How do you start to locate a quite important assassin who has stolen, or at least and without any authority on your part is sharing, your identity?
At the time I was still working at my former law firm and I resolved to try its resources first. It had a computer programme called InterAction. (I believe that, like so much software, InterAction sprouted a capital letter half way through the word, as recorded here, but I no longer have the desire or means to check.) We were encouraged to enter the names of all the people that we met who might be useful to the firm. Furthermore we were required to record the progress of our hungry relationships with these people: hospitality given and received, our invitations – maybe to Wimbledon; maybe to a free legal conference of our own devising – welcomed or spurned, our endless ambition for more and our assessment whether these aspirations might ever be consummated. We would record the purchase of a couple of bottles of small beer, the discussion steered by us towards a general examination of the mounting of legal claims, say, and whether we thought that one day this person would exclaim: ‘I say! I’ve got a claim! Will you handle it for me?’
It was like nothing so much as a teenager’s diary:
Wow! Tonight she let me touch her breast (left). Will we ever go All The Way???!!!
A vast database pulsating with unconsummated desire was the result. Whether this led to business opportunities for the firm I don’t know but it had its uses for me. The database was not only huge but, in terms of its structure, magnificently indexed. My colleagues in the Private Wealth Planning Group may have been leery about casually revealing the details of their clients, but all the information was there to be dug for, on InterAction. Armed only with the names of the main crime families in Italy (Berlusconi, Corleone, Putino and so on) I was a handful of clicks away from some pertinent information that I could use. Using the indexing facility I created a highly suggestive list and found on it a name that I knew. Indeed, it was the name of someone who owed me a favour. I made two phone calls. I learnt much that was interesting about my double, the assassin. Then I made the one that mattered, an international call.
A man answered.
The simple word gives no idea of the shock in the man’s voice.
I let this sink in.
Then I recited place of birth, date of birth…
Whaddyawant? he said finally.
Never mind the stage Italian, sonny, I said. If you can impersonate me you can speak the Queen’s English. You know who I am, and the Police are sniffing around. If they’re sniffing around me they’ll be sniffing around you. I’ve no desire to harm you but I would like to minimise any future trouble for both of us.
The upshot was that a week later I was driving a hired Punto south from Naples airport. You would not expect me to be more specific as to where. I took the precaution of arriving a day before that fixed. Two goons were hanging about the gate – well, you’ve seen the films; you can fill in the rest.
He took the initiative this time.
You can call me Al, I said.
Ah! Paulo Simone, he said. How much I enjoyed his Greatest Hits while lying low in the Vatican Library some years ago. I’m Alfredo. So, also Al.
Your real name?
My ‘real’ name, he explained.
It was impossible to dislike him.
Alfredo was retired, as an assassin. The reactions go, he said, at our age; I expect you’ve noticed. He told me of his own greatest hits. Some had been widely credited to the family for which he worked. Others had never been logged as violent deaths and of these he was most proud. That at the mosque falls into that second category and I had better say no more on the subject for fear of exacerbating feelings already inflamed.
What was your first? I said.
He mused, surely not to recall the details – your first hit must always be a little bit special – so much as to savour them.
Oxford, 1969. Actually a failed hit. I was to take out Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who was visiting the city.
For the Family? Surely not.
No it was for the CIA. Or ‘elements within the CIA’, as they say. ‘Rogue elements’ as they’re called if they’re caught. They outsourced routinely to the Family; for obvious reasons.
But why Harold?
Not for me to say. But I guess that it was his refusal to send British troops to Viet Nam. President Johnson was desperate that he should and furious with him. Maybe they thought that his successor might be more amenable.
Anyway, Alfredo said, Wilson visited Oxford. He was to walk from the house where he was being lodged to some university building. The Sheldonian, would it be? I was to take him out while in transit. There was a small group of students chanting anti-war slogans. I was milling in with them and I was closing in on him. I had a Beretta – the ‘cardinal’s friend’ as we call it – with a silencer. Then, unexpectedly, he broke away from his minders and walked over to the students.
‘You’re intelligent young people,’ he said. ‘Tell me exactly what you think.’
There was silence, Alfredo said. Politicians didn’t do that. After a moment one of the students, a man, walked forward and addressed Wilson about the war. My sight line was ruined. Others gathered round him. I decided that I would try again when he emerged later that evening. But before that happened I was called and told that the engagement had been cancelled. Wheels, as we English say, within wheels.
I took a very deep breath.
I know, I said. I was there. I was the young man.