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The Eagle Chronicles 14: Return to Rome

Title: Return to Rome
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 10926
Summary Restless after three months in Monte Carlo, Steven Taylor decides to visit Rome again.




14 Return to Rome


September 1946

He was getting restless. Granted, staying in a luxury hotel gratis, lying in the Mediterranean sun and gambling in casinos all night he might have considered idyllic originally, but after 3 months, it was wearing thin. He stepped onto the balcony and looked out over the beaches of Monte Carlo. Somewhere out there, someone was having excitement and it wasn't him. He could go to Paris and visit Victoria, but he needed more than just a change of scenery. It wasn't that he didn't want to see Victoria again, but he knew that wouldn't be enough. The church bells began to ring for midday mass. It reminded him of Rome when he was there in the summer of '43. Maybe he could go there and try to meet up with some wartime friends. He could even try to squeeze in some sights he didn't get to see last time.

With his destination decided, he started to pack his belongings. He was just about done when there was a knock on the door. "Come in."

A man a few years older dressed in a lightweight suit entered. "Hey, Steven, how about we go to the Casino tonight? I get off at 10:00."

"Nope, not tonight, Harry. I'm going to need an early start in the morning."

Harry Sutton, Steven's friend and the reason he was staying a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo, noticed the packed bags. "What's going on?"

"I'm going on a little trip, Harry. Things are getting dull."

"You can't be catching thieves and kidnappers everyday. People would think Monte Carol was populated by criminals."

"They wouldn't be able to afford the lodgings," Steven remarked with a smile. "I've enjoyed my stay and I thank you for asking me--even though you did have an ulterior motive. You will admit I've fulfilled my part, right?"

"Well, yes, especially since the paper published that incident about rescuing Genevieve Jonteau. Everybody knows you're staying here."

"You probably haven't got any spare rooms. Once I leave, you can market the room by saying Steven Taylor Slept Here."

"Just like George Washington. Where are you going?"

"I was thinking of Rome. Haven't been there since the war."

"Hold on a sec. When our armies marched into Rome, we were both in France."

"This was before that, even before the capitulation, on a mission for Hitler." Steven explained that Hitler had sent him to Rome to try to suss out Mussolini's position. While he was there, he made contact with some members of the Resistance then later fled to the Vatican for sanctuary.

"You could have stayed in the Vatican or made it back home, but you voluntarily returned to Berlin?"

"There would've been no challenge, sitting there, twiddling my thumbs. Besides, I felt I could do more by sending information from Berlin itself."

"You were caught and imprisoned," stated Harry.

"Yeah, well, there's a down side to everything."

They were both quiet for a few minutes. "It doesn't take long to drive to Rome," said Harry after a while. "Maybe 3 or 4 hours. We could still go to the Casino for a bit."

"You just want to go out tonight, don't you? Oh, okay, but no later than 12:00."

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

Steven stopped for a quick late lunch in Pisa, blaming his late start on Harry's inability to tell time. They were still at the Casino, as midnight became 1:00, which then became 2:00, totally throwing him off-schedule. He had planned to be there already, but he figured he only had a couple more hours to go. That would get him to Rome somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00.

Pretty much on schedule, Steven entered Rome from the north, headed for the Vatican along the Viale Angelico, and parked his car in the northeast corner of Piazza San Pietro. He stepped out of the car and looked out at Bernini's colonnade, stretching out on either side of the square like the welcoming arms of the Church. He stood there, gazing at St. Peter's, taking in the beauty and marveling at the architecture before he headed down the passageway on the left-hand side of the steps leading to the Basilica. The entryway into the Vatican proper was watched over by two Swiss Guards. "Mi scusi, but is Monsignor O'Flaherty still staying in the German College?" They hesitated so Steven explained. "I knew him during the war. I just came to look up an old friend."

"He is not there at the moment," said one of the guards. "We can leave him a message if you'd like."

"I can wait in his rooms. I've been there before." They hesitated. "You still don't trust me? Okay, I'll give you my passport so you'll know I won't leave without it."

The second guard took the proffered passport and opened it to compare the photo to the man in front of him. Then he saw the name. "There should be no trouble, Signor Taylor. Go right ahead."

Steven thanked them and passed through the archway into an open square. The gardens and building on the left were his destination. He strode through the cemetery, unwilling to go inside just yet. He sat on one of the benches and looked at the tombstones. He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there before he heard the familiar Irish brogue. How could he approach him? He couldn't just go up and say 'Remember me'. He made his way to the front of the building where he waited for Hugh to come within view. When the tall monsignor came around the corner, he began to whistle Danny Boy.

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty looked around to try to place the source of the tune. When he saw Steven, he almost did a double take. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! If it isn't Steven Taylor."

"Hello, Hugh," said Steven, shaking his hand. "It's been a long time.

"Come up to my rooms. We can't stay out here chatting." Steven followed the priest up the stairs to the apartments. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Nothing, thanks. I just thought I'd stop by and visit some old friends."

"Quit kidding me, lad. You planned to come here."

Steven smiled. "Yeah, well, that's partly true. I was getting a little bored and needed a change of pace."

"Oh, that's right. How were things in Monte Carlo?" asked Hugh with a smile. "Rescue any more damsels in distress?"

"Does everybody know about that?"

"Anything involving you is good for international news."

"I guess the only way I'd get away from it all is to go live in a cave."

"Or join a monastery," remarked the priest.

"Do you take Protestants?"

"Be careful what you say, the walls have ears," Hugh warned with mock severity.

"Take me to the chambers in the cellar left over from the Inquisition?"

"Maybe you'll just get a warning for your first offense." Hugh took a sip of tea. "So now that you're here, what do you want to do?"

"To be a real tourist. Last time I was here, I was rushed through everything. You know, take in the Forum, Coliseum, Pantheon, and maybe an in-depth tour of the Vatican." He looked at the priest meaningfully.

"And who would know it better than someone who lives here."

"Exactly." Steven grinned.

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

The following morning, after sleeping in a guest room Hugh arranged for him, Steven took a quick shower and changed into a fresh suit. Unsure of what to do next, or even where to go, he waited for Hugh to meet him or send a messenger. Close to 15 minutes later, the monsignor knocked on Steven's door. "Sorry I'm late," he apologized as Steven let him in, "but everyone wanted to know about my guest."

"And what did you say?"

"As little as possible. Are you ready to start your tour? We can stop for a quick bite along the way."

"Sure thing. Lead the way."

O'Flaherty and Steven walked out onto St. Peter's Square. "I think we'd better walk. The traffic is horrendous and you can get a better sense of the city on foot."

"You're the guide, Hugh. I'm just along for the tour."

