Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaMarch 1944
"YOU HAVE ONE CHANCE to make this fly." Bobby Hamiltonleaned across his broad desk and stared her down. "I had to pullmore strings than I knew I had to get the brass to bite on sendinga woman to Italy. Who sends a woman to a war-torn country?Getting credentials? What a mess." The man waved his beefyhands down in a dismissive gesture. "Then getting you on theQueen Mary?" He chomped hard on his cigar.
Rachel perched on the chair in his crowded office as theAndrews Sisters belted out "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" on thesmall Kadette radio sitting atop a stack of papers on Bobby'soverloaded credenza. She kept her back so straight her men's-styletailored blazer pulled her shoulders back.
She didn't blink, couldn't give a single sign of weakness. Hereditor may have taken all those steps, but she'd had to convincehim first, all while watching her mother waste away day by day.
"I hope you know what you're doing, Justice."
"I do." She put as much force behind the word as she couldwithout shouting.
He leaned back in his chair, unlit cigar poised to punctuate athought. "You've got talent. A way with that camera."
She stroked the case, feeling as if it naturally extended fromher.
"Don't let me down. Send back photos that will wow readers."He didn't have to mention his bosses.
"Yes, sir." Rachel lurched to her feet and straightened herskirt's front pleat as she hurried from the room before he couldcall her back.
There was so much to do. Too much before she could jointhe mass of soldiers and handful of civilians who would cross theAtlantic aboard the HMS Queen Mary. If she hurried, she couldfinish cleaning the apartment and still make it to the hospitalbefore visiting hours ended. It was a stop Rachel had to make, yetdreaded. How could she explain to her mother what she was doingwhile hiding her secondary purpose?
Rachel climbed the stairs to the small flat she'd shared withher mother for as many years as she could remember. With hercoming absence and her mother's declining health, Rachel hadlet the lease lapse. A friend already had the few boxes filled withRachel's lifetime of mementos and memories while another friendheld her mother's things. The furniture never belonged to them,so it would stay. All that remained was to clean what she could,leaving it in reasonable condition for the landlord.
As she tackled the small bedroom with a bucket of water anda rag, Rachel reached as far as she could under the bed. Her cloth-coveredfingers groped against a surface ... a book? She droppedthe rag, then stretched farther, inching her head partway underthe bed to reach the item. She grasped an edge and pulled it free.
The volume had a spiral-wire binding with heavy cardboardcovers. Between those were thick pages covered with charcoaldrawings. As she flipped through it, some of the images lookedlike different sketches of the same scene. Over and over. Fromdifferent angles. Varying perspectives. Alternating attempts attechniques. Some were quite good, others pedestrian. All containedone woman, a large hat obscuring her features as she staredacross a meadow at a field of some sort. Another hill appeared tobe terraced, its steep edges softened by the drop-offs.
Rachel flipped through the book but did not see a name, ayear, even a location. Nothing indicated who the artist was orwhen he worked. The book might contain preliminary sketches ofa larger work. She'd often seen her mother use the same techniqueon the rare occasions they had enough extra money to allow herto create an oil painting. Because supplies were so precious, hermother labored over each painting, testing visions until she hadone that pleased her.
It had grieved Rachel to sell her mother's paintings. But withtheir limited income, the paintings were what she could sell tokeep her mother in the hospital. Now those were gone.
She scanned the pages one more time. One drawing heldinitials in the right-hand corner: RMA. Initials that weren't hermother's. Rachel slipped the book in her knapsack next to hermother's diary she'd found while cleaning out the closet, thenreturned to her work.
An hour later she closed the apartment door, leaving the keywith the super on the first floor. As she walked the streets to thehospital, she slipped between those walking home from workor heading out for the evening. A GI wrapped his arm arounda pretty girl bundled in a rich velvet turban and heavy coat. Amother guided an energetic son in his zigzagging pattern up thesidewalk.
Who would miss her if something happened? Her mother? Ahandful of others? But there was no one to wrap an arm aroundher and pull her close, whether to ward off the chill or becausehe couldn't get close enough. She'd poured her energy into provingshe could handle a career as a journalist. The last year herremaining time had been poured into nursing her mother, tryingto coax life into her.
The brick hospital loomed in front of her. Rachel steppedinside, nodded to the volunteer at the desk, then wound her waythrough the too-bright halls to the back of the third floor whereher mother waited in a ward. The faint scent of disinfectant almostcovered the distinct hospital aroma that surrounded Rachel. Shesipped the air through her mouth as her gaze bounced around theward.
She crept toward her mother's narrow bed but couldn't forceherself to look into her mother's eyes, not when the woman hadread her every thought with a glance from the moment Rachel hadfirst breathed.
