The story of two partisans, beginning in southern Italy in WW2 beginning just before the Allied landings. This story could be listed either as Romance or Non Erotic, it isn't a sexy story, in fact it is rather bittersweet. The idea for the story came while the author had the tune Come back to Sorrento rattling around in his mind. Verses of the song are inserted in places. The characters and the story are fiction, and do not reflect the conduct of any person, living or dead. The character Harlequin is based on a very quiet man the author was privileged to know and work with, who slowly, ex-soldier to ex-soldier told the author some of his experiences during the two years he spent working with the Italian partisans, behind German lines.
The story is the property of the author and may not be used or reproduced without the express permission of the author. As my usual editor yellowperil2 is quite busy right now, any mistakes or misspells are totally my fault, I beg your forgiveness in advance.
Well? I thought, looking at Rosa as she lay in the hospital bed at the Villa Fellini, I think it is getting near time, I had better warn the children. I looked at her eyes once more; they were staring up at the ceiling, not registering anything. We had been together in that room for the last two weeks as she gradually deteriorated. It had been a day since she last showed that she recognized me, and just a few minutes ago her fingers had pressed my hand as she used all her energy to say one word, calling me Paolo. That was her pet name for our second son Paul, the son that we had lost in Afghanistan eight years ago. He had been in an unarmored vehicle in a UN convoy travelling to help people in a remote village, when an IED had been detonated by the Taliban, destroying the vehicle and killing all in it. Paul's death had been a major shock to both of us, but for her it was a devastating blow, one that she was destined not to get over.
Ever since Paul had joined the UN team In Kabul she had believed that somehow the Taliban would not target or harm them because they were helping the Afghan people. Though I can't be sure, deep in my heart I believe that somehow, the loss of Paul was partly responsible for the deterioration in her, the deterioration that I had been watching over the past few years. To me it was no surprise that the Taliban would hurt a team trying to help their people, I had long since realized that fundamentalist Muslims were not to be trusted, any more than fundamentalists of any religion, they were all intolerant of any other views but theirs, and many would kill to ensure those views were observed. To Rosa it was incomprehensible that they could do such a thing to people who were trying to help them.
After we buried our son, something no parent should ever have to do, life slowly seemed to leave Rosa. The lively vivacious woman that I had married so many years ago began to disappear. She began to shut us out, turning inward away from her family and friends to some place within herself, somewhere she could not be hurt any more. She sat on our covered patio for long periods, staring out at her garden until I would take her hand and walk her out, and help her take care of the beautiful space she had created. At night she still sought the safety and comfort of my arms, but the delightful sexual being that she had been was no more. At best she just lay there and allowed me to have sex with her, but very rarely did she take part with any enthusiasm and her first act after would be to head for the bathroom and clean herself, as if the evidence of our joining was offensive to her and had to be destroyed right away.
This wasn't the case all the time, at other times she seemed almost manic in her efforts to do household chores, garden, and sometimes make love. I didn't know what the problem was, but made up my mind to support her by taking over some of the household chores, and cooking (thank heavens for slow cookers). I helped her with her gardening and kept her interested in the garden and in other things such as reading, travelling, and getting out to the local stores, keeping her going as much as I could. Thank heavens I was retired and could spend lots of time with her.
She had been such a lively person, a volunteer with the Women's Institute, the Women's Volunteer Service and the Catholic Women's League, a lively and inventive lover, and most important a loving and caring mother, who always had time for a child with a question, a story to tell or a hurt that needed tending. Now that was all gone and all I could do was help her to live as well as she could.
In spite of the privations I had gone through as a soldier in World War 2, I found this time the most desperate period of my life. Rosa had always been meticulous about her appearance, but after a while I couldn't help noticing that she wore the same clothes for several days, she still showered daily, and changed her underwear, but her outer clothes were often stained and worn for several days. I would ask her to change into something else so that I could do the wash, and wash the clothes she had on. She had always been proud of her home as well, keeping it clean and tidy, showing exasperation as the children left clothing lying around, but gradually that began to slip as well, so I was taking over more of the household chores as time went by.
