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From Dave the Dude to Al Capone: a defining collection from the world of Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon grew up in the West, moved to New York City, and became one of the leading voices of American popular culture. From sports writing to short fiction, this unique collection offers an eclectic sampling of his extraordinary talent. Here are newspaper pieces, stories- including the last one he ever composed-poetry, and, of course, the Broadway tales for which he is chiefly remembered: ...
From Dave the Dude to Al Capone: a defining collection from the world of Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon grew up in the West, moved to New York City, and became one of the leading voices of American popular culture. From sports writing to short fiction, this unique collection offers an eclectic sampling of his extraordinary talent. Here are newspaper pieces, stories- including the last one he ever composed-poetry, and, of course, the Broadway tales for which he is chiefly remembered: Guys and Dolls, Blood Pressure, The Bloodhounds of Broadway, and others. Featuring works that are impossible to find elsewhere, and Runyon's signature eye for detail-particularly the sounds, smells, and tastes of New York-this book brings an American icon to a new generation of readers.
Praise for Andrea Camilleri and the Montalbano Series
“Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries might sell like hotcakes in Europe, but these world-weary crime stories were unknown here until the oversight was corrected (in Stephen Sartarelli’s salty translation) by the welcome publication of The Shape of Water. . . . This savagely funny police procedural . . . prove[s] that sardonic laughter is a sound that translates ever so smoothly into English.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Hailing from the land of Umberto Eco and La Cosa Nostra, Montalbano can discuss a pointy-headed book like Western Attitudes Toward Death as unflinchingly as he can pore over crime-scene snuff photos. He throws together an extemporaneous lunch of shrimp with lemon wedges and oil as gracefully as he dodges advances from attractive women.”
—Los Angeles Times
“[Camilleri’s mysteries] offer quirky characters, crisp dialogue, bright storytelling—and Salvo Montalbano, one of the most engaging protagonists in detective fiction. . . . Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Siciliy’s mean streets.”
“Camilleri is as crafty and charming a writer as his protagonist is an investigator.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Like Mike Hammer or Sam Spade, Montalbano is the kind of guy who can’t stay out of trouble. . . . Still, deftly and lovingly translated by Stephen Sartarelli, Camilleri makes it abundantly clear that under the gruff, sardonic exterior our inspector has a heart of gold, and that any outburst, fumbles, or threats are made only in the name of pursuing truth.”
“Camilleri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph.”
—The New Yorker
“Subtle, sardonic, and molto simpatico: Montalbano is the Latin re-creation of Philip Marlowe, working in a place that manages to be both more and less civilized than Chandler’s Los Angeles.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Wit and delicacy and the fast-cut timing of farce play across the surface . . . but what keeps it from frothing into mere intellectual charm is the persistent, often sexually bemused Montalbano, moving with ease along zigzags created for him, teasing out threads of discrepancy that unravel the whole.”
“Sublime and darkly humorous . . . Camilleri balances his hero’s personal and professional challenges perfectly and leaves the reader eager for more.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Montalbano mysteries offer cose dolci to the world-lit lover hankering for a whodunit.”
—The Village Voice
“In Sicily, where people do things as they please, Inspector Salvo Montalbano is a bona fide folk hero.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The books are full of sharp, precise characterizations and with subplots that make Montalbano endearingly human. . . . Like the antipasti that Montalbano contentedly consumes, the stories are light and easily consumed, leaving one eager for the next course.”
—New York Journal of Books
“The reading of these little gems is fast and fun every step of the way.”
—The New York Sun
“This series is distinguished by Camilleri’s remarkable feel for tragicomedy, expertly mixing light and dark in the course of producing novels that are both comforting and disturbing.”
A PENGUIN MYSTERY
DEATH IN SICILY
Andrea Camilleri, a bestseller in Italy and Germany, is the author of the popular Inspector Montalbano mystery series as well as historical novels that take place in nineteenth-century Sicily. His books have been made into Italian TV shows and translated into thirty-two languages. His thirteenth Montalbano novel, The Potter’s Field, won the Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger Award and was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator and the author of three books of poetry.
To access Penguin Readers Guides online,
visit our Web site at www.penguin.com.
Voice of the Violin
Excursion to Tindari
The Smell of the Night
Rounding the Mark
The Patience of the Spider
The Paper Moon
The Wings of the Sphinx
The Track of Sand
The Potter’s Field
The Age of Doubt
The Dance of the Seagull
The Brewer of Preston
The First Three Novels in the Inspector Montalbano Series
THE SHAPE OF WATER
THE TERRA-COTTA DOG
THE SNACK THIEF
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
The present “omnibus” volume includes my first three novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano as protagonist, originally published from 1994–1996 in Italy.
It all started with a “historical” novel I had set out to write in 1993 but which wasn’t published until years later in Italy, Il birraio di Preston (“The Brewer of Preston”). At that time, when working on that novel, I came to realize that my personal way of putting a story down on paper was, well, a bit disorganized.
To explain: everything I had written up to that moment had sprung from a few powerful ideas (the memory of a story told to me, or a page of history), and I had always started composing my fictions on the basis of these ideas. Once the novel or novels were finished, these original starting points never constituted the first chapter, but found their place instead somewhere within a broader sequence of events already unfolding. In other words, the first chapter I set down on paper would end up, once the novel was completed, as the fifth chapter, or the tenth, or what have you.
And so I asked myself: was I capable of writing a novel by starting with the first chapter and proceeding straight through to the end, with no leaps of logic or temporal sequence? My answer was that yes, I could perhaps do this if I got entangled in a sufficiently sturdy narrative structure.
At this point I remembered something Leonardo Sciascia had once said in an essay on the detective novel and the rules that an author of mysteries is expected to follow. At the same time I remembered a statement that Italo Calvino once made, that it was impossible to set a detective novel in Sicily. And so I decided to take up a twofold challenge, with myself and with the unsuspecting Calvino.
But before setting pen to paper, I thought a long time about my choice of protagonist, of detective.
I’d had a lot of past experience with the detective genre, since, as production coordinator at the RAI, the Italian state television network, I oversaw the entire Maigret television series and another series featuring Inspector Sheridan. And I also directed some mysteries for television. But what had the most influence on me was the way the playwright Diego Fabbri adapted Simenon’s novels for the television screen. He would deconstruct them as novels and then restructure them as TV scripts. Working alongside him was like attending the workshop of a watchmaker who would dismantle a watch and then reassemble it to fit a new watchcase of a different shape.
I’m convinced that I learned the art on that occasion and then, without realizing, tucked it away for later use. As a result, my detective took shape at once not as a private eye or “dick,” as the Americans call them, but as a policeman, a law-enforcement officer, either a detective or commissario, a chief of an investigative branch. Why not a marshal or officer of the carabinieri? I was tempted for a long time by the idea of creating a maresciallo of the carabinieri, especially since the investigator in my very first novel Il corso delle cose (“The Way Things Go”) was precisely that. But in the end I opted for a commissario (which in translation becomes an “inspector”), because I realized that as such he would be less obligated to uphold certain rules of conduct that the carabinieri, who are a part of the military, cannot escape.
What would be my character’s main personality traits? I must admit that they were clear to me from the start. He had to be an intelligent man, true to his word, uncomfortable with useless heroism, cultured, well-read, quietly rational, and free of prejudice.
The sort of man you could feel comfortable inviting home to dinner with the family. The kind of man who, “when he wanted to get to the bottom of something, he did,” as I wrote in the first book in the series.
I was tossing around two different names for him: Cecè Collura and Salvo Montalbano, both very common in Sicily.
I decided to call him Montalbano in homage to Manuel Vásquez-Montalbán, because one of his novels, The Pianist, had suggested to me what became the definitive structure of The Brewer of Preston. Once I had clarified these things for myself, I wrote my first “detective” novel, keeping to the rules I had imposed on myself (the first chapter actually begins at dawn, like every subsequent novel in the series). Sellerio publishers of Palermo brought it out in 1994 with a delightful cover. Having won my first challenge with myself—and quite possibly my challenge with Calvino as well—my immediate inclination was to end things there.
I didn’t obey this impluse because I felt less than fully satisfied with how the figure of Montalbano had come out. I felt as if I had painted an incomplete portrait of him, favoring his role as a detective while neglecting certain aspects of his character. In short, he seemed only half resolved. And it bothered me a lot to leave him unfinished. I always try to bring everything I start to completion.
And so, out of sort of concern for craft, I decided to write a second novel on this police inspector and thereby conclude my brief career as a mystery writer.
I think it is obvious to most readers, already by the first few lines, that there is a substantial difference between the first and second novels. In the first book, it’s the two garbagemen who witness the dawn, while in the second it is Montalbano, as it will be in all the novels that follow. This means that, from the second novel on, everything that happens will be viewed through Montalbano’s eyes. The stories will all be a series of point-of-view shots. Nothing happens, so to speak, outside of him; he sees everything, or almost everything, and the things he doesn’t see are recounted to him by others. In this way the reader has the same cards in hand as the inspector.
I’d decided that the second novel would also have a sui generis subject. While the first one, so to speak, essentially revolved around a crime of image, the second would be an investigation into memory, based on a crime committed many years before and long since fallen under the statute of limitations. This second novel, The Terra-Cotta Dog, was first published in 1996, at which time I considered my incursion into the field of detective fiction definitively over.
The only problem was that, for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, the character became a tremendous success. Not only, but his success dragged the previous books I’d published along in its wake, so that Sellerio had to republish them.
I started to receive dozens, then hundreds of letters urging me, in more or less peremptory fashion, to keep writing about Salvo Montalbano. On the other hand, the character actually didn’t need the reader’s support to keep nagging at me. He began to reappear to me in the most unlikely situations and torment me. I had read about authors supposedly obsessed with their characters and had considered it to be nothing more than a literary affectation.
I was forced to acknowledge that it was indeed a reality. In fact I eventually found myself in the absurd situation where I couldn’t even think about a “historical” novel unless I was thinking at the same time about a new investigation of Montalbano’s. Otherwise I was unable to proceed.
And so I found myself “forced,” and with a certain urgency, to write the third novel, The Snack Thief, highlighting an entirely personal aspect of the inspector’s character in it.
I was under the illusion, yet again, that I had at last closed the file. I simply didn’t feel like becoming a mystery writer focused on a single character, who was, moreover, serial.
