Friday, March 26, 2021

Fear of Foley

Note for readers

This story sprang from an idea:

... and even had a comment from "Ralph" before it was really underway:

Mr. Higham, it is fascinating reading a story as it is coming alive. I will continue to check back in to see how Miss Magnolia fares.

Story now completed.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Problem with Linfield

The stately home is in fact Shiwa Ngandu, in Zambia.  Gives a rough idea of the layout, gallery will be added in sidebar later.



Part of this is a true story in that we were trapped in a lift … not this one in the photo … far too swanky … nothing untoward did happen (cough, that way) … but much of the conversation was true.



To leave your flat in Russia for any reason, is a convoluted process.  First you unlock the inner door, then the middle if you have one, then comes the metal outer with its deadlatches … you sometimes have a metal door to the landing, with lock, then the lift or stairs down, then a foyer, at the end of which is an outer door at the end, steel. 

After that, there are often grandmas milling about, chatting … they’re a security layer in themselves.

The moment Hugh had got to the lift, heading down to the general shop attached to his house below, and the lift door had closed behind him, he realized he’d left his key to the downstairs door, the outer door in other words, in his other jacket’s pocket.  How many times had he been told, ‘Na myeste,’ which is Russian for ‘in its place’?  It was a new lock they’d just put in, new key, he’d not put it on the big keyring yet.  Damn.

Not to worry, there was always someone coming through in either direction downstairs and even this needs explaining – it was a turnable latch on the inside, it only needed a key from outside. So getting to the shops was not the issue, the issue was getting back into the foyer.

There was an alternative – he could go round to the back stairs and that was not always locked, or at least the druggies kept it open but you’d have to run the gauntlet on those stairs – eight floors in his case – and that was not a pleasant thought – chances of someone jabbing a needle into you was high.


Walking back, he checked he had it all in the plastic packet – two salads, kolbasa, ham, rice, milk, jar of sauerkraut, smetana. He heard someone running for the door from inside – he was in luck – and who should burst out now but Masha from the floor below him.



Door slammed behind her as she went out and he went in.

He’d pressed the lift button but now there was a banging on the outer door, a furious banging.


He walked over to the metal door, opened it and it was Masha, she’d forgotten something or other.

Their lift had by now gone up again, they pressed and waited.  She was stamping her feet more with cold than frustration, arms folded, shivering.

The lift now did that annoying thing – it stopped at one floor, went to another within the building … and then stopped, which ‘unlit’ the button.  Masha pressed it again, looked at him and stamped her feet again.


It did eventually come down.

Ding.  Now it wouldn’t open.  Why do lifts arrive but then take an interminable time for the doors to open?

It opened.

In got Masha, in he got, she pressed her floor and his as well, although only the first would register.

Door closed.

They waited.

They waited a little longer.

He went to reach behind her to press the button. ‘I pushed it,’ she said in Russian.

‘Push it again.’

Slightly irritated, she did and the lift didn’t move.



‘Walk, pyeshkom, on foot, we walk, Masha, up the stairs.’

‘We’re in the lift.’

‘Then press open.’

‘I pushed it.’

‘Push it again.’

She gave him that look but did it all the same.


‘Move over,’ he said and that really, really annoyed her.

He also drew a blank and pushed the lift keeper’s button – she lived on the first floor.

‘You speak,’ he suggested to her.

‘You know Russian,’ she mocked, ‘you do it.’

He sighed and tried to gather the vocab from his mental word store, looked at the button and pushed it again.

He stepped back. ‘You push it.’

She did and then pushed it eight more times … he counted.

‘Blin,’ she muttered.

The first sign of their true predicament started raising its hand for attention. Lift stuck, no one at the end of the emergency button, the arrangement of the floors such that screaming and yelling would draw no one – they were behind two foot thick walls, and it was late Sunday evening. Everyone would be tucked away in their flats at this hour – all decent people would.

This was one of those new lifts they’d put in a month ago, it might have been new-fangled and shiny but there was one tiny little thing the old lift had which the new one didn’t – a rusted hole in the roof, in other words – ventilation and possible escape.

In short, they were now in a sealed cocoon.

As casually as he could, he glanced up at the ceiling for the hatch with wing nuts or at least screws which could be worked loose.

Nope, only a beautifully flush, fluorescent pane of light, dovetailed into the surrounding metal. He glanced at the floor – sealed at the edges. Not to worry, if they could prise the door open just a fraction, there’d be air.

‘Do you have a mobile phone?’ she asked.


She thought about that for maybe half a minute and then asked, ‘Why not? Every guy has a mobile phone.’

‘This one doesn’t.  I use the landline.  I take it you don’t either.’

‘You’re right, I don’t.’

‘Every girl -’  Then he stopped himself. No point provoking her. ‘How is your English?’

‘OK.  How is your Russian?’

‘Fair, as you can hear. We’ll do some of each, yes?’  She nodded.  ‘All right, people will still come home from the bars,’ he surmised.

‘No they won’t, not now.’

‘All right, the lift woman will come home.’

‘If she’s not home by now, she won’t be home tonight.’

Sigh.  ‘All right, when you don’t arrive where you were going, there’ll be phone calls, those guys in the car will wonder when you don’t come out again.’

‘No there won’t be anyone, I sometimes say I’m going … and then I don’t.’

He just looked at her. ‘Try the buttons again.’

‘You try them.’ She slid her back down the wall the other side of the lift and sat on her haunches, pouting. He did try them, all of them, all the floors, the ‘open’ and ‘close’ buttons, the lot. He pushed them from different angles, with different pressures, he even held them in.

Nothing. He too sank to his haunches against the adjacent wall and thought it through. ‘Mobile wouldn’t work in here anyway.’

‘I know.’

‘Someone will be here shortly.’

‘No they won’t.’

‘All right, I know they won’t.’

‘Why won’t they?’ she countered.

He looked at her curiously. ‘Tell me, Masha, what would you usually do in this situation?  What do Russians do?  Let’s say you come in downstairs, press the button, nothing happens, where do you go?’

‘Up the stairs at the back.’

‘Dangerous.  Drugs.’


‘Would anyone be likely to go to your landing at this hour on a Sunday?’

She thought about it and nearly fell into the trap. ‘No,’ she eventually said.

‘No girlfriends?  Mother?  Father?’

‘They’re away.’

‘You’re dressed to go out.  Would any of those go up the back stairs if you didn’t appear?’

She was about to say yes, then didn’t.

He grinned. ‘I’ve seen some of them on your landing.’

She stared at the opposite wall, then looked down at the floor. ‘I’ve seen some women going to your floor.’

‘Clients and friends.’

‘Mine are friends too.’

‘Mine are there for advice.’

‘Not all.’

They lapsed into silence. Right, he thought, the air would be good for an hour all up, it was a large lift. It was totally bare inside, no little hammer in a glass case, no jagged piece of metal to break off, as with the last lift. The light was the only way, by breaking the perspex. Then what? Electric shock as the light went out? The seriousness began to impinge on the brain.

Hey, he thought, there are a hundred flats in this block, many young people, the lift was always going up and down, even late.

Not on a Sunday, admittedly.

A wintry Sunday.

This was a little more serious than he’d thought. On spec, he pushed the lift woman’s button again … nothing although he could hear it ringing through the speaker. He stood up, pressed the ground floor again and her floor, then his.

Hmmmm. ‘Masha, wait till I put my fingers in my ears and then how about you scream at the top of your voice for a minute? I sometimes hear you from my flat.’

She grinned and asked, ‘Gatov? Ready?’ He nodded and she screamed, boy did she scream and he’d have loved to have had a decibel reader just then. Her scream strangled itself at the end and she got her breath back.

‘You were good,’ he grinned. ‘Remind me never to attack you.’

She gave a mock bow.

Hmmmm. ‘In your bag – do you have anything useful, anything metal, anything to help get the door open a little?’


They lapsed into silence again. Then he asked, ‘Have you eaten?’

‘I was going to eat out. Have you?’

‘Only what’s in here.’ He pulled out the salads from his bag, she recognized them, plus the kolbasa. ‘No knife, just rip it open’  He offered it, she hesitated, then smiled and said spasibo. ‘We could be here a while. A bit at a time. Which do you want?’

‘Both.’ At his look, she added, ‘We generally have a bit of one, a bit of the other.’

‘Fine, fine.’ he started to try to un-cling-film it, he was hopeless.

‘Here, give it to me.’ She found the edge and slowly peeled it back, laying each piece over her knee to put back after. She took off the lid, said ‘spasibo’ again and took a little less than one quarter with her fingers, then repeated the process with the other. She broke the end off the kolbasa.

‘I see you almost every day,’ she said, ‘but I never learned your name. You already call me by my nickname.’

