Chapter no 17

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Au4ust 9, 1944 6:4 a.m.

Pino jumped from the Daimler he’d parked on Via Dante. He went into Dolly’s building, hurried past the blinking old crone and up the stairs, eager to knock on the general’s mistress’s door.

He was disappointed when Dolly answered. General Leyers was already in the hallway, drinking coffee from a china cup and looking eager to leave.

Pino went and got the valise, still not seeing the maid, and turned back toward Dolly and the apartment door, feeling even more disappointed.

Dolly called out, “Anna? The general needs his food.”

A moment later, and to Pino’s nervous delight, the maid appeared with the thermos and a brown paper bag. The general headed toward the apartment door. Pino went to Anna and said, “I’ll take them.”

Anna actually smiled at him as she handed him the thermos, which he slid under one arm before accepting the lunch bag.

“Have a nice day,” she said. “And be safe.” He grinned and said, “I’ll do my best.” “Vorarbeiter!” General Leyers barked.

Pino startled, spun around, and grabbed the valise. He hurried after Leyers, past Dolly, who held the apartment door open, and gave him a knowing look as he left.

Leyers had a four-hour meeting with Field Marshal Kesselring at the German House that morning. Pino was not invited to the table. The general appeared irritated and upset when he emerged after noon and told Pino to drive him to the telephone exchange.

Pino sat in the Daimler or lounged near it, mad with boredom. He wanted to go somewhere to eat but did not want to leave the car. He was mere blocks from Piazzale Loreto, and debated whether he should go find Carletto, tell him enough that he didn’t think him a traitor anymore. It would make Pino feel better, but should—?

He heard a voice calling over a loudspeaker and coming closer.

An SS vehicle with five speakers on top came rolling down Viale Abruzzi.

“A warning to all citizens of Milan,” a man brayed in Italian. “The cowardly bombing of German soldiers yesterday will not stand. Turn the bomber in today, or face punishment tomorrow. Repeat: A warning to all citizens of Milan . . .”

Pino was so hungry he felt hollow and jittery as he watched the vehicle go by and heard the echoes of the loudspeakers as it went up and down the streets that fanned off Piazalle Loreto. German soldiers came past him midafternoon, nailing printed copies of the same warning about the bomber on telephone poles and gluing others to the sides of buildings.

Three hours later, General Leyers stormed from the telephone exchange and looked furious when he climbed into the backseat of the Daimler. Pino had not eaten since six that morning, and he felt lightheaded and nervous getting into the driver’s seat.

“Verdammte Idioten,” Leyers said in a cutting voice. “Verdammte Idioten.

Pino had no idea what it meant, and glanced in the rearview in time to see General Leyers pound the seat with his fist three times. It left him red faced and sweaty, and Pino looked away for fear the general would turn his anger on him.

In the backseat, Leyers was taking deep breaths. When Pino at last looked again in the mirror, he saw the general: eyes closed, hands across his chest, his breathing slow and even. Was he sleeping?

Pino didn’t know what to do other than to wait and swallow at the hunger that had him shaking.

Ten minutes later, General Leyers said, “The chancellery. Do you know it?”

Pino looked in the rearview, saw Leyers’s unreadable face had returned. “Oui, mon général.” He wanted to ask when he might stop to get something to eat but held his tongue.

“Take down my flags. This is not an official visit.”



Pino did as he was asked, started the car, and put it in gear, wondering what the general wanted at the chancellery. He kept glancing at Leyers as he wove through the city to Via Pattari. But the general seemed lost in thought and revealed nothing.

By the time they reached the chancellery gate, the sun had set. There were no guards, and Leyers told him to pull through to park. Pino drove on into a cobblestoned courtyard surrounded by two-story colonnades. He shut off the Daimler and climbed out. A fountain bubbled at the center of the courtyard. Dusk fell in a listless heat.

Pino opened the door for General Leyers, who stepped out. “I may need you.”

Pino wondered whom they were talking to tonight. Then it seemed obvious, and his heart began to pound. They were going to talk with Schuster. The cardinal of Milan had a legendary memory. He would recall Pino as surely as Colonel Rauff had, but unlike the Gestapo chief, the cardinal would remember his name. Cardinal Schuster would also see the swastika and judge him severely, probably damn him to some eternal misery.

General Leyers took a left at the top of the stairs, went to a heavy wooden door, and knocked. It was opened by an older priest, who seemed to recognize Leyers with distaste, but stood aside to let him in. The priest gave Pino the evil eye as he passed.

