Chapter Four

"Only tourists order cappuccino after lunch or dinner. A disgrace. All that milk on a full stomach." For a moment Luigi frowned as if he might just vomit for good measure.

Joel raised his right hand and said, "I swear I'll never do it."

"Have a seat," Luigi said, waving at the small desk and its two chairs. They sat down and tried to get comfortable. He continued: "First, the room. It's in my name, but the staff thinks that a Canadian businessman will be staying here for a couple of weeks."

"A couple of weeks?"

"Yes, then you'll move to another location." Luigi said this as ominously as possible, as if squads of assassins were already in Treviso, looking for Joel Backman. "From this moment on, you will be leaving a trail. Keep that in mind: everything you do, everyone you meet - they're all part of your trail. The secret of survival is to leave behind as few tracks as possible. Speak to very few people, including the clerk at the front desk and the housekeeper. Hotel personnel watch their guests, and they have good memories. Six months from now someone might come to this very hotel and start asking questions about you. He might have a photograph. He might offer bribes. And the clerk might suddenly remember you, and the fact that you spoke almost no Italian."

"I have a question."

"I have very few answers."

"Why here? Why a country where I cannot speak the language? Why not England or Australia, someplace where I could blend in easier?"

"That decision was made by someone else, Marco. Not me."

"That's what I figured."

"Then why did you ask?"

"I don't know. Can I apply for a transfer?"

"Another useless question."

"A bad joke, not a bad question."

"Can we continue?" 'Tes."

"For the first few days I will take you to lunch and dinner. We'll move around, always going to different places. Treviso is a nice city with lots of cafes and we'll try them all. You must start thinking of the day when I will not be here. Be careful who you meet."

"I have another question."

"Yes, Marco."

"Its about money. I really don't like being broke. Are you guys planning to give me an allowance or something? I'll wash your car and do other chores."

"What is allowance?"

"Cash, okay? Money in my pocket."

"Don't worry about money. For now, I take care of the bills. You will not be hungry."

"All right."

Luigi reached deep in the barn jacket and pulled out a cell phone. "This is for you."

"And who, exactly, am I going to call?"

"Me, if you need something. My number is on the back."

Joel took the phone and laid it on the desk. "I'm hungry. I've been dreaming of a long lunch with pasta and wine and dessert, and of course espresso, certainly not cappuccino at this hour, then perhaps the required siesta. I've been in Italy for four days now, and I've had nothing but corn chips and sandwiches. What do you say?"

Luigi glanced at his watch. "I know just the place, but first some more business. You speak no Italian, right?"

Joel rolled his eyes and exhaled mightily in frustration. Then he tried to smile and said, "No, I've never had the occasion to learn Italian, or French, or German, or anything else. I'm an American, okay, Luigi? My country is larger than all of Europe combined. All you need is English over there."

"You're Canadian, remember?"

"Okay, whatever, but we're isolated. Just us and the Americans."

"My job is to keep you safe."

"Thank you."

"And to help us do that, you need to learn a lot of Italian as quickly as possible."

"I understand."

"You will have a tutor, a young student by the name of Ermanno. You will study with him in the morning and again in the afternoon. The work will be difficult."

"For how long?"

"As long as it takes. That depends on you. If you work hard, then in three or four months you should be on your own."

"How long did it take you to learn English?"

"My mother is American. We spoke English at home, Italian everywhere else."

"That's cheating. What else do you speak?"

"Spanish, French, a few more. Ermanno is an excellent teacher. The classroom is just down the street."

"Not here, in the hotel?"

"No, no, Marco. You must think about your trail. What would the bellboy or the housekeeper say if a young man spent four hours a day in this room with you?"

"God forbid."

"The housekeeper would listen at the door and hear your lessons. She would whisper to her supervisor. Within a day or two the entire staff would know that the Canadian businessman is studying intensely. Four hours a day!"

"Gotcha. Now about lunch."

