/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

The Collaborator

Gerald Seymour


Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

PROLOGUE

It was a hot afternoon, stinking hot, and the sun beat up from the concrete path, dazzling him. A ridiculous afternoon to be out in a London park. He’d met friends for lunch, arranged long back, on the south side of the park – two guys from college days – but they’d had their girlfriends in tow, like trophies, which had made him feel awkward, as if he, not they, were the intruders. And, truth was, he’d been bored because the togetherness of the couples seemed to shred the spirit of mischief that ran in him – some called it ‘happy go lucky’ and his dad ‘Jack the lad’ – and he’d wanted to be gone before the loss was terminal. It had all been too damn serious, which seldom fitted well with him.

He’d eaten the meal, coughed up his share of the bill, and walked away from the Underground station, had crossed Kensington Road and gone into the park, over Rotten Row, and been within a few yards of the dog-leg lake before his mind had kicked back into gear. By now, the couples would be talking mortgages and future prospects. He was in the park where heat reverberated off the scorched grass and concrete. There wasn’t half a square centimetre of shade close to him, and it was a pretty silly place to be – no skateboarders or football to watch, no promenade of stripped-down girls.

He looked for a bench to flop down on. He wasn’t stressed by the heat or the lack of entertainment – his own little world gave him no grief – but it was damn hot.

The bench he saw was blurred, but a haven. He heard, far away, the shouts of children playing at the water’s edge, but round the bench there was quiet. His eyes were nearly closed as he sank on to the wooden slats, which grilled his backside and lower spine. Jumbled thoughts loitered in his mind – home, parents, work, food, getting back to the north-east of the city, money – all easily discarded. With his eyes sealed against the light, maybe he dreamed, maybe he dozed. Time slipped on a July afternoon on the last day of the first week in the month.

The idyll was broken.

‘Excuse… please.’ A clear, uncluttered voice, an accent. He jolted upright. ‘I’m sorry. I…’

Eddie Deacon never considered that responding might change his life, push it on to a road unrecognised and unexplored… His eyes snapped open.

He saw the girl – dark hair, light skin, dark eyes. Hadn’t been aware of her coming to the bench… might even have been there when he’d taken his seat…

Mutual apologies. Sorry that he had been asleep. Sorry that she had woken him.

She wore a cotton skirt, short, not much of it, a white blouse, brief sleeves, and a textbook lay open on her lap, with an ItalianEnglish pocket dictionary.

Strangers pausing, wondering whether to go forward – and blurting together.

‘What can I do?’

‘Please, I am confused.’

‘How can I help?’

‘I do not understand.’

They both laughed, chimed with each other. Eddie Deacon pushed hair off his forehead. He saw that when she laughed the gold crucifix, dangling from a chain bounced on her cleavage. That was what he saw – and she would have seen? Him writing the script: not a bad-looking guy, pretty well turned-out, good head of hair, a decent complexion and a smile to die for. And she would have heard? A laugh that was infectious, not forced, and a voice with a tone of interest that was honest and not patronising. Well, he was hardly going to short-change himself.

‘What’s the problem?’

‘I don’t understand this – “turn over”. What is “turn over”?’

Eddie Deacon grinned. ‘Is this “turn over” in bed? Or “turnover” in business?’

‘Business. It is a book on auditing accounts in English – and it says “turn over”.’

He asked, ‘You’re Italian?’

‘Yes.’

He said, ‘In Italian, “turnover” is fatturato. You understand?’

‘Of course, yes, I do… and you speak Italian.’

He shrugged. ‘A little.’

‘OK, OK…’ She smiled – her teeth glowed, her eyes were alight. She riffled again through the pages of her book. Her finger darted down and stabbed at a line. ‘Here… For “balance” we have soppesare in my dictionary, but that is not the Italian word for the commercial balance of an account. What should it be?’

‘To “balance” an account is bilanciare, and a “balance sheet” is bilancio di esercizio. Does that help?’

She touched his hand – fleeting, a natural, spontaneous gesture of gratitude. He felt the tips of her fingers on his skin. He liked girls, liked their touch, but would have admitted, if quizzed, that he was currently ‘between relationships’. God, who needed commitments? He’d nearly been engaged, to a local-government kitchen-hygiene inspector, two years back but his mother had become too fond of her too quickly. He hadn’t found a soulmate.

‘I have a very good helper.’

Eddie Deacon said he should be good – he was a language teacher. He didn’t add that if he’d put his back into it he might have made interpreter level and gone to Brussels or even the United Nations, but it would have been a hassle. He taught English to overseas students. His core tongues were German, French and Spanish but he also had useful Italian. She told him she was on two courses in London: in the morning she studied English language and in the afternoons she did accounting and bookkeeping. Eddie Deacon wondered why a pretty girl in a tight skirt and a tight blouse, from Italy, bothered with any of that, but didn’t take it further. The sun seemed, in mid-afternoon, to spear his forehead and shoulders. The men and women who walked past the bench wore floppy hats or had white war-paint daubed on exposed skin, while little parasols shaded tots in push-chairs. There were squeals and shrieks from the lake, and splashing. He assumed that swimming in the Serpentine was forbidden and that the gauleiter men would be there soon, yelling that it was verboten.

He stood up. ‘It’s a bit warm for me. I prefer to be out of the sun.’

She said, ‘Where is to be the new classroom? I need all opportunities to speak English. I have a teacher. I do not wish to lose him.’

It was, he thought, a challenge. She must have realised he intended to walk away, but her chin had jutted, her shoulders were back and now she was almost blocking his path. He reckoned that she was used to getting what she wanted. He didn’t push past her. Now, for the first time since he had woken up, he looked at his self-enrolled pupil. She was lightly built, had narrow hips, a squashed-in waist and a good-sized, but not gross, bosom. Her face fascinated him: a fine jaw, a delicate nose and a high forehead, the hair pushed back. But it was her eyes that caught him. They had authority, did not brook denial. As a general rule, Eddie Deacon did not fight authority. He was one to go with the flow. He didn’t look at the hips, waist or breasts of the girl before him but was carried deep into her eyes.

He asked where she was heading, and she told him. He told her he lived nearby – a small untruth: it would probably have taken him almost an hour to walk from Hackney to where he lived on the west side of the Balls Pond Road. He suggested they find a pub, with open doors, big fans and a cool interior. There, he said, they could have a hack at any accounting or bookkeeping language that was giving her grief. Her books were in a bag now, and he took it, slung the strap across his shoulder. She hooked her hand into the crook of his arm.

Her hips swung as she walked, and she threw back her head, letting her hair fall between her shoulder-blades where the blouse collar had slipped.

‘By the way, I’m Eddie Deacon.’

Her name was Immacolata.

On the north side of the park they took a bus and sat on the top deck with the window open beside them so that a zephyr of cooler air reached them. She leafed through the textbook, found English commercial expressions and quizzed him for the exact meaning in her mother tongue. They walked a bit on his territory – Balls Pond, Kingsland, Dalston – reached a pub and sat in a corner of the saloon. Eddie Deacon sensed that she was the most special girl he had ever spent an afternoon and early evening with. He was captivated. Couldn’t think what he offered her beyond a few words in Italian and explanations of a few phrases of more colloquial English, but she seemed to hang on what he told her. Precious few stayed around to listen to him on where he lived or where the language school was, his anecdotes about the daftest Lithuanian students, where his parents lived, what excited or what bored him to death, and when he made jokes she laughed. It was a good rich laugh, and he thought it was genuine, not produced to humour him; he decided, in the pub, that she didn’t laugh often the way her life was.

As dusk fell, they left the pub, her hand again at the bend of his elbow. Now he called her ‘Mac’ – had drifted into it without a prompt from her – and she seemed amused by it.

He walked her almost home, but at the end of a street off Hackney Road, she stopped and indicated they would part here. Now, a streetlight beamed on to her face. He had been with her a few minutes short of seven hours. He wouldn’t have known what to do, but she led. She offered her right cheek and he kissed it, then the left. She was grinning – chuckling as she kissed his lips, and her smile was radiant. He asked if they could meet again. She told him where and when, without asking if it was convenient – which didn’t matter to him because any time and any place were fine. She turned and left him. He watched her going away down a street of little terraced homes that the new rich had taken over. She passed the low-slung German sports cars and the gardens filled with builders’ skips. She was Immacolata, she was twenty-five, two years younger than himself, she was from Naples, and would meet him again in two days’ time. What did he not know? She had not told him her family name, or given him her address and phone number.

She was between two lampposts and the light fell on her hair and on the white blouse. She went briskly and did not look back.

Why had she spent seven hours of her day with him, laughed and joked with him, listened? Because he was attractive and handsome? Because he was a success and taught in a language school? Because of his humour and culture?

Eddie Deacon thought the girl – Mac – was lonely. Sad too.

He would count the hours till they met again, and thought himself blessed.

She was round the corner, gone from his view. He would tick off every hour until they met again and hadn’t done that for as long as he could remember.

Eddie Deacon kicked a can down the pavement then across the width of the street, and was euphoric.

1

She started to run. There was no pavement, only a track of dried dust at the side of the road. She ran past the stationary cars and vans that had blocked her brother’s little Fiat. Faced with an unmoving jam more than three hundred metres long, she had had no alternative but to get out of the Fiat and head on foot towards the distant gates of the town’s cemetery. To be late for the burial would have been intolerable to Immacolata Borelli.

She had left the car door open. Behind her she heard it slammed, then Silvio’s call, his head protruding from the sun hatch perhaps, for her to run. Everything about the day, and the schedule, had been – so far – a disaster. The call had come to her mobile the evening before, from Silvio, the youngest of her three brothers. He had told her of a death notice in that day’s Cronaca di Napoli detailing the passing of Marianna Rossetti, from Nola, the funeral to be held tomorrow at the Basilica of SS Apostoli, followed by the burial. Immacolata had been in the kitchen of the Hackney apartment she shared with her eldest brother, Vincenzo, who had been shouting questions at her – Who was on the phone? – because he was paranoid about her using a mobile. She had told Silvio she would be on the first flight the next day; she had told Vincenzo that the language school had changed the time of classes, and that she was required early. She ran past the cigarette smoke puffed from the motionless vehicles, and past the cacophony of car horns.

She had not been on the first flight out of Heathrow: it had been overbooked. Her wallet on the check-in counter, opened to display a wad of twenty-pound notes, had not made a seat available. The second flight had seats, but its takeoff time had been put back forty minutes by a leaking toilet. Had anyone ever heard of aircraft stacking over the Golfo di Napoli before landing at Capodichino? There was work in progress on the runway, military flights from the NATO detachment had priority and…

She had not been able to find Silvio because some arrogant bastardo in uniform had not allowed him to park in front of the terminal, and that was more delay. Normally there would have been a minder to sit in the car and tell the official to go fuck himself, but this journey was not normal, had been made in secrecy and was far outside the business of her family. It was only twenty-five kilometres from the airport to the centre of Nola, but there were roadworks and the lights controlling the single lane of traffic were broken.

They had reached the basilica. She had grabbed her handbag off the back seat, snatched up the little black hat with the attached veil, flung herself out of the Fiat, dumped the hat on her head, glanced at her watch as she charged up the steps to the main doors, run inside, heard the crisp echo of her heels on the flagstones and allowed moments to pass before her eyesight could function in the gloom. The space in front of the high altar was deserted, as were the forward pews. A nun had told her that the cortege of the Rossetti family was now well on its way to the cemetery. ‘Such a fine young woman, such a tragic loss…’

Immacolata had gone back down the steps at speed, had nearly tripped, had accosted three people – an idiot, a woman who was stone deaf, a young man who had ogled her – and demanded directions to the cemetery.

She hitched her skirt hem higher.

It was eight months since she had arrived in London with her eldest brother. They had driven all the way north to Genova, then taken a flight to Prague, driven across Germany to Hamburg and flown into the British capital. He had used doctored papers but her passport had been in her own name. In those eight months she had had no contact with her father – it would have been difficult but not impossible – had not spoken to her mother, which could have been arranged but would have brought complications, and had relied on rare, brief conversations with the teenage Silvio. She was now familiar with life in north-east London.

The heat of the summer had gone. Two days after she had met Eddie, the heavens had opened and a thunderstorm of epic proportions had broken, sheet and fork lightning, claps that shook windows, torrential rain, and then cool. The day she had met Eddie, London had been as hot as Naples. It was as if that storm, biblical in its scale, which had caught them out in the open space of Clissold Park, had severed a link with her home city. The deluge had drenched them and they had kissed, then gone to his single room to take off the sodden clothes… and she had lost the link to her city, with the roasting heat, the stench of the streets, the strewn litter, plastic strips and discarded paper, the dumped kitchen gear and the slow rot of dog mess. All were with her now, as she ran on the dusty verge towards the cemetery entrance, as were, ever sharper, her memories of the young woman she had once been proud to say to her face was her ‘best, most-valued friend’.

By hitching the hem of her skirt higher, flashing more of her thighs at those gawping at her from the cars, Immacolata could lengthen her stride. It shamed her that in London her best, most-valued friend had almost slipped from her mind. She was within sight of the gates. Eight months before, she had promised to stay in close touch with Marianna Rossetti; in London she could have justified the rupturing of the thread. Not now. Silvio’s hesitant words resonated in her mind, and his stumbled reading of the notice in the Cronaca. She didn’t know the cause of death, only that her friend had passed away in the Nola hospital. She assumed an accident had been responsible. There was, as she knew it, no history of illness.

Her heel broke. She had left the London apartment early, while Vincenzo still slept, but had taken the precaution of wearing clothes for a language class. She had put her black suit, stockings, shoes and handbag in a zipped holdall. She couldn’t have guaranteed that Vincenzo wouldn’t appear at his bedroom door, blinking and bleary, to query why she was wearing funeral best to go to the school. She knew about security, the care that must be taken. It was ingrained in her, like grime embedded in the wrinkles of a labourer’s hands. She had changed in the toilet of the delayed flight and had looked the part of a mourner when the aircraft had dropped down to the tarmac at Capodichino. Her trainers were in the holdall, which was in the boot of the Fiat, which was stuck in traffic more than two hundred metres behind her. Immacolata swore, and heard laughter billow from an Alfa level with her. She scooped up the damaged shoe, from which the broken heel hung at an angle, and pushed it into her bag.

She hopped and limped to the gate, sensing the softness of baked dust against her left foot, then wincing pain, which meant a glass shard or a sliver of metal. At the gate three or four families were with the flower saleswoman. She barged in front of them, dropped a fifty-euro note on the table, took a bouquet of white roses and greenery from a bucket and kept moving. If she had queued and waited for the change, the flowers would have cost her twenty euros at most. In Naples, she had learned that she had no need – her father’s daughter – to pay for anything. She headed through the gate, wiped her arm across her forehead and went in search of a burial.

The cemeteries Immacolata Borelli knew in Naples were on the extreme edge of the Sanita district, where her father had interests, and out beyond the Poggioreale gaol. Both sprawled over many acres, communities of the dead, with myriad buildings for the cadavers to rot in. This one seemed smaller, insignificant, but it served a town of only thirty thousand. A statue faced her, a life-size image of a young woman of the same size and youth as her best friend, with a fresh daffodil hooked in her bronze hand. Her name, set in the stone wall beside her, was Angelabella, and the dates showed that she had died in her nineteenth year. Her face showed innocence. Immacolata was jolted – she had thought too much of the filth on the verge leading to the gates, her broken shoe, the size of the cemetery, and not sufficiently of her friend, whose death had brought her here.

She didn’t know where to go.

She tried, twice, asking: where was the burial chapel of the Rossetti family? A man shrugged. A woman grimaced. She ran up the steps of the Reception, noticing how acute now was the pain in her stockinged foot – saw a smear of blood behind her – and demanded an answer from an official who sat at a desk and sipped rank-smelling coffee. He, too, showed no interest. She told him that the burial was taking place now and his shoulders heaved, as if to indicate that many funerals took place now. She swore, that word for excrement from the gutters of the Sanita and the Forcella districts. The official pointed above his head to a chart that mapped the layout of the Nola cemetery.

Immacolata went past the family chapels, where small candles burned and plastic flowers bloomed, where photographs of old and young fought against time’s ravage. She crossed an open space where the sun shimmered on white stone grave markers. She went towards the far wall, using the pathways between the stones. She approached a small group, their backs to her. She saw two ladders above the shoulders of the mourners. An elongated bundle, wrapped in white sheeting, was lifted and two men climbed the higher steps of the ladders and took its weight.

Immacolata remembered the shape of Marianna Rossetti’s body, where it was full and where it bulged, the width of the hips on which a skirt would twist when she walked, but the men on the ladders lifted her corpse as though it weighed nothing. The Rossetti family vault was on the fourth level. The bundle went above the names and dates of the lower levels, the plastic flowers commemorating strangers in life and companions in death, then was level with a gaping hole. It had been hard to believe, when Silvio had telephoned, that her friend was dead, harder now to believe it as her friend was lifted level with the hole, then given a decisive shove towards the back of the burial place. As the men came down the ladders, she heard women weeping. Now the men went back up the ladders and grunted as they raised the hole’s cover, slotted it into place, then gave it two loud thwacks to satisfy themselves that it was securely fastened. Perhaps an aunt of Marianna Rossetti, or a grandmother, or an elderly friend of the family, would come to the elevated grave in two years’ time to clean the bones of the last decayed flesh and gristle, then stack them in a small space further back against the rear wall.

The noisy weeping was over. The ladders were carried discreetly to the side and the mourners started to shuffle away.

They came towards Immacolata.

She wondered whether Maria Rossetti would hug her, kiss her, cling to her. She wondered, also, whether Luigi Rossetti would shake her hand, composed, or whether his head would sink on to her shoulder and wet it with his tears. She hardly knew them, had never been to their home – it would have been impossible for her to reciprocate Marianna’s hospitality, for her friend to come to the Borelli clan’s apartment – but she had assumed that a daughter would have told her mother of a friend. She thought she would be thanked for the respect she had shown their daughter.

Lopsided, balanced on one shoe, she waited for the little group to reach her.

Peculiar. They seemed not to have seen her.

Maria and Luigi Rossetti were nearing her – perhaps a few of their brothers, sisters, cousins with them – but none in the group smiled in the wan way of the grieving. She might as well not have been there. They came on. She did not know what to do with the flowers and they were in her hand, which hung against her hip, and her hat had slipped to the side as she had hurried through the cemetery – the veil no longer covered her left eye.

She had met – engineered occasions – Maria and Luigi Rossetti at the college where she and Marianna had studied. It would be hard for her to step aside without standing on a grave, and, if she wobbled – as she might without a shoe – she would knock over two or three vases holding artificial blooms… It was not as if they hadn’t seen her. The parents’ eyes were now wide open, assimilating who was astride their path.

Immacolata knew that she was seen and recognised and the greeting came first from Luigi. He stopped in front of her and, as she held out the flowers from which water still dripped, spat on to the concrete path, halfway between her feet and his own brilliantly polished toecaps. He looked into her eyes, unwavering, and the word came silently, so that his wife would not hear it cross his lips but Immacolata would read it. He called her a whore. He did not utter the word a historian would have used when lecturing on the sex trade in Pompeii or Ercolano, but the one that would come naturally to today’s dockers in the port of Naples. To her best friend’s father, she was a vulgar whore of no worth unless her legs were wide and her knickers dropped. And the father was a respected teacher of mathematics to eighth-year students. She gasped.

He stepped a half-pace to his right and made room for his wife to pass. His eyes were without life, as if grief had purged it. Not so the mother’s. Her eyes burned with anger. Immacolata had a moment in which to evade the attack but her reaction was not fast enough. The mother was personal assistant to the manager of a well-respected insurance company and had a reputation for integrity, dignity and probity. She reached out and caught the tight-drawn lapels of Immacolata’s blouse, ripping the buttons from their holes. Her other hand grabbed the pretty little lace bow between the cups of Immacolata’s brassiere and the fabric split. Immacolata fell back, feeling the sun’s force on her bare skin before she ducked to cover herself. Then the mother said, soft and controlled, that a whore should display herself and feel no shame because she cared for nothing but money. Someone kicked her shin – she didn’t know whether it was the father or the mother. She went down on her knees and saw the bouquet crumpled beneath her, the stems snapped.

The father snarled, ‘You are a whore and you have no decency. I know everything about you. I know who you are, what nest of snakes spawned you, the poison that comes from you – which took the life of our beloved child. She died from leukaemia. We were told at the hospital by the oncology department why – how – she contracted leukaemia. You and your family are responsible. You may be welcome beside the autostrada as you wait for your clients, but you are not welcome here. Perhaps the only language you understand is that of the gutter – so fuck off.’

The mother said, ‘For four or five weeks, she complained of tiredness. We thought she’d been studying too hard. It was only when bruises appeared that we went with her to the doctor. She seemed anaemic. He examined her closely, particularly her eyes. They are trained to hide anxiety, but he rang the hospital, told them she was a priority case and sent us there immediately. I rang my husband at work and called him out of his class.’

Around Immacolata, cold, harsh faces blocked out the sun. When she dropped her head she saw the men’s trousers and the women’s knees, and if she stared at the dust there were shoes, men’s and women’s, and she feared she would be kicked again. She tried to make herself smaller, dragging her knees into her stomach, her elbows across her chest, but she couldn’t shut out what she was told.

The father said, ‘Of course, we know of the Triangle of Death – we’ve read about it – but we don’t talk about it. In Marigliano, Acerra and Nola we’re familiar with its mortality statistics, and the criminality of the Camorra in our town. They are paid to dispose of chemical waste – and dump it in fields, orchards and streams. That is what the Camorra, those foul gangsters, do. For two decades – starting long before we knew of it – the ground and water table were contaminated with poison so that the Camorra could get richer. They and their families have the scruples and greed of whores. You are part of a family so you’re guilty too.’

The mother said, ‘They found her platelet count was low. They took a sample of bone marrow to evaluate her condition, but there was no need to do any tests because that first evening her condition was obvious. First, she had an agonising headache until she lost consciousness. We were in a ward of twenty beds, most occupied, and had just a curtain for privacy as we watched the team struggle to save her life. We could see that they knew it was hopeless because they work in the Triangle and had been in such situations many times before. A neuro-surgeon was called, but she died in front of us. They tried to resuscitate her, but within forty minutes she was gone, snatched from us in a public ward, festooned with cables and breathing aids. There was no opportunity for us to comfort her, or send for the priest because that day he had gone to Naples to buy shoes. Her death hurt too much for us to weep. We were so unprepared.’

The words rang in her head. She knew now that they would not kick her again. They would have seen her hands trembling as she covered her breasts and clutched the shredded blouse.

He said, ‘A doctor told me she could have contracted the disease as much as a decade earlier, swimming in a stream, playing in long grass in a field or under the trees in an orchard…’

She said, ‘I used to take her to the fields and the stream behind our home. She would swim, splash, play, then roll in the grass to dry herself. While I watched her, laughed, and thought of her as a gift from God, she was being poisoned.’

The father said, ‘The doctor told me that the farmland around Nola and the water table are saturated with dioxins. If I wanted to know more, I was told, I should see the carabinieri… I didn’t think they’d speak to me. But yesterday I saw a maresciallo – I teach his son. He told me of the Camorra’s criminal clans who make vast profits from dumping chemicals in this area: they call them the eco-Mafia. He said the clan leader in Nola had sub-contracted the transportation of waste materials from the north to the Borellis from Naples. I believed him. You’ve prostituted yourself for greed. Go.’

The mother said, ‘There’s evil in your blood, but I doubt you’re capable of self-disgust or shame. Your presence here is an intrusion. Go.’

In all of her life, Immacolata had never before been spoken to in such a fashion. She couldn’t meet their eyes but kept her head low as she bent to pick up the destroyed flowers.

She passed a young man with a tidy haircut and a suit but no mourner’s tie. He wore dark glasses and she couldn’t read his expression. She made her way out of the cemetery. She had known for a decade and a half that her father dealt in long-distance heavy-goods traffic, and for a decade that her brother, Vincenzo, was involved with northern industry, and she herself, had arranged the hire of trucks from far-away hauliers. At the gate, by the statue of Angelabella, aged eighteen, she dumped the flowers in a bin and hobbled out to look for Silvio.

She felt numb and shivered.

She looked at them from the door, but they seemed not to have heard her come in. She had got off the bus and walked the last mile, ignoring the drizzle. She had had no coat, and the shoes, torn blouse and black suit were in the holdall, with the ripped underwear. She was wearing what her brother would have seen her in when she had gone out early that morning.

Vincenzo and three friends were playing cards. She watched them through a fog of cigarette smoke, and waited for their reaction so that she could resurrect the lie and embellish it. Each held a fan of cards up to his face.

Since she had been dropped off at Capodichino to wait for the flight, she had thought of the bundle lifted by the men on the ladders, the accusation made against her, and had seen the crowded hospital ward as a life had drained away. The bundle had been so easy to lift that the wind, however slight, might have wafted it from the men’s grip and carried it up and away into the cloudless sky.

Vincenzo was the heir apparent to their father. He was thirty-one, a target for the Palace of Justice, the detectives of the Squadra Mobile and the investigators of the ROS, the Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale of the carabinieri. He had made one mistake in the ten years he had spent shadowing his father, the clan leader: he had used a mobile phone and the call had been traced. The apartment in the Forcella district from which it had originated had been raided and scribbled pizzini had been recovered. From these scraps of paper, covered with microscopic handwriting – Vincenzo’s – another covo had been identified and searched. There, a Beretta P38 handgun had been found stowed in greaseproof paper under a bath panel. It carried the DNA signature of Vincenzo Borelli, and the ballistics laboratory had reported that it had been used to fire the bullets taken from the bodies of three men. He would face a gaol sentence as long as his father expected when he came, eventually, to trial. Vincenzo had disappeared from the face of the earth, and so had his sister: he as a fugitive, she dropping from view and gaining new skills in handling money movements.

In the doorway, she could have recited every word that had been said to her as she had lain on the ground. Every last word. And she could remember how the aggression had cut into her, wounding her. Never in her life had anyone spoken to her with such venom, or made such an accusation, while seeming not to care for the consequences of denouncing the daughter of Pasquale and Gabriella Borelli, sister of Vincenzo and Giovanni. It should have meant a death sentence. To humiliate and abuse the daughter of a clan leader was the act of a man bored with living. If her father, in his cell in the north, or her mother, who flitted between safe-houses, had been told what her friend’s parent had hissed at her, that man would have been condemned. If she had interrupted the card game to say where she had been and what had happened, within twenty-four hours blood would have run on a pavement, a body would have lain at a grotesque angle and the authority of the clan would have been preserved. She had not even told Silvio, who had looked curiously at her torn blouse but hadn’t asked.

Her brother won the hand. He always won. The game was for small stakes, two-pound coins. The heap on the table in front of Vincenzo was four or five times greater than the piles in front of the other players. London served two purposes for him. He was out of sight of the magistrates and investigators in Italy, but he was also in a position to do good deals, exploit opportunities and build the foundations of networks. He dealt in leather jackets and shoes manufactured in the small sweat-shop factories on the slopes of Vesuvio, then shipped out of the Naples docks – in secrecy after the labels of the most famed European fashion-houses had been sewn or stamped in place – to Felixstowe on Britain’s east coast, or to the Atlantic harbours of the United States. A leather coat, with a designer label, could be manufactured for twenty euros and sold in Boston, New York or Chicago for three hundred. Many opportunities existed for Vincenzo Borelli’s advancement. The downside was that a prolonged absence from the seat of power – Forcella and Sanita in the old district of Naples – diminished his status and authority. His parents had decreed that in London he should watch over his sister while she qualified in accountancy. A clan needed trustworthy finance people. He treated her as a child, showing no interest as she stood in the doorway. The music billowed around her.

The cruellest images were those of the hospital ward. When Silvio had driven her away from the cemetery, down the via Saviano, they had come to the inner area of Nola and had gone past two of the hospital’s entrances. It was dominated by a ruined castle on a hilltop. It was a modern building. Of any hospital closer to her own area, she could have said which clan had controlled the construction of it, which had supplied the concrete, and which had owned the politician whose name was on the contracts, but this one was too far from her home. She imagined the interior of the Ospedale Santa Maria della Pieta, death coming fast behind a cotton screen, a young woman’s mother screaming as her daughter slipped away, the father beating clenched fists against the wall behind the bed, the equipment’s alarm pealing because the medics couldn’t save a life, the mutterings of a stand-in priest, the weeping of patients in the adjacent beds, and the squeak of wheels as the body was taken away, the medical staff shrugging…

Now Vincenzo looked up, gave a brief smile in greeting. He held up an empty beer bottle, then pointed to the kitchen door. Immacolata dropped her holdall, went to the kitchen, took four Peronis from the fridge, opened them, carried them back into the living room and found space between the empty bottles, filled ashtrays and cigarette cartons to put them down. She was not acknowledged. She closed the door behind her.

In her room, she lay on her bed. She did not weep. She stared at the ceiling, the lightbulb and the cobweb draped off the shade and didn’t think of the boy who had made her laugh. There was music playing in the living room and traffic outside in the street, voices raised in the apartment above and a baby screaming below. They meant nothing to her and she shut them out, but she couldn’t escape from the raised bundle, the spoken savagery and cruelty of death.

The young man found his maresciallo in a bar to the right side of the piazza in front of the town’s cathedral. He was from the Udine region in the far north-east, where there were rolling hills and valleys, civilisation and cleanliness. He would have hated Nola, his first posting after training for induction into the carabinieri, had it not been for the gruff kindness of his commanding officer. He still wore the suit that had been suitable for the funeral service and the burial, but his dark glasses were high now on his hair.

He waited until he was waved to a chair, then sat and handed the maresciallo the plastic folder he had prepared. A waiter approached. He ordered Coca-Cola. The folder, with the name on it of Marianna Rossetti and that day’s date, was opened. His report covered five closely typed pages. He knew that, two days before, the maresciallo had met with the girl’s father and was aware of the circumstances and cause of the girl’s death. He himself had been ordered to the basilica and the cemetery to watch, listen – it had been explained to him that the family’s emotions ran high. Also, he knew that a researcher at the hospital had published material in the foreign-language edition of the Lancet Oncology under a title that referred to il triangolo della morte, and that in the secure archive section of the barracks there was a small mountain of files dealing with the area’s contamination. The maresciallo had read the first two pages, and he sat in silence. The waiter brought his Coca-Cola, with an espresso and a large measure of Stock brandy. He had known the maresciallo always spent time here in the evening and that he could be certain of finding him. He tried to read the other man’s face, but saw nothing. He had hoped for praise.

The question was as blunt as it was unexpected: ‘Have you drunk alcohol tonight?’

And he had believed that praise was due. The father and mother of the deceased had made no attempt to lower their voices so he had heard them crystal clear. Within minutes what they had said was written in his notebook as virtual verbatim. He had the accusation, the condemnation and the name. An older man, jaundiced and cynical, from long service with the Arma – what the carabinieri called themselves – might have hung back, lounged against a distant headstone, smoked a quiet cheroot and reflected on what a shit place Nola was. The young man had made certain he was close enough to hear every word and to see the violence shown towards the woman. He accepted that he would not be praised.

‘No. I haven’t had a drink for three-’

He was interrupted. The report was in the folder, which was pushed back across the table. The maresciallo had a mobile and was scrolling, then making a connection. The young man was shown his superior’s back as a call was made. He couldn’t hear what was said. The chair scraped as the maresciallo turned to him.

‘If you haven’t had a drink, you can drive to Naples. There’s a barracks at piazza Dante. You’re expected.’

‘Excuse me.’

‘What?’

‘My report – is it useful?’

The maresciallo swirled the coffee, drank it, then some brandy, and coughed. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps, if you want praise, you should ask the officer I’m sending you to. My old mother does jigsaw puzzles to pass her time, and tells me that discovering where one piece fits will solve the rest. There may be a thousand pieces on the tray in front of her, but slotting one piece into its home makes the rest easy. I can’t say whether or not what you have told me is that one piece. Twenty-five years ago I was at the training college in Campobasso with Mario Castrolami, who’s waiting for you at the piazza Dante. He will decide whether or not you’ve helped to solve the puzzle or made it more difficult.’

‘Thank you.’

He had the folder under his arm as he walked to the door. In the glass he saw the maresciallo wave to the waiter, who poured another measure of Stock. He went out into the late evening and felt the warmth on his face. He didn’t know whether or not he had learned something useful that day. He started his car and drove towards Naples. He wouldn’t be there, he estimated, before eleven, and wondered what sort of investigator was still at his desk at that time, and what a physical and verbal attack on a young woman at a funeral might mean.

‘Fucking brilliant.’

He turned the third page, and started on the fourth. He saw, from the corner of his eye, the carabinieri recruit, the kid just off the training course, flush with pleasure.

‘Not you. You want a lecture? I’ll give you one. If you stand against the power of the Camorra clans, you’ll have behind you tens of thousands of uniformed men. But still, I think, you’ll hesitate. Luigi Rossetti – who stands behind him? Only his wife. But he had the courage, alone, to stand up against the weasel girl from a clan family. All you’ve done is listen. Don’t think you have the courage of the Rossetti parents. Did the weasel swear at them when they attacked her?’

‘She said nothing.’

‘Did she challenge them? Do I need to offer protection to the parents? Can he go back to teaching, she to her work? Their courage was amazing, but should they spend the rest of their days in hiding? Are they dead already? What did you read on her face?’

‘Humiliation.’

Castrolami finished reading and shuffled the pages, straightening them. He chuckled, but without mirth. ‘Understand. This weasel is the daughter of Pasquale and Gabriella Borelli, the sister of Vincenzo and-’

The recruit interrupted him, which very few did. ‘It was humiliation. Also, she’s a member of the clan, yes, but also a friend of Marianna Rossetti. She came to Marianna Rossetti’s funeral and brought flowers. The Rossetti family have no connection – my maresciallo is definite on this – with the Camorra inside Nola or beyond it. This friendship crossed a divide.’

The pencil had a blunt tip and was chewed at the other end. Castrolami rapped it on his desk, found a small place, a few centimetres square, clear of papers and beat a tattoo. His forehead was cut with a frown. Mario Castrolami could accept preconceptions and believe them, but when he was confronted with a superior argument he could ditch them. The Borelli girl had been at the funeral.

‘It’s rare, but not unknown, for a member of a clan to have a friendship with someone outside it.’

‘She didn’t fight back. She was shamed.’

‘I believe you.’

‘Is it useful?’

On the desk, files and folders made foothills and mountains. Coffee had sustained him through the evening. Around his desk, against the walls, there were filing cabinets, some locked and others open, showing squashed-in paper. There were more files at his feet, and on the bookshelves that flanked the door. He could have pointed to them or to the chart Sellotaped to the wall on the right of the door, which listed the clans and the districts they fed off, with lines running between them, blue to show alliances and red to show feuds, or to the montage of mug-shots on a board that hung to the left of the door, a hundred faces, men and women, categorised as major organised-crime players. He could have waved his arms theatrically to demonstrate the scale of the war in which he was a foot-soldier, the numbers of the enemy, and spoken of a campaign without end. Had he done so, he thought he would have cheapened himself.

‘In a year or two, what you’ve brought me may prove important – or in a week. I don’t know… The problem is that you didn’t see Immacolata Borelli arrive, and you don’t know how she left. Where did she come from? What was her destination? You’ve given me a little, which is tantalising… Thank you.’

Alone again, he felt excited, which was unusual for him, after twenty-five years with the Arma, and seventeen in the ROS. But it was there, unmistakable. He sank down from his chair, was on hands and knees, and his stomach sagged as he burrowed for the file that held her photograph. When he found it and extracted the photograph – taken in Forcella by a long-lens surveillance camera – he stared at it. Could a woman from that family show remorse and be humiliated by the death of a friend? He gazed at the photograph and searched for an answer.

Time ebbed. Eddie was slumped on the bed.

Before getting back to his room, he had sat for three hours in the restaurant on the left side, going up, of Kingsland high street. Opposite him there had been an empty chair and a laid place that went unused.

The heels of his trainers left smears on the coverlet. Her face would have puckered, a frown wrinkling her forehead, if she had been there to see them. She was not. Her picture, straight ahead of him, had pride of place on the wall facing the bed. The landlord’s offering, a Victorian artist’s effort at cattle grazing beside the Thames, was out of sight behind the wardrobe, Mac’s picture in its place. She was in the Mall, in front of the Palace, smiling, her hair thrown back, T-shirt strained, and the sun was on her. It was the best photograph he had of her, so he’d taken the memory stick to the camera shop the Punjabis ran, in Dalston Lane, where they’d blown it up to thirty inches by twenty. The picture was stuck to the wall – if it was taken down the paper would come with it. He thought it was there in perpetuity and had come to believe that he and Mac were in it for the long term.

The Afghan place, which did a wonderful lamb dish, was their favourite, and they could make the food last for ever, as they gazed into each other’s eyes and held hands across the table. It was as if they belonged in the place, and the people who ran it – from Jalalabad – welcomed them with an enthusiasm that lifted the soul. All the time he had sat there he had waited for her to push the door wide and come in, panting, then hang on his neck to whisper apologies and murmur some excuse. She’d have kissed his lips and he’d have kissed hers and… He had studied the menu as a break from watching the door – not that he needed to because he knew it by heart. He hadn’t ordered food for one, hadn’t even ordered a drink. He hadn’t believed she wouldn’t come.

To the left of the photograph was the door to his room, a flimsy dressing-gown – Mac’s – hanging on it. She would have complained loudly, in a jumble of Italian and English, if she had seen the smears on the coverlet, because it was his and her bed when she slipped into his little home. Only one room, only one window overlooking an overgrown back garden, then another row of houses, chimneys and greyness. The rain had fallen more heavily as the evening had gone by and now it was spattering the window panes. They had made love on that bed, sometimes fast, sometimes noisy, sometimes slow and quiet. They had first been on it after their second meeting… not long then, maybe twenty minutes, until she’d said she had ‘to get back’, and had wandered over his threadbare carpet, retrieving the scattered, sodden clothes, and had refused to let him walk her to her front door. It had been the happiest two months in the life of Eddie Deacon… He lay on his bed and hated the world.

He’d left the restaurant after three hours because his was the only table with a spare place and two couples were waiting. The owners had seemed to sympathise, but had made clear that his love life was his concern and their priority was to seat one of the waiting couples. He had shambled out, and for a while he hadn’t noticed that the rain was persistent, driving. The misery had eaten into him. Nobody who knew him, who saw him with Mac, could believe that Eddie Deacon had landed a girl like her. Dear old Eddie, ‘steady Eddie’, one of thousands who drifted along and didn’t stand out, who was better than bloody ordinary but who didn’t bother to be exceptional, had a girl on his arm who was dramatic, impressive, head-turning… and a bloody good shag. He had shuffled home and the rain had dribbled down his face, and he’d been within a hair’s breadth of being knocked over crossing a road because hadn’t seen the van coming. He hadn’t known such love or such unhappiness.

On that bed, her still astride him and him still inside her, his sweat running with hers, her hair in his face, his lips brushing the cherrystone nipples, two evenings ago, they had fixed the rendezvous time and place. Always, in the two months since the park-bench meeting beside the Serpentine, she had been on time for their meetings. There were magazines on the floor, dropped haphazardly or chucked, Espresso and Oggi, fashion magazines and home-refurbishment magazines, a pile of her textbooks, dictionaries and notepads. He liked it best when she wore the dressing-gown, nothing else, and sat cross-legged on the bed, close to him, and they worked on her English – he liked every damn thing about her. It was the first and only time she had failed to turn up.

He didn’t have an address for her, only a sight of a street corner, no mobile number. It hadn’t mattered before because she was always where she said she would be… He thought a disaster must have struck her, couldn’t think of anything else. It hurt Eddie so much that Mac wasn’t there… and he realised how little he knew of her, how much had been kept from him. Questions deflected. Subjects changed. He could have bloody well wept. She was smiling at him from the photograph, the dressing-gown hanging loose on the hook… Damned if he’d lose her.

He stood by the hut. The sun teetered at the top of the treeline, and was in his eyes. It was hard for him to see. Behind the open door of the hut, at his back, he heard crackling radio connections. He had a little Spanish, picked up on three visits here, so if he had strained and concentrated he would have had definitive answers to the two outstanding questions: how many were kicking and how many were not? He stared out over the trees and thought he heard the first sounds of a Huey’s engine and the gentle chop of the rotors. When the bird landed and they spilled out he would know for sure how many were kicking and how many were not. He would know, also, whether the advice he had given to the captain was sound or horseshit. He lit another cigarette – he’d worked through the best part of a carton since the team had been lifted on to the plateau and set down in the clearing close to the hut.

His name was called. ‘They are coming, Lukas. Two minutes, and they will be down.’

He raised a hand in acknowledgement and ash fell from his cigarette on to his boot.

In the middle of the plateau, a soldier in combat gear took something from his webbing belt, arced an arm back, then tossed whatever it was. When it landed bright orange smoke burst from it, climbed and was shifted by the light wind, masking the sun. The noise of the helicopter was louder. He heard, behind him, the exodus from the hut and the communications. The captain reached him, took the cigarette from between his fingers, dragged hard on it twice, then replaced it. The captain was Pablo – probably a good man, probably an honest one. He couldn’t have said how many of the others, those who had gone into the jungle or manned the communications nets, were good and honest. Too often a call was made, satphone, mobile or landline, or a message sent, and the storm squad found only a ‘dry house’, which had been used to hold some wretch but from which he had been shifted out. Pablo had gone past him and was yelling orders. Soldiers came off their asses and carried folded stretchers towards the orange smoke. He told himself it meant nothing. It was standard operating procedure.

The Huey came in low, doing a contour run over the canopy.

Pablo stopped, turned, shouted: ‘Are you coming forward, Lukas, or staying back?’

He indicated, two hands up, that he was standing his ground. He dropped the cigarette, ground it out under his boot and lit another. He was not in an army so didn’t wear a uniform. He had on a heavy wool blue shirt that was buttoned at the cuffs and kept him warm enough against the chill at this time of year and at this height above sea level. His trousers were heavy-duty corduroy, dun-coloured. His boots were not military but of the brown leather used by hikers, and hitched to one shoulder was a rucksack that held his spare socks, underclothes, washbag and the notepad laptop.

The Huey made the approach. Usual for it to do a circle of a touch-down point, give the flier a chance to check the ground, but it came straight in.

If the bird came straight in, and was dropping the last few feet over the dispersed orange smoke, it didn’t mean his advice had been wrong. He gave the advice as best he could and sometimes the corks popped and sometimes the bottles stayed in their boxes. His advice, offered to the captain, given what he knew, given the location where the poor bastards were held and the near impossibility of maintaining secrecy, had been to make the strike. The Huey landed heavily on the skids, bounced and settled.

The light hit the bird’s camouflage-painted bodywork and he had a good view inside the door, which was slid back. The hatch machine-gunner jumped down and went up to his thighs in the long grass, which made more room for the soldiers with the stretchers to pass them inside. Three were handed up. If, at that moment, it was a disappointment to him that three were needed, he didn’t show it. His feelings of disappointment or elation, his thoughts, were not for sharing. They wouldn’t be FARC guys, wounded enemy, on the stretchers: they’d have been tipped out. Two of the stretchers were lifted down, the orderlies holding drips high above them, the bearers hurrying as best they could. A doctor in a pristine uniform was between the stretchers and examining the occupants on the move. The wounded would be stabilised, then casevaced: it was the way things were done.

He saw the third stretcher lifted down, no drip. The body-bag rolled on the canvas as it was lowered.

The doctor came past him. ‘They were spotted when they were almost on target, but it gave away the critical last thirty seconds. It’s what it depends on – success, failure. I think, Lukas, it’s neither… I hope to save them.’

He didn’t look into the faces of the two men, just glanced and saw the long, wispy beards and hair, the blood of bullet wounds on filthy clothing, and the grimaces because they were in shock and the morphine had not yet taken effect. Three men now emerged from the Huey and they were helped down, then led away bent low from the spinning rotors. They looked weak and near to collapse. He did the equation. Intelligence had reported six hostages – a French tourist who was an irresponsible idiot, a Canadian water-purification-plant engineer whose light aircraft had come down three years earlier, a judge who had been kidnapped eighteen months back, two local politicians who had been snatched four and a half years ago, and a missionary who was said to have Peruvian papers. One dead, two wounded, three unharmed was a good return.

Two soldiers were walking wounded. Five bodies were dumped from the hatch; they’d be FARC guys. A Chinook was coming in now. Would have been called up when the ‘Contact’ report had come in over the communications. A monster with a double rotor system and a full medical team. It was a good return – he’d seen the missionary walking towards him, and had seen him also, politely, shake off a hand that tried to support him. It was all because of the missionary. It was not for the tourist or the engineer or the judge or the local-government people; they could have been forgotten and left to rot. If it had been Special Forces, Americans, on the ground, the message would have been sent out in clear to the FARC that the missionary tag was bogus. The man passed him and there was a murmur, lips barely moving, which might have been two words: ‘Thank you.’ Probably was. He didn’t acknowledge. The captain, Pablo, was not inside the loop and didn’t know that the freeing of an American asset was the sole reason for this mission. Lukas, no one else, would have been permitted by the Agency to give the crucial advice on the rescue of their man. He had the reputation… but he shunned pride.

There was a colonel on the Chinook. He slapped him on the arm, and bayed, ‘Good work, Lukas. We lost a local politico, but he was a left sympathiser, and the Frenchman. We’ve saved the judge, who has good connections with central government, and God’s man, the Canadian and a mayor from this region. The injured will live. Fine work.’

A hand was offered but he kept one of his in a pocket and the other cupped a cigarette end. He did not do courtesies. It was not that he intended rudeness, more that the pleasantries seemed unimportant, and he wouldn’t have considered such a refusal might offend. Guarding the cigarette was a greater priority.

But, later, at the ramp of the Chinook, he permitted Pablo to hug him briefly.

It would be an hour’s flight to the military base attached to Bogota’s civil airport.

He would be in time to catch the Avianca night flight out of the Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado for the long haul over the wastes of the Atlantic before the European landfall, then the short commuter ride to his home. The families of the survivors would be at the El Dorado, with jerks from the embassy, flashlights, government ministers and a ratpack of hacks. He would be well clear of them.

He would sleep on the long-haul flight. He always slept well coming off an assignment: win, lose or draw, he’d sleep.

2

The glass-sided box of the public telephone was ahead. The pavement was crowded at that time of the early evening and it slipped in and out of her view but she kept her eye on it, as if it was the Holy Grail.

She had not slept the previous night and had not eaten that day. She had missed an all-day seminar on insolvency, had walked the streets and sat in a park, with Downs Road behind her and the open expanse in front where mothers pushed prams, smoked and gossiped, where kids threw off their hoods and kicked a ball, and where work-gangs – sullen, resentful and bored – cleared dumped litter under supervision. She had watched them all. Had seen the old walk arm in arm or dragged along by a dog on a tight lead and the young drift. She had watched the high windows and balconies of the tower blocks on the west side of the park, and seen wet washing put out on lines to dry and dry washing taken in. The hours of the day had been eaten up. It was about betrayal, a big word, as big as any she knew in its weight.

It had rolled in her mind. Tradimento. It had made her – in her bed, unable to sleep – shiver and feel dread, because she knew the reward that waited for those who betrayed their own.

Her hand was tight on her shoulder-bag as she walked down the shallow slope of the street towards the telephone box. It was occupied. Three boys in baggy trousers and oversized sweat tops were crowded inside it: she wondered why they used a public phone, not mobiles – and whether they bought or sold. She looked to see if any others were hovering to use the phone, and thought not. Where she came from, that culture and that society, the word tradimento had a taste as bitter as poison. Betrayal was an ultimate sin, was stamping on the face of Christ… and she had sat through today on the bench in the park. She had kept her hands tight on the bag’s straps and had watched but not absorbed. She had agonised on the implications of betrayal. Her first act of betrayal had been that morning when she had come out of the bathroom, dressed, and had crossed the living room. Vincenzo was lounging in a chair, smoking, a towel draped across his stomach as he turned the pages of a football fanzine about Napoli SSC. She had gone into her bedroom and come out a moment later with the bag that contained the notes she took in her classes. He had asked, without interest, about her day. She had answered, a mutter, that she had a seminar on insolvenza. She had needed to carry the work bag if she was to support the lie that she was attending her classes. She had lied to her brother and started the process of betrayal. Vincenzo had grinned – the idea of insolvency amused him. He, his father and mother, his brothers, his sister were worth hundreds of millions of euros, would never know insolvency… She had sat on the bench and watched, her stomach had growled, and she had steeled herself.

Was there something else she could do to reflect her feelings? Like what? Join a religious order and say prayers? Become involved with a charity, and help the mentally handicapped, alcoholics or HIV sufferers? Sign up for a campaigning political group and attempt to bulldoze change through a ballot box? Walk out, lose herself, try to forget what had been a part of her life? As alternatives, they had all – during the night – seemed inadequate and degrading to the memory of her best friend. Immacolata had found the strength to go to the telephone box.

When the self-doubt was worst she would stare out over the trees and up into the clouds, feel the rain on her skin and take herself back to those hours. Not many of them. She had been able to look at her watch and think that twenty-four hours earlier she had been hurrying along the verge of via Saviano, or that it was the moment her heel had snapped, or that she was hopping, hobbling, along a path between the family chapels, or that she was in the centre of the cemetery at Nola, staring across white gravestones to a far wall where the family slots were. She had recalled the hands taking the bundle and carrying it up the ladders. Clearest were the images of her clothing being ripped, her shin kicked, and the denunciation of her family’s part in the death of her friend.

Had she known of the trade in the disposal of toxic waste? Of course she had.

Had she known of the profits to be made from shipping contaminated rubbish from factories in the north to dumping grounds in the fields and orchards of the south? Of course she had.

Had it ever intruded into her thoughts that her family would fear responsibility for the killing of her friend? Never… She remembered the flowers, bent, worthless. What she remembered best gave her the strength to commit the act: tradimento.

She stood by the telephone box. She eyed the boys. Had she been at home, on her own streets, and ragazzi had used a telephone she was waiting for, she would have been recognised, the call terminated, the booth offered, and respect would have been shown to her. Maybe, even, one of the kids – had she been at home – would have wiped the receiver on his T-shirt to leave it clean for her. Two of the boys stared at her, challenging. Here, on Kingsland Road, in Dalston against the border of Hackney, the boys with hoods on their heads, Nikes and new tracksuits ruled and did not expect to be stared out. She thought they were shit. One, the biggest, seemed to make a decision about her. He didn’t pull a weapon, but ended the call and dropped the receiver, letting it dangle on its cable, then slouched out, his shoulder brushing hers. It was probably the nearest he had come to a moment of submission. She heard, behind her, another spit at the paving-stones.

She lifted the receiver. She knew the number. Anyone in her family knew the number, and the occupant of the desk on which the call would ring out. She had not thought of the young man. Perhaps he, too, was betrayed. He was ignored, didn’t matter to her, as she stood in the glass-sided box. The headlights of cars, buses and vans glistened on the street, the lamps above her were bright and threw an orange wash over the windows of shops, banks, building societies and betting shops – all closed now. The young man didn’t matter to her and had no place in the fierce heat of the cemetery at Nola. She put a Visa card into the slot and the display panel responded.

She dialled. She would not have needed to know the number. Neither would any of her family have ‘needed’ to know it. Knowledge of the number was power. Having it showed the tentacle reach of the clan. The direct line would have been listed only on the most confidential sheets and would have circulated only among a chosen, trusted few. Knowing it was a demonstration of the power of the clan to which she was integral. She took a deep breath, allowed it to whistle shrill from her lips.

The call was answered. She thought she had interrupted a meeting in the office on the upper floor of the Palace of Justice and that a subordinate had picked it up. She named the prosecutor. She was told he was unavailable. Who wished to speak to the dottore?

The moment of betrayal came fast, stampeded her. For a moment she couldn’t speak. Then she straightened her back and jutted her chin. ‘I think he’ll find time to speak with me. Tell him I’m Immacolata Borelli…’

He walked into the classroom. A chorus of voices, in scattered accents, greeted him. For Eddie Deacon it had been a bad day and now it was evening. The chance of improvement was minimal. The language courses often took place after working hours and his foreign students flocked in when their daytime employment, legitimate or not, had finished.

It had been a long-standing promise, made at least a month ago, that he would go in the morning by train from London to Chippenham. His father had collected him at the station, and they’d had a desultory conversation in the car about the state of the railways, the weather, the roads, his father’s pension, and just as they had exhausted all common subject matter, they’d reached the family home.

He’d had to go. He couldn’t have brought himself to call and tell them he had a problem and couldn’t make it. He would have heard undisguised disappointment, in whichever of them he had spoken to, and he’d known that for the last two days his mum would have been planning lunch: she worked, front-desk receptionist, at the offices of a local building contractor and would have told everyone there that she was taking the day off because her lad was coming down from London. They’d be waiting the next morning for a bulletin on how it had gone and how he was progressing, and from the way she told it, most would reckon he was a college lecturer and something of a highflier, not a language teacher who helped a cocktail of youngsters to speak basic English, and wasn’t concerned with chasing ‘prospects’. His father had taken early retirement on his fiftieth birthday, and pottered round the house fixing things that didn’t need fixing. Eddie Deacon had damn near nothing that connected with the lives of Arthur and Betty, his parents. What he couldn’t deny was the love they had for him. A bit humbling, actually. Like having a pillow shoved over his face that half suffocated him. There was love and there was expectation for his future. After lunch, if he was lucky, he’d escape for an hour, put on the old pair of boots that were kept on the shelf in the pristine garage, and walk by the river, maybe see a kingfisher in flight, lean on a field gate and have a herd of heifers nuzzle his sleeve. Then a quick tea, a pointed look at his watch and talk about the train he could catch.

He’d been up early. He had walked across from Dalston into Hackney and had turned up at the college where she was enrolled on the accountancy/book-keeping course. He’d asked for her at the administration office. ‘Something urgent,’ he’d said, ‘and I need to see Miss Immacolata Borelli. She’s a student on the B4 course. It really is important…’ They knew who he was because he was there three or four evenings or lunchtimes a week to meet her. Whenever she finished a class and he didn’t have one, he was there. A shrug… She hadn’t been in. Had she called in sick? She had not, just hadn’t turned up. Another shrug… He couldn’t go soft, begging and pleading, and ask for a sight of her home address. Couldn’t, because it would have shown up the biggest hole in their relationship – no address and no phone number. Then, an escape route – a walk in the fields, where the heifers were grazing, and down to the river.

The former soldier, from a bungalow down the lane, had been on the bank. Eddie Deacon was a good listener and didn’t reckon to wipe his own views over another’s and compete in conversation. He didn’t know the guy – Dean – well, but his mother had told him grisly stories. Not much older than Eddie, but there was a tattoo of a paratroop’s wings, and Dean had been Special Forces. Now he did contract work in Iraq and was gone for four months at a time. Listening seemed important and he noted that by staying quiet and lending an ear, the guy’s hands stopped shaking, the fingers didn’t clasp and unclasp, and the voice lost its breathiness. He didn’t hurry him or glance at his watch, and learned a bit about the airport road, procedures to counter vehicle ambush and command wires, things that had nothing to do with the river, the flight over the water of the kingfisher – twice – or the patrol of a heron. When it was done, the guy had gripped his fist – as if the listening had been important. At home, he apologised to his parents for having been away so long and told them where he’d been and why he’d stayed out. He’d sensed then that the world of a psychologically troubled ex-soldier was a route march away from that of his mum and dad, and his own.

He’d headed for Paddington and the main-line train, a later service than intended.

Not that Eddie Deacon knew too much about the workings of the KGB, old time, or the intelligence services, present time, but he liked to joke that his mum, Betty, would have had an interrogator’s job – no messing – if she ever chose to turn up and offer herself. It was a routine area. ‘Relationships’. The village seemed to him a rabbits’ breeding warren. Everyone they knew had children who were shagging and producing, some in marriage and others not. In everyone else’s house there were framed photographs of babies with red-eye. So, was there a girlfriend? Had he met anyone? Was there anyone important in…? As if he had to shove his thumb in a fractured dike, he’d done what he could to cut off the questioning. Stupid, but it was what he had done. Eddie had opened his wallet and taken out a photograph – Mac smiling, close up. He had seen his father’s jaw drop and his mother had purred in appreciation. Showed, really, what they thought of him… they could hardly comprehend that the layabout, the tosser, their only child, had a photograph of such an attractive, star-quality girl in his wallet.

To get to the river, he’d had to make a promise. Yes, next time he came down he was definitely going to bring her with him. Guaranteed, safe as a supermarket ‘special offer’. He’d told them a bit, not much. She was Italian, she was clever, she was going to be an accountant. Didn’t tell them he’d sat in an Afghan restaurant for three hours the previous evening with an empty place laughing at him across the table, that she’d stood him up. Did tell them that she was friendly, warm and made him laugh. Didn’t tell them that she had skipped classes that morning and hadn’t phoned in with an explanation… Didn’t tell them she hadn’t given him her home address or a contact number. Didn’t tell them he’d never walked her home. Did tell them, with his eyes, his face, and with the way he held the photo, that she was totally important to him. The sight of the girl, Mac, had silenced them, and he’d escaped to his river walk. Said it out loud, ‘Mac, for heaven’s sake, where the hell are you? Mac, where have you gone? What are you doing?’ Behind him, in the kitchen, the dishwasher would be churning, Arthur and Betty would be muttering about a girl coming at last into their boy’s life. All the time, down by the river, listening and offering a shoulder, she wasn’t out of his mind. He’d thanked his mum for lunch, promised again that he would bring Mac next time he came down, thanked his dad for the lift to Chippenham, and come back to London.

Hadn’t known what to do… and had gone to work. She throbbed in his mind.

‘Good evening, everybody.’

It came back at him, surf rolling on shingle. ‘Good evening, Mr Deacon.’

‘I hope everybody’s had a very good day.’

‘Thank you, Mr Deacon.’

He’d had a hideous day of hurt, wounds and anguish. No Mac and didn’t know where to find her. He was important to her, wasn’t he? Definitely he was, had to be. He knew it because she’d told him so… had told him when they were in bed. ‘Right, settle down. We’re going to continue this evening with our Agatha Christie story, and we’re going to pick up on page forty-nine. Let’s get there.’ When they were in bed, naked, ecstasy shared, she’d told him how important he was to her. She wouldn’t lie, would she?

It had been enough to bring Mario Castrolami in his car through red stop lights, then to get him as close to running along poorly lit corridors as he knew how.

Castrolami steadied himself, his hands clamped on the back of a chair. The fog of smoke made his eyes water and irritated his throat. Four men and two women in the prosecutor’s office had cigarettes alive. The desk and the mahogany table in the window were scattered with open files. The prosecutor headed the section in the Palace of Justice that attempted to combat the power, influence and control of the city’s Camorra clans. With him were his deputy, who had responsibility for the inner-city clans of Naples, his carabinieri liaison officer, who worked from the palace, his secretary and the archivist he most trusted. Castrolami knew them all, knew also that each man and woman in the room could be trusted implicitly. The liaison officer, Castrolami had heard, personally swept that office each morning for electronic devices. And a radio played – tuned to a rock programme on a commercial channel. The screen on the prosecutor’s desk showed the soft-focus close-up image of a young woman whose features he knew, whose history he had studied, whose importance he recognised and whom he had never met.

The secretary handed him coffee, a thimble cup. Castrolami hitched off his jacket, the pistol in his waist holster bouncing on his hip, and loosened his tie. He would have described the prosecutor as neat, like a manicured garden; his shirt was freshly laundered and his shave that morning had been close enough to hold the stubble at bay. A man who cared for himself. The deputy, tall and angular, was also tidy for a man now into the thirteenth hour of his day. The liaison officer was not in uniform but wore a well-cut jacket of expensive Scottish material. The women, too, did not show the day’s pressures, had probably changed in mid-afternoon… There was no fragrance about Castrolami.

A tiny cassette was loaded into a Dictaphone and a button depressed. He realised the machine had been activated late, after the call had been taken. ‘… him, I’m Immacolata Borelli… Do not interrupt me, Dottore… I am calling you from London, but I wish to return to Italy. It is my intention to collaborate… By saying that to you on the telephone, I put at risk my life… More important, I put at risk the possibilities of a successful prosecution of my family… I require immunity, and an officer who is trusted by yourself should meet me in the Hackney Downs park, in east London, and I will come to a bench at nine in the morning, London time, and will wait for one hour. He should bring with him a warrant for the arrest and extradition of my brother Vincenzo. Castrolami is an officer of the ROS whom my father respected. You should send him. You hold my life, Dottore. You hold also the prospect of the conviction of my family, the Borelli clan… Good night, Dottore.’

There was a click, then silence.

He looked at the photograph on the screen. Castrolami saw the haughtiness that verged on arrogance, that in the surveillance still she wore ‘ordinary’ clothes, and small, ‘ordinary’ trinkets, no lipstick or other makeup and her hair was tousled. He did not know when this photograph had been obtained, whether she had been on her way to terrify a shopkeeper who was late in filling the little envelope with twenty or twenty-five per cent of his takings, or to a meeting with the general manager of a cement-production company to tell him that her price should be accepted or none of his mixer fleet would reach the road again… The voice on the phone had made a play of being decisive and in control. He thought Immacolata Borelli had failed, was in bits, near to physical and mental collapse.

‘What is she worth?’ the deputy prosecutor asked.

Castrolami assumed he knew the response he would get, but needed confirmation of the obvious, and gave it him. His breathing had steadied and he lit his own cigarette from a heavyweight Marlboro lighter an American had given him. With the flame extinguished, he said, ‘Only a blood member of a family has a near to complete knowledge of its affairs.’

‘With her help, what might we achieve?’ the prosecutor queried.

He thought the prosecutor the best and most dedicated under whom he had worked in Naples. The man possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s clan structure and the principal players. He imagined that the call had come during a meeting, when the day was winding down and perhaps a whisky bottle had been produced, and that it had exploded among them, a shellburst, fazing them. He thought he understood. ‘We could close down the clan. The whole mass of them would go into the net.’

The liaison officer ground out his cigarette, scratched the bald crown of his head, murmured, ‘She telephoned from London. What happened there for her to attack her family with such venom? I find none of it credible.’

Castrolami told them of the young man who had come to his office late the previous evening, the barbarity of a street fight in a cemetery. His words painted a picture of a family’s controlled grief melded with aggression, and their courage. He said, ‘She could have reacted in two ways. She might have condemned that family to death for the insult, or crumpled under a burden of self-disgust. It’s happened before but not often. They feel overwhelming shame… Can you get the warrant in the time?’

He was told that the paperwork would be ready in an hour, that it had been on file, then given a flight number and a departure time. He preached the need for secrecy, which was accepted. He was told who would meet his flight in London, but the individual would be outside the loop of confidences. In that hour he could have gone back to his office in the barracks on the piazza Dante and packed a travel bag – spare shirt, singlet, socks and toilet bag – but he did not. He slumped into a chair, which squealed under the impact of his hundred-plus kilos. He wondered how she would be and whether she would greet him as an ally or an enemy. Then he swept an armful of files from the table and started to gut them, learning the latest intelligence, sparse and hearsay, on a clan now stalked by treachery, and he was smiling. He tried to bring life, animation, to the typescripts, flesh and blood to the photographs. He thought he walked with them.

Pasquale Borelli went to the recreation hall. He was fifty-five, slight and bald, with a prominent nose and a scarred head. He was allowed one hour in the hall per day under the terms of the pena dura . He was a strict-regime prisoner, under the terms of the Article 41 bis legislation, had no access to a mobile telephone, few and heavily supervised visits, little time in the company of fellow inmates. He was held in the maximum-security wing of the gaol at Novara in the north; the city was near Turin and Milan, astride the route from Genoa into Switzerland. It was a long way from his home in Naples, hundreds of kilometres, and the authorities had intended that his incarceration there would sever his links with the clan he had dominated for two decades. Their intention was unfulfilled – a prison officer carried out messages written on cigarette papers. He still controlled an empire that was worth, perhaps, a half-billion euros. He awaited trial, and the chance of him enjoying freedom again was small, but he was optimistic that the evidence and testimony lodged against him could be challenged. He had to believe that no further denunciations would cloud his horizon. For an hour he would play pool in the hall; the table, of course, would be occupied when the officer unlocked the last barred gate, but a prisoner would immediately give up his place for Pasquale Borelli. In his cell he had a photograph of his daughter – not his wife. He loved her deeply, his principessa.

Gabriella Borelli was six years younger than her husband. Since his arrest, when he had been dragged out of the underground bunker by the ROS bastards, she had been undisputed in her leadership of the clan. They had been married for thirty-two years, since she, at seventeen, was little more than a child, but decisions inside the core of the clan had always been taken after her advice had been heard. Now she was a latitanta, and her continued liberty depended on her moving from safe-house to safe-house, a network of covert addresses. As a fugitive from justice, she was unable to utilise publicly the vast wealth the family had accumulated. Since her husband had been taken and the flight of her eldest son, she had won respect from other clan leaders. It had come from her clear-headed ability to strike deals, open up new markets and act with cold ruthlessness when such was required. She was feared. She was a small woman, petite, dark-haired, and well kept for her forty-nine years, but she wasn’t out to look for a new dress, as she would have liked, but to attend a meeting. She was an anonymous figure in the narrow streets, walking briskly and carrying an old shopping bag. She missed having the strengths and certainties of her eldest son close to her, but rarely thought of her daughter.

Vincenzo was in his thirty-second year, the eldest, and he was eating a pizza in a trattoria off Hackney’s Mare Street. He always had the Margherita, with mozzarella, tomato and basil – the colours, white, red and green, were those of his country’s flag. He was with friends, young men from the fringe of the clan, and together they dreamed of a day when they could return to the city and eat the best pizza from the via Duomo, the via Forcella or the via Ettore Bellini. He would go back. He would take authority from his mother. He would not be able to drive a Ferrari, wear Armani suits or have a penthouse apartment overlooking the Golfo di Napoli, but he would have power, and he would be careful not to leave a trail from himself to a killing hand-gun. Vincenzo faced four charges of murder if he was located and arrested, so it was important for him to maintain his unseen existence in London, but he was concerned that if he stayed away too long the fear in which he was held in Forcella, and the respect, would diminish. He barely noticed his sister, accepted the need for a member of the family to have a good knowledge of financial procedures and structures, but he expected her to clean the apartment they shared and to look after his laundry. She wasn’t important to him.