‘Yes but I call you ‘vi’ as well. How many guys call you ‘vi’?

She was silent on that and he knew she appreciated it. Respect was a precious commodity in Russia, rarely meted out to any under thirty. ‘My name’s Hugh.’

‘Ochyen priyatno.’ She extended a hand and he shook it.


About twenty-five minutes had gone by and that was usually enough time for someone to have come through and have seen the problem. He was sure that if one of the older set had seen the lift in that state, he or she would have been on the phone – that generation always would.

He stood and in frustration, pushed the eighth floor button. There was a whoosh, the lift went into its usual mode and started going up. He looked at her and she was smiling.

‘Hey,’ he said.

Suddenly the bloody thing stopped, bounced a bit and finally came to rest, halfway between floors 4 and 5.

They both swore like troopers, both tried everything to get it going again and both finally sat back down on their haunches, frustrated beyond measure.

There was nothing for it but to prise the door open and all he had on him was his metal belt buckle, obviously his shoes as well. He looked at her but she had her jacket on. ‘Do you have a metal belt buckle?’


‘We need to use it and mine too.’ He stood up, lifted his jacket and removed the belt. Pushing the buckle where the two doors met, he made a little progress but now she handed him hers and it was also next to useless – cosmetic. He didn’t want to break it anyway as she’d be upset and there wasn’t a lot of money about for girls such as her.

The air was beginning to get that little bit musty now so he knew he’d have to try it. Her buckle did go in but the problem was that he couldn’t twist it. She saw what he was trying to do, said, ‘Wait one moment, look the other way,’ she did something behind him while he tried to insert his own buckle in the slight gap.

‘Here,’ she offered.

She gave him a piece of curved metal, he kept a straight face. Usually, those wire things bend but this was quite solid. Why? Never mind. It worked bent over double and he knew he had to buy her a new bra – that would go down well.

With a lot of huffing and puffing, he worked the metal in and it gave a sliver of ventilation. It would do.

They sat down on their haunches again, back against the walls. ‘I have these too,’ he said. He pulled out the box of chocolates and tried to get the plastic wrap off but couldn’t find the point.

‘Here,’ she laughed. ‘Give it to me.’ She found it quickly, the plastic wrapper came off and she handed them back.

‘No, you choose the ones you want.’

He watched her deciding and thought she was like his own ex-ladyfriend – indecisive when it came to critical decisions like this. She’d worked on her hair for some time before she’d come out – it was frizzy and gave the appearance of golden locks tumbling down everywhere. His ladyfriend called the style chemistry.  Ex-ladyfriend.

‘Your hair took a lot of work this evening, da?’

She did not take umbrage but smiled and went back to her chocolate selection. Well, at least that was occupying her. She did choose, by comparing the wrapper to the diagram … and thanked him.

It was chilly now in the lift and he thought whether to close the door. Best not.

‘May I ask you something, Masha?’


‘Why did you come out just in those clothes? It’s a good jacket but it’s only hip length and already you’re shivering.’

‘I was going in a car.’

‘And now the car has gone.’


‘And you have no mobile phone.’

‘You’re right.’

‘Won’t they be wondering where you’ve got to?’

‘Only for a few minutes. I’m a bit capriziosna.’

He smiled. ‘Don’t argue with this.’ He took off his jacket and said, ‘Let me have your jacket and scarf … please.’

She hesitated for a moment, the cold won and she gave him both. He stood, took his fur jacket off – a true kill-all-cold jacket – she got up, turned and zipped up. ‘It will give you some padding to sit on too.’

He put her jacket around his shoulders and then started to wrap her scarf from the backside up like a mummy, she saw what he was trying and said, ‘Here, I’ll do it.’ She wrapped it round and round and tucked it in near the shoulder.  Longest scarf he’d seen.

‘Ask me whatever you want,’ she suddenly said.


‘You’re dying to ask me some questions – you’re the question type. I’ll tell you. You want to know where I was going and who they were.’

‘Da,’ he chuckled.

‘I’m at KAI. They were some of the guys. Go on, ask me.’

‘I can’t. I don’t know that I’d like the answer. I don’t know that I’d like to think of you that way.’

‘How do you know that? Why do you jump to that conclusion?’

‘I’ve been invited to places I shouldn’t be invited to and get a shock when I’m there.’

‘Invited or you invite yourself?’

‘I never invite myself, Masha, never.’ She saw that that had hit a nerve and rested a hand on his forearm.

‘Except for those women,’ she added. ‘What happens in your flat?’

‘I give people advice on work, presentations, that sort of thing.’


‘You’re fishing. There’s nothing there.’

‘That dark haired one, the tall one – she’s always coming in.’

‘And have you noticed the tall man, about thirty, with the close-cropped hair? He visits three times a week.’


‘Why don’t you ask me about him?’

She grinned. ‘Not as interesting. What about the blondinka, the small one? She’s always there.’

‘Guilty.  She was mine, she’s not now.’

‘She’s very pretty.’

‘Everyone says so.’

‘You’re spoilt.’

‘People have said so, yes.’

‘Are you kind?’

‘I don’t know, I think so.’

‘I think so.

‘No, that’s survival.’

‘What do you want in a girl?’

‘Goodness. Someone who looks after herself first, who doesn’t hate men.’

‘Who hates men?’

‘There are many in the west.’

‘Must she be pretty?’

‘Good word, pretty. Do you agree that it’s different to the word ‘beautiful’?’

‘Nu, da, konyeshno [of course].’

‘I like pretty better than beautiful. There’s something called too pretty.’  This did not compute in her brain.  ‘It’s true.  When she acts expensively, men walk the other way if they’re intelligent.’

‘That’s awful.  Am I beautiful?’

‘The thirst of Eve. Yes, you’re stunningly beautiful, which is why I’ve never approached you.’

‘Are you scared of me?’

‘Yes. I could get into a lot of trouble with you. What do you want in a boy?’

‘Who says I want a boy?’ She was losing interest. ‘What are we going to do now, it’s getting late.’

‘Time for you to scream again, then we’ll have some more kolbasa, salad and chocolates. OK?’

‘OK. You ready?’ He nodded and she gave it both lungs while he hollered up a treat, then they went silent.

‘I think something happened with the front door when they and the electricity problem affected the lift.’

‘Nah, the lift’s always breaking down.’

‘Not the new one.’

‘Do you think we might be here all night?’

‘Can’t see it. Why don’t we do it this way. We’ll finish up the salad now because it won’t last, even at this temperature. Your bag can be a pillow, my jacket I see you like – you try to get some sleep for a while.’

‘You’ll look in my bag.’


She lay down as outlined, it was all right for a few minutes but she was not happy, she sat up again. ‘You’re cold there and I’m cold on the floor, even in this jacket. It’s not fair to you. Give me the chocolate box lid … please.’

He did, she unclipped her bag and poured everything into the upturned lid. His eyes almost popped out. The things in a woman’s bag are a revelation. The first was a mobile phone.

‘They cut me off. I didn’t pay the bill.’

‘You don’t have to do this, Masha. It’s not an inquisition, I don’t need to know.’


‘The cosmetics – my goodness, do you use all those?’


‘So, what’s the big deal? Why would you be worried about me looking in your bag if you’ve nothing interesting there?’

‘Are you blind?’

‘I’m a bit stupid, yes. I don’t know what I’m meant to be looking at.’

‘Yes you do.’  He’d kept his eyes away from the pack of condoms.

‘That’s your business.’

‘Do you think I’m pretty?’

‘We’ve done that one.’

‘My mobile wasn’t disconnected. It’s just turned off but it’s true the battery’s low.’

He looked at her. She continued, ‘I didn’t want to be phoned.’

‘You let us stay here, knowing that?’

‘Da. Are you angry with me?’

‘I’ve enjoyed every moment. Aren’t you going to phone anyone?’

‘Do you want me to? I’m as warm as anything in your jacket.’

He thought for ten seconds. ‘No, I don’t want you to phone but we might have to.’

She thought for a minute and then said, ‘I lied to you. The battery’s completely flat. I meant to recharge it before I left but I forgot.’

‘Have a chocolate.’

‘What do you recommend?’

‘This one. You seem to like soft centres.’

Someone had pushed a button, the lift started up and went to the 10th floor. When the doors opened, the lad broke into laughter at the cross-dressing. They both shuffled out, waited till the boys got in and went down, saying nothing.

‘Not by lift,’ she said, ‘we’ll take the stairs, it’s ok this high up.’


It was ok, he walked her to her landing and so here it was.   She took out her key quickly and in that perfunctory way, was almost gone but then came the quick glance and smile. ‘Спасибо. За все. [thanks for everything].’

