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The Atenisti by Aidan K. Morrissey

© Aidan K. Morrissey

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CHAPTER 1

London, Monday Morning, 8 a.m.

I was about to leave when I saw them standing in the doorway opposite. The same guys as in the bar last night and now here. I don’t believe in coincidence.

‘Fucking amateurs,’ I said, which caused several heads to turn towards me. My problem was they couldn’t be here and be amateurs. Who are they? How are they here? What mistake had I made? I’m always so careful and precise.
‘Never enter a building unless an escape route has been identified,’ Giacomo had taught me. ‘Via di fuga’ the Italians call it, a very useful concept. I walked to the bathroom, opened the window and climbed out. I would need to move again. I had finished the job I came to London to do, so that wasn’t problematic. They couldn’t possibly know who I really am. Only my parents knew that; even I could forget the truth sometimes.

I didn’t need to go back to the hotel. ‘Always leave expecting not to return,’ more of Giacomo’s wise words. I never disobeyed one of his lessons. He disobeyed just once and it got him killed.

I had been looking forward to a few days quiet solitude at the cottage in the Northumbrian Hills, but that would have to wait. I had almost everything I needed in my back pack and wallet. I could collect my new documents from the locker at Heathrow, Italian passport and ID card, Gianfranco Corso. It had been a while since I used that name.

Arriving at Milan Malpensa airport was a formality. A cursory check of my ID card by a surly poliziotto and a wave of his hand ushering me towards baggage reclaim. No bags for me to collect, I walked straight out of the exit and took the bus to the Stazione Centrale. A taxi would have been quicker, but taxi drivers like to talk; bus drivers, and I, don’t.
One hundred and twenty-five Euros bought me a business class seat on the 3 o’clock express. Four hundred and seventy-nine kilometres in under 3 hours; how the trains have changed since my childhood. I arrived in Rome in time for dinner at my favourite restaurant with a view of the Coliseum.

‘Buonasera Signor Matteo,’ Carlo, the Maitre D, said as I entered, using the name I always used when in Rome.
‘Buonasera Carlo,’ I replied. ‘Il mio solito tavolo, per favore.’

He did as I asked and showed me to my usual table.

Time to think and decide on the next job. It wasn’t the act of killing that excited me. That part was easy. They all deserved to die. It was the meticulous planning I enjoyed. Choosing the target. Once inside their head the most appropriate method of disposal usually came to me instantly.

More complex, and therefore more interesting, was choosing who would get the blame for the killing. A clear suspect would deflect the Police from looking for me. One thing I had discovered which united the world, is how the Police don’t look beyond the obvious when they’re led to a suspect with motive, no alibi and impeccable incriminating evidence. From Düsseldorf to Dublin, Milan to Mumbai, Seattle to Sao Paulo, the Police everywhere are overworked and susceptible to not searching beyond the obvious. If they started to, there was usually a ‘friend’ high up in the department who would discourage unwanted curiosity.

I picked up the first of the newspapers I had bought at the station. It was the ‘Corriere della Sera.’ I didn’t have to look far for my next objective. The headlines were enough.

‘RAGAZZA DI 10 ANNI VIOLENTATA E ASSASSINATA.’

A ten year old girl, raped and murdered. I looked out of the window at the Coliseum; tourists were milling around in their hundreds. Mopeds and small motorcycles, the favoured transport of young Romans, weaved intricately and dangerously between cars, ignoring traffic lights and pedestrians. The restaurant’s triple glazing protected me from the cacophony of horns and shouting, but the general mayhem, gesticulations and internationally offensive hand and arm signals were all clearly visible. The Eternal City’s monumental ruin, with huge columns and violent history, held a fascination for me. Gladiatorial sacrifice for the entertainment of the populus.

‘Let the games begin,’ I said, and toasted myself with the glass of Brunello Carlo had placed in front of me without my asking. Carlo knew exactly what I liked to eat and drink and that was more than almost anyone else alive would ever get to know.
All of the papers led with the same story. Kiki Jachenholz, the daughter of a holidaying German lawyer, had gone missing while out sightseeing with her parents in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan. Three days later, yesterday, her body had been found at the bottom of a hill beside the via Cristoforo Colombo, on the road from Bellagio to Como. Early reports suggested she may have been thrown from a car travelling along that road. No-one had seen or heard anything.