Instead, it was like throwing gasoline on the fire.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
No light of daybreak filtered yet into the courtyard of Splendor, the company under government contract to collect trash in the town of Vigàta. A low, dense mass of clouds completely covered the sky as though a great gray tarp had been drawn from one corner to another. Not a single leaf fluttered. The sirocco was late to rise from its leaden sleep, yet people already struggled to exchange a few words. The foreman, before assigning the areas to be cleaned, announced that this day, and for some days to come, Peppe Schèmmari and Caluzzo Brucculeri would be absent, excused from work. More than excused, they’d been arrested: the previous evening they’d attempted to rob a supermarket, weapons in hand. To Pino Catalano and Saro Montaperto—young land surveyors naturally without employment as land surveyors, but hired by Splendor as temporary “ecological agents” thanks to the generous string-pulling of Chamber Deputy Cusumano, in whose electoral campaign the two had fought body and soul (and in that order, with the body doing far more than the soul felt like doing)—the foreman assigned the jobs vacated by Peppe and Caluzzo, that is, the sector that went by the name of “the Pasture,” because in a time now beyond memory a goatherd had apparently let his goats roam there. It was a broad tract of Mediterranean brush on the outskirts of town that stretched almost as far as the shore. Behind it lay the ruins of a large chemical works inaugurated by the ubiquitous Deputy Cusumano when it seemed the magnificent winds of progress were blowing strong. Soon, however, that breeze changed into the flimsiest of puffs before dropping altogether, but in that brief time it had managed to do more damage than a tornado, leaving a shambles of compensation benefits and unemployment in its wake. To prevent the crowds of black and not-so-black Senegalese, Algerians, Tunisians, and Libyans wandering about the city from nesting in that factory, a high wall had been built all around it, above which the old structures still soared, corroded by weather, neglect, and sea salt, looking more and more like architectures designed by Gaudì under the influence of hallucinogens.
Until recently the Pasture had represented, for those who at the time still went under the undignified name of garbage collectors, a cakewalk of a job: amid the scraps of paper, plastic bags, cans of beer and Coca-Cola, and shit piles barely covered up or left out in the open air, now and then a used condom would appear, and it would set one thinking, provided one had the desire and imagination to do so, about the details of that encounter. For a good year now, however, the occasional condom had turned into an ocean, a carpet of condoms, ever since a certain minister with a dark, taciturn face worthy of a Lombroso diagram had fished deep into his mind, which was even darker and more mysterious than his face, and come up with an idea he thought would solve all the South’s law-enforcement problems. He had managed to sell this idea to a colleague of his who dealt with the army and who, for his part, looked as if he had walked right out of a Pinocchio illustration, and together the two had decided to send a number of detachments to Sicily for the purpose of “controlling the territory,” to lighten the load of the carabinieri, local police, intelligence services, special operations teams, coast guard, the highway police, railway police and port police, the anti-Mafia, antiterrorism, antidrug, antitheft and antikidnapping commissions, and others—here omitted for the sake of brevity—quite busy with other business. Thanks to the brilliant idea of these two eminent statesmen, all the Piedmontese mama’s boys and beardless Friulian conscripts who just the night before had enjoyed the crisp, fresh air of their mountains suddenly found themselves painfully short of breath, huffing in their temporary lodgings, in towns that stood barely a yard above sea level, among people who spoke an incomprehensible dialect consisting not so much of words as of silences, indecipherable movements of the eyebrows, imperceptible puckerings of the facial wrinkles. They adapted as best they could, thanks to their young age, and were given a helping hand by the residents of Vigàta themselves, who were moved to pity by the foreign boys’ lost, bewildered looks. The one who saw to lessening the hardship of their exile was a certain Gegè Gullotta, a fast thinker who until that moment had been forced to suppress his natural gifts as a pimp by dealing in soft drugs. Having learned through channels both underhanded and ministerial of the soldiers’ imminent arrival, Gegè had had a flash of genius, and to put said flash to work for him he had promptly appealed to the beneficence of those in charge of such matters in order to obtain all the countless convoluted authorizations indispensable to his plan—those in charge being, that is, those who truly controlled the area and would never have dreamt of issuing officially stamped permits. Gegè, in short, succeeded in opening a specialized market of fresh meat and many and sundry drugs, all soft, at the Pasture. Most of the meat came from the former Eastern Bloc countries, now free at last of the Communist yoke which, as everyone knows, had denied all personal, human dignity; now, between the Pasture’s bushes and sandy shore, come nightfall, that reconquered dignity shone again in all its magnificence. But there was also no lack of Third World women, transvestites, transsexuals, Neapolitan faggots, Brazilian viados—something for every taste, a feast, an embarrassment of riches. And business flourished, to the great satisfaction of the soldiers, Gegè, and those who, for a proper cut of the proceeds, had granted Gegè permission to operate.
Pino and Saro headed toward their assigned work sector, each pushing his own cart. To get to the Pasture it took half an hour, if one was slow of foot as they were. The first fifteen minutes they spent without speaking, already sweaty and sticky. It was Saro who broke the silence.
“That Pecorilla is a bastard,” he announced.
“A fucking bastard,” clarified Pino.
Pecorilla was the foreman in charge of assigning the areas to be cleaned, and he nurtured an undisguised hatred for anyone with an education, having himself managed to finish middle school, at age forty, only thanks to Cusumano, who had a man-to-man talk with the teacher. Thus he manipulated things so that the hardest, most demeaning work always fell to the three university graduates in his charge. That same morning, in fact, he had assigned to Ciccu Loreto the stretch of wharf from which the mail boat sailed for the island of Lampedusa. Which meant that Ciccu, with his accounting degree, would be forced to account for the piles of trash that noisy mobs of tourists, many-tongued yet all sharing the same utter disregard for personal and public cleanliness, had left behind on Saturday and Sunday while waiting to embark. And no doubt Pino and Saro, after the soldiers’ two days off duty, would find the Pasture one big public dump.
When they reached the corner of Via Lincoln and Viale Kennedy (in Vigàta there was even a Cortile Eisenhower and a Vicolo Roosevelt), Saro stopped.
“I’m going to run upstairs and see how the little guy’s doing,” he said to his friend. “Wait here. I’ll only be a minute.”
Without waiting for Pino’s answer, he slipped into one of those midget high-rises that were not more than twelve stories high, having been built around the same time as the chemical works and having just as quickly fallen into ruin, when not abandoned altogether. For someone approaching from the sea, Vigàta rose up like a parody of Manhattan, on a reduced scale. And this explained, perhaps, the names of some of its streets.
Nenè, the little guy, was awake; he slept on and off some two hours a night, spending the rest of the time with eyes wide open, without ever crying. Who had ever seen a baby that didn’t cry? Day after day he was consumed by an illness of unknown cause and cure. The doctors of Vigàta couldn’t figure it out; his parents would have to take him somewhere else, to some big-shot specialist, but they didn’t have the money. Nenè grew sullen as soon as his eyes met his father’s, a wrinkle forming across his forehead. He couldn’t talk, but had expressed himself quite clearly with that silent reproach of the person who had put him in these straits.
“He’s doing a little better, the fever’s going down,” said Tana, Saro’s wife, just to make him happy.
The clouds had scattered, and now the sun was blazing hot enough to shatter rocks. Saro had already emptied his cart a dozen times in the garbage bin that had appeared, thanks to private initiative, where the rear exit of the factory used to be, and his back felt broken. When he was a few steps from the path that ran along the enclosure wall and led to the provincial road, he saw something gleam sharply on the ground. He bent down to have a better look. It was a heart-shaped pendant, enormous, studded with little diamonds all around and one great big diamond in the middle. The solid-gold chain was still attached, though broken in one spot. Saro’s right hand shot out, grabbed the necklace, and stuffed it in his pocket. The hand seemed to have acted on its own, before his brain, still flabbergasted by the discovery, could tell it anything. Standing up again, drenched in sweat, he looked around but didn’t see a living soul.
Pino, who had chosen to work the stretch of the Pasture nearest the beach, at one point spotted the nose of a car about twenty yards away, sticking out of some bushes a bit denser than the rest. Unsure, he stopped; it wasn’t possible someone could still be around here at this hour, seven in the morning, screwing a whore. He began to approach cautiously, one step at a time, almost bent over, and when he’d reached the taillights he quickly stood straight up. Nothing happened, nobody shouted to fuck off, the car seemed vacant. Coming nearer, he finally made out the indistinct shape of a man, motionless, in the passenger seat, head thrown back. He seemed to be in a deep sleep. But by the look and the smell of it, Pino realized something was fishy. He turned around and called to Saro, who came running, out of breath, eyes bulging.
“What is it? What the hell do you want?”
Pino thought his friend’s questions a bit aggressive but blamed it on the fact that he had run all that way.
“Get a load of this,” he said.
Plucking up his courage, Pino went up to the driver’s side and tried to open the door but couldn’t: it was locked. With the help of Saro, who seemed to have calmed down, he tried to reach the other door, against which the man’s body was partially leaning, but the car, a large green BMW, was too close to the shrub to allow anyone to approach from that side. Leaning forward, however, and getting scratched by the brambles, they managed to get a better look at the man’s face. He was not sleeping; his eyes were wide open and motionless. The moment they realized that the man was dead, Pino and Saro froze in terror—not at the sight of death but because they recognized him.
“I feel like I’m taking a sauna,” said Saro as he ran along the provincial road toward a telephone booth. “A blast of cold one minute, a blast of heat the next.”
They had agreed on one thing since overcoming their paralysis upon recognizing the deceased: before alerting the police, they had to make another phone call. They knew Deputy Cusumano’s number by heart, and Saro dialed it. But Pino didn’t let the phone ring even once.
“Hang up, quick!” he said.
Saro obeyed automatically.
“You don’t want to tell him?”
“Let’s just think for a minute, let’s think hard. This is very important. You know as well as I do that Cusumano is a puppet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s a puppet of Luparello, who is everything—or was everything. With Luparello dead, Cusumano’s a nobody, a doormat.”
They turned back toward Vigàta, but after a few steps Pino stopped Saro.
“Rizzo, the lawyer,” he said.
“I’m not going to call that guy. He gives me the creeps. I don’t even know him.”
“I don’t either, but I’m going to call him anyway.”
Pino got the number from the operator. Though it was still only seven forty-five, Rizzo answered after the first ring.
“Excuse me for bothering you at this hour, Mr. Rizzo, but . . . we found Mr. Luparello, you see, and . . . well, he looks dead.”
There was a pause. Then Rizzo spoke.
“So why are you telling me this?”
Pino was stunned. He was ready for anything, except that bizarre response.
“But . . . aren’t you his best friend? We thought it was only right—”
“I appreciate it. But you must do your duty first. Good day.”
Saro had been listening to the conversation, his cheek pressed against Pino’s. They looked at each other, nonplussed. Rizzo acted as if they’d told him they’d just found some nameless cadaver.
“Shit! He was his friend, wasn’t he?” Saro burst out.
“What do we know? Maybe they had a fight,” said Pino to reassure him.
“So what do we do now?”
“We go and do our duty, like the lawyer said,” concluded Pino.
They headed toward town, to police headquarters. The thought of going to the carabinieri didn’t even cross their minds, since they were under the command of a Milanese lieutenant. The Vigàta police inspector, on the other hand, was from Catania, a certain Salvo Montalbano, who, when he wanted to get to the bottom of something, he did.
