Inspector Bordelli prepares to launch a murder investigation. But the case will be a tough one for him, arousing mixed emotions: the desire for justice conflicting with a deep hostility for the victim. And he is missing his young police sidekick, Piras, who is convalescing at his parents’ home in Sardinia.
But Piras hasn’t been recuperating for long before he too has a mysterious death to death with . . .
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Death in Sardinia
An Inspector Bordelli Mystery
By MARCO VICHI, Stephen Sartarelli
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2014 Marco Vichi
All rights reserved.
Florence, 12 December 1965
Sergeant Baragli lay in the bed nearest the window, a small tube stuck in his arm. He was looking outside. Behind the hospital buildings he could just glimpse the tree- covered hills of Careggi. The small white clouds dotting the sky looked like a flock of sheep. According to the old wives' tales, it would be raining cats and dogs in a couple of hours.
Baragli's face was covered in sweat and very pale. He'd lost a good ten pounds in just a few days. He hadn't yet noticed that he had a visitor. Bordelli brought a chair close to the bed and unbuttoned his jacket. It was very hot in the room.
'How's it going, Oreste?' he asked.
'Inspector! I didn't see you come in. My wife left just a few minutes ago.'
'I saw her downstairs. When are they going to send you home?' Bordelli asked, pretending not to know that the doctors considered him a lost cause.
'I don't know anything yet,' the sergeant said. He was short of breath and spoke with difficulty. Just over sixty years old, he'd spent his whole life on the police force and had had a rough time of it during the twenty-year reign of Fascism, given his lack of sympathy for the Mussolini regime. He'd retired three years before and fallen sick the following month. He'd had several operations on his stomach, the last only a few days before.
'How's your son?' Bordelli asked.
'He's still in Germany, Inspector. He might come for Christmas.'
There were five beds in the room, all taken. Some of the other patients had visitors. One looked rather young. His face was yellow and gaunt, but he tried to smile. His wife had brought him some newspapers.
'You need anything, Oreste?' Bordelli asked.
'I'd like a book, a good book I could get excited about.'
'I'll bring you one next time.'
'Thanks, Inspector. Everything all right with you?'
'I wouldn't go that far ...'
'You know what? If I were reborn, I would become a cop all over again,' Baragli said, looking resigned. The inspector smiled. He felt sorry for the old policeman wasting away with illness. Baragli had always been nice to everyone, even those he arrested. The prostitutes were fond of him and called him nonno. But there were certain categories of criminals Oreste had never been able to stomach, especially pimps. Whenever he had one within reach he'd slap him around, and nobody had ever bothered to stop him. They were good, healthy slaps, the kind a parent deals out to a child.
'Any murders lately, Inspector?' Baragli asked.
'Nah, nothing new.' The inspector started telling him a few anecdotes about things that had happened at headquarters. He knew Baragli enjoyed hearing talk of his colleagues. Every so often the old sergeant cast a glance out the window. His lips were shrivelled and his sparse hair had turned completely white.
He had aged a great deal in the past six months. Trying to sit up in bed, he groaned in pain and brought a hand to his stomach, grimacing.
'What's wrong, Oreste?' asked Bordelli, standing up.
'It's nothing, just the stitches pulling,' said Baragli, falling back on to the pillows.
'Were you looking for something?'
'My wife brought me some playing cards, they're in the drawer there.'
The inspector grabbed the new deck of Modiano cards and they started playing briscola while making small talk. The sergeant played with the tube in his arm, moving his hands slowly.
Bordelli lost the game and shuffled the cards before dealing again. Baragli wiped his face with the handkerchief he always kept within reach.
'The minute I get out of here I'm going to go fishing for a year,' he said.
'We'll go together – at least once,' Bordelli lied. They played for a while longer, as Baragli grew weaker and weaker. His hands shook and he had trouble breathing.
'I hope to be home by Christmas at least,' he said as the inspector reshuffled the deck. Bordelli had lost again. He couldn't quite get into the game.
A fine rain began to fall outside. The drops left bright streaks on the dirty windowpanes.
'My wife said Rita Pavone was on the telly yesterday. Did you see her?' the sergeant asked.
'I got home too late.'
'I really like that girl ... Your turn, Inspector.'
By nine o'clock the visitors had all left. One of the older patients had fallen asleep and was snoring lightly, eyes half open. He was in the bed directly opposite Baragli's, and the skin on his face seemed stretched right over the bone. At last the inspector won a game. He looked at his watch.
'I have to be going,' he said. He put the cards back in the drawer and stood up, resting a hand on one of Baragli's, which was thin and
covered with veins.
'Thanks, Inspector. Give everyone my best.'
'I'll be back soon,' said Bordelli, squeezing the man's fingers. When he made to leave, Baragli held him back.
'How's the Sardegnolo ?'
'If Piras could hear you ...'