They strolled along the Via della Concilizone and crossed the Tiber at the Ponte Vittorio Emanuelle. Steven paused and looked back at the fortress on the bank. "What's that?"

"The Castel Sant'Angelo built as Hadrian's tomb in the 2nd century. 400 years later, it was used as a fortress. There's a connecting underground passage to the Vatican."

"Why? What would they need with that place?"

"The Vatican wasn't always protected as it is now. The Popes used it as a refuge."

"Ah."

They continued along the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, Steven's eyes darting about, observing everything, never knowing when anything might come in handy, all the while listening to Hugh's stories. Hugh watched him out of the corner of his eye and smiled. It seemed that Steven was the type who could never totally relax. Maybe it was from his time as a covert agent during the war, or even his days as a thief. "Old habits die hard, hm?"

Steven was taken by surprise by this direct question. When he realized that Hugh knew he hadn't been listening, he smiled. "It's become second nature."

"I'm about to show you my favorite site in all of Rome," Hugh told him as they turned off the Corso Vittorio.

"Outside the Vatican, of course."

"Of course."

The road opened onto a piazza and Steven needed no prompting from Hugh as to which building they had come to see. "The Pantheon."

"You've been here before?"

"No, just seen pictures. It's magnificent." Steven followed the priest through the columned portico into the former pagan temple. The first thing to strike him was the immensity of the building. The interior was still rather dark, as the sun hadn't fully risen so the only rays that reached the round opening at the summit of the dome were not full strength. "This place is so amazing!"

"I know. I love coming here. It just seems to put everything in perspective for me."

They wandered around the Pantheon, staring up at the interior of the dome. "There used to be a gilded bronze star in each of those indentations so it would represent the sky," remarked Hugh.

When they walked out into the sun, Steven put on his ever-present sunglasses to protect his eyes from the sudden light. It was almost a letdown, a return to the realities of life. "Hungry? I know of a great place for cappuccino."

"I could do with some fortification." As Steven followed the older man through the narrow back streets, he wondered if all those stories he had heard were true, that this average-looking, middle-aged priest smuggled Allied prisoners-of-war past the Nazis, risking his own life in the process.

They found a cafe on the Via del Corso, sat at a table, and were immediately served. Over their cappuccino and pastries, Steven broached the subject he'd been waiting to talk about. "Hugh, I hope you don't mind my asking, but I heard some stories about your, um, activities after I left."

Hugh laughed. "And you want to know if they're true?" Steven nodded. "Well, they are and I guess I have you to thank."

"Me?"

"I think it was your last day at the Vatican when you decided to go back to Berlin. You said you probably wouldn't be the last to come to the Vatican for help and that we were in a position to help them. So we did."

"Mainly under your organization." Modest, Hugh looked down at his coffee. "Thought so. Only a stubborn Irishman would keep that up when the Nazis knew about him."

"Or a thief out to redeem himself."

"Touché."

Looking around at the other tables, Steven noticed a man reading a paper. Even though he spoke Italian fluently, his reading was a bit rusty. One article caught his attention. It seems that there had recently been a rash of art thefts, but the recovered works were forgeries. He asked Hugh about it. "It's strange. The artwork is from different styles and periods. There are either a whole lot of artists involved or one very talented one."

"This could deserve some looking into," Steven mused.

They walked along the Via del Corso where Steven did a little souvenir shopping and Hugh pointed out spots of interest. They were passing an art gallery and through the window, Steven saw a sketch that looked familiar. He stopped and pushed his way through the door, ignoring the fact that it was a private showing. O'Flaherty followed, trying to placate the man at the door. Steven walked over to the sketch and remembered the last time he had seen it--the day it was drawn. It was a political cartoon of Hitler and Mussolini in a not so favorable light.

Over his shock of seeing the sketch, Steven looked around and saw an oil painting, a portrait. The caption beside it read: Painted from a sketch, July 1943. The original is now in the possession of the subject. Steven remembered posing for that, the same day the cartoon was drawn. He saw Hugh and waved him over. "A remarkable likeness," remarked the priest.

Before he could answer, the artist approached followed by a group of critics and journalists. "This is my personal favorite," the artist was saying. "I made the original sketch with him watching, copied it and made notes because I knew I would eventually paint him."

"But why this particular man?" asked a reporter.

"Because he came to Rome for help. He was 'on the run' as they say in English. The Resistance arranged to meet with him. Koch followed and opened fire. That was the last I saw of him."

Unable to resist, Steven turned and faced him. The young man did a double take, looking from the painting to the man in the flesh. "My God, it's you!"

"Paolo Fabrini, you old dog. I thought you were dead."

Paolo gave Steven an emotional hug. "Steven, it's wonderful to see you again. You look fabulous." He turned and greeted Hugh. "Monsignor, I'm glad you could make it."

"Wait a sec, you guys know each other?"

Paolo looked at Hugh, surprised he hadn't told Steven. "The monsignor found me sketching at the Trevi and told me you lived. He then told me about his idea for helping Allied prisoners and asked me if I wanted to join him."

"Which you did." Steven shook his head. "I should have thought of that myself." He looked around at the paintings and sketches. "You've been doing well. How long did it take for you to get this arranged?"

"Monsignor O'Flaherty had a hand in that. He had seen my sketches and felt I deserved a showing."

Steven turned and looked at the priest for some explanation. "I had a few favors to call in. The talent is all Paolo's."

The press, whose pens had been scribbling throughout the exchange, stopped when three men walked into the gallery. Polizia. Around the world, they all seemed to dress alike. They strode purposefully towards Paolo, ignoring everyone else except Hugh, to whom they nodded. "Signore Fabrini, I am Inspector Ghiradelli and I would like to ask you some questions."

"Certainly, Inspector. This is about the forgeries, no? I'd like to say I had no part in any of that."

"I was not making any accusations, signore. We are making enquiries throughout the art community. Someone may have seen or heard something that could provide a clue."

Steven, who had been following this conversation in Italian, spoke. "Has any pattern formed? Who reported the thefts and how long did it take until they were recovered?"

Ghiradelli finally noticed Steven. "You sound experienced in this sort of thing."

Steven smiled. "I've been known to get involved with the police."

Hugh tried to hide a laugh as Paolo made the introductions. "Inspector, I'd like to introduce to you two friends from the war. Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty of the Vatican and Signore Steven Taylor--"

As with the guards at the Vatican, Steven's name acted like a charm. "Your reputation precedes you, Signore Taylor. Was it the art forgeries that brought you to Rome?"

"No, I only heard about them this morning. I'm willing to share any theories, though."

"I'll see what we can do." He became official again. "Signore Fabrini, I still need you to answer some questions."

