Authors: Peter Temple
Tags: #FIC019000, #FIC000000, #FIC050000
Anselm’s office led off the room. On the way to it, he passed a shaven-headed man in black sitting on his spine, his head back, eyes closed. He was chewing in a bovine, cud-shifting way.
‘You’re eating in your sleep, Inskip,’ Anselm said. ‘Wake up and go home.’
‘Home,’ said Inskip, not opening his eyes, ‘is where they have to take you in. That is not the situation at my lodgings.’
Inskip was new in the job, six months, but he was suited to it, not a normal person. He’d been recommended to Baader by someone who knew his father, once a lieutenant in the Army of the Rhine, now something in the British Foreign Office, probably an MI6 employee. Inskip’s mother was a German doctor’s daughter and he’d learned German at her knee.
Inskip had a degree in mathematics from Cambridge and his only real job had been six months as a junior lecturer at an English provincial university.
‘Kicked out for GMT,’ Inskip had told Anselm one night. They were standing on the balcony, smoking, snowflakes dancing in the cold light from the windows.
‘Gross moral turpitude. I committed an unspeakable act.’
‘What was it?’
‘Search me. No one would speak of it. I was off my face, drink and drugs, so I had no recollection. Anyway, I couldn’t be bothered to ask, told them to fuck off. Loathed the place, all ghastly grey concrete, stuck out in these fields, students thick as sheep.’
Now Inskip opened his eyes. ‘The Indonesian’s on the radar. Two minutes ago.’
The man’s name was Sudrajad. He had not been sighted in Europe since stealing four million dollars from a French construction company trying to swing a contract in Indonesia. The French wouldn’t have felt so bitter if they’d got it, but it went to Americans who made a member of the Soeharto family a partner in their firm.
‘Swissair 207 into Zurich from New York, 11.20.’
A list of names, dates and numbers appeared on his computer screen. Inskip began to scroll it.
‘Hamid. The Malaysian passport.’
‘I’m looking for a hotel…here it is. Schweitzerhof. One night. There’s a limo booked.’
‘Tell them. He may go somewhere of interest on his way to the hotel.’
The clients chasing the Indonesian were a Paris firm of commercial investigators, good clients.
Anselm went into his office and read the night reports. The Serrano watchers said the woman appeared to be paid off at the station. Serrano and the bodyguard went to the Hansa Bank, where the case went into a safe-deposit box. The bodyguard left and Serrano took a cab to the Hotel Abtei in Harvesthude and had not left the premises. This information had been passed on to O’Malley in London.
In the tray was a long complaint about payment from Gerda Broeksma, the firm’s representative in Amsterdam. They couldn’t afford to lose her. If Anselm understood the figures, she had brought in almost 5 per cent of the firm’s turnover in the past year. Holland was good for business. The Dutch were a suspicious lot. They knew that people who left their sitting room curtains open at night were not necessarily without anything to hide.
Anselm went down the short passage to Baader’s office. The door was open. He was on the phone, beckoned, pointed to the Marcel Breuer chairs at the window. Anselm sat down. Baader stopped grunting into the phone and came over.
‘Gerda. She says we’re three months behind. She wants to quit.’
Baader put his chin on his hands, closed his eyes. He had long lashes. ‘Why does everyone go to you? The caring fucking ear. You running a complaints booth?’
‘I don’t encourage it, Stefan,’ said Anselm. ‘Believe me.’
Baader didn’t open his eyes. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Sorry. I know you don’t. I’m in shit, John. Uschi’s skinned me, her fucking lawyer.’
Anselm didn’t feel much compassion. He’d rather liked Uschi, a failed singer. Baader had met her through someone who worked for Bertelsmann in the music business. Despite dressing like an old-school
Baader frequented the haunts of the Hamburg media types, places like Fusion and Nil and Rive that Anselm read about in
‘Then my cousin tips me off, this bio-tech company, get in big and get rich,’ said Baader. ‘But he didn’t tell me to get out even quicker, the whole thing’s just gas, a fucking Zeppelin. The prick, I’m going to kill him.’
