GEPPETTO'S CHILDREN


by

Albert J. Manachino

Inspector Hoffman's neat Swiss soul was appalled at the mess on the desk and behind it. Lieutenant Umbraio could scarcely have been considered prepossessing even to someone less esthetic than he.

At the moment, the lieutenant represented Via de Colli's entire police force. De Colli was a small mountain village situated in the midst of an immense forest a few miles from the Swiss frontier.

The Italian appeared to consist of an enormous stomach, the top of which served as a repository for innumerable bread crumbs. Evidently he had just finished one of many daily lunches just prior to his visitor's arrival.

"My credentials, Lieutenant." Inspector Hoffman bowed formally and proffered a leatherette billfold. "My passport and a letter from your regional chief requesting your cooperation.”

Lieutenant Umbraio returned the bow with a nod. "I must apologize for the seeming discourtesy of not rising. In my case, gravity has overcome graciousness." He glanced perfunctorily at the first of the two documents. "The most excellent Major Adano telephoned and explained personally the purpose of your visit." Umbraio returned the papers; the letter remained unopened. "The tragic demise of Mademoiselle Clara Vorst and the disappearance of her brother, Peter. I am entirely at your service.”

Inspector Hoffman inquired, "I take it there have been no recent developments in the case?”

He had not expected any and the lieutenant did not disappoint him. "A company of Alpini, under the command of my friend, Captain Rudolfo Perrone, investigated the most likely possibilities without uncovering a trace of Peter. You must remember, Inspector, the Foresta Castania is tremendous in area. If the Vorsts left the beaten track, as it appears they did, it would require what the Americans refer to as a 'lucky break' to bring anything to light.

"I regret to say, our Foresteros, men extremely familiar with this region, have nothing to report either. Nothing positive, that is. However, all this effort has been far from a total waste. A considerable territory has been eliminated with which we will not have to concern ourselves with in the future." "Aerial reconnaissance by helicopters," the inspector suggested.

"Unfeasible! The forest is so vast and so dense a regiment could hide in it without fear of detection.”

"An appeal to the public through the newspapers and radio for assistance?”

Lieutenant Umbraio sighed. "That is routine in a case of this nature. We traced the Vorsts to the municipal garage in Vincenzia.

After that, their whereabouts, till the discovery of Miss Vorst's body, are a mystery. We had hoped someone would remember them and step forward but to date that hope has been an exercise in futility. Someone always thinks they remember seeing a couple that look like the missing parties. We've wasted a tremendous amount of time and manpower investigating reports which turned up people who did not bear even a superficial resemblance to the Vorsts … or, more often, who cannot be located at all." Lieutenant Umbraio located a large glossy photograph amidst the desktop litter and spread it out upon such area as was unoccupied. It showed a flaxen haired couple in their late twenties. They wore black, skin fitting garments that were liberally bespangled with sequins.

Clara's tights terminated in a very wide, metal-studded belt, quite low on her hips, exposing a tremendous amount of bare midriff and a well-developed navel. A considerable distance above the belt, the clothed area began again in the form of a brief halter that struggled valiantly to restrain whatever it was supposed to restrain.

Peter Vorst's garb was equally revealing.

An open front shirt exhibited a massive and well-proportioned chest.

A small mustache bristled defiantly under the protection of a finely sculpted nose.

Umbraio did not need to refer to the descriptive material on the reverse side of the photograph to know they would both possess those depressingly blue eyes.

"That is a publicity release picture," the inspector noted. "Clara and Peter Vorst were world renowned equestrians. Their manager is politically influential and connected to the most important people in my country by reasons of family relationships -- which is what gives this case its special significance.”

"I commiserate with the gentleman," Umbraio said. "I have a feeling within my deeply buried bones that soon he will be compelled to seek out a new act to manage.”

A spark of interest leapt into Hoffman's eyes. "You mean that as a reference to Clara's death -- that Peter will have to acquire a new partner?”

"My personal opinion, based on nothing but intuition, is that Peter also is dead. It is only a matter of locating his remains and it is the prime reason I've directed principle attention to the Furioso.”

The inspector appeared dubious. "Don't you have anything concrete on which to base this feeling?”

"No, not really! With all the attendant publicity surrounding the murder and disappearance, the only inference I can make is that Peter is unable to communicate because of restraint or demise. If he were being held a prisoner, it could be only for ransom and to date no such demands have been made. Why murder one of the partners when two would bring double the ransom? That leaves …" The Italian shrugged the remainder of his sentence.

He permitted Inspector Hoffman a moment to speculate in before resuming. "It is my understanding Clara and Peter were twins; is this not so?”

The Swiss policeman nodded. "Fraternal twins.”

"They were unusually close for brother and sister, were they not?”

Another nod. "Their act as a professional duo would have had a tendency to reinforce that intimacy. They were acceptable to audiences only as a team. One without the other was like tea without sugar or coffee without cream.”

Or, as in my case, like spaghetti without meatballs," Umbraio finished. "But! My dear Inspector, even to the extent that they shared the same hobbies, traveled to the same vacation locales, ate the same foods and dressed similarly? "It's unusual but not, I think, especially unique. I've read of cases where twins shared the same dreams.”

It was Lieutenant Umbraio's turn to seem skeptical. "Clara's body was found by a camper who was drawing water for his morning tea. She was tangled amidst some roots in one of the very few quiet eddies of the Furioso. An extremely blunt instrument of approximately twenty millimeters width had been driven into her back with a turning motion. Her spine was shattered.

"It was apparent she was dead before entering the Furioso. No water was found in her lungs or stomach. Had she been alive, certainly she should have swallowed some. Time of death could not be approximated with any accuracy as the water is so icy, it has a tendency to retard disintegration in tissue.”

"Your assumption that Peter is dead also is pure speculation," the inspector contended. "You are taking it for granted they were together at the time of her murder.”

