It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy. After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them. But he is no ordinary priest. Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line. Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews. But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?
Author Bio –
Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.
She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels. Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.
Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.
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In this extract from chapter 3 12 year old Leo and his little sister Ruby have fallen asleep in the barn where they are having a secret midnight feast following the visit of their mother’s cousin. Delia Murphy the Irish ambassador’s wife lives in Rome and she had come to warn that there are more Nazi crackdowns. Their mother in in the Resistance and also transmits messages for Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty’s “Rome Escape Line” that rescues escaped Allied Prisoners of War, partisans and Jews. But she thinks they are safe because they live in a remote area.
The children are startled by the arrival of the local police who arrive in the middle of the night to arrest their mother. Leo creeps out to a nearby olive tree and concealed in the hollowed out trunk observes the arrest. Ruby has cerebral palsy and Leo knows he has to keep her out of the hands of the Nazis at all costs.
“Signora! We have come to search the house!” a local
policeman shouted out. It was Riccardo Two-Bellies as we
called him because he was so fat. He sounded almost
“I have nothing to hide!”
Two other police officers strode up, one of them
grabbing my mother roughly by the shoulder and pulling
her inside the house. My stomach went cold with fear. I
could tell from the racket inside that they were thrashing
I was frozen in the branches of the tree. I became a part
of the tree, too petrified to move. My legs wood, my arms
branches, my fingers spindly twigs. I don’t know for how
long. But after a time I heard crash, bash, boom! Them leaving
I dared to peep out. The police were on the path, pulling
my mother roughly behind them.
“Nothing,” they said. And again, “Nothing.”
Their chief glared at her, angry now. “Where are your
She said nothing. He shouted at her. And when again
she didn’t answer he smacked her across the face. I had to
bite my fist to stop crying out.
She spat out the words. “They are visiting Ruby’s
godmother in Naples.”
But she’d made a mistake. Delia lives in Rome, you
ninny mama! But that was wrong information she was
giving them. On purpose, I realised. I was such a gom.
I have nothing to hide!” she shouted again. “Where are you
Ta-thrum, ta-thrum. My heart leapt in my chest when they
threw her into the back of the covered truck.
“The warrant for your arrest came from the Gestapo in
Rome,” said the police chief.
Oh no! The Nazi secret police wanted her. That was
“Is it Regina Coeli prison?” she called out, wanting me
to hear, I was sure.
But there was no reply except for the crash of the truck
There was a loose pile of old stones by the grove, the
remains of an old wall. If I dropped down I could pick up a
stone and throw it. I was ready to do it, could almost feel its
heft in my hand. But there was a flutter by my left ear. A
mosquito. Its drone seemed to say “Ruby, Ruby!” Foolish, I
know. But, God’s honest truth, that’s what it said.
I had to get back to my sister and get the hell out of there.
I had to stop being part of the tree. But I had turned to wood
like Pinocchio. Then pins and needles shot up through my
leg. Fizzy foot, Ruby called it. I was a real boy.
I dropped quietly from the gnarled branches and
stumbled back to Ruby.
There she was, crouched under the loose straw littered
inside the barn, like a little animal burrowing into the earth.
I told her what had happened and she began to sob
gently. The tears glistened on her cheeks. I stroked her soft
russet hair and the teardrops fell without noise. Just the
heave of her breath and her hot tears running down her
Then the sound of heavy boots driving into the ground
came thundering towards the barn.
I picked Ruby up and ran out the little door at the side.
“The tree!” Ruby whispered.
I ran towards the old olive tree again. Inside its trunk
was hollow. I stepped in with Ruby and we crouched.
We stilled every nerve in our bodies and we were now
both made of wood. We could hear hot breath in the night,
panting. I saw it was the fat one – Riccardo Two-Bellies –
wheezing into the night. They must have sent him back to
do a check.
The sound of the barn door banging. Riccardo Two-
Bellies mustn’t have looked very hard. Asinello brayed as if
to warn us.
Thud, thud. The footsteps came closer! We were only a
few feet away from him.
A long pause. I almost stopped breathing. His torch
beam probed the darkness, the light raking the still air. I
was sure he had caught our scent like a bloodhound.
The seconds ticked by.
“Not here!” he called.
The sound of footsteps retreating. I didn’t dare raise my
The lorry pulled off. The roar of the engine driving
through the night was a rip in the world.