Read an Excerpt
"Hello? Who is it?"
"I want to speak to Senator Rossi."
"Ah, it's you, Senator? Forgive me! These phones make everyone sound like anyone, or rather no one. This is Antonio Crepi."
"Commendatore! What a pleasure! Are you here in Rome?"
"In Rome? God forbid! No no, I'm in Perugia. At home, at the villa. You remember it?"
"But of course, of course. Of course."
"When my eldest boy married."
"Exactly. Precisely. An unforgettable occasion. A wonderful couple. How are they both?"
"I don't see that much of them. Corrado's moved to Milan and Annalisa's seeing some footballer, or so they tell me. Our paths don't cross very often."
"Ah, what a shame."
"These things happen nowadays! I don't really give a damn anymore. At our age it's absurd to go on pretending. Let them do what they like. Just as long as I've got my vines and my olives, and one or two friends I can still talk to. People I understand and who understand me. You know what I'm talking about?"
"Of course, of course! Friendship is the most important thing in life, I always say. No question about that."
"I'm glad to hear you say so, Senator. Because the fact is I'm phoning to ask for your help on behalf of a friend. A mutual friend. I'm talking about Ruggiero Miletti."
"Ah. A tragic business."
"Do you know how long it has been now?"
"Nearly four and a half months. A hundred and thirty-seven days and nights of agony for the Miletti family and for all their friends. To say nothing of Ruggiero himself."
"A man as old as you or I, Senator, chained up in some shack in the mountains, in this bitter weather, at the mercy of a gang of callous bandits!"
"Dreadful. Scandalous. If only one could do something to help . . ."
"But you can help! You must help!"
"In any way I can, Commendatore! I am only too ready, believe me. But we must be realistic. Kidnapping is the scourge of society today, a plague and a peril in the face of which we are all equally vulnerable, equally powerless, equally . . ."
"Bullshit! Excuse me, but when something happens to one of you politicians the whole country is put into a state of siege! Nothing is too much trouble then, no expense is spared. But when it's an ordinary, decent law-abiding citizen like our friend Ruggiero, no one even takes any notice. Business as usual! 'It's his own fault. Why didn't he take more precautions?"'
"Commendatore, do not let us fall into the trap of deluding ourselves that any responsible person might presume to deny the gravity of . . ."
"Save that stuff for the press, Senator. This is Antonio Crepi you're talking to! Don't you try and tell me we are all equal. If you got kidnapped, God forbid, you would get the crack units, the top men. Well, that's what I want for Ruggiero."
"Of course, of course! Naturally!"
"I'm not blaming the people here in Perugia. But let's face it, if they were the best they wouldn't be here, would they? They would be in Rome, looking after you politicians."
"One should perhaps avoid exaggerating the effectiveness of the measures to which you refer, Commendatore."
"Listen, if you get a pain in the chest you go to a specialist, right?"
"Our specialists couldn't save Aldo Moro."
"Spare me the platitudes, Senator! God knows we've had enough talk. Now I want action, and that's why I'm phoning. I want a top man sent up here to shake up the whole operation. A new face, a fresh approach. You can arrange that in a second, with your contacts."
"Well . . ."
"Or is it too much to ask?"
"It's not . . ."
"Don't you think Ruggiero deserves the best?"
"Senator, I wouldn't have bothered to call you if I thought you were one of those people with short memories. There are enough of them about, God knows! But no, I thought, Rossi's not like that. He hasn't forgotten what the Miletti family has meant to him. Senator, I beg you, think of them now! Think what they are going through. Think what it will mean to them to know that thanks to you one of the top policemen in Italy has been sent to Perugia to inspire the hunt for their beloved father! And then think that you can arrange all that with a single phone call, as easily as ordering a taxi."
"You overestimate my power."
"I hope not. I sincerely hope not. Because I have always thought of you as a friend and ally, and it would sadden me to feel that I could no longer count on your support. And you on mine, Senator, and on that of the Miletti family and their many friends."
