Culture /

A Lost Heir in Rome?

In a new creative series, Brett F. Braley-Palko takes us on a tour through Italy, visiting historic places and giving us the essence of Italy through a fictional story.

I only have a few minutes to write this, but I feel I must. I believe I am on the verge of a great adventure. 

You see, right now, I am in my room at the Hotel Locarno, which is in Rome. If you have never been here, you must book a room immediately. It is unlike any other place I have stayed. It is a homier feeling than the Tuscan villas to the north. It is honey-colored in all hours of the day and decorated in sage, gold, and dark oranges, which only adds to its elegance. It is not cold like the castles of Ireland, nor is it wood-paneled and masculine like the lodges of Germany. It is entirely its own. I can already tell this city is full of hidden beauty. Hassler Hotel is just one I happened to have stumbled into.

But for now, I want to memorialize every detail of my experience the best I can. The maid will be bringing up my tea shortly and I am very hungry. I have just unpacked my luggage. 

Upon my writing desk in this hotel room lies a stack of business cards. They read:



Probate Investigator

Janowicz, Morocco, and Associates



I am quite proud of my business cards. They are ivory stock with blue ink. I have them stacked neatly next to my passport, my toiletry bag, and a travelers map that I purchased just for this occasion. I have never been to Italy before. I feel I may have overpacked.

As my card suggests, I am often called upon to investigate discrepancies with heirs to a will. For most people, my services will never be needed. For some, it is everything. I have helped to facilitate the inheritance of many great houses in Britain, including the occasional title. The modern aristocracy owes a lot to my investigative work. 

This is why I am in Italy in the first place. My employers, Janowicz, Morocco, and Associates, received a letter asking for assistance. While this was not unusual in and of itself, what was unusual was that I was specifically requested for the job. I suppose the executor of the will had read about my great investigative work last year in The Times. They had also used a very lovely portrait of me for the article, as I humbly recall.

The case has been anything but straightforward. The estate itself is massive, rounding out at just over £40 million. To that, there are also two castles in Ireland and an apartment in London up for grabs. There is the Dunmorish Barony included in the testament, too. I believe that is everything of note. I must look back at my papers. I am quite exhausted from my travels.

For a month now I have been reading everything I can about this file. The testator had no biological heirs and everyone from his kitchen maid to the car mechanic has said that the late Baron Dunmorish promised them a piece of the pie. Nothing, of course, is in writing. I will do my best in locating him.

From what I gather, the late Baron had only one cousin who died sometime while posted in Italy during the War. There were rumors of a wife, of a son. There were contradicting rumors of an orphan, put on the doorstep of a church. I have an appointment with a priest tomorrow morning. He may know which rumor I should believe.

But for now, I have the afternoon to stroll through Rome. My tea has just arrived. The maid is knocking at the door. I will write shortly of what I have discovered in the Eternal City. 

Rome! I am in love. In just three hours’ time, I have seen more than I have in years in London. I must describe this city to you. It is like no other.

For one, it is colorful. I don’t believe I have seen this much color in any part of the United Kingdom before. There is a terracotta hue to the entire city. Streets are old and buildings older. The people, too, have this same hue to them. The word for it is warmth.

Because I am still tired from my travels, I did not get to explore beyond a few streets, but that was enough for one day. My shoes, I am sorry to say, are not the kind that are most comfortable for walking. I found myself sitting in Piazza Navona to rest for a few minutes to catch my breath: on the brim of a fountain of Poseidon (here, he is known as Neptune); leaning against the wall of a fruit vendor (here, he is called a fruttivendolo); and even on the steps of the Sistine Chapel that houses a Michelangelo. Or maybe it was a Caravaggio. I never was one for names. 

I am back in my room now and I have asked the maid to run me a cool bath. It is June and a bit humid. I should not have packed so many flannel suits.

Tomorrow I meet with the priest, who I am hopeful will have more information on my missing heir. His name is Father Ignazio and we are meeting in a small cafe outside of St. Peter’s Square on the Via Borgo Pio. I believe I will order something called a cappuccino. 

How exciting for me to chance upon these new experiences, to act upon the image in my head of how an authentic Roman acts. I will casually relax in the bistro chair. I will fiddle with a lighter (though I do not smoke) while I read a newspaper. I will sip my cappuccino and lick the bit of foam that will inevitably stick to my upper lip. The only thing to ruin this image is my flannel suit, which now feels so stuffy and too formal for this city. I will strive for nonchalance tomorrow, even if I am sweating underneath.

I just returned to my room from my meeting with Father Ignazio. Sadly, the highlight of my time was the cappuccino, which was quite good. The espresso was sharp and so the foamed milk was a welcomed cushion to any bitterness. I will be sure to check if Fortnum & Mason carries a milk frother when I get back to London.

Unfortunately, my time with the priest was not what I would classify wholly as a success. The heir’s whereaboutsand, for that matter, his identity—remains unknown at this time. But we are close.

Father Ignazio was late, for starters, which already put us both in a bad mood (that is, if priests are allowed to be in bad moods. I will have to check on this). He was flustered as he entered the cafe and I, in turn, was flustered at that very moment, too. The waiter had moments before rolled his eyes when I asked for extra sugar. I found the cappuccino to be quite bitter at first.

His cassock skimmed the floor of the cafe, as he was a rather short man. Olive-skinned and grey-haired, I would have classified him as handsome if not for his sour face as I introduced myself.