“No,” said Livia, still staring at him, her eyes more luminous from the amorous tension.
“No, I said no.”
I always like being forced a little, he remembered her whispering once in his ear; and so, aroused, he tried slipping his knee between her closed thighs as he gripped her wrists roughly and spread her arms until she looked as though crucified.
They eyed each other a moment, panting, when suddenly she surrendered.
“Yes,” she said. “Now.”
At that exact moment the phone rang. Without even opening his eyes, Montalbano reached out with his arm to grab not the telephone so much as the fluttering shreds of the dream now inexorably vanishing.
“Hello!” he shouted angrily at the intruder.
“Inspector, we’ve got a client.” He recognized Sergeant Fazio’s voice; the other sergeant, Tortorella, was still in the hospital with the nasty bullet he’d taken in the belly from some would-be mafioso who was actually just a pathetic two-bit jerk-off. In their jargon a “client” meant a death they had to deal with.
“Who is it?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“How was he killed?”
“We don’t know. Actually, we don’t even know if he was killed.”
“I don’t get it, Sergeant. You woke me up to tell me you don’t know a goddamn thing?”
Montalbano breathed deeply to dispel his pointless anger, which Fazio tolerated with the patience of a saint.
“Who found him?” he continued.
“A couple of garbage collectors in the Pasture. They found him in a car.”
“I’ll be right there. Meanwhile phone the Montelusa department, have them send someone from the lab, and inform Judge Lo Bianco.”
As he stood under the shower, he reached the conclusion that the dead man must have been a member of the Cuffaro gang. Eight months earlier, probably due to some territorial dispute, a ferocious war had broken out between the Cuffaros of Vigàta and the Sinagra gang, who were from Fela. One victim per month, by turns, and in orderly fashion: one in Vigàta, one in Fela. The latest, a certain Mario Salino, had been shot in Fela by the Vigatese, so now it was apparently the turn of one of the Cuffaro thugs.
Before going out—he lived alone in a small house right on the beach on the opposite side of town from the Pasture—he felt like calling Livia in Genoa. She answered immediately, drowsy with sleep.
“Sorry, but I wanted to hear your voice.”
“I was dreaming of you,” she said. “You were here with me.”
Montalbano was about to say that he, too, had been dreaming of her, but an absurd prudishness held him back. Instead, he asked:
“And what were we doing?”
“Something we haven’t done for too long,” she said.
At headquarters, aside from the sergeant, there were only three policemen. The rest had gone to the home of a clothing-shop owner who had shot his sister over a question of inheritance and then escaped. Montalbano opened the door to the interrogation room. The two garbage collectors were sitting on the bench, huddling one against the other, pale despite the heat.
“Wait here till I get back,” Montalbano said to them, and the two, resigned, didn’t even reply. They both knew well that any time one fell in with the law, whatever the reason, it was going to be a long affair.
“Have any of you called the papers?” the inspector asked his men. They shook their heads no.
“Well, I don’t want them sticking their noses in this. Make a note of that.”
Timidly, Galluzzo came forward, raising two fingers as if to ask if he could go to the bathroom.
“Not even my brother-in-law?”
Galluzzo’s brother-in-law was a newsman with TeleVigàta who covered local crime, and Montalbano imagined the family squabbles that might break out if Galluzzo weren’t to tell him anything. And Galluzzo was looking at him with pitiful, canine eyes.
“All right. But he should come only after the body’s been removed. And no photographers.”
They set out in a squad car, leaving Giallombardo behind on duty. Gallo was at the wheel. Together with Galluzzo, he was often the butt of facile jokes, such as “Hey, Inspector, what’s new in the chicken coop?”
Knowing Gallo’s driving habits, Montalbano admonished him, “Don’t speed. We’re in no hurry.”
At the curve by the Carmelite church, Peppe Gallo could no longer restrain himself and accelerated, screeching the tires as he rounded the bend. They heard a loud crack, like a pistol shot, and the car skidded to a halt. They got out. The right rear tire hung flabbily, blown out. It had been well worked over by a sharp blade; the cuts were quite visible.
“Goddamn sons of bitches!” bellowed the sergeant.
Montalbano got angry in earnest.
“But you all know they cut our tires twice a month! Jesus! And every morning I remind you: don’t forget to check them before going out! But you assholes don’t give a shit! And you won’t until the day somebody breaks his neck!”
For one reason or another, it took a good ten minutes to change the tire, and when they got to the Pasture, the Montelusa crime lab team was already there. They were in what Montalbano called the meditative stage, that is, five or six agents circling round and round the spot where the car stood, hands usually in their pockets or behind their backs. They looked like philosophers absorbed in deep thought, but in fact their eyes were combing the ground for clues, traces, footprints. As soon as Jacomuzzi, head of the crime lab, saw Montalbano, he came running up.
“How come there aren’t any newsmen?”
“I didn’t want any.”
“Well, this time they’re going to accuse you of trying to cover up a big story.” He was clearly upset. “Do you know who the dead man is?”
“None other than ‘the engineer,’ Silvio Luparello.”
“Shit!” was Montalbano’s only comment.
“And do you know how he died?”
“No. And I don’t want to know. I’ll have a look at him myself.”
Offended, Jacomuzzi went back to his men. The lab photographer had finished, and now it was Dr. Pasquano’s turn. Montalbano noticed that the coroner was forced to work in an uncomfortable position, his body half inside the car, wiggling his way toward the passenger seat, where a dark silhouette could be seen. Fazio and the Vigàta officers were giving a hand to their Montelusa colleagues. The inspector lit a cigarette and turned to look at the chemical factory. That ruin fascinated him. He decided he would come back one day to take a few snapshots, which he’d send to Livia to explain some things about himself and his island that she was still unable to understand.
Lo Bianco’s car pulled up and the judge stepped out, looking agitated.
“Is it really Luparello?” he asked.
Apparently Jacomuzzi had wasted no time.
“So it seems.”
The judge joined the lab group and began speaking excitedly with Jacomuzzi and Dr. Pasquano, who in the meantime had extracted a bottle of rubbing alcohol from his briefcase and was disinfecting his hands. After a good while, long enough for Montalbano to broil in the sun, the men from the lab got back in their cars and left. As he passed Montalbano, Jacomuzzi said nothing. Behind him, the inspector heard an ambulance siren wind down. It was his turn now. He’d have to do the talking and acting; there was no escape. He shook himself from the torpor in which he was stewing and walked toward the car with the dead man inside. Halfway there, the judge blocked his path.
“The body can be removed now. And considering poor Luparello’s notoriety, the quicker we do it the better. In any case, keep me posted daily as to how the investigation develops.”
He paused a moment, and then, to make the words he’d just said a little less peremptory:
“Give me a ring when you think it’s appropriate,” he added.
Another pause. Then:
“During office hours, of course.”
He walked away. During office hours, not at home. At home, it was well known, Judge Lo Bianco was busy penning a stuffy, puffy book, The Life and Exploits of Rinaldo and Antonio Lo Bianco, Masters of Jurisprudence at the University of Girgenti at the Time of King Martin the Younger (1402–1409). These Lo Biancos, he claimed, however nebulously, were his ancestors.
“How did he die?” he asked the doctor.
“See for yourself,” said the doctor, standing aside.
Montalbano stuck his head inside the car, which felt like an oven (more specifically, a crematorium), took his first look at the corpse, and immediately thought of the police commissioner.
He thought of the commissioner not because he was in the habit of turning his thoughts up the hierarchical ladder at the start of every investigation, but merely because some ten days earlier he had spoken with old Commissioner Burlando, who was a friend of his, about a book by Ariès, Western Attitudes Toward Death, which they had both read. The commissioner had argued that every death, even the most abject, was sacred. Montalbano had retorted, in all sincerity, that in no death, not even a pope’s, could he see anything sacred whatsover.
He wished the commissioner were there beside him now, to see what he saw. This Luparello had always been an elegant sort, extremely well groomed in every physical detail. Now, however, his tie was gone, his shirt rumpled, his glasses askew, his jacket collar incongruously half turned up, his socks sagging so flaccidly that they covered his loafers. But what most struck the inspector was the sight of the trousers pulled down around the man’s knees, the white of the underwear showing inside the trousers, the shirt rolled up together with the undershirt halfway up his chest.
And the sex organ obscenely, horridly exposed, thick and hairy, in stark contrast with the meticulous care shown over the rest of his person.
“But how did he die?” he asked the doctor again, coming out of the car.
“Seems obvious, don’t you think?” Pasquano replied rudely. “You did know he’d had heart surgery,” he continued, “performed by a famous London surgeon?”
“No, I did not. I saw him on TV last Wednesday, and he looked in perfect health to me.”
“He may have looked healthy, but he wasn’t. You know, in politics they’re all like dogs: the minute they realize you can’t defend yourself, they attack. Apparently he had a double bypass in London. They say it was a difficult operation.”
“Who was his doctor in Montelusa?”
“My colleague Capuano. He was getting weekly checkups. His health was very important to him—you know, always wanted to look fit.”
“You think I should talk to Capuano?”
“Absolutely unnecessary. It’s plain as day what happened here. Poor Mr. Luparello felt like having a good lay in the Pasture, maybe with some exotic foreign slut, and he had it, all right, and left his carcass behind.”
He noticed that Montalbano had a faraway look in his eyes.
“I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. Can you send me the results of the autopsy tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?! Are you crazy? Before Luparello I’ve got that twenty-year-old girl who was raped in a shepherd’s hut and found eaten by dogs ten days later, and then there’s Fofò Greco, who had his tongue cut out and his balls cut off before they hung him from a tree to die, and then—”
Montalbano cut this macabre list short.
“Pasquano, let’s get to the point. When can you get me the results?”
“Day after tomorrow, if in the meantime I don’t have to run all over town looking at other corpses.”
They said good-bye. Montalbano called over the sergeant and his men and told them what they had to do and when to load the body into the ambulance. He had Gallo drive him back to headquarters.
“You can go back afterward and pick up the others. And if you speed, I’ll break your neck.”
Pino and Saro signed the sworn statement. In it their every movement before and after they discovered the body was described. But it neglected to mention two important things, which the garbage collectors had been careful not to reveal to the law. The first was that they had almost immediately recognized the dead man, the second that they had hastened to inform the lawyer Rizzo of their discovery. They headed back home, Pino apparently with his thoughts elsewhere, Saro now and again touching the pocket that still held the necklace.
Nothing would happen for at least another twenty-four hours. In the afternoon Montalbano went back to his house, threw himself down on the bed, and fell into a three-hour sleep. When he woke, as the mid-September sea was flat as a mirror, he went for a long swim. Back inside, he made himself a dish of spaghetti with a sauce of sea urchin pulp and turned on the television. Naturally, all the local news programs were talking about Luparello’s death. They sang his praises, and from time to time a politician would appear, with a face to fit the occasion, and enumerate the merits of the deceased and the problems created by his passing. But not a single one of them, not even the news program of the opposition’s channel, dared to mention where and in what circumstances the late lamented Luparello had met his end.