Then she’d gone.  

He went back upstairs.



Friday, May 22, 2009

Moon Over Sedna


The 2005 Outer Reaches conference in New York had reached the last day and the topic was Sedna. The hall was packed. This slide [later part of a Wiki entry] was projected onto the large screen:

Sedna (provisionally designated 2003 VB12) was discovered by Michael Brown (Caltech), Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory), and David Rabinowitz (Yale University) on 14 November 2003. The discovery formed part of a survey begun in 2001 with the Samuel Oschin telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California using Yale’s 160 megapixel Palomar Quest camera.

It was question time:

Monday, May 18, 2009

The fallen woman of Modica

[Hotel Palazzo Failla]


The temperature had finally dropped by nightfall, from the unbearable, ‘hide in the stone cave’ to the ‘time to venture out’ and head down to the Hotel Failla.

Third day in a row 40C by 10 a.m. … the electronic board in Piazza Garibaldi near the hotel was registering 41C but now it had dropped to a tolerable 29 degree early evening … people opened shutters and ventured outdoors.

It was a rock in the sun, Sicily and Modica Alta was at the top of that rock.

On the second day, Robyn Young and Tom Everard had met up with a former employee of the hotel … she was studying English with hopes of working in England … seemed Giuliana was still welcome around the place, she still did some waitressing, filled in here and there, occasionally did the rooms.

Anyway, she’d managed to scribble out a list of hotel staff, plus guests for the conference and had dropped it off by car last evening … sporting her shiny new Rav4 courtesy of a loving Papa, Robyn shouldn’t wonder.

Tom and Robyn had gone through that list today, stuck in their ‘Cava’ set in the rock some distance up the hill from the hotel (see sketch), working out possible allies, partners, ways they could approach these workshops … getting the game plan sorted was the thing … this was Giuliana’s list:

Hotel staff:

Signóre Failla, 57, Modica, Sicily, proprietor
Signóra Failla, 42, Modica, Sicily, proprietor
Vittoria Scirpa, 26, Scicli, Sicily, front desk
Francesco Giavatto, 27, Modica, Sicily, waiter
Tommaso Scirpa, 25, Cava d’Ispica, Sicily, waiter
Claudia Gintoli, 21, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Francesca Vindigni, 19, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Eleonora Iacono, 19, Modica, Sicily, chambermaid
Giuliana Licitra, 29, Frigintino, Sicily, former employee

IT delegates:

Giovanni Criscione, 29, Milano, Italy, venture capital
Arturo Alecci, 29, Scicli, Sicily, freelance, venture capital
Massimiliano Pace, 37, Donnalucata, Sicily, Impada, systems expertise
Johannes Ilkka, 54, Helsinki, Suomi, Sitra, venture capital
Aino Ilkka, 27, Kerkola, Suomi, Tekes, programme co-designer
Ilmari Jokipii, 26, Helsinki, Suomi, Tekes, systems expertise
Jaakko Perttula, 26, Helsinki, Suomi, Tekes, systems expertise.
Yuri Federov, 41, St. Petersburg, Russia, Lukoil, venture capital
Natalia Beria, 38, Smolensk, Russia, Gotek, systems expertise
Marcel Dumont, 34, Orly, France, Techniques, systems expertise
Cédric Ratouis, 29, Iles de Paris, programme co-designer
Isabelle Ratouis, 27, Iles de Paris, systems expertise
Christa von Sievers, 51, Kempten, Bavaria, security issues
Tom Everard, 43, Tarporley, UK, Innovative Technologies, security packages
Robyn Young, 31, Tarporley, UK, Innovative Technologies, security packages
Vaclav Chmyz, 41, Warsaw, Polska, Juri Micha, venture capital
Paul Fox, 43, Auckland, New Zealand, venture capital
Maaka Rawiri, 28, Auckland, New Zealand, systems expertise
Salimah Rafa, 21, Tunisia, listed as IT expert but does not appear to be

They had until the morrow, August 15th, to get it internalised, yet they were due at a concert at the hotel in a short while this evening – they read other notes about the area, about Sicily, about Italy, about the people running the conference. Time to dress … even dressing down required care.

Seems there were sensitivities between the north and the south of Italia plus Sicilia … there was a fair amount of capital sloshing around Sicilia, still untapped, then Massimiliano Pace of Donnalucata, Sicily, through his company Impada, together with Giovanni Criscione, of Milano and Arturo Alecci of Scicli, had got it into their heads to advertise, through journals and social media, a tech conference where expertise and ideas could meet capital.

Almost every start-up in the field in Europe and beyond had applied and various venture capital providers had also been sniffing about, fronting for other names on the whole. The idea was a mover if they could cut the participants to manageable levels.

Robyn knew Modica through travel, having had her Sicilian fling last year with Francesco Giavatto who waited at this particular hotel,  she’d already described the place to Tom and had drawn the rough map from memory.  


Modica Alta, the top of this vast rock, partly residential, was still old world, while the centre of action was further down the hill in Modica Bassa, the touristy shopping area where the nightlife suited them.  If they followed that road some way along to the south-east, there was another road heading sharply left up another hill or rather further round this hill – too difficult to explain.  

Now, on top of that second hill was the real residential area La Sorda – the hospital, the supermarket, the pet shop – the things modern living demanded.

As this was summer and most residents had long left town if they could for the seaside, there were generally rooms available in the hotel but Giuliana had advised them to take this room in the Cava. 

Robyn went through her notes and gave Tom the potted version while they dressed … this city’s architecture, frankly, was living history, from the Chiaramonte influence to the Gothic, to the Spanish to the Arabic.  To even the most culturally dulled brain, she added, the vibrancy of the past, the look of the whole area, meant it was a perfect place for a conference.

They could now hear the first strains of music and realized they’d not have a seat, they’d been warned half of Modica would turn out for this, it was a case of scurrying out then gingerly stepping down Regina Margherite … carefully, carefully … it could not be walked down too quickly on account of the greasy black residue on the asphalt, plus the 1 in 4 drop as they’d found to their cost the day before.


They eventually made it to the bottom, turned left at Palazzo Napolino and there were the guests ahead … al fresco, on wooden chairs in the narrow Piazza, the night sky clear, the traffic having dissipated, stillness around except for the artists at the far end up on that platform, partially silhouetted by the glow of lights from the lower town.

Francesco saw them both, came through the crowd with a chair, followed by Giuliana with another chair, both in best maroon waiting and waitressing garb, there were hugs, Francesco’s chair was offered to Robyn, smiles all round, Giuliana did the same for Tom. Then they had to disappear.

‘Isn’t this lovely,’ whispered Tom, Robyn smiled.

Next thing they knew, Giuliana reappeared with a covered tray, covered presumably so other guests would not get ideas, she was beaming, she asked Robyn to pull the cloth back, there were two wines, unfortunately in plastic beakers but no matter and then came the almond impanatigghi and canoli but tastiest of all was Giuliana, thought Tom, as the eye contact had Robyn sighing.

Giuliana left quickly, offering morsels to other patrons along the way.

The programme which they’d now missed most of had come to its climax, the tenor Signóre Pietro de Luca began Nessun Dorma and the whole of the hilltop fell silent, apart from Signóre de Luca of course, a heady moment no one there was going to forget in a hurry.  Really, it was one of those moments in life, couldn’t be replicated, no point trying.

The piece came to its crashing finale, rapturous applause erupted, Tom looked round at the standing multitude behind them wildly expressing their appreciation then, at almost the same moment, above the crowd, he caught the grotesque sight of a woman falling from an upstairs window, Signóre Failla also saw it, three waiters plus Giuliana quickly headed in that direction.

Robyn saw just the last part of the fall, she assumed they’d take the body inside the northern entrance bar immediately, probably incurring the wrath of the carabinieri but stopping hysteria before it began. In this, Signóre Failla was standing on his intergenerational position in the community and when one of the local officers, a sallow youth, assisted him, it was not the onlookers’ business any more.  Quite handy having them here but who wasn’t here this evening?

Signóre Failla now appeared from a door further down, close to the stage, it was time for his speech to the dignitaries, to the performers, to the audience, his wife had begun speaking without him, demanding via her passion rather than her words that all fasten their eyes on her.

Now he gathered himself, moved to the podium to further applause, waited for his wife to finish, then made a most emotional speech which had the performers almost blushing, everything wound up most satisfactorily, guests were urged to remain and enjoy the wine and snacks, at which the extra waitresses for the evening sprang up, took a tray each, while Signóre Failla mingled with the throng, making small talk and graciously accepting accolades.

