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Authors: James R. Benn

Tags: #Mystery, #Historical, #War

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CHAPTER • EIGHT

CAPO SOPRANO WAS the perfect POW compound as long as you didn’t care whether your prisoners escaped. A wide promontory, it was covered with ancient ruins, situated below groves of palm trees and stands of flowering cactus. Thick stone walls stood amidst dunes that swept up from the sea, and I wondered how tall the buildings that once stood here had been. In some places the crumbling walls were only a few feet high; in others, more than five. Columns and towers dotted the landscape, the walls dividing the sands neatly into open compartments, each containing Italian POWs, seated in the shade or stripped to the waist, enjoying the sun and soft sand. The breeze off the water was cool and lent a festive feeling to the gathering, as if it were one big beach party. GIs walked along the tops of the thick granite walls, surveying hundreds—no, thousands—of Italian POWs. They hardly needed guarding; it was more crowd control to keep them from rushing the landing craft that beached along the shore to take them aboard and off to the real POW camps in North Africa.
For you, the war is over.

I went down the path from the roadway, walking toward a cluster of tents, wondering how I could possibly find one Italian POW among thousands. I stepped into the shade of the first tent I came to and caught the eye of a noncom with a clipboard and a harried look. His shirt was sweat-soaked, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Other GIs sat at makeshift desks piled with mounds of paperwork. Tent flaps were up, and rocks served as weights for the papers that fluttered and struggled to be released to the winds. Two MPs, their helmets off, ate K rations and eyed me indifferently.

“Hey, Sarge, where do you keep the wounded Italians?” I asked the noncom.

Sweat plastered his hair over his forehead, and he brushed it aside with a beefy forearm. He was a staff sergeant, maybe thirty-five or so, and he had the steady look of a bull who knew his way around a cell block.

“Who wants to know, sonny?” He took a long drink from a canteen then set it down on a table made from a door and two crates with an empty, hollow sound.

“You a cop?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Kansas City. That obvious?”

“You look right at home surrounded by prisoners,” I said.

“That’s what the lieutenant said when he stuck me here. What about you?” He narrowed his eyes and studied me.

“Boston PD. But don’t tell my lieutenant. I don’t want to get stuck babysitting POWs.”

“Smart choice, rookie. OK, what do you need?”

“G-2 wants me to find a Roberto Bellestri, wounded and captured a few days ago. They think he has the dope on some gun emplacements.” I turned so the Seventh Army shoulder patch was visible and hoped he wouldn’t ask for orders or identification or the name of the officer who’d sent me on this errand.

“Wounded bad?”

“I don’t think so. Graze along the ribs. But maybe a bit worse.”

“Well, you’re welcome to try the Italian aid station. Badly wounded cases are treated in field hospitals, only the walking wounded are sent here. We’ve got a bunch of Eyetie medics and doctors. We fixed them up with supplies, so they can take care of their own. Most of the wounded head down here to the beach as soon as they can.”

“Why’s that?”

“They say the Krauts are going to kick our ass off this island, and they want to get away before the Germans take over again. Ain’t that somethin’? Except for the locals, that is. You hear about Bradley’s order?”

“I’ve been a little out of touch,” I said, with a fair amount of truth.

“Just came in,” he said, pulling a sheet from his clipboard. “General Bradley’s got some smarts. Any Sicilian who surrenders will be immediately paroled and allowed to go home. We released a couple hundred who left laughing and singing.”

“The Vichy French shot at us when we came ashore near Algiers, and we ended up kissing them on both cheeks. The Italians shoot at us here and we let them go home. It’s a crazy war.”

“Well, only the Sicilians are cut loose. The other Italians are a close second when it comes to surrender. I never saw so many guys eager to get to North Africa.”

“Odds are they haven’t been there before. I have. Where do I find the aid station?”

“Take this dirt track,” he said, pointing up a small rise. “See those palm trees? That’s where it’s been set up. Good luck.”

“If I find him?”

“He’s yours. I got plenty.”

Three whitewashed stone houses stood along the narrow track, nestled under the shade of tall palms. Behind them were U. S . Army tents and what I guessed were Italian Army tents, some marked with red crosses. Though they were not guarded, no one looked as if he was about to sneak off to fight to the death for Mussolini. The first house held supplies and two orderlies playing cards. The next two were set up as makeshift operating rooms, but no one was on the tables.

“Can I help you?” The voice from behind startled me. I nearly brought my rifle up as I turned, then I steadied myself.

