A few days ago I promised an ongoing thorn in the side of our agent, Mr. Drake. Today … delivery.
Prolog: “Every agent has his emissary. Bond, Blofeld; Holmes, Moriarty; Flint, Lisa Norton. John Drake also has his own. A messy situation? Well that’s when they usually match wits or something like that. Oh yes, his name is Rannesin, Georgio Rannesin.”
“NO!” The other man growled into his plate. “We still don’t know what he looks like. If it weren’t for Estonia we wouldn’t know this much.”
Drake sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “I’ll wire Nigel tonight.”
“The Countess Ghirlandaio would be expecting us, of course. She had been a freedom fighter in the Italian underground during World War Two and had been an invaluable operative ever since. I was sure it wasn’t her Rannesin was after. It was the message she would receive from Romania the day after tomorrow that he would try to intercept. Bella and I would need to act fast in order to be in place by then.”
Drake and Bella stood before the huge door. The Villa, long-deserted, had been repaired, at least in part, by the Countess. It was still “under construction” but the west end was finished and livable. Tonight would be the unveiling. There were six guests and six servants. Of the guests they were certain of five. The servants, with the exception of the butler, were all new. Two maids, a cook, the chauffeur and the grounds keeper. The butler, a Frenchman by the name of Blondeau, had been with the countess for twenty years. The maids and cook being women the list was narrowed down to the one guest, the gardener, and the chauffeur. One of these might be Rannesin. Or he could be in hiding. Now their job was to be there, be in place, be ready. The door opened and the butler queried, “May I help you?”
Bella flipped out his I.D. and in a most business like way, with just a touch of minor-bureaucrat pomp, said, “Would you please inform the Countess Ghirlandaio that we are here to inspect the building for safety?”
“And you are?” The butler looked intently at the building inspector I.D.
“I am Inspector Clouseau, this is my assistant,” he motioned towards Drake, “Carlo.” Drake made a slight bow, tipping his head down to one side.
“You should know that the Countess is having a dinner party this evening.” The butler raised one eyebrow as if to show disapproval.
“I understand. Rest assured that we shall be as unobtrusive as possible. But laws MUST be obeyed.” And Bella raised an eyebrow as though to trump the butler’s authority.
“Please come in. I will go to the Countess. You gentlemen may make yourselves comfortable. I’m sure the Countess will receive you shortly.”
“We’d gained entry easily enough. Our next step, after having provided the Countess with the appropriate code so that she would know we were agents, was to wait and watch and inspect the house. Of course it was the people in the house, the guest, Fernando Restrepo, the gardener, Adamo, and the chauffeur, Palmiro, that we’d be inspecting. Rannesin could be any one of these three men or he could be hidden in the Villa or on the grounds. We would have to intercept him before he intercepted the courier and his message. Our messenger was of course being followed and guarded. But given the importance of the message to be delivered and the chance to catch Rannesin we couldn’t leave anything to chance. Discovering who he was or locating where he was hiding was now our primary concern. And the clock was ticking.”
“Open the door, please,” and Bella motioned for the gardener to unlock the utility shed. Once inside the wiring was dutifully inspected. So where the nooks and corners. There was no other way in or out and they found no evidence of anything other than grounds keeping equipment. The garage was their next stop.
Inside the garage no one was evident. However the two cars both had trunks that could be used as hiding places. Drake opened each in turn with a pick while Bella stood near the garage door watching, ready to give the signal in case some one approached. The garage and the cars were empty.
There were only two possibilities now. Rannesin was not hiding in the villa, which meant one of two things. He was one of the three men who were suspect or he was hidden on the grounds.
“All we could do now was continue to inspect, slowly, while watching and waiting. The courier was scheduled to arrive with the message in two hours.”
Part 2 … later.