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Authors: Gerald Seymour

No Mortal Thing: A Thriller (6 page)

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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He took the staircase down two floors.

When Fred stood behind the woman at Reception he could see, distorted by the stains on the glass, the bank worker. A nice-looking boy, good build and features. He asked the woman and was told he had been there close to an hour. The ‘kids’ would have held it up: smart-arse idiots. She told him which interview room was empty.

He went through the security door.

He said briskly, ‘I am sorry you have been kept waiting so long. Follow me, please . . .’


‘Do sit down.’ He gave a suspicion of a smile, an empty pleasantry. ‘Now, how can I help you? Excuse me, you are English? Do you speak German?’

Jago said, ‘I have adequate German. You could have helped me a while ago by coming to find out why I was here. So, sometimes your language, sometimes mine.’

‘A good compromise . . . and I apologise. Communications in the building are not always satisfactory . . . How can I help?’

‘Are you always so cavalier with the time of people who bother to report a crime? Or is that bad for the clear-up figures?’

‘I’ve already apologised . . .’

‘There’s a phrase in England that all those public utility companies – or the police – use when they keep you hanging on a phone and have likely failed you. ‘We take your complaint very seriously.’ But I’m a member of the public and, although I’m a foreigner, I’m registered here as a taxpayer. So I pay your salary – or a fraction of it.’

The smile widened, might even have been touched by genuine humour. In the corridor, before getting to the interview room, they had introduced themselves. The investigator, Fred Seitz, was tall and thin, the skin sagging below his cheekbones. His throat was scrawny and his jacket hung loose from angular shoulders. His scalp was discoloured and his hair cut short. Jago estimated him to be in his mid-fifties.

He told his story.

‘Is that all you saw?’

‘I’ve told it as I saw it.’

‘And described accurately the injuries to you and the girl?’

‘I believe so.’

The investigator had produced a notepad and pencil but had written only a line at the top of the page, then closed it. Now it had gone back into his pocket, with the pencil. He produced a pipe, which whistled as he sucked the stem. ‘What do you expect me to do?’

‘As a police officer, I expect you to investigate the assault, interview the girl concerned, follow that up, identify our assailant, then arrest and charge him.’

‘Are you widely travelled, Mr Browne?’

‘Not particularly.’

‘But you are aware of the Italian diaspora – of course you are.’

Jago said sharply, ‘I know many Italians live here. I have eyes in my head.’

‘You have not visited Italy?’

‘No. Does that make me an inferior witness to criminal acts?’

‘I understand, Mr Browne, your irritation with my questions. I assure you they are relevant.’

‘I’ve given you chapter and verse on a crime.’

‘You want me to be honest?’

‘Does honesty mean evasion, denial, what we call “sweeping under the carpet”, too unimportant for you to—’

‘Allow me to be
. It’s always good to speak the truth, even when it’s unpalatable.’

The smile had broadened. The investigator had pushed back his chair and stood up. His police pistol, in a grubby holster, was against his hip, his shirt was not clean, he wore no tie and his trousers were crumpled. At the Plaistow police station, where they handled Canning Town, they would have been red-faced at his rudeness. He thought the man didn’t give a damn.

‘Mr Browne, in Germany we are a colony of Italy. Not of the Italian state but of the various arms of the Italian Mafia. They bring their customs, behaviour and daily habits inside our frontiers. Although they live in Germany they don’t change their culture. It’s a ghetto life. They exploit the lax legislation concerning criminal association and they do well – extremely well. In Germany, the principal representatives of the generic Mafia are the ’Ndrangheta. Have you heard of ’Ndrangheta, Mr Browne? It would help your understanding if you have.’

‘I know nothing about them. Why should I?’

‘Because you are a banker. It says here, above your signature, that you work in a bank. You can recite big numbers, understand spreadsheets and statistics . . .’

‘I’ve reported what happened to me and a young woman. Have I wasted your time?’