“Sorry,” I said. He was Italian, and his English was precise, with that faintly British accent of Europeans who learned English from the source. He was drying his hands on a white apron worn over his uniform. He wore khaki breeches with puttees and heavy brown leather boots. His light khaki jacket was almost a dead ringer for the one I had been wearing, only his collar was more pointed and showed the insignia of the 207th Coastal Defense Division, a white patch with a blue triangle. Funny how those little things popped into my mind, things I didn’t even know I knew.

“Are you a doctor?”

“Yes. Captain Dottore Enrico Sciafani. What can I do for you?” He cocked his head as if it was an invitation for me to introduce myself.

I let that vague request for rank and name hang in the air. “I’m looking for an Italian soldier who was wounded in the side three days ago. It wasn’t too serious, and he may have been brought here. His name is Roberto Bellestri.”

He nodded, as if Americans came calling for their Italian cousins every day. “Names mean very little here. We take care of light wounds and injuries then send the men down to the boats as soon as we can. They are most eager to go. We keep no records ourselves. That is now a matter for your army.”

“Does the wound sound familiar, Doctor?”

“They all sound familiar, my friend. Where did you get yours?” He removed my helmet and peered at the dirty bandage.

I felt oddly comforted and at the same time disturbed. Doctor or not, he was supposed to be the enemy prisoner, not the one in charge.

“I don’t remember.” I was tired of lying; it felt good to come out and say it. This guy wasn’t about to cause me any trouble.

“It happens, more often than you think. With some wounds, it is better not to remember. When did you last have that dressing changed?”

“Yesterday, I think.”

“Come, I will give you a new bandage, then you can look for your man.”

I followed him and sat down. It was cool inside, and I let him remove the gauze and clean the wound.

“This is not so bad,” he said. “You have no recollection?”

“No. And I was hit in the arm too.” I rolled up my sleeve and showed him those bandages. He cut them away and shrugged.

“Superficial. That makes your memory loss more interesting. What were you doing before the injuries were sustained?”

“I don’t know that either. I woke up in a field hospital. I didn’t remember anything, not even my name.”

“Which is why you haven’t told it to me?”

“No, it’s come back. A lot has come back, but not everything.”

He surveyed me as he studied my injuries. He worked quickly, wrapping my arm in gauze and tape, and putting a smaller dressing on my head, tying it off with a torn strip of white cloth. He was young, under thirty, with thick black hair, a narrow nose, and dark eyes. A small triangular scar marked one cheekbone; other than that, his skin was smooth except for fine lines at the corners of his eyes.

“Where’d you get your scar?” I asked.

His hand automatically went to the scar and brushed it faintly.

“My younger brother. We were sword fighting with sticks and he gave me this. My father stitched me up and then thrashed us both. With the sticks.”

“Your father’s a doctor?”

“Yes, in Palermo,” he said, tying off the bandage and standing back to check his work.

“Is your brother still there?”

“His submarine never came back from patrol last year.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Ah, yes, so am I.” He fingered the scar and sighed. “So am I. Now tell me what do you want with Roberto Bellestri?”

“I believe he saved my life. I remembered him a while ago, lifting me up and taking me away. . . from wherever this happened. Some men—Americans—found us, and one of them shot him. That’s all I remember.”

“You say your memories have been returning since this happened? When was that?”

“Three days ago, maybe four.”

“Four days ago, the invasion had not occurred.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Very interesting. You think this Roberto may have some answers for you?”

“I hope so. I’m looking for him because I don’t know what else to do.”

“Why not do nothing? Your memories are likely to return fully, since they have started already.”

“Because I’m not sure of what it was I was doing. And why.”

“You know, my nameless friend, you are the most fortunate of men,” he said, laughing as he poured water over his hands and dried them again on his apron. He pulled up a chair and sat next to me. “In some respects.”

“How do you mean, Doctor?”

“What did the philosopher say? Something about the unexamined life not being worth living? Most men live an unexamined life, and have little interest in truly knowing who they are. Most go through life untested, with no need even to understand what they are capable of. They get up, eat, go to work, eat, make love, sleep, and get up again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do,” I said, surprised that I really did.

“We, though, we have seen war. We know there is more to life than a meaningless cycle of tasks, do we not? We know the day is here to be savored.”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking of the placid sea the morning after the paratroopers dropped into it. “Yes.”

“But you have another gift few men receive. You must discover who you are. You are unsure of what you will find. You are about to examine your life, once it is fully known to you, from the distance of your amnesia.”

