The messages had all been on tape. Regular-issue cassettes, sold everywhere. No fingerprints on anything. Everything exceedingly careful; everything, I had come to think, professional.

Each tape had contained proof of Alessia's being alive. Each tape contained threats. Each tape carried a response to Traventi's latest offer. I had advised him to offer only two hundred thousand at first, a figure received by HIM with fury, faked or real. Slowly, with hard bargaining, the gap between demand and credibility had been closed, until the ransom was big enough to be worth HIS trouble, and manageable enough not to cripple Cenci entirely. At the point where each felt comfortable if not content, the amount had been agreed.

The money had been collected: Italian currency in used everyday notes, fastened in bundles with rubber bands and packed in a suitcase. Upon its safe delivery, Alessia Cenci would be released.

Safe delivery… ye gods.

The motorway restaurant lay about equidistant from Bologna and the Villa Francese, which stood in turreted idyllic splendour on a small country hillside, facing south. By day the road was busy with traffic, but at four in the morning only a few solitary pairs of headlights flooded briefly into our car. Cenci sat silent beside me, his eyes on the road and his mind heaven knew where.

Ricardo on his scooter arrived before us in the car park, though if anything he had had further to travel. Like his brother he was assertively intelligent, his eyes full now of the aggression brought on by the shooting, the narrow jaw jutting, the lips tight, the will to fight shouting from every muscle. He came across to the car as we arrived and climbed into the back seat.

'The bastards,' he said intensely. 'Lorenzo's state is critical, Papa says.' He spoke Italian, but distinctly, like all his family, so that I could nearly always understand them.

Paolo Cenci made a distressed gesture with his hands, sparing a thought for someone else's child. 'What is the message?' he said.

'To stand here by the telephones. He said I was to bring you, to speak to him yourself. No negotiator, he said. He sounded angry, very angry.'

'Was it the same man?' I asked.

I think so. I've heard his voice on the tapes, but I've never spoken to him before. Always Papa speaks to him. Before tonight he wouldn't speak to anyone but Papa, but I told him Papa was at the hospital with Lorenzo and would be there until morning. Too late, he said. I must take the message myself. He said that you, Signor Cenci, must be alone. If there were any more carabinieri, he said, you wouldn't see Alessia again. They wouldn't return even her body.'

Cenci trembled beside me. 'I'll stay in the car,' I said. 'In my cap. They'll accept that. Don't be afraid.'

'I'll go with you,' Ricardo said.

'No.' I shook my head. 'Ricardo too might be taken for carabinieri. Better stay here with me.' I turned to Cenci. 'We'll wait. Have you any gettoni if he asks you to call him back?'

He fished vaguely through his pockets, and Ricardo and I gave him some of the necessary tokens; then he fumbled with the door handle and stood up, as if disoriented, in the car park.

'The telephones are near the restaurant,' Ricardo said. 'In the hall just outside. I have telephoned from there often.'

Cenci nodded, took a grip on the horrors, and walked with fair the entrance.

'Do you think there will be someone watching?' Ricardo said.

'I don't know. We cannot take the risk.' I used the Italian word for danger, not risk, but he nodded comprehension. It was the third time I'd worked in Italy: time I spoke the language better than I did.

We waited a long time, not speaking much. We waited so long that I began to fear either that no call would come to Cenci at all, that the message had been a retributive piece of cruelty, or even worse, that it had been a ruse to lure him away from his house while something dreadful took place in it. My heart thumped uncomfortably. Alessia's elder sister, Ilaria, and Paolo Cenci's sister, Luisa, were both upstairs in the villa, asleep.

Perhaps I should have stayed there… but Cenci had been in no state to drive. Perhaps I should have awoken his gardener in the village, who drove sometimes on the chauffeur's days off… Perhaps, perhaps.

The sky was already lightening to dawn when he returned, the shakiness showing in his walk, his face rigid as he reached the car. I stretched over and opened the door for him from the inside, and he subsided heavily into the passenger seat.

'He rang twice.' He spoke in Italian, automatically. 'The first time, he said wait. I waited…' He stopped and swallowed. Cleared his throat. Started again with a better attempt at firmness. 'I waited a long time. An hour. More. Finally, he telephoned. He says Alessia is still alive but the price has gone up. He says I must pay two thousand million lire in two days.'

His voice stopped, the despair sounding in it clearly. Two thousand million lire was approaching a million pounds.

'What else did he say?' I asked.

'He said that if anyone told the carabinieri of the new demand, Alessia would die at once.' He seemed suddenly to remember that Ricardo was in the car, and turned to him in alarm. 'Don't speak of this meeting, not to anyone. Promise me, Ricardo. On your soul.'

Ricardo, looking serious, promised. He also said he would go now to the hospital, to join his parents and get news of Lorenzo, and with a further passionate assurance of discretion he went over to his scooter and put-putted away.

I started the car and drove out of the car park.

Cenci said dully, 'I can't raise that much. Not again.'

'Well,' I said, 'you should eventually get back the money in the suitcase. With luck. That means that the real extra is… um… seven hundred million lire.'

Three hundred thousand pounds. Said quickly, it sounded less.

'But in two days…'

'The banks will lend it. You have the assets.'

He didn't answer. So close on the other collection of random used notes, this would be technically more difficult. More money, much faster. The banks, however, would read the morning papers - and raising a ransom was hardly a process unknown to them.