If Fred Seitz was about to lose his cool he hid it well. ‘They bring into our country billions of euros.
. They buy up hotels and apartment blocks, businesses and restaurants. A man who has no visible sign of income suddenly purchases a four-star hotel and pays ten million euros. We are swamped by them. It is the proceeds of cocaine money. Right at the bottom of the scale, their protection rackets are perpetrated on legitimate business – not for billions or millions or even hundreds of thousands. They’re Italians, and that is how they live. What am I supposed to do? Nothing – so I cannot justify spending much more of my time on it. Sorry, but that’s the truth.”

‘You’ll turn your back on it and walk away?’ Jago felt the tiredness crushing him. He stood up and picked up his briefcase.

‘Do you want my advice?’

He said he did.

‘Does your employer know you’re here?’

He shook his head.

The investigator said, ‘I admire what you did. You intervened when many didn’t. Pin a medal on yourself, but do it in private. You will note that I took no statement from you. As far as the legalities of this incident go, you played no part in it. What is it to do with you? Get a life – look the other way. The Italians and their gangster habits are not your priority. Do you smoke, Mr Browne? Would you like a cigarette?’

He did. Jago felt the need of one. The investigator must have liked him because
Rauchen Verboten
took a back seat. A window was opened on one side of a central pillar, then a second. Both had been locked but the other man used a straightened paper clip to unfasten them. He led and Jago followed. A leg out and over the window ledge and they could almost have kicked the heads of pedestrians on the Bismarckstrasse pavement. There was a cloud of smoke as the pipe was lit, then acrid fumes. Jago dragged on his cigarette. He thought it the work of an expert because there was a smoke detector in the centre of the interview-room ceiling. He was told that if you sat under a desk in the office and smoked close to the floor, the alarm would sound because it was well made, German manufactured. A flicker of a grin. When he had finished his cigarette he threw it onto the pavement while the investigator hammered the pipe bowl on the outer wall. Jago saw many marks on that stretch of wall where the paintwork was dented. It would have been a familiar routine. He brought his leg back inside.

‘Will you follow this up?’

‘I am away tomorrow evening for a few days’ vacation with my wife. I will look at it when I return, perhaps. No promises. Thank you, Mr Browne, for coming. A last word. Forget it. No one will thank you if you do otherwise.’

The investigator showed him to the door.

He’d wasted his time. Jago Browne walked towards the S-bahn to go east and back to work.

‘Get a life,’ the man had said. ‘Look the other way.’


Marcantonio paid cash. The two shirts, a hundred euros each, were wrapped by the sales assistant, and the girl slid glances at him. The shop was on the Ku’damm, small, smart and exclusive. He dressed well, though the knuckles of one fist were scratched and his right shoe was scuffed at the toecap. He never used a card, and the two hundred euros were from a wad of more than two thousand he carried in his hip pocket. The girl would have noticed the money. Most days he went to the shops on the Ku’damm. He preferred the range there to those on Potsdamer Platz or Friedrich-strasse. He shopped, sometimes with his minder and sometimes with the woman at the edge of his life, because on most days he had little else to do.

He had learned a little of what might be useful to him in his future life, if not as much as his grandfather would have wished. He found the company poor and the preoccupation with business contacts and investment opportunities tedious. Also, in Berlin he had no special status. He was not recognised, as he would have been in the village. It was as if, here, he was a probationer, having to prove himself worthy of respect, which was about the margins of percentages, buying and selling prices, what could be bought in property, square metres for how many euros . . . It bored him.

