It all started in Venice – Episode 1

When you least expect it

I was minding my own business, as the saying goes.

Having made my mark on the world, I had retired from a world that I hardly recognized as what had once been.

Pandemics, political games, countries on the brink of disaster, and what could be called a world gone mad seemed to be the new normal, though it was hard to say what the old normal was.

So, I let all flow on past me, like water under the bridge, much the same that I was now standing on, overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, the second to last whistle-stop on what had been a long respite from the real world.

I’d also been lamenting the death of the only woman I’d ever loved and for a long time the only thing that made sense.

She was with me always, in life and in death, reminding me that she would not want me to simply give up on life.  Sometimes those words fell on deaf ears, but today was a good day.

She had always loved Venice and we always came for the Carnival, but this was the first year I’d missed it.  It would not be the same without her.

After a while I moved on, over the bridge, heading back to the apartment, one of several in the major cities we traveled to often, Paris, London, Istanbul, and Vienna to name a few.

I stopped at a Cafe, one we often did when Violetta was alive, and the owner served me himself.  It was, coincidentally, where Violetta and I first met, a story in itself

Then it was back home.

There were certain instincts I had, acquired when I lived in another world, and one was telling me something was not right.

I looked up and down the street but everything seemed normal.  It was part of the city where cars were permitted, though I chose not to have one.

I shrugged.  Perhaps my instincts were wrong, after all, it had been a long time since I’d needed them.

As I approached the front door to the building, I could see a man come from the opposite side of the street, heading towards the same doorway.  He’d timed it to arrive at the same time.

Normally it wouldn’t bother me, but he did not look like a resident or a visitor.

“Mr. Wallace?”

As I went to put the key in the lock, he called out, his timing not quite getting him to the front door.  Perhaps that was because I’d quickened my pace.

I was going to ignore him, but something told me not to.  He seemed familiar.

I turned, just as he reached me.

“Mr. Wallace?”

“Who wants to Know?”

“Alfie Simkins.  Who I work for is irrelevant, but we need to have a short discussion.”

OK, the irrelevant reference told me everything I needed to know.  It was my past, coming back to haunt me.

“About what?”

“Nothing I would care to utter in the street.”

I gave him one of those long hard stares, the one known to unnerve even the hardest of opponents, but he didn’t flinch.

I knew his sort, and he was the last person I wanted to talk to.  But just to make sure he was who he was intimating he was…

“Who sent you?”

“Rodby.”

And there it was.  That blast from the past, a name I had hoped I’d never hear again.

I opened the door and he followed me in, then up the elevator to the third floor.  At the time I could not afford the top floor, but it was comfortable enough, even if the view was somewhat limited.

He’d barely made it through the door before I asked, “I need some proof…”

“That I’m not an assassin, he said you’d require it.  Two words, Alan McWhirter.”

There was a name I hadn’t heard in a long time, almost twenty years, my original name, lost after becoming so many different people.  There had been times when I hardly knew who I was myself.

Now it was only a matter of what Rodby wanted, usually the impossible.

“How is he?  He must be about a hundred years old by now.”  He was close to that when I first met him, oh so long ago.

“Still comes into the office every day, still sharp as a tack as they say.”

The man would never die or lose his marbles.

“So, what’s this about?”

“A recording a surveillance team made and which they thought held no significance.”

“But Rodby did.”

“One of the analysts, you might remember her, Wendy Tucker, thought it might be relevant so she raised a flag.”

I did remember her, and by now she would be as old as I was and probably the only surviving member of the old team.  But my memories of her were for other reasons.

“Yes, and I’m surprised she’s still there.”

“She heard your name, and another, but perhaps I should play the recording and then comment on it.”

He put his phone on the bench and played it.

A male voice accented, eastern European I thought, spoke first.  “I’m told you knew a man named Egan Watts.”

“There’s a name I never expected to hear again.”  A female voice and one I thought I recognized.

“Then you did know him?”

“Briefly, and not all that well.  He and I went to an industry function once after we met in rather unusual circumstances, but whatever it was, it didn’t last long.  He put work before anything else, so we parted.”

“Amicably?”

“Yes.  For a while after we crossed paths, had dinner, you know.”

It had been a time when I’d been in recovery and retraining and had time for such a relationship.  Nothing permanent, but just fun.  She hadn’t been looking for anything permanent either.

“So you would know him now?”

“God no.  It’s been a long time, and last I heard, he was married and traveling the world.”

“His wife died.  Now he’s in Venice.  We’d like you to pick up where you left off.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” she said.  “Chances are he’s moved on and forgotten all about me.”

“Be that as it may, this isn’t a request.  We ask you to do, or there will be consequences.”

Silence, perhaps a moment to reflect on exactly what those consequences might be, then, “What for?”

“That’s none of your concern.  All you are required to do is rekindle your relationship.  How you do it is your business, but you better go and pack for a long stay.”

Juliet Ambrose. 

I remembered the voice, and the distinctiveness of its soft Irish accent, almost mesmerizing.

She had been one of the doctors supervising my recovery and she seemed to be out of sorts, so I’d asked her out to dinner, and talk if she wanted to.  She didn’t, but one thing led to another…

That’s where Alfie stopped the recording.

“Good to know then,” I said, ” it’s time to leave Venice and move on.”  The expression on Alfie’s face told me that was not what was going to happen.  “Or…”

“The man in the conversation is Larry Pomisor, a key figure in the Waterville organization.”

That said, it all came back to me in a flood.  An assignment that specifically targeted Larry’s brother Andre, and how spectacularly it failed.  Andre had been killed, which was the mission objective, but so had his wife and children, which was not, and Larry had sworn to find his killer.

Apparently, he now had.

“Then if he regards me as the perpetrator, then you and Rodby both know Larry is going to honor a promise he made.  Surely this is all Rodby needs to put him behind bars.”  I knew Rodby could not have Larry ‘removed’ like he could once.

“It’s not that straightforward.  If we were to go in with what we know, it would burn our source, so for the time being Rodby wants you to play along, find out what he intends to do, and we’ll swoop in and round them all up.”

The man had enthusiasm, I’ll give him that, but no idea what might happen if it all went wrong; that there will be a lot of pain and suffering involved.  Larry was not a man to miss hitting the first time.

“All good intentions I’m sure, but both of you seem to forget I don’t work for him, or the government, anymore.”

“He never rescinded your file.  As far as anyone knows you’re still on the active list.  It’s just for a short time until we make all the connections.  Clearly, while the girl is courting you nothing is going to happen, and we’ll have eyes on all the major players.  All he’s asking is for you to play a role.”

It seemed to me my whole life had been one long screenplay.  And it was never that simple.

“If I say no?”

“Then I’m sure he’ll arrive on your doorstep and personally ask you to return the favor”

Yes, I’d expected that.  He may have agreed very reluctantly to my retirement, but it had always come with a caveat.

“Just this once then.”  There would be no getting around it.

“Of course.  I assume that we have permission to install eyes and ears here?”

An inconvenience, but necessary.  I nodded.  “But I am considering going to Paris, and then to New York.  She might ask to come with me.”

“Wouldn’t you simply stay put and make them come to you?  Besides, why would you take anyone actively assisting in a plan to kill you anywhere?”

Good point.  “Perhaps we’ll see what happens,  I have to get back home sometime.”

“Then give us the addresses and we’ll take care of the rest.  Oh, and the plane.  Just in case.”

I shook my head.  I guess I could say goodbye to privacy for the next few weeks.

© Charles Heath 2022

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