After a time, I felt we should be confiding in our doctor but she was very reluctant at first. Eventually she agreed to see him; I think more to reassure me, than because she thought there was anything wrong. I had already prepared him somewhat, as I had always kept a journal and had given him the books that dealt with Rosa's decline. He first talked to Rosa, and then he asked me to come in to his office as well. I will remember his words for the rest of my life. He was very apologetic as he spoke, "Rosa; Tony; I don't know what to say. After reading the journals, and talking with Rosa, I can't really come to a diagnosis, other than to say Rosa; you are showing major signs of depression and possibly the beginnings of early dementia. I want you to see a neurologist first to see if there is any physical reason for this, so in preparation, I want to get a CAT scan done, and possibly one of the newer MRI scans, to rule out any possibility of brain damage. The MRI would have to be done in London as that is where the machines are.
I left those thoughts behind as I looked out through the double doors that led to the garden outside, overlooking the Town of Sorrento and at the blue water that stretched to the horizon. Overlooking the blue water a passage of a well-known song came to mind.
Hear the music of the waters,
bars of tender passion sighing
like thy heart to which go flying,
all my thoughts in wakeful dream.
Daydreaming, my mind flew back to when Rosa and I first met. I was a young soldier fighting in North Africa against the German and Italian armies. Unfortunately, in September of 1942, I was captured, luckily by the Italians, and became a prisoner of war. For me it seemed the war was over, I was transported to Italy, and placed in a prisoner of war camp near Pagani. I was one of the lucky ones, the commandant of the camp was an older man, as were most of the guards, as the younger men were still at the front in North Africa, so compared to most POWs we were treated quite well. While the food wasn't very good and certainly not plentiful, we were at least treated humanely by the guards. We were allowed to do more than a lot of POWs in other camps. Coronello Avasti, the camp commandant had obviously been a career army officer and kept his personnel, and us prisoners on our toes, by making snap inspections very often. Often he would just take a walk through the camp unescorted, just as if he were on a casual stroll; he would speak with us, always in Italian which we were slowly learning, but mainly limited to greetings such as Good Morning or How are you.
I was on the prisoners escape committee which wasn't a hive of activity. The only way out was through the wire, the ground was too rocky to tunnel through, and the guards were on their toes all the time. All we could do was make false documents, and try to make our uniforms look like civilian clothes, in case we got the chance to get through the wire. We did have working parties going outside the camp, and occasionally a prisoner was able to escape from one of them, but they were usually caught quite quickly and returned, never to go out on a work party again.
I had been in the camp about five months, and was sitting on the steps of our barracks one sunny day, when I was approached by the camp Sergeant Major, Sergente Maggiore Frescia. He told me that the Commandante wished to see me, and marched me across to the gate, and out of the prison compound. From the gate he took me to the office block and into the Commandante's office. There was a chair in front of Coronello Avasti's desk and Avasti motioned me to sit. He then said "Si puo lasciare ora Sergente Maggiore," telling him to leave the room. Frescia answered "Si Coronello," and turned and left the office.
For a moment, Avasti didn't speak, but looked at me with a steady eye, as if he were measuring me up. Then he spoke, to my surprise in English with very little accent. "Sergeant Moore, This interview is not being recorded in any way, and what is discussed will be treated as secret between us."
I replied, "Anthony George Moore, Sergeant, Regimental Number 14768934."
He continued "Yes Yes, I am fully aware of the requirements of the Geneva Convention, however it I were to say that I am about to give you the opportunity to escape, would that make you more responsive to what I have to say?"
I was amazed, "Coronello, what you say makes me wonder what is going on, what kind of trap this is."
"No trap," he continued, "I am quite serious, so serious that if you turn down my request at the end of this interview you will be placed in solitary confinement, and held there until you are eventually released from this camp. Judging by the plans of our so called allies the Germans, that may not be long as they apparently intend taking custody of all prisoners and shipping them back to Germany
"Why are you approaching me?"
