Istanbul, 2000.

One evening in June a helicopter explodes just over the banks of the Bosphorus, and the two SDB, two assassins Sisters belonging to Daire, one of the world’s leading organized crime Clan, get killed.

Udine, 2001.

Six years after their sudden disappearance, sisters René and Lisa get back home. Mentally and physically different from the teenagers they used to be, they are unwilling to give any explanation about the events in which they have been involved in the former years.

Under this fake appearance, the two Sisters begin their wait, each one her own way; aware of what is going to happen.

Because their secret about what they have been so far, can hurt, condemn and kill; because in that world of Clans acting in the shadow, they know against whom they will have to fight for their freedom.

Read the first chapter

1. GHOSTS

June 2000

Jerry raised his handcuffed hands to scratch his neck a couple of times and while he was at it, he undid the top buttons of the shirt that was sticking to the skin because of the intense heat in that room. He put his hands back on the table in front of him and slight slid forward, stretching out his long legs, snorted more than once, bored, rather than unnerved and looked around. The room was small, but larger than a prison cell, with that single table and two chairs placed at the centre. There was a door, a square serving as window with the rusted iron grate and the mirror measuring two by two metres, an eyesore in that Western style old room. Jerry took a look in that mirror for a moment, noticing how his beard had grown out over that last month and, while he hoped to be shaving as soon as possible, he conscious started grumbling that he had got a bit tanned, or rather, had almost got sunburned under that blistering Mexican sun. He then blamed himself for not having eaten in recent times, considering the bony face that was sneering in the mirror. All life tall and thin, that’s why he forced himself to eat well, but in abundant way, from an early age. Forgetting about it or neglecting the habit was a behaviour that bothered him, to the point of being angry with himself. Even if he knew that once out of there, he’d rent a nice room where he would have shave, wash away the dust, have a great meal and, at last, abandon everybody, undisturbed. Jerry turned and looked at the light passing through the window, while listening to the noise coming from outside, then scratched his neck again. Together with the din, he was hit by the aroma of a cigarette and stood there, smelling it for a few seconds, trying to capture the flavour with his nostrils, too. That delicate scent abandoned him seconds later and, dejected, he lowered his head staring at the hands still laying on the table. If only he’d decided to give up smoking. How many times he promised himself over again, failing a few hours after the assertion of this good intention? Too many, he said to himself. "Soon you will hold another cigarette in your hand to smell and light it and finally suck that intoxicating aroma into your lungs. Or maybe not! This might be the chance to quit. After all, they locked me up in this place several hours ago, it could be the right therapy to start keeping good on the promise to Anika". He moved on the chair once more, getting up again, turning the pelvis and reaching out his legs, to slid down. All that wait was beginning to bother him. How could it be possible that no one was interested in questioning him? Did anybody want to know the way it went down? After all the time he spent in the preparation, wasn’t there anyone who wanted to be mocked by him? It’s ok that DD told him it would’ve been hard, but he’d never thought that the worst part was waiting. Exasperated, Jerry passed both hands on his face, trying to wipe the sweat from his skin and, as he is uncovering his eyes, he saw the officer coming in. The man looked like a country lad, maybe just promoted to detective in recent times. Tall and hunky, although to the untrained eye, it was hard to understand if the body size was natural or aided by an exercise routine. He was great-looking, for sure due to his role rather than the personal vanity. He was well dressed, even though the outfit had no jacket, nevertheless pants and shirt had been pressed with great professionalism. He was arrived in Veracruz from a place hardly favourable to the heat, though, given his task, he was supposed to wear this style even in the summertime, 95 degrees in the shade. Jerry scanned him, observing all distinguishing features; big hands used to hard work, blond hair and buzz cut, the nose with a strange downward curving, maybe as a result of a fracture, and every single movement he made, from the gentle movement of the chair, holding its back tight in his strong hand, to the boastful posture he was assuming in front of him, ready to respond to every possible action of the prisoner. That man knew exactly how to behave, though he didn’t show it at all and Jerry was well aware of that. For years, Jerry had studied the World Investigation officers, getting to know them by full name and even the tiniest detail of their lives. He knew their training, how they used to perform their duties, how to avoid and fool them. The officer