"Of course! Everything I've said is a guesswork based on experience and logic. There is even the possibility that Peter is her murderer.”

Inspector Hoffman brushed aside this line of reasoning. "No motive.”

But ample opportunity and motive is not always apparent. They were performers, were they not? Entertainers are notoriously temperamental. Perhaps he felt his sister overshadowed him professionally. Perhaps he wished to terminate what he may have felt to be an unnaturally close association and attempt life as an individual entity.”

Inspector Hoffman's reasoning processes were as neat as his soul and as tidy as his person. "That is too far-fetched. I don't believe that is the case at all. The explanation has to be fairly down to earth. Without Clara there would be no limelight for him to be overshadowed in.”

"That is true. But, does Peter realize it? As a matter of fact, I don't believe either possibility myself. I was merely attempting to point out, with our present lack of information, the range of possibilities is unlimited. The nature of the weapon employed to kill Clara with takes the situation somewhat out of the field of the ordinary. Why would a rational person use a blunt, very likely a square pointless instrument to stab with? And why the clockwise motion of the stabbing?”

Inspector Hoffman, much against his personal inclinations was beginning to acquire a grudging respect for the Italian. If only he were not so ungodly fat. "An idiot?" he suggested.

Umbraio shook his head. "There are only two retarded persons who by reason of proximity could be suspected. Both have tight alibis. One has been institutionalized during the past three months. The other is a girl employed in the Monastery of St. Vincent de Lima. Her superiors have assured me that her absences from the monastery were not of sufficient duration for her to travel to the vicinity of the Furioso, slay Clara, and return.”

"The camper who discovered the body, what is known of him?”

"His name is Carl Von Goteberg and he is a regional regular. Signor Goteberg has vacationed in this area the past fifteen summers. Besides, he is in his sixties and not exactly what one would regard as robust. I cannot visualize Fraulein Vorst pacifically submitting to the use of a blunt instrument on her person in such a manner.”

Hoffman thought of Clara's professionally developed muscles and tended to agree. "That would seem to eliminate him … barring the use of drugs.”

Again the lieutenant shook his head, setting a series of jowls in motion that reminded Hoffman of wavelets rippling against a shore. "The medical evidence is, that there were no foreign substances in her stomach. I fear it is you who is now grasping at improbabilities.”

"As you stated, 'In view of our present lack of information …' What is next?”

"Let us return to the Vorsts and examine them in more minute detail. Though they were fraternal twins, they had identical tastes. They took identical vacations. That vacations bit may be important. After all, at least one of the Vorsts was killed in the vacation land of central Europe.”

"Yes, Lieutenant, that is correct. Clara and Peter were inveterate hikers and spelunkers. They frequented the unbeaten path.”

The Italian held his hand up to stem the flow of information. "Already you've suggested a very good line of possibility. I did not know they were cave explorers. The Furioso originates at an underground source, the exact location of which is unknown. It bubbles up at the foot of Monte Cappucchio and commences a downward gradient, picking up momentum as it travels through the Castania Foresta.”

"You think they may have located that source?”

"It is not impossible, Inspector. Clara had to be committed to the river somewhere. They took these vacations every year at the end of the circus season?”

"Invariably! Either Clara or Peter would remark, 'I feel rundown' and the other would reply, 'I feel a but rusty myself.' And, they'd be off in their field packs and jeep. These, by the way, were favored expressions -- almost an act between them.”

"Ah! Favored expressions … Did Clara usually wear the type of clothing in which she was found -- stout hiking boots, brief shorts, and a scanty top?”

"That would appear to describe her habitual dress. Peter usually affected a torn-sleeve shirt which he left open and untucked into his shorts. Very ragged shorts, by the way. The Vorsts were casual about their dress. Surely, you aren't suggesting rape as well as murder?”

"No, Inspector. Dr. Sinagra, our most distinguished medical examiner and local practitioner, precluded that. His report states that Mademoiselle Clara had not been molested. Her virtue was quite intact. I am attempting to establish a pattern of habits.”

"Was anything that could be considered a clue discovered in their jeep?”

"No again, my dear colleague. They paid two weeks in advance at the municipal garage in Vincenzia, a bare five kilometers from here. "There were a few items of clothing and canned foods. Some spare camping equipment, nothing elaborate. Nothing of a written nature.”

"Then we are up against a blank wall, Lieutenant. The Vorsts were aloof, close-mouthed. They weren't in the habit of confiding their intentions to anyone … not even to their manager. Their mail is being held in Zurich. It is little short of remarkable that we were able to trace them this far.”

"So, Signor Hoffman! We have reached that stage where we can do nothing till we can retrace their route. We have something like three hundred men searching. I must get Captain Perrone to re-deploy his Alpini to the vicinity of Monte Cappucchio. Our best hope is that they were not as neat and tidy as you are, Inspector. A piece or two of litter that can be definitely proven as having belonged to them would be most helpful.”

The Swiss policeman discovered, to his embarrassment, that he was blushing. Lt. Umbraio regarded him with amusement. "Do not be discomfited, Inspector. You have brought the only helpful information we've had in two weeks -- that they were spelunkers.”

"Do you think it will help?”

"Possibly! Possibly not! This region is as full of caves as the Castanio is full of trees. Many are not even recorded on regional maps. A considerable number were used by brigands who did not advertise their locations, to store loot or to hide in.”

Lieutenant Umbraio rescued the telephone from amid the desktop clutter. Patiently he held it up to his ear until a connection was established. More time was consumed while he exchanged greetings and gossip with the operator. Hoffman fumed. There was another wait until his party was located.

Hoffman understood Italian but could not follow the very rapid exchange. It was as if, conversationally, Umbraio was trying to make up for the lost time. Finally he hung up and returned the instrument to the desk where it promptly became lost again.

