Arson around in the Woods

Playlist: Burning Down the House - Talking Heads

No.31 Plaza del Mercatto, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 12th, 1940, 02:00

Ten minutes later they were back.

The revised plan involved creating an event that might lure Sr Gregoretti back to his house. After a very short deliberation, and much to Gregory's delight, the chosen path was to set fire to the building. First, however, they had to get back in...

All the painstaking work to re-lock the back door turned out to have been very effective, however, and it resisted every effort to re-open the lock. Hushed talk had just turned to possibly trying to break the door open quietly when Gregory, still trying to unlock it, leaned too hard on his lock-pick, snapped another, stumbled and fell on a dustbin, causing a loud clash and clatter. A moment later, the heavy tread of an approaching local policeman was heard. The party scattered.

Most dived down a cross alley in the other direction and skulked. Birapeer grabbed Francoise, muttered "Fiancé" in her ear and sauntered towards the approaching lawman. Marcus, perhaps remembering long-ago school pantomine, affected drunkenness and began to stumble around near the fallen dustbin.

Francoise Duval

As the policeman saw Birapeer and Francoise approaching, he halted them and asked for their ID. As he handed his over, the Sikh grinned his bright smile. "Just out for a romantic walk, poliziotto," he said in his rudimentary Italian. Unlike Gregory's, his luck was in; this policeman was one of the less fascist ones. "An odd place for that, Signor Gupta," he replied, glancing around at the bins and rats. "Why not try the park over to the east side? Now, I heard a noise rather too loud for a romantic stroll...?" Birapeer gestured towards Marcus. "I think this gentleman has had a few too many," he suggested. The policeman nodded to them and moved on to Marcus as Birapeer steered Francoise into another cross alley. "Will you stop calling me that?" she hissed into his ear as they did so.

Marcus' impression of a visitor on the sauce was good enough that the celerino ordered him to go home, and for good measure shadowed him as he 'staggered' towards the market place. Marcus tried to shake him but was unable, and ended up having to return to his hotel and lie low for half an hour before heading back to the market place.

The Key to the Problem!

Meanwhile, the rest of the group reassembled outside the back door of No.31. As Joe, Cyril and Gregory struggled and fiddled with the lock, Birapeer waited at the bottom of the three steps leading up to the door. A thought occurred to him.

Carefully, he began feeling around the stones in the side of the steps, looking for a loose one. After a few moments, he felt one shift and pulled it out. Sure enough, a key was tucked in behind it. He stepped up the stairs, reached through the ongoing argument and slotted it into the keyhole before pushing the door open. Three astonished expressions looked back at him to his enormous pleasure as he bowed slightly to invite them within.

Books, books everywhere

Once more using baffled candles, the party headed straight to Gregoretti's study, where they carefully selected the books Cyril indicated as desirable, and (as far as he could remember) the ones Marcus had wanted. The three pages from Libro del Machina were added, and Gregory picked up the orichalum paperweight.

Searching along the rest of the bookcase, Birapeer opened a few at random. Inside a book on the architecture of bridges, he found a hollow space with several dozen closely-typed sheets. They seemed to be lists of words; the left-hand column was in Italian, but the right side was utter gibberish. He shrugged, added them to the pile, replaced them with some blank sheets from the desk, and put the book back. When the stack was complete, it was loaded into Anné's handbag.

Pages from Libro Del Machina

Back in the kitchen, some collective thinking set up an open gas tap and a candle placed far enough away to give them time to get out, plus an artfully damaged light switch to take the blame should enough of the house survive after the blast. Strangely, neither Anné's sabotage experience or Gregory's history of pyromania was much use here; he'd never got this sophisticated and she'd never sabotaged anything this mundanely domestic. None the less, as they hurried out of the house, they were fairly sure it was likely to work. As the others emerged, Birapeer stuffed the key back into its hiding place and restored the stone.

