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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #20
('Furto a Palazzo Ducale')
by Alberto Savini

Featuring: James, IQ, Tracy, Phoebe, Scumlord, Ms Fortune, Snuffer.

Synopsis: We join James, IQ, Tracy and Phoebe in St Mark's Square, Venice, where Mr Milbanks has given them four days off to visit a philately show - on the condition, however, that they bring him back a programme from the exhibition. IQ is also planning to bring Milbanks a copy of one of the exhibits, a sketch of the Penny Black, the world's first adhesive stamp in public circulation. The gang is joined by a boy who introduces himself as Martino Faliero, the son of Venice's superintendent of fine arts. He has overheard their conversation and expresses a desire to join Warfield Academy, if only his father would let him.

Meanwhile, in a submarine under the Grand Canal, Ms Fortune is being berated for her latest failures by Scumlord via telescreen. He tells her and Snuffer to steal the Penny Black sketch from the exhibition, or they'll regret it. Ms Fortune thinks she has a foolproof plan to get him what he wants. A periscope rises from the canal and she scopes out the Doge's Palace, where the exhibition is taking place. Inside the palace, Martino has impressed James and the others by getting them a special pass to avoid the entrance queues, allowing them to visit the palace itself, the exhibition, and also the Leads, the ancient prisons thus named for their lead roof covering, which turned the cells into furnaces in the summer and refrigerators in the winter.

Meanwhile, Snuffer is in the queue to get into the palace, in order to scope out the building before their planned theft later, and gets annoyed when a tourist in front of him starts taking pictures of him. In the Leads, Martino is showing the Warfielders the ancient prison cells; convicts would be judged at the Doge's Palace, walked over the Bridge of Sighs and locked up here. Impressed with Martino's tour guide skills, James asks him what their next stop is. He tells them they're headed for the stamp exhibition. By this stage, Snuffer is at the exhibition and is looking at the sketch of the Penny Black, signed by Queen Victoria. But James and his friends come in and recognise Snuffer, leading him to leap out of the building into the canal, disappearing under the water.

Later, James, IQ, Martino, Tracy and Phoebe are talking to Mr Buleghin, who's in charge of the security at the Doge's Palace. James expresses his view that Snuffer and Ms Fortune will try to steal the Penny Black sketch; Tracy says it will probably be tonight, before they can draft in reinforcements. Indeed, Mr Buleghin only has five guards, including himself; and Martino's dad is out of town so cannot help. James volunteers the gang to help, suggesting that Tracy and Phoebe can keep an eye on the windows from outside, at two vantage points in St Mark's Square and the Bridge of Sighs. On board the submarine, Ms Fortune is furious to learn James is in Venice, but tells Snuffer their theft will go ahead as planned, gaining access via an ancient well in the palace courtyard.

Back at the exhibition, Martino has nervously opened the case containing the Penny Black sketch, hoping they aren't caught by the chief of guards, so that IQ can use his mini-photocopier to make a copy for Mr Milbanks, which is a success and looks just like the original. Tracy calls via radio from her outpost at St Mark's Square to report that she hasn't seen anything suspicious; and James checks in with Phoebe at the Bridge of Sighs, who says the same. Meanwhile, Ms Fortune and Snuffer sneak out of the ancient well in the courtyard, wearing wetsuits; Snuffer is armed with his tranquiliser dart gun, which on entering the building, he uses to incapacitate one of the guards.

When they reach the exhibition area, Snuffer also uses his tranquiliser dart gun on Martino, James and IQ, who promptly fall asleep in a corner. Snuffer smashes the Penny Black case and steals the sketch. He suggests they take the opportunity to kill James while they have chance, but Ms Fortune replies that they should let him live so he can enjoy the bitter taste of defeat. The crooks head back down the well, and swim back to their submarine. The next morning, Martino's dad Mr Faliero is back from his travels. He's devastated to have learned at the airport that the Penny Black has been stolen. But James reveals that he and IQ secretly replaced the real sketch with the copy they made for Milbanks. A grateful Faliero agrees Martino can join Warfield Academy, much to his delight - while back in the submarine, Ms Fortune realises she's been duped, and awaits Scumlord's wrath...

Review: The third Corrierino story to take advantage of the opportunity to add an Italian local flavour - after the Florence-based In Search of the Philosopher's Stone and a visit to the Aosta Valley in A Very Dangerous Invention - this is also one of four stories in the franchise to visit Venice, alongside Leonardo da Vinci's Vault, The Gilt Complex and Venetian Bind. It's an enjoyable outing, showcasing various sites of historical and cultural significance, from St Mark's Square to the Bridge of Sighs, to the Leads and the Doge's Palace itself, with a decent art theft plot at its centre. Ms Fortune and Snuffer, whom it's starting to become clear are overused in this run, are nonetheless enjoyable enough here, too. Ms Fortune, so desperate to redeem herself having fallen into Scumlord's bad books for her 'latest failures' that she deigns to don a wetsuit and swim the Grand Canal, naively declares this particular plan foolproof, prompting a sceptical 'Hopefully, Ms Fortune!' from Snuffer. Their decision not to do away with James while he's sleeping off the tranquiliser dart is an interesting one, but probably in character given their justification for it.

Highs: 'Guest guy' Martino represents a rare divergence from the usual formula of having a 'guest girl' latch onto James and, though intentional subtext is unlikely, we can't help wondering if Martino has become just as quickly besotted. He seemingly decides he wants to study at Warfield within seconds of meeting James, and seems rather touchy-feely with him in one frame for a new acquaintance. Then again, James is pretty forthright in singing his praises in return...

Despite having already resolved to make a copy of the Penny Black for Milbanks, it seems very obvious what IQ and James are going to do with it once they've learned of the planned theft, so that when they 'reveal' their switcheroo at the end, it's a little confusing/underwhelming - as we'd already assumed that everyone they explain it to, especially Martino, was in on it.

Gadgets & Gizmos:
IQ's radius mini-photocopier appears to be able to produce almost indistinguishable facsimiles of even the smallest documents while held at a distance - a counterfeiter's dream.

SCUM on the Surface:
Once again, Ms Fortune is acting under direct orders from Scumlord.

The tranquiliser dart gun established here as Snuffer's weapon of choice is featured again later in the run, in Labyrinth.

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