The Hidden Assassins


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‘I couldn’t get anywhere until a buyer from one of these companies got fired. It was she who told me how it worked: you’ve got to go to church, and you mustn’t be a woman. So I qualified on one score, but I hadn’t been to church for fifteen years. There were three churches they used: Iglesia de la Magdalena, de Santa María La Blanca and San Marcos. I bought myself a black suit and went to church. Within a couple of months I’d been approached.’

‘So you got the job, the money, the nice apartment,’ said Falcón. ‘What went wrong?’

‘Almost immediately they started to cut in on my free time. We were sent on courses—sales training and product information. Normal stuff. Except that it was almost every weekend and there was a lot of repetitive company ethos shit and religion, and it wasn’t always easy to differentiate between the two. They also did this other thing. They’d partner you off with a senior guy who’d been with the company for two or three years, and he would be your mentor. If you were unlucky and got one of the “serious” ones, they’d fill your head with even more shit. I saw people recruited at the same time as me who just disappeared.’

‘Disappeared?’

‘Lost their personality. They became an Informáticalidad man, with a glassy look in their eye and their brain tuned to one frequency. It gave me the creeps. That,’ said Curado, leaning forward conspiratorially, ‘and the total lack of women in the whole sales force. I mean, not one…’

‘How did you get along with your mentor?’

‘Marco? He was a good guy. I still talk to him occasionally, even though it’s forbidden for Informáticalidad men to talk to ex-employees.’

‘Why did you leave?’

‘Apart from the lack of women and all the brainwashing shit,’ said Curado, ’they wouldn’t let me into where the big money was being made. Like I said, they sold to companies without having to compete, so you got the good basic salary. But if you wanted to make the big commissions, that was all in converting new prospects to the Informáticalidad way. Once they’d been converted, you got commission on everything that was sold to that company —ever.’

‘And how did that work?’

‘I never found out. I never got beyond the lowest tier of salesmen. I did not have the right mentality,’ he said, tapping his forehead. ‘In the end they forced me out through boredom. I was nothing more than a formfiller and a post boy. Taking orders, passing them on to “supply”. It was the way they got rid of you at Informáticalidad.’

Falcón took a call from Inspector Jefe Barros.

‘I’m on my way to an apartment on Calle Butrón,’ said Barros. ‘You’d better come along as well.’

‘I’m in the middle of an interview,’ said Falcón, annoyed.

‘Ricardo Gamero was late coming back from lunch, so I sent another of my agents round to his apartment. There was no answer. The woman in the apartment below let him in. She said she’d seen Gamero going up, but hadn’t seen him leave. The agent called back and I told him to get in there any way he could, which was when the woman started screaming. There’s a central patio in the block. She’d opened the window to shout up the well. He was hanging out of his bedroom window.’

23

Seville—Wednesday, 7th June 2006, 16.30 hrs

Marisa left her apartment. It was hot, easily over forty degrees, and the perfect time for her to work in her studio. Her tight mulatto skin yearned to sweat freely. Out in the street she walked in the sun and breathed in the desert air. The streets were empty. She stumbled on the cobbles of Calle Bustos Tavera until her eyes got used to the sudden shade. She turned up the alleyway to the courtyard. The light at the end was blinding. The sun had sucked out even the edges of the buildings beyond the arch. She shivered a little at the sensation she always had walking down this tunnel.

At the end, where the huge cobbles turned pewtery on the threshold, she stopped. The courtyard should have been empty at this hour. Instinct told her that someone was there. She saw Inés, halfway down the steps leading to the entrance of her studio.

Rage shuddered through her and bunched up behind her flat chest. This fatuous middle-class bitch now wanted to infect the sanctity of her work place with the received opinions of her bourgeois upbringing, with the soulless rant of her consumer needs, with her self-righteous smugness of ‘being thin’. Marisa stepped back into the full darkness of the tunnel.

In turning back to go up the stairs to the studio, Inés revealed the lowest welts on the backs of her thighs. These people deserve each other, thought Marisa. They wander through life with total belief in their brilliant control of the reality around them, without ever seeing the iridescence of the illusory bubble in which they float. They might as well be dead.

Marisa suppressed the temptation to run up the steps, beat the wretched woman senseless, throw her down the stairs, break her skull open and discover the smallness within. My God, she hated these people, grown from tradition, sporting their fancy names—Inés Conde de fucking Tejada—surname and title rolled into one.

Inés reached the top of the steps, put her handbag down, tugged open the neck and drew out a blackhandled knife. Now this was interesting. Had the bitch come to kill her? Maybe the skinny-legged cow had some cojones after all. Inés scored something on the front door of the studio, stepped back and jutted her chin at her work. She put the knife back in the bag and walked down the steps. Marisa backed away, snarling, and retreated to her apartment for an hour. By the time she returned the courtyard was empty, the heat more intense. She ran up the stairs to see Inés’s message. Scored into the door was the predictable word: PUTA. Whore.

It was time this was over, she thought. She couldn’t have the bitch turning up at her place of work.

The news of Gamero’s suicide had so disconcerted Falcón he’d left Curado with barely another word. Now, as he drove across town, ideas occurred to him and he called Curado on his mobile.