"For heaven's sake, Commendatore! What are you talking about? Please do not allow ourselves to be misled into imagining that-"
"Perfect! There is no more to say, then. When can I expect to hear?"
"Well, in a situation of this type one would perhaps be wise to avoid imposing rigid deadlines. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, I would by no means rule out the possibility of being in a position to-"
"I'd like to know by this afternoon. Or perhaps you have more important business to attend to?"
"Look here, Crepi, it's no good your expecting miracles, you know! Excuse me saying so."
"I'm not asking for miracles, Senator. I'm asking for justice. Or does that take a miracle in this country?"
"Did I wake you, Giorgio?"
"Ah, good morning, Senator! No, I was working in the other office. No one ever believes it, of course, but we do work here at Central Office."
"Listen, Giorgio, I have a little problem I think you may be able to help me with."
"Consider it done."
"You know about the Miletti kidnapping?"
"The tire king from Modena?"
"Modena! What do you mean, Modena? Would I give a damn if he was from Modena? Miletti, Miletti! Radios, televisions!"
"Ah, of course. Excuse me. From Perugia."
"From Perugia, exactly. And that's my problem. Because some people there, friends of the family, feel that not enough is being done. You know how it is, everyone wants special attention. And these are people who are difficult to refuse. Do you follow?"
"Like they say, the poor pray for miracles, the rich think they have a right to them. Now I'm not trying to justify what cannot and should not be justified. I neither condone nor condemn. But the fact remains that I'm in a difficult situation. You see what I mean?"
"Of course. But what exactly do they want, these people? If you don't mind my asking."
"They want a name."
"A name? Whose name?"
"That is entirely up to you. It must be someone presentable, naturally. Don't make me look like an idiot. If he's well known, so much the better."
"And what is this person to do?"
"Why, go and sort things out."
"Go to Perugia?"
"To Perugia, of course!"
"A police official?"
"Exactly. Can you help me?"
"Well, I must say that this is a particularly difficult moment, Senator. Since the Cabinet reshuffle the party's relations with the Ministry have been-"
"When you've been around as long as I have, Giorgio, you'll know that it's always a particularly difficult moment. That's why I rang you instead of some other people whose names came to mind. Now, can you help me?"
"Well, despite the changes I've just referred to, we do have various contacts, of course. There's one in particular I'm thinking of who may well be able-"
"I'm not interested in the details, Giorgio. I just want to know if you can help me. Or should I ring someone else? Perhaps you could recommend someone?"
"You must be joking, Senator. Anything that can be done, I'll do for you. By this time tomorrow you'll-"
"By this time tomorrow I'll be in Turin. Make it this afternoon. I'll be here till seven."
"Excellent. I knew I did right to call you. I've got a nose for these things. Giorgio's a man who can make things happen, I said to myself. A million thanks. I'll be expecting your call."
"Christ, I thought it was his royal highness. Excuse me while I change my trousers."
"Why the panic?"
"He's at a conference in Strasbourg, and every so often he phones up and demands a complete update on the situation here. All part of this new managerial style you've been reading about. Keeps us on our toes, he says. Anyway, what can I do for you?"
"I suppose this line is safe?"
"Giorgio, this is the Ministry of the Interior you're talking to. Any phone tapping that goes on around here, we do it. So what's up?"
"Well, it's the old story, I'm afraid. Someone's leaning on someone who's leaning on me."
"And you want to lean on me."
"Isn't that what friends are for? But this shouldn't be too difficult. It's a question of getting a senior police official transferred temporarily to Perugia to take over a kidnapping case."
"No problem. I can lose it in the routine postings and bang it through at departmental level. No one ever looks at that stuff. The only headache could be finding someone. When are we talking?"
"Shit. Look, I'll have to think a bit. Let me get back to you."
"I'll do my best."
"I appreciate it, Enrico. Give my regards to Nicola."
"And mine to Emanuela. Listen, why don't we all get together sometime?"
"Yes, we should. We really should."
"Mancini. I need someone we can send up to Perugia on a kidnapping. Who do you suggest?"
"What do you mean, no one?"
"I mean there isn't anyone available."