Nobody loved Giovanni, he knew that. He was twenty-three. That evening he was on a girl’s family bed. Her father and mother were in the next room and had the television on loud. He fucked the girl – a virgin until he had penetrated her the previous week – on her parents’ bed because it was bigger and more comfortable than hers. They would not complain, and they would not attempt to throw him out of their home. He was Giovanni Borelli, the son of Pasquale and Gabriella Borelli. In the Forcella district, and in part of Sanita, his name gave him unquestioned power. He would not pay the girl under him, who was giving him as good a ride as he was used to. Neither would he pay for the meal he would have afterwards. He paid for nothing. The only man who had ever raised a fist to Giovanni was his elder brother, who had beaten him, split his lip and cut his eyebrow – the sister of a friend had accused Giovanni of putting his hand up her skirt. His father had not protected him from Vincenzo; neither had his mother. Now he grunted and cried out as the orgasm came, louder than was natural for him, but he knew the sound would carry into the living room and would not be drowned by the television. Good that they should know their daughter was a good ride. He was responsible for the collection of dues in the area north of corso Umberto, south of the via Foria, and between the via Duomo and the corso Giuseppe Garibaldi. The only excitement came when a smart-arse shite would plead poor business, inability to pay, and be beaten – as his brother had beaten him. He thought his sister, Immacolata, an arrogant bitch, and she had no time for him.

In his bedroom, Silvio Borelli read a comic and listened to music on his iPod. He was seventeen, the youngest of the tribe. He had been told by his grandmother, never one to mince words, the circumstances of his conception. Eighteen years ago, in 1991, his mother had been sneeringly informed that his father flaunted an amante, had been seen with her in an hotel on the sea front, the via Francesco Caracciolo. When Pasquale Borelli had next come home she had punched his head, scratched his cheeks, kicked him in the stomach and kneed him in the groin. He had suffered a tempest of abuse. He had crawled to Gabriella Borelli and pleaded for her forgiveness, promising abjectly that such behaviour would never be repeated. They had made up, her on top of him, calling the shots, at her speed and for her gratification. The result had been Silvio. He was a sickly child from birth, and was doted on by his mother, but he loved his sister. He told her everything. Giovanni sniped that he wouldn’t wipe his arse without asking Immacolata’s permission. He lived with his grandparents, above the via Forcella, and sensed their contempt for him because he was not blessed with the family’s hardness. He wanted little more from life than to speed in narrow alleyways on his scooter, and to mess with old schoolmates – and almost resented that his name denied him friendships. He knew that some spoke of him as a cretin, but a reputation for stupidity brought its rewards, and the clan used him to ride round the district and drop off narcotics, cash, messages and firearms. He was unsettled. Driving back from Nola the previous afternoon, he had been bewildered by the transformation in his sister’s mood – and her shoe was broken, her clothing ripped and her knee scraped raw. She had been near to tears. And she was the best person he knew, the most important in his life.

The parents of Pasquale, the grandparents of Vincenzo, Immacolata, Giuseppe and Silvio, were Carmine and Anna Borelli. They were both eighty-seven, though she had been born four months after him. They had founded the clan, given it teeth and muscle, then passed its control to their son. They lived now in via Forcella, and as she sewed a collar back on to a shirt, he snored quietly in his chair and…

The television screen in the prosecutor’s office was blank, the photograph killed. The files on the clan family were back in the secure area of the archive. The office was darkened. He had gone home, as had his deputy, the liaison officer and the women who ran his life; they were as dedicated as he was to the extermination of the Camorra culture.

A car’s tyres had screamed as it had headed for Capodichino. The liaison officer drove Castrolami. No sirens and no blue lights, but speed on the back-streets. They had swept into the airport and the Alfa had rocked at the sudden braking outside Departures. Then he was out and on the forecourt. He slid the pancake holster off his belt, the loaded pistol in it, and left them on the seat. No backward glance, no wave, and he heard the liaison officer power away. He scurried through the doors to Check-in. An officer of Mario Castrolami’s seniority could have demanded, and received, preferential treatment at the airport – a ticket already processed, a boarding card presented to him, a lounge to wait in until the rest of the passengers had been herded to their seats, a drink, a canape and an automatic upgrade – but such treatment would have been noticed. He went past the site of the death – unmourned – from heart failure of Salvo Lucania, known to law enforcement in the States as ‘Lucky Luciano’. He thought that the pain of the coronary was a fitting end for that man. He always noted the place where that boss had collapsed.

He went to the communal lounge and had barely flopped into a seat before the flight was called. He walked to the aircraft, the last flight of the day to London Gatwick, in a swell of tourists. Voices played across his face and behind his head. He spoke quite reasonable English, and was able to distinguish appraisals of the ruins at Pompeii and Ercolano, judgements on the Capella Sansevero compared with the Pio Monte della Misericordia, the merits of the Castel dell’Ovo and the Castel Nuovo. He was happy to be among tourists. He accepted that an army of watchers, foot-soldiers, maintained a sophisticated web of surveillance over the city and its suburbs. Every district would have entrances watched by men and boys, and myriad mobile phones would report which policeman moved and the direction of his journey. The camera systems of the police and the carabinieri were sophisticated but could not compete with those of the clans. It would be a disaster if it were known that Mario Castrolami had caught the last flight of the night to Britain: warnings would have been issued, coded messages sent, and it would have been known in London before the Boeing’s undercarriage had dropped that a Camorra hunter was travelling.

He eased into a seat. The watchers were everywhere – the policeman on the forecourt, the porters on the concourse, the check-in staff, the baggage-handlers, the cabin crew. He put his face into the in-flight magazine, but tapped his jacket to reassure himself – for the fourth or fifth time – that the envelope with the warrant folded inside it was still there. He sensed the admiration of the tourists for his city, and their ignorance: they knew nothing. The watches were still on their wrists, the wallets and purses in their coats and handbags, and Naples was wonderful. He thought that an ignorant man or woman was blessed. He could count on the fingers of his two hands all the men and women in the city whom he believed had no price.

Sicily was bad for corruption inside the forces of law and order, money changing hands in return for intelligence and warnings. In Calabria, little was planned that did not reach the ears and eyes of the criminal tribes. From his own city, Castrolami could not have put twenty men – police, Palace of Justice and carabinieri – in a line and sworn on oath that he harboured no suspicion against them. The fear of corruption and the suspicion it engendered against colleagues should be ranked as one of the greatest successes of the Camorra. He had not phoned his wife to tell her that he would be away, had had no need to: she had long ago left for Milan, taken the children, gone back to her mother. She had sworn that Naples was a cloaca and that she and they would never return to that sewer. There was, of course, another woman, for mutual convenience, and he hadn’t phoned her either… As the aircraft thrust up the runway and lifted, he replayed in his mind what that voice had said.

I put at risk my life.

He would not dispute that. She might, the bitch, have changed her mind by morning – they did, often enough. But he could recall each word of that young officer from Nola and believed she would be there. He could sleep wherever he found himself so he threw back the seat, ignoring the protest from behind, loosened his trouser belt, and saw, in a dreamer’s kaleidoscope, the features of Immacolata Borelli. He heard himself say, in a sort of wonderment, ‘I don’t intend to talk you out of this, but have you any idea at all of where this will lead you, what is at stake?’ Not just wonderment: astonishment. It wasn’t the face of a camorrista, it was a good face, with smooth skin, not a cheap whore’s and pocked. Or did he delude himself?

They were bored but polite. It was as plain as a pikestaff to Eddie Deacon that Agatha Christie needed high-profile selling in Mogadishu or Lagos, Vilnius or Bratislava – anywhere they came from. Agatha Christie was not holding them.

But he ground a nail into his palm and kept going. He was talking about the author’s sentence construction. All the language schools did Agatha Christie; she was supposed to be the route towards decent spoken English.

Maybe, he wondered, Agatha Christie was taking the blame for his own inadequacy. He was droning. He had as much interest in who was the murderer as they did. His students wanted to be able to do the business with a gang-master, a bureaucrat at the Job Centre, the warden of a hostel, while the brightest needed to be able to communicate in a good-quality three-star hotel. What they also needed, and somebody was paying for, was a teacher with enthusiasm who could concentrate on a text. It was as though he was on auto-pilot. He could hear his voice, monotonous and flat.

The straw he clung to was that his Mac would be back at his place. She had an outer door key and a Yale to his room. It was only a straw, a pretty thin one, but it was possible that she’d be there. They all liked her at the house – couldn’t believe she was real. A guy who pushed paper for H M Revenue and Customs, another who waited at tables in a club on Pall Mall, the one who sold train tickets for Great Western, and the PhD student from Goldsmiths couldn’t believe she was real because once a week she made pasta with a sauce to die for.

They would all have known when he and Mac were on the bed in his room, must have heard, through those walls and down those narrow stairs, enough noise… Then she’d cook. She always brought plastic bags of food, and would never accept money – it was the only time she splashed out and showed she was flush. When they were out, as they should have been in the Afghan place, they shared. It had been laid down between them at the start…

He ached for her…

He didn’t care about Miss Marple, or Poirot, didn’t give a damn who’d done it. He wouldn’t wait for a bus: he’d run all the way back to the little house and pound up the stairs and burst through the door and hope, hope, she was there… his straw. He hadn’t made the bed that morning, hadn’t straightened the coverlet. Seemed to see it still in chaos. He said, ‘I apologise to you all. I’m not myself today. I hope it’s not the flu. Thank you for your attention, and I’ll see you all next week.’

As he gathered together his dog-eared lecture notes, they chimed, ‘Thank you, Mr Deacon. A very good evening to you.’

He fled. Hit the pavement, at full stride, and tears blistered his cheeks.

She liked Salvo – always used the diminutive, not Salvatore, and never called him by his street name, ‘Il Pistole’ – more than any of her own children, and had since the day he had been introduced into the heart of the clan three years earlier.

When she reached the bar, she went inside and past the counter, the tables, and into the inner room. He was already there, and immediately stood up. Giovanni was at the table but did not get to his feet. She could accept her eldest, Vincenzo, because he possessed the dynamism of his father, and could feel affection for the youngest, Silvio, because he was helpless, devoid of authority and ambition. She had never considered her daughter of equal importance to the boys. She disliked Giovanni for his painful and prolonged birth, and for his conceit and exploitation of the family name. If he had not been of her blood and had behaved with such arrogance in her presence he would now, like as not, be dead. Dead at the hand of Salvo, Il Pistole. It gave Gabriella Borelli some slight pleasure to know that her middle son, Giovanni, not only loathed Salvo but also feared him.

And Giovanni had cause to fear Salvo.

When she had come into the outer area of the bar, the staff would have begun to prepare coffee for her, a variety that was gentler on her throat than the small, bitter measures the men swore by.

She thought Salvo was similar to a ferocious dog that ran wild and free at night inside the fence of a scrap-metal yard and showed obedience to none but his acknowledged master. Her husband had recruited Salvo and advanced him, had been that master, but on his arrest the young man’s loyalty had turned to her. She believed his devotion to be as honest as that of any slobbering Rottweiler or German Shepherd.

At a light knock on the door, Salvo was up again. He opened it, took the cup and saucer and closed it. He put the coffee in front of her. Indeed, Giovanni had cause to fear Salvo. The young man, recruited and advanced by her husband and now only twenty-four, was a killer. He could kill with a pistol but, if circumstances warranted, he could kill more artistically. He was best known for the pistol. In the Forcella and Sanita districts, the kids had photographs of the Beretta P38 on their mobile-phone screens, and images of the weapon’s owner. As the ultimate enforcer of the Borelli clan Salvo had accumulated enemies. Vendetta blood feuds were no longer practised in Naples, but there were enough stones in the cemeteries around that quarter of the city for many to long for the day when he was a corpse in a crimson pool, or at least looking at a maximum-security cell’s bars.

She sipped her coffee, and her thinly applied lipstick left a pale smear on the cup’s rim.

But hers was a city of betrayals. Gabriella Borelli did not trust readily, so she had brought the son she disliked to the meeting. There should always be a witness. She would never place her faith entirely in one man. She could smell the sweat of sex on her son, seeping through his shirt and off his chest; he didn’t even have the respect for her that would have made him shower afterwards. He flaunted the smell, and she wondered which teenage whore had opened her legs for him. Since Pasquale had been flown north to Novara, she had not taken a man into her bed – had not, but wished she had when she smelt the sweat.

They talked. She controlled a huge financial empire now. It involved property in the city, in other parts of Italy, the holiday resorts of the Balearics and the Canaries, the South of France and on the coast east and west of Spanish Malaga. It covered import and export of goods through the Naples docks and a dozen ports near and far from Italy. Gabriella Borelli, Giovanni and Salvatore could have talked of legal and illegal trading and mentioned millions of euros. They did not. They talked instead of the merits of a power supply. Which was better? Should a two-stroke petrol engine be preferred to one driven by mains electricity but needing a cable plugged into a wall socket? It was all a matter of the time available, the location and whether the power was within easy reach. They considered the problem of a cold petrol engine, and how many pulls there would be on the starter cord – and what if it flooded? Much of the Borelli clan’s business utilised laundered cash and that could be done in the back rooms of a major bank – local, American, German or British – but other matters needed close attention in the rear room of a back-street bar in the depths of Forcella. It was the place to decide between electrical power or a two-stroke engine. Salvatore would not have been consulted on commerce or investments. It was the matter of enforcement that necessitated his presence.

Gabriella Borelli liked Salvo, but was wary of him. In the world of Forcella, and the clans that ran so much of the city and its population, enforcement was critical. Respect must always be secured; lack of respect must be answered. To ignore disrespect showed weakness. To show weakness, even in a trivial matter, was fatal for a clan leader. A moment of perceived weakness was enough to alert circling rivals. A position of power must be reinforced with decisive action. That was Salvatore’s role. Most often the P38 was used for quick, clean intervention, but reputation required innovation. That evening the discussion was on power supplied by petrol or by electric cable.

The decision taken, with Giovanni as a witness, herself sanctioning it, Gabriella Borelli left the bar.

Because she had chosen her way of life, she never complained about it, not even in her thoughts. Her husband would be in gaol for the rest of his life, and her eldest son was a fugitive; her middle son was a vain bastard, and her youngest son was a useless idiot. Her daughter was intelligent but had neither her mother’s commitment to the clan nor the determination to succeed. Gabriella was more than twice Salvo’s age, and he had no future beyond a quick death from a gunshot, or arrest and a long sentence that was slow death. On the street, alone, hugging shadows, both hands gripping the strap of her shoulder-bag, she thought of the arms of the man who killed at her demand, their thin, hairless beauty, his light, narrow fingers, his waist, flat under the T-shirt, and the jeans that bulged when he stood to greet her, to collect her coffee or to escort her from the bar. It was unthinkable. She flushed and… returned to the image of her daughter. A scooter swept past her, its fumes flagged into her face, and the picture was lost.

Eddie had studied the Victorian poets, the Lakes people, and Byron, at the small, unfashionable university in the Thames Valley. If he’d managed the entry to a better university or worked harder where he’d ended up, he would have been qualified to teach those poets, as eventual head of department at a sixth-form college. He hadn’t, so he taught basic English to foreigners, and his high literature was from Agatha Christie.

There was no poetry in his pain. Nothing noble, romantic, or edifying about it. The pain hurt bloody bad, and left an emptiness he couldn’t fill. The hole in his life gaped.

She hadn’t been there. He had gone through the front door, brushed aside the taxman in the hallway, met the man from the ticket desk halfway up the stairs and reached his own door, then fumbled so badly that he couldn’t insert the key. He had started to kick it when the PhD fellow did the honours with the lock. He had snapped the light on, heeled the door shut hard enough for it to slam and had seen the bed, empty – unmade.

What to do?

Too much pain. Yearning for his Mac, not daring to believe she had just walked out on him.

Music was playing downstairs, soul stuff, as if the others had caught his mood and sought to offer solace. He had said it to himself so many times, but he had never felt so bad before. Girls? Yes. Before? Yes. Village girls, university girls and language-school girls? Yes. Kissing? Yes. Groping? Sometimes. Shagging? Not often. Really caring? Not even with the hygiene inspector. It had never really mattered whether he was hooked into a girl or not. He was cold, he was lonely – he was so bloody unhappy. Hadn’t eaten and hadn’t slept much the night before. He asked the question aloud: ‘So, what to do?’

He could see her magazines on the floor, her dressing-gown hanging limp from the hook on the door. The scent of her was still in the room. He could have leaned over, buried his face in the sheets and she would have been there, the sweet smell of her. He did not. He stared at the wall, found her picture. Sat taller and straighter. He told himself, ‘Don’t know what happened, don’t know why it happened – whatever. Going to find out. Going to go to work in the morning, hack the day, and track it down, the problem of Mac, in the evening. Promise? Yes, bloody promise.’

He’d thought he wouldn’t go downstairs and face them. Wrong. He went down and put his head round the door of the communal living room. Eyes looked at him, then evaded him, as if he had the plague. They wouldn’t have known how to react to his unhappiness. The TV was on, bloody football… Yes, they all loved her, as if she was Wendy and they were Peter Pan’s kids – and she cooked wonderful pasta…

Eddie Deacon forced a smile. His voice quavered but he got through it: ‘It’s been a grim day, double-whammy awful. I don’t know where she is, don’t know anything. Tomorrow I’ll find out. Right now I’m going out for a drink or three.’

They all went. They had their arms round his shoulders, in the rain, not a coat among them, and headed for the Talbot, the public bar, as if everything was all right. He’d know tomorrow evening if he’d kept the promise he’d made to himself.

She didn’t sleep. She was in her room with the light off so there wouldn’t be a strip showing under the door when the gang came back and she wouldn’t be called to get up and make coffee or pour beer.

Immacolata knew most of the stories of betrayal in the folklore of her city, although her mother, father and brothers would not: she had gone to a school that had taught her more than how to write a police statement in an interview room. She had been educated. She also knew what happened to the men, yesterday, today or tomorrow, who betrayed their own… She didn’t know what they did to the women. Her mind raced, flicked through a score of images, and glimpsed the nightmare sight of what might happen to a woman before it was superseded. She was in the crowd, at the back, and the polizia were unwinding the roll of crime-scene tape. She was on tiptoe and had just seen the blood and the white underwear, the tanned thighs, maybe black hair, and the blanket was cast to cover… Her mind had gone on.

She told herself that only one person would have understood what she had done in the public phone box on the Kingsland Road. That person was dead. Marianna Rossetti would have understood. But her friend was immured behind the concrete hatch with the marble facing, which might now have been sealed with grouting. She lay still and breathed quietly. She had heard her father speak of Castrolami, the investigator from the Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale, and she imagined a man of dignity, stature and bearing. She thought of how he would welcome her, show gratitude for the sacrifice she intended to make and talk to her of the nobility of what she did… He seemed handsome and… But she didn’t sleep.

She was in that street again – in the via Foria, or the via Cesare Rosaroli, or the via Carbonara – and the pain bit into her toes as she struggled for greater height to see better the woman on the pavement, who had been accused of betrayal, and know what had been done to her. Always, shoulders and heads impeded her view.

The hours went slowly. They came in. They drank, talked, played cards, watched TV, then Vincenzo was alone. She thought he paused outside her door and listened. If she had moved in her bed he would have come in and talked to her – maybe he had some problem with money, foreign-exchange regulations, the opening of a new account or a transfer – so she lay still. After half a minute she heard him clear his throat and go to his room.

Her mind was made up, the seed sown in the cemetery at Nola.

He had stomach cramps. He walked down the long pier inside Arrivals at Charles de Gaulle airport. The pain snatched at nerves in Lukas’s gut, made his mouth twitch and brought a frown to his forehead. The cramps had not been brought on by the landing of the aircraft that had brought him from Madrid to Paris, a catastrophic bump, leap and skid in a fierce cross-wind that carried driving rain. Nor were they the product of the food served on the long Atlantic crossing, or the result of the confined leg room – he’d gone steerage because business class was fully booked. He had not smoked since he had gone through the departure gate at El Dorado. He walked slowly and soaked up the ache in his guts. Within a few strides he had killed the pain, the twitch and the frown. Nothing about him was noticeable to a stranger. He would go through Immigration and Customs briskly. He didn’t need a visa for France, living now on a UK passport, and had only the rucksack slung loose from his shoulder. He had been authorised, some months back, at permanent-secretary level, to carry two passports; in Washington this had been endorsed by an under-secretary. The passport with the Colombian entry and exit stamps was at the bottom, under his laptop. The one he would show at Immigration bore only East European and north African stamps – nothing from the Middle East, or Latin and Central America – so his movements would not go down in the computers that tracked international travellers. It was important in the work he did that he left no paper trail.

He would take a bus into the city centre.

He’d have a chance at a bus stop, in the driving rain and wind, to light a cigarette. That seemed important to Lukas, about as important as gaining a return of three unhurt, two wounded, one fatality. He didn’t triumph, nor expect hero-grams, only a long debrief with his employer when he would sift in his mind what was relevant and what could be discarded. Not something to boast about, playing God, making decisions that might cost the lives of men and women. He thought more about the cigarette he would light in the bus queue than about a return of five survivors from six… It had been about the one guy, the Agency man, but Lukas declined to recognise a stark fact. When the bus came, he would ride into the city, then get himself down into the late train on the Metro and walk from the subway at Solferino to his apartment.

If he had permitted it, a limousine would have been waiting for him at the kerb outside Arrivals. The Americans would have sent one as a mark of gratitude. The company would have ordered one. He had, perhaps, a Low Church love of frugality. None of the good men, the ones to whom Lukas gave respect, sought greasepaint, flashbulbs and welcoming bands. It was just possible that he was the most competent of the ‘good men’. If he was the elite figure among them it was not because of his crusading spirit but the attention he gave to detail, the depth of his experience and his rejection of conceit when he won through. It was said that many who knew Lukas waited to spy out his emotions and motivation, and still waited. No car, no congratulations. Might have been because he knew how fine the lines were between success and failure…

He had one regret that evening. It was a few minutes short of midnight and he was returning to Paris too late to meet up with his friends. By the time he had negotiated the bus ride, the Metro and done the walk, his friends would have gone home.

Lukas was back where he lived – would be there until the next time the phone shrilled in his ear. It was his life. As someone had once said to him: ‘Lukas, you dance on other people’s misery. If it wasn’t such a crap world you wouldn’t have work.’ He hadn’t disagreed.

3

He blinked to see better. He was under a tree. During the night the wind had taken off enough of the foliage for the rain to drip on to his shoulders and head. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to clear out the water and the bleariness of a bad night. Mario Castrolami was looking for her.

The Ministero degli Interni, the vast, creaking bureaucracy on the Viminale in Rome, had an officer seconded to the Italian embassy. He was a policeman, not a member of the carabinieri, so Castrolami regarded him as a lesser creature – good enough to meet him last night at Heathrow and drive him to a Holiday Inn, not good enough to be given advance warning on the identity of a potential collaborator with justice and the implications that might splinter from it. An ROS investigator from Naples, a front-line salient in the war against organised crime, would have little trust in the combination of policeman and Viminale. So, after his failure to sleep, Castrolami had left the heavy sealed envelope containing the arrest-warrant papers for Vincenzo Borelli at the hotel’s reception desk, with the officer’s name on it… Laborious, complicated, but necessary, and if the woman did the business the officer would be told to collect the envelope and act on it. Trust, the lack of it, always governed Castrolami’s actions.

He searched for her. He had never seen her in the flesh, but had the surveillance photograph to remember. Rain spattered his head and jacket. He saw some old people, mostly men, many meandering with a toy-sized dog on a lead, and some youngsters of both sexes who wore tracksuits and earphones, and ran in a trance. The most exercise Castrolami took was to walk, via a bar for an espresso and a pastry, to the station for the Funicolare, and after his descent to the Stazione Cumana, he would cross via Toledo and reach the barracks at piazza Dante. He thought it sufficient exercise for any man in the morning, but if it rained he brought his car. Twice, while he had waited under the tree, a dog had come to the trunk, cocked its leg and pissed. On neither occasion had the owner apologised.

He couldn’t see her. He wondered if she was standing back, hesitating to show herself. He moved clear of the tree-trunk so that he was more visible. Put simply, there would be only one swarthy middle-aged Italian waiting at two minutes past nine – yes, he had remembered to alter the time on his watch – under a tree in diabolical weather. The city authorities in Naples were about to declare a drought: the skies had been clear for weeks and the temperature in late September still reached the high eighties. In his apartment he had a raincoat, unused and forgotten. Behind the front door umbrellas stood in a stand, also unused and forgotten. Maybe he’d drown. Maybe he’d catch pneumonia.

She appeared.

He could see her face. She had a small umbrella up, with a pretty flower pattern, but held it back over her head because at that angle it shielded her better. She wore a light plastic coat that came to her hips, but her legs were soaked, though she seemed not to notice it. He knew what he would say. Unable to sleep in the Holiday Inn, with the walls seeming to enclose him, a sealed tomb, he had passed the hours in deciding the tone he would take and the relationship he would create with her. Perhaps because she was here, not in Forcella, she seemed more vulnerable than he had expected. At home she would have known every trick in the game of counter-surveillance – had been born with the tactics in her genes. Anyone from the Borelli clan – other than the young idiot, Silvio – knew the craft of criminality from the moment they dropped out of their mother’s utero. A man had said that the Camorra would live until every woman in the clans was sterilised and every man castrated. She did not use any counter-surveillance tactic: it was clear that she knew she was late for a meeting and was looking for the second party.

He knew, too well, the enormity of what she had done, but Castrolami reckoned she knew it better than he did. Should he wave or hold his ground under the tree? He had thought she looked vulnerable, but this was Immacolata Borelli, daughter of Pasquale and Gabriella, sister of Vincenzo and Giovanni, educated and intelligent, granddaughter of Carmine and Anna, being groomed in financial management so that she could clean dirty money. Vulnerable… not innocent. She saw him.

She stopped. She was on a path and a cyclist swerved past her. Then two runners divided and went either side of her. The wind took the flaps of her coat and opened it as far as the lower buttons allowed. Castrolami noted the vivid orange blouse; he thought it was her statement. He smiled grimly to himself. She was entitled to make a statement, but this was the easy time. She would know the threat to her life if she came close to him, talked to him, did as she was instructed, but he doubted she had grasped the pressures that would now build in her mind. But that wasn’t his problem.

He came out from the shelter of the tree. The rain in the wind layered on his face. His collar was damp, his tie bedraggled and the jacket’s shoulders were sodden. His hair was flat, and drips fell off his nose. He murmured, ‘Come on, you little bitch. Come and do the business.’

She did. She had a good swing to her walk. She was the daughter – clear to him – of the clan leader and the clan leader’s wife. The child of the padrino and the madrina locked eyes with him and closed on him. The vulnerability was now hidden. She stretched her stride. He believed then that she hoped to dominate him because that was her culture. She could wish it, but it would not happen.

She stood in front of him. She could have tried to use her umbrella to shield both of them, but she collapsed it, shook it, pocketed it. If he could be wet, so could she. She spoke coolly: ‘I am Immacolata. Are you Castrolami?’

He reached into his pocket, lifted out his wallet, flipped it open and showed his identification. He put it away.

He knew what he would say.

*

Over his shoulder, she saw a kid kick a football. So normal. She saw a man throw a stick for a yapping dog. So ordinary. Far behind him, kids were skiving from school and dropped sweet wrappers as they fooled. So predictable.

He said, ‘You asked me to come and I came. You can beckon once and I’ll run, but it won’t happen again. If you flick your fingers or whistle, a dog will come to you. I’m not a dog. So, I’m here. What do you want to tell me?’

‘Two days ago, I was at the cemetery in Nola for a funeral, my friend’s funeral, and-’ she stammered, uncertain.

He was harsh and his voice was cutting. ‘I know about Nola, Marianna Rossetti and the Triangle. I know what happened to you there, what was said and what was done. I repeat, what do you wish to tell me?’

She had thought there would be a car, a big Lancia or a Fiat saloon, and that a call on a mobile would bring it hurrying to the nearest kerb, that she would be whisked inside and away to an embassy house. She had expected a tone that was at least respectful, if not deferential. She wanted control and couldn’t find it. ‘I’m Immacolata Borelli, I-’

Withering: ‘I know who you are, who your parents are, who all of your family are.’

‘I am part of the Borelli clan, and-’

‘Of course you’re part of it.’

‘I said in my call to the palace, I wish to return to Italy,’ she blustered.

‘Then return to Italy. Does the Borelli clan not have sufficient funds to permit you to purchase an airline ticket? If you wish to return, then do so.’

‘I want protective custody.’

She saw his eyes roll and his lips moved on those words – I want protective custody – but soundlessly. The rain was harder now but he seemed not to notice its new intensity. He stared down at her, his eyes never off hers. Nobody had ever stared challengingly into the face of Immacolata, daughter of Pasquale Borelli. Then: ‘Why?’

‘And I require immunity from prosecution.’

Now his head shook, a comedian’s exaggeration, and she thought she heard a click of his tongue. ‘I very much doubt we would consider that. I presume we’d be talking through the statutes concerning money laundering, extortion, tax evasion – maybe not acts of physical violence – membership of a criminal conspiracy. We do reduced sentences but not immunity in circumstances such as yours. What would justify protective custody, a reduced sentence? What chips can you place on the table?’

‘It’s because of what my family has done.’

‘Indirect responsibility for the poisoning of your friend.’

‘I wish to do something in her name.’

‘Your friend was poisoned by the contamination of the water table with toxic waste illegally dumped.’

‘So that I can look, in my mind, into the face of my friend and not feel total shame.’

His expression showed no enthusiasm – rather, boredom. ‘That would be excellent. You do something, we’re not specific but something, and you can go to a priest, squat in the confessional box: “Can’t really tell you too much about all this, Father. Wouldn’t be healthy for you to know, but I’m doing something to right a wrong. My family did the wrong, not me personally, but I want overall forgiveness, and more sunlight in my life.” How gratifying. What are you prepared to tell me?’

‘I can tell you about my family.’ Her voice was little more than a whisper.

He lifted an eyebrow as a slow smile curved his lips. ‘I had difficulty hearing that – again, please.’

‘I said that I can tell you about my family.’ She had spoken boldly.

‘Did I hear that correctly? I’m not sure. Again.’

She knew he was toying with her, that he was the cat and she a small rat. The amusement was in the mouth, but not in the eyes that looked down on her. She broke. ‘I’ll tell you about my family,’ she shouted.

‘Better. Again.’

She yelled, over him, past him and out across the worn grass of the park, at the trees, the walkers and joggers, the talkers and the kids who should have been at school. ‘I’ll denounce my family.’

Many in the park had heard her. Some merely turned their heads but went on their way, others stopped to gawp. ‘I hear you, but do I believe you?’ he said softly.

‘You have my word.’

He allowed the irony to run over her: ‘I have the word of the daughter of Pasquale and Gabriella Borelli?’

‘Everything.’

Now he was an uncle to her. As a zio would, he tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and walked with her through the rain, their shoes squelching on the grass and the mud. ‘You travelled to Nola, Signorina, you were late, for whatever reason, and did not reach the basilica in time for the funeral mass, but you travelled on to the municipal cemetery. There, you were humiliated, and subject to the emotional experience of parting from a friend. You flew back to London. You didn’t sleep. The accusations are alive in you and guilt haunts you. You pick up the telephone. None of this, yet, is difficult. You make a statement to the prosecutor’s office that is laced with dramatic intent. You put down the telephone and imagine champagne corks pulled, an executive jet on stand-by and that you will be brought back to Naples to be met on the tarmac with a red carpet, the cardinal in attendance and the mayor. No, it hasn’t happened. They sent Mario Castrolami, as you requested, and the flight home will be in economy where there is little leg room, the food is foul and English barbarians are talking about the culture fix they’ll get in our home over seventy-two hours. You will then, Signorina, be surrounded by strangers – and don’t expect them to regard you as a resurrected Mother Teresa. They will try to leech from you every scrap, morsel, titbit of information so that they can shut away your family for even longer – the family who has trusted you with their lives, and whom you will have betrayed. Many months after you’ve taken that flight back to Italy you’ll have to appear in court. At one end of the room there will be the judges, in the well of the court the ranks of the lawyers, and at the other end a cage. Behind its steel bars you will see your family. Will you turn to me then and say, “Dottore, I have doubts now on the course of action to which I was committed last September. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t wish to go ahead with this. It was a mistake. I want to be reunited with my family. I want the love and warmth of my gangster father, my ruthless, vicious mother, my murderous eldest brother and my psychopathic middle brother. I want to return to them.” Will you turn your back on the court? Many do, Signorina. They climb high, survey the view and scramble down. Their nerve doesn’t hold. Will your nerve hold?’

She lowered her head and looked at the toecaps of her shoes. She allowed him to lead her along. ‘It’ll hold.’

‘They all say that, but many fail to deliver.’

She stopped. She felt his fingers drop from her arm. She faced him and tilted her head. She could see the cage, their faces, the hatred that beamed at her, and the contempt. ‘My word should be sufficient guarantee.’

‘You will never be forgotten, never forgiven. You will never again walk the streets of your city as a free woman. Can you turn your back on Naples?’

It was her home.

Those Greek traders who had first anchored their boats in the shadow of the great mountain, mid-eighth century BC, had called it Nea Polis, the New City. The Romans came later from the north and corrupted the name to Napoli. Now it is a city adored and detested, admired and despised. It is one of UNESCO’s proudest World Heritage Sites, and is regarded by Interpol as having the greatest concentration in the world of Most Wanted organised-crime players. Horace, the Roman poet, coined the phrase ‘Carpe diem’, ‘Seize the Moment’, and it is still the maxim of Neapolitans.

Many cultures have left their mark on Naples. After the collapse of Rome’s civilisation and its hold on the city, the occupying army was that of the Ostrogoths, then the Byzantines from Constantinople, the Normans and the Spanish. There were Bourbon satraps and Napoleonic revolutionaries. Admiral Nelson’s fleet covered the port with cannon, the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo sought to control it, after which the Americans gave it military government. In the last century, Communists, democrats and Fascists have attempted to bring Naples to heel, but failed.

At the university, the academics seek to excuse the inner city’s million people for its ungovernability. They quote the actual and the potential. The actual is the Camorra, the generic name for the criminal families that are the principal employer and major pulsebeat in Naples. The potential is the lowering image of the mountain, Vesuvio, with its volcanic capability and history of destruction. The criminality survived the most savage reprisals of the Mussolini era and now cannot be beaten: the threat of the volcano mocks any who look far to the future: it may erupt at any time and warning will be minimal. Those same academics point proudly to the magnificent churches and palaces, and strangers flock there from across the world.

John Ruskin, the English art critic and reformer, came to the city in the late nineteenth century and saw the Naples that has attracted the first overseas tourist industry. He wrote, ‘The common English traveller, if he can gather a black bunch of grapes with his own fingers, and have a bottle of Falernian brought him by a girl with black eyes, asks no more of this world or the next, and declares Naples a paradise…’ But he would not be seduced and continued, ‘… [Naples] is certainly the most disgusting place in Europe… [combining] the vice of Paris with the misery of Dublin and the vulgarity of New York… [Naples] is the most loathsome nest of caterpillars… a hell with all the devils imbecile in it’. Outsiders may come, criticise and leave, but those who are bred and live in Naples are held by loyalty, as if in chains, to the city.

The gulf makes a perfect natural harbour. The sea ranges from azure to aquamarine. The churches are noted for their splendour, and the castles that defend the shore are reassuring in their strength. It has the best of everything – architecture, painting, sculpture, music, food, vitality, and the refusal to be cowed – with the biggest open-air narcotics supermarket ever created, the wealthiest criminal conspiracies ever known, and a degree of violence that makes both the brave and the cynical cringe.

In the heart of the old city, where the streets were laid by Roman road builders, then wide enough only for a handcart to pass and now for only a scooter, is the district of Forcella. The Borelli clan ruled Forcella.

‘Can you do that, erase that place from your mind?’

‘I hope…’

‘What’s hope? Useless, inadequate. Either you can or you can’t.’

She flared. ‘I am Immacolata Borelli. You offer me no respect.’

Castrolami shrugged, as if she had scored no points. He said, ‘I see so many of them. This isn’t Sicily. The vow of silence doesn’t exist in Forcella, Sanita, Secondigliano or Scampia. In the far south, the gangs are linked by blood. It’s impossible to consider that a family would turn in on itself. But you’re not Calabrian – I’ll get to the point, Signorina – or Sicilian. The clans of Naples have greed, brutality and no honour. Do you understand? We have more men and women offering to collaborate than in any other part of Italy. They’re practically queuing outside the palace. Sometimes the prosecutor has to check his diary to make sure he has a slot for a new one. Many are rejected because they have little to offer that we don’t already know, a few because we don’t believe they can sustain the pressure of their treachery. I offer no informer respect, and I’m used to rejecting them. Don’t think, Signorina, that you have earned my admiration or have my gratitude.’

‘You insult me.’ She tried to stamp her foot, and mud spattered out from under her shoe. No avenue of retreat was open to her. She knew it, and so did he. She couldn’t throw a tantrum, spin on her heel – slip probably – and walk away. She had met him. Perhaps she had been photographed with a long lens from a car among those parked bumper to bumper around the park. Perhaps he had a wire strapped to his chest and a microphone in one of his jacket buttons. Did she believe that – if she walked out on him – the ROS would not allow a photograph limited distribution among the journalists accredited to the palace, or not make available a snatch of her voice to the RAI correspondent in the city? On Sunday mornings priests talked often about taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, the need to consider consequences beforehand. She couldn’t meet his eyes and dropped her head. It had stopped raining, the wind had freshened, and she shivered.

He said, ‘You know better than I do that the name for such a person is infame. That person is not a patriot, a hero or heroine. Disgrace walks with them, and the infame who betrays his or her family is the lowest of the low. You could never stand, Signorina, on a box in the piazza del Plebiscito and attempt an explanation of what you have done. You’ll become a pariah and be forced to make a new life.’

Her lip trembled and her voice, to her, was hoarse. ‘I will.’

‘Never go back?’

‘I won’t.’

‘If you’re found again in Naples, what will happen to you?’

‘They’ll kill me.’

‘What do they do, Signorina, to an infame before he or she is killed?’ He was relentless. ‘What do they do?’

‘I don’t know what they do to a woman. I know what they do to a man.’

The crowd was four deep in places where the best view was to be had. The girl reporter from the crime desk barged her way through, offered no apologies and kicked the ankle of an obese man who didn’t shift out of her way. When she was through the spectators, she looked for her photographer, located him and went to his side. ‘My car wouldn’t start,’ she said.

‘Your car’s shit and always will be. My cousin deals-’

‘Yeah, yeah. What have we got?’

Relaxed, the photographer smoked a small cheroot, took it out of his mouth and blew smoke, then used it to point at a space on the pavement between two parked vehicles. A checked tablecloth that doubled as a shroud filled it. The feet of the corpse, its shoes and blue socks, stuck out from the covering, and she could see where blood had diverted round sprouting weeds to dribble into the gutter, where it was dammed by a plastic bag. Beyond the cars, half hidden, a police scene-of-crime technician manoeuvred a camera fixed to a tripod, other officers standing around languidly, and an ambulance was parked further down the street. She stretched up, laying a hand on the photographer’s shoulder, and could see better past the parked cars. A woman sat on a straight-backed wooden chair no more than two metres from the body. She wore a nightdress of thin cotton with a dressing-gown, as if she’d been roused from her bed, and cradled a child – a boy of perhaps four – as she stared blankly ahead.

The photographer said, ‘I done her – she’s the wife – wrong, the widow. I done her when she first came, bawling and screaming. That was before they covered him up.’

‘Do we have a name?’

‘The police have, but they haven’t shared it – you’ll get it off the street or, officially, at the Questura.’

That was where she worked, on the ground floor of the police headquarters, off via Medina and down near the sea front, in the cavernous Mussolini-era building in the room where the crime-desk hacks fed off the information they were given. She was relatively new to the city but her father had a business partner who had an uncle who had influence at the newspaper, and it had always been her ambition to work as a crime reporter. The link had secured her the job – the normal way of things in the city. The more senior staffers on the team were out of town because a supplement was being prepared on the Casalesi clan operating in Caserta, so her phone had rung – and her car hadn’t started. She might well take up the photographer’s offer to introduce her to a cousin who dealt in secondhand vehicles. What they said in the newsroom about the photographer told her that a car from that source would be cheap, but the chance of paperwork to accompany it was slight. She had her notebook out and a ballpoint pen.

‘So, what happened? Was he shot?’

‘You sure you want to know?’

‘Of course.’

‘Have you had breakfast?’

‘No – because the car wouldn’t start and I was late and-’

‘Better on an empty stomach. It’s not pretty.’

Most of the murders she had covered since she’d joined the crime desk had been pistol shots into the head of a man eating in a trattoria, drinking in a bar, sitting in a car, playing cards with associates. ‘Tell me.’

‘You asked. See there, behind where he’s lying? There’s a grocery. The drogheria, of course, has steel shutters down at night. The padlock was cut and the shutters lifted enough to get a man under. They needed electrical power. They took the cable in with them, found a point and plugged it in. Then they went two doors down, called at the place and the wife said her husband wasn’t in and went back to bed. They waited for him to come back from wherever, jumped him and dragged him to where the shutter was up. He would have seen – not much light on the street but enough – what they had waiting for him and he’d have been shitting himself, too scared to scream, and they’d started the engine – can you take this?’

‘Try me.’

‘They’d plugged in a circular-blade tile-cutter.’

‘Jesus, help us.’

‘One of the cops told me before the big apparatchiks took over. There’s no pretty way to say this, but they cut off his balls first, then put them in his mouth – forced open his teeth and shoved them in. This is the twenty-first century, this is Naples, a cradle of civilisation. You doing all right?’

‘Fine.’

‘They put some euro notes in too. Then they cut his head off. The blade can go right through a bathroom or kitchen-floor tile, so it wouldn’t have had a problem with a neck. They took his head off and laid it in his crotch so it covered up where his balls had been.’

‘Did you say “a cradle of civilisation”?’

‘They did all this on a pavement and there’s a streetlight no more than fifty metres away. People must have passed him in the night after they’d driven off. They must have seen him with his head in his crotch, gagging on his balls and the money, and must have stepped round him, kept going. People live over the drogheria and alongside it, but they never heard anything. Nothing heard and nothing seen. The grocery owner came to open the shop before going to the market and found him. What more do you want to know?’

She swallowed hard. If she had thrown up, she would have demeaned herself, and it would have gone straight round the city’s newsrooms and the hacks’ room at the Questura. She swallowed, gulped. Then she looked hard at the face of the widow, and thought she saw acceptance, not anger. She wondered if she could write her piece on the expression of fatalism, base it round the mood that seemed to grip the woman. She didn’t keen and the child didn’t weep.

‘I want to know what he’d done to be punished like this.’

‘He was a carpenter.’

‘Why was he killed like that, though?’

‘The policeman who talked to me said that the Borelli clan, who have this territory, wanted the pizzo from him.’

‘So they extort cash from him – a hundred euros a week?’

The photographer lit another cheroot, puffed at it, shrugged. ‘He shouted his mouth off. He said he’d go to the palace, inform – the police have that from the woman. Maybe he’d already made a statement to the prosecutor. Maybe he’d only said he would. In some districts you can do that and survive, but not in Forcella or Sanita. He’d threatened it, and that was enough.’

‘So that’s what they do to an informer?’

‘Yes. And nobody reported any noise or the body in the street, because they were frightened, and because nobody values an informer. He has the status of a leper.’

The scene-of-crime technician had folded away his tripod. The ambulance crew had carried the body on a stretcher to the vehicle. The woman and the child were escorted by a priest to their door, and the owner of the drogheria lifted his steel shutter, uncoiled a hosepipe and sluiced the pavement. The crowd dispersed. The reporter and the photographer drove off, to write copy, check pictures and hear the police statement in the Questura. Within minutes, there was no trace – on the pavement or in the street – of where an informer had been killed.

He glanced at his watch. She had promised detailed information on the functioning of the clan, her mother’s role in the running of the organisation, the dealings of Vincenzo, and the work Giovanni was put to in Forcella. What she had told him was merely headlines, but to an investigator it was mouthwatering, not that he showed enthusiasm. He took no notes, and didn’t wear a wire. He thought it important to be indifferent at this stage of his linkage with Immacolata Borelli.

In his mind were the bullet points of what he needed, and two were outstanding. He asked where Vincenzo had been that day. Did she know anything about his diary? Where could he be found after midday? She was vague. It was difficult for her, she said, to know her brother’s schedule. She gave him the address of the apartment they shared, his mobile number, the name and location of the cafe-bar he most often patronised, the warehouse where he stored the coats and shoes he imported and exported.

‘I emphasise and repeat, Signorina, that intense pressure will be applied to you when your family learn what you’ve done. In the first period, before a legal process, we will protect you, but we can’t protect all those who may be dear to you. Could they find, hold and hurt, maybe murder, a lover?’

‘No.’

Put a second time, the question was redundant, but it was his practice to examine the face rather than merely listen to words.

‘In Naples, there’s no lover, no boy?’

‘No.’

‘In London, are you in a relationship with someone you met here? An Italian boy? A boy from the college you attend?’

‘Is that important?’

‘It is, Signorina, because you’ll be sequestered, perhaps for months, in a safe-house and under protection. A boyfriend won’t be able to visit you. You can’t get on a plane and come back to London because you want him, because-’

‘It won’t happen.’

‘So there is a boy here?’ His eyes bored into her, looking for truth, demanding it, and he towered over her. He was aware then that the first thin sunlight had broken through the cloud and played on her cheeks. ‘I have to know.’

‘Yes, but not significant.’

‘What does that mean – significato? Is there or isn’t there a boy?’

‘We go to bars, we go to films, we go-’

‘You go to bed. But you say it’s not “significant” – yes?’

‘He’s just a boy. We met in a park. It doesn’t mean anything.’

‘You won’t pine for him?’

She threw back her head and raindrops cascaded from her hair, the sun catching them to make jewels. ‘I’ll forget him – maybe I have already.’

He looked into her eyes for evidence of a lie and couldn’t find it. Her eyes were clear, bright and unwavering. Mario Castrolami knew little of love. His wife and children were in Milan, lodgers at her mother’s home. There was little of love that he could remember – it might have been his uniform that had attracted her when he was young, slim and straight-backed, but now he no longer wore it, his shoulders were rounded, his stomach pushed at his belt, he was edging towards his forty-seventh birthday, and he slept with a loaded handgun in the drawer of his bedside table. There was a woman with whom he shared a restaurant table and the couch in her studio, but only once a month, never more than twice. She painted aspects of the great Vesuvio, exhibited some and sold a few, and he was fond of her – but it wasn’t love. Most of the time he forgot his wife and children, and if his friend, the artist, moved on, she, too, would be forgotten. He did not challenge her again. He believed he had found honesty in her features.

Not that honesty would help her. Deceit was a survivor’s weapon. Away from her, Castrolami used his mobile phone.

A new day, and Eddie felt better. Last night was gone.

Better and freer.

He had had breakfast with the others in the house, toast and cereal, and Eddie had said his piece about losing track of Mac, and there had been, almost, a collective howl. She was part of them all. Down the pub, and the laughter. Back home, her cooking lasagne or cannelloni, or making a sauce. Coming out of the bathroom with maybe just a shirt on, or the see-through robe, and fluttering her eyelashes at them. It just wasn’t possible. Eddie had thought that each of the others would have looked back to the last time they’d seen her, mentally stripped her mood and looked for indicators that she was bugging out on him – and them. He had said he was going to teach and that at the end of his working day he was going to find her. Didn’t know the number, but had dropped her off that first time at the end of a street – a bloody long one – and he’d find her if he had to bang on every door and ring every bell.

He taught with enthusiasm, was maybe at his best. He had ditched Dame Agatha, and had gathered up an armful of weathered, much-used digests of Shakespeare, condensed anthologies. Eddie himself, quietly and with sincerity, had read Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

And a Lithuanian car mechanic had read aloud:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring barque,

Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.

The classroom had rung with applause and he had blushed. A Nigerian who wanted to nurse but needed the language before she could enrol was next:

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come.

A Somali man who washed dishes in a hotel but wanted to be a street trader stuttered through

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

An Albanian needed more English if he was to get customers for a delivery service up in Stoke Newington. He was last to be chosen and looked about to opt out but Eddie wouldn’t let him, so he tried:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Then the class stamped and slapped their palms on the desk tops. He thought a Hungarian girl, plump, with Beatle spectacles on her nose, was savvy enough to take stock first, and she said to the Algerian next to her, in halting English, that the sonnet was not performed for them but for their teacher, it was his love they had recited, and what she had said went on down the line, behind her, in front of her, and the room echoed with giggles.

They did more extracts and his medley of students, gathered from across the globe, played Ferdinand, Miranda and Prospero, Lysander and Hermia, Juliet and her Nurse, Lorenzo and Jessica. He ended with Sonnet 18, and had the Hungarian girl read it:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate…

He let her read alone and her delivery grew in confidence, but he brought in the whole class to echo the final couplet and make a chorus:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

It had been a unique class. He doubted it would be repeated.

He would find her, his Mac. He had promised to.

Eddie walked to the staff room and the coffee machine. He felt that purpose had returned.

The bustle of the prosecutor’s office was stilled. He was at his desk, which was littered with a carpet of opened files and more lay on the wood tiles beside it. The deputy prosecutor had a cigarette in his mouth, the lighter lit but left to burn ten centimetres from the tip. The liaison officer winced, air hissing between his near-closed teeth. The personal assistant to the prosecutor bit sharply at a pencil and looked up from her screen. The archivist was halfway across the office from the door to the desk and carried a load of cardboard file-holders that reached from her stomach up to her chin. They were the inner cabal. The call had come, faint and with a poor signal, from Castrolami. The prosecutor looked around, into each face, and they nodded, accepted his judgement: Operation Partenope, named after the mythical daughter of a goddess, who had drowned in the Gulf and was regarded as a symbol of deceit, treachery, was launched.

Now he spoke softly: ‘Let’s get to work. I want on the telephone the extradition team of the Metropolitan Police, if they’re not too arrogant to speak to me. I want the operations director of the Squadra Mobile, and the duty officer, ROS, here for fourteen thirty hours, with arrest squads on stand-by. There must be no breach in security and no names of targets given. We have a small window and must jump through it. And-’

His desk phone pealed. His assistant passed him the receiver, and mouthed that the caller was, again, Castrolami. The prosecutor began to scribble names and addresses, the light of triumph in his eye.

She dictated. Castrolami repeated into the mobile phone what she told him: all of the addresses used as safe-houses by Gabriella Borelli; the location of the rooms where Giovanni Borelli slept; the apartment, off the via Forcella, that was the home of Carmine and Anna Borelli, and where Silvio Borelli stayed; the rooms off the piazza Mercato, a street behind the via Polveriera and an alley to the north of the vicolo Lepri that Salvatore, Il Pistole, used. She gave the last streets with dry relish and had long believed that the clan’s principal hitman fancied having his hands in her knickers, her stomach against his, and wanted to put a ring on her finger, thus ensuring his advancement in the clan: family would bring him that. She felt no emotion as she spoke. All the time she had clear images in her mind. They were not the faces of those she denounced. Or the features of Castrolami, jowled and clumsily shaven, with raw, bloodshot eyes, his sparse hair whipped up by the wind.

She saw the cavernous space in the basilica, empty because she had been late. The face of an innocent carved in stone, Angelabella, with the single flower, as she had hurried past with one foot bleeding. She heard everything that had been said to her, and named the streets where the safe-houses were. She had done it.

He cut the call, put the phone back into his pocket. He said quietly, almost conversationally, ‘I hope, Signorina, you aren’t fucking with me. This is big. We must win or be laughed at. If we lose because you’re fucking with me then I’ll put you into the sea, off the rocks, and hold you down.’

She looked at him. ‘I’ll go the course, whatever they throw at me.’

She stood then, feet a little apart, shoulders back. Her coat was now open and had dried on her, her blouse stretched across her breasts. She slipped her hand into the damp crook of his arm and they walked together.

It was a good morning by the river. The rain and cloud had cleared and Lukas was hunched on the step with his friend.

Squatting on a canvas stool, Philippe drew with crayons on heavy white paper pinned to a wooden board. With midday coming, it was close to the high seventies and in the afternoon the temperature might hit eighty. But where he had taken his pitch there was shadow from the doorway. Down and across the street, there was a foot bridge over the river, marked by a larger-than-life-size statue of Thomas Jefferson. Lukas didn’t know much about Jefferson’s life and times, but it was a good place for the artist. Tourists from the United States came and took photographs of the statue, then seemed to want to remember the place with something more authentic, so they purchased his crayon drawings of the statue, the bridge, the river, and the Louvre, which was on the far side of the Seine. Usually, when he was at home, Lukas would come to that doorway and settle beside his friend. If his friend was concentrating, he would sit quietly and do some thinking of his own.

If they talked it was about little things. The price of bread, the state of the football championship, whether the weather was lifting or closing in. He would never pry into Philippe’s life, and in return he was not asked, when he came back after a week or three, or a month, where he had been or why. There was always, in late September, a strong odour rising off the river because its level was low, and when he looked upstream he could see the little island covered with Notre Dame. He came to this place, unwound his emotions, let them slacken, and was distanced from where he’d been – Afghanistan, Iraq, an Uzbek or Tajik city, the jungle of the high mountains in Colombia – and Philippe wouldn’t press him. Why was the man his friend? In one limited area there was total and compelling frankness between them. Philippe said his work was shit, and Lukas never disagreed. He valued honesty – men and women died when assault-squad commanders or hostage negotiators and co-ordinators fought little patches of territory and declined to be truthful. The work was shit, but it sold and fed his friend, and meant there was a place for at least another month where Lukas could find company.

He was anonymous here, which suited him. He didn’t carry a mobile in Paris, but the way he lived his life meant he was seldom far from the telephone on the small table inside the apartment’s front door, and a light flashed if a call had come in and a message had been left. He always hesitated a couple of seconds, no more, before he picked it up when the light flashed red.

They’d gone round it for a long time and had now reached consensus. Philippe, busy on Jefferson’s face, the second work since the discussion had begun, was certain who would win the weekend’s football games, and Lukas agreed. In his own trade, he knew that disagreement killed.

Three times a day, Lukas was out of his apartment, but seldom for more than two hours. It was always a stampede to catch up when the call came and the light flashed red.

Philippe shared his flask – it was good coffee, as always.

4

He disliked to ask a favour, to place himself in debt or obligation to any man. He hadn’t asked one but Castrolami had endured an uncomfortable, awkward day, but now he had purpose. They were out of the city and on to the motorway. It was not yet dusk, but the sun was sinking and it would be evening when they left Heathrow, night when they reached Fiumicino. The man from the embassy drove.

In the hours since they had left the park, they had shopped – underclothes for her in a chain store. He had passed her euros from his wallet, which she had placed in her purse, then used British currency – he thought her the daughter of her father because she hadn’t given him change for what she had purchased. He had hustled her. They had been brought fifteen minutes in the car away from the park and he thought they were nearer to the heart of the city but distanced from where she lived and where her brother might be. Then she found a nightdress, a washbag and the items to go with it. For himself there was a sandwich in a cardboard and cellophane wrapping. He had not discussed with her the possibility of her returning to the apartment and packing a bag: it had been stated as fact that there was no question of her going near her street. They had stopped outside a railway station near the shopping area, and she had walked with him to a fast-photo booth and done portraits. Then they had killed time.

Had Mario Castrolami been prepared to ask for favours a choice might have presented itself.

He could have used the embassy man to contact the London police and request a secure room – in a police station, wherever – for them to wait in. In Naples, it was common talk among the Squadra Mobile and the carabinieri that the British police, in particular the London force, were self-serving and unhelpful to the point of obstruction. They lived, it was said, in a fantasy land of imagined and patronising superiority… So he had no secure room with the London police. He believed he must take precautions against a collapse of her determination, a sea-change in her mood: he couldn’t rely on her to say where they could lie up for the day – there might be a back doorway on to a street through which she could slip and disappear. Nor was he prepared to take Signorina Immacolata into the embassy to wile away the hours. He didn’t know the personnel so he didn’t trust them: he had had the driver from the ambassador’s staff park a block away from the embassy; then had given him the photographs of her from the booth. The man had been gone for half an hour, then returned with the new passport. It was not yet noon, so they had gone to another park. She had said it was Hyde Park. The rear doors of the car had been locked, and the radio turned up.

It was slow on the six-lane motorway.

Castrolami couldn’t have taken her out on the first available flight with seats free. He wasn’t prepared to move her until a signal came to him, via his mobile, that the extradition unit had eyeball on Vincenzo Borelli. She had not complained, had accepted what was incarceration, had refused food, had not asked for a lavatory, had not made empty conversation. It suited him that he was not required to do small-talk, and that others would begin the detailed debrief. He was not much more, really, than the bag-carrier. He neither liked nor disliked her, was neither attracted to nor disgusted by her. Her breathing was steady, giving no indication of stress… but he kept an eye on the front windscreen. The driver had a day-old copy of Corriere della Sera, and had heaved the news and arts sections over his shoulder and into Castrolami’s lap while keeping the sport pages. But Castrolami hadn’t looked at the paper and neither had she. They had watched the movement in the park – pedestrians, pram-pushers and horse-riders – and hadn’t talked. The call had come. His bladder had hurt, but he had known the vigil was near to its end. He didn’t know how she felt now that the surveillance team had eyeball on her brother, and didn’t ask.

They were leaving behind the tower blocks of London and the sun was dipping down. He had half expected her to crumple and look for comfort from him – she’d get fuck-all if she did. A bag-carrier didn’t do nurse. She sat bolt upright and her lip wobbled occasionally, but there were no tears.

Further out of the city, the traffic speeded up. The mobile-phone messages had told him of the eyeball in London, the readiness at the palace in Naples, the teams gathered in briefing rooms at the Questura and at the barracks in piazza Dante. He had gutted her for headline information before they had gone on the shopping jaunt and that information had gone. He doubted that she could, now, step back.

He had made one accommodation to his principle of refusing to ask favours. At the terminal the car was met – only a protocol chief, but sufficient, carrying the printouts of two tickets.

The plastic bag dangled from her fist. It was the symbol, he reckoned, of how far she had come. Her possessions were in one cheap bag, and they consisted of underwear, washing kit and a nightdress. Then there was whatever she had in her handbag. Castrolami handed his passport and the one she would use to the protocol guy. They were examined, the title pages flicked, and they were taken through locked doors and into hidden corridors where only permanent Heathrow staff had access. They emerged into a departure area, were given the printouts and brought to a Passport Control desk – one at the end, which had a Position Closed sign but where a young woman sat. She looked at the pages, at the faces, handed the documents back. There was a screen ahead, and he saw that the Rome flight had been called. He had been told that if the traffic was heavy on the motorway, and they were late, the flight would be delayed. He had a hand on her arm and steered her towards the pier, then hooked out his mobile, dialled, waited, was connected.

He said where they were, confirmed the schedule. He was told the operation had been named Partenope. He shut the mobile and switched it off. They came to the last exit off the pier. He thought she had walked well, not stumbling, not faltering. Maybe she was, as he had suspected, a hard bitch under the veneer of sadness at the death of a friend, hard and uncaring.

Would she stay the course? They all said they would, but only a few did, and were alive, able to build a new life, when the trials were over.

He stood aside and let his hand fall from her arm. He couldn’t read her, couldn’t pierce her thoughts. She stepped from the pier inside the aircraft. Castrolami had had to stifle the urge to shove her the last metre, but it had not been necessary. He showed the boarding cards and a woman led them into business class, then to the front row where no other passengers would need to pass them and look at their faces.

The door was closed, the engines gained power. She had her belt fastened. ‘Aren’t you going to ask me how I feel, whether I am strong?’

He shook his head, then turned his face away and closed his eyes, as their speed on the runway gathered.

He put the phone down, gave the order of confirmation. Operation Partenope was named after the Siren woman who seduced men having lured them on to rocks and then killed them, and who had ultimately failed and had committed suicide by drowning and who lay in a pauper’s grave, if mythology were believed, among the sunk foundations of the buildings between the via Solitaria and the via Chiatamone. Operation Parthenope had legs and ran.

The prosecutor eased his hand off the receiver and saw that his palm had left a sweat sheen on it. He believed he presided over the dismantling of a clan. It would be, he could predict, an opportunity for a minister in Rome to speak of a blow of the ‘greatest significance’ to the heart of the city’s criminal activities. If it worked well, he would receive a congratulatory message from the minister. He could reflect on a durable heart, because many times central government had claimed such blows against it, and on the columns of men and women in patrol cars and riot wagons leaving the yards behind the Questura and piazza Dante. In London, more officers and guns would be moving into position to arrest the eldest brother. It was synchronised, choreographed. The silence fell over the room. They must wait. He was brought coffee. He pictured now the columns of vehicles snaking across the city – routes would have been worked out so that they seemed to head away from target locations, then swing back, giving minimal warning of their approach – and only now, inside the cars and wagons, would the officers know who they moved against. The prosecutor hated the lack of trust, was shamed by it. He regarded it as the single most impressive creation of the clans.

At about this time in the evening, the curtain would have been rising for the second act of the opera, a Mozart, for which he had begged tickets from a cousin. He had cried off in mid-afternoon and his wife had sighed and said she would find someone else to take with her. He was marginally disappointed to miss the performance. Opera soothed him. He believed fervently that whatever hours he worked at the palace he must enjoy something of life beyond.

Silence was good because words – at a moment such as this – were inadequate.

She was said to be strong – Mario Castrolami’s verdict – and she would need to be, if the arrest programme was successful.

A battering ram broke open the street door, forcing the lock. A small boy, reared on extravaganzas of video-screen warfare, watched big-eyed, in fascination. What he played at was happening. He was across the street, had a vantage-point between two parked cars and was almost hidden by a lamppost. He watched the uniformed guy with the ram step aside, and a charge of black-clad police plunged through the broken door. The boy recognised the firearms they carried in Hackney, east London. They were on display often enough. If he had had a friend with him he would have been able to report that the men were from the specialist firearms team, CO19, that they had Heckler amp; Koch machine pistols and Glock 9mm handguns, and one at the back had a Taser immobiliser. Now he heard wood splintering, oaths, frantic shouting, then quiet. Up on the first floor, a policeman drew the curtain, denying the child a clear view into the lit room.

He didn’t have to wait long. The prisoner was hustled into the doorway, out on to the step, then brought fast down the flight to the pavement. The boy knew him.

All the kids of his age knew Vincenzo – Vinny to them. His sister, too. They ran messages for Vinny, the Italian, would take a piece of paper to the other side of Hackney, up to Seven Sisters or south to Hoxton, a tiny scrap of cigarette paper that was folded up smaller than the bitten-down nail on the child’s little finger. They were paid for taking messages. This boy, and all the boys, knew the Italian as a gangster of style… real life and bigger than in the games they played in the arcades and on their machines. They idolised Vinny but were never close to his sister. She wasn’t there – only him. There was a moment when he could see, so clearly, Vinny’s face. The streetlight he was under threw enough illumination to reach across the street, and the blue lamp was circling on a police car. Plenty of light fell on Vinny’s face. Magnificent… ‘Fuckin’ fantastic,’ the child thought. Then the police gloves, black leather, came down on top of Vinny’s head and pushed him into the car. Handcuffs on his wrists – had seen them as Vinny was brought down the steps from the broken door – but not a mark on his face. There were no cuts on his mouth or round his eyes and his shirt wasn’t ruffled. The boy understood. To fight would have been pathetic. Scum would have fought.

The child reckoned he knew about gangsters, and had no ambition in his life but to have the status and stature of Vinny, the Italian. If he had fought they would have belted him, like they did the big black guy, bouncer at the club off Kingsland Road. It had taken eight pigs to get him down, and then they’d kicked shit out of him and more. He caught Vinny’s eye. The child was nine but thought himself the friend of Vinny, the big man from Naples that was somewhere way down south. In that moment, he was certain that the Italian gave him the slightest nod of recognition. Then a policeman was in front of him, telling him, ‘Go and get fucking lost, kiddo.’ The car had gone down the street, and the guys in black were spilling out down the steps from the main door.

It was a big man’s cool, a top man’s, that he didn’t fight and didn’t get himself thugged. The child thought that Naples, wherever it was, was a prize place if it was where Vinny had come from – proud, not frightened, ignoring all the guns round him and going at his own pace into the back of the car. He wondered where the sister was, and whether she would go in the cage with her brother. The car had gone round the corner at the end of the street, headed, he thought, for Lower Clapton Road and the Hackney police station.

The policeman was blocking his view of the front door, so he got ‘fucking lost’, but only to the corner. There, he sat on a low wall near to the Kentucky Fried Chicken place. He’d wait there for the sister to come and warn her not to go in the cage.

A window exploded out and glass crashed down into the street, which was enough to tilt eyes upwards. Heads were already craning at the block’s front door where carabinieri, in protective gear, stood guard. A flashlight was aimed up three storeys and locked on to the window. The man appeared and screamed.

The crowd knew who the carabinieri had come for.

In that narrow street, spanning the top end of Forcella and the southern extremity of the Sanita labyrinth, they all knew who Giovanni was. Before the first of the attack wave had levered themselves out of the wagon and sprinted for the door, on the warning of their approach the street had been blocked with boxes, cartons from shops, pallets from building sites, rubbish and debris. Gas canisters were loaded in the barrels of some of the rifles confronting the crowd of local people and plastic baton round launchers were aimed at them. The second wave had had to negotiate a storm of abuse, and when the crowd had heard the door broken down above them, the first rocks had been thrown at the men in the cordon.

There was a gasp. He was naked. His body glistened. Giovanni had screamed, but now he swung clear of the window, evaded a heavy gloved fist that attempted to grab his arm, reached out and caught the downpipe from the gutter. His legs hung free, and the crowd saw the hair between them, at the trunk. A half-brick arced up and reached the broken window. The crowd heard the oath of a casualty. It was encouragement.

The fugitive slithered up the pipe, then took hold of the old ironwork guttering and the two nearest stanchions. Rocks and cobblestones, apples, potatoes, melons rained against the carabinieri at the entrance and at the window where arms attempted to grab Giovanni. Obvious – he’d been in the shower. As he sought to lever himself on to the gentle slope of the tiles, high above the streetlights, the beam still held him, and there were flashes from a score of mobile phones. His genitalia wobbled, danced, girls screamed, mothers giggled and old women shrieked happy obscenities. It was a huge effort, but he succeeded. Giovanni lifted a leg high and lodged his foot on the tiles. Then he was up, and standing.

At shouts from below, he turned and saw the black-clad carabinieri on the roof ridge. Then he would have known he was as trapped as if he had stayed in the shower cubicle or his bedroom. He ripped out a single tile and threw it viciously, two-handed, at the hunters.

It was theatre, and the crowd’s participation in the performance was demanded. Forgotten: the pizzo taken from every shopkeeper, every small man trying to build a business, the extortion that robbed them. Forgotten: the conceit and bullying by the son of a clan leader. Forgotten: the weeping mothers, wives, sweethearts, sisters of those slaughtered to create discipline. Giovanni Borelli had milked the moment.

They had him. His wrists were wrenched behind his back and handcuffed.

Who ruled here?

