The Heart Bleeds Ice
All original characters and situations copyright 2005 - 2010 the author. All non-original characters and situations copyright Ian Fleming Publications Limited.
This is a work of fan fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead or real incidents is coincidental.
1. A Marriage of Inconvenience
Naples he had never cared for and, in the manner in which its persistent May rain had assaulted him as he had crossed the Piazza del Plebiscito, James Bond knew the feeling to be mutual.
For him, there existed cities with no – for want of a better word – character: Helsinki, Innsbruck and, particularly now, Geneva, once alma mater but since rendered an unlovely, anonymous and overpriced transit lounge of passionless consensus in which all nations gather but never unite, ever on the point of departing. Then there lived those that had distinctiveness, where upon landing the educated traveller should know that he was no place else: London, Paris, New York, all with energies particular to themselves.
And there was Naples.
To Bond, it was a bruise of a place, self-glorying in a reputation of bestial hardness that the reality fought viciously to maintain, no quarter given. Twice before he had been sent and twice before overwhelmed by its unleashed chaos, the whole city in its absurd day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, fist-to-knife nature appearing to accept – and knuckle into one - that sense, cordiality, structure have no place and are ultimately irrelevant fripperies when the whole fetid mass could be swept boiling into the sea. As a result, the city dictated a threatening temporariness to everything: its ugly buildings and, especially, the ugly lives within them. It valued nothing for it had nothing to value. Should Milan be Italy’s bright young thing and Rome its grand lady, then Naples is its illiterate, remorseless thug: not a city to meet in a dark alleyway.
Nor anywhere, thought Bond, as he gazed listlessly through the steam-dripped windows of the Caffe Gambrinus at the warm wind scudding peaked waves through the puddles of the square. Not much of a view, but even so he did not turn to face inwards; the excited chatter that stabbed him from behind suggested enough of what he was missing: waiters balancing plates precariously along their arms and pretending to acknowledge new orders; the customers indulging in frenzied and animated conversations: wild speculations born over dangerously rich, sickly sfogliatelle, gestating grudges fuelled by ristretti, older grudges reconciled over a shared caffettiera. The gilded mirrors just irresponsible bystanders, encouraging it all.
Bond had seen enough. He had not wanted to come and he was damned if he was going to participate. Deliberately, he had sat at the counter that ran along the front windows of the Gambrinus and ordered his coffee with as little ceremony as he could muster. Which had proved to be very little indeed. He had even successfully ignored the fussy little waiter’s demand to remove his steaming raincoat.
However, he thought, at least this visit to Naples was not his mistake. To have come voluntarily and expected wonders would have been worse than being sent, expecting none. But the being sent had its own sting…
Damn it to Hell, where was the man?
To be dragged here on no greater evidence of a threat to Britain than the mere guesswork about her husband’s infidelity possessed – and shared, noisily - by the woman at the table behind him.
To be dragged here, into the mezzogiorno, from the comforts of the Gritti Palace…
To be dragged here from her…
He lit his fifteenth cigarette of the day, drinking deep on the smoke to make it burn his throat to wake him: little success. Bored, he whirled the grinds of his ‘stretto around the absurdly delicate cup and rested his unshaven chin on his left fist. Staring into the gloomy morning, he wondered whether she would wait for him.
Diverting his bitterness, he cast his eye over his damp Il Mattino. From what he could bother himself to understand, the world – or at least the country – had joined him in despondency: a motor strike in Turin, a church in Positano falling on some unfortunates who had sought its protection, a lengthy and futile letter decrying the state of the traffic along Spaccanapoli. Bleat, so much bleat.
Exhaling languidly, he abandoned the yesterdays of people he would never know and stared at the raindrops running down the window in front of him. In the haphazard quickslowquickquick journey of one of them, he occupied his memory in seeing the path cut by the concierge through the dining tables at the Gritti, the white telegram card aloft. The raindrop turned left; no, not for the young honeymooning Americans enjoying their last luxuries before nights in Venice’s finest hotel turned into sleepless ones worrying about a mortgage. The raindrop shot right; and no, despite his seeking the concierge’s attention, for whatever reason, the message was not intended for the middle-aged cravatted Englishman Bond thought he recognised from some amusing scandal, nor was it for the man’s youthful companion whom Bond doubted as a son. Straight on down the raindrop continued and still, however much she held out her arm for it, a pitiably wretched sight that screamed her solitude, the fox-furred and lonely Swiss dowager was to be disappointed yet again. Doubtless a life replete with such miseries.
The raindrop came on down, direct, unstumbling and quick, the concierge having spotted Bond and, absentmindedly, just as he had reached for the telegram, Bond stretched out his fingertip to meet the water as it hit the base of the pane and spread its content.
He drummed his fingers on the counter-top.
In truth, the moment he had looked up from the menu, and although meaning to attempt something sincere by way of conversation with the girl, he had noted the man zigzagging his way through the tables at the far side of the overdecorated room and had known, with dread instinct, that the message would be for him. The concierge’s progress had been remorseless and still Bond had watched him come: it was the sensation that he had felt that evening on the bridge of the Chichester in ’42, watching the torpedo cutting through the water towards him, nowhere to turn, nothing but the inevitable…
The telegram was unmistakable in origin, brevity and meaning.
Storms in the Channel; probable Blizzard. No return journey needed if contact Masaniello Gambrinus Naples tomorrow 11 a.m. Lightning still possible. Ring to confirm safe passage. No postcard necessary.
As direct a hit as if written in that damned green ink M insisted on inflicting on his staff. As he had read it for a second time before tipping the waiter and, ensuring that the now doomed-to-be-fleeting Luciana was reading the menu, before submitting the card to the candleflame, Bond’s mind had seen the old bastard sitting at his desk, devising the wording of the message to chastise him for daring to have a holiday. Take leave, will you?
The gratitude M had expressed three days previously for Bond’s work in getting his chief out of an active threat to his own position over the Stendahl matter was conspicuous by its absence. Bond wondered whether he should have played his own hand longer so that the old man would have been more forgiving of the immediate – and, on reflection, unsubtle - request for a fortnight off. Still, at the time, it had been a desperate situation…
The girl still studied the menu.
The waiters appeared to be studying the girl.
So, what of this? Some connection to Blizzard, the operation conducted by the domestic and foreign services and the Metropolitan Police to crush the Redland heroin floodroute from the Balkans into Britain.
And something not to be archived, no records to be kept… a suggestion of violence… and who the hell was this Masaniello? A local, patently, but at least his title suggested a “friend”…
The demand to ring in…
Satisfied that the candle had burnt the card, dissatisfied that it could not do the same for the message, he smiled thinly at the girl. “My managing director doesn’t believe in holidays. I’ll be back in five minutes; mi dispiace.” The girl, who had been tracing her finger down the more expensive items, looked at him lazily, and started to push olive stones around her plate with a silver teaspoon. As he signalled for the concierge to show him to the house telephone, Bond wondered whether the look in her eye had been one of bored disbelief; for “managing director”, was she reading “angry wife”?
As he settled into the velvet armchair in the telephone alcove and peered back at the girl through the leaves of an incongruous giant rubber plant, Bond wondered how many men had said that to her before.
Yet, would he have believed it?
God Almighty, the problems the job caused…
Checking that the concierge was at least humouring him by pretending not to prepare to overhear the conversation, Bond unscrewed the speaking end of the receiver. From his inside jacket pocket, he drew a circular, magnetic disc the size of a shilling piece, drilled with several minute holes and criss-crossed with a series of copper wires. This standard-issue device of the Quartermaster’s department was intended for use on all telephones outside of the Regent’s Park building, including the receiver at an agent’s home. Sometimes, when in the mood, Bond used it. Still, it would show willing to put this scrambler to work now, he thought: show that I’m prepared to play this game once more. He placed the disc over the internal mouthpiece and started to dial the SIS switchboard as he screwed the receiver back together.
