The Secret

March 16, 2011
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“Ciao Principessa, and I promise, one way or another you will get to see us again” says my Mother. “Ciao Mama” I reply with tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to go to America. Not without my family. It was the only way to keep me safe. I could tell that Mother was feeling the same way by the way her face looked. It was as if she was trying not to burst into tears as she watched the cab slowly take me away. I couldn’t handle it; the thought of never again seeing her auburn hair blowing in the cool, Italian breeze.

That was the last moment I remember with my Mother. It was 10 years ago moments before the cab took me to the dock to sail off to America in 1938. I was sent away just as Europe erupted in WWII. It is 1948 now and I am 27 years old. My name is Serena Fabiani, Principessa of Italy.

“Commander Fabiani?” bellowed Admiral Chegwidden.

“Yes sir!” I reply saluting smartly.

“At ease” the Admiral plainly states his voice softening slightly.

“I am sending you to Italy. Military personnel are charged with involvement in

the Italian mafia.”

That’s when it hit me. Memories of my mother washed over me. The questions that had haunted me for 10 long years ran through my head. Why had I been sent away? Why had they never sent for me? Had my family been killed in the war as so many others had been? The opportunity to find out why I was really sent away was right in front of me and its gravity hit me like a ton of bricks. Should I take it? Would I find the answers I so desperately wanted? What had become of my family? Not that I had a choice. When the Navy gives an order, it is not meant to be questioned. What awaited me in Rome? Would my family welcome me home?

The next morning I was packed and ready to go. In my bag were all of the necessities a JAG officer needs. A gun, a uniform, Italian money, ammo, civilian clothes, and of course, a few tricks up my sleeve. One of them being an American CIA agent to help me named Clayton Webb.

The flight was long but it flew by. I was lost in my thoughts. I had been alone in America for 10 long years. My parents had sent enough money to keep me comfortable and told me to finish my education. So I finished high school and went on to Yale, then Harvard Law while I waited. After graduating from law school I joined the Navy to practice law. Somehow I thought with the American Navy behind me I may someday be able to get some answers. As an adult I now remember that my father had been very secretive before I left. He was away frequently on trips and didn’t even tell me goodbye. Had he been in trouble? Was it because of my title that I had to flee my family and my country? I must have been too focused on my thoughts because when Clayton shook me I was startled.

As soon as we landed in Rome I was distracted with old memories. It was strange to hear rapid Italian spoke all around me. The air smelled like tomatoes and pasta. I followed the familiar road to old palazzo. Hopefully I will find my answers to all of the nagging questions but I know things are never that easy. The gondola glided through the Tiber River, then I took a cab to the address of 2416 Tiber street. As I walked up the steps, I felt a lot of emotions. Rage, confusion, and crushing sadness that took over like a tsunami takes over a small island.

As I got closer to the familiar black door my mind raced, “ Why didn’t we flee as a family? Why just me?”

I finally got up the steps and rung the doorbell and heard the gentle ding dong I’d always remembered. A rush of comfort swept over me instantly as I remembered home. Now I was back. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a strange lady answered. I asked of I could see Marcella Fabiani. She gave me the strangest look and then spoke in rushed Italian. She said that she had bought this house from the Fabiani family in 1939 and that Mama and the rest of my family had come down with Scarlet fever. She knew nothing more other than a rumor that my entire family had died from Scarlet fever. Hours must have passed as Clayton took me back to my hotel. I didn’t know where to turn next. They were really gone. Later at the hotel Clayton called me to let me know that the woman’s story had checked out. The house had been sold in 1939. Without thinking, I dropped to the floor in a sobbing heap. I was an orphan now. It was really over.

With no other information and no answers to my questions I had no choice but to focus on my case, but it was no easy task. “Colonel Sanders, Commander Turner, Lieutenant Dockery, on the charge of being involved……” “I got it!” I shouted. “Commander?” the Judge chided. “Oh I am so sorry.” I replied. “Court is adjourned until 0900 tomorrow morning and Commander makes sure you are able to plead your case.” Truthfully, I was grateful for the break. I had just remembered the Scarlet was an old abandoned Catholic church. When I was growing up kids used to tell stories about a secret attic. It all made sense. Scarlet Fever, Scarlet Catholic Church. That must be where they went in 1939. Did they even know the war was over?

I quickly contacted Clayton to meet me at the church. He was skeptical but agreed to meet me in an hour. As I waited for him outside a nearby bistro I noticed an odd man staring at me. He was wearing a black cloak and sunglass. I suddenly felt cold. He turned and walked the other way. I started to feel better. I was excited and nervous. I must be imagining things. Just then a taxi pulled up and Clayton stepped out. We hurried to the church. It was just as I remembered it. We crept up the old dusty stairs to the attic. It was empty. I had been so hopeful to see my family I had dreamed up this ridiculous connection between the church and Scarlet Fever. As we turned to go, I noticed a crumpled piece of paper in the corner. I picked it up and on it was a single address. 23 Naples Drive. Clayton and I ran to the car. Clayton called in some favors and five Navy Seals met us at the address. It was an old prison where Mussolini had kept people who disagreed with his policies. We followed the seals in and started searching the building. After many dead ends we found a small room. One of the seals broke down the door. It swung open and there hunched in a corner were my mother and father. Suddenly all the years of feeling abandoned came back to me. I started to sob and ran to my parents. They looked confused, as if they didn’t recognize me. It had been 10 years but I still had my long legs, green eyes, and red hair. As the shock wore off, they started to recognize me. When they finally did recognize me, they automatically took me in their arms and I felt safe again. My questions tumbled out in a rush. Why Papa, why? Why did I have to leave? He started to tell a story I could have never imagined. He told me I was adopted as a baby from a family in Berlin. My biological father had been Jewish. As conditions across Europe worsened for Jews he began to fear for my life. He received threatening visits from Mussolini’s men. They told him unless he committed crimes for the good of Italy I would be taken and sent to a more proper Jewish family. He made plans to send me to America. With help from the church he arranged for my passage to America and for enough money to live comfortably until the end of war. He explained there could be no contact to protect my safety. He continued to work for Mussolini as a double agent. A year later he had been found out and they had been held captive ever since. When news reached the military that I was returning to Italy they had been moved to the old prison.

Clayton interrupted us and told us we had better get going if we had any chance of escaping. As we scurried through the old building it was eerily quiet. For prisoners my parents weren’t heavily guarded. As we stepped out into the warm Italian sunshine, I heard guns cock. There was no time. I screamed as I watched the first shot hit my mother. In an instant shots were fired rapidly. I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my chest. The pain was unbearable and everything went black.

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