League of Shadows



Friday, August 9, Zanderij airport, Parimaribo, Suriname

The first burst, fired from directly below the craft, tore through the starboard wing of the single-engine Norseman. Machine-gun fire. The throaty roar of the engine drowned out the sound of the bullets ripping through the plane's ancient fabric. The pilot, as if unaware of the danger below, took no evasive action. Moments later, announced by a terrible explosion, the second burst, streaming up from a hill in the plane's flight path, shattered the forward windscreen, killing the pilot. The plane, which had just passed through three hundred meters on its ascent out of Zanderij airport, shuddered and lost speed. Strips of tattered fabric ripped away. The starboard wing dipped and began to flap violently.

In the cabin, strapped into a seat in front of the freight compartment, the plane's owner, a Dutchman named Theunis Kloos, struggled to free himself from his safety harness. Blinded by the rushing wind, he screamed for help over the engine's roar, but the pilot, a Bush Negro in his employ for the last eight years, failed to respond. Blood from the man's lacerated head splattered back through the cabin, striking Kloos in the face with the force of hard-driven rain. Panic seized the Dutchman. The quick release handles of the rear exit hatch were within reach, tempting him to jump. A chute! If only he'd worn a chute!

But the plane was still flying, had righted itself as if on autopilot.

Ja hoor! He had a chance!

The aircraft, a demilitarized C-64A transport, built by Noorduyn to ferry freight and passengers in World War II, had seen postwar service from the Canadian bush in the North to the jungles of Suriname on the coast of South America. For the past ten years in Suriname, Kloos had utilized the plane for transport between the capital city of Paramaribo and his plantations deep in the interior. It had suffered its bad days, including a crash landing at Nieuw Nickerie, but Kloos had lovingly restored it, and the original Pratt and Whitney engine, a 600-horsepower Wasp, had not missed a beat.

God bless the old beast! They were both too rugged to die.

With the strength of a man twenty years younger, Kloos freed himself from his seat and staggered to the cockpit. Shielding his eyes from the wind, he looked at the dials on the instrument panel. Fuel flow normal. Temps and RPMs okay. Oil and hydraulic pressure steady. Kloos lowered the lifeless body of the pilot to the floor and then slipped behind the stick. The plane had swung slowly to the west, into the afternoon sun. To the north, out the right window, Kloos could see the aquamarine of the Atlantic shelf merging in a blur with an aqueous sky. The polders along the fluvial coastal plains, joined by silvery lines, leidings, narrow canals for the runoff, reflected the afternoon sun like shiny mirrors, and in mid-distance, patches of savannah rose to meet the undulating hills and the rain forests that lay to the south. With the skill of a man who had flown for much of his life, Kloos brought the plane, juddering violently now, around on its original heading. The landing strip at Brokopondo would be the closest. He could already make out the shimmer of the reservoir behind the dam. Below him slithered the wide Suriname River, dark with tannic acid, winding its way through the tropical jungle like a fat water snake. An easy direction marker. And at worst he could bring the plane down into its meandering current.

His briefcase with the files . . . He looked over his shoulder, straining to see. What had he done with it? Five minutes ago, he'd been clutching it in his lap. And then, before he could turn around, the plane started to come apart. One corner of the V-shaped strut that anchored the starboard wing to the central frame broke loose, and pieces of fuselage started to flake away. The plane began a slow spiral to the right, toward the jungle. Kloos fought to bring it around, to land in the shallow river bed, but the controls were dead.

The Norseman lost height quickly then, plunging down into the thick mass of jungle. Before the undercarriage touched the tree tops, the starboard wing ripped off and the plane began to disintegrate. Kloos lost all sense of perspective, the only sensations those of thunderous sound and darkness.


He woke to a horrible scream that seemed to last forever. When he realized it was his own voice, he tried to stop but the agony in his back was unbearable. Somehow, in the crash landing, he had been turned around in the cockpit and a jagged edge of the control panel had gouged a seam along his spine. When his scream finally diminished to a prolonged moan, he heard shrill voices in the distance. Shouted commands. The sharp, ringing notes filtered with clarity through the still-silent forest. The guerrillas would soon arrive.

Overhead, the plane's canopy had been stripped back and laid bare. The engine cowling was nowhere to be seen. Like the cords of a collapsing parachute, vines rose into the dim expanse stretching above him, hanging loosely from immense trees whose tops were lost in leafy darkness. He reached up and tugged on a vine. The gnarled liana straightened, held his weight. The voices were closer now. Excited calls growing louder as men hacked their way through the jungle's dense undergrowth. Kloos knew who they were. Guerrillas. Hailing each other in Taki-Taki, a pidgin mixture of English and Dutch. Men who hated him. They had lain in wait for his flight. Twice now, they had tried to kill him, angry at his support for the government in power. When they found him, they would torture and then kill him.

With sinewy arms knotted in strain, he pulled himself out of the cockpit and perched on the mangled frame. Each movement sent a stab of pain up his spine. Gritting his teeth, he slowly worked his way to the ground, landing in soggy soil choked with jungle vegetation. What remained of the plane was suspended in a tangled net of lianas, poised three meters above the ground. With a frightened glance around him, Kloos plunged into a swampy morass, moving quickly away from the crash site. Buttress roots, thorny palms, razor grass--a mass of tangled undergrowth impeded his progress. A kingfisher shrieked a challenge, jumping from branch to branch above his head. The murky water rose to his chest. Its putrid smell stung his nostrils and the back of his throat. Strands and clumps of rotting vegetable matter swirled around him. Dusk would rob the land of all light within a matter of hours. To survive, he would have to spend the night in the forest, with poisonous insects, spiny rats, and capybaras, with jaguars, crocodile-like caimans, and twenty-foot anaconda, with the dreaded bushmaster snake.