"My apologies, Herr Hoffman, we are not as efficient as you Swiss. Captain Perrone's field headquarters is temporarily hooked into our local telephone exchange. He will deploy his men as requested. It will require a day or so to reestablish camp at the foot of Monte Cappucchio.”

"And until then?”

"First, a visit to the offices of our local newspaper at Vincenzia. The garage employees have already been questioned. The Vorsts did not confide in them either. Later, perhaps, an interview with our regional historian, Professor Calvi." Lieutenant Umbraio turned his head slightly so that he faced the street entrance and bellowed, "Pepino!"

No response, The lieutenant looked at a wall clock and sighed again. "I forgot. I gave him permission to take the afternoon off so that he could assist his wife with the family shopping. Unfortunately, the person who designed police vehicles did not consider the possibility of a driver of my girth. Consequently, if we are to accomplish anything, you will have to act as my chauffeur." Again he fumbled through the litter, this time in search of car keys. Lieutenant Umbraio struggled to his feet. He resembled an avalanche attempting to work its way uphill.

A quarter of a ton, if an ounce, Hoffman thought. He contrasted his own trim one hundred forty pounds against the ocean of flesh.

A wide, shining black leather belt was assigned the Herculean responsibility of holding up a pair of trousers which might have been manufactured for an elephant. Tightly drawn, it segmented his abdomen so that Umbraio appeared to have two stomachs … one atop the other. The belt also sustained a holster which harbored the largest revolver Hoffman had ever seen.

Umbraio retrieved a feathered Tyrolean hat and a cloak as large as a tent from the clothes tree. A hug walking stick that made Hoffman think of a railroad tie completed the Italian's outdoors wear.

In the open car, Umbraio occupied three quarters of the front seat so that Hoffman was confined to the area immediately behind the steering wheel. He waxed historically as the Swiss policeman drove slowly and carefully along the narrow mountain road.

"This region is very interesting. Vincenzia was a very important town in the seventeenth century. It was advantageously sited at the intersection of a number of trails and was quite prosperous till the advent of the railroad. It was also renowned for the number of master craftsmen who practiced their arts here.”

"Who were some of those masters?" The inspector gritted his teeth, never once removing his eyes from a pair of geese who looked as if they might abandon the side of the road for the middle.

"Who?" the Italian repeated. "There was Antonio Geppetto, Bartolomeo de Ceasre, Roberto Mussa, Andrea Carmo," he went on to name a half dozen others, none of whom registered significantly on his listener. Inspector Hoffman coaxed an unexpected burst of speed out of the vehicle and passed the indecisive geese. He said, "My apologies, Lieutenant, I do not recall any of the distinguished personages you mentioned.”

Umbraio's eyes widened in astonishment. "You've never heard of Geppetto, master toymaker of all time, who created a wooden boy so lifelike that it ran away?”

"Oh! That Geppetto! You mean the Pinocchio legend?”

"It was more than a legend, my dear inspector. Geppetto existed. He lived and plied his art in Vincenzia. De Ceasre was a master watch maker. If you were fortunate enough to possess a single specimen of his work today, you would be a rich man. Collectors have paid fantastic sums for just one watch. He, himself, designed and built the town clock which has not lost a minute in fifty years.

"Mussa was a wood carver and a doll maker supreme. Carmo was a ceramacist who specialized in those unbelievably beautiful figurines and music boxes. Never again was there such a wealth of master Artisans. All these men were contemporaries and all practiced their arts in Vincenzia.

"Never, never were they equaled. It was as if God decreed a single moment in the history of Italy, in which would exist all the finest brains and hands. Their like has never been seen since.”

Thankfully, Hoffman brought both the vehicle and the dissertation to a halt in front of the offices of ELOQUENTIA. He remained in the car while Umbraio shouldered his way through the entrance of the newspaper office. Left alone, he busied himself criticizing the cobblestone square. The medieval impression was heightened by small, quaint, lead-glass windows and extremely steep roofs. Buildings seemed to lean against one another as if seeking mutual support. There stood the clock tower containing de Ceasre's marvelous timepiece. Involuntarily, Hoffman checked it against his own wrist watch with its superb Swiss movements. To his annoyance, there was a two-minute discrepancy.

Though not considered imaginative by his colleagues, it was easy for the inspector to visualize the departed masters practicing their sills behind the facades of the ancient shops. Hoffman shuddered, the town needed more chrome and glass -- more neon lights -- more noise. It was a stagnant eddy in time.

Umbraio finally emerged. The car tilted dangerously to one side as he climbed aboard and resumed his seat. Inspector Hoffman looked at him inquiringly. "Now to visit an old acquaintance, Professor Enrico Calvi. The professor not only had the honor of being one of my scholastic instructors many years ago but is a descendant of Roberto Mussa, whom I menti9oned earlier. He is as distinguished as his illustrious ancestor, but in the field of electronics. I am, by the way, one of his few complete failures as I could never comprehend electronic theory." Umbraio supplied the directions.

The professor's home denoted a higher cultural as well as a higher economic standard. It was a villa and located very much by itself in the depths of the Castania Forest. The road picked its way cautiously under the brooding trees, performed an obeisance in front of an enormous pair of ancient wrought iron gates, and proceeded to lose itself again under the trees. The gates were open and Hoffman guided the car between the two massive stone pillars that supported them and up the interminable narrow driveway which finally opened up in a circular, landscaped court.

Hoffman studied the shrubbery closely. It was evident the professor was a devotee of topiary. Giant privet giraffes returned his scrutiny. Monte Cappucchio frowned down on them in the distance.

There was another vehicle in the court. Two figures were shaking hands near the car. One was obviously in the process of departing. He was carrying the black handbag which would have proclaimed him a doctor the world over.

"It is our most excellent medical examiner, Dr. Sinagra," Umbraio murmured. "It would appear there is illness in the professor's household.”