took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and threw it on the table, next to Jerry’s hands: «I didn’t know your brand, but I think they are good, too.» Jerry read the Russian writing on the package and looked at that man, thought: “So, he knows who I am, too. I wonder if he is aware that I know well who he is: Daniel Altman, thirty-four years old, he started his career in the Australian Navy, he’s been working at the World Investigation for ten years, he’s the younger brother of the founder of the Agency where he works...” Jerry also thought of the rest of the business he knew about the Agency and began to wonder why was Daniel the one questioning him. Where was the other one? Where was McKenzie, the man so obsessed with the Daire to become the omnipresent hound always chasing them? Jerry took a cigarette out of the pack and waited for Daniel to light it; while he wondered why the World Investigation was interested in that murder. What was so important in the death of Chon-Lee to lead them to Veracruz? Jerry couldn’t find the connection and yet, DD told him right away that he had to be interviewed by someone in the World Investigation. «It’s still just smoke!» he exclaimed after a couple puffs and when his lungs enjoyed that precious flavour. «We can talk Russian, if it makes you feel comfortable.» proposed Daniel. «Why should we? I don’t know it.» «I wonder why criminals tend to deny their original homeland.» Daniel mocked him. «Listen, I am American, so don’t tease me.» Jerry got upset. Daniel smiled, nodding. Jerry’s susceptibility about where he came from was public knowledge and making fun of every prisoner he had to interview was a habit the agent couldn’t deaden. «Well, why don’t you tell me how did it go?» Daniel asked after a while. «Sure! So you screw me over and goodbye to everyone.» «What are you complaining about? You brought this on yourself.» «You can’t fool me! I know how you work. You frame up a poor wretch who was in the wrong place, accusing him for a murder that he didn’t commit.» «Your prints are all over the weapon and when the police arrived you were the only one in the company of the corpse. Believe me, I didn’t make it up.» «But I didn’t shoot him.» «Oh, come on! Most men kill for petty reasons. What was yours? Didn’t he cook well the rice?» «And what makes you think he could cook?» Jerry mocked him, thinking that the idiot of Chon-Lee was only good at getting into fights and useless at any other front. «Well, we will remain here until you talk and, trust me, I can be stubborn. What’s the matter, are you scared? Are you a coward? Did the Russians tell you to kill him or did you act on your own accord?» «What the fuck are you saying? Do you listen at you talking at that bullshit?» «Then explain me how things really are! Tell me what’s behind all this.» «I don’t know anything! Always remember: the puppet-master pulls the strings and the marionettes dance.» «So, were you the puppet? Did they tell you to shoot and you did, didn’t you?» «I didn’t shoot!» «And I’m supposed to believe you?» They both sat there and stared into each other’s eyes for a while. Daniel seemed not to know what else to say, instead Jerry knew he had the upper hand and wanted to give everything he was prepared for. «There were these guys scuffling inside the warehouse and I stopped to listen what was going on. I didn’t know what they were saying, and I doubt they understood each other either.» «How many?» «Five on either side, more or less. Then, there was that guy who looked like he was translating for the two groups. I mean, he must have said something wrong, because suddenly one of them pulls out a gun and shoots him. They all run away and I go see if the man who fell on the floor is still alive; at that moment the police get there. That’s all.» Daniel felt an impulse to punch him in the face, but he tried to control himself. «Are you telling me that one of the main leaders of a Chinese Clan died because he translated something incorrectly?» Jerry kept a straight face and nodded, but he wanted to laugh at the look of the other. Daniel, exasperated, passed a hand over his face and continued: «Therefore, you just happened to be there! A mile away from the town, far from home, you were walking along unknown streets just to smoke a cigarette? Who the fuck are you trying to fool?» «Hey! I told you how the things went down, it’s not my fault if you were expecting other than this.» Daniel lost his temper, grabbed Jerry and started squeezing his thin neck: «You’re nothing but a trailer trash! Do not think you can play the fool with me because I’m the wrong person! And if you’re having a blast, I can start squeezing harder. Do you want me to do that?» Jerry was impressed and tried to wave his hands to calm him down; Daniel stood up, with two quick gestures he brushed the dust off his pants and sat down again staring at the prisoner. Jerry got up too, but slowly, massaging himself and polling up the fallen chair beside the table. He sat down, keeping his back straight, staring the other in the eyes and started telling: «An agreement between the Chinese and the Russians was needed. Neither side was willing to give in and let them meet would have been hard. An appealing bait and a neutral