“Il Diavolo Fa le Pentole Ma Non i Coperchi”

By Helen H.

 

 

 

“Bring her in soft, Mr. McNally.  Sorry, Admiral, I didn’t catch that.”

They were picking up a stiff breeze coming off the shore, and Lee Crane hadn’t heard the comment Admiral Nelson murmured as they stood together on the flying bridge of Seaview.  Then again, based on the admiral’s languid smile, maybe nobody was supposed to hear it.  The closer they got to their destination the more the admiral’s face lost the tension lines it had carried over the last few days.  Lee fervently hoped this meant the crew was going to get a respite from whatever was bugging the OOM.

Directing their arrival was Lieutenant McNally, the Officer of the Day, doing a good job of it so far.  The XO, Chip Morton, was checking that the deck crew was in place.  Lee moved around the OOD to make sure he’d hear Nelson’s words this time.

The admiral lowered his binoculars and leaned over the top of the flying bridge.  A sudden gust of wind almost lifted his cover off his head, and he clamped a hand down on the crown to keep it tethered.  

“I was just saying how beautiful the Italian coastline is.  See the ruins of the temple on the mountain above the town?  The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it, too.  Wouldn’t you agree, Lee?” 

“Not a usual destination for the Seaview, Admiral,” the submarine’s commanding officer said.  “But I definitely agree.”  His thoughts about the wisdom of this visit were disappearing.   

Off the starboard side was the city of Pendio, a coastal commune south of Rome.  Somehow the local authorities had found out that Seaview was making a transit of the Mediterranean and invited Nelson and his crew to make a port call, going so far as to truck in a temporary dock, which now squatted in the middle of the small harbor.  To everyone’s great surprise the admiral had accepted.    

Pendio was one of those cities made for a picture postcard.  A crescent of white sand formed a barrier to the sea, outlined by soaring sentinel palms along the raised boardwalk.  Olive trees dotted the hills behind the town.  Multi-storied apartment buildings and houses ranged upward from the beach, clusters of flowers in boxes and pots at every window.  Fishing boats painted in many colors bobbed at their moorings next to the small jetty jutting into the water.  A quickening wind coming down from the north was bringing the scent of freesia and orange tree flowers.  It was the middle of the afternoon and the sand and the houses glistened in the sun.  The marigold light cast a glow on the rooftops, a landscape for a painter’s eye.   

“Have you been here before, sir?”  Nelson turned in Lee’s direction but it was obvious he hadn’t heard the question.  Lee waited for a few seconds and tried again.  “Sir?  Have you been here before?”  

Snorting a small laugh, Nelson said, “Sorry, lad.  Not this particular town, no.  I was thinking back to a visit I made to Naples not long after the end of the war.  They used submarine officers for a little bit of everything in those days, and I was not happy to be assigned, even temporarily, to AMG Headquarters, especially since it was almost impossible to get around.  The damage from the Allied bombing raids had reduced most of the area to rubble.  So since I was billeted not very far away I took to walking back and forth to HQ.  My estimation of the place and its people rose considerably as every day brought order out of chaos.  Didn’t matter if half the side of a house was gone, the inhabitants shored it up and planted climbing roses.  There were pocket-sized gardens on every corner, filled with the most amazing flowers, and tended to by Italians of all ages.  Just now, it was coming back to me, memories of the place.  The first thing visitors noticed was the heat and humidity.  And that was followed by the wonderful smell.”  

“If this particular town got beaten up during the war, they’ve done a great job of rebuilding, sir.”     

“Yes, quite the transformation.  I’m pleased to see it.  Life triumphing through the ruins.  Good thing I’m not nostalgic.”     

Lee busied himself with the binoculars.  Easier to hide a smile behind a pair of field glasses.   

Chip joined them.  Lee glanced at the young lieutenant giving orders and then spoke to his XO.  “McNally’s doing just fine, I’d say.”  

“We’ll make it without taking off a layer of paint,” Chip responded, feigning a swipe across his brow.  

Lee’s smile got wider as the view in his binoculars got closer.  “I already like our welcoming committee,” he said, grinning at the cluster of young women greeting the arrival of the submarine.  Besides the women the mayor -- for he must have been the mayor, with the huge sash and rosette covering his chest -- and other burgesses of the city stood in front of a substantial crowd.  The townspeople were waving handkerchiefs, hats, and American flags.  

“Yeah, gotta love a welcoming committee,” Chip echoed, his eyebrows drawing together.  “Especially one with a bunch of civilians standing on a floating 2x4.”  

“You might want to say something to them, Lee,” Nelson said.   

Letting the binoculars fall on his chest Lee leaned over and yelled, “Indietro, per favore!” accompanied with a pushing motion of his hands.   