One carabinieri vehicle was overturned and torched before they brought him out. Three volleys of the plastic baton rounds were fired and a dozen gas canisters. Men in full riot gear, the masks distorting their faces, used their clubs to batter a passageway to a vehicle with mesh over its windows. By then they had found boxer shorts for Giovanni Borelli. The scugnizzi, the urchin kids of the street – the watchers, couriers and wallet thieves – cavorted near to the burning truck. Giovanni was driven away. More gas was fired, but with him gone the anger fled. Show over.

It was said that, within an hour, half of the kids on the north side of Forcella and the south side of Sanita, had transferred the image of the naked Giovanni Borelli to their mobiles’ screens, and that the penis, hair and testicles were in good focus. He was, if briefly, a hero.

A police team from the Squadra Mobile knocked at the door of the old couple’s apartment. When it was opened, they stood back respectfully, as if apologising, and Carmine Borelli stepped aside and allowed them to pass him. The detectives wore their own clothes, rough-wear garments. Their jeans were faded, some torn and ragged at the knees, their sneakers had not been cleaned and their T-shirts were sweat-streaked and creased. They had on, also, lightweight plastic tops with Polizia emblazoned across the chest, and holsters that pulled down their belts. Carmine Borelli, founder of the clan, was treated with deference. The detectives used the mat inside the door to wipe their feet before they went further inside and, in the living room ducked their heads to Anna Borelli, who sat and sewed and watched television, a hundred-centimetre-wide screen that dominated the small room, the sound turned high. She did not acknowledge them and kept her eyes on the needle.

He was given respect because he was of the old guard of clan leaders. His fortune had been founded in the weeks after the Allies had reached the city in the autumn of 1943 when a mercato nero had run free. Its profits, from trading in every commodity that commanded a price, had been huge. It was long ago, and actuality was blurred. Pimping, prostitution, the corruption of medication, the purchase of politicians, the killing of rivals, the theft of funds sent by the military government for the restoration of utilities were unknown to these young detectives, who saw a humble, bent old man in a cardigan, a faded shirt and trousers, with scuffed leather sandals. He was in his eighty-eighth year, and his marriage to Anna had been celebrated, and consummated, sixty-eight years earlier. Together they had chased money and tracked power and… He was asked where his youngest grandson was.

Silvio was brought from his bedroom and was not handcuffed. Now his grandmother discarded her needlework, rose stiffly from her chair and smoothed his hair. The detectives took him down the flight of stairs from the apartment – Carmine and Anna had lived there since their wedding day and it was furnished in the fashion of four decades past – to the lobby on the ground floor. The door was closed quietly by the last detective to leave.

There was no riot. Carmine Borelli was as good as his word. A crowd was outside now and resentful murmurs eddied. The police stood nervously, defensively, around their vehicles and the outer door, with gas loaded and baton rounds. The grandfather came to the window. He opened it wide, pushed back the shutters and his arms were out – as if he were Papa, the place was piazza San Pietro and it was the Sabbath. He made a calming gesture with his gnarled hands. His word, in Forcella, carried weight, and had done since American troops had released him from a cell in the Poggioreale gaol after he had told the intelligence officer that he was a political prisoner, a youthful but implacable enemy of Mussolini’s Fascism. He did not wish a disturbance outside his home because it might aggravate his wife’s heart condition. The scugnizzi were denied their hour. They let the rocks drop to the cobbles and put the fire bombs – petrol in Coca-Cola bottles – in shop doorways. Not even they, feral and wild, would ignore the demand of Carmine Borelli.

Silvio was driven away. His hair was in place, and no missiles were thrown or gas fired.

When they had gone and the street had emptied, Carmine Borelli leaned against the living-room wall. His jaw jutted, his face was set and the blood drained from his bitten lips. He knew, and Anna knew, that they couldn’t use a telephone but must wait for news. How great was the attack on the clan, his family?

She had the shop, its owner and contents to herself. In the salon, below the piazza dei Martiri, Gabriella Borelli was queen. It was in the folklore of the family that she had spent sixty thousand euros on dresses, chosen, purchased and carried away on the afternoon that her husband had stalked, confronted and shot a man from the piazza Garibaldi who had ambitions to reach into Forcella. Also in the folklore of the family, but not talked of, was the stacking of the boxes containing the dresses in a lock-up garage for a full half-year before Pasquale had decided it safe for her to wear such expensive clothes at a hotel south of Sorrento where, under false names, he had taken her.

The obvious shops for her to visit, the most exclusive in the city, were down the hill from the piazza dei Martiri in the via Calabritto where there were the outlets for Valentino, Prada, Damiani, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and shoes from Alberto Guardini, but she preferred a smaller street behind the via Calabritto. She was, of course, one of the wealthiest women in the city, and had control of sums in excess of half a billion euros. Price was immaterial to Gabriella Borelli. What mattered to her more was that she could not drive a top-of-the-range Mercedes sports to Capodichino, book a first class air ticket to Gran Canaria, stay at a hotel with a hundred luxury rooms, take a suite, then soak up the sun during the day, dance in the evening, and strip for the night in a king-size bed with Pasquale or… It was not possible. She stood in her underwear – brassiere and knickers – in front of the full-length mirror and held up to her the dresses and pirouetted, letting the music, a string quartet, waft over her.

She had no stake in the shop, minor or major. Could have bought it outright, and not noticed the price. The family owned hotels, apartments, time-share blocks, offices and many shops. However, it was more satisfactory to have a straightforward commercial arrangement to buy clothes even if they were seldom on her back.

Those she didn’t like – too small or tight, too revealing for her age, she threw on the floor. The owner could pick them up, smooth and rehang them. Those she liked she laid across a chair. She could have had any of the dresses she tried – which were a genuine label from Paris, Milan or London – manufactured for her, exact imitations, in the sweat-shops on the slopes of Vesuvio. The little factories, hidden among villages on the slopes, were the responsibility of her eldest son, Vincenzo. She yearned for Vincenzo more than she did for her husband, suffered from her inability to talk to him, to hear his certainties. In fact, she purchased the label, not the dress. It was an escape for her.

Discarded dresses lay on the carpet, but she had chosen four. Perhaps one more would go on the chair. She was, normally, a middle-aged woman scurrying alone on the streets, or driving a small car with plates that showed it to be old. There were the boxes in the lock-up garage, and more in a basement, and she had had an air-conditioning system fitted in a cellar behind the Duomo where more clothes were stored, unworn, and in three of the safe-houses she flitted between there were wardrobes filled with dresses, skirts, light jackets and blouses. The escape was to dream, and dream alone. The money the clan had accumulated brought power, influence, control and authority – but the opportunity to pamper herself was remote. She smiled cheerfully and the owner clucked with enthusiasm. The dress was turquoise, not so close round her waist as to accentuate the first traces of flab, neither a tart’s dress nor a matron’s. It covered her knees. It would have looked well on her daughter, Immacolata – it was the first time that day she had thought of her. It would have fitted Immacolata but she wouldn’t have chosen it. There were girls at the heart of the Contini clan, the Misso clan and the Lo Russo clan who would have worn that dress, turned heads and stopped conversations, but not her dull, dreary Immacolata. She held the dress up to her and the owner – with skill – gave a small squeal and clapped her hands. Gabriella Borelli turned the full circle, then laid it on the chair with the others. She didn’t know when she would wear it… she saw herself – made up, with jewellery from strong boxes in two of the safe-houses, or the diamonds kept for her by the few she could depend on – as she walked on the young man’s arm past the small orchestra, the restaurant manager grovelling a greeting, and was taken to the best table. Above her was the suite, and in the suite was the king-size bed, and the young man who admired the turquoise-silk dress was- A telephone rang.

She felt a chill and shivered. She recognised that call tone. It had no romance, no style, was not stolen from an opera aria or something popular. It was piercing, like a car’s alarm. Brief, then silence. She turned her back on the clothes and went to the chair where her coat and bag were.

Salvatore had that number, the young man who… and Umberto, the lawyer long used by the family. It was for times of emergency.

A text message waited. ‘Three run, Four run – Bravo five boxes – Twelve walk – block 5 alpha.’ She studied the text, memorised and deleted it.

She said to the owner that she would call for the dresses she had chosen and would then settle the account. The owner was at pains to indicate that settlement was a small matter and should not concern the signora. Gabriella Borelli left the shop the way she had come, through the staff area, past the toilets and the storeroom, then went out into the street through a reinforced door. She waited. She listened. She looked from a corner for a loose cordon, for men who lounged and smoked or sat in parked cars. The text messages she sent and received on her mobile were always coded: ‘Three’ was Giovanni, ‘Four’ was Silvio and ‘run’ was arrested. She was ‘Bravo’ and ‘boxes’ were safe-houses that had been hit. ‘Twelve’ was Salvatore and ‘walk’ meant still at liberty, while ‘block 5 alpha’ told her where he would be and at what time.

She was a woman in a dowdy coat because the chill came in from the sea with the evening, and slipped among shadows. Dreams had been curtailed and an escape cut short. Fuck Giovanni and fuck Silvio. If five of her safe-houses had been hit, searched, then the security of the clan, on which she prided herself, was split open. How was it possible? Almost – not quite – fear held her.

The pictures came on the screen. There were digital images of Vincenzo Borelli in the custody suite at a London police station, full face and profile. They were replaced by a photograph of Giovanni Borelli being brought out of a door, wearing only boxer shorts. An officer behind him carried a bundle of clothing. The youngest, Silvio, walked meekly, appearing confused, between two towering men. The locations followed the individuals, a sequence of smashed-down doors, succeeded by an interior of a living room or bedroom.

The deputy prosecutor, unable to mask his disappointment, said, ‘We have the three cubs, but not the vixen. We were given five safe-house addresses, have hit each of them but she wasn’t there. Possessions? Yes. Recent clothes down to dirty ones? Yes. Jewellery not put away? Yes. She was due back at one of them. I suppose we have to query the tactic of overt hits.’

The liaison officer smarted. ‘We agreed on simultaneous strikes and-’

‘And we do not have Salvatore, Il Pistole.’

‘We were given five locations for the vixen, and couldn’t have delayed the lift.’ The liaison officer was prepared to rebut any criticism of the operation, which he had overseen.

The deputy prosecutor, maybe from frustration or tiredness, or from the simple matter of dashed expectations, snarled, ‘You had a free hand. They were your decisions. Where is she? Under your leadership we were the Gadarene swine in a headlong dash. Perhaps – and I say this with all charity – a calmer approach and surveillance stake-outs might well-’

‘We had to act in concert.’

The prosecutor thwacked a fist on his desk. ‘If we’re divided, we lose. I believe we’ll have the mother within hours. The plane is now, I estimate, thirty minutes away. We’ll push the girl harder.’

The prosecutor reckoned it was not his optimism that won a truce in the recriminations, but his mention of Immacolata Borelli. They had all been in the room when the tape was played and her tinny voice, with traffic noise surging across it, had told them a plain truth: ‘It is my intention to collaborate. By saying that on the telephone to you, I put my life at risk.’ The voice, the memory of it, might have shamed the protagonists. The deputy prosecutor shrugged, and the liaison officer went for water. They were all thinking of her, the prosecutor decided, and the enormity of what she had done. He was offered a biscuit, but waved away the plate. He said, ‘I don’t know how, but we’ll have the vixen.’

Two and a quarter hours of street tramping, and failure. Fortune did not shine on Eddie Deacon. He had started so brightly, full of hope and anticipation, when he had reached the street corner to which he had brought her from the pub. There, she had slipped her hand off his arm, grinned, waved and wandered down the street under the streetlamps. She hadn’t looked back. He had stood on one corner and she had disappeared round another. He had never been back. Always his Mac had turned up on time, punctual as a digital clock. He knew only that she had turned off to her left. He had stood there and had seen a pretty much main route with bus stops, and smaller streets going off to right and left. There were shops with flats above. There were smart little residential roads where professionals from the City or the Law Courts had come with their Polish builders, and there were bollards at the end to stop rat-runners and twockers. There were streets where there seemed to be more bell buttons on a pad by the front entrance than windows. She might have gone to a high-grade road, or to a couple of rooms above a launderette or a travel agent.

What to do? He could hardly stop anyone he saw going about their business: ‘Excuse me, have you seen an Italian girl in this street/road? We have this big thing, but she never gave me an address or a phone number, and she stood me up for a meal in the Afghan up Kingsland Road. Do you know where I can find her?’ He had walked – had been into Pakistani-run shops that sold everything and takeaways that did chicken or curries, and at first he had shyly shown the photograph he kept in his wallet, but for the last two hours he had just walked, peering into every young woman’s face, and found that he was doubling back on himself.

He went past a doorway, Edwardian, set in London brick, between a Turkish bank and a charity shop. Both had been open when he’d gone by the first time but now they were closed and showed only security lights. A pair of police stood outside, a regular officer and a Community Support girl. He remembered now that the door was covered with tacked hardboard.

His feet hurt, but not as much as his mind. He kept seeing her. Every time a girl materialised, round a corner, off a bus, out of a shop, into the throw of a streetlight, Eddie Deacon stared her out. Worst was when he had run after a girl – had seen the swing of the hips, the straight back, the chuck of hair over a shoulder – had caught her, gone in front of her, damn near blocking her on the pavement and she’d been reaching into her handbag – could have been a nail file, a personal alarm or even a pepper spray – when he had seen the spectacles. He had apologised, grovelling, had just about scraped the knees of his jeans on the pavement. She had walked on after one glance that measured him up as a sad thing or maybe a lowlife pervert. He stopped. Everybody watched policemen. Everybody pretended policemen standing on the first step of a flight were interesting, and doubly interesting when the door was opened, two men came out with filled plastic bags and put them into the back of an unmarked van, then went back inside. So interesting… and it rested his feet, which hurt bad. He looked down at them, and noticed the glow beside his legs.

The kid smoked. Eddie Deacon thought he was about ten, but the face was too near the pavement for him to make out the features. He sat on the kerb and his feet were in the gutter. He couldn’t have been seen by the police across the street.

The kid asked if he was looking for Vinny.

He said he wasn’t. It was just good to stop walking and rest his feet.

Was he looking for Vinny, the Italian? He heard a tremor of worship in the kid’s voice, as if he was talking about a footballer.

Eddie Deacon took a deep breath and told the kid he was looking for a girl – an Italian girl. Then he had his wallet out and bent down with it. The kid struck a match, and Eddie showed him the photo.

‘She’s Immacolata,’ the kid said, reedy, then coughed and flicked away his cigarette. ‘She’s Vinny’s sister. There’s filth here. They took Vinny, and I stayed to warn her if she came so they didn’t lift her. They put a girl’s bag and clothes in the van. Then I heard them talking and one said to a sergeant who came in a car that her bag was for shipping home to her. That was all.’

He thanked the kid. It was an afterthought but he asked him if he’d still be there later.

‘Something of yours in that place? Something important?’

He said there might be. Then, ‘I have to get inside.’

Was he a friend of Immacolata? He was.

A good friend?

He thought so.

‘Did you shag her?’

Eddie Deacon looked at the kid crouched on the ground, his shoulder level with Eddie’s knees. He said quietly, ‘Not your business. Important? Maybe. How do I get inside? God – you’d know, wouldn’t you?’

‘I would, too.’

He tried to sound authoritative: ‘Then you’d better take me.’

A smile slashed the kid’s face and Eddie saw it when another match was struck and cigarette lit. He was told to give it a couple of hours, then come back – and that it would cost him.

He had no doubt that the kid would have the skills to break into a property that had a police guard on the front step.

*

Salvatore felt her tremble. He had not known Gabriella Borelli, madrina, leader of the clan, show fear, but she shook and couldn’t stifle it. He held her close to him and the warmth came off her body. One arm was close round her shoulders and the other round the small of her back. She was twice his age. She was the most feared woman in the city. He could feel the straps of her underwear, and she would have felt the hardness against her belly. He could have pushed aside her coat, lifted her skirt, pulled down the panties, then flicked his own zip and hitched her up so that her arms were round his neck. Could have leaned her back against a wall and gone into her. Had he, it would have been – sad – the stupidest action of his life. Against a wall of old brick, put up by craftsmen centuries before, to have fucked a madrina while her husband was in gaol in the north and subject to Article 41 bis would have condemned him. Already Salvatore, Il Pistole, was a marked man and could live with it. If he fucked Gabriella Borelli he was a dead man and walking nowhere. And yet… He let a hand worm round from her back along the top of the pelvis, let it slide down and heard her breath quicken. And yet… He was not stupid.

He kissed her lightly on the forehead, at the hairline, and eased back from her. He thought – could not see in the darkness – that she clenched her fists and maybe drove the nails into the soft palms. He was glad, then, that he had backed off first. Her face would have hardened, and her jaw would be out.

The moment – body against body, juices aroused, heat rising – would not be referred to again. She would show no sign in the future of that intimacy. Neither would he. He thought she would have been a good fuck, better than the daughter. Salvatore knew that if ever she believed he was conceited enough to think he had any hold over her she would destroy him.

She touched his arm. It seemed to acknowledge a moment of weakness that was now stamped on, bagged, disposed of. She said, ‘They have searched five addresses I use. Who knew five of my addresses?’

No cheek, no attempt to joke. ‘I did.’ He knew she would consider him as much of a suspect as anyone else. She had the ability to detach herself, analyse, and act. It was not necessary to bluster innocence to her.

‘Who else?’

The wall behind her was high, dwarfing them, and above it was the Certosa di San Martino, of the fourteenth century, and behind the monastery, the fortress of Sant’Elmo, whose first stones had been laid eight hundred years before. That he was in the deep shadow of two of the most remarkable buildings in a city that was, itself, a miracle of history did not impress the clan’s principal killer. He had one boast only: he would never be taken alive. Coming after him were the police detectives and the ROS investigators, the families and associates of those he had killed on the instructions of the Borelli clan, and if he rose too fast that clan would destroy him.

He had been found and taken in hand by Pasquale when he was a scugnizzo. The padrino had lifted him off the street, where he thieved, conned and tricked for food and money, no family to care for him, and created a ladder of advancement for him to climb. He had done street-corner spotting – who came into Forcella, what was their business and where they went – message-running, with tiny scraps of paper, sealed in plastic and secreted in body orifices, and had given out beatings when monies due were not paid. When he was eighteen, Pasquale – identifying talent where he could find it – had put the P38 into his smooth hand, had driven him to a disused quarry beyond Acerra and let him fire two magazines at rusty cans. A week later he had been given his first living, walking, breathing, spitting, cursing target. He had money and status, and wouldn’t see his thirtieth birthday, which he accepted. He would be dead, and would not have – at his last breath – a regret.

‘All the brothers, they knew.’ He had taken instructions from Vincenzo before his flight to London but always after a moment had elapsed as if clarifying that his obedience was considered, not automatic, and instructions from Giovanni only if they were prefaced with ‘My mother says.’ He was contemptuous of Silvio and had never received an instruction from him. It did not cross his mind that he should include the sister, now gone eight months, with the brothers in having knowledge of the safe-houses.

‘Yes – and who else?’

‘Did Carmine and Anna Borelli know the addresses?’

Her father- and mother-in-law might have known two of the five, three at maximum. Not all.

‘Did Umberto know?’

The lawyer, used by the family for more than thirty years, was now elderly, run to obesity and looked a fool, a pompous one, but his intellect was sharper than any other city lawyer’s. He was skilled in the manipulation of court processes, the transfer of monies while they were rinsed clean, and the avoidance of surveillance. Umberto, perhaps, was a more significant aide to the clan than Salvatore, the killer.

She thought briefly, then replied that the lawyer might have known two addresses, no more.

‘Did Pasquale know?’

She did not dismiss it. Her body seemed to stiffen, tighten, then a coil was loosened. She relaxed. She said that however desperate her husband was to regain his freedom, he wouldn’t dare to betray her – and he would have known three addresses, but not five.

He shrugged, had no more to offer. He took out a small pocket torch and flashed it three times down the lane. He heard the response, the gunning of a scooter engine. It came forward, no lights shown. Did she want to be taken somewhere? She shook her head decisively. Who now to trust?

She walked away. He thought her wealth could have provided her with a Bentley, a Maserati or a Porsche, a driver in uniform and a guard to protect her. The scooter came up and collected him, the lights were flicked on and he saw her trudging the other way, along the rough track that would bring her out on the corso Vittorio Emanuele. He didn’t know where she would head for but he reckoned it an hour’s fast walking to get back to Forcella and Sanita.

He sat astride the pillion, slapped his man on the shoulder – he called him ‘Fangio’ – and they powered away. He did not look down from the track at the beauty of the bay and the reflections on the sea from ships’ lamps and portholes or up at the illuminated ramparts of the castle. He let his mind scratch at the problem. Who had betrayed the clan? Who had earned death – not the fast death of the P38, but slow, stretched death? Who?

The aircraft landed, hit hard. She reached out, instinct, as the wheels bounced and the aircraft seemed to fly again, then the impact was repeated. Her hand took his. The fingers did not close on hers, and there was no comfort from them. Then she realised Castrolami thought nothing of her and had no concern whether she was terrified on landing or not.

They taxied, turned, idled and then, with a last lurch, the aircraft braked and was still. A ripple of applause shimmered behind them: it had not been a smooth flight, with turbulence over southern France, then powerful cross-winds as they had descended on Fiumicino, and the landing had been rough. Immacolata Borelli did not join in. She had only once, while they were in the air, left her seat. Then she had gone to the toilets in front of Business and had changed into the few new clothes she had been permitted to buy. She had washed her face and hands and had looked at herself in the mirror. She had tried to smile – and could not.

She had returned to her seat. Castrolami had not spoken to her. She thought he reckoned it enough that he had her on the plane, out of British jurisdiction and on her way to Italy, home. He hadn’t asked if she was comfortable, if she was hungry, if she wanted a drink or a magazine. He had scribbled on a pad, might have been his report or his expenses, and she thought his socks smelled worse in the cabin than they had in the car.

She heard, behind her, a stampede. She had expected that she would have to wait. Castrolami squeezed his bulk past her, no apology, stood in the aisle and successfully blocked any passenger wanting to short-cut through Business to the forward door. Then he flicked his fingers – as if he had called a dog. She didn’t move. Heard the flick of the fingers again, louder, more insistent and closer to her ear. Sat, didn’t shift. The hand came down – the one she had clutched when the plane hit – caught her coat and yanked her up. Her waist snagged on the belt, still fastened. His other hand came across her thighs, almost groping her, and opened the catch. She thought he wouldn’t have noticed where his hand had been. She stood.

She saw that two stewardesses and a purser eyed her, almost stripped her. It was obvious that she was a fugitive returning. No sympathy, no clemency. She had been offered a rug for her knees and had declined it, also earphones for the stereo. The trolley had come with newspapers – Corriere, Messaggero and Repubblica and she’d said she didn’t want one. A few remarks only, and she wondered if they were sufficient for the cabin crew to know she was Neapolitan. If she was from Naples and in custody, she was a camorrista. She understood then that few shoulders would offer her a place to weep.

He had reached into his pocket and produced a pair of dark glasses. He handed them to her. The lights were poor in the cabin and outside it was late evening. She shook her head.

Castrolami said, ‘Maybe there’s a photographer. How do I know, when I have no control over it, what the security’s like? I’m off my patch. Maybe this place leaks. Maybe your name is out. You want to make it easier for them? Put them on and turn up your coat collar. I don’t want you dead, Signorina…’

She put on the glasses and pulled up the collar so that it half covered her cheeks. She thought, was not certain because his voice was only a murmur, that he added, ‘Not before we’ve had you in court and testifying.’

He took her arm, led her out through the door and on to the pier, then down a flight of side steps into the night. Two cars waited, and men had sub-machine guns. The rear door of the lead car was open for her. Fingers lay on trigger guards. She was from a clan family and couldn’t play at ignorance, and she understood the reaction towards a traitor and knew their fate. She attempted to bring to mind Marianna Rossetti’s face, the last time she had seen it, without the ravages of leukaemia.

Immacolata Borelli had completed the first stage of her journey home. She dropped her head, sank on to the back seat and the crackle of radios was around her as she was driven away.

Music played at one cafe and the last stages of a soccer game were on a television at the other. Lukas was about halfway between the soccer and the music, and had yesterday’s Herald Tribune in front of him with a month-old copy of Match.

Most evenings, when he was in Paris, he walked down the rue de Bellechasse and on to the rue St Dominique. There, he would pause outside the building with the double gate wide enough for a carriage and pair to go through, and he would take a moment under the plaque to consider the life and work of J. B. Dumas, Chimiste-Secretaire Perpetuel de l’Academie des Sciences, and note a date carved in the stone that put recognition of this man at 209 years ago. It was important for Lukas to stop for those few seconds, break his evening walk to the Bar le Bellechasse, the Drop Cafe or the Cafe des Deux Musees, because then he placed matters in his life into a correct perspective, one that he could manage to be alongside. There would be no plaque erected in Kabul, or Baghdad, up in the forests of the Midwest or in the triple-canopy jungle high in the Cordillera Central east of Cali for a co-ordinator who made the judgement – weighed lives and deaths – between the arguments of the negotiators and the storm-squad commanders. Nobody would read a plaque naming Lukas Sometimes a Saviour and sometimes a Killer, Federal Bureau of Investigation and lately of Ground Force Security (London). Lukas did not rate himself important enough to warrant a plaque.

He thought them good people who served in the cafes and bars he patronised. They were ordinary people, who would not know of the situations that confronted him when he worked. It was better not to bring back to Paris with him, in his rucksack, the situations and knife-edges on which he operated. If business was slack they talked to him about the concerns and excitements of ‘ordinary’ people, and did not push for entry into his life – his unexplained absences – or pry, and they brought him beer and he gave them tips in midsummer and before Christmas. He paid always for what was brought to him unless the patron came with the drink. They could all set agendas and choose the subjects – had free range – except one area. He would steer the talk away from sons: he didn’t welcome chatter about the triumphs and failures of sons. It was an area of pain suppressed, not shared, and he managed the deflection with subtle skill. In the bars and cafes, wiling away the evening hours, he never drank so that his mind clouded: the telephone in the apartment could ring at any time and activate the voicemail.

There was agitation at the far end of the bar. His name was called by a white-aproned waiter and he was told that the game had gone to penalty kicks and he should come for the death throes, but he smiled, shook his head, stayed in his chair and nursed his beer. Tomorrow, he thought, he would go to the museums – first the Musee d’Orsay and then that of the Legion – if the telephone had not rung and no message had been left.

5

The kid hissed, ‘No lights, only the torch. And no torch till the curtains are done.’

Eddie Deacon could honestly have said that never in his life had he done anything that warranted the intervention of the police. Maybe he was a bit drunk sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night, rolling along the street and using a lamp-post as a crutch, but he hadn’t done anything that required an officer to get stuck into him. It didn’t make him special, just ordinary. If a policeman’s torch had lit him now, it would have been handcuffs, the back of a wagon and a cell door slamming.

The kid had asked for fifty; they had haggled. He had settled for thirty. Eddie thought the kid might be as young as nine. Newspapers he glanced at in the staff room carried interminable features on the spread of hooligans on the capital’s streets. Thirty pounds had been passed, and to make it up Eddie had had to empty a pocket and dig up pound and fifty-pence coins. It was big money to him, but he didn’t think it was high-value work to the kid… He rather liked him.

They had gone to the parallel street at the back. The kid had led and Eddie had followed. There was a locked iron gate at the side of a four-house terrace, and the kid had unfastened the lock as if it was easier than opening a toothpaste tube. They had edged along a garden, while inside a baby cried and a television played, and Eddie had been helped over the end wall. They had dropped down into a yard filled with sodden cardboard cartons that would have come from the shop alongside the steps to the door used by Immacolata and her brother. Next, up a drainpipe using a dumped stool to get clear of the ground, then a window ledge. The kid used a penknife on the window while Eddie tottered beside him. The kid was sure-footed and showed no fear. The window was levered up and a small thin arm, width of a broomstick, came down, a hand took Eddie’s and wrenched it through the gap. Funny thing. When the small hand took his weight, Eddie never doubted that he was safe.

What he liked about the kid was his sheer anarchy. Didn’t do arithmetic, as nine- or ten-year-olds should, but did burglary. Didn’t do joined-up writing and reading aloud but did house-breaking. And smiled: wasn’t sour-faced, but had an openness and a sense of untamed rebellion about him that were captivating. They stood statue still in the darkened room, listened and heard nothing. Then the window was closed and the kid said – still a treble voice – his friend Vinny had boasted that a new alarm system had been installed, had cost a grand, that the system couldn’t be interfered with by an intruder. The kid said, shrill whisper, that the system was shit and he’d gone into the apartment by this route, disabled it and brought out a leather-covered Filofax by way of proof and carried it to the trattoria where Vinny ate his pizza. Eddie hadn’t understood how the circuits could be blocked but Vinny had. He had given the kid fifty pounds.

The kid worshipped Vinny. Only when he was talking about him did the anarchy light go out of his eyes. He had looked away just once, not done eyeball-to-eyeball, when Eddie had asked what work was Vinny in. The kid had said, ‘Business,’ and looked away. Eddie remembered how he had been at that age – guarded, protected, supervised, bred on a wish-list of ambition and success, and damn near frightened of his own shadow.

The curtain was drawn. A palm-sized hand torch was passed to him. ‘Is it in her room?’ the kid asked.

He nodded. The kid took his arm and took him across what he now realised was a spare room, storeroom, into a central corridor and then the living area. The torch beam raked it. It was chaotic. Every drawer was out and upturned, the contents on the carpet. Every cushion was off the chairs and dumped. Pictures hung at wild angles, and Eddie thought they’d been shifted to see if they concealed anything. The magazines had been opened and dropped. He asked, confused, why it had been done. The kid told him, matter-of-fact, that there must have been a problem with the VAT. Then he repeated that he had heard police talk of the girl – Immacolata – who had gone back to Italy, her bag to follow. The kitchen was more chaos, plates scattered, saucepans on the floor or in the sink, refrigerator left open, sachets of pasta sauce slit as if they might have concealed something. The kid now amplified explanations and Eddie made out an exaggerated wink when he was told that people in ‘business’ sometimes forgot what VAT they owed.

Eddie didn’t use his brain to analyse, then challenge. The kid seemed to glide over what was on the floor; but Eddie didn’t. He kicked a china cup and heard it disintegrate, glass crunched under his feet. Then the small hand was tugging him and he was facing a closed door.

‘She’s lovely, isn’t she, Vinny’s sister?’

‘Leave it.’

‘Did you really do it with her – shag her? I used to watch her – I was out the back, and her room light would be on. Maybe she didn’t think anyone was there. I used to, you know – when she was taking them off. I did.’

He didn’t think of the kid as a dirty-raincoat man, or a voyeur: they all did it. At his house, with a few beers taken, he and his friends had lined up to see across the garden to an upstairs window. He wasn’t proud of himself, but didn’t reckon it a hanging offence. Eddie thought that here, at least, the precocious adulthood of the kid came up short. Wouldn’t have had sex, not at nine or ten. He was let into the room. The door had been locked and no key in it, but the kid opened it with a fast movement and Eddie didn’t see whether he used a hairpin or a plastic card. He could smell her.

‘Not your concern…’

Her perfume scent and slight body odour mingled. To smell her hurt him – like a kick, sharp, on his shin. The first thing that Eddie Deacon realised was that the room was only untidy. It had not been searched. The wardrobe doors were open but the dresses, blouses and skirts were on the hangers, and the drawers were not dragged open, tipped out. He hurried to the window, drew the curtains and switched on the torch.

It was a single bed, unmade, the duvet pulled towards the pillow but not straightened and smoothed. He let the beam sweep the room. He knew what he was looking for, had not promised it to himself but had hoped… He was disappointed. He had wanted to find a photo frame on the little pine table beside the bed, on the chest, or the bookcase to the left of the window, with a picture of himself inside it.

He set to work.

Nothing in the room shouted that Immacolata Borelli was the lover of Eddie Deacon. His own room, on the other side of Dalston, had the blow-up image of her, and her dressing-gown, which she put on when she came off the bed and went to make tea or coffee or to bring him a beer. He had precious little money each week after he’d paid the rent, and presents for her were his definition of mild extravagance, but the last thing had been a scarf – silk, a sale in Regent Street, price slashed – and she’d said it was wonderful. He found it in the top right drawer of the chest.

He had been three, four minutes in the room when the kid came to the door. He made a sucked sharp whistle, as if he wanted to be gone. As yet Eddie had found nothing. There were three more drawers in the chest, on the left side. He went through them faster as the kid watched.

Nothing. Nothing in the pockets of clothes in the wardrobe. Nothing in the drawer of the bedside table. The kid came further into the room, snatched away the torch as if that were his right and shone the light into a wastepaper bin, picked it up and tipped it out. Eddie saw a ripped packet for tights, the wrapper from a tube of strong mints, two or three squashed paper handkerchiefs, a torn blouse, shredded brown paper that might have been used on a small parcel – and a plastic tray for sweet biscuits with Italian markings. The kid bent and sifted through what was on the carpet. He gave a scrap to Eddie. ‘About all there is.’

Eddie Deacon held a piece of jagged paper, the tear running through a handwritten address – not the destination. Where the tear was, to the right, there were four scrawled lines. On the top line was ‘elli’. Below it was ‘cella’. Under that line was ‘157’. At the bottom was ‘poli’. He was trying to decipher it when the torch beam was cut.

He was led, as if he were the child, out of the room and the lock was refastened. They went on tiptoe across the debris on the living-room floor to a window facing out on to the street. He was gestured to look down. There were two police officers on the front step, rubbing their hands and talking quietly. He realised then the quality of the kid’s anarchy.

They went as silently as they had come. Down the drainpipe, across the yard and over the wall, through a garden and a side gate, supposedly fastened, then out on to a lit street. All tarted up, this one. Signs in the window proclaimed neighbourhood security co-operation, and alarm boxes winked lights.

The kid turned to him. ‘Don’t give me any shit about what they call love. It’s all because she’s a great shag, yes?’

He wondered if, one day, the kid might learn what was shit and what was something else, but was not confident of it – and he thought the boy didn’t want to hear about the pain of separation, the hurt of his Mac going out of his life, about fighting heart and soul to win back the one person, in his world, he could not be without. He had the scrap of paper in his pocket and knew where he would take it. The kid, at nine or ten, was riddled with cynicism, and love hadn’t reached him. Why disabuse…?

‘A great shag,’ Eddie Deacon said.

They did high fives, whacked their hands together, and he watched the kid walk off. Just a kid, but with a bounce and a roll in his stride. There was the flash of a match, and a wisp of smoke curled away from his face.

Couldn’t help himself. Eddie Deacon called, ‘She’s fantastic, the light for me. Thank you for helping me. She’s more important to me than anything.’

If the kid heard he gave no sign of it but kept going towards the corner. Daft to have confided that to an urchin, a thief, but it was heartfelt.

She stood by the window, full length, with a sliding door that led to the balcony. The nightdress, bought in London, was shorter than she had thought, thinner, and hung tight on her. She had no slippers, sandals or flip-flops so Immacolata was barefoot on the marble flooring. She assumed that any of the penthouse apartments in such a block, in such a location, would have a veneer of marble in the living room. The sun was up, just above the distant mountain range.

She didn’t know Rome, had been there once with her mother, years before, to stand on an Easter Sunday in the piazza San Pietro and see the tiny far-away figure of the Holy Father. So she had not recognised the route taken by the two cars as they had sped towards the centre, then veered away, crossed the river again and climbed a hill. The headlights had speared up and caught pine branches. No sirens and no blue lights. Nothing to indicate that the passenger in the lead car was a collaboratore di justizia, was protected, a pentita who would give evidence against her family in return for clemency, an infame, who would be despised in the streets where she had been reared. She came unheralded and unannounced. She had been hustled out of the car, and the guns were there, but under draped coats. She had been bundled into the lift, then almost pushed the few steps from the lift door into the penthouse.

She had been ignored at first by Castrolami, who was on his mobile – she’d heard him swear – and eyed by the two men who were to mind her.

Cold cuts of meat, a salad, fruit and cheese, laid out on plates, were taken from the refrigerator.

She was told nothing, shown to a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, and had heard the door locked. It was done quietly and she reckoned it was not intended that she should hear it. A poor night’s sleep, almost nightmares when she did drift off, able now to comprehend what she had done. At half past six, according to her watch, she had heard the key turn in the lock. She’d gone into the living room. The two men were up, smartly dressed, shirtsleeves and ties, shoulder-holster harnesses across their chests with weapons.

In case she had forgotten overnight, she was told – after the hope was expressed that she had enjoyed a satisfactory rest – that their names were Giacomo Orecchia and Alessandro Rossi. She’d nodded, then gone to the window.

She had intended to provoke them.

Immacolata wore only the flimsy cotton nightdress, white but with flowers at the collar, and stood in front of the window as the sun came up over the rooftops, towers and spires. She eased her feet apart, let her heels be half a metre separated. She could feel, through the pane, that the sun already had the power to warm and would have lit the outline of her body. It was not normal for Immacolata Borelli to glory in her body, to use it as a tool or as a weapon. She imagined the way the light silhouetted it. Then she turned.

It would have been their skill that they moved in silence; neither watched her. The younger was out through the door, in the kitchen area, and sat at a table, looking at a newspaper – he was Rossi. The older one, Orecchia, was in a bedroom, again with the door open, smoothing a duvet and straightening a coverlet. It had been for nothing, her gesture. She had flaunted her body, to tease or confuse, and it hadn’t been noticed.

From the kitchen, Rossi: ‘Would you like coffee, Signorina? And we have panini or bread, fruit, and cheese. Some of it or all?’

Whatever. Did she care? Hardly. ‘I don’t know…’

Orecchia said, ‘Do you want some coffee before you dress or while you’re still almost naked?’

She met his eyes. She realised then that he had taken a gamble with her: that he could ridicule her, showing he recognised the game she was playing and would not tolerate it so had laughed at her. She flushed and twisted away from them so that neither would see, through the flimsy material, the curve of her bosom, the cherrystone nipples or the hair above her thighs. Orecchia reached behind the bedroom door and his hand appeared with a heavy towelling robe. He threw it at her. It landed on the marble beside her so she had to bend to lift it up, with an arm across her chest as she did so. She slipped into the robe, belittled and angry.

Rossi called, ‘I make good coffee, Signorina, and I bought the bread this morning while you slept. My suggestion: breakfast now, dress afterwards. Then we have visitors and work.’

She believed they were treating her as they would a spoiled child, and seemed to have set guidelines. They had not leered at her or been shocked by her. They had, with laid-back politeness, almost taken her legs off at the knees. She stumbled across the marble, bare feet slipping, losing her poise, to her bedroom door. She showered – found a small bar of soap there and a sachet of shampoo, and she had her own washbag. She barely allowed the water to run hot, then was out and drying herself viciously. She dressed – new underwear, the same outer clothing she had travelled in, and left her hair damp. She could smell the coffee and the warmed panini.

Beyond the window there were similar blocks to the one she was in, surrounded by high steel fences with sharp spikes; the walls had broken glass embedded in concrete on the brickwork. She saw a maid beating a carpet on a balcony, and a man, who wore only shorts on another, was smoking and scratching his chest. A woman watered her plants with a hose. She did not belong in their world. Perhaps she belonged to no world. Her nakedness had been her attempt to take control of the void into which she had thrown herself.

She was as much a prisoner in that apartment as she would have been in a cell in the Poggioreale gaol. They might have read her.

‘Signorina, the coffee is ready.’

‘Bread and fruit are on the table, Signorina.’

She went into the kitchen and sat with them. Rossi was the heavier and she imagined he worked out in a gym. His arm muscles bulged in the short sleeves of his shirt, he was clean-shaven and a little gel had gone on his hair. She recognised the pistol in the holster as a Beretta. He poured her coffee.

Orecchia pushed the fruit bowl towards her. He would have been fifteen years the elder, wiry thin, and his shirt seemed a size too large and fell loose from his shoulders, except where the holster harness trapped the fabric. His tie was the more vivid. He had a worn face – had been there, had done whatever, had seen it. She gulped coffee, snatched up a roll and tore it into pieces.

Rossi said, ‘Signorina, we are from the Servizio Centrale Protezione, under the authority of the Interior Ministry. You will be given later a form in triplicate that you will read and sign. By agreeing to the conditions laid down by us, you commit yourself to obeying instructions and following the advice we will offer. You are not a free agent. You have made an agreement with the state, and we expect you to honour it. We’re a specialised team, trained to handle and protect collaborators. We’re not nannies, chauffeurs, psychiatrists or servants – and, most certainly, we’re not friends. It was your decision to be where you are today. You were not under duress to take this course. From us you can expect dedication and professionalism.’

Orecchia said, ‘It was not thought, Signorina, that you needed a female officer attached to you. There are very few. Those we have are allocated to women we consider inexperienced in the role of a pentita , and the pressures that will inevitably be exerted. I have read the file. You are from a family high in the ranks of the organised-crime clans in Naples.’

Rossi: ‘We don’t think you’re fragile, Signorina.’

Orecchia: ‘As tough as the boot on an artisan’s foot.’

Rossi paused, eyed her, without charity or respect, but his tone was as correct as if it had been taught on a course: ‘Nothing about you, Signorina, is unique. You’re one of many we have overseen. We understand the psychological stresses you will endure. You will believe you can escape from us, go home, walk on your own streets, explain and be forgiven, then forgotten. They’ll kill you, Signorina. You’ll lie in the dirt of a street among dog’s mess and rubbish, and you’ll bleed. A crowd will gather to stare at you and not one person will shed a tear of sympathy. And you can put the scum where they belong – in maximum security, and under Article 41 bis, and you can be born again. You will not run from us.’

Orecchia scratched a mole on his nose. He wore a wedding ring, narrow, and she wondered if he went home often and if, when he was at home, he told his wife the secrets of his work. He spoke quietly and she had to lean across the mess of crumbs and orange peel to hear him. ‘In a few hours, Signorina, it will be realised that you have collaborated, become an infame, and they will search for you. Alessandro has talked about a shot in the head fired from the pillion of a scooter as you walk a street in Naples – or Rome, or Milan, or Genoa – but he’s told you the minimum. To me, from what I know, it’s predictable that they’d wish – before killing you – to hurt you, but you’re of the Borelli clan and you know what happens when a message is to be sent. In the most recent killing – the funeral is today – the victim’s testicles were cut off and placed in his mouth, then his head was cut off and placed in his groin. That is reality.’

‘We’re not bullet-catchers or human shields.’

‘We know our trade. We’ll do all in our power to protect you.’

She poured more coffee for herself, slurped it. The doorbell rang. Orecchia glanced at his watch, was satisfied. Rossi took his hand off the pistol in the holster and went to the hall, but Orecchia stayed in front of her, blocking a view of her from the archway linking the kitchen to the hall. His hand did not leave the pistol in his holster.

Immacolata was introduced to the prosecutor. She had seen him many times before – on most days his picture was in Cronaca or Il Mattino, or his image was broadcast on the local RAI channel, and he had been in court when she had seen her father brought in chains to the cage. He was slighter than she had imagined, his hair was thinner and his checks had the pallor of exhaustion. She thought of the magnetism in her father’s eyes, the way they mesmerised and captured attention. Ash stained the front of the prosecutor’s jacket and he dumped a heavy briefcase on the kitchen table.

He pulled out a file with her name and photograph on it. She thought of the cemetery at Nola. The table was cleared. She was told that the woman with the prosecutor was his personal assistant. A tape-recorder was laid on the table and wires were connected to a small microphone. She noticed now that the plates and cups had been stacked in the sink, and the guns had gone.

The tape-recorder was switched on, there were the briefest preliminaries. Immacolata kept the cemetery in her mind, the statue of Angelabella, the screams directed at her, the anger, and the pain inflicted on her. She started to talk.

Gabriella Borelli needed to work. There had been La Piccolina a decade earlier, and before the Little Girl, as Maria Licciardi was known, there had been Rosetta Cutolo, known as ‘Ice Eyes’ in the city. There had been Carmela Marzano and Pupetta Maresca. All had been figures of consequence on the streets of Naples, as was Gabriella Borelli. She had to work if she was to cling to the most important strand in the life of a woman who craved and valued the title ‘ la madrina ’, which was power. The gaining of it far outstripped the acquisition of money. Power came, primarily, from the ability to do successful deals.

She could not hide in an underground den, as Pasquale had been able to. She needed meetings, and to be at them without the clay of the countryside on her shoes or the dust of cement-floored bunkers on her skirt. She was in the back room of a pizzeria on the northern side of the via Foria, one of the busiest streets in the city for traffic and pedestrians, where noise and movement were constant, overpowering and engulfing. She had slept fitfully at the home of the mother of a man who drove cement-mixing trucks for the clan; had arrived on the doorstep, had been admitted in time to see the midnight news on the local RAI channel, had seen tape of Giovanni and Silvio paraded past the ranks of the paparazzi, an old monochrome picture of Vincenzo, had heard the mayor in front of the grand building on piazza Municipio speak of a ‘great blow against the heart of the evil of the criminal culture’ of the city. She had been brought fruit and cheese and had been offered the woman’s big bed, had declined and slept on a settee, with her handbag on the floor beside her head, the small pistol in it within easy reach. It was the first time she had used that address as a refuge for a single night: it would not have been known as a place of importance to her – as were the safe-houses that had been raided. She understood that she had been betrayed from inside the clan, but did not yet know by whom. She had been gone early in the morning, as the city’s life returned, and had walked to the pizzeria.

Salvatore was outside the inner door.

She met with Albanians. They talked of the movement of girls – none, she demanded, to be more than fourteen – who would be taken from Moldova overland to Tirana, then brought to the Adriatic coast to be ferried by speedboat to a fishing village north of the Italian port of Bari, then driven to Naples. She was firm on the price, would not haggle. She demanded also that the girls be made available for medical examination to prove virginity, then stared at a dull ceiling light while they bickered among themselves. She presumed they would have learned that she was a police and carabinieri front-line target, that her organisation was in danger of being successfully dismantled, and that they might believe she was vulnerable.

The matter of the girls was dealt with. Brusquely, she continued with the agenda: refined heroin – the poppies from Afghanistan, the chemical from the laboratories of Turkey, then shipped from the Balkans and Montenegro to the port of Naples. The price of the heroin. Again, no debate permitted. She said what she would pay. Monies were agreed, delivery dates accepted.

Her meeting broke. She shook their hands formally to bind the agreements.

She went out of the pizzeria’s front door on to the street.

She did not, of course, carry a diary. Everything was in her head. Meeting locations and times, rendezvous points, market prices. The next meeting – in another back room, in a bar on the via Arenaccia – was to determine the volume of hardcore stone for the foundations of a new apartment block on Cristoforo Colombo, then the amount of concrete required for the six-storey construction, the prices for the materials and the fee for the men in the municipio who would give permission to build. It was a normal routine for Gabriella Borelli.

The sun was warm on her face. She felt as if a winter frost thawed. By the conclusion of the meeting the Albanians had shown her the necessary respect. She wondered if those who had guided them to the rendezvous had shown them a half-page of yesterday’s Cronaca and translated a report on the death of a man in a street, the meal made of his testicles. She walked briskly, Salvatore, Il Pistole, behind her, and felt she had regained control.

They broke. The recorder was switched off and a new tape inserted. The prosecutor’s assistant went to the toilet.

She looked up into the prosecutor’s face and hoped for a smile and praise. Immacolata Borelli had been prompted to talk about her brother, Vincenzo, who was to appear before magistrates that morning and would then be transferred to a maximum-security facility. She was confused. ‘You haven’t mentioned my mother.’

‘That is correct,’ the prosecutor answered gravely.

‘You took her?’ she pressed.

‘We did not.’ A small frown cut into his forehead.

‘Because you couldn’t find her.’

‘She wasn’t where we looked for her.’ The prosecutor’s tongue licked his lower lip.

‘I told you where to go.’

‘You did.’

‘She was the principal target.’

‘She was one target. We regret she isn’t yet in custody. She will be, very soon.’ He smiled wanly. The assistant came back to her chair and the recorder was switched on again. ‘It shouldn’t concern you whether or not your mother’s in custody.’

The gesture was fast, instinctive. Immacolata hit the table with the heel of her hand. The impact bounced the tape-recorder and spilled the prosecutor’s coffee. There was a flicker of movement in a doorway off the hall as if a watcher had been alerted. She said, ‘I won’t talk to you until my mother has been taken. I trusted in your competence. You have failed.’

‘Do you imagine I travel lightly from Naples to Rome to hear the tantrum of a woman who overestimates her own importance? I can cut you loose and-’

‘You won’t take my mother.’

She stood and the chair fell behind her, clattered. She didn’t look at them, didn’t see the slow turn of the spools in the tape-recorder. She went to her room and slammed the door. It was her mother’s face, lit by camera flashes, that she wanted to see, her mother’s face, in shadow as a cell door closed on a corridor’s lights, and her mother’s face, when early sunlight caught the cell windows and the bars made stripes on her skin. Her strongest emotion that morning was not love but hate. It went so deep. It covered a mother’s apparent indifference to a girl-child, the failure of the parent to rate the achievements of a daughter. Immacolata had been denied attention, denied praise, ignored. She lay on the bed. There had been hate for her mother, but now there was fear at the reach of her arm.

‘Is that what he said?’

‘It’s what I was told he said.’ Salvatore was at Gabriella Borelli’s shoulder. His voice had been a murmur and his lips had barely moved. While he had guarded the inner door of the pizzeria, the scugnizzi had brought messages to him. Lower in the chain than the foot-soldiers were the kids who watched entrances to the quarters of the city and reported, listened to conversations in bars and reported, sat in the gutter opposite police stations and carabinieri barracks and reported.

‘Say it to me again.’ She spoke from the side of her mouth, a whisper, as the traffic roared by, horns blasted, men and women walked along the pavement, and her words were lost to all but Salvatore.

‘He was in the bar at the top end of Casanova, Luigi Pirelli’s bar. He was in a group and the TV was on. The arrests… Alfredo’s youngest heard him. He said, ‘The Borelli clan is history. They’re finished, old, shit and soft. They have no authority now. Count the days, they’ll be gone.’

‘That man, he is not to say that again.’

She walked on. Salvatore dropped back. He was soon fifteen or twenty paces behind her. He had much to think about. He was the enforcer of the clan and answered only to Gabriella Borelli. He had taken on, also, responsibility for her security and the offshoots of the group. Three years ago, before he had been arrested, Pasquale Borelli would have had the last say on security. Eight months ago, before his flight to London, Vincenzo had been given that responsibility in his father’s absence. He did not know where such leakage of information had come from: the faces of men bounced in his mind, called forward, then discarded. He kept her back in his sight, and the pistol, the Beretta P38, was in his belt. He wore a loose-fitting jacket to conceal it.

She was tough, and her walk showed it. The weakness of the last evening had been short-lived. Salvatore thought Gabriella Borelli magnificent as he tracked her, watching her back.

He asked, respectfully, if Lottie would join him in the staffroom alcove. Eddie Deacon hardly knew her, had offered her no friendship, but now he needed her. She was – and the young guys who taught at the language school tittered over it – shyly lesbian. Obvious, but never confessed. Lottie had not outed herself. She was reluctant to come with him, suspicious, but then he did what he reckoned was his best imitation of ‘Labrador eyes’ and she would have seen it mattered to him. There was no snigger on his lips.

Eddie said, ‘Sorry and all that, but I need help. I’ve lost a girl. It’s really hacked me off. Don’t know where she is, other than gone home, and she’s Italian, from Naples. Says on Google that a million people live there, that the city is a hundred and twenty square kilometres. I have to find her, but I don’t know where to start.’

Lottie looked at him in the marginal privacy of the alcove, perhaps remembered slights that were not imagined, remarks behind hands and little darts of cruelty. ‘What if little Miss Perfect doesn’t want to be found – at least, not by you?… All right, all right. What have you got that might help?’

Eddie had the torn scrap of paper in a see-through plastic bag, as if it was priceless. He seemed reluctant to give it up, share it, but did so.

‘You didn’t answer me. What if she rates you a pain, and wants shot of you?’

‘I’ll have her say it to my face,’ Eddie said. He shrugged, then did the smile he was famed for – it implied that no woman could possibly want shot of him. Lottie grinned, then looked at the handwriting. He had gone to her because she had spent time in Naples, at the university, and spoke the language fluently. He tried to joke: ‘I really don’t understand why any female of the species could want shot of me, let alone rate me a pain. Just not on the agenda.’

She studied the paper as if it were a crossword puzzle, then gazed at him. ‘I’m wondering, Eddie, if you’re behaving like an adult or reverting to teenage male, all acne and infatuation – or is that not my business?’

‘Just a little old cry for help… please. If it wasn’t for her, it’s you I’d be chucking red roses at.’

She rolled her eyes, almost blushed. ‘What’s her name?’

‘Immacolata Borelli.’

She breathed out hard. ‘Right, line one, try Borelli. Line two, go with a number and via Forcella. Line three will be the zip code, four more preceding digits, then 157, for that part of the Forcella district that runs between via del Duomo and the Castel Capuano. The last line is Napoli. It’s hardly Enigma code-breaking but, then, you’re only a man.’

‘A specimen to be pitied.’

After she’d repeated it, and he’d written it in ballpoint on the back of his hand, he surprised himself, and her, by taking hold of her shoulders and kissing her hard on both cheeks. He was turning away as she said, ‘Are you really going there?’

‘Too right – what else?’

Eddie Deacon set off down the corridor for the principal’s office.

Twenty metres had become forty. They were on via Carbonara, close to the old castle that had doubled as a courthouse. He understood the route she had taken. In Salvatore’s mind many issues competed for prominence: the man who had said the Borelli clan was ‘finished, old, shit and soft’, a leak in security, his job as protector to Gabriella Borelli. Any could have claimed priority, but he didn’t make that choice. Then he looked at his watch, saw the time, recognised he was late for the rendezvous with his scooter driver, Fangio, and smiled. Gabriella Borelli was at the lights, waiting for the pedestrian green and would cross via Carbonara above the castle. He smiled when he remembered ‘Fangio’, who had done a ‘Wall of Death’ stunt in a circus, had crashed spectacularly in front of five hundred punters, or more, and would not have had the money to buy a new bike. He had always enjoyed the memory of Fangio’s face when he was offered the post of scooter rider to Salvatore, Il Pistole. Fangio had been in Poggioreale and Secondigliano, was no altar-boy. There were few Salvatore trusted, but Fangio was one. Many people were waiting to cross at those lights, then the traffic slowed and the charge started. Not for Neapolitans to wait. Sinewy lines of pedestrians wove among the vehicles. He could barely see her.

She had heard doors close, and a minute later a car had revved outside the block. Then music had started in the apartment, and the only voices were those of the minders.

She lay on the bed, her head on the pillow, straining to hear what was said. The music was opera and distorted the voices. She realised the prosecutor had gone, would now be on his journey to Naples. There had been no soft knock on her door, and no discreet voice – maybe that of the woman, his assistant – had urged her to come out of her room, to co-operate. She had been abandoned.

She had convinced herself that walking out on them was justified by their display of incompetence. They had failed to arrest her mother.

The doorbell rang.

They were at the bottom of the seniority heap. He was twenty-four and she was his senior by three months. They had started at the training school on the same Monday morning, had been posted to Naples on the same Monday, accepted and begun duty with the Squadra Mobile on another, very recent, Monday. To survive, they stayed close, had volunteered to work together. Around them there were men and women who were prematurely aged, jaundiced and pessimistic, who preached that ambition was heresy in the team. They had been up all the previous night and now headed for their homes out to the south on the sea front and sleep.

He had driven one of the Alfas carrying a senior man to a block where, on the third floor, they had hoped to find la madrina. She had driven a car filled with officers to another of the addresses given by an informant – not identified at the briefing. Now she drove and stifled a yawn, changed down and braked. Pedestrians flooded the roadway around them. The photographs, blown up, of Gabriella Borelli, the target, were in the car. He cursed. Both were hungry, exhausted; both, for the operation the night before, had studied the photograph long and hard.

The curse became a gasp. He jack-knifed and snatched up a picture that had been on the rubber matting, smoothed it, gawped. He elbowed her hard in the ribcage below her right breast, jarring his bone on her holster. For a moment the photograph was in her face. She nodded. They had the certainty of youth, and neither would have considered their judgement flawed, their recognition wrong.

Weapons drawn, they ran from the car, left the doors wide. The crown of her head bobbed in front of them and the gap closed.

*

Not hate, but fear. After the doorbell had rung, Immacolata heard a bucket, water splashing, a woman’s voice, and laughter from the minders. She thought a maid had come to clean, and she was ignored.

She realised the weight of her fear.

No warning. No shout to alert her that police with guns drawn were immediately behind her. No opportunity to raise her hands as the pistols were aimed at the point in her back where straps and shoulder muscle met.

Salvatore saw a small tableau in front of him that seemed mimed.

He was used to making calculations, those that involved a reasonable chance of survival within a time frame of a second or two. He could cruise on the pillion his chest and stomach against Fangio’s back, have the P38 in his fist inside the right pocket of his leather jacket, and he would see the target – darkened by his helmet visor – walking, sitting or eating, on the pavement, in a car or at a pizzeria table, and he would know whether or not that was the moment to strike. If he went in for the kill, he would rap his left hand on Fangio’s shoulder, the scooter would swing and take him close, then stop for the few moments he needed to aim and achieve a clean hit. If he hit Fangio’s shoulder twice, Fangio would take the scooter past the target and the hit was aborted: might be an escort in place, a folded windcheater on a table when the temperature was high that would conceal a firearm, might be that a carabinieri or police vehicle was following or approaching. He wouldn’t intervene if he couldn’t succeed.

She was pitched over. The young man stood, legs apart in a movie pose, his weapon aimed – two-handed – at her. The young woman had launched herself and landed on Gabriella Borelli’s back – a she-cat on prey – had wrestled her down and, with one hand, had wrenched an arm of la madrina behind her back. The other held a heavy pistol, big in a slight fist, so that the barrel pressed against the neck. Salvatore had the Beretta half out of his waist belt, and the moment was gone. The man no longer covered Gabriella Borelli but the people – men, women and children – who scattered away from where they had their prisoner, as cars and vans veered to the side. It was as if a cordon was around them, an exclusion area. He thought she would have said, and perhaps stroked his arm as she did so, that she trusted him alone. Because of the open area between him and them, he would be seen and identified if he ran forward, and would have to enter the space to be close enough to fire killing shots.

It could not be done.

He thought that she looked old with her face crushed down on the sand and shit and weeds of the little island where once there had been a traffic bollard. There was dirt on her face, her hair had lost its shape and there was shock in her eyes. He had broken the trust, had failed her.

She was dragged to the car. Her feet did not get a hold and a shoe came off, but she was pulled there and the door thrown open. The young man thrust her in and threw himself on top of her. Fumes spewed from the exhaust and the car sped off. Salvatore saw, before he lost it, a hand clamp a light on the roof and the blue flashes that spilled from it. He heard the siren wail.

He walked away, more alone than he could remember at any time since Pasquale Borelli had chosen him, had taught him to kill, and taught him well.

Flashes in her mind of the moments of fear. A girl left to mind a slow-cooking meat – baby lamb – in the oven, told when to take it out, forgetting, and coming back into the kitchen to see the smoke then cringing from her mother’s beating, a hard one. Her mother made fear, and the hate was secondary. There was no love in her life, not from her family. Love was sealed away from her in the cemetery at Nola. She knew only hatred and fear. More laughter came through her door, but Immacolata did not share it.

He put the phone down, ended one of the calls that seemed to consist of almost endless silences. The display panel told him the connection had been for four minutes and nine seconds, but it had seemed to Arthur Deacon a fair imitation of eternity. He walked slowly from the hall table towards the kitchen. He couldn’t go in as Betty was washing the floor but he came to the doorway and coughed, as if that was the best way to gain his wife’s attention.

She squeezed out the mop, quizzed him with a glance. ‘Well?’

‘It was Edmund.’

‘I know – what did he want?’

She used a mop on the kitchen floor three mornings a week, then went to work at a family firm of builders, and would tut if he stepped on the clean tiles and messed up. He was watching her, thinking how to relay what he had been told.

‘Have you lost your tongue? What did he want? Money? At his age he ought to be able to-’

‘Listen. Just for once. Listen. Thank you.’ He saw astonishment on her face. His boldness, almost, surprised him. She liked to say that her mother had told her on the eve of their wedding, ‘Always remember, Elizabeth, a husband is for life but not for lunch.’ She was at work over lunch time and he made himself sandwiches. She liked also to remind him that she was now the principal breadwinner and he was a pensioner who had taken the early bullet. ‘Yes, best if you simply listen. Edmund has resigned from his job.’

‘What for?’

‘He packed it in as of today. He’s going tomorrow, or this evening if he can arrange it, to Naples.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Listen, and you might – after a fashion. That girl he spoke of, the one he promised to bring to meet us, she’s gone. Gone home. No warning, no explanation, but gone. Sadly, he intends to follow her.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said there were other fish in the sea. Apparently not. I said he’d run the risk of hurting himself. He said he was hurting enough as it was and wouldn’t notice any more pain. He’d never said anything like that to me before, bared himself in that way.’

‘Extraordinary.’

‘I don’t want to be rude, Betty, but I’m wondering whether either of us would have gone chasing halfway across Europe if the other had done a bunk. I doubt that’s unfair. I said I’d look after his Visa bills – and couldn’t think of anything else. Oh, yes, I wished him luck. It didn’t seem sensible to be parental, old and cautionary. That’s it.’

His wife said, ‘No, I wouldn’t have followed you. She must be very special, that girl.’

At that time in the morning, the tourists had not yet come to the museums. Lukas had. The bars, coffees and beers were for later in the day, while squatting close to his friend who drew the river, the Louvre and Notre Dame was for the middle. Early, he came with a plastic bottle of fizzy water to sit on a bench and watch the first arrivals. Most would not know a Millet from a Manet or a Monet, but Lukas had no sense of superiority, and could not have made the distinction himself. He came to see people and search their faces, the better to understand them.

The science he practised affected humble people, average people, ordinary people. It was they who looked at the great statues, the bronzes, outside the former railway station that was now a museum and gazed at the massive charcoal grey bulk of the rampant elephant with flared ears and the rhinoceros that looked ready to charge, both larger than life. It was those people – businessmen, teachers, backpackers, engineers, charity workers, and those of whom it was said ‘Wrong place at the wrong time’ – whom he worked to liberate, to keep alive.

When the buses came he would settle back and stare into the faces, but not be noticed himself, and he would play mind games. How would they respond, hooded, bound, beaten, videotaped with guns at their heads and knives at their throats as they parrot-spoke denunciations of state policy? His interpretation of how they would react, in circumstances of the greatest stress would govern the guidance he gave and the decisions he took.

He had no favourites. He was no more on the side of the pretty slim blonde girl with the denim mini-skirt who came off the bus with the Hamburg plates than he was on the side of the guy who walked behind her with a stick. All were equal. So, he was not summoned to the great offices of authority in the power centres of the world. He did not walk echoing corridors, was not brought into carpeted offices and offered sherry or Scotch, because their occupants did not know his name. He worked in dark corners, that were – except once – beyond the reach of long-lens cameras.

It was rumoured, though five years later it remained unconfirmed, that a photographer from a German news agency had snapped him on a street in Baghdad when he was with a Special Forces crowd. The photographer had been embedded with a marine unit or would otherwise have been hotel-bound. Rumour ran that the sunlight had nicked the glass of the Leica camera so he had seen its owner and strode up to him. He had half strangled the snapper when he pulled off the strap and broke the camera open by stamping on it, destroying maybe fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of equipment. He had taken out the memory stick and had chucked it into the middle of a wide sewer, then had gotten on with his work. The photographer had been told by a gofer alongside Lukas, from the Green Zone, that if he talked about the incident his safety could not be guaranteed. It was a rumour. In the work he did, his anonymity was precious, perhaps even more so than that of an elite bomb-disposal operative. If his face had been known to the enemy, with his reputation, he would have been a prime target, and his usefulness in the field minimised. And, which he had not admitted to another soul he had a rooted aversion to the limelight, almost shyness, disguised under brusque indifference.

He had no medals, but the people – ordinary, average, humble – coming off the bus of a Hamburg tour company, pretty and ugly, young and old, did not have medals. Most of those freed from the hell-holes, the bunkers where they squatted in excreta and urine, listening for footsteps and wondering if a weapon was loaded or a knife sharpened, would never know of Lukas’s existence. It was better that way. No handshakes at the end, if it had gone well, no hugging and kissing, no names and promises of cards on the anniversary. The only way.

So, his imagined friends queued in front of him to enter the museum, and one of his real friends sketched in crayon by the river, and several more cleaned cafe tables and swept floors – and all would be wondering if he would stroll by, spend some time, or whether he was gone, wherever and for whatever.

That morning he left his bench, went to the kiosk and bought a pistaccio ice-cream. It was his favourite. He thought about it when he was in places that didn’t do that flavour or any other. Some said he was a screwball and unhinged, others that folk should be goddam grateful the lunatic stayed on call and was never far from his phone.

When he had finished the ice-cream and wiped his mouth, he would head into the museum for the Legion of Honour, and the impeccable garden in the central courtyard with the fine red roses. It was where he went when he had tired of the mind games, and it was where heroes were. He did not see himself as heroic, and if a medal had been offered he would have refused it.

Many, meeting him for the first time, defined him as ‘that screwball’. A major in the Rangers had. It was Baqubah and they’d helicoptered in from Camp Liberty at the Balad air base between Baghdad and Samarra. There was a single-storey house, breeze blocks and tin roof, on the extreme edge of the place near fields, and the asset handled by Task Force 145 said it was where the hostage was – a Greek-born engineer and expert in electricity supply, and how many guys held him. Difficult to get close, and the usual thing would have been to do three or four days’ reconnaissance, learn the movements and do it from a distance. Lukas was at the command point, four or five klicks back, and was barely tolerated by the major who rated him – FBI background and all – as an unwelcome shoe-in. A forward covert observer would have been on a telescope, reported a jerk coming to the building cautiously and that he carried a canister of milk and a metre-wide roll of clear plastic sheeting. Only Lukas – in the command centre – had reacted. He had demanded – not asked or suggested but demanded – that the storm squad assault the building immediately. It had been agreed. Would have been Lukas’s damn near manic certainty that had won the day: an attack without sufficient preparation, without a model of the interior, and in the bright heat light of the middle of the day.

Twelve minutes after Lukas had made his demand the first men in the Ranger platoon hit the doors front and back, then the windows, and chucked in stun grenades and gas canisters, like it was Christmas and they were giving them away. They dragged out the Greek, and brought him back from the dead. The Greek said he would have been dead in five minutes, was shouting it because of what the grenades had done to his hearing and choking because of the gas. Then the major asked the man designated a ‘screwball’ how he’d known the attack had to go in without the necessary preparation. Lukas had said: ‘Because they took the plastic sheeting in.’ Would he explain? Lukas had said: ‘They always spread plastic sheeting out on the floor before they saw a guy’s head off with a serrated blade to keep the blood off it.’ There had been a camera, with a charged battery, mounted on a tripod. The major had been awarded another ribbon and his storm squad had commendations, and none of them had ever seen Lukas again. Maybe by now the major had made brigadier or even general, and maybe the Greek had a good position in power supply at the ministry in Athens… and Lukas wandered into the courtyard of the museum for heroes.