"What about Fabri?"
"In Genoa on that bank job."
"Sardinia. Where there were three kidnappings last week alone, in case you haven't seen the papers. This weekend we've got the visit of the President of France plus an English football team, God help us. Are you getting the picture? If not, I can go on."
"Calm down, Ciliani. I know things are difficult. But there's always somebody. Look harder."
"There's no one except Romizi, and he's going on leave."
"Well, tell him he'll have to put it off."
"Excuse me, dottore, but you tell him! He's booked a flight to America."
"What's he doing going to America?"
"How should I know? Got relatives there or something."
"Well, what about people outside Criminalpol?"
"You said this was operational."
"We could always stretch a point. Isn't there anyone who's had some experience? Couldn't stand the sight of blood and requested a desk job, that sort of thing. Use your head, Ciliani! I mean we're talking about a gesture here, not a new chief for the fucking Squadra Mobile. What about what's-his-name, the one we've got doing Housekeeping?"
"No, the other one.
"But surely he's . . ."
"Well, I thought there was, you know, some problem about using him."
"Really? I haven't heard anything."
"I don't mean anything official."
"Well, as long as it's not official I can't see that there's any problem. A kidnapping, too! Wasn't he something of a specialist? Couldn't be better."
"If you say so, dottore."
"It's perfect. Ideal from every point of view. The only thing that would ruin it is delay. And that's why I'm going to leave it in your lap, Ciliani. I want Zen and the relevant paperwork in my office within the hour. Got that?"
"Ciliani. You seen Zen?"
"You tried his office?"
"No, I'm too stupid to think of that. Of course I've tried his fucking office."
"Hang on, isn't he away somewhere? Treviso?"
"Trieste. He was due back this morning."
"Did I ever tell you about that girl from Trieste I met the time I was doing beach duty down at Ostia? She was sunbathing totally nude behind a dune, and when I-"
"Fuck off, Caccamo. Christ, this is all I need. Where has that son of a bitch Zen got to?"
No! I don't believe it! It isn't possible!"
"It isn't possible, but it happens. In short, it's a miracle!"
"Just a few hundred meters away from the station and they stop! This is going too far!"
"Not quite far enough, I'd say!"
"For the love of God, let us out of this damned train!"
"'And yet it does not move,' as Galileo might have said. Ah well, let's be patient."
"Patient! Patient! Excuse me, but in my humble opinion what this country needs is a few people who will no longer be patient! People who refuse to suffer patiently the bungling and incompetence with which we are surrounded! There! That's what I think!"
"It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive, they say. It should be the motto of the state railways."
"You choose to joke about it, signore, but in my humble opinion this is no joking matter. On the contrary, it is an issue of the very highest importance, symptomatic of all the gravest ills of our poor country. What does one expect of a train? That it goes reasonably fast and arrives within five or ten minutes of the time stated in the timetable. Is that too much? Does that require divine intervention to bring about? Not in any other country in the world! Nor did it used to here."
"You can always move to Switzerland, if that's how you feel."
"But now what happens? The railway service, like everything else, is a disaster. And what is the government's response? To give their friends in the construction business billions and billions of lire to build a new railway line between Rome and Florence! And the result? The trains are slower than they were before the war! It's incredible! A national disgrace!"
The young man sitting near the door, Roman to his elegant fingertips, smiled sarcastically. "Ah yes, of course, everything was better before the war," he murmured. "We know all about that."
"Excuse me, but you know nothing about it," replied the vigorous, thickset man with the shock of silver hair and the Veronese accent. "Unless I am very much mistaken, you weren't even born then!"
He turned to the third occupant of the compartment, a distinguished-looking man of about fifty with a pale face whose most striking feature was a nose as sharply triangular as the jib of a sailing boat. There was a faintly exotic air about him, as though he were Greek or even Levantine. His expression was cynical, suave, and aloof, and a distant smile flickered on his lips. But it was his eyes that compelled attention. They were gray with glints of blue, and held a slightly sinister stillness which made the Veronese shiver. A cold fish, this one, he thought.