Authors: James Becker
Wilson looked back at the file.
“You claim that all three men were armed,” he said, and Mallory nodded, knowing exactly what was coming. “When we searched the bodies, one of the men inside the apartment had an unloaded pistol in his pocket, while the other one had a magazine and bullets. The man outside
had no weapon, though a loaded pistol was found on the ground at the bottom of the staircase.”
“I already told you what happened. Once she’d disarmed the third man, Robin kicked his pistol off the balcony and down to the ground. That seemed like a good idea, to separate the bad guy from his weapon.”
“You did tell me that, and maybe that is what happened,” Wilson said. “At least that bit of your story does make sense. So who disarmed one of the two men inside the apartment? Who took the second pistol?”
“There are two answers to that, Wilson. Me, and I have no idea of his name. I’ve already told you, several times now, that once we’d incapacitated the two Italians we searched them. Each was carrying a pistol, a suppressor, and loaded magazines. We didn’t know who they were, though by that stage we thought we knew what they wanted, and I guessed that the easiest way to stop them coming after us was to give the British police force a cast-iron reason to hold them. That’s why I put an unloaded pistol in the pocket of one man and the magazine and bullets in the other man’s jacket. I left the other weapon on the desk, well out of their reach. I guessed that having those objects in their possession would result in their arrest as soon as the police arrived.
“But what happened after that, I didn’t know until we ran into that Italian in the cave in Cyprus. He actually admitted to us, as you’ve already heard in the recording I made on my mobile phone, that he climbed up to the apartment, found the men unconscious, two of them with incapacitating injuries, and executed them himself because
he already knew that the first police car was only seconds away from the apartment. He had no time to get them out, and he obviously didn’t want the men to be in any position to explain what they’d been doing.”
Mallory spread his hands in a kind of “I told you so” gesture.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s my story, and that’s the truth. What you need, and what you haven’t got, is the slightest shred of proof, or any kind of evidence at all, to link us to any of these murders, or the slightest hint of a motive. Even you need at least one of those.”
Wilson shook his head. “But that’s not everything,” he said. “There’s also the matter of Miss Jessop failing to report to the police after she knew that the bodies had been found, although she definitely knew that we wanted to interview her. The telephone call she made to her shop was recorded by us, and she was told then. That could be considered a serious and deliberate obstruction of a police investigation.”
“Now you’re just clutching at straws, Wilson. In fact, she wanted to come in and talk to you, but I convinced her that it would be a really bad idea, so if you want to go that route I’m the one you should be charging.”
“And why did you stop her?”
“Because I knew exactly what would happen if she did. I know precisely what ‘assisting the police with their inquiries’ actually means in police-speak. She’d have been arrested on suspicion of murder and shoved into a cell somewhere while you lot buggered about trying to find enough circumstantial evidence to justify taking the case
to the CPS. There are quite enough innocent people locked up in British prisons without adding Robin Jessop to the list.”
“That’s a very serious accusation, Mallory.”
Mallory noticed that the “Mr.” had been dropped, a sure sign that he was getting under Wilson’s skin. “It’s not an accusation. It’s a statement of fact. The British police have a long history of fitting up people for crimes they didn’t commit, just so they can close cases and go down to the pub for a celebratory pint. You know that I was a copper, so I know exactly how the system works. And the reason I left the force was that I was on the receiving end of a serious and organized attempt to fit me up for something I didn’t do. So don’t even think about preaching to me about British justice, because I know it’s just a joke.”
Wilson looked slightly stunned by the vehemence in Mallory’s tone. “We could still charge her with obstruction.”
“Good idea. Why don’t you go for it? She’ll get a slap on the wrist and you’ll look like an idiot, though that’ll just be a confirmation of what most people probably already think.”
“Then there was the matter of the aircraft you stole.”