It was how he liked it, staying unknown but being on call.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

6

He had been lucky. He told himself that luck had dictated that a lorry should spill its load on the M11 just north of Harlow, the northbound carriageway, and that a tailback of four miles should delay a family on a budget break to Rome while the rail service had sailed past unaffected. Eddie Deacon would have slept on a bench at the airport, Stansted, but instead found himself aboard a ‘cheap and cheerful’ flight going to Ciampino.

A rush to get himself on board, a chase down corridors and piers, and he had been the last on to the aircraft. He was not even in a seat before the doors were closed and it was taxiing. He told himself then that he was blessed.

He had not bought a book, and they didn’t do freebie newspapers with that airline. The child on his left ate chocolate messily and concentrated on a GameBoy, and the woman on his right was rigid with nerves – he reckoned he might have her hand in his lap, for comfort, when it came to landing. Eddie didn’t buy anything from the trolley and sat still, upright, stared ahead and made no contact, eye or physical, with the woman or the child. He thought he might just as well have pulled a pin and rolled a pineapple grenade into his parents’ living room: his father had been monosyllabic and breathing hard, but had coughed up the offer to look after his plastic bill, which was decent, but afterwards they would – together – have been in shock. He had switched off his mobile before catching the train to Stansted. He reckoned they would have tried half a dozen times to phone him, to try to dissuade him, to tell him he should go to the language school and request his job back. His parents, and all their friends, would never march out of regular paid employment without having another position to move to on the following Monday morning. So, the concept of what he had done left him vaguely light-headed. His mind danced.

What was bizarre about the choreography was that he had not stopped – he hadn’t since he had sat alone in the Afghan restaurant and waited – to consider that Immacolata might have decided that he was a boring no-hoper, a saddo and a loser, and that a summer fling was over as autumn came on. Never thought of it. He had a BA (Hons) in Modern Languages, only a 2:2 – they called it a Desmond at that university in the Thames Valley – and at the end of four years’ study was supposed to possess some capability at analysis. He had left with a good knowledge of German, fair French and some Spanish, with a smattering of Italian, which might take him over the front page of a newspaper.

He knew Berlin, having walked the pavements and worked in all-night cafes during summer vacations, and could get himself around Paris without glancing every five minutes at a map, and he wouldn’t have been lost in Barcelona. He didn’t know Rome or Naples, but he had once spent two days in Milan, having climbed on the wrong train in Geneva when he should have been going to Montpellier in France, coming from Munich. It mattered not. It was not in the temperament of Eddie Deacon to worry at a problem, as if he needed to untie a tight knot in a length of string. He either ran from problems or tilted at them. If she had indeed walked out on him she could say so to his face: clear, one-syllable words. Not possible, not his Mac. Second point, chewed on briefly in the aircraft cabin: police at the flat, a brother taken away, the flat searched, everything about her hidden from him like her address. Was she ‘dodgy’, or ‘bent’? Weighed it. Didn’t care. She was his Mac.

There was no doubt. He had to go to Naples. He had to find her. He’d pull a face, she’d grimace and shrug a bit, ask him what the hell he was doing there – in a street, whatever it looked like, whatever via Forcella looked like. He’d say he wanted a fresh roll for his breakfast, maybe some croissants. She would look surprised, astonished, then grin. He’d laugh. Both laughing, hugging and holding tight. It was what he thought. Nothing about a broken door, police on the step, a wild kid who was expert on breaking and entering, maybe no more than ten years old. Nothing about sitting for several hours in a restaurant, hurting, and hurting worse in his bedroom where her dressing-gown hung and her magazines lay about. Nothing about talking to, pleading with a blow-up photograph on a wall. They would do it, meeting again, just casual, as if nothing had happened and no wounds had been cut into him. He never saw her solemn, sullen, serious, because Mac was always the photograph on the wall.

Who knew what love was? They didn’t talk about love in the little house they shared in Dalston. Love was not an agenda area with the guy from HM Revenue and Customs, the club waiter, the rail-ticket seller or the perpetual student. Love was in movies, books, magazines. Screwing and shagging were real – rare but attainable with a good alcohol flow – but love was off-limits. The definition of love, as known to Eddie Deacon, was an ache in his guts, a yearning and the bloody awful misery of not seeing that face coming round the corner and the little wave, then feeling her touch… And the bloody child had put chocolate on the sleeve of his jacket, and the bloody woman’s hand was on his knee and her fingers were tightening. They were long over the Alps.

The light was failing, and the sun had dipped below the wing. The child was gobbling chocolate to get the box finished and the woman was going into white-knuckle time because the engine pitch had changed, and Eddie sensed that the descent had started. At that time, he should have been educating a roomful of immigrants – all his chums from the Baltics, the Balkans and North Africa – on the intricacies of Murder in Mesopotamia or Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express, didn’t really matter which. Like pressing a button on the staff-room computer keyboard, he deleted them, erased them.

It was early in the evening and a city’s lights were on. The aircraft yawed and the undercarriage rumbled as it was lowered. Of course he had come. He was Eddie Deacon, and he wanted nothing more than to see her, hear her, feel her – and there was no logic in it and no more analysis of what he knew.

The wheels hit, a good landing, feathered, and he didn’t know of anything he should fear.

He came out of the car fast, slammed the door, waved off the driver. For Mario Castrolami this was foreign territory. What he had seen of Collina Fleming was enough to curl his lip. He tasted the first trace of bile in his throat. He had heard it was a hill for millionaires, the big ones, and the apartments were broad built, their balconies had expensive plants on them and the plots were surrounded by barricades. Dogs barked behind electronically controlled gates and porters patrolled the front doors. He thought the hill was about privilege and wealth. Castrolami, investigator in the carabinieri ROS, detested privilege and lacked wealth. Could have done… Could have blocked enquiries, made files disappear, given advance warning by public phone, with a handkerchief over the mouthpiece, of a raid planned for the following dawn. All of that would have filled an offshore account. He lived in Vomero, the comfortable area of Naples, but on the north side of the Castel Sant’Elmo, and he needed to be a gymnast and to stand on tiptoe on a chair to peer through a skylight for a minuscule glimpse of the sea and the east promontory of Capri. He thought the hill oozed money.

A woman passed him as he went to the gate. It was late September and Castrolami’s tie was loose and there was sweat in his armpits. She wore a fur coat, and carried a dog under one arm. Where Castrolami lived, on the wrong side of Vomero, there were stray cats that would have killed that toy dog and eaten it. She looked up, saw him, dismissed him as irrelevant and went by – probably thought him a plumber or an insurance salesman. There was no porter on this block and he rang the bell, gave his name and the gate was unlocked. He carried a thin cardboard file and a small overnight bag. He loathed Rome, and hoped the bag would be needed for a night or two, no more.

He was admitted.

He asked how she was. Rossi, the young one, gestured – something of amusement and something of frustration.

The older one was Orecchia. ‘She stays in her room. It was about her mother. We find it often enough. There’s the excitement and drama, the centre-of-stage hour, then the moment of reality and the fear. She’s frightened of her mother. You understand, we’re not interrogators. At this stage we’re here to protect her and maintain the security of the safe-house. She wants to stay in her room, hide at the back of her cave so we don’t drag her out. She won’t eat, she won’t talk, she won’t…’

Castrolami smiled. He did a grim, dark smile well.

He went to the door. It was less than twenty-four hours since he had brought Immacolata Borelli to this address, and less than twelve since he had been told she had refused to speak to the prosecutor, and only half a dozen since the file had landed on his cluttered desk. They used him, at the Palace of Justice, as a bulldozer. That evening, he should have been with his friend, who painted views of the mountain, at an exhibition of modern art in a church on the riviera di Chiaia and afterwards… They took for granted, at the Palace of Justice, that the bulldozer did twenty-four/seven.

He didn’t knock.

The light was off, but the blinds were not drawn and the street-lamps far below threw up enough for him to see her. She lay on her back, her legs together, staring at the ceiling. She didn’t turn to face him but said quietly, ‘I don’t want anything to eat or drink.’ He put the light on, hit all the switches, and she jerked her head sideways. He went to the table and put the file on it. Then he walked towards her. He took her right arm at the wrist, heaved her off the bed and she nearly fell. He said nothing and dragged her to the table, her feet slithering on the floor. He kicked back a chair, made room for her, pressed her down on the seat.

He flicked open the file cover, and spilled out the photographs.

She saw her mother. Immacolata held the photograph under the table light. She looked at the wife of Pasquale Borelli, the leader of the clan and controller of most business activities in Forcella and Sanita, the woman who did deals that had relevance in the north of Italy, in the South of France, in Spain and Germany, who had ambitions for the opening of opportunities in Great Britain, who aspired to be a player on the east coast of the United States and had links with organisations operating in the west of the former Soviet Union. She looked at the photograph of her mother.

A little gasp.

Her gaze slipped to Castrolami. If he felt sympathy for the fate of her mother he disguised it. His expression was blank. He showed neither clemency nor triumph.

She matched his mood.

Her mother, whom she had feared, was on the ground – on concrete built up a few centimetres from the street – was helpless.

For a moment she wondered, and then she asked, ‘Is she dead?’

He shook his head.

In the black-and-white photograph, enlarged to twenty centimetres by twenty-five, her mother was prostrate. A man was poised above her head, his pistol drawn and aimed at her. A woman crawled on her back and had wrenched up one arm so that the hand almost touched the neck, and held a pistol against the neck so that the barrel dented it. Her mother wore the dead look on her face. She was supine, had no fight, did not cringe. It was as if she was comatose from shock. She had fallen awkwardly under the weight of the woman, then must have wriggled backwards to get further clear of the man with the aimed pistol. The effect of that movement had been to ruck up her skirt. It had ridden up her thighs. Immacolata gazed at the photograph. It was the indignity… Her mother’s thighs were white on the grey concrete, but not as white as the knickers she wore. Immacolata had a glimpse of them, frozen by the camera. She thought of the respect her mother demanded – from her children, the clan, foot-soldiers and associates, from businessmen to foreign gang principals. She thought of when a stick had been taken to her, aged twelve, when she had refused to leave her bedroom to sweep the floor in the living room and hall, and when her face had been slapped, a stinging blow, as her mother had announced to her brothers that she was to be la madrina and Immacolata had not suppressed a giggle – of nerves at her mother’s self-elevation to such a height. She thought of the verbal criticism, offered in a cafe, when she had failed to bring back all the protection-payment envelopes from the via Casanova. It was her mother, humiliated, who lay prone in the road, and at the periphery of the camera’s view a small crowd had gathered and formed a wary half-moon. She believed, from the greyness and distortion of the picture, that her mother’s arrest had been captured on a mobile phone. She realised she had been brought this particular photograph – not one of her mother being led through paparazzi and cameramen, flashes and arc lights, able to use the haughtiness of a Pupetta Maresca, a Rosetta Cutolo or a Patrizia Ferriero – to see her mother laid out in a posture of vulgarity.

‘Did I do that?’ Immacolata asked, almost in awe.

Castrolami: ‘Alone, nobody achieves anything. Together, much. You were part of “doing” that. A big enough part, when your involvement is known, to guarantee that the sentence of death is passed on you.’

‘What do you want of me now?’

‘I want you, Signorina – excuse me – to stop trying to play games with me. You should now consider your situation as set in stone. You see the photograph of your mother. I don’t think she’ll be pleased to know that her picture is now a source of amusement throughout Naples. When she knows, and she soon will – it’s inevitable – that her daughter has collaborated and is in part responsible for her being photographed with bare thighs and most of her arse on display, I believe she’ll feel resentful towards you. But there’s no turning back. And she’s behind bars, in a cell. She’s beginning the process of rotting.’

‘Do you know, Dottore, what it’s like to die of leukaemia?’

‘No. I would imagine, though, that it’s worse than being in a cell and rotting.’

‘I think so.’

‘I rarely offer advice, Signorina, but now I’ll break a habit. Don’t waste my time again, and don’t forget your friend’s suffering.’

‘Where do we start?’ she asked, pushing away the photograph.

‘We should talk again of Vincenzo.’

A corridor led from the staircase to the basement cell block and the interview rooms where prisoners met their lawyers. One of the detectives who had arrested Vincenzo Borelli accompanied the custody officers who escorted him from the cell along the corridor. Even for this short walk from a departure point to a destination deep inside a protected police station – and Paddington Green was a fortress, designed to hold resourceful terror captives – he was handcuffed to an officer. Since his arrest, he had seen no lawyer, no detective, only the uniformed men entrusted with guarding and caring for him. He knew nothing.

He was Neapolitan, a man – it was right that strangers should see he cared. He asked softly, with concern, ‘My sister, Immacolata, where is she? Is she held?’

The detective behind him sniggered. He would have thought, Vincenzo recognised, that he dealt with crap, with an Italian. ‘Not held, friend, not here and not likely to be. Actually, friend, she’s shafted you – she’s singing like a whole damn choir… Sorry, did I say that? I don’t think I did.’

Vincenzo thought it was arrogance. The detective needed to appear a mastermind, senior, and to have detailed knowledge of an extradition case. Vincenzo looked blankly ahead as he was led down the corridor, and mimed being simple, fitting a stereotype, not understanding.

In an interview room, he met a lawyer. The lawyer offered him cigarettes, said he came from Catania in Sicily, was based in the British capital and dealt exclusively with cases – criminal and civil – in which Italian citizens needed representation. He said, too, that he had been appointed to act on Vincenzo’s behalf by Umberto. He gave the name of a street and quoted a telephone number as verification that he knew where the clan’s lawyer lived and the number of his personal mobile. Vincenzo told him to call it and deliver a message urgently.

The message was in English: The diva performs with rare beauty and is hired for many performances. He told the lawyer that the message was to be spoken once, fast. That was all he wished to say. He wanted the man gone.

Vincenzo, in his cell, believed that within half an hour the message would be on Umberto’s desk. Umberto would have recorded it for safe transcription, memorised it, then destroyed the tape and the typescript. The door shut on him, a key turned in a lock. He leaned against a wall, much scribbled on and graffiti-strewn, then beat the painted brickwork with his fist till the bruising came.

His own sister…

He left the ticket window and ran. He was last on the train, and he thought that, too, was luck. Eddie Deacon had managed to rip open the heavy door while the uniforms shouted, waved their arms and blew hard on whistles, but he jumped aboard, closed the door after him, they did a sweet smile for the man who reached the window and glowered.

The train rolled out of Rome.

He had come into the city on an airport bus, and had suffered a sea-change. Realised it now. He didn’t have a seat, but stood and rocked with the motion of the carriage. The engine gathered acceleration. The sea-change was in him. Luck was sprinting with him, and he was thankful for it. Darkness flanked the train as it cleared the Roman suburbs, and then he made out the tight clusters of lights high up, and imagined the track had been routed between hills and their old villages. He felt exhilaration, as if he challenged himself. Not bad, was it, getting himself halfway across western Europe on the same day that he’d jacked a job, cleared a bank account? He had plastic his family would guarantee, and was hightailing through the hills south of the Eternal City. Excitement, adventure: they wouldn’t have contemplated it – ‘they’ being the HM Revenue and Customs clerk, the waiter, the ticket man and the student. One would be dragging himself back to the house after a day of staring at a screen with a head fit to bust, the next would be making polite noises to pompous farts in the club and bringing them drinks, the ticket man would be on late shift and counting the minutes till he finished, and the last would be buried in some damn book about manorial field divisions in the Tudor period. They would find his note, hasty, scrawled, and would each feel – Eddie reckoned – a spasm of jealousy – but not half of the jealousy they’d feel when he brought her back. It was excitement, adventure, and he felt himself lifted, almost euphoric.

It was a brilliant line, so fast, so modern, so smooth. It was as if he had entered true civilisation. Didn’t have a line like this, or a carriage, on the route to Chippenham. He knew of nothing now that could block him. He was on a pedestal, had placed himself there.

He would find her.

‘Incredible! It’s Mac! Wow! Fancy bumping into you here. Just happened to be passing.’

‘Did you now? Funny old world, yeah?’ And hearing her voice, the accent and the lilt, and knowing she damn near laughed – not at him, with him.

‘Like you say, Mac, “funny old world”. Shall we go and get a beer?’

‘Can’t think of anything better.’

Didn’t know where he’d find her, couldn’t picture it – or where she’d lead him to find a beer. Didn’t care. Excitement was the narcotic in Eddie Deacon. On this train, on the new track, it would take ninety minutes to travel from Rome to Naples. Everything went for him, and luck smiled. Why should it not?

He read the note that the child had brought him. He needed a magnifying-glass to decipher the tiny characters. It was Carmine Borelli who had first taken the young lawyer, Umberto, inside the clan’s affairs. He had spotted the overweight and indulgent rookie with no resources of his own, and no family to keep him in a fitting standard of living, and had backed his intuition. It had been forty years the previous June since he had made the approach, and the youthful Umberto had virtually kissed his hand in gratitude. It astonished him that Umberto’s ponderous, stubby fingers were capable of writing in such a delicate minuscule style. He would have thought the lawyer too clumsy to fashion it. The magnifying-glass made the message clear.

Clear, but almost unbelievable.

Your daughter-in-law arrested, your grandsons also arrested. Your granddaughter collaborates with the Palace of Justice and has been flown to Rome.

He couldn’t complain that four words were used when one sufficed. So few words and so great this effect. He was breathing hard, with wheezes and bubbling gasps. He understood. It was a situation as critical for the clan he had founded as that which had confronted the brothers in Sicily during the Fascist regime and the rule of the brutal ‘prefect of iron’, Cesare Mori, when the Cosa Nostra had been closest to defeat, and no different in Naples during the time of Mussolini. But Mussolini had fallen, and the Allies had landed first in Sicily, then on the mainland at Salerno, and a new era of opportunity had arrived. Carmine Borelli had seized that opportunity, had begun to form the apparatus of the clan that bore his name. It had survived, with respect, on the streets and in the files of the Palace of Justice for sixty-six years. He had been married to Anna only two years when American troops had entered the bombed streets of Naples. Everything he had built – according to the note a street child had brought him from the lawyer – was now at risk.

A convulsion of coughing shook his body. He spat phlegm into his handkerchief and the irritation passed. He sat still in his chair with the scrap of paper in his palm and the magnifying glass. He did not call his wife, but she had admitted the child and would have known that the much-folded piece of paper was of importance so had allowed him to digest it first, then would come to share. He had known, of course – as she did – that the boys were held, not merely Silvio, that Gabriella had been taken in the street and her photograph circulated in the day’s newspapers. The bite of the vipera was your granddaughter collaborates. If he smoked more than a full carton in a day there were pains in his chest – but no worse than those now in his mind. He could think of so many clans in which a member of the inner family had taken the pentito programme of the Palace of Justice, and he had always – in the fifteen years since the programme had been launched – felt a sense of superiority over those who had not been able to hold the loyalty of sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters. It was his own nipote who sat now with the men who were his lifetime enemy.

Much for him to reflect on.

He remembered the contempt he had larded on those clans cut deep by the testimony of their own: the sneer, the retort, the shrug, and the secret feeling that it was but for God’s grace that… It could have been his brother, now long dead, or his brother’s son, shot and left to bleed to death on the via Carbonara, or his grandson, the least liked among his nipoti, Giovanni. It was none of them. Immacolata was accused.

He let his mind rove. His wife, Anna, had brought the newborn granddaughter to the visitors’ hall at the Poggioreale gaol. In that place of dirt, noise and despair, where he had been held for four months before the charges of extortion were dropped, the infant had slept, as if unaffected by where she was, had made a little island of calm in the clamour. Her christening had been delayed until his release. He had been present in the church at the top of the street in Forcella, and the priest had been his friend. The child’s father had been one of the many latitanti in the city, in flight from the prosecutor, and Carmine had replaced Pasquale in the place of honour at Immacolata’s first communion and had hosted the celebration lunch. The child became a teenager, then a young woman, and he would sit her beside him and give her the benefit of his experience, and she would listen. He would have said that her affection for him was great – greater than she harboured for her mother and father – and that her respect for him was total.

Anna came into the room. She had poor eyesight, poorer than his, and her chair was always by the window. She reached out a hand and he passed her the scrap of paper and the magnifying-glass. She glanced at the note, then shook her head sharply. It was for him to tell her what was written, and to repeat it would be another wound, cut ever deeper. He used the zapper to turn on the big TV and raise its volume. There had been police in the house so recently and not a chance of observing them: he would say nothing of importance without turning on the television and increasing the volume. She leaned close to him and he to her, his lips little more than ten centimetres from her ear. He could see each of the cancer marks on her skin, the wrinkles at her throat and the hairs on her upper lip. He told her everything, and always had.

He said, ‘The boy came from Umberto. Umberto writes, “Your granddaughter collaborates with the Palace of Justice and has been flown to Rome.” Umberto denounces Immacolata. She is, Umberto says, an infame. Immacolata seeks to destroy us.’

She gave no answer. Carmine could see only the chill slab of his wife’s face, devoid of expression. The child, Immacolata, had spent as many of her waking hours in this apartment as she had in her mother’s. It was personal, the hurt. Anna gave no answer, he believed, because she still pondered on what her response should be. She would not speak unless there were words of substance to say. He felt the damp on his face. A tear trickled down his skin to the thin stubble on his cheek.

His shin was kicked.

A sharp blow with a heavy lace-up shoe, which stabbed pain into the bone.

He thought she might as well have condemned their granddaughter. It had taken five or six seconds for him to relay the message, and twenty-six years of love, commitment and caring were obliterated.

He looked into his wife’s face. Many times in those sixty-six years of marriage she had worn an expression that frightened him, and so it was. He saw in that face a terrible, but controlled, hatred. Where Immacolata was involved, he could be soft – but his wife could not.

They had broken. Castrolami came into the kitchen to make tea and left Immacolata Borelli to sip a glass of juice.

It was different. He had fastened the photograph to the wall. From where he had sat her at the table, the microphone close to her, she faced it. He was to the side of her. It was natural for her to look up, to be certain that a point made was assimilated, and then she saw her mother – on the ground, in humiliation, the skirt pushed up, white skin, whiter underwear, dignity and control stripped. It was different because the Borelli girl now talked, and during the time he had been there he had used three spare tapes from the stack he had brought. They had moved beyond Vincenzo, enough on the first two tapes to ensure an extradition case to go with the evidence already laid before the British courts on charges of murder, and the third detailed the control of Gabriella Borelli over the clan, not mere supposition. Supposition would have been that Pasquale Borelli slipped out messages from the gaol of Novara through a route in the gaol’s catering; detail was that the route, whereby the husband let the wife have his advice, involved the man who brought the flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and cheap dried milk to the prison bakery, and was a facilitator for the communications of two maximum-security Sicilians. Supposition was that the contract for a new sewage works at a town inland from Naples had corrupt political involvement; detail named the men who had granted the contract in the local town hall, what they had been paid for their cooperation, how the payment was made and how that contract would be shared between different clans – who had trucking, who had labour, who had cement. Castrolami needed to break the meeting for tea.

Orecchia took milk from the refrigerator and poured it. ‘You’re pleased with her.’

‘More so than before.’

Orecchia’s smile was cold. ‘You were hard on her.’

Castrolami said, ‘Because I feel nothing for her. She is not a true pentita. There is no sense of penitence. The death of a friend, linked to her, and an attack on her at a cemetery, her being too late to attend the funeral Mass combine to create a sense of guilt. She seeks to redress the guilt, but that’s not penitence. Revenge, anger, dislike for her family, who may not have valued her as she thought she deserved… Many things. But it’s not a road-to-Damascus conversion.’

‘She’s not Paul,’ Orecchia murmured, ‘but few of them are.’

‘And no shining light, only little grievances topped by the friend’s death. No sense of outrage at the criminality of the Camorra, what has happened to the city, Naples distinguished by callousness. Shit, that’s boring.’

‘Excuse me, have you no sense of sincerity? You see her as shallow?’

‘You know better than I, friend, what she’ll face. When the pressure crushes her, we’ll see sincerity or not…’

Orecchia handed him the cup, no saucer, and a sweet biscuit. ‘Me, when I go home – not often – I stand in the shower for a full fifteen minutes and the family screams there’ll be no hot water for the rest of that day. They say I’m mad, that I sup with devils. I say I eat with a long spoon. You know what’s worse? The collaborators believe they do me, Rossi, you, society, a great favour by coming to us. I despise them.’

Castrolami smiled grimly. ‘Maybe you’d find spiritual fulfilment as a street sweeper. Thanks for the tea.’

Orecchia said, ‘I’m not joking. I trust this one, all of them, as far as I can kick them. They entangle people, squeeze and suck the goodness from them.’

‘I hear you.’ Castrolami couldn’t have argued with a word he’d said, but he wondered how a man survived in his work if he saw only bleakness. Did he laugh at home? Did he follow a football team with the fanaticism of the Mastiffs in Naples? Did he pay tarts? Castrolami wondered if Orecchia was ever saddened when a collaborator was cut loose from the protection programme and left to fend for himself – did he ever respect them? That evening he would talk to Signorina Immacolata about her mother’s hard-drugs-importation programmes and…

The voice droned again at him: ‘To be touched by them is to be contaminated.’

More luck. He was told that a single room was available, the last, and that it was the first day after the end of the high-season rate – big luck double time for Eddie Deacon, innocent and ignorant.

The accommodation desk at the city’s railway station had found him the room. A pretty girl had circled the hotel on a map and confirmed it would not be expensive. He had slung the bag over his shoulder and started to walk, making his way – only two wrong turnings – from the wide square, the piazza Garibaldi. He had tasted the heat, the noise, the smells and the chaos of traffic and scooters, and had known the first pangs of nerves. He had stood outside the hotel door and the neon above him blinked without pattern. Kids stood on the streets, smoked and didn’t talk but eyed him. More nerves. They spoke some English inside, and the man who gave him the key had a squint, a khaki mole on his cheek and a stutter. Eddie spoke kindly to him. He thought, then, that he needed a friend – any bloody friend from any bloody place. Maybe the excitement, the adventure, the exhilaration, like the neon, blinked.

He went up to the room. His step was heavier and the bounce had gone. They were saving on power for the stairs: the bulbs were low-wattage and made the shadows longer, the greyness of the walls and ceiling deeper, the lack of light accentuating the scratches in the paint. He was no longer within the civilisation boundaries of the train carriage that had brought him south. He heard a couple row in German about the cost of the meal that evening and the budget being blown. Another couple on the next floor up grunted, squealed and worked the bedsprings, and there was a tray outside the door on which was a barely nibbled pizza: the sex sounded good but the pizza had dried out. He had been told by the girl at the accommodation desk at Napoli Centrale that this pensione was the best he could afford. He went on up the staircase, the carpet thinner, more faded and worn with each flight.

The key was on a chain that hooked on to a small wooden ball. He slipped the little card that had come with it – his name, room number, the hotel address – into his trouser pocket, opened the door and groped for the switch.

The room was smaller than a prison cell, with a wardrobe, an upright chair, a table hardly deep enough for an A4 sheet of paper and a single bed. Beside the wardrobe there was a square section of transparent plastic for a shower, basin and toilet. Only a damn small cat, a kitten, could have been swung in it. Had he expected a Marriott room, or one from a Holiday Inn, maybe an InterContinental? Old story: in this world, Eddie, you get what you pay for. Eddie Deacon, in Germany or France, had never felt himself a stranger, had not been the lonely foreigner.

He pushed open a window and the sounds of the night buffeted against him – cars, screaming, music turned up high. He knew he was in a street behind the piazza Garibaldi because it showed up on the map he had been given. He had asked the girl if it was near to the via Forcella and she had shrugged as if to indicate that only an idiot needed that information, and then she had agreed it was. Another visitor to Naples, with a rucksack on his back, had elbowed Eddie away from the desk. He felt an increase in those nerve pangs.

So, he slapped his face with the palm of each hand, then unfolded the map. He didn’t feel good, he didn’t feel right, but he didn’t feel as if he was about to bloody lie down and cave.

He mapped out a route.

A man had said – in public – that the family was shit, finished, a spent power. Might have been right. Salvatore walked into the bar.

He wore no face mask. The room was brightly lit and his face, features, identity were clear. The clan of which he was the enforcer was worth – if all property investments, treasury bonds and shares in a half-dozen of the leading money markets were added up – in excess of half a billion euros. As an enforcer, he could have been directed to a penthouse apartment on the Cote d’Azur or a villa in a smart, protected suburb of Frankfurt, and his target would have been a banker or investment manager who had misappropriated tens of thousands of euros, or a hundred thousand, or a million. Also, his work was to maintain the respect and dignity the clan family needed. He handed down the justice of the Borellis to those who were high and mighty, to the potential informer who refused to pay a hundred euros a week – and to the braggart in the bar. He looked around him.

He was seen, noticed. He didn’t want anonymity. If many saw and knew him, the word went faster. His eyes fastened on the man.

It had always surprised Salvatore that when he confronted a victim, they seldom ran or fought. They were, almost all, helpless and trapped in terror. This one was no different. He would have said it, that the family were shit, would have repeated it, would have gone home and lain beside his whore-wife in their bed, and the bravado would have oozed away. He would have known that within hours, a few days but less than a week, the enforcer of the clan would come for him. He had nowhere to hide. A victim, a man of forty, would have been familiar with only the few streets that surrounded the districts of Sanita and Forcella, and the labyrinth inside the area of two or three square kilometres. He was, and would have realised it, a dead man walking from the time his mouth had opened and his tongue had flapped, who lived out the final stages of his life in a small flat with his wife and children, in a bar where others were cautious of his company, who was in la cella dei condannati a morte. Others now backed away from him. His jaw was slack, the spittle was white against dark lips and sweat gleamed on his high forehead. He would have felt his legs sag under the weight of his body.

He did not have to show the pistol, the Beretta, at his waist. Salvatore flicked his fingers. He gestured with his head to the door. At that moment some men – bankers or street scum – wet their trousers in the crotch or fouled their seat. Some closed their eyes and began to pray. Some wept, some pleaded. Some spoke of their children, their wives. Some went as if they sleepwalked.

This one did.

Salvatore also knew that the man he had called out would have friends in the bar with whom he had played in the street as a child, sat in schoolrooms, talked and watched football in that bar for an adult lifetime, and none would help him now. Perhaps in a week… not yet. Power not yet gone: a photograph in a newspaper of the thighs and the covered arse of Gabriella Borelli, more photographs of her children in custody, but no certainty, yet, that power was in new hands. None of those friends, once valued, would block the door, defend him.

It was the way of Naples. The authority of the clans, even one seriously wounded – weakened – ruled.

And none in that crowded bar would say they had seen Salvatore’s face. Within two minutes the bar would have emptied, well before the first sirens and lights arrived. Only the staff would be there. All would claim to have been facing the far wall, or busy at the coffee machines, or in the rear store for more milk. That, too, was the way of Naples, unchanged and unchanging.

Clear of the bar, he pushed the man across the broken pavement, a vicious shove. Where a slab should have been there was a pit and the man’s shoe caught in it and he fell forward. He was half in the street and half in the gutter. Salvatore kicked him in the buttock and the man crawled limply forward. He had chosen this place because he knew that no street cameras covered the stretch of road between the Porta Capuana and the via Cesare Rosaroll. He had the pistol out of his belt. He fired one shot and the bullet went into the back of the man’s knee and there was a little limp scream of shock, then another, shrill, from the pain’s spread. Salvatore waved up the street.

Extraordinary – true to Naples, Palermo and Reggio Calabria in the toecap of Italy’s boot: traffic had disappeared from the road. It had been there, a constant, hooting snarl, but was gone. The road was empty but for a white van, old, rusted, with no registration plates.

It could accelerate. The man would have seen it, heard it, but with his leg shot away at the knee he could not avoid it, and squirmed on the tarmacadam. He was in an oil slick now, his shirt smeared, and the van went over him, cleared him. No one saw. No witnesses in the bar, on the pavement or in cars on the road saw the van go over him. Perhaps it crushed his back or broke his neck. Perhaps it left him grievously injured but still living. It braked.

It reversed. It came back up the road and the rear tyres lifted as it mounted the body a second time. When the body was cleared and the van stopped again, there was no movement.

Salvatore climbed into the passenger seat. His driver, whom he called Fangio, went away down the road.

He thought that the clan, those still at liberty, clung to power by the thickness of the string used to bind a birthday present.

An hour later, a boy came to him. He and Fangio, for speed, shared the shower, scrubbed and washed. Their clothing was bagged for disposal. Few knew of that address. The lawyer was among the few. The child brought a scrap of paper and left, running. More than adults, Salvatore, Il Pistole, whose face was on their screensavers, trusted the kids. He had to wipe soap from his eyes before he could read the compacted handwriting. He shuddered.

He crumpled the paper, threw it at Fangio’s feet and saw it carried in the torrent of soapy water down the drain. To shoot a man in the back of the leg meant nothing to him. He was unaffected by the sight of a van speeding down a road well lit with high lamps, then bouncing over a sprawled body. He felt almost a tremble in his legs, under the damp towel.

He would have said he could believe anything of Naples – anything . He had been wrong. He could not have believed, if he hadn’t seen it written in the spider hand of the lawyer, that Immacolata Borelli had collaborated.

Not the thickness of string – the thickness of one strand woven to make string.

He didn’t know, then, what he could do, should do, without the power of the clan at his back. He, too, was dead – squashed, broken, bloody. He didn’t know where he should turn.

He couldn’t still the trembling – or the image of Immacolata Borelli – and he couldn’t believe.

He was at the end of the street under the sign that said it was via Forcella. He saw nothing familiar and nothing that offered a welcome. The light was poor, the shadows harsh. The spearing headlights of weaving scooters caught the shapes of men, women, kids, then lost them as the riders powered away. Eddie Deacon had told himself that it was important, before he went to sleep, to know where via Forcella was, how far away, how… He felt intimidated. There, at the head of the street, and he thought it hardly wide enough for two cars to pass, he realised that a group of kids watched him and he wished he hadn’t brought his wallet with him. He believed himself evaluated as worth a hit or not worth a hit. Nothing he saw reassured him. He was beside a church, but it was darkened and he sensed that the doors were bolted, locked, secure against the night and strangers.

He turned away.

It was as if he backed off.

The street corner seemed an interface. When he retreated he was on the via Duomo, and the map said that the city’s principal cathedral was there, and the shops had lights in their windows. There, he felt fine. Down that street, he had felt a cloying nervousness. It would be different in the morning, of course, and he would be back in broad, warm, sunshine-laden daytime. He trudged back to his bed, and was troubled that he had suffered what was bloody nearly a panic attack. He had thought, till then, that luck rode with him.

He would be back in the morning to find her.

Eddie was serenaded to faltering sleep by sirens – so many of them and for so long – and the vehicles came, raucous, to a street near where he was. Only when the sirens had died did the restlessness and tension drain away. Then he could think of her again, as she was in the photograph on his wall.

‘Fancy bumping into you here. Just happened to be passing.’

Because of the work he did, Lukas had long ago shed a body clock. He could work in the night, sleep in the day, just as he could type on his laptop in the back of a bucking Land Rover or Humvee in half-darkness.

He typed his report on Colombia, what they had achieved and whom they had lost.

He was as happy working late into the night as in the morning, was not fresher at the start of a day than at the end.

No drama would creep into his report, no descriptive factors and no colour. He would list briefly what he had known, and the advice he had offered on the basis of facts available. Nowhere in the text would there be disguised praise for his own part or criticism of others.

Only a professional could make sense of it. Only those who employed him now, the chief executive officer at Ground Force Security and the director of operations, or those who had employed him in years past – the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense – could have made drama from the few pages on offer. The descriptions were clinical, and he used the short-hand jargon of his trade. Men across the globe who dealt with the high-risk stakes of hostage rescue and negotiation would read the pages and know that Lukas had written them, and they would pray to God that the next time he was needed they found him available to travel and not marooned in some other shit-heap place.

Home for him, where he typed, was an apartment under the eaves on the top floor of a street off the rue de Bellechasse. The mother of the CEO of Ground Force Security had lived and died there, and when Lukas had come on the firm’s books, it had been offered to him. The French capital suited him. He had no wish to live in the UK when he was employed by a British-based company, and less to be resident in the United States after twenty-two years with the Bureau, the last two on secondment to the Department of Defense. He craved to be distanced from his work, and the Paris apartment satisfied him. Little more than a shoebox, it comprised a cramped living room and a kitchenette behind a chipboard partition, a bedroom under a sloping ceiling but that had room for a big bed where a man with nightmares could toss in the darkness, a bathroom with a power shower that could wash off Iraq’s sand and Colombia’s mud, and a hall with a table and the telephone. It might not ring for a week or a month, but a red light would flash if he had missed a call. Lukas did not like being far from the telephone.

He was finishing off the report. Ground Force Security would be heaped with praise by the Agency because their man had survived and cover had been maintained – ‘goddam brilliant, a mother-fucker of a triumph,’ his CEO would be told by Langley. His own view: pretty much OK – not desperate and not wonderful. Some whom Lukas dealt with at field level regarded him as a lunatic. A few told him he was a lunatic. He didn’t take it personally, or when a Spanish diplomat had tried to punch him after calling him a lunatic. He had written it up in the usual laconic way afterwards.

Negotiations with a tribal leader had been ongoing for excess of three days. Much reliance placed on the talks; my view, too much reliance. Asset intelligence reported the hostage held in a six-storey block of twenty-four apartments plus basement. Exact location of hostage and hostage-takers in the building was not known but we had electronics in the stairwell. A male – not seen before at the building – approached and carried a plastic bag containing one large potato. I advised readying the storm squad for immediate intervention. Spanish diplomatic personnel in the command centre took a contrary position. The electronics in the stairwell indicated the unknown male to have gone to the second floor, right side of staircase. I urged an instant assault…

No mention of the attempt to punch him, the screamed accusation that he cared nothing for the life of a Spanish-born expert in antiquities on attachment to the National Museum. No mention of a diplomat having to be restrained while frothing with rage. No mention in the report of an expert’s experience. A big potato, weighing more than two kilos, had been the trigger for him. The diplomats believed negotiation would free their national, that a premature assault endangered the captive’s life. To be told that a man carrying a potato into the building was reason enough to abandon the talks that had been so difficult to initiate had caused an explosion of fury.

The assault was successful. Four Iraqis were killed by troops from the Polish special forces team and the hostage was freed. He would have been dead within the hour. Signed, F. Lukas.

NB A large potato was used as a pistol’s silencer in the assassination of a British national, the barrel tip being indented into the potato and the killing bullet passing through its bulk.

A British co-ordinator – one whom Lukas admired – had told him about big potatoes. It didn’t offend him to be accused of lunacy because he understood too well the stresses they all felt. The Brit had given him a cassette and Lukas had gone off to watch, alone, the video of a killing. The potato as the end of an automatic-pistol barrel, a Makharov, had dulled the noise on the soundtrack of the firing. He had seen the body collapse – not fall forward but go down like one of those big old cooling towers that were dynamited. The co-ordinator, tough, hard, had seemed badly cut by that loss. They were all in the same club, limited membership, and all felt badly when they lost out. He had failed to save the life of a European tourist who was a damn fool stupid guy to think he could walk those mountains without having looked through websites and Foreign office advisories – but it still hurt. It just seemed cheap to Lukas to show the world what hurt.

From his living room, he often looked out into the hall, but no red light winked and no bell rang.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

7

There were kids at the top of the street. They wore a uniform of faded T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms or denims and scuffed trainers, had close-cropped hair that made them look as though they were recovering from a louse infestation. They had darting eyes that crossed over the pedestrians who came off the via Duomo, turned and headed on down the street. When the T-shirt of one was lifted in a sudden arm movement, Eddie Deacon saw the handle of a knife and the upper part of its sheath. The kids did not kick footballs. Behind them, astride a scooter, smoking, was an older boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen, and he kept the engine idling. Against the wall two more boys, maybe seventeen or eighteen, had mobile phones clamped to their faces.

Eddie Deacon was not an idiot – some said he was bone idle, that he lacked ‘drive’, that he was short on ambition – and nobody had ever called him ‘stupid’, but he had common sense, ‘nous’. He had realised that everyone who went down that street was visually checked over. There was a rhythm to it. A man or a car appeared and the kids seemed to rush in front of him, maybe to slow him. The scooter’s engine speed quickened and the mobile was spoken into. Once he had seen the scooter pull out and go down the street, and a signal must have been sent because, within seconds, another scooter had taken over sentry duty. He had walked past two other streets leading into the district and there had been kids, a scooter and mobile phones at the top of each. He could recognise it, could not deny it. Eddie had slept poorly because of the nerves. He was as intimidated by the street, hesitating and hovering at its mouth, as he had been in the darkness the night before. He felt his intelligence dulled. But it was what he had come for, to go down that street and find Immacolata Borelli.

Nobody had accused him of cowardice, or ever mocked him for fast-fix religion.

It might have been the nerves. On the via Duomo, before he reached the junction with via Forcella, he had found himself outside the cathedral. He had gone inside and lingered there. He had read that the huge high interior was built four hundred years ago after earthquake devastation had brought down the thirteenth-century building, and that under the most recent foundations were a Greek temple and a Roman-era rainwater canal. He’d read, too, of San Gennaro, who protected the city from disaster and whose blood, kept here in a vial, liquefied each first Sunday in May and each 19 September. The saint had died in 305 – he did a simple sum fast – 1704 years ago, beheaded after torture as punishment for his beliefs, and his blood was a dried cake for three hundred and sixty-three or -four days of the year, but went liquid on those two days. If Eddie Deacon had told the guys in the house off the Kingsland Road this story, and that he didn’t doubt it, he would have been laughed all the way to the pub, to do the first round and the second. Flowers were being arranged near the altar and he imagined there would be a wedding later. A scattering of chairs was taken by crouched figures. He was happy to have been there, yet he never went into the church on Hoxton Street or the one on the other side of Dalston at Middleton Road. Being there, hearing a choir of treble angel voices rehearse, settled him a little.

So, best bloody foot forward.

The light didn’t come down the street. The alleyways leading off to the sides, spars off a mast, were narrower and dim, and above them washing hung. There were shops: for hardware, groceries, bread, cheap clothing. The facade rendering had peeled away and the paintwork was chipped and flaking. Often, in the first few paces, he reached back and touched his hip pocket, where the slim wallet was. He wore faded jeans, trainers and a short-sleeved shirt; he had left his passport, his plastic and most of his cash in the little safe in the pensione room. It seemed necessary for him – under the gaze of the kids, the boy astride the scooter and the older boys with the mobiles – to feel for his wallet.

He said softly to himself, ‘For fuck’s sake, Eddie, get with it. Where are you? In western Europe, the cradle of civilisation. Why are you in western Europe? To find Mac. What are you? A bloody wimp. When are you going to grow up? Now… now.’

A woman carried two thin plastic bags that were heavy with vegetables. Eddie asked her – in stuttered Italian – if she knew where Immacolata Borelli lived. The woman looked through him, as if he didn’t exist, and he repeated the name, but she walked past him.

He didn’t know where the street ended, where the vicolo Vicaria began, but he did not think via Forcella was long, maybe two hundred yards. Everyone should know her… A man stopped in the centre of the street, a dog squatted and defecated, a cat crouched at his feet and chewed gristle from a bone, and a scooter swept by them. The man had paused to light his pipe. Eddie asked if he knew, please, where Immacolata Borelli lived. The man gaped at him. Eddie said the name again. The match burned until it touched the skin of the man’s fingers, then the man pushed past. He stepped in the dog’s mess, four square in it, and seemed not to care.

The kids were behind and level with him. If he faced them, they met his gaze. They made a cordon behind him when a car came down and it had to hoot for them to give space. Two men sat at a table on the street, and the car slowed to get past them. Eddie saw they had dominoes. He stood over the table, waited for a play to be made, expected that one would look up, but neither did so he interrupted the game. He asked once more: did they know where in the via Forcella the home of Immacolata Borelli was? He couldn’t read the faces, tanned, cracked, as if the skin was old leather, or the eyes, but one spat and the brightness lay on a cobblestone beside Eddie’s trainer, and the game went on.

He was confused. He didn’t understand why she lived there. It was poverty. So were parts of Dalston, corners of Hackney, Hoxton and Haggerston, but he did not see any of the pockets of wealth, anything of quality – the small areas that had been tarted up – as there were in his corner of London. He thought he sounded like his father. But it had been clear enough on the scrap of paper – Borelli, Via Forcella, Zip code, Napoli. He stood outside a shop that sold bread, rolls and cake. He was taken inside as the queue moved in and the kids were left on the pavement. Now the scooter was with them and the engine was gunned. He reached the counter. He asked for the home of the Borelli family, said that he was looking for Immacolata Borelli. The woman heard him. Eddie thought she considered what was requested of her. He spoke the name again: Immacolata Borelli. The woman looked away from him and her eyes went to the next in the line, her smile broad. What did that customer want? Eddie went out of the shop.

Bells clamoured in his mind. A broken front door in a north London street and a police guard, his Mac never giving him an address or a phone number, and she had disappeared. This was her home, and he was watched, and no one in the street responded to his request for information. The bells rang loudly. What to do?

Should he stop, turn, walk away and quit? He didn’t doubt that each person he had spoken to had known of Immacolata Borelli. He swore. Stop? No. Turn and walk away? No. Quit? He went on down the street and looked for the next man or woman to ask, the kids and the scooter trailing him.

She talked of her mother, had done since she had woken. She had taken a perfunctory shower, gobbled a roll, gulped coffee and sat at the table, drumming her fingers for the tape to be switched on.

‘An account she values is that with the Dresdner Bank – I can’t tell you the number. It’s at fourteen, Karl-Liebknechtstrasse in Leipzig. It’s the first place cleaned money goes, fixed-rate deposits for six months. She goes in October, doesn’t stay overnight since my father’s arrest. She has a travel agent that routes her from Reggio Calabria to eastern Germany on budget flights for German tourists. The turn-round time for the aircraft is sufficient for her meetings. There’s never less than eight million euros in the Leipzig account, and she’s a generous supporter of the bank’s nominated charities. You understand?’

Castrolami sat opposite her. He was swivelled sideways and did not look at her, or at the picture of Gabriella Borelli on the wall. He didn’t look at her because he was shaving. Had he faced her, the action of the battery-powered machine would have interfered with the recording. She couldn’t tell, with his cheeks and eyes away from her, whether he was impressed by what she said, or indifferent to it, but he didn’t prompt her. Perhaps, Immacolata thought, he had turned on a tap and preferred not to interrupt the flow. He shaved, working the machine with three heads across his face, his throat, below and above his lips, and she talked about the distribution of money. Where were the accounts placed? In what banks in what cities? She spoke of huge sums but he never raised his eyebrows in astonishment or disbelief.

The sun shone on her.

A maid sluiced the tiles of the kitchen floor.

Orecchia lounged on a settee behind her and read his newspaper – a socialist one that her father, Pasquale, said was fit only for wiping a backside. He never spoke or coughed or intruded in any way, but his holster harness was round his shirt.

Rossi was on the balcony and swept up dried leaves that had fallen from the plants in the ochre pots. He would have been aware that he could be seen by the residents in other blocks so his holster was hitched on a chair. She had fired a pistol, but never at a human target. Had her mother? Perhaps, but she didn’t know. She couldn’t have said whether her mother killed by proxy – Vincenzo, Giovanni, or the cold, creepy one they used – or had done it for herself. It didn’t matter. After she had talked about money, she would go on to killings. With killings she might raise Castrolami’s eyebrows. Rossi swept diligently, but sometimes she looked up and out through the opened glass doors to the terrace and she thought he watched her, and each time she set her shoulders back and allowed her blouse to be stretched. Then he swept some more.

There had been no views from the apartment her brother rented in London or from the buildings they had occupied in Sanita and Forcella: roofs, water tanks, satellite dishes, and glimpses of the great mountain where the cap was missing. Here, from Collina Fleming, the view was exceptional. Clear skies above, trees and an autostrada link below, and a distant horizon of grey hazed hills on which clouds perched. Maybe she would live here… Have a maid who came in and cleaned… Finish accountancy courses and have diplomas… Set up in a small business with money provided by Castrolami’s people, or the prosecutor’s people, until she was able to support herself… A new name… And maybe meet someone, have babies, maybe… The warmth filled the apartment but a small zephyr wind came with it. Immacolata had dreamed of her future and talked of her mother.

‘Every April she goes to the Societe Generale bank on the road called La Canebiere, number fifteen, in Marseille. She is driven to Bari, then flies to Milan and connects to Marseille. She starts early. She has lunch with her manager, and is back the same evening. They think she’s a resident of Milan. That account is for more than two million euros and-’

A plastic bucket on the balcony toppled. She realised then that Rossi had swept and now watered the pots. He had kicked over the bucket. She stopped. That brought a reaction from Castrolami, a little hissed curse because she had been interrupted and the flow broken.

‘How am I doing?’

‘You talk and we listen. That’s what’s expected.’

It was the place, in a dream, that she might live, away from the dark, drear streets of Naples, beyond the reach of Sanita and Forcella – and the gaols at Poggioreale and Novara – beyond the reach of the hands that would be scrabbling for her eyes.

‘Please, I want to go out.’

Now wariness clouded Castrolami’s face. ‘You know what’s dictated. No phone calls, no meetings, no contacts. Signorina Immacolata, they’ll kill you.’

‘I want to buy food – I want to cook.’

He sighed. She thought him confused. He had finished shaving. Now he opened the head of the machine and blew the mess out on to the floor. ‘What other banks outside Italy does your mother use?’

‘And we’ll shop and I’ll cook?’

‘Yes… The other banks?’

‘She doesn’t visit it but meets a representative in Turin each January, the Danske Bank in Stockholm, on Norrmalmstorg. In Spain, in Madrid, the family uses the Banco Santander for fixed-term deposits.’

Her mind had drifted. It was where she could be, could settle, could live, could make a new family.

His mobile rang. The noise, insistent, clamoured in his pocket: he had tried to emphasise that he shouldn’t be called when he was with the pentita, Immacolata Borelli, unless to be given information of seismic importance. They had gone beyond European banks, were now in the Cayman Islands – a Swiss bank – and had just talked through Greek Cyprus, a Larnaca branch. She stopped and he switched off the tape.

He listened. It was the message he had expected – he might have been surprised had it not surfaced the previous evening.

A Naples newspaper, Cronaca, had telephoned the Palace of Justice and asked for guidance on a rumour in the Forcella and Sanita districts that Immacolata Borelli, twenty-five-year-old daughter of Pasquale and Gabriella Borelli, was collaborating. Was the rumour confirmed or denied? He was told that time had been bought, that the prosecutor was unavailable, in meetings, and that the press office could neither confirm nor deny – but only a few hours could be bought. He thanked the caller and pocketed the mobile.

They had had the gentle hours. He imagined the word racing through the district of her birth and childhood – as it had with an Alfieri, a Contini, a Misso and a Giuliani. But for it to be a girl, pretty, educated, intelligent, would captivate the city. He did not hide news. Good or bad it should be spelled out.

He said, ‘It’s rumoured in Naples that Immacolata Borelli is an infame. Word is out and on the streets. They would spit at your picture, if they had you in via Forcella, they would stamp on you until your breath had gone. If you ever believed there was a time for turning back it’s gone. Now I shall ask you a very serious question.’

‘What?’

‘Is there anything in your life that I should know about which you have not told me? Signorina Immacolata, is there anything that can be exploited, a weakness?’

‘No.’

‘Should I believe you?’

‘You insult me.’

She looked at her best when she was angry. But, and it troubled Castrolami, the sunlight was reflected on to the white marble floor and her eyes, making them black pockets. He liked to look deep into the eyes when he was deciding whether a suspect was truthful or lied. He could not see hers. He thought her strong, and that she would need to be strong.

He said, ‘In an hour, maybe, we will go to the piazza, where the stalls are, and you can shop. I think you’ll find that a chic corner of Rome is more expensive than Forcella or any part of Naples, and probably the produce is inferior. That we give permission is a gesture of trust.’

She didn’t thank him. He thought her an enigma: tough and vulnerable, resolute and frightened, hard and pliant. He didn’t yet know her, didn’t know whether he ever would – whether a gesture of trust was misplaced.

She had shuffled towards him. Salvatore watched the approach of Anna Borelli, grandmother to the family and icon in the clan. He had heard she had been the strength behind her man, that the clan would not have prospered without her and that she was the worst woman in Naples to make an enemy of. He knew her to have been born in 1922, the year Mussolini had launched, from Naples, the march on Rome that elevated him to power. He knew her to have been married in 1941 when her husband had come out of hiding from military conscription and posting to Montenegro. He knew her to have stepped back from the running of the clan in the middle 1980s when its strength was assured and Pasquale was given authority, knew that she had paramount importance in the clan’s territory. She came close to him.

She was frail, with bent shoulders, and walked with a stick to mitigate her rheumatism. She had cropped white hair, but her clothes were always ebony black. If she ever smiled he hadn’t seen it. If she ever laughed he hadn’t heard her. She paused outside a hardware shop and he saw her examining brooms, weighing the advantages of one against another: she was worth, by whatever calculation, millions of euros, but fingered brooms to decide whether one that cost three euros was as good value as one that cost five. He came close to her, and the owner of the shop, who had been solicitous and grovelling as if to royalty, stepped back to give him room and privacy.

He said, ‘Grandmother, it is a time of maximum danger to the clan. Nonna, the wolves circle because they believe us weak. Nonna, without Pasquale, Gabriella and Vincenzo, and with the bitch Immacolata whoring with the palace, we need leadership or we’ll disintegrate. Everything you and Carmine achieved will be lost. Unless you lead now, your lives will have been wasted. I beg you, take control. Fight. Umberto can find me, but in extreme emergency call this…’ He slipped a piece of paper into her clawed hand. He relied on her memory, in her eighty-eighth year, to absorb the number. He was satisfied she would have done so within an hour. With total sincerity Salvatore said: ‘We depend on you, Nonna, and on Carmine. If we’re led we’ll follow. If we don’t fight, we’re dead, and the whore has killed us.’

He walked away from her. At an entry fifty metres down the via Forcella from the hardware shop, he paused in the shadow. The priest passed her, the bastard priest from the church of San Giorgio Maggiore – should have been shot – and she didn’t acknowledge him. Salvatore thought she bartered with the shop owner for a discount on the broom, and – for certain – she would be given it. There were many who would delight in dancing on his corpse and many who would queue for the privilege of dropping him. He reached his man, Fangio, put on the helmet with the smoked-glass visor and was gone.

It was perplexing to him. Frustrated, annoyed, failing and unable to get sense from anyone, Eddie Deacon beaded on the priest. Perplexingly, the priest walked in the centre of the street and scooters swerved to pass him, going either way, and the street was lined with shoppers and gossipers, old and young, and no one spoke to him. He was young, no more than thirty, with a rounded, chubby face but there was no cheer in it: pallor and tiredness characterised him. He had come out of a courtyard through tall iron gates. The school had the name ‘Annalisa Durante’. Eddie sidled towards the priest.

A quick side-step, like a soccer player’s swerve, and the priest had passed. Eddie called after him. No response, but the priest’s step quickened. He fastened on the back of the man – had to: he had been the length of the street and must have asked a dozen people where the Borelli home was, and had not received one coherent answer. The kids followed him still, but not with intensity. He didn’t think they regarded him as threatening, more as a curiosity, but they were behind him and he’d noted that each time he asked, the boy on the scooter quizzed the person he’d spoken to.

The sun came higher. He sweated. Strips of light and warmth knifed on to the street from the alleys. More people were out. If he met eyes, they were averted. If he smiled, it was not returned.

He didn’t know what else to do, but followed the priest. The spark had gone out for him, as if hope was extinguished. So alone. The priest went up the steps of the church and into it. Eddie had that sense of being the stranger and unwanted. In the stone slabs beside the main door, at about the level of a man’s head, there were chip marks, two scars where the stone had been gouged. He followed the priest inside. Cool and quiet enveloped him.

They walked. Rossi led and he wore a lightweight poplin jacket so that his shoulder harness was covered. She followed, with Castrolami alongside her, Orecchia behind. They went down a side-road from the block, where the parked cars had been in place all summer, the bonnets and windscreens coated with the fine dust that came from the north African deserts, carried on the winds. The hill where they had brought her was empty of residents, still holidaying in the south or at the Sardinian resorts. That would have been why they had shipped her in here. There were so few people in the apartments and on the roads.

The dogs had not been taken to the southern beaches, but abandoned to the care of maids and porters. They threw themselves at the balcony railings. Immacolata had forgotten, almost, the ferocity of the sun – but there were many things to be forgotten. She walked with a good step and Rossi had to sense her pace and stretch his stride to keep ahead of her. They went past the entrance to a tennis club and she glimpsed the pool, azure blue, and the loungers; the Borelli family had not been able, in Naples, to belong to a club where tennis was played and there was a pool, so Immacolata didn’t play tennis and couldn’t swim. Different worlds, and this one closed to her by the dictate of the clan’s security, but there were clubs like this in Posilippo and Pozzuoli north up the coast. There was a clinic, and more apartments set back, with different dogs and different porters, then the road ducked down and ran beneath a roof of pine branches.

Castrolami said, conversationally, ‘We put you in a tower block on the north side or on the east side of Rome and on every floor women are looking to see who is new. It’s an intelligence-gathering system, unavoidable – you know that. It’s the same in a tower in Naples. We put you in a small town near Firenze, Pisa or on the Adriatic, you open your mouth and they hear you, Naples, and they hear us, outsiders, and they think that Mafia scum is being hidden among them, and there are demonstrations, perhaps violence, because they despise you and believe you contaminate their society. It’s good here because we’re among the people who don’t know the Mafia but hate the VAT officials and the Revenue investigators, and who seek to live in privacy. If, however, they believed that a collaborating criminal had been brought here, there would be outrage and the accusation that we’ve reduced the worth of their property. We don’t flaunt you.’

‘And when they come back from holiday?’

‘We’ll think again, look at the budget and-’

‘Move on?’

There was an old bridge over the river ahead. They had left the shade of the trees and gone under a six-lane road. She could see over the parapet wall that the Tiber’s level was down. It looked played out, not like a famous river. He didn’t answer her. She thought they would keep her in the fine apartment while they stripped the meat of what she knew, then ship her on when only the bones remained.

Castrolami said, ‘The bridge is the Ponte Milvio, one of the most important in the city. It was built by Gaius Claudius Nero more than two thousand years ago. Constantine won a great battle at the bridge in 312 AD. It’s been repaired many times, then a new phenomenon. Three years ago, young people in love were attracted to it, put padlocks on the lamppost and threw the keys into the river. So many padlocks – the bigger and heavier they were, the greater the love – were fastened there that the lamppost collapsed. For a few months there was a virtual lamppost, on the web, but now the mayor has put steel columns on the bridge and it’s possible to fix padlocks again. Do you find that interesting?’

She shook her head decisively.

Quietly, his response: ‘No, you wouldn’t because you assured me that you do not, at present, have a lover. You told me so. We should cross the road.’

Rossi had already done so.

It was a fast thought only, a brittle image – of him in a park, and in a small, grubby house, then laughter, the smoothness of skin and… She followed Rossi, and Castrolami was holding her arm. She didn’t think she was a prisoner but that he guided her between cars and vans. In her mind she had a list.

She had shopped twice every week for food to cook for Vincenzo and his friends, and once a fortnight she had gone to the street market to buy enough to make a meal for him and his friends. It was a market far superior to those in London, laid out in splendour, stalls stacked high, every variety and every choice, but of a lower standard to that of the piazza Mercato and what was – had been – her home. She turned, tapped her hip pocket to show it was empty, pulled out the lining of a side pocket, grimaced, laughed… Orecchia passed her a ten-euro note, and Castrolami was taking his time, pecking in his wallet, so she leaned forward and took a twenty from it. Rossi gave her a ten. Immacolata chose veal and was about to point out the size of the fillets she wanted when she felt the pressure of Castrolami’s fingers on her arm. She indicated, and he spoke. She had learned. She selected potatoes, spinach and green beans, and Castrolami took the notes from her and paid. She bought tomatoes and peppers, button mushrooms and onions, and at another stall there was cream and cheese. On the way out at the far end of the covered market there were wines and spirits, and Castrolami bought one bottle, from Friuli, and she queried it with a gesture, then pointed to him, Rossi, Orecchia and herself. One bottle? He tapped his own chest, and the other men’s, then shook his head. She could drink; they would not.

They didn’t take the bags from her. She carried three and Castrolami two. It was hotter, might have reached the eighties, and no breeze came off the river. In London, if she had shopped with him, he would have carried the bags. In Naples, a foot-soldier would have carried her shopping, just as he would have parked the car and waited a respectful pace behind her as she chose. Perhaps it was the glance she gave Castrolami that prompted him. He said, ‘If they carry your shopping it would impede their shooting. If they had to shoot it would be in your defence. A shopping bag doesn’t help in aiming and firing.’

She thought, again, he had insulted her. She walked faster, away from him, and slowed only when she was a pace behind Rossi. The padlocks on the bridge were in her mind: if she’d been there with him , which of them would have taken the key, made the statement of love, and thrown it out into the slack water?

Castrolami was with Orecchia. They were fifteen paces behind the young woman and kept that distance, and Castrolami listened to the older man, who lived and ate with the criminals who collaborated, and slept near them – and held a grip, maybe a loose one, on sanity.

‘You ask me how she’ll be. You want to know if she’ll fall early or late, or stay on her feet and be strong enough for the court.’

To Castrolami it was a pain to be endured. Some investigators and detectives were easy in the company of criminals, could go to weddings and birthday parties and survive allegations of corruption. Not Castrolami. He detested being with them.

‘I was with one from your city and you’ll have known him. He walked out of the door one morning and the next we heard he was in the Secondigliano area of Naples, or perhaps Scampia, whichever. He had taken a train from the north. A week afterwards we heard he’d arrived home and was on the street, dead. One bullet, middle of the forehead. We’d been with him for four months. Time and resources wasted.’

Castrolami remembered him. Police, not carabinieri, had handled his defection. He walked slowly, felt burdened.

‘There was another. We had him in Genoa for a whole year, with his wife, his mother, his aunt, her mother and three children. We brought him to Caltanisetta to give evidence against twenty prime Sicilian fuck-pigs. We dressed him in his good suit, a clean shirt and a tie and drove him to the courthouse. He smiled and said he now wished to renegotiate his terms – like his evidence was a piece of goddam property. More money, a better allowance, or no evidence. We had twenty men in the cage and were waiting on his testimony. We agreed the new terms, won the conviction. Then the agreement was torn up. I don’t know now whether he’s alive or dead.’

Castrolami knew there was a segment of opinion, influential, which believed too many had been allowed to become a collaboratore di giustizia, that too much was given them. It was an easy way to win convictions. With the crimes of the Camorra or the Mafia, there was little opportunity for gathering forensic evidence, less chance of finding eye witnesses prepared to face down intimidation and go public in court. The collaborator, the infame, was an attractive solution.

‘I’ve seen little of her, but we were given some notes before her arrival. I read of the leukaemia death, her supposed friend. Perhaps it was merely that the guilt needed a trigger or perhaps the emotion was real. Now you talk to her about her mother, her brothers, but you haven’t played a big card. It’s there.’

Castrolami faced him. They were now on the rough, narrow road that went up beneath the pines.

‘I’m not trying to teach you your job but I’d milk the disease. To be verbally abused, physically assaulted in a cemetery at a burial, is no small matter. Use it, twist it, work it. My advice, Dottore, there isn’t a living human being whom she loves. Make good with the dead.’

They trudged on. Orecchia was fitter than Castrolami and climbed the hill easily. He could see, in front, the haughty swing of her hips.

The priest came from a side door. A cleaner who polished the altar silver had said he would be there soon, but it had been an hour. The measure of Eddie’s stress, lethargy, lost nerve was that he had been prepared to sit out the hour on a shadowed pew, only moving to do something he had not attempted before: he had made a donation, taken a candle and lit it, then sat some more.

When the priest came through the side door, the cleaner went to him, pointed to Eddie and returned to his polishing.

The priest approached. His short hair, rimless glasses and creased cassock made no concession to style. He sat on the bench beside Eddie, who introduced himself, then asked for Immacolata Borelli. Oh, yes, the priest knew Immacolata Borelli. His eyes flashed and his back straightened. Eddie warmed. Where would he find her home? There was no immediate response. He thought the priest considered. Eddie, ignorant, didn’t understand. Why, if the priest knew, should he hesitate? Eddie, innocent, did not comprehend. Sadness fell on the face of the priest, as if he had made a decision that wounded him. He sighed, stood up, and the sadness was wiped away. The face was devoid now of expression. He took Eddie down the aisle, and Eddie paused to put a five-euro note into the box for the repair of the church. He was led out into the brightness. The kids waited on the far side of the street and watched, with the boy on the scooter. The priest pointed far down the via Forcella. Eddie could just make out the fruit and vegetables stall that protruded into half of the street’s width. Beyond it was the fish stand. The priest said that the door between the fruit and vegetables and the fish was the home of the grandparents of Immacolata Borelli. For a moment, his head was beside the two scars on the stone, then he backed away. Eddie had been past those stalls twice, had asked in the tabaccaio opposite and been ignored. When he turned to thank the priest the church door was already closed.

What should he have done? What should he have said to the foreign boy, a fool, who came to Forcella and asked for the home of Carmine and Anna Borelli? What was his responsibility? Too tired, he had deflected the problem – had done as he was asked and had not accepted responsibility. The foreign boy wanted to meet Immacolata, and he could picture her, the granddaughter of Carmine and Anna Borelli: it had been her brother, the middle of their three grandsons, who had fired the two pistol shots at a predecessor. It was too much for him to take on as personal responsibility.

Fear stalked him. Fear corroded principle, decency, courage. He had no stomach for the war on the streets. He had crumpled. Predecessors had fought the culture of criminality in Forcella and been broken, or had moved away in indecent haste, or were in Rome under police guard.

He could justify to himself that he could have done nothing to divert the foreigner from visiting the grandparents of Immacolata Borelli – and she was the only one of them with, perhaps, a thimbleful of charity and goodness. He felt cold in the church, shivered and crossed himself.

The Allies had reached Naples. The Fascists had fled. An opportunity had arrived. The troops, British and American, reached the city on 1 October 1943, and within a week the fortunes of the infant Borelli clan had prospered. Carmine, out of gaol, would never deny that the first moves of Anna, his young wife, were integral to them. She had opened the brothel.