Saro and Tana had a bad night. There was no doubt Saro had discovered a secret treasure, the kind told about in tales where vagabond shepherds stumble upon ancient jars full of gold coins or find little lambs covered in diamonds. But here the matter was not at all as in olden times: the necklace, of modern construction, had been lost the day before, this much was certain, and by anyone’s guess it was worth a fortune. Was it possible nobody had come forward to declare it missing? As they sat at their small kitchen table, with the television on and the window wide open, like every night, to keep the neighbors from getting nosy and gossiping at the sight of the slightest change, Tana wasted no time opposing her husband’s intention to go and sell it that very day, as soon as the Siracusa brothers’ jewelry shop reopened.
“First of all,” she said, “we’re honest people. We can’t just go and sell something that’s not ours.”
“But what are we supposed to do? You want me to go to the foreman and tell him I found a necklace, turn it over to him, and have him give it back to its owner when they come to reclaim it? That bastard Pecorilla’ll sell it himself in ten seconds flat.”
“We could do something else. We could keep the necklace at home and in the meantime tell Pecorilla about it. Then if somebody comes for it, we’ll give it to them.”
“What good will that do us?”
“There’s supposed to be a percentage for people who find things like this. How much do you think it’s worth?”
“Twenty million lire, easy,” Saro replied, immediately thinking he’d blurted out too high a figure. “So let’s say we get two million. Can you tell me how we’re going to pay for all of Nenè’s treatments with two million lire?”
They talked it over until dawn and only stopped because Saro had to go to work. But they’d reached a temporary agreement that allowed their honesty to remain intact: they would hang on to the necklace without whispering a word to anyone, let a week go by, and then, if nobody came forward, they’d pawn it.
When Saro, washed up and ready to leave, went to kiss his son, he had a surprise: Nenè was sleeping deeply, peacefully, as if he somehow knew that his father had found a way to make him well.
Pino couldn’t sleep that night either. Speculative by nature, he liked the theater and had acted in several well-meaning but increasingly rare amateur productions in and around Vigàta. So he read theatrical literature. As soon as his meager earnings would allow him, he would rush off to Montelusa’s only bookstore and buy his fill of comedies and dramas. He lived with his mother, who had a small pension, and getting food on the table was not really a problem. Over dinner his mother had made him tell her three times how he discovered the corpse, asking him each time to better explain a certain detail or circumstance. She’d done this so that she could retell the whole story the next day to her friends at church or at the market, proud to be privy to such knowledge and to have a son so clever as to get himself involved in such an important affair. Finally, around midnight, she’d gone to bed, and shortly thereafter Pino turned in as well. As for sleeping, however, there was no chance of that; something made him toss and turn under the sheets. He was speculative by nature, as we said, and thus, after wasting two hours trying to shut his eyes, he’d convinced himself it was no use, it might as well be Christmas Eve. He got up, washed his face, and went to sit at the little desk he had in his bedroom. He repeated to himself the story he had told his mother, and although every detail fit and it all made sense, the buzz in his head was still there, in the background. It was like the “hot-cold” guessing game: as long as he was reviewing everything he’d said, the buzz seemed to be saying, “You’re cold.” Thus the static must be coming from something he’d neglected to tell his mother. And in fact what he hadn’t told her were the same things he, by agreement with Saro, had kept from Inspector Montalbano: their immediate recognition of the corpse and the phone call to Rizzo. And here the buzz became very loud and screamed, “You’re hot hot hot!” So he took a pen and paper and wrote down word for word the conversation he’d had with the lawyer. He reread it and made some corrections, forcing himself to remember even the pauses, which he wrote in, as in a theatrical script. When he had got it all down, he reread the final draft. Something in that dialogue still didn’t work. But it was too late now; he had to go to Splendor.
Around ten o’clock in the morning, Montalbano’s reading of the two Sicilian dailies, one from Palermo and the other from Catania, was interrupted by a phone call from the commissioner.
“I was told to send you thanks,” the commissioner began.
“Oh, really? On whose behalf?”
“On behalf of the bishop and our minister. Monsignor Teruzzi was pleased with the Christian charity—those were his exact words—which you, how shall I say, put into action by not allowing any unscrupulous, indecent journalists and photographers to paint and propagate lewd portraits of the deceased.”
“But I gave that order before I even knew who it was! I would have done the same for anybody.”
“I’m aware of that; Jacomuzzi told me everything. But why should I have revealed such an irrelevant detail to our holy prelate? Why should I disabuse him, or you, of your Christian charity? Such charity, my dear man, becomes all the more precious the loftier the position of the object of charity, you know what I mean? Just imagine, the bishop even quoted Pirandello.”
“Oh, yes. He quoted Six Characters in Search of an Author, the line where the father says that one cannot be held forever to a less-than-honorable act, after a life of great integrity, just because of one moment of weakness. In other words, we cannot pass on to posterity the image of Luparello with his pants momentarily down.”
“What did the minister say?”
“He certainly didn’t quote Pirandello, since he wouldn’t even know who that is, but the idea, however tortuous and mumbled, was the same. And since he belongs to the same party as Luparello, he took the trouble to add another word.”
“What was that?”
“What’s prudence got to do with this business?”
“I don’t know, but that’s the word he used.”
“Any news of the autopsy?”
“Not yet. Pasquano wanted to keep him in the fridge until tomorrow, but I talked him into examining him late this morning or early in the afternoon. I don’t think we’re going to learn anything new from that end, though.”
“No, probably not,” Montalbano concurred.
Returning to his newspapers, Montalbano learned much less from them than he already knew of the life, miracles, and recent death of Silvio Luparello, engineer. They merely served to refresh his memory. Heir to a dynasty of Montelusa builders (his grandfather had designed the old train station, his father the courthouse), young Silvio, after graduating with highest honors from Milan Polytechnic, had returned to his hometown to carry on and expand the family business. A practicing Catholic, he had embraced the political ideals of his grandfather, a passionate follower of Don Luigi Sturzo (the ideals of his father, who had been a Fascist militiaman and participated in the March on Rome, were kept under a respectful veil of silence), and had cut his teeth at the FUCI, the national organization of Catholic university students, creating a solid network of friendships for himself. Thereafter, on every public occasion—demonstration, assembly, or gala—Silvio Luparello had always showed up alongside the party bigwigs, but always one step behind them, half smiling as if to say that he stood there by choice, not out of hierarchical protocol. Officially drafted numerous times as a candidate in both the local and parliamentary elections, he had withdrawn every time for the noblest of reasons (always duly brought to the public’s attention), invoking that humility, that desire to serve in silence and shadow, proper to every true Catholic. And in silence and shadow he had served for nearly twenty years, until the day when, fortified by all that his eagle eyes had seen in the shadow, he took a few servants of his own, first and foremost Deputy Cusumano. Later he would likewise get Senator Portolano and Chamber Deputy Tricomi to wear his livery (though the papers called them “fraternal friends” and “devoted followers”). In short, the whole party, in Montelusa and its province, had passed into his hands, as had some 80 percent of all public and private contracts. Not even the earthquake unleashed by a handful of Milanese judges, unseating a political class that had been in power for fifty years, had touched him. On the contrary: having always remained in the background, he could now come out into the open, step into the light, and thunder against the corruption of his party cronies. In barely a year’s time, as the standard-bearer for renewal, he had become provincial secretary, to the acclaim of the rank and file. Unfortunately, however, this glorious appointment had come a mere three days before his death. One newspaper lamented the fact that cruel fate had not granted a man of such lofty and exemplary stature the time needed to restore his party to its former splendor. In commemorating him, both newspapers together recalled his great generosity and kindheartedness, his readiness to lend a hand, in any circumstance, to friend and foe alike, without partisan distinction.
With a shudder, Montalbano remembered a news story he’d seen the previous year on some local TV station. In the town of Belfi, his grandfather’s birthplace, Luparello was dedicating a small orphanage, named after this same grandfather. Some twenty small children, all dressed alike, were singing a song of thanks to the engineer, who listened with visible emotion. The words of that little song had etched themselves indelibly in the inspector’s memory:
What a good man,
What a fine fellow
Is our dear
In addition to glossing over the circumstances of the engineer’s death, the newspapers also carefully ignored the rumors that had been swirling for untold years around far less public affairs in which he’d been involved. There was talk of rigged contract competitions, kickbacks in the billions of lire, pressures applied to the point of extortion. And in all these instances the name that constantly popped up was that of Counselor Rizzo, first the caddy, then the right-hand man, and finally the alter ego of Luparello. But these always remained rumors, voices in the air and on the wind. Some even said that Rizzo was a liaison between Luparello and the Mafia, and on this very subject the inspector had once managed to read a confidential report that spoke of currency smuggling and money laundering. Suspicions, of course, and nothing more, since they were never given a chance to be substantiated; every authorization request for an investigation had been lost in the labyrinths of that same courthouse the engineer’s father had designed and built.
At lunchtime Montalbano phoned the Montelusa flying squad and asked to speak with Corporal Ferrara. She was the daughter of an old schoolmate of his who had married young, an attractive, sharp-witted girl who every now and then, for whatever reason, would try to seduce him.
“Anna? I need you.”
“What? I don’t believe it.”
“Do you have a couple of free hours this afternoon?”
“I’ll get them, Inspector. Always at your service, night and day. At your beck and call, even, or if you like, at your whim.”
“Good. I’ll come and pick you up in Montelusa, at your house, around three.”
“This must be happiness.”
“Oh, and, Anna, wear feminine clothes.”
“Spike heels and slit dress, that sort of thing?”
“I just meant not in uniform.”
Punctually, at the second honk, Anna came out the front door in skirt and blouse. She didn’t ask any questions and limited herself to kissing Montalbano on the cheek. Only when the car turned onto one of the three small byways that led from the provincial road to the Pasture did she speak.
“Um, if you want to fuck, let’s go to your house. I don’t like it here.”
At the Pasture there were only two or three cars, but the people inside them clearly did not belong to Gegè Gullotta’s evening shift. They were students, boys and girls, married lovers who had nowhere else to go. Montalbano took the little road to the end, not stopping until the front tires were already sinking into the sand. The large shrub next to which Luparello’s BMW had been found was on their left but could not be reached by that route.
“Is that where they found him?” asked Anna.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m not sure. Let’s get out.”
As they headed toward the water’s edge, Montalbano put his arm around her waist and pressed her toward him; she rested her head on his shoulder, smiling. She now understood why the inspector had invited her along: it was all an act. Together they would look like a pair of lovers who had found a place to be alone at the Pasture. In their anonymity they would arouse no curiosity.
What a son of a bitch! she thought. He doesn’t give a shit about my feelings for him.