They went down a paneled hallway to an ornate and impressive sitting room with Catholic iconography sewn into fifteenth-century tapestries, carved into thirteenth-century crucifixes, and cast at every turn in gold and gilt. The only thing not Italianate in the room was the desk, where a short, bald man in a simple crème-colored cassock and red skullcap was writing with his back to Pino and Leyers. Cardinal Schuster seemed unaware of them until the priest knocked on the door frame. Schuster stopped writing for a moment, but then wrote on another four or five seconds, finishing his thought before he looked up, and turned.

Leyers removed his hat. Pino reluctantly did the same. The general walked toward Schuster, but spoke to Pino over his shoulder. “Tell the

cardinal that I appreciate his willingness to see me on such short notice, but it is important.”

Pino tried to stay behind the general’s shoulder where it would be more difficult for the cardinal to see him clearly, and translated Leyers’s words into Italian.

Schuster leaned over, trying to see Pino. “Ask the general how I can help him.”

Pino looked at the rug and translated into French, which caused the cardinal to interrupt. “I can summon a priest who speaks German if he wishes to make communication easier.”

Pino told Leyers.

The general shook his head. “I don’t want to take up his time or mine unnecessarily.”

Pino told Schuster that Leyers was happy with the interpreting as it stood.

The cardinal shrugged, and Leyers said, “Your Eminence, I’m sure you have heard that fifteen German soldiers were killed in a partisan bombing in Piazzale Loreto yesterday. And I’m sure you know that Colonel Rauff and the Gestapo want the bomber turned in before dawn, or the city faces harsh repercussions.”

“I do,” Cardinal Schuster. “How harsh?”

“Any act of violence upon German soldiers by partisans will be countered by an appropriate act of violence on local males,” the general said. “The decision was not mine, I assure you. General Wolff has that dishonor.”

Pino was shocked as he translated, and saw that the potential repercussions had the same impact on Schuster’s face.

The cardinal said, “If the Nazis follow that path, you will turn the population against you, harden the resistance. They’ll show you no mercy in the end.”

“I agree, Your Eminence, and have said so,” General Leyers said. “But my voice isn’t being heard here or in Berlin.”

The cardinal asked, “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know that there’s much you can do, Your Eminence, other than to ask the bomber to surrender before punishment is imposed.”

Schuster was lost in thought for a moment before saying, “When will that happen?”


“Thank you for informing me personally, General Leyers,” the cardinal said.

“Your Eminence,” Leyers said, bowed his head, clicked his heels, and pivoted toward the door, exposing Pino to Schuster.

The cardinal gazed at Pino with an inkling of recognition.

“My Lord Cardinal,” Pino said in Italian. “Please do not tell General Leyers you know me. I’m not what you think I am. I beg you, have mercy on my soul.”



The cleric looked puzzled but nodded. Pino bowed, and walked away, following Leyers back out into the chancellery’s courtyard and thinking about what he’d just heard inside.

Repercussions in the morning? That wasn’t good. What would the Germans do? Appropriate acts of violence on adult males? That was what he’d said, wasn’t it?

When they reached the car, Leyers said, “What were you and the cardinal saying at the end?”

Pino said, “I was wishing him a good evening, mon général.”

Leyers studied him a moment before saying, “Dolly’s, then. I’ve done all I can.”

Although Pino was upset about the pending repercussions, he thought of Anna and drove as fast as he dared through the winding streets around the cathedral until he reached Dolly Stottlemeyer’s apartment building. He parked, opened the rear door, and tried to take the valise.

“I’ll bring it up,” the general said. “Stay with the car. We may go out again later.”

That blew the wind out of Pino’s lungs.

If Leyers caught his disappointment, he didn’t show it as he disappeared through the front door. Only then did Pino’s hunger pangs return with a vengeance. What was he supposed to do? Never eat? Never drink?

Miserable, Pino looked up the face of the building, saw slivers of light showing through the blackout curtains across Dolly’s windows. Was Anna disappointed? Well, she had definitely smiled at him that morning, and it

had been more than your ordinary, run-of-the-mill smile, too, hadn’t it? In Pino’s mind, Anna’s smile had spoken of attraction, possibility, and hope. She’d told him to be safe and used his name, hadn’t she?

In any case, Pino wasn’t going to get to see her. Not tonight. Tonight he had to sleep in a car and starve. His heart felt heavy, and then heavier still when thunder drummed. He got the Daimler’s canvas top up and snapped down before the rain came in torrents. He slumped in the driver’s seat, deafened by the storm and feeling sorry for himself. Was he supposed to sleep out here all night? No food? No water?

