The Orient Express steamed into Italy during the late afternoon hours, and after it stopped at Iselle, the investigators, looking out the dining car windows, watched the Italian customs agents board the train along with a few passengers, and a group of young men wearing black T-shirts. Ian grumbled something beneath his breath about the group of men, and when questioned he informed the other members of his team about the current political situation in Italy.
The Fascists, under Mussolini, had taken over the Italian government and formed their own, unofficial police force: the "Black Shirts". The Black Shirts originally limited their hostilities towards non-Fascists, but then quickly included all non-Italians to their list of undesirables. Most government officials ignore the transgressions of the Black Shirts out of either sympathy or fear. Ian recommended that the investigators stay away from these organized thugs if at all possible.
The group left the dining car for their cabins, when Dr. Marabou bumped into an old friend from her college days in Arkham, once again proving what a small world this is, and even smaller dining room where we meet for these games. Constantine Blueston, of the Boston Bluestons, had been traveling through Europe for the twentieth time (she has actually lost count), mostly out of boredom with life in the States. Constantine was, in fact, now bored with Europe and heading out to Constantinople to perhaps explore a bit of the Orient for a change. Life is really rough when you're rich, white, and young. Constantine listened with interest as Miranda recounted the investigators' tales since the previous summer, and though she hardly believed half of what she was told, she expressed interest in joining the troupe as they collected the pieces of the Simulicrum. Who knows, she might actually enjoy herself.
The train passed through the charming Italian countryside, heading down from mountain villages to the more somber, dirtier outskirts of a large city, Milan. In Milan, the investigators found that Caterina Cavollaro had indeed made reservations for them at the Hotel di Galleria, a swanky upper class hotel in the heart of historic Milan, close to Teatro La Scalla, the opera house. As they passed through the city, the investigators noticed, with some surprise, how drab and dreary the place seemed, and how downcast and depressed the people appeared to be. Dr. Marabou felt that the people were suffering from some form of mass depression.
At the hotel, the clerk noticed that the investigators' reservations were made by Caterina Cavollaro, and eagerly asked if they knew where she might be. Apparently she sped away from the train station in a limousine when she returned to Milan, and hasn't been seen or heard from since. The team sadly informed the clerk that the last time they had seen Caterina was aboard the Orient Express, just before Switzerland. The clerk mentioned that all of Milan was concerned for Miss Cavollaro, their star of the Opera. An old woman working behind the desk snidely added everyone in Milan except Father Angelico! The clerk told her to keep quiet, and told the investigators that Father Angelico was a priest at the cathedral, Del Duomo, and he often preached against most of the performing arts.
The investigators stored their belongings in their rooms (Constantine flashed a few bills and had no trouble getting the grand suite), where they poked through the literature on La Scalla. An interesting snippet mentioned the wide-spread belief that singing the aria on the opening night of an opera at La Scalla would grant one their fondest wish. Having freshened themselves, the group gathered in the lobby (except Ian, who was feeling a bit ill and remained in his room) where they hired a limousine and a translator, then made their way to Del Duomo, which was within walking distance.
The translator began a brief tour of the cathedral, pointing out the interesting features and historical highlights of Del Duomo. Only a few people were in the cathedral, and as the investigators walked around, a priest came up to them and, in broken English, greeted them. The priest was in fact Father Angelico, and he cheerfully added to the information the translator had already provided about the cathedral. As the tour continued, Father Angelico showed more and more of the depression and futility the other citizens of Milan displayed. His voice finally dropped to a mere whisper, as he stopped talking and just stared vacantly at the team. When asked about his opinion on Caterina Cavollaro, the priest snapped out of his lethargic silence and railed against the sin of false idols! He gestured to the near empty cathedral and said while attendance at mass was declining, the attendance La Scalla climbed. People now worshipped the singers more than God. As he spoke, he pointed out a trio of old women, who were placing flowers around the picture of Caterina Cavollaro, which they had set up in one of the small chapels, treating the picture almost like a shrine. Father Angelica angrily stomped off to regain his composure.
The team decided to go over to La Scalla too look for any information concerning Caterina's where abouts. As they walked towards the door, Zelda bumped into an old, well dressed man with a strange scar on his neck, and he dropped a glass jar he had been carrying, full of bugs. The jar broke, and the old man began shrieking at the group and gesturing menacingly at Zelda. The translator did his best to apologize, but the little man was incensed and tried to attack Zelda. Father Angelico rushed over and pulled Zelda out of the way, then deferentially talked to the old man, who calmed down. A chameleon climbed down from one of the columns and began to eat the bugs. The old man picked up the chameleon and left the cathedral.
