Tuesday, December 1, 2020

  Lust, Money & Murder - Book 15

Chapter 1

Athens, Greece

Early on this cold November morning, the “City of the Violet Crown” experienced a noisy awakening.

A police motorcade thundered through the center of Athens, lights flashing, sirens wailing. 

A single motorcycle led the way, followed by a number of other law enforcement vehicles.  The official entourage was followed by procession of television news vans and cars filled with reporters from every local media outlet. Staff photographers were anxious to snap off a picture or two of the man who was receiving so much attention.  

As the motorcade sped through the streets, many of the uninformed locals assumed that perhaps the President of the United States or some other esteemed world leader was being escorted to an important meeting with government officials or make a public appearance of some kind.

Sandwiched among the squad cars, however, was not a limousine with colorful national flags fluttering on its fenders, but a plain Hellenic Police paddy wagon.

Shackled hand and foot to the cold metal bench inside was a man who was considered one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. He had evaded capture for many years, and his name was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted List.  An arrest mugshot of him, wearing his eye patch and staring stoically into the camera, had been splashed all over the local news for the past forty-eight hours.

His name was Giorgio “The Cat” Cattoretti.

Apprehended at an undisclosed location in Greece on an Interpol Red Notice that was issued by the United States, the flashy Italian villain was to be charged with multiple counts of currency counterfeiting and multiple counts of murder in the first degree.   

As the news of his arrest spread worldwide, other countries  followed suit, submitting their own extradition requests and vying for priority.  “Take a number,” was the running joke among the Ministry of Justice staff.  It was an election year, and the incumbents, who were running on a law-and-order platform, were milking the splashy arrest for all it was worth.

The notorious criminal mastermind would be transferred from the Athens City Jail to Korydallos Prison, the largest, maximum security penitentiary in Greece. 

There, he would be kept under tight lock and key until the first extradition order was approved.

Chapter 2

After being subjected to a degrading body-cavity search, Giorgio Cattoretti felt like a wounded animal. 

Every orifice had been poked and prodded.  When he had been sprayed head to toe with some foul-smelling de-lousing chemical, it had taken all his willpower not to lash out at the guards.

But as he was marched through the huge prison complex towards his assigned cell in ‘Gamma Wing,’ his anger slowly morphed into fear. 

Korydallos Prison was known as Korydallos Kolastirio by the Greek criminal element, meaning Korydallos Hellhole. The facility had been condemned many times as one of the worst correctional institutions in Europe. Located in a suburb six miles from the Athens city center, the depressing complex of decaying, three-story concrete buildings was originally designed to hold eight thousand inmates. Now, over twelve thousand men and women were crammed like smelly sardines into the facility. Due to the overcrowding and substandard living conditions, deadly riots and sieges were so commonplace they didn’t even make front page news.

As Giorgio was escorted between the high, razor-wire-topped walls, he vividly remembered the day he had been sentenced to Attica. He’d been barely twenty years old then, and the thought of being locked in a maximum security prison with hundreds of murderers, rapists and thieves, most of whom were a lot older and stronger than him, had been absolutely terrifying. 

But he kept assuring himself there was nothing to worry about this time.  He wouldn’t be in his snake pit long. His arrest had simply been a mistake, a political glitch, a misunderstanding between him and Ionnis Kefala.  

Kefala was Greece’s Minister of Justice and had been in Cattoretti’s pocket ever since he’d gotten control of the Panacea clinic.  The man took a steady, monthly skim off the clinic’s income.

Giorgio was sure that Kefala had simply been caught off guard by the Interpol Red Notice that Elaine Brogan had presented to him, and this glitch would be straightened out in no time.

When the guards ushered Giorgio into Gamma Wing, he glanced around inside the huge space—he had to turn his head to the left, right, and nod up and down for his one good eye to take it all in.  Three imposing tiers of cells covered all four sides, with windowless, faded-orange doors.  The ceiling must have been one hundred feet high.  

 He had expected the usual prison ‘greeting’—to pass rows of men glaring down at him and screaming “Fish! Fish! Fish!”  with the shriek of echoing wolf-whistles and shouted obscenities—but all the cell doors were closed.

There were plenty of animals around, though, and Giorgio they weren’t the prisoners.

Families of stray cats were scattered across the floor, sleeping or lazily eating what appeared to be scraps of food that had been tossed on the concrete.

The guards led him towards another officer who was sitting at a desk in front of a wide, rusty-barred window.

 “What’s with all the cats?” Giorgio muttered, as they approached him.

Eh? the guard on his right said, glancing over.

“The cats,” Giorgio said, motioning to the a couple of the felines as they passed by. 