Definitely Conspicuous

Marcus moved stealthily - at least, as stealthily as a not-quite-fifty academic could manage - through the alleys towards the house, hoping to get there in time to make sure the correct books were salvaged. As he turned a corner, a sudden flare of orange light threw his shadow in sharp relief behind as a dull, sullen booom! hit his ears. Ah, not quite quick enough, he thought wryly, turning back.

Cafe Vallone, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 8:44

After a truncated night's sleep, the party gathered once more in a cafe; this time the one across the market place from Sr Gregoretti's house. Despite the later arrival of the local firebrigade, the house had been unsalvageable, and was now a heap of steaming rubble and charred rafters ringed by the blackened stumps of walls; a prescient vision of the fate of much of Europe in the next five years. As it had burned, Joe had mingled with the fire and police personnel, "there to help", and overheard two policemen reluctantly agreeing to telephone the power station to advise the owner what had happened.

The Fall of France begins

Refugees, Northern France, May 1940

The fire was, as expected, a major topic of discussion amongst the breakfasting townsfolk, though more reticently than if it had been any other house. Even this was eclipsed, however, by the news screaming from the front pages of the newspapers - the Wehrmacht had crossed the border and the invasion of France had begun.

While Marcus and Cyril mulled over some of their haul of books behind newspapers, the others watched the wreckage, in the hopes that the fire would draw Gregoretti out from the power station to where he could be captured. However, as the day wore on, no Italian rushed up waving his arms in distress, and it began to look as if their lure had failed. It had been a busy night, however, and there was something appealing about sitting in the sunshine for a bit.

Both Cyril and Marcus were still baffled by the pages marked Libro del Machina; both had a fairly good idea what books they could start researching them from, but without access to them could go no further.

Keeper Note: Yes, this is a Cunning Plan to park Lizzie's character while she is back down in That London at university.

Nolo Estanza Office, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 9:02

Meanwhile, Birapeer had headed back over to the Nolo Estanza shipping office and arranged the transportation of a crate - ironically the same size as the one the statue had arrived in two weeks before. This was loaded with the books not of immediate interest and Cyril's films of the rest. It had been agreed that Francoise would return to Verona by train and take delivery of the crate when it arrived, loading it onto the plane as cargo ready for the return trip, and to prevent anything untoward happening to said plane. Birapeer insisted on waving his "fianceé" off affectionately at the station to keep their cover going.

Western Road, Outside Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 9:07

While this was happening, Joe and Anné had set off up the reportedly closed road leading west out of Pinzolo towards the mountains, the power plant, and Crastio (the next village). As they went, they scanned left and right, looking for signs of the unmapped path Maria Verletti had described, but saw nothing.

The road wound steeply up the wooded ridge. After a couple of hours' walk, they discerned signs of the expected checkpoint on the road around the next bend, and took to the trees to try and work past and above the position. Eventually the checkpoint came into view.

Fiat 611 Armoured Car

A light wheeled armoured car was parked at an angle across the road, and four men in the green of the Italian army were scattered around it. None appeared especially focussed but none were asleep either. Joe peered hard, trying to see if the vehicle had a radio mast, and a shout from below suggested he'd overdone it. "Ehi, l'hai visto lassù?" He scrunched down. Anné, much more experienced at this kind of thing, was already as near invisible as it was possible to get.

For a tense few moments, there was silence. Then one of the other soldiers grumbled "Non c'è niente lì, testa di pietra," and the soldiers resumed their casual guarding. Very carefully, Joe and Anné moved on. A little way further on, they discovered a mountain stream cutting down the slope through a deep, steep ravine. There would be no crossing that, and to return from the woods to the road behind the roadblock would be to come within easy view of the guards. In any case, not all the party would be able to sneak through the woods as well as Anné and Joe could. The pair headed back towards town.

Cafe Vallone, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 9:30

Uninterested in perusing mouldy tomes, Gregory had got out the heavy red-metal paperweight from Gregoretti's house. Determindly, he set about testing it to see what it would do. He tapped it on various surfaces, tried scratching it with things, tried to scratch things with it, held a match to it - all to no avail. Looking around, he saw that the cafe's outside area had a low wall around it, which came easily within his reach. He lifted the paperweight and rapped it smartly on the stone.

