'Yes,' I said.

He wrote a card for me and gave me directions.

'All-night taxi, mostly for late drunks and unfaithful husbands. If he is not there, just wait.'

I let myself out through the cab, through the door on the dark side, away from the noisy, brightly-lit embroilment in the street, edging round behind the gawpers, disentangling myself from the public scene, heading for the unremarked shadows, my most normal sphere of work.

With one corner behind me the visible nightmare faded, and I walked fast through the sleeping summer streets, even my shoes, from long custom, making no clatter in the quiet. The taxi address lay beyond the far side of the old main square, and I found myself slowing briefly there, awed by the atmosphere of the place.

Somewhere in or near that aged city a helpless young woman faced her most dangerous night, and it seemed to me that the towering walls, with their smooth closed faces, embodied all the secrecy, the inimity and the implacability of those who held her.

The two kidnappers, now besieged, had been simply the collectors, There would be others. At the very least there would be guards still with her; but also, I thought, there was the man whose voice over five long weeks had delivered instructions, the man I thought of as HIM.

I wondered if he knew what had happened at the drop. I wondered if he knew yet about the siege, and where the ransom was.

Above all, I wondered if he would panic.

Alessia had no future, if he did.


Paolo Cenci was doing the pacing I had stifled in myself: up and down his tiled and pillared central hall, driven by intolerable tension. He broke from his eyes-down automatic-looking measured stride and came hurrying across as soon as he saw me walking through from the kitchen passage.

'Andrew!' His face was grey in the electric light. 'What in God's name has happened? Giorgio Traventi has telephoned me to say his son has been shot. He telephoned from the hospital. They are operating on Lorenzo at this minute.'

'Haven't the carabinieri told you…?'

'No one has told me anything. I am going mad with anxiety. It is five hours since you and Lorenzo set out. For five hours I've been waiting.' His hoarse voice shook over the gracefully accented English, the emotion raw and unashamed. At fifty-six he was a strong man at the height of his business ability, but the past weeks had made appalling demands on his mental stamina, and even his hands now trembled often. I saw so much of this distress in my job; and no matter how rich, no matter how powerful, the victim's family suffered in direct simple ratio to the depth of their love. Alessia's mother was dead: Alessia's father felt anguish enough for two.

With compassion I drew him into the library, where he sat most evenings, and with my own anger, I suppose, apparent, told him the details of the disaster. He sat with his head in his hands when I'd finished, as near to weeping as I'd seen him.

'They'll kill her…'

'No,' I said.

'They are animals.'

There had been enough bestial threats during the past weeks for me not to argue. The assaults on her body the kidnappers had promised should Cenci not obey their instructions had been brutally calculated to break any father's nerve, and my assurances that threats were more common than performance hadn't comforted him to any extent. His imagination was too active, his fear too relentlessly acute.

My relationship with victims' families was something Eke that of a doctor's: called in in an emergency, consulted in a frightening and unsettling situation, looked to for miracles, leant on for succour. I'd set off on my first solo advisory job without any clear idea of the iron I would need to grow in my own core, and still after four years could quake before the demands made on my strength. Never get emotionally involved, I'd been told over and over during my training, you'll crack up if you do.

I was thirty. I felt, at times, a hundred.

Paolo Cenci's numbness at the nature and extent of the disaster began turning before my eyes to anger and, not surprisingly, to resentment against myself.

'If you hadn't told the carabinieri we were about to hand over the ransom, this wouldn't have happened. It's your fault. Yours. It's disgraceful. I should never have called you in. I shouldn't have listened to you. Those people warned me all along that if I brought in the carabinieri they would do unspeakable things to Alessia, and I let you persuade me, and I should not have done, I should have paid the ransom at once when they first demanded it, and Alessia would have been free weeks ago.'

I didn't argue with him. He knew, but in his grief was choosing not to remember, that to raise the ransom at first demanded had been impossible. Rich though he was, the equivalent of six million pounds sterling represented the worth not only of his whole estate but in addition of a large pan of his business. Nor, as I'd forcefully told him, had the kidnappers ever expected him to pay that much: they were simply bludgeoning him with a huge amount so that anything less would seem a relief.

'Everything that Alessia has suffered has been your fault.'

Barring, presumably, the kidnap itself.

'Without you, I would have got her back. I would have paid. I would have paid anything…'

To pay too much too soon was to make kidnappers think they had underestimated the family's resources, and sometimes resulted in the extortion of a second ransom for the same victim. I had warned him of that, and he had understood.

'Alessia is worth more to me than everything I possess. I wanted to pay… you wouldn't let me. I should have done what I thought best. I would have given everything…'

His fury bubbled on, and I couldn't blame him. It often seemed to those who loved that literally no price was too great to pay for the safe return of the loved one, but I'd learned a great deal about the unexpected faces of stress over the past four years, and I'd seen that for the future health of the family's relationships it was essential that one member had not in fact cost the rest everything. After the first euphoria, and when the financial loss had begun to bite, the burden of guilt on the paid-for victim became too great, and the resentment of the payers too intense, and they too began to feel guilt for their resentment, and could eventually hate the victim for love of whom they had beggared themselves.