A half hour passed, and then an hour. The rain had slowed, but it still pattered off the roof. Pino’s stomach was aching, and he thought of driving to his uncle’s to report and get some food. But what if Leyers came down and he was gone? What if—?

The front passenger-side door opened.

Holding a basket of delicious-smelling food, Anna climbed inside. “Dolly thought you might be hungry,” she said, closing the door. “I

was sent to feed you and keep you company while you ate.” Pino smiled. “General’s orders?”

“Dolly’s orders,” Anna said, peering around. “It will be easier to eat in the backseat, I think.”

“That’s the general’s territory.”

“He’s busy in Dolly’s bedroom,” she said, climbed out, opened the back door, and got in. “He should be in there for a long while, if not the night.”

Pino laughed, threw open the door, ducked through the rain, and climbed into the back. Anna set the basket where the general usually put his valise. She lit a small candle and set it on a plate. The light flickered, making the staff car’s interior golden as she drew back a towel over the basket to reveal two roasted chicken legs with thighs, fresh bread, real butter, and a glass of red wine.

“I have been delivered,” Pino said, which made Anna laugh.

On another night, he might have gazed at her as she laughed, but he was so hungry he just chuckled and ate. As he did, he asked her questions, learning that Anna was from Trieste, she had worked for Dolly for fourteen months, and she had gotten the job through a friend who saw Dolly’s ad in the newspaper.

“You don’t know how much I needed that,” he said, finishing his meal. “I was ravenous. Like a wolf.”

Anna laughed. “I thought I heard someone howling outside.” “Is that your whole name?” he asked. “Anna?”

“I also go by Anna-Marta.” “No last name?”

“Not anymore,” the maid said, cooling, and repacking the basket. “And I must be going.”

“Wait,” Pino said. “Can’t you stay just a little longer? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as lovely and elegant as you.”

She made a dismissive flip of her hand but smiled. “Listen to you.” “It’s true.”

“How old are you now, Pino?”

“Old enough to wear a uniform and carry a gun,” he said, annoyed. “Old enough to do things that I can’t talk about.”

“Like what?” she said, sounding interested. “I can’t talk about it,” Pino insisted.

Anna blew out the candle, leaving them in darkness. “Then I must


Before Pino could protest, she climbed out of the Daimler and shut the

door behind her. Pino struggled out of the backseat in time to see her shadow going up the steps to the front door of the apartment building.

“Buona nottesignorina Anna-Marta,” Pino said.

“Good night, Vorarbeiter Lella,” Anna said, and went inside.

The rain had stopped, and he stood there a long while, looking at that spot where she’d disappeared and reliving every moment of his time in the backseat of the staff car, with her smell all around. He noticed it after the food was gone, when she’d laughed that he’d been hungry as a wolf. Had there ever been anything that smelled like that? Had there ever been a woman who looked like that? So beautiful. So mysterious.

At last he climbed back into the driver’s seat and pulled his cap down over his eyes. His thoughts still on her, he questioned everything he’d said to her and dissected her every word as if they were clues to the puzzle of Anna. The horror of Mr. Beltramini’s death, being branded a traitor—all these things had vanished from his consciousness. All he knew until sleep took him was the maid.



A sharp rap came at the window, waking Pino. It was barely cracking light. The back door opened. His first happy thought was that Anna had come down to feed him again. But when he looked over his shoulder, he saw the silhouette of General Leyers.

“Fly my flags,” Leyers said. “Get me to San Vittore Prison. We don’t have much time.”

Going for the glove compartment and the flags, Pino fought off a yawn and said, “What time is it, mon général?”

“Five a.m.,” he barked. “So move!”

Pino bolted from the staff car, mounted the flags, and then drove fast through the city, relying on the flags to get them quickly through checkpoints until they arrived at notorious San Vittore. Built in the 1870s, the prison had six three-story wings connected to a central hub. When San Vittore opened, it was state-of-the-art, but seventy-four years of neglect on, it was a nasty starfish of cells and halls where men fought for their lives every moment of every day. Now that it was under Gestapo rule, Pino couldn’t name a place he feared more besides the Hotel Regina.

On Via Vico, which paralleled the prison’s high eastern wall, they confronted two lorries stopped by an open gate. The first lorry was backing up through the gate. The other idled on the street, blocking the way.

Dawn glowed over the city when General Leyers got out and slammed the door. Pino jumped out and followed Leyers as he crossed the street and went through the gate with the guards saluting. They went into a large triangular yard that narrowed where the walls of two opposing arms of the prison joined the central hub.

Four steps beyond the gate, Pino stopped to take it all in. Eight armed Waffen-SS soldiers stood about twenty-five meters to his left at ten o’clock. In front of them was an SS captain. Beside the captain, Gestapo Colonel Walter Rauff held a black riding crop behind his back and watched with great interest. Leyers went to Rauff and the captain.

Pino hung back, not wanting Rauff to notice him.

The flaps at the back of the lorry opened. A squad from the Muti Legion of the Black Brigades climbed out. Fanatically dedicated to Mussolini, the elite Fascist commandos wore black turtlenecks, despite the warm air, and jawless death-head symbols on their hats and chests.

“Are you ready?” the SS captain said in Italian.

A Black Shirt brushed past Pino as he called, “Bring them out.”

The guards split into two groups of four and moved to open doors set in the walls of the prison wings. Prisoners began to shuffle out. Pino moved, trying to see the men better. Some of them looked like they couldn’t handle another step. Those that looked fitter had beards and such long hair that he didn’t know if he’d recognize anyone he knew.

Then, from the left-hand door, a tall, imposing young man appeared in the yard. Pino recognized him as Barbareschi, the seminarian, aide to Cardinal Schuster and forger for the resistance. Barbareschi must have been caught and arrested again. Though other men shuffled into a loose formation, staring fearfully at the Black Shirt commandos, Barbareschi went defiantly to the front row.

“How many?” Colonel Rauff said.

“One forty-eight,” one of the guards yelled back. “Two more,” Rauff said.

The last man out the right-hand door tossed his head to get the hair from his eyes. “Tullio!” Pino gasped softly.

Tullio Galimberti didn’t hear him. Over the sounds of the last men moving into place, no one did. Tullio trudged out of sight behind the lorry. The Black Shirt commander stepped forward. General Leyers confronted Colonel Rauff and the SS captain. Pino could see and hear them arguing. Rauff finally gestured with the riding crop at the Black Shirt and said something that shut Leyers down.

The Fascist commander pointed to his far left and shouted, “You there, start counting off in tens. Every tenth man step forward.”

After a moment’s pause, the man farthest left said, “One.” “Two,” said the second.

It went on down the line until one of the weaker-looking men said, “Ten,” and stepped uncertainly forward.

“One,” said the eleventh man. “Two,” said the twelfth.

A moment later, Barbareschi said, “Eight.”

The second tenth man stepped forward, and soon the third. They were joined by twelve more, all of them standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the assembled prisoners. The count still ongoing, Pino stood on his tiptoes,

remembering some of the conversation General Leyers had had with Cardinal Schuster.

To his horror, he heard Tullio say, “Ten,” becoming the fifteenth man. “You fifteen in the lorry,” a Black Shirt said. “The rest of you return to

your cells.”

Pino didn’t know what to do, torn between wanting to go to General Leyers and to Tullio. But if he went to Leyers and admitted Tullio was his close friend, and Tullio was in San Vittore for spying for the resistance, wouldn’t he begin to suspect—?

“What are you doing in here, Vorarbeiter?” Leyers demanded.

Pino had been so mesmerized by the unfolding scene that he’d lost track of Leyers, who now stood beside him, glaring.

“I’m sorry, mon général,” Pino said. “I thought you might need a translator?”

“Go to the car, now,” Leyers said. “Bring it up after this lorry exits.”

Pino saluted, then ran out through the prison gates to the Daimler and climbed in. The lorry parked outside San Vittore began to roll. Pino started the staff car just as the first sun hit the prison’s upper walls and around the arch of the gate. In the shadows below, the lorry bearing Tullio and the other fourteen emerged and followed.

Pino drove up to the gate. The general didn’t bother waiting for him to open the door. He climbed into the back, his face twisted in barely controlled fury.

“Mon général?” Pino asked after they’d sat there a moment. “The hell with it,” Leyers said. “Follow them, Vorarbeiter.



The Daimler quickly caught up to the lorries as they lumbered through the city. Pino wanted to ask the general what was happening. He wanted to tell him about Tullio, but didn’t dare.

As he drove around the piazza in front of the Duomo, he glanced up at the highest spire on the cathedral, saw it embraced by the sun while the gargoyles on the lower flanks of the church remained in the deepest of dark shadows. The sight troubled him deeply.

“Mon général?” Pino said. “I know you said not to speak, but can you tell me what is going to happen to the men in that lorry?”