'He must be used to it by now. Can he walk yet?'
'Only on crutches at the moment, but he says he's making progress.'
'Tough as nails, those Sardinians.'
'He'd like to return to work in January, but I don't think he'll manage it before March ...'
'I like that kid,' said Baragli.
'Give him my regards.'
'Next time I'll bring you a book,' Bordelli said, half smiling. He headed towards the exit, feeling terribly sad. He turned round in the doorway to wave goodbye, but the sergeant had turned towards the window and didn't see him.
Piras was in Bonarcado, Sardinia, at the home of his father Gavino, a companion-in- arms of Bordelli's during the war of liberation.
Three months earlier, during a routine check on the Via Faentina, Piras's squad had stopped an Alfa Romeo Giulietta with Bologna licence plates, but instead of taking out their papers, the four men in the car had pulled out machine guns and pistols and started firing madly. Turning the car promptly around, they escaped the same way they had come, leaving three policemen and a great deal of blood on the road behind them. Officer Cassano died on the spot, struck in the head by a burst of machine-gun fire; Sbigoli came away with just an arm broken in two places; and Piras was rushed to hospital with his face covered in blood. He seemed to be at death's door, but the blood pouring over his face and chest came from a superficial wound on his forehead. Another bullet had struck him in the right shoulder and come out the other side without causing any serious damage. He'd been more seriously wounded in the legs, however: three bullets had entered his right thigh, shattering the femur, and two had lodged in his left leg, one very close to the knee. All in all, he'd been quite lucky, as the men in the Giulietta had aimed for the head and chest. The first shots had hit Piras in the shoulder, knocking him down, and the only reason the subsequent bursts of fire hadn't reached their target was because it is much more difficult to hit a man lying down than one on his feet.
The Giulietta was later found abandoned at the side of the road only a few miles from the shoot-out, having obviously been stolen. Bordelli had personally led the manhunt, which ended a few days later in the countryside near Bivigliano with two arrests and two dead bodies. The two deaths could probably have been avoided, but the policemen who had flushed out the fugitives didn't feel much like holding their fire.
The four men in the Giulietta were all ex-convicts from Milan, three of whom had escaped just a month earlier from San Vittore prison. They were well armed and had planned to carry out robberies in Emilia Romagna and Tuscany before returning to their base in the Apennine mountains near Sasso Marconi.
The day of the shoot-out Bordelli phoned Piras's girlfriend, Sonia Zarcone, a beautiful blonde from Palermo with whom the young Sardinian had fallen head over heels in love. The girl didn't even cry upon hearing the news, but merely busied herself doing everything she could to make life easier for her boyfriend during those first difficult weeks in hospital.
Piras had undergone several operations at Santa Maria Nuova hospital, and each time it seemed it would be the last. In the end the surgeons decided that there was no more they could do, and they 'set him free', as Piras himself put it. The doctors forced him to take a long holiday to recover, and he'd decided to go to Sardinia to stay with his parents, who before his arrival hadn't known a thing about what had happened to him. Sonia had stayed in Florence to sit two important exams. After a number of domestic battles, a phone was finally installed in the Piras home, and now the two lovers could stay in constant contact. Otherwise young Piras would have had no choice but to use one of the few telephone lines in town, the priest's. And a sacristy really wasn't the right sort of place to say certain things, Piras later related, chuckling. Apparently the beautiful Sonia liked to express herself rather explicitly, all the clichés about Sicilians be damned. Her free and easy manner came from her rather unusual family; her father was half Sicilian and half Spanish and a professor of economics at the University of Palermo, while her mother was from a very old Sicilian family.
But the installation of a telephone in the Piras home had another consequence as well. Bordelli had at last been able to talk directly with Gavino. They'd immediately started reminiscing about friends they'd lost during the war and remembering the most dangerous moments. Speaking with someone who'd lived through the same things made everything more vivid and painful. Gavino cursed the mine that had robbed him of one of his arms, and his rage against the Germans was still as keen as twenty years before. Then they cut short the war talk and started briefly recounting what they had done since the damned war. They promised to get together soon, but with the sea between them and all the work that neither could take a break from, it wasn't going to be easy for either one to keep his promise.
From time to time Piras the younger would phone Bordelli to say hello and also to learn whether he was missing out on any interesting cases. Their last communication dated from a few weeks before.
'I'm feeling better and better, Inspector. I still limp a little, but it's not a problem. I'll be back at work by January.'
'No need to rush things. You'll return when the doctors say.'
'Fortunately not ... How's Sonia?'
'Fine ... But I'm beginning to think Sicilians are even more stubborn than Sardinians.'
'Don't complain, Piras, you're a lucky man.'
'I know, Inspector, I know ... How's Baragli doing?'
'Worse and worse.'
'It's a bloody mess.'
'Poor bloke ... Give him my best.'
