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Title: The Fighting Eagle (5/6)
Series: The Eagle Chronicles
Word Count 5085
Summary Steven is given a temtping offer to go back home
Author's Note The section set in Rome was written after I had seen "The Scarlet and the Black" and is based on the real Monsignor O'Flaherty.

Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.
Part Four.



10 The Fighting Eagle


A few days later, there was a message waiting for him. It told him that Tonio would be waiting for him outside the hotel at 6:00. Steven looked at his watch. It was 5:15. He decided to wait and watch from the cafe across the street. He bought a paper from the vendor in front of the hotel then went across the street and ordered a cappuccino. The lead story said that fifteen Fascist leaders asked Mussolini to cede some of his powers. Mussolini also agreed to convene the Grand Council.

Steven looked up at the hotel entrance and saw a young boy hanging around the vendor's stall. So, this was Tonio, the boy who had tailed him on bicycle that first night. He looked at his watch and saw that he still had a few more minutes. He finished his drink, strolled back across the street, and stopped beside the boy. "Buon giorno, Tonio."

The boy stepped back in surprise. "You are Signor Renault?"

"I'm surprised you don't remember me. It hasn't been that long. Shall we go? We mustn't keep the others waiting."

Tonio, recovered from his shock, led Steven through the streets in a roundabout way. "To confuse anyone who might try to follow," he explained. Steven realized that they still didn't trust him.

Just as his feet began to ache and his legs started to feel like lead, Tonio ducked into a covered passageway and motioned Steven to be quiet. Their footsteps echoed on stone until the tunnel ended in an open-air area. Steven looked around, it all seeming somewhat familiar. Those arches. "Christ! We're in the Coliseum!" He turned and saw Paolo and two others. "How the hell did you get in here?"

"We'd rather not say. We knew that we would have privacy and see if anyone came upon us," answered Paolo.

"Just for your information, Signor Renault, we never meet at the same place twice," said one of the others. Steven nodded. If there was not a set pattern for meeting places, the Fascists would have a hard time finding the Resistance. He knew from experience how necessary it was.

"Paolo told us what you want, but we want to hear your story for ourselves."

Steven smiled. A woman. She sounded quite pretty, too. "I don't know how much Paolo told you, but for the past year I've been working for Washington though they don't know about the past few months." He told them how he was taken to Berlin and given little choice in joining the Nazis. He had done a few things he regretted, but if he hadn't, the Nazis would have realized he was faking. He continued with telling them of how he got sent to Rome. He left out that he thought the Abwher was following him. He told them that he knew Hitler would be meeting Mussolini on the 19th in Feltre.

"How did you learn of this?" asked the unknown man.

"You don't want to know," he replied with a smile. "Do you think you can help me?"

"We might be able to do something, but we need to talk this over amongst ourselves. You will be contacted again."

"But--"

"Don't bother, they won't tell you anything now. They like to think things out. If it were up to me, I'd help you right now. Can you make your way back?"

"Yeah, now that I know where I am." He turned to go.

"Steven?"

"Yeah?" Out of habit, he turned at the sound of his name. He had never done that before while using an alias. "How long have you known?"

"I suspected after first hearing your story."

"Do the others know?"

"No. If you don't want it known, you must have a good reason. Don't worry, I'll keep your secret. I don't know when I'll see you again, but you'll be contacted the same way. Good night." Paolo left and Steven was alone in the Coliseum.

***********************************************

There was a knock on the door and Himmler looked up as his aide entered. "Admiral Canaris to see you, sir."

Himmler knew why Canaris had come to see him. "Very good. Show him in. And we are not to be disturbed unless it is of the utmost importance."

Canaris walked in behind the aide and watched as the man shut the door behind him. "I have some news," he said, taking a seat.

"As do I. Taylor phoned the Furher last night."

"Do you know what about?"

"No, I was just leaving his office when Bormann came and told him there was a call from Rome. I heard him call Taylor by name."

"One of my agents tracked him to his hotel. It seems he is going under the name Luc Renault, a Swiss national."

"A neutral passport, very smart. With his knowledge of languages, it was a very good choice. I think that may be why Hitler chose him."

