“I am in no trouble. But I value the address of a friend.”
I put a ten-lira note on the bar to pay for the coffee.
“Have a grappa with me,” I said.
“It is not necessary.”
He poured the two glasses.
“Remember,” he said. “Come here. Do not let other people take you in. Here you are all right.”
“I am sure.”
“You are sure?”
He was serious. “Then let me tell you one thing. Do not go about with that coat.”
“On the sleeves it shows very plainly where the stars have been cut away. The cloth is a different color.”
I did not say anything.
“If you have no papers I can give you papers.”
“I have no need for papers. I have papers.”
“All right,” he said. “But if you need papers I can get what you wish.”
“How much are such papers?”
“It depends on what they are. The price is reasonable.”
“I don’t need any now.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m all right,” I said.
When I went out he said, “Don’t forget that I am your friend.”
“I will see you again,” he said.
“Good,” I said.
Outside I kept away from the station, where there were military police, and picked up a cab at the edge of the little park. I gave the driver the address of the hospital. At the hospital I went to the porter’s lodge. His wife embraced me. He shook my hand.
“You are back. You are safe.”
“Have you had breakfast?”
“How are you, Tenente? How are you?” the wife asked.
“Won’t you have breakfast with us?”
“No, thank you. Tell me is Miss Barkley here at the hospital now?”
“The English lady nurse.”
“His girl,” the wife said. She patted my arm and smiled.
“No,” the porter said. “She is away.”
My heart went down. “You are sure? I mean the tall blonde English young lady.”
“I am sure. She is gone to Stresa.”
“When did she go?”
“She went two days ago with the other lady English.”
“Good,” I said. “I wish you to do something for me. Do not tell any one you have seen me. It is very important.”
“I won’t tell any one,” the porter said. I gave him a ten-lira note. He pushed it away.
“I promise you I will tell no one,” he said. “I don’t want any money.”
“What can we do for you, Signor Tenente?” his wife asked.
“Only that,” I said.
“We are dumb,” the porter said. “You will let me know anything I can do?”
“Yes,” I said. “Good-by. I will see you again.”
They stood in the door, looking after me.
I got into the cab and gave the driver the address of Simmons, one of the men I knew who was studying singing.
Simmons lived a long way out in the town toward the Porta Magenta. He was still in bed and sleepy when I went to see him.
“You get up awfully early, Henry,” he said.
“I came in on the early train.”
“What’s all this retreat? Were you at the front? Will you have a cigarette? They’re in that box on the table.” It was a big room with a bed beside the wall, a piano over on the far side and a dresser and table. I sat on a chair by the bed. Simmons sat propped up by the pillows and smoked.
“I’m in a jam, Sim,” I said.
“So am I,” he said. “I’m always in a jam. Won’t you smoke?”
“No,” I said. “What’s the procedure in going to Switzerland?”
“For you? The Italians wouldn’t let you out of the country.”
“Yes. I know that. But the Swiss. What will they do?”
“They intern you.”
“I know. But what’s the mechanics of it?”
“Nothing. It’s very simple. You can go anywhere. I think you just have to report or something. Why? Are you fleeing the police?”
“Nothing definite yet.”
“Don’t tell me if you don’t want. But it would be interesting to hear. Nothing happens here. I was a great flop at Piacenza.”
“I’m awfully sorry.”
“Oh yes–I went very badly. I sung well too. I’m going to try it again at the Lyrico here.”