The Destiny of Rhaetia: Part IV.

8 Mar

Cuno Siusi, emerging out of a drug-induced sleep, lifted his head higher on its pillow and surveyed the special room he was in. This must be an expensive place to undergo treatment, he told himself.

A sharp pain on his left side indicated where the bullet had pierced him in the Domplatz. All at once, he clearly remembered everything that had happened as the contest winner was being crowned.

It was necessary for him to talk immediately with one of his close henchmen.

What had become of the gunman? Was there any problem with the man?

At this point a male nurse entered, hurrying to the side of the bed.

“The shell traveled right through you, Mr. Siusi, without hitting any vital organ. You are a very fortunate man, sir. The medics have patched you up like new, but there will be considerable pain till the healing is complete.”

Cuno opened his dry mouth and began to murmur. “When shall I be able to leave the place I am in?” he asked the boy-like little man.

The door opened again at that moment and a woman in the blue gown of a surgeon slipped in. She was tall and slim, with naturally auburn hair pinned up in a pile. “Good day, Mr. Siusi. I am so happy that you are awake. How do you feel?”

He described his pain to the medic. “It is vital that I leave here as soon as possible because of my public duties and obligations, Doctor. When can I do so, do you think?”

The surgeon attempted a smile. “In a few days, sir, once these pains have passed. But your physical activities, for a time, must be highly restricted.”

“Days, you say?” asked the patient in a stern voice.

“Later this week, in fact,” she replied.

“The young beauty queen. How is she?” he inquired after a pause.

“Nothing could help. We lost her at once.” The doctor avoided his scintillating jet black eyes.

“I must talk with my executive assistant at once,” insisted Cuno vehemently. “There is important, urgent business to discuss with him.”

The surgeon forced a grin. “I know that he has been waiting for hours to see you.” She turned to the nurse. “See that the fellow is allowed in here at once.”

Rhaetia has few straight, direct routes, pondered Garo at the controls of a borrowed autom. First there was a crossover into the Grisons along the Gargellen Valley, through the Schlappiner Pass. Entering the Praettigau Valley, it was only a short distance to the Grishuns town of Klosters. Here the two travelers stopped to buy additional hydrogen fuel.

The pair proceeded southwest to Davos, then turned southeastward. Through the Fluela Pass, they reached Susch on the Inn River.

“I am now in very familiar territory,” murmured Garo to the passenger. “My first years were spent here in the Lower Engadine.”

“How did you become involved in politics?” inquired Maia.

The driver grinned reminiscingly. “It is an interesting story. My family was living in Scuol at the time. From our front window the waters of the En were visible. I was only a teenager, the son of a Romisch teacher. An election came up, and a friend of my father decided to run for the National Diet of Rhaetia. My parents became active supporters of the candidate and I volunteered to distribute handbills to houses in the rural areas around Scuol.

“Unknowingly, I wandered into a tiny hamlet near the castle of Tarasp, made up almost entirely of Integral Party supporters. At that time, there were still places in the Engadine where that was so. Centuries ago, some Walser families had migrated there from the Valais. They spoke a strange mixture of Romisch and German, and kept to themselves. The result was that they gave me a terrible beating for daring to hand out Nation’s Party literature. I returned home quite bloodied and injured. My father was furious and tried to take legal action, but the matter was buried and hushed up by the police. They didn’t want any sort of feud to start in the area.”

“And that traumatic experience determined your future course?” asked Maia.

Garo continued looking ahead at the road. “I participated in every electoral campaign from then on as a staunch partisan. This continued at the university in Chur. Upon graduation, the Nation’s Party hired me as a member of its media staff. I learned the profession from the ground up.”

“Everyone admires your loyalty and dedication, Garo,” declared the professor. All of a sudden, she looked out the side window at the forest of thick spruces.

Maia decided to tell him no more in that vein.

Bruno Biasca had none of the physical characteristics that popular crime literature tended to give to a professional gunsel out for hire. Short and rotund, his head and face had a similar roundness and lack of angles. Curly reddish brown hair and yellow gray eyes lent a strange lightness to his features. There was nothing dangerous or intimidating in his pallid looks. That was a major factor in making his murderous work so easy.