Suddenly he halted. The guerrillas had reached the plane. He could hear their excited cries barely fifty meters away. It would take the men only a few minutes to search the plane. The case! He'd forgotten to look for it in his mad scramble from the smashed cockpit. Better for it to have been lost in the jungle as the plane disintegrated in its mad plunge to earth. If the guerrillas found it . . . He didn't want to think about that. The case contained files that were his livelihood, damaging evidence of past crimes of men in power. Men and women were willing to pay to keep secret what the files disclosed.

He had to go back. Soon. In the darkness of night, the plane would be impossible to find. When the men left, he would come out of hiding and wait for daylight to search the surrounding jungle. Finding the case was all that mattered. He moved toward higher ground, crawled up a muddy bank and crouched under the tangled roots of a manioc tree, searing off through force of will the pain in his spine. Moving slowly, skirting the edge of the swamp, ready to slip into its depths if necessary, he approached the crash site. From thirty meters away, he counted the guerrillas. Eight of them, all heavily armed. They had cut the net of tangled lianas. What remained of the plane lay flat on the trampled vegetation. And then he heard the words and his heart froze.

Hier is het pak! De koffer!

They'd found the case.

A man emerged from the cabin with the leather satchel in one hand. He raised it above his head and shouted in triumph.

Kloos felt his stomach cramp, overcome by a sickness that dizzied him, left him feeling weak as if he'd been suddenly and savagely emasculated. The adrenaline that had propelled him away from the downed plane dissipated like mist in a dry wind. In despair, he put his face down in the mud, his fingers clawing the ground, the pain in his back, which he had succeeded in beating down, now overwhelming. It would have been better had he died in the crash.

He lay on the ground, unable to move, while the men made a desultory search of the area and then disappeared into the undergrowth, their voices slowly waning. Kloos dreaded the thought of what remained to him now--nothing short of open, gut-wrenching war. They'd taken his livelihood. No longer would he be able to work from behind the scenes. No longer would others, in fear, jump to his commands. The powerful would no longer automatically heed his call. He choked down the madness that threatened to engulf him. Control, he thought. Control! His jaw grew rigid with the strain. He'd gone it alone before, he could do it again. That was simply the way it had to be . . . .


Sunday, August 11, the Virginia countryside near Washington, D.C.

At night, the manor house rose like an apparition from the crest of a gentle hill, its darkened, westward-facing windows overlooking an Italian garden that lay spread out below it like the pleated skirt of a woman at rest, her knees two small knolls around which wound a long unpaved ribbon of a driveway. The guards had completed one circuit of the estate with their leashed attack dogs and were now watching TV in a caretaker's cottage near the southern wall of the property. The dogs were in a nearby run. They were not allowed to roam, for they had fallen into the habit of chasing and killing the miniature deer that ranged the walled, fifteen-acre estate.

Flood lights bathed the exterior of the imposing Victorian manse, and occasionally a starburst of sparks flitted from one of the massive chimneys and then died in the moist night air. Unseasonably cool for summer. The fire came from the master den, one of the colder rooms with its floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the east and were soonest in shade.

The owner of the mansion was in the den, sitting in a luxurious teal-blue wing chair ten feet from the hearthstone, feet stretched out toward the crackling pine fire, back to the door that led into the second-floor hallway. As was his habit at this late hour, he was sipping a cherry brandy while reading a leather-bound volume from his magnificent library, a work of history, which he took up and put down as the spirit moved him.

Major industrialist, international gadfly, close friend and confidant of the President, he was a vigorous man of medium height with dark brown hair and an unlined face that belied his seventy-some years. Among other things, he was founder and former chief executive officer of S & A Amalgamated, a conglomerate of steel and aluminum companies with subsidiaries and affiliates worldwide.

Deep in thought, he stared vacantly at the pine logs, his ears deaf to the splutter and pop of the resin that oozed out along the ax cuts, grew brittle in the heat, then exploded against the metal screen. Above the marble mantlepiece hung a row of framed ribbons holding medals won in the Second World War. The old man's eyes settled on the medals, so familiar as to be unseen. To him, they were all meaningless, at best ornaments to impress his guests. The only medal that mattered was one he could never display, awarded to him in a secret ceremony in Switzerland, late in 1943.

The war years . . . the undercover missions . . . the treachery and betrayals. So long ago now, and yet so close.

A noise outside drew his attention to the French doors to his right. The tall glass panes gave out on the dark countryside and reflected his solemn countenance. He picked up a gun lying on the lamp stand to his right and pointed it at the reflection. A lesser man--or one given to symbolic acts--might have pulled the trigger, shattering the window and erasing the worried vision that stared back at him. A face frightened by the possibility of imminent failure.

The old man laid down the gun and laughed dryly. He was not a man of symbolic acts or vain gestures. When he pulled the trigger--or, rather, when his men did it for him--someone else would be in the gun's sights, someone else would die. No one would keep him from getting what he wanted--the highest office in the land. His ruthless ambition would chew up the opposition like mud under tank tracks. There were three men he feared. Three men from the past who knew they'd been betrayed, but not by whom. Only now, after all this time, it seemed one of them had stumbled onto the secret. Had he told the others? Probably. If so, each one would die--until there was no one left who knew, no one except himself, and then the legacy of the past would finally cease to haunt him.