"I have many agents who speak fluent Italian as I am sure you do. Why not use them?"

"Probably because they report to us whereas Taylor is independent and responsible only to the Furher."

"What is your opinion of Mussolini?"

"From what I've learned, I don't think he is going to last. It has gotten to the point where all his talking is not going to stop the Americans. The people seem to be getting frustrated by his inaction."

"What about Feltre? What is that for?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if Mussolini begs for help."

***********************************************************

On the evening of the 17th, Pietro Koch, head of the Fascist political police, looked at the file on his desk. A photo of Paolo Fabrini and the Swiss, Luc Renault, stared back at him. That meeting was too convenient. The idea of the contact being neutral was ideal for their purposes. He pulled out a second photo, one of just Renault. Something about him seemed familiar. He went to a file cabinet where he kept files of sensational crimes and escapes, and some on just "master" criminals. He pulled out the one he was looking for and took it to his desk. Inside was a copy of a recent photograph, one taken earlier that year, of the one-time thief the Eagle, also known as Steven Taylor. A caption told that at the time the photo was taken, he was assisting the War Office in London. Koch placed Steven's photo next to that of Renault. They were one and the same! Luc Renault was an American agent, the contact for the Resistance. He grabbed his coat and called for Luigi and Giovanni. They were going to the Trevi.

*****************************************************

Karl settled himself into a chair where he could keep an eye on the front door, the lifts, and the main staircase. Since he missed Taylor the other night, he was taking no chances. He was having his third cup of coffee when the main door opened and two burly men entered followed by a third who exuded authority. Karl recognized him as Pietro Koch.

Koch approached the desk and started questioning the startled clerk. Karl saw the clerk shake his head then point in his direction. Koch turned his head and looked directly at him before starting over. "Buona sera, signore. The clerk at the desk told me you were waiting for Luc Renault as well."

"Perhaps."

"Ah, you have every right to be cautious. I am Pietro Koch, head of the police, and I have reason to believe that Luc Renault is, in reality, Steven Taylor, an American spy who has been contacting the Resistance."

Karl was startled. "That is why I am here. My superior was having doubts as to his loyalty."

"And who might that be? Signor Himmler? Signor Canaris?" Karl was quiet. "It seems that you and I are working towards the same end. Perhaps we should work together."

Karl looked at Koch and wondered if it would be a wise decision. Maybe he could use Koch's knowledge of the city and the locals, but get Steven himself. "Sehr gut." Karl put out his hand to shake on their agreement. Koch smiled and took it. "Look, there he goes," Karl said as Steven passed the front desk.

Koch nodded to Luigi and Giovanni and the two men walked out the door a few moments after Steven. Koch and Karl followed and went to the waiting car. Luigi was behind the wheel. "He was met by a young boy and they headed southeast. Giovanni is following them."

"They could be going anywhere. Shouldn't you have more men?" Karl, who was used to the efficacy of the SS, was shocked.

"Too many men get in the way. Luigi and Giovanni are the best. Besides, we believe that the Resistance chooses large, open spaces where they can see anyone who approaches. The only thing that lies in that direction that fits the description is the Forum."

"How will the four of us be able to find them in such a large area?"

Koch smiled. "Giovanni will follow them then come back and tell us." Maybe because Koch was in charge, he felt he could do no wrong and no one could escape him. Karl still thought it was a strange way to arrest known spies.

They stopped on the Via del Fori Imperiali by the entrance where Giovanni stood. "They are meeting by the Tempio di Vesta."

"Are you positive?" asked Koch. "Taylor and Fabrini?"

"Along with two others."

"Meraviglioso." Koch got out of the car and drew his gun. Karl followed slowly as he started to doubt the whole procedure. It was quickly overshadowed by the thought that he would be the one to bring in Steven Taylor.

Giovanni led the way and Luigi brought up the rear. They stopped when they were within hearing but out of sight of the group. Karl picked out Taylor in the dim light and could see him talking earnestly with three others. The conversation in Italian was too fast for him to follow, so he waited for Koch to give the signal.

