1950 hours. Ecco, Bottini!
The chauffeur was watching his side-view mirror. "Il galletto," he said. Yes, the cockerel, so they called him, for he did indeed strut. Heading along the rue Augereau toward the Colbert, he was the classical short man who refused to be short: posture erect, back stiff, chin high, chest out. Bottini was a Turinese lawyer who had emigrated to Paris in 1935, dissatisfied with the fascist policies of his native country. A dissatisfaction no doubt sharpened by a good public beating and a half a bottle of castor oil, administered by a Blackshirt action squad as a crowd gathered and gawked in silence. Always a liberal, probably a socialist, possibly a secret Communist, Amandola suspected--slippery as eels, these types--Bottini was a friend to the oppressed, and prominent in the friends-to-the-oppressed community.
But the problem with il galletto wasn't that he strutted, the problem was that he crowed. Arriving in Paris, he had naturally joined the Giustizia e Liberta--justice and liberty--organization, the largest and most determined group of the antifascist opposition, and then become editor of one of their clandestine newspapers, Liberazione, written in Paris, smuggled into Italy, then printed and covertly distributed. Infamita! This paper kicked like a mule; barbed, witty, knowing, and savage, with not a wisp of respect for Italy's glorious fascismo or Il Duce or any of his achievements. But now, Amandola thought, this galletto was done crowing.
As Bottini turned the corner of the rue Augereau, he took off his steel-framed eyeglasses, wiped the rain from the lenses with a large white handkerchief, and put the glasses in a case. Then he entered the hotel. He was precisely on schedule, according to the surveillance reports. On Tuesday evenings, from eight to ten, always in Room 44, he would entertain his mistress, the wife of the French socialist politician LaCroix. LaCroix, who had headed one ministry, then another, in the Popular Front government. LaCroix, who stood beside the Prime Minister, Daladier, in the newspaper photographs. LaCroix, who dined at his club every Tuesday and played bridge until midnight.
It was 2015 before a taxi pulled up to the Colbert and Madame LaCroix emerged, and ran with tiny steps into the hotel. Amandola got only a glimpse of her--brick red hair, pointy white nose, a Rubenesque woman, fleshy and abundant. And greatly appetitious, according to the operatives who'd rented Room 46 and eavesdropped on the other side of the wall. Subjects are vocal, and noisy, said one report. Describing, Amandola supposed, every sort of moan and squeal as the two went at their coupling like excited swine. Oh, he knew her sort; she liked her food and she liked her wine and she liked her naked pleasures--any and all of them no doubt, the full deck of naughty playing cards. Libertines. A full-length mirror faced the foot of the large bed in Room 44 and surely they took advantage of it, thrilled to watch themselves thrashing about, thrilled to watch--everything.
Now, Amandola thought, one must wait.
They had learned it was the lovers' custom to spend a few minutes in conversation before they got busy. So, give them a little time. Amandola's OVRA operatives--OVRA was the name of the secret police, the political police, established by Mussolini in the 1920s--were already inside the hotel, had taken rooms that afternoon, accompanied by prostitutes. Who might well, in time, be found by the police and interrogated, but what could they say? He was bald, he wore a beard, he said his name was Mario. But bald Mario and bearded Mario would be, at that point, long gone across the border, back in Italy. At most, the girls would get their pictures in the newspaper.
Madame LaCroix, when the OVRA men burst into the room, would no doubt be indignant, this was, she would assume, some vile trick perpetrated by her serpent of a husband. But she would not assume it for long, and when the revolver appeared, with its long snout of a silencer, it would be too late to scream. Would Bottini? Or would he plead for his life? No, Amandola thought, he would do neither. He would curse them, a vain galletto to the end, and take his medicine. In the temple. Then, the silencer unscrewed, the revolver placed in Bottini's hand. So sad, so dreary, a doomed love affair, a lover's despair.
Excerpted from The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst Copyright © 2006 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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