The scrambler was not, in truth, a true cipher device capable of mixing a conversation into an unintelligible mess for the eavesdropper. Instead, it would simply tell the switchboard operator whether there was a third party or not. If there was, Bond would have to abandon the call and spend the evening testing telephones all over the city for a safe line. Unless, of course, he were to claim that he could not find one or feign ignorance: what message?
Waiting for the connection to crackle into life, he looked over his shoulder and hoped for his own sanity and patience that the concierge would be too wrapped up in arranging clandestine arrangements of his own to bother with listening to Bond’s. Yes, occupied reading the post in guests’ pigeonholes. Relying on M’s message having meant nothing to the man, Bond turned away.
As he went through the motions of the day’s codes with the operator – Bond thought he recognised the voice of the least unpleasant looking one, the brunette with the second-hand TR3, whose overeager nature failed to mask her desperation but could doubtless make for an eventful evening were he to find himself at a loose end – he peered through the leaves back at Luciana. Back at Luciana and the two waiters who were performing the full peacock schoolboy act. Instinctively muttering into the telephone the cops-and-robbers ciphers necessary to move further up the chain of command, he let his mind play with what he would do to the two men if they…
But then, hadn’t he done the same thing that afternoon in her bookshop in the Calle Bernardo? Wasn’t he now continuing the playacting with paying silly money for dinner? And hadn’t she been playing too, with her charmingly ridiculous cusp-of-drunkeness claims of distant family ties to the Medici?
He watched her laugh. Twice. What had that been, two minutes? All evening with him and he had barely raised a smile from her.
Damn them. He turned his gaze away.
The distinctive ringing tone of the red telephone on M’s desk washed his mind of the thought. At least the scrambler seemed to have worked. Too late now to claim that he had not found a safe telephone. Too late now to ponder what would have happened if he were to pretend that he had never received the message…
“Need you in Naples tomorrow.” No greeting, no social acknowledgement. For M to repeat an order already given in the telegram was as much of a salutation as would be received; they both knew it.
“I know you’re on holiday…” Of course you do, thought Bond. “But whoever’s causing a mess down there isn’t. Sorry about that.”
You don’t sound particularly sorry. “I understand, sir.”
“Wouldn’t do this normally,” Bond accepted this without challenge as a gruesome lie, “but since 003 went down in Rome in October you seem to be the nearest we’ve got out there at the moment. You’re booked on the 1 a.m. flight; see that you get it.”
Bond looked back at the dining room. The girl had gone. So had one of the waiters. His friend busied himself at the honeymooners’ table, but as if he had felt Bond’s increasing temper shoot through him, he snapped his head up away from their attempts at Italian and gazed at Bond. With a shrug of the shoulders and a raise of the eyebrow that Bond considered as spectacularly ill-judged – and about to be very short-lived - camaraderie, the young man grinned.
He shook himself out of his darkening fantasy. “Yes, sir. What of this Masaniello?”
“Hm? Oh, your contact. I’ll have Chief of Staff brief you on that.” Thanks very much. “This appears to have Blizzard stamped all over it. I recall that you had a possible contact in Venice, didn’t you? Use him if needs be.”
Bond knew that to mention the name Enrico Colombo could mean danger, even in a meringue of a hotel such as the Gritti. It was enough to say “He’s in San Vittore for the next fifteen years, sir. The Milanese did not take him as seriously as they ought to have.”
“Unfortunate. See what you can make of it nonetheless.”
Sensing the end of the conversation and the transfer to the Chief of Staff, Bond acknowledged to himself that he had been almost entirely passive in a situation where he should have been outraged; two days into the first full fortnight in years, two days into living properly, as a sensible and normal adult, in the finest city he knew, two hours into what had appeared promising with the girl, two minutes before ordering an overindulgent dinner, and then this…
But these were direct orders…
Still, there was something he could fire back. “Sir, this no-record status. Any reason?”
There was a moment of nothingness down the telephone line. Bond wondered if M were weighing up whether to transfer him on without answering or at least show a small indulgence. Then: “It’s like this, 007. You will report to me in person on your return. If it’s nothing, then take the rest of the… holiday. If you must. If there’s something, anything, you report.” Bond interpreted this as an order to return whatever happened. M would not countenance him deciding for himself the triviality of whatever was to come. “But… you ask about the non-recording. Well, Bond, if you must know, I’ll tell you.”
So M told him.
As soon as he heard the name, Bond felt his stomach sink.
He still felt ill when the Chief of Staff, Tanner, came onto the line. Bond did not respond to Tanner’s cheery apologies, and with the merest effort in acknowledging them, absorbed the necessary contact details.
At the call’s end, and having removed the scrambler, he sat for one long minute in the chair, staring into nothingness.
Damn them all to hell.
The fight drained out of him, he spared the honeymooners’ waiter and made his way back to his table. He noted the second waiter fussing around the Swiss woman; interesting – so much for being great lovers. Can’t have been more than a few minutes.
Pouring himself another glass of prosecco amiabile, dismal sugary muck but the girl had been so insistent, he felt a presence at his shoulder. The concierge, proffering another message card. The smirk – practically a leer – on his face told Bond that this private message he had understood. Deciding that such prurience deserved no tip, Bond took the message and waved the man away.
Well, wasn’t that something? Tired of waiting, she had ordered dinner to be brought to the room. Pleasingly direct. Reading on, he approved of most of her choices, although he could have lived without the baccala mantecata. In a better mood, and remembering that he would require the hotel to make his forward reservation – M would have to swallow the expense demand for the Excelsior, serve him right – Bond had apologised to the concierge, an apology almost as graciously accepted as the money Bond had pressed into his hand.
It had been an expensive dinner, but the girl had subsequently proved herself almost worth it…
Quarter past eleven. Bond lit another cigarette and continued to stare from the window. At least the rain appeared to be lifting…
Whilst dressing, he had told her that he would be leaving within the hour. Half an hour of volcanic accusation had followed; how dare he, how dare he run, crawl back to his thousand filthy bitch whore lover wives, the only amusement for Bond amongst the scratching and the scuffling and the tears being picturing M’s face at being so described. Soothing kisses of an apology that he had not meant, a promise to buy her something fine from Fiorella on his return that he had nearly meant and an arrivederci that he was beginning to regret, and he was on the midnight vaporetto to Santa Lucia.
Enough activity for him to forget what M had told him.
It was not until the decrepit Alitalia descended into Capodichino that it started to gnaw at him again. On the ludicrous taxi ride into the insanity that passes itself off as the Neopolitan morning rush-hour, during which he was convinced that he passed the same shoe shop three times, the gnawing – shot through with the adrenaline that a dangerous journey in a foreign land always brought him – increased from an irritation to live pain. Something was chewing him, and he knew that this sensation was unlikely to stop until he saw her again.
However much he did not want to.
To wrench his mind away from his memories, and from the way in which – despite being at a standstill for much of the journey - the figures on the meter tumbled inexorably towards an outrageous total, as the taxi crawled along the Via Scarlatti he had gazed out at the street and indulged in window shopping other lives.
