Chapter 1

In the Mouth of the Wolf


6 May

Yugoslav-occupied Trieste

The dark cellar stank of urine and rust, and Amedeo Nassutti knew enough butchers to know that wasn’t rust. His back hurt where the young Partisan had prodded him with his rifle, shoving him through the creaking iron door. Amedeo wanted to sit, but there was no chair. The floor felt strangely sticky under his shoes.

Brick ceilingThrough two small, narrow windows tucked under the vaulted brick ceiling, flickers of light came from a fire in a barrel in the courtyard outside. Across from the villa above him, a wall of rough limestone blocks rose into the dark to a slope once terraced with vineyards. A neighborhood of elegant homes now occupied that hillside, with views of Trieste, neighboring Istria and the northern reaches of the Adriatic Sea. Amedeo’s brother Umberto lived up there, and Umberto had enjoyed that view. At least until he got arrested too.

Amedeo leaned against the wall opposite the windows. He focused his mind on the Partisan commissar who had questioned him. Every accusation. Every answer. Every threat. He had to work to keep out of his mind thoughts of who else – and in what condition – had been thrown into this cell before him. To calm himself, he walked. Four steps this way. Pivot. Four steps back. Each step produced a quiet squish in the thick smelly mess covering the floor.

After nearly an hour, something banged in the hallway. A man cursed. Two sets of footsteps approached. Amedeo wondered: Are they coming for me?

Keys clanged and the door swung open to reveal Umberto, who got his own prod from the same rifle-toting Partisan. The door swung shut and the lock clicked.

Amedeo studied his brother. Umberto stared right back. Despite the hostility he could sense, Amedeo suddenly felt a quiet excitement. He forgot his terror, at least for a few moments. He desperately wanted to know Umberto, and be known by him, a result of one simple fact: Umberto had refused to speak to him for 20 years.

Loud voices interrupted his thoughts. As he looked up, five soldiers hustled two men out the villa’s front door. They shoved them up against the courtyard wall. There was a shout, a crash of rifle fire, and the thumps of bodies falling to the cobbles.

“We’re lucky,” Amedeo said. “The fact that they haven’t dragged us out there by now is very, very good news.”

Umberto stood tall and straight at 58. Without thinking, Amedeo squared himself. Then Umberto, still looking out the window, broke his silence. “The Americans will make them stop.”

Amedeo shook his head. “Porca miseria! Your supposedly angelic Americans.” He pointed at Umberto’s chest. “What could possibly make them care about one stupid banker? One really idiot banker! A flag-waving Fascist, a Nazi collaborator, too dumb to go into hiding even when warned!?”

Umberto sneered. “My dealings with the Germans were strictly financial. You are the historian. When has a banker ever been held accountable for what his clients do with their money?”

“These people are Communists, Umberto! Communists have no use for bankers!” Amedeo shook his head, then his arms. He tried to get control of himself, reminded of their angry debates before World War I, each of them firmly convinced that his point of view was the only rational one. Amedeo had an inkling that their survival would depend on breaking that pattern.


Two hours earlier, Umberto had slammed his front door in Amedeo’s face without letting him speak.

Amedeo had come to warn him, to direct him to safety. I was stupid, he thought. I risk my life and scare my wife for this stronzo, this jerk. I’m finished. As he walked away from Umberto’s door, Amedeo whispered a good luck wish: “In bocca al lupo,” in the mouth of the wolf. But there are two parts to that wish. To work its magic, it needs two people. The first says, “In bocca al lupo.” The second replies, “Che crepi il lupo.”

As Amedeo stepped out Umberto’s gate, a Partisan patrol arrested him, then arrested Umberto.

If you’re in the mouth of the wolf, may the wolf choke on you and die.



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