Northern Italy, 1993: After what seems like several lifetimes as a policeman in the Questura, Commissario Trotti is ready for retirement. Soon, he’ll be able to fulfill his dream of moving to the countryside villa he co-owns with his cousin, where his daily business will be tending to goats and chickens.
But despite Trotti’s stubbornly old-fashioned investigative methods and his disregard for social niceties, there are several people trying to talk him out of retirement. Trotti’s boss offers him a golden opportunity as head of the Questura’s new child abuse division.
Meanwhile, Fabrizio Bassi, a reckless, womanizing private detective who worked under Trotti years ago before being kicked off the force, approaches him for help. Bassi has been investigating the death of a murdered doctor, and he has a conspiracy theory that extends to the highest reaches of government. Trotti declines, annoyed by the request. But when Bassi is found in a ditch with a bullet in his head, Trotti decides to take on one last murder case after all.
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1: Clean Hands
Monday, 29 November 1993
Signor a Scola had left a message asking him to ring her, but an Elisir di China was what Trotti most needed now.
There had been a time when Trotti used to stay in the Questura working until all hours of the night. In those days, Agnese and Pioppi frequently dined without him and he would creep, tired and hungry, into a sleeping house. When Pioppi was a student at the liceo, months could go by without his ever seeing his daughter.
Now Commissario Piero Trotti rarely got home late.
In the last few years he had imposed a routine upon himself. He normally returned to the empty house in via Milano before eight o’clock.
A china before supper, he told himself, and then the walk home to burn off the extra calories. He knew he was putting on weight, but during the winter months Trotti enjoyed the feeling of warmth the hot toddy produced in him.
One of the rare pleasures of life.
He came out of the main entrance of the Questura and the burly policeman saluted briskly. “Buona sera, Signor Commissario.” He wore a leather jacket and his beret was pulled down to his ear.
“I hope you’re wearing tights under those trousers, agente.”
“I’m from Bolzano.” The man laughed. “Never been afraid of the cold.”
“Salve!” Trotti gave him a wave. He pulled on the zipper of his English waxed jacket as he went down the steps into Strada Nuova.
It was dark and the overhead lamps cast their tinted light into the foggy street. Trotti turned right, pulling his scarf up to his chin and headed towards the Po.
His last winter in the Polizia di Stato.
After a lifetime in the Questura, Trotti could now enjoy those simple luxuries that he had systematically denied himself. Money in his wallet and no longer anybody to tell him what to do. Even Pioppi, now that she had a child of her own, had ceased to give orders to her father.
He softly whistled an air from Andrea Chénier to himself.
Although Strada Nuova was the center of the pedestrian zone, it was full of evening traffic. Rush hour and the municipal buses rumbled past, heavy with their load of passengers and misted glass. Passengers going home to minestra, Berlusconi and bed.
Trotti took the turning right and let the noise of the Strada Nuova fade behind him. Here the fog dulled every sound, dulled the fall of his shoes on the wet cobblestones.
Two hundred meters.
He could feel the damp fog working into his trousers and he longed for the dry cold of the hills.
He turned into Piazza Vittoria and along the empty, echoing porticoes. The door of the Bar Duomo was misted and twinkled with the light beyond. Trotti pushed the brass handle, to be met by the familiar smell of coffee, spirits, moist clothes and by the soft music of the radio.
“Buona sera, commissario,” the barman said cheerfully, catching sight of Trotti through the crowd. “You’re on time.”
The barman stood in front of a serried row of bottles. Advertisements—Amaro Ramazzotti and playing cards from Treviso—had been carefully stuck to the tinted glass of a long mirror.
The mirror threw back Trotti’s unsmiling image.
One or two coated backs moved aside and one or two heads nodded an evening salutation as Trotti went past, heading to a far table where nobody was sitting.
On the wall hung the price list in felt, with inserted white characters. Beneath it was a shelf and a vase of dried flowers. On the pink cloth of the table lay a discarded copy of the morning’s Repubblica, stiffened by a wooden rod.
Trotti unfurled his scarf and unzipped his jacket before sitting down. He rubbed his hands, the warmth quickly returning. He picked up the paper. The reading glasses that Pioppi had scolded him into buying on his last visit to Bologna remained resolutely in his pocket while Trotti held the newspaper at a distance, trying to keep the print in focus.
A few minutes later, silent and discreet, the barman moved from behind the bar and transferred a saucer of cashew nuts and a glass of steaming Elisir di China from a steel tray on to the table. A slice of lemon had been clipped to the rim of the glass.
“The evening paper, commissario.” The waiter slipped the sheets of La Notte into the metal clasp.
Trotti mumbled absentminded thanks as he scanned the front page of the paper.
The inquiries continued. Nearly two years of Mani Pulite and there were still more resignations in Milan.
The waiter turned on the wall light. “Anything else you need?”
“Milan.” Trotti shook his head, speaking to himself. “Moral capital of the Republic.”
“Times change, commissario.” The waiter smiled philosophically, picked up an overflowing ashtray and went away with the crumpled Repubblica.
