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Authors: Gerald Seymour

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BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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His elder son, Rocco, was Marcantonio’s father, married to Teresa. She was at home, a kilometre down the track. She had not been asked to attend the last meal before her son’s long journey. Rocco had not been there because he was detained in the maximum-security gaol at Novara in the north, subject to the brutal regime of Article 41
, by which the authorities could hold men in isolation from fellow prisoners. The problem confronting the family was not with Rocco and Teresa, but with Bernardo’s younger son, Domenico, husband of Annunziata and father to Nando and Salvo. It involved
, and could not be ignored or shelved. Domenico was in gaol at Ascoli, also subject to Article 41

The problem centred on Annunziata’s behaviour. Some women took hard the imprisonment of their husbands – sent down for twenty years or more. A few took to drink, and some suffered nervous collapse. One or two sought a lover . . . which was unacceptable. Bernardo, the
, leader of the Cancello clan, had condemned his daughter-in-law. A simple enough solution. He could not kill her himself and, shut in their cells, neither could his sons. And it was beneath his dignity to order lesser men to carry out killings when the issue nudged at the very centre of his power. She was a fine-looking girl, Annunziata. She had worn well after the birth of her children. Slim waist, a brittle smile, which seemed always to show that her thoughts were elsewhere. Her clothes, bought in Milan or Rome, were not suitable for the village or her home, which was three hundred metres down the track from Rocco and Teresa’s. If it were known that his son, in gaol, had been betrayed by his wife, it would reflect on the whole family and gnaw at their power.

He heard the car door slam, and Stefano – at the wheel – began the three-point turn. God’s truth, he would miss the boy.

Stefano was two years younger than Bernardo, and had been at his side from the day that Bernardo’s father had been shot dead in the covered market at Locri. He would take Marcantonio to the first targets. The man who had sex with his daughter-in-law was the owner of a small picture gallery in Catanzaro. Bernardo had learned of a beach hut to the south of Soverato, where the pair met, copulated, ate a picnic and drank wine, then locked up and went their separate ways. The man was always there first, and his arrival would coincide with Marcantonio’s. Marcantonio would have with him a sharpened kitchen knife and a lump-hammer. The man first, then Annunziata . . .

The car went away down the hill. Stefano always drove slowly. Bernardo saw the headlights bounce from the trees. He knew each of those trees, and every metre of the stone walls flanking the lane. He went back inside and closed the door. The house, expanded now, had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. He was in the kitchen.

He had seen a photograph of the gallery owner. A short man, he had a beard, which was carefully trimmed. From the photograph, Bernardo reckoned that he took time each morning to tidy it. Within two hours the dark hair would be blood red. Stefano would rip the man’s trousers down to his knees, and Marcantonio would use the knife to slice off his penis, then force it into his victim’s mouth. He would hit the man with the heavy hammer, one blow or two, to stop the struggling, then leave him in the beach hut. It might be weeks before he was found. The job would be done quickly, any shrieks carried away on the wind – they might sound like the cries of gulls. He imagined it all and felt only satisfaction.

Mamma was at the sink, washing up, even though they had a dishwasher. She washed his and her clothes by hand, too, and didn’t use the German washing-machine built into the kitchen units. Their daughter, Giulietta, was with Nando and Salvo, as she was every time Annunziata went out at night. Each Tuesday, Giulietta took care of the children and was like a mother to them. She would not have her own. She was ugly, he thought, especially with the large-framed spectacles she wore. She knew that by midnight the children would have no mother, and approved. Giulietta was skilled with a computer. She knew how to deal with passwords and cut-outs.

Bernardo should not have been in the house. He had been conceived and born, in the big bed at the front with the view down the track towards the centre of the village. His boys and Giulietta had been born in it too. It was the bed in which Mamma slept, when Bernardo slipped away to the narrow divan in his hiding place, where he felt safest. It hurt him that he could not be in his own bed, with Mamma’s heavy hips against him.