Francesco came over and nodded to him, the police would delay their official arrival for twenty minutes, which was about the time it would take for the wine and morsels to be finished up, the crowd slowly drifted their separate ways, some to Ristorante La Gazza Ladra but most homewards and forty minutes later saw a group of seven gathered in the luncheon bar, being addressed by Alberto Tasca, chief officer for the area.


In short, with Giuliana and the front-desk man translating when necessary, it seemed the poor woman, Aino Ilkka, a Finn of 27 years from the Kerkola area near Lapland and one of the delegates, had decided to remain in her room throughout the performance, pleading a headache, husband Johannes, 54, had been seated outside during the recital and the most curious aspect was his immediate lack of emotion upon hearing of her demise.

Tasca had the theme of the conference clear in his head within ten minutes – Arturo Alecci explained what the whole conference was about, though Tasca had heard bits and pieces of course.

First cabs off the rank now for Tasca were Signóre Failla, Francesco, Tom, Giuliana translating – and Robyn.

Si, Tom had seen the woman falling first. Si, it was almost as if she were diving into a swimming pool, not falling but difficult to ascertain in a split second.

Signóre Failla confirmed that he’d seen the headfirst movement of the lady, the view then obscured by a large potted tree, one of many dotted about the outside of the building. Did she seem deceased already? He shrugged, ‘How can I know?’ to which Tom chipped in that she’d certainly not been flailing or anything like that.

And so it went on. Next up was Giuliana, and Tom’s ears pricked up – he wanted to know all about her and what was worse, she knew he did and went a little red, quickly glancing in his direction, then down.

Si, she was from Frigintini and helped out on occasions at the hotel, such events as this evening’s, for example. Si, she was a lady of leisure, aged 29 although she was studying for a degree in horticulture, from home.  Plus English at a local college.  Tasco knew of the Licitra family in the Frigintini area and could understand.  Si, she’d learned English four years. No, she’d seen almost nothing except where the falling lady had disappeared behind the awning.

Tasco had of course picked up on the connection between Miss Licitra and the Englishman, who hadn’t sen it?  There might be something more there, there might not.

The waiters and waitresses were interviewed – no one had been upstairs via the staircase during the recital but si, there was a staff exit from the far end of the luncheon bar, which led upstairs to a toilet and no, it was not possible to access the guest chambers from there.

Signóre Ilkka came through with Giovanni and made it plain from the outset that he wanted this thing over and done with and would the inspector or whatever he called himself kindly get on with it?

Giovanni winced, knowing from bitter experience how the Italian police could tie you up in red tape if you failed to respect their procedures and let them do it at their own pace. This man seemed to be heading for a fall, unless he knew something or somebody Giovanni wasn’t sure about.

Giuliana, the other staff and Tom finished up their coffees and the former now offered to drop the latter back at la Cava on the way home, as Robyn had agreed to stay on here with Francesco for some time. 

If he’d entertained any romantic ideas, they were soon dashed.  Her car stopped at the top of the one way Corso Regina Margherite and it was an awkward moment. She was dog tired after tonight, he was tongue-tied but both knew they’d enjoyed this first day and they agreed lunch on the morrow.

‘Ciao, grazie,’ was said and each went home, which was also what had been arranged between Francesco and Robyn … she was dropped off at the Cava some hour or so later.


The word ‘conference’ did not accurately describe the get-together so much as ‘workshop’. It was a very hands-on affair, with the practical application and drawbacks at issue, annoying obstacles were being brainstormed over and into this came the slight form of Alberto Tasco, apologising and wishing to speak with Signóre Everard e Signórina Young again.

They excused themselves and went to the guest bar where Giuliana was waiting, something which caused him to immediately redden, a point again not lost on anyone.

‘Signóre e Signórina,’ said Tasco, ‘I’d like you to cast your mind back to last night and describe again what you saw, not only at the scene of the tragedy but all the way along the side of the hotel. You see, both you and the young lady may have seen something else but not noticed it, you understand.’

Tom nodded and explained, through Giuliana’s interpretation: ‘As you know, facing the hotel from where the guests had been … the left corner of the building was where it happened and interestingly, the light was not on in that room or at least it didn’t appear to be. As we move to the right along the hotel outer wall, to the next part … I have no way of knowing where one room ends on that floor and another starts … it was also in darkness but as we approach the bar -’

‘Signóre, Signórina, may we go outside and can you demonstrate this to me?’

They all went out to the piazza.

‘From here to here, the middle part of the hotel, the bar … well it had a light on upstairs, but from there to the end of the hotel to your right … well it had no lights on … the end where the singing was. What think you, Robyn?’ She concurred. ‘Is it significant?’

‘Let me confirm – the room on the northern end of the hotel, to the left here, which was actually behind the guests last night the room from where the lady fell in other words … it did not have the room light on?’


‘What would you say if I was to tell you that that is not the room of Signóra Ilkka but of Signóra Failla herself?’

‘Extraordinary. Could you tell me where the dead lady’s room actually gave onto?’ Giuliana translated for Tasco.

‘Certainly, it was on the far side of the building, over the main corsa.’

‘I see.’

‘Yes,’ Tasco replied, this time in English, ‘so why would she choose this particular window?’

‘Or why would someone else have chosen this particular window?’

The inspector looked at Everard. ‘I’m asking all guests to give small word portraits of the others; I’d appreciate if you’d now give yours, Signóre e Signórina. Start with the fellow conference delegates.’

Well, they’d spent a day doing that and they suspected Giuliana had imparted that to Tasco.  Robyn began.

‘Johannes and Aino Ilkka. He’s a hard man in the business mould, she was softer and younger, not unheard of with couples but still … there was something not quite right about her. I had no time to think much more about it earlier -’

‘Did you intend to?’

‘Well, yes. Quite apart from it being an interesting field in itself, psychology, my work is in security programmes so yes, I intended to sum people up along the way.’

‘Go on please.’


‘Well yes, there was definitely some sort of coldness between them which didn’t seem to fit the idea of a newly married couple with one many years the junior.’

‘Signórina Licitra here is many years your junior.’

‘She is kind to us, we like her.’

Giuliana showed nothing on her face, Robyn smiled, the Inspector asked Tom to continue. He passed it back to Robyn.

‘Salimah Rafa is interesting. As an Arab and presumably a Muslim, her presence at the conference puzzles me but was at the insistence of Arturo.’

‘And what do you make of that?’

‘I’d hope Arturo doesn’t have plans of his own for the distribution and sale of the finished product.’ Tasco smiled at her remark. ‘She doesn’t seem attached to anyone and yet she’s pretty-pretty, in her early 20s.  She couldn’t be orthodox I wouldn’t have thought, otherwise where is her man and why is she dressed almost provocatively, in Muslim terms?

Paul Fox and Maaka Rawiri are the two New Zealanders. Not Maori, despite one of the names but can’t quite see why they’re at a European conference like this.’

‘Potential antipodaean distributor of the product?’ put in Tom.

She continued. ‘Marcel Dumont from Paris, Cédric Ratouis and the beautiful woman with him, Isabelle whom I presume is his wife, plus Massimiliano Pace from Donnalucata – they all seem logical. All are involved in the IT field in industry, the former connected with the finance in Paris.

Yuri Federov is logical. Vaclav Chmyz, the Pole, is also. Johannes Ilkka is the money from up north and the other Finns, Ilmari Jokipii and Jaakko Perttula, are the expertise.

‘Who else?’

‘Tom?’  She passed it back over.

‘Christa von Sievers has reason to be here by virtue of her IT contribution but she also has an interesting association.’

‘Si, we know of that,’ murmured Tasco. Giuliana looked from one to the other and determined to ask Tom later. ‘Grazie, Signóre Everard, Signórina Young e Signóra Licitra. And now perhaps, your views on the staff of this hotel.’

Tom looked at Robyn, she indicated he do it. ‘I’ll give them but even then, there were all the guests to take into consideration, those at the concert I mean. Anyone could have walked in, hearing the singing all around Modica Alta, it was well advertised and any one of them could have been the one, should this have been a murder.’

‘You were once a member of military intelligence, low level, were you not, Signóre?’

‘Long ago, in a minor capacity, as you say.’

‘You have a special reason, do you not, to keep an eye on Signóra von Sievers?’

‘If you know that already, also on Yuri Federov’s sidekick, Natalia Beria.’

‘You’re being remarkably open, Signóre.’

‘Always pays when it can be discovered by a bit of research anyway. No doubt you’re aware of one of my personal missions.’

‘As, no doubt, are they. Which is why your prints on the window sill from where Signóra Ilkka fell did not lead to a rash of questions from me. Any thoughts on Ilmari Jokipii or Jaakko Perttula, from Finland?

‘Not particularly. Seem logical.’

‘Thank you.’


In the luncheon bar, Francesco was waiting, Robyn glanced at Tom, he smiled, it was pretty clear the way the land lay. They disappeared.