"What?" Her gaze strayed, anywhere but Momma's knowingeyes.
"You have news. Something big. Earth changing."
"All of that happens across an ocean." One of which shewould cross. Soon. A chill skittered down her spine. She wantedthis, didn't she? In fact, she'd pushed so hard for it, her editorcouldn't ignore her a moment longer. She'd won. But when shelooked at her mother, lying there pale and emaciated, Rachelfeared she'd lost.
A harsh cough rattled from her mother. She tensed as if a visesqueezed the very air from her lungs. When Rachel knew hermother couldn't sustain another breath, she relaxed.
Rachel laced and unlaced her fingers. "You okay, Momma?"
"As okay as I can be." A wan smile tipped her mouth as hermother dabbed a handkerchief against her lips. Rachel exhaledwhen no blood dotted it. "So ..."
"I've been assigned to Europe. I leave on the next boat."
Her mother frowned, the edges of youthful grace slippingfrom her in the motion. "You got your way. Proved you wereready?"
"I see." The words sounded harsh like leaves crunchingagainst an autumn sidewalk.
"I want to do something that matters. Bring the war home topeople who can't imagine it. To those who are weary of the newswe aren't winning. Somewhere there are stories that show theprogress we're making. I want to share those."
"I suppose you talked your way to Italy in the bargain."
"Yes." There was no way Rachel would stop before she reachedher goal. It didn't matter what she had to prove to whom—she'ddo it. All to find the man who'd abandoned her before her birth ...but the man who might have the money to get Momma the treatmentshe so desperately needed.
"I don't want you looking for him." Steel undergirded thewords, the kind that if Momma had her strength, Rachel wouldn'tdare to cross. Instead, this time she'd be half a world away.
Half a world.
The prospect could scare the spit right out of her or forceRachel to find the courage the war required.
Another cough called Rachel back to her purpose. Withouta miracle the tuberculosis would call Momma home soon. Hermother reached across the blanket for a handkerchief, her fingersknocking it to the floor. Rachel rummaged through her purse fora handkerchief, anything that would ease Momma's suffering. Herhands brushed the book, then a handkerchief. She handed the softcloth to Momma, then retrieved the book.
"What do you have?" Momma's voice was a weak whisper.
"I found this under the bed."
"You should have left it there."
"What is it?"
"A trinket from the past." A cough shook Momma's frame,daring to pull her under and never let go.
"Momma?" Rachel tucked the book in her bag and scrambledto ease her mother. She had to stop it before the cough robbedMomma of her life.
The doctors said there was nothing more they could do,but Rachel knew it was a lie. They needed money before they'dtry another treatment. Now she had the vehicle to make moremoney—she had to board the boat in New York City. ThenMomma wouldn't rely on the kindness of old family friends. Notwhen the hospital couldn't keep her much longer without writingpaid in full across the bill.
"Maybe I should stay, ..." Rachel's words trailed off.
Momma shook her head. "Why stay here and watch me wasteaway? Get out there. Take that camera and shoot the best pictures.You've got more talent than anyone over there."
"You need me here."
"Not as much as I want to know you're making something ofyourself." Her momma squeezed out another smile. "Give me ahug and drop me a line every now and again. Ruth will make sureI get them."
Rachel nodded, fighting the tears that crowded her vision."Yes, ma'am." She had to do this. For Momma. And for herself.She needed to prove to the rest of the world she could create artwith her camera that mattered. That she could make a differencein the war effort. That her past did not control her future.
But if Momma died while she was gone ...
Her mother struggled to rise off the hospital cot. She fumbledwith the silver necklace she'd worn every day Rachel couldremember. "Here, take this. I want you to have it."
"Momma ..." Rachel's fear escalated. "You shouldn't give thatto me."
"I received it in Italy. You should take it back." Mommashoved it at her, then started coughing.
Rachel took it and slipped it into her pocket. "Here, take a sipof water."
"Good afternoon, Miss Justice." The nurse handed Momma asmall cup filled with water. "Ready for your afternoon nap?"
Momma fought to catch her breath. "If you stop this coughing."
"You been at it?"
Momma frowned. "You couldn't hear me at your station?"
"I guess it's not as bad as I thought." Momma closed her eyes,fatigue that never used to plague her pulling down the muscles inher face.
"I'll send postcards, Momma." Rachel leaned down andkissed her cheek.
"See that you do. You know I've always loved getting mail."She opened her eyes, the icy blueness standing in stark contrast toher pale skin. "And Rachel?"
"You leave your father alone."
Naples, ItalyMay 15, 1944
NOTHING WAS GOING AS advertised.
Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom's spine locked into place wherehe stood. He couldn't have heard the man right. "You want me todo what, sir?"
