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This is Naples as you’ve never seen it before. A chaotic, shadowy city full of ominous echoes and dark alleyways where each inhabitant seems too absorbed by his or her own problems to give a damn about anybody else. And that is exactly what makes it possible for a cold, methodical killer to commit his atrocious crimes largely undisturbed, to merge with the crowd as if he were invisible. The newspapers call him “The Crocodile” because, like a crocodile, when he devours his own children, he cries. And like a ...
This is Naples as you’ve never seen it before. A chaotic, shadowy city full of ominous echoes and dark alleyways where each inhabitant seems too absorbed by his or her own problems to give a damn about anybody else. And that is exactly what makes it possible for a cold, methodical killer to commit his atrocious crimes largely undisturbed, to merge with the crowd as if he were invisible. The newspapers call him “The Crocodile” because, like a crocodile, when he devours his own children, he cries. And like a crocodile he is a perfect killing machine: he waits and watches until his prey is within range, and then he strikes.
Three young people with very diverse backgrounds have been found murdered in three different neighborhoods, each shot with a single bullet, execution style. While his colleagues see little or no connection, Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, smells a rat. He is driven by his instincts and his own troubled recent history. He has just been transferred to Naples from Sicily where a Mafioso-turned-informant accused him of leaking sensitive information to the mob. Once an estimated member of the mobile unit of the Agrigento police force, Lojacono has lost everything, first and foremost the love of his wife and daughter. But now he’s been given a second chance and a shot at clearing his name. A young magistrate, the beautiful Laura Piras, wants him in Naples. She’s heard of his preternatural skills and his incredible powers of observation and she thinks a man like him is needed in Naples. So it is that Inspector Lojacono is charged with finding the link between the three dead bodies. At the root of these murders, he will discover, is a pain that still burns, a sense of guilt than cannot be purged, and one all-consuming love.
Sergeant Luciano Giuffrè rubbed his face with both hands, pushing his glasses on to his forehead as he massaged his eyes.
"Signora, this is getting us nowhere. We have to come to some kind of understanding. We can't have you coming in here and wasting our time. We have urgent work to do. So would you tell me exactly what happened?"
The woman compressed her lips, shooting a sidelong glance at the neighboring desk. "Signor Captain, don't talk so loud. I don't want him hearing things that are none of his business."
Giuffrè raised both arms in a gesture of helplessness. "Listen, lady—for the last time, I'm not the station captain. I'm only a lowly sergeant with the hard luck to be assigned to this desk, where I'm in charge of taking crime reports. And he isn't eavesdropping on things that are none of his business. He's Inspector Lojacono, and he has the same job I do. But, as you can see, he's been luckier than me. For some reason, no one seems to want to file their complaints with him."
The man sitting at the other desk showed no sign of having heard Giuffrè's tirade. He kept his eyes on the computer screen and his hand on the mouse, seemingly lost in thought.
The woman, a middle-aged, working-class matron with a small purse clutched in her plump hands, made a great show of ignoring him. "What can I tell you? Customers always go to the salesmen they trust."
"What do you mean by talking about salesmen, signora? Now you're going to make me lose my temper! Really, how dare you? This is a police station: show some respect! Customers, salesmen, where do you think you are—a butcher shop? Now, either you tell me immediately, in the next two minutes, exactly what happened, or I'll have an officer show you out of here. Ready?"
The woman blinked her eyes rapidly. "Forgive me, Signor Captain. I must be a little tense this morning. What you need to know is that the woman downstairs has started taking in cats again. And now she has three, you understand? Three."
Giuffrè sat staring at her. "O.K., and what are we supposed to do about it?"
The woman leaned forward and muttered under her breath, "These cats meow."
"Oh, Jesus, of course they meow—they're cats. And there's no law against cats meowing."
"Then you're determined not to understand me—those cats meow and they stink. I leaned over the balcony and I said to her, perfectly sweetly, I said: "Listen, you miserable good-for-nothing, will you get it through your thick skull once and for all that you need to move out of this building, you and your filthy creatures.'"
Giuffrè shook his head. "Damn, it's a good thing you said it sweetly. And what did she say to you?"
The woman straightened her back against the chair, to underscore the depth of her indignation. "She told me to go fuck myself."
Giuffrè nodded, agreeing with the spirit if not the letter of the cat-owner's sentiments.
The woman opened her piggish eyes wide. "Well, now I want to file a criminal complaint, Signor Captain. You need to haul her in here and slap her in a cell, her and the cats she keeps. I want to report her for aggravated incitement to self-fucking."
Giuffrè didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Signora, there are no cells in here, I'm not the station captain, and as far as I know, there's no law against telling someone to go fuck themselves. Moreover, it strikes me that you called the woman downstairs a 'miserable good-for-nothing' first, am I right? Listen to me, why don't you go home, try to keep your temper under wraps, and remember that a couple of cats never hurt anybody—they even catch mice. Go on, now. Please stop wasting our time."
The woman got to her feet, rigid with disgust. "So that's what we get for paying our taxes, is it? I always say to my husband he shouldn't declare half of the merchandise he sells. Have a nice day." And she stormed out.
