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Authors: Hammond Innes

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BOOK: The Angry Mountain
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I didn't get much sleep that night. Whenever I dozed off
the figures of Shirer and Sansevino kept appearing and then merging and changing shape as though in a trick mirror. I'd be running through Milan in a sweat of fear with first one and then the other materialising from the crowd, appearing in the lighted doorways of buildings or seizing hold of my arm in the street. Then I'd be awake in a clammy sweat with my heart racing and I'd begin thinking over the events of the evening until I fell asleep and started dreaming again.

I have a horror of going mad—really mad, not just sent to hospital for treatment. And that night I thought I really was going round the bend. My mind had become a distorting mirror to the retina of my memory and the strange coincidence of that meeting with Shirer became magnified into something so frightening that my hair literally crawled on my scalp when I thought about it.

I got up with the first light of day and had a bath. I felt better then, more relaxed and I propped myself up in bed and read a book. I must have dozed off after a time for the next thing I knew I was being called. My mind felt clear and reasonable. I went down and ate a hearty breakfast. Shafts of warm sunshine streamed through the tall windows. I steered my mind clear of the previous night. I'd obviously been drunk. I concentrated all my energies on the work that had to be done. I could see Sismondi again that evening.

When I had finished my breakfast I went straight up to my room and began a long session of telephoning. I had the window on to the balcony open and the sun lay quite warm across the table at which I was seated. A maid came in and made the bed, managing, like most Italian servants, to make me conscious of her sex as she moved about the room.

I was about half-way through my list of contacts and had just replaced the receiver after completing a call when the clerk at the reception desk came through. “A lady to see you, Signor Farrell.”

I thought of the scene with Reece the previous night and my heart sank.

“Did she give you her name?” I asked.

“No, signore. She will not give me her name.”

I suppose she'd been afraid I wouldn't see her if she said who she was. “All right. I'll come down.” I replaced the receiver and got to my feet. Her arrival had broken the spell of my concentration on work and I found myself thinking again of the events of the night before. The sunlight seemed suddenly cold. There was a slight breeze blowing on to the table and ruffling the papers that spilled across it from the open mouth of my brief-case. I shut the windows and then went out down the corridor to the main stairs, mentally bracing myself to face Tu
č
ek's daughter.

She wasn't in the entrance hall and I went over to the reception desk. The clerk gave me an oily smile. “She is gone to the bar, Signor Farrell.” I turned and went up the stairs again.

But it wasn't Hilda Tu
č
ek who was waiting for me in the bar. It was the girl I'd met at Sismondi's flat—the Gontessa Valle. She was dressed in a black coat and skirt with a fur cape draped round her shoulders. Her black hair was drawn tight back from a central parting and it gleamed in the sunlight. Her oval face was pale by comparison and the only spot of colour was a blood-red carnation pinned above her left breast, the colour exactly matching the shade of her lips. She still looked like a painting by one of the early masters, but in the morning sunlight her madonna features seemed to have a touch of the devil in them.

“Good morning, signore.” Her voice was soft like a caress. The lazy smile she gave me made me think of a cat that has found a bowl of cream. She gave me her hand. I bent and touched the warm flesh with my lips, and all the time I knew her green eyes were watching me. “I hope you do not mind my coming to see you, like this?”

“I'm delighted,” I murmured.

“I wait for you in the bar because I think perhaps you need a drink—after what happen last night.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I could do with a drink. What will you have?”

“It is a little early for me. But to keep you company I will have a crême de menthe.”

I sat down and called a waiter. All the time I was trying to control the sudden sense of excitement that her presence had induced and at the same time to figure out just why she had come to see me. The waiter came over and I ordered a crême de menthe and a cognac and seltz. Then I said awkwardly, “Why have you come to see me, Contessa?”

A glint of amusement showed in her eyes. “Because you interest me, Signor Farrell.”

I gave a little bow. “You flatter me.”

