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Translated from Italian by M.N. Dee
- Nicola Rocca ‘Author Page’
- Nicola Rocca
Cover Illustration Copyright: © Alessandro Gardenti (Thorny Editing).
Cover design by: © Nicola Rocca and Alessandro Gardenti
Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Literary and artistic rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
to give him courage
and to tell him that I am here
whenever he needs me!
… And that tomorrow will always be a better day!
Mankind invented the atomic bomb,
but no mouse would ever construct
Serendipity is looking in a
haystack for a needle
and discovering a farmer’s
Julius H. Cooe
A deep breath. The man wakes up.
Something is not right. He feels week, numb. His head is spinning, as if waking from a massive hangover.
Actually, it hurts. At the back, right above his neck.
By instinct he tries to lift one hand to reach the tender spot, in an effort to massage it. But he can’t, his hand is locked. A metallic sound reaches his ears. He pulls harder.
What on earth…?
His eyes widen in fear. Sweat begins covering his forehead.
He is sitting on the floor of his living room. He recognizes his home, his furniture, and his curtains. He looks around, trying to forget that his hands are handcuffed to the heater.
He gives another tug, but all he gets is the clinking of a chain and a sharp pain in his wrists.
His sweat now leads to anguish.
Before his mouth lets out a cry, a voice materializes.
“Welcome back, Alberto.”
These words are followed by the sound of muffled footsteps.
“What the fuck…”
His curse dies on his lips as he sees a man standing before him. He has never seen this thickly bearded face before.
“Finally you’re with us,” the man says.
His voice is kind and polite - almost caring - and this is what churns Alberto’s gut with terror.
A choked sound emanates from the prisoner’s mouth. He gives another tug with his arms trying to set himself free, ignoring the sharp twinges of pain.
“It’s no use,” the man calmly points out, caressing his beard. “Those chains can’t be broken.”
Alberto tries to shout, but his voice comes out like a hoarse whisper.
“Who are you?” he asks.
The man narrows his eyes, as if boring into the soul of the one before him.
“It doesn’t matter who I am. But what I am doing here.”
Alberto knows that he can’t dictate the rules of this encounter, but he tries to hide his desperation.
“Listen, friend… I don’t know what you want from me. You’ve got the wrong person.”
The man answers with an amused grin.
“Quite the contrary” the man with the beard says. His tone of voice is now cold as ice. “You are exactly who I was looking for. You really don’t remember me? Don’t worry, you’ll get your memory back. Soon.”
“I don’t give a fuck who you are. Or what you’re doing here,” the prisoner gasps, still straining against the chains. Another dizzy spell forces him to close his eyes. Exhausted, he leans back against his prison.
Ignoring the words, the other man moves one step closer and stares right into the eyes of his prey.
“I’ll give you a little clue …” he says.
And finally – the words that had waited silently for decades in his heart –were spoken.
“Morning brings gold…”
The phrase remained there, hanging in the air. Then, like a sharp blade, it plunges into the captive man’s mind, telling him that in this game he is the victim; the other man executioner.
He pretends not to understand. With difficulty he opens his eyes and his voice, now accompanied by tears, has become a wheeze…
“I don’t know what the stupid phrase means.”
The killer unfastens, one by one, the buttons of his raincoat, takes it off and places it neatly on the back of a chair.
The victim recognizes the suit the man is wearing. And he feels the fear growing inside him.
“There must be some mistake,” he says, whimpering. “You really have the wrong person …”
The killer doesn’t pay any attention to the pathetic plea.
He strokes his beard and takes a step towards the victim.
“They say that revenge is a dish best served cold,” he declares. “Well, I’ve never believed it …” he pauses, hesitant, “… but I had no other choice than to wait. And with each passing year, my anger, instead of disappearing, increased. It is now time to unleash it.”
The victim feels his heart tightening up.
“I have nothing to do with it,” he moans, his cheeks damp with terror and desperation.
The killer takes another step towards the broken man. He stands there observing him, like a scientist would do with a laboratory animal.
The victim recognizes in those eyes a look he has seen before –older now, but identical to the one he had seen many years before. He would like to ask for mercy and forgiveness, but the words stick in his throat with fear.
The killer speaks again.
“You’re a dead man.” He smiles, his face lined with fine wrinkles. The kind that pain carves into your face while you’re still young and vulnerable. “Just a stupid dead man.”
The words seem to float around the room indefinitely.
The killer moves closer still, ignoring the prisoner’s groans. Barely breathing, he reaches into his pocket and slowly slips out the weapon that will kill him.