Giuffrè took off his thick-lensed glasses and slammed them down on to his desk.
"I have to ask what I did wrong in a previous life to deserve this job. In a city where the first thing we do every morning is go out and count the dead bodies in the streets, how on earth could a woman like that decide to come into the police station to file a complaint against another woman who told her to go luck herself? And the law says she has every right to do so, might I add. Does such a thing strike you as reasonable?"
The occupant of the neighboring desk glanced away from the monitor for a brief moment. His face had vaguely Asian features: dark, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, and shapely, fleshy lips. Tousled, unkempt locks of hair dangled over his forehead. He was a little over forty, but sharp creases at the sides of his mouth and eyes spoke of much older sorrows and joys.
"Oh, come on, Giuffrè. That's just part of the general nonsense. You need something to do if you want to make the time go by in here, don't you?"
The sergeant shoved his glasses back on to the bridge of his nose, feigning astonishment. He was a very expressive little man whose every word was accompanied by an analogous gesture, as if the person listening were deaf.
"Oh, and what do we have here? Has Inspector Lojacono woken up from his beauty sleep? What would you like now—a cup of coffee and a pastry? Or would you rather I bring you your morning newspaper, so you can read up on what the nation did while you were slumbering?"
Lojacono gave a half-smile.
"I can't help it if everyone who comes in here takes one look at me and then makes a beeline for your desk. You heard the fat lady, didn't you? Customers develop a certain loyalty to their favorite salesmen."
Giuffrè drew himself up to his full five feet five inches. "You realize that you're stuck in the same leaky boat as me, don't you? Or do you think you're just passing through here? You know what everyone else calls this office? They call it the booby hatch. So what do you think, that they're singling me out?"
Lojacono looked indifferent. "What the hell do I care? They can call this shithole whatever they like. I'm more disgusted with it than they ever will be."
Lojacono turned back to his monitor, where there was a time and a date, right under the game of cards that he played obsessively against the computer. April 10, 2012. Ten months and a few days. That's how long he'd been sitting there. In hell.
The girl at the reception desk had a pair of earbuds blaring out Beyoncé at full volume—after all, for four hundred fucking euros a month, under the table and with no benefits, what did those bastards even expect? On the other hand, the way things were these days, an easy job at the front desk of a small ten-room hotel in Posillipo, where she could get a little studying in on the side, wasn't the sort of thing you'd put out with the trash. So damn boring, though.
She looked up and jumped in her seat. There was a man standing right in front of her, gazing at her across the counter.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in. How can I help you?"
The first impression she had was of an old man. If she'd looked a little more closely, behind the antiquated suit of indeterminate color, behind the dark tie, behind the glasses with photosensitive lenses (God, how many years had it been since she'd seen a pair like that? Her grandfather wore those!), maybe she'd have revised her guess downward a couple of years. But with her final exam in public finance bearing down on her and Beyoncé howling out of the earbuds dangling around her neck, the anonymous, invisible client standing before her needed to be taken care of and dismissed as quickly as possible.
"I have a reservation for a room, I think room seven. But could you check? Thanks."
Even his voice was nondescript, little more than a whisper. The man dug a paper tissue out of his breast pocket and quickly dabbed at his left eye. The girl assumed he had some allergy.
"Yes, here's the reservation. Room nine has become available, though, if you're interested. You can get a glimpse of the water from the window, while room seven is on the street. If you like we can—"
The old man broke in politely. "No, thanks. I'd rather confirm room seven, if it's all the same to you. It might not be as noisy, and I'm here to get some rest. You do have a key to the downstairs door in case I stay out ... late, don't you? I read on your website that you offer that option, since there's no night clerk."
He's here to get some rest, but he wants a key for the front door so he can stay out late. Filthy old pig.
"Of course, here you are, this key is for the night entry door and this one is the room key. How long will you be staying with us?"
A question she'd tossed in as an afterthought, a formality. The old man seemed to be thinking hard, trying to come up with the answer, his watery gaze wandering behind the lenses, a deep crease furrowing his forehead under the sparse white hair.
"I'm not sure. A month or so, maybe less. In any case, not long."
"Whatever you prefer. Here's your ID back. Have a pleasant stay."
And Beyoncé rose in her ears again, the soundtrack to public finance.
Room number seven. Carefully selected from the hotel floor plan, studied obsessively on the internet. The single bed pushed against the wall, the bathroom with the shower and no bidet, the armoire with squeaky door hinges. A writing desk, a chair, a bedside table. Perfect. Perfect in every way.
The old man put his suitcase on the bed, unzipped it, and quickly checked its contents. Then he took off his jacket and carefully hung it up in the armoire, moved the writing desk over in front of the window, and raised the roller blind halfway. He looked across the narrow private street and nodded in satisfaction, then loosened his tie and sat down. He examined the pen and the stationery bearing the hotel's pretentious coat of arms, glanced at the window again, and started writing.
There were a few items of clothing in the suitcase. And a pistol.
Lojacono checked his watch, for the hundredth time. He decided that 11:58 was the latest he could push it, especially because Giuffrè had finally left his desk. He picked up the phone and dialed the number.
