The Sacred Vault


Copyright © 2010 Andy McDermott


For my family and friends



It was a cold, crisp mid-November evening, but Giancarlo Mistretta’s mind was already on Christmas as he guided his tanker along the winding road through the Casentinesi forest. His apartment would play host to the celebrations this year; twenty-three people to cater for, maybe twenty-four if his sister’s newest baby arrived earlier than expected . . .

He pushed his plans aside as a tight turn appeared in the headlights. Slowing the truck to a near crawl, he checked his watch. Slightly ahead of schedule - there was still one more gas station to supply before he could return to the depot, but he would be back home in Florence before seven. Then maybe he and Leany could advance their plan for a baby of their own . . .

He guided the tanker round the corner - then braked. A charcoal-grey BMW was slewed across the road, one wheel in the ditch. A woman in a dark suit waved for him to stop.

Giancarlo suppressed a sigh. The BMW was blocking his way. So much for getting home early. Still, he wouldn’t be setting much of an example for any future little Giancarlos if he didn’t help a lady in distress.

He stopped, taking a closer look at the woman. Long, glossy black hair, and dark skin - Indian, perhaps? Probably in her late twenties, and quite attractive, in a businesslike way. He could almost hear Leany reprimanding him for that, but married or not, he still had eyes, didn’t he?

The woman walked towards the truck. Giancarlo climbed out to meet her. ‘Hi,’ he called. ‘Looks like you could use some help.’

She looked briefly into the woods as she advanced. Giancarlo noticed that her features were marred; only her left eye had moved, the right staring fixedly at him. The pale line of a scar ran from forehead to cheek over the socket. A glass eye.

He glanced at the BMW. ‘Are you stuck? I can give you a—’

She whipped out a silenced handgun and shot him three times in the face.

Giancarlo’s lifeless body slumped to the tarmac. A man stepped out of the darkness of the woods. Tall, muscular and dressed entirely in black, Urbano Fernandez regarded the corpse with an expression of mock apology. ‘Poor fellow,’ he said. The language was English, but the accent was smoothly Spanish. ‘Never any pleasantries with you, are there?’ he went on as the woman holstered the gun.

‘A waste of time,’ said Madirakshi Dagdu coldly. As the unfortunate Giancarlo had guessed, she was Indian, her accent thick and stilted - English was a language in which she had only recently needed proficiency. She indicated the truck driver’s body. ‘Dispose of that.’

Fernandez snapped a sarcastic salute. ‘Yes, ma’am.’ He pulled on a pair of black leather gloves, pausing to brush his pencil moustache with his fingertips before dragging the corpse into the undergrowth. ‘You didn’t have to be here at all. We don’t need to be, what’s the word? Nursemaided.’

He knew full well what the word was, but took a certain amusement from her frown of deep concentration as she tried to translate it. ‘This operation is more expensive than the others,’ she said once the meaning had come to her. ‘My employers want to be sure their money is being used well.’

‘It will be worth every dollar,’ said Fernandez, dumping the body. There was no point concealing it - the area would be crawling with people soon enough. He went to the tanker. ‘Now, go. Meet me down the road.’

Madirakshi returned to the BMW without a word. Fernandez watched her, thinking it was a shame such an attractive figure was wasted on an ugly personality, then moved to the valves on the tanker’s side as the car reversed out of the shallow ditch.

Even after delivering most of the day’s supplies, the tanker still contained over two thousand litres of petrol. The Spaniard turned the wheel above one of the gaping stainless steel nozzles. Fuel gushed out. He winced at the sharp smell, backing away to avoid being splashed as he opened the valve wider. The gush became a geyser, spraying into the woods.

He climbed into the cab. The engine was still running, so he released the brake and depressed the heavy clutch to put the truck into gear, slowly following the BMW as it sped away.

Petrol spewed over Giancarlo Mistretta’s corpse as the tanker rumbled into the night.

Half a kilometre down the road, Fernandez saw the waiting BMW’s headlights. He pulled over, then hurried to the car.

Madirakshi’s only greeting was a cold look. Fernandez ignored it. After tonight, there was only one more job planned, which might not even be necessary if his employers were persuasive enough - and then he would be rid of them and all the freaks in their entourage.

Even before he had fastened his seat belt, the BMW surged past the tanker, heading back up the road. A smeared pool of blood marked where the driver had been shot; Madirakshi stopped level with it.

Fernandez lowered his window. He took a Zippo lighter from a pocket, and with a single practised move flicked it open and lit it. A moment to regard his reflection in the polished metal, then he tossed the lighter into the trees.

Even before it hit the ground, the results were explosive. The highly flammable vapour rising from the pool of petrol ignited, a fireball boiling upwards into the trees and setting them alight. Giancarlo’s fuel-soaked body was consumed by the inferno as easily as the branches. A thick trail of flames raced away down the road.

Fernandez shielded his face from the heat with one gloved hand. ‘Time we left. Quickly.’

Madirakshi needed no further prompting. The BMW roared away. Fernandez looked back as the car reached the corner - to see a huge explosion rip through the forest half a kilometre behind as the tanker blew up, a seething mushroom cloud of blazing orange and yellow rising into the night sky as flaming fuel rained down around it. A moment later, the blast reached him, an earthshaking thump followed by a thunderous roar of air being pulled in to feed the conflagration.

‘Perfect,’ said Fernandez. ‘Now for stage two.’

The BMW raced through the darkened forest, heading for the city of Florence as the trees behind it turned into a wall of fire.

Вы читаете The Sacred Vault
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату