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Authors: Lori Dillon

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Out of the Ashes (22 page)

BOOK: Out of the Ashes
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Sera felt a tiny piece of the wall she’d so carefully built around herself crumble. Somehow, without even realizing it was happening, a truce had been drawn between them.

* * *

 

A pounding on the bathroom door startled Hershel so much, he almost fell off the toilet.

“Hershel, what on Earth are you doing in there? The show’s about to come on.”

He finished as quickly as he could and opened the door to an irate Marsha, her hands fisted on her bathrobe-clad hips and the long white braid of her hair slung over her shoulder.

“Hurry up. It’s the last episode, and I don’t want to miss it. Nora is about to solve the case.”

Hershel grumbled and followed his wife as they shuffled into their dark living room and assumed their usual places—he in his favorite chair, and Marsha on the footstool pulled up close to the radio.

Marsha turned on the power on the small, laminated wood control panel and moved the dial to pick up the BBC on the shortwave, where the show was relayed from America. She kept the volume low. Even though it was ten at night and the rest of the world was probably asleep, they didn’t want to risk someone hearing them listening to the illegal broadcast. The sponsor’s commercial came on, and in a deep voice, the announcer began lauding the new, improved taste of Lucky Strike cigarettes.

“Good, it hasn’t started yet.” Marsha wiggled so much on her seat, he worried she might fall off.

The front door squeaked open and shut, and she quickly switched off the radio. Watching the arched opening leading to the hallway, they both knew who their late-night visitor was, but, as usual, they wanted to be sure.

Serafina stepped into the opening on
slippered
feet, her blue bathrobe cinched tight at her waist.

“Did I miss anything?”

“No.” Marsha smiled and waved her in before clicking the radio back on. “It’s just about to start.”

Serafina walked over and sat in her usual spot on the floor beside Marsha.

As “The Adventures of the Thin Man” started, Hershel looked down at Serafina. Her head rested on Marsha’s lap, and his wife absently ran her fingers through the girl’s wavy, brown hair highlighted gold in the orange glow from the radio dial. Every Saturday night was the same. The three of them would gather around the radio at ten o’clock and listen in the dark to Nick and Nora Charles as they solved daring crimes.

He shook his head. It was such a shame. She was so young and pretty. She should be with someone her own age, instead of sitting here with two old fogies like him and Marsha. She should be with David. What was taking the two of them so long to figure it out?

Hershel’s attention came back to the radio show just as Nick was about to solve the case.

“… and with this evidence, we can prove that—”

“We interrupt this broadcast for a special bulletin…”


Nooo
!” Marsha shrieked, nearly giving him a heart attack and startling Serafina’s head from her lap. “They were going to reveal the killer. How could they do this?” she wailed at the small wooden box on the table. She actually reached out and shook the radio.

Hershel leaned forward and placed a calming hand on her shoulder before she could pick up and dash the transmitter to pieces in the cold fireplace.

“There now, dear. I’m sure we’ll find out who the killer is tomorrow.”

Marsha’s face took on a wild, desperate look.

“Tomorrow? But I don’t want to wait until tomorrow. How am I supposed to sleep tonight not knowing who the murderer is?”

“Come now, the world isn’t ending. It’s just a show.”

“Not to me!”

“Listen,” Serafina interrupted, reaching out to turn up the volume. The reporter’s voice crackled over the airwaves, reaching out from London to anyone in Europe who might be listening at this hour.

“British, Canadian, and American Allies have landed on Sicily. Parachutists began dropping from the dark, stormy sky over the island around ten o’clock Friday night. Under the cover of a sudden, harsh gale, eighty thousand Allied troops invaded the island’s southern and eastern coasts. They were eventually met with extreme Axis resistance…”

They all sat in rapt attention as the reporter relayed the details of the invasion of Sicily. When the newscast was over, the regular announcer came back on.

“And now, back to the show in progress…”

As Jo Stafford’s rendition of “Long Ago (And Far Away)” filled the quiet of the room, Marsha switched off the radio, and they sat in stunned silence. Finally, she turned wide eyes to Hershel.

“What does this mean?”

He shook his head, an uneasy feeling gnawing at his gut.

“If the Allies take Sicily, it’s only a matter of time before they invade all of Italy.”

He watched as Serafina pulled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees.

“What does that mean for us?” she asked, a war of emotions waging in her troubled eyes.

“It means things are going to start getting very ugly around here.”

Chapter 22
 

David walked down the alley between the centuries-old buildings. It wasn’t the same alley he had met Frank in the first time, but it certainly could have been. They looked the same all over town with their open apartment windows and tiny balconies. The day’s wash hung on drooping lines strung between them, white sheets flapping in the breeze over his head like flags of surrender.

Frank was already there and, judging by the multitude of cigarette butts already on the ground, had been for a while.

“You’re late.”

David took the offered cigarette out of habit.

“No, I’m on time. You’re early.” He couldn’t help but notice that Frank appeared a little on edge. “What’s wrong?”