That, of course, was a lie. The murdering, rapist scum had seen and heard everything. In my experience, paedophilic murderers rarely acted alone. The easiest number, for me, was two; one to die uncomfortably, and the other to give all the appearance of committing suicide due to remorse or, more frequently, fear of capture. That was neat and tidy. Giacomo had always liked neat and tidy, he would not have liked his own crime scene photos. There is nothing neat about having your face chewed off and throat ripped out by dogs.
The meal was wonderful, ossobuco alla romana, a simple veal dish cooked with celery, carrots and peas, just enough tomato sauce to permit a ‘scarpetta’ – the traditional Italian way of using bread to wipe up the sauce on the plate. The plate cleaned, using the bread ‘slipper,’ I paid the bill, left Carlo his usual hefty tip, and made my way to the small apartment I used in Rome, a few blocks away.
I studied the newspapers and watched the news. Each small detail lodged in the file inside my head. I booted up the computer and gained entry to the Police system. I’m not a hacker and wouldn’t have a clue how to break through even the simplest of firewalls, but I had the access codes, updated regularly and informed to me through a well-established system. Being a member of ‘The Atenisti’ had its advantages, even though I was the last active member of the group formed thirty years ago by Giacomo. Perhaps there were others like me, other groups; I neither knew nor cared. I would carry out my work for as long as I was able, or motivated, and then die or just disappear and live out my days in one of the forty two properties in seventeen countries to which I had access.
Giacomo, a soldier with a passion for Egyptology, was meticulous. Fascinated by the Amarna period of the 18th Pharaonic Dynasty, he had formed this group, inspired by the worship of the Sun. The fourteen Atenisti, each one representing one of the rays in the hieroglyphics of the period, bought three properties where they believed they would be most useful. The Aten’s rays covered the world, so did the Atenisti. I bought the cottage in Northumberland as a safe haven, this apartment in Rome and the lakeside 1960’s style boathouse on the Lecco side of Lake Como. That’s where I would be heading tomorrow, just across the Lake from where the girl’s body had been found.

I searched through the police information. It wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for. The list of known predatory paedophiles in the area. I already had my own list but I couldn’t always keep this up to date. The Police had used the three days since the girl had gone missing to start to collate their intelligence. They had used the time well. Then I saw the words I had feared most. ‘Snuff movie.’

The bastards had filmed the rape and murder, no doubt to sell for large sums on the dark web. A copy was on the police files. I knew it was essential that I watch this film. Homemade movies were often an efficient means of gaining clues to the identity of the perverted perpetrators. I was repulsed at the thought of this one. A young girl’s life taken away, a family irreparably and permanently damaged, with anyone forced to watch the film, traumatised, often for life.

Some years ago, I attended a conference organized by the Forensic Anthropology Society of Europe and heard a prosecutor explain how, having watched one such film involving the rape of a three year old girl, he could no longer allow his granddaughter to sit on his lap as it brought back such vivid and horrific memories. Why should decent people have to change their lives because of the actions of the detritus of society?

One of my motivations, in doing what I do, is to limit the number of people who are obliged to watch this most despicable of all pornography. I avoid the need for a trial. With no trial, the judge and, in those countries where they exist, juries, would not have to be subjected to the trauma of seeing the life changing images. Victims’ families don’t need to give evidence and hear details of the last hours and minutes of their precious children.

Not all my work involves paedophiles, although nowadays it seems a large proportion of my time is spent on crimes such as this. I remain convinced there is a wealthy, well run organization behind the buying and distribution of this sewage. Sick, rich individuals with the wealth to pay others to do what they fantasize about, but wouldn’t risk doing themselves.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch the film, so kept busy with Interpol, searching for any recently added ‘Green Notices’ and comparing these to the information gleaned from the Milan police files. My Italian Police accreditation allowed me access to information beyond the reach of public access sites and even the best of hackers. My accreditation was of a real person, with sufficient rank to allow searching for such information, without suspicion. If he was ever questioned about his searches he would explain that it was part of an ongoing investigation. Giacomo had developed a complex web of like-minded people who believed that the Justice system could only do a certain amount and that there were times when drastic action was required.

