Killing Ground

Killing Ground by Gerald Seymour

Book: Killing Ground by Gerald Seymour Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gerald Seymour
Rome four years earlier, she had never been outside her country. Her hand trembled. She had agreed to take an opportunity for access. She read the letter back. She would spy on the family that had shown her love and kindness and affection.
    'Come on, children. Settle down now. Leave her alone, Dean. Stop it. Writing books out, please. Yes, writing books, Tracy. Darren, don't do that. Has everyone got their writing book?'
    She folded the letter. She had been told that if she gave serious cause for suspicion, she would be killed and that then her killers would go home to eat their dinner.
    To refuse protection in Palermo was to lose the love of life.
    Under the yellow haze of car fumes that lay below the surrounding mountains and that was held in place by the light sea breeze, the city was a mosaic of guarded camps.
    Palermo was a place of armed men, of carefully sited strongpoints, as it had been throughout history. Soldiers with their NATO rifles, huddled inside bulletproof shelters, held the street corners of the blocks where magistrates and politicians lived.
    Police bodyguards in armour- reinforced cars, deafened by sirens, escorted those magistrates and politicians from one defended position to another, from home to work, from work to home. Thug-minders watched over the personal security of the men who figured high on the lists of Interpol's and Europol's most-wanted suspects and had Kalashnikov assault rifles secreted in their cars but close to hand. It was a city of tension and fear, a city where the industry of protection flourished. The industry offering protection, fortresses and safety was spread thick across the city. It covered the servants of the state and the principals of the alternate society, and right on up and right on down through every stratum of Palermo's society. If the magistrate or the politician was denied protection, was isolated, he was as a floor rag left out on a line to rot in the sun, he was dead. If the boss of a family running a district of Palermo ignored the necessary precautions of survival, then other pigs would come to snout out the food in his trough. The hotelier running the four-star albergo must pay for protection or face his guests' cars vandalized, his food contaminated, his business ruined.
    He sought protection. The bar owner risked fire if he did not buy protection. A construction magnate risked the denial of contracts and bankruptcy if he did not buy protection. The street vendor must buy it or reckon to have his legs broken, and the street whore on the Via Principe di Villafranca, and the bag thief on the Via del Liberta, and the taxi driver on the rank at the Politeama, and the heroin peddler at the Stazione Centrale. The seeking of protection was a habit of existence, unremarked and unexceptional . . .
    To decline protection in Palermo was to refuse to live.
    His hands were less painful that day. He could hold the coffee cup with his fingers and not spill the treacle-thick liquid. He thought that his hands were less painful because of the warmth of the spring sunshine on them as he had walked on the Via Marqueda to the bar.
    In the bar, where the television played a satellite channel's transmissions of continuous music-promotion videos, Mario Ruggerio met with a man and talked the strategy of killing.
    If he had talked with a man who was close to him, close-tied by blood or friendship, he would have said that the matter of killing was abhorrent to him. But there was no man who was sufficiently close to him, not even his youngest brother, in whom he would confide his most prized and inner thoughts. His aloneness, his suspicion of intimacy and sharing, were key attributes that he recognized in his capacity for personal survival. His dislike of the strategy, matter, of killing had little to do with any sense of squeamishness, even less with any hesitation over the morality of taking the life of another of God's creatures. It was to do with security, his freedom.
    In the

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