He glanced at his Patek Philippe pocket watch. Ten minutes yet before his man Akkad arrived for a final briefing. And then maybe he could get some sleep.

He shook his head. Why now? The Washington Post lay on the floor beside his chair, open to the page where he'd seen the short article on guerrilla activity in Suriname. An old Norseman shot down by leftist guerrillas, the bosneger pilot killed, on board the owner of the plane, a man named Theunis Kloos, whose body had not yet been found.

The Dutchman had already blackmailed him once. But Kloos was in South America, a right-wing, would-be dictator whose man in Paramaribo, currently in charge of the government, was as corrupt as he. The old man in the States had let himself be blackmailed, buying with his contribution to the Dutchman's cause not only protection for S & A's bauxite mines in Suriname but silence. And now this . . . A plane shot down in the jungle. The body not found. A hint that certain files were missing . . . maybe in the hands of the guerrillas.

Who would have thought Kloos would wind up in Suriname? Sure, it was a former Dutch colony, and Kloos came from Holland, but still . . . a stroke of bad luck that. The only one of the three who had ever seen him face to face. And that by accident--passing in the halls of the Vatican. And then a second time, over forty years later, in Suriname of all places, the two had met. Now, the old man's intelligence sources had informed him that the Dutchman, for some reason, was in touch with a Mafia don, ensconced in his villa in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson. That made no sense--until they told him the mafioso was a man named Beppe Aprico.

It was then that the old man had begun to worry. Beppe Aprico was a dangerous man, head of the Southwest's largest drug syndicate, protected in his younger days by the CIA because he had often provided the agency with illicit funds for covert political action. If Kloos had gotten to Aprico, that meant Thomas Gage would be next. The three of them had served together in northern Italy, late in the war. Aprico and Kloos had disappeared soon after, but Gage had gone on to a twenty-year career in intelligence. They were dangerous men, despite their age, and the old man, using his contacts in the intelligence network, had acquired a dossier on each.

Vasco Akkad listened intently as his boss talked. Half-Italian, half-Lebanese, raised and educated by an English nanny in one of the nicer suburbs of Rome while his parents, actors both, cavorted around the globe, Akkad began his career as a mercenary trained in a Libyan terrorist camp, working deep cover--or so he claimed later--for SISMI, the Italian military intelligence service. But to the men who hired him in the years that followed, the details of Akkad's background were of little concern; what mattered were the results he promised--and then delivered; he was a master of dirty tricks, not the least of which was murder.

He listened while his boss told him about the three men--about the plane that had been downed in Suriname--and then about the grandson of one of the men, a kid who was an undercover cop with a narcotics squad.

The old man tugged on the loose folds of skin at his neck. "I'd like you to start with Gage. Ex-CIA but he'll be the easiest. He lives by himself in a cabin in the mountains outside Durango. Every been to Colorado? "

Akkad shook his head.

"Well, he'll be miles from help and shouldn't be much of a problem. Best of all, I don't think the others will learn about it in time to react before you get to them. "

"I like to do the tough ones first--il padrone and l'Olandese, the mob guy and the Dutchman, then the easy one. "

"It's a question of geography. Take care of Gage first. Aprico second. The mafioso's holed up in a villa in the desert surrounded by men for protection. And the Dutchman isn't going to be easy either. He's got his own army in the jungle. A plantation up the Commewijne river in Suriname. The CIA says the whole country's up in arms, so when you get down there you'll be dropping into what may turn out to be a war zone. "

"What about the kid?

"The kid?" The old man paused and stroked his jaw. Gage's grandson was an unknown factor. "I've been thinking about him. "

"I don't like undercover cops. "

"Yeah, he won't like you either." He pursed his lips. "It's a problem. He's been using his grandfather's connections with Aprico to infiltrate the family. Aprico thinks the kid's an accountant. "

"This kid, come si chiama? His name? "

"What? Oh, ah, Nick Ferron. Gage is his maternal grandfather. Ferron wouldn't even be a narc if it wasn't for Gage. The old man pulled a few strings in Washington. "

"Why'd he have to do that? "

The man crossed his legs and sighed. "It's a long, complicated story. "

"Skip it, then. "

"No, it doesn't hurt to know the connections." He reached for his snifter, swirled the cherry brandy, then set the glass down without drinking. "Ever hear of the Grand Coulee Dam murder? "

Akkad shook his head.

"It was before your time. A famous case back in '66. Frank Ferron, this is the cop's father, Franco Ferroni I guess they called him then, came here from Italy to work on the dam. He wound up marrying Thomas Gage's daughter, a girl named Irene. Anyway, the guy went crazy--some kind of jealous fit--and wound up killing his wife for talking to the neighbor. They'd had two kids by then and he almost got both of them--Nick and a younger sister. They testified against him in court. "

"The father in prison now? "

The old man snorted. "Frank was sent to the Federal pen in Washington. About two years later one of Aprico's hoods stabbed him to death. The Feds couldn't prove it, but it looked like Gage called in a favor from his old buddy. Got the guy that killed his daughter. I don't think the kids ever knew. The boy was only ten when it happened. Gage raised the kids. Retired from the CIA and moved out west with his wife. She died a couple years later. He ran an insurance agency until the kids were old enough to be out on their own. "

Akkad sat forward in his chair. "It sounds like I should do the kid, too." He shrugged. "Raised by his grandfather, you know, they gotta be close. You don't want any loose threads. "

The old man nodded. "Just remember, the kid's a cop. You sure you can handle this? "

"What's he know--a little ka-ra-te?" Akkad waved his hand as if brushing at a fly. "Maybe I can use the cop against the mafioso--especially if the kid is already inside." He tapped the tips of his fingers together for a moment, then looked up. "I could set up a drug bust. "

"Don't complicate the simple. I don't want Aprico busted. I want him dead." The old man's voice had risen a notch.

