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Authors: Gerald Seymour

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BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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He found the socks he needed, and the shoes.

He used a battery-powered razor. A man of his status should have been able to go to the village barber, sit in a chair, then be shaved and treated with respect.

He combed his hair, which was well cut – Mamma did it in the house.

Bernardo did not appear from the tunnel when he wanted to leave his bunker. Mamma would come, or Stefano, with the corn for the chickens and call them near the hidden entrance. Then he could emerge.

A good day awaited him. The boy was coming back for Mamma’s birthday. The
pentito
in Rome would be stalked and the plan made for a killing: he hoped that the man who had sent his sons to gaol would experience fear and pain. He ate some bread, and turned on the coffee machine. A freighter loaded with more containers was heading across the Mediterranean,
en route
from the Venezuelan Porto Cabello. It was two or three days from docking at Gioia Tauro and carried cargo for him.

His eyes might dampen when the boy arrived and – for all his inbred caution – he could not envisage any danger capable of fracturing his mood.

 

The girl, with her broom, had come out of the pizzeria. Jago didn’t think she had looked towards him. She had swept the pavement, polished the outside of the window, then gone back inside. He had talked to the woman as he would have done on any cold call. It had passed the time and he felt less conspicuous. At the bank, sales staff worked in teams of two, a man and a woman; the man did the business and the woman offered reassurance. From force of habit, Jago said to his prospective client, ‘I’d like you to meet my manager. She’s a woman of integrity. We’d bring you the brochures on what we can offer. Your money would perform much better than where it is now. We’d be there for you.’

 

They watched her through the binoculars.

Ciccio might have been wrong – she might once have been beautiful – but he doubted it. They knew her as Maria Concello, but logged her on the electronic report sheet as ‘Mike Charlie’. They saw her throw a cupful of corn beyond the front entrance to the house. There, they had a good eyeball on her. She would have been clucking for her chickens, which were locked up at night but let out at dawn by the handyman, Stefano – ‘Sierra’. Ciccio was convinced she’d never been worth a second glance. The families used marriage to form alliances, and the strength of her family would have served as her dowry.

Quite soon, Giulietta – ‘Golf Charlie’ – would come up the track, and later the grandchildren, with their mother. The only target was ‘Bravo Charlie’: they had no recent photograph of him, but they would have recognised him, had he appeared, as an old man, lame on the left, with thick white hair. The
pentito
who had blown away the sons had said Bernardo still had his hair. His wife had a sharp face – jutting nose, a prominent chin, heavy grey eyebrows and a short, scrawny neck. She did not appear to have aged and thereby lost her looks.

She turned. Only a few chickens had come for their food. She went along the unfinished paving by the side wall and disappeared behind the trellis and the sheets that were already hanging on the line, flapping in a light wind. It was weeks since Fabio and Ciccio had observed how often they were washed, how long they spent drying on the line and how often they were left to stiffen in the sunshine or to be soaked in a rare storm. She appeared again, this time with fowls at her feet. She was close to the shed, a dog with her.

They took turns with the binoculars and both knew almost each wrinkle on her face – but they weren’t interested in her.

Fabio and Ciccio were a major resource. There would have been a half-dozen prosecutors in Calabria who made representations to the colonel running the surveillance teams in the
carabinieri
. Each would emphasise the importance of their own investigation. The prosecutor who had commissioned Fabio and Ciccio would have had his back to the wall, and they would do what they could, but if Bravo Charlie didn’t appear . . . Ciccio whispered about the woman’s ugliness and wondered whether she had ever been different.

Fabio logged her appearance, and they discussed their breakfast. As
carabinieri
, they had army survival rations: the breakfast was a chocolate bar, some sweet bread and a measure of cold coffee. For lunch they had a choice of
tortellini al ragù, pasta e fagioli
or
insalata di riso
. There had been times when the two men had almost fallen out over the choice of field rations.

They hated to fail. If they did not get an eyeball,
fare a occhio
, they would crawl away at the end of a long duty, file an interim brief, soak in the shower and go home to their women in the knowledge that their prosecutor’s case was weakened.

A stick broke under a foot. A dog barked. Each was armed. A major inquest would follow if they fired, wounded or killed. Every morning, close to that time, a foot-soldier came with a dog and walked the boundaries of the property. The discussion of menus was suspended. They couldn’t stretch or clear their throats, but they were confident. If asked, each would have said
he
was the best. That was why they were on the squad, why they had been chosen. The sounds died. The quiet returned. Nothing moved. They waited, watched.

 

Three cigarettes were smoked, none by him. The filters lay on the paving.

Abruptly, the woman – prospective client – stood up. With the soles of her unmatched shoes, she squashed any life from the butts. The man came out of the pizzeria and looked up and down the street. He was at least fifty paces from where Jago sat but he recognised the man’s fear. Then the door slammed after him. They had not reported the incident: had they done so, there would have been a squad car parked nearby. He wondered if the investigator would show, or if the matter was too insignificant. It was at about this time yesterday that the Audi had stopped at the door.

Jago wasn’t looking at his ‘client’. He was talking mechanically now and she’d have known it. She hadn’t given him a card or scribbled a phone number for an appointment, and she was on her way. It was a brush-off but seemed immaterial. He said, from the side of his mouth, his eyes on the door, ‘Thank you for your interest. I’ll follow it up with my manager.’

