The Pinzolo Trail

Keeper Note: No Loz, Rick or Lizzie tonight, so Anné, Marcus and Francoise were present but bubbled.

Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 11th, 1940, 12:00

As they disembarked, the agents separated themselves into four groups; the two pilots Birapeer and Francoise continuing to play their cover as fellow employees of Chicago Airways taking a tour during their layover; Marcus, Cyril and Gregory as travelling academics with an assistant; Joe as a German officer of means on holiday and Anné in her journalist persona. The latter - the only one actually trained in under-cover work - took herself off to accomodation she did not reveal to the others. If anything went spectacularly wrong, she pointed out, if they couldn't give her location away she might be able to do something about it.

Birapeer and Francoise checked into a small boarding-house run by a Senora Villez, a middle-aged lady in black who seemed to take a distinct shine to the "Americans" and especially the cheerful Sikh, and was more than happy to put him in a room overlooking the "pretty market-place" - the Plaza del Mercatto, and the house of the Sr Gregoretti to whom the package had been addressed. His suggestion that Francoise was his fiancee was taken as a joke and created a shared laugh, though not from Francoise who made her feelings silently clear as they climbed the stairs to their rooms.

Marcus, Cyril and Gregory found a similar establishment nearer the station, but as they were booking in Cyril noticed the unimpressed looks being shot at the "two older men travelling with a young boy" that they appeared to be. He and Marcus were treated with some disdain, whereas Gregory was rather pampered - "Ahhh, il bambino!" - a situation made no better by Gregory mugging mock fear as they headed for their (separate) rooms.

Hotel Zingara

Joe, as he rather thought would be normal for a Nazi officer, took himself to the one decent hotel in Pinzolo, the Hotel Zingara. This seemed quite acceptable, though it showed signs of having had better days.

Oberst Hans Schmitt

As he walked into reception to check in, he glanced around in case of "fellow" Germans, and his heart sank at the sight of a big man in the uniform of a Luftwaffe Oberst coming down the stairs. The one serious risk to his cover, of course, was real Germans, as he didn't have any relevant military knowledge or passwords. However, his luck held, as the man was checking out and had a cab waiting to take him to the station. They nodded amiably to each other, and Joe saluted as the other man outranked him by several steps. Then the Oberst was gone and Joe breathed a little easier as he briskly asked for a good room.

Glancing down the register as he signed himself - Herr Oberleutenant Heinrich Stassel - Joe noticed that his brief encounter had been with one Oberst Hans Schmitt. It was interesting to consider what a Colonel of the Luftwaffe was doing on a flyspeck place like Pinzolo, and he took a chance on asking if there was an Aeronautica Militare base nearby. The desk clerk nodded, yes Mein Herr, only 15 kilometres away to the west, splendid planes they are. Joe stashed his bags in his room thoughtfully and headed out to take a look at the town.

Keeper Note: Of course the cargo waybill in Camile's report included dimensions and weight. You only think they were missed off. Ahem. 2'x2'x2' and around 20lb.

Birapeer had taken himself over to the local office of the Nolo Estanza freight company, and enquired about the services that were on offer. The clerk helpfully described what they could do, daily shipments into and out of Pinzolo by train, and where deliveries were listed for residents of the town, Nolo would deliver them if they were not too large. "We're expecting a parcel from our head office in Chicago," he explained, "do you know if it's come in yet?" The clerk eyed his proffered ID. "Do you have the waybill number?" he asked. Birapeer shook his head. "Sorry," said the clerk, "without that I can't release any information." The Sikh considered using the number from Camile's report, but decided against it; a pilot from Chicago Airways wouldn't know anything about such a shipment. He'd kept his eyes peeled while he was there, but had not seen anything in the office that matched the dimensions of the shipment from Rome.

Joe Vandaleur strolled across town to the Plaza del Mercatto, and selected a coffe shop apparently at random. Settling into a chair with a cup, he arranged himself so that he had a good view of the town house of Senor Sergio Gregoretti. For some time he sat and watched, observing the place. One of a row of well-to-do looking town houses dating back to at least the 18th Century, it stood out from all the others for two reasons. Firstly, all the windows were tightly shuttered. Secondly, nobody seemed to want to get too close to it; they found reasons to cross the road and pass by on the opposite pavement.