‘Vigilantes’ the press would call us, and the courts would not treat us kindly if we were ever caught. People like me were never caught. Assassinated, eliminated or liquidated maybe, as had happened in the end to Giacomo, but never caught. One day I would find his killers and exact my own kind of retribution. Not yet. The time didn’t feel right and Giacomo taught me to rely on my instincts.
All the research I could face for tonight done, I unpacked from London and repacked for Lombardy, double-checked the train timetable for tomorrow and climbed into bed. I carried out the nightly ritual inspection of the Beretta M9 I kept under my pillow. Criticised by some as being too big, I loved the ease of disassembly and cleaning it provided. Satisfied it would work if the need arose, I lay back and fell asleep.

When I awoke, I showered and dressed quickly and headed for the railway station. A cappuccino, brioche and a freshly squeezed grapefruit spremuta at the Station Café, I boarded the 06:30 FrecciaRossa train to Milan. I sank into the leather, electrically operated, reclineable seat, in the ‘silent’ area of business class, which my freshly purchased €240 Business Area Silenzio travel ticket entitled me to. I settled back for the promised two hours and 59 minutes of the journey.

The train arrived on time at 09:29 so I was able to catch the 09:52 to Lecco and, almost immediately after arriving, I jumped aboard my final train for today for the eleven minute trip to my destination.

I disembarked at the small town which was famous for the manufacturing of a brand of motor cycle. Giacomo informed me that this was where the wind tunnel had been invented. I think that Francis Herbert Wenham would take issue with that statement, however, it does boast the world's only wind tunnel for testing motorcycle aerodynamics.

I mused about this as I walked from the station. The factory was to my left, around a corner, so out of my sight. Crossing the street, I bought a local paper at the newsstand, and continued down the road, passing the Carabinieri station. Within five minutes I was at the Lake shore. Turning right, I passed the football pitch, then the abandoned velvet factory and continued down the road, to the white building with green shutters and flat roof that was my home, and main base in Italy.

As I entered, it smelled musty. It was wonderful living on the lake but damp was always a problem. I opened all of the shutters and windows to let in the fresh air. It wouldn’t take long for the stale smell to dissipate, not with the breeze that was blowing in from the west. I went down to the garage and checked on my locally manufactured touring motorbike, named after an American state. Satisfied all was in order I went to the boathouse, opened the remote controlled doors and started up the Japanese outboard motor on my specially designed craft. Adapted to enable me to transport my motorbike to most marinas in the area, the engine was extremely reliable, but I needed to make sure it wouldn’t stop in the middle of the lake today. I couldn’t afford to waste that much time.

I estimated, at best, I had 48 hours to identify and deal with my target, or targets, before the police net would close in on them.
I already had an idea who I was looking for, and the Police would either know that too, or it wouldn’t take them long to figure it out. The Interpol Green Notice had not yet been linked with the Police report, but it surely would within the next 24 hours. A Belgian national, recently returned from Cambodia, where a child trafficking arrest warrant had been issued just hours after he had successfully left the country and landed in Switzerland, was who, my gut said, I needed to find. Interpol had lost all trace of him shortly after he landed in Zurich. He had hired a car at the Airport under a false name. This had been found abandoned at a Swiss Service Station on the A2 near Bellinzona. The area was undergoing renovation and the CCTV cameras were conveniently temporarily out of action.

This was only 90 minutes from Milan and two days before the girl was abducted. The Interpol report said he spoke fluent German, so could feasibly have convinced the girl to go with him. The girl’s body had been found the day before yesterday and she had not been dead long, so he had no more than two days head start. This could be a lifetime of opportunity to escape and, in theory, he could already be back in Belgium, or anywhere else in the world.

