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The Story Game
About the Author: R.T. Lawton is a retired federal law enforcement agent and a past member of the Board of Directors for the Mystery Writers of America. He has over 140 published short stories in various anthologies and magazines to include 47 sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Six of his story collections can be found in paperback and/or e-format on Amazon.

Ian and Faye sat on wooden chairs outside the small Italian café just at the edge of the cobblestone plaza. Their backpacks lay at their feet, while their bicycles leaned against the front wall of the café. Two small white cups of espresso sat on the marble-topped table before them. Four other similar tables, all empty this morning, were crammed into the narrow space just outside the café’s front door.

Ian picked up his cup and sipped the dark, rich brew. When he lowered the cup, he inclined his head in the direction of two young men lounging against the white stucco wall of the building off to his left. Both men were sporting dark, three-day-old beards on their cheeks.

“What do you think their story is?” he asked in a low voice.

Faye smiled and then took up the game they had played in some of the small villages whenever they took a break while traveling the backroads across Europe. Surreptitiously, she studied the two young men.

“Based on their Mediterranean complexion, black hair and the clothes they’re wearing, I would say they are Italian.”

“That’s too easy,” Ian replied. “We crossed the border into Italy a couple of days ago.”

“Hold on,” said Faye. “I’m not finished.”

Ian warmed himself with another sip of his espresso before saying, “Sorry, please continue.”

“Well,” she said, “judging by their unshaven appearance, which gives them a hard look, I would say they are minor gangsters of some sort. See the small scar that one has on his right cheek? The man holding the cigarette?”

Ian slowly swiveled his head as if he were merely taking in the view of the plaza. Yes, one of the two loungers next door did have a small scar on his cheek. It appeared to be an old injury, a thin white line cutting through the black stubble of his beard.

“I think he got it in a knife fight over a woman,” Faye said.

“Very romantic,” Ian replied, “but what in the world would two minor gangsters be doing lounging around the central plaza at this time of late morning?”

Faye pursed her lips, and then used the index finger of her left hand, the hand which was holding her cup of espresso, to point across to the opposite side of the plaza.

“They are going to rob the bank over there when it closes for everyone to go home and eat their noon meal.”

“You tell a good story,” said Ian. “What else do you have?”

“The one without the scar,” she went on, “has his coat draped over one forearm even though it’s a cool day. He should be wearing the coat. I think he is hiding something under it. Probably a pistol of some sort to use in the bank robbery.”

Ian gave a slight bow of his head.

“Very good.”

“Now it’s your turn,” was her reply.

Ian scanned the almost deserted plaza. She was right, it was a little chilly, plus the slight breeze didn’t help one keep warm, even in the sunshine of approaching mid-day. Not many people seemed to be staying outside this morning, but there were a few he could choose from.

“Off to your right,” he said, “see the middle-aged man bent over under the hood of his car? And the woman standing beside him like she’s trying to help?”

Faye turned slightly in her seat to get a better view.

“Okay, got them.”

“Their car didn’t really break down,” said Ian. “That’s merely a subterfuge so they can conduct surveillance while in plain sight. Let’s face it, there really isn’t any place to hide in this plaza if you’re trying to watch someone.”

“Who are they conducting surveillance on?”

“Obviously, on your two minor gangsters who are going to rob the bank when it closes for an hour at 1:30 PM. Italian lunch time, you know.”

Faye gave a short laugh and then quickly covered her mouth with her free hand.

“You’re telling me those two overweight people are actually carabinieri in plain clothes?”

“Fooled you, didn’t they?” Ian replied. “That’s why they’re so good at their job. They don’t look the part of law enforcement.”

Faye was still grinning with amusement when she spoke again.

“And, I suppose that young woman on the far side of the plaza, the woman pushing the baby carriage, is also part of the surveillance team?”

Ian glanced up to see what Faye was talking about.

This story appears in our SEP 2021 Issue
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