All the world’s a stage… How true…
Pretty girl with the green bag. And she knows it. Look at her arching her neck back as she passes… Was she looking at me or considering her reflection in the glass? Might as well cheer myself up: it was me. Hard enough to snatch these moments of reprieve, so why deny oneself the opportunity? Bond watched her move out of their shared moment. What now…? Knife shop. Cigar stall. Aged mother crouched on an orange crate, fistfuls of stolen cigarettes for sale. Bad shoes, good suit on that – what? Banker? Lawyer? Gangster? Could be any of those. Could be all three at once. He sat back in his seat and wondered whether he would have time to get to Kiton and book a fitting with Ciro Paone for the following day; there was something in the softer style of the Kiton shoulder that appealed to him, as did Paone’s junior clerk’s exaggerated oaths about the factories in the north vomiting out “their” showy Caraceni or – the sweet Virgin forbid! – “their” Brioni, apparently fit only for homosexuals, salesmen and tram drivers.
Bond would not have otherwise noted the junction with the Via Morghen save that his memory insisted that it was here that he had stabbed the SMERSH agent Elsperi… or had that been his shooting the double Jasper Fellowes? Or had he mixed the two? Or had that been Palermo anyway? Too many years, too many bodies falling into one grey mass in front of him, increasingly indistinct. Raindrops; no, not raindrops – snowflakes. Each unique but then so many, one on the other, and they become a blizzard.
In his reflection back into the cab, Bond could see the lines clawing at the corners of his eyes and wondered whether he should consider himself fortunate that M would now think of him for a mission at all. As he flexed both his hands partly to stimulate the circulation after his flight and partly to convince himself that his grip was still strong, he wondered whether he should have been grateful.
The taxi crept into the Via Domenicio Cimarosa, the Castel Sant’Elmo crouched threateningly above the rooftops, the low grey treacle of mist swallowing and eroding the walls. As the little Fiat trickled down the hill, nose to tail with a cratered Peugeot that spoke too many mornings of the same kind, Bond stared at the scene outside a dilapidated café: a guitarist plucked vigorously as a small crowd swayed appreciatively whilst they sat with their morning drinks.
What had caught his attention was the way in which the musician shot quick glances at two women, sat at either side of the mob and invisible to each other. The elder, beginning to run to fat, Bond assumed as the wife: the younger, what the wife had once been, a mistress. Although he could only see fragments of their faces, Bond found it easy to imagine the looks, looks the man wanted to preserve – each woman’s belief that she was the one to whom the dirge was dedicated, each woman’s eyes sparkling with pride, each woman’s smile one of satisfied possession. With a theatrical swat of his hand along the strings, the man stopped his tune and Bond admired the way in which he appeared to address both women at once with a small bow – much practised, no doubt.
What happened next fascinated him. The musician – who Bond guessed at roughly his own age - started up again and both women slowly turned their heads to the pavement. The man did not notice, and continued strumming, his eyes shut in transporting himself away back to a past neither of his loves would have – and they knew it. Whatever attributes the two women possessed, and to Bond’s eye either would have been considerable, even together they would never come close to… to whom? Whatever game was being played out, the man would always win…
But to have such pleasurable problems… Bond knew that there was more than the glass of the window separating him from such normal lives. It was staring at another specie, peering into an aquarium in a futile attempt to understand, or be understood in return. A tourist to the normal world; as much of a holiday as any lolling around the Lido.
Spots of rain he had been ignoring turned suddenly violent, and the street theatre had disappeared. The taxi driver had started to swear, although Bond considered that this was probably due to being able to drive more quickly and, accordingly, less lucratively.
At least something had been efficient: his suitcase had arrived at the Excelsior before him. Having checked the lead lined compartment in its base had not been tampered with, and having gone through the automatic routine of scrutinising its content, his standard issue Walther PPK 7.65mm, for any travel damage, he had flung open the creaking iron doors of his balcony, stared into the low, grey-on-grey rainclouds over the bay and had been unable to prevent himself from thinking about her. The way she had not removed her sunglasses, once, even when inside the makeshift courtroom… Had that been significant? Of what?
Showering red hot, he had tried to focus on Tanner’s briefing. This Masaniello was, apparently, native Neopolitan but educated at Shrewsbury and Cambridge, Modern History no less, mother English, father a local but had died just after the war. Masaniello worked at the Consulate in Via del Mille and had been in touch with Rome; full briefing would come direct. Something up at the Consulate was the nub of it. “Tricky”, had been Tanner’s immediate analysis. Given that he had felt punched to the head, heart, lungs and stomach by what M had just said, Bond’s response had been less euphemistic. Recognition codes given, conversation and holiday hurriedly terminated.
He had turned the water to ice cold. Yes, the Consulate, the Honorary Consul Sir David Cheshire and his Lady Elizabeth… no, think Masaniello… Caffe Gambrinus…
Lady Elizabeth Cheshire…
The rich widow…
What a habit of marrying lucratively she had developed…
As he had walked, through the drumming rain, along the Via Cesario Console – he had considered it better to stick to the more public streets – towards the Palazzo Reale, Bond had given in to the insistence his brain was punching into him. What had it been that he had heard about Cheshire? Some highly confidential rumours about his preferences – of the sort that were inevitably true, or could be made true if manipulated properly, as all worthwhile rumours can be.
If that were true, and even if not there was no reason to believe that truthfulness could not be thrust upon it, then some irony, thought Bond. With Krest, she had been the one to give him respectability – class, even - and he had given her a sexual credibility, however vicious, which her Englishness had deprived her. Here the opposite: in her new husband, and his title, she could lose the suspicion and scandal and taint of her past and in return give him sexual protection, a wife, to keep his exposure at bay – at least as far as the public would be concerned.
Christ, where was he?
Behind him the pantomime had continued, and he had continued to ignore it. Accordingly, he did not react when a new neighbour moved in to his left, save to note that the newcomer appeared to be wearing one of the more experimental Penhaligon colognes, which was probably entirely acceptable amongst Neopolitans and the sort of golf clubs accepting memberships from provincial solicitors and schoolteachers. Still, it was an attempt…
“Accettate carte di credito?” It was a young man’s voice, undeniably, and the expression was clear enough for Bond to understand as the recognition code. The question itself had been addressed to one of the waiters who, as Bond turned, shook his head ruefully at the newcomer, who sat with his broad, fat back to Bond. Some banter in a local dialect that Bond could not follow, the waiter left and the young man turned around. The face was broad, and heavily browed; a cliff of a nose dropped from the jutting eyebrow. From the wide forehead, the youth brushed away damp, thick black hair that Bond suspected as heavily oiled rather than simply wet. The man’s eyes were wide, and almost entirely round, and they smiled as broadly as the grinning mouth of straight, strong but reassuringly coffee-stained teeth. At least he fitted the brief description Tanner had given Bond. Bond put him at twenty-six or slightly older, but not much.
The young man unwrapped himself from his coat. Decent suit. “Mi dispiace, I am late.” The English accent was lighter, more sing-song than the man’s Italian. To Bond there was something undeniably ice cream and wafers about it and he wondered whether it was for effect, and how many daughters of bank managers had fallen for it at Cambridge. An amused grunt. “But I would not need to say this to a Neopolitano, yes? It would be more proper to apologise for being on time. But, you will forgive me? It is difficult to leave the Consulate at this time of day. Ah! My manners – come sta? I am Rico Masaniello,” at which Bond noted that the young man dropped his volume slightly, “and you are… Mr James of London? Or perhaps I should say Venice?” All rapid fire, all very insistent. Bond gave himself thirty minutes to tire of it. But at least the young man seemed enthusiastic.
Bond was non-committal, and over the young man’s shoulder motioned for another ‘stretto. Although Bond thought it barely possible, the young man’s grin widened further. “I see you drink the proper drink, Mr James. You are not a tourist – perhaps you would wish you still were; Venice… is very beautiful. But the tourists, they come here, they order their cappuccino, they like the froth, it is funny, yes? It is … luxury. But in the afternoon! Ridiculous! And yet today it is funny, is it not? London make me come here, to the tourist café, to act like a tourist and make fuss about credit cards. Whoever heard of such a thing?”