"Such as?"

"Have you noticed any extra activity, buyers asking for certain works, artists making copies?"

"Young artists usually start out making copies of major works until they establish a style of their own. I heard once that Michaelangelo started out that way."

"I heard the same thing," said Hugh.

Ghiradelli had forgotten the priest was there. Hugh smiled. "If you do remember anything, call me."

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

Steven and Hugh returned to the Vatican by cab after saying good-bye to Paolo. "Why didn't you tell me you knew him?" Steven asked.

"I was waiting for you to bring his name up. I'd thought you'd forgotten about him with all the, um, excitement."

"I had the sketch he did of me framed. The thing was, I didn't know what happened to him."

"There's a lot of that going on," remarked Hugh as they walked across St. Peter's Square. "I need to stop and see someone first. I hope you don't mind."

"Fine. I get to see a bit more this way."

Steven followed the priest through the labyrinth of hallways, marveling at the glorious art found along the way. It was amazing that all these treasures were in one place. He was so engrossed in his surroundings that he bumped into Hugh who had stopped suddenly. "What's the matter?"

"We've company." Hugh moved to the side of the hall as a group of men in red vestments came their way. In the center of the group was an older man with thinning grey hair wearing simple white vestments. He stopped in front of Hugh and held out his hand. Hugh knelt and kissed the man's ring. Even without this show of obeisance, Steven knew that this was Pope Pius XII. He knew that Hugh would introduce him, but how was he, a Protestant, supposed to greet the head of the Catholic Church? Any show of fealty would go against all he had been taught.

Pius looked at the nervous man at the priest's side. "And who is your friend, Monsignor?" he asked.

"Your Holiness, this is Steven Taylor from America."

Steven bowed his head and hoped it wasn't an insult. Pius shook his hand. "The famous Steven Taylor. How good to meet you."

"Thank you, Your Holiness. It is an honor."

"And how are you enjoying your second visit to the Vatican?" Steven was amazed. How did he know about the last time? Sensing the source of Steven's puzzled look, the Pope explained. "Even though I did not meet you, Signore Taylor, I heard of your presence. There are not many things that go on here that I do not know of."

Steven smiled, taking an immediate liking to the man. "I hope I'll have a much more relaxed visit this time, Your Holiness."

The Pope smiled and moved on, the cardinals following, their robes billowing behind them. Hugh looked at Steven and grinned. "You handled yourself well, for a surprise audience with the Pope. Some people, even after months of coaching, mess up."

"I hope the bowing of my head was enough. I wasn't sure how to greet him."

"That was just fine."

"I still don't understand how he knew about me." Steven went on as they continued down the hall. "I never even saw him. You didn't say anything, did you?"

"No. It was just as he said. He knew all about my smuggling escaped POWs. He even talked to me about it once--not in as many words, of course."

"Of course."

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

The next morning Steven met Hugh in his rooms where the priest was having a light breakfast. "How were your prayers this morning?" Steven asked with a smile.

"I prayed for peace as I do every morning, and a stop to thievery. It seems they came a bit too late." He pointed to the newspaper on the table.

MORE PAINTINGS STOLEN
Three from Private Collection
The police received a call last night from the Ghilberti Palazzo on the outskirts of Rome with a report of three missing grand masters; a DaVinci cartoon, a Raphael Madonna, and a Titian portrait. The theft was discovered when the owner, Giacomo Ghilberti, returned home from a visit to Venice. Due to the recent rash of thefts, new alarm systems had been installed but were bypassed by the thief. Signore Ghilberti has posted a reward of 500,000 lira for the return of these paintings. Inspector Ghiradelli, who is in charge of the case, is pursuing every lead.



Steven looked up from the article. "Looks like our friend the inspector is in need of all the help he can get, Divine or otherwise."

"Are you offering your assistance?"

"I did that yesterday. If he wants my help, he knows where to fine me. Meanwhile..."

"Yes?" inquired Hugh, thinking Steven had a plan to discover the thief. Things had slowed down after the war.

"I think I'll have some of that toast. It smells delicious." Steven reached for the buttered toast.

There was a knock on the door. "Yes?" called Hugh.

The door opened and a porter came in. "Mi scusi, Monsignor, but there is a man here to see Signore Taylor. A policeman."

Hugh looked at Steven, who was smiling. "Certainly, let him in." The porter bowed and opened the door wider for Ghiradelli. "We were just talking about you, Inspector. Would you like some tea?"

"Ah, grazie." He took the proffered cup. "You do not seem surprised to see me, Monsignor."

"We read the paper."

"An unfortunate incident. I no longer know what to do. I am at what you call a dead stop."

"A dead end," corrected Steven.

"Yes, that is it. I need someone with a fresh view, a different perspective."

"So you came to me. I'm flattered, really I am, but I'm not an expert."

"Oh, we have those. It is for your knowledge of things illegal that I ask your help. I am sorry for sounding so crude, but you do know how the criminal mind works. If you do not wish to help, that is fine."

"I never said that." Steven sat there in silence, munching his toast. "I'll need to read all the back articles on the thefts, police records, see photos of the paintings, the actual work if possible."

"Mille grazie, signore. I could send a car for you if you wish."

"Why don't we go now? I'll need as much time as I can get if you want me to catch up on everything." He finished his coffee. "Coming, Hugh?"

"I can't. I need to hear confession today. I'll meet up with you later and you can feel me in on the details."

"Okay, see you later." Steven followed Ghiradelli out through St. Peter's Square to a waiting car that then drove off to the center of the city.

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

After spending hours looking through the police files on the stolen art, all the newspapers articles, photos, and expert reports, Steven felt likes his eyes were about to burst as well as his brain. There didn't seem to be any connections between the victims other than the fact that they were rich enough to have private collections and were out of the city at the time of the theft. The stolen property included Egyptian sculpture, Ming Dynasty porcelain, Renaissance masterpieces, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. The art was reported stolen and, about a couple of months later, recovered only to be forgeries. "Whoever is behind this has a great imagination."

"Scusi?" asked the inspector as he walked into the office.

"I was just saying that the person behind this has a fantastic mind to come up with this scheme. He also probably has plenty of artists forging those copies for him. They're too diverse and too many for just one."

"But where does he hide them? He must have a studio or someplace where they can work."

"I know. It would have to be somewhere nearby so they can begin right away. From what I understand, it's a very complicated process."

"Very true," said a new voice.

Steven turned to see Paolo. "What're you doing here?"

"The inspector needed some expert advice. Since I used to do a bit of copying myself--especially High Renaissance--I'd know the different styles."

"I am also expecting an expert on forgery to join us," said Ghiradelli. "He was rather easy for us to find as he was in one of our prisons."

