It’s the height of the tourist season in Rome, and security is tight as world leaders gather for a G8 summit. While politicians bicker behind the walls of the illustrious Palazzo del Quirinale, a terrible threat is lurking outside—a threat that’s been dormant for a long time but is now very much awake. In David Hewson’s powerful new thriller, Detective Nic Costa and the men and women of the Questura must work in secret to thwart a conspiracy that reaches higher than any of them could have imagined.
In the early hours of a sultry summer evening, a government car comes under fire along the narrow Via delle Quattro Fontane. When the shots die away, one person lies dead and another—Ministry of Interior official Giovanni Batisti—has been abducted.
The terrible fate of the missing bureaucrat is soon revealed—leaving all of Italy in shock. Who would do such a thing? And why? All signs point to a mysterious terrorist group that calls itself the Blue Demon, an organization whose last campaign of violence ended two decades ago.
For Detective Nic Costa, solving this case is an all-consuming obsession. But as he and his team begin their investigation, they find themselves reduced to expensive bodyguards—and their hands tied with red tape—until tragedy strikes and claims one of their own.
Hampered at every turn by the Ministry of Interior’s meddling security chief and a cagey and powerful prime minister, Costa and the members of his team are determined to pursue their quest for justice. As one terror attack after another sends the Eternal City spiraling into panic, Nic Costa vows that nothing will stop him from catching a vengeful madman bent on tearing apart his city, its people, and its very history.
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David Hewson is the author of eleven novels. Formerly a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times, he lives in Kent, England, where he is at work on his next crime novel, The Fallen Angel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. Men willingly believe what they wish.—Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, Book III, Chapter 18
The garden of the Quirinale felt like a sun trap as the man in the silver armor strode down the shingle path. He was sweating profusely inside the ceremonial breastplate and woolen uniform.
Tight in his right hand he held the long, bloodied sword that had just taken the life of a man. In a few moments he would kill the president of Italy. And then? Be murdered himself. It was the fate of assassins throughout the ages, from Pausanius of Orestis, who had slaughtered Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, to Marat’s murderess, Charlotte Corday, and Kennedy’s nemesis, Lee Harvey Oswald.
The stabbing dagger, the sniper’s rifle . . . all these were mirrored weapons, reflecting on the man or woman who bore them, joining perpetrator and victim as twin sacri?ces to destiny. It had always been this way, since men sought to rule over others, circumscribing their desires, hemming in the spans of their lives with the dull, rote strictures of convention. Petrakis had read much over the years, thinking, preparing, comparing himself to his peers. Actor John Wilkes Booth’s ?nal performance before he put a bullet through the skull of Abraham Lincoln had been in Julius Caesar, although through some strange irony he had taken the part of Caesar’s friend and apologist, Mark Antony, not Brutus as history demanded.
As he approached the ?gure in the bower, seeing the old man’s gray, lined form bent deep over a book, Petrakis found himself murmuring a line Booth must have uttered a century and a half before.
“‘O mighty Caesar . . . dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?’”
A pale, long face, with sad, tired eyes, looked up from the page. Petrakis, realizing he had spoken out loud, wondered why this death, among so many, would be the most dif?cult.
“I didn’t quite catch that,” Dario Sordi said in a calm, unwavering voice, his eyes, nevertheless, on the long, bloodied blade.
The uniformed of?cer came close, stopped, repeated the line, and held the sword over the elderly ?gure seated in the shadow of a statue of Hermes.
The president glanced around him and asked, “What conquests in particular, Andrea? What glories? What spoils? Temporary residence in a garden ?t for a pope? I’m a pensioner in a very luxurious retirement home. Do you really not understand that?”
The weapon trembled in Petrakis’s hand. His palm felt sweaty. He couldn’t speak.
Voices rose behind him. A shout. A clamor.
There was a cigarette in Dario Sordi’s hand. It didn’t even shake.
“You should be afraid, old man.”
More dry laughter. “I’ve been hunted by Nazis.” The gray, drawn face glowered at him. Sordi drew on the cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Played hide-and-seek with tobacco and the grape for more than half a century. Offended people—important people—who feel I am owed a lesson. Which is probably true.” A long, pale ?nger jabbed the evening air. “And now you wish me to cower before someone else’s puppet? A tool?”
That, at least, made it easier.
Petrakis found his mind ranging across so many things: memories, lost decades, languid days dodging NATO patrols beneath the Afghan sun, distant half-recalled moments in the damp darkness of an Etruscan tomb, talking to his father about life and the world, and how a man had to make his own way, not let another create a future for him.
Everything came from that place in the Maremma, from the whispered discovery of a paradise of the will sacri?ced to the commonplace and mundane, the exigencies of politics. Andrea Petrakis knew this course was set for him at an early age, by birth, by his inheritance.