"Hello?" said Sonia on the other end of the line.
In Lojacono's mind, the deep sound of her voice triggered a succession of images that he hastily scrubbed out of existence as soon as they materialized: laughter, a soft breast, the sweet taste of her lips. All part of the distant past. "Ciao, it's me."
"Ciao, you piece of shit. What the luck do you want?"
Lojacono smiled bitterly. "I'm so happy to hear your voice too, my darling."
The woman raised her voice. "Go ahead, joke about it while you're at it. After the shame you've brought down upon us—on me and on your daughter. Only now are we finally able to leave the house, a full year after it happened. You coward. And you're not supposed to call us; even the lawyer said that you're not allowed. All you're allowed to do is send us the money, understood?"
The inspector ran his hand over his eyes. Suddenly he just lacked the strength. "Please, Sonia. You know that I send the money, punctually. I'm giving you practically every penny I make, and you can't even begin to imagine what a shitty life I'm living here. There's no need for you to weigh in too."
The woman burst into a long chorus of laughter that had nothing cheerful about it. "No need for me to weigh in? Do you have even the faintest idea of what you've done? If you'd been a successful mobster, at least, there's no doubt that we'd be respected now if nothing else, Marinella and I, instead of having everyone, even our relatives, turn their backs on us. And we're forced to live here, where nobody knows us, as if we were a couple of thieves or whores. You son of a bitch."
Son of a bitch. How little it takes to become a son of a bitch.
"Anyway, I wanted to know how you were doing. And I wanted to talk to Marinella."
Sonia lashed out angrily. "Forget it. Just forget it. She doesn't want to talk to you, and it's my duty to protect her from you. She's only fifteen, and you've already destroyed her social life. Stop trying to get in touch with her. She has a different cell phone number now."
Lojacono pounded the desktop hard with his hand, making pens and paper clips jump into the air. "Goddamn it to hell, she's my daughter! And I haven't heard the sound of her voice in ten months! No judge on earth can tell a father he has to be dead to his daughter!"
Sonia's voice turned as chilly as a knife blade. "Well, you should have thought before handing information over to the Mafia, without taking so much as a penny in exchange. You're a turd, and if some poor girl has a turd for a father, no one can force her to pay the price for the rest of her life. Just send us the money and leave us be."
Lojacono found himself muttering incoherent words into the silent receiver, and when an embarrassed Giuffrè came back into the room, he stood up abruptly and went outside.
He'd known him: Alfonso Di Fede. They'd even attended school together, a couple of grades in elementary school, before Alfonso started herding sheep like the rest of his family. Lojacono remembered him as an oversized, silent, fierce-eyed boy. He never cracked a book, well aware of what fate had in store for him, evidently.
Of course, he'd followed the man's career from a distance, so similar to so many others: the most ferocious and loyal get promoted, ratcheting upward rank by rank—the same as it is in the police, come to think of it. Arrested and released a couple of times, only to vanish into the fields between Gela and Canicatti, another courier with his sleeves rolled up, busily delivering messages and, when so ordered, death.
They'd never crossed paths. Di Fede hadn't been one of the scattered few that they managed to round up on those scorching hot summer nights when they raided houses built in open violation of planning regulations, in out of the way parts of town, bursting into barren rooms littered with wine bottles and dirty magazines, where men sat deciding the fate of who-knows-who, who-knows-where.
But in the end, someone did manage to lay hands on him, in Germany of all places. And during the long interrogation sessions that finally led him to turn state's witness, what had emerged? His name, the name of Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, of the Agrigento major case squad, a golden boy with a glittering career ahead of him. The career might have been gilded, but unfortunately the golden boy lacked political protection.
Yes, said state's witness Alfonso Di Fede, that's right: Lojacono tipped us off, of course he did. He was how we knew everything the major case squad was going to do before they did it. We knew where it was safe to go and where it wasn't. Can I have another espresso now?
Who could say where his name had come up, from what nook or cranny of Di Fede's memory, prompted by what need to cover up someone else's involvement? In the sleepless nights spent staring at the bedroom ceiling that followed his immediate suspension, Lojacono had puzzled over that one a thousand times.
The effect on his own life, and on Sonia and Marinella's lives, had been devastating. No one was willing to speak to them now—some out of fear that the informant's account was true, others out of fear that it wasn't. As long as the matter remained in doubt, everyone kept their distance, and there the three of them were left, in the middle of nowhere.
He'd read the uncertainty in his wife's and daughter's eyes immediately. Not that he'd expected unwavering support. He'd seen this sort of thing happen far too often: he knew how rare it was, outside of books and movies, for families to remain steadfast allies in bad times as well as good. But he had hoped he'd at least be given an opportunity to explain, to defend his good name.
It would have been so much better if there'd actually been a trial. In that case, he would have had a chance to demolish the absurd accusation, revealing it for what it was—little more than vicious slander. But it was the very fact that there was no evidence that led to a dismissal of charges, meaning no lawyers, no courtroom hearings.
Excerpted from THE CROCODILE by Maurizio de Giovanni, Antony Shugaar. Copyright © 2012 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A., Milano. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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