The mayor acknowledged the request with a wave.  Spinning around he made pushing motions of his own, and everyone shuffled down the pier and away from where Seaview would need to come to rest.  The submarine edged past the line of people like a subway car, barely making headway.  The deck crew threw the heavy lines overboard and men on the dock made the lines fast to the bollards.  Seaview shuddered, rolled a few yards forward and then was still.   

“Well done, Mr. McNally.”  

“Thank you, Captain.”   

Lee turned away to allow the young lieutenant’s color to come back into his face and caught Chip’s attention.  “Chip, I’d like to see the liberty list before we let the crew off.”  

“Aye, sir, I have it on the charting table,” Chip said, heading below.  

The instant the brow slapped on the deck the mayor and his party came aboard.  There hadn’t been time to come off the sail, so the mayor squinted up into the sun while everyone else stared down.  

Signori!  Who do I have the honor of addressing?”   

Lee pointed to the admiral.  “Admiral Harriman Nelson, Eccellenza.  And I am Captain Crane.”  

The mayor bowed to each in turn.  Ammiraglio, Capitano, benvenuti in Pendio!  I welcome you and your very large submarine to our ‘umble city!”   

Lee looked at the admiral, who indicated he should take charge.  Grazie, Eccellenza!  With your permission I’d like to send our crew on liberty.”  

“Of course, of course.  Admiral, Captain, you will honor us with your own visit?  I have a car waiting!”  

“We will join you shortly, after the men go ashore.  But first, the liberty list,” Lee said in an undertone as he turned to head below.  He was stopped by the admiral’s staying hand.  

“You do the honors, you and Chip, lad.  I’ve got work to do in my lab, can’t take the time off.”  

“Admiral…”  

The admiral’s face flushed and for a second Lee thought he’d get another blast of the famous Nelson temper.  Then Nelson seemed to catch himself up, and the moment passed.   

“Now, Lee, you know how much I hate these things.  Explain to the mayor and the rest of them I’m indisposed or something.”  

Lee suspected he knew why Admiral Nelson was in a funk lately.  But to reveal his personal life Nelson would have to admit he had one.     

“He’ll want something in return -- a visit to the boat.”  

“Fine.  You can show him around tomorrow.”  He hesitated, then added, “I wouldn’t be good company, Lee.”   

So he was aware of the mood he’d been in, too.  “Alright, sir.  I’ll take care of it, Admiral.”  

Lee entered the control room past crewmen hurrying to change out of their dungarees.  Chip presented the clipboard to him with the mimeographed list.  A quick look at the names and Lee frowned.  

“Kowalski and Patterson… together.  And Curley sick in quarters.  Let’s talk to this section before they go anywhere.”

 

* * * * *

 

The objects of this attention were busy in their own way.  

“Kowalski, I swear, if you don’t stop messing with your hair we’re not gonna make it to Liberty!”  

 “Shaddup, Patterson, it’s gotta be just right.”  The comb went forward with a little twist just at the end.   

“You take much longer getting it ‘just right’ and Chief Jones will find a way to keep us on board!  I still can’t figure out how we’re not in the duty section.  When the Chief slipped and wrecked his ankle he must not of been feelin’ right when he made up the chit.  How lucky can a guy get?”  

“Never mind about him.  I ain’t afraid of Jonesy.”  

“He hears you say that and you’ll be pulling kitchen duty for a month!”  

Kowalski swept his hand over his hair one more time, watching himself in the mirror.  Satisfied, he stuck the comb in the pocket of his bellbottoms and leaned backward, throwing out his arms.  

“Perfect!”  

“You’re worse than any woman I’ve ever seen,” Patterson said.  “You’re wearing your Dixie Cup anyway, so what’s the use?”  

“My hair won’t dare get messed up under that bucket.  Besides, it’s because of the ladies I gotta look my best, pal.”   

“Whatever you say.  You done yet?”  

‘Ski tugged on his neckerchief and straightened the square knot.  “Uniform, check, hair, check.  Let’s hit the beach.  Italy liberty, Pat!  Italian women!”  

A dreamy look came into Patterson’s eyes.  “Yeah... Italian women....”  The look was replaced by one of confusion.  “Wait...  I don’t speak Italian!”  

Kowalski rounded on him, shaking his head.  “If we needed to speak the local lingo we’d be in big trouble.  Look, here’s all you need to know.  Just keep saying Bellissima over and over.  They’ll eat it up.”   

“That’s it?  ‘Ski, you’re a genius!”  

“Don’t I know it.  Geez, Pat, you’re a mess as usual.”  Kowalski swung Patterson around and brushed off the back of his jumper, then thumped him between the shoulder blades, practically knocking him out of the hatch.  “C’mon, can’t be late for muster.  I’ll teach you some more Italian on the way!”  

