Northern Italy, 1978: Commissario Piero Trotti, trusted senior police investigator in an anonymous provincial city off the River Po, has two difficult cases to solve. A dismembered body has been found in the river, and it’s up to Trotti to figure out who the murder victim is. At the same time, an estranged friend approaches Trotti with a desperate personal plea: his six-year-old daughter—Trotti’s own goddaughter—has been kidnapped. In the wake of the high-profile kidnapping of Aldo Moro, president of Italy’s majority party, faith in law enforcement is at an all-time low, and it’s no surprise the distraught father isn’t willing to take this matter to the police.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Trotti sat at his desk and for a moment stared out of the window.
The sky was dark with future rain and the tiles of the neighboring rooftops had lost their terracotta glow. A swallow dropped through the air. The cooing of the pigeons had ceased.
He felt depressed, slightly sick. After a week of hot summer days—and this at the end of April—dark cloudbanks had formed to the north and had come up over the Alps, bringing a chill air. His ankles were cold in the short white socks. At the same time, he felt sticky and uncomfortable.
Brigadiere Magagna stuck his head through the door. “Dottore?”
“Bring me a coffee. And one for yourself.”
The door closed.
He looked again at the photographs on his desk: a dead piece of flesh. Without meaning, without purpose, photographed in a glossy black and white.
Trotti had seen his first corpse when he was seventeen years old. A couple of partisans, not much older than himself, in shabby clothes, the red scarf still around their necks, had been strung up by the repubblichini and left to bleed to death. At the time he had wondered what had become of the amputated hands. The smell, the dark blood on the cobblestones and the flies—they had been part of his nightmares ever since.
Magagna knocked and entered carrying a small tray; the air of the dingy office filled with the reassuring aroma of coffee.
“Grappa?” Trotti took the bottle from the cupboard of the desk and without waiting for a reply, poured a shot into each cup. Small, plastic cups with vacuum filled walls and screw-on caps.
A Vespa went past in the narrow street below; the engine sounded hollow and angry beneath the old brick walls of the Questura. Several birds darted upwards, touched at the gutter of the roof opposite and then flew away.
Magagna drank noisily, the froth of the coffee tinting the ends of his moustache. “Good.” He always said that. He placed the cup back on the tray. “Thank you, Commissario.” He wiped his moustache with the back of his hand.
“Sit down, Magagna. I want to speak to you.”
Magagna took the green canvas armchair; the cloth was worn and in need of sewing. He was a good-looking man, with a broad forehead and dark black hair. From Pescara. He had the healthy complexion of a peasant. Wide shoulders filled the uniform shirt, neatly washed and creased. A pair of American sunglasses; the thin arms ran parallel to the line demarking his hair and his well shaven cheeks. He smiled readily, showing even teeth.
“I’d be grateful if you dealt with this matter.” He pushed the photograph across the desk. “I’m busy at the moment. It’s nearly seven weeks since they kidnapped the most important man in Italian politics and nobody is any closer to catching the criminals. Or saving Moro’s life. It’s nothing to do with us here but Leonardelli seems to think differently. And in ten days’ time, we’ve got the municipal elections.”
Trotti laughed without humor. “Leonardelli could put us all on traffic duty and say it was a national emergency. ‘In this moment of crisis and political tension, the state knows that it can count upon the loyalty of all the forces of order and in particular upon the Pubblica Sicurezza, who acting upon the instructions of a democratically elected government . . .’” Trotti had raised his hands; he now let them drop back on the desk. There was a packet of sweets by the telephone. He unwrapped one—rhubarb flavor—and placed it in his mouth. “He’s a politician.”
“What do you want me to do, Dottore?”
“Everything. Get a report from Medicina Legale. It looks like a woman. Put out a check on lost persons. Try the Carabinieri and the Pubblica Sicurezza of the up-river urban centers. And try Milan. See if you can . . .”