The guard shrugged as if the answer was obvious. “You don’t want rats, you have cats.”

Wonderful, Giorgio thought.

At the far end of the building, pigeons were fluttering around, some on the floor, which was covered with bird droppings. Giorgio cringed as some of the hardened pigeon poop crunched under his nine-hundred-euro Ferragamo loafers. 

The man sitting at the desk checked something on a clipboard, then pointed upwards and said, “Enenínta Tría.”

Giorgio knew enough Greek to recognize the words—Ninety-Three.  

That was his cell number.

* * *

As guards were escorting Giorgio up the concrete stairs, he said, “I want to speak to Ionis Kafala.” He had been making this request ever since he’d been Elaine Brogan and Kefala had dumped him in the Athens City Jail.

One of the uniformed men glanced at him irritably.  “Kafala, Kafala, Kafala, why you keep speaking about him?”

“Because I need to talk to him, that’s why.  My name is not Giorgio Cattoretti. This is all a big mistake, believe me.”

The guard only laughed. “Ionis Kefala—he Minister of Justice, very important man!  He head all prosecution in Greece. You want talk to lawyer, not Kefala!”

“Get moving,” the other guard said irritably, shoving him up the next step.

When they reached the third tier, the guards moved Cattoretti along the long row of cells until they arrived at the heavy steel door with the number 93 stenciled onto it in large, black numerals.

One of the men unlocked his handcuffs while the other opened it up.

Cattoretti massaged his wrists and then stared into the cell with disbelief. A scraggly group of inmates was gazing curiously at him.

One…two…three…four…five prisoners were shoehorned into this closet?

Three bunk beds were crammed into the room, with barely enough space to walk between them. The rest of the cell was taken up by a cheap plastic patio table with cigarette burns along the edges. On it was a small TV set, an electric water boiler, and an alarm clock. A flimsy plastic chair was pushed up to one side. Beyond that was a small bathroom stall, with a floor-level toilet in it.  There were splotches of dark green mold visible on the walls. 

The unmistakable stench of incarceration assaulted Giorgio’s nostrils, once again triggering memories of his horrific time at Attica. It was a revolting miasma of stale body odor mixed with the dingy, spoiled clothes, stale cigarette smoke, sewage reek from the toilet, with a faint note of teargas from the last riot. 

The Cat’s one-eyed gaze returned to the five scruffy men who were about to become his ‘cellies.’ They were scattered across the crude, iron bunk beds, legs dangling from the upper ones, eyeing him curiously. Their clothes were threadbare and tattered—most of the prisoners were wearing cheap jogging pants and stained hoodies or tattered, long-sleeved T-shirts.

The men ranged in age from the early twenties to the mid-fifties, all with black hair and brown eyes, all unmistakably Italian.  During the entry speech, given to Giorgio by the assistant warden, he was told that inmates were grouped according to nationality and/or religion. Gamma Wing was where most of the Western Europeans were housed.

“This is Giorgio Cattoretti,” one of the guards said, with a trace of pride in his voice, as if he were personally responsible for the arrest of the big shot, and pushed Giorgio into the cell. “Make room for him.”  

“My name is not Cattoretti,” Giorgoi said indignantly, mostly for the benefit of his cellmates. “I’m Adrian Garcia, a Spanish businessm—”

“Of course you are,” the guard said sarcastically, and then grinned at the other men.  “All big mistake, right? Just like everybody else—you innocent as baby.”

All the prisoners in the cell had a good laugh.

Giorgio was handed his ‘fish kit’—a thin plastic drinking cup that contained a comb, toothbrush, disposable, single-edge razor, and a bar of deodorant soap hardly large enough to wash a baby—and removed his handcuffs.

As the two guards moved out and shut the cell door, a movement on the wall caught Giorgio’s eye.

A large insect lumbered lazily along, its two antennae quivering ahead of it.

A huge cockroach.

There were more of the disgusting creatures scurrying  around on the ceiling and floor.

Giorgio winced.  

Don’t worry, a voice reassured himself from inside. Ionnis Kefala is going to get you out of here.

The men were staring at him in poker-faced silence, taking in his expensive outfit, his shoes, and the eye patch. 

Giorgio glanced around the cell again. Threadbare pants, socks, and towels hung from every conceivable spot in the room, draped across the rusty frames of the iron bunk beds. Clothes were even dangling from the bars on the window. 

Giorgio had already been informed that there were no inmate uniforms here—the prison couldn’t afford them.  At Korydallos, you wore the clothes that were on your back when you arrived. You washed them out in the sink in your cell—the prison laundry had been burned up several riots ago.  When your clothes gave out, you could buy new ones in the prison commissary, if you had money. 

