On the Road to Naples-Amalfi
‘I am investigating a possible new connection between the Camorra and the Ndrangheta for the dumping of toxic waste,’ said Konrad, glancing nervously out the window as if the rats might still be following them.
‘In your own time?’
‘I am dedicated, and I work best alone.’
The Camorra, the ‘system’ as they called it locally, was seeking to expand its drug operations into Lazio and was organizing a deal with the Ndrangheta for better wholesale prices and services in kind, namely the illegal dumping of toxic waste into the aquifers of Naples. Crime bosses drank only mineral water these days, observed Konrad.
His story was perfectly plausible. In fact, it was probably true that the Camorra and Ndrangheta were colluding, but Blume didn’t believe for a moment that it had anything to do with Konrad’s trip. No, the man, who now sat hunched and defensive in the passenger seat, was still not telling the truth. Blume could understand the anxiety of Konrad’s superiors. For all his academic precision and pretention, there was something reckless and irrational driving him, as if once untethered from a lifetime of desk-based investigation, he no longer cared for consequences.
Blume figured the best tactic was to nod and look as if he accepted the explanation. He knew from experience that suspects who had unconvincing alibis that they thought no intelligent person could accept were often more annoyed than relieved if their unlikely stories seemed to be taken at face value. Disappointed by the stupidity of their questioners, and unable to overcome the human need to be understood, they often started hinting at the truth. That was not how it always worked of course, but Blume figured Konrad would not be able to bear it for long, and he was right.
‘I am glad you told me that,’ he told Konrad. ‘Now I have something to put in my report. I guess you were worried about your investigation being leaked?’
‘No. I mean, yes. That’s it.’
‘Great. I don’t see why you couldn’t have told us that earlier. And told your bosses. I’m guessing you’re working on a hunch, and you don’t want to make a big deal of it until you’re ready.’
Konrad was growing increasingly uncomfortable with every rationalization Blume gave to his story, and merely nodded unhappily.
Blume drove on for another ten minutes, whistling as if a great load had been taken off his mind.
Suddenly, Konrad could bear it no more. ‘I know who you are,’ he said.
‘Well, we were introduced.’
‘Not like that. Your name appears as a lead investigator appointed by the prosecuting magistrate Matteo Arconti into a case that involved a relation of a person called Agazio Curmaci, who is Megale’s right-hand man. I know about the murder of a man to intimidate Arconti. I don’t believe you were appointed by chance to stay by me. I think you are also conducting an investigation into Megale or his son or Curmaci.’
‘What an inventive mind you have,’ said Blume. ‘When you say “you also”, do you mean you are doing the same thing?’
‘I do not understand.’
‘Or do you mean “I, among other things, am also conducting an investigation”?’
‘Are you attacking my grammar?’ asked Konrad.
‘Never mind,’ said Blume. He took the Tangenziale, and they were soon cruising along in a long loop around Naples on their way to the Amalfi coast.
‘Are you intending to go down to Calabria?’
Konrad shrugged his thin shoulders.
‘Are you working for Megale?’
‘I am offended by your suggestion.’
‘You visited him.’
Konrad shrugged again.
‘Follow my reasoning, here, Konrad. Megale is not a BKA asset, not your asset, not your paymaster, and yet this visit. There are only two explanations left.’
Konrad perked up, as if he, too, was interested in hearing his own reasons.
‘You went to him for help or information,’ said Blume, ‘or both.’
‘I needed to find out some things, and I need to find out one or two things here, then I will go home. It is a personal matter that has nothing to do with anyone else.’
‘How did you get Megale to talk to you? Bosses are not naturally helpful to federal agents.’
‘I am very good at database mining,’ said Konrad. ‘If I get the numbers, I can see patterns. I have built up a good picture of the shell companies and money-laundering methods that Megale and his men use. I explained to him some of what I knew about how his German locale was operating, and he was interested in me and listened.’
‘So he thinks you’re suppressing information that could be used against him? Are you?’