Umberto Visconti stood there and stared at the casket being lowered into the ground. His face was wracked with grief. The only loved one he’d had left was leaving like this.
David Walker was watching him cry. He stood still and stared at the line of people queuing to show their affection to their tearful friend. Then, when the man was alone, Walker approached him.
“My condolences, Umberto,” he said, taking and squeezing his cold hands.
Visconti forced himself to smile. He blinked his eyes a couple of times in an attempt to clear the tears that were clouding his vision. Losing a parent, even if they have reached the farthest edge of old age, always breaks your heart. Umberto knew that pain; he had already experienced it.
“Thank you very much, David,” he said, hugging him.
David never liked these moments of sadness, but he didn’t want to be the first to separate from the embrace. He was hoping Umberto would do it. While waiting for that gesture that never seemed to come, he stood still and felt sorry for the other man’s sobs. Because Umberto Visconti, as well as being the medical examiner that worked with him, in time had also become a valuable friend. And for David, a friend’s pain was also his pain.
Finally, David felt Umberto detach from their embrace -his lips moving close to his ear. His breath was warm and his skin smelled like aftershave.
“Thanks again for coming, my friend.”
In the last weeks they hadn’t met or called each other much. Visconti was often unreachable because he had to look after his mother during the last stage of her life; Walker, on the other hand, was busy hunting down a guy who liked to rape, rob and kill high-class prostitutes. In the end he managed to catch him and close the case, even though a bullet cost him a couple of days in hospital. At least, he had arrived on time at the funeral. His shoulder was hurting like fuck, but he was there.
“I had to, Umberto,” he replied, in the most comforting voice he could offer.
The two men stood staring at each other.
“I’m really sorry, Umby,” he said, regretting almost immediately the banality of those words.
The other man stared at him, and Walker had never seen such a sad look on his friend’s face. He was nodding his head and looked like he was suffering from one of those awful tics that come with old age.
“She was a good woman,” he said. “I’m not saying it because she was my mother. I’m saying it because it’s true.”
David nodded repeatedly, and for a moment it looked like the other man had passed that annoying nervous tic onto him...
“I’m sure,” he replied. Not that he had ever met Umberto’s mother – he had seen her only once – but he was convinced it was true. He had been working with Umberto Visconti for some time and over the years he had found in him a good person. Polite, refined, and professional. The kind of person that must have been brought up in a respectable, principled family.
“She suffered so much …” Umberto said, muffling the phrase with an expression of anguish.
“I’m sorry,” the other repeated, almost under his breath.
“She didn’t deserve all that suffering, David.”
This time the Inspector didn’t reply. He thought that no one deserved such a terrible ordeal of pain. No one. He kept the thought to himself.
“She was torn apart by that terrible disease, David. It was as if… as if someone had decided to measure out her pain little by little. To eradicate her from this life with brief painful jabs.”
The man paused, then he continued with a voice-which although calm, also carried an edge of anger.
“I hope I won’t go like she did. I hope that one day I won’t end up like my mother. A slow agony. I hope that when my time comes, it will be something quick, fast, and painless. I couldn’t bear to be trapped inside the prison of a long illness. Because being ill is like being in jail.. The fact that you are bedridden, that you are not self sufficient anymore, that you have to depend on others … That is, all of this is the same as serving a life sentence for a crime committed. Actually, it’s worse, far worse …”
He stopped. He took a breath and stared in the direction of the ground under which his mother had just been buried. A tear ran down his cheek.
“… Because the only crime attributable to my mother is that she was victim of that damned cancer. That’s why I hope that when my time comes …”
“Don’t think about it now, Umberto,” the Inspector said, bringing the other’s words to an end. “You’ve got an entire life ahead of you. You must think about overcoming this test. The love for your job will save you, you’ll see. It was the same for me, too.”
David thought he had been convincing, but his friend replied with bitter resignation.
“Do you think so?”
The question hung between them, illuminated by the headstones candles. David didn’t bother replying. And what could he have said to his friend to console him? More pointless words?
“I think not,” continued Visconti. “Now I am alone. My life will never be the same again.”
David understood that the recent loss of a loved one takes away one’s will to go on, to pick yourself up again, to move forward. To live. He had known it too. But he also knew that time would set things right again. In these circumstances, the passing of time is the only remedy to heal the wounds that everyone carries in their hearts.
“Be strong, Umberto,” he said, putting an arm around his shoulders. “You’ll see, it’ll get better. I, too, have gone through this.”
Visconti gave a hint of a smile; in an attempt to reassure his friend-who was trying to comfort him-that his words were appreciated.