“It doesn’t seem like much of a gift,” I said.

“No, I doubt if it does. Do you have cigarettes, by any chance?”

I dug through my pack and found a pack of Luckies. “Here, take them. I don’t smoke.”

He lit one and inhaled, leaning back, closing his eyes as he exhaled. “Ah, that is good. American cigarettes, very good. Now, I have some things to tell you.”

“What?”

“I do not think it likely that the wound to your head caused your amnesia. It certainly gave you a slight concussion, but nothing more. Real damage to the brain would have caused a serious organic amnesia. Your memories would not be returning so rapidly if that were the case.”

“So what caused it?”

He drew on the cigarette and waited a moment before he answered.

“It sounds like what is called psychogenic amnesia. There are many references to it in recent literature. Recent meaning before the war. I had studied in Vienna and was starting my psychiatric residency in Rome when I was drafted. This is an area of interest for me.”

“Are you saying I’m crazy?”

“No, no. It has nothing to do with mental illness, trust me. But personal identity may be lost for emotional or psychological reasons. An event may be too traumatic for the brain to process. So it obliges by not remembering the event. Our minds are quite inventive in this regard. Then, as time passes, the memories return. It is very unusual for such memory loss to last more than a few weeks. It usually comes back suddenly.”

“So I’m only temporarily insane?”

“Yes,” he laughed. “If you define loss of memory as insanity, then yes, you are temporarily insane. Rest assured your sanity will return. Although, as events all around us demonstrate, sanity and awareness are not always to be desired.”

“If there are things I still can’t remember. . .”

“Then they are likely the most distressing memories. The precipitating event might be any traumatic event you endured. No shortage of those in wartime.”

“Sounds like things are going to get a lot worse before they get better,” I said.

“Yes, when these memories return, you will have to deal with them. I would recommend you talk with a qualified doctor when they do.”

“Maybe I’ll come back and see you, Captain Doctor Sciafani,” I said as I stood and gathered my gear. “Thanks for the first aid. I’ll go look for Roberto now.”

“Sit, sit down. There is no need.”

“You know where he is?”

“Yes. I am sorry, but he died last night.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” My voice rose in anger and disbelief.

“Because I didn’t know why you wanted him. And because he was found this morning in bed, his throat cut from ear to ear.”

CHAPTER • NINE

“WE BURIED HIM RIGHT away. The heat, you know.” Sciafani stood respectfully at the mound of sandy soil marking the grave of Roberto Bellestri. There were only two other graves.

“You’re sure this is Bellestri?” I asked. The wind drifted gritty dust up from the mound and coated the toes of my boots.

“Yes. His name was on his identity disk, and his wound was as you described. A bullet grazed his side, breaking two ribs but passing cleanly through. He was in pain, but would have recovered fully.”

“He wanted to go to America. Said he had cousins in Chicago.”

“Every Sicilian has a cousin in New York or Chicago, my friend.”

“A few in Boston as well,” I said.

“Ah, Boston. Excellent hospital facilities there, I understand. Massachusetts General Hospital, do you know it?”

I thought about that. Images of flashing red lights, blood, and handcuffs raced through my mind.

“The emergency room, at least. I’m a police officer back home. My name is Billy Boyle, by the way.” I extended my hand and he shook it with a firm, sure grip, but he hung on to me as he looked down at the grave.

“He spoke of you. He said you would help him get to America, that he saved your life. Is that what happened?”

I pulled my hand away and rubbed my eyes, as if that might focus my memory. “I don’t know. He may have. I could’ve told him I’d help him. Somehow, maybe, I don’t know.” A small pebble rolled down the side of the pile and bounced against the toe of my boot. Something had passed between Roberto and me, something important, my life and safety for his future. Had I promised him a ticket to the States? Had I lied to him? I kicked at the stone, wondering if I’d ever know, and walked through a stand of prickly cactus into the cooling shade of the palms. Two men, murdered. One was a bum, out for no one but himself. Even so, Rocko hadn’t deserved what he got. And Roberto, eager and excited, had survived the invasion and hoped he’d found his ticket to the promised land. Maybe he had saved my life, or maybe that was a line designed to get him in good with the Yanks so he could make it to the States. Maybe he’d lied to me or I’d lied to him.

Anger pulsed through me and I felt. . . like myself. Rage felt familiar and close. It felt like desire. For what? Vengeance, justice? No, those words were too fancy. I needed things to be set right, that’s all. And it felt like something I knew how to do, although I couldn’t have said exactly how.

