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Authors: Gerald Seymour

No Mortal Thing: A Thriller (60 page)

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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‘Looks to me like she’s had a nose job.’

‘We say “rhinoplasty”,’ Fred answered.

‘I’d call it an improvement,’ Carlo said.

They were on the Boulevard du Midi Jean Hibert on the waterfront at Cannes. Not a bad place for a German investigator and an unpromoted Customs officer from Britain to find themselves on an April morning. They had a pocket-handkerchief table and two grimly uncomfortable chairs. The German had a
citron pressé
in front of him and the Briton bottled mineral water. Because the table was against the road that divided the buildings from the beach and the sea, the drinks would normally have cost fifteen euros, but for them the question of payment had been waived.

‘I’d call it a match made in Heaven – would you challenge that?’ Carlo asked.

‘What else? Lovely couple. Makes you feel good just to look at them.’

Which was possible. Beyond the pavement and the palm trees, the road and the beach – far out to sea – a cruise liner edged calmly along, heading west, and a tall ship, triple-masted, lay at anchor. Sailing boats, under power, skipped in loose circles across the water and motor launches made bow waves. Residents walked at the edge of the beach and let toy dogs romp. The two men were not looking at the sights that made the resort so famous and expensive, so sought after. The couple inside, close to the window, had their attention. The two watchers exuded raw pleasure at being close to what Carlo would have called ‘fingering a collar’.

‘She’s wearing a decent ring.’

‘Only what she deserves.’

Each, in his home city, had made a dawn start. Fred had been at Tempelhof at first light, having crawled out of bed to the shriek of the alarm. He had pecked his wife’s cheek and thought he would be back in time for a late supper. Carlo had struggled out of Sandy’s bed, then left in darkness for Stansted and a bucket flight to the South of France. The French had shown willingness, by their standards, to co-operate.

The previous day the couple had followed their briefly established routine and walked from the apartment he rented to this café-bar and had ordered. Coffee had been brought, and glasses of bottled water. The man had picked up the water when a waiter had intervened, apologising for the dirty glass he had been given, whipped it away and produced another. In a van behind the premises the locals had equipment to check the print on the glass with the one transmitted from Berlin. The match had left no room for doubt.

Carlo and Fred had wanted to be there at the end – probably unnecessary, but good for their morale.

‘She’s a nice-looking woman, now they’ve straightened her face up.’

‘A bit old for him.’

‘Think of the baggage she brings to the marital bed.’

They knew what the marital bed looked like – they’d seen it that morning. The Cannes-based detectives had met them at the airport and driven them into town. The concierge had told them that the couple had left the apartment. The door had been easily opened, the alarm disabled, and they had wandered round the rooms and seen what magazines the newly wed couple were reading. He was learning Italian from books and CDs and she was trying to improve her English. The bed was unmade and her clothing, some of which lay on the floor, was new and like nothing she’d worn in the village last autumn. He was smart-casual and left behind him the signs of new affluence. They’d have thought themselves safe.

‘You satisfied, Fred?’

‘Just like to finish my drink. Have you been busy?’

‘A bit of this and a bit of that. Doing what I do best, the stuff no one notices.’

‘I’ll finish my drink and then we’ll let loose the hounds.’

A month before, Fred had said, he’d been in the small square as the last of the snow was being cleared and he’d seen the girl from the pizzeria. She might have recognised him because she’d ducked inside quickly. He’d noted that the scar had knitted but not well. The man had come out. Fred had made some remark about the girl’s wound and had been told she was due to see a quality plastic surgeon next week. They couldn’t have afforded it, but an envelope had been delivered: ten thousand euros, in large-denomination notes. No letter, no explanation. A bank had been instructed to make the delivery by hand. Fred had found the bank, based in Liechtenstein, but had been blocked by its secrecy culture. Carlo’s turn. He’d handed it to Vauxhall Bridge Cross, the spooks, where it had been used as a training exercise for the ‘best and brightest’ of a new intake. The big computers had been set to work and had located the origin of a telephone call. Simple.

Fred said, ‘It was flawed, sending the money to the girl to have her face fixed. Idiotic.’

‘He’s soft. He’d think himself hard but he isn’t.’

‘You can’t grow into them. They’re unique, those families. They’re successful because others can’t equal them. No one from inside such a family would show such weakness, sentimentality. It was an outsider’s error.’

Fred voiced the opinion that she was radiant, a woman on the edge of middle age who had lately found love.

Carlo thought he seemed confident, calm. His shades were over his eyes, and a gold chain hung round his neck.

‘They’ve done a good job on her nose.’

‘I never saw her smile when we were there . . . They’ll do her for murder and bang him up for “association”. She dropped a chap who was about to turn state witness. Made a good clean job of it.’ Carlo shrugged.

The French police could make the arrest and the Italians would swamp the town with a legion of government lawyers to hack through the extradition process. But it was a pleasure for Carlo and Fred to be there. It would happen with a degree of theatre. Carlo reached into his pocket and took out a scarlet handkerchief that Sandy had given him the previous Christmas. At last it had a use.

They could see Jago Browne and Giulietta Cancello easily from where they sat. What stuck in Carlo’s craw was that he had, at first, admired the bloody-mindedness of the young man who had dared to confront the family. In time he might find out, from interrogation reports, when the transfer of loyalty had happened, who had conjured it up, him or her.