Pause. ‘I may have to sell some of the business,’ he said. ‘A big piece.’
‘Hell of a business to sell,’ said Anselm. ‘Eighty per cent clearly illegal, the rest lineball.’
Baader opened his eyes. They were dark brown, something of the intelligent dog in them. Alsatian dog. ‘But there’s a buyer.’
For years, Anselm had been waiting for this. ‘Yes?’
‘An English company.’
‘Mitchell Harvester. Corporate risk management, that sort of thing. Take 51 per cent, give us all their work.’
‘Mitchell Harvester? Is that so? They approached you?’
‘Well, indirectly, sounded out, yes. They’ll do it through a nominee company, no direct involvement.’ Baader looked at him, didn’t blink. Nothing.
Anselm stared back for a long time, waited for a sign. He got up, knee pains, left knee worse, found a cigarette and lit it with the old Zippo, disregarding the policy on smoking.
‘Stefan,’ he said, ‘I want you to consider whether fucking teenagers hasn’t destroyed important parts of your brain.’
Baader frowned, the single eyebrow dipping in the middle. ‘What’s wrong, don’t want to work for them?’
‘For that arm of the United States government, no.’
The frown disappeared. Baader smiled. He looked even more vulpine. ‘John,’ he said, ‘I understand your position. But relax, it’s not a problem.’
‘No. They want you sacked before we do the deal.’
‘Fuck you.’ Anselm sat down. ‘Can we talk about business? I pulled fifteen grand yesterday. Against my better judgment.’
‘That’s my man,’ said Baader, the little smile. ‘Already I feel more able to resist a takeover.’
NIEMAND PARKED near the Chinese wholesaler’s barred premises in a filthy side street near the market square. Two street boys appeared, danced around him, offered all manner of services. He gave them several notes to guard the car, opened his jacket to show them the gun and threatened them with certain death. To get to the door, he had to step around papers, car bits, cartons, bottles, food containers, pieces of styrofoam, a new pile of human excrement with a filter cigarette stubbed out in it.
The guard, a huge man, knew him.
‘Where’s the Chinaman?’ said Niemand in Zulu. He called the Chinaman
‘Deliveries,’ said the Zulu. He was behind a steel gate. A shotgun was leaning against the wall, an old Remington, grip polished with hand sweat.
The Chinaman supplied Soweto hawkers, met them on the fringe to hand over goods, payment in cash, not one cent of credit. Niemand and Zeke had ridden shotgun for him for a few months before the escort service job came up. They had been held up four times: Chinaman 4, hijackers 0.
The guard opened the gate. Niemand crossed the storeroom, walked down the aisles of packaged goods that reached to the ceiling. Substandard, damaged, dangerous, mislabelled, overcooked, undercooked, production mistakes, very old, the Chinaman’s stock came mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia.
At the doorway of the back room, Niemand pushed aside the curtain. The Chinaman’s new wife was sitting in an armchair covered in tigerskin plush velvet, one of four arranged in a row in front of the television set. She heard the sound of the curtain rings, looked over her shoulder, barked his name and went back to watching an advertisement for miracle kitchen knives. A man with a bad hair transplant was sawing slices off a broom handle. Then he went to work on a piece of cheese, processed cheese, sliced off squares of yellow rubber.
‘Try that with your favourite knife and see how far you get,’ said the salesman.
The camera showed the audience clapping. Many of the people did not look like kitchen-knife buyers. They looked like people recruited from the street to applaud men with irregular hair. The camera showed the set of knives on offer. Eight knives. One of them looked like the weapon in the hand of the man who’d dropped from the ceiling.
‘Cutting, chopping, slicing, dicing, they’ll never be the same again,’ said the salesman.