Leaving the hotel, Joel managed to smile at the clerk, a janitor, and the bell captain without uttering a word. They walked one block to the center of Treviso, the Piazza dei Signori, the main square lined with arcades and cafes. It was noon and the foot traffic was heavier as the locals hurried about for lunch. The air was getting colder, though Joel was quite comfortable tucked inside his new wool overcoat. He tried his best to look Italian.

"Inside or outside?" Luigi asked.

"Inside," Joel said, and they ducked into the Caffe Beltrame, overlooking the piazza. A brick oven near the front was heating the place, and the aroma of the daily feast was steaming from the rear. Luigi and the headwaiter both spoke at the same time, then they laughed, then a table was found by a front window.

"We're in luck," Luigi said as they took off their coats and sat down. "The special today is faraona con polenta."

"And what might that be?"

"Guinea fowl with polenta."

"What else?"

Luigi was studying one of the blackboards hanging from a rough-hewn crossbeam. "Panzerotti di funghi al burro-fried mushroom pastries. Conchiglie con cavalfiori-pasta shells with cauliflower. Spiedino di carne misto alia griglia-grilled shish kabob of mixed meats."

Til have it all."

"Their house wine is pretty good."

"I prefer red."

Within minutes the cafe was crowded with locals, all of whom seemed to know each other. A jolly little man with a dirty white apron sped by the table, slowed just long enough to make eye contact with Joel, and wrote down nothing as Luigi spat out a long list of what they wanted to eat. A jug of house wine arrived with a bowl of warm olive oil and a platter of sliced focaccia, and Joel began eating. Luigi was busy explaining the complexities of lunch and breakfast, the customs and traditions and mistakes made by tourists trying to pass themselves off as authentic Italians.

With Luigi, everything would be a learning experience.

Though Joel sipped and savored the first glass of wine, the alcohol went straight to his brain. A wonderful warmth and numbness embraced his body. He was free, many years ahead of schedule, and sitting in a rustic little cafe in an Italian town he'd never heard of, drinking a nice local wine, and inhaling the smells of a delicious feast. He smiled at Luigi as the explanations continued, but at some point Joel drifted into another world.

Ermanno claimed to be twenty-three years old but looked no more than sixteen. He was tall and painfully thin, and with sandy hair and hazel eyes he looked more German than Italian. He was also very shy and quite nervous, and Joel did not like the first impression.

They met Ermanno at his tiny apartment, on the third floor of an ill-kept building six blocks or so from Joel's hotel. There were three small rooms-kitchen, bedroom, living area-all sparsely furnished, but then Ermanno was a student so such surroundings were not unexpected. But the place looked as though he had just moved in and might be moving out at any minute.

They sat around a small desk in the center of the living room. There was no television. The room was cold and dimly lit, and Joel couldn't help but feel as if he had been placed in some underground highway where fugitives are kept alive and moved about in secret. The warmth of a two-hour lunch was fading quickly.

His tutor's nervousness didn't help matters.

When Ermanno was unable to take control of the meeting, Luigi quickly stepped in and kicked things off. He suggested that they study each morning from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., break for two hours, then resume around 1:30 and study until they were tired. This seemed to suit Ermanno and Joel, who thought about asking the obvious: If my new guy here is a student, how does he have the time to teach me all day long? But he let it pass. He'd pursue it later.

Oh, the questions he was accumulating.

Ermanno eventually relaxed and described the language course. When he spoke slowly, his accent was not intrusive. But when he rushed things, as he was prone to do, his English might as well have been Italian. Once Luigi interrupted and said, "Ermanno, it's important to speak very slowly, at least in the first few days."

"Thank you," Joel said, like a true smartass.

Ermanno's cheeks actually reddened and he offered a very timid "Sorry."

He handed over the first batch of study aids-course book number one, along with a small tape player and two cassettes. "The tapes follow the book," he said, very slowly. "Tonight, you should study chapter one and listen to each tape several times. Tomorrow we'll begin there."