They made it to the missile room with seconds to spare, the captain and XO turning the corner just as the two best friends stepped through the hatch and came to attention with the rest of the section going ashore.  Captain Crane strode to the front of the space and turned to face the men, his eyes looking over each one of them in turn.    

“I won’t keep you long.  I just want all of you to remember that this is our first visit to Pendio, and we want it to be memorable -- for all the right reasons.  Chief Jones is on limited duty because of his accident and won’t be going ashore.  I doubt he’s very happy about that.  I would hate like hell to send him after any one of you.  And I’m very sure none of you would like it much either.”  His eyes made one more sweep and seemed to linger infinitesimally on the two friends then he said, “Dismissed.”   

Kowalski and Patterson wasted no time in heading for the hatch, Kowalski’s long strides leading the way.  Struggling to keep up, Patterson said, “’Ski, how come every time we get the chance to hit the beach the Skipper always seems to be talkin’ right at you?”  

“He knows somebody has to keep you in line, Patterson.  Hurry up, will ya?”

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Hunched over his microscope, the sudden ache in his back forced Nelson to the realization he’d been looking at the same slide for the last five minutes.  He drew an exasperated sigh and sat back in his chair, running a hand through his hair.  Lately he’d been out of sorts, the limits of his patience at an all-time low, so much so he was convinced that whenever he was on the move the crew in his path were alerted to his near arrival and as many of them as possible had made themselves scarce.  Lee and Chip were left to take the brunt of his anger and frustration.  The men needed a break from him, and he’d found the perfect solution in the invitation to visit Pendio.  His feelings of goodwill didn’t extend to enjoying the small talk from Pendio’s government officials, however.  Best to leave it to Lee and Chip.   

Tomorrow would be a chance to sit at one of the sidewalk cafes on the boardwalk, drink a Campari and soak up the Italian sunshine.  Then a walk around the town.  Maybe even look for gardens and climbing roses.  The only thing that could make the time better would be a visit from Galené.  One of the things angering him the most was how easily his mind could stray to thoughts of the goddess.  She had infiltrated his heart and he missed her presence.  With Seaview quiet there was nothing to call her to his side.  Not that he wanted trouble, of course.  That there was even a miniscule thought that a little trouble was better than no trouble at all made the situation even more frustrating for his intelligent mind.  

He had known long absences would be necessary, she had made that very clear from the start.  He just didn’t like it.  And, he admitted, not liking something was what made him crotchety sometimes!  There was no use trying to get any work done.  He closed up his notebook and set the equipment aside.      

His life had been easier before she’d entered it.  Easier and empty.   

He left the lab and started for his cabin.  He passed only one person, a man walking his duty station.   

“All quiet, Thompson?”  

“Quiet as a mouse, Admiral.”  

Nelson laughed, patted him on the shoulder and walked on.  It wasn’t until he’d walked around the corner that he thought about what he’d done.  Patting a rating.  Life aboard the Seaview had changed him, indeed.  It was a revelation long overdue.  Being around Lee and Chip had shown him one could be in command and human at the same time.  Not for the first time did he appreciate what the two men brought to the submarine and to him.     

Pouring a drink, he put his feet up on the desk, pulled out a well-thumbed copy of Macaulay’s History of England and settled in for another chapter.  He found himself at the place in the book where Lord Macaulay recorded that, ill and angry with both Tories and Whigs, King William determined upon a secret plan to return to Holland.  He was dissuaded from this drastic remedy by the support of his ministers and the ministrations of his Queen.  Nelson chuckled as he compared the story to his own circumstances.  He could always use a little of both.     

His eyelids were getting heavy.  Changing into his bedclothes, Nelson slipped into his rack for some well-deserved sleep.   

Somebody was pounding on his brain….  

He came awake.  The fog lifted and the pounding resolved itself into sharp raps on his cabin door.  Nelson rolled out of bed, growling, and wrenched the door open.   

The khaki-clad young man started and took a step back.  “Begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir!  You have an urgent message from shore, sir.”  

“What the hell’s going on, Mr. -- what’s your name, Ensign?”   

“Paul, sir, Ensign Paul.  Not sure, sir.  Topside, we've got some Italian police.  They want to see you, sir.”  

Nelson glanced at the wall clock.  “This better be good, Ensign.”  

“I’m sure it is, sir.  Uh, that is, I mean I hope it’s nothing serious.”   

“You and me both, mister.  Get back up there and tell them I’ll be along shortly.”  Mr. Paul’s muffled ‘aye aye, sir’ came as Nelson shut the door and turned for the closet.   

Stepping out of the hatch with the ensign by his side -- who was standing just out of arm’s reach -- Nelson took a few seconds to allow his eyes to adjust to the pinkish light.  The early morning’s wind was muted, the only sound the insistent barking of a very large dog coming from the direction of town.  Whatever was happening where the dog was, he wasn’t very happy about it. 

He’s not the only one.   