"Doing a trade for time off?" asked Steven.

"Possibly."

There was a knock on the door and it opened on Ghiradelli's command. An officer came in escorting a man whom Steven placed in his mid-thirties. He looked the stereotypical Italian--dark-skinned, black hair, and brown eyes set in a charming face. A definite lady-killer. The man smiled upon seeing Ghiradelli. "A pleasure to see you, signore, in your place of business." He noticed Steven and Paolo. "Gentlemen."

"Steven Taylor, Paolo Fabrini, allow me to introduce Pietro Lorenzetti, our forgery expert."

The company awed Pietro. "You are the Steven Taylor?" he asked, pumping Steven's hand. "I am honored. And you, Signore Fabrini, your work is magnificent."

"Grazie, Signore Lorenzetti."

"Pietro, please."

"Quite a little group you've put together here, Inspector. The cop, the artist, and the forger."

"Don't forget yourself, signore. You will provide insight to the criminal mastermind."

"Gee, thanks."

"I am having a room set up were we can set up all our information. While that is being done, Signores Fabrini and Lorenzetti can examine the forgeries we have in our possession."

"What about me?"

"You, Signore Taylor, can accompany me on a visit to the Ghilberti palazzo."

II


Ghiradelli pulled the car through the gateway and drove into the courtyard. Steven stared openly at the palace. The policeman smiled. "The palazzo has been in the Ghilberti family for generations. I will do the talking, yes? The Ghilbertis as well-respected here and I do not wish to upset him."

"Sure thing," said Steven as the mounted the steps to the front door. "I'm only the consultant."

Ghiradelli rang the doorbell and the butler answered it. "I am Inspector Ghiradelli and I would like to see Signore Ghilberti."

"Si, signore. If you will follow me, I will let Signore Ghilberti know you are here."

Steven followed the butler and Ghiradelli to the drawing room, noting works of art that had been left untouched. He continued his "inventory" after the butler left them. Ghiradelli watched him. "It is surprising that the thieves went for such large pieces, bypassing such easier things to conceal."

"Like they were stealing to order," remarked Steven.

"But that would mean they knew exactly what was here." Steven didn't answer.

"Inspector Ghiradelli, I hope you have some news for me." Steven looked to the doorway and saw a tall man wearing a tailored grey suit, white silk shirt, and a grey silk tie. He looked to Steven to be in his late 40s or early 50s, with grey at the temples.

"Nothing new, I'm afraid, Signore Ghilberti," he replied in Italian. "I've brought in someone who might be able to help."

Ghilberti finally noticed Steven, who was standing off to the side. "You seem very familiar. Have we met before?"

"No, I think I would have remembered, Signore Ghilberti. My name is Steven Taylor." Ghilberti showed no signs of recognition and Steven didn't know whether to be insulted or amused.

Ghiradelli smiled inwardly as he spoke. "Signore Taylor is an expert of thefts. When I heard he was here visiting friends, I asked him if he would lend a hand."

"You are a criminologist, signore?"

"It's merely a hobby. I've helped the New York Police as well as Scotland Yard. I just need to see where the paintings were hanging, the layout of the house, and the perimeter. Oh, yeah, and the alarm system."

"Certainly, Signore Taylor. I will show you myself." The butler returned and whispered discreetly by Ghilberti's ear. "I'm so sorry, Signore Taylor, but something has come up."

"Signore Ghilberti, I can show Signore Taylor," said Ghiradelli. Ghilberti dismissed them with a wave and a nod. "We'll start with the DaVinci and the Titian."

"What about the Raphael?"

"That took pride of place in his 'grand hall'."

"Show me that first. Odds are, it probably had the strongest security."

"You'd be right." Ghiradelli led Steven across the foyer into an immense rectangular room complete with wood-paneled walls, crystal chandeliers, and a molded ceiling. "Grand Hall" was an understatement. An empty space on the wall showed where the masterpiece had been. Upon closer inspection, Steven spotted small dots lining the wall around the space. He nodded. Heat sensors. He tentatively reached out a hand.

Ghiradelli caught the hesitation. "The system is turned off." He smiled as he watched Steven run his fingers along the sensors.

"Pretty advanced stuff." He handled the hook. The bit of wall around it moved. "Weighted. If the thief could get past the heat sensors and shifted the weight of the painting, the alarms would go off."

"The others had a similar arrangement. Follow me, I'll show you." Ghiradelli took Steven into the library and let him examine the wall where the DaVinci rested and then to Ghilberti's private study where the Titian had been.

"There had to be inside knowledge. Was the alarm in operation?"

"That was the first thing checked when we arrived and it was on."

"Very interesting." Steven walked to examine the window. "Are the perimeters included in the alarm?"

"Yes, both doors and windows." Ghiradelli watched as Steven walked around the room, examining the floor for any possible clues that the police might have missed.

He walked out into the hall, into the foyer just as the front door opened and a young woman with long chestnut hair entered, and looked disdainfully upon the man who was snooping about her house. "Who are you and what are you doing in my home?"

"A thousand pardons, signorina," he said. "I was not aware of doing anything wrong."

Ghiradelli heard their voices and came out to explain. "Mi scusi, Signorina Ghilberti. My associate and I were just leaving. I apologize if his presence gave you a fright."

"Prego, Inspector. I was startled, is all. Good day to you both." She walked past them to the drawing room.

Ghiradelli ushered Steven out of the house and into the car. "Who was she?" he asked.

"That was Angelina Ghilberti, the daughter of the house."

"Quite a pretty thing, too."

"She's a bit above your station, signore. She spent the war years at a private school in Geneva."

"I've rubbed shoulders with royalty, she should be no problem."

"Just don't let your pursuit of her interfere with the investigation."

Upon their return to the police station, Steven and Ghiradelli met up with Paolo and Pietro. Steven was ready to discuss their findings immediately, but Ghiradelli made him wait until they reached the room that had been set aside for them. Once the door was closed, Steven turned and asked, "Well, what did you find out?"

"First class forgery," said Paolo. "They did an ideal job of copying Monet's style. Makes me a bit jealous. Mine were never that good."

"That's when you found your own style," remarked Steven.

"The canvas was aged just the right degree and the pigments were perfect--except for the blue."

"So the forgeries were good enough to pass the standards of the owners who are eager enough to have them back and don't care, but not enough to pass the diligent tests of true connoisseurs."

"Now that we know what was done, we need to discover why," said Ghiradelli.

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

Angelina knocked on the door to her father's study before entering. He was on the telephone but nodded. She sat in one of the chairs facing his desk and watched as he handled the business call. The war had changed him. He very rarely smiled and never laughed. Now, to have this theft...