It was the first to function within a short walk of the seafront where American officers were billeted in the sequestrated hotels. She brought in women from all classes of Neapolitan society. They shared common features – acute hunger, extreme poverty, the ambition only to survive. It was on a small courtyard where the walls of two buildings were held up by timber supports; a third side had taken a direct hit during a bombing raid. It was within a stone’s throw of the Palazzo Sessa – home of Sir William Hamilton, Emma, and Horatio Nelson – and the officers trooped there. The women Anna Borelli recruited began work with the puffiness in their faces that came from near-fatal starvation, but food supplies came with the patrons, and silk stockings, lipsticks, chocolate and cigarettes. They were the wives of stall-holders and lawyers, of labourers and advocates, of street-sweepers and civil servants. Soon they had colour in their cheeks, and they started to eat well, their families too. There were mornings when a queue of women, dressed in their best, had formed outside the heavy front door to plead for the opportunity to be fucked by GIs, and Anna took the most attractive, the most sexually experienced. She did not employ uninitiated teenage girls: the GIs wanted women who did not waste time, were easy to penetrate, who knew the trade. It was said – among the women who came to work at noon and went home at midnight – that in the first days Anna Borelli herself had lain under the gross belly of an American lieutenant colonel, that she could make him squeal like a spiked boar, and the security of the building was guaranteed.

The war of Carmine Borelli was fitful. Called up on his eighteenth birthday, the papers instructed him on which barracks in the town he should report to, and the day after he went into hiding, courting Anna while he was on the run and dodging raids by the Fascist police, coming out of hiding for the day, his marriage to Anna in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, being informed on, and arrested the following evening. A question never asked and therefore never answered: how was Anna Borelli so skilled in lovemaking, after one night with her nineteen-year-old husband, that she could so successfully entertain the American lieutenant colonel? After two years in Poggioreale gaol, he was freed by Allied forces after he had woven a tale of a young, persecuted liberal democrat imprisoned for his beliefs. He had found the first employees of his wife in cubicles wide enough for a bed, a chair and a narrow table for a washstand, and had shaken the hand of the lieutenant colonel in the hallway, ignoring the man’s apparent intimacy with his wife. They had, together, not looked back.

Within weeks, she had opened two more brothels. Within months, he had become a king in the black-market sale of goods brought by the Americans into the Naples docks, and he had started his mercato nero with those stockings, cans of food, packs of cigarettes, coffee, sugar and chocolate that the first customers had given his wife by way of a gratuity. First a handcart, then a small closed-sided van, then a flat-bed lorry, then many lorries, and always protection from the military government – and the question he never asked of his wife.

It was in the bloodstream of both: the search for power, authority and wealth bred microbes in their veins, which they had never lost.

He had walked down the street from the church, past the shops that were now familiar to him, past the men who sat and played cards or dominoes, and past the Madonna figures in niches in the stonework where candles burned and flowers drooped. He had paused beside the fish-seller’s stand and had watched water from a fine spray fall on the swordfish. He had never seen a swordfish, and this one was more than five feet long, its sword another four, and… he realised the outer door was open. He could have sworn on oath that it had been closed the previous times he’d gone by. He had known then that the kids or the scooter rider had forewarned them.

He said simply, ‘I came to find Immacolata.’

The old man had American-accented English. ‘You knew her in London? You knew her well?’

The old woman had a crow’s croak, and spoke English. ‘Do you sleep with her? Do you do fuck-fuck with her?’

He blushed. Eyes pierced him. The coarseness of the question neither unnerved him nor seemed peculiar – almost, in this place, natural. They were both, he estimated, in their eighties. He sensed that they moved with difficulty, were in pain, and near the door there had been a stand of walking-sticks. The room he was in was furnished, Eddie thought expensively, but with hideous taste – chrome, plastic, fluffy, pinkish. The PhD man in the house in Dalston would have called it kitsch, and his mother’s lip would have curled in disdain. He noticed there were no photographs. Not a picture of Immacolata, or of a man who would have been her brother, or of her parents. Everyone his mother knew, all her friends, had homes littered with photographs of grandchildren, shelves and surfaces groaning under them.

The question, its vulgarity, almost amused Eddie, but the eyes of the old woman pierced him with a brightness that suggested she harboured a degree of humour. He would not have dared to lie to her. ‘Yes.’

The old woman shrugged. ‘There are many girls. Why come to find Immacolata?’

‘I think… because I love her. You know… what I mean. Yes, I love her.’

She said something to the old man, Eddie didn’t know what. She reached up from her chair, caught the collar of his shirt, tugged his face down and spoke into his ear, then moved her head to let him speak into hers, but her eyes stayed on Eddie.

The old woman asked if Immacolata loved him. He thought she used the word ‘love’ as if it was strange to her, but he reckoned that was because she was struggling with the language. He wondered how she had learned English, what call this peasant woman had had to speak it. He repeated and amplified. ‘I hope she was in love with me – at least, very fond of me. We were very happy together.’

She tugged again at her husband’s shirt collar.

Her small spider fingers scratched at the material of his shirt, pulled and jerked his head down. She was, like him, in her eighty-eighth year, but her memory was as sharp as the day he had come back to her from the Poggioreale and she had told him – without a balance sheet to read from – the finances of the brothel. She murmured the numbers given her by Salvatore. He would have had to write them down. Her mouth to his ear, her ear to his mouth as he repeated the numbers. She told Carmine that it was equal to a gift from the Virgin – and ignored his shock at what he considered inappropriate, almost blasphemy – that leverage against the bitch had walked through the front door, presented itself, gift-wrapped. He understood. Anna would go to the kitchen, make coffee and take cake from the tin. He, Carmine, would go into the hallway and telephone. He repeated the number again.

What they knew of the English language, American, was from the days when the troops had been in Naples. Good days, the best, he a king and she a queen. The fingers loosed his collar. He smiled at the young man, hoped it a smile of friendship, and there was a girlish charm about his wife’s smile, which he thought as insincere – and sweet – as the smile she had used for her customers more than sixty years before. The same smile and no truth in it. She said she would make coffee and bring cake, and she said that Carmine would go and telephone, that there was a man who knew where Immacolata was and, please, would the young man wait a little. There was an image of long ago, never forgotten. A shared cell in the south-west block of the Poggioreale. A spider, huge, whose territory was the angles between the brickwork, the bars and the grimy glass of the window. It had a web that extended nearly a metre across and half a metre high and the prisoners bet each evening, in cigarettes, how many new flies would be trapped in the daylight hours and eaten at night. The spider was esteemed and admired, its body the size of a matchbook. It trapped the ignorant and the innocent. She went to prepare coffee and bring cake, and Carmine went into the hall, leaving the young man alone. There was excitement on the young man’s face.

Always, to fight against the testimony of an infame – the bitch whore who was his granddaughter – there must be leverage. Only that, applied with extreme violence, could destroy the most feared threat to the clans: the informer, turncoat and traitor.

His was the cleanest and best-polished window of any in the long line looking out on to the central walkway on the third floor of the Sail. He was Davide. He spent many hours each week with a bucket and a rag washing his windows, outside and in. He used warm water and soap, then a disintegrating cloth to dry them. He sprayed them with polish, then used a dry cloth to take off the last of the filth that had accumulated on the glass. Those who lived in the box apartments, crumbling from neglect, on either side of him regarded the occupant of 374 with tolerance and amusement. Many in the Sail – a gigantic architectural monstrosity – existed with mental aberration. It was a dumping ground for the socially challenged and the medical misfits. On the eastern extremity of Naples, the district of Scampia had achieved notoriety as a supermarket of drugs, a killing ground in clan warfare, and as a place where the city authorities could dump the detritus of the city’s population. Davide was among the rubbish placed there, and he seemed to eke a minuscule living from delivering messages and packages for one of the Comando Piazza, who flourished around the Sail, and small handyman tasks.

Davide’s home was on one of the lower floors of a building that had become a cult symbol of ugliness. The lower floors, where No. 374 is found, represent the hull and level decking of a yacht, with ten storeys of floors. Above the deck there is a towering sail-shaped construction, vertical at the mast on the far end from Davide’s location, but terraced down for another ten levels. It has always been known as the Sail. Of the seventy thousand listed in the most recent census as living in Scampia and its tower blocks, some eleven thousand are in this architect’s eccentricity. Some call the different levels and ends of the Sail by colours, and others know each block there as a lotta. Davide was a resident of Lotta H, which was Green, and which had the franchise to market heroin, already refined. Through his well-cleaned windows, Davide observed much of the trade and the sight of him in his handkerchief-sized living room, the television blaring and only a side light on, was familiar to the lookout, the seller and the Comando Piazza who ran them, and to the magazzinieri who held the stockpiles of the narcotic, and even to the level of aquirenti who purchased in bulk, and bought from the capo of the clan that had authority in the Sail. All, from the top of the tree to the bottom, knew of the demented old fool who spent hours on the windows, bringing them to a brilliant shine, and left his apartment not more than once a week. He was almost always there and when he was not outside and window-cleaning, he was hunched in a chair with the curtains open.

To others, he was Delta465/Foxtrot, and valued – too valuable to be burned by the routine of drugs trafficking.

*

Salvatore came. He had left the van, with dark bloodstains on the tyres from where a stomach had burst when it was driven over, and was at the door. He was met by Carmine Borelli. He was briefed. He thought the old man panted as if some rare delight hooked him, anticipation… Sometimes Salvatore found that his own breath spurted in the moment that he lifted a pistol and aimed it. He thought it would have been, perhaps, before he was born that the old man had last made operational decisions. He was revelling in the chance to live again. The talk was short, as it should have been. He broke away, chuckled to himself: the young man who had screwed Immacolata in London, who loved her, would find that the bitch’s sweat, the bitch’s caresses and the bitch’s groans came expensive. Carmine Borelli had said the young man, screwer of Immacolata, was an idiot and would not make any difficulty. The radio that morning had quoted an unnamed official in the Palace of Justice as stating, no equivocation, that the Borelli clan was history, a broken reed. He saw nothing in the street that gave cause for anxiety.

The fish-seller, Tomasso, had had the pitch in the via Forcella for twelve years, his father for the twenty-three before him. Short but broad-shouldered and thick at the waist, he had cropped hair, controlled stubble, good jeans, a good-quality shirt and good shoes. What he wore was good because he sold fine fish fresh from the market that morning. There were, however, matters relevant to the state of mind Tomasso enjoyed that were not generally known to those who dictated the economics of his fish stall. His father’s cousin had a boat that fished from the harbour at Mergellina, but two years before Tomasso had been told by the Borelli clan that he must only buy fish landed from the boats they owned. He had not complained and had acquiesced because his chance of obtaining another pitch was minimal. Now, also, he must pay to the clan a hiked pizzo for the right to put the stall in that place. Also, now, he must supply fish at cut-price to the trattoria two streets away, at less than cost, because the trattoria was owned by the clan. The pesce spade, huge, with the malevolent eye, frozen, would have been taken by Giovanni on a normal day, and not paid for: that had happened more often in the last months.

But the shit-face hadn’t come, was in the cells at Poggioreale, and the cow who headed the clan was also in the cells, and Vincenzo who had sent the message by courier telling him where he could and could not buy. They were, in his opinion, fucked, but he knew what had been done last evening to a man who had shouted it. Tomasso kept quiet, sold where it was possible, but impotent anger burned in him. Where he stood, close to his till and scales, he was, perhaps, two metres from the door of the house where the old goat lived with his woman. He had seen the young man go into the building, had seen also that kids had come with him, and a scooter boy, and he had thought the young man a stranger. The kids had still been in place, on the far side of the road, till two minutes ago. Everyone knew Salvatore. Everyone who worked in the via Forcella or in the Sanita district knew the face of Il Pistole, who had come and talked inside with the old goat, had waved the kids away and gone. He felt the tension ratchet, and he was aware that the street, quietly and without fuss, was emptying.

The grocery was down the rue de Bellechasse, and Lukas – as was usual for him – bought only the bread, milk and eggs that he would eat in twenty-four hours, nothing that would go sour or stale in the fridge if the apartment was indefinitely abandoned. The red light had not been blinking when he had returned.

He had checked his post before he started on the cleaning, as he did every day. Nothing that needed attention. There was little enough for him to collect from the box by the main door: a few utility bills, offers of health insurance and holiday brochures, never anything personal. When he was away, in a war zone or counter-insurgency theatre, he always noted how men and women, far from home, yearned for mail from their families, emails or phone calls. Didn’t matter whether he yearned or not, he wasn’t getting any. No envelopes came with spidery writing, copperplate, a big fist or one that was near indecipherable. It was as if, wanting or not, he had no home and no folk who cared a shite. So, he built a wall, surrounded himself and… Lukas cleaned.

He did the cleaning, too, about every day, because he had the feeling always that he would go out through the front door, lock it behind him and might survive or might not. Might go down in a Black Hawk over a Shiite city in Iraq, and might get blown off a road by an IED outside Kandahar, and might fall off some dirt track in the mountains of central Colombia. He was like many of the gypsies who serviced the dirty little wars: he didn’t want to think of anyone making an entrance to collect his effects and puckering a forehead as they wondered where to start, thinking that the man was an untidy jerk and had left a mess. He might only have ten minutes between the telephone ringing or coming back in and having the red light alert him, dragging the bag out from under the bed, locking the door and starting the sprint for Solferino Metro. He kept the place neat and just about in a state that no one could be sure that anyone had recently lived there. All his washing went most days to the launderette, even if it was just briefs, singlet, socks and a shirt.

When he had finished the cleaning – it took all of a quarter of an hour – he checked the laptop. There were copies of the fulsome praise from DC that had come into Ground Force Security, and gratitude for his report. The company didn’t give him saccharine accolades for what he had achieved in the last trip, knew that the sweet stuff was unwelcome. Lukas could have reeled off the story of disasters in the hostage-rescue trade. He didn’t do celebrity and didn’t want back-slapping. Truth was, the fear of failure gripped his gut more when he was in the field than the demands of success. Failure was a body-bag. There had been enough for them never to be forgotten.

He wound up the cord of the vacuum cleaner that did the living-room rugs and the bedrooms’ carpet. Ruby Ridge was in Lukas’s battle honours, and nobody was keen to shout that one up to the clouds. Lukas, if he had engaged in a discourse about his work – which he never did – would have said that Ruby Ridge, up in the forests of Idaho where it was wild enough for mountain lion, had been the first pinpoint lesson of where a screw-up had happened. An innocent woman shot dead by official marksmen, and a child, and in return fire a US marshal killed, then the circus of a full-blown FBI-controlled siege of ten days’ duration, with a cast of maybe five hundred agents, and millions paid by government in subsequent compensation. Lukas had not been senior, had been then a marksman with the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team, and had seen a cock-up played out close enough to smell the shit that emanated. A good lesson for a rookie. He had been far back from the front line overlooking the cabin, and his Remington Model 700 had never been out of its bag, let alone loaded, but he had seen, played out before him, how bad it could get. He knew he walked a fine line between Ruby Ridge and the broken careers, and the hero-gram stuff on his laptop.

He watched the telephone and thought it might be an opportunity to go visit his friend who did the artwork down by the river, shit work and without talent, but by a good friend. The artist would never have heard of Ruby Ridge – or seen the face of a hostage when it was frozen in death, attached to or severed from the neck, or incoherent and trembling in the moment after liberation. Lukas played the strings, did God, and he went round a last time with a duster.

When he closed the door he stood in the lobby for a moment and listened. The bell did not ring. He went off down the flights of stairs.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

8

Eddie came out of the main door on the ground floor. He had been told he would be met and taken to Immacolata. He saw a great deal in the moment he was on the outer step but he assimilated the importance of nothing.

The door swung shut behind him. He caught a glimpse of it and the grandfather’s old hand, pocked with cancer scars, that had heaved it: too fast, no chance to thank. A van was parked on the street as if about to unload, but nothing was taken from the tail doors and nothing was carried to them. A pavement opposite had bustled and was now still. The kids were not crowded in the street but further up the slope of via Forcella and further down, as if they formed a cordon and made a perimeter. A man came forward and did not play-act friendship, a frown puckering his forehead. A hand from the interior slid open a side door of the van. The guy on the fish stall caught Eddie’s eye, the swordfish in ice beside him, and held his gaze.

Eddie had his hand in his pocket, was reaching for a handkerchief – must have been dust, up his nose and in his throat. He was about to sneeze. A man closed on him, came from the van, and behind was a dark interior, and sacking, a rope trailing out of the opening. The man on the fish stall held Eddie’s eyes. So much, then, for Eddie Deacon to assimilate. Time slowing. The man coming slower. People in the cafe opposite pirouetting their chairs to face away from the street, but the pace of the movement slackening. Trying to understand… The fish-seller had that look, unmistakable, no argument with it. Like a warning shout, but nothing passed his lips. The quiet, like fog, settled on him but the sights were clearer.

He could not comprehend why the fish-seller should give the warning. He could only react to it.

The hands of the man reached towards him. Not open, not in greeting, clenched. The veins stood out in his muscled arms, like highways through the hairs. Eddie ripped his hand from his pocket and moved into that defensive stance, as a boxer does, trying to go forward on to the balls of his feet. He had never, since he was a child in a tantrum, hit anyone. He had never punched, kicked, gouged or bitten another adult. He had only once intervened in a fight and played a hero and- So fast. His hand was only halfway up to protect his chin and throat when the fist of the man came at him. He felt himself buffeted. Pain riddled his nostrils and there were tears in his eyes. A grip tightened on his shirt and he was dragged forward. He was pulled past the fish-seller and saw nothing but a face without expression. Should he have tried to run? No chance: blocked by the van and the fish stall on its heavy trestle legs. Could see only the backs of the heads in the cafe opposite.

He was dragged forward and when he was close enough the man’s knee exploded into Eddie’s groin.

About the end of it, his experience as a street-fighter. Real pain now. He tried to double up, which merely offered his jaw, the chin, to a short-arm hook punch. He went into the side hatch of the van.

Eddie was face down, his head buried in a heap of loose sacking, foul-smelling and tasting – hard for him to breathe, and he struggled, but one fist was clamped in his hair and the other whipped his face, used it as if it was a boxer’s training gear. He stopped the struggle. The door was slammed. Then all light went and a hood was over his head. His arms were snatched down into the small of his back, handcuffs snapped on. He heard the tearing of heavy-duty tape and his hood was lifted, the tape fastened over his mouth, and the van was moving.

The hands were at his legs and rope was wound round his ankles. He heard the oath when the van must have hit a hole, perhaps where a cobblestone was missing. Then the rope was lashed tight and tied.

He was helpless.

He wondered if he would hear sirens, immediate pursuit. There had been people in the cafe, people further up the street and down it. He imagined a phone call on a mobile, alerting police to what had happened. The hope died pretty bloody soon.

Eddie realised that the van was not speeding. There was no chase. The driver went at the normal speed for morning traffic, didn’t hoot, didn’t weave, didn’t chase back-doubles and rat-runs.

He thought the worst. He was gone, lost, and it was hard to drag air into his lungs, and could hear the breathing of the man sitting on the van floor close to him. He didn’t dare move because that would get him another thrashing. Truths came.

Eddie Deacon, bloody idiot, had blundered on to territory where he should not have been. Way back, he should have walked home from the Afghan place, should have reached up and taken down the blow-up of Immacolata, his Mac, folded it and put it deep in a drawer, maybe under his socks. He should not have gone with a street kid and burgled, should not have jacked in work and taken a budget flight, should not have walked down a street where no smile met his and no help requested was given. He should not have trusted the old couple, grandparents and providers of coffee, cake and betrayal. Pretty damn obvious: keep the idiot in place and send for the heavy squad.

What to do? Important – not important: why it had happened. What to do mattered.

Bitch and fight and get another beating. Go passive, supine and give up the ghost. Lie still, let the world move and try to bloody think. He gave himself three alternatives. He was bound at the ankles, handcuffed at the wrists, his mouth was gagged and a hood covered his face. He had to make choices between alternatives, would have to.

He did not know how long he was in the van, lost track of time, and would lose also the pain in his wrists where the cuffs bit. He never heard a siren.

The fish-seller, Tomasso, came round his stall and bent low. He believed it would be thought he retied the knot in his lace. He hadn’t moved from his place beside the cash box and the scales until life had returned to the via Forcella. Chairs in the cafe had swivelled, the pavement was filled, and scooters swerved along the length of the street. Children poured out of the big gates of the school named after the girl who had been shot in cross-fire, Annalisa Durante; a murder gang had come to kill the son of a more minor clan leader in the district. Tomasso watched the children – six or seven, the only evidence of innocence in the street. He knew her parents, who lived a dozen doors up, and he knew what had been the fate of the priest then at the church on the corner with the via Duomo who had denounced the clans and called for their elimination from the community. He had seen the street return to normality, then moved round his stall and bent to tie his shoelace. He could reach, also, a few centimetres to the right of his shoe and slide his palm over the piece of paper that had fallen from the young man’s pocket. It had been at the moment that the hand came out fast, in response to Tomasso’s silent warning, that the piece of paper had been dropped. He slipped it into his breast pocket after glancing at it and realising what it was.

The priest who had stood against the clans and their culture, after the killing of the teenager Annalisa Durante, had had two shots fired at him when he paused on the steps of his church and now lived in Rome. He came back to Naples rarely, but always with an escort of police bodyguards. There would be protection for a priest but not for a fish-seller, so he was careful in his movements. He telephoned his uncle and asked him to come – quickly, subito, immediately – and mind the stall. The paper in his pocket gave the name of a hotel and the room number. While he waited, he considered which route was quickest, and hoped he might help – when no other would – a wretch in the gravest of danger. To ring the police direct was a step too far.

Immacolata was permitted to prepare the food.

She had heard the courier’s motorbike outside the main gate to the block, then the doorbell. She had seen the plastic sack of tapes Castrolami had taken across the living room into the hall, and the door had been opened. She had seen, from the kitchen’s balcony, the courier in black leathers load the sack into a pannier, then ride off at speed, spitting dust.

She washed vegetables, scraped potatoes and brought the penne down from the upper shelf where the pasta was stored. She had turned up the radio and did dance steps between the sink and the surfaces where the food was laid out. For a few minutes she felt freedom, perhaps for the first time. Orecchia and Rossi had left her to herself, and in those minutes she had expelled from her mind the scams, deals, fixes and hits of the clan, and had filled the void with… nothing. She delighted in the emptiness of the black hole.

Castrolami was at the door. She was sluicing the spinach leaves, had been measuring the penne in her mind, was deciding on the mix of tomato puree and cream for the sauce.

She turned once, saw his face, must have had a smile on hers and the music from the radio lifted her. Her mother was gone, her three brothers were gone, via Forcella was gone. Castrolami was at the door, leaning on the jamb and watching her, not sharing any form of pleasure. He had destroyed the mood. She saw no thanks, no gratitude. He looked at her as if she was a child, wayward and not to be humoured.

‘Yes?’

‘We go back to work. Now.’

‘I need only a few minutes and then I’m-’

‘We start now,’ Castrolami said. He reached across the work surface to the radio and killed the sound.

‘What is so important that it can’t wait five minutes?’ Her hands were on her hips, her feet apart, her chin jutted. She barked: ‘Well, what?’

He scratched his leg, then let his teeth run across his lower lip, looked at the ceiling, then said coldly, and without apology, ‘It’s time to talk about leukaemia and about the death of a longstanding friend.’

Everything gone, broken. ‘Yes, of course.’

She threw the kitchen gloves into the bowl where they sank among the spinach leaves and the potato peel. She yanked the tie loose on the apron, hitched the strap over her head and let it fall to the floor. She turned her back on the sink and the work surfaces and strode towards the door, but he made no effort to back away.

Almost, she had believed she would be among colleagues. Now she realised she was alone.

‘Enough,’ he said. ‘We’ll eat first.’

The fish-seller, Tomasso, spoke with the day manager of the pensione, Giuseppe. They had not met before, but in the sparring for mutual contact – for guarantees – it was learned that a cousin of Tomasso had been at middle school with Giuseppe’s niece. Everyone who lived at street level in the city knew that there were times when a man took a grave risk, times when he relied on trust.

He showed the piece of paper. It was a big decision for him to say what he had seen, but old enmities, long-festering slights and past wrongs encouraged him. The fish-seller was rewarded. The day manager had an address on a card filled in by a young Englishman, a point of contact. He had done his bit, played his part, and was assured of virtual anonymity. Tomasso believed he had done right, which was important to him.

Giuseppe did not pay the pizzo. The night manager did. Sometimes it was Giovanni Borelli who came for the small envelope, and sometimes it was the younger son, the little bastard, and once it had been Gabriella Borelli, who had been rude, boorish. First it had been the daughter. Immacolata Borelli had arrived with a pocket calculator and demanded to see the books. She had sat with the owner for an hour in the office at the back. Two men – thugs – had been with her and had loafed in the reception lobby. They had known, the night manager, the day manager and the owner, of a shift in authority in that district and that the Borelli clan was now supreme. There had been photographs in the Cronaca of bodies lying in the streets. The books had been shown to the daughter, and the owner had not considered refusing to pay and informing the police. Immacolata, with her calculator, had decided how much should be paid each month. The day manager was from Genoa, and worked in Naples because his wife demanded to be near her widowed mother. Giuseppe hated the corruption of the city.

He found a number in England from the address given, rang it and steeled himself for what he had to say.

There was the sound of a trapdoor slamming above him, then a bolt’s scrape. The impact pushed air across his hands, but not through the hood covering his head. He was on concrete. Now that the trapdoor was shut, and the air from above was gone, Eddie sensed dampness around him. For a while he lay still. He tried to learn. There were sounds, at first clear, and he thought feet moved immediately beside the trapdoor, then heard low voices, but the footfall and the words were soon muffled, then gone. He was uncertain as to whether he had heard an engine start – the van’s or a smaller, noisier one, like a scooter’s. Silence fell.

The quiet frightened him. It was more intimidating, he thought, to have a curtain without noise draped around him than it had been at the moment of his capture – violence, speed, pain, scrambled, tumbling images and thoughts. The intimidation of the silence was intensified by the hood, the gag, the cuffs, but the rope at his ankles had been untied. He could, after a fashion, relate to his kidnap: nothing like it had happened to him before, obvious, but it did in movies and books. Books didn’t do the darkness and films didn’t do the silence. He could move on his backside, could wriggle forwards, backwards and sideways.

He started to explore.

The concrete floor was not wet but moist. He had been dragged out of the van and had slipped. His head had careered into the bottom of the side hatch and the impact had dazed him, but the hold on him had not slackened. He had heard a door unlocked ahead and had been propelled through it, then down some steps. On the steps he had stumbled again and fallen forwards unable to use his arms to protect his face. The hands gripping him had let him go, and Eddie’s shoulders had taken his weight against the wall, but his nose had bled. He had been held upright in a room, a basement or, more likely, a cellar, and the trapdoor had been lifted and his ankles freed. Hands had held him under the armpits and he had felt his feet dance in a void, like a hanged man’s. He had been lowered into the space and then, as his feet had made contact with concrete, he had been shoved violently sideways so that he collapsed and was prone. Then the trapdoor had been shut. Now he moved, with the grace of damaged reptile, across the floor.

To learn about his surroundings, Eddie had to manoeuvre himself backwards so that his fingers could touch and feel. He made calculations. He reckoned he was in a bunker dug into the earth below a cellar, and that its dimensions were six feet by eight. The sides were of breeze blocks and the mortar holding them was crudely applied. In a corner there were two sacks, heavy-duty plastic and well filled.

Something now was worse than the darkness and the silence. He imagined the hood over his head had once been a pillowcase on a child’s bed. Maybe since then it had been used as a rag to clean floors, windows or lavatory seats. The smells in it were deep in his nostrils. Bad enough not to be able to breathe through his mouth, worse when the passage into his nose was clogged with the hood’s stench. Eddie found he could tilt his back against a wall and wriggle his body downwards while his head and the hood had contact against the roughness of the mortar. The movements eased the hem of the hood upwards. He scratched his shoulders against the barbed edges of the mortar and might have drawn more blood, but the hem was lifted from the nape of his neck, then to the back of his skull and on to the crown. It was important to him that he did this. Since the street, and the slamming of the door behind him, the eye-contact with the fish-seller and the raising of his hands, Eddie had done nothing for himself, had been like a bloody vegetable. He shook his head violently. Rotated it, waggled it. The hood came off. A different air and a different smell were on his face and in his nose.

He thought it a victory. There was no light in the bunker. All he could see now, with the hood off, was a thin outline where the trapdoor sides met the ceiling it was set in, and one pinpoint where there must have been a flaw in one of the trapdoor’s planks. He stood. He couldn’t straighten to his full height – and reckoned the bunker was five feet high. It was a victory that he had shed the hood, and the guys in the house in Dalston would have rated it. A Revenue clerk, a clubland waiter, a ticket seller and a work-shy PhD student would have seen the value of success.

Shortlived, the sense of that victory.

Eddie wanted to pee. He had crawled backwards around the bunker’s walls and found the filled sacks, but no bucket. With his wrists held in the small of his back, he couldn’t drop his zip. He hadn’t wet his trousers since he was five, on a school outing. Also gone, with the sense of victory, was the belief that the guys in Dalston would have the faintest comprehension of being in darkness and feeling the urge to wet their trousers. He slumped.

He could hear nothing – no vehicles, no music, no voices and no sirens. It was as if he had gone off the face of the earth. Fight, be passive or think. Time for Eddie Deacon to face the alternatives and make a choice. Time to wonder why it had happened.

He sat against the sacks, with only the bloody darkness and the bloody silence for company. The bladder pressure grew, and he knew that the fear would return.

It was a gesture of his new-found defiance. Carmine Borelli left his stick propped in the corner inside the doorway. He had swallowed three Nurofen tablets – the strong ones – washing them down with cold water. He knew that Anna would watch him from a high window and he would be tongue-whipped if he failed.

Between the clans that were labelled ‘Camorra’, there was no overall authority, no consensus of leadership. On the island of Sicily, Cosa Nostra groups acknowledged the disciplines imposed by a cupola, a cabinet of principals; there was a predictability and a certainty about the future. Not so in Naples. A clan was dead when power was lost… Now the Borelli clan teetered on the brink of oblivion.

The drugs compensated for his leaving behind his stick. The pain from his rheumatism was controlled. In old age, Carmine watched much daytime television and flipped between the satellite channels – so many dealt with the big animals of the African plains, elephant and lion and buffalo. When their teeth failed and they could no longer forage, or when their muscles and strength failed, or when their eyesight was gone and their keen hearing, the great beasts were pushed aside by the young. Many afternoons he had sat in his chair and watched as an old elephant, lion or buffalo was killed or pushed aside and left to starve. As brutal as Naples. He had shaved closely, and wore a suit with a laundered shirt and a tie. His thick hair was slicked back with gel, and Anna had wiped the dust off his shoes.

He felt himself born again.

He walked down the street where a man had been taken from a bar and shot in the leg, then driven over. Salvatore was a half-pace behind him, while a dozen of the young men who wanted to be enforcers and had tried to find favour with his son, Pasquale, and daughter-in-law, Gabriella, fanned out around him. Carmine wore his suit jacket open, the jacket flapping from his walk, the butt of the pistol in his waistband there to be seen. Salvatore had a fist buried in a deep pocket that bulged, and some of the young men carried wooden staves or pickaxe handles. If he was not on the street and not exercising authority, his clan area would be lost. It would not be gone over a year or six months, but in a day. His right hip hurt in a throbbing ache. To compensate he put more weight on his left knee and experienced stabs of pain there. He kept walking, his smile broad.

Some of the older men gathered in doorways. They had been on the payroll in the early days of power when the city was devastated by bombing, the sewers were fractured, epidemics rife and money was to be made. Now they called the name he had once been given. Then, now, he was ‘Il Camionista’, the Lorry Driver, because he had had the first fleet of trucks on the road, the permit, the petrol and the goods they transported from the Americans. He had skewered his way into so much in those incredible, prosperous days. He had been told, and had believed it, that a third of all cargo landed by the Americans ended up on the stalls of the street traders in Naples, a good proportion of it in the via Forcella: food, clothing, oil. Best of all was the copper wire used for the Allies’ telephone communications – it fetched massive prices: his people cut down the wire before the first connection was made. He acquired good business from funerals. He could arrange, for a price, to summon that ‘successful cousin from Rome whose intellect and wealth enhanced a sad day’, and therefore lifted the prestige of the bereaved family. Nothing had been beyond Carmine Borelli, but it was sixty-five years ago that he had been known as Il Camionista. The younger men looked at him questioningly.

They would have thought: Pasquale Borelli already in gaol, Gabriella Borelli also in gaol, Vincenzo, Giovanni and Silvio in gaol, and the whore of a granddaughter singing to the Palace of Justice. Where was the power? Would the Misso clan take it, or the Contini clan, or would a new boy come out of the shadows? Was the old guard already dead, or moving only in the last spasms? At the cafe, from which a customer had been taken and killed, the owner brought out a small tray of bogus silver with coffee and a brandy aperitif. Carmine drank the coffee first, then the alcohol, and stifled successfully the choke that rose in his throat. Further down the street, a haberdasher who was three days late in payment of his pizzo thrust the envelope into Carmine’s hand, murmured apologies and said he had put in extra. He had been on the street for five or six minutes, and little time was left.

Had the man actually said that Carmine Borelli was an old drunk and useless, fit only to pleasure himself in a chair? Had he? Who had heard him? He had been kept for an hour, to wait and sweat, in a lock-up behind the butcher’s, would have squatted among the bones and offal waiting for disposal. Some had said they had heard him say Carmine Borelli was fit only to take his penis in his own hand. It was enough that a rumour of what the man had said was abroad. Carmine Borelli had not risen to the position of clan leader by clemency and charity. It would be done on the street.

In his time, leading the clan, he had killed, it was estimated, thirty-six men with his own hand, and had ordered the proxy killing of at least another sixty.

It was high risk.

It was about authority and respect. It would be done on the street, in public view, in daylight, so that none could say Carmine Borelli slunk in the shadows. The man was brought out. Carmine recognised him. The man knelt on the pavement. Two of the foot-soldiers produced plastic bags – for garden fertiliser – and held them close to the man’s head. He gibbered. Carmine had known the man’s father, his uncles and his mother’s family. Many said he was an idiot and certifiable. But he shot him. He had not killed for twenty years.

He shot him low in the forehead at a point equidistant between the eyes. Blood spouted but was trapped by the plastic bags. Had Carmine wanted to run, he could not have. The damaged joints in his knees and hips prevented it. Salvatore took the pistol from him and was gone.

He turned his back on the man, who should have been in an asylum and was crumpled on the pavement, and made his way back to the via Forcella. He hoped he had sent a message or he, too, would be on the pavement. He would not give up the clan, would not see it cannibalised. His hand shook from the impact of the pistol when it had fired. He was out of the street by the time he heard the sirens. They would take the corpse to the Ospedale degli Incurabili, then to the mortuary. The police and the carabinieri would come. If he, Carmine Borelli, was named by a witness as the killer, his authority was sand dribbling between his fingers. If the investigators and detectives met the familiar wall of silence, there remained a small chance he could resuscitate the clan… meaningless, if the whore didn’t break with her interrogators.

He stopped at several more shops, small craftsmen’s businesses and showed himself. He thought it the best of fortune that a fool had come from England and had talked the rubbish of love for the whore. By the time he reached his main door, beside the fish-seller’s stall, he would not be able to hide the limp. The whore was the key; the fool was critical. He would go first to the home of a dear and long-standing friend and there he would strip and shower. The fine suit and the shirt would be bagged, and the change of clothes brought for him there by Anna would be neatly laid out. His friend would burn the clothes that carried the residue of the pistol’s firing, his body would be clean of such traces, and then he would go home – after visiting a cafe where many would swear he had spent two hours… if his authority held up. As he walked, Carmine Borelli shook his head. It was so hard to believe that Immacolata was the whore.

She wanted to dance. Orecchia refused and Rossi declined more politely but as firmly. She did not ask Castrolami.

She had had the music up, high volume. Castrolami had pushed his chair back from the table, gone to the radio, turned the volume down and talked of unwelcome complaints from the floor below. They had said she cooked well, that it was a fine meal, and she had thought the praise insincere. She did not dance in Naples, had not danced in London. She was not trained to dance. If she could dance with Orecchia or Rossi, she thought she might dominate whichever man held her.

They had eaten what she had put in front of them, but not had second helpings. It was not disguised: she believed they would have preferred to hit the freezer and do defrosts in the microwave.

She stood up, went round the table, worked her hips and let her hands drop first on Orecchia’s shoulders, then on Rossi’s. Neither reacted. When she was opposite Castrolami, he looked at her. She stared at him and undid an upper button on her blouse. He looked away.

She fell back on temper.

She didn’t wait for them to clear the table of glasses and the cheese plate, she scooped up what she could carry, and made as great a noise as possible by dropping them into the bowl in the sink, on top of the pans she had used for the meat and the pasta, the knives, forks and spoons. She expected them to come running. Their voices were low in the dining room. Immacolata went back for the wine bottle and her glass, then stalked again to the kitchen. There was enough in the bottle to fill her glass: the men had only drunk water. She ran a tap noisily, put the soap in. Everything could, of course, have gone in the dishwasher, but then there would have been no noise, no possibility of reaction. She had noise, not the reaction. She sang, made more noise.

Immacolata washed and stacked.

Songs from Naples – where else could they be from? She only knew songs from that city. It was her life. She heard him wheeze and turned.

‘Tell me how it was for her in the last twenty-four hours of her life…’

‘I want to know about the last hours of Marianna Rossetti’s life.’

He stood in the kitchen doorway. He was not, then, proud of himself. Seldom, if ever, was. It was a job. He couldn’t bring himself to show sympathy or humanity. Had he done so, the emotions would have been fraudulent. The course he took was necessary for the job. He gave nothing of himself to Immacolata Borelli.

She reacted. Was a little drunk. It had not been a strong wine, but she’d put down most of a bottle. She stared hard at him and her lips moved, but no words came.

Castrolami said, ‘I want to know about the last hours of Marianna Rossetti’s life. If you’ve forgotten what you were told I can remind you. Would that be a good idea? Should your memory have failed you, I have a note of what was said to you in the cemetery in Nola. I ask again. Tell me how Marianna Rossetti died, what the leukaemia had done to her, about the contamination. Does your memory need prompting?’

The reaction was not aggression but as if a deep wound had opened, the rawness exposed. There was, he thought, an inner struggle.

‘Do I have to?’

‘Yes,’ Castrolami said. He squeezed it out of her, as if from a tube that needed folding over and pressurising. He heard how the father had spat beside her feet, how her offer of the flowers had been rejected, and she was called a whore. He heard how the mother of her closest friend had used her fingers to rip her blouse and underwear, had kicked her, and she had fallen, crushing the flowers.

‘Don’t gild it. I’m not interested in you, how you felt, what they did to you. I’m interested, Signorina, in the last hours of your friend.’ He said it harshly, and had no regret.

‘Her last days were marked by exhaustion, very tired, very lethargic, no energy…’

He thought she spoke like a machine, and no emotion showed.

‘Then bruises appeared all over her body, but she had not hit herself or been hit. The bruises were there. She was very pale. It was high summer in Nola – hot sunshine – and she was so white, anaemic. She was taken to the doctor. He knew immediately. As soon as he had peered behind her eyes, used that little torch, he made the call to the hospital.’

‘You miss nothing, and you spare yourself nothing. Continue.’

He tested her, her toughness and resolve. He had to strain to hear her, but he didn’t lean forward: he stayed propped against the door jamb. ‘The doctor thought it too urgent for Marianna and her mother to wait for an ambulance. Her mother drove her, and they called her father from work.’

He was told of the fast collapse of the patient, the pain in the skull, the uncontrolled internal bleeding, the neurosurgeon arriving too late, the failed resuscitation.

‘How did she contract the disease that took her life, that left her in her last hours without dignity and peace? How?’

‘Being in the fields, bathing in streams, having gone close to where toxic waste was dumped.’

‘Who dumped the poison?’

He was told that the father of Marianna Rossetti had said that the clan at Nola had, for more than twenty years, paid for the toxic waste to be left in the fields, the orchards and the riverbeds around the town.

‘The question I asked was “Who dumped the poison?” You have not yet answered it.’

He was told that the transportation of the waste from the north was sub-contracted to the Borelli clan in Naples who had an empire of lorries and trucks. Her father had arranged the transportation. Her brother and her mother had banked the money paid for it.

‘The food on your plate, Signorina, was the blood money for the poisoning of your friend. That isn’t a question. It’s a statement.’

She nodded. All the time she had spoken, and he had listened, she had washed plates, knives, forks and glasses. He hadn’t noticed. It was as if they were tied together, bound by what he said and what she said, and all else was shut out.

‘The clothes on your back.’

Again, she nodded, then tipped out the water from the bowl, but did not face him.

‘The classes where you have learned book-keeping, the basics of accountancy, so that you can more successfully launder the cash from poisoning others.’

She peeled off the rubber gloves, threw them into the bowl, then nodded – accepted what he had said.

‘You should know, Signorina, that the Camorra has a profit of three billion euro each year from this trade. That is a vast amount of food, clothes and classes. Cancer rates are up in some categories – liver, colo-rectal, leukaemia, lymphoma – to levels three times that of the rest of Italy. It is the Triangle of Death, Signorina Immacolata. Do you accept responsibility?’

She was staring out of the window. From the little movements of her shoulders, Castrolami thought she might weep. ‘I do.’

‘I care little for the killings in Naples. Bad guy kills bad guy. Excellent. Fewer bad guys to pollute the streets. Marianna Rossetti was not a bad guy. I seldom do speeches, Signorina. This one is about those already dead, those already condemned and those yet to be contaminated, all innocent. A whole district, hundreds of square kilometres, is poisoned and no one knows how to clean that ground and filter that water. For generations to come there will be the misery of the visit to the doctor, the rush to the clinic, the failure to prolong life – and for your like there will be meals on the table, the best clothing on your back and a fat bank account. You confirm to me that you take responsibility?’

She had lifted the glass. Drained it. Held it up so that not a drop of the wine should be left in it. ‘Yes.’

‘And you will see this through?’

‘I will.’

‘Whatever?’

‘Correct.’

He heard the glass fracture. He realised she had crushed it in the palm of her hand. She opened the rubbish bin with the foot-pedal, let the shards fall into it and blood dripped. He thought he’d done well. Theatrical, but acceptable in context. Castrolami’s opinion: it had been necessary to cut away the bullshit in her and break her. Having broken her, he could rebuild her. He thought her stronger now, and focused. He believed she would, as she had said, see it through in the face of whatever was thrown at her.

The policeman stood on the step and the porch light played on his shaven scalp. His suit was crumpled, his shirt was second-day-on and the tie was loosened; he should also have smeared some polish on his shoes – shouldn’t have been there, should have been in Salisbury at County Headquarters, should have been changing into the best suit, clean shirt, best tie and better shoes, should have been focusing on the seminar kicking off that evening: ‘Terrorism – Tackling the Reality of Today’s Threat’. Was, instead, at a bungalow in a village outside Chippenham. The rain was tipping down.

‘We have to look, Mr Deacon, at the actual world – as it is, not as we’d like it to be. Do we have at the moment – I’m just repeating what I’ve already told you and your wife – the resources to look into this, as you would like us to? We do not. It’s a matter of priorities, Mr Deacon – difficult as that may be for you to appreciate – and what you’ve told us doesn’t top the priority ladder. Then there’s the cutbacks. If we could link your son’s disappearance to international terrorism, it’s a different ball game – could probably send an aircraft-carrier down there. Sorry, not appropriate, Mr Deacon… Look, I understand how upset you are, but see it, please, from our viewpoint.’

The father said, ‘I’m sorry if my son’s situation is inconvenient.’

‘I think you’re getting the hang of ours, sir. He’s gone off, your boy, to try to patch up a scene with a girl who walked out on him in London. You get a garbled call, all the language difficulties thrown in, saying your son’s been kidnapped. Who says? You can’t tell us. What’s the source? You don’t know.’

‘I’m probably keeping you,’ the father said evenly.

‘We’ve called the carabinieri – those people in pantomime uniforms – in Naples. They have no report of a kidnap. We’ve not been idle. We’ve called the consulate there and they’ve checked with the police. Nothing heard. I’m being frank with you, sir. It’s about resources and priorities – and also about our pretty desperate relations with Italian law and order.’

‘I’m sure you’ve something more important to be getting on with.’

He saw the brief smile of relief and watched the man scuttle to his car, which was parked in the lane. He checked his watch. It had been twenty-eight minutes of pass-the-buck messing.

From behind him, Betty asked, ‘Arthur, what’s Eddie worth?’

He looked out on to the lane, then the darkened outline of the hedges and fields, hearing the smack of the rain around him. ‘Pretty much everything we have. That’s what Eddie’s worth to us. Not the easiest boy, but the only one we have.’

‘A difficult enough little beggar.’

‘But he’s our son.’

‘Can be infuriating. What do we do?’

‘Can be an utter wretch. I was thinking, top of my head, of going down to Dean’s. Hear what he has to say.’

‘You should. Eddie met him, didn’t he, last time he was here? Had a good talk. A pretty sensible chap. Just troubled… I can’t think, right now, of anyone better – or what else to do.’

He came inside and – as if it was something he should do more often and had forgotten for too long – gave his wife a brush kiss on the cheek. He dialled a number, and spoke to Dean Weymouth’s partner at their home a quarter of a mile up the lane. He wouldn’t have gone near the man without first checking that it was a good time to call. All the village knew Dean Weymouth had bad turns when he came back from the three-month visits to Iraq, and his space was respected – but he had always said the company he worked for was the best: efficient and dedicated.

Arthur Deacon didn’t know where else to go. But it involved his son so he had to go somewhere.

‘Each time I go back, Mr Deacon, it’s worse. But I keep going… Doesn’t make sense, does it? I go back because there’s nothing else. Going back is my way of saying I’m not history, not scrap, not finished and chucked out. I’m a soldier, Special Forces, that family. I have no other skills. I’m diagnosed PTSD – my stress levels go up to the top of the gauge – but I keep going back, have to.’

They were outside, in the wilderness of the untended back garden. Dean Weymouth was happier there than in the house.

‘I’m not accusing anybody, certainly not you, Mr Deacon, but I hear the word is, round here, that I’m “peculiar” or “unpredictable” or “difficult”… maybe just round the twist. People don’t understand “traumatic stress” and don’t see it as a medical affliction, like a worn-out hip or a hernia. They cross the street, pretend to look anywhere else, find excuses not to talk. You’re almost crying on the Black Dog days for someone to talk to – but people haven’t the time or the inclination.’

He wore only a T-shirt on his upper body and it was short-sleeved. The rain ran down the decorative lines of his tattoos, and was in his cropped hair. Mr Deacon had on an anorak and a cap. Dean Weymouth spoke softly and without rancour, in a flat, almost lifeless monotone.

‘All right, wrong. Most people haven’t. Your boy, your Eddie, he did, he made time. We didn’t talk stress, trauma, disorder. He let me ramble on down by the river – only last Sunday – about that new weed that’s taking over on the banks, and we saw the kingfisher fly, and I told him about the fish in there and… It was nothing talk. Would have bored a saint half to death. He gave me time, not many do. It was precious.’

He lit a cigarette. It took three matches because of the shake in his hands – he remembered his hands hadn’t shaken when he’d been by the river and given time. The trembling was always bad when the end of a home leave was in sight.

‘I’m going back in a couple of weeks. What spooks us most there is the thought of getting lifted – being taken. It’s like your worst nightmare but ratcheted up. We do close protection, usually of civilian experts. We have to take them to work. Could be lifted in the office, hoods in bogus police uniforms, or blocked in on the road and not able to shoot a way out of it. We know about kidnapping. It scares the shit out of us. If that’s happened to your boy, Mr Deacon, in Naples, then I’m sincerely sorry.’

He threw the cigarette on to the uncut grass.

‘There’s a man who works for our company. I’ve not met him. He’s a sort of freelancer and gets hired out to corporations and governments, and to people with big bank balances. I don’t know if we can fix something. We say, out in Baghdad, that if ever we’re lifted, we’d pray this guy isn’t on another assignment, that he’s sent for. He has a gold-plated reputation – a nose for what to do and what angle to come in from… but I’ve not met him. Have to see what’s possible.’

The rain was across the face of the father and dripped off the cap’s peak. In the half-light from the kitchen window he couldn’t tell whether it was only the rain on his cheeks or tears too.

‘I’m going to make a call for you. It’s the best shout I can do. Your boy had time for me. I’ll let you know.’

His hand was gripped, held tight, as if Dean Weymouth was a lifeline.

‘I hear what you say, Dean. My dad, and your dad, my mother and your mother – just the same – and worried sick as yours and mine would be. To expect help from the boys in blue, well, that’s asking too much. Yes, I’ll ring. Are you resting up? Good to hear it. Look after yourself, and we’ll see you before you go south again.’

He was Roderick Johnstone. He opened a file on the screen of his computer. The abbreviation of his first name, and an exchange of one letter gave ‘Ruddy’. There was a duck with that name. He was known therefore, to his face and his back as ‘Duck’ and had been since school. Most casual observers of Duck rated him stereotypical: a mane of blond hair, a public-school education but few academic qualifications, a commission via the Royal Military Academy into a good cavalry regiment, a middling career, then into the outside civilian world, a pinstripe suit and a Mayfair office. Such observers would badly have misread the man. He had formed a private security company, had drawn around him a kernel of experienced men, mostly with the hallowed Special Forces background, had shown rare business acumen and had landed major contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did protection of property and personnel, and used UK nationals from the Regiment at Hereford, the Squadron at Poole and from the Parachute Regiment. He had built a reputation for the delivery of what he promised, value for cash and discretion. His payroll was small, but he was expensive, and clients queued for his services. Among illustrious clients, among those requiring total anonymity, was the Central Intelligence Agency, and Duck’s email in-box was filled with ‘sincerest thanks’ and ‘deepest gratitude’ and ‘top to bottom appreciation from those inside the loop here’, and on his payroll there was a hostage co-ordinator. He was searching that file.

Why did Duck bother with a matter so seemingly trivial?

Where were the rewards?

Would he involve himself in something so lacking in fact and intelligence?

There was about Duck a quirk of anarchy that had made him a second-rate soldier and an alpha-class business operator. He liked to say that ‘ordinary’ people used the same hand, same paper, same technique to clean their backsides as the self-appointed elite, and those that his teams protected were ‘ordinary’ – ordinary accountants, ordinary telecom engineers, ordinary electricity-supply managers, ordinary sewage-treatment technicians, ordinary advisers on hospital management – and his teams, too, were made up of ordinary people, as Dean Weymouth was, and had ordinary parents and…

Duck’s care for men such as Dean Weymouth, the men on whose backs – and guts – the company prospered, was utterly sincere. He valued them, listened to them and tried damned hard to stay loyal to them. His own company had not – thanking the good Lord – had an employee kidnapped. He’d met other CEOs, whose firms had. He understood the awfulness of it, and he had on the books a bloody good man. The file told him of a link that, sort of, confirmed the matter, something in his man’s past that would open Italian doors and guarantee co-operation of a sort. He knew what effect a kidnapping had on a family and an employer. There, but for God’s grace. Because Dean Weymouth had called him, he was – damn near – obliged to get involved.

He lifted the telephone again and dialled the number given him by the one-time Royal Marine.

‘Mrs Deacon? Hello. I’m Roddy Johnstone, but everyone calls me Duck. Dean Weymouth has just spoken to me, and explained your problem. Up front, Ground Force Security makes big money from governments, which sort of underwrites the costs when we deal with individuals. I want you to tell me what you know of your son’s situation – all the names and locations – because I might have someone who can help you. If your fears are founded, time is always against us so we should push on. But it’s your decision… Right, Mrs Deacon, begin at the beginning…’

Lukas ran. Just when the light had failed over the rooftops, he had come back to his apartment and unlocked the door. Dark in the hallway, and before he had switched on the ceiling light, he had seen the flashing red bulb on the telephone. He ran for the Solferino Metro station.

At the airport he would get downloads, but important now was speed and getting there. The bag, always packed with the few things he needed, was high on his shoulder. Pedestrians darted out of his path, as if realising that when a grown man ran at that speed he wouldn’t swerve to avoid collision. He hurried because he didn’t acknowledge complacency, and knew it travelled alongside failure. Lukas had been at Waco.

‘Where the shit/the fuck/the hell is this place – Waco?’ had been the chorus on the flight down from Andrews. They had half emptied the stores huts at the Bureau’s place in Quantico, among the forests, where the HRTs sat and waited for the call. The beepers had gone and the Hostage Rescue Team had scrambled, and filled more than one C-141 could carry. They believed there – except for the few who had been at Ruby Ridge – that they were the ‘invincibles’ and were given missions beyond the capabilities of other SWAT groups. Seven weeks at Waco, endless books read, stuck behind a Barrett. 5 calibre sniper rifle with 3000 feet per second muzzle velocity and a high hit probability at 1000 yards… and watching from a distance the fuck-up to end all fuck-ups, so many children killed in the fire, no medals, only inquests, and complacency stripped bare.

He went down the steps into the Metro station, and was still running.

Most had quit after Waco rather than face the interrogations, under subpoena, of the Office of Professional Responsibility. New snipers were brought into new teams. He would have quit if not for the creation of a Critical Incident Response Team, when the negotiators, profilers and Hostage Rescue heroes had to gather in the same room, even had to talk to each other. A new world and a new style of action, with a co-ordinator sitting at the end of a CIRT table. The job of the co-ordinator was to weigh the input of the negotiator, hear the profiler’s analysis, listen to the fears and demands of the ‘stormers’, then make a decision and live with it. He liked the job. Only decent thing that had come out of Waco, the fire and the deaths was the creation of the job, its culture and the responsibility that went with it.

He forced his way on to a train as the doors closed.

*

He had had to break off. He had cursed when his mobile had rung. Always – Castrolami’s belief – it rang at the least opportune moment. She was talking well. He would have kept her going all through the evening, changed tapes and not let her off the hook.

He took a call from Naples, from the palace, the personal assistant to the prosecutor.

Confused… a boy, English, aged twenty-seven, an adult-student English teacher, reported kidnapped, believed to be taken from via Forcella, named as Eddie Deacon. ‘What has that to do with me?’ Impatience shouldered out politeness.

An investigator from a private commercial security firm was flying tonight to Rome on behalf of the family, and would wish to see, at the start of the working day, Mario Castrolami.

‘Tell him and whoever volunteered me to get lost. No possibility of me involving myself.’

The parents of the boy, Castrolami was told, had reported that their son had gone to Naples to find his girlfriend.

‘I feel like my knees are weak, that I could throw up, because I know what you’ll tell me. Let me have it. What’s her name?’

He heard it.

‘Mother of Jesu…’ Castrolami told the assistant where he would be in the morning, at the start of the working day, and rang off. He murmured, to himself, ‘What have I done to deserve that?’

He went back into the living room. He could mask reactions. It might have been his wife who had called with news of a new dress purchased in faraway Milan, or the administration department at the piazza Dante barracks with confirmation of his annual leave dates near to the Christmas holiday. He smiled thinly, switched the tape-recorder back on and prompted Immacolata Borelli on her father’s involvement with City Hall. She started again, as if a tap had been turned on.

Why had he not believed she would lie to him? Why had she lied? He felt no sympathy for the boy, for her, and he let her talk without interruption about City Hall, then give the names of national politicians, the location of meetings, the dates. In the morning he would learn and then he would confront her. He took it badly that she had lied to him about a boy.

He was kicked in the face. That was first, then kicks to the chest and the small of his back. Eddie tried to curl himself into the foetal position for protection, and succeeded well enough for more kicks to find his upper arms and wrists where the handcuffs were, but not to reach the organs that would hurt more. His head was lifted, then punches were thrown at him. He realised the crime.

Feet had approached, the trapdoor had been lifted. Light had cascaded into the bunker but had not reached right into the corner recess next to the filled sacks. He had seen the man clearly, the same face as had been on the street, that of the man who had taken him. The man would have realised the hood was off and that he was stared at. Eddie hadn’t really absorbed the face on the street, but now he’d had a good clean sight of him. It was when he was punched that he wet himself – all those bloody hours of lying on his side or sitting, clamping his muscles overtime and calling for will-power, wasted effort. When the punch went in he could hold back no longer. Could have cried then. He felt the heat of the urine and its stream on his leg, then the clamminess of his trousers. It was degradation, learned hard.

More blood in his mouth, swallowing it, unable to cough properly because of the sagging tape, and choking.

He felt a new emotion. Eddie Deacon, ‘steady Eddie’, easygoing and friend to almost everybody, little riled him and not much exhilarated him: he hated. He had, now, a true sense of loathing. Novel. He took in all the features of the face. Didn’t think in terms of a police station line-up, or of having a crowbar in his hand, but reckoned he needed to get that face into his mind, acid-etch it there. He’d coughed and taken that blood down, and the heat was gone from the urine on his thighs. He could have just felt miserable and sorry for himself.

The hood was put on. He was back inside the small world, hemmed in by the material and the cuffs, the sodden trousers and his ankles were again roped and he was kicked some more. The kick went into the stomach. The force made him piss more. He didn’t cry out.

No moan, no cry, no scream.

He wondered if the memory of faces, and the hope of a judicial process had kept those people alive in the camps – they’d done that at school, German extermination camps, and in Berlin he’d seen the plaque that marked where the railway station was from which the Jews were shipped, and he’d been on Prinz Albrechtstrasse where they had excavated the holding cells used by the Gestapo. He wouldn’t forget that face.

Or the voice.

‘I speak it, a little, English. You fuck the whore, Immacolata. You come here to find Immacolata. Immacolata is with police. Immacolata is infame. Immacolata betrays her family. If she likes again to fuck with you, she will leave the police. To encourage her to leave the police, we send perhaps an ear, orecchio, perhaps a finger, dito, perhaps a hand, mano, perhaps we must send the pene – and she will recognise it as from you. Did you not know who was Immacolata, who was her family? Did you not know what she did? She will leave the police or we send the ear, the finger, the hand, the pene, then all of you but not breathing. I think I speak English very good. She will save you or she will kill you. It is her choice. Not another person will save you.’

He heard the man grunt as he levered his way up and out through the trapdoor, then it was closed. He heard the footsteps retreat. Bloody hell. What to think about? Sort of put pissing his pants in the background. He sensed all of them – his ear tingled, his finger scratched his palm and his penis was still wet, but shrunken.

He hated the man. He hoped the hate would give him strength.

Lukas walked out of the terminus where the airport bus had dumped him. The warm night air hit him after the cool of the vehicle, and he felt then the little lift in his step, the stretch of his stride, and reckoned the mission launched – always did feel good then. Afterwards was bad, when he had the name and face of a target, a threat level to assess. Then the hard times came. As yet, walking briskly, he was not burdened by the responsibility of a human life in his hand, but when he thought like that, Lukas either stubbed a toe on the kerb, spat, or kicked his ankle bone. He crossed a couple of dark streets, wove like a native through the traffic, was in the immigrant quarter – north African, west African, east African – predictable alongside a railway hub. He passed a telephone bar, where calls could be made to Mogadishu, Lagos or Algiers, and a cafe where guys sipped soft drinks and had at their feet the mountains of unsold handbags they’d try with again the next day. A trolley bus went up the street, rolled and rattled. There was a narrow door into the pensione. He was told by the guy behind the desk that a single room was booked for him, the bill open-dated and prepaid. He didn’t bother with the lift and climbed two flights of stairs.

The room was fine: a television he didn’t switch on, a mini-bar he didn’t open, an air-conditioner going like a tank’s engine and the noise of the street coming through a double-glazed window. It was the way Lukas liked it, the sort of place where he was comfortable. Why was he there? It confirmed he was still capable, not washed up, not yesterday’s creature, that he wouldn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to travel. It was why he was there, and it went unshared.

He hooked power into his laptop, wired into his mobile, and information cascaded through to him. He started out on the first steps of learning about Edmund ‘Eddie’ Deacon, and about a girl, and with each page passing on the screen, so the deadweight, the responsibility, settled heavier. Nothing ever changed. She looked a pretty girl, and he looked an ordinary boy – nothing was different from every other time – but the scorpion sting was at the end. Last page up was the sitrep profile on Immacolata Borelli – who she was, what she did, where she was. A Camorra-clan girl, a money-washer, now a traitor to her own, was what the kid had gone looking to find.

In his career, Lukas thought, there had been worse situations, but not many. He didn’t know when he’d next get any rest, so he killed the laptop, stripped, and pretty soon was asleep.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

9

The hatred was like the wire scouring pad that his mother had by the kitchen sink, and it cleaned Eddie’s mind.

He needed it clean. He didn’t think he could lie propped up against the sacks, hooded, handcuffed and bound, with wet trousers, his guts aching with hunger, his throat dry with thirst, the scars on his face itching incessantly and those inside his mouth shooting pain, and do nothing else. Hate had taken over his mind, and given him clarity of thought.

He had ditched the disbelief. He knew the reality, had had it confirmed. He thought he needed, more than anything, to regain a sense of control – with nothing to see, no leg movement, nothing to eat, no arm movement, he needed a sense of some input into his destiny, whatever it was. He had to find control. He had kicked off the process. Thoughts came, and jumped, raced, flitted. He must remember everything he had seen when the hood had been off, the trapdoor lifted and light had flooded in: the dimensions of the bunker, the colour of the plastic sacks and what was printed on them, face of the bastard he hated, the clothes he had worn, the markings on the trainers that had done the kicking, the Nike symbol – he had all that. He should keep a sense of time… How? He screwed his right fingers on to his left wrist and realised that his watch wasn’t there – had to be somewhere on the floor, dislodged when he was beaten. They would bring him meals. Meals would be a routine. Told himself: no sentimentality and no self-pity.

Wait, heh… Wait, wait.

No self-pity? He’d picked up a girl in a park, hadn’t even used a hoary old chat-up line. Apologies and stumbles and embarrassments and then, ‘I don’t understand this – “turn over”. What is “turn over”?’ He’d been picked up – might have been a thousand different girls but hadn’t: had been her, Immacolata. Wouldn’t tolerate self-pity, wouldn’t entertain it… Would try not to tolerate and entertain self-pity.

No sentimentality? Didn’t know who he could be sentimental about – not his mum and dad… Good enough people, on railway lines of predictability, not particularly loving and not particularly disapproving, much like everyone else’s mum and dad. But worse things came into his mind and squeezed away the small matters, self-pity, control and sentimentality.

The man had spoken with a sing-song reciting voice, the sort of language he might have learned in a sixth-year classroom. He would have had a textbook open that showed a man’s body, with arrows pointing to an ear, a finger and a hand – not to a penis. She will leave the police… we send perhaps an ear… perhaps a finger… perhaps a hand… the pene… then all of you but not breathing… He saw a knife and his gut squirmed in fear as the shock waves surged and the pains came hard.

Not easy – fuck, no – to plead the need for control.

Hardest to understand: they wanted nothing of him. He had no secret to hide or squeal, no ideology to cling to or renounce. He was not an agent in occupied Europe or a heretic in Tudor England: he was just a piece of garbage.

Would Immacolata, his Mac, leave the police – she would be in protective custody – and walk away to save him, his ear, finger and…? Couldn’t say. He had slept with her, loved her, sucked her juices, whispered with her, laughed with her – he didn’t know.

Eddie thought he heard – indistinct – the moan of engine noise. Cars, lorries, vans? Couldn’t be sure. Might mean a new day had started. If he was right, noting that a new day was born was an act of control – pretty bloody small, pretty much all he was bloody capable of. He teetered then on the edge of self-pity – and righted himself. Another day.

Then teetered again, rocked, was near to capsizing. How big was Eddie Deacon in the emotions of Immacolata Borelli? Hard to say, admit, spit out that he didn’t know. He knew where the birthmark was, deep brown at the top of her right buttock, and where the minute polyp was in her left armpit, but he didn’t know her mind. Eddie had heard of prisoners in cells, or in interrogation rooms, who took a point on a wall or a ceiling and focused on it, or found a spider crawling and tracked it, but the hood didn’t allow that.

Perhaps it hurt most, and made the worst fear, that he didn’t know how Immacolata Borelli would react when she held his life in the palm of her hand and weighed its value.

‘You lied to me. I take much from the shit people I work with – but lying disgusts me.’

She hung her head.

Castrolami seemed to tower over her. It was a theatrical, contrived attack. A knock at her door, a request that she come now into the living room. She wasn’t dressed. Castrolami, Orecchia and Rossi were. No coffee had been made for her, no juice laid out, no rolls heated, but she had seen their plates on the draining-board in the kitchen. She thought they had ambushed her.

‘You lied. We took you on trust. We diverted resources. All the time you lied.’

She hung her head because she didn’t understand. She had talked of her father, her mother, her eldest brother. She had listed the names of men who laundered and bought for the clan, who handled transhipments. That day she had prepared herself to talk about Giovanni, the brother she loathed, and Silvio, who had depended and doted on her. She couldn’t think, then, of anything she had said that was untrue. There was, Immacolata believed, genuine anger in Castrolami’s accusation. His jaw wobbled and little froths of spittle were at the sides of his mouth.

‘We were about to offer you the contract. You would have read the document, seen what we offered and what we required in return, and it would have been signed by the palace and by you. Now we find you’ve lied to us. I don’t make deals with liars. I prosecute them, I send them to Poggioreale, but I don’t sweet-talk with liars.’

She saw that he was holding a roll of papers, maybe ten sheets, and she noted a photograph among them. For emphasis, Castrolami hit his palm with it. Rossi was at the kitchen door, sober-faced and impassive. Orecchia was sitting in the hall and neither made eye-contact with her. She was the daughter of her father. She wouldn’t bend the knee.

‘I don’t lie.’

Castrolami took a small tape-recorder from his pocket. He switched it on and held it out. There was the noise of the park – dogs barking, the kids screaming, the rain on the leaves, and his voice: Can they find, hold and hurt, maybe murder, a lover? She heard her own voice, dismissive: No. His voice again, seeking certainty: In Naples there is no lover, no boy? Her own voice again, giving the certainty: No. Castrolami pressed fast-forward briefly. She heard Castrolami first: So there is a boy here… I have to know. Her response: Yes, but not significant. Again, the fast-forward, Castrolami saying: You go to bed. But you say it’s not ‘significant’… yes? She said, crackling on the tape and distorted: He’s just a boy. We met in a park… It doesn’t mean anything. Querying her, testing her: You won’t pine for him? Heard herself snort, then, I’ll forget him – maybe I have already. ‘I believe you had a passionate affair in London, and that your protestation that the relationship was meaningless was a lie.’

‘I don’t lie.’

‘What was the boy’s name?’

She didn’t know where he was leading her. She saw the tape-recorder dropped into Castrolami’s pocket, as if its work was done. She said, ‘Eddie.’

Castrolami repeated the name, rolled it. ‘Eddie… Eddie… and he’s not significant and fucking him meant nothing?’