I was electric, awake, vibrant now as if everything else before had been someone else’s life or dream or nightmare. Was this who I was? A flash of fear and shame swept through me and I let it go. This was better than not knowing, always wondering, merely guessing at who I was. I decided to take myself as I found me. I was dog tired, hot and dusty, but I was here, savoring the day, and that was enough.

Sciafani stopped at the first two tents we came to, chatting with bandaged Italian soldiers who laughed and shook his hand. It sounded like he was saying his farewells, and it hit me that, as a Sicilian, he had had his ticket punched. He was a free man, and he knew the island.

“Captain Doctor Sciafani,” I said, mustering all the military courtesy I could, “are you leaving? Going home?”

“Yes.What is your rank, may I ask?”

“Lieutenant, sir. Lieutenant Billy Boyle.”

“Well, yes, Lieutenant Boyle, I am. I have my parole. There is another doctor, from Milano, which is unfortunate for him. He will remain here. There is little to do that will challenge him. And you need not call me captain. I am once again simply a
dottore
, which is quite enough for me.”

“I guess that makes me your first patient as a civilian,” I said, following him into his tent.

“Yes, Lieutenant Boyle, perhaps it does. I am sorry I will not be able to see you again, as yours is a most interesting case.” He began to stuff a few items of clothing into a knapsack, pausing to inspect a shirt that was covered with stains where it wasn’t replete with gaping holes. He dropped it to the ground and put on his knapsack. Collecting a canteen of water and his khaki
bustina
, the soft wool cap the Italians wore, he looked at me as if I were a houseguest who couldn’t take a hint.

“I have a jeep,” I said. “I can drive you part of the way.”

“That is very kind, but I do not think so. Not far from here, being with an American will make me a target. Alone and on foot, I can avoid the
tedeschi.
I know the hills and back roads. Please excuse me.”

He hung the canteen from his shoulder and pulled his
bustina
on, angling by me sideways to get out of the tent. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to steer clear of the Germans. I scurried after him, knowing I needed a local to help me figure things out but also aware that the last one who had helped me had been rewarded with a mouthful of sand for his troubles.

“Just up to the main road then,” I said, feeling like a high-school kid asking to walk a girl home. He nodded his acceptance and I led him to the jeep, cutting across the rocky slope, directly above the tents and enclosures on the beach.

Below us, landing craft picked up Italian POWs while the lucky Sicilians among them trudged away in the opposite direction, toward their homes. As we sat in the jeep I remembered the odd note I’d been carrying around.

I gave it to Sciafani. “Does this mean anything to you?” I asked him.

“‘To find happiness, you must twice pass through purgatory,’” he read. “Yes, I have heard this. Why ?”

“It has something to do with where I was when Roberto found me, I think.”

“Then you were some distance away, my friend,” Sciafani said. “In Agrigento, perhaps 130 kilometers east of here.”

I started to ask him how he’d reached that conclusion when two jeeps full of MPs raced down the road and braked in front of the tent where I’d been. They were in such a rush they didn’t notice the vehicle park or the jeep. The two MPs who’d been eating K rations came out to meet them and they all looked at some papers while one MP pointed up the path I’d taken to the Italian aid station. They took off at a trot, an officer, his hand on the .45 in his holster, leading the way. The MPs behind him carried Thompsons and carbines.

“Must be a dangerous war criminal up there,” I said as I started the engine, put it in reverse, and backed up the road as quietly as I could. When I was out of their sight I turned hard and floored it, kicking gravel out from the rear tires and praying more reinforcements weren’t headed for me.

“Yes, Lieutenant Boyle, if that is who you really are. Perhaps he is a very dangerous man.”

Sciafani hung on as the jeep bounced over the ruts up to the junction with the main road. I didn’t want to lose any time getting away from the MPs, and I wasn’t slowing down enough to let him jump out.

Then I saw the truck blocking the road ahead. They’d sealed it off when they came to look for me. Two guys in nondescript khaki leaned against a Dodge WC-52 Weapons Carrier parked sideways across both lanes. On either side rocks and cacti blocked escape. I slowed and wondered if I could make it out of there on foot. We came closer, and I saw the two men more clearly. They were lounging against the truck as if they were casually waiting for someone who was late for an appointment. One of them was smoking and for a change no guns were pointed at me. It didn’t make sense. Then it did. One of the men was Kaz. I pulled to a stop within a few feet of him and couldn’t keep myself from smiling. He looked grim, which was unusual. The scar that split his face from the corner of one eye down to his chin didn’t tend to make him look cheery, but his usual expression was carefree, or at worst nonchalant. I knew it was a pretense that pleased him, and that the look on his face now was a truer reflection of his heavy heart.