Giuliana went and brought back foccaccie and chicken salads. ‘Tom, you wish to go to Marina di Modica or Sampieri with me this afternoon? I have some free time.’

‘Are you meeting up with your friends?’

She smiled. ‘No, I’m showing you the sights.’

‘I’d love that, Giuliana, I’d really love it. Should I bring beach things?’

‘Si and I’ll pack some things to eat.’

‘Give me time to update myself on the morning’s doings upstairs and then I’ll join you. Where? At the car?’



[The guest bar]

They all broke for the afternoon and he soon found himself in the silver Rav 4, being transported to Sampieri. Looking from the corner of his eye at the driver, he saw the typical dark-haired Italian with Sicilian overtones but her shyness did not seem to be what he’d heard about local denizens and even in his covert scrutiny, she went bright red and lost her English, so he swung over to very bad Italian which caused her to choke in turn and this was going to be a lovely day, thought Tom.


Francesco had done well, but his choice of car had Robyn intrigued. He might have gone for the Lambos or Ferraris but chose instead the Maserati, and not the Gran Cabrio either but the Ghibli.

He was making quite a statement to his partners and clientele with this choice – he understood style and beauty but was almost disdainful at the same time about outlaying huge amounts on frivolous machinery and power he could never use – for him, the machinery had to fulfil a function … and do it well.

Robyn liked that and his lack of pretence.  He was almost a bridge between the Italian and the Anglo. That he was even giving her the time of day was beyond the call of business and frankly, she was flattered.

They did not go to Porzallo but to a little place further down the coast, where it may have been rockier but was less populated.

She herself was no slouch in the looks department but neither did she play the femme-fatale, she was a canny operator was Robyn and if Tom had been asked, he’d have said she was a thoroughly nice sort. 

Why had Robyn and Tom not … well … er?

Why do any two people not?  Circumstances.  Mixing business with pleasure not good?  Never got around to it?  Too much good friends to ruin it?  It wasn’t entirely off the drawing board but not for now. It just hadn’t.

That afternoon, with the rocky beach under the umbrella, the cool temperature of the cafe off the arcade in the middle of the stonewalled building – it was a slow build with Francesco and she … well, she loved it.



[The shoreline not far from Sampieri]


That’s what the beach was, packed with locals and tourists, the sea breeze and umbrella barely reducing the stifling heat and Tom’s whiteness, compared to Giuliana’s light-olive colouring, stood out embarrassingly.

On the other hand, she hadn’t been out in the sun much herself either, tan lines clearly demarcated and as she handed him the impanate and he handed her the water, there clearly had to be something else to help this day along.

They found it in a walk over the rocky shore, all the way to the old brick factory, the abandoned but dominating feature of the shoreline. Her flat sandals, so beloved of Italian women, were a bit treacherous and at one point she slipped, he caught her and that was the first contact taken care of.

An awkward time now ensued when neither could think what to say, they were walking very close, hands occasionally brushing against the other’s, he crossed the line and took hers, her fingers immediately slipping inside his, in total silence.

‘Tomas,’ she then said in a slightly elevated voice, once they’d reached the wall, ‘we go over there.’

‘There’ took them inside the wall and he had no idea of the legality of the thing but as the gate had been unlocked, he reasoned it was all right. The shade afforded by the eaves of the brickworks proper was a welcome relief, they both turned at the same time and the inevitable happened.

Interestingly, though she’d allowed herself this far, now she was unsure and hung back and he flattered himself she still wanted … but just couldn’t.

No matter, he thought, it could also have been that she’d realized the futility with one such as him or hadn’t liked what she’d found close up. They’d take it as it came. He ventured another kiss on spec, she allowed it and tried a couple of daring moves herself, then pulled back again. That at least confirmed something to him.

Well, all right, let’s move on.

She led through the gate first, he following, there was a soft ‘phut’ sound and he caught the bullet in the right arm, just below the shoulder, falling to the ground.


Fornace Penna a Sampieri [Welshcakes]


In his hospital bed in la Sorda, Giuliana had been beside him for some time but his next visitor was Alberto Tasca. Tom smiled semi-apologetically as the inspector brought a chair over and sat down.

Tom and Giuliana assured the man – they’d seen no one suspicious but yes, Tom could speculate on who it might have been, it might be worth following up on the Germans and Russians.

Tasco thanked him and took his leave.


Twenty-five minutes later, of all people, the Pole Vaclav Chmyz appeared and immediately the communication barrier was the problem, though he knew some Italian.

Chmyz was clearly uneasy but as neither Giuliana nor Tom were making any moves to converse, the man decided to come out with it. He’d seen Natalia Beria at Sampieri. Had he told the inspector? Not yet.

The visit concluded soon after, with thanks for the information and Giuliana now stated the obvious: ‘There were many people at Sampieri yesterday, Tomas, including this man Chmyz himself. Everyone had to go somewhere to escape the heat and we have three main beaches. It might mean something but it might not.’

Now she became uneasy. ‘Tomas, you know … back at the brick factory …’

‘That’s your business, Giuliana, your own private reason, your lips were sweet, that’s all I know and all I want to know.’

‘I’d like to tell you, to explain to you … I can’t.’

‘Then don’t,’ he smiled and she took his hand.


The conference was going ahead as per schedule, Tom convalescing at the hotel, one of the upstairs guest rooms had been made over at Giuliana’s urging and now the inspector wanted to talk … he’d brought Giuliana with him and she didn’t seem too put out by that.

‘Signóre Everard, why do you think Signóra Ilkka went out of that particular window? Why would either she or someone else wish the tragedy to be so visible?’

‘At first I thought it was to make a point to her husband for some reason known only to the two of them. It still might have been but there were anomalies. Why from the corner room, behind the audience, behind him even? The husband didn’t see it happen. It could have been that … so close to the northern bar entrance, it would be taken care of very quickly so she might have thought.

One thing which puzzled me was this high dive – she landed head first. Now either that was to ensure instant death and no lingering pain or else, if it had been his doing, how had she taken that trajectory?

I thought it through and it seems to me that that room was being used because it was the only window without security devices. Signóra Failla didn’t need or want such things … Aino knew that and took a swan dive.’

Tasco rubbed his chin and said, ‘Regulations cover all windows. That window did have security devices but they’d been disabled. Also, they’re not primarily to prevent people jumping out but to prevent undesirables getting in.’

‘So someone might have been trying to get in to rob Signóra Failla’s room, met Aino and threw her out.’

‘Why was she in that room at that moment?’

‘I don’t know, Inspector. You tell me and while you’re about it, you might tell me why anyone would want to break in at that moment, during a concert and with people milling around on the main street as well as in the piazza?’

‘Si, my thoughts also.’

‘Let’s face it, anyone could have come in the door of the northern bar -’

‘No, it was locked.’

‘The boys who got her inside the hotel did it very quickly.’

‘Si, that is so.’

‘It’s complicated.’

‘It is. Now, do you see any connection with the attack on you and that on Signóra Ilkka?’

‘I think they might be separate, the reason for my own having already occurred to you.’


In the heat of Sicily, one got up early and prepared for the day long before 09:00 as a rule.

Tom had been awake since 04:30 and so heard the first staff arrive, heard the place being unlocked, the various machines turned on, the night porter departing, the girls who did breakfast and the rooms also arriving.

He’d ordered his breakfast for 07:30, half an hour away and thought about changing the time but didn’t. Usually the girl would leave it outside if a guest left the sign on the door handle but if not, she’d knock and bring it in. He had left the sign because he didn’t want complications with the management, so when the knock came and the door handle turned, he was annoyed.

It was Giuliana though, carrying the sign and his emotions went through so many changes, none of which were lost on her, he wished he was not such a wimp in love. She opened the drapes, set the tray on the sidetable and turned to him.

He was about to ask, decided against it and now there was an impasse. He couldn’t very well get out of bed undressed, as she could see [ahem].  Walking over to the wardrobe, she saw the blue cotton robe, passed it to him, turned away, he got up, put it on, walked up behind and passed one arm round her, she spun round, planted a kiss then ran from the room.

He sat at the low table and poured a coffee.

The instant the liquid came near his tongue, he suspected something, ran to the bathroom and swilled his mouth over and over and over with water, came back through and rang reception. Vittoria was on duty and he asked if Giuliana was nearby.

‘One moment, please.’

‘Si, Tomas?’

‘Come upstairs now, something has happened.’ Click.

She knocked and came through. ‘Tomas,’ she said simply and he indicated for her to sit in the chair opposite his.

‘The coffee is poisoned.’

‘No, no, it is not! It cannot be!’ She clearly thought he was accusing her.