Nelson zipped up his jacket against the cold and walked forward to greet the two men standing on the dock. 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Earlier... much earlier...  

“Tell me again you know where we are.”  

“I know where we are.”

“Riiiiiiigggggggght.  You have no clue.  Geez, we are so lost.”  

“And just what gives you that idea, XO?”  

“Uh, because this is the second time we’ve passed this same fountain, Signore Capitano?”  

“Mr. Morton, are you questioning my navigational abilities?  I’ll have you know--”  

Chip held up both hands.  “Stow it.  I know all about your good grades in Navigation.  God knows I’ve heard you mention them often enough.  You might be able to find your way around the Severn River but your abilities in this Italian town leave a lot to be desired.”  

His friend’s mock scowl forced an admission, accompanied by a reluctant grin. 

“Okay, you’ve got me there.”  

Lee slumped against the fountain’s stone foundation, avoiding the wet spots where the water splashed over the sides.  He put a hand to his head.  With Admiral Nelson absent it was up to the boat’s CO and XO to carry on the time-honored naval traditions of fostering good will and friendly relations among allies.  The evening had been one long night of eating, and drinking, and speeches.  Lots of speeches.  And lots of the local vino.  It was past midnight when he and Chip headed for the door, handshakes all around, pleased with how the visit was already going.  Lee had even indulged in visions of hitching a ride to Rome and visiting a girl he knew who was teaching at St. George’s.  

The good mood soon soured.  Turning down the townsmen’s offer of a ride back proved to be a very bad idea.  After a few minutes of taking a road they thought led to town (they had been escorted to a large villa high on a hill in a hearse-like car belonging to one of the local bigwigs, and neither paid too much attention to their surroundings) both men owned up to the fact they were lost.  Lee wasn’t sure they had even come off the hill in the right direction, for the short and twisty streets they’d reached were unfamiliar.  After this last time of Chip complaining, “We’ve crossed this intersection before,” Lee agreed it was time to look for help.  The carload of Pendio police showed up shortly thereafter.  

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, signori!  Siamo contenti di vederti!  Lee cried.  He was glad to see them; that he received nothing but angry glares in return didn’t set in right away.  “Can you point us in the direction of the Seaview?”  

And that’s when things went very wrong....   

“Lee, Lee, slow down!  I didn’t catch but a word or two from what they said in the car to you.  What are we supposed to have done?”  

Ignoring the attempt by one of the Italian officers to get his attention for another round of arguing, Lee rounded on Chip, hands clinched.  He could feel the heat in his face.   

“They’re accusing us of stealing a statue from one of the local churches!”   

“What?  When did we have time to go into a church?  We were too busy tramping up and down half the streets in town to go into a church!  And where are we supposed to be hiding this statue?  Neither you or I have anything stuck down our pants!”  

“You’re telling me, Chip.  All I know is they think we stole it.  I’m trying to remember how to say ‘pig headed’ in Italian.  It’ll come to me.  This estimable gentleman” -- he indicated the uniformed police officer seated at the desk in front of them -- “intends to make this an international incident, apparently.”  

They had been hustled into a car and driven to what Lee determined was the main police station of the town.  Along the way he silently thanked the ONI directive to become conversant in as many foreign languages as possible.  Whatever this was about, and he still wasn’t at all sure, he was giving as good as he got.  

The police officer finally stood up from his desk and faced outwards, fingertips on the desktop.  He was almost as tall as Lee.  The dark suit he wore was one of expensive design.  The cut was exceptional, and only by knowing where to look could Lee see the slight bulge where a shoulder holster hung underneath the coat.  No amateur, then.  It was going to be harder to talk their way out of this one, even if what they were telling was the truth.  

A finger went into the air, came down and ran across the neat mustache.   

“My name is Lorenzo Masella.  I have just been appointed a senior ispettore for Pendio, and yours is the first case I have been given the charge of.  I intend to make a very good job of it.  As a guest of the Italian Government, Captain Crane, I trust you are ashamed of yourself at this moment.”  His English was excellent.   

Great.  The new guy.  Lee fixed the detective with the steeliest gaze he could manage.  “All my XO and I have done is drink a lot of your wine and talk too loudly on our way back to the boat.  And get lost,” Lee added with a grimace.  “If a crime has been committed, it sure as hell wasn’t us!  Ask the Mayor!  Fine hospitality you’ve shown!”    

Masella shook his head from side to side.  I do not need the interference of our esteemed Mayor!  As senior ispettore, he drew himself up, “I have complete authority in this matter.  We will accept your word you were playing a prank, if you will tell me what you did with the statue.  Such a stupid trick, stealing from a church!  I would have expected better from the captain of the Seaview.”  

“NOW WAIT A MINUTE!”  Lee and Chip yelled in unison.   