He checked through the window. The car lights had gone. By now Annunziata would have left for the coast. He felt his age in his bones, especially his knees.

Bernardo was of the older generation of clan leaders and enjoyed the discipline of tradition in language, behaviour, or in the drawing up of agreements where a man’s word was his bond the spoken word pledged a deal. Tradition applied also to methods of killing. A favourite of this group of clans, a loosely tied association known as the ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria in the extreme south of Italy, was the
lupara bianca
. The
was the sawn-off shotgun used by goatherds against wolves, but
lupara bianca
meant something different. Marcantonio had been told that in particular circumstances a body should never be found and no announcement of a death would follow. Bernardo had determined that Annunziata would suffer
lupara bianca
. He glanced at his watch. Soon the gallery owner would open the beach hut, spread the rugs, light the candle and open the wine.

He had nothing to read. There were no submissions from bankers, accountants or investment managers that he could pore over. He fidgeted. Bernardo, a clan leader, held information in his head: he kept no compromising documents in a safe at his home.

He and Mamma had been married for forty-three years: she had not waited for his death to replace her coloured clothing with black blouses and stockings, skirts and cardigans. Marcantonio was Mamma’s creation. She had shaped and moulded him from the time he had sat on her knee.

Annunziata would receive no mercy from her nephew. She was from a clan family herself, had come no more than twenty kilometres to her new home. Now she might have travelled a thousand kilometres but her own people would not have saved her. She had broken the disciplines that were valued by her own and her husband’s family. Her eyes showed a challenging haughtiness, as if she thought herself superior to the peasant society into which she had married. Marcantonio would pinion her while Stefano bound her legs and arms. They would show her the corpse of the gallery owner and push her head down so that she could see the blood in his beard and what filled his mouth. She, too, would be allowed to scream.

Bernardo went outside and filled a watering can from the tap, then the plastic jug that held the chickens’ feed. He moved warily, his three dogs close to him, their ears back as they listened for disturbance. They would hear if a fox was close enough to threaten the chickens. He was between a line of trees and the sheets that Mamma had hung out, which would not dry that evening.

He had called for a
lupara bianca
. A family in a village higher in the mountains owed him a favour, and tonight he would call it in. It was about disposal and disappearance. Several families kept pigs, which would eat anything, alive or dead. But the family that owed him the favour owned a tank of strengthened steel. It was available to him, he had been told, and might contain sulphuric acid or the chemical that unblocked clogged drains. That was where Annunziata was going tonight . . . The chickens hustled towards him. Each had a name and he cooed at them. He was bonded to each fowl and the dogs that were close to his heels. The last unwanted litter of puppies had been put into a sack two years before and Marcantonio had carried it, oblivious of the squeals from inside, to the stream below the house.

The family had relations in Berlin, the German capital. Marcantonio would spend a useful period – several months – out of sight, far from the
. He could learn the arts of cleaning money and evaluating potential investments. Questions would be asked after the boy’s aunt had disappeared and an inquiry launched, but he would be far away. He had said to his grandson that he must be discreet in the city and not attract attention.

When they went to the building, with the woman tied and weeping, knowing already that pleas for her life were in vain, Stefano and Marcantonio would carry her inside. Then Annunziata might see the tank and smell its contents. She would know that, by morning, she would be sludge at the base. He would almost have guaranteed that she would be alive as she went into the liquid, eased down so that she did not splash them. She would go in slowly, probably feet first. Who in that part of the mountains would report hearing screams in the middle of the night? No one. When the next visit to Domenico was due, Mamma would go to Ascoli with Giulietta. Although their conversation would be monitored with microphones and cameras, he would be told. It was possible to give serious news to a prisoner held under Article 41
, and Domenico would be glad to hear that his wife had been punished for her treachery. She would go in alive.

Afterwards, Stefano would drive fast to Lamezia airport. There was a late flight to Rome, which met a connection to Berlin’s Tempelhof. Bernardo had never been outside Italy – never outside Calabria. He tipped the last of the feed onto the ground and the chickens scurried and pecked around him. The dogs sat quietly. God’s truth, he would miss the boy, yearn for him to return.