‘I’m not saying you did it but before we call anyone else, let’s try to think about it … together. Can anyone hear us from the corridor?’

‘One moment.’ She went and checked, came back but conceded that the hall carpet would hush footsteps. ‘Speak softly.’

‘Exactly what happened downstairs, who prepared the breakfast, when did you take it, did you walk away for any time and come back? Think.’

She lost colour in her face. ‘I prepared it myself and then brought it to you immediately. I was … pleased to see you again.’

‘There was no time before then when you put that breakfast tray down?’

‘No. But I did not prepare the coffee. That was done by To –’

She stopped and he supplied, ‘By Tommaso. Now look, Giuliana, when did you agree to work till today?’

‘I don’t work. I’m  just helping today because I wanted.’

‘Bene. Could you do your own investigation down there? Slowly. First take Tommaso to one side and tell him what happened. If he’s guilty, you’ll see that quickly so don’t be in a closed place with him and don’t eat anything he prepares. If it looks as if he is as shocked as you, then put both your heads together and try to think who it was. Then go to the next person and do the same thing. Would you do that?’


‘Anything happens, run up here, call my name, I’ll hear and phone the Inspector.’

She nodded and departed.


The waiting began. Tom felt the wardrobe was the best place to be, crouched down but first he lightly ran the shower, came back and got into position in the space under the hanging clothes.

It truly sounded stupid, the whole thing. This was a public place, with people coming and going, any sudden death here, especially now, would see the whole show stopped and everyone hauled down to the station or whatever they had. Goodbye conference. If there were people who needed him out of the way, they also needed something else as a result of the conference, so what would be the point?

Unless of course that someone was nuts or vindictive or had some score to settle and that was the only important thing. And the only one he could think of in that category, vis-a-vis him, was Crista von Sievers.

Now however, it happened quickly, it was bizarre, someone had clearly come into the room, paused and then gone to the bathroom. Whoever it was now realized it was a trick and ran for the door, getting out just as the phone rang.

He climbed out and went to the phone, it was Giuliana and she wanted to come upstairs.


She knocked and entered, he got in first. ‘Tell me what happened down there.’

‘I told Tommaso, he expressed shock but I’m not sure. He asked me who I thought had done it. I went back to Vittoria on the desk but she says she knew nothing of it.’

He told her about events from a couple of minutes ago. They just looked at one another.


The heat of the day was upon them, everyone had begun the last day of the conference, there was no outward drama but Tom and Giuliana now went to la Cava with the inspector, she taking up a place on the chaisse longue, he on the bed and the inspector on the hard chair, rubbing his chin in that characteristic manner of his.

‘A woman’s footsteps in your room?’

‘Too difficult to say but it seemed that way to me. Not a large woman because there were seven or eight steps. I’d imagine a man would have gone more swiftly or even Vittoria.’

‘It was a risk on that person’s part. And yes … it was poison, not saying which at this point … that might just be important … the ‘which’ question.’

‘When Giuliana went downstairs, perhaps she was looking worried. That would have tipped off the person who was most likely waiting for some sign. He or she would assume that the poisoning had happened and that Giuliana did not want any scandal for the hotel. She’s known for being discreet -’

‘Except with you?’

‘Oh, she’s quite discreet with me, Inspector. The soul of discretion. That someone tipped off the person upstairs and the one upstairs then came through to check, was puzzled by the shower being on and needed to get close enough to hear me. Then she or he got out of there just as the phone rang.’

‘It’s possible. It would be better, Signóre Everard, that you remain here until we investigate thoroughly and the signórina needs to remain here too. There is a second room, I notice, with a lock and one man will be posted through the night. He’ll bring food as you need. He’ll be here shortly and I’ll introduce you.

The signórina should call her home and explain; perhaps her father might like to come to make sure all is well but I would like that she stay here. Even home is not safe for her at this moment. Would you do this, Signórina? It is much to ask, we can arrange a second room.’

She did not feel it was the time to speak of second rooms but she agreed to the arrangement.

A phone call was put through, all was explained, the inspector was put on the line, the father was indeed coming around, he handed back Giuliana’s phone and went to the door.


Forty minutes later, the father knocked and came through with baskets of food, the introductions began all over again. After the food had been fridged, the inspector explained that though the father could speak by phone with his daughter at any time, night or day, he must not actually come to this address until she called for him.

The father checked her room, was satisfied, scrutinized Tom and was also satisfied – Giuliana must have extolled his virtues in that direction, it was known that a second officer would relieve the first at dusk, another at midnight, the names and numbers of both replacements were given, the father was satisfied, he and the Inspector departed.

‘Hungry?’ asked Tom.

‘I’ll prepare it.’

They had a lovely snack lunch, washed down by a drop or two of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, there was good conversation and the thing was done the Sicilian way, a great relief after the tension.

There was a call … the Inspector. She passed the phone to ‘Tomas’. ‘Si. Si. No, non è possibile! Ispettore, parlare con Giuliana favore.’

She took the phone and almost comically repeated, ‘Si. Si. No, non è possibile! Quando? È viva? Sta bene? Beh, questo è un sollievo.’ Tom was alternately chagrined, now relieved. ‘Dov’è lei? Sì, naturalmente, ispettore, si chiederà le domande.’ She turned her eyes to the ceiling. Now she translated as he spoke. ‘Robyn is at the hospital and then will go to a different safe place. Understood. Yes, a warning, as with Tomas, no plan to kill her, just to take them out of the conference perhaps? Si, si, l’ispettore chiederà le domande. Ciao per adesso.’ She clicked it shut. ‘How much did you get?’

‘All of it.’


With Giuliana’s things in her official room down the corridor, she came through to Tom and sat on the bed with him. It now really hit home that here they were and yet there was a barrier which only she could explain, a barrier she seemed stressed by, he took her hand and said, ‘I do not like that this is stressing you.’

‘If we start, Tomas, we will not be able to stop.’

‘All right, then we won’t.’

‘You accept this so easily. You go from here in three days. I want and yet I cannot.’

‘Then we don’t. You must keep your promise to him.’

‘Si.’ Then she suddenly looked at him. ‘Ah.’

They heard the officer open the outer door and the sound of three voices, the inspector came to Tom’s room, knocked and was bidden enter.

‘Signóre Scirpa [Tommaso] e sua moglie [Vittoria] were together in it. The one upstairs was Natalia Beria. I still do not consider that it is safe and so this night will go ahead as planned. Tommaso is in custody and Signórina Beria is on her way to Catania.’

Tom nodded but Giuliana was shocked to the core, not least at the personal danger there’d been to herself. Tom asked, ‘Was there a connection to the death of Signóra Ilkka?’

‘We still cannot say. Again tell me, who took her into the northern bar?’

Giuliana answered, ‘Tommaso and Francesco.’

‘Signórina, Francesco Giavatto remained downstairs at the luncheon bar the whole time, apart from going to the toilet twice from that bar, which leads nowhere.’

‘Signóra Ilkka was with the guests the whole time,’ Tom reminded him.

The inspector smiled at him. ‘It’s time now for you, yourself, Signóre, to tell us about your purpose here.’

Giuliana started back but the inspector reassured her, ‘No, Signórina. Signóre Everard is not guilty in this matter.’ She relaxed but her nerves were still bad. Tom wanted this to end and the inspector, not an insensitive man, saw it and nodded again.

‘All right, it’s like this, Inspector. The two people who came to this conference did not even bother to disguise their names. I have a friend who has lived in Modica a very long time, I made contact when we got here, she -’

‘May I ask who this friend is, Signóre?’

‘Her name is Simone Pierrine, she is a scholar and lover of all things Sicilian, she speaks, as far as I can tell, perfect Italian.’

The Inspector made no facial gesture. ‘I know of this lady,’ he said. ‘She helped clear up a little matter a year ago. Continue.’

‘Whether the two people I’m referring to are victims of their own home propaganda and felt that no one else could know, I’m not sure but let me quote what Simone sent to me.

‘An excellent piece of research by Benjamin B. Fischer: Beria is the name of the man who urged Stalin to execute 21,857 Polish prisoners at Katyn and two other execution sites, one at Mednoye (near the former city of Kalinin, now Tver’, in Russia) and the other near Kharkiv (formerly Kharkov), Ukraine.

This was complicated by the USSR’s disastrous 105-day war against Finland at the time, in 1939, and the NKVD dispatched one of its rising stars, Major Vassili Zarubin to take care of the job. The Poles were the intelligentsia and higher skilled people who could possibly have led a revolt against the oppressor.

They were initially put in camps at Kozelsk, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov, all three located on the grounds of former Orthodox monasteries converted into prisons, then transferred to the execution sites.