Their outburst caused several of the officers in the room to move a hand to the weapons at their side.  Grabbing hold of Chip, who had taken a step forward, Lee got his emotions under control.   

“Why don’t you run this past me again?  It didn’t make any sense the first time, but I’m willing to listen.”  

Masella’s frown deepened before Lee stopped talking.  “Your sarcasm is out of place, signore.  But no matter.  Perhaps too much to drink, eh?  I will talk slower.”  Lee’s face flushed, but he kept silent.  “The door of La Chiesa di San Francesco is always open.  The many candles we light keep the interior very bright, and the statue of the Blessed Virgin can be seen from the doorway.  She was there earlier this evening, we have the word of Father Fermi.  She is gone now.”  

“What a load of --   Lee stopped, realizing he was starting to shout again.  He didn’t want to aggravate the situation.  “That may be,” he began again, modulating his voice, “but it wasn’t us who stole it!  

“So you say, but who else?  The citizens of Pendio are law abiding, they would not commit such a crime.”  

“Which means it could only be a visitor to your town.  It doesn’t matter that we were too busy trying to figure out where we were to go into any kind of church.  And unless we’re magicians and know the art of making something disappear, neither myself or Mr. Morton here were carrying anything when your men stopped us.  And most of all, it won’t matter that we are United States naval officers and doing anything like you’ve described brings dishonor down on us and our country.”  

Masella’s eyes had gone hard.  “It will not matter, sir, because no one else has been observed in a part of town where they should not be.  I would advise you to say nothing further, Captain.  Your admiral has been sent for.”  

“Not that we need his help, but it’s about time you sent for the admiral, we’ve been here for hours.  He’ll have something to say about all this,” Lee retorted.  

“You have not been here for -- never mind.  You should not have done what you did.  It will go very badly for you.  You are in my country now, Signore.  I am in charge and will show everyone that Lorenzo Masella is a most capable policeman!”  

“And I think that is what this is all about.  Some beef you’ve got with somebody else, not us.”  

Masella turned away and sat behind his desk, ignoring Lee’s exasperated sigh.  Lee flopped down on one of the hard wooden chairs littering the place, folded his arms and confronted Chip, face flushed.  Chip sat down opposite him, forearms on his thighs, their heads close together.  

“Who had time to steal anything?”  Chip whispered between clenched lips.  He had his cover in his hands, and with nervous energy was twirling it between his fingers.   

Lee’s eyes went to the clock on the wall above the inspector’s head.  The hand ticking off the seconds was making its inevitable journey from point to point.  He was tempted to reach out and snatch it away.  He wanted to throw it across the room, grab up his hat from where it sat on Masella’s desk and walk out.  There wasn’t much chance of that right at the moment, not if the expression on the Italian officers’ faces was any indication.   

“I’ve tried that tack, but he’s not buying it, Chip.  I think we may have gotten involved in a little internal politics here.  The Inspector seems to be at odds with his worship the mayor.  I didn't see Masella at the reception tonight, did you?”  

“Nope.  I'd have remembered if we'd met this guy.”  

“Me too.  Maybe he didn't get an invite or refused to attend, either way he's determined to make us pay for it.  He's flexing his judicial muscles and not willing to contemplate an alternative explanation.  We’ll just have to wait it out and see what Admiral Nelson has to say about all this when he gets here.”  

“Mind if I make sure I’m standing behind you when he does?”  

He couldn’t help it.  Much as Lee wanted to keep his lips clamped together, seeing Masella’s dark look, they refused to cooperate.  The chuckle started down in his throat and soon he was laughing aloud, and after a few moments, Chip joined in.   

“You find something funny about all this, do you?”  

Lee left his laughter die down naturally and then spoke.  “Yes, I do, Inspector.  When you figure out your mistake the laugh will be on you, and not on us.”  

Masella's anger at being chastised so blatantly was palpable and he relieved it by issuing barking orders to the assembled cohort of officers who immediately straightened up and concentrated their attention on the two suspects.  

“Careful, Lee,” Chip said quietly.   

“Yeah, I know, but this guy is getting my goat,” Lee whispered back.   

“Just take it easy until Admiral Nelson gets here, okay?”  

Lee gave a couple of quick nods.  

Chip sighed and stretched out on the uncomfortable chair.  “I thought about making you stop and ask somebody for directions, but everything looked pretty closed up to me.  And I know how you feel about asking for help.  No, don’t make that face, you know what I’m talking about.  What I didn’t know was we’d eventually need a witness.  I was too busy trying to figure out where the hell we were!”  

“I heard that, signori,” Masella said, his head coming up.  “That is what your capitano has been telling us, he has said it many times already.  We Italians have a saying.  I will translate:  ‘He who talks the most says the least.’  So it is with you, I think.”  

“The Italians don’t have any such saying.  You just made that up.”