It seems he had been waiting for twenty minutes outside while I was sitting right indoors admiring the various pastries that dotted the glass case by the till. How was I to know that that particular priest at that particular time of day was the one I was to meet? Rome is lousy with priests. I should have suggested he wore something a bit more colorful, as Cardinals do, then I could have recognized him sooner.

When finally settled, Father Ignazio and I sat at the small bistro table that dotted the front of the cafe. It was a rather warm morning, but I enjoyed the breeze that blew through the square. In fact, a couple times I had to remind myself that I was there on work, not on holiday. But still, I found it hard to concentrate. Fashionable women in cinched-waisted suits. Companionable men in Vespas waving at pedestrians to step aside. In the distance one way there was the Vatican, the plumage of the Swiss Guards in view. In the distance the other way there were obelisks and museums and cathedrals. It was only when Father Ignazio clinked his espresso cup back on his saucer that I remembered where I was.

“I do not know a boy by the name Dunmorish. Mi dispiace. I have looked through my records, there is no one with that name.”

He pulled out a file and laid it on the table. It seemed to come from nowhere. These cassocks, I thought, must be full of secret pockets and compartments. More wizards robe than vestment, I mused while stirring the last dregs of my cappuccino.

“Father, he would not have been a Dunmorish then. He would have had the name Greenwyn. Dunmorish is the Barony’s title.”

Father Ignazio nodded, seeming to have already understood that.

“Yes, yes. No one with that name either. No English names.”

This was not a surprise. If the mother had given the child up, if the Dunmorish connection had even abandoned the child at all, then there was reason to believe she used her own name. Luckily, I had found a letter postmarked from Rome during the War years in a chest of drawers that belonged to the deceased. The letter was innocent enough, no details of a child. Only thanking the late Baron for five dozen roses. Now, why would he have done such a thing?

“And no child was under your care at the orphanage with the name Di Traglia?”

The priest opened the file and reviewed the name, repeating it under his breath. He smiled as he looked up. 

“Yes, only one! A boy was in our care for quite some time. His name is Umberto.”

By Jove! I thought. We’re on a trail now! 

But that was where the trail ended during my meeting with Father Ignazio. The file, which he tucked back into a secret fold in his robe, did not specify where Umberto Di Traglia was now. To the priest’s knowledge, the only one who might know was a nun called Sister Annunciata. She had stayed close with many of those under her tutelage. Father Ignazio hoped that Umberto was one of them. I gave him the address of The Locarno for any news.

“And perhaps…perhaps if Umberto is the heir, you will be happy to make a donation to the Church?” he said as he stood up from the bistro table to indicate the end of our meeting. 

I agreed and thanked him for his time.

“I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip while you’re in Rome.”

“And also with you, Father,” I said with my hand outstretched to shake his. I could have kicked myself. 


There has been no news from Father Ignazio and so I have been spending my time visiting the sites of Rome. These have been long, hot days and I have been taking pisolini (midday naps). As a matter of fact, I just woke up from one such nap and thought I would take a few minutes to write. 

Before anything else, I had to buy more comfortable shoes and I have returned my flannel to my suitcase. I am now sporting a rather relaxed cotton pant and a polo neck shirt in linen. I am far more comfortable in this outfit. I may take up smoking to pair with my daily cappuccino. I have really enjoyed becoming Italian, who I believe to be the most sophisticated people.

In fact, the hotel maid might be the most sophisticated hotel maid I have ever met. She is polite and attractive, with dark hair and a mature smile far beyond her age. Her pinafore is crisp, even after I have seen her carry an entire armload of linens up the stairs. Once, from my window, I watched her flick an ash off her cigarette. It was a practiced movement, an instinct. I was mesmerized to watch it again, but alas her break was over. 

Instinctive, yes. That’s the word I would use to describe Rome. It runs on a heartbeat, not a bureaucratic city plan.

I noticed this again and again while walking around the city. Piazzas are built in a convivial and sometimes not wholly geometric sense. These piazzas (what we would call a “town square”) are dotted with ancient and priceless ornaments, gifted by country and emperors and popes and kings (sometimes, in Italy, there was no difference between any of those words). They are simply on display for the people to enjoy. Only a city that is proud of its history would display it so casually.

But I have done more than visit piazzas. I have toured palaces (palazzi) and many Roman monuments that I have only read about in tour books. There was the Colosseum, which seems to be inspired by the Royal Crescent in Bath. There was the Parthenon or Pantheon, too. I cannot now remember which I toured; but whichever it was, it was beautiful. I got a sunburn while in the Roman Forum, so I did not enjoy that one as much as I had hoped. The Borghese Museum had a lovely lemonade at their cafe. The Bernini sculptures were quite nice, too.

I must leave you there for now. I am getting quite sleepy again. I asked the concierge to wake me in an hour with tea. I do hope he doesn’t forget this time.

This morning I am off. My bags are packed and I have only a moment to write. After dinner last night I received a telegram from Father Ignazio. It read, “Umberto went to University of Bologna when he left the orphanage. Start there. God bless.”I have rented a yellow Fiat for my trip to Emilia-Romagna. I have asked the maid to pack a few sandwiches (or, as they call them, panini) for the ride. I have a handful of coins in my pocket, which I plan to toss into the Trevi Fountain on my way out of town. I figured it was a small investment to make if my prayers are answered and I end back in Rome again. But hopefully next time with Mr. Umberto Di Traglia in tow.