At a certain point Montalbano stopped, his back to the sea. The shrub was in front of them, about a hundred yards away as the crow flies. There could be no doubt: the BMW had come not by way of the small roads but from the beach side and had stopped after circling toward the bush, its nose facing the old factory; that is, in the exact opposite position to that which all the other cars coming off the provincial road had to take, there being absolutely no room in which to maneuver. Anyone who wanted to return to the provincial road had no choice but to go back up the byways in reverse. Montalbano walked another short distance, his arm still around Anna, his head down: he could find no tire tracks; the sea had erased everything.
“So what now?”
“First I have to call Fazio. Then I’ll take you back home.”
“Inspector, may I tell you something in all honesty?”
“You’re an asshole.”
“Inspector? Pasquano here. Where the hell have you been hiding? I’ve been looking for you for three hours, and at headquarters they couldn’t tell me anything.”
“Are you angry at me, Doctor?”
“At you? At the whole stinking universe!”
“What have they done to you?”
“They forced me to give priority to Luparello, the same way, exactly, as when he was alive. So even in death the guy has to come before everyone else? I suppose he’s first in line at the cemetery, too?”
“Was there something you wanted to tell me?”
“Just an advance notice of what I’m going to send you in writing. Absolutely nothing: the dear departed died of natural causes.”
“To put it in unscientific terms, his heart burst, literally. In every other respect he was healthy, you know. It was only his pump that didn’t work, and that’s what screwed him, even though they made a valiant attempt to repair it.”
“Any other marks on the body?”
“What sort of marks?”
“I don’t know, bruises, injections . . .”
“As I said, nothing. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know. And anyway, I asked and obtained permission for my colleague Capuano, his regular doctor, to take part in the autopsy.”
“Covering your ass, eh Doc?”
“What did you say?”
“Something stupid, I’m sorry. Did he have any other ailments?”
“Why are you starting over from the top? There was nothing wrong with him, just a little high blood pressure. He treated it with a diuretic, took a pill every Thursday and Sunday, first thing in the morning.”
“So on Sunday, when he died, he had taken it.”
“So what? What the hell’s that supposed to mean? That his diuretic pill had been poisoned? You think we’re still living in the days of the Borgias? Or have you started reading remaindered mystery novels? If he’d been poisoned, don’t you think I would have noticed?”
“Had he dined that evening?”
“No, he hadn’t.”
“Can you tell me at what time he died?”
“You’re going to drive me crazy with questions like that. You must be watching too many American movies, you know, where as soon as the cop asks what time the crime took place, the coroner tells him the murderer finished his work at six thirty-two P.M., give or take a few seconds, thirty-six days ago. You saw with your own eyes that rigor mortis hadn’t set in yet, didn’t you? You felt how hot it was in that car, didn’t you?”
“So it’s safe to say the deceased left this world between seven and nine o’clock the evening before he was found.”
“Nothing else. Oh yes, I almost forgot: Mr. Luparello died, of course, but he did manage to do it first—to have sex, that is. Traces of semen were found around his lower body.”
“Mr. Commissioner? Montalbano here. I wanted to let you know I just spoke with Dr. Pasquano on the phone. The autopsy’s been done.”
“Save your breath, Montalbano. I know everything already: around two o’clock I got a call from Jacomuzzi, who was there and filled me in. Wonderful, eh?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“It’s wonderful, that is, that someone in this fine province of ours should decide to die a natural death and thereby set a good example. Don’t you think? Another two or three deaths like Luparello’s and we’ll start catching up with the rest of Italy. Have you spoken to Lo Bianco?”
“Please do so at once. Tell him there are no more problems as far as we’re concerned. They can get on with the funeral whenever they like, if the judge gives the go-ahead. Listen, Montalbano—I forgot to mention it this morning—my wife has invented a fantastic new recipe for baby octopus. Can you make it Friday evening?”
“Montalbano? This is Lo Bianco. I wanted to bring you up to date on things. Early this afternoon I got a phone call from Dr. Jacomuzzi.”
What a wasted career! Montalbano thought furiously to himself. In another age he would have made an excellent town crier.
“He told me the autopsy revealed nothing abnormal,” the judge continued. “So I authorized burial. Do you have any objection?”
“Can I therefore consider the case closed?”
“Think I could have two more days?”
He could hear, literally hear, the alarm bells ringing in the judge’s head.
“Why, Montalbano? Is there something wrong?”
“No, Your Honor, nothing at all.”
“Well, why then, for the love of God? I’ll confess to you, Inspector—I’ve no problem doing so—that I, as well as the chief prosecutor, the prefect, and the commissioner, have been strongly pressured to bring this affair to an end as quickly as possible. Nothing illegal, mind you. Urgent entreaties, all very proper, on the part of those—family, political friends—who want to forget the whole sad story as soon as possible. And they’re right, in my opinion.”
“I understand, Your Honor. But I still need two days, no more.”
“But why? Give me a reason!”
He found an answer, a pretext. He couldn’t very well tell the judge his request was founded on nothing, or rather on the feeling that he’d been hoodwinked—he didn’t know how or why—by someone who at that moment was proving himself to be shrewder than he.
“If you really must know, it’s out of concern for public opinion. I wouldn’t want anyone to start whispering that we closed the case in haste because we had no intention of getting to the bottom of things. As you know, it doesn’t take much to start people thinking that way.”
“If that’s how you feel, then all right. You can have your forty-eight hours. But not a minute more. Try to understand the situation.”
“Gegè? How’s it going, handsome? Sorry to wake you at six-thirty in the evening.”
“Gegè, is that any way to speak to a representative of the law? Especially someone like you, who before the law can only shit your pants? And speaking of fucking, is it true you’re doing it with a ten-and-change black man?”
“Inches of cock.”
“Cut the shit. What do you want?”
“To talk to you.”
“Tonight, late. You tell me what time.”
“Let’s make it midnight.”
“The usual place, at Puntasecca.”
“A big kiss for your pretty lips, Gegè.”
“Inspector Montalbano? This is Prefect Squatrito. Judge Lo Bianco communicated to me just now that you asked for another twenty-four hours—or forty-eight, I can’t remember—to close the case of the late Mr. Luparello. Dr. Jacomuzzi, who has politely kept me informed of all developments, told me that the autopsy established unequivocally that Luparello died of natural causes. Far be it from me to think—what am I saying, to even dream—of interfering in any way, since in any case there’d be no reason to do so, but do let me ask you: why this request?”
“My request, sir, as I have already explained to Justice Lo Bianco and will now reiterate, was dictated by a desire for transparency, to nip in the bud any malicious supposition that the police department might prefer not to clarify every aspect of the case and wish to close it without due verification of all leads. That’s all.”
The prefect declared himself satisfied with the reply, and indeed Montalbano had carefully chosen two verbs (“clarify” and “reiterate”) and one noun (“transparency”) which had forever been key words in the prefect’s vocabulary.
“Hello? This is Anna, sorry to disturb you.”
“Why are you talking like that? Do you have a cold?”
“No, I’m at the squad office, but I don’t want anyone to hear.”
“What is it?”
“Jacomuzzi called my boss and told him you don’t want to close the Luparello case yet. The boss said you’re just being an asshole as usual, which I agree with and actually had a chance to tell you just a few hours ago.”
“Is that why you called? Thanks for the confirmation.”
“There’s something else I have to tell you, Inspector, something I found out right after I left you, when I got back here.”
“Look, Anna, I’m up to my neck in shit. Tell me about it tomorrow.”
“There’s no time to lose. It may be of interest to you.”
“I’m going to be busy here till one or one-thirty this morning. If you want to drop by now, then all right.”
“I can’t make it right now. I’ll see you at your place at two.”
“Yes, and if you’re not there, I’ll wait.”
“Hello, darling? It’s Livia. Sorry to call you at work, but—”
“You can call me whenever and wherever you want. What is it?”
“Nothing important. I was reading in a newspaper just now about the death of a politician in your parts. It’s just a brief notice. It says that Inspector Salvo Montalbano is conducting a thorough investigation of the possible causes of death.”
“Is this death causing you any problems?”
“Not too many.”
“So nothing’s changed? You’re still coming to see me Saturday? You don’t have some unpleasant surprise in store for me?”
“Like an awkward phone call telling me the investigation has taken a new turn and so I’ll have to wait but you don’t know how long and so it’s probably better to postpone everything for a week? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Don’t worry, this time I’ll manage.”
“Inspector Montalbano? This is Father Arcangelo Baldovino, secretary to His Excellency the bishop.”
“It’s a pleasure. What can I do for you, Father?”
“The bishop has learned, with some astonishment, I must say, that you think it advisable to prolong your investigation into the sad and unfortunate passing of Silvio Luparello. Is this true?”
It was indeed, Montalbano confirmed, and for the third time he explained his reasons for acting in this manner. Father Baldovino seemed persuaded, yet begged the inspector to hurry up, “to avoid untoward speculation and spare the already distraught family yet another torment.”
“Inspector Montalbano? This is Mr. Luparello.”
“What the hell! Didn’t you die?” Montalbano was about to say, but he stopped himself in the nick of time.
“I’m his son,” the other continued, in a very educated, polite tone that had no trace of dialect whatsoever. “My name is Stefano. I’m afraid I must appeal to your kindness and make what may seem to you an unusual request. I’m calling you on my mother’s behalf.”
“By all means, if I can be of any help.”
“Mama would like to meet you.”
“What’s unusual about that? I myself was intending to ask your mother if I could drop by sometime.”
“The thing is, Inspector, Mama would like to meet you by tomorrow at the latest.”
“My God, Mr. Luparello, I really haven’t got a single free moment these days, as you can imagine. And neither do you, I should think.”
“Don’t worry, we can find ten minutes. How about tomorrow afternoon at five o’clock sharp?”
“Montalbano, sorry to make you wait, but I was—”
“On the toilet, in your element.”
“Come on, what do you want?”
“I wanted to let you in on something very serious. The pope just phoned me from the Vatican, really pissed off at you.”
“What are you talking about?!”
“He’s furious because he’s the only person in the world who hasn’t received your report on the Luparello autopsy. He felt neglected and told me he intends to excommunicate you. You’re screwed.”
“Montalbano, you’ve completely lost your mind.”
“Can you tell me something, just out of curiosity?”
“Do you kiss ass out of ambition or natural inclination?”
“Natural inclination, I think.”
The sincerity of the response caught the inspector by surprise.
“Listen, have you finished examining the clothes Luparello was wearing? Did you find anything?”
“We found what you’d expect. Traces of semen on the underwear and trousers.”
“And inside the car?”
“We’re still examining it.”
“Thanks. Now go back to the toilet.”
“Inspector? I’m calling from a phone booth on the provincial road, near the old factory. I did what you asked me to do.”
“Tell me about it, Fazio.”
“You were absolutely right. Luparello’s BMW came from Montelusa, not Vigàta.”
“Are you certain?”