Giacomo replaced the receiver and looked at his daughter. "How were the shops?"

"Nothing new, Papa. The fashion world has much catching-up to do."

"Another drawback of war."

"Papa, when I came home, there was a strange young man in the foyer. Inspector Ghiradelli said he was with him."

"Yes, an expert he brought along to help with the investigation. American, I believe."

"I would not have guessed by his Italian. Do you know his name?"

Ghilberti tried to remember the name of the man who meant so little to his life, wondering why it meant so much to his daughter. "Steven Taylor, I believe it was."

"Really?" Angelina was surprised. "How very interesting."

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

Ghiradelli knew something had to break soon. There had to be some connection. This couldn't be just random theft. "These aren't occurring by chance," said Steven. "This has been too well-planned, too organized." Ghiradelli looked at Steven in amazement--was he psychic as well? "Hey, pull over. That's Hugh."

Ghiradelli parked the car at the curb near the priest and both got out. Steven walked up beside him. "Hugh, what are you doing here? I thought you were hearing confession?"

"I was on my way to the Regina Coeli Prison. You don't seem surprised."

"Why should I be? When I first saw you, you were doing the same thing at a POW camp."

"Yes, well, this particular inmate is Herbert Kappler."

"Kappler? Monsignor, isn't that the Nazi colonel who tried to arrest you?" asked Ghiradelli.

"It was his job."

"Will you two please fill me in? Who is this Kappler guy?"

"Kappler was head of the Gestapo in Rome. He made it his main objective to stop me. However, when the Americans were getting closer, he asked me to get his family safely out of the country."

"Which you did."

"Of course. There was no need for his family to be involved."

"Nazis," Steven murmured. "Of course."

"What?" asked Ghiradelli.

"A possible connection. Would either of you be able to find out if any of the victims were collaborators? These could be acts of revenge."

"It's a possibility. Not all of them were known. I can do some digging."

"You do that. Check with Pietro and Paolo. They might know something."

"What about you?"

"I'm going to confession."

"Steven, you can't come and hear his confession." Hugh was adamant.

"Relax, Hugh. I just want to meet him."

"It'll be quite a letdown after meeting the Big Five," Hugh remarked.

It took Steven a moment to realize that Hugh was referring to Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, and Bormann. "If you'd rather I didn't come..."

"I know I couldn't stop you even if I tried."

Steven smiled and turned to Ghiradelli. "See what information you can dig up and I'll call you later."

"Right. Take care." Ghiradelli got back into his car and drove off.

Steven followed Hugh into the prison where the priest walked without pausing to the area where Kappler was kept. The guard recognized him and was ready to let him pass until he saw Steven. "He's with me," Hugh said.

"We are not allowed to let anyone in without authorization, Monsignor."

"Signor Taylor wants to meet Col. Kappler."

"I'm sorry, Monsignor."

"That's all right, you have your orders." He turned to Steven. "Too bad, Steven, I tried."

"You are Steven Taylor?" asked the guard.

"Yes." Steven looked at Hugh, who shrugged.

"Well, I guess it will be all right to let you in. After all, you're not likely to free a Nazi prisoner, are you?"

Steven didn't know what to say, so he just smiled and nodded as the guard led them down the corridor. They stopped outside a cell and the guard unlocked the door. "I'll be outside if you need me, Monsignor."

"I don't think that will be necessary, but thank you." The priest walked into the cell with Steven at his heels as the guard locked the door behind them.

The cell was larger than Steven had expected. There was room for a bed, desk, and chair without it being too crowded. There was a barred and screened window high in the wall. The man sitting at the desk rose to greet the priest. "It is good to see you again, Monsignor. I look forward to these visits. You've even brought company."

"Yes. A friend of mine who wanted to meet you. Colonel Herbert Kappler, may I introduce Mr. Steven Taylor. Steven Taylor, Col. Herbert Kappler."

"An honor, Herr Oberst." The colonel's handshake was firm and the picture he presented impressed Steven. Even though he had been in prison for close to a year, he still exuded authority in spite of the possibility that he would be there for the rest of his life.

"I have heard much about you, Herr Taylor, first from Pietro Koch when I took over the police, and then through contacts in Berlin. You would have been quite a challenge had our times in Rome overlapped."

"I'm flattered, Herr Oberst, but I think Hugh provided you with enough excitement."

"That he did. Who would have thought it by looking at him?" Kappler smiled and Steven could see that a genuine friendship had grown between these former adversaries.

"I told Steven that he was responsible," remarked Hugh, "but he refuses to accept it."

"You had all the means at your disposal and were willing to use them to help me escape. When I decided to go back to Germany, you used them to help others."

"What made you decide to go back to Germany once you had the chance to go home?" asked Kappler.

"I knew that I had to help my country any way I could."

"That is what I mean. You could have stayed with the Monsignor in the Vatican or you could have gone to London or Washington."

"I felt that the sooner the Allies could receive word of Hitler's plans the better, and I was the only one who could do it. Upon my return to Berlin, I knew Himmler and Canaris didn't trust me, but Hitler did and that was the important thing. I'm sorry to speak of them in that manner in front of you."

"I know you don't mean any insult."

Steven looked at Hugh and knew it was time to take his leave. "I think it's about time I let you two get on with your visit. It was an honor, Herr Oberst." Steven shook his hand and knocked on the door for the guard to let him out. "I'll see you later, Hugh." Steven waved and walked down the corridor and outside into the fresh air of the evening.

He started walking down the street with plans to stop at the first restaurant he found since the only food he had eaten all day was his quick breakfast with Hugh. He heard someone call out, but kept walking. "Signore!" This call was more insistent so he stopped and looked around. He saw a woman with chestnut hair in a red convertible wave at him. He pointed to himself questioningly and the girl nodded. He walked over to the curb, and, as the car pulled up, he realized it was Angelina Ghilberti. "Signore, I would like to apologize for my poor behavior earlier by taking you to dinner."

"There is no need for you to apologize, Signorina Ghilberti. You didn't know me and saw only a stranger in your house."

"Ah, but I know you now, Signore Taylor." She smiled.

"You know my reputation, more like. Well, as I'm on my way to dinner anyway, I'll take you up on your offer."

"Wonderful. Get in." Steven climbed into the car and had barely closed the door before she was whipping down the crowded road, making free use of her horn. "I know this wonderful little taverna that makes fabulous saltimbocca."

She was right. The taverna was quaint and intimate, right down to the red-checked tablecloths and candles in old Chianti bottles. Angelina told him it was a family-run business and that she came here all the time. As if to back up her statement, a young waiter saw her and smiled--he would have waved but for the tray of dishes in his hands.