“Hmmm?” Frank tapped his cigarette with his finger, watching its hanging tower of ash fall to the ground, never once looking up at David. He seemed fascinated by the dancing white specks as they floated on the breeze down the alleyway. “Nothing. You got anything to report?”

David relayed what he had observed of the German’s actions during the week. Activity had picked up in the camp ever since the Allies had invaded Sicily. While the Italians on the island had given up quickly and quietly, the Germans stationed there were hell-bent on keeping the island under Axis control at all costs. The Krauts stationed outside the ruins reflected that same determination. They looked just as Sera had described them—like a nest of angry fire ants trying to defend a disturbed anthill.

As he finished reciting his report, the normally attentive Frank still appeared distracted.

“All right, Frank, spill it. I can tell something’s bothering you. What is it?”

For the first time since he got there, Frank looked him in the eye. The usual humor was not there. No joke, no sarcastic comment was waiting to shoot from his laughing mouth.

 
“It’s not good, man.”

“What?” David had the sickening feeling he was about to get some bad news. And bad news during wartime usually meant someone was dead. Was it one of their buddies from the unit? Most likely. His father? He doubted it. The old cuss was too stubborn to die. “What’s happened?”

“You’re not going to like this.”

“What?”

“I told the Colonel about the girl. About her finding out who you are.”


What?
Jesus, Frank. Why?” David felt like he’d just been punched in the gut. “I trusted you to keep that to yourself. What the hell did you go and do that for?”

Frank winced, guilt oozing out in the beads of sweat on his forehead. “I had to. Whether you like it or not, her knowing about you could jeopardize the entire mission.”

“I told you I’d make sure she kept quiet. It’s none of the Army’s goddamn business.”

“Unfortunately, they think it is. Things are getting hot right now in the south, and every second she’s not around you is an opportunity for her to tell someone or let it slip out by accident. They consider her too high of a risk.”

David barely felt his
unsmoked
cigarette drop from his fingers. He swallowed hard, trying to hold back the bile creeping up his throat to choke him, deathly afraid he knew what was coming. The ground under his feet seemed to shift as if his world was being pulled out from under him and he was powerless to stop it.

Frank looked at him with world-weary eyes and placed his hand on David’s shoulder in a vain attempt at brotherly comfort.

“I’m sorry, David. They want to make sure she stays quiet. Permanently.”

* * *

 

As the sun rose in the morning sky, David walked to the dig site on the legs of a condemned man heading to the gallows. How could he face Sera knowing what the Army expected him to do?

Silence her. Permanently
.

He’d lain awake all night listening to those damned words booming through his head like a ticking bomb.

As he rounded the corner to the narrow street leading to their site, he could see her in the distance, already working. Alone.

David tried to swallow past the knot wedged in his throat. She was the condemned one, and she didn’t even know it. In war, one life was a small price to pay if it saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of others.

But he didn’t consider Sera’s life a small price. How could they ask him to do this?

He knew the answer. She was just an obstacle to them. A faceless, nameless bump in the road to victory over the Nazis. But to David she was real. A living, breathing human being. One he cared about. A lot.

As he approached the pit, he looked down on her. She seemed so small and defenseless. It would be so easy to sneak up behind her and crush her skull with a rock. He pictured himself dragging her limp body up on the wall and throwing it back down on the stones below like a pile of garbage in the street. No one would ever know. It would look like an accident. Hell, after the incident with the dump truck, she was living proof that accidents on the site could be deadly.

She must have sensed him behind her. Sera stood and turned, smiling tentatively at him. David clenched his fists at his sides. He was so close he could reach out now and snap her thin neck with his bare hands. But could he bear to look into those beautiful blue eyes as he choked the life out of her?


Buon
giorno
,” a familiar voice called out from behind him.

Sera glanced around David and waved, returning the greeting. “
Buon
giorno
.”

He turned to see
Heberto
walking down the road toward them.

“Serafina,” the old man said as he drew closer. “Professor
Moretti
wants to talk with you about the casting. He needs you to fill out an order for the amount of plaster you’ll need so it will be here when you’re done excavating the cavity.”

Sera looked puzzled. “Don’t we have any plaster here?”

“No, it’s been a while since the last cast was made, and we’re out.”

David watched Sera look wistfully at the mound. He knew her expressions so well that he could almost read her mind.
So much has been done, but there’s still so much work to do
.

Heberto
gave her a friendly shove.

“Go on. It’ll still be here when you get back.”

As he watched her walk away, David released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He had to pry his fingers open, stiff from where he’d gripped them so hard.

Sera’s cavalry had arrived just in time. The opportunity had been taken away from him for the moment. But, given another chance, could he follow through with what he was supposed to do?

* * *

 

When Sera reached the artifact villa, the Professor was nowhere in sight. After a few inquiries, one of the workers told her he’d been called away and would be back soon.