Akkad raised both hands in a placating gesture. "No problem. I'll get in touch with some friends in the DEA." Thinking it out as he spoke. "They can set up the bust, take this cop Ferron out at the same time. Make it look like, you know, he went in with il padrone." Akkad lay one finger over the other. "Like they're together in bed. "

The old man waited a moment, then spoke. "I don't need to know how you're going to do it. Just take care of it. And one other thing. When you're finished up here, when you're down in Suriname and Kloos is out of the picture-- "

"Yeah? "

"Find his files and destroy them. "

Akkad grinned. "È tutto? That's all? For free maybe I take out the guerrillas too. "

The old man frowned. Akkad was doing his James Bond impression and his flippancy grated on the old man's nerves. "Just do what you're told. I don't want any papers left. The same goes for the guys in this country. If you find anything that connects them, letters, papers, whatever, destroy them. "

"È già fatto, signore. It's already done. I'll use the corolla di ombre. That'll take care of the problem. "

"Now what the hell is that? "

"The little pieces of a flower." Akkad made a plucking motion with his hands. "Shadows. My men are like petals. "

The old man shook his head. "The corolla of shadows--will you forget the fancy names, for Christ's sake. Keep it simple and get it done. That's all I'm asking. "

"You got it," Akkad said. He counted out the targets on the fingers of one hand. "Gage . . . Aprico . . . the kid if he gets in the way . . . Kloos . . . the files." And then, unable to resist, he unsheathed a twelve-inch, serrated combat knife, kissed the blade, and added, "See you one week from now. "

Part One

The Unknown Factor

"There is always an unknown factor. That is the umbra."

--Benito Mussolini, after sketching a figure throwing a cone of shadow

Book One

The Advent

"Certainly virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue. "

--Sir Francis Bacon


Tuesday, August 20, Sonoran desert near Tucson, Arizona

Hector Torres leaned back against the wall of the ranch house. "Know what the don did when I whacked his bodyguard? Splattered the guy's brains all over the don's new suit? "

Nick Ferron shook his head.

Torres snorted. "Shit his pants. Stench was terrible, man. He eyeballs me and then he says, 'You mind if I go to the toilet?' And I go, 'It looks like you already have.' 'Yeah,' he says, 'only I can't flush my shoes.' "

Ferron laughed.

Torres stroked the stubble on his chin. They'd been in the house five days now. "Fucking guy figures he's next, still has a sense of humor. "

"That's Chicago for you," Ferron said. "Out here, they come to the desert, their balls dry up. Like those little round onions. "

"Fuck that shit. Don't never retire, man. Put you out of action. "

"Yeah, except for Aprico. He's different. He's got coglioni down to here. "

"You mean cojones, dude. You ain't been around my sister enough. "

"I haven't been around your sister at all, Torres. "

"Yeah, well you need a little Chicana pussy, man. Forget that Italian shit. Sound like you a mafioso or something. "

Ferron shrugged. Hey, that was how he'd done it. But no use telling Torres. None of the guys knew he'd been undercover, that he was the source.

What he'd told the chief was that for the last two months Aprico had been shacked up with one of the Columbian mules. A girl who couldn't have been older than sixteen. Living in his desert hideout where the medicine chests in the bathroom held more pillboxes of coke than of aspirin.

Not long now, if the weather forecast was right for once.

Five days they'd waited. Twenty-seven men in the squad. Too damn many. Packed into the abandoned ranch's bunkhouse and a small adobe casa. The adobe had a ceiling of vigas and saguaro ribs, with a foot of dirt packed on top of that, but no air conditioning. It should have been cool, but after a summer of relentless heat, the mud walls and ceiling were like the sides of an oven, and the bunkhouse was worse. Only one archaic shower, with almost no water pressure. A quick shower every other day, the captain had said, to which someone had grumbled, "Fucking going to smell us coming a mile off. "

The members of the MANTIS assault team were waiting in the abandoned ranch for a monsoon storm that would be severe enough to cover their entry into Beppe Aprico's desert compound. They needed a lightning storm to explain the sudden loss of power, a storm strong enough to last into the evening when darkness would cover their movements. Any advance warning of the raid and invaluable documents would be destroyed by the men around Aprico. Once the monsoon season's first storm broke and the captain radioed the go command, an agent would throw a switch at the substation south of Tucson, at which point the compound's electrified outer fences and the alarm system for the villa itself would fail. Ferron had reported that the portable emergency generator ran only the interior lights. He'd seen to it that the main backup generator had malfunctioned; it was now in Los Angeles for repair.

Five days, while the forecasters kept saying the monsoon storms would arrive that afternoon. Unbearable heat, the stench of sweat, lousy food, general discomfort--a fugue state that reminded him of a gloomy Futurist painting he'd seen once in one of his grandfather's Italian books. What was the title? Those Who Wait. He couldn't remember the artist, just the vision of ghostly shadows in green and gray waiting to be carried off.