An older woman greeted them. "Ah, Angelina, come sta?"

"Bene, grazie, Signora Palermo. Questo e il mio amico, Signore Taylor."

Steven smiled and shook her hand. "Piacere di conoscerla, Signora Palermo."

Signora Palermo smiled, and, as she led them to a table in a secluded corner of the restaurant, Steven heard her say, "E un bell'uomo."

After Signora Palermo left them, Steven asked, "Do you always bring handsome men here?"

"Oh, you heard that?" She sounded somewhat embarrassed.

"My eyes were affected by the war, not my ears."

"Well, I have been here before with some male friends and they were the ones with the romantic thoughts." The waiter who had smiled earlier came over and asked if they were ready to order. "Do you know what you want?"

"Since you know the menu, you pick."

Angelina smiled. "Okay, Cesare, tell your father we want two of his best saltimbocca with mixed salad."

"A bottle of wine?"

"White, I think."

"Very good, signorina."

"I feel very confident knowing that you are helping to track down our art," she said when Cesare had gone.

"What does your father think?"

"Your name meant nothing to him, I'm afraid. Was it the thefts that brought you to Rome?"

"No." Steven explained his involvement in the case one more time. "It seems I can't stay away from trouble."

"Maybe it's Fate." Cesare returned with the wine and salads. "Do you have any leads?"

"I should have known you had an ulterior motive." He took a sip of his one. "As a matter-of-fact, we do have some leads but I'm not at liberty to discuss them."

"Even though they belong to my family?"

"I'm sorry, Angelina. I can tell you this much, however. The thief knew how the alarm systems in each house worked and where the main box was located which means that he is someone who has access to the homes."

"Meaning that it was--what's the phrase? --an inside job?"

"Could be. Why don't we put that behind us for the rest of the night and act like Signora Palermo would expect, all right?"

"All right."

The saltimbocca lived up to Angelina's recommendation and Cesare kept coming over to see how everything was. Angelina praised him for his conscientious service, but Steven felt that he was just trying to find out what they were doing in order to tell the rest of the family back in the kitchen. After a dessert of ice cream and fruit, they left the taverna and a smiling Palermo family behind them.

As they drove through the city at night, Steven couldn't help but compare it to the last time when he was a man wanted by the Fascists, hiding in the shadows. "It's hard to believe that it was three years ago."

"What was that?" asked Angelina.

"Sorry, I was just thinking about the last time I was here. There was a curfew and no one was allowed out after dark. It was a totally different city."

"After I graduated from school in Switzerland, Father insisted I stay there."

"Smart thinking on his part. It must have been tough on you, though, constantly wondering what was going on. What did you do?"

"I didn't just sit around."

"Oh, no, of course not."

"I wanted to do whatever I could to help Italy."

"So you joined the Resistance."

"I wasn't an agent, I was a radio operator and helped pass on information. That's when I learned about you. Information from France, England, Italy, and even Germany painted quite a picture of you."

"A flattering one, I hope."

"Very. You even live up to it."

"If you keep this up, I'll get a swelled head." He yawned.

"Are you tired?"

"Sorry. Please don't think it's the company. I've just had a busy day."

"Where are you staying?"

"The Vatican."

"Seriously?"

"Yep. A war buddy arranged for my accommodations."

"Care to tell me about it?"

He related the story of how he met Hugh and "inspired" him to help POWs and Jews escape the country. "Amazing," she said. "Sounds like something Hollywood made up."

"It's all true."

She stopped at St. Peter's Square. "I had a wonderful time tonight."

"Me, too."

"Do you think we could get together again?"

"I'm not sure. It depends on the investigation. I'll call you when I can." He gave her a kiss. "Arrivederci, bella." He got out of the car and walked across the square, stopping halfway to turn and wave good-bye before continuing.

He knocked on Hugh's door. "Come in."

"Hello, Hugh." He noted that the priest was wearing pajamas and a robe. "I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, I was just doing some reading. Come in. Sit down." Steven made himself comfortable on the couch. "You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What happened to you after you left the prison?"

"I was picked up by a woman and taken to dinner."

"That explains the idiotic grin on your face. Who was she?"

"The beautiful Angelina Ghilberti. You know, she worked for the Resistance in Switzerland as a radio operator, so she said. She certainly knew how to pump for information."

"You didn't tell her anything about your investigation, did you?"

"Oh, just enough to appease her. I did some pumping of my own, so I'd call it even." He stood. "I just thought I'd stop by and let you know that I was all right so you'd stop worrying like a parent--not that I don't appreciate it."

"You probably have your own flock of guardian angels, so I don't worry for you as much as I would for someone else," said the priest with a smile. "Oiche mhaith dhuit, Steven."

"Go mba he dhuit, Hugh."

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

The following morning, Steven took the tram into the heart of the city and entered the police station with authority. The officer at the desk was about to stop him then recognized him. "Ah, Signore Taylor. Inspector Ghiradelli is expecting you."

"Steven then made his way to the operations room where Ghiradelli and Pietro were waiting. "Good morning, gentlemen," he said with a smile.

Ghiradelli and Pietro exchanged glances. He was sounding like a man in love. "You sound awfully pleased with yourself," remarked Pietro.

"Why not? I had a marvelous time last night."

Ghiradelli poured him a cup of coffee. "What's her name?"

She took me out for dinner to this quaint little taverna," he continued as if he hadn't heard. "She said it was to apologize for her earlier behavior."

"No?" Ghiradelli knew.

"Who?" asked Pietro, still in the dark.

"The bella Signorina Ghilberti."

"It sounds like you have made another conquest," said Paolo as he joined them. "Though by the looks of you, you're more like the conquered."

"What news have you got for us?" asked Ghiradelli.

"Nothing substantiated, mind, but there were quite a few rumors linking these men with the Nazis."

"I heard some similar rumors myself," added Pietro. "They did it mainly to keep their villas from being torn apart--including the art collections."

"Which are now being taken away by one of their own," remarked Steven, his thoughts back on the case.

"Since there have been no ransom notes, I think it's safe to say that it wasn't done for the money."

"I'd agree that's safe thinking."

"So, what if the whole object of the thefts is to embarrass them, to bring this all out into the open?"

"You're saying that these thefts were done for morals and not money?" asked Pietro.

"It doesn't sound all that ridiculous," said Paolo. "We just have to find a way to get them to admit it."

"That's not going to be easy," remarked Steven. "After all, they've kept it secret during the war when people were on the look-out for that type of activity."

"As far as I know, there are no laws that I can enforce in this situation. If we can somehow get them to admit it to us, that might be good enough for our thief."