"It will be very intense," Luigi added, applying more pressure, as if more was needed.

"Where did you learn English?" Joel asked.

"At the university," Ermanno said. "In Bologna."

"So you haven't studied in the United States?"

"Yes, I have," he said, shooting a quick nervous glance at Luigi, as if whatever happened in the States was something he preferred not to talk about. Unlike Luigi, Ermanno was an easy read, obviously not a professional.

"Where?" Joel asked, probing, seeing how much he could get.

"Furman," Ermanno said. UA small school in South Carolina."

"When were you there?"

Luigi came to the rescue, clearing his throat. "You will have plenty of time for this small talk later. It is important for you to forget English, Marco. From this day forward, you will live in a world of Italian. Everything you touch has an Italian name for it. Every thought must be translated. In one week you'll be ordering in restaurants. In two weeks you'll be dreaming in Italian. It's total, absolute immersion in the language and culture, and there's no turning back."

"Can we start at eight in the morning?" Joel asked.

Ermanno glanced and fidgeted, finally said, "Perhaps eight - thirty."

"Good, I'll be here at eight-thirty.'

They left the apartment and strolled back to the Piazza dei Signori. It was mid-afternoon, traffic was noticeably quieter, the sidewalks almost deserted. Luigi stopped in front of the Trattoria del Monte. He nodded at the door, said, "I'll meet you here at eight for dinner, okay?"

"Yes, okay."

"You know where your hotel is?"

"Yes, the albergo."

"And you have a map of the city?"


"Good. You're on your own, Marco." And with that Luigi ducked into an alley and disappeared. Joel watched him for a second, then continued his walk to the main square.

He felt very much alone. Four days after leaving Rudley, he was finally free and unaccompanied, perhaps unobserved, though he doubted it. He decided immediately that he would move around the city, go about his business, as if no one was watching him. And he further decided, as he pretended to examine the items in the window of a small leather shop, that he would not live the rest of his life glancing over his shoulder.

They wouldn't find him.

He drifted until he found himself at Piazza San Vito, a small square where two churches had been sitting for seven hundred years. The Santa Lucia and San Vito were both closed, but, according to the ancient brass plate, they would reopen from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. What kind of place closes from noon to four?

The bars weren't closed, just empty. He finally mustered the courage to sneak into one. He pulled up a stool, held his breath, and said the word "Birra" when the bartender got close.

The bartender shot something back, waited for a response, and for a split second Joel was tempted to bolt. But he saw the tap, pointed

at it as if it was perfectly clear what he wanted, and the bartender reached for an empty mug.

The first beer in six years. It was cool, heavy, tasty, and he savored every drop. A soap opera rattled from a television somewhere at the end of the bar. He listened to it from time to time, understood not a single word, and worked hard to convince himself that he could master the language. As he was making the decision to leave and drift back to his hotel, he looked through the front window.

Stennett walked by.

Joel ordered another beer.

The Backman affair had been closely chronicled by Dan Sandberg, a veteran of The Washington Post. In 1998, he'd broken the story about certain highly classified papers leaving the Pentagon without authorization. The FBI investigation that soon followed kept him busy for half a year, during which he filed eighteen stories, most of them on the front page. He had reliable contacts at the CIA and the FBI. He knew the partners at Backman, Pratt amp; Boiling and had spent time in their offices. He hounded the Justice Department for information. He'd been in the courtroom the day Backman hurriedly pled guilty and disappeared.

A year later he'd written one of two books about the scandal. His sold a respectable 24,000 copies in hardback, the other about half of that.

Along the way, Sandberg built some key relationships. One in particular grew into a valuable, if quite unexpected, source. A month before Jacy Hubbard's death, Carl Pratt, then very much under indictment, as were most of the senior partners of the firm, had contacted Sandberg and arranged a meeting. They eventually met more than a dozen times while the scandal ran its course, and in the ensuing years had become drinking buddies. They sneaked away at least twice year to exchange gossip.

