool came with them mingling with the aroma of food and cigarette smoke.
Outside, the street was shiny but the rain had stopped. Here in the village, the houses and the apartments above the shops were curtained and shuttered against the bitter February day. Beyond the piazza, beyond the church, the houses were farther apart, the trees thicker. Farther out, between dark umbrella pines and spears of black cypresses, stood the clinic.
He wondered if they'd take his body back to the clinic. No, the mortuary.
He put the capsule in his mouth and washed it down with the pale wine just as the plate of steaming mussels was put in front of him. Thirty minutes left in this life, a life that had gone awry. He took his watch from his pocket.
The seal his father had given him was gone from the chain. The tiny gold ring which held it was still on the chain but the solid gold disk with an embossed Roman eagle was missing. He had not meant to take this last journey without it. It must be in his room at the clinic. Too late now to go after it.
Later, when he sagged against the table, fell sideways off his chair, and heard alarmed voices that dimmed at last to silence, it didn't seem to matter.
Ida Gentili held a parcel tight as she hurried along the street. Her aunt knew someone in the black market, and tea and sugar were always wanted. Ida would brew a pot for her English employer when she got to the house.
As Ida passed the restaurant, she glanced through the steamy windows. She saw Signor Dicosta alone at a table. He had been pointed out to her at the clinic, but she never expected to see him in Santa Maria a Mare where her two surviving relatives felt safe. She must tell them.
She was startled when he fell to the floor. The people around him turned to see and some rose to bend over his prone body. Another man she recognized, the local doctor, gestured for the others to stand back as he knelt by Dicosta. Ida saw the doctor feel for a pulse, saw him touch Dicosta's neck, before he shook his head and got to his feet. A woman near the fallen man screamed.
Two people came out into the street saying, "He's dead, did you see?" and Ida answered, "Yes," as if they'd spoken to her. She hugged herself. The parcel pressed against her chest and reminded her that she must go.
At the house, Ida hung her coat on a peg in the closet near the kitchen door. She drew water for the kettle. Signora Parmenter was busy writing in her study but she would want a cup of hot strong tea. Dinner must be prepared and served.
Ida wondered if she should tell anyone that Signor Dicosta was dead. But by now everyone in the village must know. The man died in a crowd and the word must be in every house. Lina Monti, her aunt, and her cousin Rosa would hear the news and be comforted. The matter was settled. Ida set out the cup and saucer, filled the sugar bowl, and laid the tea tray. The matter was settled and she hadn't lifted a hand against the man. * * * *
In Rome, Kydon Schmidt looked at the envelope of a telegram and slid a finger under the flap. Thinking, it has to be from Robin on his way with my father and my life can begin again, he read the message. "Jesus Christ!"
The words echoed in the high-ceilinged room. A woman of fifty, in black relieved by a white piquet collar, turned. "Signore?"
"Nothing, Isabella," Kydon said. "I'm sorry I startled you."
The housekeeper closed the door behind her. Kydon burned the message in the fireplace then straightened his six-foot three inch frame. He leaned on the cold marble mantelpiece and stared at the wisp of smoke curling up from the ashes.
There was a rap on the door and it opened. "Kydon, am I disturbing you?" Elena, Contessa Avezzano, stepped into the library. "You haven't turned on a light and it's growing dark."
Kydon went to the marquetry inlaid olive-wood desk. "I had a wire." He lit the green-shaded lamp.
"From your father or Robin?"
"From Landgren." Kydon frowned as he mentioned the name of his contact at MI6.
"Oh damn it, not now." Elena pulled her lacy shawl closer. "Will Landgren insist with your father on his way--?"
Kydon stared past her. "Landgren's here in Rome."
"Oh God. If he's here, whatever he has in mind...."
Kydon thought of Robin and what they wanted to do, of his father and making a home, of the work he wanted to do. "An easy walk. I'm to be there in ten minutes. The bridge to the Castel San Angelo."
The late February day was gray and chilly when Kydon walked toward the Tiber and the bridge to the ancient monument.
Once the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, the squat thick tower of the Castel San Angelo appeared unassailable and menacing behind its outer walls above the Tiber River. The stream was as steely as the darkening gray sky. Kydon's blond hair glinted as he lounged against the balustrade of the Ponte San Angelo at the foot of one of the pale stone winged sentinels which guarded the bridge.
A man in a trench coat walked onto the bridge. "From tomb to fortress to a museum," he said. "Is it open?"
"You'll have to come back tomorrow," Ky said.
The man slid back his cuff to consult his watch. "I saw a bar in a little street off the via Guilia."
"Salty Joe's American Bar?"
"That's it. Will you join me, Apollo?"
"I'll be delighted, Landgren, as long as you're buying."
They left the fortress and crossed the Lungotevere. There were few people on the streets as they walked the via Paolo to the via Guilia. Salty Joe's bar was in the vaulted cellar of an old building. Once down narrow worn steps, the bar was along the front wall. The interior, divided into three areas by brick and stone arches, was furnished with simple wooden tables and chairs. In the dim lighting, the jukebox stood out garishly.