The memory of the tomb, with its ghostly painted ?gures on the wall, and the terrible, eternal specter of the Blue Demon, consuming them one by one, ?lled his head. This, more than anything else, he had learned over the decades: Freedom, of the kind enjoyed by the long-dead men and women still dancing beneath the gray Tarquinia earth more than two millennia on, was a mayfly, gloriously fleeting, made real only by its impermanence. Life and death were bedfellows, two sides of the same coin. To taste every breath, feel each beat of the heart, one had to know that both might be snatched away in an instant. His father had taught him that, long before the Afghans and the Arabs tried to reveal the same truth.
Andrea Petrakis remembered the lesson more keenly now, as the sand trickled through some unseen hourglass for Dario Sordi and his allotted assassin.
Out of the soft evening came a bright, sharp sound, like the ping of some taut yet invisible wire, snapping under pressure.
A piece of the statue of Hermes, its stone right foot, disintegrated in front of his eyes, shattering into pieces, as if exploding in anger.
Dario Sordi ducked back into the shadows, trying, at last, to hide.
Three days earlier . . .
“Behold,” said the man, in a cold, tired voice, the accent from the countryside perhaps. “I will make a covenant. For it is something dreadful I will do to you.”
Strong, ?rm hands ripped off the hood. Giovanni Batisti saw he was tethered to a plain of?ce chair. At the periphery of his vision, he could make out that he was in a small, simple room with bare bleached floorboards and dust ghosts on the walls left by long-removed chests of drawers or ancient ?ling cabinets. The place smelled musty, damp, and abandoned. He could hear the distant lowing of traf?c, muffled in some curious way, but still energized by the familiar rhythm of the city. Cars and trucks, buses and people, thousands of them, some from the police and the security services no doubt, searching as best they could, oblivious to his presence. There was no human sound close by, from an adjoining room or an apartment. Not a radio or a TV set. No voice save that of his captor.
“I would like to use the bathroom, please,” Batisti said quietly, keeping his eyes ?xed on the stripped, cracked timber boards at his feet. “I will do as you say. You have my word.”
The silence, hours of it, had been the worst part. He’d expected a reprimand, might even have welcomed a beating, since all these things would have acknowledged his existence. Instead . . . he was left in limbo, in blindness, almost as if he were dead already. Nor was there any exchange he could hear between those involved. A brief meeting to discuss tactics. News. Perhaps a phone call in which he would be asked to con?rm that he was still alive.
Even—and this was a forlorn hope, he knew—some small note of concern about his driver, Elena Majewska, everyone’s favorite, shot in the chest as the two vehicles blocked his government car in the narrow street of Via delle Quattro Fontane, at the junction with the road to the Quirinale. It was such a familiar Roman crossroads, next to Borromini’s fluid baroque masterpiece of San Carlino, a church he loved deeply and would visit often if he had time during his lunch break from the Interior Ministry building around the corner.
They could have snatched him that day from beneath Borromini’s dome, with its magni?cent dove of peace, descending to earth from Heaven. He’d needed a desperate ?fteen-minute respite from sessions with the Americans, the Russians, the British, the Germans. . . . Eight nations, eight voices, each different, each seeking its own outcome. The phrase that was always used about the G8—the “industrialized nations”—struck him as somewhat ironic as he listened to the endless bickering about diplomatic rights and protocols, about who should stand where and with whom. Had some interloper approached him during his brief recess that day, Batisti would have glanced at Borromini’s extraordinary interior one last time, then walked into his captor’s arms immediately. Anything but another session devoted to the rites and procedures of diplomatic life.
Then he remembered again, with a sudden, painful seizure of guilt, the driver. Did Elena—a young, pretty single mother who’d moved to Rome from Poland to ?nd security and a better life—survive? If so, what could she tell the police? What was there to say about a swift and unexpected explosion of violence in the black sultry velvet of a Roman summer night? The attack had happened so quickly and with such brutish force that Batisti was still unsure how many men had been involved. Perhaps no more than three or four, to judge from the pair of vehicles blocking the way. The area was empty. He was without a bodyguard. An opposition politician drafted into the organization team was deemed not to need a bodyguard, even in the heightened security that preceded the summit. Not a single sentence was spoken as they dragged him from the rear seat, wrapped a blindfold tightly around his head, ?red—three, four times?—into the front, then bundled him into the trunk of some large vehicle and drove a short distance to their destination.
Were they now issuing ransom demands? Did his wife, who was with her family in Milan, discussing a forthcoming family wedding, know what was happening?
There were no answers, only questions. Giovanni Batisti was forty-eight years old and felt as if he’d stepped back into a past that Italy hoped was behind it. The dismal seventies and eighties, the “Years of Lead.” A time when academics and lawyers and politicians were routinely kidnapped by the shadowy criminals of the Red Brigades and their partners in terrorism, held for ransom, tortured, then left bloodied and ...
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