Mallory shook his head. “We didn’t steal it. We just borrowed it. And when we’d finished with it we returned it to the airfield, as you already know. We even topped up the fuel tanks. Has the owner lodged a complaint?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“Then what’s the problem? If he’s happy, where’s your case? And before you go any further, remember that I know all about PACE, the Police and Criminal Evidence
Act, and that means I know exactly what you can and can’t do. Your time’s up, so what you can’t do is hold either of us any longer unless you can dream up a halfway-convincing charge. If you could do that, you’d have done it already. The bottom line here is that you’ve got nothing to hold either of us on, and you know it.”
Mallory leaned back again and shook his head. “But what you do now know, because I’ve told you, several times, is exactly who shot those three Italians, or four Italians if you count the one you said you found in the wood. I gave you the photograph I took of the killer in the cave on Cyprus, and the audio recording I made on my phone at the same time. Robin also made a recording, so you’ve got two separate copies. He was holding a gun on us, as the photograph clearly shows, so there was no coercion by us, and he freely admitted what he did. He’s the killer and he’s the man who should be sitting in this seat, not me.”
“I don’t dispute that for a moment,” Wilson said, exasperation evident in every syllable. “But trying to identify him from that image is virtually impossible. We’ve run a check through Interpol, but he’s not on any of their databases, and the Italian authorities simply aren’t talking to us. Either they genuinely have no idea who he is and don’t want to admit it, or their bureaucracy is even more chaotic than usual.”
“There could be another reason,” Mallory suggested.
“I think they could know exactly who he is and who he works for, but because his employer is a powerful organization, the authorities may not wish to reveal this
information, to you or to Interpol or anyone else. Just think about the timeline for a moment. Robin ran those searches on the Internet when she recovered the parchment, and within a matter of a few hours six—or however many it really was—Italian thugs turned up and started roaming the streets of Dartmouth carrying pistols and suppressors and looking for her. All three of the men who were killed at Dartmouth were holding diplomatic passports, according to you, so that in itself lifts this crime out of the usual league.
“And all that implies—or at least it does to me—that some group in Italy is running sophisticated Internet analysis software, and is then able to dispatch a group of professional killers, probably in a private aircraft, to another country to recover the relic. This wasn’t some off-the-shelf operation run by a handful of amateurs. This was a professional operation, run by a professional group with very deep pockets. And that means your chances of finding them are pretty much nil.”
“Then we’re screwed,” Wilson said bitterly.
“In a nutshell,” Mallory agreed, “but I’m pleased to say that it’s your problem, not mine.” He stood up. “Now, unless you can think of some other reason to waste my time, I’m walking out of here.”
Via di Sant’Alessio, Aventine Hill, Rome, Italy
“I’ll be very happy to take care of them,” he said, relishing the thought of finally eliminating the irritating English couple. “I’ll get a flight organized, unless you’ve already booked something for me?”
“Not yet,” Vitale said. “As I said, I do want them dead, but not necessarily immediately, not necessarily killed by you, and also not necessarily in Britain. We’ve had our experts looking at the chests ever since you brought them back from Cyprus, and none of them have so far found any clue or indication about where we should be looking next. It is just possible that if our people fail to solve this riddle, Jessop and Mallory might do the job for us. They’ve proved themselves to be quite resourceful so far, so it’s possible that they’ll see some marking or pattern in the design of the metalwork or elsewhere that has
eluded us. And if they do, we have to be able to follow them and take whatever they find.”
“But we have the chests,” Toscanelli objected, “and they don’t.”
Vitale shook his head. “I almost wish they were working for me, because I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have to explain every single thing to them, the way I do with you. Don’t you remember something that happened in that cave when your men opened the chests? You even mentioned it in your report, though clearly you didn’t realize its significance.”
Toscanelli looked blank, and then his face cleared.
“The flash of light? Do you mean that?” he ventured.
“Of course I mean the flash of light. What did you think it was? Some kind of incendiary device the Templars left there over half a millennium ago? Something like that? Eh? Work it out.”
Toscanelli looked confused.
“It was the flash from a camera, obviously,” Vitale snapped, losing patience. “Nothing else makes sense. One of them, maybe both of them, had either a camera or a camera phone, and I’m certain they would have been taking photographs of the entire process, from the moment they uncovered the chests at the bottom of that hole. Don’t forget that Jessop is an antiquarian bookseller. With her academic background and in that profession, she would appreciate the importance of documenting what they’d found, step by step.”
