Beneath a Scarlet Sky

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel

 

An Amazon Charts most-read bestseller.

Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.

In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.

Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.

Fans of All the Light We Cannot SeeThe Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this riveting saga of history, suspense, and love.


Chapter One

 

 

Like all the pharaohs, emperors, and tyrants before him, Il Duce had seen his empire rise only to crumble. Indeed, by that late-spring afternoon, power was bleeding from Benito Mussolini’s grasp like joy from a young widowed heart.The Fascist dictator’s battered armies had retreated from North Africa. Allied forces were poised off Sicily. And every day, Adolf Hitler was sending more troops and supplies south to fortify the boot of Italy.

 

Pino Lella knew all this from BBC reports he listened to on his shortwave radio nightly. He’d seen with his own eyes the rising numbers of Nazis everywhere he went. But as he strolled through the medieval streets of Milan, Pino was blissfully ignoring the forces of conflict spiraling his way. World War II was a news dispatch, nothing more, listened to and gone in the very next moment—replaced by thoughts of his three favorite subjects: girls and music and food. He was only seventeen after all, 1.85 meters tall, seventy-five kilograms, long and gangly, with big hands and feet, hair that defied taming, and enough acne and awkwardness that none of the girls he’d asked to the movies had agreed to accompany him. And yet, as was his nature, Pino remained undeterred. He strode confidently with his friends onto the piazza in front of the Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria Nascente, the grand Gothic cathedral that lies at the very center of Milan.

 

Milan. “I am going to meet a beautiful girl today,” Pino said, wagging his finger at the scarlet, threatening sky. “And we are going to fall in mad, tragic love and go on grand adventures with music and food and wine and intrigue every day, all day long.” “You live in a fantasy,” said Carletto Beltramini, Pino’s best friend. “I do not,” Pino sniffed. “Sure you do,” said Pino’s brother, Mimo, who was two years younger. “You fall in love with every pretty girl you see.” “But none of them loves Pino back,” said Carletto. A moon-faced kid with a slight frame, he was much shorter than Pino. Mimo, who was shorter still, said, “It’s true.” Pino dismissed them both. “You are clearly not romantics.”

 

“What are they doing over there?” Carletto asked, pointing at crews of men working outside the Duomo. Some were placing wooden cutouts in the cavities where the cathedral’s stained-glass windows normally hung. Others were transferring sandbags from lorries to a growing wall around the base of the cathedral. Still more were erecting spotlights under the watchful eyes of a knot of priests who stood near the cathedral’s central double doors. “I’ll go find out,” Pino said. “Not before I do,” his little brother said, and took off toward the workers. “Everything’s a competition with Mimo,” Carletto said. “He needs to learn to calm down.” Pino laughed, then said over his shoulder, “If you know how he can do that, tell my mother.” Looping past the laborers, Pino went straight to the priests and tapped one on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Father.”

 

The cleric, in his midtwenties, was as tall as Pino but heavier. He turned, looked at the teen from the ground up—seeing his new shoes, the gray linen pants, the crisp white shirt, and a green foulard tie his mother had given him for his birthday—and then stared intently into Pino’s eyes as if he could look inside his head and know his sinful teenage thoughts. He said, “I’m in seminary. Not ordained. No collar.” “Oh, oh, I’m sorry,” Pino said, intimidated. “We just wanted to know why you’re putting up the lights.” Before the young seminarian could answer, a knobby hand appeared at his right elbow. He moved aside to reveal a short, lean priest in his fifties wearing white robes and a red skullcap. Pino knew him in an instant and felt his stomach fall as he dropped to one knee before the cardinal of Milan. “My Lord Cardinal,” Pino said, head bowed.