He would know the Police would start looking for him, to ‘eliminate him from their enquiries’ if nothing else, so he needed to keep a low profile. This meant avoiding airports or other places with heavy security cameras. I know this part of Italy well, the various ways into Switzerland, the local trattorias and hotels. I could never think like a paedophile, but I could think like a fugitive and that was where I had an advantage over the Police. They would assume he had moved as far away from the area as possible, I believed he would stay.

Boat and bike checked, I donned my leathers and darkened glass helmet, loaded my black machine on board and set off across the lake. I headed for a small marina attached to a restaurant on the opposite side of the lake. I didn’t go into Bellagio as it was always full of water taxis and tourist boats. I landed, disembarked and went into the restaurant. I wanted to get an idea of the place the body had been found and, from here, I didn’t need to go into the crowded tourist mecca. The restaurant owners were not around and I was served by a young waitress I had never seen before, so there was no need for idle talk. It was late for lunch, almost at the end of service, so the restaurant was sparsely occupied. A few local women taking their time over coffee and glasses of red wine. I ate penne all'arrabbiata from the ‘Menu di Lavoro’, the daily, cheap but filling, lunchtime specials which included pasta, a main course, today it was local fish, a glass of wine and coffee for less than the price of a gin and tonic in the tourist areas of Rome. Food was the best thing about living in Italy.

After my late lunch, I drove along the road and easily found the place I wanted. A Police road block was the clearest of all signals. Two uniformed officers were standing beside a blue Polizia Locale car questioning everyone who passed. These were the local police, not the Carabinieri, who would be leading the investigation. I stopped, showed them my Italian ID card and my press accreditation in the same name. They made it clear that journalists were not welcome so I didn’t linger. I had seen all I needed to whilst waiting for my ‘interview’. I looked across the Lake and could see my house, its dark green railings and open shutters standing out against the white walls. I followed the road towards Como, then headed for Lecco and took the Lakeside road through Malgrate back to the restaurant and my waiting boat.

Once I returned home, I walked to the local budget supermarket and bought rice. Tonight I was going to make a risotto Milanese as I wanted to use the remnants of the saffron I’d bought in a market in India. I needed something heavy on my stomach if I was going to watch that film.


Chapter 2

Lago di Como, Wednesday morning, 6 a.m.

Sickened by what I had seen, I didn’t sleep well. I watched the 30 minute film twice. Once at normal speed, but with no sound. The sound would have been too much to bear. I imagined Kiki’s pleas for the agony to stop; not understanding what was happening to her. I didn’t need to hear the real thing. It had been particularly sadistic and horrifying. The second run through was in slow motion and at times frame by frame. I ignored what was happening and concentrated on the man in the film.

As always his face didn’t appear, but other parts of his body would sometimes drift into view, his hands, fingers, torso and at one point an ear. One thing was obvious. The camera was being held by a second monster. Each was as guilty as the other and both would pay my price. The lens zoomed in and out to get all of the disgusting and gory details. Courts needed strong evidence, my threshold was slightly lower, although I also needed to be certain. I had ways of obtaining the truth which modern police interrogation couldn’t achieve. I didn’t subscribe to torture, at least in the physical sense, but putting pressure on someone with the threat of violence was not the same thing. At least in my opinion.

I had learned a lot about the rapist. I couldn’t yet say for certain the same man was the murderer, that might have been the cameraman. In a sense it didn’t matter, other than deciding on the order and manner of death.
My tourer motorcycle had large paniers; 35 litres each according to the specifications. I packed into them what I needed for two days and set off on the hunt. Kiki’s innocent face with its distinctive features was now burned into my mind. I was even more convinced that the Belgian was the guy I needed to eliminate.

The Interpol Green Notice listed several names for him, Luc Peeters, Peter Maes, Martin Pauwel and Paul Pieters, which immediately struck me as having a pattern and connection. There were three standard name derivatives. Peter, Martin and Paul. Somewhere in those three names was his real one. Not that his actual name mattered, but the search for him was made that little bit easier by his lack of imagination.