"Because you are a member of the Royal Engineers, and judging from some of the conversations I have overheard, you know how to effectively use explosives."
"That hardly tells me anything, why do you need a person with explosives experience?"
"I don't, but the partisans do. They have lots of explosives but lack the knowledge to use them effectively."
"What has this to do with me?"
"I believe you would be a good trainer."
"What do I get out of this plan?"
"The knowledge that the people you train will be harassing the Germans behind their front lines, and keeping soldiers busy that would otherwise be opposing your friends, not if but when they land. In addition you would have freedom within Italy, a good valid set of papers, and when you are done, the opportunity to escape back to your own forces."
"Why you, a colonel in the Italian Army, you are not one I would associate with the partisans?"
"Because I am first and foremost a proud Italian, then a long term officer who came up through the ranks, not all of us support Il Duce and the Fascisti. If you have been listening to your clandestine radio." At my surprised look he continued, "Yes I know you have one; you should know that in North Africa the situation for the Axis powers is not good, in fact the Allies are actively preparing to invade Sicily. We know it is coming but we don't know where or when. Our friends the Germans are making plans that in the face of an invasion of Italy, they are going to disarm the Italian soldiers. Then they will take power into their own hands, and fight the Allies off to protect the soft underbelly of France and Germany. As I said, all prisoners of war will be taken back to Germany. My plan at this camp when that begins is to open the gates and let all the prisoners escape, hopefully many of them will get down to the beaches, back to their own forces."
"How long do you think this will take?"
"Our idea is for you to train English speaking partisans, who can take that training back to their own groups."
"Where will this happen?"
"You will be with a group in the mountains near Sorrento to start, after that it will be up to yourself and the partisans to place you as best as possible."
"How do we work this escape?"
"On Monday of next week you will be assigned to a road gang, they will be working near Fabrizi. A green Fiat bakers van will approach from the direction of Fabrizi and be stopped by one of the guards. Another prisoner will start a fight, and while the guard's attention is diverted you will get into the van. There will be clothes and identification in the van. It will take you to the Trattoria Fellini, on the Via Corso in Sorrento where you will be met and guided further, you will ask for Fabrizi and your contact will ask, 'Are you Harlequin' that will be your code name in future."
"What happens if the Germans stop us?"
"Let your driver do the talking, your papers will show you were born in Sorrento and grew up in England. You avoided internment as you were a seaman, but the rest of your family didn't and were shipped to Canada. You have come back to Italy to help in the war."
I accepted his offer, not that I had much choice, I didn't want to be locked in solitary for the rest of the war. I didn't say a word about it to the other prisoners, and the following Monday after an operation that went like clockwork; I was in a Fiat van heading for Sorrento. I changed into civilian clothes, and found papers in the name of Antonio Morelli, close enough to my real name, that I wouldn't get mixed up. Obviously the Commandante had supplied a photo of me to the person who made the papers, and they were stamped with the actual stamp of the Pallazzo Municipio in Sorrento. There was also money in the envelope to keep me going until I met up with the partisans. This whole experience showed evidence of a lot of planning, and made it obvious that all was not well in relations at lower levels between the Axis powers. It was a slick operation; there was no doubt of that.
Eventually we arrived in Sorrento and I was deposited on the Via Roma, just a short walk from the Trattoria. I went in and sat at a table. A waiter came to me and I ordered coffee and a sandwich, then I asked if Fabrizzi was there. The waiter told me he wasn't there yet, and brought my order. As I was drinking the coffee, a stunning girl walked through the doorway, she was around five foot six, a beautiful oval face with a slightly olive complexion, and long flowing black hair. She was dressed in a varicolored cotton dress which ended just below the knee, and showed her body off well. There must have been some signal, as she came straight to my table and sat opposite me. She spoke English in a husky voice, questioning me, "Are you Harlequin?"
I answered quickly, "Yes I am."
She continued, "Come with me, I will take you to a safe place where we will not be disturbed."