She smiled. “It is a pretty scene you make last night, throwing your glass on the floor and walking out on poor little Riccardo. Also Walter was very upset. He is sensitive and—” She must have seen the tenseness in my face for she stopped then. “Why do you behave like that, signore?”

The unexpected directness of the question took me by surprise. “I was drunk,” I answered tersely. “Suppose we leave it at that.”

She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. The waiter arrived with the drinks. “
Salute!
” She raised the glass to her lips. The green of the crême de menthe was a shocking contrast to the red gash of her lips, but it matched her eyes. I emptied the bottle of seltz into my glass and drank.

There was an uncomfortable silence which was broken by her saying, “I do not think you were drunk last night. You were very strung up and you had been drinking. But you were not drunk.”

I didn't answer. I was thinking of Shirer, seeing him again in the glare of the street light stroking the side of his upper lip with the tips of his fingers. “Have you known Walter Shirer long?” I asked.

“Two or three years perhaps. I am from Napoli and he has a vineyard there. He is producing a very good Lachrima Christi. You know him before you meet him last night, eh? That is why you are so upset.”

“Yes,” I said. “I knew him during the war. We were in the Villa d'Este together.”

“Ah, now I understand. That is the place he escape from. But you are not the Englishman who accompany him.”

“No.”

“Are you angry with him because he go and you cannot?”

Damn the woman! Why couldn't she pick on some other subject. “Why should I be?” My voice sounded harsh.

“You do not like to talk about it, eh? I hear from Walter that there is a doctor in the Villa d'Este who is not very kind.”

“Yes. There was a doctor.” I stared at my drink, thinking of the tone in which Shirer had said
Albergo Nazionale
as he'd directed the taxi driver. “He was very like Shirer,” I murmured. And then suddenly I remembered. God! Why hadn't I thought of it before? Upstairs amongst the files in my baggage I had a photograph of il dottore Sansevino. I'd liberated it from the files of the Instituto Nazionale Luce. Some perverse sense of the morbid had made me keep it. I got to my feet. “I have a photograph I would like you to see, Contessa,” I said. “If you'll excuse me, I'll go and get it. I won't be a minute.”

“No, please.” Her hand was on my arm. “I have to go in a moment and I did not come here to look at photographs.”

“I'd like you to see it,” I insisted. “It won't take a second for me to get it.”

She started to argue, but I was already walking away from the table. I took the lift up to my floor and went down the corridor to my room. The next door to mine was open and I could see the maid making the bed. As I put the key in the lock of my door something banged inside. I entered to find that the windows to the balcony had blown open. The sudden
through draught slid my papers across the table and on to the floor. I shut the door quickly, retrieved the papers and closed the windows again.

Then I stood stock still, remembering suddenly that I had closed them and locked them before going down to meet the Contessa. I turned quickly to my bags and checked through them. Nothing seemed to be missing and I cursed myself for being so jumpy. I found the photograph and shut my case again.

As I left my room the maid came out of the next door. She stopped and stared at me, mouth agape in astonishment. “Whatever's the matter?” I asked her in Italian.

She stared at me stupidly and I was just going to go on down the corridor when she said, “But il dottore said you were ill, signore.”

The words
il dottore
brought me spinning round on her. “How do you mean?” I asked. “What doctor?”

“The one who come through this room when I am making the bed, signore.” She looked pale and rather frightened. “He say that the signore is not to be disturbed. But the signore is not ill. Please—I do not understand.”

I took hold of her by the shoulders and shook her in my sudden, intuitive panic. “What did he look like—the doctor? Quickly, girl. What was he like?”

“I do not remember,” she murmured. “He came in from the balcony, you see, and he was against the light so that—”

“From the balcony?” So that was why the french windows had been open. Somebody had been in my room. “Tell me exactly what happened?”

She stared at me, her eyes very large. She was frightened. But I don't think she knew quite why she was frightened.

“What happened?” I repeated in a more controlled voice, trying to calm her.