My names are chosen at random from names on grave headstones. Perhaps, because of my work, I find peace in cemeteries, particularly those in England and America. Vast green fields where everyone is sleeping. Many as beautiful as parks but without the crowds. People who visit cemeteries are normally private people. Going to respect their dead, through love, guilt or duty, they lay their flowers, think their thoughts, sometimes speaking a few words and then leaving. Occasionally a smile and a ‘Good morning,’ but generally no attempts at long conversation.

I quickly checked for any updates on the Interpol Notices, there was a new name which immediately caught my eye:

FERGUSON Edward
Age today. 40
Nationality. United Kingdom

To the side was a space for a photograph. There was only a faceless, grey outline and above, was written, ‘No photo available.’
This had never happened to me before. This was me, this was the name I had used in London. There is no such thing as coincidence. I moved the mouse to the entry. The name turned red, a blue circle with a white ‘i’ appeared with the word ‘Details’ beside it. Another page opened.

Again, the name appeared on the top of the screen with the faceless grey icon at the side. ‘Wanted by the judicial authorities of the United Kingdom,’ was written underneath. There followed a more detailed description of the person they were looking for. This added nothing, the details of date and place of birth, languages spoken and nationality were all wrong but roughly matched the details of that alias. The physical description was vague.

Then came the Charge, ‘Details as provided by the judicial authority.’ I read the entry out loud.

‘Murder, unlawful handling of firearms or essential components thereof or ammunition, perverting the course of justice.’

The final words on the page were, ‘This extract of the Red Notice has been approved for public dissemination.’ I would need to access the Red Notice at some point. This is where information, ‘To seek the location and arrest of a person wanted by a judicial jurisdiction or an international tribunal with a view to his/her extradition,’ was detailed and open only to certain police and judicial authorities.

Everything was so vague, I had few worries. I couldn’t use that alias again and the documents, relating to it, would need to be destroyed the next time I was in England. I didn’t use that name either entering or leaving the country, so there would be no photographic trace of that person at the airports. I had obeyed Giacomo’s instructions and had found a small anonymous hotel, outside the city, without security cameras, in an area of CCTV black spots. I was more curious than concerned. That could wait; I couldn’t allow distraction and had to concentrate on the work which I had undertaken.

The first stop in my search would be Bellagio. It’s a cliché to say, ‘find a needle in a haystack,’ however, it’s a cliché for a reason. Where is the best place to hide? Unless you have access to a property in the middle of nowhere, then always head for a crowd. At this time of year Bellagio was full of tourists, one or two Belgians, or whatever they may be, would go unnoticed in the small town at the end of the promontory. Known to the Italians as the Pearl on Lake Como, this one time fishing village had become a destination of the stars. No trip to Northern Italy would ever be complete without a visit here.

The lake’s beauty is unsurpassed. Which is why it has become the home of the rich and infamous. Not the town of Bellagio itself, that’s too small and the properties surrounding it are never available on the market. Most are owned by institutions. I was told by Giacomo that there were only eleven lakeside properties in the area of Bellagio that were in private hands. He owned one of those, or rather his family did. When he was alive, I was a frequent visitor. It was his presence here that led me to buy my house on the opposite side of the Lake. With binoculars it was possible to see each other’s house and this had proved useful on a number of occasions.
I climbed the green metal steps to my rooftop terrace. No matter how many times I stood here I never tired of, or failed to marvel at, the magnificent views. The cloudless sky and bright sunshine created a blue hue on the rippling water. I listened to the water lapping the shore below as I turned to look out beyond the houses to the peaks of La Grigna. Still capped with snow, even at this time of late spring, ’my mountain’ dominated the skyline. The tiny dot of refuge ‘Elisa’ was visible, bringing back, as always, memories of walks and climbs, alone or with friends in my youth.