 

The seminarian said sternly, “You address him as ‘Your Eminence.’” Pino looked up, confused. “My British nanny taught me to say ‘My Lord Cardinal’ if I ever met a cardinal.” The severe younger man’s face turned positively stony, but Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster laughed softly and said, “I think he’s right, Barbareschi. In England, I’d be addressed as ‘Lord Cardinal.’” Cardinal Schuster was both famous and powerful in Milan. As the Catholic leader of northern Italy, and as a man who had the ear of Pope Pius XII, the cardinal was in the newspapers often. Pino thought Schuster’s expression the most indelible thing about him; his smiling face spoke of kindness, but his eyes held the threat of damnation. Clearly miffed, the seminarian said, “We’re in Milan, Your Eminence, not London.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Schuster said. He put his hand on Pino’s shoulder and told him to rise. “What’s your name, young man?” “Pino Lella.” “Pino?” “My mother used to call me Giuseppino,” Pino said, struggling to his feet. “The ‘Pino’ part stuck.” Cardinal Schuster looked up at “Little Joseph” and laughed. “Pino Lella. That is a name to remember.” Why someone like the cardinal would say something like that confused Pino. In the silence that followed, Pino blurted out, “I’ve met you before, My Lord Cardinal.” That surprised Schuster. “Where was that?” “At Casa Alpina, Father Re’s camp above Madesimo. Years ago.” Cardinal Schuster smiled. “I remember that visit. I told Father Re that he was the only priest in Italy with a cathedral grander than the Duomo and St. Peter’s. Young Barbareschi here is going up to work with Father Re next week.”

 

 

next week.” “You’ll like him and Casa Alpina,” Pino said. “The climbing is very good there.” Barbareschi actually smiled. Pino bowed uncertainly and started to back away, which seemed to amuse Cardinal Schuster all the more. He said, “I thought you were interested in the lights?” Pino stopped. “Yes?” “They’re my idea,” Schuster said. “The blackout begins tonight. Only the Duomo will be lit from now on. I pray that the bomber pilots will see it and be so awed by its beauty that they choose to spare it. This magnificent church took almost five hundred years to build. It would be a tragedy to see it gone in a night.”

 

Pino peered up the elaborate face of the massive cathedral. Built of pale pinkish Candoglia marble, with scores of spires, balconies, and pinnacles, the Duomo seemed as frosted, grand, and illusory as the Alps in winter. He adored skiing and climbing in the mountains almost as much as music and girls, and seeing the church always took him to high country in his mind. But now the cardinal believed the cathedral and Milan were threatened. For the first time, the possibility of an aerial attack seemed real to Pino. He said, “So we will be bombed?” “I pray it does not happen,” Cardinal Schuster said, “but a prudent man always prepares for the worst. Good-bye, and may your faith in God keep you safe in the days ahead, Pino.”

 

The cardinal of Milan walked away, leaving Pino feeling awed when he returned to Carletto and Mimo, each of whom looked equally thunderstruck. “That was Cardinal Schuster,” Carletto said. “I know,” Pino said. “You were talking to him a long time.” “Was I?” “Yes,” his little brother said. “What did he tell you?” “That he’d remember my name, and that the lights are to keep the bombers from blowing up the cathedral.” “See?” Mimo said to Carletto. “I told you.” Carletto eyed Pino suspiciously. “Why would Cardinal Schuster remember your name?” Pino shrugged. “Maybe he liked the sound of it. Pino Lella.”

 

 

 

Mimo snorted. “You do live in a fantasy world.” They heard thunder as they left Piazza Duomo, crossed the street, and walked beneath the grand archway into the Galleria, the world’s first covered shopping mall—two wide, intersecting walkways lined with shops and ordinarily covered with an iron-and-glass dome. By the time the three boys went in that day, the glass plates had been removed, leaving only the superstructure, which threw a web of rectangular shadows across the market scene. As the thunder got closer, Pino saw worry in many faces on the streets of the Galleria, but he did not share their concern. Thunder was thunder, not a bomb exploding.

 

“Flowers?” called a woman at a cart of freshly cut roses. “For your girlfriend?” Pino said, “When I find her, I will come back.” “You might wait years for that to happen, signora,” Mimo said. Pino took a swing at his little brother………..

 

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Author

Mark Sullivan