Now it was time for him to go to his bunker, sneak away like a rat to its den . . . He saw again the grin that had played on his grandson’s lips and hoped the boy would heed his advice. A camouflaged door opened. His torch showed a tunnel made from concrete pipes. He went to bed.


He could have flapped a hand and distracted the fly. It was on the branch of a pruned rose, close to a carefully constructed spider’s web. It was a trap – and a work of art. Jago Browne had time to kill, more than twenty minutes, and had settled on a bench. The autumn sunlight was low and at that hour of the morning the frost had not dispersed. The grass around the tidy beds was whitened, the earth sparkled, and the web’s intricate lines were highlighted in silver. The fly was doomed – it seemed unaware of the danger. It took off, then seemed to charge the patterned fibres of the web.

He was in the park because he was early for his appointment. He should have been sipping coffee with the
, as he thought of Wilhelmina, and glancing with her through the file, checking the client’s complaint and the level of the bank’s error. She had thought it would reflect well if she – the team leader in Sales Investment – was accompanied by a smartly presented young man from her office: it would demonstrate their commitment that the bank was taking the error seriously. His presence would underline the importance of this client’s account to the bank. He fancied, also, that it was an opportunity to drill him in the standard of care that the bank demanded of its employees. Earlier this morning Jago’s mobile had rung. Wilhelmina had had to cry off: the nanny was sick, the elder child had damaged an ankle so couldn’t go to school, and her husband was abroad on United Nations business, saving the planet with a climate-control programme. Jago was to keep the appointment. She had lectured him on to his manner and the apology he would offer on the bank’s behalf. He glanced at his watch. He had no need to hurry.

The fly hurried to escape. Its legs and wings flailed and, with each quick movement, the web seemed stronger. It thrashed. Jago had known cobwebs. His mother had dusted them away in the one-time family home; staff used poles topped with feathers to clear them from office ceilings. He had never before sat outside on an autumn morning and marvelled at one. He couldn’t see the spider. He thought of the energy it would have taken to build the web, and the elements it had secreted in its body to do so. The fly fought for its freedom. If Jago had waved a hand when the fly was first close to the web, it would have been safe. He was between Charlottenburg and Savignyplatz, among pleasant, well-restored streets. The park was manicured, with bins for dog mess, cigarette ends, plastic and newspapers. It was a good environment for a client, a place where old Berlin wealth had survived.

An elderly woman now sat opposite Jago. His attention had been on the fly and he hadn’t seen her arrive. Well preserved and well dressed, an expensive overcoat, a cashmere scarf and decent shoes – from two different pairs. There would be money there, an opportunity for a salesman from the bank. He had his business cards in his wallet and brochures in his briefcase . . . But the fly took his attention away from the woman who might need an investment portfolio. The fly struggled.

A girl came out of a pizzeria, to the right of the elderly woman. Jago Browne was twenty-six, single and unattached, though Hannelore and Magda, who worked alongside him, might have wished otherwise. Her dark hair was piled high and she wore a shapeless cardigan under a broad apron. Her skirt’s hem was level with the apron’s. She swept the pavement outside the pizzeria with a stiff brush, punishing the slabs. The forehead above the pretty face was cut with furrows. She was interesting, but . . . The fly was not long for this world.

He looked at his watch. Five more minutes. The apartment block where the client lived was at the far end of the square. The old lady opposite eyed him but didn’t encourage conversation. He thought she would be in her middle eighties. He had been in Berlin long enough, seven months, to know the principal dates and events. The fall of the Wall, the Kennedy speech, the defeat and the flooding of the destroyed streets by hungry men of the Red Army . . . She would have been, then, fifteen, probably in the first flush of beauty, hidden in cellars in the hope that an infantry platoon, an artillery team or a tank crew wouldn’t find her. She stared at and through him.

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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