Hoffman noted he avoided the use of the term "family." The other figure, it developed, was that of Professor Calvi, whom they had come to see. They stopped talking and waited for Inspector Hoffman to bring the visiting car to a halt.

"Dr. Sinagra! Professor Calvi! My old and revered friends!" Lieutenant Umbraio shook hands extravagantly, while Hoffman maintained a polite distance. It was as if the Italian policeman was greeting long lost relatives, though Hoffman surmised it could not have been more than a few days since the doctor and Umbraio had discoursed over Clara Vorst's autopsy. In response to an introduction Hoffman clicked his heels and bowed, which the Italians studiously returned.

"I beg you forgive my discourtesy," the doctor was all apologies. "I have another patient who awaits me." Turning to the professor, he said, "I recommend immediate hospitalization for your nephew.”

"He shall have the best care available," promised Professor Calvi.

Dr. Sinagra drove away. The professor belied his eighty years. He stood tall and erect but so slender that Hoffman though a breeze might bend him like a swamp reed.

"My old pupil, Gaspare," the old man's eyes twinkled mischievously. The Switzerlander was mildly nettled, it had never occurred to him that Umbraio might possess a first name. "My condolences about your nephew, Professor.”

"A regrettable accident. A fall down a flight of stone steps which terminated on his face. Several teeth were broken among other complications. But, what brings you to visit your old classroom tyrant after a lapse of so many years?”

"Time has been kind to you, Professor. I have not had the pleasure of conversing with you since my graduation in March of 1949.”

"It was in June of that year," the professor corrected. "You sat fourth from the left in the third row.”

"Ah, to be sure. I am cr4ushed by my forgetfulness." Umbraio paused as if uncertain as to how to phrase his reason for the visit. Finally he spoke, feeling each word as he explained.

"It is your minute knowledge of this region that I feel could be useful." The lieutenant went into a detailed account of the Vorsts and the finding of Clara's mutilated body.

"But, Gaspare," Calvi protested at the termination of the recital. "How can I possibly be of assistance?”

"We are still seeking her brother, Peter. It is my premonition, that being spelunkers, they located the cavern where the Furioso originates. Do you remember Benito Neri?”

"Of course! He died in 1940. But what has Benito to do with the Vorsts?”

"Neri was a spelunker too. I seem to recall a rumor that he had found the source of the Furioso. You and he were very close friends. Did he ever confide in you of his discovery?”

The professor shook his head regretfully. "No, Gaspare. I'm afraid you are mistaken. Benito never mentioned to me anything of this and I'm sure he would have, had he been successful.”

"Ah! I'm so sorry for the inconvenience I've caused, Professor. It is a pity he died when he did. I'm sure eventually he would have been successful.”

They shook hands once more amidst the professor's protestations that it had been no trouble at all and exchanged farewells and expressions of mutual esteem. Once more Inspector Hoffman was behind the wheel. Silence reigned until they were back on the r4oad to Vincenzia.

"He did not invite us into the villa," Umbraio mused. "Most Uncharacteristic. And I fear the professor lied just a little.”

"About what, Lieutenant?”

"About what, my dear Hoffman? About this and about that. Neri did claim to have discovered at least one of the sources of the Furioso. The inconvenience you endured in front of ELOQUENTIA was a purposeless whim on my part. I spent the time exploring old newspapers.”

"The professor may have forgotten, he's very old.”

"Forgotten? Inspector, anyone who can remember that I sat fourth from the left in the third row of a graduation that occurred in June of 1949 does not forget anything as momentous as Neri's discovery." Hoffman winced. "Remember, Calvi is the local historian.”

A silence fell over them that lasted until Vincenzia. Hoffman spoke.

"It is a pity about Neri's death. An accident, no doubt.”

Umbraio shook his head. "A thirty-eight caliber bullet presumably from a revolver of American make, was found in his brain. No, it was not an accident . . . nor was it suicide. The bullet had been fired at close range and entered the skull from behind. Italy was swept into the maelstrom of World War II at that time and Neri and his discovery were forgotten. His murder was never solved.”

Silence reimposed itself and was not lifted until the vehicle pulled up in front of Via de Colli's station house. The two policemen strode inside. Gratefully the lieutenant divested himself of hat and cape. The walking stick was abandoned against a wall. A shabby individual in nondescript clothing bowed and scraped profusely, greeting Umbraio with many expressions of respect. "Ah, Pepino, how was the shopping?”

"Magnificent, Excellenzi -- so many bargains! The signora directs us to convey our deepest gratitude for your kindness.”

"Tell Signora that I regard it as a pleasure to have been of assistance. I will excuse you for tonight. Tomorrow, I may have need of you. Buena sera, Pepino.”

"Grazi, Excellenzi." Pepino bowed again and backed out of the station house, his face wreathed in smiles.

"That is a policeman?” Hoffman's face was wrinkled with distaste.

"No, Signor. Pepino is our one and only prisoner. I am in the process of exacting his debt to society in my own inimitable way." He reached for the telephone. After the inevitable exchange of salutations and gossip with the operator, Umbraio was connected with his party.

"Sinagra, my friend, is that you?”

The voice at the other end apparently assured him that it was. Umbraio launched into a torrent of Italian that left the inspector foundering in its wake.

Finally he terminated the conversation. Hanging the phone up and slowing his speech considerably, he turned to Hoffman. Somewhat sadly, he sad, "Another of my hunches gone awry, Signor. I though perhaps Professor Calvi's nephew might be blond, blue-eyed and have a mustache, but he is dark-haired and has no mustache at all. He is blue-eyed; the doctor turned back one of his lids during the examination. The nephew has not recovered consciousness since his fall and Sinagra fears a concussion. I did not wish to speak in front of the professor. The good doctor is going to stop by tomorrow to look at that photograph of the Vorsts.”