Masella grunted and looked like he’d been caught at something.  “Perhaps I did, Captain.  In any event, the fact is the statue is missing and only your crew has come ashore.”  

“And everybody living in Pendio is guaranteed to be above suspicion.  Inspector Masella, I say again:  No man in my crew is in the habit of stealing religious artifacts from churches, especially us.”  

The inspector shrugged and went back to his papers while the police officers around them muttered under their breath, every so often throwing dark looks at the two Americans.  It was obvious where their sympathies lay.  This from the same men who greeted the submarine so happily earlier in the day.  

Lee glared at the uniformed men and declared, “Non essere troppo rapido giudicare!”  The muttering policemen scowled back but moved away.   

At Chip's inquiring look, Lee translated.  “I just told them not to be too quick to judge.”  

“Ahh,” was all the reply Chip thought necessary.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

He felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlin.  

Behind the admiral trailed a good baker’s dozen of the Seaview’s crew.  Behind them, shepherding the men as if they were a herd of cattle ranged a small contingent of policemen.  Nelson had found the men in various stages of dishevelment, looking them over as they emerged from side streets along the route they were taking to what he assumed was the police station.  Kowalski and Patterson seemed to be in the worst shape, each supporting the other with an arm over the shoulder.  Kowalski’s jumper was torn at the neck and his nose was bloodied.  Patterson sported a black eye and, minus a shoe, he was limping along.   

The light streaming from the door of Police Headquarters was bright enough to outline the familiar form of Chip Morton as Nelson approached the building.  Chip was pacing up and down in front of the doorway, hands rubbing his upper arms; for all the warmth of Italian summers, the early mornings were naturally cool.  Nelson was glad he was wearing a jacket.   

As soon as Chip spotted the admiral, he straightened, shook away the policeman trying to stop him and met them about halfway down the block.  

“What’s this all about, Chip?”  Nelson asked.  

“Well, Admiral, from what we’ve been told there’s a missing religious statue, and the police think Lee and I stole it, sir!”  

“That can’t be true, Mr. Morton,” a voice from behind Nelson spoke up.  “These goons think Patterson and me stole it!”

There was a chorus of “Same here, sir!”   

Nelson stopped, and the whole procession came to an abrupt halt.  “Say that again, Kowalski!”   

“That’s what they said when they grabbed us, Admiral.  Some statue’s missing from a church.  I know the Italian word for stolen” -- Admiral Nelson didn’t ask him how he knew -- “and statua’s pretty easy to figure out.  We didn’t take too good to what they were telling us,” he said, grimacing.  “So -- here we are, sir.”  

“Go on.”  

Kowalski readjusted Patterson’s arm and continued.  “Admiral, Mr. Morton, me and Patterson were, uh, just taking in some of the local color, sirs.”  That the local color included a raven-eyed beauty and her sister stayed unmentioned.  

“The local color.”    

“You bet, sir!  Honest, we were just about to head for the boat, it being close to the end of liberty and all.  We could see the water, so figured we were heading in the right direction.  We came around a corner, and, well, sir,” he said as he straightened up, his jumper not cooperating, “that’s when they jumped us, Admiral!”  

Kowalski began telling his story, emphasizing that it had not been an even fight.  The rating quickly explained how the policemen had confronted them just after coming out from one of the local bars, or osteria, was what it was called.  The instant the men hidden in the shadows grabbed them they put up a flaying flight, he related, all arms and legs and language their mothers hadn’t taught them.  But their assailants’ blows were better directed, and in a few minutes the confrontation was over.  Now he was sore from what he was sure was some well-placed kicks to his ribs and his friend Pat was sporting the blossoming black eye.  Kowalski had gotten in some good shots of his own, he remembered, but in the end, both were heaps in the middle of the street.  Hauled to their feet, they were at the head of the procession following the admiral.  

“Sir,” Kowalski said, his voice now low and earnest, “we never even saw anything that looked like a church, never mind stealing anything from it!”   

“I see.  You go along with this, Patterson?”  

The combination of alcohol and the fighting had taken their toll.  Cara mia.  Bellissima,” Patterson murmured, before falling against Kowalski’s shoulder again.  

Kowalski’s face reddened.  Propping his friend up once he more, he said hurriedly, “Ah, he ain’t feeling so good, sir.  Patterson’s a good man, sir, but he’s not much of a drinker, sir.”   

“Would that we were all so blissfully unaware,” Nelson muttered.  “And this is the same thing you encountered, Chip?”  

“Pretty much, Admiral.  We were on our way back to the boat, and got lost.”  Chip’s sheepish look filled his face.  “I swear it was only about twenty minutes when we gave up and started looking for help.  That’s when the long arm of the law showed up.  We thought they were coming to check on us.  Boy, were we wrong.  We’re dealing with a policeman named Masella who likes to throw his weight around.  Guess he figured he’d send for you, since giving us the third degree wasn’t working.”  