I reluctantly drew my gaze away and looked back across the lake. The traffic was already heavy. The road was bad enough when it was quiet, even on a motorbike. Overtaking opportunities were minimal, particularly when hordes of cyclists decided to have an impromptu road race. I didn’t want to take my boat as I wasn’t sure I would come back the same way and didn’t want to leave it moored anywhere for more than a few hours. It might attract attention. So I rode the 15 minutes to Varenna and boarded the first traghetto, a ferry which linked the Lario side of Lake Como with Bellagio and also the Swiss town of Menaggio.

It was feasible that Peter, Paul or Martin had taken the ferry to Menaggio, but there was the possibility of a passport check and, unless he had the kind of resources I have, I doubted he would want to risk that yet. ‘Stay calm, stay low,’ Giacomo would say. The short ferry crossing was uneventful. Cars and motorbikes with number plates from all over Europe shared the deck. Predominately German, French and Italian, there was a UK and Dutch plate and some from Poland, Rumania and Hungary. I was at the front and the first to ride up the ramp. The ferry dock was right at the entrance of the town. I turned left and parked up in a row of other motorbikes, opposite a souvenir shop and next to the tables of a three star restaurant, less than 30 metres from where I disembarked.
The hotel building was opposite, next to the shop. Tables, with matching brown cloths and fabric chair covers, on both sides of the road, were a statement of ownership. It was busy even at this hour. Fortunately a table cleared on the roadside just as I removed my helmet, so I hastily sat down. Tables here were at a premium. I began to move the used cups, saucers and plates.

‘I’ll do that sir,’ a waiter said in perfect English. This was the default language of all the waiters in Bellagio. If the response came in Italian they would flip effortlessly into their own mother tongue. I did so now. Many spoke several languages and could easily help most customers with the five major languages of the European Union. Being a waiter is still a source of pride in Italy, not like in many other countries.

I ordered a ‘cappuccio’, what the locals called the famous frothy milky coffee, along with my usual brioche and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. I sat and waited. The waiter brought my order. Typical in tourist regions he also brought the bill, which I paid in cash. I opened the small packet of sugar which had been placed on the saucer and poured the contents down the side of the cup. I don’t know why I had developed this habit. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to disturb the melting chocolate powder sprinkled across the top. I inserted the teaspoon, also down the side, and stirred underneath the foam.

The rituals completed, I took a drink. I was just biting into the brioche when I saw him. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. He walked straight out of the hotel door opposite and sat down at a table. I needed to get closer to him if I was to be sure he was the guy in the film. The marks I was looking for could not be seen from this distance. The table next to him was vacant. I would need to move carefully and couldn’t just pick up my breakfast and walk across. It was essential to bide my time and hope the table wouldn’t be taken before I could get there.

I drank the last of the grapefruit juice and stood up. I was about to start and walk over to the souvenir shop, before making my way to the target table, arriving from behind, when another man approached the Belgian. This couldn’t be true. This was the third time I had seen this man. The first two times had been in London, now in Bellagio. He was one of the two guys outside the café the day I left. My mind went through a dozen possible scenarios. None of them good.

The man smiled as he approached the seated rapist. He raised his hands, palms upwards in front of his chest, then joined them together as if to pray. I had seen this gesture before.
‘Namaskar,’ he said. ‘Tu kasa ahes?’

I froze. This was the last thing I thought I’d hear. I left Mumbai a year ago, swearing never to return. Now, close to my home in Italy, I hear the familiar Marathi greeting, by a man who seems to be tracking my every move. Worse than that, the Mumbaiker salutation was being made to my target. The repercussions of what was happening began to dawn on me. I needed time to think. The body of a young girl found virtually in sight of my home, the Interpol Notice, and now this.

I pulled on my helmet, went to my bike and powered up the engine. I drove once around the car park to check; the two men were sitting, talking amiably. I turned up the hill and around the one way system for the five minute ride. I knew where I had to go. I took the road towards Lecco and turned into the long private road that led back down to the lake and the house owned by Giacomo’s family. His wife greeted me warmly.

‘Ciao, Carissimo,’ she said. ‘Do we need to talk?’

Chiara was formidable. One of the original Atenisti, she was the only person alive I could trust with this. We talked.

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