“Thank God soon I’ll be retiring,” Trotti muttered.
(In the 1970s, during the Years of Lead, when nothing was sure in Italy, Trotti had entertained a nostalgia for the certainties of his childhood, for the certainties arrogantly paraded by Mussolini and the Fascists. Then the adult Piero Trotti had longed for the distant, innocent time of his childhood when things were simple, when values were black and white. A time when you knew where you stood.
Of course, it was wishful thinking—but during the Years of Lead, with people being blown up on trains or outside factories, Trotti needed to believe in something.
Twenty years on, Tangentopoli and Mani Pulite had put paid to any idealism. Now there was nothing to believe in.
Nothing. Neither in the Fascist past, nor in the future of democracy. The politicians had taken the money and they had left nothing other than their cynicism and their debts. Nothing.)
“Mind if I sit down?”
Trotti glanced up. “You really have to?”
“Always so courteous, commissario.”
Trotti returned his attention to the Milan newspaper. “I gave up being courteous years ago.”
The man was a lot younger than Piero Trotti, in his mid-thirties. He wore a camel-hair coat and was removing matching leather gloves. He had slow, dark eyes, broad shoulders and a prominent Adam’s apple. Black hair brushed forward to hide incipient baldness. His complexion was doughy; the result of a lack of sunlight and exercise.
Trotti continued reading the paper.
His name was Fabrizio Bassi and for ten years he had been a policeman—in Gorizia and then in the city—before leaving to set up his own detective agency.
“Another?” Bassi pointed at the half-empty glass of china in its steel frame.
Trotti looked up. “If you wish to talk, I’m sure there are many people who’d enjoy your company a lot more than me.”
Bassi sucked in his cheeks. Despite the cold, his shirt collar was undone and the blue tie loose at his neck. He cultivated the appearance of a television detective. There was even an overlay of American to his flat, Lombard intonation. He liked to claim he was from Brooklyn. According to his identity card he was from Pieve del Cairo.
Trotti returned his attention to La Notte.
Leaning forward, Bassi asked, “Commissario, have you thought about my suggestion?”
On the Milan pages, there was an article about a teacher of a liceo classico who had been arrested for accepting a bribe. Two million lire in exchange for the maturità examination.
Trotti sipped the hot drink. “As I recall, you had your answer last week.”
Bassi sat down on the edge of the chair opposite and placed a magazine on the tabletop. “There’ve been developments.”
“Why do you keep bothering me?”
“It would be to your benefit.”
“For nearly forty years I’ve had my colleagues imposed upon me from above. Why on earth do you think I should wish to work with you, Bassi?” A chilly smile. “Soon I’ll be a free man, and can choose how to live my life as I please.”
“I’m not asking you to marry me, commissario.”
“I’m still married.”
“You and I could work as a team.”
“I can’t help you, Signor Bassi.”
“We can collaborate. Don’t you see your name alone would mean so much? Your name alone would be a source of income for both of us.”
“My name means a lot to me.”
“We used to be friends, commissario.” Frowning, Trotti held up a finger. “You used to work under me.”
“I worked with you. On the Biagi case. And later, when you sent me to Turin about the murdered train conductor. You used to say I was reliable. ‘One of the best’—that’s what you used to say, Commissario Trotti.”
Trotti returned again to La Notte.
“You helped me, commissario, when I was thrown out of the Questura. When the Questore kicked me out.”
“Please leave me alone. Please go.”
“You’re going to retire?”
“Button your coat and put your gloves on. Please, Signor Bassi. Take your magazine. Kindly leave me alone.”
“You’re going to leave this city that you love and that you’ve worked in for so many years? You’re going to move into the hills and live among your animals?”
“You have an objection?”
In exasperation, Bassi started tapping the tabletop with the magazine. “We could make money.”
Trotti lowered the newspaper. “I don’t need money, Signor Bassi.”
“Everybody needs money—particularly if you’re living off a state pension.”
“Then I’ll have to sell freshly laid eggs.” For a few seconds the two men looked at each other in silence.
“Commissario, I need your help on the Turellini affair. It’s important.”
Trotti looked at the younger man. “Important for you.”
“With your help, we could identify Turellini’s murderer in next to no time. You’d be paid—you’d be generously paid. Turellini’s family wants the killer identified and they don’t mind paying good money.”
Trotti set the paper down on the table without looking at Bassi.
“Good money you can buy the best hens with.”
Trotti stood up. He had not finished his drink.
“Best goats and best hens and best goddamn pigs to sniff out the truffles up in your hills.”
Trotti placed a five thousand lira note on the table.
“You’d better have a look at this, Trotti,” Bassi said testily, snatching up the magazine and stuffing it into the pocket of Trotti’s jacket. “Might find it interesting.”
Piero Trotti pulled on the coat in silence. At the bar, several men turned to look at him. The barman nodded and gave a faint smile.
Brushing past the private detective, Commissario Trotti went out into the cold night and the fog of the city.