After a couple of hours he paid, wandered across and up to the building, ignoring the startled and sometimes alarmed glances from other passers-by as he did so. Like its' neighbors, No.31 was separated from the next-door building by a narrow alley, and Joe strolled down one of these, looking around as he did so. It was quite dark down there, and he realized that he was now quite invisible from the street. At the end, it joined an alley running along the backs of the buildings, which led to the corresponding alley leading back to the market place. He noted the windows and features of Sr Gregoretti's house, and that all the windows were as tightly shuttered as the ones at the front. He also noted that, unlike all the other houses in the town, none of this one's chimneys showed any sign of smoke. While it was a bit warm for heating fires, cooking and washing fires were always going to be needed if the premises were occupied.

Maria Verletti

Rather later, Marcus, Cyril and Gregory made a walk along the market-place, doing the "typical visiting academics" act and pointing to interesting features. As they made to walk across the face of No.31, Cyril felt a nudge at his side in the crowd. A glance showed it was not a pickpocket, but a darkly beautiful Italian woman of around his own age.

"Signor," she said in Italian, so quietly and surreptitiously that neither of his companions were aware, "do not walk that way. That house is unlucky." Cyril smiled slightly. "How can a house be unlucky?" he asked. "It is part of what is wrong with my country today," she replied in a low, urgent voice. "Tell me more," he urged. "Not here. Meet me at ten tonight, at the Cafe Splendide. It is not," she added dryly, and moved away along the pavement.

Marcus and Gregory had not noticed anything, so Cyril updated them in low tones as they walked along gesturing at architecturally interesting features. Marcus grinned roguishly; "A date? Well done, young man!"

Fascist Propaganda. Politically Correct meant something different then.

Birapeer had also wandered around looking at houses, playing up the "happy little Indian chap" routine with big smiles as he chatted to various policemen about where one might rent or buy a property. Their reactions were varied; some seemed quite pleased that an American tourist was so interested in their - it had to be said - flyspeck of a town. Others, rather more in tune with the ever-present Fascist posters, regarded him with considerable suspicion and distaste. These he bade farewell to politely and left. Queries to more friendly policemen about perhaps obtaining a house "like that one" were met with quiet advice not to show any interest in that house whatsoever.

Cafe Toleo, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 11th, 1940, 18:45

Cafe Toleo

Quite by chance, then, several groups of tourists had taken tables at the open-air cafe Toleo, and with a mixture of "I say, my pipe has gone out, do you have a light," and "Mi scusi, per aver versato il mio caffè su di te!" 'acquiantainces' were made and a poker game started, under cover of which a surreptitious conference was held.

Marcus Brody had heard of Sergio Gregoretti - but not through his professional links as might be expected, rather through his less well-publicized occult studies. They had corresponded with the same libraries in some cases, though they had never met.

All agreed that Cyril's contact might be useful, but might also prove very dangerous; if the woman was a double-agent, things could go West very rapidly indeed.

As the cafe Toleo's proprietor seemed quite prepared to stay open until the crack of doomsday if the good Mein Herr kept buying coffee and cognac, the poker game continued as 10pm arrived and Cyril went off for his meeting with the lady.

Cafe Splendide, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 11th, 1940, 21:59

Cyril Boston-Flint

The Cafe Splendide was down a few steps and was as dingy as the woman had hinted; the tables sparsely occupied, most of the few customers well sozzled and sunk into private depression. The sultry beauty of his contact was a considerable contrast and Cyril felt his reactions straying beyond the mission itself.

They chatted until their coffees arrived, and after sampling them decided it was time to get down to business instead of drinking any more of them. They introduced themselves; she gave her name as Maria Verletti, and he as his cover, David Antonio. They eyed each other for a moment. "You aren't really Italian, are you?" she said evenly. "Correct me if I am wrong, but I think you may be someone with similar objectives to mine." Cyril gave her an opaque smile. "I'm here to study the folklore and culture of the reigion," he protested mildly. Maria's eyes glittered. "I have little interest in the culture of the past," she said quietly, "I am concerned with the culture of the present ... and of the future." Cyril picked up his awful coffee to give himself a moment to think.