Three days after the pardon story first broke, Sandberg called Pratt and arranged a meeting at their favorite place, a college bar near Georgetown University.

Pratt looked awful, as if he'd been drinking for days. He ordered vodka; Sandberg stuck with beer.

"So where's your boy?' Sandberg asked with a grin.

"He's not in prison anymore, that's for sure." Pratt took a near lethal slug of the vodka and smacked his lips.

"No word from him?"

"None. Not me, not anyone at the firm."

"Would you be surprised if he called or stopped by?"

"Yes and no. Nothing surprises me with Backman." More vodka. "If he never set foot in D.C. again, I wouldn't be surprised. If he showed up tomorrow and announced the opening of a new law firm, I wouldn't be surprised."

"The pardon surprised you."

"Yes, but that wasn't Backman's deal, was it?"

"I doubt it." A coed walked by and Sandberg gave her a look. Twice-divorced, he was always on the prowl. He sipped his beer and said, "He can't practice law, can he? I thought they yanked his license."

"That wouldn't stop Backman. He'd call it 'government relations' or 'consulting' or something else. It's lobbying, that's his speciality, and you don't need a license for that. Hell, half the lawyers in this city couldn't find the nearest courthouse. But they can damned sure find Capitol Hill."

"What about clients?"

"It's not gonna happen. Backman ain't coming back to D.C. Unless you've heard something different?"

"I've heard nothing. He vanished. Nobody at the prison is talking. I can't get a word from the penal folks."

"What's your theory?" Pratt asked, then drained his glass and seemed poised for more.

"I found out today that Teddy Maynard went to the White House late on the nineteenth. Only someone like Teddy could squeeze it out of Morgan. Backman walked away, probably with an escort, and vanished."

"Witness protection?"

"Something like that. The CIA has hidden people before. They have to. There's nothing official on the books, but they have the resources."

"So why hide Backman?"

"Revenge. Remember Aldrich Ames, the biggest mole in CIA history?"


"Now locked away securely in a federal pen. Don't you know the CIA would love to have a crack at him? They can't do it because it's against the law-they cannot target a US. citizen, either here or abroad."

"Backman wasn't a CIA mole. Hell, he hated Teddy Maynard, and the feeling was very mutual."

"Maynard won't kill him. He'll just set things up so someone else will have the pleasure."

Pratt was getting to his feet. "You want another one of those?" he asked, pointing at the beer.

"Later, maybe." Sandberg picked up his pint for the second time and took a drink.

When Pratt returned with a double vodka, he sat down and said, "So you think Backman's days are numbered?"

"You asked my theory. Let me hear yours."

A reasonable pull on the vodka, then, "Same result, but from a slightly different angle." Pratt stuck his finger in the drink, stirred it, then licked his finger, thinking for a few seconds. "Off the record, okay?"

"Of course."They had talked so much over the years that everything was off the record.

"There was an eight-day period between Hubbard's death and Backman's plea. It was a very scary time. Both Kim Boiling and I were under FBI protection, around the clock, around the block, everywhere. Quite odd, really. The FBI was doing its best to send us to prison forever and at the same time felt compelled to protect us." A sip, as he glanced around to see if any of the college students were eavesdropping. They were not. "There were some threats, some serious movements by the same people who killed Jacy Hubbard. The FBI de briefed us later, months after Backman was gone and things settled down. We felt a bit safer, but Boiling and I paid armed security for two years afterward. I still glance in the rearview mirror. Poor Kim has lost his mind."

"Who made the threats?"

"The same people who'd love to find Joel Backman."


"Backman and Hubbard had made a deal to sell their little product to the Saudis for a trainload of money. Very pricey, but far less than the cost of building a brand-new satellite system. The deal fell through. Hubbard gets himself killed. Backman hurries off to jail, and the Saudis are not happy at all. Neither are the Israelis, because they wanted to make a deal too. Plus, they were furious that Hubbard and Backman would deal with the Saudis." He paused and took a drink, as if he needed the fortitude to finish the story. "Then you have the folks who built the system in the first place."

