“I had quietly gone into an upstairs room. As far as anyone else knew I was off inspecting the house. I’d put together the portable shortwave radio, parts of which I kept concealed in my lighter and the heel of my shoe. The messenger should be close enough now that I’d be able to make contact with the agents following him. He should arrive at the Villa in less than half an hour.”
The receiver crackled. He heard the words “One mile, in ten minutes.” It was time to inspect the foyer and be ready for whatever came next. To be ready for Rannesin.
“I had positioned myself on the landing overlooking the foyer. From this vantage point I could see the entire area and all the doorways. Bella was inspecting the outlets along the walls. The Countess, expecting the courier, was in an adjoining room making small talk with the one guest we thought might be Rannesin. The butler, having been instructed by the Countess to be as helpful to us as possible while keeping us out of the way so as not to accidentally disturb the dinner party, which was scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes, stood calmly to one side. He moved towards the door when he heard the bell.”
“Excuse me sir, I have a message for Countess Ghirlandaio.” The courier, hat in hand, bowed slightly. He seemed a nervous little man. Our agent knew him well. He was one of the best Italian operatives that Drake had ever worked with.
“Certainly. I will take it to her.” And the butler extended his hand, waiting for the envelope.
“Oh, sir, my apologies, but my instructions are to give it to the Countess only. You understand.”
The butler, taking a deep breath and rolling his eyes, said, “Very well. Wait here and I’ll inform Countess Ghirlandaio.” And he turned towards the far door, the room occupied by the Countess and the guest. A moment later the Countess, with the guest close behind, entered the foyer.
“You have a message for me?” The Countess asked pleasantly.
“Yes, Countess Ghirlandaio. Here, please,” and he produced an envelope from his breast pocket.
Taking the envelope the Countess offered a kind thank you and, turning to the butler, said, “Please, Blondeau, see that this gentleman is compensated for his effort.” With message in hand, she smiled one last time at the courier and headed back to the side room.
The messenger bowed politely and said, “Thank you, Countess, very, very much.” And this was the message to be delivered. The bow coupled with the word “very” twice rather than once conveyed the information. The envelope, which did contain a message concerning the neighboring village and certain road rights across her estate, was a ruse. If it had been intercepted by Rannesin he would have gained nothing.
Bella stepped close to the door and asked the Countess in a very low voice, “Would it be intrusive if I inspected this room now, Countess?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Drake was already there, ready to inspect the room with Bella, ready to watch the windows, the doors, and the guest.
“The messenger had come and gone without incident. If anything was going to happen it would have to happen now. If the Countess opened and read the letter she would have the information, or at least Rannesin would think she had the information not knowing that a code had been used upon delivery and that the information had already been passed along, and it would be too late for him to act. For Rannesin, and for us, it was now or never.”
“Excuse me one moment, please. This may be important,” the countess smiled to her guest and walked over to the fireplace, opening the envelope as she did so. Drake and Bella had positioned themselves so that doors, windows and guest were effectively covered. The door opened and the butler stepped quietly in, approaching the Countess with an envelope in hand and a strange, rather confused look on his face.
“Excuse me, Countess. The servants have just finished their evening meal and as the maid cleared the table in the kitchen she found this under one of the plates. It is addressed to a Mr. John Drake.” And he held the letter out for her to inspect. She looked quizzically at Drake, saying nothing.
“At this point it was obvious that there was more to this situation than met the eye. Only five people knew I was here, Nigel, my contact in Madrid, the courier, Bella, and the Countess although she didn’t know me as anything other than an agent posing as an assistant building inspector. The Countess knew Bella and I were agents but didn’t know which of us was John Drake. There was nothing left for us to do now but take charge of the situation.”
“Call in the servants, all of them, immediately!” Bella barked at the butler.
“Do as he says, please,” and the Countess nodded at the butler as she took the envelope and handed it to Bella who handed it to Drake. The guest, a puzzled look on his face, took the liberty of pouring himself a brandy and settled in to a chair by the fire.
Drake knew it was already to late to call in the servants. And as he opened the letter he had already guessed at what had happened. Their security measures had kept Rannesin at bay. The contents of the envelope however remained a mystery. But only for a moment. The message, addressed to John Drake, read as follows …
“Mr. Drake, I congratulate you. This is twice now you best me, here tonight and with my niece in Montreal. I was able to receive your shortwave message. Your security is very good. To many people in to many places for me. It is fine. We play cat and mouse again some another day. But next time I think I will be the cat.”
It was signed “Georgio”.
“The servants had been dutifully rounded up and the gardener was missing. Bella sent word that the surrounding area be searched, giving few details other than a good description of the gardener. I had stepped outside the kitchen door to smoke. In the light of the match, next to the steps and partially hidden by shrubbery, were bits and pieces of what looked like flesh-colored rubber. The remnants of Rannesin’s disguise. The description called in by Bella would do no good. I wondered what it was that he had altered? His nose, or mouth, the cheek bones? Would I recognize him the next time we met? The next time we played cat and mouse?”
Epilogue: The night air was crisp and clear as our agent returned to his room in the village. He would leave in the morning, after a good nights rest. And two doors down Georgio Rannesin turned out the light, and with the smile of one who had lost a chess match to an equal, turned over and went peacefully to sleep. There would be other matches.
- Danger Man: “Georgio” … Part 1 (theprisonerfanfiction.wordpress.com)