So, he was calling her a liar and a whore, implying she slept around. ‘I liked him.’

‘Only liked him?’

‘Yes, I liked him. There, I liked him. In London I liked him. Is that a sin? Do I go to confessional and blubber it to a priest who has his hand in his crotch? It was good in London. This isn’t London. People go on holiday, they fuck on holiday. People go to work conferences, meet others and fuck. People meet in cinemas in strange towns and fuck afterwards. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s what happens and-’

She was cut short. The papers were allowed to unroll, the photograph taken out and passed to her. She held it. Her Eddie was leaning on a gate, arms resting on the top bar. There were young cattle around him, nuzzling and nudging him. She could almost hear his laughter. She hadn’t seen the photograph before. She thought it would have come from an album at his parents’ home.

Castrolami curled his lip. ‘If I was the boy, and you were in my bed, and I said I loved you and asked, with a caress, how you felt about me, and you said I meant nothing to you, I’d be disappointed.’

She saw a trap, a cul-de-sac, and thought she was led into it. She handed back the photograph. ‘Why did you show it me?’

‘Because you lied to me. That boy is huge in your life, as you are in his.’

‘No.’

‘The best boy you ever knew.’

‘No.’

‘Free to sleep with him, fuck him, without your mother criticising who you chose.’

‘Not significant.’

‘We shall see…’ He dropped his voice, more theatre, and was casual, as in conversation. He smiled and held the photograph of Eddie in front of her face. ‘We shall see, Signorina Immacolata, whether you lie or not. He, your insignificant, meaningless bed partner, was taken off the street in Forcella yesterday. Why should the boy have come to Naples if he’s insignificant and meaningless? Why is he in Forcella? What is your response to him being taken?’

‘He’s not important. My evidence is.’

‘Another lie – or the truth?’

‘I’ll stay the course.’

‘A lie or the truth?’

‘I’ll go to court whatever-’ Castrolami’s big fingers made a small tear at the top of the photograph, above Eddie’s head, and then, with a sort of formality, he handed her the photograph. She knew what was expected of her. She did it sharply, but looked away, through the window. The sun clipped the roofs, the water tanks and the satellite dishes, and was above the mountain range. She knew, and had judged it, that the rip would go through the middle of his face – his forehead, between his eyes and down the length of his nose. It would split his lips, his chin and his throat. She did it. She let the two pieces fall to the floor. She said, ‘I’ll go to court, whatever is set against me. I’ll go in memory of Marianna Rossetti. Fuck you, Castrolami.’

He kicked away the two pieces of the photograph, and Rossi came forward to pick them up and bin them. Castrolami said he had to go out. She thought he despised her, but he hadn’t been in the cemetery at Nola.

She went and lay on her bed, heard the main door open, shut, and the key turn.

As he went into the via dei Condotti, Lukas understood why the piazza di Spagna had been chosen for the meeting. He came off the main drag and walked past the fashion houses. It was a good place to watch a man approach the steps, and to see whether he had a tail. He appreciated why they would be paranoid about security and didn’t argue with it. He was later than he would have wanted but Duck Johnstone had been on the phone for more than half an hour and had fed him morsels of intelligence that hadn’t been available last night. He reckoned Duck must have worked through most of it. It wasn’t that Lukas admired dogged hard work, just that he couldn’t abide the taking of shortcuts and easy opt-outs. He knew more about the boy, known now in the links as Echo – the girl was India – enough about him to have rated his journey to Naples as dumb-pig stupid, but Echo would still get his best effort – only effort he knew – to have him on a plane, and in a seat, not in the hold.

He came to the fountain. He knew that a description of his features had been sent ahead, for recognition. He didn’t know whom he would meet, or have a code to exchange. The steps were a good place because he could be watched from more than four and up to seven angles. There were tourists fooling in the fountain at the foot, and locals were waiting to use the water spout for drinking. Lukas went past them, and the museum that was the Keats-Shelley house. He didn’t do poetry – literature – or anything that was outside the confines of freeing poor bastards caught up, usually, in someone else’s fight. Would have said it was full time and… He started to climb the steps. Already the sun flared off the stonework and any shade was filled with sitting youngsters… Hostage rescue, hostage negotiation, hostage profiling and hostage co-ordination were big enough subject areas to swamp Lukas’s mind.

He had been a sniper on the rescue team. He had once fired a live round to kill. He had carried the rifle and been in full kit on a live call-out close to a hundred times, including Ruby Ridge and Waco, but had fired only once. A death shot but not a clean one: the brains, skull fragments and blood of the robber trying to break a siege and bug out of a bank in Madison, Wisconsin, had spattered across the face and spectacles of the cashier he was using as a shield, and the mess had spoiled her dress. The Bureau’s HRT had been called in because the target had crossed state lines. He’d had the cross-wires on the felon’s head for upwards of thirty seconds and had fired a second after the guy’s attention had gone to his right side and the handgun had been moved out from under the woman’s chin. It was a hell of a shot, the rest of the team told him, but a shame about the dress. God only knew what the hairdresser would have found the next time the woman went. He had moved on, ditched the rifle and the big telescopic sight when the Bureau launched the Critical Incident Response Group.

Only one way, an old head had told him, to learn the skills of negotiation – and he had to know about negotiation if he was to command those people. ‘Find the construction cranes,’ the old head had said in a corner of the Quantico parkland, ‘and some good high big-span bridges.’

Suicides went up crane ladders and out on the walkways of bridges. Lukas had taken two years of evenings, days off and holiday time to be on stand-by for a call from a duty officer. Nobody in town, county or state police was queuing to go up a crane to talk to a nutcase who wanted to jump. Cranes and bridges were where ‘teeth were cut’, the old head had said. Couldn’t fail with wannabe suicides and hope to make it in the big-time of terrorist sieges. The way to learn the soft, gentle, persuasive talk, and to calm a situation, was to be a hundred feet up a crane ladder with not much to see of the ‘client’ but the soles of his shoes fifteen further up. He’d met some interesting people and heard some interesting life stories, and had had to breed trust if men and women were to decide to face another day and climb down. He’d never liked heights, but had a top job as a co-ordinator, the negotiator rookies needed to get up high on exercises, and Lukas had had to take them. Leadership was shit. It was said, he heard later, that some jerks climbed and threatened and only wanted the star man to come up after them; he’d gotten a reputation round Quantico and into the suburbs of the capital.

The sciences of hostage rescue were squashed into Lukas’s mind, which was why he didn’t know about poetry, or about Keats and Shelley… He didn’t look for the guy.

He reached the top. A big hotel faced him. Fellow Americans were spilling out of a taxi, and staff were bowing and scraping; others were having cases loaded into a limousine. From his crap room beside the station Lukas had come to the meeting by trolley bus, on the Metro and on foot. He didn’t have to justify what some said was eccentricity and others called pathetic obstinacy. A man stepped forward. He would, too right, have watched Lukas traverse the via dei Condotti, climb the steps and wipe away some perspiration.

‘You are Lukas?’

No warmth. A question put without enthusiasm, as if he was a stone in a shoe, a tick sucking blood on his leg, an irritation between the cheeks. He didn’t do point-scoring, but he didn’t do grovelling either.

‘Yes.’

‘I am here because I am instructed to be here.’

‘Thank you for meeting me,’ he said quietly, but briskly.

‘I am Mario Castrolami of the ROS. Excuse me, that is the-’

‘The special duties unit. I know what the ROS is.’ He didn’t spell out its full Italian name because that would have been to lord his knowledge – and get straight up the man’s nose. He was an intruder.

Castrolami was heavy-set and overweight. Lukas read him as one of the workaholic guys who slaved through all the hours, and more, and who were the backbone of pretty much every law-enforcement outfit he had come across. They didn’t get promotion, and they didn’t care. And they were busy, had clear-cut priorities, and failed on small-talk.

‘It is about Eddie Deacon?’

‘It is, and Immacolata Borelli.’ Lukas could have said it was about ‘Juliet and her Romeo’, because he had seen the movie on a flight out from JFK to Jakarta, a long time back, but neither of them wanted imbecile talk. He had to lead, but gently, as if the wind buffeted him when he was stuck up some God-awful crane and looking down wasn’t an option. ‘Can we go get a coffee? I’m told there’s a carabinieri barracks behind the Parliament building – near here, I think – and that a very good espresso is served in the non-coms’ mess. I imagine, Mr Castrolami, that you feel like you’ve stepped in a dog mess and that I’m the mess, but a coffee in the barracks might help to get the smell and the nuisance off your uppers. I suggest, though we’ll be using up your valuable time, that we say no more until we’ve had the coffee.’

Duck Johnstone had all these things on the file, could hack into them and carry Lukas back six years, an easy ride in the nostalgia stakes. Had taken him there for a reason.

Of course, Lukas knew where the barracks was, off which street on the far side of the via dei Corso, and how to get there quickest.

So, he led. It was a cheap trick, but he hadn’t time for subtlety. They exchanged cigarettes, but kept off the talking.

Carmine Borelli fired. The stock of the sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun was hard against his shoulder. He squinted down the valley between the barrels and fired again. The recoil, twice, rippled through his chest and up his neck. The sensation, shuddering through him, was incredible, and he shed years. The cordite was in his nostrils – extraordinary. It was one thing to have used a pistol the day before and have the retort ripple up his arm, but the shotgun at his shoulder was just pure pleasure.

One man squealed, held tight to a lamppost for support, then began to hobble towards the car. It was down the street, the doors already open, its exhaust spitting fumes. The other man had ducked down on his knees, then twisted and tried to run but was bent double. He could hear a man in the car shouting for them both to hurry. Carmine Borelli ejected the cartridges, dipped into his pocket for two more and loaded them. He had three of his own foot-soldiers further along the street than the car, and two more behind him. Salvatore, his visor down, was astride the pillion of a scooter across the street. None of the foot-soldiers, or Salvatore, were to intervene unless the life of Carmine Borelli was at high risk. He saw why the man who tried to run was bent: a hand gripped his hip and the tan trousers were bloodstained. Two shots, at twenty metres, and two hits. The two men made the car and it roared away, wheels shrieking as it spun right. There were several hospitals nearby where the passengers could be dropped off, but the Incurabili on the via della Sapienza was the nearest. A good hospital, where his Pasquale had been born and where he had sent many men.

The street had been empty, now was filled. A woman stopped, set down her shopping bag on the pavement, crouched, picked up the two ejected cases and gave them to him. Briefly, he kissed her hand. She retrieved her bags and went on. A man filled the door of a bar and shouted, ‘ Viva Il Camionista! ’ and there was applause behind him.

Carmine saw Salvatore ride off down the street. He knew that those who had been wounded would live now in mortal fear of Salvatore coming after them. The matter concerned the pizzo paid for protection by a shop on that street between the via Cesare Rosaroll and the via Carbonara which sold wedding dresses. Carmine Borelli understood that his granddaughter – no longer spoken of without a spit on the pavement – had fixed the pizzo at five hundred euros a month: chicken shit to the Borelli clan, small change. The previous evening, he had learned early that morning, men from the Misso clan or the Mazzarella clan – it was unclear – had told the shop’s owner that they would take over protection, and the payment would be seven hundred and fifty euros a month. If he had weakened, if it was allowed to happen once, if it was seen that he couldn’t fight to defend what he held, the Borelli clan was finished, dead and buried, forgotten. So he had taken the shotgun from the cache where it had lain hidden for more than twenty years, stripped off the damp-proof, oiled wrapping, loaded cartridges and found the old coat with the inner pocket where a shotgun could be secreted. He had been on the pavement when the men had come to collect seven hundred and fifty euros or to slop petrol over the shop’s stock of gowns. He thought he had sent a second message.

Another shout: ‘ Forza Il Camionista. ’ He acknowledged it, a slight wave. The scooter came back down the street. Salvatore would have circled the block to see if more men waited in more cars for orders to intervene – it was an old friend who had shouted – and the helmet shook. At this moment, there was no more danger. A gloved hand reached out, snatched the shotgun and the scooter was gone, lost in the traffic. The shop’s owner was behind him, with the padlock that fastened the steel shutters to the loop in the pavement, but Carmine denied him permission to close for the day, demanded he stay open – his sent message would be reinforced by that gesture. He walked away.

They would now be arriving at the hospital, probably the Incurabili, and would be hustling for the Pronto Soccorso entrance, which was alongside General Surgery, where they were skilled in extracting bullets and pellets. It was near to Trauma – necessary if the wounds were serious – and the chapel was beside the mortuaria – a good design layout and convenient. The first professional man he had hired was from that hospital.

Sixty-six years earlier: the city starved, women picked dandelions and daisies to boil as soup, kids prised limpets off the seashore rocks and men hung nets to catch songbirds for plucking. Carmine and Anna Borelli made their first fortune from the brothels. Not all the women who went into the cubicles with American soldiers were married. They had to eat, so dropped knickers and opened thighs were the only currency they had, but the Americans had moved on. Carmine Borelli had hired a professore from the hospital, and for a fee per patient of ten thousand lire the eminent medical man restitched the virginity of the unmarried, and Carmine took fifteen per cent of the fee. That professore had delivered Pasquale safely into the world.

He would go first to the place where he could shower and change his clothing, then take more of the pain pills because he didn’t want people in Forcella to see him hobble or limp. Clean, he would go home. He believed he had done well, believed also that he was on a treadmill, running, and didn’t know how long, at that pace, he could last.

Once a week, regular as clockwork, Davide locked the door of his apartment, on the third floor of the Sail, and took a bus. It carried him from the architectural disaster zone that was Scampia into Naples, and there was a memorised sequence of meeting-places: the steep Funicolare climbing from the via Toledo, a gentleman’s hairdressing salon on the corso Umberto, the giardini pubblici in front of the royal palace of the Bourbons, the open ramparts of the Castel dell’Ovo, or one of the distinguished coffee houses of the city. When he was in any of those places, with tapes and cassettes in the hidden pockets sewn at his trousers’ waist, he was Delta465/Foxtrot.

He sat on the bus that morning.

He was not reckless, took no unnecessary risks in harbouring the secrecy of his double life, and felt no fear. In both his identities – Davide and Delta465/Foxtrot – he understood that the fate of an agent of the AISI, if uncovered, was death. Not negotiable. If it was discovered that a man from the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Interna was living in the Sail death was certain, with much pain beforehand. He lived with the threat. He had a compartmentalized mind, and could keep fear at arm’s length. That ensured he was an agent of quality and valued by his handlers. He enjoyed meeting them in the funicular carriage, the barber’s or in the gardens and would ask after their children and be told of their holidays – make-believe, of course, but it enabled him to feel he was inside a family, which was important to him. They had given him a number for the Apocalypse Call, but he doubted he would ever use it. He had no idea what his life might be outside the Sail and without the weekly meetings.

Nothing to report that week. Nothing that would interest the men and women who met him. They were interested only in material of high-grade importance. He had seen, through his obsessionally polished windows, nothing of that category. Neither did he believe there was anything on the tapes from the cameras in his living room or from the audio cassettes linked to the microphones buried in the outer wall. The position of his apartment, where a flight came up from level two and another down from level four, had not been chosen randomly: it was a meeting-place – men stopped, talked and took little notice of the cleaned windows, the blaring television and the old man slumped in a chair with his back to the walkway. He knew of nothing that week to intrigue his handlers.

She was no fool. Anna Borelli was as adept at losing a tail as any man half, a third or a quarter of her age. She did back-doubles, shop windows, was last on to a trolley bus on the corso Umberto, and went into the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore by the main entrance and out by the narrow emergency door. Only when she was satisfied that she was not under surveillance, or had lost it, did she head for the meeting-place. She carried a filled plastic shopping bag.

She was another elderly lady, keeping death at bay for perhaps another year or only another month, and she wore black from stockings to scarf. She was unnoticed. She rang a bell. She was admitted through high gates. She crossed a yard of cannibalised vehicles and a door swung open when she prodded it with her toe. She was inside the building that had once been a car-repair business, but was now a place where stolen Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and the best models from the Alfa and Fiat factories were brought and dismantled. The parts would be shipped into Moldova or Ukraine, then moved further east. It had been an excellent business but was now slack and the yard was deserted, except for the scooter tucked against a side wall. The building seemed empty, but for the cigarette smoke that curled from beneath an inner door.

Then she was met.

She showed Salvatore what she had brought. There was bread, cheese, two slices of cheap processed ham, two apples, three small bottles of water, and the morning’s edition of Cronaca di Napoli – on the front page a photograph of a man sprawled dead, half in a gutter, outside a bar. She had not read it. She thought that by now her husband would be home. She approved of what he planned to do, and she would appreciate that when he sat in his chair, with her beside him, he would be clean and not smell as was usual. Salvatore had a camera on the table, and the man who rode the scooter was stretched out on a sofa, asleep, with a pistol on the floor beside his head.

There was a corridor to the back, and a storeroom off it.

A trapdoor was lifted and a torch shone down.

A stench came up through the hole’s opening. She saw that the boy was hooded, bound, and that his arms were behind his back. She remembered him in her living room, his simplicity; remembered also when Immacolata, her husband’s angel, had been in the same room, had sat in the same chair, drinking from the same set of cups and eating off the same set of plates. She remembered the boy, his almost shy smile, the flush of gratitude when he was told that a man was coming to take him to Immacolata. She felt no sympathy.

The torch showed the discolouration at his groin. She had not felt sympathy for the women in her brothels who had contracted syphilis from the American officers and had had to tell their husbands of the disease they carried. She had not felt sympathy for those widowed when she and her husband had climbed but others had been pushed aside, or for Gabriella when the births of Vincenzo and Giovanni were complex and brutally painful, or for Carmine when he was taken three times to Poggioreale. She did not even feel sympathy for herself.

She watched.

Salvatore rolled up the hood so that it cleared the mouth and nostrils but covered the eyes. He pulled off the binding tape and the young man, Eddie, cried out in pain because it had happened without warning, but then – so quickly – his face settled. Anna Borelli understood. Then Salvatore unlocked the handcuffs and allowed him, Eddie, to work his fingers over his wrists and bring back the circulation. She wondered if he was Edmondo or Eduardo. Then the hands were put together in front of his waist and the handcuffs went back on. Anna Borelli thought, from his face and the little gestures, that he was a fighter – it didn’t matter to her.

She passed down a bucket and the newspaper she had brought.

She knew a little English from the Americans. Salvatore told the young man that he should use the bucket, that he could eat, that he was to put the hood back on his head each time he heard movement over the trapdoor. If he didn’t he would be beaten. The bucket was stood in a corner. Salvatore had the camera. The newspaper front page facing the lens was placed in the young man’s hands and held up. The torch was switched off. Anna Borelli thought then that Salvatore would snatch up the hood and immediately take the photograph. The flash lit the bunker, and the white face, the scars on it and the blood smears – easier to see in the flash than in the torch beam.

When the torch went back on, the hood was in place again.

The newspaper was left beside the bucket. The food was in the plastic bag beside the young man’s knee. Anna Borelli saw the young man’s ears and fingers, the stain at his crotch, and felt no sympathy. She accepted, however, that she didn’t know how her granddaughter would react – what her response to the pressure would be when it built.

Salvatore climbed out, the trapdoor fell back into place and the bolt was pushed home.

With the tab from the camera lodged in her brassiere, Anna Borelli set off for the office of the family’s lawyer.

Castrolami watched. He thought it a performance for him and no others. He was sitting in the canteen area on the second floor of the barracks, the coffee in front of them with a plate of sweet biscuits. The swing door had been pushed open, and an officer – probably a maresciallo – had come in, looked around, seen the man, Lukas, and come to him, arms opening wide. Hugs, kisses – and Castrolami believed he saw tears. Not Lukas who wept, and not Lukas who kissed.

It was about the establishment of credentials. The officer had small scars on his face and walked heavily, as if his left leg carried an old injury. He would have been in his early forties, plump and pasty-faced. He clung to Lukas.

It was explained.

The officer was Marco. He had been in the detachment of carabinieri posted to the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. He was asleep in quarters used by the detachment in the building that had once been the office of the local Chamber of Commerce. A suicide attack on it had involved a tanker truck rigged with explosives. Seventeen carabinieri had been killed, and more were injured. Marco suffered cut tendons in his right leg from shrapnel and his face was hit by glass shards. He had gone home, recovered, convalesced and demanded to be returned to his unit. He had come back to Nasiriyah… Castrolami heard the story and thought it told well and quietly. He waited to learn its purpose.

The canteen had filled. The short guy at Castrolami’s side, now extricated from the hugs and kisses, seemed to Castrolami to find it a necessary nuisance, and was impassive.

‘I went back, a dumb-fuck stupid thing to do – everyone told me so – but I was back. We had an outpost down the road and the day that those guys were supposed to get a week’s rations there was also a search mission under way. Just one of those days when a schedule gets fouled up, and people think it doesn’t matter. The consequence was a reduction in the size of the escort to take the rations. There were three of us, Italians, and two trucks. We got hit. They put an RPG through the engine of mine and blew us off the road. The driver, an Iraqi boy, was killed. The truck in front just kept going. I was taken.’

Castrolami didn’t hear, in the packed room, that a throat was cleared, that a man’s joints clicked as he moved his weight from one foot to the other, that a nose was blown, that a cup was put heavily on a saucer or that cutlery rattled. Lukas’s face gave nothing away.

‘I was taken off quickly – fast, immediate. Would have been well gone by the time a reaction force was back in there… I was held fourteen days. They didn’t want a ransom, didn’t want a truckload of dollars, didn’t want a statement of intent to leave from our government. They told me they wanted prisoner exchange, people of theirs who were in Abu Ghraib under American jurisdiction. After fourteen days they got the message. No deal. They were ready to do me – would have been a knife job, decapitation. I thought they’d kill me that night. Those were fourteen long days – a different meaning to long than I’ve known before, like years and like hell. The guys who broke in were from Task Force 145, because we Italians didn’t have that sort of group. They came out of the Anaconda Camp in the Balad base. This man – Mr Lukas – did the co-ordination. He married what the assets brought in with prisoner interrogation and reconnaissance, and did it right. I owe him my life. I’m supposed to be a rock-hard bastard but the sight of this little runt, and the knowledge of what he did for me, his skill, makes me want to fucking weep. I never had a chance to thank him there. We, the Italian contingent, didn’t have such a man in Iraq. It was my great fortune that he was in country, with Defense Department, and allocated to my situation. Great fortune because he’s the best. I saw him in the distance and then he was gone, but guys told me… What I’m saying, if he’s in town, if some poor bastard goes through what I went through, then fuck the protocol and fucking listen to him.’

Applause spattered the canteen.

‘Can we get out of here?’ Lukas asked softly, close to Castrolami.

‘It was your call to come,’ Castrolami said.

‘Someone thought it was a good idea. The chief honcho in the company I work for would have pulled him up on the files.’

‘Maybe it wasn’t and maybe it was – a good idea.’

He disengaged from the veteran – and Castrolami thought Marco now did some soft liaison job in Parliament but would never forget. Lukas endured one last, awkward embrace, then was pushing for the double doors, and the coffee hadn’t been drunk. They went along corridors and down flights of stairs. They hit the street going fast, as if both men wanted to be shot of a place that was sugar-sweet on sentimentality.

‘I suppose I should apologise, but it was reckoned a good, clean, fast way of establishing credentials – like fast-tracking them.’

‘Could you do that sort of cabaret in other places, other cities?’

‘’Fraid so, quite a number. I do apologise – a stunt and a gimmick. Not my way but-’

‘Give it me,’ Castrolami demanded.

Lukas said, ‘I don’t horn in and play rank and pedigree. Inside there was just about a CV, and to save you time, and somebody else’s idea, if I’m invited I come in. If my advice is looked for, I offer it. There are no other strings, and no other agenda.’

‘I warn you, we pull in different directions.’

Lukas was looking at his feet as they walked. ‘When was it ever different?’

‘I make no commitment to you, an outsider.’

‘In your place, I doubt I would.’

*

The cell had no air and the heat was trapped in it. If she had been charged with shop-lifting, bag-snatching or aggravated assault, Gabriella Borelli would have shared a cell with five others, even nine. But she was special, had status, was awarded solitary confinement. She had been escorted back to the cell, and the heat had wafted at her as the door was unlocked, had wrapped round her as it was closed after her. The sun was climbing and played directly on the window. Distorted shadows were thrown over her from the light hitting the bars.

It had been a sour meeting with her lawyer, Umberto.

She had sensed his shock when he saw her with chains fastened to manacles at her wrists. He would have heard them rattling as she was led down the corridor and into the interview room, and she sensed he felt personal pain for her, and also that his worst nightmare would have been to wear those chains, to sleep in a cell like hers and not to walk on the Tribunali or the Duomo but in an exercise yard. He had dabbed a handkerchief dosed with cologne at his nose. They had taken the chains off her when she was ready to sit opposite him.

Did he believe that a case conference between accused and advocate was free of electronic audio surveillance? He did not.

Did she believe that a microphone was not wired into the room, its furniture, its walls, ceiling and electrical fittings? Most certainly she did not.

It had been a bizarre conference – she flopped on to the bunk bed on a raised concrete base. She kicked off the sandals which she had been issued with, loosened the blouse that had been torn when they’d felled her and unzipped the skirt that had ridden up when she was on the ground, but there was no relief from the heat. Umberto had produced a packet of cigarettes, cigarette papers for rolling but no loose tobacco, and two match books. The cigarettes were between them, and each had had a set of the matches. He had divided the papers so that they had half each. They had done the case conference.

He had asked her if she was well and she had told him she was.

He had written in an insect scrawl on a slip of the paper: A boy, the lover of Immacolata, came from England to find her. Had an address of via Forcella. The priest sent him to Carmine and Anna. He had pushed the slip towards her, and she had read it, then crumpled it and put it into the tinfoil ashtray between them.

She had written: Was he stupid? Was he ignorant? She had shown it to him, then crushed it and dropped it with the other.

They lit cigarettes, and allowed the lighted matches to burn the papers in the ashtray. A rhythm had developed.

Did she have complaints that he should take up with the authorities? She did not.

He knew nothing, had met Immacolata in London, loved her, knew nothing. Carmine took control. He sent for help.

What control? What help?

More paper burned in the ashtray.

Was the food satisfactory? It was.

It’s control through leadership. It’s to prevent secessionists and intrusion. He sent for Salvo.

To what purpose?

Smoke rose from the paper. More smoke curled up from the cigarettes.

Was she treated with respect? She was.

Carmine thinks the boy from England can be used as leverage on Immacolata. Salvo has taken the boy, holds him in Sanita. Bits of him will be sent to Immacolata if she doesn’t retract her accusations.

I doubt the bitch will – but good to use the boy. Make pressure with him. More important, find the bitch, shoot her, stamp on her face.

In that note, she had allowed emotion to escape: her writing had been faster, larger, and the response had taken both sides of the paper.

He asked her what she needed. She had said clothing, a portable electric fan, a radio and some magazines.

What else?

Use the boy, with a knife. Kill the bitch.

What else did she want? She had not said that her love should be sent to her husband, to Vincenzo in London, to Giovanni or Silvio. She had not spoken of her parents-in-law or of Salvatore… She had said she needed a pair of her own shoes and more toothpaste. Together they had checked that all of the paper slips were burned to cinders, then had screwed out the cigarettes in the ash. He had stood, knocked on the door and the escort had come in. The manacles had gone back on her wrists. She had not thanked him for coming to the women’s gaol at Posilippo: she paid him, and he was rich on the family’s back.

She sat now in the cell.

She would, herself, have slit her daughter’s throat.

She would, herself, have sliced off the ears, fingers and nose of the English boy, her daughter’s lover. What Gabriella Borelli loathed most was the removal of power, the loss of authority. She must play-act with cigarette papers across a table. Anger welled in her, but was confined inside the walls, three metres by two, of the cell. She could do none of it herself. She was off the bed. In fury, Gabriella Borelli beat her forehead against the wall, bruised and scratched herself against the graffiti. She didn’t care about clothes, an electric fan or shoes. She wanted her daughter dead.

The old lady had been waiting for him. She was sitting in his office amid the mountains of paper and files that were Umberto’s trade. When he came back from Posilippo – and he had had coffee at the Cafe Gambrinus, where old friends, the advocates of other clans, had greeted him – she was in front of his desk. Extraordinary, but she didn’t speak. She handed him a small envelope, then stood, looked around as if she was searching for a dead cat carcass, and was gone. He tore open the envelope, retrieved the camera’s memory pad, then called for his clerk, Massimo. The young man was his nephew, had his trust. He told Massimo to take money from the petty-cash box and go to the camera shop on the corso Vittorio Emanuele – a long bus ride but there was little chance of his clerk being recognised there – buy a portable printer and bring it back. If the clan fell, Umberto fell. So hard for him to believe that the sweet pretty face of Immacolata – always his favourite – might cause him to fall, and fall far.

She had talked through the morning to the deputy prosecutor, up from Naples. She had found, with each anecdote and each item of evidence, that old loyalties had frayed, disintegrated. A few days before she had hugged her brother, Silvio, for driving out to Capodicino, collecting her, ferrying her to Nola and back. That morning she listed all the occasions she knew, and would swear to it on oath, that Silvio had ridden on his scooter around the city distributing handguns and ammunition. She skewered him. She identified the weapons caches he had visited, the men from whom the weapons were collected and those to whom they were given. The tape spools had turned. She had seen, across the table, grim satisfaction on the face of the deputy prosecutor. She felt no more affection for her youngest brother than she did for the others, and none for her mother. She didn’t think of her father. She kept in her mind, central, the image of her friend. She saw, as she condemned her family, the features of Marianna Rossetti. There was no other face in her mind. No other friendship was ‘significant’. I’ll go to court, whatever. She sensed, that morning, a growing relaxation in the apartment, as if a barrier had been broken down. She was not treated with the same suspicion – near hostility.

When they broke, the deputy prosecutor for coffee and she for juice, she had stood and stretched, sensing that her T-shirt rode up over her navel, then wandered towards Rossi. He was on the balcony, through the open doors, sitting in a rattan easy chair, browsing a newspaper. She could fight, as she did with Mario Castrolami, scratch. She could smile, too, flash her eyes and be docile. ‘Please…’

‘Yes?’ Rossi looked up at her. ‘What do you need?’

‘Do you run – for exercise?’

‘Yes.’

‘Please… may I run? It’s claustrophobic here. I’d like to run – if it’s allowed but I don’t have the clothes – I’d be so grateful if I could.’

‘Can’t see why not. Let me float it.’

‘Thank you.’

Why did she want to run? Not for fitness. She didn’t have a weight problem, she was young and healthy. She believed that if she could run along a pavement, as other women did, she would take another step towards changing her life. She drank the juice Orecchia brought her, sat again at the table and talked about Salvatore, Il Pistole, who had fancied her, had wanted to sleep with her and might have wanted to marry her. She stabbed him, too, with the stiletto, pushed it deep. Another tape was slotted into the recorder. She thought of nothing that was insignificant or meaningless.

There wasn’t a dog in the household for Arthur Deacon to walk. Best he could do was borrow his immediate neighbour’s, a cheerful golden retriever. He’d needed to get out of the house, stretch his legs and have someone – or something – to commune with who brought no complications. Betty had taken the day off work, and had warned them it might be the week. He’d felt hemmed in, as he had in the last months at the water-board office, and the dog was a sort of therapy against worrying – agonising – about Eddie. They hadn’t slept, either of them, last night. Could have taken the dog round the loop of byways and bridlepaths all over again, but felt he should go home. He had dropped the dog off at the neighbour’s, well short of Dean Weymouth’s bungalow, and tramped the last hundred yards to his house. The back door, of course, because his dirty shoes lived in the utility room. He lived a pretty boring life, ordered, predictable and boring, so there was a place on a shelf for muddy shoes, and another place on another shelf for merely dirty shoes, and a cupboard spot for clean shoes – it was about as boring as it could get. He was about to sing out, ‘Hello, it’s me, I’m back,’ but didn’t. Who else might it be? The Queen? The Pope? Osama bin bloody Laden? He said nothing, but as he took off his shoes he heard his wife’s voice, the accent she used for work, with all the vowels and consonants in place.

She said, ‘I’m grateful, Mr Johnstone, more grateful than I can say, and my husband… Yes, please do, please keep in touch with us, any time of day or night… Can I ask you one question, Mr Johnstone, only one?… Thank you… Why, Mr Johnstone, are you doing this for us?… Perhaps I do and perhaps I don’t, but thank you.’

He heard the phone put down. He heard her choke, like a sob, and couldn’t remember when he had last heard or seen his Betty in tears – wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t heard the choke. He took off his shoes, put them on the correct shelf, went inside and put his arm round her shoulders. She was still standing by the hall table, facing the silent phone.

She said, ‘That was Mr Johnstone. He says his name’s Duck, but I’m not indulging him. He’s building what he calls a “profile” of Eddie.’

‘Don’t know that I could.’

‘He says Eddie’s been kidnapped and the likelihood is that he’s in the hands of an organised-crime group. This one, called the Camorra, is in Naples. The likelihood is that the girl Eddie spoke of, Immacolata Borelli, is from a criminal family, a very successful one.’

‘God, poor Eddie – an innocent abroad.’

‘It gets blacker. The girl has turned herself in as a state witness against her family. Eddie, our Eddie, barged in there – supremely innocent but also supremely ignorant, I don’t know which is worse – and Mr Johnstone says they will try to use his captivity to persuade the girl to withdraw her evidence. He wanted to know how Eddie would withstand extreme pressure and stress – he didn’t say torture, but I think that’s what he meant – and the information will help in building the profile. I said he was just ordinary, a bit lazy and a bit stubborn.’

‘Usually aware, kind, not very ambitious.’

‘Without malice. I said that. It was almost like I was doing his obituary for the Western Daily Press. I said he was a nice boy, decent, and steady, but hadn’t too much imagination. His own mother, selling him short.’

She did a brief sniffle, blinked, and the weakness of tears was gone. Arthur Deacon held her tight. Her eyes were still on the phone.

‘A man’s flown to Rome. I wasn’t told his name. He’s called a co-ordinator, and he works on a freelance basis for Mr Johnstone’s company. He has FBI experience and has been in Iraq for the American military. He’s an expert on hostage rescue, whether by negotiation or use of force. It’s all because of Dean. Dean spoke well of Eddie. I’m in areas I don’t understand but I think it’s a sort of family – Dean Weymouth, the people who work for this company at whatever level of importance, and the man who’s going to Naples. It’s like a brotherhood of mutual support because of the awful places they operate in. The expert – he’s as good at his work as anyone in the world, Mr Johnstone says.’

‘We have to be strong, and pray Eddie is.’

‘What Mr Johnstone also says, we must hope, we must believe, and we must understand the desperate nature of the situation Eddie’s in. And Mr Johnstone says we mustn’t feel angry with him. That’s the natural emotion, extreme anger, for having caused our misery. Eddie may not be the brightest star but he’s done nothing wrong, has nothing to be ashamed of. This expert, the co-ordinator, is used to going where governments get entangled in bureaucracy and pomposity and guarding territory, Mr Johnstone says, and side-stepping them all. But he doesn’t flannel.’

‘You live nearly a lifetime, then into your cosy world come people you didn’t know existed. I’m not trying to be profound, but now we share space with them.’

‘He says Eddie’s position is “difficult”. He’s going to ring us twice a day, and he promised that all the questions he’ll ask are relevant for the profile. I asked him why. He said that people climb mountains because they’re there, cross deserts because they’re there, get involved in problems because they’re there. He didn’t mention anything about money… I’m frightened for Eddie.’

Arthur held her, couldn’t do it tighter.

‘Which is more important? That the girl gives her evidence or our Eddie’s life? I’m not asking you for an answer.’

They had walked without speaking, had had a coffee and walked some more, not spoken, and drunk a second coffee. Lukas knew that the exhibition in the canteen had left a sour taste in Castrolami’s mouth, but it was easier done that way than having to explain himself.

Near the end of the second coffee, at a bar that over looked the big square, piazza Venezia, where the coffee cost more than a meal, Castrolami put his gripe: ‘Mr Lukas, it was dishonest.’

‘If you want it to be.’

‘Implication – you win them all.’

‘I win a lot.’

‘Not all.’

‘I could have had you put on an Alitalia big bird and you’d be mid-Atlantic now, and I could take you to a trailer camp in Arkansas or Alabama, and I could wheel out the family of a marine or a ranger or a military truck driver not past his nineteenth birthday who was lifted and killed because I didn’t save him. I could do that, if it would help you.’

‘You don’t win them all.’

‘I lose people, yes. I try to win. I don’t ask for a shoehorn. I’m there if I can help, and I try to win.’

‘What keeps you in the game?’

Lukas said, ‘It’s what I know – about all I know.’

A hand reached out, slapped Lukas’s face – quite hard but not malevolent, and not playful. Lukas supposed he had said the right words, the right thing at the right time, but that, too, was a skill of his. One day, if time allowed, he would work at sincerity – what was real and what was not.

Castrolami said, ‘We should go and see her. Then maybe you can judge better what happens to the boy.’

*

He had eaten, used the bucket and ditched the hood. The focus in his mind was the hatred, and the need for control, and Eddie held it. With the darkness around him there was the silence.

Self-pity, which would not have been control, cursed that he had stepped on to a flight when he’d thought he was ‘lucky’, cursed that he had made it on to a train going south, cursed that he had found a priest in a great church who, distracted and seeming not to care, had told him where to find his Mac’s family – and cursed that he had lingered over cake while the man was sent for. Any cursing was self-pity. He would not have turned his back on Immacolata – would not and could not. Mixed it up in his mind – the face that was the source of hatred, and the face of Immacolata, and she was laughing, sharing her happiness with him. He mixed the two, but the hatred was of greater importance… He mustn’t lose control.

He couldn’t stand in the bunker, couldn’t pace, couldn’t lose the smell of the bucket, couldn’t allow his head to drop.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

10

A new decision faced Eddie. A week before, it would have been whether to do Shakespeare or Agatha Christie with his class, drink British bitter or Czech lager, eat pasta or Oriental, sleep the night with Immacolata or send her home, put the whites in the washing-machine or the woollens. Big decisions, but all in the past.

How to get a pair of locked handcuffs off his wrists, in near total darkness, was the problem that needed a decision.

He doubted there would be an anaesthetic – maybe, at best, alcohol or iodine to keep the cut clean. It might be a medical student, a man who cut up chicken for his family’s evening meal – a butcher – or any bastard off the street. He had been told that his ears, his fingers, his hand and his penis would be chips in the negotiation stakes, which seemed a good enough reason to work on the locked handcuffs. Do nothing? Not a bloody option.

How to do it? He didn’t know.

He had searched the floor space for wire, then gone over each wall, hoping to find a nail hammered in. He had crouched under the ceiling and smoothed the surface with his hands, but there had been no nails, hooks or wire. They had done the Holocaust at school. There were pictures, downloaded from the net, of day-in-the-life scenes at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belsen and Treblinka. It had seemed a long way from a sixth-form college in northwest Wiltshire, until an old man had been brought in on a wet Tuesday afternoon in February 1998. He had been in the camps as a child and had survived, and was – a half-century later – a witness. He had the tattooed number to prove it and had rolled up his sleeve to show it. The class had seen the photographs of the crowds shuffling in lines, with suitcases and bundles, holding their children’s hands, towards the gas chambers. The Jew had talked about death, its certainty. A boy, Robinson – cocky little sod – had asked the Jew: ‘Why did they all just accept it? Why didn’t they fight it? They were dead anyway, so why didn’t they give it a thrash?’ The class teacher had told Robinson that the question was offensive, but the Jew had waved him down and said, ‘A few did, a very few, not enough. The state of Israel today still has a sense of shame at what is seen as the inability to fight, the lying-down, the docility. Israel will defend itself now with the utmost robustness, but then we had come from ghettos, we were exhausted, starved, degraded of dignity. We did not have the strength, physical and mental, to combat the inevitable. It was a good question.’ They’d talked about it afterwards, in the canteen, the school corridors, and had all said – Robinson at the helm – that they wouldn’t have gone like sheep. Easy to say at a school in north-west Wiltshire. Eddie Deacon had not come from a walled-in ghetto, was tired from lack of sleep but not exhausted, was hungry but not starved, and his dignity was fired by hate. How best to regain the freedom of his hands?

He told himself that they would cut off his ears, fingers and penis. Maybe it had been his failure to react fast enough on the pavement, in the moment after the fish-seller had given the glance, but it was all an unwalked road for him.

Fighting was about films, about stories. Heroes did fighting with scumbags. He didn’t know heroes or lowlife. He had to learn how to fight. First lesson: shed the handcuffs.

Eddie found one place on the flooring where the concrete had a rough edge. Might have been where one load had gone down as liquid against the previous load that had almost set hard. The ridge was about half a centimetre high and sharp. The handcuffs were not the bar variety that the police were issued with when they came into Kingsland Road, but the old sort with a short chain linking the manacles. Eddie knelt. He planted his elbows, crouched, then had the chain against the ridge, made it taut and started to scratch, working the chain over the ridge. It hurt like fuck in his elbows but he kept on at it, and when he had rubbed smooth one short section of the ridge he edged further along to a new position. Dust came up and was in his nostrils.

Better to be beaten – face the knife – and have given it a thrash.

‘It’s about windows – the best opportunity for escape by the potential hostage – right at the start. Chaos, confusion, maximum tension for the hostage-taker. You can count it on the seconds of one hand, the sight of a window. That’s when the hostage is most likely to get clear, but an attempt to escape is when the hostage is most likely to be killed. It’s a hell of a risk and-’

Castrolami interrupted: ‘You go in there?’

Lukas saw the facade, behind high, heavy railings, of the building, the flag drifting limp, and the barricades to keep the truck bombs away from the embassy walls. There had been a time when he would have been welcomed, open arms, at any US embassy. He wondered how it was for them, living in a fortress, bringing the Baghdad Green Zone to the via Vittorio Veneto. ‘I’d go in there if I’d lost my documents, assuming I was travelling on American papers. Get it straight, I don’t belong to governments.’

They kept walking. It was hot, the sun high. Lukas thought the city not yet back from holiday and the temperature too great for the comfort of tourists. He was not told why they walked in the heat, or why Castrolami checked his watch, as if that would make the hands go faster. Castrolami said, ‘Sorry I interrupted. Don’t think I’m not interested.’

Lukas asked, blunt, ‘Are you fooling with me?’

‘No.’

They left the flag, no wind to make it proud, behind them. Lukas said, ‘After that first open window, there’s less likelihood of another. We used to advise, at those seminars the state put on and the private security companies host for big bucks, that once taken a hostage shouldn’t try to escape. Then along came Iraq. Remember the Brit? Doesn’t matter how, but he managed a runner, barefoot and in darkness. He was actually within three hundred paces of an American checkpoint when they caught him. Maybe he was already condemned but the escape confirmed it. His throat was cut. Would we now advise people to hang about and see what the sun brings up? We’re a bit humbler with advice. What we do say: to escape and fail is a death sentence. These people here, do they have qualms about killing? Is it a big deal for them?’

‘Like changing their underpants or brushing their teeth,’ Castrolami said. ‘In Naples, life doesn’t count. They would go for an espresso afterwards and talk football.’

The dust in his eyes didn’t matter because he couldn’t use them. What came up his nose was an irritant and several times he sneezed uncontrollably, then froze to listen. He heard nothing – no engines, no music, no voices. He kept on scraping the chain against the ridge of concrete. He didn’t – wouldn’t – feel the chain to see whether the effort he made was winning a degree, however small, of success. He didn’t run a thumb or a finger, the sensitive part, against it to learn whether he had made a fraction of an indentation in the link – too scared of finding there was no difference. Then it would be hopelessness, he would slump, join the line that had shuffled towards the gas chamber, that hadn’t needed whipping or the prod of bayonets to keep it moving. How long had he been scraping? An hour? Might take a day, or three days. Might take a week.

The bucket smelled worse. That was a new worry. Better to have the worry about the bucket than about the knife homing in on his ears, or his fingers, or of them pulling aside his trousers. He went on scraping the chain against the concrete, and the smell was lodged in his nose. He worked on the chain manically. A new worry: what if the scraping dulled his ears? What if the footsteps came to the trapdoor and he didn’t bloody hear them? What if they knew he was busy with escape in his mind? New worries, old worries – hardly fucking mattered which danced in him.

‘We tend to suggest that the hostage looks hard for opportunities to escape, but we can’t say where they might be. Every case is different and-’

Castrolami grunted, ‘Do you go there?’

The Union flag flew, had no more life in it than the American one. The British place was sixties modern with a water feature at the front. There was a police jeep outside and a uniformed guy lounged with his legs draped out through the open door, a submachine-gun across his thighs. In the square just beyond, a fine statue of a Bersaglieri soldier, double life size, stood high on a plinth. Lukas said, ‘Today I travel on a French passport – sort of a return for favours rendered. I work all right with UK Special Forces, and with spooks, but the diplomats tend to see me as street dirt. So, I’d go there for a glass of water if I was thirsty… I saw those troops in Iraq. I liked the feathers in the hat. You like useless information? Tough shit if you don’t. The feathers are from the capercaillie bird, and the gate behind is the Porta Pia through which they came to complete the unification of your God-forsaken country and give the Holy Father the boot.’

He was punched, a hard, short-arm blow with a clenched fist, and Lukas rode it and rated it a compliment. They went through the gate – he thought there were bits of ancient Roman brickwork in the walls. ‘We’re nearly there,’ Castrolami said.

‘Where I was… We can lay down guidelines. We know how we think guys should behave but we cannot be arrogant enough to dictate… and this boy has never been to a seminar, nor on a chief executive’s course, or probably ever read a newspaper, a magazine, anything with hostage-survival guidelines. He’ll know nothing – which might be a bonus or might be fatal. I can’t say.’

Castrolami said, straight face, without expression, ‘What a pity he cannot hear your encouraging words.’

*

Still, he had the discipline. Still, Eddie worked, and didn’t move his thumb or forefinger over the chain’s link. But with two hours gone he found the first evidence of progress. The chain seemed to lock more easily on to the ridge.

Then feet.

It would be such an opportunity – in a day, three days or a week, if the chain was broken and his legs untied: wait till the bastard came down the hole, belt him on the back of the head with the sharp edge of a manacle, knee him in the crotch and leave him stunned, be up and out, dropping the trapdoor, bolting it and running… Running where? Running anywhere. The scene played endlessly, as if it was on a loop in his mind, as he worked on the link, an image of action and response that pleased him. The image removed the fear, gave him the sense that he was not a fatted bloody calf tethered in a shed awaiting the stun-gun. But this was not the time. The opportunity did not exist. He blew hard on the floor, hoped he’d dispersed the dust he’d created, and edged himself back against a side wall. He groped to find the hood, arranged it on his head and let the rim cover his eyes. He waited, and didn’t know what would happen – didn’t know if the footsteps heralded the knife – and squeezed his thighs together so that his penis was protected, pinned back his ears and clenched his fists to hide his fingers.

The bolt was drawn back. The torchbeam flared into the bunker and caught the hood. Pimples of light pierced the material. Could he, at that moment in time, rip off the hood, stand, grab a leg or a foot, drag the weight down, do damage with the handcuffs on? Eddie hesitated. Could he take the decision, allow the man to come down into the pit, rip off the hood, stand up? He heard the impact of the plastic bag. The light went off. The trapdoor closed and the bolt was pushed through.

There was food in the bag – more bread and cheese, one apple and water in a bottle. His bucket was not emptied. He ate a piece of the bread and a nugget of cheese, rinsed some of the dryness out of his mouth, then went back to scraping the chain on the rough ridge of the concrete. The heat in the bunker built on him and sweat drenched him.

Castrolami said that the parkland was the Villa Borghese gardens, that it dated back four hundred years, that it covered eighty hectares. Lukas said he didn’t care to know the history of the park and its significance: his feet hurt from walking and his throat was parched. Castrolami looked at his watch, might have been the tenth or twelfth time, and must have reckoned then that a schedule was on course. He supposed that the walk to the park was of similar importance to his own visit to the carabinieri barracks. He showed no impatience. Lukas knew people – at the Bagram base outside Kabul and at Anaconda camp inside the Balad air base – who would have demanded dedicated space, computers wired in, maps on walls, secure communications, iced water, iced coffee, iced tea, and maybe their name on a card at the front of the desk. Lukas could be patient because he sensed Castrolami – a hulk, heavy and clumsy – to be a man of substance, a guy with whom business could be done. He thought it would be rude – and tactical shit – to chivvy for detail. He didn’t require action to enhance his role. He saw two boys, rucksacks off their backs, half stripped and washing in a pool into which water fell from three levels. To him, the sculpture of rampant horses that supported the fountain was art. Set among huge mature pines, which gave wide shade, the massive statue of a man in fancy-dress uniform sat astride a warhorse, and Castrolami murmured that it was King Umberto I. There were mock Roman pillars, designed as ruins, and in an amphitheatre the workmen were setting up scaffolding for a concert’s sound systems. He saw men with dogs, women with buggies, and tourists who digested their lunch with a stroll, not a siesta. He saw everything, and let his eyes follow where Castrolami’s gaze went.

He saw her.

Had to be her.

There was a wide avenue lined with the high pines, sparse grass in the shadows. She led. A young man, good stride and arm movement, relaxed, was a metre behind her but close to her shoulder. Her T-shirt was damp-streaked and the shorts were baggy, too large – Lukas reckoned she’d begged or borrowed them from the young man. She ran well, but it was harder for her than him, and he thought she was not as conditioned as he was. Twenty metres behind them an older man rode a bicycle, the awkward sort with high handlebars that were hired out in parks, wherever. She didn’t look up, to left or right. He saw her face clearly, full and in profile. Gazed at the thrust of her chin and chest. He rated her as the type of girl who would collapse on her knees in serious exhaustion before she allowed the young man to go past her. Dust spurted from under their sneakers. He sensed the privilege he was given. He could make judgements from the sight of her, a few seconds of watching her. ‘Tough, hard and committed. Not a quitter,’ he said.

Castrolami was grim-faced. ‘We would have turned her out on to the street if we had thought she was.’

Lukas shook his head, ‘Why… why? Tell me, why does a decent nonentity boy get his arms and legs around that one – why?’

‘She is the daughter of her father. All her life she has what she wants. When she is finished with it, no longer wants it, it is discarded. There is something new she wants, and she takes it. It is the culture of the criminal clan.’

Lukas watched her draw away from him, and her escort. The bicycle squealed, needing oil. He almost enjoyed the wiggle of her butt, noted the drive in her arms and that she kept her head up and still.

‘A pity for the boy, our Eddie, that she once wanted him.’ Lukas saw her pass the kids washing in the fountain. She didn’t deign to glance at them, and he lost her.

She had made her own world and stayed inside it. She didn’t need panted conversation with Alessandro Rossi, wouldn’t stop, slump and have Giacomo Orecchia give her water. Sweat soaked her.

It was a city of betrayal, hers. Had been throughout the centuries of its history, and she thought herself a mere footnote. Betrayal was the ultimate weapon of the clans. It meant nothing, went against no culture. She took a text, an episode of the city’s history, better to remember betrayal.

She stretched her stride and couldn’t hear panting in Alessandro Rossi, but she could in Giacomo Orecchia and his wheeze went with the shriller wail of his bicycle wheels. She had learned the text as a child at school. In the year of 1486, a day in August, when Naples was further forward in architectural standards, sophistication and wealth than anywhere else in Europe, King Ferrante I of Aragon, the ruler, invited the aristocracy, who, he believed, were plotting his overthrow, to the Castel Nuovo on the shore to witness the marriage of his granddaughter to the heir of the Coppola family. They came. After the marriage service they attended a banquet in the great hall. Near the end of the feast, the king’s lord chamberlain read out the names on the arrest warrants: all of the nobility’s names were heard. The Royal Guard came in and took them into custody. That day they were tried and – before sunset – they met the king’s executioner in the yard below the castle’s ramparts. They would have betrayed the king, so the king betrayed them. It was a good story, and one from the history of her city.

She ran well.

Immacolata could not have held that pace, and kept the length of her stride, without the escort behind her. She thought herself liberated. Nothing nagged in her mind. London was behind her, and the boy, and there was a new intoxication – the betrayal. She didn’t concern herself with Eddie Deacon. She hadn’t asked him to travel, hadn’t summoned him. She thought her hair flew behind her, and still there was the wail of the bicycle wheels, and she thought that, for the first time, Rossi struggled. Those betrayed were fools to have trusted; those who betrayed were tacticians and without guilt.

She ran until they called the halt.

‘In your experience, how does it play?’ Castrolami asked him.

‘They will have moved him first to a holding location, then will shift him to something more permanent. That completed, they make the contact. They have something they consider of value and wish to trade. There has to be dialogue. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see her.’

‘You want to walk some more?’

‘To my room, to pack, then to the train station. They have to make the contact.’

The prosecutor took a call. He knew the lawyer well. For all of the prosecutor’s years in the city – in the offices of the Castel Capuana, now deserted and derelict, and in the new tower to which the Palace of Justice had moved – this man had handled the legal affairs of the Borelli family. He had contempt for him. He believed him bereft of integrity. He thought him a symbol of the corruption alive in the city. He had first met the lawyer when he had tried to prepare a case against Carmine Borelli, himself a young official, his target a man of substance, and had failed. He had met him again after the arrest of Pasquale Borelli, had negotiated a way through the court-imposed minefields and now had that clan leader locked away in Novara. He would doubtless meet the lawyer frequently now, with the arrest of Gabriella Borelli, Giovanni Borelli and Silvio Borelli, and after the extradition of Vincenzo Borelli. He heard honeyed words.

The prosecutor was asked if he was available in his office to meet with the lawyer the following day, at any time in the afternoon that was convenient. He was called ‘Professore’. He was not a professor of any form of jurisprudence – or of street-sweeping, or of the cultivation of tomatoes under glass. He did not address the lawyer by any title that might flatter him, but he could not refuse the request. He named the time and rang off.

He worked in a fortified enclave. Below his office, in the basement, were the courts in which his accused were judged. In those courts, the accused would sit on benches inside barred cages. The prosecutor was prey to a personal fear that he had not shared with a living soul: would those men and women in the cage contaminate him? They probed, all of them, for weakness. It might be through intimidation, bribery, the honey-trap and a Ukrainian prostitute, or a business opportunity that seemed legitimate and offered rich returns. The prosecutor’s wife worked in a school as an administrator and was vulnerable there, and his son was a teenager and could not have been protected without dislocation of his entire life. He himself had only a state pension to look forward to, and cash payments could be made easily into offshore accounts. He was away from home often, for meetings in Rome at the ministry, then slept in hotels and sometimes was lonely. He had enough cash in hand for a relatively frugal existence – his one indulgence his love of opera – but taxes were high and the cost of living had soared. There were many ways in which he might have been contaminated. They had such wealth, so many resources, those who sat in the cages, and he had been – so far – one of the few men regarded as incorruptible. His fear, nurtured in privacy, was that he would stumble at some hurdle. He went to conferences in Berlin, Frankfurt and London. In those cities, of course, there was criminality, organised and serious. In those cities, also, senior policemen and jurists regarded him – he was aware of it – with hands-off suspicion: he came from that city where the clan gangs ran out of control, where murder, violence and extortion were embedded, where integrity was long corroded. He did not have the respect of outsiders. For a few more years he would endure the pressure of prosecuting the clans, then retirement, home in a village in the northern mountains and… Alone, the fear was always with him.

He made a note in his diary. The lawyer to visit in person, no agenda set, the following day in mid-afternoon.

He believed events would play out predictably. He thought a boy’s life was threatened… and he would, in the next hours, prepare himself to make judgements on the value of that life.

He held his wrists as far apart as the pain would permit. Using the ridge of concrete and its serrated edge as a saw’s blade, Eddie worked on the chain. Now – yes – he was prepared to let the tip of his finger feel the scraped line on the chain’s link, and he was prepared to believe he had made a weakness. His mind roved as he scratched on the line… The time he had once grabbed a man: he had crossed a street to a far pavement where a man and a woman struggled and the man had hit the woman across the side of her face. He had intervened, had dragged the man back with some force. He had been kicked and punched – not with the ferocity of the beating in the bunker – and had been on the pavement. His eyes had misted, but he had seen the man and the woman walk away without a backward glance, and the woman had put her hand on the man’s arm, then he had dropped it across her shoulders… Scraping at the chain, feeling a line made by the concrete, switched his focus. If he succeeded and parted the chain, if he was free to fight, if it was the guy who had taken him off the street, if… What damn chance did he have?

Better than no chance. Big, brave thought. He kept on with the scraping.

He ate fit to bust, and the gastrics put the gas in his gut. Twice he had noisily released it, but Carmine Borelli had to eat a little of everything that was offered, and much was pushed at him. Most recently, he had had a piece of orange and ricotta cake, sfogliata, and a good slice of pizza Margherita, with a deep coating of mozzarella, and before that more ricotta cake, but the riccia version, with twisted pastry, and he had drunk tiny quantities of Stock brandy, sambuca and grappa, all of which should be consumed after the evening meal but would have come from handily available bottles. He must eat, drink and be seen.

He should not have drunk on the pills. Without the painkillers he could not have made his long walk around the territory he had claimed, so many years before, for his clan. The street urchins, the scugnizzi , followed him. Young men and women watched him from the pavements or from the seats of their scooters and seemed uncertain, as if they did not believe that he, Carmine Borelli, could deliver opportunity, money and the calm required for decent trafficking. It was the old who pushed cake and pizza on him, and the little glasses. Some, he thought, had known him all of those years since the power base had been formed and the men took off their caps for him and the women rose from their street chairs to touch, with a degree of reverence, his arm, his mottled gaunt hands, or to pinch a grip on his coat. The old had known him since he had made Forcella his own.

Trade in the brothels had declined and the troops had moved north towards Cassino. Heavier competition existed for the dispersal of American aid, stolen and available on the street stalls, and then God had smiled on him – a day in March 1944. Carmine looked on it as the most significant of his life. Vesuvio had erupted. A great cloud had risen from the crater in daylight, and the beginning of the molten flow was visible when night fell. Villages were consumed, roads blocked. A military airfield and its planes were enveloped in the caking, heavy dust. Food warehouses collapsed – disaster for many, a triumphant moment for a few. Carmine Borelli was Il Camionista. He owned a small fleet of lorries. The shortage of transport was desperate. He was given a lucrative contract by the military government. He prospered. He bought more lorries and was able to profit mightily from post-war reconstruction, then speedboats to pick up contraband cigarettes, heavy plant for digging the foundations of industrial sites as Rome’s government ladled money at the disaffected city. But it had all begun when he had mobilised a small fleet of lorries on the morning after Vesuvio had erupted. It was said that only firearms and ammunition, of all the items brought to Naples’ docks by the Americans, were not available on the stalls of the via Forcella the morning after they were unloaded. The men who now pressed close to him had driven those lorries and unloaded them, and the women who touched him had sold from the stalls.

Carmine toured his streets. He tried to demonstrate his authority. He was not fooled. This was the city of the lazzaroni. The mob had taken its name from the patron saint of lepers. It wanted, to be satisfied, the three F words: farina, forca e festini. It was necessary to give the lazzaroni sufficient flour, a scaffold to gather round and public festivals of entertainment. Twice in the last forty-eight hours he had given them a whiff of the scaffold, and his progress up the street was similar to a celebration.

All threatened, though, by his granddaughter. The mob could turn, owed no loyalty. If necessary, he himself would kill Immacolata’s boy. He could see, craning his neck, when he was at the top of via Forcella, near the church, the summit and cone of Vesuvio. The mountain had made him. He waved, and thought himself a king. How could she have betrayed him?

He knew. It was a germ in the family, in their blood – she had been so pretty, and he had loved her with an old man’s passion. Now he would happily slaughter her, and feel no more than if she was a sheep in the mattatoio, kill her with a knife as they did the sheep in the abattoir. He wove again, and the old men and women applauded.

Her clothes were in a loose heap. She heard the immersion heater going, as it did when someone was taking a shower. There was an en-suite bathroom off Immacolata’s room. She went into it, collected her towel from the rail, and wound it round herself, turned her back on the T-shirt, shorts, pants and bra, the socks stained with sweat from the run.

Maybe she was what they called her, a whore…

The towel covered her, except her shoulders and her legs below the knees. She went out of her room. The older one, who had bicycled, had his back to her but sat where he could see the front door to the apartment through the hallway, and did not look up as she glided, almost, over the marble veneer. She could hear the cascade of the water and went to that bathroom, which was off the corridor past the kitchen – the master bedroom was for her, the secondary two bedrooms were for them. Orecchia had not reacted as she went behind him.

She headed for the water. Immacolata thought that Rossi had toyed with her on the run in the gardens, could have passed her, gone ahead, drawn away from her, speeded up till she had sagged – and had not. He had kept his station behind her, had finally called to suggest that enough was enough, but had not succeeded in disguising his superiority, his strength. So fucking patronising. She went through the room and saw the neat pile of clothes, sweat-streaked like hers but folded and laid carefully on the floor beside the bed, which was immaculately made with perfect corners. The holster with the pistol was on the table. She went into the bathroom. This one was half the size of the en-suite attached to her bedroom. She opened the door. She could see his outline behind the screen. Did she want – at that moment – to be what they thought her, a whore?

Two movements, but simultaneous. She tugged back the plastic shower screen, and loosed the knot holding up her towel.

He gawped at her. Water, steaming, cascaded over his forehead, down his face and through the hair on his chest to the tangle of his lower stomach, and she saw the size of him, and the thick thighs. She expected him to blush, but he did not – expected him to jerk up with an erection, but he did not. The gawp had lasted only a moment. She stood naked and the towel was on her feet. It was what she would have done in the terraced house in Dalston, but only when Eddie was in the shower – God, not when any of the other boys was there. Eddie always blushed and always went… His shock was brief. He reached past her. His right arm brushed the curve of her left breast. His hand came back with a towel. He put it round him, and water spilled down it. She didn’t move, make room for him. He had to work his way past her, and when he did, his hip was against her stomach and his chest was against hers. She looked into his eyes, and he into hers. Then he was gone, behind her.

He said quietly, ‘I’m sorry your shower isn’t working, Signorina. We’ll get a plumber in to repair it.’

She stood and regret bloomed.

‘Please, Signorina, feel free to use ours.’

She stepped into the shower, felt the heat of the water, then dragged the screen across. She didn’t know then whether he watched her silhouette. She thought she had, indeed, made a whore of herself.

He said, and she could see the shadow movements as he dried, matter-of-fact, ‘In our training for induction into the Servizio Centrale Protezione, we do role-plays to cover many situations. One concerns the pentita from Naples, Carmela Palazzo, known as Cerasella. She was barely literate, pregnant at twelve, and active in the Spanish Quarter. With the family men in gaol, she controlled their speedball industry, drugs – heroin and cocaine. At a meeting inside the Poggioreale prison visiting room, the men blamed her for huge debts arising from her incompetent dealing in narcotics. She screamed abuse and was slapped across the face. In her humiliation, she went to the carabinieri, offered herself for collaboration. She was taken to a safe-house, had protection. But she was beyond control. Our role-plays involved walking with a woman collaborator on a street of shops. She puts an arm through the guard’s, which is forbidden, pretends he is her lover, her husband. How can she be protected if she holds his hand or links his arm? She goes into stores that sell underwear. She waves items of intimate clothing at the guard – ‘How do you like this, my sweetheart?’ – and the guard is embarrassed. She runs away. She is brought back. She accuses, falsely, a guard of raping her. We did many role-plays, Signorina, that were based on the actions of Cerasella. Yes, she helped in the destruction of the Mariano clan. No, the protection didn’t last. We threw her out, cut her adrift, and she was regarded as a sad, inadequate person, fit only to sell narcotics. In the role-play we’re taught how to respond to erratic personality, as when a collaborator behaves with the modesty of a prostitute. Enjoy your shower.’

The shadow was gone. Water fell. She scrubbed herself with soap. She had heard, of course, of Carmela ‘Cerasella’ Palazzo, had never met her or seen her from a distance.

She switched off the shower, towelled herself. She had wanted to show power over him.

When she came back into the living room, Rossi was dressed and sitting beside Orecchia. Nothing was said, which increased her humiliation.

She wanted arms round her, to be held, to be saved from the shame… Who could have held her? She saw his face – had gloried in betrayal – and knew who would have held her, forgiven her.

In the darkness, Eddie scratched at the chain. He reckoned he had now smoothed some two feet of the rough concrete that made the ridge, but had at least six more to work on.

New thoughts, new attitudes swam in his mind. He must cope with isolation and the fear it induced, and he believed that sawing at the chain, grinding at it obsessionally, focused him away from misery… which led to the next necessity: must try to stay positive. ‘Positive’, to Eddie, had meant advertisements to be sniggered at in which companies quoted some unheard-of American electric-shaver sales guru who would teach – for a fat fee – how to acquire confidence. His mother was a positive thinker – always regarded the glass as half full and ditched the empty bit – and his father had chided him for not having the ambition to go to the furthest limits of ability. There had been so much crap to Eddie Deacon – not any longer. And, because it was a positive reaction, he started to play a word game – took a word, stripped it, jumbled it, found new words. He would have derided it in the staffroom, and the guys in the house would have hooted at him if he’d suggested it as an exercise in mental agility… but he had stored it as an entertainment, with mental arithmetic, meaningless figures… and further down the line there would be physical exercise – maybe he would try squats, press-ups, or lying on his back and lifting his legs three or four inches. Eddie thought that being positive was important, and thought that if he ever broke the chain and freed his hands the agility – physical or mental – would save him… Had to think that.

Once he heard a voice, a whistle of some tune, and footsteps, but they didn’t approach the trapdoor. Once he heard an engine, faint and muffled, as if a car had come close, and then a radio had been switched on and off. The sounds didn’t make a pattern… That was another thing: a pattern was to be observed, noted, analysed, clung to in case the chain broke and… He worked hard, and the sweat was in his eyes, making them smart. The bucket stank worse.

He thought he wanted the bucket taken and emptied more than he wanted fresh food, more even than he wanted water.

Eddie was certain of it now. The link in the chain had a clear indentation. Not wishful thinking, more than mere positive thinking, there was a line in the steel of the chain’s link that his nail could settle in. He went at the work harder, and didn’t care to think of the consequence if he were to break open the chain link and free his hands.

Time drifted – and he created word games, arithmetic games that were more complicated, taxing, and the dust of the smoothed concrete was thicker in his nostrils, caking the outer skin of his lips. He had to do it for himself. No other bastard would.

‘How will he be?’

‘Scared,’ Lukas said. ‘Scared and alone, feeling that the world, already, has given up on him. Probably in darkness, probably trussed up, likely to be hooded.’

Castrolami drove. ‘We have kidnapping in the south, in the toecap of the boot. It is an industry, and when payment is slow there is the possibility of a knife taking off an ear or a finger and the item consigned to the postal services. But not here. I do not have the experience of it.’