There was a loud crack, and a sliver of the stone split away as a fat spark flashed from the contact point. What was remarkable, however, was the colour of that spark - not a normal dark electric blue or the orange of flint-and-steel; a peculiar, unearthly-looking cyan blue. Everyone turned to stare at Gregory. Grinning sheepishly, he stuck the thing back into his pocket.

Cafe Splendide, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 21:50

Maria Verletti

Cyril Boston-Flint

With nothing more significant happening in the rest of the day, Cyril went along once more to the grotty Cafe Splendide to meet up with the lovely Maria Verletti. As he'd hoped - for various reasons - she was there, and she greeted him with a so-continental kiss on the cheek. He found himself more pleased by this than he was expecting.

As their cheap cognacs were served, she sat back and looked at him quizzically. "So," she said with a hint of amusement. "One day you are looking over a certain house in this town, and asking me questions about it; and the next - ecco! The house is burned down!" She chuckled. "Not the sort of thing that would make me take you home to meet my mother..." Cyril sipped his drink. "Mmm; yes, I'd heard that had happened. What a strange coincidence." He changed the subject. "I like the sound of your moonlight walk; when do you think we can go?" The girl threw the last of her drink down in one smooth movement, and stood up. "Do you have a better idea tonight?" she said archly. Cyril grinned and dropped some coins on the table.

Goat Track above Cascata di Lares, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 13th, 1940, 23:10

Keeper Note: Yes, those who look shall find internet sites that can tell you the phase of the moon on May 13th 1940. Library Use has moved on!

True to Maria's promise, the moon was indeed riding high, waxing and nearly half-full. Its light bathed the slopes below their position and sparkled from the dancing, foaming water of the river in the warm summer air. It also illumined the power station beautifully.

The road from Pinzolo snaked across the face of the slope, here pretty much a cliff, and levelled out as it approached the falls. Just before them, a checkpoint gate and low wall bordered a flat car park. The power station itself bridged the thundering falls, with a road on the outer edge to allow vehicles to drive around. At the other side was another car park, another gate, and then the road headed off again towards Crastio.

The station was a long rectangular building built up against the slope of the mountain, with a sloped front pierced by tall, narrow windows. Two small outbuildings were attached at each side and seemed to form some kind of porch to the main entrance. Below the station itself, several huge pipes allowed the water to flow through and back to the falls.

Bike and Sidecar. Because it's WWII. There has to be. It's the law you know.

Cyril squinted. In the car park nearest them were parked two vehicles; another Fiat armoured car, similar to that which Joe and Anné had seen, and a motorcycle/sidecar combination.

His concentraion was broken suddenly as Maria came right up close to him, her dark eyes and hair glowing in the moonlight. "Well, Mr not-really-an-Italian-Academic," she said softly, "do you see what you want?"

As their lips met, the mission took a temporary back seat in Cyril's mind.

Cafe Toleo, Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 14th, 1940, 09:10

Joe's Tale: "Right at the start of the war - Dec '39 - my unit was deployed with a Scottish Matilda I tank unit. The wreck the guys in the armoured company directed me to was a German Panzer I, much superior to the Matildas, which had been glancingly hit with an artillery shell and turned over in a ditch.

When I got to it, an eerie pale blue glow was leaking from the top hatch and sprung turret plates. The driver and gunner were already dead, though not from any injuries; they looked as if they had died of fright. The commander was still alive - in a way.

Every muscle was locked rigid and his throbbing, distended veins and bulging, unseeing eyes radiated the sickly cyan glow, as did the too-small amount of blood oozing from his severed leg. In his hand was clutched a small glowing crystal of the same blue colour, set in gold.

When I pried it from his hand, the glow flickered out, his leg began gouting blood - real blood - and he died almost immediately. I knew no-one would believe me if I told them, and it seemed cleaner to fire the wreck and let the flames wash the corruption away.