Bond ground his cigarette into the stone ashtray in front of him. He squinted at the Piazza, now coming alive again as the sun broke through and drew the people into it. “Those things are important.”
“Yes, yes.” Some of the over-enthusiasm dipped from the boy’s voice. “Capisco. I apologise. May I ask you for a cigarette?” Bond pushed the crumpled packet along the counter-top. As the young man lit up, he said “I am sorry to say that you were easy to spot, Mr James.”
At this, Bond turned to him. “Why?”
“Ah! Turn further with me, Mr James. Look over at the doors, hey? You see the man about to enter? Do not watch him, watch all these people.” As a middle-aged, nondescript balding man in a black suit opened the tall glass door from the square, all heads turned to him and then swayed back to their conversations. “That happens every time. You, you did not turn to look as I walked in. You were the only one. Even the steam from the kitchen, she blew in my direction. I’m afraid that you gave yourself away. This is Napoli, Mr James. Here, everyone is everyone else’s property.” He exhaled, and smiled. “And unfortunately, very often everyone’s property is everyone else’s property too.”
Bond raised his eyebrows and they both turned back to face the windows. Had he really been so easily spotted? Or had this Masaniello been given a description and was simply now doing his best to make conversation? “I see, Rico. I’ll remember that.” If it were true, holiday or no holiday, that sort of mistake could have killed him.
Masaniello busied himself with the waiter when the man brought his drink. Some more jocularity shared in a tongue Bond did not follow, save that he suspected that further - unwise - comment was being shared about how absurd it would be to pay for coffee with a credit card, and Masaniello drained his cup at one gulp. Bond noted the affectation of the little finger sticking out at a right angle as he did so. “That is not something I miss about England, my friend,” Masaniello sighed. “The coffee. Why do they serve it in cold cups? If you take anything from Naples, take this: heat the cup! See what they do? They keep it in hot water until ready to use. Why put hot coffee into an ice-cold cup? That is such a discourtesy to it. It smothers it. Why serve it at all? Ah, this place, Mr James, this is not a place one would find in England. Look around you. Try not to make eye contact, or if you must, only with the women. They expect it. It is rude not to. But feel the life of it. In England, there would be silence, all would sit quiet and stare at a biscuit or a cake and feel guilty at the…” he paused, and pulled a face to show effort in the next expression, “…flagitious indecency of enjoying this most ordinary thing.
"Oh, please understand that there are many things I do miss. My mother, she is the number one. She lives at Ramsgate, do you know that? Yes, and the number two are the manners. I am treated well in England, for there I am Richard, Richard with the Italian father and exotic look that the English are excited by, yes? Here I am just another Rico; I keep my Englishness hidden as much as I can. Perhaps that is to be ashamed of? But the city… it is better to be whole Neopolitano, yes? You have been here before?”
Bond, letting himself be amused by opinions he shared, had barely kept up, but acknowledged the question. “Yes. Twice.” That would be enough. He decided to change the subject. “What was that you were saying to the waiter?”
“Oh, very little. You did not follow? Do not worry; such is Napoli. We have our own languages here. True, most of them are criminal codes of old, this is what we have come from, yes? And it is also true that a man from Vomero would not find it easy to be understood in Capodimonte… But it is not the Italian of your guidebooks.”
Bond took the last cigarette. “Yes. I understood that Naples saw itself as distinct from Italy.”
“This is true. But what is this “Italy”? Just politics, a decision of the brain but not one of the heart. To us, there is no such thing. Milano, Torino, these places are of a different country. My uncle who lives at Caserta, he will say Milano is in Switzerland. There are many here who think that way. There are many who wish it so. But go anywhere in the South and it would be the same – Brindisi would not dare or wish to say it was of the same nation as us; Catanzaro, that may as well be in Africa, or the ocean. Then they would be clean, at least. We are individuals, and our homes, they are too, yes?”
When Bond took his fresh ‘stretto from the waiter, he noticed Masaniello’s slight grin as he ran his finger around the warm saucer. “Enjoy it, Mr James. Do not mistrust the small pleasure: it will not destroy you.” Too late did Bond realise that taking the drink left him open to another empassioned onslaught on the English. “Ah! The English fear that – what – if they liberate their emotions they will run wild? How can they? They can barely get out of doors because…” Masaniello waved his hand at the Piazza, now steaming in hot sunshine, and winked, “because it is always raining! They might enjoy their lives… if they tried…”
Bond was tiring of the theory, however true. Distraction it may have been from thinking about her and how still she had been when Barbey’s cousin had passed his verdict of accidental death… but the diversion was beginning to pall. Doubtless such cultural seductions had won the young man many friends and lovers amongst the English he was so determined to cure, but the momentary amusement Bond had felt was rapidly turning to irritation and a belief that Masaniello could be wasting his time. Draining his cup, he asked sharply “Are we moving on?”
To his credit, Masaniello’s good humour did not falter. “Yes. It is time to eat.” Standing, he struggled back into his damp coat, and passed his hand over his stomach. “I say that too much this month, yes? My mother would worry.”
Turning north out of the square, Bond let Masaniello lead him along the Via Toledo, the people exploding into the sunlight like exotic blooms opening on a summer morning. Soon, Bond knew, the street would be impassable to the unwary, and deliberately so. Each shop, legitimate enterprise or not, would spill out onto the pavements, into the roadway, and the idler would find himself struggling to negotiate a path without negotiating a price for cigarettes, sides of meat, broken refrigerators, cheap jewellery, whatever was hurled at his feet. As they cut their way through the rapidly increasing crowd, Masaniello kept up his commentary but in the developing din of a thousand other such impassioned nothingnesses, it was soon no more than a merry background noise.
Halfway along the Via Pignasecca where the sheets, dangling above their heads across the telegraph wires, swelled like topsails in the light breeze, Masaniello pointed at a small establishment that Bond struggled to assume was a restaurant. It was difficult to establish where the entrance lay for, from the first floor window, on hooks reaching down to eye level, hung four swollen pigs’ heads, dripping with the last of the morning’s rain. Behind them, thick intestines of blackblood-ribboned offal swayed and it was one of these that Masaniello grabbed and pressed to his nose, breathing deep and victoriously. Bond declined the offer to do the same. Masaniello seemed surprised, and laughed: “You would not smell it? But soon you will eat it, my friend!”
Insisting sufficiently politely not to betray an increasing caution about walking into an obviously closed restaurant in a side-street in Europe’s best attempt at Dodge City, Bond let Masaniello pass through the open doorway of the tripperia first. One table only was prepared, a basic but clean red oilcloth laid across it, two large, rustic wooden chairs facing each other.
Bond moved to sit down, but Masaniello took his arm. “Careful, Rico,” Bond said, slowly.
“Ah! I apologise.” And, in truth, the young man did appear to be genuinely remorseful. “All I want is that you see the kitchen first. It is so much better to see the face of the man who would cook your meal. It builds… trust, yes?”
The kitchen, at the back of the single, dark dining room, was spartan but, Bond had to acknowledge, spotless. That prejudice unfulfilled, he indulged another by moving, so far as the little room would allow, to a point between the ostensibly gregarious Antonio and the ostensibly gregarious Antonio’s rack of genuinely vicious knives. The cook was considerably older and smaller than both Bond and Masaniello – whose puppyfat bulk swallowed much of the kitchen – and as he took Bond’s outstretched hand in both of his, Bond noted the scars along both arms – or were they burns? Whatever it was, the man’s forearms had all the appearance of cuts of oak bark. “You will tell him to be careful, won’t you?” Bond muttered to Masaniello.