Nelson’s face darkened.  “Well, we’re just going to see about this, aren’t we?”  He started up the steps while the crew, Chip and Ensign Paul (who was regretting his unfortunate turn as the OOD for some time now) fell in behind.  

“Who’s in charge?”  Nelson bellowed, catching sight of Lee, whose face broke into a satisfied grin when he saw the admiral.  

Masella rose up from his desk.  “I am, Admiral Nelson. Senior Ispettore Lorenzo Masella.  Please, sit down,” he said, indicating the closest chair.  

“Not just yet, thank you!  Just explain to me what’s going on around here.”  

A fleeting shadow of annoyance rippled through the officious officer’s expression but Masella shrugged and wasted no time going through the circumstances again.  When he’d finished the admiral’s face was a darker red, his ear well and thoroughly rubbed and he was standing with his hands on his hips.  

“There is no way my men did this, Inspector Masella.  You have my personal guarantee!”  

Masella thought about that for a long time.  “I appreciate what you say, Admiral Nelson, but this is now a matter for your Embassy.  It is not quite time to call them, but we will have to report this.”  

“Good Lord, man, this is ridiculous!  Your own mayor will vouch that we are here on a goodwill visit.  Why should we besmirch our name and that of our country by stealing a religious artifact none of us knew even existed?”  

“I am in charge, not the mayor!  And the facts do not lie.  You and your men arrive in our peaceful town and within hours our statue is taken.  It is clear there must be some connection.  Therefore, it is for me to contact your Embassy.  The matter is closed!” Masella shouted in accented English as he firmed his lips and glared fiercely at Nelson.  

Nelson grabbed the closest chair and sat down, thrusting his hands down into the pockets of his jacket and stretching out his legs.  “If you won’t take my word this never happened, I’ll just sit here and wait until you get hold of the Consul.  All of us will wait.  Captain Crane, don’t say another word,” he ordered as Lee’s mouth opened, hung there for a moment, and then snapped shut.  “It’ll give us all a chance to settle down and wait for this statue to turn up.  And believe me, Inspector, it will.”  

As in a silent movie farce, Masella grabbed a chair and settled down on it, mimicking Nelson’s pose.  They remained this way for several minutes while everyone grew restless.  

The tension was broken by a rustle at the door, followed soon after by a large yelp.  

Everyone jumped and rounded on the doorway.  An apparition stood in the opening, holding onto the arm of a squirming young man.      

One of the Italian policeman exclaimed, “Corzo!”  

The figure did look like a crow.  Draped in black from head to toe, in a style not seen in Italy in a hundred years, her head covered with an elaborate headpiece, the woman glared towards them.  Only the prominent wrinkles of someone very old were visible around her eyes, nose and mouth.  It was therefore a surprise when she spoke and her voice was light and accent-free.   

“So, I understand Father Fermi is missing a statue.  And these men have been accused of the theft?  She let go of the young man’s arm and came forward into the room.   

Signorina Campi?”  Masella asked uncertainly.  

“Of course it’s me!  Ah, sorry.  I did not bother to change after the performance tonight.”  She whipped off the lacey construction on her head, revealing a mass of auburn hair.  Grabbing a handkerchief out of her pocket, she rubbed at her face and the years melted away, the wrinkles disappearing into the folds of the lace-edged hankie.  What emerged from the heavy makeup was the face of a beautiful Italian woman, all dark eyes and brows and full, red lips.   

Springing up, Masella offered her his chair.  She ignored him.  

“A good thing I went straight home after the theater, or I might never have found out what happened.”  She pulled on the young man’s arm again.  “My brother thought that making a personal intercession to the Virgin Mary to approve his latest scheme would ensure its success.  He didn’t think anyone would notice it was missing so soon.  I take it Father Fermi stayed up to go to the welcoming reception?  And realized the statue was gone when he returned to the church?”  Receiving affirmation from the inspector, she turned to the men of the Seaview.  “The timing was in all ways unfortunate, gentlemen.  You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”   

The brother pulled away from his sister, wincing as his arm came free.  “I just wanted to borrow it for a while, Sophie!  I never thought the sailors would be accused!  I meant no harm.”  He looked pleadingly in their direction, addressing all of them.  “I apologize, signori.”  

“Ah, Emilio.  One of these days….  Well, Inspector, what do you say?”  

“If that is what the Signorina says happened, I will accept it.”  The look on Masella’s face was a study in respect as he bowed slightly.    

Lee’s eyes opened wide at the change in the man’s attitude.  It was clear this woman exercised an enormous influence in the town, judging from Masella’s body language.   

“Where is the statue, Emilio?”  

“In the garage at the villa, Ispettore.”  