I still have the blue crystal, which has been inert ever since. I'm very wary of trying anything with it, but sometimes I dream in blue

As the group once more pretended to play poker, and caught up with each other's activities from the previous day, most of the party were consumed by the question of whether to trust Maria Verletti. Joe Vandeleur, however, was rather pale-faced and was interrogating Gregory intently about the blue spark he'd just finished describing to Marcus. At the urging of the other two, the youth tapped the paperweight on the ground a couple of times until it did it again. Joe, even paler, dug in a pocket and extracted a small crystal, set in a round gold mount that might have been a pendant. The crystal was exactly the same colour as the spark. In answer to their questions, Joe related a tale of something that had happened to him earlier in the war.

The Paperweight and the Crystal- click it for larger image!

Carefully, Gregory brought the paperweight and the crystal close together. From the paperweight, he could feel a very faint vibration; the crystal did nothing. He was dissuaded from trying any percussive tests on the crystal with the heavy piece of metal.

Finally, the consensus was that Maria - though lovely and convincing - was too much of a security risk, and the party decided to go it alone. After some discussion, the plan emerged to have Joe pose once more as his cover identity, with Cyril as driver and Marcus along as a scientist sent to assist in the investigation of the artifact. Gregory would be the boy assistant as ever, while Birapeer and Anné would work through the trees upslope of the checkpoint to provide flanking and sniper cover respectively.

Some enquiries had led Marcus to Noleggio di auto da turismo Lunati. Back in the 30's Sr Lunati had done quite well renting open cars to visiting tourists to drive up to and admire the waterfall at Cascate di Lares. Since the building of the power station, however, the trade had fallen off dramatically, and the dusty cars hadn't been out much in the last four years. A modest outlay of lire had a magnificent old Mercedes at their disposal.

And so, on towards lunchtime, the car pulled out of Pinzolo and headed up the road to Crastio.

Checkpoint, Crastio Road outside Pinzolo, Northern Italy, May 14th, 1940, 12:36

1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Cabriolet B. Quite valuable nowadays - $1,045,000 for this one

The car drew to a halt thirty yards from the Fiat armoured car, and the two soldiers on this side of the vehicle walked over towards it. Taking a deep breath, Joe slipped into character once more as the Arrogant Nazi and stepped out of the car, Marcus behind him. It emerged quite rapidly that, while the soldiers were sure of his bone fides, they had orders to let no-one through without a particular paper of authorization. Joe tried to assert that his orders were secret and these men weren't cleared to see them; but reluctantly they stuck to their position despite his brow-beating, and insisted that the paper they actually wanted to see wasn't that secret. Things were getting tense until Joe happened to try suggesting he go back to Pinzolo and telephone Sr Gregoretti at the power station to say these men had denied him access; did they really want that? No, it turned out, they didn't; and eventually it was agreed that two of the four Regio Escercito soldiers would accompany the car to the station to make sure everything checked out.

The armoured car was backed away and the Mercedes swept past; as it did, the two soldiers from the uphill end of the roadblock jumped onto the running board on the right-hand side, next to Joe. A moment later, the car swung round the corner and out of sight of the road block. Eyes met inside the car, and Cyril looked out for a suitable pot-hole. Finding one, he accelerated guided the car straight into it - bang!

Both soldiers lost their footing, and one tumbled off the car altogether; the other grabbed frantically on by one hand and dangled, his boots dragging on the road, his rifle lost. Gregory, the only one far enough back in the car to reach him, leaned over the side, pulling the paperweight from his pocket as the nearest solid object, and smashed it down on the soldier's head. There was a loud, wet crunch and a brilliant cyan flash, and the man dropped instantly into the road, rolling over and over. Cyril stopped the car, and he and Joe sprang out.

Mclaggen-Peskett Weapon

Joe reached the soldier who'd fallen off completely in a few strides, and found stunned and unresisting. A quick slash with his horrible little Mclaggen-Peskett weapon finished the man off and he hauled the body off the road and into the trees. Cyril, meanwhile, had found he had even less to do. When he turned over the man Gregory had walloped, he was stone dead, a look of utter horror on his face, dreadful enough that Cyril turned him back over to hide it.