One of the Senior Agents provided by the DEA had told them they could use the time to get to know each other better. That was a laugh. Ferron had no interest in baring his soul to strangers--especially cops. He had no friends on the force--not even Hector Torres--and didn't want any. The job had cost him his wife. Made him feel sorry for himself and that made him angry. Hadn't he always hated cops when he was a kid? They hadn't done anything to stop his father.

And what made him think MANTIS would be any different? He'd joined the undercover squad because it allowed him to work alone. And now he'd been ordered to take part in a major raid. He worked intelligence, not assault, he'd told the chief. "And, besides, I've just cracked the surface. We wait and we can round up the whole ring. We got suppliers outside the country. We got mules that transport the drugs. There's gotta be somebody who oversees the transaction at the other end. Shoot, we won't even be coming close to the distributors in the West and Southwest. "

The chief had listened, but in the end, what with pressure from higher up, there'd been no choice. Aprico was too important--a big name--a supposedly retired Mafia don. Congress and the newspapers would love the news. Senator Sprague would be out in a flash, his mug on the evening news. One more capo brought to justice. But with Aprico out of the picture, Ferron said, someone else would step in to fill the breach. At most, MANTIS would gain a month or two of leeway. The chief shrugged. The decision had already been made.

Something was going on. Too much interference--agents from the DEA, FBI, Customs Service, and the Border Patrol, Federal and State prosecutors, an officer from the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the State Police, IRS investigative accountants, and a woman from the Federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. And Senator Sprague would take credit for everything. His men were hovering in the background, making sure the Senator would be available for any photo ops. The MANTIS agents were beginning to feel like the ugly kid sister, along for the ride but stuck in the trunk.

So the five days had passed like blood dripping through a clepsydra.

For awhile, to pass the time, the guys told jokes. When those they ran dry, they traded horror stories, each one trying to outdo the others. Nick could have told his own--from his childhood--but no one would have understood.


He'd thrown a rock and hit his younger sister on the head, and now his dad was beating him. They stood in the kitchen, face to face, the boy with his arms crossed in front of his chest, protecting his stomach while his father slapped him back and forth. The blows stung, but he was afraid to raise his hands higher for fear his father would slug him in the belly and knock the wind out of him. He was asthmatic and if he lost his breath, the panic would start. So he protected his stomach while his dad taunted him in his strong Italian accent, told him he would teach him to pick on someone smaller than him, asking him see what it's like?

Blood began to spurt from his nostrils. His head swung with the blows and the blood splattered the white kitchen walls to each side. His father asked him why he didn't protect his face, but the boy said nothing in response. He avoided the angry eyes, just stared at the massive, hairy arms, at the thick fingers of the hands that struck him. Waiting it out. The blows stopped after a while, and finally his father left the room, shaking his head in disgust. The kid stood there silently, unable to move, blood dripping down his lips and onto his shirt. And then instead of words came silent tears.

He tuned out after awhile, thinking about his dog. He hoped the high school kid he'd hired to feed and walk Rowdy was doing his job. After Sharon had packed up and returned to her folks in L.A., divorce papers in hand, the golden retriever was the only one left he could talk to. And the nice thing was, the dog never talked back. Just gave him that quizzical grin with one side of his upper lip stuck on his gums.

Sharon was another matter. She'd called again a week ago, wanting to rehash the past, trying to get him to talk when he didn't feel like it. It was over! He was tired of talking. Hell, he was tired of being manipulated. That's when she'd exploded. Tried to blame everything on his past. His dad had fucked him up, she said, not her. What could you say to that? Maybe it was true. He hated what his dad had been--a vile beast: wife beater, child abuser, murderer. Hated him more when he recognized the same anger in himself--only he'd never taken it out on others, just turned it in on himself. But most of all, he hated not being able to kill a man who was already dead.

Sharon's call wasn't the only one he'd received last week. The day before the squad was locked up in the ranch, incommunicado, his sister had telephoned from Durango. Barbara had told him that Wolf, their grandfather's Australian shepherd, had turned up in town without him. She was worried.

"How long's Gran Babbo been at the cabin?" he asked. Gran Babbo was an affectionate term for their grandfather. In the early years, when they were still young and Thomas Gage was the only dad they had (forget the monster locked up in prison), no matter how often he told them Gran Babbo was incorrect Italian, that they should call him "nonno," the name stuck. "Great Daddy." That said it all. He was the only man Ferron had ever loved.

"He's only been there a few days," Barbara said, "but I think I'll send Richard up this weekend. Make sure everything's all right. Did I tell you Gran Babbo spent a week in Washington, D.C.? "

"You're kidding. The way he talks I didn't think he'd ever go back? "

"He said he'd got a letter from someone in South America. He didn't want to explain, just said something about it putting him back on track. "

"On track for what? "

"He wouldn't say. And he left for the cabin once he got back. Said he'd spent the week in the National Archives. He didn't look happy. "

"I wish he'd talk more about what's bothering him. It's like he's still trying to protect us."

Barbara didn't say anything for a moment. She took a deep breath. "I'm worried he might have had a heart attack. "

Ferron heard the quaver in her voice. "He's too strong for that."

