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Authors: Conor Fitzgerald

Tags: #Suspense

The Fatal Touch

BOOK: The Fatal Touch
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Alec Blume Novel







For my father, Seamus F. Deane


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53



A Note on the Author

By the Same Author

Chapter 1

In the photo on his desk, Antonio was smiling straight at the camera and holding up a gold medal with a blue plaque on which was written Manager of the Year.

He was struggling to replicate the smile now as he looked across his desk at a Chinese couple and two cops—one bored, the other hostile. The bored one, sitting farthest away, blended in with the gray wall. He looked like a spoiled priest and barely spoke. The hostile one seemed at first glance like he might be a great thinker or poet, thanks to his high forehead and early onset baldness.

“Tell those two fucking Jap monkeys that if they can’t be bothered to come down to the police station to report a mugging, we’re hardly going to give the loss of a Nikon camera top investigative priority. They’re lucky we bothered turning up at all. No reported crime, no investigation,” said the poet.

Antonio held up his hand. “Please, Agente . . .”

The policeman slapped the insignia on his shoulder angrily.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what rank those three Vs make you.”

“Assistente Capo.”

“Please, you’re upsetting my guests.”

“What, they understand me all of a sudden?”

“Your tone. Also, they are not Japanese. They are Chinese.”

“That makes some sort of difference?”

Antonio smiled his whitest smile at the Chinese couple, who shrank back in their seats. He handed two neatly typed sheets of paper to the policeman with the big forehead, and said, “This is a statement declaring the time and place of the mugging, and detailing the items stolen. The description of the assailant isn’t up to much, but they do mention he had a pointy knife.”

“Oh, a pointy one?” The policeman tossed the papers back onto the desk. “If they want these to be valid, they need to go down to the station and report it.”

It had taken Antonio two hours of cajoling and smiling and bowing and persuading, followed by an hour of painstaking translation of Sino-English into Italian. In the end, he had simply written up most of the report for them, as he had done before for others. He suspected the Chinese couple, or the husband at least, of exaggerating their losses. It was now eleven o’clock at night. It would be nice, he thought, if a hole opened in the floor and the policemen and the Chinese guests dropped with a scream into a fiery pit. Then he could insert himself between sharply folded hotel sheets and sleep.

The first mugging of a guest had occurred a year and a half ago. Tonight’s made twenty-three, which meant the rate was more than one a month. He had even prepared a template for mugging reports and insurance claims on his office computer. The hotel was gaining a reputation as being in a bad area, which it wasn’t. HQ had sent round a memo warning all employees to refrain from using the word “unlucky” in connection with the establishment. Bookings were down, and he had had to lay off three members of staff. His name was being associated with misfortune. Guests that get mugged go away unhappy, tell their friends, write letters, and, in one case, put all the details up on a very popular blog. Embassies had been informed. He was not manager of the year at the last award ceremony.

“My job is on the line,” he said.

“Not our problem,” said the cop.

“I thought muggings were a problem for the police,” said Antonio. “By the way, what’s your name?”

The great expanse of head turned red, and the cop stood up. “What sort of an asshole question is that?” he roared.

Antonio beamed at the Chinese couple and made a reassuring gesture with his left hand to indicate that all was dandy, and this is precisely what he wanted to happen.

“Just a friendly inquiry. I can’t call you Assistente Capo all the time.”

“So call me Capo. And don’t bother us with this sort of shit.” He picked up the report and flung it back across the table, but the pages wafted gently down in front of the Chinese man who said some word several times over, then reached for a pen, and scored out two of the items from the list of stolen goods.

Antonio breathed through his nose, and tried to enjoy his pearl gray suit and white shirt. Lone women in the hotel liked him. He had not made a million by age thirty, but expected to by the time he was forty. At least he was not a cop. When this streak of bad luck ran out, he would be snatched into the upper echelons of the hotel chain. Within two years he would have an MBA. He spoke fluent English, a language he loathed, Spanish, a language he loved, French, some German, a smattering of Japanese, and some Chinese, which had turned out to be far easier than he had dared to hope.

He turned to the Chinese couple, and spoke to them in English, throwing in a few Chinese honorifics that seemed to leave them cold. He promised them that everything was under control. The police were this very minute trawling the streets of Trastevere looking for the man who robbed them. They would not be billed the full amount for their room. The hotel would do all it could to make the rest of their stay as pleasant as possible.

As they left the room, the Chinese tourists gave him a look of disbelief that he had seen on the faces of the Korean, Japanese, Spanish, English, French, German, and American guests. It seemed humans had a universal expression to denote disgust with hotel managers.

He placed the failed mugging report in his drawer, and turned to the two policemen, giving them his best boyish grin and a what-can-you-do-with-these-people shrug.

“I am sorry about that. Can I get you anything to drink?”

The forehead creased and two gimlet eyes fixed themselves on him. “We don’t drink on duty.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Well, if you ever want, you know, refreshments, and by that I mean snacks, sandwiches, whatever, don’t hesitate to pop in. Just mention my name, uh—

“Assistente Capo Rospo, and this here is Agente Davide Di Ricci.”

Antonio longed to denounce the two troglodytes for dereliction of duty. But he would bide his time. He’d begin with security video footage of them eating and drinking for free. Then he’d gather more evidence and turn his staff into a stream of witnesses. Someday, he promised himself, when he was in charge of the entire Hudson & Martinetti Hotel chain in Italy, this fucker with the unfeasible head would receive a career-ending summons out of the blue. He smiled at him again, and said, “I really appreciate your being here.”

The door to his office burst open. Rospo was on his feet, pistol half drawn.

Two young German tourists, a woman and a younger man, almost a boy, heads lolling, staggered in, and collapsed into the chairs just vacated by the Chinese couple. The woman seemed helpless with laughter. A smell of smoke and beer now joined the smell of policeman sweat and Chinese garlic that had already polluted his pristine office.

Wir haben eine Leiche gefunden! Einen Landstreicher
,” said the woman, then theatrically shushed the man who had not spoken yet, pointed to the policemen, and said, “
Schon? Italienische Gründlichkeit
,” and giggled.

The man, who had drunk enough to make his eyes shine rather than dull, pulled out one of the free tourist maps from the lobby, and showed it to Antonio and, speaking English, said, “I have circled the place. I think it is right. The police have been very fast to arrive here.”

“I hate drunken northerners. What are these two fucking clowns saying?” demanded Assistente Capo Rospo.

“They seem to be saying they have found a dead body,” said Antonio.

Chapter 2

It was not easy to explain the difference between wanting somebody dead and wanting a dead somebody. Homicide cops understood at once, but to people in the outside world, it came across as the sort of nice distinction a psychopath might make.

On balance, Inspector Caterina Mattiola was pleased to be woken in her warm bed in the early hours of the morning to be told that a man had been found dead on the streets of Trastevere, and that her presence was requested.

Since transferring from Section Two, Immigration Affairs to Section Three, Homicide, of the Squadra Mobile, she had done only administrative work. She was good at it, better than any of the men, but she knew what happened to women who became indispensable at a single thankless task.


She had taken a big risk several days ago and gone to her boss, Commissioner Blume, and asked to be detailed to investigative work. Visiting her parents later that same week, she made an effort to tell her father about what she had done. At no point had her boss promised anything, but she still felt as if she had made some sort of breakthrough. She wondered whether her father agreed. Or was she being too optimistic?

Sitting there across the table watching him chew on the last of his food, his head tilted back, and knife and fork grasped tightly in his fist like they were two ends of a handlebar on an invisible bicycle that he was having difficulty steering, she suddenly wondered if he had understood her at all.

BOOK: The Fatal Touch
5.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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