The investigators asked Father Angelico about the old man, and were told that he was Arturo Faccia, and he owned several businesses and warehouses in western Milan. He frequently came to the cathedral during the week with business associates to hold quiet meetings. The troupe took leave of the priest, and left the cathedral, to see Faccia ride away in a large limousine. Quickly, the group raced back to the hotel, climbed into their own limousine, and followed Faccia (not a difficult task, because his limousine never exceeded 25 mph). The two limousines were soon driving through a part of town dotted by widely spaced, elegant estates. Suddenly, Faccia's limousine stopped, and a large, burly man stepped out and walked up to the investigators car. The oaf warned the team to leave Mr. Faccia alone, unless they wanted to find themselves at the bottom of the river with cement shoes.
Dejected, the investigators returned to the hotel, and went downstairs to eat dinner at Biffi's, and afterwards went to Constantine's suite to plan the next days events. The team talked until midnight, when they heard someone singing in the Galleria... and they recognized the voice from the train ride from Paris as Caterina Cavollaro's! Quickly the group sped into the main hall of the Galleria, and ran towards the voice, which suddenly stopped. At the end of the hall, the investigators saw an access door shut. The door led to a stairwell leading both up and down. Constantine and Zelda ran down the steps, as the others raced up to a landing. On the landing, they saw a chameleon scamper up the wall into the darkness above. Quickly they ran up the stairs, pausing at each level to look through access doors. Finally the stairway led to the roof, which was deserted. Far below, however, they heard the sound of a car door slamming shut, and they rushed to the edge to see a limousine drive off. Zelda and Constantine found the boiler room in the basement, and returned to the ground floor, where they saw a black limousine drive by.
The next morning, a dreary Sunday, the team split up, with Constantine and Ian taking off to find Faccia's villa, and Zelda, Mac, Miranda, Professor Vaughan and an interpreter heading over to La Scalla.
Faccia's villa was a grand place, and well known in Milan, so it took little time for Constantine and Ian to find it. Once there, however, they were denied access to the villa itself by a large iron gate, and a burly, dim-witted guard. Even Constantine's feminine wiles had no affect on the thick-skulled oaf, so she and Ian left in frustration for La Scalla, where they hoped to meet up with the other investigators.
The group at La Scalla had few difficulties convincing the chief bouncer, Marco Baldo, that they had official business within. Once inside, however, they did have difficulties determining a course of action to pursue. Props and sets were being moved about while performers in costume practicing their parts hurried past. It took little time for the group to become somewhat lost within the back stage area of the theater. Miranda was injured when a large, wooden eye rolled out from a storage area and knocked her into a wall.
Asking questions of the stage crew, the group found that Caterina's disappearance was now being treated as an abduction, and that morning's paper had an article concerning a recent curse of bad luck at La Scalla, which the team's interpreter translated.
The article stated that Aida would open that night with an understudy taking the part of the missing Cavollaro. The article also quoted the props manager for the opera, who told of a curse in the costume department that recently moved down to the props area. He went on to lament how the loss of Miss Cavollaro was but the latest case in a string of bad luck for the opera house.
Mac asked for the location of Paolo Rischonti, the stage manager mentioned in the newspaper article, and the team followed the directions to the short Italian. Rischonti confirmed the rash of illnesses in the costume department, as well as the recent problems the props department had been having. The investigators decided to find the costume department, and with directions from Rischonti, and considerable luck, they stumbled across it on the third floor.
Within were the three old woman the investigators had seen at the cathedral the previous day, and a younger woman. After questioning the young woman, who spoke some English, the team learned that the costumer's curse had existed for 6 years, up until she was hired. Before she arrived, all the other new costumers would become seriously ill within a few months and had to quit (for some reason, the curse never affected the old women). The group noticed a door, leading outside, was partially open, and the young woman said that the fire escape door frame was warped, and the door refused to shut. Questioning the old women, through the interpreter, the investigators found that the only change made in the costume department was that the good dressing dummy had been taken down by the props department for use in the opera Aida. They thought the dummy was good because clothes made on it always fit perfectly, and never needed adjustments, but it was made out of some strange ceramic, so they couldn't use pins with it.
The investigators realized that this dummy must be the torso of the Sedefkar Simulicrum! They quickly ran back downstairs, where they just as quickly became hopelessly lost. As they wandered back towards the stage door, the team encountered Constantine and Ian, who had arrived some time ago, and had been walking around lost as well. It was then that the team realized that Miranda Marabou was missing. Marco Baldo found them there, discussing what to do next, and escorted them through the stage door.
Once outside, the investigators saw a large, grey moving truck, with the name Faccia on the side, drive off. Marco yelled angrily after the truck, telling the investigators it had been parked there illegally for some time. The team quickly decided that they should follow the truck, so Mac, Professor Vaughan, and Constantine chased after the truck in a limousine, while the Zelda and Ian waited for Miranda to come out from the theater.