Under the lieutenant's aegis, Hoffman was put up comfortably at de Colli's only inn. The inspector slept the sleep of utter exhaustion.

He was awakened the next morning by the proprietress. "The compliments of the good lieutenant, Signor. He entreats your pr4esence at his breakfast table at the house next to the police station.”

The inspector was greeted by Lieutenant Umbraio, who was seated at a table on the open patio of his house. "I swore I'd never walk one step further than I had to after I left the army," Umbraio told him. From his seat, Hoffman noticed a figure industriously sweeping the front of the station house … Pepino paying his obligations to society. Enticing aromas rose from the table and blended into a delectable cloud of smells. A tiny, vivacious woman bustled around Umbraio. In proportion to each other, they resembled a tiny gnat flitting around a very large berry.

"The Signora Umbraio, the treasure of my life," the lieutenant introduced her.

Hoffman rose and bowed correctly. Everything he would ever do would be correct. "In her," Umbraio continued, "are reincarnated all the skills of the old craftsmen, but as a cook." The signora beamed appreciatively.

"Naturally," Hoffman thought after taking in the lieutenant's girth. "It would have to be.”

The Swiss policeman ate ravenously under his host's watchful approval. He plunged from course to course seeming to gain momentum like the Furioso.

Later, over coffee, Umbraio continued his ratiocination. "Professor Calvi is a bachelor, the last of his line. All his brothers were killed in the war and he has no sisters. The term 'nephew' would be suspect were it not for the regional custom of being applied indiscriminately to young male friends. Or, as in the professor's former vocation as a teacher, his pupils. We all were his nephews. I fear it would take us a very long time to establish anything definite about the patient. I do not wish to risk surreptitious entry and search at this moment. He is a very astute old man and I do not desire to chance placing him on guard.”

"What do you intend to do in the meantime?”

"We will do nothing until we hear Dr. Sinagra's pronouncement.”

Pepino was sweeping inside the station house when they arrived. Gravely, Umbraio accepted the keys to the jail. Inspector Hoffman looked on in disbelief.

"Thank you, Pepino, you've been a good boy. How many more days of your sentence now remain?”

"Five, Excellenzi.”

"Ah, see me later. Perhaps we can arrange something against future commitments.”

"Si, Excellenzi.”

Umbraio turned to the inspector. Speaking in German, "I am going to place the professor under surveillance. Because of my girth I could not undertake the task. It would be like setting an elephant to watch a mouse. You cannot do it because of your lack of familiarity with the terrain or with our procedures. You might even get lost. I am going to use our 'estimable guest', he is an excellent shadow but undoubtedly will exact some concessions for his troubles.”

Hoffman responded in the same language. "What concessions?”

"With only five days remaining of his sentence, I may have to advance him thirty or more days against his next stint in jail.”

Inspector Hoffman thought he had not heard correctly. "You mean your prisoner will be serving time for a crime he has not yet committed?" Hoffman felt as if he were involved in a surrealistic sequence where reality was emphasized by its absence. Umbraio spread his arms in an eloquent gesture. "But, of course. He will, you know. My prisoner is a kleptomaniac. A good man but he cannot resist the impulse to steal.”

Both policemen referred to Pepino in the third person during their talk. Umbraio did not wish Pepino to know they were speaking of him. "This way society is accruing a benefit of sorts from his misdeeds. All of my men are looking for Peter Vorst and I do not wish to tie myself down to the jailhouse in the capacity of turnkey.”

At that moment, Dr. Sinagra entered. Umbraio reverted to Italian.

After lengthy greetings, the doctor said, "Where is the picture you wish me to look at, Gaspare?”

The lieutenant held it out to him. Dr. Sinagra studied it carefully for a full minute and then shook his head. "I cannot make a positive identification. It does look like the professor's nephew and it does not. The patient was lying at full-length under sheets and I cannot estimate his height exactly. Lack of a mustache and the broken teeth alters the facial lines considerably. He has a nice nose in this photograph but it is broken on the patient. The jaw was so badly battered that I dared not open it to look inside his mouth.”

Dr. Sinagra apologized for his failure to perform a positive identification and departed.

"A poor way to usher in a new day -- with a failure. But there are many hours left. Pepino!" Umbraio yelled at the station house entrance. Pepino reappeared. "Si, Excellenzi?”

"Pepino, you know Professor Calvi by sight and the location of his domicile, do you not?”

"Excellenzi, who does not know the honored professor, descendant of the distinguished Roberto Mussa?”

"Wonderful! Now I want you to take the motorcycle and . . .”

There followed a list of instructions so elaborate that Hoffman was positive that Pepino would remember less than half.

"Less than a quarter," Umbraio agreed after Pepino had taken his departure. "But he will remember the important ones.”

They listened to the chugging and popping of the antiquated motorcycle until it was lost in the distance. Umbraio called the Alpini camp to officially ascertain lack of developments. "Rudolfo Perrone is a very thorough and efficient man. He would have reported any progress immediately. I am only killing time. Everything now depends on Pepino.”

"I can see a reason to suspect Professor Calvi but not the importance you attach to it. What? He did not invite us into his villa. His nephew has been injured and he is deeply concerned. I would be too under his circumstances. He may be preoccupied with some pressing problem we know nothing of. He denied that Benito Neri confided in him of a discovery. You have only suspicions that Neri did confide in him.”

"Remember, the professor h as not seen you in a quarter of a century. There would be no reason for him to regard you as anything other than as an official interloper in trying times.”

"My dear inspector, you are right in what you say. But . . . my suspicions are based on an intimate knowledge of the emotions and feelings of the regional inhabitants of which Professor Calvi is a foremost example.