“So you think they’ve got photographs of the chests, of the patterns in the metalwork?”
“Of course they have. It’s obvious. That’s not quite as good as having the chests themselves, but it’s the next best thing. Make no mistake, Toscanelli, those two are still in the race, and they will have to be taken out eventually. But right now it’s more important to work out where the trail leads us next, and it’s just possible that they might help us. Unwittingly, of course. I’ve ordered surveillance to be started on the girl, because I think she’s the key, with her background.”
As Vitale finished speaking, there was a knock on the door and moments later a junior member of the order walked in, carrying a sheet of paper on which was a photographic image and a block of text. He handed it to Vitale, bowed deeply and respectfully, and then withdrew.
Vitale glanced at the picture, looked up at Toscanelli, still standing in front of his desk, and then read the text.
“I will still want Jessop and Mallory dead,” he said after about a minute, “but it almost certainly won’t be you who kills them. Or not if they stay in Britain, at least.”
He turned the paper round so that Toscanelli could see it. “I think that proves the truth of what I said about them earlier.”
Toscanelli peered at the paper, his attention drawn to the photograph on the page. With a start of surprise, he realized he was looking at a picture of his own face, and the unmistakable background was the wall of the cave on Cyprus in which the abortive quest had come to an end.
And in that instant he decided that, no matter what Vitale wanted, Mallory and Jessop were as good as dead. He was quite certain that the order’s experts would be
more than capable of working out where they should now be looking for the treasure of the Templars, the relic that had been lost for the better part of one millennium. There was no way, in his opinion, that anyone could reach the right conclusion from just looking at photographs. The clue was hidden somewhere in or on the chests. The order had them, and that was all that mattered. Toscanelli had contacts, and if Vitale wouldn’t send him to do the job himself, he would make his own arrangements.
“Not only did the two of them certainly take photographs of the chests,” Vitale continued, “but one of them also managed to snap a picture of you in the cave, presumably at the precise moment when you ordered your two men—or to be absolutely accurate,
two men—to open the chests.”
He tapped the sheet of paper. “This has been sent to us by one of our supporters, one of our tertiaries, who is a senior officer in the British police force covering the county of Devon in England. Obviously Mallory and Jessop released this image to the police, and according to this statement you are wanted for questioning about the murders of three Italian businessmen in Dartmouth and another one near Exeter. Apparently the British police have not only your photograph, but a confession to the first three of those killings
in your own words
, secretly recorded by Mallory while you were in the cave, holding him and Jessop at gunpoint and presumably gloating over your own cleverness. Misplaced cleverness, obviously.”
Vitale stared at Toscanelli, the hostility in his gaze unmistakable. “The only thing—quite literally the one
single grain of comfort—that you can salvage from this is the fact that the British police still don’t know your name. Though frankly I’m very tempted to put you on an aircraft to London, then tell them who you are and get rid of you permanently that way.”
Vitale held Toscanelli’s gaze until the younger man finally looked away.
“The only thing that’s keeping you alive, Toscanelli, is the fact that you’ve had more contact with these two people than anyone else, so we can at least expect you to recognize them if you see them again. The men who survived the encounter in the cave on Cyprus saw them, obviously, but none of them saw them clearly enough to guarantee that they could identify them in the future. Perhaps,” Vitale finished coldly, “they were somewhat distracted by the sight of their comrades being cut in half by the booby traps hidden in those two chests. Booby traps that you weren’t smart enough to guess were there.”
Vitale gave a dismissive gesture, then pointed at the open chest on the floor in front of his desk.
“Get out,” he snapped, “and take that lethal box with you. And just make sure our archivists and researchers find whatever clue is hidden in it or on it.”
“And if they can’t?”
“Don’t tempt me, Toscanelli. If this search stalls, then I don’t have much further use for you. I might just get you to open that chest again, but this time I’ll have you sitting in front of it with a video camera running. As an example to anyone else in the order who offends me or proves to be as incompetent as you apparently are.”