 

Marcantonio left his apartment. He was on his way to collect the first instalment of a
pizzo
, and was confident that what he could extract from the sister and brother at the pizzeria would soon escalate. It was acknowledged in Reggio, Catanzaro and Cosenza that the families knew more about the profit possibilities of a business than its owners. He would advise them, convince them that he was not an enemy – he might even gain their gratitude: a saviour who had, at small cost, kept their premises safe.

He had on a new shirt, not his most recent purchase but from the summer, and his windcheater was hooked on his shoulder. His partner of the night had left already. A pinch of her cheek as she slept, then a smack on her buttocks, and she had got dressed up. None of his women were allowed to stay in the apartment after he had gone out, and none had her own key. A Bulgarian woman came in to clean, but only when he was there and the contents had been sanitised: papers and property brochures were locked in a floor safe.

His boys were waiting with the car. He liked to think of them as his ‘boys’, though both were older than Marcantonio, because they were more distant than he was from the heart of the family. Their fathers would not have considered making an important decision without referring first to a
padrino
. Nothing would be decided – in Milan, Germany, some Canadian cities or Australia – without sanction from the towns on the Ionian coast or the communities high in the Aspromonte. His boys drove him, watched over him, pimped for him and bolstered his ego.

It might be amusing, a diversion from the tedium of life in the German capital, and a decent parting gift before he flew south that evening. The girl had been feisty and spirited, although the man had been weak.

He expected her to be calm now and rational, and her brother to co-operate. Not immediately, but quickly – it might be necessary to show them the plastic milk bottle, with urine coloured contents and the rag in its neck, and to produce the claw hammer that could splinter the pizzeria’s windows. But they wouldn’t offer serious opposition. He thought that when he came back to Berlin he would seek out more Italian businesses that didn’t yet pay for protection and begin to build a small client list. The car was open-topped. He vaulted into the passenger seat.

One boy drove. The other sat awkwardly behind Marcantonio in the bucket seat. He anticipated feigned anger, then compliance. Who would stand up to Marcantonio? Very few. The car accelerated and the wind whipped his spiked hair and riffled the front of his new shirt. The chain of gold links jumped over the hairs on his chest – so few.

They wove among cars and taxis – a bus had to brake sharply to give them room. Nobody confronted him. Nobody gave him serious aggravation, nor ever had. He was the grandson of the
padrino
. He had pedigree and authority. At the age of twelve, his grandfather had given him a Kalashnikov assault rifle to hold, then shown him how a magazine was locked on, and pointed down the hill to the village on the last day of the year. His celebration of the end of 2007, and the imminent start of 2008, was to walk through the village at dusk, loosing off shots of high-velocity bullets at chimney stacks, roof tiles and the wheels of the car that belonged to the school teacher who had once tried to detain him for additional study.

There had been no telephone calls to the
carabinieri
, no anonymous complaints posted to their nearest barracks. No one had come up the track to his father’s home, or his grandfather’s, and denounced him in person. He had understood, with the thudding of the weapon in his shoulder, the power born into him through blood.

And girls. The first – not at the brothel in Locri, an older, experienced woman – had been halfway through his fourteenth year. There had been three more before his fourteenth birthday. He had taken them into the woods in the summer and to goatherds’ huts in winter, all willing because of his status in their community. No parent had complained and he could have had as many as he wanted.

Soon after his fifteenth birthday he had been called upon to help his grandfather end a man’s life, by manual strangulation, and had not been found wanting. He had seen the approval – near pride – in the old eyes. No patrol car of the
polizia
had come, and no wagon from the
carabinieri
. When his father and uncle had been taken, Marcantonio had been ignored.

He was
intoccabile
, untouchable.

Tomorrow he would bask in the approval of his family, tell stories of deals successfully concluded, and see their love. Of course, there, he would be discreet.
There
was not here.

There was
pizzo
money to be had. He shouldn’t have touched such a trivial matter in Berlin, where the business of the families was high finance, but he was addicted to his old life.

He was driven towards the square where the cash would be waiting for him. There was a crisp early-morning chill in the air and the wind blew into their faces. The three voices joined in a song from the Aspromonte they had learned at their mothers’ knees.

They hit the square. Marcantonio flipped his legs over the car door and headed for the pizzeria.

 

Jago Browne watched from the bench. The young man, the leader, strode to the door. Another followed him and the third stayed outside, between the car and the door. His hand was inside his loose coat as if a weapon was hidden beneath it. He watched. What would Jago do? He didn’t know and told himself he couldn’t make decisions on hypothetical actions. Put it off. The investigator had told him to
get a life and look the other way
, which was not what his mother had done when the issue was the phone she had bought for him.

Jago said, ‘I’ll see how it pans out. No harm in that.’

 

Punctual, but without the buzz of enthusiasm that had once been his trademark, Carlo left for work.

His home, rented, was down a lane, a century-old cottage of local brick. That Carlo had three suitcases’ worth of clothes inside the house was remarkable, considering the state of his finances. He paid half the rent and Sandy paid the rest. He sent money to Aggie, his first wife, living in Bristol with a near-delinquent son, who might be Carlo’s and might not; another slice of his income went to Betty, his second wife, who was in Essex, with squatter’s rights on the marital home. He was lucky to have found Sandy. She wasn’t at the door, when he set off. Sandy bred Labradors and spaniels, and seemed not to notice whether he was there or not, which suited him. Not many fell on their feet, third time round, but he might have.

It would take him twenty minutes in the rain to get to the parking bay beneath his office. Had Sandy been at the door, with the tribe at her knees, nudging her hands for titbits, she might have asked what time he would be home.

‘The usual. Not expecting anything new – not scheduled anyway.’

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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