"Well, we'd have to work fast. I wouldn't be surprised if our thief is planning another job," said Pietro.

"I've notified all private citizens with great works of art not to leave the city until the thief is caught." Ghiradelli sat on the edge of the table. "What I propose is that we divide into pairs and interview the victims."

"Have you decided on the pairings?" asked Steven.

"Yes. I will be with Signore Lorenzetti. This way there will be a criminologist and an art expert together."

"And I thought you just liked my company," remarked Pietro.

"I don't. I can keep an eye on you this way." He took out a sheet of paper, which he tore in half, giving the top piece to Steven. "Here is your part of the list. I've tried to group them based on general location."

"How close are they to public transport?" asked Steven. "I took the tram."

"That's all right, I've got my car." Paolo looked at the list. "We can park in a central location then walk to each villa."

"Good. We meet back here at 4:00," Ghiradelli told them.

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

After two interviews with very defensive millionaires, Steven was ready to turn it all in. "Thank God there's only one more. It can't be any worse."

"At least we've made progress," said Paolo. "They admitted they were collaborators."

"But we're not any closer as to who's behind it all." They stopped in front of the villa's gates. "What works were taken?"

Paolo checked the list. "A Rembrandt, a Durer, and some Egyptian jewelry."

"Quite the eclectic, is our Signore Marzetti." He rang the bell. When a voice over the intercom asked what they wanted, Steven replied, "We're here from the police. We'd like to speak with Signore Marzetti."

There was a buzz and the gate unlocked. The two made their way to the front door where a butler was waiting to escort them to Marzetti. They were welcomed into the drawing room by an older man with dark grey hair and shoulders beginning to stoop. "Signores, please, some in. You are police?"

"Not exactly, Signore Marzetti. We are part of a special task force organized by Inspector Ghiradelli to solve the art thefts. I am Paolo Fabrini and this is Steven Taylor."

Marzetti shook their hands. "I don't know what else I can tell you that I haven't told the inspector."

"We think we may have discovered the motive behind the thefts, but we need confirmation from you," said Paolo.

Steven looked around the room and saw the empty frame. "Is that were the Rembrandt hung?"

"Yes."

"Do you mind if I look around?"

"Certainly, Signore Taylor, though I don't know what you will find."

Steven wandered around the room, taking in the remaining works of art as well as the alarm system that failed to protect the others. He ran his fingers along the frame as he listened to Paolo explain to Marzetti. The backing felt abnormally thick. He tilted the frame away from the wall and peered behind it. There was a little something extra attached to it.

"How dare you?" shouted Marzetti. "That is a very serious accusation."

"We are not here to judge, Signore Marzetti," said Steven, coming to Paolo's rescue.

"Why are you asking such questions?"

"We just need proof of a motive. We think someone who knows your secret is perpetrating these thefts. We just need some sort of confirmation."

"Yes, but if it comes to trial, it will come into the open."

"We'll try and avoid that if possible. It's your secret and, if you decide to tell us, it won't go any further than that."

Marzetti was quiet for a moment as if trying to decide what to do. "I have heard of you, Signore Taylor and know you will keep my secret. I was reluctant, but I knew if I didn't cooperate, they would kill my daughter. Later, they threatened my next precious thing--my collection."

"You said 'later'. What happened to your daughter?" asked Paolo.

"Without my knowledge, she had joined the Resistance and was killed."

"I'm truly sorry. I knew a lot of people who were killed with the Resistance."

"I even remember the day: July 17, 1943."

Steven looked at Paolo, who nodded. "I know, Signore Marzetti. I was there."

"You knew my Sophia?"

"I never knew her name, but I felt that she was very dedicated in her beliefs." Steven thought it best not to say that Sophia was killed that day because of him.

"Yes, that is what made it so much harder for me, but you must understand that my grandfather started this collection and my father and I have added to it. I couldn't bear to see it in the hands of the Germans."

Paolo stood. "Thank you for confiding in us, Signore Marzetti. We will do our best to see your art returned to you with the least amount of fuss."

After saying their good-byes, Steven and Paolo walked back to the car. "You should have been a diplomat, Paolo. You handled all these guys beautifully. I would have lost my temper ages ago."

"Maybe that's why Ghiradelli paired us," Paolo smiled. "C'mon, we should have time for a quick coffee before we meet with the others."

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

That night, Steven decided to walk around the square to clear his thoughts. He told the guards at the gate his plans so they would know he was out there.

As he wandered amongst Bernini's columns, he let his mind mull over what he had learned that day. All the targets had collaborated with the Germans, although not all of them were pressured like Marzetti. That seemed to be the only connection. The others were still upset over not knowing where the original works were, but he had his own theory on that. He had no knowledge as to why yet, but whoever did do it would have needed to feel right at home. "Christ! What a fool I've been!" Realizing how inappropriate that remark was, "Sorry," he whispered, "got a little carried away."

He heard a rustling and turned in time for a figure to thrust a blade into his chest. The man seemed just as surprised and ran off. Steven attempted to chase him, but was too weak and collapsed against one of the columns then slid to the ground, unconscious, yet still holding the wound.

III


"Have you seen Signore Taylor?" asked one of the Swiss Guards.

"No, but he could be hidden behind one of the columns."

"I've been watching and saw him cross the square, but that was close to two hours ago. I'm going to look for him." The other guard shrugged and the first went down along the colonnade where he had last seen Steven.

He was about to give up when he saw the figure sprawled against a column. Thinking him to be asleep, he approached quietly. "Signore Taylor, would you like help back to your rooms?" When there was no response, he walked closer, ran the beam of his flashlight over the body, and saw the hilt of the blade sticking out from between Steven's bloodstained fingers. "Aiuto! C'e stato un incidente!" he cried out.

The other guard came running. "Che cosa e successo?"

"He's been stabbed. Call for an ambulance then notify Monsignor O'Flaherty." Once his companion had left on his mission, the guard took off his coat and draped it carefully over Steven's shoulders, then crossed himself and prayed.

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

The light was invading his eyes. He tried to fight it but lost the battle. He slowly opened his eyes and found himself staring at a white ceiling. Then it all came back to him. His hand moved to his chest and he felt the bandage under his pajamas. He turned his head and saw Hugh. "I guess my flock of guardian angels looked away for a second."

"Steven, you're awake! How're you feeling?"

"Still a little groggy." He had a hard time trying to talk. "How long have I been out?"

"Three days. You lost a lot of blood and the doctors were worried that you might not make it."

Ghiradelli walked into the room and smiled when he saw Steven. "Some people would do anything to get out of an investigation. How are you feeling?"

"It hurts when I laugh." He smiled. "Have you had any luck with the investigation?"