“On the Vigàta side the beach is interrupted by cement blocks. You can’t get through. He would have had to fly.”
“Did you find out which way he might have come?”
“Yes, but it’s totally crazy.”
“Because, even though from Montelusa to Vigàta there are dozens of roads and byways that one can take to avoid being seen, at a certain point, to get to the Pasture, Luparello’s car would have had to pass through the dry bed of the Canneto.”
“The Canneto? But it’s impassable!”
“Well, I did it, and therefore somebody else could have done it. It’s completely dry. The only problem is, my car’s suspension is ruined. And since you didn’t want me to take a squad car, I’m going to have to—”
“I’ll pay for the repairs myself. Anything else?”
“Yes. As it was pulling out of the riverbed and turning onto the sand, the BMW’s tires left some tracks. If we tell Jacomuzzi right away, we can get a cast of them.”
“Yes, sir. Need anything else?”
“No, Fazio, just come back to headquarters. And thanks.”
The little beach of Puntasecca, a compact strip of sand sheltered by a hill of white marl, was deserted at that hour. When the inspector arrived, Gegè was already there waiting for him, leaning against his car and smoking a cigarette.
“Come on out, Salv-,” he said to Montalbano. “Let’s enjoy the fine night air a minute.”
They stood there a bit in silence, smoking. Then Gegè, having put out his cigarette, began to speak.
“I know what you want to ask me, Salv-. I’m well prepared. You can ask me anything you like, even jumping around.”
They smiled at this shared memory. They’d known each other since La Primina, the little private kindergarten where the teacher was Signorina Marianna, Gegè’s sister, some fifteen years his senior. Salvo and Gegè were listless schoolboys, learning their lessons like parrots, and like parrots repeating them in class. Some days, however, Signorina Marianna wasn’t satisfied with those litanies, so she’d start jumping around in her questions; that is, she wouldn’t follow the order in which the information had been presented. And this meant trouble, because then you had to have understood the material and grasped the logical connections.
“How’s your sister doing?” asked Montalbano.
“I took her to Barcelona. There’s a specialized eye clinic there. They say they can work miracles. They told me they can get the right eye, at least, to recover in part.”
“When you see her, give her my best.”
“I will. But as I was saying, I’m well prepared, so you can start firing away with the questions.”
“How many people do you have working for you at the Pasture?”
“Between whores and fags of various sorts, twenty-eight. Then there’s Filippo di Cosmo and Manuele Lo Pìparo, who are there just to make sure there’s no trouble. The smallest thing, you know, and I’m screwed.”
“Gotta keep your eyes open.”
“Right. Do you realize the kind of problems I’d have if there was a brawl or somebody got knifed or OD’d?”
“Still sticking to soft drugs?”
“Yeah. Grass, coke at the most. Ask the street cleaners if they ever find a single syringe, go ahead and ask ’em.”
“I believe you.”
“Then there’s Giambalvo, chief of vice, who’s always breathing down my neck. He says he’ll put up with me as long as I don’t create any complications and bust his balls with something big.”
“I know Giambalvo. He doesn’t want to have to shut down the Pasture or he’d lose his cut. What do you give him, a monthly wage? A fixed percentage? How much does he get?”
“Get yourself transferred to vice and you’ll find out. I’d like that. It’d give me a chance to help out a poor wretch like you, who lives only on his salary and goes around dressed in rags.”
“Thanks for the compliment. Now tell me about that night.”
“Well, it must have been around ten, ten-thirty, when Milly, who was working that night, saw some headlights coming from the Montelusa side near the sea, heading up toward the Pasture at a good clip. Freaked her out.”
“Who’s this Milly?”
“Her real name’s Giuseppina La Volpe, thirty years old, born at Mistretta. She’s a smart girl.”
He took a folded-up sheet of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Montalbano.
“Here, I’ve written out everyone’s real name. And address, too, in case you wanted to talk to somebody in person.”
“Why did you say Milly got scared?”
“Because there’s no way a car could come from that direction, unless it passed through the Canneto, which’d be a sure way to bust up your car and your ass into the bargain. At first she thought it was some brilliant idea of Giambalvo’s, a surprise roundup or something. Then she realized it couldn’t be vice: you don’t do a roundup with only one squad car. So she got even more scared, because it occurred to her it might be the Monterosso boys, who’ve been waging war on me, trying to take the Pasture away, and maybe there would even be a shoot-out. So, to be ready to hightail it out of there at any moment, she kept her eyes on that car, and her client started complaining. But she had enough time to see that the car was turning and heading straight for the bushes nearby, driving almost inside of them. And then it stopped.”
“You’re not telling me anything new, Gegè.”
“The guy who’d been fucking Milly then dropped her off and went back up the path, in reverse, to the provincial road. Milly waited around for another trick, walking back and forth. Then Carmen arrived at the spot where she’d been a minute before, with a devoted client who comes to see her at the same time every Saturday and Sunday and spends hours with her. Carmen’s real name is on that piece of paper I gave you.”
“Her address, too?”
“Yes. Before the client turned off his headlights, Carmen noticed that the two inside the BMW were already fucking.”
“Did she tell you exactly what she saw?”
“Yes. It was only a few seconds, but she got a good look. Maybe because it had made an impression on her, since you don’t usually see cars like that at the Pasture. Anyway, the girl, who was in the driver’s seat—oh, I forgot to mention, Milly said it was the girl who was driving—she turned, climbed onto the lap of the man beside her, fiddling around with her hands underneath, but you couldn’t see them, and then she started going up and down. You haven’t forgotten how people fuck, have you?”
“I don’t think so, but we can check. When you’ve finished telling me what you’ve got to tell me, drop your pants, put your pretty little hands on the trunk, and stick your ass up in the air. If I’ve forgotten anything, you can remind me. Now go on, and stop wasting my time.”
“When they were done, the girl opened the car door and got out, straightened her skirt, and shut the door. The man, instead of starting up the car and leaving, stayed where he was, with his head leaning back. The girl passed very close by Carmen’s car, and at that exact moment a car’s headlights shined right on her. She was a good-looking lady, blond, well dressed, and she had a shoulder bag in her left hand. Then she headed toward the old factory.”
“Yes. Manuele, who was making the rounds in his car, saw her leave the Pasture and walk toward the provincial road. Since she didn’t look to him like Pasture material, by the way she was dressed, he turned around to follow her, but then a car came by and picked her up.”
“Wait a second, Gegè. Did Manuele see her standing there, with her thumb out, waiting for someone to give her a ride?”
“Salv-, how do you do it? You really are a born cop.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because that’s exactly the point Manuele’s not convinced about. In other words, he didn’t see the chick make any signal, but the car did stop. And that’s not all: although the car was moving along at a pretty good clip, Manuele had the impression the door was already open when it put on the brakes to pick her up. But Manuele didn’t think to take down the license number—there wasn’t any reason.”
“Right. And what can you tell me about the man in the BMW, Luparello?”
“Not much. He wore glasses, and he never took his jacket off to fuck, even though it was hot as hell. But there’s one point where Milly’s story and Carmen’s don’t jibe. Milly says that when the car arrived, it looked like the man had a tie or a black ascot around his neck; Carmen maintains that when she saw him, he had his shirt unbuttoned and that was all. But that seems like an unimportant detail to me, since Luparello could have taken off the tie while he was fucking. Maybe it bothered him.”
“His tie but not his jacket? But that’s not unimportant, Gegè, because no tie or ascot was found inside the car.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it fell out onto the sand when the girl got out.”
“Jacomuzzi’s men combed the area and didn’t find anything.”
They stood there in silence, thoughtful.
“Maybe there’s another explanation for what Milly saw,” Gegè suddenly said. “Maybe it was never a question of ties or ascots. Maybe the man still had his seat belt on—after all, they’d just driven along the bed of the Canneto, with all its rocks and sticks—and he took it off when the girl climbed onto his lap, since the seat belt would surely have been a bother.”
“I’ve told you everything I was able to find out about this, Salv-. And I tell you in my own interest. Because for a big cheese like Luparello to come and croak at the Pasture isn’t good for business. Now everybody’s eyes are gonna be on it, so the sooner you finish your investigation, the better. After a couple of days people forget, and we can all go back to work in peace. Can I go now? These are peak hours at the Pasture.”
“Wait. What’s your opinion of the whole thing?”
“Me? You’re the cop. But just to make you happy, I will say that the whole thing stinks to me. Let’s imagine the girl is a high-class whore, a foreigner. Are you gonna tell me Luparello doesn’t have a place to take her?”
“Gegè, do you know what a perversion is?”
“You’re asking me? I could tell you a few things that would make you puke on my shoes. I know what you’re going to say, that they came to the Pasture because they thought it would make it more erotic. And that does happen sometimes. Did you know that one night a judge showed up with his bodyguards?”
“Really? Who was it?”
“Judge Cosentino. See, I can even tell you the name. The evening before he was kicked out of office, he came to the Pasture with an escort car, picked up a transvestite, and had sex with him.”
“What did the bodyguards do?”
“They went for a long walk on the beach. But to get back to the subject: Cosentino knew he was a marked man and decided to have a little fun. But what interest could Luparello have had? He wasn’t that kind of guy. Everybody knows he liked the ladies, but he was always careful never to let anyone see him. And where is the woman who could make him risk everything he had and everything he stood for just to get laid? I don’t buy it, Salv-.”
“If we suppose, on the other hand, that the chick was not a whore, then I really don’t know. It’s even less likely—downright impossible—they’d let themselves be seen at the Pasture. Also, the car was driven by the girl, that much is certain. Aside from the fact that no one would ever trust a whore with a car like that, that lady must have been something to strike fear in a man’s heart. First of all, she has no problem driving down into the Canneto, and then, when Luparello dies between her thighs, she gets up like nothing, closes the door, and walks away. Does that seem normal to you?”
“I don’t think so.”
At this point Gegè started laughing and flicked on his cigarette lighter.
“What are you doing?” asked Montalbano.
“Come over here, faggot. Bring your face to the light.”
The inspector obeyed, and Gegè illuminated his eyes. Then he extinguished the lighter.
“I get it. All along, you, a man of the law, were thinking the exact same thoughts as me, a man of crime. And you just wanted to see if they matched up. Eh, Salv-?”
“You guessed right.”
“I’m hardly ever wrong when it comes to you. Gotta go now. Ciao.”
“Thanks,” said Montalbano.
The inspector left first, but a moment later his friend pulled up beside him, gesturing for him to slow down.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know where my head was. I wanted to tell you this before. Do you have any idea what a pretty sight you made this afternoon, hand in hand with Corporal Ferrara?”
Then he accelerated, putting a safe distance between himself and the inspector, his arm waving good-bye.
Back at home, Montalbano jotted down a few of the details that Gegè had provided, but sleep soon came over him. He glanced at his watch, noticed it was a little past one, and went to bed. The insistent ringing of the doorbell woke him up. His eyes looked over at the alarm clock: two-fifteen. He got up with some effort; the early stages of sleep always slowed down his reflexes.