“Hm? Ah! I am sure those are very old wounds.”
“I wasn’t thinking about his welfare.”
As it turned out, there was little need for caution. Whatever the inauspicious surroundings, by the time they had finished eating, Bond knew that he had just had one of the most memorable meals of his life. Memories of watery school tripe making him cautious, when the mound of sliced discs of tripe – white, pink, black, paddling in a simple sauce of pepper, garlic, tomatoes, chilli and oozing, fat capers - had been laid before him, Masaniello must have seen the trepidation in Bond’s eyes. “Do not worry, Mr James,” he said, levering slices of clot-flecked salted calf’s head into his mouth, “you will enjoy, I promise. It is true, it is a sadness that Antonio tells me he will close soon, the tourists are scared of this, the true food of our peasant people… but if you want something more than Disney Gambrinus, I cannot think of a better place. This may be your last chance.
“Twenty miles south of here, you would not get such a meal. Nor twenty in any direction. Just as in our language, we have our own… idiom in our food, our homes, all of how we live.”
Now, mopping up the greasy juices with rough fistfuls of olive bread, Bond knew that he had lived one of those incidents that would never leave him. The food had been cooked beautifully – he wondered, given the state of his body, how much pain poor old Antonio had put himself through to practise – and there was a brutal and satisfying honesty about a place that would, as Masaniello had mentioned whilst they had waited, open just for them, have no Styrofoam, no antibacterials, no rubber gloves or hairnets and no clingfilm. It was indeed sad if Antonio would have to close; sadder still, though, that such a place would never have existed in germ-paranoid England. As he poured more Lacrima Christi into their little plastic beakers, he reconciled himself to knowing that whatever pains his job put him through, the opportunities for moments such as this one would not otherwise have happened. The deaths of many men could be balanced out by this.
So relaxed had he become, so enveloped in the sensual experience that only a truly great meal can create, that he forgot about
remembering. He decided that he was in no rush…
So much on holiday that he barely reacted, except with amusement, to a tribe of grimy scugnuzzi lifting one of the dangling pigs’ heads, hurling it to the ground, and proceeding to kick it between them until the thing collapsed in a raw, scarred, meaty pile and was abandoned in a gutter for either rats or particularly slovenly mothers.
Masaniello had promised to turn to business once Antonio had left for the market in the Piazza Carita, assuring Bond that there was no-one else in the building. Bond, growing fonder of this garrulous, overeagerly proprietorial young man, had decided to take this on trust and to show good faith had ensured Masaniello had been enraptured in picking apart a pickled cow’s hoof with his fork before he had let his hand check under the table for listening devices.
With the old chef still in his kitchen, Masaniello continued his philosophies. “Look at this place, Mr James. This is not a city, not a city in your sense – buildings, bricks, parks, museums, so many pretty things, things we have too, but in your cities, your London or your Cambridge, so many pretty things without a heart. This city, this is itself a person, a person with physical faults as we all have, but a person with a heart, and it is, like all of ours, a heart that may bleed fire, may bleed ice. It pulses with its people, we are all infected by it – sometimes it is a joyful disease, sometimes a killer. Yes, I admit it. That’s the risk, that’s the energy. We do not have blood in our veins, my friend: we have the city. It feeds us, it is our oxygen, it is everything we do and it is, as a result, as chaotic and brutal and cosseting and unforgiving and loving as any human heart can be. You never leave, however far you travel: a birthmark on the soul, yes?”
Bond shrugged. “I’ve always found it quite an unforgiving place; do excuse me, and it’s not a comment about this splendid food, but it doesn’t offer much of a welcome.”
Masaniello grinned. “So, the point exactly. Would you, as a person, let people walk through your home uninvited without any suspicion of them? Hm? No, quite. So why then should this Napoli, hey? At least it is honest: there is no pretence. You, the visitor, see it as it is, not as it wishes to be. But it is true, there is a mistrust of the outsider, of those not Naples-born. But one can understand this. For thousands of years we have had the great outsider just beyond the walls of the city threatening to destroy us all, and still it smokes at us, fires at us. Yes, the mountain gives us the fertile slopes for the wines,” at which Masaniello tipped the remnants of the bottle into Bond’s cup, “but that is playing at the Trojan horse, yes? One day such gifts will turn to sulphur; this is inevitable. It bides its time.”
Bond could recognise the splinters of an overused hobby-horse. “Tell me how you came to work at the Consulate. If you can.” He glanced for effect back at the kitchen.
“Oh, Antonio knows where I am a worker,” replied Masaniello, airily. “I speak all languages – all the languages this city requires, at the least. My education has helped – perhaps not what I learn, but where I learn. I know my father and mother, they did argue on this point. But had it been Gesu Vecchio and not Cambridge, I doubt I would sit here now with you, yes?”
Bond started to uncork a second bottle. “I thought it was a fine university.”
“It is. But the people who run England have not heard of it.” The door of the kitchen slammed, a key turned. Masaniello smiled. “And those are the people who run us, Mr James...Bond.”
Bond poured wine for both of them and then sat back in his chair. He spread his palms face down on the table top and looked Masaniello direct in the face. “Go on, then,” he said, softly.
The grin, practically ever-present on Masaniello, dropped and Bond could see in the once-happy eyes a great strain, as if the next words would pain the boy considerably. Interesting. “I would not have chosen this place unless I was sure that I could speak.” Now the young man spoke more slowly, deliberately, apparently careful that he was understood. “For my own safety as much as the safety of the secrets, yes? I saw your hand move under our table to check for a bug; so be it, Mr James Bond, and if you are what I think you are, then I would expect that of you but I would ask you that you look aside from my fewer years than yours and understand that I know what it is I now say, and now do. Yes?”
Bond nodded, impressed with the direct display of professionalism. Perhaps he had underestimated him.
“Bene. Then know this: this is perhaps one place in the city that I may talk of Emilia Corelli and not fear who hears me. You have time for a story?”
“That depends on the story. And on the storyteller.”
Masaniello did not smile, although Bond had intended it as a pleasantry. “Indeed? So, you must know this. While I am at Cambridge, I meet your sister. You understand me?”
Bond sighed. Five. Yes, this rang true. The domestic service tended to label foreigners resident in England as either spies for them or spies for us, and no other category. Basic thinking, sometimes worked. Not a great surprise that Masaniello had been approached in their recruiting hive, either. “I understand you, Rico. Did she make advances?”
“Yes. I refused her. I tell you why. Two reasons: she wants me to work in your Dover. I am not born to work in Dover, Mr James. Two, more important: you must understand, Mr James, that Masaniello is not an easy name to bear in this city. It is a traitor’s name. Yesyesyes that was so many years ago and all the history books are old with dust but we do not do history through reading, but through bleeding. I would – I fear I am if I do not remain another anonymous Rico – be seen as having a traitor’s blood in me. There are people here who decide your fate on your name.”
Bond nodded. “Camorra?”
The young man breathed deep and, although fixing his eyes on Bond, pushed himself back from the table and angled his head to the right, which would have signalled to Bond some disgust had his eyes not blazed raw fear. “Mr James, please, it… is difficult. Please do not speak the name here.”
“You said this was safe, Rico.”
“Do you, Mr James, think that of anywhere?” Masaniello breathed deep. “I am sorry, but… Call me young and call me a fool, but I do not want a car accident. My father, he had a car accident. This is a surprise to my mother, for he did not drive a car.”