"None to speak of. I'm going to need a description of the man who attacked you. There's a good chance he can lead us to the thief."

"I can't really give you one. It was dark and I only faced him for a second, and even then, I was watching the knife. Even if I could, I doubt you'd find him." Steven pulled himself into a sitting position. "I do have a theory I'd like to put into action if I could get out of here."

Ghiradelli and Hugh exchanged glances. "I'll see what I can do," said Ghiradelli, "but, not matter what, you abide by the rules."

"Yes, sir!" Steven gave him a smile and Hugh laughed.

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

"I don't know how you did it, but thank you for getting me out of there. I've always been the kind who has to be where the action is."

Ghiradelli pulled the car into the Ghilberti courtyard. "Once this investigation is over, you are to rest. We don't need you to have a relapse."

"Oui, mon capitain. Sorry, wrong language." He opened the door and slowly climbed out of the car. He was stiff and sore, but tried not to show it on his face. "Is everyone here?"

"As you requested. I wish you would let me in on your plan."

"Just watch faces while I speak to check their reactions."

The butler led them into the drawing room where all the victims of the thefts had been gathered. Paolo and Pietro were also there. Angelina came rushing over. "Steven, are you all right? I heard what happened."

"It could have been worse. I'm all right, thanks."

"Here, let me get you a seat," said Pietro, coming forward with a chair.

"No, thanks. I've been sitting or lying down for three days now. Standing up will make a great change." That drew a few smiles and broke the tension a little.

"I am sorry to have pulled you from whatever appointments you may have had today, but my colleague, Signore Taylor has a theory that he would like to work out in front of all of us." There were quite a few murmurs, but no one said anything outright.

Steven walked around the room. "Now, we all figured that the thief had inside knowledge on the alarm and what items to take. He also took only the canvases that would be easier to hide. The next step was to discover motive. After a conversation with another friend, I thought of the Nazis and possible collaboration. If that were the case, what group would have access to that information as well as knowledge on how to bypass the alarms? The Resistance." Steven looked around the room at all the faces gathered. Nothing. If that didn't startle them, this next bit would. "When I was at Signore Marzetti's, I made an interesting discovery, but didn't realize what it was until that night when I was strolling St. Peter's Square. As you all know, I had no chance to tell Inspector Ghiradelli my theory until today." He paused dramatically.

"What? Don't keep us in suspense," Paolo told him.

"I'll show you instead." He crossed the foyer into the great hall, the others following. He made his way to the frame that had held the Raphael. "We need to take the frame down. I'd do it myself, but..."

Ghiradelli took one side of the frame. "Pietro, can you get the other side?"

Pietro lent a hand and Steven had them place it facedown on a table. He then took his knife from its sheath and gently ripped the backing paper to reveal the gentle face of a saintly Madonna and Child. "Quod erat demostrandum."

"But how? Why?" asked Ghilberti.

"Perhaps the thief only meant to give the threat of stealing," said Paolo.

"Right," said Steven. "He merely turned the painting around and covered it with brown paper to give the illusion that it was missing. That is why the copies were so easily found. It added credence to the so-called theft."

"Why 'so-called'?" asked Marzetti.

"Since the art was not physically removed, there was no theft."

"Then why go through all the trouble?"

"As we guessed, the connection between all of you was your collaboration. This was most probably a ploy to make you think about what you did and do something to ease your conscience."

"That's a splendid idea," said Angelina. "Papa, perhaps you can arrange a showing of the collection at a gallery or museum."

"After all, you did risk your reputation for them. All of you did," said Paolo.

Ghiradelli looked at Steven, who nodded. "I'd like to thank you all for your time and I am sorry for the inconvenience. I'm sure you are all anxious to restore your art to its rightful place."

"Thank you, Inspector, Signore Taylor," said Marzetti, and the others echoed his sentiment.

"But what of the person who did this?" asked Ghilberti. "We can't just let him think he's gotten away with it."

"If we pursue this further and arrested him, there would be a great possibility that it would have to go to court," replied Ghiradelli.

"If that happened, we would have to supply a motive. Would you want your secret revealed?"

"Since you put it that way... Thank you, Inspector Ghiradelli, Signore Taylor." Ghilberti left the great hall in order to restore his other treasures.

"I have to go file my report. Thank you all for your help. Give me a call before you leave and maybe we can have dinner under more tranquil circumstances."

"Grazie, Inspector."

"Arturo, please." Ghiradelli shook his hand and left.

Feeling a little weak, Steven lowered himself into a chair, finally able to relax. Angelina, Pietro, and Paolo followed suit. "How did you know that the paintings were never taken?" asked Pietro.

"As I said, when I was at Marzetti's, I felt around a frame and the backing seemed thicker than normal. I didn't figure out who did it until later that night."

"You know? Why didn't you tell Ghiradelli?" Angelina asked.

"You heard what he said, no charges were filed. It would be a waste of time. Besides, your motives were pure." Paolo couldn't believe his ears, but kept quiet.

"It was hard when I heard about Sophia. She and I had been good friends. I think she knew about her father, but after her death, he still helped the Nazis."

"I think I understand--"

"How could you? You never even met Sophia!"

"As a matter-of-fact, I did. I was there that night and so was Paolo."

"But why the art?" asked Paolo.

"It seemed that they held their collections in higher regard than their families or even their honor. It was to make them realize how easy it was for them to be stolen. I had copies made so they would truly believe them stolen."

"Yes, Pietro's work was quite good. The added irony was Ghiradelli having him join the investigation. You met through Underground contacts, right?"

"You are good, Signore Taylor," remarked Pietro with true admiration.

"I bet you wish you did a better job wielding that knife."

"Pietro? You were the one who tried to kill him?" Angelina was shocked.

"You heard what he said. He didn't know anything until that point. Everything would have worked out. It was for you, for us."

"I didn't want any violence. That's why we never actually took the paintings." She looked at Steven. "You must believe me."

"Oh, I do. Murder would have just called attention to your little scheme. You knew nothing would happen but neglected to inform your help, so he took matters into his own hands."

"And now I'll finish the job!" Pietro moved towards him with a knife, but Paolo caught him by the hand.

"I don't think so."

"Have you got him?" Steven asked.

"Yes." Paolo squeezed Pietro's hand and the latter dropped the knife. "I'll take him to Ghiradelli."

"Great." He felt a little twinge.

"Are you all right?"

"Why don't you just take me back to the Vatican. I'm feeling a little tired."

"I'll take you," said Angelina. "If there is anything else I can do..?"

"If I'm feeling better tomorrow, we can all go on a tour of the city. I'm still behind on my sightseeing."

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