‘Have you heard of someone called Ricardo Gamero?’

‘Should I?’ he asked. ‘Was he at Informáticalidad?’

Maybe that had been too lurid an idea.

‘I want you to do something for me, David,’ said Falcón. ‘I want you to call your old friend at Informáticalidad—Marco…?’

‘Marco Barreda.’

‘I want you to tell Marco Barreda that you had a visit from the Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios, Javier Falcón. The same cop who’s investigating the Seville bombing. I want you to tell him what we discussed in a “thought you’d like to know” sort of way. Nothing sensational, just matter of fact. And tell him what my last question to you was.’

‘About Ricardo Gamero?’

‘Exactly.’

The Médico Forense was already up the ladder, carrying out his preliminary examination of Ricardo Gamero’s body, as Falcón arrived on the crime scene. There was no doubt that he was dead. The CGI agent who’d found him, Paco Molero, had checked for a pulse. Even if Gamero had survived jumping off his window ledge with a rope tied around his neck, he would not have lived for long. On the floor were twelve empty trays of paracetamol. Even if they’d got him to hospital and pumped his stomach, he would probably have remained in a coma and died of liver failure within forty-eight hours. This was not attention seeking. This was an experienced policeman making sure. His apartment had been locked and chained. His bedroom door was also locked, with a chair tilted under the handle.

Falcón shook Inspector Jefe Barros’s hand.

‘I’m sorry, Ramón. I’m very sorry,’ said Falcón, who’d never lost anybody from his squad, but knew that it would be terrible.

Two paramedics manoeuvred the body on to the ladder and pulled it up through the bedroom window. They laid him out on his living-room floor while the forensics went through the bedroom. Falcón asked the instructing judge for permission to search the body.

Gamero was wearing suit trousers and a shirt. He had a wallet in one pocket, loose change in another. As Falcón turned the body to check the back pockets, the head lolled with sickening flexibility. There was a ticket to the Archaeological Museum in the right-hand back pocket. Falcón showed it to Inspector Jefe Barros, who couldn’t get rid of the dismay in his face. The ticket had today’s date on it.

‘He’s a citizen of Seville,’ said Falcón. ‘He doesn’t need to buy a ticket to get into this museum.’

‘Maybe he didn’t want to show his ID,’ said Barros. ‘Stay anonymous.’

‘Was that where he met his informers?’

‘They’re taught not to follow a routine.’

‘I’d like to talk to the agent who found him—Paco Molero?’

‘Of course,’ said Barros, nodding. ‘They were good friends.’

Paco was sitting at the kitchen table with his face in his hands. Falcón touched him on the shoulder, introduced himself. Paco’s eyes were red.

‘Were you worried about Ricardo?’

‘There’s been no time for that,’ said Paco. ‘Obviously he was upset, because he believed he’d lost one of his best sources in the mosque.’

‘Did you know his source?’

‘I’ve seen him, but I didn’t know him,’ said Molero. ‘Ricardo asked me to come with him a few times, to check his back—just a routine precaution to make sure he wasn’t being watched or followed.’

‘Did he leave the office at all today, apart from going to lunch?’

‘No. He went out at one thirty. He was due back two hours later. When he hadn’t showed by four thirty, and his mobile was turned off, Inspector Jefe Barros sent me over here to find out what had happened.’

‘What time did you find him?’

‘I was here by ten to five, so maybe just gone five o’clock.’

‘Tell me what happened yesterday…after the bombing.’

‘We were all at work when it happened. We called our sources to arrange meetings. Ricardo couldn’t get through to Botín. Then we were told not to leave the office, so we drafted up-to-date reports from what our sources had told us the last time we’d seen them. Lunch was brought in. We weren’t released to go home until after 10 p.m.’

‘Were you aware of any pressure on Ricardo, apart from the usual work stress?’

‘Apart from the unusual work stress, you mean?’

‘Why unusual?’

‘We were being investigated, Inspector Jefe,’ said Molero. ‘We wouldn’t be much of an antiterrorist outfit if we didn’t know when our own department was being investigated.’

‘How long have you known about this?’

‘We reckon it probably started around the end of January.’

‘What happened?’

‘Nothing…j
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ust a change in attitude, or atmosphere…’

‘Did you suspect each other?’

‘No, we had total trust in each other and a belief in what we were doing,’ said Molero. ‘And I would say that, out of the four of us handling Islamic terrorist threats, Ricardo was the most committed.’

‘Because he was religious?’

‘You’ve had time to do some homework,’ said Molero.

‘I just met his source’s partner, who happened to be an old school friend of Ricardo’s.’

‘Esperanza,’ said Molero, nodding. ‘They were at school and university together. She was going to become a nun before she met Ricardo.’

‘Did they ever get together?’

‘No. Ricardo was never interested in her.’

‘Did he have a girlfriend?’

‘Not that I know of.’

‘Esperanza told me that the relationship Ricardo had with his source was based on a mutual respect for each other’s religion.’

‘Religion had something to do with it,’ said Molero. ‘But they were both against fanaticism, too. Ricardo had a special understanding of fanatics.’

