A hot sun beat down on the small parking lot. Peroni squinted despite his dark shades and glanced at the black Rado on his left wrist: 12:20. Watching people make their way out of the building, he figured it wouldn't be much longer. After observing him for two days, Vanetti's movements were predictable and the reporter should be emerging at any moment. He could have made his move earlier but Peroni never took unnecessary chances.
Cardinal Belconi had not told him why he wanted the reporter silenced, but he didn't have to. Peroni knew how to read. The last two issues of Panorama had been less than flattering to the Institute for Works of Religion, otherwise known as the Vatican Bank, and in particular, its vice president, Morgan Farrugi, and his alleged money laundering for the Sicilian Mafia. After the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano in 1982, it was thought the Holy See would have learned that crime does not pay, but apparently not.
Looking around the shimmering parking lot, Peroni switched on the engine and started the air-conditioner. After an initial blast of warm air, a cool breeze played across his face and chest and he sighed. He had endured far worse in the parched Iraqi desert but there was no reason to suffer unnecessarily here. Belconi might not agree with him, having said that suffering was man's divine lot, but seated in his opulent Vatican office, it was easy for the wily old cardinal to say.
Another hour and he should be able to wrap up this assignment and catch the three o'clock flight to Rome from the Milan Linate airport. It wasn't a bad way to make a hundred thousand dollars. His target wasn't a professional, unlike some he'd tackled. The fact that Vanetti had annoyed The Entity to the point where his articles on the Vatican Bank's dealings threatened to spill over into another national scandal didn't worry him. He never worried about the why, only the how and the when. If God was happy to sanction what Belconi did, Peroni was sure He would forgive him his little trespasses.
The tall spindly reporter emerged from the Panorama headquarters. After a glance at the harsh blue sky, he walked quickly toward a red Fiat. Peroni watched the little car turn right onto Via Mandadori and eased his BMW rental after it. He smiled when the Fiat turned right onto Via Rivoltana and stopped outside the popular little Thetoria da Carlo restaurant. He slowed as Vanetti got out of his car and disappeared inside. Parking the BMW on the Fiat's driver side, Peroni climbed out and headed for the cafe. Cars whispered along the highway behind him.
Being lunchtime, the place was full and noisy without being overcrowded. He spotted Vanetti at a table next to the tall plate glass windows and took a seat beside the serving counter. Wearing formal suits, office workers on either side of him hardly gave him a glance.
A vaguely pretty thing dressed in a green blouse and skirt, chewing gum, stood on the other side of the counter and waited, eyebrows raised in expectation. The coffee machine hissed and gurgled and the cash register clanged. Peroni ordered an espresso and slid a five Euro note toward her. She smiled briefly and the note disappeared. By moving his head left just a little, he could watch Vanetti without being obvious about it. Moments later, a waitress brought the reporter a plate with a bulging sandwich, french fries and a can of Coke. After a brief chitchat and a nod, Vanetti dug into his sandwich with gusto. When his coffee arrived, Peroni took his time sipping it.
Seeing the reporter was almost done, Peroni pushed back the small cup and saucer and walked out of the restaurant. When he got to his car, he opened the trunk and pulled a small black leather valise toward him. Unzipping it, he took out brown calf leather driving gloves and slipped them on. He grasped the Glock 17, chambered a round and clipped on the silencer. Vanetti appeared beside him, glanced at him and nodded.
"Likewise," Peroni said with a smile. "Hot day."
Unlocking the door to his Fiat, the reporter shrugged. "They're predicting rain this afternoon."
Peroni merely shook his head. Vanetti was about to close his door when Peroni stepped toward him and raised the handgun. The reporter's eyes bulged, but before he could yell, Peroni sent two bullets through his heart, the soft thufts hardly audible. He slammed shut the Fiat's door, leaving the reporter staring vacantly at nothing. Striding toward the BMW's open trunk, he shoved the Glock and gloves back into the valise. Closing the trunk, he got into the car, started the engine, reversed, and then slowly drove toward the exit and turned left onto Via Rivoltana. By the time somebody discovered the body, he'd be long gone.
At the airport, he left the BMW in the Avis parking lot, retrieved the valise and headed for the terminal. The air smelled of jet fuel and car exhaust. Cars and taxicabs made a steady stream in front of the building. People crowded the sidewalk, dragging luggage or simply hurrying to get away or catch that flight. An Airbus A300 cleared the roofline and lumbered into the sky, its engines warbling.
Pausing beside a storm water drain, Peroni bent down, placed the valise next to the open drain and fumbled with the strap on his right shoe. Straightening, he gently shoved the bag into the black pit. Satisfied, he strode into the terminal, welcoming its air-conditioned coolness, and headed for one of the fast food restaurants, tables and chairs arrayed in front of them. He was hungry and had plenty of time before his flight boarded.
Sitting at a small round table, waiting for his order to arrive, he pulled his BlackBerry cellphone out of his jacket. Secure behind a blanket of background noise and milling people, he typed in his ten-digit PIN and made a connection to a special number. It only took two rings.
"It's Peroni, Your Eminence," he said coldly, repelled by the cardinal's heavy voice, keeping his dislike from showing. He did not care how the head of The Entity did business as long as he paid promptly. "Target has been eliminated. I don't have immediate confirmation, but I imagine that the Il Manifesto and other media will carry the story by day's end."
"Excellent! The balance will be paid upon confirmation. Go with God, my son," Belconi said and hung up.
Peroni stared at the BlackBerry and smiled. Somebody would be walking with God. He simply wasn't sure it would be him.
The waitress brought his tray and he nodded to her. All in all, not a bad day.