Lukas thought Castrolami drove well. They went fast, had come off the autostrada and were now on a dual-carriage way. Ahead, there was a wide panoramic vista of lights, different intensity but constant, then a short, curved horizon and beyond it almost total darkness. But the Gulf of Naples was broken up by oases of lights and Lukas thought one would be the island of Capri, but didn’t know which. He could keep most layers of excitement well suppressed, but always a faint buzz-glow grew in him when he saw, the first time, his place of operations. Might have been from the hatch window of a Cessna light aircraft coming in to a jungle strip up in the mountains and far from Bogota, or from the porthole of a C-130 as it corkscrewed down towards the Bagram runway outside Kabul, or from a Black Hawk’s open hatch and over the shoulder of the machine-gunner anywhere in Shia or Sunni Iraq. If he didn’t have the buzz-glow, if he’d gotten too cynical for it, it would probably be past time for him to call it a day, go quit. It was all, sort of, routine and he had played this game so many times, and he didn’t expect to be surprised. He still had, and was grateful, the focus. They hadn’t talked much on the journey. Lukas reckoned that Castrolami was poor with chatter: they had done a little – Castrolami had a wife and children up in Milan, and they’d gone there because the job was shit and they never saw him; and he had a friend who painted, and most times he took her out he was asleep at the table by the time the meat was served; and he was forty-six, and bullets had come through the post in little padded bags… Lukas had given some: had done the FBI’s unit for Hostage Rescue, had been on the sidelines at the ‘big’ events, Ruby Ridge and Waco, did coordination now, and was a year older at forty-seven. His mother had brought him up in a trailer camp and had cleaned offices to get him through college; she was American-Italian and his father was pretty much a shit and long gone. There was a wife, Martha, and a boy, Dougie – had only mentioned his son’s name, but Lukas had said nothing else of him. They all lived together now, mother and wife and son, in the trailer park, adjacent to each other, and the cut-off didn’t seem to bother him… They had talked a bit about things that didn’t matter and didn’t affect why they rode in a car down a hill and into the city of Naples… Seemed they’d each talked enough about themselves.

Lukas said, ‘Very few hostages taken have an expectation of the risk. They come to the situation with an experience bank equal to that of a newborn child.’

‘We talk the language of “leverage”?’

‘That would be an appropriate word. “Leverage” is where we’re at.’

‘And negotiation is not an appropriate word?’

‘When we have an open line of communication, we talk a fair amount about negotiation. But it’s talk. I accept that. Talk buys time… The time is used for assets of intelligence, surveillance, informers, for just plain old-fashioned luck to chip in – I don’t come from a world where hostage-takers get rewarded. Maybe, up front, I’ve been party to them being paid for a freedom exchange, but then they get hunted down, shot or hanged, or they disappear off the face of the earth. I understand the reality.’

‘In this case, Immacolata Borelli, if we paid we would destroy an anti-kidnap strategy applicable in domestic Italy for more than thirty years.’

‘I said I understood,’ Lukas murmured.

‘And if we permitted Immacolata Borelli to withdraw her evidence in return for the boy keeping his ears, fingers, eyes – whatever else of his body that can be cut off – the programme we have of collaborators with justice is finished. The postal service would be filled with the stink of decaying flesh.’

‘Again, I understand.’

Castrolami said, ‘Close to the autostrada, where we left it, was the territory of the Nuvoletta clan. We have bypassed the zone of Scampia, which is the base of di Lauro. Now we cross the suburb of the city called Secondigliano and it is under the control of the Licciardi clan and the Contini clan. As we drive towards the old city we pass the territory of Mallardo, Misso and Mazzarella. They are the principal families of the Camorra. Then there is another level – Lo Russo, Sarno, de Luca, Caldarelli, Picirillo – and the clan of Borelli, then another level of perhaps as many as eighty clans. The first level we cannot destroy. We can make arrests – occasionally, when we find a principal – and we can disrupt, but little more. The second level is where we find the Borelli clan. With a collaborator it is possible – I used it with care, but possible – to take the conspiracy apart to the extent that it ceases to exist. The opportunity does not come every week or month, it might come once in a year, but I would believe that is optimistic. Every two years or three…’

Lukas asked, ‘She has that capability, Immacolata Borelli?’

‘We believe so. We remove a clan’s leadership. It is a ship that has no crew. More important it has no rudder. It sinks. Warfare breaks out as the void is filled, but many opportunities then come our way. In the scramble for the empty territory, other clans – ruthless in what they will do, the risks they will take, the numbers they will kill – make mistakes. Mistakes are fertile ground for us.’

‘She has that importance?’ A gently posed question. The tower blocks of great housing estates, lights climbing into the darkened skies, were gone. The streets were filled now with cars and they had slowed. Off the route, Lukas could see narrow little openings. Noise – engines, horns, music, shouting – came through the windows.

‘Immacolata Borelli can deliver us the clan – her mother, her brothers, the hitman and the enforcers, the buyers and the bankers. It is a chance for us to win. Do you know what it is, Lukas, not to win?’

‘Keep it for another day – winning and losing,’ Lukas said.

‘Some days, in life, it is necessary to win.’

‘Another day we talk about winning – and we decide if we can win twice… with the girl, with the boy.’

‘I don’t bargain with you – it is not for discussion. We have to win with the evidence of Immacolata Borelli. It is primary. If, afterwards, we save the boy – Eddie Deacon, the idiot and the imbecile, now forgotten – then we may drink some spumante. It is made at vineyards near the town of Asti, in the region of Piedmont. They use the moscato bianco grape. It is very popular in Italy. It is drunk on a celebratory occasion. I like…’

Lukas said, drily, ‘I think you don’t often get to taste spumante, my friend.’

‘It is my regret that, true, I drink it rarely.’

Lukas gave him the winter smile – no love, no life, no humour. The car was stopped against the kerb. Lukas was given directions – how far he needed to walk, how long it would take him, and was told to watch his back and put his watch in his pocket, out of sight. Castrolami told him he was going to his office, his workplace in the barracks, and would set up, discreetly, a crisis-control desk. He took from his wallet a card that bore just his name on one side, no logo, wrote his mobile number on it and gave it to Castrolami. Then he reached to the back seat and pulled the laptop out of his rucksack – needed a contortion but he achieved it – and asked that the computer be lodged at the desk overnight. They shook hands perfunctorily, like an afterthought.

He closed the door and slung the rucksack straps over his shoulders. He saw the car veer away, then lost it in traffic, but he didn’t think Castrolami had swung in his seat and waved. The sort of man Lukas was – and his judgement of Castrolami – did not take time out for relationships with professionals. A sharp punch, a quick handshake was a good par on that course. He had asked to be dropped near to the piazza Garibaldi, had not been asked why, or where he had booked a room. He recalled what he had been told, peeled off his watch and pocketed it.

The streetlights were low, the headlights blinding, and it seemed that around him the city was vibrant, alive. It flourished. Lukas couldn’t walk along a street in Baghdad or Basra, Kabul or Kandahar, Bogota or Cali. He saw backpackers in front of him, guys and girls who were half his age, would have come off a train and now trekked from the main-line station to whatever fleapit they could afford. His clothes were, of course, clean – laundered but not pressed – and he was shaven but not closely, and his short cropped hair was not brushed or combed. He lit a cigarette, dragged on it, and tobacco smoke mingled with what he breathed out. He felt good here. He pondered: Castrolami and himself, were they on opposite sides of a chequered board? A girl who was needed as a state witness was one queen, and a boy who had done ‘wrong place at wrong time’ was the other, and if the game was played to conventional rules only one could be left standing. He would have to act, if they were to claim a victory, on maverick rules. But, he had been told, it was not a city that threw up victories. He went by the cafes, the bars, the little restaurants and pizza houses, past the stalls where clothing was slung, and past tall west Africans who had laid on the paving handbags with fancy labels.

Not good for a man in Lukas’s trade to stand up and cheer if the hostage walked free, or to crumple and sag if the hostage came out zipped into a body-bag. Could do his best, nothing more. After success came another day, and after failure there was one more day to be met. He thought, though, and this hurt, that the priorities were not with the boy, and it would be a difficult road to walk… He saw the sign, lit, hardly welcoming… One more backpacker in town, older and more wizened, but unexceptional. He smiled wanly at the small group of men who stood by the step up into the pensione, and worked his way past them. None seemed to notice him.

He was greeted at the desk. He thought himself a welcome diversion from the Australian kids who had come into the lobby complaining that the toilet was blocked and wouldn’t flush. He murmured a name – the one that had been used on the reservation, which was on a passport he now offered, Canadian – then asked the guy whether he was Giuseppe. He wasn’t: Giuseppe was the day manager, worked from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. Lukas lied, said a friend had been here, had spoken well of the pensione and of Giuseppe. He was given his key.

Slowly, tired, he started up the stairs. He did not know yet which had been the floor where Eddie Deacon had taken a room. He was tired, a little hungry, and the room allocated to Lukas would, inevitably, be shit, and his situation would, inevitably, be about a thousand times better than Eddie Deacon’s. He unlocked a door, went in, kicked it shut.

He said quietly, ‘You get my best effort, kid, can’t say more – and can’t say it will be enough.’

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

11

As did his wife, Carmine Borelli possessed the cunning of the elderly and the wiliness of a veteran.

He didn’t understand the technicalities of the most modern surveillance systems employed in the piazza Dante barracks or inside the Questura, but he had grasped the need for total vigilance… His jacket collar was turned up, a loose cotton scarf covered much of his lower face and he wore a cap with a peak to hide his nose and eyes from elevated cameras. He had walked more than two kilometres, done back-doubles and alleyways, before he was satisfied. Then he had been picked up in a small repair garage in which he had a commanding financial stake. An old friend had driven him.

The car in which he had travelled to the north of the city was not a Mercedes, a BMW 7 series or an Audi, not a vehicle of status. It was a humble mass-produced Fiat, churned out by the Turin factories, anonymous. He would have confessed, climbing stiffly from the passenger seat and stepping into the sunshine, to a flutter of apprehension. It was hostile territory, and he was inside it. Mobile phones would have logged each metre the Fiat had brought him deeper into the complex of towers. He saw the scooter accelerate towards him, then brake and swerve.

He was happier to have Salvatore at his back.

When Carmine Borelli had taken charge of the Forcella district of the old city, where the streets followed the old layout of foundations put down by Roman builders, the district of Scampia had been scrub, fields and smallholdings. There was now a population of some seventy thousand. It was outside the area of his experience, and a new breed of clan leader was found here. They did not frighten him, but were a cause of anxiety. He had created wealth that was exceptional by the stricken standards of the Forcella people, and Pasquale had built on it, hugely increasing it. Vincenzo – if he was ever freed – would take it further.

Salvatore had removed the helmet and tucked it under his arm. Carmine Borelli took a cue from the hitman and doffed his cap. He unwound his cotton scarf and smoothed the collar of his jacket. It was, almost, an act of submission. It was a sign that they accepted they walked now under the protection of a more powerful man’s authority.

The families, supreme in Scampia, had wealth on different strata from that of the Borellis. They were, here, among the richest in the entire Italian state.

Those families also employed violence on a scale that could almost turn Carmine Borelli’s stomach. They fought, pursued vendettas, tortured, amputated, burned alive. He came with a request. The difficulty of asking the more powerful for favours was that a high price could be exacted. Desperate times meant desperate measures were employed.

They were checked in at a pavement-level entrance. Men spoke on mobile phones, men searched him with aggressive, disrespectful hands, men took the firearm from Salvatore’s belt, men eyed them as if they were lesser creatures. Carmine Borelli could accept the reduced status, but thought it harder for Salvatore to bow the knee. He imagined, in Salvatore, that pride burgeoned. It had to. It could not be otherwise. They were led up a flight of stairs – filth had accumulated in the well – past scattered syringes. He would not have tolerated the heroin addicts’ needles left as litter in Forcella, but the drug trade and its trafficking had come after his time of ascendancy. He was brought to an iron-barred gate across the first-level walkway.

It was unlocked by more men.

They went through, heard it clang shut, then the rattle of a heavy chain. Carmine knew little of ironwork but would have been an imbecile not to have realised that the fire brigade would need sophisticated oxyacetylene cutting gear to get through it, and it would be slow work. They walked some more, then went through another gate, similar, and climbed another staircase.

Little in life could frighten Carmine Borelli – but later he would admit to Anna, if the Virgin smiled on him and he was clear of this fuck-place, that he was uncertain, unhappy, with his experience on the lower floors of the great Sail tower in Scampia. When they were on the third level, there was another pause at another barred gate, and he breathed hard, sucking air into his lungs – and cursed a lifetime’s cigarettes. His hip ached sharply. It was good that Salvatore, disarmed, was with him. He thought, by now, they must be close. More men waited here, more mobiles were used, and he heard little jabbers of code talk. He thought the numbers were a show of strength, of power. He must acknowledge it.

What would he say? How would he say it? And why?

He would say – and it had been rehearsed in his wife’s presence, with her making suggestions, and when he had walked, avoiding possible surveillance and the gaze of cameras, and when he was in the car, being driven north to Scampia: ‘I value this meeting. I appreciate that you have given me your time. I am grateful for this opportunity. To the point. These are difficult times in Forcella. My son, Pasquale, is in Novara, and I believe your cousin and your nephew are also in Novara. My eldest grandson, Vincenzo – a fine boy – is held in London, and my younger grandsons, Giovanni and Silvio, are in Poggioreale. My beloved daughter-in-law, Gabriella, also is arrested. These are very severe times for my organisation, built with my blood and sweat for half a century and more. The threat to us now is from our own. I could tear out my tongue for speaking her name. My granddaughter, my Immacolata, has prostituted herself and taken the money of the government. She destroys all I have built. We identify a weakness. A boy from England followed her here, is stupid, is ignorant, and loves her. We hope the whore loves him. We hold him, but not where we can keep him. We need a secure place. I ask for a secure place – a week, no more – under your protection. I ask also for my son’s most able associate, Salvatore, to be allowed free access. We will put as great a burden of pressure on my granddaughter – to retract and withdraw – as is possible. Here, under your control, is the most secure place in Naples. I would, of course, pay well for such a service.’ That was what he would say.

There were more men on the walkway, at either side and in front of a door.

The door was rapped, opened.

He saw then that Salvatore was blindfolded with a cloth, perhaps one for drying dishes, but he himself was not. He prayed to the Virgin that Salvatore would accept the indignity, not curse and rip it off. He was rewarded, but he saw the heave in Salvatore’s chest. The people in Scampia could recruit Salvatore or shoot him and leave him sprawled on a pavement. He thought, himself, he was safe – too old to be butchered. Too feeble. Too insignificant. He was shown in. Salvatore was guided after him.

He was taken to the kitchen.

A man sat there, dapper, with rounded shoulders and a cigarette, lit, between his fingers. A packet of Marlboro Light lay on the table. He had good hair, well styled, and clothes that looked expensive but not luxury wear. Beside the cigarettes there was a pocket calculator and scrap paper with scrawled figures in columns. Pasquale had known this man. There were no alliances in Naples, as there were in Calabria or in Palermo, but there were arrangements. He played his part. He ducked his head, showed respect. He knew, if the request for help, co-operation, was granted that a high price would be exacted. There was no alternative. He was fascinated by the face of the man, his features. A photograph of him appeared regularly in the newspapers, but was more than twenty years old. No more recent image existed, and the newspapers said the police had never succeeded with a telephone intercept in recording his voice.

Salvatore had made the links, arranged the meeting. He had done well.

Carmine Borelli was waved to a seat. If his request was granted, the boy would be moved to the most secure suburb of the city, would be beyond reach.

He began, ‘I value this meeting. I appreciate that…’

*

He sawed at the chain. It was not a dream, not any longer. Eddie Deacon could ease his thumbnail into the growing slit in the link.

He worked harder, frantic.

He had his jacket off, hitched on his shoulder. Without the sticks that were offered at the cafe, Castrolami would not have reached halfway up the steep path.

It was still early morning, but already the haze was building and the dawn clarity was wiped out. The city was far away and distanced further by the skim of cloud that sat over it. When he stopped and turned, he could make out the runway at Capodicino, the high-rise blocks of Scampia, the cranes at the docks, the curved line of the via Francesco Caracciolo, the Castel San Elmo squat on the hill, and the Castel dell’Ovo that jutted out into the sea. He could not see his own district, let alone his block, or the block of the artist.

He had started this trek on the south-west side of the mountain for the view. It was so many years since he had attempted anything as childishly idiotic as a climb to the crater rim of Vesuvio – maybe ten. Perhaps, then, it had been in February or November, not in the heat of a September morning. The sweat spilled off him and the dust lay on his face.

It was annoying to Castrolami that the American – well, American, but claiming some Italian, maybe some German, a possibility of some British ancestry, and the certainty of being a gypsy, a mongrel that was a bastardo – walked well and kept just behind but did not heave, pant and gasp. His annoyance was increased by the refusal of the bastardo to ask, at any time, the purpose of the journey. They had left the barracks at piazza Dante, climbed into Castrolami’s car, driven away from the city and parked in the yard by the station at Scavi Pompeii. They took the bus up the hill, past the old fortifications that overlooked the sea, the ever-thinning scrub. When the bus came to the park, they were left with a final three hundred metres on foot to the rim. It would have been good to hear, ‘What the fuck are we here for?’

He had not thought to bring water. Sweat discoloured his shirt. Each time he stopped, to calm his breathing and pretend to examine the view, a steady column of tourists passed him, going up and coming down. He alone wore suit trousers and carried a jacket. It could have been that Lukas found amusement in the climb, in Castrolami’s discomfort. They hit the last metres.

The path of caked, stamped-on dust cut through a lunar landscape. Almost nothing grew here. The stones and rocks were angular, punishing, a dull, lifeless grey. There was a first viewpoint where a fence kept the tourists a metre or more back from the rim and the cliff beyond it. There were Japanese, in large numbers, so Castrolami pushed on and headed for a white metal and plastic contraption, a couple of metres high and fastened with wire stays. He thought it would do for his purpose. He leaned on a rail. Lukas came alongside him, gave him nothing, waited and kept silence. Not being asked why took the gloss from Castrolami’s moment.

His calm broke, almost a snarl of anger: ‘Do you want to know why you are here or do you not want to know?’

He was not certain but he thought he felt a weakness.

Could have been mistaken, didn’t believe so. Eddie Deacon worked at the link, running it on the rough concrete ridge. What was certain, the pit where his nail went was always deeper.

Lukas said, ‘Do you want any smart shit talk from me about what volcanoes I’ve visited, where I’ve picked up hunks of lava? I can do that talk if it’s necessary. I don’t think it is. The view is non-existent. Comfort is non-existent. Shade is non-existent. We’re the only two cretins in this place too dumb to bring water. You have, friend, my undivided attention.’

He saw Castrolami’s lips purse, reckoned the anger was at the edge of control. He thought the morning wasted. Lukas said, ‘Say what you want to say.’

There was a harshness about the crater’s rim, and the sun came up from the stones of lava fields to reflect back into his eyes. He looked down, could see far into the hole, and found himself straining to see better. A hawk soared on the east side. The drop of the cliffs from the rim to the core was uneven, ragged. Faint curls of thin smoke or steam emerged from the rocks and dissipated. Lukas supposed there was some relevance to it… and was patient. He was rewarded.

Castrolami said, defiant, ‘I should bring here everybody who visits the city to meet me. I should use it as a theatre set to explain the reality of Naples. Anyway, you are ready?’

Lukas didn’t often do snide and smartass, thought the rewards short-lived. He would need the big, sweaty, armpit-stinking carabinieri guy. He said, ‘I am.’

Castrolami flung out a hand theatrically, waved at the hole. ‘It is one thousand nine hundred and thirty years, less one month, since the eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Ercolano. There was an eruption in the year 1631, three more in the eighteenth century, four in the nineteenth century. There have been two in the last century, 1929 and 1944. Look down. You see nothing that is threatening. It is at peace, something dead. That it exploded is in history, not actual. You cannot look down and see anything that is a maximum danger. Maybe it is only the newspapers that speak of the danger. Look at it, see nothing, and be blind.’

Lukas permitted himself to be led. Did not interrupt. He assumed that Castrolami had flogged his body through the ordeal of the climb for a good reason, and waited for it.

‘The scientists call it, in English language, the “plug”. For us it is the tappo. The plug holds down the lava underneath. The plug hides the reality of what is there. The plug, to keep the vision of harmless peace, is some ten kilometres deep. Below the plug is the burning liquid mass, the lava, and you have to imagine an enormous cavern in which it boils, bubbles and is unseen, and that cavern may have a diameter of up to two hundred kilometres. If the plug breaks the cavern is emptied and pours upwards. The volcano is the city of Naples. At peace and tranquil, with fine churches and wonderful galleries and good food and wine, a triumph of sophistication, and safe. It is an illusion maintained by the strength of the plug. Out of sight and beyond your gaze there are powerful destructive forces. I brought you here to explain about Naples, the real danger and the false calm. We can go now.’

Lukas did not chide, did not complain. He thought, actually, it had been a good image and he doubted he would soon lose the sight of the scree slopes, the rockfall debris, the rough lava pieces and the smoke wisps that were all of the great forces at play he could see. He must imagine.

He started out again on the path, and dust slithered under his soles. The tourists came by him, gasping, struggling, and the sun was higher, hotter. He paused and looked down, not into the pit and on to the plug but at the city. He saw nothing that threatened, only the mist. He saw no danger in the faint hazed buildings that were toy-sized. Hard for him to understand that a poison was down there, hedged in by the blue of the sea. ‘I have it, thank you. Yes, let’s go.’

He thought of the boy – not good for him to feel emotional involvement. About the same age as the son who lived with his mother in the trailer camp, and didn’t write. He had heard from the London office that the boy’s parents spoke well of their son, and with love, and were on their knees with anxiety. He thought his own son, placed where the boy was, would have lost any will to fight after about ten minutes of capture, maybe less. He liked the face of the boy from the picture sent to him, and thought his own son nondescript, perhaps ugly. But Lukas didn’t do soap-opera sentiment. It wasn’t about the son he wished he’d had. Anyone, lame and halt or fit and fresh, would have his utmost endeavour. He had killed the thought of his own detached family, but not his mind image of the boy. They went down together. He thought Eddie Deacon would be existing in a living hell. Maybe the city itself lived under a plug but could destroy.

‘It is a good place, you agree?’

‘Do you want me to flatter you or kick you?’

‘Nothing in Naples is as it seems.’

‘Wrong,’ Lukas said. ‘The boy is kidnapped. That “is as it seems”. I enjoyed the walk, and this is not about tectonic plates, it’s about criminality. Don’t give it excuses. And I’ll buy you lunch.’

*

He thought it would break in another hour if he could increase the pressure on the link where it ran on the concrete. It seemed to bend, fractionally, in his hands.

When he had broken the link, and the chains hung from the two manacles, what would he do?

Couldn’t face that. Couldn’t think about it while the chain still held. Christ, why did nobody come? Why no sirens? Why no help? Why did nobody care? Could have screamed it – didn’t. Eddie went on sawing at the link.

‘Very grave times, Professore. Grave and unhappy.’

‘Please, distinguished avvocato, explain your request for our meeting.’ The prosecutor had not done the lawyer the favour of meeting him in his personal office – had he done so, he would then have had to abandon it while fumigation and scrubbing were carried out. He was able to be civil to and understanding of the principal criminals he met after their arrest, always found them polite and correct, of good intelligence and, in a few cases, exceptional intellect. He found some well read in modern classics and some in poetry, and with a few he had discussed with passion his love of opera. He was not sworn at, neither did he feel his home and family were threatened. The professionals – the lice on the criminals’ backs – disgusted him.

‘You understand, Professore, that material comes, unsolicited and without prior notification, through the post to my office.’

‘I understand.’

‘Material that is sent anonymously, no cover note of explanation. In this case a single sheet featuring a photograph and a written demand. Upon receiving it, I immediately telephoned your office, Professore, and you were gracious enough to permit this meeting.’

Everyone called the lawyer by his given name, Umberto. He gloried in that familiarity. Even members of the judiciary were known to use it in court. The prosecutor would not. The professional men were, the prosecutor’s belief, essential crutches for criminality. They cared for the legal matters that were the inevitable cost of a career in organised crime: they opened the bank accounts and transferred the laundered monies; they placed investments and advised on what stock should be bought or sold; they were the politicians paid handsomely for access to contracts. Sometimes, if he walked alone and unknown in the darkness and thought deeply, the prosecutor considered that the professionals might indeed be the ones who pulled the strings and the clan leaders were mere marionettes. This lawyer disgusted him, but was clever. Many man-hours had been devoted in the Palace of Justice to bringing him before the courts. As yet they had failed.

‘What do you have for me?’

‘I must say also – I was this morning stopped in the street by a stranger. A message was given to me. I have this…’

From a frayed and scratched briefcase – a symbol of experience and also of humble poverty – a transparent sheath was taken. Not ‘poverty’. The lawyer would be worth, for his work with the Borelli clan, many tens of millions of euros – paid well because he served well. The meeting was in an interview room. There was a table, with an ashtray and, four chairs. Three walls were bare and one carried a framed portrait of the President of the Republic; it was minimalist and intended to offer no comfort. The sheath was passed across the table. He saw a photograph printed on the top half of the page, and under it was the handwritten message:

If Immacolata Borelli does not make, within one week, a statement that she has left the custody of the palace and will not give testimony now, or ever, against persons known to her, this man will be killed.

The prosecutor had enjoyed a varied career but remembered best the time – four years – he had spent in Reggio Calabria; there had been similar photographs then. Staring eyes trapped in a moment of fear by the brightness of the camera flash, the filth on the shirt, or blouse or dress, the thickening stubble on a man’s face and the tangle of uncombed hair if it was a girl. Usually they held a newspaper. Usually, also, they seemed to demonstrate the desperation of the damned, as if they didn’t believe help existed, or that they were anything more than supine participants. In this photograph, the boy had a pleasant face.

‘The man who stopped me in the street – I assure you, Professore, he is unknown to me – he said that the boy taken would lose an ear after four days, a finger after five, his penis after six, then would die if Immacolata Borelli’s statement was not passed to me. I don’t know why me.’

The prosecutor remarked briskly, ‘Because you represent Pasquale Borelli and all his tribe.’

‘I’m just a messenger.’

‘Of course.’

‘I would deny that my clients, the family I have the privilege to represent, and who are hard-working, honourable people, are linked to this sad, difficult situation.’ Then he asked, innocence creasing his face, ‘Do you know who this young man is, Professore? Do you know his connection with Immacolata Borelli?’

‘No.’

‘It would be a tragic distortion of reality if the position of this young man was to weigh against the family, my clients.’

‘Of course.’

‘I’m only the messenger.’

‘Again, of course. You don’t have the envelope in which this communication was sent to you? For forensic studies?’

‘I regret that it had been shredded before its contents’ significance was noted.’

‘Could you give a description of the “stranger” who accosted you?’

‘He was behind me. I never saw his face.’

‘Of course.’

There were four directions in which the future career path of the prosecutor could go. He might write the letter, give the notice of termination, go to walk in the beloved Dolomites, quit. He might be transferred to the anti-terrorism force and posted anywhere. There was the chance of promotion to Rome and the chair of command over the three primary prosecutors in Palermo, Reggio Calabria and Naples. He might just soldier on, maintain his office at the palace, beaver away at his work and log seventy hours a week. The last option had a saving grace. One day or night, he would nail this shit bastard and see him dragged away in handcuffs, unable to shield his face, past the lines of flashbulbs, and know that he was headed for the remand cells of the Poggioreale gaol and a chance to share life with pimps, thieves and pushers, the scum of the city. He never lost his temper in public. He did at home – he would pace his living room, his child shut in a bedroom and his wife gone to the kitchen, and howl at the unfairness of life. He stood up.

The lawyer rose awkwardly from his chair. The advantage of the interview room was that it did not have air-conditioning, and was therefore uncomfortable: sweat streaked him. ‘Should I be telephoned, should I be accosted again, is there a response I can give, something that will save this unfortunate from mutilation or death?’

‘No, there is not.’

The lawyer said, a cut in his voice, ‘You play, Professore, with a life.’

‘Do you speak as a link in a chain of negotiation, and therefore as part of a criminal conspiracy, or as the mere messenger?’

He did not expect a reply. The guard outside the door would escort the shit bastard from the building.

How hard was she, the girl? The prosecutor took a lift high up the tower, to look for coffee. Who could read her, and know her break-point? He carried the sheath that protected the paper with the photograph of the staring eyes, the white cheeks under the stubble, colour burned from them by the flash, the tousled hair and the dried blood on the skin. To destroy the Borelli clan would be a triumph but would carry a price. It was indeed, beneath the wide-eyed fear, a pleasant face.

He sawed, and felt the chain link weaken. He hadn’t imagined it – he knew it. He began to think of it, fighting. Began to stiffen with the stress of it – a dream or a nightmare – but kept sawing. The dust was thick on his face and his eyes hurt. He thought of everyone he knew, and wondered if any among them would believe that Eddie Deacon – in a hole with no water and a shit bucket – could break out of handcuffs and fight. His Mac, would she? Couldn’t answer that.

The shower hadn’t been mentioned, or her strip in front of Alessandro Rossi. She was subdued. Immacolata talked of her mother. The tape-recorder was controlled by Rossi and Orecchia prompted. It was general, not the detail required by Castrolami, the prosecutor or his deputy. She scratched in her mind for memories and tried to offer up the minutiae of detail. And between what she had to offer, Orecchia would speak or Rossi, as though events elsewhere had taken centre stage, and the safe-house apartment on the Collina Fleming was no longer of pivotal importance.

Orecchia had said, ‘The position of women in Naples is unique. In Naples a woman can rise higher, faster, than in the south or in Sicily. It was the legislation of 1991, all the collaborators provided for, all the arrests that followed, that took away the glass ceiling, and women flourished. If there’s a problem, what do they do? They call for the women.’

Rossi had said, ‘The women have less loyalty than the men. Pupetta Maresca, first lady of Nola, knows that her son is dead, knows that her son is in the tower supporting a flyover bridge, knows that a cocaine importer killed him, and she moves in with that man and has twins with him. She was a star – not as clever as your mother, but colder.’

She talked of her mother with detachment, as if she was speaking of a stranger she had met casually and briefly.

From Orecchia, ‘The men in the family will usually follow the orders of their father but always the orders of their mother. Another, from near Naples, Anna Mazza from Afragola. Her husband is shot so she sends her thirteen-year-old son to kill the assassin. He fails. All the men in her family are enlisted, and they go to war. Her order, the family of the killer is exterminated, and another family. One of Anna Mazza’s hitmen is killed. The revenge? That killer is taken within a day, tortured with electricity, then crucified against a door – because a woman wanted it.’

From Rossi, ‘We say of the women that they’re clever, they’re ignorant, they can’t read and write, they’re coarse or vulgar, but they’re respected and feared. All of those are true of your mother, except that she’s neither illiterate nor innumerate. She’s clever and she’s feared.’

She talked of her mother holding a meeting in the house, rare, and discussing a pending shipment from Venezuela, and seemed to acknowledge no blood ties, no family.

‘The woman at the clan’s heart enjoys the privilege given her – if she leaves it, she has nothing. Maybe it’s more important to the women than it is to the men.’

‘They say escape is impossible from Poggioreale, but Patrizia Ferriero succeeded in taking out her husband. The scam: she complained he had a severe kidney problem. She was the supreme fixer. She went to a hospital, bought the blood of a kidney patient, then arranged for it to be fed into a dialysis machine brought into Poggioreale to monitor his condition. She was allowed to transfer him to a hospital and he served his sentence in luxury. And she bought the policemen on guard duty with cocaine. Then, one day, he rose, and the police did not look, and he walked out of the hospital. Her driver and bodyguard was a former carabiniere. She was very intelligent.’

She talked in the flat tone about the mother who had not kissed, hugged or praised her.

‘We think women are more capable at criminality, but less visible.’

‘We believe that few women will stand against the lust, an orgasmic attraction, of power.’

‘You owe your mother nothing.’

‘An accident of birth does not have the right to demand loyalty.’ Immacolata said she would go to the kitchen and make lunch. Salad, fruit and cheese. She had not asked if she could run again in the gardens at the Villa Borghese.

Through his cleaned window, using the small mirror that he kept between his knee and the arm of his chair, Davide watched, saw the movement on the walkway and the bustle, and his head did not seem to waver or his eyes to move off the big-screen television. It was not usual for there to be so much movement, so many men, so early in the day. He thought he had seen, also, a clan leader, hustled along the walkway among guards towards the barred gate on level three. But his pay-masters were not concerned with the day-to-day, night-to-night dross life of the Sail. He watched everything. In his memory he noted everything. But he had witnessed nothing that would break his routine of meetings.

Eddie reckoned that in five more minutes he would have broken the chain’s link. He worked feverishly, had pain in his arms and shoulders, more dust on his face and in his eyes, more sweat and The footsteps came.

With them there was music, louder, as if doors had been opened and not closed, and the music flowed closer with the footsteps. Not one pair – might be three. They had differing rhythms and weights. Eddie didn’t know whether to use the last moment, as the footsteps came nearer, to try to break the link, or to leave the goddamn thing. Could have fought one, couldn’t fight three. Low voices were above him. They would examine the handcuffs, see the scratch line, the sawed indentation, and know what he’d done. Wouldn’t kill him, no. Might beat him. He heard the bolt pulled back, had the hood on his head and peeled down the hem, and the fraction of light from between the trapdoor’s planks was gone. Darkness enclosed him.

What was the best that could happen? That the bucket was taken out. What was the worst? Eddie shivered. The sweat on him had no heat. He realised it was a tremble. A dog in a farmyard knows it has done wrong, is called and goes forward on its belly. He had seen that on the farm where the heifers were, near his parents’ place. Wanted still to hate the man who had taken him off the street, wanted more to hear him laugh and know he was not to be beaten. The trapdoor was opened, the hinges groaning. The torch shone down and light seeped below the hood. Hands grabbed him.

He could smell the breath – chilli, maybe, but onion and nicotine too. He was pulled up. As he was dragged out through the hatch there were hands under his arms. There were no grunts, no wheezes – big men, powerful. His feet scraped the edge of the hatch and he was swung clear. His hands were dragged forward and he felt the pressure as a key was inserted into the handcuffs’ lock. They were removed. He had enough freedom to run his hands over his wrists and felt the smoothness of the welt he had made as he scraped. Then the laughter broke round him, and the chain of the handcuffs rattled – as if one manacle was held and the other danced beneath it. He heard, then, the snap as the link was prised apart. The laughter was more raucous. He waited for the blow. He tried to duck his head and to have his hands in front of his crotch, waited and- His arms were pulled behind him and a plastic tie bit into the skin where it was raw. He thought – and was bitter – they should be fucking grateful to him for giving them a fucking laugh by trying to break the fucking chain. All the hours he’d done, sawing and scraping for nothing, had given them a laugh.

Eddie could have wept.

He was held. He heard one go down into the pit, and there was the noise of the bucket swinging – whining – as its handle took the weight, then an oath. Some of his urine or faeces might have spilled out as it was hoisted. He heard, also, the rustle of the plastic bag in which his food had been. The rope at his ankles was untied. He was taken forward, and the trapdoor dropped behind him.

New fear played with him, mocked him.

Was it now they would take his penis, his finger or his ear?

He had only her picture to cling to. He had the blown-up photograph on his wall, the smile, and was so far from it and…

He kicked out his foot, took a good step. He had verged towards self-pity: forbidden. Had edged into the area of regret – that he should never have come: forbidden. He tried to walk tall, upright.

He was led out of a building and his feet crunched on broken glass. A vehicle door opened, and he was pitched forward. He knew from the smells that it was the same van as before. He didn’t think, now, that they would bring the knife to him. A rug or a blanket and maybe an old carpet were heaped on him and a boot pushed him against the bulkhead.

They went out of a yard on to a potholed track, then a tarmacked road.

Where was he going? Why was he being moved? What was the immediate future? It didn’t fucking matter. Eddie lay on the floor of the van and rode with its motion. He didn’t know of anybody out there who cared, so it didn’t fucking matter. He was near to weeping, but held off.

It was Massimo, the lawyer’s nephew and clerk, who met Anna Borelli, a legitimate meeting, not one that could have aroused suspicion. He met the aged lady on the broken pavement, among the cheap little clothing stalls on the piazza Nazionale, and they walked slowly together, her dictating the pace, towards the Poggioreale gaol. It was natural that Anna Borelli should wish to visit her two grandsons in the prison, and natural that a lawyer’s clerk should attend with her – it was an opportunity to feed the prosecutor’s reaction to the family.

The clerk didn’t chivvy her to move faster. He was well paid, already owned a car and had bought a good apartment in the high complex of offices, hotels and accommodation close to the prison and the Palace of Justice. He had done better than any of his colleagues at the university in the Faculty of Law. He would, he realised, gradually take over greater responsibility for the legal affairs of the Borelli family – the Borelli clan. He was sucked in, pulled towards a vortex. How to step aside? Difficult. How to forsake the material rewards? More difficult. He believed, with the certainty of night following day, that his future would be eked out on the far side of the high wall, which had watchtowers, guards with guns, attack dogs, searchlights and cameras. He thought it had been only the brilliance of his uncle Umberto that had kept the old man from the cells in the blocks beyond the wall. He went slowly because he hated going inside the place. It had been built ninety years before. Massimo knew the statistics. It had statutory accommodation for eleven hundred inmates and actual accommodation for two and a half thousand. There was tuberculosis in the goal, hepatitis and HIV. A nine-hundred-metre subterranean tunnel linked the cell blocks to the Palace of Justice. It was a place of hell, but it was glorified in the folklore of the city: there, clan leaders had enjoyed carpeted cells, had had personal chefs and had drunk champagne. There, murders were commonplace, alliances forged. It was where he would go, and his uncle Umberto, into sardine-tin cells, into dirt and violence, if he did not break the link… But he had a high-performance car and a fine apartment with a balcony view of the mountain.

He told Anna Borelli of his uncle’s meeting with the prosecutor. She did not reply immediately, but instead coughed, hard and grating, then spat phlegm ahead of her and let her laced shoe step in it.

They were near to the gate now. There, they would face banks of cameras and metal detectors, and they would go to cubicles for body searches. He was struck, always, by the quiet. With staff, some three thousand souls were inside the walls of rough-carved basalt from Vesuvio, but there was almost silence. Like many in the city, Massimo, the clerk, enjoyed the rewards of association and could not quite bring himself to break the link. Her voice was harsh in his ear. ‘We should have drowned the bitch at birth. Now we should slice up that boy, use a bacon cutter on him, and send her the pieces.’

Massimo knew the old woman had made coffee for the boy, had brought him a slice of cake, and would have smiled and simpered at him while her husband went for the man, Salvatore. He had, in truth but unspoken, admired Immacolata Borelli. She was four years older than him, and had hardly seemed to notice him, but he had often thought of her – and his uncle would have approved.

‘She has to be broken. Only when he is in pieces will she break. Tell the fat fool that – tell your uncle. Salvatore will understand.’

The smells hit him. He couldn’t have said which was stronger, the urine, the sweat or the disinfectant. They went through the side gate.

Salvatore rode the pillion. The problem revolved in his mind. Would he use a sharpened short-bladed knife, a chopping knife or a knife with a line of tooth points? A knife for an ear, and a different one for a finger? And which one for a penis? It was what he thought of as he rode and his chest was tight against Fangio’s back. They wove through the traffic, went fast, and the pistol barrel was hard in his groin. The problem, and the wind on his shirt, ripping at his shoulders, gave him a sense of power. They had gone through Secondigliano, were now far away from his own territory, Sanita and Forcella. They were high above the bay and crossed the ground of the Licciardi and Contini clans. That part of Secondigliano was called by everyone, maybe even a postman, Terzo Mundo. If Secondigliano was the third world – another problem – what was Scampia? It was the war ground. He was used by Pasquale or Gabriella Borelli to enforce authority perhaps once a month and no more than twice. On these streets, and in Scampia, there were bodies on the pavements most nights. They had come off the Quadrivio di Secondigliano, gone past the low-security prison, the towers were to their left and they were on via Roma Verso Scampia. He had read a week ago, before the idiocy had started, in Il Mattino, that a sociologist had said: ‘If you live in Scampia you have no hope of anything ever being better. You cannot have optimism. You have nothing and no possibility of legal work or anything that is psychologically rewarding. It is a prison. The boy growing up here as a teenager might as well be locked in the cells of a goal.’ He had read that because it was on the same page as the story about himself, named, with a photograph. He had thought it a shit article about a shit place. He lived in safe-houses scattered through Forcella and Sanita, he was optimistic, his picture was on the screen of kids’ phones, and he was rewarded. One day, one day, he would drive a Ferrari on the seafront at Nice and stay in a hotel, where a movie star would have stayed, and it would not be Gabriella Borelli in his bed – one day.

He saw the Sail again.

Fangio took him towards the great weather-stained mountain of concrete. He supported Carmine Borelli’s decision to bring the boy here for safe-keeping, but he thought the old man had given too much in return: too much of a percentage of a shipment coming to the Naples docks in three weeks, too much of a share in a contract for the rebuilding of a sewage system on the north side of Sanita. He thought them peasants, contadini, here, but he had masked his anger when the weapon was taken from him and he was blindfolded.

They were on the via Baku. Salvatore did not know where Baku was, in what country, or why a street in Scampia was named after it.

They were waved down. He said who he and Fangio were, where he went and by whose authority, and he gave the registration of the van, its maker and colour, and then he was allowed to go through.

There had been that knot of men, another at the outer end of via Baku and more at the junction of the viale della Resistenza, otherwise near emptiness… He knew that, from every angle, he was watched.

He laughed.

The scooter swerved – Fangio had twisted. He laughed because he had remembered the scratched line in the manacles. He laughed at the effort, wasted.

He thought escape from here, from the Sail in Scampia, was impossible – as impossible as from the maximum-security wing at Novara, or the one for Sicilians at Rebibia. Impossible. He had not resolved which knife he would use, which blade.

He was jolted. The braking of the van, no warning, threw Eddie forward and his shoulder cannoned against the bulkhead. The back door was opened. No ceremony. A blanket was draped over him. He was moved fast. No voices.

Eddie thought it had been four or five paces from the van and into a building. He couldn’t see, but he could smell – all the human smells but, above all, decay. They had hustled him inside but it seemed they were happy to slow and go at their own pace now, wherever they were. He was taken up a staircase. He didn’t know whether it was enclosed or open, but there was no wind on his hands, and no sun’s warmth, and the rest of his body was covered with the blanket.

He was not hit.

Small mercy. He was thankful.

Another flight of stairs – he’d tried to count. To count was to be positive. Reckoned, as best he could, that he was on a third floor, then went along some sort of corridor – it was wide because men were alongside him, to his left and his right, and they had his arms at the elbows. Not a word spoken. Would have said he went a clear hundred paces along the walkway.

Heard a knock, heard a door open in an instant response. Was jostled through the gap, narrow because one man led, he followed and another man had to wait to come behind. Now he heard a television set blaring, but not near. Bolts were drawn back, and another door opened. He was pushed and pulled inside a room, and knew the space was small and that there was no open window because he was hit by clammy warmth, suffocating.

A chain was put on Eddie’s ankle – he felt its weight, tight against the bone. The blanket was pulled off, and the plastic strip that had gouged his wrists was cut.

The door closed, was bolted.

The sound of the television was gone, and silence crushed him. He did not start to learn his new prison, its dimensions. He slumped – stood against a wall, bent his knees and let his weight take him to his haunches, then toppled over. The chain tightened and he lay on his side. He had not bothered to remove the hood.

He wondered if he was beaten.

Lukas walked. It was good for him to feel the air of the city, to breathe it and learn from it. It might be the last chance he had to indulge himself, and he was mean with his time, did not willingly waste it. He soaked up what was around him.

He called it a ‘tipping point’, and had identified it from what Castrolami had told him. A mobile call, the Italian’s phone clamped to his ear, the frown deepening, the gasps on the cigarette faster and deeper, the phone shut down. They had been close to the barracks at piazza Dante. He had been told of the meeting at which an official at the Palace of Justice had met the corrupt lawyer, one of those who always ran with bad guys, a photograph and a demand. He had asked them if he could walk, feel the small streets.

They crowded close to him. Hanging washing made an arch over him. Cooking scents fed him. Lukas went to a chapel, paid to go past the door, stood in awe and stared at Sammartino’s Veiled Christ, so lifelike, marble made into flesh and cloth, and was in the majesty of the place for three minutes, no more, had learned and had pondered on the tipping point.

Not original. A lecturer at Quantico had spoken of a tipping point, had offered an analogy of the final gram going on to the scales and toppling the equilibrium. A legal assistant, drawing up the separation agreement in Charlotte, had talked of the tipping point as the moment when a failing relationship became irretrievable. A sociologist doing demography out of the Green Zone, in safe, comfortable Baghdad, had done the study on Sunni and Shia mixed neighbourhoods, but when one side began to leave – Shia or Sunni – the tipping point was reached when goddam ethnic cleansing was on its way, the flight started, and what had been mixed was now either Shia or Sunni. A tipping point was reached when what had meandered took on a new momentum.

It had.

A photograph and a demand changed the game. It increased the pressure on Castrolami and his people to keep the girl in line, and on Lukas to get the boy out. It increased the pressure on the girl he had seen running, and on the people who held the boy. Heavy pressure now – all different.

He did not have a map in his pocket. He was in an old city, on streets where shoes, sandals and boots had strolled, walked and trekked for two millennia. He did not know, could not have said, whether he was close or far distant from where Eddie Deacon was held, but Lukas seemed to flare his nostrils. He gazed at faces, at windows and at shadows. He was a fighter. It was his preparation once a tipping point had been reached.

He went to work, walked faster.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

12

Three men brought food. Two filled the doorway, and the third came in. There was light behind them, above their heads and shoulders, and it flooded inside. He was still sitting, hadn’t moved, cramped and stiff, but he pushed himself up. The man who came in was the guy who had snatched him off the street; the eyes were clear, cold and blue-grey. The fingers were long, delicate, almost a musician’s. The lips were thin, without the life that blood brought, perhaps cruel. Eddie barely looked at the face, only the eyes and lips, then the fingers.

In the fingers there was a lightweight plastic plate, with slices of sausage and a portion of cheese. There was a plastic water bottle on its side. The plate was laid on the floor, but beyond Eddie’s reach. A trainer toe edged it across the floor. The movement shook it and a piece of bread fell off on to the worn, grimy linoleum. It could not have been washed in months, maybe years – there was a tackiness to it that could have come from dried urine or spilled food. Eddie looked into the eyes: had it been an accident or done purposely? Nothing showed.

It was no matter to the guy that the bread had gone on the floor. The lips didn’t move and no expression crossed his face. Eddie took the opportunity. He’d heard once that it was called ‘peripheral vision’, and he tried to keep his head static but to use his eyes to rake across the space. About eight feet square. About seven feet high. A window at the top of one wall, but covered with heavy-duty hardboard – he could see the pattern of the nails fastening it. There was a metal bucket. There was a ring attached to the wall to which the chain was fastened. There was graffiti on the walls, which had once been whitewashed, but he couldn’t read what had been written. The door had steel sheeting on the inside. All those things he absorbed and stored, and his head didn’t move. Why did he absorb, store?

It was his refrain. No self-pity, but acceptance of reality. No one was coming for him. His life was in his own hands, that sort of crap… Heavy, heavy stuff. He saw ants on the floor, little beggars scurrying. The piece of bread off the plate was in their line of march.

A voice: ‘You are OK?’

Eddie gagged. Why did the bastard care? He didn’t know how he should reply to the hesitant question in accented English.

‘Well, there’s a fucking chain on my-’

He was kicked. The trainer swung over the plate and the toecap caught him a little above his right knee, hard. When the foot swung back, the heel clipped the plastic plate, and all the bread was on the floor, with the cheese and the sausage. The water bottle rolled away. He wasn’t kicked again but the door was shut, locked and bolted, then nothing.

He would initiate a short debate. Better to say, in answer to the question ‘You are OK?’, that he was fine, grateful for the kindness and room service? Better to say that he was not OK because he had a ‘fucking chain’ on his ankle? Better to be passive, or better to earn a kicking? No decision taken. No consensus of opinion. Better to crawl to the bastard, or better to fight? Didn’t know. How could he? They hadn’t done survival training at the sixth-form college in Wiltshire, or at the university. At the language school there were no extra-curricular classes in it. The kick had hit the bone above the knee, and the bruising hurt, but he felt better for bawling out the bastard.

He wondered how far the ants had reached. Wondered if they had found his food on the floor. He squatted down, gave the chain a pull but merely jarred his wrists, then reached out, blind, to collect the bread, the sausage and the cheese. He had thought, when he had been able to see the food, that there might have been blue mould on the bread crust. Better when there was no light, and when he couldn’t see the ant column.

Eddie ate his food. He didn’t taste mould but had grit from the linoleum in his mouth, and didn’t know if he had swallowed a platoon of ants. He ate part of the food left for him, then went to work.

He stood up. Stretching, leaving his weight on the manacled foot, he could touch the wall where the window was set. It would be his first target. He tried to get his fingernails into the space between the wall at the edge of the hardboard, but could not. He tried until the nail of his right forefinger cracked far down. The pain was sharp and he winced, then sagged back – maybe half a minute, no more. Stood again, stretched again – and again could get no leverage on the window. He realised more. His head was against the hardboard, his ear to it, but he couldn’t hear anything: no music, no television, no kids, no laughter or shouting. What he did not hear told Eddie that there was soundproofing beyond the hardboard, which meant additional layers, and he couldn’t shift the first layer, and he couldn’t reach the door, and he couldn’t shift the ring that held the chain – and he couldn’t stop the pain in his finger from the broken nail. He’d once read something an academic had said on courage: ‘The important thing when you’re going to do something brave is to have someone on hand to witness it.’ And he’d read something an American had said on heroes: ‘We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the kerb and clap as they go by.’ Might have been both, might have been one – didn’t know which – but he laughed. Good to laugh, bloody good. Not a big laugh, a belly laugh, a gut-shaker, but a pleasant enough chuckle.

New experiences walked with Eddie Deacon. On his hands and knees, on linoleum and in the crack where the edge met the base of the wall, he searched, wondering whether he was close to the ants’ camp from which they came out to forage on his bread, cheese and sausage. While he searched he didn’t think of the knife, which blade they would use. His hands pushed and probed. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he searched.

*

The game-show on television was new – one of the Milan-based independent channels – and the girls in the show went topless. It was the third week that Davide had watched it. He would have said, if asked for a true response, that he believed the girls on display were hopelessly anorexic… He didn’t have that level of conversation in the Sail.

Ostensibly, in his chair in front of the television, it appeared to any man on the walkway peering through the cleaned, polished window, that Davide – the idiot, harmless – gazed longingly at the slack breasts that bounced on gaunt, lined ribcages. But the agent had the mirror wedged between his thigh and the side of the chair. He had seen much movement that day, more than was usual, and personalities.

He was an agent, a watcher, and had been sent on a crash course to gain the skills, was knowledgeable on the workings of electricity. Nobody, of course, who lived in the great Sail paid the state company for electricity. Nobody ever had to face final demands delivered by postal officials. Nobody was ever cut off for non-payment. Davide, as he was known, was not required to run cables from the main supply into the apartments on level three, but he was useful when a fusebox blew and when new plugs were needed. Then he was sent for. That was good. The poor, the derelicts and the addicts did not have the electrical appliances that blew out fuses. Men high in the chain of command did. That was good for his handlers.

Four months before, he had been to an apartment nineteen doors further along the walkway, and had wired in four new power sockets, had noted the carpeting and furniture, the shrine to the Virgin and a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, in translation, on a table. So, Delta465/Foxtrot had identified the safe-house used by a principal clan leader on the third level of the Sail. He had seen the man, the reader of a Russian classic, that day. That man – who, the agent’s handlers said, was among the four most influential and powerful crime players in the city – had walked past the polished windows surrounded by his guards. He had gone towards the apartment, and an old man, limping, with another man, had been escorted after him. Then the big player had come again past Davide’s window, and a hooded man had been dragged by. His handlers would be interested only in information relating to that principal. His handlers were not policemen: they were interested only in the most senior men. Everything the agent saw he remembered, and to back his elephantine memory there were tapes.

His handlers had placed him in the Sail four years before.

He was a crusader. He was there because he wished to make a difference. A son buried, and the heroin microbe gone in his veins to the grave. A wife had walked out on him, unable to weather the strain of an addict youth. At the time of the death and the walk-out, he had worked in a bank in a resort town on the Adriatic. He had volunteered himself, had not been accepted, had come to live in a neighbouring tower on the far side of the viale della Resistenza, had made the second approach, had been accepted, given a code name and a cover history that checked, had been found the apartment, number 374. Once every week he took the bus into town, reported and delivered tapes. Once, also, every week he went to the mini-mart and bought the basics of sustenance. The rest of his waking hours he spent watching the walkway, or sat behind a lace curtain in his bedroom, observing the street below.

He knew every pulsebeat of the Sail.

Knew the times that the buses came from the railway station down the hill on piazza Garibaldi. Scampia, with the Sail at its heart, was the narcotics supermarket of Italy, even of Europe. Both users and dealers took trains to come here from all over Italy, from Frankfurt and Berlin, Paris and Marseille, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Madrid and Barcelona. The regular bus service waited for them at the station, and if the police stopped the buses there were taxis. A watcher on a street corner, a teenage youth, was paid two hundred euros a day, and there were twenty piazze, each administered by a capopiazza. They were the locations where cocaine, heroin and ecstasy were sold in Scampia. All needed watchers, and watchers were employed in three shifts. An army had been recruited to watch the bus passengers coming in, and those driving their own cars, and to warn of the approach of the police. The boy who went from the customer to the dealer could make eight thousand euros a month – and eight hundred if he was, extraordinarily, to get a job in a factory. Each piazza, his handlers had told Davide, generated an income of fifty thousand euros a week, so the trade for this abandoned urban slumland brought in a guaranteed minimum of fifty million euros a year. Just what was sold on the streets of one suburb of the city. The figure, they emphasised, was a minimum. A young buck, if ruthless, if charismatic enough to find blind followers, can head a clan by the age of thirty – can be worth a billion euros. It was a fighting ground. In the late evenings, when his television was turned off, Davide would sit in his darkened bedroom and rely on the few streetlights still working for necessary illumination to watch trading and killing, linked. Clans clashed: assassins went after a man, couldn’t find him, took his woman, tortured her for information on his whereabouts. She wouldn’t tell so she was trussed and put into a car, which was torched: in Scampia. A man was beheaded with a butcher’s axe: in Scampia. The assassins came to take a man from his mother’s home – he had already fled; his mother, in her nightdress, was shot on her step and bled to death: in Scampia.

He watched, every day and every night, and knew the vagaries of the pulsebeat of the Sail… and a short bus ride from the stop on via Baku was the old city, patronised by the tourists, the lovers of fine arts and the gourmets, who did not know about Scampia.

His eyes flitted between the mirror against his thigh and the game-show. He knew that, in the depths of this monstrous building, a drama played around a hooded man.

‘Don’t ask me any questions. If you ask it will be wasted breath, yours, wasted time, mine. All I can say, what you tell me is of critical importance to the well-being of your friend, of Eddie.’

He had marched them down to the pub. Roddy ‘Duck’ Johnstone had taken a corner table, then gone to the bar, had been given a tray by the barmaid and had come back with two pints for each of the three lads – one missing, still at work – and a single Scotch for himself, six packets of crisps and six of peanuts.

His question: ‘Tough or weak, determined or vacuous, hard or soft, serious or kid-like? Which is Eddie?’

He didn’t need names, hadn’t a tape-recorder and no need of a notepad.

From the club waiter, who would be late at work: ‘He’d like you to think he’s just a lazy tosser, that nothing matters to him, that he’s a push-over. Maybe he was, but not any more. He’s changed. Actually, he’s quite tough. I think he’s pretty determined.’

The PhD student’s contribution: ‘The role he acts is that he’s weak and soft – just a prat, really. Maybe he was. Everything’s altered, though, hasn’t it? A new man, our Eddie. Quite funny to watch it.’

Hunched forward, the Revenue and Customs clerk said, ‘He wanted to seem a kid still, never going to grow up – like the thing he’d run a mile from fast was responsibility. That’s in the past. Gone to the recycle bin. Different guy – and maybe carrying us with him. Tough? Probably, and getting tougher. Determined? Wouldn’t have jacked the job and done what he has if he wasn’t. Hard and serious, I suppose so – but it’s like I said, and us too.’

He listened. He let them tell their anecdotes, put more pints in front of them and didn’t speak until he felt he’d drained them.

Late, Duck asked, ‘What was different? How had he changed? What was new?’

Like a chorus, spoken together: ‘It was Mac. She turned up. That is one fantastic person. Immacolata was what was different. She changed him, maybe us. Immacolata was the new thing. Sorry and all that if we don’t express it well. Immacolata was brilliant. Any guy would be crazy not to go after her. Are you going to tell us what this is all about? What’s of critical importance?’

He bought a last round, more crisps, and left them.

He drove back to his office, went inside. He started to type and tried to express what three pretty inarticulate guys, decent enough, second-rate enough, had said about their friend and about the girl – and didn’t know whether he did a good job or a poor one, and whether he had painted a fair enough portrait of her.

Could she go into the Borghese and run?

Rossi said she couldn’t.

Why not?

‘Because Castrolami has to give permission, and he’s in Naples.’

Why was he in Naples?

‘I think you know, Signorina. Try to remember, please, the lie you told.’

The tape-recorder had been put away. Of course it was foolish to imagine they would allow her to run in the darkness. She worked towards the challenge.

Could they go that evening to a restaurant?

Orecchia said they could not.

Why was it not possible to eat in a restaurant?

‘It requires the permission of the investigating agent, Castrolami, or of the prosecutor. Both are in Naples, and I won’t call them for this. There is food in the kitchen.’

Why were they in Naples?

Orecchia did not look up from his magazine. ‘I think you know very well, Signorina, what business they have in Naples. If you hadn’t lied it would have been different, but you did. You aren’t going to run or to a restaurant.’

She stood then, legs a little apart, pelvis forward, head back, chin jutted, and built on the challenge. ‘Am I difficult? Are many collaborators “difficult”? Will you write a report on me as difficult?’

Rossi said, ‘A few aren’t particularly helpful.’

Orecchia said, ‘Some, not many, go on believing, Signorina, that they’re still on the pedestal they enjoyed while their family was Cosa Nostra or ’Ndrangheta or Camorra. Some, until they have disabused themselves, are “difficult”. We believe they’re frightened of the reality of their situation – which they created of their own free will. You can flounce, pout, stamp, throw plates and slam doors, shout or wave your boobs and fanny at Alessandro, but nothing will change.’

She sucked in her breath, prepared to bare her spirit.

‘I should tell you that Alessandro’s wife is exceptionally attractive. Very much more attractive, mentally and physically, than you.’

She spat the question: ‘What’s happened to him?’

They looked at her dumbly. Perhaps they’d practised their expressions of incomprehension. Orecchia had returned to his magazine, as if he didn’t understand who ‘him’ was. Rossi had not reacted to the description of his wife. Orecchia’s tone had been harsh and unforgiving, as if he had spoken to a child in a school room – not that such a volley of insults had ever been directed at Immacolata Borelli at school. Her mother had brought her on the first day to the Forcella infants’ classroom. The head teacher and the year teacher had been lined up as if she was heiress to the Bourbon dynasty. A seat had been found for her at the front of the room, and the staff had bowed and scraped because she was the daughter of the Borelli clan. Her father had taken her on the first day to the middle school, had materialised from his life as a fugitive, and slipped an envelope stuffed with banknotes into the hand of the head teacher, murmuring about new electronic equipment. It had been pocketed, with discretion. Her eldest brother, Vincenzo, had escorted her to the senior school, and had oozed power as he walked alongside her into the building. At every level of school she had attended, her marks in examinations had been exceptional, her reports remarkable. She was the daughter of the Borelli family, and no teacher would have been stupid enough to mark her down or criticise her. Only at the accountancy and book-keeping college had she been treated, almost, as another kid – and there she had met her friend, Marianna Rossetti, and… Orecchia and Rossi spoke to her as if she was any other child, one who was not given the seat of privilege at the front.

She repeated it, more shrilly: ‘What has happened to him? What has happened to Eddie?’

Their eyes met. Unspoken acceptance that something must be said, something minimal.

Orecchia said, ‘The boy you indicated was unimportant to you? Yes? We don’t know what has “happened” to him.’

Rossi said, ‘Signorina, we are very junior links in a very long chain. We would not be told the latest intelligence. We don’t know.’

‘Castrolami would tell you if he knew anything, or the prosecutor.’

‘We are merely functionaries. They don’t share that sort of information with people at our level.’

Doubt clouded her. ‘You know nothing?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing of substance.’

She went to her room, didn’t bang the door but closed it carefully. She stood at the window and gazed out over the roofs, and myriad lights stretched away from her. None was in the home of a friend, or lit the street of a friend, or was driven on a road by a friend. She had no friend in this city. She stripped, let her clothes fall, and stared out of the window at the expanse of lights. The air chilled her skin. It hurt that she didn’t know what had happened to him – hurt that she had made a play in her mind of ignorance.

She knew what happened to members of the family of a collaborator, to their friends and lovers. Ignorance was not a screen behind which she could hide.

She thought it was Orecchia’s voice she could hear, and imagined he had telephoned Naples to tell Castrolami of her hysteria – but had not rated it a problem.

Off the operations room at the piazza Dante barracks there was a square annexe space, four metres by three, no more. Into it had been crowded a work surface, six computer screens and keyboards, the same number of chairs and scattered telephones and, at the edge, more chairs. There was no window, and cigarette smoke fogged the air.

He knew the names of the two men who shared the work surface with him, but Lukas did not make conversation, had no wish to or need to; neither did he think it would be welcomed. One was the carabinieri unit’s psicologia, the other was the unit’s intelligence collator. He bided his time because experience had taught him that the psychologist and the collator had to be won over, would not respond to being battered into submission. Lounging against the annexe walls there were sometimes three, sometimes four, of the fast-reaction team – Lukas knew about the Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale – their kit scattered at their feet: flak-vests, caps, windcheaters, boots and radios. Down a corridor there were more of them. He was an intruder, tolerated only because word would have come from Rome that he had saved the life of a colleague: it allowed him to be accepted but not welcomed. That would come later, if he could insinuate himself without breeding hostility. They talked Italian round him and he gave no sign of understanding a word they said. He had good Italian but, as with other European languages, he favoured often disguising the fact.

A concession: he had been brought coffee, with a ham- and salad-filled roll.

He learned that every informant in the city, used by the Squadra Mobile of the police and by the carabinieri ’s serious crime squad, had been alerted to the kidnap of the English boy. Learned also that teams scoured CCTV tapes for evidence of the abduction and the movement of a hostage. Learned as well that the grandparents of Immacolata Borelli were now under twenty-four-hour surveillance, as was their lawyer, as were all known associates, and that the watchers and tailers had been stripped from high-profile targets. Learned that one of the clans’ most effective and feared assassins, the Borelli family’s man, was loose on the streets, location unknown. Learned that an ear, a finger or a penis was expected in the post, soon.

And Lukas learned that the informants had produced nothing. Learned that the CCTV tapes had given up nothing, or the surveillance operation. He would have said that the faces around him were not cut by disappointment: he sensed fatalism, the inevitability of failure. Too early in the relationship with the annexe for him to chivvy, far too early to press a point. Did time exist for the niceties and the protocols? It had to. An alternative did not.

Lukas would know when he was accepted by the psychologist and the collator, the guys from the ROS, the storm squad, when they took his cigarettes and offered him their own… Not yet. They smoked theirs and he smoked his, but the coffee and the roll were a start.

As a kid from the trailer park, he had found virtue in waiting and patience. Any kid from a trailer home – a father who was part-Brit, part-Polish, and gone in search of better-carat gold-paved streets, a mother who was part-American, part-Italian, who cleaned offices, no money sloshing in pockets – knew that waiting and patience paid dividends. He would wait with patience until his opinion was asked and advice requested. Already he sensed a poor outcome was anticipated.

Could have been worse. There was an icon story about hostage negotiation, had to be true, too precious not to be. Some said the icon was a British guy, having a real black day, climbing a crane ladder to a jerk sitting on a spar above him, squealing that he was about to go fly and that he’d not be talked out of it, mind-made-up crap. The icon had shouted back: ‘Way I’m feeling this morning, friend, way my missus is carrying on, do you mind if I come up there and join you? We can bloody jump, fly, together.’ The story was that the Brit guy meant it – would have. The story also was that the jerk didn’t want to share and came straight down. There was always somewhere that it was worse for someone.

It was getting late, and there was room in the ashtray, on the table between Lukas, the psychologist and the collator, for maybe six more butts. He’d stay that long… It was always about intelligence. The psychologist could feed in opinions, but intelligence gave facts – and nothing came.

Late that evening, he walked with the prosecutor. It was difficult for either man to say that he was subjected to a greater or lesser emotion – or no emotion – than usual when they knew a wretch was beyond reach. Both the prosecutor and Castrolami relished the cool of the air, almost a chill on the face, drying the day’s sweat. They were outside the palace and traversed the wide piazza, with the towers of the financial district, the Holiday Inn and sought-after apartments ahead. On what they earned as servants of the state, Castrolami and the prosecutor had no chance of purchasing or renting a place in one of those blocks. Neither did they need the services of the financial institutions lodged there, but to their right was a church, a better place. Lights beamed from it, and Castrolami could see the figures inside. He thought it a rehearsal for a wedding.

There were bodyguards behind them, the prosecutor’s, a pair of men. The church drew them as they talked.

The desk at piazza Dante reported nothing.

Rome reported a crisis point.

What to do?

The church was modern, finished in 1990, and the concrete of its slim pyramid shape, and the narrowing twin towers that supported the bell, was not yet weather-stained. It was named after a saint, Carlo Borromeo – died 1584, aged forty-six, in Milan of a fever from the plague sweeping the city; he had helped the sick at great personal risk and paid for it with his life. It was a dramatic building, a feature of the centro direzionale, and the prosecutor was a familiar figure there. He led Castrolami inside.

The bride was not beautiful and the groom was not handsome; she wore a skirt about three centimetres too short and the other faded jeans. They pledged their future, and had good voices.

Castrolami said, ‘I had felt her to be strong. Now I sense weakness.’

The prosecutor’s voice was soft, would have been inaudible to the couple, their supporters, the priest, and the woman who worked the portable CD player for their music. ‘I always look for a priority.’

‘Her evidence statement, taken with full legal cover, her appearance in person in court as a witness.’

‘I look for a priority, then for accommodation of it.’

‘There is no accommodation – excuse me. There cannot be.’

‘We cling, then, to the priority.’