"Nick, he's seventy-four. "

"I've never seen a healthier guy for his age. He'll be tramping up the hills for another twenty years." He paused. "Any snow in the mountains yet? "

"No, and you know Gran Babbo can handle snow. He's got enough food up there to last a month. "

"Then what's the big worry? Wolf probably just wandered off. He's more used to the house in town than the cabin. "

She was silent for a moment, a low hum on the telephone line. "Two men came by to see him," she finally said. "I told them where the cabin was." Sensing his displeasure, she hurried on. "They said they were acquaintances. Friends of his former comrades in the OSS. "

He didn't like that. The cabin was private. Family only. Not even for old wartime buddies or their friends. "Have they come back? "

"Not that I know of," she said.

"Well then, if anything's gone wrong, they'll help him. "

But the more he thought about it, the more it bothered him. Three weeks before the raid, in a telephone conversation, his grandfather had told him to contact a man in Durango if anything strange were to happen to him. Ferron had tried to press him for information, wondering if his grandfather was worried about repercussions from Aprico, but Gage had just joked about his paranoia resurfacing. A sign of senility, he'd said. At the time, Ferron had dismissed his grandfather's fear. They hadn't even raided the compound yet. Aprico was no threat. But perhaps his grandfather had been thinking about someone else. Ferron didn't know anybody who called themselves "former comrades in the OSS" and he'd been to several of the reunions in Switzerland with his grandfather. Were those just his sister's words? And the letter from South America bothered him. As far as Ferron knew, Gran Babbo had never mentioned having friends south of the border. All his old pals were in Europe. It was Beppe Aprico who had the contacts with South American drug cartels.

Five days now to think about what his sister had said. Five days with no news. Fucking weather! When in hell was it going to rain?


Saturday, February 13, 1943, Rome, Italy

In his imagination the first thing he saw was the Tiber, turbid and slow in the dusky haze of a summer evening. The plane trees on the embankment towered into the sky in full leaf, their trunks mottled by the play of light and shadow. Along the Trastevere, the windows of the apartment houses were open to catch the evening breezes, and white muslin curtains wafted inward, bearing the scent of flowering wisteria. At one casement a woman leaned out to greet him, her hair floating in the breeze like silk strands in an underwater paradise.

But it was just a dream . . . a summer fantasy . . . an idyll.

Instead, in the harsh light of reality, on a winter day, what he noticed first were the boots and the black shirts, and the vision that came to mind was a memory of marching. Not the passo romano--the Italian version of the goose-step, instituted in '38 to impress il Duce. No, what he remembered was the clomping of the Blackshirts in their knee-high boots during the march on Rome in 1922. Five years old, perched on his father's shoulders outside the Embassy on the Via Veneto, watching the ragged hordes pour into the city in jubilation. Against his will he thought of the moment now, in the washed out light of a late afternoon in February, as the car drew near the Ponte Salaria on the outskirts of Rome. At the access to the bridge, four jackbooted members of the Blackshirt militia, armed with carbines and revolvers, were stopping traffic and asking for papers.

The sight caused his heart to flutter, its pace quickening despite the deep breaths he took. His name was Thomas Gage and he was twenty-six years old, but that was not what his papers said. His papers said he was Alberto Griglia, thirty-two, a season veteran. Though not new to war, Gage had the looks of a teenager--hair cut close to the scalp, with a cowlick jutting over his forehead, a finely chiseled face that at the moment, with his gaunt cheeks and thin lips, tended to the haggard, and a wiry body that only hinted at his strength. It would not pay to look young and scared.

The car was a ten-year-old Bianchi Torpedo, a four-seater with folding seats. The driver, a short, heavy-set man named Antonio, bald-headed but with a thick black mustache, had papers allowing the vehicle to be driven from Genoa to Rome on business. A tag in the window showed him to be a member of the Partito Nazionale Fascista, the PNF. In the buttonhole of his suitcoat, he wore the PNF pin. When he had rendezvoused with Gage at a farmhouse near the coast just south of Civitavecchia, he had pointed to the pin and joked about the letters. "Per necessità familiare," he said. Out of family necessity.

Please, no foul-ups, would be more like it, thought Gage.

His papers had been cobbled together two weeks earlier--at least the first set he would show, not those hidden in the lining of his coat, which were artful forgeries identifying him as an Austrian aristocrat. The papers in his hand, a booklet he had not expected to use, were those of a solder, his own photo attached in place of the original. Alberto Griglia, a caporale in the Italian 35th Army Corps, former Ardito, a member of the Death's Head Brigade, in reality a prisoner-of-war captured at El Quattara in the battle for El Alamein. The last line in the papers, followed by a military stamp, had been altered to show him on leave to attend to family business in Milan. Under il Duce, family business came before all else; those who had prepared the papers knew enough to take advantage of any chinks in the armor of fascism.

Gage was dressed in a soiled tweed suit, a dark felt slouch hat at his side. Beneath his feet was a dilapidated cardboard suitcase. The false bottom, only a quarter-inch thick, hid five hundred in Gold Seal dollars. Around his waist, in a thick money belt, he had another two thousand in lire.

Please let us through, he thought. If they let us through, I will-- I will what? A grin appeared despite the tension. Another memory . . . his father had taken him into the basement of the university library when he was ten. Standing at the urinals in the men's room, he read the graffiti left by the students. If I pass biology, I will return and kiss this urinal. And then by another hand: If I pass anatomy, I will go to the train station and kiss the dirtiest of the shitholes there. And finally, in small block print: If I fail physiology, I will kill Benito Mussolini. And enough people had tried. Four in 1926 alone. Too bad no one had succeeded.