I paid my bill, and walked out into the sunny street with her. She linked her arm through mine saying as she did, "This is better, we must look natural, there are not many Germans around but there are many fascist sympathizers, so the less attention we draw, the better it will be. As it is we look like a young man and his sweetheart. I am Rosalita Fellini, my papa owns the trattoria and we are going to house you at our home until we can get you up into the mountains." We walked up a number of streets, going uphill and closer to the sea till we reached a doorway in a wall. Rosalita opened the door and ushered me through, saying as she did. "Welcome to the Villa Fellini, this has been my family's home for three generations."
She took me into a spacious old two story home, covered in ivy, and showed me upstairs to what she said would be my bedroom, then she showed me around the house until we entered a large kitchen where an older woman was stirring a pot on the stove. She introduced me saying, "Mama this is Harlequin, he is going to be working with Paolo."
She turned away from the stove and it was obvious where Rosalita got her looks. "Welcome Harlequin, that is what I will call you, if I don't know your real name, I cannot make any slips. We shall have to find you some more clothes and make sure they are all Italian made. Once you go into the mountains you won't get much chance of clean clothes. Come, I will measure you and see what I can find." She did that right away, telling me that as a girl she worked in her father's clothing store, then she left me with Rosalita.
See the lovely dewy garden,
breathing orange perfumed greetings;
Naught can set my heart a-beating,
like the fragrance of its bloom
Rosalita took me out into a beautiful garden with masses of roses that overlooked the sea, as she said, to start my Italian lessons. It took a little while for her to get my attention, as I was struck by the beauty of the town, sloping down to the sea. The blue of the Mediterranean and the striking colours of the flowers in the garden took my breath away, it was wonderful after the stark utility of the camp where I had spent the last 5 months. I was lost in the beauty of my surroundings, and much more important, the beauty of my hostess. Rosalita took my breath away and I'm sure she stole my heart right there. We had to wait a week for the partisan group to return from an operation, so Rosalita gave me an intensive course in Italian. She was an excellent teacher, but much too good looking, and my mind very often concentrated on what I imagined lay beneath the dresses she was wearing. As it was she gave me no cause to believe that I was of any interest to her, and was pretty well strictly business.
The last night that I was at the Villa, I was standing by the wall at the bottom of the garden, overlooking the sea, I would miss that sight when in the mountains. I felt a presence beside me, and turning a little I saw Rosalita standing close to me. She asked, "What are the deep thoughts you are thinking?"
I replied in a low voice, "I am thinking that I will miss the sight of the sea, I come from Devon, where my town, Exmouth, overlooks the English Channel, and the sight of it soothes me. Also I will miss the smell and beauty of this garden, but above all I will miss your presence, your beauty and your personality. You have become a big part of my life, even though we have only been together a week."
She blushed slightly. "Harlequin, in a short time you have become a part of our family. I will miss seeing you each day. All is not lost though, I am the messenger for the group and will be there at the camp each time there are messages. Then we will be able to spend some time together even if it is under the eagle eye of my brother Paolo."
She reached out and took my hand; it was as if an electric shock had passed between us. Her other hand went to my face, and she pulled my head forward, and brushed my lips with hers, just the slightest contact, then turned and walked back into the house. A warm feeling coursed through my body, I couldn't believe it, this beautiful Italian woman had feelings for me. That night I got very little sleep thinking of her.
Early next morning, with knapsacks on our backs, Rosalita and I started our trek out of town. We rode part of the way on two ancient bicycles, strings of onions hanging from our handlebars and necks, looking the part of country people selling vegetables. After riding for an hour and climbing higher up the mountain, we stopped, hid the bicycles in a copse, and began to climb a mountain track in earnest. After several hours, we got to a valley between two peaks, Rosalita waved toward the one peak and part way up the hill I saw a man with a rifle stand up and wave back. She looked at me and said, "Now we won't be shot, and the serious business begins." We walked a few hundred yards further and walked into an encampment where there were about thirty men.