When the Nazis discovered mass graves in April, 1943, it was grand propaganda for Goebbels to use to divide the allies but the U.S.A. and Britain decided to cover up and whitewash the whole affair instead, for obvious reasons.  Inspector, this woman, Natalia Beria, is of that family and was determined to clear her family name.’

‘But of course,’ commented Tasco, ‘it is not the Russians themselves, post-communism who need to cover up. The crimes of Stalin and Voroshilov, Molotov, Mikoyan, Kalinin and Kaganovich are well and truly part of folk lore now, so who would still wish to see it remain secret?’

Giuliana supplied it: ‘The Americans and the British.’

‘Plus,’ added Tom, ‘some Polish communists who colluded, of which one is now staying at Hotel Failla. Let me continue the email:

‘At a Kremlin ceremony on October 13th, 1990, Gorbachev handed Jaruzelski a folder of documents that left no doubt about Soviet guilt. He did not, however, make a full and complete disclosure. Missing from the folder was the March 1940 NKVD execution order. Gorbachev laid all blame on Stalin’s secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria.’ ’

‘And,’ the inspector added, ‘Signórina Beria has never forgiven this. Yuri Federov was in grave danger of his life and that was this lady’s focus – to destroy Russian interests at this conference. Signóre Everard, due to his long collusion with Russia as well, was equally damned in her eyes.’

‘The second person,’ Tom took up the tale again, ‘whom the inspector is well aware of, is mentioned in another article by Wulf Schwartzwaller, titled: ‘The Unknown Hitler’. I quote:

‘An SS occult research department, the Ahnernerbe (Ancestral Heritage) was established in 1935 with SS Colonel Wolfram von Sievers at its head. Occult research took SS researchers as far afield as Tibet. Sievers had the Tantrik prayer, the Bardo Thodol, read over his body after his execution at Nuremberg.’

The granddaughter of that man is present in this delegation as well.’

Giuliana was goggle-eyed. ‘All this in these past few days?’

‘Yes, yes it has been. Why she would wish to harm me is tangential. I publish many articles against the Bruderheist who are but one part of these people. Hardly anyone reads my work but They do and They’re not noted for their forgiveness.’

Tasco added, ‘We’re reasonably convinced of the culpability of Christa von Sievers but we also feel there is one other. We feel that we might have missed something quite big in what has happened, quite an admission for a police officer but as long as we do get there in the end … well anyway, it almost seems as if this has been a play so far, of which the falling woman was merely the overture. We also think that the names Beria and von Sievers were too obvious, designed to get people like Signóre Everard thinking along these lines. Perhaps there is a greater plan afoot.’

It was Tom’s turn to stop and think. ‘Money?’

‘Si and in this charade of the past few days, although a painful charade for you, Signóre, and for Signórina Young, the net effect is that you have been removed from the deliberations at the conference.’

‘So that when we return, the security anomalies will already have been implanted in the programme and will just require my perusal and signing off. And all of this with time short, the conference about to end, great pressure brought to bear on us to just wave the thing through.’

‘Quite possibly. The programme goes wrong when it is implemented, the funds are transferred and the blame falls on the security agency who signed it off, ruining that man forever.’

‘Then we should be there now.’

‘No, Signóre. To do that would be actual death for you – these people are not playing games, they actually do plan to kill you, make no mistake about this. As for Signórina Young, we’re not so sure of that as yet.

What I would suggest to you both is that you must not sign off on the programme until your people have had a good look at it. You are on firm ground here. Prevented from doing your job and close to the time when people have flights booked for their return, great pressure will be brought to bear on you, as you say, to sign off but everyone there knows, in his heart, that by any industry standards, you must not. By keeping you here tonight, quite safely, I might add, the one that we suspect – that person will be feeling quite nervous.’

‘How is Robyn?’

‘Sleeping. Call her tomorrow morning.’

‘Will you tell the nurse there to tell her that I’m thinking of her?’

‘Certe, as I tell you now she also is thinking about you.’

‘Good. Let’s have a wine. Would you like, Giuliana?’

‘I’ll get them.’

Once she’d gone, the inspector moved closer and whispered, ‘Don’t drink your wine.’ Tom was appalled at the implication but still nodded.

Giuliana returned with a tray of eats and glasses of wine, all of which she now distributed. She lifted her glass but noticed the other two didn’t and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’

The inspector took out three glass phials and one by one, poured the wine into them, pulling out post-it notes and labelling them as he went along. ‘My officer has the bottle, Signórina, an officer I can trust.’

Giuliana started back again. ‘No, you cannot think … you cannot think that!’

‘You’re quite right, Signórina, I do not think that but the wine is poisoned, all the same.’

‘Then you are accusing my Papa – he brought it.’

‘Again, no, Signórina Licitra. We are accusing the person who changed the wine in the basket.’

At this, Giuliana clammed up and went into despair. Tasco made the right noises and took his leave but before he did: ‘Oh, the unopened Siracusa Eloro sitting on the benchtop in the kitchen is quite drinkable and the other foodstuffs brought by my officer should also see you alive tomorrow morning. Good night to you both.’

She burst into tears, he did what was required. She sobbed, ‘Do you think … I want to … kill you?’

‘Not in the least, Giuliana, not in the least, the inspector said that and I believe him. I know you’ve a secret you can’t tell me and though we both know it, I’ll wait for you to show me in your own way in the next two days, before we fly out.’

It was 23:30, she kissed his cheek and took her leave, he heard her going down the corridor, he made ready, did what needed to be done and finally slipped into bed.


According to the inspector, nothing had been expected to change in the state of play overnight and it hadn’t.

Clearly, the big issue would be when Tom reviewed the programme with the group but at least all was known and anticipated.

When they walked into the conference room, he and the now sufficiently recovered and reunited Robyn, it was an artificial welcome from some, barely disguised annoyance from others and heartfelt warmth from the remainder.


It had taken them four hours to review the system, knowing immediately where certain tricks lay and suspecting where others might. They noted all their concerns on paper, then announced that it couldn’t be signed off, stating each concern aloud.

Two or three argued but one remained silent. It was put beyond doubt for that person when Tom announced:

‘We have reason to think, the polizei and the two of us, that the moment this system is installed and goes into operation, vast sums of money are going to be illegally transferred into the wrong hands. One person in this room has hoodwinked you into allowing this to happen.’

‘Do you know who this person is?’ asked Massimiliano Pace.

‘Si, we do, we very much do, also the police know this person’s identity and it is written in a file at the Questura. We also know that this person must act to force us to sign off before departure tomorrow or else eliminate us.’ There were gasps from many as the Inspector, who’d now entered the room, nodded.

‘But what of this programme we’ve all worked on?’ asked Marcel Dumont.

‘The essentials are sound, Monsieur but the programme must be rebuilt from just before we were taken out of the game. As you already have the basic blueprint in place, it would only take a security team, comprising one from each of our nations, to review it in another place, let’s say in Paris, thoroughly, the process being completed within two months, and all will be well.

That team will then sign it off and everyone will be happy, except for certain people in this room now and those they represent. And remember, this person or these people must act before the flight tomorrow. Interesting, isn’t it?’

‘I would not call it that,’ muttered Paul Fox.

The Inspector took it up. ‘Do not go anywhere in pairs, unless married, keep an eye on the conference room, see that no one enters it, just as we will, lock your doors and windows tonight and stay alert.

Do not be fooled, even by your own partner, to allow him or her into this conference room. The person who goes into this room, for whatever reason, however innocent it might seem to you or to us, however many years you have known that person – that person, sadly, is a criminal. Now, Signore e signori, please vacate this room and allow the proprietor to lock it.’

‘Does your own safety, that of your partner and that of your new girl not concern you, Herr Everard?’ asked Christa von Sievers.

‘Have you heard the expression ‘if you’re treading on thin ice, you might as well dance’, Fraulein?’

‘Except that to tread softly and not to dance might keep you alive,’ she said evenly, looking straight into his eyes.

‘We must do as we must do, Gnädige Frau and you must do as you must do. Would that it were not so.’

In dribs and drabs, they all departed and the room was locked. Last out were Tom, Robyn, Giuliana, now waylaid by Tasco.

‘That was an interesting exchange just now, Signóre. I must tell you that it was no idle threat. Not the lady herself but another fully intends for you not to catch that flight and your partner will be coerced over the Tramamile matter.’ Robyn went as white as a sheet. ‘These people are not playing games, Signóre e Signórina. I must tell you that if they need to take us, the police, as well, then what is that to them? How much do you both know of Italia?’

‘We get the idea.’

‘It is going to take some extraordinary measures to keep you alive and it is not the place we give you as refuge which will keep you safe, it is whoever is your guard.  Ensuring that that person has not been bought  – it is the whole issue here. Are you both agreed you do not sign off this deal?’