It was more interesting to shop, buy shirts and jeans. They would go into a cupboard at his apartment – when the door was opened there was often an avalanche of clothing, still in its cellophane wrapping. Marcantonio did not, of course, give out his mobile number: difficult to do it because the device changed so often and he used a new number most weeks. If he wanted the girl, he would drive past at near to closing time, park on the kerb and hoot. She would come running. Many did, and the banknotes in his hip pocket were an encouragement. Sometimes he tipped lavishly with the absurd profits made from the sale of cocaine, or firearms, or immigrants without papers, or from the rents raised by apartment blocks and the profits from restaurants and hotels, and . . . So much money. It cascaded through his hands on a level not possible in Calabria. There, it was likely to be noticed and draw attention. Here, no eyebrow was raised. The girl’s lashes fluttered, her blouse bulged, and her fingers were smooth over the wrapper, but he did not reward her. First, Marcantonio had no time to screw her as tomorrow his half-year of imprisonment in Berlin would be over and a little freedom beckoned. It was as if he was out ‘on licence’ – which his father and uncle would never know. He was going home to the village, and he would no longer need to change into a clean shirt halfway through each day. The second reason that Marcantonio did not tip the girl was that a nagging frustration diverted him.

The girl in the pizzeria. The girl with the brother who had stammered about his inability to pay. The girl who had come at him with her nails. That girl had clawed a place in his mind.

In the morning he would have the opportunity to go back to the pizzeria, as he had ‘promised’ he would, and collect the
. They always paid. Tears, shouting, even threats of going to the authorities, but they always paid. Marcantonio had no need for an additional thousand euro a month, but the targeting of the pizzeria had made for entertainment. It was outside what was allowed, but few would know and fewer would care.

He took the wrapped shirts. He met the girl’s eyes, allowed himself to smile and turned away. A woman had looked into his eyes on the last night he had been at home. She had been tied up and her clothes were torn because she had fought. He and Stefano had hoisted her up, and her legs had splashed into the stuff when they had begun to lower her. She had screamed in the night and would not have been heard. She, too, had challenged him. She had spat in his face, and then they had pushed her down. Her head had come up once more but she had been too weak and too much in shock to spit again. It would have been good to fuck her, his aunt by marriage, but he had not tried because she was part, temporarily, of the family.

After she had gone down into the tank he had carefully wiped all trace of the spittle from his face, and Stefano would have burned the clothes they had worn, and the clan who had provided the facilities for a
lupara bianca
would have removed anything left in the sludge. He would tell his grandfather what had happened.

The shop manager, tall, blond and aloof, stood behind the girl who had wrapped his shirts and taken his money. He was gazing at Marcantonio as if he were dog shit on a shoe. So German . . . but Marcantonio’s people owned much of the country, used it like a goat they milked regularly. He could have bought that shop, that franchise, its stock and the girl, and would have regarded the outlay as small change.

He left. Time for lunch, some pasta – not as good as that prepared by his grandmother. It annoyed him that the girl that morning had not cowered in front of him. The next morning he would be back. He sauntered across the pavement to his car.


Bernardo slipped out of the kitchen door.

His route was skilfully prepared. Near to the door was a vine trellis, the leaves not yet shed, then a high wall. Beyond the wall was Mamma’s washing line, always with double sheets and large towels on it, then a second section of wall, a vertical cliff face – the path led right against it, perhaps ten metres up – then a retaining wall beside the steps that led to the old shed.

Every man had a price, which was often surprisingly low. Sometimes favours were offered for nothing. A clerk in the Palace of Justice or at the Questura, in the headquarters of the
might cost a couple of hundred euros a month if he needed it for medical expenses, or he might supply information for free because he was screwing on the side and the truth would kill his elderly mother, or he gambled . . . There were so many reasons.

He knew he was under close investigation.

He took this route from the house each evening. He used neither telephone, nor computer, so he left no electronic trace. The ROS, the GICO and the Squadra Mobile worked on the principle that the best weapon in their hands was intercepts of messages, BlackBerry or email, so he denied them that chance. He would be vulnerable only to human surveillance, and their teams could not come to the village and sit in a closed van with spy-holes drilled into it. Strangers were not tolerated in their village. If electricity cables needed repair after a winter storm, local men did the work, not outsiders. His home could be watched only from the high ground behind it. There might be cameras there, or listening equipment, and it was possible even that men might be inserted in hiding places. Most of the
, who owed him and his family total loyalty, had his blood in their veins: they regularly searched the upper slope with the dogs. But Bernardo was still careful.

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
5.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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