‘Jackie,’ said Niemand. ‘I’ve got a video I need to watch.’
The Chinaman had told Niemand that he imported Jackie through an agency in Macau and that his resentful son, sent to take delivery of her at the airport, was screwing his father’s new companion within days.
‘She says she was a model,’ the Chinaman had said. ‘I think she model without her clothes on, know what I mean?’
Jackie used the remote to kill the knife man, went to an empty channel, just electronic fizz. ‘Put it in,’ she said.
Niemand went to the set. There was a video in the slot, something called
The Wedding Singer
. He plugged in Mr Shawn’s cassette.
Jackie got up, her nylon dressing gown slid like water, showing a length of thin thigh. She handed over the remote and went to the back door. ‘Come and have drink when you finish,’ she said, staccato.
‘No one to talk to here. Boring.’
Niemand sat on the edge of a chair and found the Play button. Static. It became an aerial view of wooded sub-tropical country, late in the day, shadows. Taken from a helicopter, Niemand thought, probably from the co-pilot’s seat, the colour the result of filming through darkened glass.
Then the photographer was descending and Niemand wasn’t sure what he was looking at, a fire, fires, an African village burning, thatched huts on fire, perhaps two or three dozen, cultivated ground around them… The camera went left and another helicopter could be seen, a Puma, no markings visible. Now they were on the ground and the filming was being done through the open door of the helicopter, a dark edge visible.
There were bodies everywhere, dozens and dozens of bodies. Black people.
The camera zoomed in on a group, at least a dozen people near what looked like a water trough made of steel drums sliced vertically and welded together. Black people, poorly dressed, most of them women and children, a baby, lying on the ground, hands held to their faces, some face down as if trying to kiss the packed dirt.
Men in uniform came into view, white men in combat gear carrying automatic weapons. Niemand recognised the firearms, American weapons. The soldiers were Americans. Niemand knew that because of their boots, American Special Forces boots, he’d once owned a pair.
The soldiers were standing around, five or six of them, they weren’t alert, weapons cradled. The camera moved, three people in coveralls, probably civilians, talking to a tall soldier, the only one without headgear. The camera zoomed in on the group, the soldier was talking to one of the civilians, a man with a moustache. The soldier took off his dark glasses, wiped his eyes with the knuckle of his index finger. The man with the moustache said something to the person next to him, a man, short hair, a mole on his cheek. He shook his head, gestured, palms inward. The group broke up, the soldier was turning towards the camera, the screen went dark.
When the picture came back, the tall soldier was standing at the bodies lying around the water trough.
He moved a man’s head with his boot.
The man was alive, he lifted his arm, his fingers moved.
The soldier shot him in the head, gestured to the other soldiers in the background.
Niemand watched the rest of the film, another two minutes, rewound it and watched it again. He retrieved the cassette and left without seeing Jackie, drove to his place and packed his one bag.
Two hours later, he was in a British Airways business class seat. Johannesburg fell away beneath him, the flat, featureless townships smoking as if bombed, smoking like the village on the film.
Could be Mozambique, he thought. Could be Angola, could be further north.
INSKIP LOOMED in Anselm’s open doorway. ‘Your friend called,’ he said. ‘The one who won’t give his name.’
David Riccardi was his name. Presumably it was the call to tell him about Alex Koenig. Many hours too late. Anselm closed his eyes at the thought of her visit.
He had known Riccardi for ten years before they were taken hostage. They’d worked together a few times, run into each other in odd places. Then they spent thirteen months together, close together. Manacled, chained to walls and beams, in the dark or half-dark, the last four months in a damp cavity beneath a cold-storage plant where they could not fully extend their legs. That was where his knee trouble had started. His knee trouble and his hip trouble.
‘When?’ said Anselm.
‘Oh, two-fifteen, two-thirty.’
The wrong side of the night. But Riccardi’s circadian rhythms were permanently disturbed, so was much else of David.