"The Russians?"

"Probably not. Jacy Hubbard loved Asian girls. He was last seen leaving a bar with a gorgeous young leggy thing, long black hair, round face, from somewhere on the other side of the world. Red China uses thousands of people here to gather information. All their US. students, businessmen, diplomats, this place is crawling with Chinese who are snooping around. Plus, their intelligence service has some very effective agents. For a matter like this, they wouldn't hesitate to go after Hubbard and Backman."

"You're sure it's Red China?"

"No one's sure, okay? Maybe Backman knows, but he never told anyone. Keep in mind, the CIA didn't even know about the system. They got caught with their pants down, and ol' Teddy's still trying to catch up."

"Fun and games for Teddy, huh?"

"Absolutely. He fed Morgan a line about national security. Morgan, no surprise, falls for it. Backman walks. Teddy sneaks him out of the country, then watches to see who shows up with a gun. It's a no - lose game for Teddy."

"It's brilliant."

"It's beyond brilliant, Dan. Think about it. When Joel Backman meets his maker, no one will ever know about it. No one knows where he is now. No one will know who he is when his body is found."

"If it's found."


"And Backman knows this?"

Pratt drained the second drink and wiped his mouth with a sleeve. He was frowning. "Backman's not stupid by any measure. But a lot of what we know came to light after he went away. He survived six years in prison, he probably figures he can survive anything."

Critz ducked into a pub not far from the Connaught Hotel in London. A light rain grew steadier and he needed a place to stay dry. Mrs. Critz was back at the small apartment that was on loan from their new employer, so Critz had the luxury of sitting in a crowded pub where no one knew him and knocking back a couple of pints. A week in London now with a week to go before he pushed himself back across the Atlantic, back to D.C. where he would take a miserable job lobbying for a company that made, among other hardware, defective missiles that the Pentagon hated but nonetheless would be forced to buy because the company had all the right lobbyists.

He found an empty booth, one partially visible through a fog of tobacco smoke, and wedged himself into it and settled in behind his pint. How nice it was to drink alone without the worry of being spotted by someone who would rush over and say, "Hey, Critz, what were you idiots thinking with that Berman veto?" Yakety-yaketyyak.

He absorbed the cheery British voices of neighbors coming and going. He didn't even mind the smoke. He was alone and unknown and he quietly reveled in his privacy.

His anonymity was not complete, however. From behind him a small man wearing a battered sailor's cap appeared and fell into the booth across the table, startling Critz.

"Mind if I join you, Mr. Critz?" the sailor said with a smile that revealed large yellow teeth. Critz would remember the dingy teeth.

"Have a seat," Critz said warily. "You got a name?"

"Ben." He wasn't British, and English was not his native tongue. Ben was about thirty, with dark hair, dark brown eyes, and a long pointed nose that made him rather Greek-looking.

"No last name, huh?" Critz took a sip from his glass and said, "How, exactly, do you know my name?"

"I know everything about you."

"Didn't realize I was that famous."

"I wouldn't call it fame, Mr. Critz. I'll be brief. I work for some people who desperately want to find Joel Backman. They'll pay serious money, cash. Cash in a box, or cash in a Swiss bank, doesn't matter. It can be done quickly, within hours. You tell us where he is, you get a million bucks, no one will ever know." ilHow did you find me?"

"It was simple, Mr. Critz. Were, let's say, professionals."


"It's not important. We are who we are, and we're going to find Mr. Backman. The question is, do you want the million bucks?"

"I don't know where he is."

"But you can find out."


"Do you want to do business?"

"Not for a million bucks."

"Then how much?"

"I'll have to think about it."

"Then think quickly."

"And if I can't get the information?"

"Then we'll never see you again. This meeting never took place. It's very simple."

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