But inside he knew now that his mother was dead, depriving him of the last love he had left, his life was going to change radically.
David did get one thing right, though, when he said: the love for his job was going to save him.
That was true. Even if Walker and Visconti didn’t see it the same way.
He was pleased with himself for deciding not to drive his car to the church. First of all because, due to the traffic, he never would have made it on time to the service; and then because he also would have had to do some walking. He kept seeing Umberto’s dismayed face and it reminded him of his own similar pain. He, too, had lost both his parents. And although his mother had been gone now for five years, her memory was more vivid than ever.
This thought veiled his eyes with melancholy, while the stinging cold continued to vehemently stab his face. He slowed his pace to a halt and the echoing of his footsteps seemed to continue for another second before stopping. He slipped his hand into his overcoat pocket, searching for the package.
When he found it, he opened it and extracted a Marlboro. He brought it to his lips and rolled it from one side of his mouth to the other. He returned the package to his pocket and resumed walking, taking deep draws from the still unlit cigarette. He had always liked smoking. His only vice, and he clung to it dearly.
Then, his mother’s face instantly appeared.
It was the face of a woman with only a few days left to live. Ashen, framed by dishevelled hair that time and illness had turned grey. Her eyes were lifeless, sad, and were struggling to see.
Alzheimer’s and a metastatic carcinoma were taking her away. That poor woman had been unable to utter a word for days and, according to the doctors, her brain couldn’t understand what was going on around her anymore.
The day before she was gone forever, she made a sort of recovery; a moment of clarity. She had her eyes wide open and was trying to keep her head – which until then had been a weight dangling from side to side - still.
“Mum?” he called in disbelief.
Then he turned to check if Carolina, the nurse that was looking after his mother, was still there. She wasn’t.
His mother had lifted one arm, trying to extend it towards him and that gesture was draining her of all the energy she had left. He had welcomed her hand between his and stood there staring at her, confident that something extraordinary was going to happen.
The woman blinked her eyes several times, trying to focus on the images in front of her. Her mouth opened in a grin and her hand started to tremble, while her breathless voice was coming through with difficulty.
“David, m-mhy d-d-hear…”
Distorted words were coming from her twisted lips.
“… ss-h-k-keep on sshmoukeeng, if hhhyou c-can’t do… uithout …em…”
At that point she had had a small breakdown and a snarl of pain deformed her face.
He had squeezed her hand, to make her feel his presence and at the same time to encourage her to continue.
The woman’s head had fallen forward.
“Mum?!” he called out loud.
His mother had raised her head again and she had started blinking her eyes again.
Then, certain that sight had abandoned her, she had closed her eyes. Defeated.
He stood there staring at her for what seemed an eternity. Then, the woman’s distorted voice had come back.
“… But plheashe … it’s for u hoo… art a mmly…I whuont hhee you sttleouwn …”
“What?” he asked her.
The woman had stuttered some more, but they seemed more like moans caused by her pain than contorted phrases.
“What did you say, mum?” he repeated, placing his hand on her shoulder and shaking her lightly, but the woman’s head was now dangling again.
He stood there looking at the bed sheets moving slowly with the rhythm of his mother’s weak breathing.
Then, Carolina’s silhouette had peeked into the room.
“What’s going on?” she had asked. “I heard you shouting.”
He didn’t think it necessary to tell her what had happened. That was the last dialogue between mother and son and, even though he hadn’t understood some words, certainly he was not going to ask advice of others. He was convinced that his mother had woken up – with the help of some kind of divine intervention – in that precise moment, because they were alone in that room. And because he was going to be the only recipient of those words.
At that point he had brought his mother’s gaunt hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he had stood up from the bed and gone into the living room. He had taken a biro and written those last words his mother had reserved for him on a post-it note. He was convinced that they meant something important. Not so much because they were her last words, but mainly because saying them had been so extremely hard for her.
When he came back from that memory, he realised that he was almost near the Metro station. He slowed down and felt his trousers back pocket. Touching his wallet reminded him of the treasure inside it. He felt some kind of relief and lit that cigarette, now soaked in saliva. He inhaled the smoke, kept it in his lungs for a moment and finally let it out to mix with the icy-cold air.
When his mother was still alive not a single day would pass without her telling him to ‘stop with those damned cigarettes’. And then, on her deathbed, she had told him the exact opposite. Who knows why.
He wondered if one day he was going to be able to decipher her last words. Since then almost five years had passed and he hadn’t succeeded yet.