Bond leaned across the table. “Listen. If, somehow, this does involve them, tell me. Look at me, Richard. If they’re threatening our people, and you are one of us and don’t forget that, I will do what I can to prevent it.”
Masaniello nodded. “Some days, it is difficult to be Neopolitano, some days difficult as English. But I understand: we claim this little room for England, yes? Bene. So, I tell. I return to Naples after my father… dies. I suspect I am remembered fondly by your sister. I am asked to work for England at the Consulate; I did not apply but I am asked. Now, who could have told them? It matters not: I am there five years and I enjoy.” He fell quiet.
“Yes. Two things I find out, one thing I am told. Thing one I find out: you…we are not liked here. I feel this cannot be a personal thing; Sir David and Lady Elizabeth, they are very kind and good. She just opens an orphanage for sick bambinos, did you know?”
“No.” Bond ventured nothing else.
“Something strange happens there; I will come to it. But where was I…? Yes; we English, we are not popular.”
“Maybe, amongst those who are unimportant, they are still unhappy at the Allies dropping bombs for the simple act of dropping bombs. Amongst the more important… amongst those whose name you spoke…
“It comes to this. There will be a war in Naples very soon. And I fear it is your fault.”
“You mean, Richard, our fault.”
A flash of anger shot through the young man’s wide, enwildening eyes. “Do not remind me!” He shrugged. “I am sorry. I am sorry for my anger. I am sorry that you are right. But it will come. It will not be a war on the English. But you…we will be its cause, I fear.”
Bond breathed deeply. There was an earnestness in the way Masaniello spoke that suggested that this was not youthful exaggeration. But still, his lack of experience, his nationality…
“It is like this. When the Allies come to bomb the city, they only bomb the city. In doing so, they burn the locals, and the local organisation you speak of. Destroyed, it is – or at the least, it is too weak to fight back. No, not against the Allies, for why fight, but against those who descend on the city from outside. The Sicilians. Call them Mafia, call them Cosa Nostra, call them what one wishes. But when the city burned and the…Camorra with it, the Sicilians who had never been able to invade previously, they watched from outside the city, from their farms and villages, from Afragola and Moschiano and such places. Farms you did not bomb. Villages you did not bomb. And then, with the city and its locals weakened, when the Allies leave and whatever government claims to run Italy is brought to power by its friends, in walk the strong, the healthy Sicilians, unbowed and unbombed.
“And they took the city. The…locals… they had no way to defend. And see,” at this the young man’s voice rose, “that I am not a … local, the name it prevents me, my English blood it prevents me, but to see what these outsiders have done to us! Look at the new buildings! They are a disgrace! And they are built with Sicilian money. Naples, Mr James, Naples has always been invaded – the Spanish, the English, the Allies, and yet worst of all, the Sicilians. They do not love it, it is merely another place in which to make money. They are locusts, Mr James. They will strip it of its richness and move on.” Masaniello picked up his beaker and drained it in one.
Bond contemplated the young man. Not unkindly, he said “Listen to me, Rico. What I understand is that given the chance, you would be with your…locals, am I right?”
Masaniello’s response surprised Bond, but satisfied him. “No, never. That would be to insult my mother. I sympathise but I do not approve. They are murderers and thieves and terrible people. All I want is for you to understand what is happening and why it happens, yes? And if they can raise such passion in me, I ask you to think what it does to others. So, I must ask you: have you ever heard of a man called Gio Fanucci?”
Bond sat back in his chair and made a play of thinking. The name meant nothing to him and he awaited the explosion of finding out. “No.”
“Ah! Perhaps that is for the good, yes? Gio Fanucci is a local. He is young, perhaps thirty, so a little older than I. But he hates the English. The story is that at eight years he watched his father and uncle, both powerful local men, burn alive in front of him when the Allies bombed us. There is another story; that at the same age he cut both their throats and those of his brothers and male cousins, some no older than a year, but this is not a tale one tells in comfort unless outside Naples, yes?
“Gio Fanucci is ambitious and has many ambitions for the city. He is very famous here. He builds new houses and apartments in Capodimonte, houses for the poor, houses for the angry who will follow him. Already it is not an area I would walk at night. He is… he will be the King of Capodimonte. It will happen. And then, like many kings, he will look across his borders and… covet.
“Across his borders lie the Sicilians. He covets their land. He covets their power. But most of all of it, he covets that they are true mercanti. What Gio Fanucci has in local influence, he lacks outside the city. You, you are from…London, and yet you do not hear of him. I fear that happy ignorance is not to last long, yes?
“This is an interesting country, this Italy, hmm? One coast to the west, one coast to the east. We look west for our way of life, our money, our hopes. But we can look east too for… opportunity. Here we are, this fragment of a nation barely in control of itself, and we can be pulled between the two great camps of the world today. Or, if Gio Fanucci has his way, do the pulling.”
Bond refilled his cup. “Some deal with the Russians, then?” This sounded increasingly disturbing; however, if this was the extent of Masaniello’s tale, then it was standard intelligence gathering and not worth his while. Damn M.
“No.” Masaniello smiled his first smile for some little time. “That is not how Naples works, Mr James. I am now at the end of the first thing I found out: that Gio Fanucci, unlike the Sicilians who are happy to deal with the Americans and the English and whoever gives them money, Gio Fanucci he hates the English for killing his city, his family, letting the outsider locusts breed and scavenge; he also hates the Americans but you… we are much more visible here. I know it is true that he has vowed to drive you from the city. If at the same time, he can humiliate – or destroy – the Sicilians, then it is the better for him; two targets removed, one shot.
“I regret that the actions of certain members of the Consulate staff may be giving him that opportunity.”
Bond was sudden, urgent. “What? What the hell do you mean?”
“This is the second thing I find out. It is not easy. You must know I am a junior clerk. I enjoy my work. I work in the office of Lady Elizabeth Cheshire. Do you know her?”
From the look in his eye, Bond knew that Masaniello had been expecting another negative answer so that he could launch into his connections to the great and the powerful. When Bond answered simply, dully “Yes, I know her,” the look on the young man’s face was that of a child on the confiscation of a favourite toy.
“I… really? I did not know.”
You don’t need to. “I met her six years ago.”
Bond thought Masaniello might burst. “When she was married to… the American?” In the child-like excitement, Bond saw the endless office debates with his co-workers that Masaniello had indulged in about Liz Krest… Lady Elizabeth, whatever the hell it was she wanted to call herself now. Perhaps he should show faith and say more. But would that be to betray too much? Would he be filling in gaps in suspicions they had raised for themselves? After all, that Krest had died and she had been on the boat too… that was public knowledge. His presence was not. Regardless of what he thought of her – and now, so many years on, whether he thought of her at all – it could only create trouble for her to say more.
“I only knew her for a few days. As I say, it was some time ago.” He swilled the wine around his cup, not looking the eager young man in the eye. “I forget the details” he lied, more to himself than Masaniello. “So, what is this second thing you found out?”
Masaniello did not start immediately. Bond looked up. There was a shrewd, suspicious look in his face. “I did not know you knew her… that is very interesting…”
“You’ll tell no-one, Richard.” Bond did not smile. “Whatever it is you think, I’m not interested but some very unpleasant people back in London may be and I wouldn’t want this meal to be soured by any suggestion that I could engineer a meeting between them and you. Do you understand me?”
Masaniello nodded. “Again I apologise. I am sorry. I did not mean to offend. But you have me wrong, my friend. That you know her will make things easier. I will tell you.