"Two brandies please," Landgren said to the bartender.
The burly American behind the bar looked at the Englishman with a grin and set out tumblers and a soda syphon. Both men added a splash to their drinks. When they were seated at a table by the wall, Landgren said, "Good of you to see me on short notice." In the low light he had the lean ascetic look of a monk.
"You had a reason to come to Rome, Landgren, what is it?"
"Hyacinth's flight is on schedule. He and your father will be in Rome the day after tomorrow."
"Does this involve both Robin and me?" Kydon asked.
"It may be easier for two. Merely surveillance." As Kydon opened his mouth, Landgren held up a hand. "I know, I said that the last time."
"When we were caught in a damned web of deceptions, and I was accused of being a traitor. We were almost shot there in France," Kydon said, "so this time I'd like to know who's following us."
"No one," Landgren answered. "I want you on this affair because they may have spotted our men and I need fresh faces."
"So you picked Robin's face and mine."
"You're here and Hyacinth soon will be."
"I want time with my father." Kydon drank the last of his brandy and waved for more. "What's the rest of it?"
"Highly placed Nazis slipping out of Europe and we're doing our bit to stop them, to turn them over to the authorities."
"Who are they? How do we know where to look?"
"You're headed in the right direction. You're looking for a place at Santa Maria a Mare, I believe." Landgren's expression was as bland as a baby's. "One of our men will put you in the picture tomorrow night at Mrs. Parmenter's."
"The dinner party? How did you--who?" Kydon asked.
"Walter Sharpe," Landgren replied. "He's with our Branch now. I've put him in the way of someone with entry into the local social scene." Landgren glanced around. "I rather like this place. I fancy we'll see each other here again."
When Kydon left Salty Joe's Bar, night had come down over Rome * * * *
Night's edge moved westward and the shining steel sky of morning lighted the hills and sea. In Santa Maria, people opened their shops and stalls. On the southeast edge of the small town, Ida Gentili slipped through the garden gate into the cemetery. She crossed it at a fast pace and left the tended grounds to enter the wilder grounds of the Castel Murata. She had a basket on her arm and a short-bladed knife in one hand, on the hunt for mushrooms and greens. Beneath arching evergreen oaks she found more than enough mushrooms and watercress by a spring. She had extra to sell to one of the produce stalls in the piazza. She hurried into Santa Maria.
In the morning light, her fears from the night seemed nonsense when, on her way to the market square, she saw the local funeral parlor. He was there, but Signor Dicosta was dead, one of the wicked men who sowed death wherever they went. And she hadn't lifted a hand against him, thank God. She had seen enough violence during the war and afterward and she didn't think of herself as a violent woman.
Signora Frescini was arranging new carrots and radishes in neat rows. Beside the stall, an old woman was setting out small bundles of rosemary, bay, and thyme. While it seemed an extension of the greengrocer's goods, the old woman had, by long custom, her own area just under the end of the red and white striped awning over the Frescini tables. The Frescinis sold no herbs.
"A fine lot of mushrooms," the older woman said. "Too bad you found no early jasmine blooms. I would like a spray for myself."
"I didn't think to look for flowers."
"We have no time for flowers,"Signora Frescini said. "It's enough to put food on the table. A pity the dead stranger has no one to mourn him and no flowers."
"They said at the clinic he wasn't a very nice man," Ida said.
"It's all one now," the old woman muttered. She grinned, she had no teeth. "You're the niece of Lina Monti. You'd know what happens at the clinic."
"My aunt thought he was a German or so she told me."
Signora Frescini shook water from lettuces. "He was a Jew. The housekeeper of the funeral director told me so only this morning. He is to be buried today in one of the empty mausoleums."
"I never heard of Jews hidden at the clinic," the old woman said.
Ida looked puzzled. "Dicosta is to be buried today?"
"The housekeeper says they must be buried within a day." Signora Frescini looked pleased with her new-found knowledge.
"Buried here in Santa Maria?" Ida grasped the handle of her basket.
"What is it?" Signora Frescini asked. "You've lost your color."
"But did he--the dead man--have the money to pay?"
The old woman laughed. "The doctor from the clinic paid, isn't that what you said, Mama Frescini?"
"Doctor Saldini paid for the funeral?"
"Not him," Signora Frescini replied. "The foreign doctor, the one who uses the brilliantine on his hair."
"I must go," Ida said, gripping her basket. "It's much later than I thought."
"Let me pay you for these mushrooms." Signora Frescini dug in the pocket of her apron.
Ida put the money in a pocket without looking at it. She hurried across the square to the street leading to Jenny Parmenter's house. Only after she had passed under one of the arches that spanned the narrow street did she slow her pace and take a deep breath. The salt smell of the nearby sea was in the air.
At the house, she went straight through to the garden. The world brightened as the morning drew on and she glanced up at the sky. There were few clouds. She slipped through the gate into the cemetery grounds.