The Blackshirts were beating a boy they had dragged from a three-wheeled truck at the head of the bridge, just four vehicles away now. Two of them carried the limp body to a troop transport parked nearby and tossed the boy into the back. In a few minutes, the Bianchi Torpedo was first in line. The fascist militiamen surrounded the car and suddenly a layer of cold sweat broke out on Gage's body. He brushed the moisture off his upper lip, then rolled down the window.

"Papers." The voice was gruff.

He reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and handed the man his booklet.

The militiaman was of medium height with rough-shaven cheeks, crooked teeth, and a scar on his forehead. He flipped to the last page and read the most recent annotation. "What was the nature of your family business?" he asked, bending down to look into the car. His breath smelled of garlic.

"My mother's funeral. I'm an only son. "

"Is your father living? "

Gage shook his head. "He died in the last war."

"Where's your uniform? "

"I left it in Rome with my cousin. I'll pick it up there before I report back. "

"What's in the suitcase? "

"A change of clothes . . . and some books. "

"What do you need the books for? "

"They were my mother's . . . Some of D'Annunzio's poetry. It's all I have left of her. "

"Step out of the car, please. "

Damn! He turned to look at the driver. Antonio shrugged. His papers had already been returned to him.

Gage opened the door and stepped out." What's the problem?" he asked, shutting the door behind him.

"Just a moment," the militiaman said. He walked around the car and over to a civilian standing by the truck.

What now? Antonio was still sitting in the car. Gage looked around, gauging his chances of escape if he should need to make a break for it.

Not good.

But this was what he had asked for, wasn't it? A chance to work undercover in Rome. Bill Donovan had been scouring the prisoner-of-war camps for Italians sympathetic to the Allied cause. He'd looked in the States for Italian-Americans. He'd talked to General Clark at the training center in Port-aux-Poules, near Oran, where the newly constituted Fifth Army was practicing the new invasion techniques. The OSS now had the authority to operate in sabotage and guerilla operations. And what had Gage done? Convinced his boss that he was the best man for the job. His Italian was as good as a native's. He knew the country well.

A graduate of Yale University, he had been raised from the age of four in Rome, where his father, a former professor of international law, had been an attaché in the U. S. Embassy. Fluent in Italian, German, and English, with a smattering of classical Greek, some Latin, and passable French, Gage had been recruited by the British Special Operations Executive in the summer of 1940. Following his training at Camp X, located in Canadian bushland on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, he had been sent to Greece, where he worked with remnants of the Venizelist party, organizing an intelligence network that reported on the Italian military situation in Albania. When the British were finally forced to withdraw from Greece, he was posted to Cairo, where he interrogated Italian and German prisoners captured during the British counterattack in Cyrenaica. In December of '41, he returned to Washington, D.C., to be with his wife and three-year-old daughter. From the SOE, it was a simple matter to pass to the new intelligence service set up by Colonel Donovan in January of '42. And from a desk to action, first in North Africa--at the glorified rank of Major, now in Italy.

Only his job wasn't sabotage. General Clark had other ideas for him, all now in jeopardy. The two men at the truck were joined by a third, who was slowly flipping through Gage's papers. In a moment, one of the men came over and said, "Which suitcase is yours? "

He pointed to the cardboard case in the car.

The man opened the passenger door, retrieved the case and took it around to the others. From where Gage was standing, he couldn't hear what the men were saying. Suddenly, one of the Blackshirts motioned to the driver. "Avanti! "

Gage opened the door to get in and said, "What about my suitcase and papers? "

"Not you," the man said. "You stay. "

"I need to get to Rome. My cousin's expecting me. I still have a week of leave. "

"Not any more," the man said. "Change in orders. You're needed at the front immediately. "

He watched in dismay as Antonio shrugged, then put the car in gear and drove slowly across the bridge. To protest was to court disaster.

"Wait here." The militiaman joined his comrades.

What was wrong with the papers? He recognized the fear creeping over him. He had seen it often enough in the eyes of prisoners captured in Africa. At least they had fellow soldiers in camp for moral support. He was alone--his own identity, everything he relied on from the past, lost to him. He thought of the mission that had brought him back to Italy. Two weeks ago he had met Colonel Donovan at General Clark's temporary headquarters in Port-aux-Poules. Already it seemed a lifetime ago . . .


Saturday, January 30, 1943, Port-aux-Poules, Algeria

The camp was located in a grove of pine trees and the pungent scent of resin merging with an odor of kerosine had produced a queasy feeling in his stomach, not helped by the foul-tasting concoction that passed for coffee. Outside--with the sun blazing down, igniting the desert sand and the sea--he had seen a dozen jerry-cans with WATER FOR DRINKING painted in white on their sides. That accounted for the taste of tin in his coffee. And the heat was unbearable--it should have been winter and it felt like summer.

He had listened while the two men talked about sending agents behind the lines, recruiting informers, organizing coup de main groups, and searching out leaders to be subsidized. It was then that Donovan turned to him. "Tom, we're going to be sending you to Rome." Gage couldn't help grinning. "We'd like you to cultivate the friendship of antifascist leaders in the area. And we need more information on Italy's war status, someone to verify the activities of the SS. "

Gage had straightened in his chair. "The SS, sir? "

"That's right." Donovan paused and wiped his brow. He was an unassuming man who spoke in a soft, slow voice. "We know they're now under orders to operate directly in Italy. "

General Clark rested his elbows on his desk. In contrast to Donovan, who had round cheeks grooved by deep lines running from his nose to the corners of his mouth, Clark was a tall, slim man, neat in manner and efficient in action. At forty-six, he was the youngest lieutenant general in the history of the Army.