“We have a small staff at the Consulate. One office for Sir David and his… matters, one for Lady Elizabeth, and then a general staff of three. Sir David has a private secretary called Giorgio, who is… You are frowning at me, Mr James and I know why this is. I do not repeat what I think of Sir David and Giorgio, on that you may trust me. Lady Elizabeth, she has a secretary. Lady Elizabeth… hmm, as you know… is a very kind and gentle person and has many fine ideas, yes? But she needs someone to organise her! This I do but more powerful – and more powerful than all – is Emilia Corelli. She is not a pretty woman, in her mind or in her face, yes? You would not want to touch her I think. And there is another reason. This is the second thing I have found out.
“She is Gio Fanucci’s aunt.”
Bond nearly spat out his wine in horror. “No jokes, Richard; not funny.”
The look of stupefied incomprehension on Masaniello’s face horrified Bond. “I do not joke. It is too serious to joke. Lady Elizabeth, she is your friend and I think there is danger.”
“Tell me.” Bond felt – could hear – the hairs on the back of his neck rising. “How the hell could she work for us?”
Masaniello shrugged. “This is Naples. That is the answer and there is no other. Officially, Gio Fanucci is a housebuilder and why should a housebuilder’s aunt not work where she wishes? She has married, her husband is as far as people know nothing to do with the Fanuccis, although he is a city planner and you may guess at his importance for them, so she is, how you say, clean. Officially, yes?”
Damn this place, thought Bond. Let them all burn, let them all get swept into the sea so that proper people can start it again…
“So, she works for the Lady Elizabeth. And she is liked by Lady Elizabeth.”
Not the most discriminating of people, thought Bond. After all, she had liked Milton Krest. Probably.
“There’s a “but” here, isn’t there, Masaniello? And it’s about this Corelli woman – you wouldn’t have told me otherwise…”
“Yes, my friend, you are right. It is all about this Corelli woman. And now it comes to what I have been told. Two weeks ago, I am enjoying my lunchtime. Ah! If I only came here every day; but it is not so. Too far. So I sit in the gardens of the Villa Pignatelle and I am happy, the sun shines, I carve several bad bits from a salami I have bought from a man who I will never buy from again, and whilst I think about my weekend and whether I should visit my little niece in Salerno, a man sits next to me. Not so bad, it is a busy place. He starts to talk; this is Neopolitan, it is not a worry – we are people who talk. You have noticed. But he talks in English.
“He is not a tourist. He is not asking directions. And how would he know I can speak English?”
“So I turn to him and I recognise him. I have met him before; his name is Pemberton. When I met him before, I was at Cambridge. Then, I met him on a bench in a park too. He asks me whether I remember him, and I do not lie. I ask him whether he remembers me rejecting your sister and he lies. I tell him I have a job and I am happy. He has an briefcase with him; he opens it. Photographs, Mr James, photographs of Emilia Corelli. He asks me whether I know her. I tell the truth. He asks me whether I know a man in some other photographs – a small, dark man, he looks like a Bulgar. I tell the truth – which is that I do not. He tells me that his name is Kovat. This means nothing to me.
“He talks to me about Kovat. I say I do not want to know but Mr Pemberton is insistent. I am apparently highly regarded in Rome – if my father heard that, he would have laughed so much! He did not regard Roma so very highly! I understand him to mean the British in Rome. The English.”
“Us.” Bond looked at the young man sternly.
“Yes…yes, us. So, he tells me about Kovat. Kovat is known to him as the man who works for a very important… family in Rome. This family is known to have connections to the Balkans. This family is the one through whom practically every ounce of heroin that makes its way to England passes. The problem Mr Pemberton and his friends – our friends – in Roma have is that they always anticipated the drug to keep going north, and so they lost the trail. It was coming south, Mr James, it was coming south to Napoli. They were pushing this… thing, this disgusting thing, through my city. These… these ing Sicilians! They contaminate us…
“So, I am sorry. So, ‘our man Pemberton’, who tells me that he fell out of love with your sister and became far more interested in…heh…you – is that right? – so, he discovers this Kovat is carrying between Roma and Napoli, twice a month, and from here it is picked up by some of our own brand of these people and from here to Marseille or Barcelona, wherever no-one looks because they are watching Milan and Paris and Munich. But there is a problem. Ounce for ounce, Mr James Bond, this filth… defecated from such a pretty flower, is worth more than gold, more than diamonds and rubies, and therefore a man will notice when some goes… missing.
“They have noticed. That is to say, the Roman family. Pemberton says to me that it is not much – Kovat’s standard delivery is one imperial stone of heroin, how he does it I will tell you shortly, and what arrives in Marseille or Barcelona is becoming light one half-pound. Kovat himself is not suspected; this is because a man would be very unwise to upset his employer in this way. Kovat is believed. The leak is therefore occurring in Naples. The Roman family is not happy with the Neopolitan family, but families they fall out, yes? The Neopolitan family – it is wrong to call them that but it is easier to understand, yes? – they say they are just a transit; they do not check the delivery, they merely pass it on. How grand. But they are believed too, I think. It has not yet come to war between Rome and Naples, for sometimes, in Italy, things do not work quite so well, yes? At present, an embarrassment, nothing more. As long as it does not continue.”
Bond smiled, although without any evident humour. “The people behind them may not feel the same way. Forgive and forget isn’t the KGB method. I know.”
“Quite. And this Pemberton, he knows the same. Not the British, not the locals, not the Sicilians, not any one man wants the Russians coming to Naples. On that, at least, all are united. So Pemberton had Kovat followed. Do you know where he went? No, sorry, that is obvious. Kovat’s drop point is the Santa Teresa a Chiaia. I do not expect you to know it, but know this, Mr James. It is on the Via dei Mille.”
Masaniello stopped, looking at Bond expectantly. That name, thought Bond, I have heard that… “The same street as the Consulate”. He shut his eyes… but it did not stop what had been coming from coming. Drug running through the British Consulate?
Christ, it would finish us for years!
“I see from your face that you are coming to what Mr Pemberton told me. Yes, he had Kovat photographed. And yes, when Kovat arrived every fortnight, not on the same day in the week and Pemberton did not know how she knew this information, but entering the church a little after him and leaving a little after him, would be Emilia Corelli. Once is just an incident. Twice… well… But it is now eleven times.
“You may ask – why not just stop her? But you do not stop the aunt of the King of Capodimonte going about her religious business. So, Pemberton had never got into the church. And that is why he was talking to me. He thinks he may have been seen. Somehow he knew it was a church I use.”
“He had photographs of you?”
Masaniello sighed. “Yes. Sometimes, you… we play tricks as dirty…”
Bond privately agreed, and felt sorry for this bluff, puppyfat young man, that he had been dragged into what was sounding dirty and dangerous. “Did you do it?”
Masaniello sipped at his cup. “Yes. I saw it three days ago. And then I tell Pemberton. Pemberton I think he must tell his people, they tell… important people and then I am informed yesterday evening that you are in Gambrinus today and you are important and you will be unhappy because you were on holiday in Venice.” Bond smiled: he could hear Tanner using those very words. “So, Kovat walks in with a black leather attaché case, looks heavy. I pray. Perhaps my father would curse me, but I have come to think that there must be so many prayers fighting for attention at the throne of God that they cancel each other out, so none will be answered! Ah, I will burn in hell, this is true. So I do not pray too hard. I watch Kovat in the third row; he prays very quick, perhaps he feels the same as me, and leaves. He carries an attaché case but he walks quick: it is lighter. It is empty.