Reentering the villa, she went to the mismatched file cabinets lining one wall and began shuffling through the papers for the supply order form. Not that it would do her any good. She knew the measurements of the mound by heart, but the Professor would have to help her figure out the volume of plaster needed. Math had never been her strongest subject.

Glancing over her shoulder at the bright sunlight coming through the open doorway, she huffed impatiently. The time this errand was wasting irritated her. She wanted to be back at the site, working on the cavity, not doing damn paperwork.

Grumbling a litany of muffled curses with each wrong form she pulled out, Sera overheard loud voices from just outside the doorway. German-accented voices.

Nothing unusual there. German tourists crawled all over the ruins every day. Although she didn’t understand much of the language, her hearing did pick up on two words that made her blood run cold.


Wo
ist
David Corbelli?

They were looking for David.

She froze, and her heart nearly stopped. Careful to keep herself hidden in the shadows, she crept closer to the doorway.

“Where is Signore Corbelli?” another asked in German-accented Italian.

“What is this about?” she heard
Heberto
reply. How had the old man gotten here so fast from where she’d left him at the dig site?

“We have reason to believe that Signore Corbelli is not who he says he is. We have it on good authority that he may be an American spy.”

No! No! No!
Panic seized her. How had they found out?

“What? It cannot be,” she heard
Heberto
answer. “Why, David is as Italian as I am.”

“An Italian who has a fondness for American cigarettes, it would seem.” Sera recognized Giovanni’s smug voice immediately. What was he doing here? It would figure he had something to do with this. “Or perhaps he’s an American smoking his own?” The unspoken allegation hung in the air like a death knell.

“What are you doing here?”
Heberto
echoed her unspoken question. “I’ll have you arrested for stealing those artifacts.”

“Not so fast, Signore,” a German officer spoke. “A few missing pots don’t concern us right now. Espionage against the Motherland is of greater interest to us at the moment.”

“You see,
Heberto
. I’m here under the protection of the German Army, so you can’t touch me.”

Sera didn’t have to see Giovanni’s arrogant face to know he spoke down to
Heberto
. He’d used that haughty tone of superiority with her enough in the past.

“I’m just doing my duty as a loyal Fascist in helping my comrades flush out the American spy among us. I always knew there was something strange about Corbelli, so when I caught him sneaking down an alley, I followed him. I saw him talking to a man I’ve never seen in
Pompei
, and they left behind a trail of American cigarettes.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,”
Heberto
huffed. “Anyone can get them on the black market. Half of Italy trades for them whenever they can. Why, I’ve smoked a few myself, and they aren’t half bad.”

“We’ll find out the truth soon enough,” the German officer said. “We only want to ask him a few questions. If he is who he says he is, no harm will come to him.”

Sera didn’t believe the officer for one minute. There were too many people who had been taken away to be “questioned” and were never seen or heard from again. And since Giovanni seemed to be behind it all, she had no doubt that David would not fare well in the hands of the Germans, especially since what they suspected was true.

She dropped the papers and crept to the rear door leading to the courtyard of the villa. For once, she was thankful that the building was in ruins. She was able to escape through a hole in the wall that normally wouldn’t have been there.

Sera ran down the road, dodging clusters of tourists, trying to beat the Germans to the dig site.
Heberto
seemed to be trying to stall them, but she didn’t know how long the old man would be able to keep them at bay.

She had to find David. She had to get him away before they found him.

She cut over to the empty street that ran along the city wall. Not normally open to tourists, it was the path David used to take the debris to the waiting trucks. Rounding a corner, she nearly ran into him. The edge of his wheelbarrow cut into her thighs, his load of rocks and dirt spilling all over the ground at their feet.

He dropped the wheelbarrow and tried to steady her.

“Sera, are you all right?”

“Hurry. Follow me.”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him down a narrow street past villas and shops. She tried to get him to the nearest gate so that he could blend in with the tourists and get out of the ruins. But as they came around the building, she saw Giovanni and the German officers headed their way. They had not taken the main street, but had cut down the alleyways, probably trying to sneak up on David at their dig site.

“Quick, this way.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked as he let her drag him along.

“No time to explain.”

They backtracked down the street and passed through an arched tunnel into the theatre section of the ruins, going past first the small theatre and then cutting across the large one. Just as they reached the tunnel leading back to the main road, she spied several members of the Italian Militia, obviously looking for someone. Extreme fascists, they were as close to a Nazi as an Italian could get and just as dangerous for someone like David.

Sera stopped abruptly, and David ran into her back, nearly shoving her out of the shadows into the street.

“Would you please tell me what’s going on?”

“The Germans. Giovanni… somehow he found out about you. He’s brought the Nazis here to take you.”

“Damn it! How?”

“Something about seeing you smoking American cigarettes in an alley with someone. But how he found out is not important. What does matter is that we’ve got to get you out of here. Now.”

Too late, they heard more angry voices. The Germans had joined up with the Italian Militia and were getting closer.

BOOK: Out of the Ashes
13.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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