"He is proud to be a descendant of Roberto Mussa. His villa is full of artifacts developed not only by his ancestor but also by the other masters. It is his greatest pride to give a guided tour and expound on his treasures and the former glories of Vincenzia, particularly to a foreign guest. The tour and lecture were our reward for being an 'exceptionally distinguished class' back in 1949. And I'm certain for every class that preceded us and for every one that followed us. In school he exhorted us to study and work diligently so that one day we could bring back Vincenzia's glories. I am sorry to say I failed him. You may be right, of course, but it is the only suspicion I have and I must work it for all it is worth.

"The professor's home is within a few kilometers of Monte Cappucchio, under which I believe, is the answer to our mystery. He is still hale enough to bicycle to its base and make his way to the cavern . . . if there is one. And, I'm reasonably certain there is one. Do not let his apparent frailty deceive you. Calvi is a mountaineer and as tough as a bullwhip. "Monte Cappucchio is a small extinct volcano, Inspector. The presence of a cavern is more than a remote possibility. It is only three thousand, five hundred feet in height . . . not high enough to challenge climbers. There would be little glory in conquering the child when such tall parents stand nearby. Cappucchio's distinction is that it is actually too sheer to climb. It rises like a pole thrust into the earth and with so few feasible holds as to make climbing it a very difficult and dangerous proposition.

"It has been attempted only twice to my knowledge and both attempts ended in failure -- one in disaster. It is simply not worth the trouble and expense to undertake seriously by climbers. After you have reached the top, of what can you boast? That you had conquered a mountain three thousand, five hundred feet high? A mere foothill.

"The Monte is heavily forested at its base and crowned by an unusually thick cap of ice. Undoubtedly that cap is one of the Furioso's sources." Lieutenant Umbraio finally lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to Hoffman discourse on the benefit of a yogurt and cheese diet. A "pop-pop-pop-pop!" in the distance intruded on the monologue. Umbraio made a mental vow to reward Pepino with a couple of extra days off his prospective sentence. Gradually the noise drew closer. "That is Pepino," Umbraio remarked unnecessarily. "Why in heavens is he returning so soon?" His voice was a mixture of vexation and curiosity.

The motorcycle exploded to a stop in front of the station house and almost immediately, a crestfallen and agitated Pepino presented himself, hat in hands.

"Excellenzi, I was as quiet and as invisible as the Holy Ghost and yet he found me.”

Umbraio and Hoffman exchanged glances. Then the lieutenant spoke. "Be not so downcast, Pepino. Tell us everything that happened. Omit nothing.”

"I hid the motorcycle among the trees a good kilometer away from the villa so that he could not hear it. I proceeded the rest of the way on foot. Excellenzi, I was so silent I did not disturb even a bird.”

"of course, Pepino. You are the most unobtrusive of men . . . a stalking fox.”

Encouraged by the lieutenant's tone, Pepino continued. "I looked very carefully before scaling the wrought iron fence. There was no one to observe me. The corner I selected to effect entry onto his property was a very secluded one . . . nay, deserted.

"Climbing the fence was easy as I am young and strong. I found a nice, shady vantage point and made myself comfortable. Excellenzi, I had not been there twenty minutes when a voice spoke to me. 'Ah, Signor', it said. 'you have lost your way and are very tired. You are resting among my shrubs.' He appeared not to notice my camera and binoculars.”

"Your plan to take a picture of the nephew failed," Hoffman remarked somewhat smugly.

"The professor is an electronic wizard," Umbraio reminded him. "Pepino undoubtedly activated a surveillance device.” He turned back to Pepino. "Then what?”

"He invited me into the villa, Excellenzi, and bade a servant fetch me refreshments. He said, 'I believe you were journeying to Via de Colli, were you not'? "I had not said so but I nodded. 'Excellent', he smiled, 'I must need write a letter to my very dear friend, Lieutenant Umbraio of the local police force. You have the honor of his acquaintance, do you not'? "I shook my head and replied, 'No, Signor. But I will leave the letter at the police station for you'. "'Excellent again!, said he. I had the feeling he was complimenting me for being such an alert and astute liar.”

"Of course," Umbraio agreed. "The professor is a most perceptive person. He does not need a calculating device to add up the results of two and two. My summary appearance after an absence of twenty-five years in the capacity of a police offer . . . My inquiries regarding the Vorsts . . . my mention of Benito Neri . . . I made a mistake in calling upon him in person but there was absolutely no one else I could delegate.”

"Then," Pepino continued, "he left me with the servant, enjoining him to be attentive to my wants. I did not see the professor again for an hour.

"When he returned, he gave me a large white envelope with your name on it and some money for my 'inconvenience'. I tried to refuse the gratuity but he insisted.”

"You acted quite properly," Umbraio said. "May I have the envelope?”

Pepino promptly dug it up out of the recesses of his clothing and surrendered it to the lieutenant. "The servant escorted me to a car and I was driven to the gates. He watched me for some time.”

"Undoubtedly he was anxious on his master's behalf that you should not again become lost. At least, not on the estate. You did very well under trying circumstances. I congratulate you. Take the remainder of your sentence off and be a good boy. My respects to the signora and the bambinos.”

Inspector Hoffman watched an elated Pepino depart. "If I had my way," he remarked sourly, "Pepino would be in solitary.”

"My dear colleague, a god does not banish his only worshipper. Besides, we would not have benefited from his cooperation." Umbraio carefully opened the flap of the envelope. A key fell out. "There appears to be a half dozen sheets," he said. "The first is addressed to you." He passed the sheet to Hoffman.

"This is a confession to the murders of Clara and Peter Vorst," the inspector exclaimed in amazement. "He states Clara was stabbed in the spine with a loose rod from the fence around his estate during a fit of temporary insanity. The rod was thrown into the Furioso with her body.”

"Ah!" Umbraio sighed. "I'm afraid we will have to arrest him.”