‘Would you call it greed, Fred?’

‘I would quote to you from Friedrich Nietzsche. “For every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.” You accept that?’

‘I looked it up. It bothers me – the ease of corruption. We had Robert Walpole. He said, “Every man has his price.”
Takes the gilt off the day.’

Fred said, ‘From George Washington, “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” But it hurts. The young woman who did the driving for him, she’s gone to Milan and works in an orphanage. She hasn’t lost faith – didn’t look for a pay-off.’

Carlo had the handkerchief in his hand. He said, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh was a buccaneer and a pirate four hundred years ago, a man of letters, too, a poet. “No mortal thing can bear so high a price, But that with mortal thing it may be bought.”
Time to hit the road.’

‘Right.’

‘A good result.’

‘Very good. An alright result. Yes.’

Carlo took a last look at them. They were laughing together, holding hands. Unremarkable and unexceptional, just two affluent people in a sea-front café-bar facing the promenade at Cannes, a playground for the well-heeled. It was unlikely he would go back, for work, to Calabria. He had been left with many loose ends, and few would be tied. He might never know whether the old man, head of the family, was still living like a rodent, buried underground and on the run, or how well the old woman had survived the upheaval. He remembered the handyman who drove the little City-Van, and the kid who was good with dogs. He might never know if the wedding had taken place at that house, a clean damask tablecloth over a dresser to double as an altar, the new priest officiating, or whether they had used the church and relied on the community’s obedience and silence. He would never know whether the wedding night had been spent in the bed of the
padrino
, or how much expertise had been brought to the field of investment. Neither did he know whether Luca, the
maresciallo
, had gained entry to the fast track programme, or whether the prosecutor had prospered or not at the end of what they had called ‘Scorpion Fly’. He hadn’t learned much about the young man who had joined the family.

He made few judgements on the behaviour of others, and now was not a particularly rewarding time to slough off the habit. He would never forget the village and the hillside above it, the remote house with mountains as a backdrop, or forget Jago Browne. The German hadn’t asked about the aftermath of Bentley Horrocks. If he had, the answer would have been economical because little of that was written up in his mission report: best buried, with a missing-person file. Carlo, punching Fred lightly on the arm, did his job as a plodder. He waved the handkerchief.

The gesture would have alerted the link. A radio call was made. A few seconds of peace, calm – the pavements were filling as the lunch-hour approached, the cruise liner had drifted further along the coast, more yachts had taken to the water and the sea vista had hazed. Some, Carlo reflected, would have been about to rise to their feet, push aside the table and lift a clenched fist of triumph, as the arrest squad went in. Damn it, he felt suddenly empty. Carlo didn’t need to say it, but it would have been about ‘belonging’. The young man had never been in a tribal reserve, like the squads at HMRC, which hunted up Green Lanes or any investigator in the KrimPol. With belonging came power, the proof of which was money. The noughts floated in his mind. He’d gone philosophical in search of an answer but it was not his business to understand, just to do his job.

He looked from the couple, still chuckling, to Fred. The gaze returned to him was stonily impassive. No mortal thing would find himself, herself, proof against the big bucks when they were wheeled out.

Two cars pulled up fast at the kerb, brakes and tyres squealing. The men were out running, jeans, T-shirts and pistols. The heads jerked up inside the café-bar and the laughter died. Shock spread, as it always did. Mouths sagged, eyes bulged, hands froze together, and the ring, still bright and new, was hit by the sunshine. No ceremony. Both on the floor, down among the chair legs, the expert, unemotional search, then the handcuffs. They were brought out, frogmarched close to where Fred and Carlo sat. Were they recognised? Maybe.

Fred said, ‘What nailed him, gave him to us, was that he sent the money to the girl from the pizzeria where it all started. Tainted money. Money taken from the rinsed profits of cocaine trafficking. If I were to go and see her tomorrow, and tell her the origin of the money that would repair her face, she would reject it. Shall I tell her?’

Carlo said, ‘If you don’t, and she uses the money, you’ve compromised the truth. We’re not archangels. We do what is best for the moment and causes least hassle. We don’t stand in judgement . . . Is there time for a beer?’

The chairs were rearranged and the table was cleared.

It was at that moment, when the car’s rear door was open – Giulietta was inside the other vehicle – that Jago Browne had seemed to catch his eye, then looked away and allowed himself to be pushed into the seat. He might have remembered Fred, beside him, and wondered where the mistake had been conceived. He might have wondered, too, why he hadn’t stayed at the bank to live in the slow lane.

The cars left, and sirens yelled on the road. Fred and he would be driven to the airport. It was likely that, on the way, they’d talk expenses, kit, pensions or anything else that gave grief. Mutual congratulations would be
verboten
, forbidden. They had enjoyed a snapshot moment, handcuffs, arrests, the wave of disbelief that clouded young faces. That was enough. Would they meet again? Perhaps, perhaps not. Would they have time for a beer in the lounge before their separate flights? They’d make time.

‘Did we win, Carlo?’

‘I think so, Fred, but I’m not sure. In that corner of nowhere, it could be that
they
won because they can buy anybody, which is serious. Why doesn’t anyone try to buy us? Or at least make an offer?’

‘We’re not worth the investment. Find a mirror. Look at yourself and me.’

They hugged. They laughed. Their transport was waiting for them.

 

BOOK: No Mortal Thing: A Thriller
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