A few minutes later, the uniforms and equipment of the dead soldiers were tucked into the boot, and the car was moving up the road again. Half a mile later, they stopped to let Birapeer and Anné relocate to as near the power station as they could get.

Power Station, Cascata di Lares, Northern Italy, May 14th, 1940, 13:13

The Power Station at Cascata di Lares- click it for larger image!

The eastern gate of the power station was manned by two soldiers, very similar to the ones at the first checkpoint. In much the same way, the car halted and Joe, Marcus and Cyril walked to the barrier to try and blag their way past the sentries, who remained behind their (inevitable) red-and-white striped barrier.

The air was filled with the thunder of the waterfall just beyond, and glittered with airborne spray. An additional note - perceptible through the ground as much as the air - was a steady thrum; most likely the turbines inside the station.

The conversation was much the same (though carried on at much higher volume), with the need for the signed paper allowing access to the site the major stumbling block. Sighing, Joe made a production of putting his ID away left-handed, then suddenly brought his right up to stab quickly with his blade. As he did so, Cyril, reacting even more quickly, lashed out with a piledriver right and cracked the guard on the other side across the chin, dazing him for a moment.

The guard Joe had attacked weaved out of the way with an exclamation, swinging his rifle across towards the ersatz German. At these quarters, he couldn't get a shot off with it, so he swung the butt across at Joe in the same movement. Joe slid out of the way as Cyril stepped past a jab of the other man's rifle. Marcus pulled out his own dagger and made a lunge but without connecting.

Behind them, Gregory slipped into the driving seat of the idling Mercedes. The idea of trying to run over the guards seemed brilliant to him - even though he couldn't actually drive a car - if only Joe, Cyril and Marcus weren't slap bang in the way. "Get out of the way!" he yelled, but nobody paid him any attention.

Joe and Cyril both struck again, Joe returning to the blunt end of his weapon this time, and scored, Joe bloodying his foe and Cyril actually felling his to sprawl groaning on the ground. Marcus and Joe both stabbed once more at the remaining man and he slumped, blood pouring from his wounds. A few moments' work put both beyond any further interference, and Joe and Cyril dragged the corpses away into the trees upslope. The man Cyril had bludgeoned yielded a usable uniform, but the others was cut to ribbons and drenched in blood. Cyril, Marcus and Gregory dressed themselves in these uniforms, producing a pretty unmilitary result but one that would probably get them a few seconds' surprise.

Up the slope, Anné looked down through her scope, scanning the power station and the areas around it. The two guards at the far gate hadn't heard anything, nor could they see the east gate from where they were. Nobody else seemed to have noticed. She resumed watching the intruders as they walked quickly across the car park. Despite pranging it on a pillar the first time, Gregory managed to steer the car into the car park and get it parked.



Much further down the slope, nearly at the edge of the trees near the car park, Birapeer lurked, also watching. There was no way he could try and blag his way in posing as a scientist or a Nazi; but if (when) things kicked off, he would be ready to pile in from the flank.

Joe, Cyril, Marcus and Greg reached the hut-like entrance to the power station and Joe pulled the door open. Inside were tables on two sides of the space, on one of which was a large and rather antiquated military radio set. Standing as if he'd just stood up from the chair in front of it was an Italian soldier, jacket off and sleeves rolled up, with a surprised expression as he observed the three Italian and one German soldiers entering the building. His eyes were beginning to cloud with suspicion as he realized he didn't recognize any of the "Italians" when both Joe and Cyril leaped forwards and punched him savagely. He dropped like a rock and Gregory shut the door. Cyril opened up the casing of the radio and pulled out a critical valve, at which the orange glow inside the box flickered out. Dropping it in his pocket, he closed the unit back up. Joe nodded; he'd watched carefully and knew which valve went where.

They were in!

Session Date: 16th January 2018