‘Absolutely,’ said Robyn.

‘Then you, with your Francesco,’ she smiled at that, ‘and you with your Giuliana,’ Giuliana smiled here, ‘will go to an undisclosed place each, not together. You are now about to see an extraordinary scene, for four people not of, shall we say, film star or political rank. You will first be escorted and then you will have to be ready to change vehicles quickly. Are you prepared to do these things? You may not have any of your possessions for now, as that is a calling card.’

‘Suppose so,’ said Tom.

‘Good, then we’ll begin. Let us visit Signóre e Signóra Failla.’

Four police came up the stairs and surrounded the three, they collected Francesco downstairs, made their way through to the official area, the owners took them quickly through a back exit, outside of which were about a dozen police, about half of whom had weapons trained in different directions, there were two cars and they were asked to lie low, the man across the rear footwell, the lady across the back seat. Something heavy, some metal filled cloth of some kind, was placed across each of the ladies.


They were in their respective places of concealment, each pair had had three changes of vehicle, they were hungry and Tom had two letters given to him on the third changeover.

He now opened the first – it was from Simone, he read it to Giuliana:

‘ ‘In January 1996, a book with the provocative title “The Katyn Crime Fiction”, written in Polish under the pseudonym “Juri Micha”, began circulating.’

‘Juri Micha is your Vaclav Chmyz’s company name. As for Aino – she’s a tragic character in Kalevala, a girl who drowns herself when forced to marry an old man.  And Ilkka – the last name of peasant rebellion leader Jaakko Ilkka in the 1590s.’ ’

They looked at one another. He opened the second, from the Inspector, in Italian. He handed it to Giuliana. She translated:

‘ ‘We checked the whereabouts of Salimah Rafa during the concert, those with whom she stayed, her living status within Italy, where she was the morning of the poisoned coffee, also Vaclav Chmyz’s extra-curricular activities for the Russian communist party; we especially checked if Johannes Ilkka had any special security clearance in Italy and how he first met his wife, where they were married and so on.’ ’


They’d eaten, Giuliana and Tom, they had wines at hand, they were sitting on the bed, he asked about how she’d been allowed to do this, to come with him.

‘My safety eclipses my virtue, although my virtue is fine, as you know.  My family knows that. And yours seems the same when it comes to me, though not to others.’

He spoke. ‘I hope your life together, you two, is all that you would wish. I’m sure it will be. I don’t wish to be the cause of anything which might prevent that.’

She initially froze, then relaxed and said, ‘A lover needs to be bold, Tomas, he needs to be sure if he wants her or not, with no doubts. If he’s sure, he will make her, take her or fail in the trying.  On the other hand, if he is not sure, if he is timid, if he thinks he might be doing wrong, he has no right to play with her, not even one kiss.’

The silence could have been cut with a knife.

He cut it. ‘Giuliana, there’s bold and then there’s bold. In these past days, the crisis took its toll. We required boldness during that and we were bold. If anyone were to threaten you, I’d be bold and not stop until he was neutralised, I’ve done that before.  Bold in love can also mean unfeeling, insensitive to the other person’s position. I was bold enough to go straight for you in the hotel and also to take the kiss at the brickworks. But when I could see in your body language that you loved another and what’s more, you had a conscience about it, then I felt it was wrong.  Yet we continued, I allowed it to.  My wrong.  It’s best I go back to Britain tomorrow and that gives us both time to think, if you need it.  Send me an email.’

‘You do know I’m coming to Britain anyway, don’t you? I’ve booked a course three months from now and I’ll be in Cambridge for three weeks. You will give me one month now, no texts, no calls, no emails and I will think.  Tomorrow, after they’ve gone, I want to take you to my home, introduce you to my family, to my … fiance. Look at me now with you – my fiance I say to you!’ 

She began to sob, he went to hold her and she said, ‘No.’

‘I shall sleep over here.’


In the other safehouse, there was precious little conversation and thus nothing which could be reported in words.

It wasn’t that Robyn had surrendered but that she’d engineered from the get-go and when two people are both attempting to engineer something then, apart from the comical misunderstandings along the way, then it’s a pretty much foregone conclusion.

The wine bottles littered the room, the clothing had been flung.


Came the morrow, they were collected remarkably late, given a 10.15 p.m. flight from Catania, Air Malta, and they were told, en route for the Hotel Failla, that the baddies had all either departed or were in custody, no bail having been requested at that price.

There was the little formality in the goodbyes and the explanations from Inspector Tasca were to begin.  A light lunch had been had, coffees were now served.  The Inspector cleared his throat and began:

‘You may already know much of this and thanks go to Signóra Pierrine for her most valuable research. Aino Ilkka is, of course, a made up name. This was a girl from the north of Finland who’d been that thing everyone denies [he coughed] … controlled in the mind and sent, as ‘wife’ of Johannes Ilkkar, otherwise known as Veli Makela, key figure in the Finnish mafia, to seduce two key players, with a view to putting a few lines of code in which would divert funds to a Zurich account.

Something was not right with her programming, she reacted violently and ran up to the roof, followed by Tommaso and Vittoria Scirpa.

They tried to stop the woman leaping off the roof for fear of the repercussions which could have exposed them all but she did manage to dive, as if into a pool, Signóre Everard’s recollections were quite close to it.

At this point, the brother and sister were innocent, at least of this death, they raced downstairs and together with Francesco Giavatto, managed to get her inside the northern bar and the area cleaned up very quickly.

The married couple were, in fact, bought off but it was felt unnecessary to approach Francesco, as he had not seen any of it, not enough to describe anyway. It was observed that there was a certain understanding between Signóre Francesco and Signórina Robyn and this was encouraged by little whispers into the ears of each from time to time.

Makela, the chief thinker behind it, now had to buy some expertise, as his own people were really Tekes and couldn’t be approached. He reasoned that von Sievers might be a likely starter, as well as Natalia Beria. In other words, he had dirt on them, as you say.

They had their own agendas though and Beria was determined not to divert funds to Makela but to milk any Russian accounts linked to the programme. In this, she found an ally in Vaclav Chmyz who betrayed her later over the shooting at the beach. She’d bought, with Chmyz’s money, both Arturo Alecci and Salimah Rafa, an illegal immigrant, a former boat person … and some of the sexual antics in Scicli had the neighbours getting in touch with us.  Alecci’s plan was to divert the funds from all the accounts linked to the programme to both Makela and himself.

Christa von Sievers was working independently for her backers, trying to divert funds to them. She also had another task to remove Tom Everard from the board, to prevent his scrutiny of the programme and as payback for the ‘silly’ articles he’d written, in their view.

It was Salimah Rafa who shot Signóre Everard at Sampieri and the presence of Natalia Beria there was that of observation of the couple. It was Signórina Beria who also later entered the Everard room and checked near the shower. She’d been phoned from downstairs by the poisoners, Tommaso and Vittoria Scirpa who, once they’d been bought, were now blackmailed and were getting deeper and deeper into it, as always happens with amateurs and not only amateurs.

Though Makela was the one coordinating the mayhem, it had been Alecci who had convinced him of the necessity of it. Salimah Rafa, now even more a pawn in the hands of these two unscrupulous men, had abandoned all her Muslim principles and was now just a dangerous and unprincipled tool.

Hers was the task to kill Signóre Tom and if necessary, Signórina Giuliana, and it was now Francesca Vindigni’s task to kill Signóre Francesco and Signórina Robyn but of course, we got in the way of that. So the danger was not quite as bad as we had thought, there were not, as far as we know, professionals brought in.

There was an attempt on the conference room by Signóre Alecci, they’d falsified Signóre Tom’s digital signature and also that of Signórina Robyn, but Alecci was apprehended by our officers.  And that is about all there is to it. I’m sure that the Paris conference will go ahead and this time, better luck. Thank you all.’


Francesco introduced Robyn to his family on via Resistenza Partigiana,

For the two of them, there’d been no reticence, arrangements had been made for him to travel to Britain in a few months, should they both still wish at that time. The question of where they lived was always going to be the sticking point, with both attached to family.

But they had plenty of time.


As for Tom and Giuliana, they were deposited in an open sort of beer garden, owned by the father, the whole family appeared, including the little sister who liked Signóre Tom, they ate and talked as best they could, his Italian had improved with the application of alcohol and soon it was time for the trip to Catania airport, courtesy Signóre Lecitra, the little sister insisting on going along for the ride.

A car pulled up and a young man of maybe 27 got out and came over, introductions were made, Tom felt a heel, the young man was a nice person. She went around and sat with him on the bench opposite, there was an easy familiarity between the two.

The father emerged from the building and it was time to go.