Ten minutes later, Koch tapped him on the shoulder. This was it. Karl took out his Luger and followed Koch's lead. They started firing on the group. "You led them right to us!" Karl heard one of them yell at Taylor. "You were working for them all along!"

Steven couldn't believe it. How could they have found him? He ducked behind a column as shots were fired in his direction. It was at times like this that he wished he carried a gun; knives didn't work well at this range. He saw the woman fall. Too bad he never learned her name. He hated to refer to her as "The Woman"; it was too much like Sherlock Holmes.

He recognized Koch and his two thugs and the fourth had to be the agent sent by Canaris. The German fell but Steven couldn't be sure who shot him. Hell, just what he needed, a dead Nazi. Agreeing with Falstaff that discretion was the better part of valor, he fled the scene hoping to recoup his losses and create a good story. He knew the ideal spot and headed west across the Tiber to the smallest sovereign state in Europe--the Vatican.

He knew that soon the police would be out looking for him and the entrance to the Vatican might be heavily guarded. He warily approached the Piazza San Pietro and saw that there was very little cover. The colonnades by Bernnini were his best bet. He walked by the four rows of massive columns and headed for the Basilica. As it was late and he didn't want to disturb anyone, he stretched out on the floor of the vestibule, passport in hand. Feeling safe for the first time in months, Steven fell asleep.

****************************************************

Was that coffee he smelled? It couldn't be, not the real thing, anyway. Steven slowly opened his eyes, sat up, and saw a middle-aged priest looking at him. "Bonjour, M. Renault. I trust you slept well."

"As well as can be expected." He took the proffered cup of coffee and had a sip. "That tastes wonderful."

The priest smiled. "Merci." He reached out and helped Steven stand. "If you will follow me, I will show you where you can freshen up."

"Merci, Pere..."

"Michel. Your Swiss passport was noticed and I was chosen to welcome you." The priest led him to facilities in the Basilica. "Is there anyone in particular you wish to see?"

Steven just wanted sanctuary. He knew of no one here. Unless... "Yes, Monsignor O'Flaherty."

Pere Michel was surprised. "How do you know of him?"

"I know he visits POW camps." Steven rubbed his face vigorously with cold water. His clothes were a little wrinkled, but they would have to do.

"I can send for him. You must have good reason for coming here late in the night. Where would you like to meet him?"

"The Basilica. I've always wanted to see it."

Steven entered the Basilica and stood there for a few moments to take in the immense size of it. To the right was Michelangelo's Pieta, a masterpiece in marble. The emotions in Mary's face alone made it wonderful. He felt that Protestant churches were missing out on beautiful art by not having such representations of religious figures.

He strolled to the other side of the Basilica to the different memorial chapels and stopped in front of the monument for James, the Old Pretender, and Bonnie Prince Charlie as if he had been drawn there. A chill went up his spine as if there were some type of presence.

"M. Renault?" asked a male voice with a thick Irish brogue.

"Dia dhuit ar maidin," Steven greeted him with one of the few Gaelic phrases he knew. He turned and saw a man on the tall side with blue eyes and round steel-rimmed glasses.

"Good morning to you. Pere Michel said you were Swiss. If so, you're probably the first Swiss to speak Gaelic."

"I'm not, it was just the most convenient nationality for traveling." He held out his hand. "The name's Steven Taylor."

O'Flaherty shook his hand. "The Steven Taylor? It's an honor to meet you. Why did you ask for me?"

"Last week I hitched a ride on a supply train that stopped at a POW camp and I saw you giving Communion. I knew you'd be the one to help me." Steven told his story, including last night. "I need to get myself together plus send some sort of message to England so they know I'm not a traitor."

O'Flaherty thought a moment. "I don't know what I can do personally, but I can introduce you to someone who might be able to help."

Steven followed O'Flaherty out of the Basilica and across the grounds towards an imposing building. A sign next to the door labeled it the Hospice of Santa Marta. "What are we doing here?"

"This is where some of the foreign guests of the Vatican stay. As it's relatively early, we might catch him in." He went to the front desk and asked if Sir D'Arcy Osbourne was in. He was told that the man was having breakfast in the dining room.