He took his last drag of “poison” then, flicking the cigarette butt with his two fingers, he tossed it away. He took the stairs leading to the Metro Red Line. When he arrived at the platform, he saw the train leaving. He stood and watched it until it was swallowed by the dark tunnel.
He looked around and realized that he was alone. A lonely man.
That thought provoked in him a smile, but, at the same time, a sense of emptiness. For the first time in his life he was afraid. Not for what might have happened to him. But for what he was.
A lonely man.
The man saw the girl with the apron approaching. He stood and stared at her, while he was enjoying the alcohol flowing in every nook and cranny of his brain.
“Your whisky, sir,” said the waitress, placing the glass on the small table.
Raffaele Ghezzi thanked her with the wave of a hand, but didn’t bother to waste a single word. He sat and looked at the blonde’s curvy body leaving with an empty tray in her hand.
Then, with his gaze still fixed on her round butt, he grasped with ostentatious confidence the half-empty glass and gulped down its content.
He gritted his teeth and grimaced instinctively for the burning sensation of the liquor in his throat.
He wiped his mouth with his hand. He grasped the glass that had just been delivered to him and toyed with it, spinning it slowly. He liked the clinking sound of the ice cubes against the glass. It had been a while since he had allowed himself a heavy drinking session like this one.
These recent months had been difficult ones; during which he had had to be financially responsible for the running of a house, while supporting both himself and a wife he no longer got along with. A wife that no longer loved him. And a wife who was cheating on him with another man.
His reason for hiring that Formenti guy, a private investigator specialising in marital infidelity cases was a gnawing suspicion that he had for some time. And the bill he’d had to pay – in instalments – was filed under unforeseen expenses. Another heading of the family budget, he thought, noticing the irony of it.
In the end it had been worth it-because exactly one week earlier -Formenti had brandished – right in his face - pictures of his wife with a mystery man. In the car, exchanging displays of affection-canoodling disgustingly like teenagers- in a park and even at both the entrance and exit of a motel parking lot.
That was the reason why, after a long time, Raffaele was indulging in one of those hangovers that would go down in the annals of betrayed men seeking revenge.
For some time Martina, the bitch, had been asking for a separation and was exploiting any little thing she could to blame him for their crisis.
Him! –When the only thing he did was work hard to earn their daily bread.
And now, with this compelling evidence obtained by Formenti, he could with certainty separate from that slut, and without owing her any kind of financial support. So long as the Italian justice system didn’t pull any fast ones, because – as it is widely known –in the case of a failed marriage, men are always the ones who pay. That was the question. Any run of the mill Martina type can come along, screw around on her husband and then ask for a separation, settlement and alimony.
Yes, that’s how it goes in the vast majority of cases, Raffaele said to himself, savouring the intense taste of his whisky.
But he was smarter than other men. He wasn’t going to be fooled. He had proof. He was going to nail the bitch.
He had already given her a taste of his forthcoming triumph. A few days before Formenti had given him the pictures, he had promised her that he was going to catch her dicking around. Yes, yes, that’s exactly what he said to her “dicking around”. How he’d enjoyed saying that!
Martina hadn’t believed him. She’d scoffed at him and gone on her way.
“The way of the whores,” said Raffaele, in a whisper, despite himself.
Then, with his head spinning, he observed the space around him. The pub was semi-deserted, there were only three other people there. At a table to his right, there was a couple of sweethearts; while at the bar, perched on one of the fake-leather stools, there was a guy - he must have been about the same age as Raffaele - getting plastered all by himself.
Ghezzi wondered if he too had something to celebrate. He took a sip of whisky and thought about that for a moment, while savouring the strong taste of the alcohol.
At the exact moment he swallowed, the answer came to him unexpectedly. Perhaps the man was getting drunk to celebrate some success of his own, though it could never compare to his success, he thought. No, because he was Raffaele Ghezzi, the smartest of the smart, the one who had not allowed himself to be fooled by a wife who fucked around on him. He had caught her dicking around and couldn’t wait to nail her for it.
He smiled, grabbed the glass and, in one gulp, he finished the last of the whisky.
He was so drunk that even walking was a struggle.
He told himself that taking his car to the mechanic had been a great idea. If he’d had to drive in that state, he would have crashed into the first wall available.
“Into the first wall,” he mumbled, sniggering.
He was even having trouble seeing the footpath now. Thank god his house was close by. He decided to walk close to the wall of the block of flats, to avoid losing his sense of direction and his balance. And who cared if he scratched his jacket a bit, he said to himself. With the good fortune that would come with being rid of an unfaithful wife – with the money he would save from the financial support that he would never give her – he could even afford to buy himself a new one. Perhaps even a jacket by one of those famous Italian fashion designers that he liked so much.