“I stop praying and I watch and I see nothing so I think of my lunch. The church is empty; it is a quiet church, not one of our more beautiful and so we do not have many tourists. But then it is only five minutes, no more, and there she is. She is not a pretty one; she is perhaps forty-five but looks older: already she looks like a true Italian grandmother! There is something… she walks like a crab, it is odd, it looks as if she goes sideways. But she has always been polite to me, although I had only worked for one hour on my first day before she asked about my name and what it meant and who my parents were and it was not a social enquiry.
“She too carries an attaché case, same make from what I see. This is not unusual: she is a very important person, yes? She sits where Kovat sat, she leaves. She does not see me or does not try. She talks to the priest; I see lira. When the three men come two minutes after she has left, they ask the priest and he claims to have seen nobody. I like that priest, he was good to me when my father died, so I do not say anything. The men leave without checking the case, which they take with them.”
To Bond it sounded a remarkably haphazard way of keeping secure such a valuable cargo. Perhaps it was religious sentimentality that convinced the whole damned lot of them that the package would be secure in a church. He knew that the Russians would be less soft-hearted. He had been wondering why Pemberton had not taken greater steps to intercept the route but now he understood; it was better if it remained this porous, this fragmented, than if it were repaired by the Russians and became untraceable again.
Still, as it stood, a British Consulate employee with blood ties to local gangsters was in substantial danger of blowing the whole thing apart. On Masaniello claiming that he did not know what happened to the heroin that the Corelli woman took, which he believed, Bond let the wine take his mind hand-in-hand towards a conclusion he had been forming. This Fanucci would use the disappearance of the drugs to embarrass the Sicilians and the British at one swift stroke:- he could – entirely accidentally – let the Russians know that the British, careful not to identify his aunt, had infiltrated the absurdly casual Sicilian operation. The quid pro quo being the Russians switching allegiance to his organisation to run the heroin…and how many Russian reprisals against British interests, in Naples, or anywhere? And in addition, the Sicilians would avenge themselves against the British, Fanucci sounded young enough to stand by and wait for Redland funds and support and then…
Take the city.
Masaniello was right; there was a war coming.
The secretary to the Honorary Consul’s wife…
“How do I help her?” He heard himself say it at the same instant as regretting it. Masaniello, who had silently been contemplating his wine, creased his left eyebrow upwards and shot a conspiratorial look at Bond. When Bond did not respond, he shrugged, smiling.
“Perhaps it was a very fine few days you knew her?”
Bond wondered whether he should be angry; deciding against it, he responded quietly “I was thinking out loud, Rico. But, yes, I was thinking of Liz…Lady Elizabeth. Whatever else happens, whatever comes of this gang war, we need to protect our position and currently, if what you say is true, then she’s in danger.”
Masaniello’s heavy shoulders dropped. “I do not like it when you express doubt about what I say. What I say is the truth. I am anxious for Lady Elizabeth. I am anxious too for Napoli… perhaps you do not care so much for the city, no? But it is my home and it has problems enough. It does not need more...”
Bond reached across the table and rested his right hand on the younger man’s left forearm. “I do understand, Rico.” The look of eager faith in the round eyes as they rose to meet his was almost enough to make Bond believe what he had just said. “But dealing with this Corelli woman first, and properly, needs to be our first plan of action.”
The boy’s eyes widened, in fearsome horror. “Our first plan of action? Mr James, you do not understand, even though you say so! It is dangerous for me, do you not see? There cannot be another traitor Masaniello – please…”
Bond released his hand, and waved it towards the window. “OK Masaniello. If you can’t help me further, for whatever reason, you can’t. And if it’s so dangerous, you take a…holiday.” He did his best to smile encouragingly. “Go see that mother of yours. All I need from you now is how to get in contact with Lady Elizabeth Cheshire, and this Emilia Corelli. You can do that?”
“Yes, of course. I am sorry for being… But I have my job to protect. I earn money for my mother, I send it to her in England. If I did not have my job…”
Bond was becoming irritated at the sentimentality, although he accepted it as genuine if alcohol-charged. “Just tell me how.”
“We are lucky. It is not easy, even for me to speak to Lady Elizabeth so often. All my work goes to Corelli. It is Lady Elizabeth who calls Corelli her “keeper”. But you have come on a good day, it is a good day today. The sun is shining and tonight Lady Elizabeth holds a grand gala at the Villa Cimbrone, that is at Ravello. This is for her orphanage, at Amalfi. I told you about that earlier. It opened five months ago and has done many good works already; she takes in the bambinos of cholera victims. So, Corelli is already very busy, she runs Lady Elizabeth. And so it is me, Masaniello, who organises the party. The guest list. Emilia Corelli is on it. The Mayor is on it. You, Mr James, are now on it.”
Bond grimaced. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Rico. Our last meeting was… not happy.”
“Then it is time, my friend Mr James, to repair that unhappiness. I am sorry if I push you, but I must tell you that Lady Elizabeth has seen your name on the guest list.”
“How did she react?”
Masaniello did not remember, save that she had asked who James Bond of London was. “I said what Mr Pemberton told me to say. You are a civil servant at the Foreign Office looking to… mi dispiace… retire to Italy and you are making contact with all the consulates as you tour. Mr Pemberton says you have interest in child welfare abroad and British charitable concerns. Is that true?”
“But that is what I tell Lady Elizabeth so it can be true for tonight, yes? She said…she would like to see you.”
Bond wondered how true that last comment was, or whether it was merely to try to ensure his presence, to make sure that Masaniello’s one apparent opportunity to get himself known at the Consulate would pay off. There was desperation, pleading in the young man’s voice. Perhaps it was the wine talking…
The other irritation was in contemplating how much of the Krest affair Pemberton knew. How much M had told him…? What value a personal secret…?
“Can you guarantee me that this Emilia Corelli will be there?”
“Yes, of course. She would not be anywhere else. Do you have an idea?”
Bond drained his tumbler. “I’ll think of something.”
They sat in silence, both watching the steam rising in the street outside. After five minutes turning over in his mind the way in which she had barely reacted to the – however fixed – verdict of death by misadventure handed down by Barbey’s cousin, Bond lit a cigarette and spoke softly, sighing. “Alright, Rico. What time?”
Masaniello beamed, and in the smile Bond saw the younger man’s dream of promotion and the sports car – or woman – he could buy with the pay rise. So be it. “It is at eight, Villa Cimbrone. Take the A3 south, you will see the signs to Ravello, a very beautiful place. You will need an hour. You will also…” he struggled his hand into his right trouser pocket, tight against the abundant flesh of his thigh, “need these.” He drew out an invitation card onto which Bond saw his name typed, and a cut of black silk, at which he frowned.
Masaniello smiled. “Ah! One more surprise! It is a masquerade, yes? If you cannot be in Venice, my friend, then the Veneto must come to you. What a carnevale, hey?” He opened up the silk band, two eyeholes cut midway along, and held it out to Bond. “It is, it is true, more paysan than artisan, but you are in the South now, Mr James; our Commedia dell’Arte is always a little more... how you say, black, yes? You will look like one of our bandits.”
Despite himself, Bond smiled. Could there be, would there be, harm? But given what the boy had told him, and given the instruction from M, ultimately, whatever his unease, it would be less foolish to go than not to. Taking the card and the mask from Masaniello, he nodded once in weary, resigned assent.
When the young man clapped his hands and appeared to bounce up and down in his chair in proprietorial pleasure at the scheme, Bond could not help himself but bark a short laugh.
As they walked back to the Gambrinus along the Via Toledo, hissing with life in the way Bond had earlier anticipated, Masaniello reverted to his act of jocular expansiveness. “See Naples and die, Mr James! Yes, I hope not too. You know, my friend, when that was first said, it was syphilis that killed. Now, it is cholera.”
Or a bullet, friend, thought Bond.
Or a bullet.
End of part one