“Kaz,” I said, leaning over the steering wheel. He was my friend, and I was glad to have met up with him. He was only person I could trust to believe me and not turn me in.

“Who is this?” Kaz pointed at Sciafani, his eyes still on me.

“I am Dottore Enrico Sciafani, late of the Italian Army. I have my parole papers.”


Lei è siciliano?
” Kaz asked.


Sì, sono siciliano.”

“All right, both of you in the back of the truck. Banville will take the jeep,” Kaz said in sharp, clipped tones.

I had questions, plenty of them, but hearing the snarl of engines behind us I decided they could wait. Kaz took Sciafani by the elbow and hurried him along. The man he called Banville took my place at the wheel of the jeep, eyeing me strangely as we passed, but there was no time to wonder if I knew him. I thought I might, but it was like seeing somebody who resembled someone you knew, yet not closely enough for you to feel OK about clapping him on the shoulder and telling him it had been too long. Banville wore crumpled, faded British naval khakis and a weather-beaten white naval cap with threadbare gold braid. Unshaven, with a huge knife and a revolver on his belt, he looked piratical.

“Hurry,” was all Kaz said as he hustled me into the back of the truck. Kaz was a slight guy, thin and reedy, and wore steel-rimmed spectacles that he really needed. But he wasn’t afraid to use a pistol for close work, that much I remembered from North Africa. He’d gotten me out of a jam in Algiers. I recalled a Vichy French jailer tumbling down the stairs and Kaz strolling into the cell block with a ring of keys in one hand and a smoking Webley revolver in the other. He’d been smiling then, but today the expression on his scarred face was grim.

Canvas covered the rear of the truck, a small three-quarter-ton job that was handy for transporting weapons or a few men tightly packed. It was bigger than a jeep, but not by a lot. What it did have going for it was that no one could see me, and that Kaz had stashed gear, weapons, food, and water in the back. I lifted aside the canvas flap and saw Banville following us in the stolen jeep, far enough back not to be choked on our dust. Banville. That name was familiar. I did know him. A British sailor. From where?

As we rounded a curve I noted a group of tents with aerials thrusting toward the sky, protected from overhead view by camouflage netting stretched between palm trees. Wire ran up one tree and across the road. I wondered if Lieutenant Andrews—Rocko’s pal—was in there, working on a German dialer, whatever the hell that was. And if he’d taken a walk down to Capo Soprano last night with a sharp knife. And Charlotte? The voice in Rocko’s tent had mentioned a girl. What was a girl named Charlotte doing mixed up in this?

“They are friends of yours, these English?” Sciafani asked from the bench opposite, jolting me from my thoughts.

“Yeah, yeah, I know them. Kaz is Polish, though.”

“Ah, the Poles,” Sciafani said. “As unfortunate in their geography as we Sicilians. Destined to be overrun by armies from the east and west, just as the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and Normans have conquered us. They have all come here, but only the
siciliano
remains.”

I barely heard Sciafani’s history lecture. I was remembering what I hadn’t wanted to remember about Kaz. His scar. And Daphne Seaton, who had loved him and had been my friend. Daphne, who’d been murdered to keep her silent, a car explosion immolating her and ripping Kaz’s face and heart. I remembered my resolve to keep Kaz busy, to keep him from blowing his brains out. Based on the look on his face I realized I hadn’t been doing my job. Kaz liked to be amused, and he had often said that working with me made him interested in what tomorrow might bring. Now he didn’t look much amused at the prospect of today, much less tomorrow.

Something else ate at my gut, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I knew that I hadn’t remembered everything yet. Daphne had been killed, Kaz badly injured, and when he’d returned to duty he’d become a killer who took chances with his life. I didn’t want to think about what else there might be. I rested my head in my hands and tried to quiet the rage in my mind as the unfairness of Daphne’s death and Kaz’s loss overwhelmed all other thoughts.

Daphne and Banville. There was more, about them both. What ?

“Lieutenant Boyle, are you weeping?” Sciafani asked.

I didn’t realize I was until I looked down at the floorboards and saw tiny drops, fading in the heat and vanishing as quickly as they appeared.

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