O'Flaherty walked down the hall to the dining room which offered a view of one of the many Vatican gardens. He strolled over to one of the tables where a man close to his own age was sipping coffee and having a pastry. He looked up and saw the priest. "Good morning, Monsignor. What brings you here this morning?"

"Good morning, Sir D'Arcy. I'm sorry to bother you while you're having breakfast, but something came up this morning and I think you can help." He waved Steven over. "This gentleman spent last night sleeping on the vestibule floor. He asked to see me and told me a story that might interest you."

"You must have been quite desperate to sleep on the floor, Mr...."

"Steven Taylor." Steven would have laughed at the look on Sir D'Arcy's face if it had occurred under different circumstances. "I know this must be quite a surprise, but as Monsignor O'Flaherty said, I need some help."

"If this is going to be a long story, we'd best go up to my rooms where we can talk more openly."

Steven and O'Flaherty followed Sir D'Arcy to his rooms. "What's he do?" Steven whispered.

"He's the British Minister to the Holy See."

"Ah." Steven knew that carried a lot of weight, being the ambassador from one of the world's most powerful nations.

Sir D'Arcy stopped and unlocked his door. "Please, make yourselves comfortable," he said as he opened the door. He sat down on a wingback chair. O'Flaherty took its twin and Steven settled on the couch. "Now, how can I help you?"

Steven related his story once again. "I just needed time and a place to think and plan. The Vatican was the only place I could think of."

"So you were using a Swiss passport. How did you get it?"

"Connections. From working with the Resistance in France, I knew names of people in Germany who could do it for me. I chose that name because it was different from my usual aliases and it would be harder to track me. I think the Abwher checked all the hotels, but I don't know how Koch caught on."

"I know of him," said O'Flaherty. "He's very determined."

"I don't think there would be any problem getting you a diplomatic passport and a flight to Geneva."

"If we're involving Switzerland, shouldn't we notify Salazar? After all, he might know some other way to go about it," said Hugh.

"What do you think, Mr. Taylor?" Osbourne looked to the couch and saw that Steven had fallen asleep. "Let's work out some plans we can put to him when he wakes."

*************************************************

Steven woke slowly and almost forgot where he was until he saw O'Flaherty's cassock. Both he and Osbourne were taking to a third person dressed in what Steven guessed to be a designer suit. "How long have I been asleep?"

"About five hours," answered Osbourne.

"Christ! Sorry, Monsignor. Why didn't you wake me?"

"We knew you needed your sleep," answered O'Flaherty. "This is Conte Sarsfield Salazar, the Swiss delegate. He's been helping us with some plans to get you home."

"You sound as if you've been pretty busy." He stifled a small yawn. He looked to Osbourne. "Could you tell me where the lav is?"

Osbourne smiled. "Sorry. It's the door just to the right of the bedroom."

"Thanks." After using the toilet, Steven washed his hands and looked at himself in the mirror. He definitely needed a shave even though the stubble did give him that hunted look. God, he couldn't wait until this damn war was over. He ran his hands through his hair to make it look a little more presentable. He rejoined the others. "That's better."

"What we've come up with as the most viable plan is for you to get a diplomatic passport, which can be done very easily here, and transport can be arranged for you to go to Switzerland then England." Osbourne looked quite pleased.

"I don't want to disappoint you after all your hard work, but I don't think I want to leave."

"What?" Salazar was shocked.

"But why?" asked O'Flaherty. "You wouldn't have to worry about being discovered."

"I can get a lot more information by staying in Berlin and sending it out. All I want is for the right people to know that I'm not a traitor. That's mainly why I contacted the Resistance in the first place."

O'Flaherty thought for a moment. "We could send some message in the radio. I've heard the BBC does something similar."

"Right," agreed Steven. "It's usually some form of code. We need to think of something between cryptic and obvious."

"But how will you go back? Koch is apt to lock you up."

"I'll tell him I was working for the Germans and that contacting the Resistance was part of my assignment."

"I doubt he'll believe you."

"He'll believe this." Steven took out the letter from Hitler. "He'll bend over backwards once he reads it."