"It goes on. He is overcome with grief and cannot continue to face life with this fearful burden on his conscience. By the time we have received this, he will have hurled himself into the Furioso and ended it all.”

Umbraio reached a massive hand across the desk. "Emergenzi!" he barked into the telephone. Promptly he was connected with Captain Perrone. "Rudolfo, is that you? Good! Instruct your men to be alert for Professor Enrico Calvi. Detain him at all costs. Pay particular attention to the proximity of the Furioso." A description of the professor followed. "You have that? Good!" Umbraio hung up.

Inspector Hoffman tapped the letter. "I'm not satisfied. There are too many holes in this. Flora instance, where is Peter Vorst's body?”

"I've strongly suspected the injured nephew was Peter Vorst. I say 'was' because in all probability he has passed on to his heavenly reward without regaining consciousness. This, in turn, is undoubtedly the motivating factor behind the professor's current actions.”

"But the dark hair? Surely Sinagra could not have mistaken that?”

"Hair coloring, my dear Inspector. That and the removal of the mustache. A simple and effective disguise. The key is undoubtedly to his room.”

"What is the rest of the letter?”

"It is a last will and testament, witnessed by two of the servants. It is very involved but, in brief, he bequeaths his villa with all of its priceless artifacts to the town of Vincenzia, to help reawaken an awareness of our glorious past. And that, my distinguished colleague, is that.”

The telephone rang. "Ah, Rudolfo, you are so prompt." Umbraio listened gravely. Occasionally he uttered a cluck of distress. "Too bad, too bad. Most unfortunate." Finally he hung up. "I fear we are too late," he told Hoffman. "Perrone's Alpini discovered the professor's bicycle and jacket under some foliage on the banks of the Furioso. His watch and wallet containing a great amount of money were in the jacket.”

"And the professor himself?”

"The Furioso does not willingly surrender anything committed to its care. It may be weeks, if ever, before the professor's body is recovered.”

They mused in silence, each to his own thoughts. Finally Hoffman stood up.

"You do not think this confession is spurious?”

"No, Inspector. The professor is very old and very proud. He would not want to endure the indignity of a jail cell and the notoriety of a public trial. I do not doubt for one moment his intention of doing away with himself. When you are in your eighties, Signor, what do you have to look forward to except a funeral mass?”

"There is so much about this case I do not understand, Lieutenant.”

"Nor I, Inspector, nor I. Always a perfect gentleman, he took you off the hook nicely. You can now return to Switzerland, with that confession in your pocket, and report another success to your superiors.”

There was more silence and then Inspector Hoffman extended his hand. "I genuinely enjoyed our association. I hope some day we will meet again. You have showed me a side to police work I never suspected existed.”

To Umbraio the statement sounded tongue-in-cheek. They went through the prescribed ritual of shaking hands.

"And I with you, Inspector Hoffman. Perhaps some day, fate will direct me to Switzerland and you will instruct me in Swiss procedures.”

Umbraio watched the inspector pass through the precinct doors, and he hoped, out of his life. "Yogurt indeed!" He shuddered.

The second of the sheets was inscribed, "for your eyes only.”

In the silence and privacy of the now deserted station house, Umbraio unfolded the rest of the sheets and read: My Dear Nephew, I sincerely hope you will wait until the good inspector has taken his departure before you read this. He is not of our region and would not understand. Nor is he of a sympathetic nature.

You are aware I am a descendant of the master craftsman, Roberto Mussa? You must be. In my unblushing immodesty, I've scarcely attempted to conceal it. Those were the days, Gaspare. My Roberto consorted with de Ceasre, Carmo, Massonetti and so many others and was a great friend of the master craftsman of them all, Antonio Geppetto . . . Geppetto, creator of the legendary Pinocchio.

It was all true, you know. Only, an uncomprehending populace and their descendants preferred to view his greatness through the faηade of a fairy tale. No, Gaspare, Pinocchio was not alive . . . not in the same sense as you and I. Unlike you and I, he had a great many brothers and sisters.

I'm quite serious, my dear nephew. For, I not only possess the priceless, the incomparable artifacts you've already seen in my villa, but a grander legacy in the "Valley of the Masters." I am the last, the very last custodian of the priceless heritage.

There is no one remaining for me to entrust it to. Pinocchio, Gaspare, was not solely the product of one master, Geppetto, but was the result of the combined efforts of all their talents. The wonderful clockworks of de Ceasre . . . the music box mechanisms and ceramic faces of Carmo . . . the music box mechanism that was modified to reproduce semblances of human speech instead of music . . . the carved-to-life arms and legs of my ancestor and finally, the electronic wizardry of your own poor Professor Calvi.

These were Geppetto's children . . . to delight him and comfort him in his old age. And, of course, to delight the children of their descendants from generation to generation to the present day. This was our secret. I am proud that it was never betrayed.

Picture to yourself, a little toy village, with toy villagers fully six feet tall. Toy houses whose doors opened automatically on the approach of their mechanical inhabitants and then closed behind them. A beautifully immaculate street swept daily by a tiny street sweeper. Toy dogs that chased toy cats. Toy milkmaids that milked toy cows. Toy soldiers in spotless red coats and shakos, that marched in perfect step to the beating of a toy drummer and whose muskets fired small candies. Oh! What an incomparable childhood we enjoyed.

Such was the genius of our ancestors that through a system of mechanical relays, each toy, to a great extent, was able to perpetuate its functions without human assistance. (I say to a "great extent", not completely.) Have you ever heard of a mechanical radio receiver, Gaspare? One totally independent of electrical stimulus? De Ceasre invented one, he called it a "resonator." The basis of his invention was the tuning fork. You, of course, know a tuning fork need not be struck directly to cause it to vibrate. A sympathetic noise will do it. The phrases released by the dolls running down would cause the tuning forks to vibrate and activate the winding functions of the energized dolls. The toys were timed so that they ran down at staggered intervals. That way there would always be some mechanically energized to perform the winding operations. This wasn't as frequent as you might think. There are clocks you need wind only once a month.