‘I will be reporting everything I know when I get back,’ said Konrad. ‘I am proud to say criminal bosses have no reason to trust me.’
‘But first, you got him to tell you something in exchange for your silence? Or temporary silence as you say it will be.’
‘I am not answering that,’ said Konrad. ‘I just showed him I know about his shell companies, though I don’t know as much as I pretended, and I proved I knew some details about his money laundering.’
‘Money laundering comes in three stages.’
‘Placement, layering and investment,’ said Blume.
‘Exactly. When it comes to investments, Megale seems to work more with Agazio Curmaci than with his own son, or with the contabile who’s supposed to be in charge of finances,’ said Konrad.
He paused to measure Blume’s reaction. Blume kept his eyes on the road ahead.
‘Curmaci comes between the layering and investment phases,’ continued Konrad. ‘He’s the last connection back to the Ndrangheta. Everything downstream of him is clean. He’s like a filter.’
‘I see,’ said Blume.
‘And that is why his violent and rash reactions to his wife’s cousins being arrested are completely out of character. I am wondering if your Investigating Magistrate Arconti managed to provoke him in some way.’
‘Not enough to justify what happened,’ said Blume. ‘I find it odd to be talking about Curmaci all of a sudden with you.’
‘The criminal world gets small at the top of the pyramid,’ said Konrad. ‘Curmaci rather than Megale junior seems to be second to Megale senior. Would you say that’s right?’
Despite himself, Blume was impressed. Without any change in his characteristic mixture of self-aggrandizement and moodiness, Konrad had reversed the direction of the questioning.
‘Am I right in thinking,’ said Blume, ‘that one of the reasons you agreed to travel with me was you were hoping I might give you more information on Curmaci?’
Konrad shook his head. ‘No, I don’t need any more information. I had no choice about accepting you. I would prefer to be left alone for this.’
Blume guided the camper van halfway into the emergency lane to avoid being sideswiped by the vehicles passing them. Eventually he said, ‘The main reason I am here is I am interested in joining the DCSA or maybe getting a recommendation that would allow me to apply to the DIA. I wanted to get away from my colleagues and my desk. But I have nothing special to give you on Curmaci.’
‘I thought you said you had a girlfriend who worked with you?’
‘Yes… what of it?’
‘Why would you want to leave her behind and spend your time travelling on missions?’
‘That’s got nothing to do with anything,’ said Blume.
‘It seems to me you are running away.’ Konrad might have said more, but an unmistakable thump followed by a scuttling noise from behind caused him to freeze and whiten.
‘Yeah,’ said Blume casually. ‘There is a rat in there. Maybe two. They must have got in with me.’
Konrad made a choking sound and he grabbed at the door handle, as if intending to hurl himself out of the vehicle and into the path of the cars speeding past them.
‘Please, stop. We must get out.’
‘I can’t stop in the middle of this highway, Konrad. And the emergency lane has just disappeared. I saw a sign back there for a service station. We’ll pull in there.’
Konrad unbuckled his seatbelt and twisted around in his seat to watch the back. ‘How far?’
‘A few kilometres. We’ll be there in a minute or two. You really don’t like rats, do you?’
Konrad had a wild look in his eyes and his teeth were clenched. He was attempting to stand, back to the windscreen, and his whole body was twisted into a hideous shape, his limbs jutting out like bent straws.
‘I think it’s fair to call this rat thing a phobia,’ said Blume, ‘but no problem, we’re there already.’ He headed towards the ramp leading into the service station. ‘I don’t like them either, but I keep my fear in check. But I suppose you’re terrified a rat will bite you and you’ll get that virus that turns you into an Italian. Go on, hop out, go into the Autogrill, and get yourself coffee and a sandwich or something. I’ll deal with the rat in the kitchen. Tell you what, get me one of those frozen coffee things. You know them? You pull out a tab, shake the container and the coffee goes really cold? Don’t make the mistake of getting the red container, which turns the coffee hot. And get me some sweets. A pack of fruit Mentos would be nice. Are you listening?’
Konrad had the door open before Blume had even stopped the camper van.