ground were found for both of them. But when they met at the warehouse it took just a second for them to be willing to kill each other. My job was to prevent it. So, they started arguing. They would be never allies again.» «Allies in what?» «A single leader, a single Clan.» «But they’re two different Clans, who could ever want them to be together?» «Some people have ambitious ideas.» «In other words, did you kill him because he wouldn’t have accepted?» «I didn’t kill anybody!» «What happened?» «Someone arrived. My boss.» and he stopped a moment to remember, still feeling the agitation flowing through his veins when he saw the Clan’s boss advancing. Daniel drew his attention, he wanted to know to whom he was referring, who pulled the trigger. But Jerry had no intention of naming names: with or without an agreement, he wasn’t a spy. Daniel insisted, trying to threaten him with unreal evidence, promising to deprive him of freedom forever. Then Jerry bent over and whispered: «Have you ever heard of SDB?» «Are you kidding? I want a real name, not initials impossible to verify.» «It’s not such an impossible thing to detect them.» «Cut the crap Jerry! The SDB are ghosts and I don’t mess with this sort of thing. The name! Give me that name and I will release you for lack of evidence.» Jerry was well aware that they had no proof anyway. He was going to get out of there, with or without statement, but what bothered him was snitching. DD told him he’d have to talk, pinning it on the boss. And yet, despite having decided to disappear after that interrogation, Jerry felt like a coward for committing such an action; but a deal’s a deal, so maybe he could have been free from that demon. Jerry took a deep breath and, staring into the other’s eyes, revealed the name in a clear way: «Ayhan Akatay.» Daniel remained impassive, but that information shook him. He would have expected anyone, but not the man who had created a big Clan like the Daire and where he was hiding well. Did Ayhan take the trouble to reach Veracruz just to kill Chon-Lee? He didn’t send subordinate for that dirty work, he took personal charge of. Why? «But he won’t come and take me» Jerry exclaimed, grabbing another cigarette «I’m dead to him.» Daniel swallowed and tried to take a few steps back: «What happened, exactly?» «Ayhan knew that neither of the Clan bosses would have accepted the deal and was willing to do anything to make them understand that things needed to be managed as he said. They started arguing...» and Jerry remembered how they were angered when their faces came closer, yelling insults at each other. Then the bullet went through Chon-Lee’s chest. After the shot was fired, they all stood up in silence, staring at the body on the ground, careful to avoid any sudden moves. «Ayhan threw the gun at me and walked away. The deal wasn’t done and that’s when I realized that the whole setup had been a trap created to eliminate a man who made a mistake towards Ayhan.» «Why did you stand there?» «One had to be caught.» concluded Jerry, putting out the cigarette. When Daniel left the interrogation room, he found Jonathan standing in front of the fake mirror through which it was possible to see the interior of the room. Daniel sat in a chair close by, behind his colleague, where he could still observe Jerry, but every time he took his gaze to the prisoner he sensed a negative note in everything Jerry had told him. Jonathan McKenzie stood there, staring at Jerry and with his mouth shut he didn’t even looked Daniel, too focused on his thoughts to share that moment with others. And his mental processing was extending in a time frame linked to his entry into the World Investigation. It was Cleyton Altman who got in touch with him, eleven years before. Cleyton had heard about Jonathan and his skill as infiltrator for the Washington Police Department, where he performed his duties; although even the same role as an agent was an undercover assignment with the FBI. It only took a half hour and a couple of beers and Cleyton persuaded McKenzie agree to work together. Altman told him he was having some trouble with a terrorist organization difficult to access, a brand-new Clan, almost hand in hand with his Agency, but so well-structured that it was hard to understand where really it came from. The Agency managed to find out some contacts, to discover some high-ranking names, but there was always an obstacle to be overcome. Cleyton needed Jonathan, in particular for his skills. At the time, Jonathan was twenty-four years old, but he felt so strong and prepared, that he accepted without reservation. Since that day, ninety per cent of his activities was related to trafficking and the actions undertaken by the Daire, in a constant attempt to stop them. McKenzie was the one who, a few months after having taken up his new job, found out that the name of the boss of the Daire was Ayhan Akatay. But behind that name, he always noticed small traces leading to somebody else, someone that Jonathan failed to reach. And after all those years of faultless actions, secrets and obscure people, one of the best men of the Daire was caught red-handed for a murder that, in its simplicity, seemed absurd. Jerry was a notorious criminal, even before he joined the Daire