‘The statement, then the appearance. There can be no manoeuvre.’ Castrolami shrugged. Perhaps then he thought of his own marriage. His wife, severe-faced, wrapped in sheets of white material, and himself in a full-dress uniform, a serious dispute within a week over the date of her mother’s first overnight stay at their one-bedroom apartment: his mother-in-law and his wife would share the marriage bed, and he would sleep in the living room on a pump-up – no accommodation, no compromise, no manoeuvre. Extraordinarily, he had stayed long enough with his wife to produce three children. He visited each year, stayed a few days, drank too much, then piled, with relief, on to the fast train from Milan to the south. He was – his own words – pathetic, sad and a committed, dedicated, single-minded, focused investigator. He supposed that – in an inexplicable fashion – he represented the hopes of the girl with the short skirt and the boy in old jeans. ‘The priority alone is worthy of consideration. She goes to court, she gives evidence. There is no question of stepping aside from the priority.’

‘The boy came of his own free will. He was not volunteered. We’ll do what we can for him.’

‘He doesn’t intrude on the priority.’

‘Even if we condemn him.’

‘I want to bring her back to the city.’

They watched the taking of the mock vows, heard the moment of laughter filtering through the high building as the couple were invited to kiss, and did so with rare passion. Castrolami told the prosecutor what he wanted, why and when, and it was agreed.

‘And the boy? Attractive, intelligent, interesting?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Castrolami said. ‘We’ve decided on the priority. He is in second place.’

The prosecutor bowed towards the altar where the couple talked small detail with the priest, crossed himself, then turned for the door. He was reflective. ‘In the world war, there were occasions when a ship was torpedoed and sunk, and sailors were in the water, injured and choking on oil, but because the enemy’s submarine wasn’t located ships didn’t dare to stop and pick up the survivors. They sailed past and through them. It was a question of priorities. I think they weigh heavily.’

‘We’ll do what we can,’ Castrolami said flatly. ‘Priorities rule us. A great truth can’t be ignored.’

‘Good night. Pray for him.’

They parted, turned their backs on the church.

Nobody could refuse her. Nobody could dare to leave a shuttered window, a locked door and a darkened interior for her.

With a slow, crabbed step, Anna Borelli – in her eighty-eighth year – came late that evening along the via Duomo. She had already been the length of the via Carbonara, up the slope on the right and down on the left, and before she was finished she would have traversed the via dei Tribunali, the west side. Some boys walked with her. They had been ordered to stay outside the shops and bars she visited, but they were seen and they carried hand weapons – axe handles, a baseball bat, a claw hammer – and they had mobile phones linked to an outer ring of watchers. It was not necessary for her to intimidate. All paid the pizzo. It was not inside the perimeters of reality to avoid payment.

She was a small crow of a woman.

She stepped among filth and rubbish because those streets were not on the tourist routes. There was a corner, a junction, where Carmine had shot a rival more than a half-century before; had fired two shots and one had missed the target, the rival’s head; there was still the mark in the stone by the bar’s entrance where the bullet had struck. There was a bar, now under the clan’s control, in which five shots had been fired into the ceiling before Carmine had been accepted as protector. There was a vehicle-repair yard where a body – a man killed by Carmine, manual strangulation – had been kept for five days before it had been safe to move it to the pits of a factory’s foundations into which concrete was poured. She walked well, and felt the control that power gave, and fear. People on those streets begged for her cracked smile and blessed her when she gave it.

She called on those shopkeepers, small businesses, cafes and bars, and all were there though it was now late in the evening. She was admitted and shown the books. She discussed profit margins and heard dismal explanations of the pressures from global, national and local economic recession.

Unmoved, Anna Borelli told them what they should – in the future – be paying. In very few of the premises did she offer a reduction or no change in the amount paid monthly in the pizzo. She raised the protection fee, and in so doing she gave the impression that her daughter-in-law had allowed slackness to creep into the affairs of the clan. Those for whom the price was hiked did not complain, bluster, argue. There had been a woman, four years ago, who owned a paint store in the San Giovanni district: she had refused payment, and also to cash a cheque made out for a hundred thousand euros. Men had been imprisoned and the woman had been in the newspapers; and even in Time magazine. There had been demonstrations in support of her, but nothing had changed and people still paid as they had before. The woman lived under police guard now and made no money. An empty gesture, Anna Borelli thought.

With some, she gossiped about their children. With some she talked about her husband – a bladder problem and difficulty in the hips. With a few she recounted the situation in the Poggioreale that faced her grandsons, the misunderstood, persecuted Giovanni, the innocent, gentle Silvio. With others she discussed the circumstances of the incarceration in the north of her only son, Pasquale, and the brutality of the prison officers. All of them, she knew, would have liked to talk about the infame, the treachery of her granddaughter, Immacolata. None did. None dared. The majority had had their pizzo fixed by Immacolata and confirmed by Gabriella Borelli. All knew the girl. She was not spoken of.

The old woman knew that when she left each of the premises, and the door was locked, the shutters dropped, the lights turned off, it would be Immacolata – the whore – whose name flitted on the lips, and there would be sniggers. The bitch was dead. A grandmother had decreed it. The whore, the traitor, the infame was condemned.

Her secret: she knew also what leverage could be exerted on the girl who was damned – as a lemon was squeezed until the pips burst through the rind.

He searched. He crawled on the floor, went as far as the chain permitted him: there was no concrete ridge on this floor and the chain links were double the thickness of those in the bunker. That opportunity would not be repeated. He started again, and searched.

Couldn’t find a thick woollen red sock under the bed or the easy chair or in a corner of his room in Dalston. And couldn’t find a shoe in his room at his parents’ home in Wiltshire. Couldn’t find the big bright-coloured folders with his teaching notes that he’d left lying in the staff room at the college. The idea of Eddie Deacon on his hands and knees in darkness, relying on touch to a methodical, careful, painstaking search would have appeared ludicrous to the guys in the house, or his mum and dad, or to the other lecturers. They would have had him down as a ‘shambles’ in personal organisation, ‘untidy’ to a degree, simply ‘chaotic’. The chain rattled, responding to each movement of his trailing leg.

He wasn’t hungry or thirsty, but it seemed an age since he had eaten the food brought him.

He had lost track of the times when it was necessary to eat and drink. Get up in the morning, in Dalston, wash, shave, do his teeth and use the toilet, then down the stairs and must have a slice of toast from old bread past its date, must have with it a smear of margarine and jam, must have coffee to wash it down. A break for lunch at work. Bells ringing, lecture rooms emptying, and sandwiches, rolls or instant soup in the staff room, must have something or all known forms of life would end. A microwave meal in the evening, or a trip to a cheap Italian, a curry house or the Afghan was a must -do, and the familiar corner seat afterwards in the pub and some pints. Down to his mother and father’s at a weekend and must have a piece of beef, pork or a leg of lamb for lunch – life couldn’t go on without it. Eddie had no watch, no sense of hours passing, no knowledge of when darkness would come beyond the boarded-up window, no hunger and no thirst.

What did he look for? He didn’t know.

Why did he look for something? There was no acceptable alternative. It wasn’t acceptable to lie back and wait for them to come with the knife.

He did the floor and the walls, smoothed them with his fingertips and used the sensitivity of his palms. Didn’t find anything. Found nothing that was of use. Only the clank of the chain kept him company. He had gone round the floor, up the walls and round the blocked window, but had found nothing.

He began again.

He made a change. He took the image of Immacolata out of his mind, as if it was a transparency slide and slotted in a projector, and replaced it with the image of his captor – the man he hated – and kept it in his mind. Like a new day starting. Was he delirious? Was he hallucinating? Was the face a fantasy? It had its use: it concentrated him.

He worked at the search, and had a refrain: he must save himself because no one else would.

The streets around the pensione were raucous, crowded, exploding with noise and movement. Lukas came through the door, which swung shut behind him. Inside there was stillness.

He was handed his key by a small man, dapper and neat.

Lukas thanked him. ‘You’re Giuseppe?’

‘I am, sir.’

‘You’re the day manager?’ Lukas wore his best smile. ‘And it’s night. I thought I’d see you in the morning.’

‘Better at night… and my friend’s baby has a colic so…’ The man shrugged. Lukas recognised the conspiracy. He had asked, on leaving that morning and handing over his key – briefly but not furtively – to meet the next day. He hadn’t expected the duty rosters to be juggled. The man flashed his eyes across the darkened hall, looked briefly, but fast and comprehensively, for an eavesdropper, but the bar was empty, the breakfast room deserted and in shadow. ‘I took my friend’s shift. You are, sir?’

Lukas did a droll grin. ‘I am who my passport says I am.’

‘Of course, sir.’

Truth was, end of a long day, Lukas could not have remembered with certainty which passport he had used when he checked in. It wasn’t that he was difficult, secretive, covert – he just couldn’t remember which goddam passport he’d had, and thought that age crept up on him, stabbed him in the back.

‘It was a Canadian passport, sir,’ the day manager said, impassive.

From under the reception desk, a bottle was produced, with a couple of plastic beakers, and measures were poured. Lukas saw the shake in the day manager’s hand. He didn’t offer money. Might, but later. The best intelligence, in Lukas’s experience, was not bought.

‘It’s about the boy.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I would have talked to you this morning, but you had breakfasts, check-outs, the Dutch complaining about the hot water…’

Still dry: ‘I had the New Zealanders who wanted a reservation in Sorrento for two nights and the Greek couple had fucked – excuse me, sir – till four in the morning, my friend told me, and broke the bed. They want a replacement not repair.’

‘It’s about the boy.’

‘I understood that, sir. Forgive me, sir. The world comes across my lobby, dresses in many ways and has many ages, many disguises. You’re not a tourist. You have no map and no book, and do not ask directions to the Palazzo Reale, the Castel dell’Ovo or the Teatro San Carlo, and no businessman stays here. I understand, sir.’

‘We have to trust each other.’

‘I expected you – someone. I made a telephone call. Perhaps I regret it. I realised afterwards there would be consequences. Someone would come. It is a city where humble people – myself – do not seek attention. I have to trust you… or I walk off the beach and into the sea.’

‘You have my word,’ Lukas said. His right hand took the day manager’s, his left lifted the beaker and brushed it against the other’s. He held the hand while he sipped bad brandy. He respected informants – many did not. The Brits, he knew, had put up bureaucratic barricades to block entry to Iraqi collaborators. They were lonely and unloved by most handlers, seldom thanked for the risk taken. He knew it from the FBI days. Lukas would have thought that a few hundred euros palmed across the desk would have insulted the integrity of the day manager. He did good sincerity when he guaranteed his word – and meant it. Many he had known, attached to Task Force 145 out at Anaconda in the Balad base, who did a year’s Iraq duty, had handled agents, milked their udders dry, then cut them adrift. Lukas had little sentiment, but he appreciated that agents who volunteered help were vulnerable – like the day manager. ‘My word is good.’

‘I telephoned the family of Eddie Deacon.’

‘That’s why I’m here.’

‘It is not yet in the newspapers, his capture.’

‘They’re trying to keep it suppressed. Can’t do that for many more days.’

‘I did not see him taken.’

‘Tell me.’

‘I was brought a piece of card. It is what we give to guests, our address and phone, and we write on it his room number. It was dropped in the street.’

‘And picked up and brought to you?’

‘Yes.’

‘By a witness?’

‘Yes.’

‘Who was the witness?’ Lukas saw the squirm on the day manager’s features. One thing to have involved himself, another to involve his informant. Lukas understood, in this culture and in this city, what would be an informer’s reward: death would come like mercy. Twice the day manager seemed to rehearse a statement but nothing was said, then… Lukas could have sworn, did not. An Australian couple, young, handsome, bronzed and near to collapse, came through the door. His eye was already closing and the bruise had started to swell, while below the hem of her shorts the knees were grazed. He backed away. Heard the babble about her handbag, the snatch from the motor scooter. Her dragged along the gutter. Him catching the shoulder of the snatcher who rode pillion and being lashed clear by the driver’s elbow. In the bag were passports, plastic and some cash and – Christ, did they think they were in bloody Woolagong on the Bondi? Christ, didn’t they know they were in Naples, Italy? He knew about Woolagong from a Special Forces guy who had a girl there and they’d spent long hours waiting for the assets to turn in something of value. Lukas thought he had lost his man.

He hadn’t.

The brandy was produced again. More beakers were found. The Australians were given alcohol, were sat down. The day manager said he was going to telephone the police, but as he lifted the phone he murmured into Lukas’s ear: ‘In via Forcella, at the bottom, is the home of Carmine and Anna Borelli, old people. He came out from their home and was taken. There is a stall for fish beside the outer door. He is Tomasso. He will have returned from the market at dawn. He saw it. Have I killed myself? Have I killed him?’

‘I gave you my word. The key, please.’

The day manager dialled, 112, then started to shout. He did well. He stood in the corner of the robbed couple and demanded an appointment for them the following morning. Lukas thought it all bullshit, but the Australians would have been pleased with his vigour. While he shouted, he handed Lukas his own room key and a second. He thought the Greeks had had their bed repaired or a new one had been moved into their second-floor room. He went on up, climbed a further flight.

There was police tape on the door.

He broke it, used the key and went inside. He experienced the feeling that a law-enforcement man never lost on going into private space with entire legitimacy but as a trespasser. The room had been searched, but he reckoned the check had been perfunctory, done without interest or enthusiasm.

Later he would sit on the bed, think and contemplate. He believed in the value of association, with a suitcase, clothes or just where there had been a presence. So little of Eddie Deacon was there. The bag, clothes on the floor, including the previous day’s socks and boxers. There was a passport, a wallet with a few euros. Lukas thought the boy had left behind as much as possible before venturing out. In the wallet was the photograph. The picture brought alive the girl he had seen run in the gardens; more important, it brought alive the boy. He had been, perhaps, a hundred yards from her in the villa Borghese gardens; here he was close and could touch her, could almost smell her, and hear the laughter that seemed to ring from the picture, infectious. He saw the prettiness, the vitality and the youth, not matched in Rome seen at a distance. He knew, holding the photograph under the ceiling light, why Eddie Deacon had crossed the continent to bring back the girl. In his trade, he was not supposed to feel emotion and relate to victims – it was thought dangerous for involvement to feature. He knew about hostage rescue, hostage negotiation and the co-ordinator’s job of evaluating talk against force, and his whole life was the work… Lukas had never loved.

The work made do as his family. Could have been inside the broad family of the Bureau, or in the gargantuan family of the military, or in the close, tight-knit family of Ground Force Security. Love was now, had been in the past, absent from Lukas. He had admired his mother. He had felt affection for his wife, Martha, at first. He had not reacted to his son’s birth on a date after the divorce was finalised. He looked a long time at the face of the girl.

Then, he had seen enough.

He left everything as he had found it, except the photograph from the wallet. He laid the picture with care in the breast pocket of his shirt, careful neither to bend nor mark it. It was the photograph that screwed Lukas’s intention to deny any emotional involvement. He looked around him for a last time, switched off the light, closed the door, locked it, then resealed the jamb with the adhesive police tape. He went off down the corridor and down the stairs, and the Greeks were still at it. He felt, as if it was a weight on him, the picture in his pocket, saw the smile and heard the laugh.

Good if it had been possible to make promises.

‘Can’t do it, kid,’ he murmured. ‘It’s not a business where promises are possible. Sorry, but you have to appreciate that.’

His own room would be so empty, and without a photograph to light it.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

13

He didn’t know how long he had slept but, blessed relief, it had been dreamless, without nightmares. He had rubbed his eyes hard, stretched, scratched and had started again to search.

He talked quietly to himself, a whisper or a murmur – seemed to take the guys in the Dalston house as an audience. ‘What’s strangest is that I can’t hear anything from outside this place and I can’t see anything inside it. I have no light, and there’s no noise, other than my breathing and the chain. I’ve just slept on linoleum with no blanket under or over me. Where my mum lives, if a dog had to sleep on linoleum without bedding then someone, sure as hell, would be complaining to the animal-rights people.’

The routine of the search hadn’t changed from before he’d slept. He did sections of the floor and the walls, on his hands and knees, on his knees, crouched and standing.

‘I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’m going round again until I find it. Off my trolley, right? Might be, and I won’t argue with you. What sort of clears the mind, though, is the thought of that knife – ears, fingers and privates. Get me? Makes for good encouragement.’

Had to answer that, didn’t he? Had to face it. Couldn’t simply squat on his backside and wait for whatever the world threw at him. There was a knife on call. It was laborious, conscientious and repetitive but – too right – the thought of the knife kept boredom at bay.

‘I wouldn’t have thought it possible to exist without sound or light. It is. I have to find something. I have to believe there’s something to be found.’

It was the last sector of floor and the last area of wall, and he had gone over them, fingertips and palms, five or six times. When he had completed the sector, he would start again at the beginning where the chain was fastened. A success: the discovery of the crevice through which the ants went back and forth. Before he’d brushed them clear they’d countered the obstruction of his hand by crawling over it. There was dust at the angle where the linoleum met the wall’s base. Sometimes he forced it away from the wall, at others he didn’t. Sometimes there was compacted dirt at the angle and he would run his fingertip into it, excavate it, and at others not. He had lost track, had been round so many times in the search, of where he had prised up the flooring and where he had scraped at the mess caught in the join… but this time he felt something hard, and almost squealed. ‘Guys, it’s there. I have it.’

Hard and sharp, long and thin, buried and wedged. He must, each time before, have thought its slight shape was a flaw in the wall or a bulge in the linoleum. It came away. It had been deep in the dirt. Perhaps, on the previous searches, he had dislodged some of its covering or shifted it fractionally. He held a nail, and euphoria swept through him. It was a strong nail, a little bent in the middle, but otherwise flawless.

‘Can’t see, no eyes, have to do it all by touch. The nail’s about four inches long. I’d run my fingers along that place so many times, and now it’s there and I have it. Not thinking at my best – sorry and all that – and not being logical. It’s the window, the boarding across it, which was nailed and the nail heads recessed. Always, isn’t there, one nail that bends, jumps back and falls, and who has the patience to get down and find it? It’s no damn use anyway because it’s bent – but it’s a nail and I have it.’

He would have found one like it in the cardboard boxes his father kept in the shed, built as a lean-to at the far end of the garage. He had nails and screws of every size, calibre, length, and always said they should be kept because it was ‘a certainty of life that if you don’t have them all then the one you want will be the one you don’t have’.

‘Do any of you guys know what to do with a nail? Do they hand out nails in that toffs’ club or at Revenue and Customs or on a campus for PhD students or in the ticket hall of a mainline station? I doubt it. What I’m thinking is that a four-inch nail, even a bent one, is either a multi-task tool or a multi-task weapon. Can I have your thoughts, guys?’

His mind had begun to race: it could be used as a chisel, turned into a bar for leverage, could be a screw-driver, a stabbing knife – used against a soft stomach, an eye, a throat.

‘You disappoint me, you know that? Are you still in bed? Washed and shaved yet, in the bathroom queue? Not gone to work? Don’t know what time it is. Is it a tool or a weapon? You’re useless sods.’

They wouldn’t have known – how could they? – the value of a nail that was probably rusted, certainly blunt, and bent halfway up its length. He hadn’t been so clever either: he’d found the nail directly under the window hatch, which was boarded with heavy-duty plywood. The nail heads that held it in place, immovable, were recessed down. It was the obvious place to have searched and searched again. It was now his most important possession. Eddie doubted there was anything in the Dalston house, belonging to any of them, that competed with the importance of a single nail. And nothing in his parents’ home – prints from numbered editions, wide-screen TV, DVD player, jewellery that only came out of the wall safe for special occasions – was as important as the nail.

‘They’re useless, Mac. Couldn’t kick their way out of a paper bag, tossers. Mac, help me. There has to be a use for it. Do me a favour, Mac, and tell me what I can do with it.’

Couldn’t see it, could only touch it. Eddie started to think.

A dog barked at her from its high balcony. A maid, muffled against the morning cold, shuffled past her on flip-flops and went to work – she would have been Somali born, and taught already not to stare into the faces of Italians. A dustcart came round a corner. A porter, without his tie on, his collar unbuttoned, stood in front of the lobby of a block and coughed on his first cigarette of the day. Dawn was a smear, far away and grey on the mountains.

Immacolata walked down the street, past the long-stay parked cars with Saharan sand on their bonnets and roofs. A few lights were on above her, but most of the apartments were still dark. It had been easier than she could have believed.

She hadn’t showered and risked the noise of the apartment’s plumbing, but she had washed quietly. She had dressed simply, trousers and T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt of Rossi’s, and trainers. They took turns to watch over her. Rossi had been in his room and she had heard his soft snore. The older man was in a chair in the living room and, had he been awake, would have had a clear view of the main doorway in the hall – but he had not. Half dressed, Orecchia had been sprawled on a settee, mouth open, eyes closed. A mug of coffee stood beside him, untouched, and a cigarette had burned out in the ashtray. The strapping holding the holster in place was across his open shirt, and the weapon – she recognised the types of pistol on offer and this was a Beretta – was loaded. She had skirted the room, slipped behind Orecchia and crossed the hall. She had slipped back the bolt, turned a key, gone out, closed the door gently. She had gone down the main staircase, not used the lift, and had seen no one. Half of the residents of the lower floors were still on the dreg days of their summer holiday. Had she met any she wouldn’t have spoken – wouldn’t have shown them what they would have recognised as a proletariat accent from Naples. The hill where they had housed her was among the most select neighbourhoods in the capital, and there would have been immediate protests at the thought of a collaborator harboured among them. She had gone out, and the chill had been on her skin.

She carried her handbag, nothing else.

She went past the clinic, past the tennis and swimming club, where sprinklers already played on the grass, past shops in the piazza where the steel shutters were down and nothing moved, except one scurrying cat.

It was a brisk walk. She wouldn’t run: that would draw attention to her, but she needed to be clear of the covo, and off the hill, before the sun rose over the mountains that formed the spine of Italy. She stepped out, and the pace she took helped to warm her. She went down the hill, was under the canopy of pine branches, then beneath the big highway, the via Flaminia, and walked along the river, but hugged the trees and tried to stay in the shadows.

Ahead of her was the piazzale di Ponte Milvio, where the early-morning buses were parked, and a long taxi line where drivers waited for the day’s first fares.

She knew where she was going, and why.

And in the square there were shops and bars. It was too early for her, but if she hadn’t gone before dawn, before Rossi’s alarm went on his wrist, before Orecchia shook himself, yawned and stirred, she wouldn’t have been able to slip away.

Sunlight speared her, caught her face, and her hair fell back as she tossed her head. Her shoulders were squared and her chin was thrust forward.

She cared nothing for the chaos she would have created when the alarm sounded and Orecchia woke.

He had gone from the pensione in the half-light. The day manager, behind the desk, had glanced at him with bare recognition, then resumed his reading of the newspaper, and Lukas had dropped the two keys on the counter.

No small-talk, and nothing serious had been said – as if a conversation had not taken place the previous evening.

In London, or in a northern German city, or in that engine house of the Italian economy, Milan, people would already be on the move, office workers, shop managers, certainly the street cleaners and rubbish collectors. Not in Naples. A few moved, lost souls. There was a girl ahead of him, and Lukas thought she wore a party frock and that the buttons were not in kilter; her hair was a mess and her shoulders hunched: she had that look, her back did, of a girl who wished she’d been in her own bed half a dozen hours earlier. He followed her, playing his mind game, making associations for her, a life story, as he did with the individuals, randomly selected, who came to the Musee d’ Orsay and paused in front of the elephant and the rhinoceros – and his mind flitted. The daughter-in-law of the artist who did the river in crayon, the Notre Dame and the Louvre, had she had her baby? The waiter in the bar on the Bellechasse, had the laser for his eyes gone well? And Monique, who came once a month to clean the apartment – unnecessary because of the pristine state in which he kept it – and wash his clothes and iron them, had her cat survived the kidney infection? It was indulgent of Lukas to allow himself such fancies. He saw the sign high on the building at the top of the street.

He went briskly down the slight hill that was via Forcella. A church door, on his right, opened and he saw a young priest, but their eyes did not meet. The girl was no longer in front of him, and the artist’s grandchild, an operation and a cat’s ailment were ditched from his mind. He was focused. There had been kids at the top of the street and he had seen them stare at him, comatose. It was why he had come at that time, before the street’s awakening.

He imagined how it had been. Eddie Deacon would have come down the street, walked on the hard cobblestones, but later in the morning, kids would have followed him. He wouldn’t have known where he was going, would have stood out as a stranger. He saw the fish stall.

There was a door, the paint flaking off, and immediately beyond it a man was laying out plastic trays and polystyrene boxes, then shovelling ice from a big rubbish bin. There was a van behind him with the rear doors open. Lukas slowed. Not difficult to anticipate the sequence. The ice went on to the trays and into the boxes. The fish were brought from the back of the van and laid out without order, and a car hooted for the van to move. Impatience built. A brief argument followed, the two drivers. All predictable. The van driver slammed his rear doors, gave a finger to the car driver, then pulled away. The man on the stall began to place his fish in the correct trays and boxes. Lukas went forward.

‘Excuse me… it is important for me to meet you. You’re Tomasso?’ When he needed it, he had good enough Italian.

A nod of agreement. A wild look past Lukas’s shoulders, suspicion and anxiety. Sour: ‘If I am?’

‘Please, keep working, and I’m examining your fish. It’s natural. The swordfish is magnificent.’

Wary of an outsider: ‘It was caught yesterday, brought in today. I think it is thirty kilos.’

‘I’ll take it. Tomasso, please listen to me. I am here now, I’ll leave with the fish. I won’t be back. I have come to you to save a man’s life…’

He saw Tomasso flinch. He had nowhere to go. He would have realised that setting out his catch, brought from the market, and preparing for a day’s trading was explicable and that an early-bird customer – even a stranger – was also explicable. He couldn’t run, shout or protest without attracting attention.

‘I’ll have the swordfish, but show me the mullet too. You tried to help the boy, Tomasso. You reported what you’d seen. You’ll never see me again, I promise. When I go, your involvement ceases. All I work for is the safety of the boy and his freedom. Tell me.’

A low voice, guttural, perhaps coarsened by years of nicotine: ‘He saw Carmine and Anna Borelli. He was English, an outsider. I do not know why.’

‘To find Immacolata.’

‘They call her the whore. Everybody in via Forcella now calls her the whore. Before, they called her Signorina Immacolata and she could have anything, everything. I do not know why he came.’

‘To find her.’

‘They would kill me.’

‘It’s to save his life.’

‘I, too, have a family.’

‘Tell me, and I’m gone. I’ll never come back.’

The trays were filled, the fish sorted, the water spray turned on, the scales were set up and the cash tin was opened. The man, Tomasso, looked Lukas straight in the eye. ‘The price for the swordfish is a hundred and fifty euros. The boy stayed upstairs in the Borelli apartment, with the old bitch who is Anna. Carmine came down and sent a message and then he went back. I saw him at the window several times. I regret, sir, that I cannot do a better price for the fish. It is rare. The van arrived and the driver waited, and Salvatore came here, to where you stand. Salvatore is called Il Pistole and he is the assassin of the clan Borelli. Do you follow me?’

‘I do.’

‘You pay me a hundred and fifty euros for the fish, and the old bitch takes fifty euros. They screw me in the market and on the stall. I apologise for the price. I tried to warn the boy with my eyes. He did not react quickly. You say he came to Naples to find Immacolata?’

‘Yes.’

‘He must have believed he was going to her. He looked very happy. Perhaps that is why, when I warned him with my eyes, he was slow. Salvatore put him in the vehicle. Salvatore is the killer, has killed more than he has years. Salvatore took him.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Salvatore would kill me, and would kill the person at the pensione, would kill anyone. It cooks well, the fish. He looked a nice boy.’

Lukas paid him for the fish, and it was wrapped in newspaper and plastic. Blood oozed from where it had been gutted and from the gills. The tail stuck out behind Lukas, the sword in front of him. His promise to Tomasso, a fish-seller and frightened, with reason to fear, was meaningless, so the guarantees had been sculpted with care. Those pledges of anonymity, handed out with the carelessness of jelly babies and chewing-gum, had no value.

He carried the fish out of the street, hoisted on his shoulder, and never looked back. Lukas thought the day had started well.

Rossi’s alarm woke him. He blundered towards the bathroom, showered, shaved and dressed fast. He came into the living room. It was a few minutes past seven and the sunlight stormed through the blinds. He opened them, illuminating Orecchia, and started to whistle a tune popular in the far south, then went to Orecchia and slapped his face gently.

Orecchia jerked up, and groped for the holster under his arm, then saw the grinning Rossi.

Rossi went to the kitchen, switched on the electric kettle and took a carton of juice from the refrigerator. What they had in common, the two men from the Servizio Centrale Protezione, was a love of tea, exported in tins from England; they started each day with a mug, but Rossi also had juice. He called from the kitchen, with the mock-respect of a courtier, and asked if she, the important one, had yet made an appearance. How could Orecchia have known? He’d been asleep. He hadn’t heard her, or been woken by the water system. It was agreed that she was not yet up.

Rossi said, as the kettle boiled, ‘She’s usually washed and dressed by now.’

Perhaps because he was irritated at having been discovered asleep on his watch, Orecchia snapped, ‘Today she isn’t. Today she sleeps.’

‘I only said it was unusual.’

Rossi went down to the ground-floor hall, collected the newspaper from the front gate and came back up. He heard Orecchia in the bathroom, poured the tea, took him a mug, put the rolls into the oven and switched on the television for the breakfast news: more killings in Iraq, a bigger bomb in Afghanistan, instability in the currency markets, defections from the ruling coalition… Time passed.

Orecchia was dressed and smelled good, had used the Hugo Boss stuff. Rossi made a show of recognising it and teased his colleague. They had worked together many times. They had been on a detail that had done a Cosa Nostra killer, and twice had done the escort and security on an ’Ndrangheta bagman. They had been with the collaborator from the Misso clan in Naples, and with a Triad from the Chinese community in Genoa. They knew each other, were regarded by their superiors as of exceptional competence and… Together they had the thought. Rossi, extraordinary for a man who had been with the Guardia di Finanza before transferring to the SCP, could call upon almost poetic imagery. He thought of a wave on its way from the horizon, not yet seen, then closer and noticed for its ripple. Closer still, it seemed to cry that catastrophe approached, broke upon them and swallowed them. They were choking. He was in the spume and under the green darkness of the water, Orecchia too.

There were no sounds from behind the door. No grumbles from the plumbing. It was long past the time she would normally have risen. The sense of disaster caught them. Not a word was exchanged.

They didn’t knock. They didn’t pause respectfully after calling her name. Orecchia went in first, Rossi at his heels. Perhaps from the door the shape in the bed might have confused them, but it was obvious that a pillow substituted for a body. Rossi heard the sharp intake of Orecchia’s breath.

They were not recruits. They had valued experience. They did not scream, curse, shriek or blaspheme. Rossi felt a chill settle on the hackles at his neck and shivered. Orecchia was breathing fast, gasping. Orecchia did the bathroom, went inside as if there was no chance of finding her on the toilet. They scoured the apartment, each room, each cupboard, each wardrobe.

Rossi knew – was thankful for it – that Orecchia was senior and would have to make the telephone call. They went down to the ground floor and checked there, then to the subterranean garage, which they didn’t use, and looked there. They were supposed to have a roster whereby one slept and the other was alert, but both had been asleep. In older times, in history, to be asleep on duty was to invite a meeting with a firing squad. Today it would be a return to the uniform of the Guardia di Finanza, and they would be checking VAT statements in Bari or Brindisi. Maybe for Orecchia it would be dismissal.

Rossi asked, ‘Are you satisfied?’

‘That she is not here, yes.’

‘What has she taken?’

‘Her handbag – she has some money.’

‘Has she taken any clothes?’

‘She has hardly any to take, and no case to put them in.’

‘Could she have gone to the piazza to buy bread or a magazine?’

‘Could pigs fly to the moon? I think not.’

Rossi saw that Orecchia’s mobile was in his hand. He was scrolling through the directory. He felt aggression towards the girl, their ‘Signorina Immacolata’, and might have exploded, let the fury rip, but he turned away and took the deep breaths counselled by the anger-management people. He could see the rooftops, then the hills and part of the city, the haze and gold light on the mountains. Where could she be? How long had she been gone? How far?

Orecchia gave him a wintry smile and pressed the call button.

She sat on a bench by a bus stop, a weed- and litter-filled flowerbed behind her. The bushes were oleander. She knew them from Naples. Their flowers were soft pink and pretty, well formed. As a child she had walked with her mother in the garden between the sea and the riviera di Chiaia, and had picked a sprig of those flowers and put it in the top buttonhole of her blouse. Her mother had seen it, snatched it, thrown it away and smacked her, open hand and hard, on her bare thigh above the knee. She had said that the flower of the oleander was the most dangerous in the city, could cause grave illness, even death; the sap was a compound of strychnine, a poison of the same strength. It had been so pretty, so delicate. Nothing was as it seemed, and she had learned the lesson. The shop she wanted was across the street, and she was waiting for the man to come and the shutter to be raised.

Nothing was as it seemed, and nobody – except Eddie Deacon – those days, those nights and that time.

Mario Castrolami was not a man of crude temper. He took the call, he listened in silence, he cut the call.

In his mentality there was a practised survival routine in the event of what many would describe as ‘disaster’. He began it. He lifted down his jacket from the hook, shrugged into it. He slipped out of the annexe and into a toilet where he dribbled out some urine. Then he went to the canteen, bought coffee and chocolate and took them out past the desk at the front. He circled the piazza as he drank the coffee and ate the chocolate. The wrapper went into a bin and the plastic cup followed it after the next circuit. He did the disaster routine when news came through from the palace at the centro direzionale that the judiciary had thrown out a case that might have taken three years to prepare, had involved dedication and massive man-hours, because of a supposed ‘technicality’, or because a politician had interfered in the process, or a file had walked from a supposedly secure archive. Others went to bars and drank, or dug with manic intensity into new files. Some went home and took their women to bed, or walked by the sea and gazed at the water. He plodded round the piazza, with coffee and chocolate, and pretended that a new day was starting when he eased into his chair. Judges were not known for patience when a collaborator’s testimony was withdrawn.

His friend, the artist, would have said, if asked, that he needed a holiday, but she would not be asked.

His wife in Milan would have said, if asked, that there was work in the private sector – in that city’s banking industry – for a man of his experience and that he should take the plane north, but she would not be asked.

There was, of course, a check-list of actions that followed the disappearance of a collaborator. A watch on the railway station in Rome, on the principal coach station and the airports of Fiumicino and Ciampino – and she might have been gone for two hours, or four. Orecchia, a good man, had spoken woodenly on the phone and Castrolami had put the question: how long had she been gone? Had put another question: how long had he slept? And the final question: how long between the time she was found to be missing and the time of reporting it? She might have been, he reflected, through and out of the airport, at the other end of the country, holed up in Rome – might be dead with a bullet in her head.

He came back into the annexe. Both the men at the table, the psychologist and the collator, looked away, and the hard men of the ROS group shuffled in their seats and made room for him to get past. As if a black cloud hung over them, the cloud of failure. He could give instructions. They waited on his leadership. He didn’t often feel, or sense, the burden of aloneness, but it was his shout, his right to activate whatever procedures he thought appropriate. There were none. She was gone, was clear, lost. Castrolami let his head fall into his hands and his elbows on the table took the weight. He had hoped for a small victory and had thought it within his grasp – and the fate of a young man, held somewhere, was erased as of no importance. He stared at the surface of the table. There was silence around him, except for the breaking open of the cellophane round a cigarette packet, then the click of a lighter, and he felt a rare, isolated misery, then heard rippling laughter. First nervous and quiet, then growing, gaining confidence, then playing on the walls and bouncing on the table, driving into Castrolami’s ears. He looked up.

The fish could not be fitted through the door. Either the tail stuck or the sword did. The body, with the tail, would have been more than a metre long and the sword the same. The beast was two metres in total and death had left it rigid. It could not be bent or folded. It wedged. Lukas held it. Castrolami recognised it as pesce spade, and knew it as the most expensive fish on any market stall. It was the size that would be bought for the celebration of an extended family. No one helped Lukas.

He didn’t seem to want help. He had another go, but the sword caught the table and jarred it and the laughter was louder. He turned round and led with the tail, squeezed and heaved. The flank of the beast caught in the lock of the open door – and then it was through. Laughter chorused the success. Lukas dumped it on the table, and the annexe was filled with its smell. Only Castrolami did not laugh.

Lukas said, droll, ‘If there’s a restaurant the guys use, maybe they’d do us the favour of cooking it. My news is useful. I look at you, friend, and say to myself that yours is between disaster and catastrophe. Get it over with.’

‘We have lost the girl.’

He saw the grin wiped off Lukas’s face. ‘What did she take?’

‘Her bag, money, her ID. She went early and-’

‘What clothes?’ He used Italian now, as if the pretended ignorance of the language was no longer important.

Castrolami said he didn’t know of any.

‘Did she take knickers and a spare bra?’

Castrolami said he didn’t know.

‘Just an opinion, and humbly put. I know very little of women, enough to fill the back of a postage stamp, but I doubt they travel far without next-to-the-skin necessities. Think about it. Each item you’ve spoken of, however small, it’ll be there – usually is. I make, of course, only a suggestion. It might be worth thinking about the little things.’

Castrolami looked sharply at him, wondered if he was mocked – realised he wasn’t. He thought he saw honesty in Lukas’s face. He couldn’t criticise a man who had confessed to failure with women. After all, he had no medals in relationships. He turned behind him, poked a finger at the chest of a man from the ROS, perhaps his favourite in the unit. The guy had unevenly cut hair that fell to his shoulders, and his cheeks, jaw and upper lip were painted with stubble. He told the man to take the fish, and its spike, to Donato at the restaurant on the piazza Gesu Nuovo, book a table for a dozen that evening, or whenever cause for rejoicing was justified, and ask for the beast to be prepared for cooking. The big man heaved it off the table and carried it out, but the stink stayed.

‘What was your news, Lukas?’

He was told, and instructed the collator on action, if any. He didn’t rate what he’d learned against the importance of the girl having gone, but he took the suggestion given him, and went back outside to pace, think and scratch at his memory. It had started as a bad day and Castrolami thought it had the potential to get worse.

Twin celebrations grew in pitch. A senior police officer took a call in his car and was heard by his driver to say, ‘They’ve lost her? Tell me again… Incredible… If they’ve lost her, can they hold the mother, the brothers? Will the case against the Borelli clan collapse?… Incredible…’

The driver, an elderly policeman with little in his life to create excitement, and little to augment his status, told a colleague that Immacolata Borelli was loose on the streets. The colleague told a cousin who ran a quality furniture chain. The cousin, meeting a young man who sought to bring in a comprehensive contract for the refurnishing of an apartment in the bank section of the city, repeated the story – and the young man was Massimo, nephew of the flamboyant Umberto. Word rushed along certain selected channels that Immacolata Borelli had fled protective custody. From the lawyer’s office, news of it was inside the gates of Poggioreale within an hour, and within an hour and a half it would be behind the walls of the Posilippo gaol at the far end of the Gulf. At both prisons the foot-soldiers offered congratulations, which were received by Gabriella Borelli, and by Giovanni and Silvio Borelli. Within two hours, the message had infiltrated the top-security prison on the eastern outskirts of London, HMP Belmarsh. Men and women crowded around the mother and her sons. It was felt that power had been restored, an old order retained.

Davide, the agent who was Delta465/Foxtrot, saw more movement on the walkway that early morning, and recognised the clothing as that worn by a blindfolded man. He noted the presence, and his memory would be backed by the tapes. He did not himself sift and evaluate what he saw. It was for his handlers to make definitions of priority.

*

Salvatore held the torch. He alone went into the chamber. Two men, neither known to him, held back and guarded the door. More were on the walkway. He couldn’t complain of the number of men allocated, but had thought, still thought, the price to be exacted from Carmine Borelli was cruel. The door was left ajar behind him. He was good, the boy, disciplined. He had the hood over his upper face and eyes, and seemed grateful when told food had been brought. It was fruit, some cold pasta, coffee in a plastic cup, more cheese and water. He bent and took the boy’s ankle in his hands. The leg kicked clear, but he stayed at the task and checked that the chain did not cut deep. He thought it a gesture of kindness: he was not familiar with compassion, could not have explained why he showed it, here, now. The boy had his head ducked down and did not respond. He let his hand brush the boy’s arm, only a slight touch, and the boy shrank from him, his fist clenched.

Since he had been eleven or twelve, people had recoiled from close contact with him – other children, women, old men and men in their prime had backed away. His reputation now was that of a killer – no conscience, no mercy, no love. Salvatore needed that reputation to survive in Naples – but he did not think it important that a foreigner, an outsider, a stranger, should have that fear of him – but he would still, of course, cut off the boy’s ear, finger or penis. There were confusions in the mind of Il Pistole. He did not love and did not attract it. The nearest he knew of ecstasy was not in laughter with a friend, or in the penetration of a girl. It was when he looked deep into the eyes of a man he would kill and saw the spreading terror. It was the greatest thrill in Salvatore’s life. He didn’t know how he would go to his own death, but swore to anybody who needed to be told that he would not be taken alive, locked away and left to rot in Novara, Ascoli or Rebibbia: he would not be captured, arrested, and if there was a hallucinating nightmare in his life, it was the moment of failure, capture, and the parade past the camera flashes, and of being merely a number on a landing of a cell block. He did not hate the boy. What was more difficult for Salvatore: he wasn’t indifferent to him either. Confusing.

‘What is your name?’

‘My name is Eddie.’

‘What is that, Eddie?’

‘It’s not Eduardo. It’s Edmondo, but I’m called Eddie. That’s my name.’

The hood masked most of the face, but the mouth was good, hair grew clumsily around it and the skin was clear. Salvatore despised men who had acne and pimples. The replies were hesitant, soft-spoken. He saw that the bucket had not been used, and that only part of the food was eaten.

‘You have not finished the food.’

‘No.’

‘I brought food for you.’

‘Thank you.’

‘But you do not eat it.’

‘I apologise that I did not eat the food you very kindly brought me.’

‘All right – I have brought more food and more water.’

‘Thank you.’

Was the gratitude sincere? Always, Salvatore craved to know what people thought of his character, his actions. So difficult to know with certainty… Was he generous? Was he intelligent? Was he handsome? Was he the best company, the best in bed, the best enforcer in all Naples? He didn’t know who could tell him. He had been thanked for the food and had received an apology, but he couldn’t judge sincerity from a dropped, hooded head. He had killed men, had shot or strangled them, because they had not offered him respect.

‘You are from London.’

‘Yes.’

‘What do you do in London?’

‘I am a teacher, a language teacher.’

‘I speak English very good.’

‘Very good.’

Was that respect? He had gone into a bar in Sanita and a man had spat on the floor, just in front of his feet, a metre from Salvatore’s shoes. That was not respect. A man, who had known his face and identity, had parked a saloon car on a street in the piazza Mercato so that Fangio’s scooter was blocked in, then had told Fangio to ‘go fuck your mother’ but his eyes had been on Salvatore. That was not respect.

‘In London you met Immacolata?’

‘I did.’

‘It was bad for you that you did.’

‘I love Immacolata. So I came to find her.’

‘She is dead.’ The boy, Eddie, cringed away from him, huddled against the wall. His shoulders trembled and his arms shook. ‘Not yet – she will be. She is condemned. She is living but dead. Better that you had not met her and loved her.’

‘When… when do you…?’

‘I understand you well. Tomorrow. They have until tomorrow. If we do not have heard by tomorrow, we send… our word is dono – you say “gift”, yes? Or do you say “present”? You ask… It is tomorrow. I think my English is good, Eddie.’

‘Who are you?’

‘It does not matter to you.’

He thought the boy, Eddie, might have cursed and tried to kick him, or to plead with him. Some swore or screamed when he came at them with the knife or the handgun, and there were others who wet themselves or soiled their trousers, who knelt and clutched his legs, begging for their lives and moaning their children’s names. The boy had not sworn or begged – and he loved Immacolata Borelli, and she had ignored him as scum.

He kicked the boy. Did it hard, in the shin, saw the pain that spiralled up the leg, the jerk of the hood and heard the gasp. He went out, shut the door and bolted it. He was escorted away. He felt unsettled, and the confusion nagged in him.

He left by the same walkway, and saw an old man low in a chair watching the television, could see the back of the head clearly because the window was well cleaned.

*

When the pain in his leg died and aching took over, Eddie put the nail to work. His fingertips told him that the chain’s links were slid into a loop at the end of an iron pin concreted into the outer wall. He used the point of the nail to drive down, two or three millimetres at first, into the minute gap between the concrete and the pin’s flank. He couldn’t hit the nail with the bucket because the noise would have reverberated, but he could use the heel of his trainer for want of a heavy-duty claw hammer. Eddie reckoned he’d done well, that the day had already given him something positive. He tapped with the shoe, felt the nail driving down, but every few millimetres he would extract it, then reinsert it, wiggle it, and feel the gap, the hole, widening. He thought he had, in probability, twelve hours before the man came with the knife. Time to be used. He had also learned a little of the routine. Two men at the door, only one entering the cell. Knew it was two because one had coughed and the other had lit a cigarette, and he had been able to separate the sounds.

He would not go quietly.

Denied the use of his eyes, left with the power of his ears, Eddie reckoned the man had lost certainty. Reckoned, also, that the loss had taken him on to unfamiliar ground. Downside: he didn’t know what was beyond the inner door, didn’t know what weapons the two men carried, didn’t know whether at the key critical moment he would be able to use the nail to stab, didn’t know whether he was capable of it. He’d have to learn the answer to that. It would have been so easy to roll over on his side, lie limp and wallow, give free rein to the self-pity and the unfairness – maybe they’d use alcohol on his skin before they made the cut, maybe they’d gag him or stick a wad in his mouth for him to bite on – but that wasn’t an option.

The concrete round the pin was of poor quality: it cracked easily, and little pieces crumbled. Then, using the nail as a lever, he could work the gap wider.

He thought it had been an hour, but it might have been two, before he could use his full strength, tug on the pin and feel it rock – but it wasn’t yet loose. Would be soon.

Carmine was under surveillance. Anna was not.

‘I promise you that the contract will be honoured, payments will be to the accounts you have nominated, nothing is different.’

Carmine, with his escort – he had life-long experience in recognising when he was tracked – went to a cafe in the square opposite the old entrance to the Castel Capuana, where he had done his first sentence of penal servitude a half-century before. He took coffee and, with old friends, played a game, twenty-ones, with cards and looked for the watchers. He had pleasure in identifying six, and two cars. Anna, with no tail, talked business.

‘For how long will I be making decisions that affect our contract? As long as is necessary. Depend on it. I have the authority to speak for my family, for my daughter-in-law, for my son, and you have my hand.’

Anna Borelli, who was less than 1.60 metres in height and less than forty-five kilos in weight, peered across a table at a Venezuelan, an Ecuadorian and an Irishman who together made up the cartel that would oversee the shipment from the Colombian port of Cartagena, via west Africa and transhipment at Dakar, into the port of Naples, of a tonne of cocaine. And she could haggle.

‘You have my guarantee, and I tell you that predictions of the collapse of my family are exaggerated, lies spread by envious rivals. You are wise to trust me.’

In front of her was an old calculator she had not used for more than twenty years. Her first stop that morning had been at a corner shop for batteries. What concerned her was the drop in the street price of cocaine, and she showed keen determination not to commit herself to an excessive front price when the market rate had deteriorated through saturation. A bony forefinger alternately rapped rhythms on the table and pointed at the men for emphasis. When her small hand was wrapped successively in the fists of the two South Americans and the Irishman, they would each feel the strength of her claw grip.

‘It’s a pleasure to do business with gentlemen,’ she said. Behind her, the clan’s treasurer beamed.

She was asked then – natural and inevitable – for news of her daughter-in-law, Gabriella.

‘I expect her home very soon, and my grandsons. We had a sweet granddaughter, wonderful as a child, but now suffering a mental collapse, a fugitive from those who tricked and deceived her. It’s cruel what they will do to turn the head of a naive and simple young person… It’s a good deal. Please don’t forget that my hand is my bond.’

She stood, tiny. They towered over her. She revelled in the deference offered her. She would have stood in line to slit the throat of Immacolata, ‘naive’ and ‘simple’, who had been ‘tricked and deceived’, and would happily have used a blunt knife.

She walked out of the shop, the sun beat down on her and the early-morning traffic built. Its fumes were in her nose, horn blasts in her ears, as she carried the bag they had given her.

She knew the stories of betrayal in her home city. She had learned them at school. Betrayal was in the culture of Naples, bedded in its stonework.

One story she had always enjoyed was that of Belisarius. The sixth century after the birth of Christ had been, Immacolata’s teacher had declared, a time of catastrophe. The city had fallen to Odoacre, king of the Ostrogoths, Roman rule had disintegrated, the network of lucrative trading routes had collapsed, malaria was rampant. A dark age had begun.

It was a story that still lived with her, carried forward from the classroom.

But in the year of our Lord 537 deliverance advanced. The Byzantine emperor, Justinian, sent his finest general, Belisarius, to win back the city. He came to Naples, saw the height and strength of the city walls, and despaired of capturing and sacking it. Then he found a traitor.

Immacolata could remember the hush of the children, the sucked-in breath of those around her, and the teacher spoke of an infame, a collaborator, a pentito.

And the traitor guided the general to a broken, disused aqueduct that had carried water to the city in the great days of the Empire. Led by the traitor, the soldiers of Belisarius entered the city through the forgotten tunnel, moved in silence in the quiet of the night – and sacked the city, butchering the Ostrogoths.

No child in Immacolata’s class had raised a squeal of indignation against the act of treachery. It was the Neapolitan way.

She walked towards the river.

Around the table in the annexe, there had been no criticism of Castrolami’s long absence from his chair. Reports were brought to the collator who beavered at them, opened computer cross-files, pushed paper at the others. The psychologist drew a word profile of Salvatore, enforcer to the Borelli clan, and painted a psychopath’s portrait. Lukas put bricks in place, built contact: he murmured, never allowing his voice to intrude, to both men the hopes he harboured for the hostage’s behaviour, how Eddie Deacon should be.

Should be… combating the sense of disbelief that ‘this is actually happening, and to me’, confronting fear and holding on, however grimly, to a sense of control. He should establish a routine for himself, and learn the routine of his captors. Regrets and sentimentality should be ruled out, unacceptable. Talk with his guards should be kept to a minimum and attempts to ingratiate himself with them would usually be doomed; they ‘don’t like a crawler or a whiner’, Lukas had said, or a guy who hit back and antagonised; ‘he’s best staying quiet’ and should never complain. He should not be uncooperative or short-tempered, and should not compromise his integrity. Always he should be remote from the cause of the hostage-taker. When a phone rang, or more paper was brought, Lukas would back off.

‘And escape?’ the psychologist had asked. ‘Does he work towards an escape attempt?’

‘Should he, shouldn’t he?’ the collator demanded, and the men behind – the storm squad – murmured support for an answer, an opinion.

Lukas said, ‘Eddie Deacon’s a nice guy, a second-rate guy, a teacher. He’s in a bunker, a cell, probably in darkness, likely hooded. Assuming he breaks clear of restraints, chains, gets through a door, a trap, he will have no knowledge of what’s beyond. Again, assuming he gets out of the building, he doesn’t know where he is, on hostile ground. Who will help him? Escape is the measure of desperation at a last resort. Almost inevitably it will fail.’

‘You paint a black picture,’ the psychologist said.

‘His situation is black.’

‘He depends on us,’ the collator said.

‘A failed attempt arouses a reaction of extreme brutality.’

He heard footsteps stamping along a corridor, then across the operations room.

‘Usually, then, they kill.’ Lukas saw Castrolami’s entry. He questioned with his eyes, spoke the name of the girl, and the collator – as if it was his personal cross to bear – shook his head.

Castrolami lifted a phone, dialled. Lukas heard him tell a minder in Rome that he had walked twenty-four times round the piazza Dante, and had thought. Then he told the minder where to find Immacolata Borelli, bit his lip and rang off. The breath sang through his teeth, like dice rolled but not yet settled.

Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator

14

He had crossed the space, the chain dragging behind him.

He was against the door, standing, and when he pressed an ear to the crack below the upper hinge he could make out, very faint, voices and music. He couldn’t understand what was said or by whom, or distinguish what music was played.

Once the pin had come clear of the wall and the chain was free, Eddie had not stopped to consider, step by step, his actions. He had gripped the nail tighter in his fist and had crawled across the space, groping in the darkness until he reached the door. He had moved his fingers up the smooth metal sheeting nailed to the wood, then listened. He would have worried if the sounds had been more distinct.

He didn’t think he would be heard.

A glass is half full: the nail would enable him to break out, flee for freedom. A glass is half empty: he would fail, be mutilated, butchered, buried in secrecy and some day, some time, someone would find this place and read his name. He scratched with the nail tip in the blackness and trusted that he had fashioned the capital characters: EDDIE. Didn’t do a message, or an epistle, didn’t do an approximation of a date, didn’t make a heart and arrow and gouge ‘Immacolata’, just did his name and thought that if, some time, it was read and files were turned up, it might just be that the bastard who had him there would face some sort of retribution. He didn’t believe that to have done his name with the nail was the same as admitting defeat, accepting ultimate failure. He didn’t know whether it could be deciphered.

Eddie began to work on the lower hinge, sank down to his knees. He knew what he had to do. His dad, back in Wiltshire, had given over the inside end of the garage to shelves and boxes. Neat as a hardware-shop display, he had about every tool a man could ever want and plenty more. His mum shrugged about it, and Eddie had sort of sneered, but his dad had the tools to get the hinge off in about two minutes flat. Now Eddie didn’t sneer. He used the nail, first off, to try to open a fraction of a gap between the hinge and the metal sheet – and didn’t like to think again about a glass being half empty.

And didn’t like to think about whether his name could be read or was just the scratching of an imbecile.

Minutiae dominated Eddie Deacon’s existence. Top of the list was the depth that the nail tip could go down behind the hinge bar, starting at two millimetres, estimate, and needing to open right out so that it could go down more than ten, and likely twenty. Then there were the screws to be loosened, and he had no screw-driver. Any time before he had been ‘lucky’ and had caught that flight, ‘lucky’ again and had caught the train from Rome Eddie Deacon would have said, ‘Fuck it,’ or ‘No can do,’ and walked away from the problem. Would have said, before, that Eddie Deacon did not take off hinges, the lower one first, without the necessary tools. He would have said that it was impossible to dislodge two old hinges, both held in with likely rusted screws, without a cordless or powered drill – and he had only a single nail that was slightly bent halfway up.

He did not acknowledge ‘impossible’.

Through the focus came small solutions. He had the pin extracted from the wall as a lightweight hammer. He had a handkerchief in his pocket, dirty and disgusting, and could fold the corner and use it as a wad across the nail head to dull the hammer sound. He had the bucket – and he had the thought of the knife: he could feel, on his head, on his hands and in his privates, what the knife would cut.

He had no way of judging time.

Eddie hit the nail three or four times, then stopped, listened, let the quiet cling round him, and the darkness, then repeated, listened again, and had the nail behind the hinge bar by – his estimate – five millimetres. Double that insertion, then utilise the bucket, and he reckoned he made progress, did well and Voices, louder music, as if an internal door were opened. He scurried, hands and knees again, back towards the far wall, used his fingers to find the hole where the pin had been, jammed it home, stuffed the handkerchief back into his pocket, put the nail into his right trainer against his instep. He had his back against the wall, had found the hood and slipped it on, and his knees were drawn up, his head dropped and resting on them. He waited.

Seemed a damned eternity.

Couldn’t be certain, but Eddie thought that men had come close to the door and had started a bloody conversation. He resented that, was pissed off that he’d heard them, had backed away from his work and now sat idle, wasting time and- The bolt opened – which told him, because now he listened hard for everything, that it was lightweight, and a key turned. A heavy key. The door was opened.

Through the hood he realised a torch powered against his body.

The voice was the same as before, the bastard’s voice: ‘You did not eat. Why did you not eat?’

Didn’t eat because he’d been too busy – got that, bastard? ‘I wasn’t hungry.’

‘If I bring you food you should eat it.’

‘I wasn’t hungry.’

‘Did you drink?’

He’d needed the water – hot work, dragging out a pin, in the stifling space with flaked concrete making a dustcake in his throat, and heavy work, trying to ram a nail tip behind a hinge bar. ‘Thank you, yes.’

‘You have used the bucket?’

‘I have – the minimum. There is no paper and if I use the bucket and have no paper I will stink worse than I do already. Thank you.’

‘I bring you food, Eddie, and water, and I change your bucket. Am I kind, Eddie, or not?’

‘Kind. Thank you.’

‘I leave food for you, and water, and a new bucket.’

‘Thank you.’

‘I hope, Eddie, that we hear something today of Immacolata. We give them until tomorrow. For you, I hope we hear today.’

He heard the food, in a bag, dropped, a water bottle, plastic, roll, and the clatter of a new galvanised bucket.

‘Thank you for the food and water, and the bucket.’

Then wistful, softer: ‘I think she is very beautiful, Immacolata…’

Eddie anticipated. He was kicked.

He used his legs to protect his stomach and groin, and his arms were over his hooded head. Not a single kick but a flurry of them. Eddie understood it. He understood that the bastard regarded him as a rival – not just as a bargaining chip but as a rival for Immacolata Borelli’s affection. Could have laughed while the kicks came. Maybe she hadn’t done it with him, the bastard, maybe she’d turned him down. He heard the bucket, the one he’d used, knocked over. The kicking stopped.

He heard the rhythm of it. Door opened, voices, door closed, faint voices. Door locked and door bolted. Silence. Only his groans… She had been his, not the bastard’s. He saw her face, then crawled awkwardly through the mess from the upturned bucket, which wet his hands and knees. He saw her face clearly, and began again to work with the nail.

The river level was down. The Tiber’s flow was erratic and followed channels between sandbanks.

She was on the bridge.

She lifted the lock from the bag. It had plastic wrapping round it, and she used her teeth to break it open. There was another couple on the bridge, their arms locked, and the girl was kissing the man. Immacolata pulled the padlock clear of the packaging, and the keys fell to the paving. She bent to retrieve them. There was, immediately below her, a current moving in the water, a free flow between two banks. The river had been low long enough for scrub to have taken hold on the banks. Great dead boughs and trunks were scattered in it, old trees that had been swept downstream by the early spring’s flood rip.

All she knew of the bridge was what Castrolami had told her – not the crap about its history, but about the lamppost that had threatened to collapse and the replacement of low metal posts with a chain running between them that the city mayor had ordered to be erected. The padlock she had bought was heavy-duty, would have been a struggle to break through even with large bolt-cutters. It had two good keys that shone in the morning sunshine. The man in the hardware shop had wanted to sell her a padlock with combination numbers. She had refused and he had persisted until she had flared at him that it was not his business what sort of padlock she purchased. Then he had understood, and the smile had crossed his face, a patronising tolerance of the young, and he had offered her a cheap, shiny model, made in China; the implication was that a good padlock would be wasted when fastened to the column. Castrolami had said that young people in love came to the bridge with padlocks – like the couple who stood along the rail from her and kissed. She had told the shopkeeper she wanted the best, and that she was prepared to pay thirty-five euros for a lock with keys. Only when she had paid did he tell her slyly that it was possible to buy the padlocks from an Albanian trader on the bridge, but not of quality. She could see the one the couple had. Together they hooked it on to the chain, and she thought it would have cost ten euros at most. For them it was a joke, a diversion, and a chance to kiss again. There was a long line of padlocks on that section of chain, enough to make it sag. Names had been written in indelible ink on some.

Immacolata did not have a pen with indelible ink: if she had, she would not have used it.

She threw the packaging over the bridge’s stone rail, watched it flutter down, fall into the flow and float away, like a boat. The couple had broken in their embrace and now eyed her with hostility. She gave them the look of contempt of a daughter of the Borelli clan, and must have intimidated them because they hurried on with their business on the bridge. She might, perhaps, in that gesture of throwing away the plastic and cardboard, have unsettled them; they would have seen her face – her chin and eyes – and been nervous of intervening to chastise her. Their moment of declared love had, maybe, been lessened by their fear of her. She watched them go south, and towards the road sign for the Lungotevere. They didn’t turn, kept their backs to her, and held close to each other.

Immacolata thought that placing the padlock on the chain on the bridge was about as relevant as laying fresh bouquets beside a road where there had been a fatality in a traffic accident. Irrelevant, but she thought it worthwhile.

She wondered then if he saw her, pictured her. She had the image of him: grubby jeans, socks that usually had a hole at the heel or the toe, yesterday’s shirt, his hair unbrushed, the smile and the laughter that walked with him, the flatness of his stomach, the delicacy of his fingers, the thin thighs and… She seemed, inside herself, to arch and press and be closer so that he went deeper. She remembered Eddie. She knew what they would do to him. She was of the Borelli family, and she knew how pain and fear were used as regular weapons of choice. She did not have him there to kiss.

She kissed the padlock face: it was cold, remote. She let her lips linger on it.

The chain was rusted, lower than the rail, and festooned with the padlocks of lovers. She hesitated. She heard a little squeal of mirth, mocking, and the Albanian who sold the padlocks on the bridge was staring at her and would have been wondering why she had come alone, and why she paused. Could she not make up her fucking mind? He might have thought that. The water was dull, dirty and wound between the banks. There was nothing attractive about the view upstream, nothing of majesty.

She made her commitment. Immacolata took three steps, four, to the chain, then looked for a section that was not already crowded and found one. She didn’t kneel because that would have been an act of sentimentality. She crouched, used a key to open the padlock, then secured it to a link in the chain and snapped it shut. It hung there, and for a moment the sun was on it.

She stepped back, held the keys between her fingers and remembered what Castrolami had told her, and what she had seen the lovers do hurriedly after they had scowled at her for letting the packaging drop. They would have taken longer over it but she had destroyed their moment… Not important to her. The sun was over the next bridge, still low enough to dazzle her. It was indeed her commitment. There were three keys on the ring, little bright trinkets of her mood. Not diamonds, not jewels, not flowers, but three keys from a Chinese factory. She raised her arm, saw his face, threw them, watched them fall, irretrievable, saw the splash and the fast-forming ripples, then only the swirl of the current.

‘The old mendicante was right. I’m surprised,’ Rossi said.

‘The old beggar’s usually right,’ Orecchia said.

‘Is she going to jump in after them?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Do we go for her now?’

Orecchia said, ‘As we would for a mourner beside a family grave. Half a minute for contemplation, then we go.’

They had been there a quarter of an hour. They had been sitting on a low railing in the shade of the trees, with the scent of the market’s fruit stalls behind them, and they had waited to see if Castrolami’s judgement was sure or whether it leaked. They had seen her come, with that haughty stride, as if she was of God’s chosen few, on to the bridge – as Castrolami had said she would – and each man had let out an involuntary sigh of relief.

‘Would we have been fired?’

‘Probably “returned to unit”, probably on a trash heap. I think he told very few. It’s contained.’

‘Would you do that? Buy a padlock, waste it, throw away the key?’

‘I know too little about romance.’ A faint grin broke on Orecchia’s face. ‘Come on.’

They stood.

‘How do we treat her?’

‘Like an old friend. How else?’

Orecchia led. They skipped through the traffic, crossed the far pavement and walked out on to the bridge.

Rossi asked, ‘Do we go gently or kick hell out of her?’

Orecchia answered, side of his mouth, ‘I lead, Alessandro, an uncomplicated life. I have a wife who tolerates me, a kid who accepts my usefulness to him as a milch-cow, I have a cat who ignores me but doesn’t scratch. I have an apartment I can afford, I have a cheque in the bank on the first day of each month and an attractive pension fund. I don’t live with a perpetual crisis at my shoulder. They do, the collaborators. She does. I would say, Alessandro, that betrayal brings a heavy burden. It would be attractive to kick her for what she has done to us today, but our anxieties are small in comparison with her agony.’

‘Sensitively put. It does you credit.’ Rossi grinned wryly. ‘But has she capitulated? Is that what this crap, the padlock and the key, is about?’

‘I think not,’ Orecchia said.

She looked proud, the older of the two thought, and seemed in no hurry to leave the bridge. She would have seen them coming from the edge of her vision but made no move. Orecchia had seen the flash of light on the keys but not where they went into the water. Almost magnificent – better than proud, he thought, as she stared up the river. Beside him, Rossi was alert, on the balls of his feet, ready for pursuit. Orecchia was beside her, close but not intruding on her mood.

He said, ‘I think, Signorina, that it is time for us to go back up the hill and continue with our work. Are you ready, or would you like a few moments longer?’

She shook her head.

‘You’re ready?’

She nodded.

He was at her shoulder as they came off the bridge, Rossi behind them. They walked briskly at his pace, and she matched it. She told him she’d paid thirty-five euros for the padlock, and seemed to expect a comment.

Orecchia quoted a frequent remark of his child, usually offered when the father attempted to limit expenditure: ‘I think in this world, Signorina, you get what you pay for. I imagine that for thirty-five euros you have a very fine padlock.’

He wondered if she would be weeping, eyes glistening, but she was not.

Fangio drove him. Salvatore was pillion. The clan that had offered help to Carmine Borelli had asked for a great deal in return – narcotics, an investment portfolio and Salvatore’s services. It might have been that there was a genuine requirement for a stranger’s face among the towers of Scampia, or a need to demonstrate power and humiliate the old man from Forcella. He had been given a photograph of a face and a map that showed a wide street and a cut-through leading off it. Then a bar was marked, built into the ground floor of a fifteen-storey block. Rare for Fangio – the most skilled scooter driver Salvatore knew – to demonstrate apprehension. On the pillion, knees clamped on the padding and one hand in the deep pocket of his leather jacket, Salvatore sensed the older man’s nerves. He, Salvatore, would never grow old. His friend, Fangio, had a less fatalistic mentality and did not look to die that morning. It was not their territory, and others back at the Sail building played with them.

Fangio had studied the map drawn for them, memorised it, did not need directions from Salvatore. In silence, of course, they rode on the high-performance scooter, couldn’t have spoken through the visored helmets. Salvatore leaned with the cant of the machine as they came off the via Arcangelo Ghisleri, and the alley was ahead. They were seen. Watchers tracked them. In unison, Salvatore and Fangio lifted their smoked visors. Without showing their faces they would not have reached the far end of the narrow cut-through. Little enough space but Fangio had to weave between heaps of rubbish bags, most broken open with refuse spilling out. Once he swerved hard and missed, by a tail’s length, a large scurrying grey rat. They went into an enclosed piazza and the bar was under the end of the block. It seemed squashed under the weight of stained concrete above, and weeds sprouted outside. When Salvatore swung his leg off the pillion he walked on a carpet of discarded cigarette tips.

The doors were open. They had little paint and the glass was cracked. It was dark inside except for the glimmer thrown by candles on the carved-wood Madonna. He saw three men sitting at a flimsy table, Formica top on steel tube l