The truck drove to the west side of Milan, where it entered a fenced in yard, with warehouses and factories scattered about. The truck parked in front of a warehouse, and two men jumped out of the cab: one of them opened the door to the warehouse, while the other picked up a large object wrapped in a bag from the back of the truck and followed the other inside. An old man hobbled out from the truck and into the warehouse as well.
Mac crept up to the warehouse door, which contained a window, and peered inside. Within he saw the two thugs standing in front of a figure, who was tied to a chair. The old man was pacing back and forth in front of the figure, apparently asking questions. Off to the side was an old woman, sitting (unrestrained) in another chair. Even though the bound person sitting in the chair had her back to him, Mac was certain that it was Miranda! Mac returned to the others, and Constantine was sent back to La Scalla to bring Zelda and Ian back for help. When the others returned, the investigators came up with a plan to lure the thugs out in the open, and knock them off one at a time.
The plan worked for the most part, except Ian was shot (fortunately the old man only had a tiny derringer, which did minimal damage) and the old man, along with one of the thugs was shot with Ian's .45, which did significantly more than minimal damage. Untied, Miranda told of her abduction at La Scalla, and how the old man had been questioning her about the investigators' actions, and what they wanted with Faccia.
Strangely enough, the old woman remained seated during this melee, looking quite puzzled. The investigators approached her warily, and noticed she had the same sort of scar on her neck as Faccia. When asked who she was and what she was doing here, the old woman only replied, in a raspy old voice that sounded like a man's, that she had no idea. The investigators tied up the men, and took the woman with them back to La Scalla. When the old woman looked at La Scalla, her hands began to shake, and she cried out, "What has happened to me?" She looked in the mirror and sobbed. She then became despondent, and clutching her throat said, "That old bastard stole my voice." The investigators knew then that the old woman was none other than Caterina Cavollaro.
The investigators had their chauffeur take Caterina to one of their rooms at the hotel, while they once again tried to enter La Scalla. The stage door was closed, so the investigators mounted the fire escape and entered through the costume department. This time, however, they found the staff of little help: show time was in a few hours, and people had work to do! After much useless bungling about, the investigators returned to their rooms, where they prepared, and had Caterina prepared as well, for the opening night of Aida. (How thoughtful: Miss Cavollaro, your good looks and beautiful voice have just been stolen from you, what are you going to do now? I'm going to the opera, in which I was to sing the lead!)
The investigators plus an aged Caterina made it to their seats without incident, as the orchestra began to play, and the curtain lifted to reveal the first scene of the opera. Soon, the aria began, and it seemed that the entire house was singing too - perhaps everyone believed in the old superstition. The investigators quickly made out Caterina's real voice above the crowd... indeed, sitting across the center aisle from them was Faccia singing, singing with Caterina's voice! As the aria completed, and the next scene began, the team saw up on the stage, the torso of the Simulicrum, being used as a stage prop. Quickly they stood up, as Faccia and his men also stood, him frantically pointing at the torso and shrieking in a high voice. Caterina, listless up to this point, suddenly came to life, and charged after Faccia, with Miranda in hot pursuit.
Faccia and his group made it to the stage first, but Marco Baldo and his bouncers kept them down. The investigators quickly scrambled outside, and around back, where they climbed the fire escape, and entered the now empty costume department. Quickly they found their way down to the wings of the stage, where they waited for the prop staff to move the torso off stage. Soon Zelda and Mac were struggling to haul the torso to the stage doors.
Faccia and his men finally left the building as well, but soon Caterina was on top of him, grabbing at his throat and screaming "Give it back!" Miranda managed to pry her off, but Faccia ordered two of his men take both Caterina and Miranda prisoner. Fortunately, the men with Faccia that evening were business associates, old fragile geezers like himself, so Miranda was able to take Caterina and quickly escape to the hotel.
Meanwhile, Faccia had made it to the stage door, and forced the young man who foolishly opened it outside with a knife (his companion held a small gun as well). As the two closed the stage door and turned, they saw Mac and Zelda dragging the torso towards him! Zelda saw the pair, and turned to warn the others, but when she turned back to the old men, they were both gone, with Faccia's dagger left behind. From high in the ceiling above, the group heard a shrill screaming, and a black shoe fell to the floor beside them.
Dazed, the investigators hauled the torso back to their hotel rooms, where they spent a restless night standing watch. The next day passed quickly, and strangely enough without event. The team took this time to review Professor Smith's notes, and decided their next stop was in Venice, where the Gremanci family may hold another piece of the Sedefkar Simulicrum.
That evening the investigators left Caterina in the hotel, as they boarded the Orient Express, bound for Venice. While waiting for the train to depart (it was delayed because of snow on the tracks to the east), the group found a front page article describing the death of Arturo Faccia on the previous evening. His body was found on the roof of La Scalla, mangled and slashed beyond belief. The investigators wondered what this meant as they waited for the train to leave Milan.