Family history had shaped all of his life. Bruno’s paternal and maternal grandparents had left an Italian-speaking village in the Calauca Valley southwest Grisons province. Economic ruin had descended on such out-of-the-way corners, leading to near depopulation. Many immigrants had crossed the border to Swiss Ticino. The Biascas had moved to Bolzano, the provincial capital of South Tyrol, where the crowded inner old town became their home area. Bruno’s father was as much an economic failure as his very own parent. The grandson remained a bachelor, outliving both his mother and father. He stayed in the same decrepit flat that he had been born and raised in.

The gunman sat in the darkened front room, watching the viseon news channels. Excitement did not flag as the hours passed. Bruno absorbed every detail that the police released to the public through the media, comparing it to his own memory of the event. How ignorant, how stupid all those officials were! He had made a clean, complete escape and would never be found or traced.

All that remained was to collect his reward from the Integral Party.

That was set to occur early that evening, out in public where no one would notice what was going on. Right there in Walther Square, before the statue of the great German troubadour, Walther von der Vogelweide. How ironic, grinned the murderer of Miss Teutsch. For Bruno hated the Germans as much as he did the Ladins. His heart was a snakepit of bitter, violent odium. Shootings were an outlet for this intense inner pressure. The money was important, but the emotional release was his true, central motive. Unconsciously, Bruno Biasca knew that.

Garo fell into nostalgia driving past Lavin, Guarda, Ardez, Ftan, and Scuol in the Lower Engadine.

He described his formative years to Maia, relating a series of boyhood adventures to her. Some were humorous, bringing laughter to both of them. The pair grew more animated as they drove on, neither noticing that they had crossed back over into Vorarlberg Province.

“We will soon be in South Tyrol,” said the driver, making a left turn onto the bridge across the En River. “The road south of Nauders passes through the Reschen Pass, into the Etsch and Venosta Valleys. It will not take us much longer to reach Balzano.”

“I hope that we can accomplish something there, Garo,” said the passenger sitting to his right. She bent forward and pushed a dashboard button. “Let’s find out if there is any fresh news on the audiowaves.”

There was, but it was not what they hoped to hear.

“Immediately after the report that the Brixen police are interrogating members of a Ladin gambling circle, several Tyrolean leaders of the Integral Party held media conferences where each one of them called upon the government to investigate the political connections of these so-called underworld elements. It has been learned that the Integralists have called for public protest meetings whose main demand will be for an official probe of the role of the Nation’s Party in the violence that occurred in Brixen’s Cathedral Square.

“Several leaders of the German brotherhoods have publicly expressed their fears of a conspiracy to cover up the identity of those behind the assassination of Miss Teutsch and the shooting of Mr. Cuno Siusi. Contacts have been made with Integralist leaders, said a spokesman for the brotherhoods. The fraternal members will be present to take part in the demonstrations for a full, thorough investigation of the crime in Brixen…”

The voice went on with other news.

Neither Garo nor Maia said anything about what they had both just heard.

What did the Borgias, Sforzas, or Estes do with their assassins once they were no longer needed? When a careless mouth posed grave danger to their sponsor? When they became disposable?

Having read Machiavelli carefully many times, Cuno Siusi was certain that he knew the answer. The walking, breathing evidence must be made to vanish from the surface of planet Earth.

The Integralist leader whispered instructions to his subordinate from the hospital bed that he lay in.

“See that the man is taken off the stage for good. There must be no trace left of what is to happen to him. Nothing to link us in any way. I need not know all the specific details, but have it done neatly and cleanly. Capish?”

“It shall be done promptly,” promised the henchman. “Nothing will remain to connect us, sir. We will, as they say in the movies, take him for a ride.”

Cuno grinned. As the aide walked away and went out of the room, the candidate remembered how he had been a dedicated fan of his neighborhood bioscope in childhood years. Criminal mysteries, action adventures, and American gangster violence had fascinated him. They had been an important influence on his view of the world.

If it hadn’t been politics, I would have become an underworld boss, Siusi told himself with a small laugh.

So, the time had come to take the hired shooter for a long ride out somewhere.