“Who the fuck is that, at this hour?”
He went to the door just as he was, in his briefs, and opened up.
“Hi,” said Anna.
He’d completely forgotten; the girl had indeed said that she would come see him around this hour. Anna was looking him over.
“I see you’re wearing the right clothes,” she said, then stepped inside.
“Say what it is you have to tell me, then go back home. I’m dead tired.”
Montalbano was truly annoyed by the intrusion. He went into his bedroom, put on a pair of pants and shirt, and returned to the dining room. Anna wasn’t there. She had gone into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and was already sinking her teeth into a bread roll filled with prosciutto.
“I’m so hungry I can hardly see.”
“You can talk while you’re eating.”
Montalbano put the espresso pot on the stove.
“You’re going to make coffee? At this hour? Will you be able to fall back asleep afterward?”
“Anna, please.” He was unable to be polite.
“All right. This afternoon, after we split up, I found out from a colleague, who for his part had been told by an informer, that starting yesterday, Tuesday morning, some guy’s been going around to all the jewelers, receivers of stolen goods, and pawnbrokers both legitimate and illegitimate to alert them that if someone came in to buy or pawn a certain piece of jewelry, they should let him know. The piece in question is a necklace, with a solid-gold chain and a heart-shaped pendant covered with diamonds. The kind of thing you’d find at some cheap department store, except that this one’s real.”
“So how are they supposed to let him know? By phone?”
“It’s no joke. He told each one of them to give a different signal—I don’t know, like putting a green cloth in the window or hanging a piece of newspaper from the front door, things like that. He’s shrewd: that way he can see without being seen.”
“Fine, but I think—”
“Let me finish. From the way he spoke and acted, the people he approached concluded it was best to do as he said. Then we found out that some other people, at the same time, were making the same rounds in all the towns of the province, Vigàta included. Therefore, whoever lost that necklace wants it back.”
“Nothing wrong with that. So why, in your opinion, should this interest me?”
“Because the man told a certain receiver in Montelusa that the necklace might have been lost in the Pasture Sunday night or Monday morning. Does it interest you now?”
“Up to a point.”
“I know, it may be only a coincidence and have nothing whatsoever to do with Luparello’s death.”
“Thanks anyway. Now go back home. It’s late.”
The coffee was ready. Montalbano poured himself a cup, and Anna naturally took advantage of the opportunity.
“None for me?”
With the patience of a saint, the inspector filled another cup and handed it to her. He liked Anna, but couldn’t she understand he was with another woman?
“No,” Anna said suddenly, putting down her coffee.
“I don’t want to go home. Would you really mind so much if I stayed here with you?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Because I’m too good a friend of your father. I’d feel like I was doing him wrong.”
“It may be bullshit, but that’s the way it is. And anyway, you seem to be forgetting that I’m in love, really in love, with another woman.”
“Who’s not here.”
“She’s not here, but it’s as if she were. Now don’t be silly and don’t say silly things. You’re unlucky, Anna; you’re up against an honest man. I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
He couldn’t fall asleep. Anna had been right to warn him that the coffee would keep him awake. But something else was getting on his nerves: if that necklace had indeed been lost at the Pasture, then surely Gegè must also have been told about it. But Gegè had been careful not to mention it, and surely not because it was a meaningless detail.
At five-thirty in the morning, after having spent the night repeatedly getting up and going back to bed, Montalbano decided on a plan for Gegè, one that would indirectly pay him back for his silence about the lost necklace and his joke about the visit he’d made that afternoon at the Pasture. He took a long shower, drank three coffees in succession, then got in his car. When he arrived in Rabàto, the oldest quarter of Montelusa, destroyed thirty years earlier by a landslide and now consisting mostly of ruins refurbished higgledy-piggledy and damaged, ramshackle hovels inhabited by illegal aliens from Tunisia and Morocco, he headed through narrow, tortuous alleyways toward Piazza Santa Croce. The church stood whole amid the ruins. He took from his pocket the sheet of paper Gegè had given him: Carmen, known in the real world as Fatma Ben Gallud, Tunisian, lived at number 48. It was a miserable catojo, a small ground-floor room with a little window in the wooden door to allow the air to circulate. He knocked: no answer. He knocked harder, and this time a sleepy voice asked:
“Police,” Montalbano fired back. He had decided to play rough, catching her still drowsy from the sudden awakening. Certainly Fatma, because of her work at the Pasture, must have slept even less than he. The door opened, the woman covering herself in a large beach towel that she held up at breast level with one hand.
“What you want?”
“To talk to you.”
She stood aside. In the catojo there was a double bed half unmade, a little table with two chairs, and a small gas stove. A plastic curtain separated the toilet and sink from the rest of the room. Everything was so clean and orderly it sparkled. But the smell of the woman and her cheap perfume so filled the room that one could hardly breathe.
“Let me see your residence permit.”
As if in fear, the woman let the towel fall as she brought her hands to her face to cover her eyes. Long legs, slim waist, flat belly, high, firm breasts—a real woman, in short, the type you see in television commercials. After a moment or two, Montalbano realized, from Fatma’s expectant immobility, that what he was witnessing was not fear, but an attempt to reach the most obvious and common of arrangements between man and woman.
There was a metal wire hung from one corner of the room to another. Fatma walked over to it: broad shoulders, perfect back, small, round buttocks.
With a body like that, thought Montalbano, I bet she’s been through it all.
He imagined the men lining up discreetly in certain offices, with Fatma earning “the indulgence of the authorities” behind closed doors, as he had happened several times to read about, an indulgence of the most self-indulgent kind. Fatma put on a light cotton dress over her naked body and remained standing in front of Montalbano.
“So . . . your papers?”
The woman shook her head no. And she began to weep in silence.
“Don’t be afraid,” the inspector said.
“I not afraid. I very unlucky.”
“Because you wait few days, I no here no more.”
“And where do you plan to go?”
“Man from Fela he like me, I like him, he say Sunday he marry me. I believe him.”
“The man who comes to see you every Saturday and Sunday?”
Fatma’s eyes widened.
“How you know?”
She started crying again.
“But now everything finish.”
“Tell me something. Is Gegè going to let you go with this man from Fela?”
“Man talk to Signor Gegè, man pay.”
“Listen, Fatma, pretend I never came to see you here. I only want to ask you one thing, and if you answer me truthfully, I will turn around and walk out of here, and you can go back to sleep.”
“What you want to know?”
“Did they ask you, at the Pasture, if you’d found anything?”
The woman’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, yes! Signor Filippo come—he Signor Gegè’s man—tell us if we find gold necklace with heart of diamond, we give it straight to him. If not find, then look.”
“And do you know if it was found?”
“No. Also tonight, all girls look.”
“Thank you,” said Montalbano, heading for the door. In the doorway he stopped and turned round to look at Fatma.
So Gegè had been foiled. What he had so carefully neglected to mention to Montalbano, the inspector had managed to find out anyway. And from what Fatma had just told him, he drew a logical conclusion.
When he arrived at headquarters at the crack of dawn, the officer on guard gave him a look of concern.
“Anything wrong, Chief?”
“Nothing at all,” he reassured him. “I just woke up early.”
He had bought the two Sicilian newspapers and sat down to read them. With a great wealth of detail, the first announced that the funeral services for Luparello would be held the following day. The solemn ceremony would take place at the cathedral, officiated by the bishop himself. Special security measures would be taken, due to the anticipated arrival of numerous important personages come to express their condolences and pay their last respects. At latest count they would include two government ministers, four undersecretaries, eighteen members of parliament between senators and deputies, and a throng of regional deputies. And so city police, carabinieri, coast guard agents, and traffic cops would all be called into action, to say nothing of personal bodyguards and other even more personal escorts, of which the newspaper mentioned nothing, made up of people who certainly had some connection with law and order, but from the other side of the barricade atop which stood the law. The second newspaper more or less repeated the same things, while adding that the casket had been set up in the atrium of the Luparello mansion and that an endless line of people were waiting to express their thanks for everything the deceased had dutifully and impartially done—when still alive, of course.
Meanwhile Sergeant Fazio had arrived, and Montalbano spoke to him at great length about a number of investigations currently under way. No phone calls came in from Montelusa. Soon it was noon, and the inspector opened a file containing the deposition of the two garbage collectors concerning their discovery of the corpse. He copied down their addresses, said good-bye to the sergeant and the other policemen, and told them they’d hear back from him in the afternoon.
If Gegè’s men had talked to the whores about the necklace, they must certainly have said something to the garbage collectors as well.
Number 28 Gravet Terrace was a three-story building, with intercom at the front door. A mature woman’s voice answered.
“I’m a friend of Pino’s.”
“My son’s not here.”
“Didn’t he get off work?”
“He got off, but he went somewhere else.”
“Could you let me in, signora? I only want to leave him an envelope. What floor is it?”
A dignified poverty: two rooms, eat-in kitchen, bathroom. One could calculate the square footage the minute one entered. Pino’s mother, fiftyish and modestly attired, showed him in.
“Pino’s room’s this way.”
A small room full of books and magazines, a little table covered with paper by the window.
“Where did Pino go?”
“To Raccadali. He’s auditioning for a part in a play by Martoglio, the one about St. John getting his head cut off. Pino just loves the theater.”
Montalbano approached the little table. Apparently Pino was writing a play; on a sheet of paper he had lined up a column of dialogue. But when he read one of the names, the inspector felt a kind of shock run through him.
“Signora, could I please have a glass of water?”
As soon as the woman left, he folded up the page and put it in his pocket.
“The envelope?” Pino’s mother reminded him when she returned, handing him his water.
Montalbano then executed a perfect pantomime, one that Pino, had he been present, would have admired: he searched first in the pockets of his trousers, then more hastily in his jacket, whereupon he gave a look of surprise and finally slapped his forehead noisily.
“What an idiot! I forgot the envelope at the office! Just give me five minutes, signora, I’ll be right back.”
Slipping into his car, he took out the page he’d just stolen, and what he read there darkened his mood. He restarted the engine and left. 102 Via Lincoln. In his deposition Saro had even specified the apartment number. With a bit of simple math, the inspector figured that the surveyor/garbage collector must live on the sixth floor. The front door to the block was open, but the elevator was broken. He had to climb up six flights of stairs but had the satisfaction of having guessed right: a polished little plaque there read baldassare montaperto. A tiny young woman answered the door with a baby in her arms and a worried look in her eye.
“Is Saro home?”
“He went to the drugstore to buy some medicine for the baby, but he’ll be right back.”
“Is he sick?”
Without answering, she held her arm out slightly to let him see. The little thing was sick, and how: sallow, hollow-cheeked, with big, already grown-up eyes staring angrily at him. Montalbano felt terrible. He couldn’t stand to see children suffer.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“The doctors can’t explain it. Who are you, sir?”