By a monument with three angels, the workmen were busy with mortar and the marble slab that would close the mausoleum niche. He would be buried with their dead. * * * *
That evening, after tying his black tie for the third time, Kydon checked his shirt studs, cufflinks, and put on the black jacket of his dinner suit. He thought of how Robin liked dressing for dinner, the formality which was neither as rigid nor severe as many people thought. He remembered Robin saying, "The hard part is not spilling anything on my shirt." Kydon checked his own tailored shirtfront, and went down to the drawing room to see if Elena was ready for the dinner party.
Luck had brought Kydon and Elena, La Contessa Avezzano, together. During the war, Elena kept a "safe" house on Mallorca where the partisans took Kydon when he was wounded escaping the Germans at the Spanish frontier. They became close friends. She persuaded him to make Rome his base of operations when the war ended. If he wished to go on with his archeological work, she argued, Rome had the Vatican Library with all its resources for research, and her uncle was assigned to that library. An argument as impossible to resist as her connections.
The Princess Olimpia Rondelli, Elena's sister, was in the drawing room having a cocktail. The princess seemed to know, or know of, everyone in Rome and other major European cities. She would have been, Elena said, a good agent but "she hasn't the patience to sit down and write letters or reports." The princess was useful as she was aware of Elena's work for the British, which, Kydon learned, was an open secret in the family.
Princess Olimpia indicated the cart with the glasses and cocktail shaker. She drew her red fox stole to one end of the sofa in an invitation. "You needn't look so glum, Kydon. The people tonight won't be that dull."
"I'm sorry. I was thinking of something else."
"It isn't Robin is it?" Prince Antonio asked. "He is still coming to Rome?"
Prince Antonio, Olympia's only child, a teenager with adolescent yearnings for excitement, had attached himself to Kydon. At first, Ky thought the boy was in search of a man to act as a father, the elder Prince Rondelli died in a car crash. It was soon clear that Prince Antonio thought Ky to be a spy and adventurer, and that the prince and Ky shared other, personal, traits. Prince Antonio developed a deep infatuation for Robin. Ky felt it was amusing. For the most part.
"He should be here soon."
"May I please go with you? Mrs. Parmenter won't mind an extra guest."
"Absolutely not," Princess Olympia replied.
"The voice of authority," Ky said. "I'm afraid there's no appeal."
"Then tell me, what day is Robin coming back to Rome?"
Princess Olympia adjusted her red fox fur. "That's all he speaks of as if he has no other friends. When Robin is in Rome again they will go here, they will go there."
Elena came into the room. "Robin will be back soon enough," she said. "Get your coat, Tony, your driver's waiting."
Prince Antonio Rondelli sighed heavily, offered to be the driver, promised once again not to speak unless spoken to, and to behave as a gentleman. The lanky six-foot adolescent was sent home in the Rondelli Bentley with the chauffeur.
Princess Olympia, settling her furs around her shoulders, paused in front of a mirror to inspect her hair. "Elena, I simply don't know what I shall do with him in another year."
"You wouldn't have it when I suggested school in Switzerland." Elena picked up her own black sable trimmed coat. "Now he's sixteen, Olympia, it may be too late."
"He threatened to run away and join the Resistance. He was thirteen, a child."
"How do you know he didn't?" Kydon asked. "He was big enough and there were younger children who fought. I remember a twelve year old--"
Princess Olympia stopped him with a wave of a gloved hand. "He was at class every day. His tutor verified it. Come, Elena, we mustn't be too late."
Kydon drove, the Princess Rondelli gave him both directions and information on their destination.
"It's a small coastal town which pleases Jenny, she has the quiet in which to work at her writing. Count Sebastiano Tondi lives nearby, has done for eighty years, his family have been there for the last three hundred years and more. The Heavenly Twins have had their house since the 1929 Market Crash, you know."
"The Heavenly Twins?" Kydon asked.
"Count Tondi's name for Violet Trefussis and Millicent Westover," Elena said from the back.
Olympia quickly took over again. "Two English women older than Elena and I, middle fifties I should think, don't you, Elena? They went to Egypt for the duration of the war and aren't back long. Their house, the Villa Refugio, escaped any damage, but Millicent says there is a burned German truck by the drive."
"And Jenny Parmenter?"
"A novelist who writes books about Eleanor of Aquitane and the Crusades, queens and lovers, romances of that sort."
"She's almost six feet tall," Elena said. "A very pleasant woman but not pretty, wouldn't you agree, Olympia? Her husband is dead."
"Dead in the war," Olympia added. "Dreadful for her."
"Is this party all women?" Kydon asked.
"I shouldn't think so," Elena replied. "Jenny always has Count Tondi."
"And the Huberts," Olympia added. "Morris is back."
"Where was he?" Kydon asked.
"North Africa, Egypt. Intelligence work for the BTE," Elena said. "He's the local land agent and he and Leah have lived here for years."
"He was with the British Troops in Egypt?" Kydon looked at Elena in the mirror. "What did he do in Intelligence, do you know?"
"He says he tracked down stolen military stores sold to the Egyptian black market." Elena tapped Olympia's shoulder. "Please put up the window, darling."
"Elena, we're here. There, Kydon, on the left."