There was a hatch door in the wall; from the other side Gino was banging against the thin panels. “Line three, Commissario, for you. It’s a private call.”
“Excuse me.” Trotti leaned forward and picked up the phone.
It was not Agnese. The voice was male and hoarse. “Commissario Trotti?”
There was a pause. The faint bell of a cash register tinkled; muted voices speaking in the background.
“This is Commissario Trotti speaking.”
“I must speak with you.”
“You are speaking with me.”
“Who is that, please?”
The deadened scraping of fingers against the plastic mouthpiece. “I am a friend, Commissario. You know me.”
“I am here in my office. The Questura, third floor. I shall be here for another couple of hours. You can speak with me here.”
A click of exasperation; air being sucked in. The voice was now louder, a hint of anger. “That is not possible. I must see you alone. You understand—away from your office.”
“I am a busy man.”
“You have a daughter, Commissario.”
The first fat drops of rain fell with sudden ease onto the sill of the window; dark blotches multiplied like the plague on the concrete ledge. Magagna stood up to close the windows; he stepped over a pile of beige dossiers.
“I imagine you care for your daughter.”
“Pioppi?” Trotti’s knuckles had whitened. “Where is she?”
“I must see you. Now.”
“Where is Pioppi?”
“In fifteen minutes; by the old stables near the river.”
“Where is she?”
“Come alone.” The man hesitated. “Please.”
Then with a click, the line went dead.
They took the Alfetta and raced through the city center. The streets were empty of traffic. A few pedestrians hidden beneath dark umbrellas hurried along the pavements.
At the edge of the town they joined up with the flow of traffic, cut across Viale Gorizia—Magagna had turned on the siren—went across the iron bridge and followed the dark line of the canal to where the water gushed over the lock into the river.
They came to a halt by the rusting dredgers. “Wait here and turn that damn thing off.”
Trotti got out, opened his umbrella and buttoned his jacket. The pistol weighed at his pocket. He walked fast, shoes splashing on the wet road. The wail of the siren slowly died in the damp air.
This was the edge of the city where the old houses gradually fell away and where the road became a cart track, running parallel to the river—a no-man’s land inhabited by a thin phalanx of plane trees. To Trotti’s left, one or two flat farmhouses, red brick with sloping, tiled roofs—a few uninhabited. Beyond them, the low-lying allotments, then the textile factory, its chimneys and its satellite apartment blocks, tawdry beneath the grey rain.
On his right, the Po.
The rain was coming down hard, thundering against the taut black nylon of the umbrella. He slipped on the wet mud and swore. An ugly place, part of the city and disowned by it. The rain could not hide the sharp, unpleasant smell of acid that came from the factory chimneys. People had been complaining about it for years. Nothing had been done; the company could not afford the cost of a filter. When the complaints grew too strident, the director threatened closure and the loss of jobs. For a time, the complaints ceased.
An ugly place; twice a year the river broke its banks and swamped the saplings. Then in its retreat, the Po left dead wood and industrial detritus, plastic shopping bags and bleached cigarette packets. And a patina of mud that turned to powdery dust in the summer months.
He followed the track along the river; it curved and at the bend there was a wooden shack and two rusting caravans. Smoke poured from a perforated oil drum, billowing fumes of rubber. A dozen cars, piled up, stood like gaunt carcasses against the grey water of the river. Gypsies, vagrants, rag-and-bone men—they lived here, earning a living from the scrap metal. Two mongrels bounded towards Trotti and yapped at his ankles.
He stepped round an old juke-box, lying on its tarnished chrome in the mud. The dogs barked louder.
A fat, blonde woman quickly disappeared through the door of one of the caravans. She was smoking.
The road curved away and the dogs lost interest in him and scampered off. Trotti was now hidden from the caravans by a row of bushes. He went up a slight slope where the ground was drier and he broke into a run. He tried not to think of Pioppi. He placed his hand against his pocket to stop the gun from slapping against his thigh.
