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No Mortal Thing
Author:Gerald Seymour

No Mortal Thing by Gerald Seymour




Prologue


The boy kissed his cheeks, first the right, then the left, and Bernardo smiled. He felt a sort of happiness at the love shown him by the boy, and the respect.

He had told him that afternoon what he wanted of him. The boy was Marcantonio, his grandson. Bernardo was now seventy-four years old and owned a wealth of experience from the life he had lived, but there were matters – at present – that were beyond his powers to achieve. A few years back, ten certainly, he would not have required the assistance of his grandson, but he did now. He was slightly built, maintained a good head of hair and his arms were muscled. His stomach was without flabby rolls, and his eyesight was good. His hands were broad, and calloused from the work he did in the garden at the back of his home. But he had lost a little of his strength and his breath was shorter. He had asked his grandson to do what he would have preferred to do himself. Some four years ago he had realised he could no longer strangle a man with his bare hands when his victim had writhed and kicked and he had had to call the boy to finish the job.

His grandson grinned, then hugged him once more, touched his arm and turned on the step at the kitchen door.

A few years before, Bernardo had taken Marcantonio to a car park by the beach on the Ionian coast where they had met a man he supplied with cocaine. It had been a familiar story, a cash-flow shortage, a contract broken. There was no indication as to when the debt would be paid. The man would have believed he was dealing with an elderly padrino, once strong but now in failing health and with only a teenage boy in support. The man had had, in the car park and evident from the glow of the cigarettes in the darkness, an escort of three. As instructed, the boy had ambled towards the second car, taken the pistol from the back of his belt and used it to smash the windscreen. He had poked his arm inside and had held the pistol tight against the front passenger’s temple. No one had challenged him. From the interior lights on the dashboard they would have seen his face, its expression, and prayed to the Madonna. He had reached inside the car and started to squeeze the fleshy throat.

In his youth, Bernardo had been able to kill, by strangulation, in less than three minutes. He had walked the few paces across the car park, relieved his grandson of the pistol, then gestured with a jerk of his head towards the man’s car. His grandson, still at school and shaving only once a week, had gone and done the work. A minute, perhaps. One guttural croak, one last kick inside the footwell, then silence. He had thought it similar to taking the boy to a brothel, in Locri, Siderno or at Brancaleone, to lose his virginity, a rite of passage he had facilitated the year before.

The escort had gone and the body had been buried in scrub above the beach. Bernardo had driven his own car, a nine-year-old Fiat Panda City-Van, up into the foothills of the mountains while Marcantonio had driven the victim’s. After they had set fire to it, they had gone home, grandfather and grandson showing less emotion than if they had been to a football match. The boy had made no fuss, shown no excitement. It had been a job well done.

Now Bernardo stood by the door. The winter was over but it was still cold. Marcantonio paused, half turned, then gave a little wave. The light came from behind Bernardo and caught the scar – the only blemish in his grandson’s smooth skin. There had been a dispute with a shoemaker in the village; drink might have given the man more courage than was good for him because he was rude about the principal family. Marcantonio and a gang of picciotti had gone to his house and beaten him, then wrecked the main room. They had been leaving when a child, who had followed them out, picked up a stone and flung it after them. It had struck Marcantonio’s chin, had needed two stitches. They would have taken revenge but a carabinieri car had happened on the scene. Marcantonio, a handkerchief pressed to the wound, and his fellows had slid away into the darkness. The shoemaker’s family were gone by the morning, their possessions loaded into a lorry, with an escort to see them out of the village.