She hesitated. Then she took a breath and said, “It was whilst I was making the bed, signore. I had opened the windows to the balcony to air the room and then this man
came in. He frightened me, appearing suddenly like that. But he put his fingers to his lips and told me I was not to disturb you. He said he was a doctor. He had been called because you were taken ill, signore, and he had given you some medicine. He added that you had gone to sleep now and he had come out by way of the balcony because he was afraid the door might make a noise when he closed it and wake you.”

“And he said he was a doctor?”


Sì, sì, signore
. He was not the hotel doctor. But sometimes guests call in other doctors. Are you better now, signore?”

“I haven't been ill and I didn't call a doctor,” I told her.

She stared at me, her eyes like saucers. I could see she didn't believe a word of it. Probably I looked pretty wild. I was in the grip of a horror that seemed to come up from right deep down inside of me. I had to fight all the time to keep myself under control. “Can you describe this man to me?” I asked her.

She shook her head. She was beginning to edge away from me. At any moment I felt she'd run away down the corridor. “Was he short or tall?” I persisted.

“Short.”

I suddenly remembered the photograph I was still holding in my hand. I covered the uniform with my hand and showed her just the head. “Was that the man?”

Her gaze slid reluctantly from my face to the photograph. “
Sì, sì, signore
. That is the man.” She nodded her head emphatically and then frowned. “But he do not have a moustache.” Her voice had become uncertain. “I cannot tell, signore. But it is very like him. Now, please, I must go. I have many, many rooms—” She edged away from me and then hurried off down the corridor.

I stood there, staring at the photograph. Sansevino's dark, rather small eyes stared back at me from the piece of pasteboard. It wasn't possible. Damn it, Sansevino was dead.
I'd seen him myself with his brains spattered from his head and the little Beretta gripped in his hand. But why should Shirer want to search my room? And then there was that story about being a doctor. In an emergency a man thinks up something that appears reasonable to him. Shirer wouldn't have thought of calling himself a doctor. But Sansevino would. It would leap automatically to his mind as a perfectly natural excuse for his behaviour.

I felt a shiver run up my spine: a tingle of horror, of anticipation—an unholy mixture of glee and instinctive fear. Suppose it was Sansevino I'd met last night? Suppose.… But I discarded the idea. It was too fantastic, too horrible.

I turned and walked slowly along the corridor and down the stairs. But all the way back to the bar I couldn't get the idea out of my mind. It would account for the man's odd behaviour the night before. It would account, too, for my involuntary sense of fear. But I wasn't afraid now. I had a feeling of exultance. Suppose it were Sansevino. Just suppose that it was Sansevino who had escaped from the Villa d'Este. Then I had him. Then I could repay all he'd done to me, repay the pain, the hours of mental torture waiting for the …

“What is the matter, Signor Farrell? Has anything happened?”

I had reached the table where I had left the Gontessa. “No,” I answered quickly. “Nothing has happened.” My glass was still half-full and I drained it at a gulp.

“You look as though you have seen a ghost,” she said.

“A ghost?” I stared at her. Then I sat down. “What made you say that?”

Her brows arched slightly at the abruptness of my tone. “Have I said something wrong? I am sorry. I am not good at idiomatic English. What I mean to say is that you look upset.”

“It's nothing,” I said, wiping my face and hands with my handkerchief. “I get these attacks sometimes.” I was
thinking of that time in Naples when I'd been waiting at the Patria for a boat to take me home. I'd had the same feeling of tightness inside my head. It had been like an iron band being slowly screwed down across the brain cells. I'd been two months in hospital then. Was I going the same way again? “Hell! I can't be imagining it all.”

“What is that you say?” She was staring at me curiously and I realised I must have spoken aloud.

I called the waiter. “Will you have another drink?” I asked her. She shook her head and I ordered a double cognac.

“You should not drink so much,” she murmured.

I laughed. “If I didn't drink—” I stopped then, realising that I was in danger of saying too much.

She reached out and her fingers touched my hand. “I am sorry,” she said softly. “I think something terrible has happen in your life.”

BOOK: The Angry Mountain
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