'What are you to do, when you've collected it?' I asked.

Cenci shook his head. 'He told me… But this time I can't tell you. This time I take the money myself… alone.'

'It's unwise.'

'I must do it.'

He sounded both despairing and determined, and I didn't argue. I said merely, 'Will we have time to photograph the notes and put tracers on them?'

He shook his head impatiently. 'What does it matter now? It is Alessia only that is important. I've been given a second chance… This time I do what he says. This time I act alone.'

Once Alessia was safe - if she were so lucky - he would regret he'd passed up the best chance of recovering at least part of the ransom and of catching the kidnappers. Emotion, as so often in kidnap situations, was stampeding common sense. But one couldn't, I supposed, blame him.

Pictures of Alessia Cenci, the girl I had never seen, adorned most rooms in the Villa Francese.

Alessia Cenci on horses, riding in races round the world. Alessia the rich girl with the hands of silk and a temperament like the sun (a fanciful newspaper report had said), bright, warm, and occasionally scorching.

I knew little about racing, but I'd heard of her, the glamour girl of the European tracks who nevertheless could really ride: one would have to have averted one's eyes from newspapers pretty thoroughly not to. There seemed to be something about her that captivated the daily scribblers, particularly in England, where she raced often; and in Italy I heard genuine affection in every voice that spoke of her. In every voice, that is to say, except for that of her sister Ilaria, whose reaction to the kidnap had been complex and revealing.

Alessia in close-up photographs wasn't particularly beautiful: thin, small-featured, dark-eyed, with short head-hugging curls. It was her sister, by her side in silver frames, who looked more feminine, more friendly, and more pretty. Ilaria in life however was not particularly any of those things, at least not in the present horrific family circumstances. One couldn't tell what happiness might do.

She and her aunt Luisa still slept when Cenci and I returned to the villa. All was quiet there, all safe. Cenci walked straight into the library and poured a large amount of brandy into a tumbler, indicating that I should help myself to the same. I joined him, reflecting that seven in the morning was as good a time as any to get drunk.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I know it's not your fault. The carabinieri… do what they want.'

I gathered he was referring back to the anger he'd poured on me the last time we'd sat in those same two chairs. I made a vague don't-think-about-it gesture and let the brandy sear a path to my stomach, a shaft of vivid feeling going down through my chest. It might not have been wise, but the oldest tranquilliser was still the most effective.

'Do you think we'll get her back?' Cenci asked. 'Do you really think so?'

'Yes.' I nodded. 'They wouldn't be starting again more or less from scratch if they meant to kill her. They don't want to harm her, as I've told you all along. They only want you to believe they will… and yes, I do think it's a good sign they still have the nerve to bargain, with two of their number besieged by the carabinieri.'

Cenci looked blank. 'I'd forgotten about those.'

I hadn't; but then the ambush and the siege were imprinted in my mind as memories, not reports. I had wondered, through most of the night, whether the two collectors had been carrying walkie-talkie radios, and whether HE had known of the debacle at almost the moment it happened, not simply when neither his colleagues nor the money turned up.

I thought that if I were HIM I'd be highly worried about those two men, not necessarily for their own sakes, but for what they knew. They might know where Alessia was. They might know who had planned the operation. They had to know where they'd been expected to take the money. They might be hired hands… but trusted enough to be collectors. They might be full equal partners, but I doubted it. Kidnap gangs tended to have hierarchies, like every other organisation.

One way or another those two were going to fall into the grasp of the carabinieri, either talking or shot. They themselves had promised that if they didn't go free, Alessia would die, but apparently HE had said nothing Like that to Cenci. Did that mean that HIS priority was money, that he was set on extorting only what he almost certainly could - money from Cenci - and not what he almost as certainly couldn't - the return of his friends? Or did it mean that he didn't have radio contact with his colleagues, who had made the threat in faith more than promise… or did it mean that by radio he had persuaded the colleagues to barricade themselves in and make the fiercest threats continually, staying out of the carabinieri's clutches long enough for HIM to spirit Alessia away to a new hide- out, so that it wouldn't matter if the colleagues finally did talk, they wouldn't know the one thing worth telling?

'What are you thinking?' Cenci asked.

'Of hope,' I said; and thought that the kidnappers in the flat probably didn't have contact by radio after all, because they hadn't made any reference to it during the hour I'd listened to them via the bug. But then HE might guess about bugs… if HE was that clever… and have told them to switch off after his first burst of instructions.

If I'd been HIM, I'd have been in touch with those collectors from the moment they set out… but then there weren't so many radio frequencies as all that, and the possibility of being overheard was high. But there were codes and pre-arranged phrases… And how did you pre-arrange a message which said the carabinieri have swarmed all over us and we've shot the man who brought the ransom?

If they hadn't taken the ransom with its homing transmitter, they would probably have escaped. If they hadn't been fanatical about taking the ransom, they wouldn't have shot the driver to get it.

If the carabinieri had acted stupidly, so had the kidnappers, and only as long as HE didn't decide after all to cut his losses was there any positive hope. I still thought that hope to be frail. One didn't however admit it to the victim's dad.

Cenci anyway had tears at last running down his cheeks, released, I guessed, by the brandy. He made no sound, nor tried to brush them away or hide them. Many a man would have come to that

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