A new team member
I had gone over a number of different ways I could run into Juliet, but most seemed staged, and I got the impression from her most recent conversation with Larry, that she was not silly.
In fact, in my mind, a second meeting, coincidental or not, would send up a red flag. This was where spycraft bordered on Hollywood, we needed to set the stage, and for that, we needed extras.
And that meant a phone call to Alfie. I told him what I needed, and he asked for 24 hours to set it up, and true to his word, I was in the arrival hall of Venice Airport, waiting for the newest member of the team.
Cecilia Walker was an aspiring actress, an ideal cover for her so-called part-time profession as an agent at large. We all had cover stories, with both personal and legitimate reasons for being in places that we’d not normally be expected to be. And in her case, she was never the same person twice, quite literally the master of disguise.
For Cecilia, there was a film festival in Venice she would be attending. Timing in this case was everything.
As for me, I had a background in archaeology and journalism and was actually employed to write articles for a number of publications, a job I kept up after I left the service, along with the idea of writing a book, which became the object of a long-standing joke between Violetta and I.
One day I would finish it
But ironically, Cecilia had the perfect cover, being able to slip into any role without having to work too hard on the finer details.
Alfie had sent a photo of her, and even though I did spend a few moments wondering if I might recognize her from some part she may have played, it didn’t stir up any recollection. Of course, there was always a vast difference between studio poses and real life, and the woman that came out of the gate was quite different from the one I was expecting.
Although the few paparazzi that were loitering in the terminal just in case a celebrity did suddenly arrive, didn’t recognize her, that might be due to the fact she was dressed casually and had changed both hairstyle and color, and, as I had learned from the woman I’d spent a lot of time with, nuances in make-up could make all the difference.
But there was one photographer that was interested, perhaps he had seen her before, and I waited until she had spoken to him before wandering over. She had scanned the gate area, both to familiarise herself with the layout and people there, as well as locate me, all without looking like she was doing anything other than immediately disembarking the plane.
It showed experience, and preparedness, not her first, as they say, rodeo.
She had been tracking me the whole time, so once I was in her direct line of sight, anyone observing us would assume we were old friends.
There was a hug before words were spoken, the sort that made me realize what I had been missing for some time, warm personal contact.
“You haven’t aged a bit,” she said, a smile lingering.
“It’s the wine, excellent preservative. You, on the other hand, have grown up.”
The script called for old friends who hadn’t seen each other for a year or so.
She performed a pirouette and then burst into giggles. “Sorry, it’s just when I did that for one of my grandmothers, she said I was acting like a tart.”
“Grandmothers can be like that,” I said, remembering Violetta used to use the same word for her sister’s grandchildren.
“My house is a renovator’s disaster at the moment, so we’re staying in a quaint hotel on the edge of the main Canal, and some interesting restaurants.”
Alfie had booked us adjoining rooms on the same floor as Juliet, which, when she learned I would be staying there too, would give me the surprise element I was looking for.
“I am so looking forward to this week. If we get the time, you’ll have to show me everything.”
In that short distance from the airport terminal to the water taxi berths, there was time enough to discover what had exactly been missing in my life since Violetta had died.
Yes, there was a period of mourning, a period where there had been no point in getting out of bed, a period where I felt completely lost without the one person who made my life make sense.
But in those few short minutes, there it was again, and with it the belief that perhaps there was someone else out there who could fill that gap, but never replace her because there would never be anyone else like her. Cecilia was not the one, but she was part of the process.
I had to remember, also, she was a consummate actress, that she was playing a role, and it was totally believable.
Once we were on the water taxi and away from prying eyes and ears, I had to ask, “how did you end up on Rodby’s roster, especially in light of how good an actor you are?”
“You think so, why thank you. But the duality, accidentally. I got caught in the crossfire, and thinking at the time, someone had changed the script and forgot to tell me, sort of kicked some ass. Delusions of becoming a female version of Liam Neeson. Instead, I was offered a recurring female James Bond, in real life.”
Good to know I could depend on her in a scrap.
“This might not come to that, in fact, it might be quite boring.”
She smiled. “A free trip to Venice, a film festival pass to everything, working with a legend, what’s not to like?”
What had Alfie told her? Legend I was not, perhaps slightly more successful than the average agent, but I was just doing my job until I didn’t want to do it anymore. How many of us could say we preferred to sacrifice everything for the love of the one?
“I assume you are up to speed with what’s required of you in the first instance?”
“A role is a role, Evan, and I love a good role. This woman you’re supposed to be cozying up to, and the guy using her, it’s almost like a plotline in a B grade movie.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that, but now that she mentioned it, it felt a bit like exactly that.
“Should I make her jealous?”
“It’s not like that, or at least that’s the impression I got when I ran into her. Depends on what Larry’s intentions are. Chances are when we get to the hotel we might see her again, and you might get an idea. I’m not the best person reading women’s minds.”
“No man ever is. We have to have that element of surprise to keep you interested, but if I was in her position, and I saw you with a woman like me, and I was supposed to get close to you for whatever reason, I might be forced into making a move I didn’t want to. The fact she’s here with you in her sights generally means one thing.”
The question was, how desperate would she be? That would depend on the motivation, or what leverage he had. Pushing the envelope might, as Cecilia said force her hand.
So much for a softly, softly approach.
And it might force Larry’s hand as well
“So, is it your first time in Venice?”
“No, I used to come here when younger with my mother who was I guess a Venetian. After she died, not so much.”
“No other baggage?” It had surprised me she had only one carrying bag.
It was always excess baggage when traveling anywhere with my ex.
“Only emotional. I was told to pack light, anything I needed you’d get for me.”
The accompanying wicked smile was enough. I’d have to make sure the expense account was big enough.
After a pleasant forty-five-minute grand tour of the canals going the long way to the berths not far from St Mark’s Square, we jumped off as soon as the taxi came alongside.
The hotel wasn’t far from the bronze equestrian monument to Victor Emmanuel II statue, which she took a moment to look at, almost causing several strollers to walk into her.
That element of careless tourist didn’t make her stand-up as much as if she had purposefully walked from the berth to the hotel, a small detail in a studied persona, the role of an extra perhaps in a film.
It was the part of the day, for late summer that I liked the best, and in a week or so, the weather would slowly get colder until Christmas, and winter, was upon us.
Then, she did the complete 360-degree turn just taking it all in. “Some things never change, I remember all of this.”
Perhaps living off and on for so long here had made me a little immune to the charm of the place, but it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.
“Your hotel awaits.”
For a few seconds the reality of the situation faded into the background, and I could push all the nastiness of Larry and his machinations aside, but then the reality came back, I remembered who I was and what I’d been, and how important it was not to lose sight of the objective.
It had not been easy while Violetta was still alive, nor was hiding the real truth of my past from her. Yes, I had told her a version of my precious life, and the possible dangers it could present, which was why she suggested we live in a number of different places, never the same in a single location, but with Venice, it had been different. It had a profound effect on her, and it was where she chose to spend her last days.
It had not held the same effect on me. Not since she passed, and I had been looking to leave, find somewhere new, and different to stay, more so since I learned of Larry’s plans.
Now it just made me angry.
“I’m sorry,” she said, suddenly next to me, “do we need to be someplace?”
“What, no, sorry.”
“You looked annoyed, I hope not with me.”
“No, never. Just thinking about Larry. And Juliet, I guess I’m lamenting the nuisance the pair of them are in intruding on my solitude. Something to note, you don’t ever get the luxury of retirement in this business, except in death.”
“Then let’s hope it doesn’t happen.”
© Charles Heath 2022