‘Why?’

‘Because he’d been one himself,’ said Molero and Falcón nodded him on. ‘He believed that it came from a profound desire to be good, which interacted with a deep concern and constant worry about evil. That was where the hatred came from.’

‘Hatred?’

‘The fanatic, in his deep desire for goodness, is in constant fear of evil. He begins to see evil all around him. In what we think of as harmless decadence, the fanatic sees the insidious encroachment of evil. He begins to worry about everybody who is not pursuing good with the same zeal as himself. After a while he tires of the pathetic weakness of others and his perception shifts. He no longer sees them as misguided fools, but rather as ministers of the devil, which is when he starts to hate them. From that moment he becomes a dangerous person, because then he is someone receptive to extreme ideas.

‘Ricardo had long conversations with Botín, who described a fundamental difference between Catholicism and Islam, which was The Book. The Koran is a direct transcription of the Word of God by the Prophet Mohammed. The word Koran means “recitation”. It is not like our Bible, a series of narratives laid down by remarkable men. It is the actual Word of God as taken down by the prophet. Ricardo used to ask us to imagine what that would be like to a fanatic. The Book was not the inspired writing of gifted human beings, but the Word of God. In his desperation for goodness, and his fear of evil, the fanatic penetrates deeper and deeper into the Word. He seeks “better”, more exactingly good interpretations of the Word. He works his way out, by degrees, to the extremes. That was Ricardo’s strength. He’d been a fanatic himself, so he could give us an insight into the minds that we were up against.’

‘But he wasn’t a fanatic any more?’ said Falcón.

‘He said he’d once reached the point where he’d begun to look down on his fellow human beings and not just found them lacking but thought them subhuman in some way. It was a form of intense religious arrogance. He realized that once you’ve reached the point where you don’t regard all humans as equals, then killing them becomes less of a problem.’

‘And had he reached that point?’

‘He’d been pulled back from it by a priest.’

‘Do you know who this priest was?’

‘He died of cancer last September.’

‘That must have been a blow.’

‘I suppose it must have been. He didn’t talk to me about it. I think that was too personal for office consumption,’ said Molero. ‘He worked harder. He became a man with a mission.’

‘And what was that mission?’

‘To stop a terrorist attack before it happened, rather than helping to catch the perpetrators after a lot of people have been killed,’ said Molero. ‘In fact, last July was a bad time for Ricardo. The London bombings affected him very badly and then at the end of the month his priest was diagnosed with cancer. Six weeks later he was dead.’

‘Why did the London bombings affect him like that?’

‘He was disturbed by the bombers’ profile: young, middle-class British citizens, some with small children, and all with family ties. They weren’t loners. That was when he became focused on the nature of fanaticism. He developed his theories, bouncing ideas off one friend, the dying priest, and the other, the convert to Islam.’

‘So, he would have taken this explosion as a personal failure.’

‘That, and the fact that it also took the life of Miguel Botín, with whom he’d developed a very close relationship.’

‘He’d just applied a second time for a bugging order.’

‘We thought the refusal of the first was strange. Since the London bombings, we’ve been told to look for the slightest change of…inflexion in a community. And there was plenty going on in that mosque to justify a bug being placed there—according to Ricardo’s source, anyway.’

‘Do you think it had something to do with the department being under investigation?’

‘Ricardo did. We didn’t see the logic of it. We just thought he was angry at being turned down. You know how it is: your brain plays tricks and you see conspiracies wherever you look.’

‘He had a ticket in his back pocket for the Archaeological Museum, which he must have visited in his lunch break today,’ said Falcón. ‘Any thoughts about that?’

‘Apart from the fact that he didn’t have to buy a ticket, no.’

‘Would that be significant?’ asked Falcón. ‘Was he the sort of person who would leave something like that as a sign?’

‘I think you’re reading too much into it.’

‘He met somebody in his lunch break and then killed himself,’ said Falcón. ‘His mind wasn’t made up before the meeting; why would you bother to go if you were planning to kill yourself? So something happened during this meeting to tip him over the edge, to make him believe, perhaps with his mind in an emotional turmoil, that he was in some way responsible.’

‘I can’t think who that person could be, or what they could possibly have said to him,’ said Molero.

‘What church did his friend the priest belong to?’

‘It’s close. That’s why he took this apartment,’ said Molero. ‘San Marcos.’

‘Did he still attend that church, even after the priest’s death?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Molero. ‘We didn’t see much of each other outside the office. I only know about San Marcos because I offered to go with him to his priest’s funeral Mass.’

To understand why Gamero had committed suicide they needed to talk to the person he’d met in the Archaeological Museum. Falcón asked Barros to find out from the rest of the antiterrorism squad if they’d seen Gamero with anybody they didn’t recognize. He also wanted all names and telephone numbers from Gamero’s office line, and in the meantime they’d check his mobile and the fixed line in his apartment. Barros gave him the mobile numbers of the other two officers in the antiterrorism squad and left with Paco Molero. The instructing judge signed off the levantamiento del cadáver and Gamero’s body was removed. Falcón and the two forensics, Felipe and Jorge, began a detailed search of the apartment.


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