"Have you heard of the OVRA, Major? "

"Certainly, sir. Mussolini's secret police. "

"Good." The general pounded the desktop. "I can't get the slackers in G-2 to tell me what the damn acronym means. "

Gage repressed a grin. "Even the Italians don't know, sir. Some say it stands for Opera Vigilanza Repressione Antifascismo or Organizzazione Vigilanza Reati Antistatali. "

The general frowned. "Translate those terms for me, Major. "

"The first means something like the 'League of Vigilance for the Repression of Antifascism' and the second refers to an 'Organization of Vigilance for Crimes against the State.' I don't think the meaning matters, sir. I've talked to some people who say the whole thing's a psychological ploy--that the initials mean nothing. Just a trick of Mussolini's. Adds to the fear, they say. "

The general rubbed his cheeks. "I ask, Major, because there's one other thing I'd like you to do in addition to what Bill has outlined. Ike is concerned about the fascist government destroying documents before we can get there to save them. We'd like to see if you can't get in touch with someone in the OVRA willing to work with us--to save his own skin. If we can keep them from destroying their files, we'll have dossiers on the activities of every Fascist of importance. "

"That's a difficult task, sir. The agents of the OVRA wear civilian clothes. No one knows who they are. "

"We know where their headquarters are located, right? "

"That's true, sir. In the Viminal. Along with the Ministry of the Interior. "

"Then I suggest you start with a clerk in the Ministry--or a police official. Bill tells me you have contacts in Rome . . . with antifascists. Perhaps they know people opposed to the regime. Someone serving in an official capacity. Mount an operation to steal the files if you can. Have a team ready to assault the Viminal when and if the invasion occurs. "

"You mentioned stealing the files, sir. I've heard estimates that they number more than two hundred thousand. "

"Damn. That many? "

"I'm afraid so, sir. "

Donovan raised a finger to get their attention. "If you find someone with access to the files, Tom, they might concentrate on the fascist hierarchs. We can provide a list of over thirty ministers, past and present. I assume the files are organized alphabetically."

"That's just it, sir. No one really knows, do they? "

The general's brow furrowed. "Do your best, Major, that's all anyone is asking. These bastards deserve to be punished. "

"One other item, Tom," Donovan said, as Gage nodded toward General Clark. "I picked you not only because of your contacts in Italy and your command of the language. The Brits have been vetoing some of our proposals for infiltrating the mainland--their sphere of influence and all that. I figured since you served with the SOE before coming with me, they might take kindlier to helping you out. "

"Am I going in alone? "

Donovan nodded. "At the start. "

"I'm going to need a pianist in Rome. "

"That's been arranged. We've already dropped a wireless in to the team that will pick you up. Radio Fenice, they call it. "

Radio Phoenix. At the time, he had imagined the W/T man huddled in a nest somewhere in Rome, in a small room at the top of an apartment building, cold ashes coming to life, wings poised, waiting to be reborn. Finally . . .

After that, they had talked of his mode of entry. They couldn't risk a parachute drop. The Germans had intensified their A-A batteries around Rome. So they'd sent him by submarine to a point off Sardinia and then by motor torpedo boat to the coast just south of Civitavecchia. That was where Antonio had picked him up.

Antonio had got him this far. Now it was up to him to do the rest . . .

The Blackshirts had finished talking, all but one moving down to the next cars in line. The militiaman with his papers, a middle-aged guy with a swarthy complexion, motioned to Gage. The American walked over to the truck, eyeing his suitcase at the man's feet.

"Your mother lives in Milan? "

He looked up and nodded, his eyes tightening.

"Then why do you speak in Romanesco? "

He tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry. He knew his Italian was perfect, but the accent was Roman. He hadn't thought about that. But he'd told them he had cousins in Rome, that he still had a week of leave. He cleared his throat. "After my father died, I was raised in Rome with my cousins. "

The man stared at him. "When did your father die? "

"At Caporetto. In 1915. "

"What division? "

The questions struck him with a physical force that left him gasping for air between responses. The cover story he'd memorized drifted in and out of his mind. "The 19th . . . I think. "

"You think? "

"I was just a baby. I never really knew my father. "

The militiaman tapped Gage's papers in the palm of his hand. "What do you think about the Germans? "

He frowned. "The Germans? "

The militiaman nodded.

Gage shrugged. "They're our allies-- "

"But they killed your father. "

"In the last war . . . yes. "

The militiaman smiled. "And now we fight with the swine, right? I fought against General Stein in the Battle of the Isonzo. In the IV Corps just like your father. Only I was in the 46th Division. The 19th was annihilated. Caught between Stein's 50th Austrian and the German 12th Division. They never had a chance. "

Gage nodded numbly. "I was too young to remember it. "

The Blackshirt closed the booklet and handed it to him. "For you, we make an exception. Get your uniform and report before curfew tonight. You're needed at the front by tomorrow. Sorry about the car. You'll have to walk." He straightened and tossed off a salute. "May you fight as gloriously as your father. "

—Reprinted from League of Shadows by Ron Terpening by permission of Stuyvesant & Hoagland. Copyright © Ron Terpening, 2005. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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