It's strange to us now how completely socially normal it was to smoke back then. A non-smoker was a rather strange person.

"Why does everyone avoid that house?" he asked. "Why did you warn me off?" Maria's playful expression vanished, and she automatically checked again that they were unobserved. "It is the owner," she said very quietly. "Sr Gregoretti is a symptom of what is wrong with my country. He is very high within the fascisti, and he has a bad reputation, well earned. People have disappeared simply for asking that sort of question." She lit a cigarette. "Now, tell me why you are in Italy," she pressed.

Cyril decided it was time to let his guard down a little. "I - we -" she'd seen him with Marcus, no point insulting her by denying it, "are also interested in the doings of Sergio Gregoretti. We are interested in a certain parcel he should have receieved." Maria nodded, as if acknowledging that he was getting closer to telling her some actual truth. "A parcel arrived a week ago," she said, draining the last of her coffee and signalling the waiter, "and he was here to meet it. He sent it off up the mountain road, though, and shut his house up and followed it. Shortly after that, the Army closed the road - no-one goes that way now. The mountain people are not happy." She showed a townie's unconcern for their problems. Cyril sat back as the cognac arrived, then leaned forward; this was what he was hoping to find out - but could he trust her? "What's up that road?" he asked intently. She shrugged. "Cascata di Lares," she said succintly, "the waterfall, very scenic; and the Idroelettrico Centrale Cascata Di Lares - the hydroelectric power plant." Cyril swirled his drink, his mind racing. The words of Alec Towton came back to him; "Apparently they need lots of power to work on it, which sounds a bit worrying." "Very interesting," he said with a winning smile, laying on the charm. "do you have any idea if there's another way up there?" She leaned forward, responding in kind, and all sorts of signals started going off in the back of his spine. "Maybe...." she said slowly, "I may know a quiet path, very nice for a moonlight walk above the dam, not one that those soldiers know about. If you feel you'd like an evening stroll up there with me, meet me here again tomorrow night, same time..." She rose gracefully, gathering her coat around her. "Thanks for the drink," she said with a knowing smile, and left. Cyril sat, looking after her, not really minding that she'd stuck him with the bill - her company and smile were well worth it. What was beating through his brain was; can I trust her?

Cafe Toleo, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 12th, 1940, 00:12

Keeper Note: On May 12th, German troops cross into the Ardennes and the invasion of France has begun in earnest. British and French troops start falling back towards Dunkirk. Belguim and the Netherlands have already surrendered.

Despite looking as if he was about to fall over asleep over his bar, the proprietor of the Cafe Toleo had still made no move to close up, and the rest of the party were still playing poker when Cyril returned and took a seat. As Marcus dealt him in, he updated the others on what had happened and been said, ignoring the older academic's nudge and grin as he described the conversation.

Birapeer had acquired a motorists' map of the area during his wanderings in the day, and they looked it over carefully, with reference to the waterfall and the road out of Pinzolo. The waterfall and power plant was around 5 miles outside Pinzolo. Look how they might, however, they could find no trace of the path Maria Verletti had described; either it wasn't there at all, or it really was as secret as she had suggested.

With the lead pointing at the power station, it was debatable whether the house on the market place was of any further interest; but as it seemed uninhabited, the decision was finally taken to investigate it under cover of darkness.

No.31 Plaza del Mercatto, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 12th, 1940, 01:21

Of all of them, only Gregory had any experience at all with opening locks, and that was distinctly sketchy. Firmly told that a good response to failure would not be to set fire to the building, he went through the alleys behind the houses to approach Gregoretti's house from the rear, and found himself at the kitchen door. Enough light from the other houses fell on it for him to work, and he slid two odd pieces of metal he kept handy into the lock and prodded experimentally. Much to his surprise, there was a soft clunk and the lock opened. He whistled softly to signal the others, and they hurried down the alleys and after him into the house.