he was wanted by the Russian police for years and after his accession to the Clan, he disappeared. He became a ruthless killer, more than before and improved his hiding skills, the ability of escape when the only way out was blocked; not for nothing he gave himself the name Jerry, like the mouse that the cat Tom always fails to capture. Something wasn’t right in the whole action: two Clans from the easternmost Asian regions have been brought together in Mexico just to eliminate a man who wronged Ayhan. A man that Ayhan himself could have killed anyplace, anytime, since he took the time out to take it upon himself; instead, he had been forced to set foot in Veracruz. And not alone but bringing along two shadows that had become the thorn in McKenzie’s side for five years: the SDB. Two phantom figures that he had not yet been able to identify, or to ascertain the veracity of the actions attributed to them. Two shadows, two ghosts. Jonathan left his position and sat down next to Daniel. He looked him in the face, noticing how the interrogation had shocked and thrilled the friend at the same time and, with a calmness McKenzie learnt to develop in recent years, Jonathan told him not to worry too much, because it had been just another umpteenth showdown. «No, John! I mean... Ayhan! And he wasn’t even alone. The SDB were also involved! And we were so close...» «We at all! We’re only here because they killed the only man willing to cooperate. Not even Chon-Lee bothered to inform us about that meeting!» «But they were all here! Do you realize that?» «Who, Daniel? The SDB? Do you really think that two girls are hiding behind those initials? Furthermore, so ruthless? Do you remember what happened in Oslo two months ago? Do you really believe that two twenty-something women, could commit a deed like that? Those men had their faces marked by pain and fear! These people hide behind those initials, attributing every crime to two hypothetical persons. What is certain is that they had a nice touch! It must have been Ayhan who, one morning five years ago, woke up and decided to throw us off, by creating these two figures. These people are sly, know their way about and the way of not getting caught! Look at Jerry. He never got arrested and now he’s just sitting there waiting for them to let him out, because there’s no evidence to charge him with that murder or with others. The mere fact that he was the one near the body and that his fingerprints are on the gun can’t accuse him: the prints were on the barrel and not even an idiot would kill someone else holding the weapon like that. No Daniel, I don’t really believe that the SDB exist. Especially since in five years I never found a single evidence, whether it was a picture or a print, leading to their own truth.» «Deny it all you want, but everything about you tells that you don’t believe this. You know very well that there’s someone behind those initials and you know it’s not about one of the usual suspects. This is fresh stuff! If this is about two twenty-somethings, who can define? You said, you found no evidence. But they saw them, know who they are. The few who told you about them in the last few years, always used a tone of deference and of fear. You’ve noticed it yourself, right? If they weren’t real, they wouldn’t talk about it that way. They would rub it in your face like a challenge, a fucking bullshit.» Jonathan watched the Mexican officer approaching them, while he listened at what Daniel was telling him, then the constable asked what they had to do with the prisoner. «If you have a reason to hold him, then do it. From our end, he’s free to go.» whispered McKenzie disappointed. «We’d better get going, or we’ll miss the flight to Washington.» he said at last to Daniel, heading towards the door. The Mexican police decided to keep Jerry in prison all night; the following morning they kicked him up, suggesting to him to leave the country. Jerry walked off in the fresh air, inhaling deep. He reached a stall nearby and bought a pack of cigarettes and he lit one. He savoured it for a couple of puffs, standing still on that sidewalk with his face tilted up to the sun. Smoke and freedom, that was his winning combination. At half-cigarette, he kept walking towards the centre. He wanted a good hotel, where he would have cleaned up, then he would have taken his flight to freedom. Away from the law, away from the Daire. Walking among people who were passing by him, Jerry felt like a tiny speck in the world, a colourless spot which could mix with the others. Until that morning, he always had travelled around the world with his head held high, aware of who he was and what he could do to those who stepped on his toes. Now he was ready to become just anybody. A stone’s throw from the hotel he stopped near a stack of newspapers talking about an accident that happened the night before in Istanbul. A helicopter had exploded just over the shores of the Bosporus, killing the people on board. Jerry picked up one and gave it a read, smiling. He had always wondered how the Sisters would bow out and found their idea brilliant. Happier than he’d been in a long time, Jerry put back the newspaper on the others, threw the cigarette on the ground and entered the hotel, amused.