Salazar took it from him. "Mon Dieu! It is a letter signed by Hitler himself stating that M. Taylor is working under his personal supervision."

O'Flaherty looked at him. "You certainly have him beguiled. How did you manage it?"

"I must have a bit of the blarney in me, Monsignor," Steven answered with a smile.

"We still have to figure out a way to send your message," said D'Arcy. "What was your code name?"

"What else--Eagle."

"Of course. How can we work that into a sentence that won't sound bizarre over the radio?"

"I think I might have an idea." Steven took the pen and paper and began to write.

Later that day, Steven and O'Flaherty sat in one of the gardens. "It's hard to believe that outside these walls a war is going on. Part of me is so tempted just to stay here until it's all over."

"Why don't you? I'm sure we could arrange something."

"Unlike you, I wouldn't be able to set foot outside the Vatican. I know it wouldn't take long for me to be bored to tears. I need to be out there doing things."

"You're serious about going back."

"Very. I know you probably think I'm crazy but I need to be challenged or I get too complacent. Maybe it's from living as a thief; the dares and risks I took. Who knows?"

"You've stayed here this long, why don't you stay the night, get a good sleep, then go see Koch early in the morning."

"I guess." He was quiet. "How long would it take to get to Feltre?"

"Depending on your transportation, five to six hours. You're planning to go to that meeting between Hitler and Mussolini."

"If I don't, Hitler will lose faith in me and then where would I be?" Steven stared at the fountain in front of them. "I don't think I'll be the last one to come here for help. The three of you could work out a lot of ways to get men out."

"It would be hard work."

"But fulfilling."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"There's a couple things I want you to do for me after I go. A woman was shot last night and I never learned her name. If there is anyway you can find out where her funeral is being held, send flowers in my name. Also, if someone could track down an artist for me by the name of Paolo Fabrini. He used to be at the Spanish Steps, but I don't think he's there anymore--that is if he got away."

"I'll do my best, Mr. Taylor."

"Call me Steven."

"Hugh." He stood. "I have to leave you for I have other things to attend to. Will you be all right?"

"I'll be fine, thanks." Steven watched as Hugh walked away then resumed staring at the fountain as he thoughts turned to tomorrow.

***********************************************

The following morning Steven woke as he heard someone knocking on his door. "Who is it?"

"Hugh. I'm just checking to see if you're awake."

"Yeah." He yawned as he opened the door. "What time is it?"

"5:00. As it was almost time for matins, I thought I would stop by." He smiled. "D'Arcy's pajamas look good on you."

"That was real nice of him to lend them to me. I don't think I could have handled spending another night in that suit."

"It should lend credibility to your story. In case you leave before service is over, I'd like to say now that it's been an honor meeting you and that you'll be in my prayers. Beannacht De leat."

"Thank you, Hugh. I won't forget you." They shook hands and Hugh left, closing the door behind him. Steven smiled as he thought of the tall priest as a spy of sorts. He went to the bathroom to shower and changed into his suit. He thought of shaving but decided against it as it would ruin the whole effect. There was a knock on the door. "Come in." It was D'Arcy. "Didn't expect to see you this early."

"Since I knew you wanted an early start, I thought I'd try one last time to change your mind."

"Don't bother wasting your breath. I'm determined to go through with it." He checked himself in the mirror. "How do I look?"

"Totally disreputable. We've arranged to send that message tonight. I think Feltre might be in range."

"I'd like to thank you, Sir D'Arcy, for all your help. I mentioned to the monsignor that you could help others who might make their way here."

"I don't think I could risk it in my position."

"Maybe you could have someone front for you. What about your butler?"

"John?" Osbourne was surprised by the thought. "It could work."

"I guess I'd better be going." He held out his hand. "Thanks again."

"Good luck to you, Steven." He shook his hand. "Be careful."

"I will." Steven left the hospice and crossed the piazza to Rome.

*************************************************************************

He sat in the cafe across the street from Koch's headquarters. Now that he was here, he was beginning to regret it. He took a deep breath, crossed the street, and entered the building. He strode up to the clerk and demanded to see Koch. The authority in his voice made the clerk forget about the look of his clothes as he directed him to Koch's office.