Having taken care to get everyone in and the door closed before Marcus struck one of the matches from Jack's Stuff, there was a degree of clumping and stumbling before the wan light helped them get a look at the kitchen. The hoped-for lamps or gas mantles were not there; the place was fitted for electric light. Given this was a wealthy house in a town with a hydro-electric plant 5 miles away, this wasn't surprising in hindsight. After some rummaging, candles were found and one was lit, with a plate being used as a baffle to keep the light from the windows.

Keeper Note: What, horrible tentacley monsters in the cellar? How cheesy would that have been? I mean, come on, people!

With a variety of deadly blades and coshes ready, the agents explored the house quickly and efficiently. The interior was lavish but a little dusty – uninhabited for some weeks by the looks of it. Three bedrooms, two mothballed and one lived in by an apparent bachelor. Maid’s room, empty. Bathroom, store room with no windows. The ground floor had a hall, a dining room with massive picture of il Duce on one wall, a parlour, kitchen and pantry, and a study/library. There was a cellar, which - after the affair of the meat-paste - the agents approached with some care; it proved to be nothing but a store-room.

The study prove the most interesting room. Telegrams addressed to Gregoretti and folded into the desk blotter advised him of the “consignment of which we have spoken” being despatched under number 68810; another stated “It seems that Nachtwölfe are aware of what we have found. Be on your guard, we don’t want the Reich making off with it!” A third directed him to get it transported to the Idroelettrico Centrale Cascata Di Lares – the hydroelectric plant located at the waterfall Cascata di Lares – as soon as it arrived.

Keeper Note: I recently acquired the lavishly updated Call of Cthulhu v7 rules. I'm not likely to migrate this game to them in-flight, but there are some great ideas to be pinched. One of them is the Pushed Skill Roll. If a character fails a non-combat skill, the player can request a retry as long as they can describe what they're doing or using to make success more likely. They get a second try; but failure means an automatic fumble result; the worst possible happens. Arthur Pushed Gregory's Locksmith roll to lock the door and failed it; snapped picks. Fortunately, Steve criticalled Cyril's Mechanical Repair to mend the lock and sort them out!.

The bookshelves carried a wide selection of books on the occult and folklore, including the Aryan concept, a copy of Cultes de Goules, and three carefully-preserved pages of something labelled il Libro del Maccina – The Book of the Machine. Those last were in a language and script that none of the agents had ever seen before. Carefully, Cyril took the telegrams and pages to the windowless storeroom and photographed them with his compact camera, before replacing them exactly where they had been found. As they were leaving the room, Joe spotted something and frowned, picking it up. The paperweight on Gregoretti's desk, a squared lump of metal, was of a material he'd never seen before - a blood-red metal. The agents passed it around, until it came to Cyril who stared at it for a long moment. "I have read legends," he said slowly, "stories old in the time of ancient Greece, which told of a 'κόκκινο μέταλλο όπως το αίμα' - metal red like blood. It was called Orichalum. It was said to come from lost Atlantis." After some glances were exchanged, Joe dropped the paperweight back onto the desk.

With exquisite care, they restored everything else as it had been before they arrived, and worked their way back and out through the kitchen door. Quietly closing it, Gregory knelt down to lock it back up. For a couple of minutes he twiddled his lockpicks, tongue out of one side of his mouth in concentration. Try as he might, however, he could not get the lock to throw.

Pulling a third pick from his pocket, he stuck that in too and resumed trying. Suddenly there was a snap, and he held them up - shortened by a good third. "Oops!" he said. Not only were the pick ends stuck in the lock, but the door remained unlocked. Cyril reached into a pocket and unpacked a small, compact toolkit. Swift work with a screwdriver removed the lock from the door, and he took it back inside and laid it on the kitchen work-surface.

Carefully, he dismantled the lock completely, extracting the smashed picks and handing them back to Gregory, who looked sheepish as he pocketed them. Cyril then reassembled the lock and reinstalled it, and with a quick twist of his screwdriver, turned the mechanism and locked it. Relieved, the party headed off back to their own acommodation for what remained of the night.

Session Date: 2nd January 2018