One of the men, who had barely glanced in his direction, was standing at the sink in the corner, washing out some faded gray garment, muscles rippling on his heavily tattooed back as he worked.  

He turned to face Cattoretti for a moment, sneering, and finally said, in Italian, “If you’re wondering where you bunk is, Cyclops, it’s right there.” His thick finger indicated a spot on the floor, between one of the bunk beds and the the entrance to the toilet.

Cattoretti bristled at this.  So that’s how it is, he thought.  The big son-of-a-bitch was the toughest man here, the alpha, the silverback gorilla of the lot.

One of the lower bunk beds was packed with cardboard boxes full of books, clothes, and other personal belongings.  The bunk directly above above sagged more than the two top bunks. Giorgio understood that the ‘silverback’ slept there, and the ape had also declared the bottom bunk his space, too. The upper bunk had a view out the barred window—far in the distance, though the haze, Giorgio could actually see downtown Athens.

All eyes were on him, waiting.

Giorgio knew this was a crucial moment. Even if he was only going to be in here a few days, he had to take bold, decisive action to show that he couldn’t be pushed around, or things might get nasty for him…

Giorgio’s gaze returned to the silverback. Of course tussling with that man was out of the question.  The hulking gorilla could break him in half.

Thinking fast, Giorgio assessed his chances with the other men, his eye coming to rest on the wrinkled face of an aging, white-haired, the only inmate in the cell who appeared to be older than he was.  The man seemed quite small.

“You’re on my bed,” Giorgio snapped, pointing at the upper bunk mattress underneath the man’s skinny behind.

“Eh?” the old guy said, surprised that the ‘fish’ had the nerve to address him.

“You heard me,” Giorgio said evenly. He took a menacing step towards the old man and stopped.  “Get your wrinkly ass off my bed.  I won’t ask you a third time.”

The older man frowned uncertainly, glancing at the silverback, perhaps expecting protection.

The other men became still, waiting with to see what was going to happen.  

Giorgio sensed the tension in the cell ratchet up tenfold.  

The head ape had stopped wringing out the garment in his hands, his eyes on the two of them, but he did not move.

Giorgio waited only another second before his hand shot out, grabbed the older man’s ankle. He yanked as hard as he could.  A split second later the older guy was in mid-air, falling towards the floor.

The fish kit dropped from Giorgio’s other hand and his closed fist smashed into the surprised codger’s face.

When the man hit the concrete, Giorgio kicked him hard in the groin, then the stomach, and, finally, in the mouth.

The other men all sat up straight, uneasily, glancing at each other.

But nobody moved.

While the older guy moaned on the floor, doubled over on his side, Giorgio raised his right foot, and rested it on the man’s hip.  The Cat produced a crisp white Gucci handkerchief and carefully wiped a spot of blood off the soft leather tip of his Ferragamo loafer. He slipped the handkerchief back into his pocket and casually hopped up onto the bunk where the old man had been sitting, his heart pounding.  

At the same moment later, there was the thump of the cell door being unlocked—one of the guards had been near enough to hear the commotion.

“What happened?” the guard said.

“He fell off his bunk,” Giorgio replied, matter-of-factly.  He was still breathing hard from the exertion, adrenaline pumping through his veins, his body trembling, but he hid it well.

Another guard stepped in, too, and kept a sharp eye on the inmates, one hand resting ready the Taser attached to his utility belt.  

“Is that true, Spina?” the first guard asked, peering questioningly at the old man.

Spina glanced at Giorgio, and then the silverback, who was eying him evenly.

“I fall off bed,” he said, wiping a red smear of blood from his mouth.

The guard clearly didn’t believe it.  He pointed his nightstick at the bed with all the boxes on it and addressed the silverback.  “Get your crap off that mattress!”

The huge man grunted, “In culo a tua madre!” 

That translated into Up your mother’s ass!  It was the kind of insult that could get you killed in Rome, but the guard, a native Greek, only understood from the tone that it was something obscene. He nodded slowly. “You wanna spend three days in a Blue Cell, Marchesi?”

Giorgio didn’t know what a Blue Cell was, but guessed it was some sort of solitary confinement.

Marchesi, the gorilla, glared at the guard for a moment, then grudgingly started dragging the cardboard boxes out of the lower bunk, one after the other, muttering Italian curse words under his breath.

The guard helped Spina climb up off the floor and onto the vacated mattress.

To Giorgio’s surprise, both guards left without even closing the cell door.

Chapter 2 

Cattoretti soon found out why they left the cell door open—all the cells in Gamma Wing had been unlocked. Inmates poured out of the cells on all three levels, spilling up and down the staircase. Within five short minutes, the cavernous interior of Gamma was a beehive of activity. 

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