However brilliant our ancestors, we descendants did have to step in occasionally to assist the dolls with their maintenance problems. Solar batteries are much better. I was in the process of converting the last two dolls to solar energy when interrupted by the Vorsts.

The ironic part is, had the Vorsts found me a day later, they would still be alive. As I said, I was about to commence the solar alteration on the last two dolls. These two still carried their keys suspended by chains, around their necks.

The theory of the mechanical dolls was that when a mainspring began to run down, the relays would activate a code phrase. In turn, the caretaker mechanism incorporated in every toy, would cause the doll to grasp its key, thrust it into the keyhole of its ailing neighbor and rewind the life mechanism. Geppetto must have been a man of considerable whimsy, the keyholes were located where a human navel would be.

Similarly, when in need of lubrication, another relay would release a different coded phrase and a toy mechanic would scurry up with a pint of the purest olive oil to replenish the deficient reservoir. Of course, in keeping with the human semblance format, the oil cavity was located in the mouth.

Do you wonder where the oil came from, Dear Nephew? From an olive grove harvested and processed by the toys at their own mill. A harvester pauses beneath a tree and a picker fills his wheelbarrow with olives. The olives are then taken to the mill. The resultant oil is stored and drawn against as needed. Quite ingenious. But the old ones were diabolical in their cleverness.

All this is located in the "Valley of the Masters" -- Cappucchio's crater, really. Water drawn from the melting of the ice cap forms a small lake inside the crater. The lake has a subterranean drain through which the surplus water passes to feed the Furioso. There is a very strong undertow.

It is named Lake Mussa, in honor of my ancestor. And the little village, Geppettoville, is situated on its shore. For many years, I have retired there to enjoy these marvels. You can imagine my horror when in 1940, Benito Neri came to me, excited by his discovery of the cavern entrance. It was obvious he had not penetrated deeply enough to discover the toys.

In a panic, to preserve my secret, I shot him and left his body where it was eventually found. I was at peace again. I thought my secret would die with me.

One day, in Geppettoville, the door of my workshop opened and in walked the Vorsts. They had stumbled across the entrance and followed the cavern upward to the village. They walked among my people unchallenged because the toys had been programmed to perform only certain functions which did not include the expulsion of intruders.

Seeing me in the window of the shop, rather, the masters' workshop, where repairs or fabrication of new toys was carried on in the old days, they were prompted to enter and demand an explanation. What could I do? They were young and strong. I had been adapting two of the dolls to an electronic system of control using solar powered batteries and I was on the horns of a cruel dilemma. Being very old, I realized I did not have much longer to enjoy my toys. I debated with myself whether I should divulge my secret to the world. On one hand, a priceless treasure would be lost to mankind if I refused. On the other hand, was mankind worthy of such a gift from the masters? Remember the senseless acts of vandalism performed against the Pieta by a degenerate? A state of intellectual anarchy seemed to be becoming progressively more prevalent throughout the world.

To my utter revulsion, I heard Clara say, "We could bring all the toys out of this valley and place them on exhibition throughout Europe. People would pay a fortune to view them." She spoke in German but I understand that language.

I begged them for time to think. It was apparent that whether I would or would not, the Vorsts intended to reveal and exploit my secret.

Clara was agreeable to my request. "We will give you one hour while we rest. I feel run down." And then, Peter added, "I'm a bit rusty myself.”

By an unbelievable coincidence, those were the two phrases the toys had been programmed to. As in a dream, I watched one of the dolls remove its key from around its neck and plunge it toward Clara's navel and begin the winding action. The thrust was a very sharp one as the master had never developed a more casual true-to-life motion. Clara had started to turn and her spine received the full force of the thrust. Her backbone was broken instantly.

The other doll shoved an oil can it was carrying deep into Peter's unopened mouth. The spout penetrated the palate and base of the skull. Miraculously, he did not die at once.

What could I do? Clara was dead. I detached a wheelbarrow from one of the olive pickers and wheeled her body to the lake. The undertow pulled her out of sight almost as soon as she struck the water.

I was still irrational in thought. After a struggle I managed to hoist Peter onto the wheelbarrow and push him, with many pauses for rest, till I had reached the seclusion of the forest. There I abandoned him temporarily while I bicycled to the villa. I enlisted the aid of one of m y servants. Together we returned to the scene and brought Peter back with us. Then I called Dr. Sinagra.

I really did not wish Peter Vorst to die for I am too old to feel as vehement as I did in 1940. I hoped that if he should recover he would be a victim of amnesia. I shaved off his mustache, a very delicate task as his upper lip was terribly mangled, and colored his hair. He died without regaining consciousness, the key is to his room.

And so, dear nephew, this is the end of my confession. I will return to the Valley of the Masters where I intend to terminate my existence with a dose of good strong poison. I am a murder, you know, and murders should pay for their crimes.

Before doing so, I will seal the entranceway with a method of my own devising. There will be no more accidental discoveries of the cavern.

In a manner of speaking, I have fulfilled the obligation of passing Geppetto's secret on to a new generation. I am aware you are sympathetic and understanding. My sincerest and warmest regards to the Signora Umbraio.

Affectionately, Calvi" Lieutenant Umbraio sat still and unmoving for a very long time. Visions of Geppetto's children paraded through his mind. And, visions of the senseless vandalism that stalked the face of the earth. He could visualize the beautiful and defenseless toys damaged or disfigured with obscene graffiti scribbled on them.

He thought sadly, "The professor is the most dangerous criminal type of all, the idealist." Then he thought, "Who can I bequeath this secret to in turn? I have no children either.”

FINE

Copyright by
Albert J. Manachino

Backgrounds by Marie

The Albert J. Manachino Series
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