The inspector snapped his fingers and flung a furious series of words out at his men.  Grabbing the hapless Emilio on the way, they hurried out the door and disappeared.  

“Miss Campi, you are a very welcome sight,” Lee said, picking up her hand and kissing it.  Her face lit up in pleasure.  What had on first look appeared as the signs of maturity had been wiped away.  Her olive-colored skin was clear and wrinkle-free, the black eyes surrounded by thick lashes rather than the heavy age lines of an old woman.  

 “I’m just glad I could help sort this all out.  And please, call me Sophie.  The smile disappeared as she turned to Masella.  This is no way to treat distinguished visitors.  You should be ashamed of yourself.”  

The inspector raised his shoulders up to his ears.  “There was a report, Signorina Campi, and the evidence--”  

Unless you caught them red-handed with the statue there was no evidence,” she spat at him.  “This is all about the animosity between yourself and Mayor Bennici.  The whole town knows about it, Lorenzo,” she added when he looked about to protest.  “Perhaps this is a lesson for you.”  

By the look on his face, this would be a lesson hard earned.  

She turned her attention back to Lee.  “I am Sophia Campi.  My family owns the Campi Olive Oil Company among many other things here in Pendio.  I actually live in Massachusetts.  I’m just visiting for the summer and having a little fun playing a part in the local theater company.”  She did a little side step and held out her hand to Admiral Nelson.  “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Admiral.”  

The admiral, caught off guard, first looked down at the hand and then up to her face.  “You said Massachusetts.  You’re not Dr. Sophia Campi, from Woods Hole, by chance?”  Nelson exclaimed.  

She turned the magnificent smile onto him.  “The same, Admiral.  I didn’t think you recognized me in this getup.”  

“I apologize for not doing so right away.  Lee, let me introduce you.  Dr. Campi is a marine biologist at Woods Hole.  I first met her at that C&GS seminar last July.”  He took her hand and shook it gently.  “What a surprise, seeing you here!”  

“I imagine it must be,” she said, laughing.  “I would have been along sooner, but it took me a while to find out why Emilio was acting so strangely.  My foolish brother is opening a new business, and with all the rules and regulations in Italy, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help in the form of divine intervention.  As usual, he has gone about it the wrong way.”  

“Unlike ours, your timing was perfect.”  Lee smiled warmly before turning to his XO.  “Chip, let’s get everyone out of here.”  Lee thrust himself in front of the official.  “So we’re free to leave, right?”  

Masella made an expansive gesture with his hand but his cold eyes were hooded and he had more the look of a predator than a friendly cat.  “Of course.  I apologize.  Please wait and I will provide transporta-”  

“No thanks!” said Lee and Chip simultaneously.  Lee declared, “We’ll walk - with the Admiral leading the way, of course.  Uh, you can find our way back, right, Admiral?”   

Nelson indicated the door.  “Follow me, gentlemen.  Dr. Campi, are you free sometime this weekend?  I’d like to have you come aboard Seaview and give me your opinion on a research paper I’m preparing.”  

“I’d be honored.”  

“Very good, we’ll make the arrangements later today.”  He took her hands in his.  “It’s wonderful to see you again, Doctor.  Let’s go home, everyone.”  

“As fast as we can,” Lee asserted.      

Something Chip said set the admiral to laughing, and they went out the door still chuckling.  Lee smiled gratefully; with a visiting scientist aboard, the admiral was going to be better company for a while.  

Lee turned back to the woman, a wide smile on his lips.  “Thank you again, Sophie.”  

“I was happy to help.  Please, come tomorrow --- or perhaps I should say later today -- to my family’s restaurant on the boardwalk.  I would like to make it up to you for your embarrassing treatment.”  She held up her hand again, a hint of naughty humor in her eyes.  “You will be very welcome, Captain.  And your men, too, of course.”  

Kissing her hand again, Lee said, “I appreciate the invitation, signorina.  And will be sure to accept.  I’d escort you home, but getting lost again would not be a good idea.”   

Laughing, she said, “Thank you for the thought, Captain, but my car is just outside.”  

He let his touch on her fingers linger a moment longer before turning to his departing crew.  Here, let me give you a hand, Kowalski.”  He took hold of Patterson’s right arm while ‘Ski smiled his thanks.   

Patterson raised his head, squinting through unfocused eyes.  He looked at Lee first, who almost laughed aloud at the startled expression on the man’s face.  

“S-ir?”  

“Glad to see you’re still among the living, Patterson.”  

Pat turned to Kowalski next.  “Did we have a good time, ‘Ski?”  

“I’ll tell ya all about it later, Pat.”

 

 

 

“Il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi”

“The devil makes the pots but not the lids.”

 

Meaning that sooner or later the truth will prevail, for if you

cook in a pot with no lid, people will see what you're cooking! 

Thanks go to The Smiling Eggplant blog for the title…