Rain pattered overhead onto the leaves of the trees. Trotti stopped when he saw the man; he was leaning against the corrugated wall of the stables.
Thirty meters between them. Trotti walked.
Two horses stood in an open field, staring at the rain with mournful eyes; they nuzzled at each other, as though looking for warmth. Painted wooden hurdles and white barriers lay scattered across the grass.
Ten, twelve years ago, it was here that Trotti used to bring Pioppi in her horse riding days; sometimes Agnese came too.
He gripped the Beretta in his pocket.
Bales of hay had been piled beneath the sloping iron roof. The man moved away from the wall and came towards Trotti.
“I’m glad you could come.”
Although the face was hidden by a woman’s umbrella, there was something familiar in the way the man walked. The body leaned backwards and he set his weight heavily upon each leg in turn.
“Trotti.” The red umbrella went back, revealing the tired, pale face.
He tried to smile. White, unhealthy skin, dark eyebrows and bleary, bloodshot eyes.
“What are you doing here? Where’s Pioppi?”
“I’m sorry. It was a silly idea.”
“Where is she?”
Ermagni shrugged. “I don’t know. School, perhaps.”
“She’s not with you?”
“Of course not—but on the spur of the moment, I couldn’t think of any other way to persuade . . .”
Trotti heaved a sigh of relief; the shirt on his back felt hot with sweat. He released the grip on the pistol and he noticed that the palm of his hand hurt.
“I’m sorry, it’s my fault.” Ermagni came towards Trotti, the umbrella over his shoulder and holding out his large hand. Trotti struck him; the back of his hand against the stubble of the jaw. Ermagni stumbled backwards and fell into the mud. The red umbrella rolled away.
“I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I almost killed you.”
Rain splattered the large face, forming more tears that ran over the fat cheeks and fell to the mud. “I was beside myself. I didn’t know what to do.”
He rolled heavily over onto his hands and clambered upright. Trotti picked up the red umbrella. “I had to talk to you. You’ve always been good to me.” He smelt of stale perspiration. He was wearing a jacket that was crumpled and now smeared with fresh mud. “You’re her godfather.”
“Let’s get out of the rain.”
They stepped beneath the curving roof of the stable as one of the horses neighed.
“I wanted to go directly to the police but he wouldn’t let me. He said that he wanted to keep things quiet—for the time being at least—in case they contacted us. In case there is a ransom to pay.”
“Who said this?”
“Not to come to the police?”
Ermagni smiled vaguely. “Rossi—my father-in-law. If he knows that I’m seeing you, he’ll be furious. He hates the police—and he doesn’t want the bank account to be blocked. You see, that’s why I had to speak to you in private.”
Trotti pulled the pistol from his pocket. “You nearly got yourself killed.”
With dull eyes, Ermagni glanced at the pistol, heedless—or perhaps unaware—of its menace.
“Five minutes.” He held up five stubby fingers. “Five minutes of your time, that’s all I ask. Please, Commissario. You’re her godfather. I wouldn’t ask you unless . . .”
Another tear swelled at the corner of his red eyelids. Ermagni turned away and gulped like a man in need of breath. Above them, the rain battered against the iron roof. A puddle had formed in an old tire-track. The two horses stood motionless in the open field.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Set in 1978 Italy with the Moro kidnapping as the backdrop, Commissaro Trotti has a kidnapping and murder in his own city that he must solve. I do not know how he made the connections because I never would have but he manages to solve them. This book sets up Trotti's life and world. It pulls in the politics of Italy and the police. He's an interesting man, very low keyed. He gets angry but it's when he should. I hope to read more in this series to see how his world expands or contracts based on what his fellow characters are telling him.
For those who read about venice police. the detective is not a pleasant person and indeed this is not the italy one thinks of visiting too many regional mystery writers have turned their country and region of choice to the "last resort" no doubt the tourist bureaur has a hit out on them. back to the falco mysteries instead