"You heard me. I'm attaching that photographer to you. Weneed the good press. And you need the work."
Scott fought back a retort. He didn't need a job. His parentsand fiancée had told him he didn't need this one, but he needed tocome. Needed the assignment as an officer with the Monuments,Fine Arts, and Archives Division, where he could do somethingmeaningful in the war. The problem was, even those in the brasswho thought he added value to the army weren't organizedenough to let him do anything outside Naples. The rest thoughthis mission a waste of time.
Millennium of priceless art waited outside the walls of headquarters,and he had to cool his heels because he had no suppliesand no transport. Everything was complicated by the immenseneeds present in a city that had been all but destroyed as the Alliesbattled the German army for control. Refugees due to the eruptionflooded what was left of the infrastructure. The last thinghe needed was responsibility for some dame who wasn't smartenough to stay home.
He knew why he'd come, why he'd accepted the risk.
Why would she understand?
He hadn't come only to shore up classic buildings that hadstood since the Roman Empire that aerial bombings destroyed. Orlocate priceless pieces of art created by masters in the thirteenthcentury to ensure the fighting hadn't destroyed them. Or plan forthe restoration of those that had been touched by the war. Thetales that art disappeared behind the lines made it more importantthan ever that he leave the city for the locations where the sculptures,paintings, and altarpieces were housed.
He couldn't do that with a tagalong.
"Sir, I'm not a babysitter." No, he'd come to Italy to savethe history of Western civilization. At least the masterpieces andsculptures he could find.
The officer stared him down. "Do you want me to attachher to a unit headed to the front lines? How do you think thatwould play if she got injured or killed? This way you can keepher safe."
"She's a woman, sir."
"Of course. This is a new war." The man leaned back andcrossed his arms over his chest.
Scott sighed. "How long?"
"A week. Bore her. Bring her back ready to take the next boathome. You have orders. Now get to it." The general turned to apile of papers on his desk.
Scott snapped a salute and double-timed it out of the officeback into the crazed maze that made up headquarters. His artdegrees from Harvard combined with his post as curator of asmall museum in Philadelphia hadn't prepared him to ferry awoman around a war zone.
When he hit the foyer, Scott stopped. The general had leftout a few key details. Like how to find this reporter. He couldn'texpect to stumble upon her. He stopped at one of the desks outsidethe office. "Hey, I'm supposed to squire Rachel Justice around.Any idea how I find her?"
"Check the public relations division. It's a couple buildingsover."
"Thanks." Scott slapped his garrison cap on and then madehis way to the hallway.
Soldiers marched up and down the narrow walkway in theold hotel the army had requisitioned. He waited for a gap, thenthrust his way into the flow until he wound his way outside. Ajeep zipping by kicked a barrage of rocks and clods of dirt againsthis uniform. One more layer of grime to add to countless others.What he wouldn't give for a hot, steaming shower. The destroyedsewer system was one of many gifts the Germans left when theydestroyed Naples and pulled back.
The air overflowed with the sounds of a war machine gearingup for action. Yet he stood in place waiting to fulfill his assignmentof saving masterpieces.
So far the Fifth Army command hadn't cleared him to do anythingbut wait ... now with a guest. Guess he'd better find her. Heheaded in the general direction of the press offices. He sidesteppeda child, cheeks gaunt and eyes hollow, as the boy sifted throughthe rubble of what had been a home. Maybe a day ago, a week ago,even a month ago. It didn't matter now. The stone structure satshattered along the sidewalk. Many of the villages surroundingNaples bore the same look. Shelled remnants stood next to intactapartments, victims of the tug-of-war between the Allied forcesand the Germans. The bombs fell with little perceivable discretion.Killing here. Sparing there.
In the face of the brutal realities of war, not the war correspondent'sblack-and-white version but the living-color kind thatplastered images he couldn't shake, he understood the argumentsthat monuments and fine art didn't matter. What mattered wasending the war.
Even the bombing of Monte Cassino began to make sense,though it had provided the perfect propaganda for the Germanwar machine—reinforcing their image that the Allies had nounderstanding of the value of historic sites. That Americans werethe barbarians intent on destroying rather than saving.
Scott stopped and watched the boy a moment, then reachedinto his shirt pocket and pulled out a Hershey's D-ration chocolatebar. "Boy."
The child ignored him, moving as if by an unstoppable force,building small piles of rubble as he worked.
Scott slipped into rusty but improving Italian. "You must behungry." The thin face bore testament to the hunger that mustclaw at his belly. Scott might not appreciate the culinary delightsof K rations, but it ensured a full stomach. The Germans hadtaken much of the produce and livestock in their retreat, leavingthe peasants with little to live on.