Nation’s Party headquarters in Bolzano was located on Via Da Vinci, directly opposite the City Hospital. It was a stucco building with the old town around it. Garo Jenatsch parked in an alley behind it as the sun set in the darkening western sky. The two tired travelers hurried inside, eager to make contact with the provincial leadership of their party.

A secretary-receptionist immediately took them into the office of the Tyrolean chairman, Albuin Maxse. “Come in, come in,” said the brawny mountaineer from the Cristallo Massif above the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. “I have been expecting your arrival. First of all, are you aware of the propaganda attacks by the Integralists? THey blame us for the murder of the beauty queen and the injury to Siusi. There are demonstrations planned in Bolzano, starting tonight.”

Maia and Garo sat down. “Is any trouble expected?” asked the professor of Rhaetian history. There was unconcealed anxiety in her voice.

“I have called for police protection,” said the chairman reassuringly. “They should be present before too long. By the way, I have received a number of messages for you two from our center in Chur. Emer Ardez wishes to have you on a telefer immediately. Shall I ring him on my office line?”

“Yes indeed,” replied Garo.

“Indeed,” echoed Maia.

The pair sprang to their feet and stepped to the chairman’s desk as he punched the connection on his control panel. Within seconds, Emer was talking to them.

“How was your trip to Bolzano?”

“Fine,” answered both travelers simultaneously.

The leader then got down to urgent matters. “There has been a lot of incendiary agitation across the Tyrol, enflaming emotions over the shootings and blaming our party and the Ladins in general. Albuin reports that our opponents plan to begin public demonstrations this evening.”

“That is what we heard over the transponder, sir,” confirmed Garo. “And the chairman has given us the same report.”

“Our people must be very careful,” warned the leader. “The Integralists will attempt to promote violent reaction through use of these methods. I know them and their tactics. They believe that conflict mobilizes support for their side. We must not let the enemy determine what happens next.”

Maia spoke into the audio-receptor. “Why not make a statement to all your supporters, cautioning that peace and order must be maintained at all costs.”

“Yes, that is a brilliant idea. Why don’t you compose it, send the message to Chur, and I will release it over the mass media.” There was a pause for a few moments. “My staff believes that the videon channels will carry a direct public statement from me. When it is finished, transmit it here at once, so I can on the airwaves this evening some time.”

Albuin Maxse closed the telefer, then looked at Maia. “You may use my office to work in.” He excused himself and went out of the room.

“Let’s get this finished,” muttered the speechwriter with steely determination.

Night lighting illuminated Walther Square, giving a ghostly glow to the tall, white statue of the poet. The eyes of von der Vogelweide looked out at the Gothic cathedral with its green and yellow mosaic roof, now dark and shadowy.

Germans often joked that the troubadour faced south as a warning to the enemies of his people, specifically the Italians.

A short, round man carrying a large hand bag sauntered in the square, gazing about in various directions. Bruno Biasca wore a black Tyrolean hat with a peacock feather in it, as if he was out on the town. He approached the front of the statue, stopping to look at the spotlighted figure, holding his bag close to his body.

All of a sudden, a dark autom entered the square at an unusually high speed, making straight for the monument. It braked abruptly a few feet from Bruno, who had heard the sound of the hydrogen engine and turned about.

The side door on the right of the vehicle was opened from inside and a stringy shape leaped out.

“Get in the autom,” the lanky stranger ordered Bruno. “We are going to drive about and pay you inside the car.”

A cold shiver traveled down the assassin’s back. This was not at all what he had anticipated, but something that appeared very ominous.

“No,” growled Bruno Biasca, his face forming a grimace. “We have to stick by what we agreed on. Give me the money here, right now. That was the deal that we made.”

The tall, thin man reached out and placed his hand on the arm of the hired killer.

“Don’t be a stupid dummy. Don’t act like a mule,” he angrily barked. “Climb into the autom and you will receive what is owed to you.”

His yellow gray eyes ablaze, Bruno broke away, retreating backwards toward the white statue of the poet. Yes, this had to be a trap to do him in. The gang in the autom had come to kill, not reward him.

Three more individuals jumped out as their quarry began to run.

He had to get away at once or else his life was gone.

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