Leyers didn’t answer. Pino glanced in the mirror, feared a tongue- lashing, but found the general looking coldly at him.

Leyers said, “Your ancestors invented what’s going to happen.”

“Mon général?”

“The ancient Romans called it ‘decimation,’ Vorarbeiter. They used it throughout their empire. The problem with decimation is that the tactic never works for long.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Decimation functions psychologically,” Leyers explained. “It’s designed to quell the threat of revolt through abject fear. But historically, using brutality against civilians in reprisal breeds more hatred than obedience.”

Brutality? Pino thought. Reprisals? The violent acts Leyers warned the cardinal about? What were they going to do to Tullio and the others? Would telling General Leyers that Tullio was his close friend help or—?

In the streets parallel to them, he heard the blaring of loudspeakers. The man spoke in Italian, calling “all concerned citizens” to Piazzale Loreto.

Two companies of Black Shirt Fascists had cordoned off the rotary. But they waved the lorries and General Leyers’s car through. The lorries drove toward Beltramini’s Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, stopped just shy of it, backed up, and turned so the vehicles’ backs faced the blank common wall where several buildings joined.

“Drive on around the rotary,” Leyers said.

As Pino drove past the fruit stand, the awning still torn, he flashed on the bomb going off there. He was shocked to see Carletto coming out of the shop, staring at the lorries, and then starting to look his way.

Pino hit the accelerator and got quickly out of sight. Three-quarters of the way around the rotary, Leyers ordered Pino to pull into the Esso station, the one with the big iron girder system above the petrol pumps. An attendant came out nervously.

“Tell him to fill the tank and that we are going to park here,” Leyers


Pino told the man, who looked at the general’s flags and scurried


With the loudspeakers still calling, the people of Milan came at a trickle of a curious few at first, but then the flow of new arrivals built to a

steady stream of pedestrians, coming into Piazzale Loreto from all directions.

Black Shirts put up wooden barriers from the fruit stand west thirty meters and to either side of the lorries heading north forty-five meters. As a result, there was a large open space around the lorries with a crowd building at the fences.

Pino soon figured there were a thousand people, maybe more. Halfway between the 150 meters that separated the Daimler from Tullio’s lorry, a second Nazi staff car appeared, pulled to the edge of the rotary, and stopped. From this distance and angle, Pino could not tell who was in the car. More people streamed into the piazza, so many that they soon blocked the view.

“I can’t see,” General Leyers said.

“Non, mon général,” Pino said.

Leyers paused, looked out the window, and said, “Can you climb?”

A minute later, Pino stepped off the top of the petrol pump and pulled himself up onto one of the low girders. He held tight to an iron post and a second girder at head height.

“Can you see?” General Leyers asked from below, standing by the staff car.

“Oui, mon général.” Pino had a clear, unobstructed view over the heads of the fifteen hundred people now in the piazza. The lorries were still there, flaps closed.

“Help me up there,” Leyers said.

Pino looked down, saw the general had already climbed onto one of the pumps, his hand outstretched. Pino helped hoist him up. Leyers hung on to the overhead cross girder while Pino hugged the post.

In the distance, the Duomo’s bells rang the hour nine times. The Black Shirt commander from the prison yard climbed down from the cab of the nearby lorry. The Fascist disappeared from Pino’s view behind the other lorry, the one holding the prisoners.

Soon the fifteen began to stream out, one by one, going to the wall to the right of the fruit stand, shoulder to shoulder, facing toward the crowd, which was growing uneasy. Tullio was the seventh man out. By then, Pino knew in his gut what was about to happen, if not how, and he had to wrap his arms around the steel post to keep from falling.

The empty lorry pulled away. The crowd gave it room, and the transport vehicle was soon gone onto the rotary. Hooded Black Shirt gunmen poured out the back of the other transport, and then it was driven away as well. Armed with machine pistols, the Fascist commandos lined up no more than fifteen meters from the prisoners.

A Black Shirt shouted, “Every time a Communist partisan kills a German soldier or a soldier of the Salò army, there will be swift punishment with no mercy.”

The piazza fell quiet but for murmurs of disbelief.

One of the prisoners began shouting at the Fascists and the firing squad.

It was Tullio.

“You cowards!” Tullio roared at them. “You traitors! You do the Nazis’ dirty work and hide your faces. You’re all a bunch of—”

The machine pistols opened up, cutting Tullio down first. Pino’s friend danced backward with the bullet impacts and then sprawled slack on the sidewalk.

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