“The name’s Virduzzo. I’m the accountant at Splendor.”
“Come on in.”
The woman felt reassured. The apartment was a mess, it being all too clear that Saro’s wife was too busy always attending to the little boy to keep house.
“What do you want with Saro?”
“I believe I made a mistake, on the minus side, on the amount of his last paycheck. I’d like to see the stub.”
“If that’s all you need,” said the woman, “there’s no need to wait for Saro. I can get you the stub myself. Come.”
Montalbano followed her, ready with another excuse to stay until the husband returned. There was a nasty smell in the bedroom, as of rotten milk. The woman tried to open the top drawer of a commode but was unable, having only one free hand to use, as she was holding the baby in her other arm.
“I can do it, if you like,” said Montalbano.
The woman stepped aside, and the inspector opened the drawer and saw that it was full of papers, bills, prescriptions, receipts.
“Where are the payment envelopes?”
At that moment Saro entered the bedroom. They hadn’t heard him come in; the front door to the apartment had been left open. The instant he saw Montalbano rummaging in the drawer, he was convinced the inspector was searching their house for the necklace. He turned pale, started trembling, and leaned against the doorjamb.
“What do you want?” he barely managed to articulate.
Frightened by her husband’s obvious terror, the woman spoke before Montalbano had a chance to answer.
“But it’s Virduzzo, the accountant!” she almost yelled.
“Virduzzo? That’s Inspector Montalbano!”
The woman tottered, and Montalbano rushed forward to support her, fearing the baby might end up on the floor together with his mother. He helped sit her down on the bed. Then he spoke, the words coming out of his mouth without the intervention of his brain, a phenomenon that had come over him before and which one imaginative journalist had once called “that flash of intuition which now and then strikes our policeman.”
“Where’d you put the necklace?” he said.
Saro stepped forward, stiff from struggling to remain standing on his pudding-legs, went over to his bedside table, opened the drawer, and pulled out a packet wrapped in newspaper, which he threw on the bed. Montalbano picked it up, went into the kitchen, sat down, and unwrapped the packet. The jewel was at once vulgar and very fine: vulgar in its design and conception, fine in its workmanship and in the cut of the diamonds with which it was studded. Saro, meanwhile, had followed him into the kitchen.
“When did you find it?”
“Early Monday morning, at the Pasture.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“No, sir, just my wife.”
“And has anyone come to ask if you found a necklace like this?”
“Yes, sir. Filippo di Cosmo came. He’s one of Gegè Gullotta’s men.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I said I hadn’t found anything.”
“Did he believe you?”
“Yes, sir, I think so. Then he said that if I happened to find it, I should give it to him right away and not mess around, because it was a very sensitive matter.”
“Did he promise you anything?”
“Yes, sir. A deadly beating if I found it and kept it, fifty thousand lire if I found it and turned it over to him.”
“What did you plan to do with the necklace?”
“I wanted to pawn it. That’s what Tana and I decided.”
“You weren’t planning to sell it?”
“No, sir, it didn’t belong to us. We saw it like something somebody had lent to us; we didn’t want to profit from it.”
“We’re honest people,” said the wife, who’d just come in, wiping her eyes.
“What were you going to do with the money?”
“We wanted to use it to treat our son. We could have taken him far away from here, to Rome, Milan—anywhere there might be doctors who know something.”
They were all silent a few moments. Then Montalbano asked the woman for two sheets of paper, which she tore out of a notebook they used for shopping expenses. Holding out one of the sheets to Saro, the inspector said:
“Make me a drawing that shows the exact spot where you found the necklace. You’re a land surveyor, aren’t you?”
As Saro was sketching, on the other sheet Montalbano wrote:
I the undersigned, Salvo Montalbano, Chief Inspector of the Police Department of Vigàta (province of Montelusa), hereby declare having received on this day, from Mr. Baldassare “Saro” Montaperto, a solid-gold necklace with a heart-shaped pendant, also solid gold but studded with diamonds, found by Mr. Montaperto around the area known as “the Pasture” during the course of his work as ecological agent. In witness whereof,
And he signed, but paused a moment to reflect before adding the date at the bottom. Then he made up his mind and wrote, “Vigàta, September 9, 1993.” Meanwhile Saro had finished. They exchanged sheets.
“Perfect,” said the inspector, looking over the detailed drawing.
“Here, however, the date is wrong,” Saro noticed. “The ninth was last Monday. Today is the eleventh.”
“No, nothing wrong there. You brought that necklace into my office the same day you found it. You had it in your pocket when you came to police headquarters to tell me you’d found Luparello dead, but you didn’t give it to me till later because you didn’t want your fellow worker to see. Is that clear?”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Take good care of this statement.”
“What are you going to do now? Arrest him?” asked the woman.
“Why? What’s he done?” asked Montalbano, standing up.
Montalbano was well respected at the San Calogero trattoria, not so much because he was police inspector as because he was a good customer with discerning tastes. Today they served him some very fresh striped mullet, fried to a delicate crisp and drained on absorbent paper. After coffee and a long stroll along the eastern jetty, he went back to the office. Fazio got up from his desk as soon as he saw him.
“There’s someone waiting for you, Chief.”
“Who is it?”
“Pino Catalano, remember him? One of the two garbage collectors who found Luparello’s body.”
“Send him right in.”
He immediately noticed that the youth was tense, nervous.
“Have a seat.”
Pino sat with his buttocks on the edge of the chair.
“Could you tell me why you came to my house to put on the act that you did? I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“I did it simply to avoid frightening your mother. If I told her I was a police inspector, she might’ve had a heart attack.”
“Well, in that case, thanks.”
“How did you figure out it was me who was looking for you?”
“I phoned my mother to see how she was feeling—when I left her she had a headache—and she told me a man had come to give me an envelope but forgot to bring it with him. She said he’d gone out to get it but never came back. I became curious and asked her to describe the guy. When you’re trying to pretend you’re somebody else, you should cover up that mole you’ve got under your left eye. What do you want from me?”
“I have a question. Did anyone come to the Pasture to ask if you’d found a necklace?”
“Yes, someone you know, in fact: Filippo di Cosmo.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him I hadn’t found it, which was the truth.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said if I found it, so much the better for me, he’d give me fifty thousand lire, but if I found it and I didn’t turn it over to him, so much the worse. He said the same thing to Saro. But Saro didn’t find it either.”
“Did you go home before coming here?”
“No, sir, I came here directly.”
“Do you write for the theater?”
“No, but I like to act now and then.”
“Then what’s this?”
Montalbano handed him the page he’d taken from the little table. Pino looked at it, unimpressed, and smiled.
“No, that’s not a theater scene, that’s . . .”
He fell silent, at a loss. It occurred to him that if those weren’t lines of dramatic dialogue, he would have to explain what they were, and it wouldn’t be easy.
“I’ll help you out,” said Montalbano. “This is a transcript of a phone call one of you made to Rizzo, the lawyer, right after you found Luparello’s body, before you came here to headquarters to report your discovery. Am I right?”
“Who made the phone call?”
“I did. But Saro was right beside me, listening.”
“Why’d you do it?”
“Because Luparello was an important person, a big cheese. So we immediately thought we should inform Rizzo. Actually, no, the first person we thought of calling was Deputy Cusumano.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because Cusumano, with Luparello dead, was like somebody who, when an earthquake hits, loses not only his house but also the money he was keeping under the floorboards.”
“Give me a better explanation of why you called Rizzo.”
“Because we thought maybe something could still be done.”
Pino didn’t answer, but only passed his tongue over his lips.
“I’ll help you out again. You said maybe something could still be done. Something like moving the car out of the Pasture and letting the body be found somewhere else? Were you thinking that’s what Rizzo might ask you to do?”
“And you would have been willing to do it?”
“Of course! That’s why we called!”
“What did you expect to get out of it?”
“We were hoping maybe he could find us other jobs or help us win some competition for surveyors, or find us the right job, so we wouldn’t have to work as stinking garbage collectors anymore. You know as well as I do, Inspector, you can’t sail without a favorable wind.”
“Now explain the most important thing: why did you write down that conversation? Were you hoping to blackmail him with it?”
“How? With words? Words are just air.”
“So what was your reason?”
“Well, believe it or not, I wrote down that conversation because I wanted to study it. Something didn’t sound right to me—speaking as a man of the theater, that is.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Let’s pretend that what’s written down is supposed to be staged. I’m the Pino character, and I phone the Rizzo character early in the morning to tell him I’ve just found his boss dead. He’s the guy’s secretary, his devoted friend, his political crony. He’s more than a brother. But the Rizzo character, he keeps cool as a cucumber, doesn’t get upset, doesn’t ask where we found him, how he died, if he was shot, if he died in a car crash, nothing. He only asks why we’ve come to him, of all people, with the news. Does that sound right to you?”
“No. Go on.”
“He shows no surprise, in other words. In fact, he tries to put a distance between himself and the dead man, as if this was just some passing acquaintance of his. And he immediately tells us to do our duty, which is to call the police. Then he hangs up. No, Inspector, as drama it’s all wrong. The audience would just laugh. It doesn’t work.”
Montalbano dismissed Pino and kept the sheet of paper. When the garbage collector left, he reread it.
It did work, and how. It worked marvelously, if in this hypothetical drama—which in the end was not really so hypothetical—Rizzo, before receiving the phone call, already knew where and how Luparello had died and anxiously wanted the body to be discovered as quickly as possible.
Jacomuzzi gaped at Montalbano, astonished. The inspector stood before him, dressed to the nines: dark blue suit, white shirt, burgundy tie, sparkling black shoes.
“Jesus! Going to your wedding?”
“You done with Luparello’s car? What did you find?”
“Nothing of importance inside. But—”
“The suspension was broken.”
“How did you know?”
“My bird told me. Listen, Jacomuzzi.”
He pulled the necklace out of his pocket and tossed it onto the table. Jacomuzzi picked it up, looked at it carefully, and made a gesture of surprise.
“But this is real! It’s worth tens of millions of lire! Was it stolen?”
“No, somebody found it on the ground at the Pasture and brought it in to me.”
“At the Pasture? What kind of whore can afford a piece of jewelry like that? You must be kidding!”
“I want you to examine it, photograph it, do all the little things you usually do. Then bring me the results as soon as you can.”
The telephone rang. Jacomuzzi answered and passed the receiver to his colleague.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Fazio, Chief. Come back to town immediately. All hell’s breaking loose.”
“What is it?”
“Contino the schoolteacher’s shooting at people.”
“What do you mean, shooting?”
“Shooting, shooting! He fired two shots from the balcony of his apartment at the people sitting at the café below, screaming something nobody could understand. Then he fired another shot at me as I was coming through his front door to see what was going on.”
“Has he killed anyone?”
“No. He just grazed the arm of a certain De Francesco.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”