Steven smiled inwardly as he walked through the halls. He knocked on the door to Koch's office and heard him growl, "Come in!"

"Didn't you sleep well, Signor Koch?" he asked as he walked in.

"You! What are you doing here?"

"I thought you wanted to see me. If not, I'll go." He turned towards the door.

"Not one step further!"

"Fine." Steven sat in the chair facing Koch's desk. "I came here voluntarily because I felt you ought to know the truth."

"I already know part of it, Signor Taylor."

"How did you find out?" Koch showed him the file on the desk. "Very flattering to know that someone is keeping a scrapbook on me." He put it down. "Did you get anyone else besides the woman?"

"No, but that should make you happy. After all, you were with them."

"As part of my assignment." Steven handed him the letter from Hitler. "As you can see, that aspect of my mission was approved."

"If that was the case, why was that agent following you?"

"Because Himmler and Canaris wish to discredit me."

"Why were you contacting the Resistance?"

"What better way to learn of your opposition's strengths and weaknesses than to gain their trust? They were going to tell me of plans for Mussolini. They intimated that he may be gone within a week."

"Impossible. Il Duce is too powerful."

"I'm only relaying what I heard." Steven yawned. "Sorry, didn't get much sleep last night." He looked at his watch. "Do you have a car I could use? I need to get to Feltre."

"Feltre?"

"Yes. I spoke with the Furher last week and he asked me to report in person."

"I can have Luigi drive you."

"Can you spare him?"

"Certainly. What time do you plan to leave?"

"I still need to go to my hotel. Shall we say 11:00?"

"Fine. Do you need a ride to your hotel?"

"No, that's all right. Thank you, Signor Koch." Steven left the office and walked to his hotel, whistling.

************************************************************

After shaving and changing his suit, Steven began to pack his belongings. He carefully placed Paolo's sketch in a folded newspaper and set it on the bottom of his case. He then checked to make sure he hadn't left anything behind before going down to settle his bill.

He waited outside for Luigi who drove up in Koch's Fiat. "Are you really working for Hitler?" he asked in awe as he closed the car door behind Steven.

"Yes, Luigi. I appreciate your driving me."

"It makes a nice change to get out of the city." He started to drive then sirens sounded. "Uh oh."

"Is that an air raid? Where are the shelters?"

Luigi drove to the outskirts of the city knowing that the bombers' main target was Rome itself. They left the car and went into a local shelter where they waited out the attack. About two hours later, near 1:00pm, the bombing stopped and Luigi slowly progressed north to Feltre.

Upon his arrival, Steven showed his letter to the Italian soldiers guarding the main road. No translation was needed to read the name on the bottom and the Fiat was allowed to pass. Luigi dropped him off outside the building and Steven thanked him before going inside. Hitler's personal bodyguards recognized him and let him pass.

"I apologize for being late, mein Furher, but we met with some trouble in Rome."

Hitler and Mussolini looked up from the conference table and Steven took a deep breath, being confronted by their stares. "What was the matter, Herr Taylor?"

"The Allies bombed the city."

"What was the extent of the damage?" asked Mussolini.

"I don't know. Once it was over, I left for here."

"They shall pay for this." Il Duce was about to start one of his tirades.

"I'm sure if they had known you weren't there they wouldn't have done it," said Hitler. Steven coughed. "Yes?"

"Oh, nothing. I just have a dry throat."

"We should be done possibly in two hours. If you would meet me here then, we can talk of your assignment."

"Jawhol, mein Furher." He looked at Mussolini. "Arrivederci, Il Duce." He backed out of the room, closed the door, and then sighed in relief. Two hours. That gave him enough time to get something to eat.

Steven met Hitler at the assigned time and related what he had learned, and even included the shooting of the Abwher agent. "I'm sure Canaris and Himmler will blame me for it."

"You only have to answer to me. It doesn't matter what they say. You have done well."

"Danke."

"I will be returning to Berlin tonight. You will ride with me."

Steven knew this wasn't a request. "Certainly, sir."

An hour later, he was on his way back to Berlin, the heart of enemy territory.

Part Six.

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