'The guy's going to outlive us all! He's made out of the same stones as the nuraghi. He's always in his field, hoeing and sowing, and now he says he wants to buy himself a rototiller in the spring.'
'Won't that be a problem for someone with only one arm?'
'He tried using a friend's machine and says it's fine.'
'Give him a big hug for me.'
'Thanks, Inspector ...'
'And give Sonia a kiss for me.'
'Sonia only gets kisses from me.'
'You're starting to sound like a Sicilian.'
'I'll be on that ferry before the first of January, Inspector, you have my word.'
'Ciao, Pietrino, let's talk again soon.'CHAPTER 2
They found him on Wednesday with a pair of scissors stuck deep in his neck, at the base of the nape. Office scissors, the kind with pointed tips. When the stretcher-bearers of La Misericordia took away the body, all the building's tenants stood in their respective doorways to watch. Seeing them pass, a woman on the second floor said:
'That'll teach him, the pig!' Then she quickly crossed herself so that she might be forgiven for saying something so wicked.
The murder victim, Totuccio Badalamenti, was a loan shark. He lived only a few blocks away from Bordelli, in Piazza del Carmine, on the top floor of a fine old stone building. He was from southern Italy, like many outsiders in the city at the time. He'd been in town for a little over a year and worked as an estate agent as cover. In the neighbourhood they called him 'the newcomer' and probably would have kept on calling him that for ever had he not been killed. The whole San Frediano quarter knew exactly what he did, even though Badalamenti was careful not to 'do business' with anyone who lived near by. Every so often the inspector used to see him driving down those impoverished streets in his new red Porsche. He wore very fine gold-rimmed glasses and had a square-shaped head and frizzy hair you could scour a frying pan with.
Badalamenti lent out money, even very small sums, but always demanded outrageous rates of interest. Anyone who was late with payments faced the sort of penalties people commit suicide over. He was a violent man. Rumour had it that he beat the prostitutes he brought home with him, even though he usually made amends afterwards by paying them double. He was very rich and was always investing his money profitably in every imaginable sort of traffic. His wealth was legendary. One story had it that he'd bought a whole island down south just so he could swim undisturbed. He would buy houses and land at auction and then resell them, and often they'd belonged to the very people he had ruined. At other times he would rent squalid apartments cheaply, then fix them up at low cost and sublet them out for three times the amount to people in financial straits, petty criminals, prostitutes and the like. He kept copies of all the keys to his flats, and if a tenant went away for more than two weeks, he would manage to rent the place out to some other wretch, who would pay dearly for it. Some even said that he had a circuit of whores working for him in the south, and that he had dealings with the Cosa Nostra. There certainly was no lack of gossip about Badalamenti, some real, some invented, but nailing him wasn't easy. He was very clever at using his work as an estate agent to camouflage his real occupation.
Bordelli dealt in murder, but having that loan shark so close to home really bothered him, like a pebble in his shoe. And so a few months earlier he had started concerning himself personally with the problem. As far back as the previous February he had spoken to Commissioner Inzipone about it, explaining who the man was and how difficult it was to find evidence to warrant arresting him. Commissioner Inzipone about it, explaining who the man was and how difficult it was to find evidence to warrant arresting him.
'We need someone who will press charges,' Inzipone said, thoughtfully pinching his chin between thumb and forefinger. He didn't seem terribly interested in the matter.
'You know perfectly well that nobody will ever do anything of the sort, because they might well end up dead,' Bordelli replied, annoyed.
'Well then, stop wasting my time and tell me what you have in mind.'
'I want a search warrant.'
'Oh, do you? On what grounds?'
'Whatever you can think up ... By now even the cobblestones know who the man is and what he does.'
'I'll have you know that until proven otherwise, it might just all be malicious gossip, Inspector ... And, anyway, you're supposed to investigate murders, or am I mistaken?'
'All right, but if you won't get me the warrant, I'll handle it my own way,' the inspector said, standing up.
'And what will you do, Inspector? Break into the man's home illegally ... as you've done on other occasions?'
'I'm a policeman, and I try to do my job to the best of my abilities.'
'A chief inspector who picks locks ... Is that any way to do things? Can you imagine what would happen if —'
'Just tell me one thing, sir: will you help me get that warrant or won't you?' Bordelli retorted, standing in front of Inzipone's desk. The commissioner sighed deeply, chewing his lips.
'I'll see what I can do,' he said.
'Well, be quick about it. That man must be stopped.'
'And what if your search yields nothing of interest?'
'I'll turn his flat upside down, take it apart piece by piece ... I'm convinced something will turn up.'
'You're really so sure, are you?'
Excerpted from Death in Sardinia by MARCO VICHI, Stephen Sartarelli. Copyright © 2014 Marco Vichi. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsFlorence, 12 December 1965,
About the Author,
About the Translator,