To save the victims' future equilibrium had gradually become to me as important as their actual physical freedom, but it was an aim I didn't expect Paolo Cenci at that moment to appreciate.

The telephone at his elbow started ringing, making him jump. He put out his hand towards it and then hesitated, and with a visible screwing-up of courage lifted the receiver to his ear.

'Ricardo!… Yes… yes… I understand. I will do that now, at once.' He put down the receiver and rose galvanically to his feet.

'Ricardo Traventi?' I asked, standing also. 'Lorenzo's brother?'

'I must go alone,' he said, but without fire.

'You certainly must not. I will drive you.'

I had been acting as his chauffeur since I had arrived, wearing his real chauffeur's cap and navy suit, while that grateful man took a holiday. It gave me the son of invisibility that the firm had found worked best: kidnappers always knew everything about a household they had attacked, and a newcomer too officiously visiting alarmed them. A kidnapper was us nervous as a stalking fox and tended to see dangers when they didn't exist, let alone when they did. I came and went to the villa through the servants' entrance, taking it for granted that everything else would be noted.

Cenci's fury had evaporated as quickly as it had grown, and I saw that we were back to some sort of trust. I was grateful both for my sake and his that he would still accept my presence, but it was with some diffidence that I asked, 'What did Ricardo say?'

'They telephoned…' No need to ask who 'they' were. 'They' had been telephoning Traventi's house with messages all along, taking it for granted that there was an official tap on the telephones to the Villa Francese. That the Traventis' telephone was tapped also, with that family's reluctant permission;, seemed to be something 'they' didn't know for certain.

'Ricardo says he must meet us at the usual place. He says lie took the message because his parents are both at the hospital. He doesn't want to worry them. He says he will come on his scooter.'

Cenci was already heading towards the door, sure that I would follow.

Ricardo, Lorenzo's younger brother, was only eighteen, and no one originally had intended the two boys to be involved. Giorgio Traventi had agreed, as a lawyer, to act as a negotiator between Paolo Cenci and the kidnappers. It was he who took messages, passed them on, and in due course delivered the replies. The kidnappers themselves had a negotiator… HIM… with whom Giorgio Traventi spoke.

At times Traventi had been required to pick up packages at a certain spot, usually but not always the same place, and it was to that place that we were now headed. It had become not just the post-box for proof of Alessia's still being alive, or for appeals from her, or demands from HIM, or finally, earlier that evening, for the instructions about where to take the ransom, but also the place where Giorgio Traventi met Paolo Cenci, so that they could consult together in private. Neither had been too happy about the carabinieri overhearing their every word on the telephone and I had to admit that their instincts had been right.

It was ironic that at the beginning Giorgio Traventi had been approached by Cenci and his own lawyer simply because Traventi did not know the Cenci family well, and could act calmly on their behalf. Since then the whole Traventi family had become determined on Alessia's release, until finally nothing could have dissuaded Lorenzo from carrying the ransom himself. I hadn't approved of their growing emotional involvement - exactly what I had been warned against myself - but had been unable to stop it, as all of the Traventis had proved strong-willed and resolute, staunch allies when Cenci needed them most.

Indeed, until the carabinieri's ambush, the progress of negotiations had been, as far as was possible in any kidnap, smooth. The demand for six million had been cooled to about a tenth of that, and Alessia, on that afternoon at least, had been alive, unmolested and sane, reading aloud from that day's newspaper onto tape, and saying she was well.

The only comfort now, I thought, driving Cenci in his Mercedes to meet Ricardo, was that the kidnappers were still talking. Any message at all was better than an immediate dead body in a ditch.

The meeting place had been carefully chosen - by HIM - so that even if the carabinieri had had enough plain-clothes men to watch there day and night for weeks on end, they could have missed the actual delivery of the message: and indeed it was pretty clear that this had happened at least once. To confuse things during the period of closest continual watch, the messages had been delivered somewhere else.

We were heading for a motorway restaurant several miles outside Bologna, where even at night people came and went anonymously, travellers unremembered, different every hour of every day. Carabinieri who sat for too long over a coffee could be easily picked out.

Messages from HIM were left in a pocket in a cheap, grey, thin plastic waterproof, to be found hanging from a coat-rack inside the restaurant. The row of pegs was passed by everyone who went in or out of the cafeteria-style dining-room, and we guessed that the nondescript garment was in its place each time before the collect-the-message telephone call was made.

Traventi had taken the whole raincoat each time, but they had never been useful as clues. They were of a make sold throughout the region in flat, pocket-sized envelopes as a handy insurance against sudden rainstorms. The carabinieri had been given the four raincoats so far collected from the restaurant, and the one from the airport and the one from the bus station. All had been new, straight out of the packet, wrinkled from being folded, and smelling of the chemicals they were made from.

Вы читаете The Danger
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату