Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XIV)

Piero Duodo was standing in the study of Signor Gerardo Baroncelli, chief adviser to the Interior Minister, waiting patiently while two glasses of port were filled. Signor Baroncelli was quite fond of port. He was a rotund man with small eyes peering out over an impressive mustache. Peiro had heard that his family had come from Sicily before arriving in Rome twenty years ago, where he had proven indispensable to no less than a dozen Interior Ministers over the course of his career. He had temporarily moved to Venice whilst the business of who controlled the Adriatic was sorted out. He was to be in charge of security for the conference on the issue.  

“It was a lovely dinner, Signore,” Piero said after being handed his glass, “Your wife is an excellent cook.”

“She most certainly is,” Baroncelli smiled as he took a seat, Piero sat as well. He took a sip of his port and Piero did the same. “But you didn’t come here to compliment my wife’s cooking I think. What troubles you Peiro?”

“Well, Signore, I’m sure you are aware of the arrival at the skyport today. The German envoy?”

“Ah yes, I had heard. The glorified assistant to the German ambassador. What of it?”

“Well, Signore, you don’t find the circumstances odd? All the information I had seen said that the envoy was to arrive by car, but then he appears at my skyport with no warning to myself or even his own embassy whatsoever.”

Baroncelli raised a hand and Piero stopped.

“I hear you Peiro, I shall even applaud your vigilance, but the Interior Minister was already aware of this change of arrival plans a week ago.”

Piero was shocked, “What? I heard none of this.”

“Of course not, it was a matter of greatest secrecy,” Baroncelli took a sip, mused on the taste a moment and swallowed, “I am not supposed to share this information with anyone outside the Office of the Interior, but I fear you will not be satisfied unless I tell you the whole of it. Am I right?”

Piero was slightly embarrassed, “Apologies if I have overstepped myself, Signore.”

“Not at all. I shall share this with you, under the caveat that anything I tell you is not to leave this room. If it does, I shall deny it, and you my friend will find yourself in quite a bit of trouble. Do we have an understanding?” Piero nodded and Baroncelli continued, “The Minister has reason to believe that there is a plot to sabotage the conference.”

“How?” Piero set his port aside. It was too sweet for him.

“That I cannot tell you,” The large man sighed, “but I can tell you that the Germans had planned to change their travel arrangements as a result. They refused to share any of these altered plans for fear of word reaching the ears of the saboteurs.”

“Who are the plotters? What can we do?”

“Exactly what I am doing Piero. I watch, I wait, and make our move when the time is right. Until then…” He raised his glass of port and laughed again.

Elizabeth watched the German embassy from a rooftop across the alley. She’d been looking at the room Quirke was staying in for a few hours as 0sc4r had debriefed him, waiting to see if the Germans made a move on him. It seemed quiet.

She yawned.

If the Italians knew about Vic’s plan they’d have arrested Quirke as soon as he’d landed, and if the Germans knew they’d surely have arrested him by now. She’d had a plan to crash through the window, as daring and brash as could be, gun down the first gendarme to lay a hand on the professor and then dash away into the sky with the frightened academic in tow.

It would have looked very impressive.

Unfortunately, there was no need.

Heading back to the ship might be best.

She hoisted herself up, ready to engage her jetpack when she saw a faint light coming from a window beneath her. She ducked back down, a peered over the edge of the roof just enough to see a man looking out the window towards the embassy. The light went out, but a moment later the window opened. the man, dressed all in black with a satchel hanging from his shoulder, stepped onto the window sill with a rope in hand. He gave it a mighty toss up and across the alley, and there was a clatter as the hook landed on the roof of the German Embassy.

The devil is this now? She thought, some Italian spy looking in on the Germans? No, they could have had a man get a good long look at Quirke from the skyport, they wouldn’t need to risk offending the Germans with this stunt. Maybe a Turk?

The man in black gave the rope a tug, then silently swung out into the alley. His feet landed softly on the wall beside the second story window into Quirke’s room.

It can’t be a German. They could get all they needed from a peephole inside. Maybe it’s not one of the three conference goers at all, she reasoned, any number of players could be at work. I’ll bet it’s a Russian. Midnight window peeping. Sounds crude enough to be a Russian job.

He maneuvered himself over to the windowsill, balanced himself and pulled a small camera from his bag. It was a small thing. No bigger than a tea kettle.

Beth groaned under her breath. She knew that camera. A Belgian made Spectateur, striped down and modified for a nearly silent shutter. She knew all of this, because she had seen this type of camera before, many times. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if one was sitting in the hold of Victoria’s ship at this very moment.

It was exactly the camera used by British Military Intelligence.

A thousand thoughts tried to crowd their way to the forefront of her mind.

Of course MI is looking at the German Ambassador. It would be routine work. Couldn’t they have seen him at any time during the day though, why the window peeping? They should know better than to risk getting caught out here. Besides, MI should know that the Admiral and Vic had an operation going on. Or at least that somebody did. The Admiral had assured Vic before they left England that there would be no interference from MI’s local Venetian house. Maybe they’d simply gotten curious. Was somebody disobeying orders?

What if they were obeying orders?

What if they were obeying the sort of orders Beth had gotten. Like the one where she was told to hand over Quirke’s dossier.

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn damn DAMN, She wanted to yell. If this was orders from her patron (or patrons, Beth had no way to know) then the best move for her was to stay out of it. Just let this fellow do what he came to do and fly away when the coast was clear. Victoria need never know she saw the man. Had she made the decision to leave a mere thirty seconds sooner that would have been the case anyway.

Vic’s plan might end up scrapped though, if this man’s intentions were more than just photographs. Could she risk it?

Should she?

She sighed. She really could pretend she’d seen nothing.

She stood, turned around and walked along the roof away from the alley.

The she turned, gave herself a running start and leapt out into the alley. The man must have heard her footsteps, because her turned to see her sailing through the air a moment before she landed on the sill beside him. He went for a knife strapped to his leg, but Beth was already swinging the back of her fist into his face. He was tumbling down to the street before he even had his knife out. He reached out for the rope he’d swung over on, but Beth was already on it, sliding down, letting her feet crush his fingers on her way down. To his credit, the man didn’t cry out as he fell to the cobblestone below. She landed softly beside him.

He wasn’t moving, but a quick investigation revealed that he was still breathing.

“Good,” Beth said quietly. She gathered up the scattered contents of the man’s bag, including the broken camera, and heaved the man up, securing him to her jetpack’s harness. “You and I need to have a conversation with the Skymarshal I think.”

Beth engaged her jetpack, grabbing the rope as she ascended and taking the grappling hook with her.

The noise of the jetpack might wake someone, but they’d find no evidence of anyone having been here (save for a bit of blood on the stone street).

Beth smiled to herself. Even if this was some move made by her patron, there was no way for them to prove it was her. This fellow likely hadn’t even gotten a good look at her face.

And actually, if this man was sent by her patron, that made beating the man senseless all the more satisfying.

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