He felt his eyes growing heavy and exhaustion was getting the better of his body. And the alcohol had already got the better of his mind.
When he realised that he was only a few metres away from home, he felt revived. He could already feel the mattress under his back. He wasn’t even going to undress. The most he was going to take off – and only if he felt like it-would be his shoes. Not because of the bender, but to spite that Martina bitch. Her-who every time, even before coming in, would obligate him to remove his shoes, put his slippers on and sometimes even those disposable guest slippers, like a hotel guest. And god help him if he’d even think of sitting on the bed with his clothes on.
“The bed is made for sleeping.” He could still hear that snake like voice. “You should only go to bed in your pyjamas”.
Go fuck yourself, bitch! He thought. Yes, he was going to sleep with his clothes on. And with his shoes.
When he was a few steps away from his front gate, he took his mobile phone from his pocket. He wrote a text message to a work colleague and sent it. He then pulled a bunch of keys from his pocket. It took him a minute to find the right one, and another minute to insert it in the keyhole and unlock it.
The gate opened with a terrible squealing noise that would make anyone’s skin crawl, but it had no effect on Raffaele Ghezzi. He felt good, invincible, happy. Like a drunk who - evidence at hand- is about to nail his cheating slut wife.
He reached the stairs and, grabbing the handrail, he realised that he had an amused smile fixed on his lips.
Maybe he had over indulged with the whisky, but it had been worth it. He spent a pleasant evening at the pub, in his own company, to enjoy his moment of triumph. And to make a toast to his new life that would begin as soon as he was out of that ball-breaking situation with Martina. Obviously the following day he was going to wake up with a massive headache, but that was the price you paid when you got smashed and were not in your twenties anymore.
He covered with difficulty the first two flights of stairs. He faced the next ones with more confidence and the last two with a shortness of breath that was worse than he would have liked it to be.
When he found himself at his landing, he rummaged in the front pocket of his trousers looking for his bunch of keys. He pulled them out and moved closer to his front door. In the exact moment in which he inserted the key in the hole, he noticed that it was already open.
He knew he was totally wasted but he had locked that fucking door before he went to work.
Who knows? It’s also likely that he had forgotten to do it. It can happen, he said to himself.
He smiled again and pushed the door knocker of the house. Of his house.
He left the door open, allowing the light from outside to illuminate the hall of his flat, so he could find the lamp that sat on the small writing desk. An opaque, almost timid light lit up that corner of the living room.
Raffaele closed the door behind him and locked it with two turns. He took a deep breath. Finally at home.
He caught a glimpse of something in the semi-darkness of the living room area, which made him jump, and hit the wall behind him. Suddenly his hangover seemed to have disappeared. It happened in a fraction of a second and now he felt as if he hadn’t drunk any whiskey at all.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Ghezzi,” said the dark figure sitting in the armchair.
Raffaele felt like he was going to faint, his legs were shaking. He tried to overcome his terror.
“Who are you?”
He realised he’d used an “I’m-crapping-my-pants” tone of voice. Whoever that person sitting in his armchair was, he could read on Ghezzi’s face all the fear that a man can feel in that situation.
The silhouette moved, causing a light swish. The voice seemed to reach out from the darkness.
“It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is that I’m back”.
Raffaele didn’t know why that person was there, sitting in an armchair in his house. But one thing was clear. Certainly this person didn’t have good intentions. And had come for him.
He couldn’t remember the last time there’d been such a cold day.
After starting the car, he’d spent almost ten minutes scraping the layer of ice from the windscreen. He had done it with his bare hands, because he couldn’t remember where the hell he had put the ice scraper. It had lived in the glove box the whole summer and every time he’d opened the compartment to retrieve something, the ice scraper had always been in the way. Then one day, tired of having to toss it around from side to side, he’d removed and put it…
Nothing, he couldn’t remember where in hell he’d stuck it.
And now, even after driving for fifteen minutes, he was still feeling a shooting pain in his hands caused by the ice. He was driving slightly bent forward, so he could breathe on his hands as they clutched the wheel. From time to time, he tried to drive with one hand, vigorously rubbing the other hand on his trousers in an attempt to warm it.
Giovanni Belmondo turned left and drove until he found a parking space right in front of the block of flats where his work colleague lived. He parked his Passat between two small, old cars and felt like a middle-class Italian. That thought managed to get a smile out of him, in spite of the terrible throbbing in his fingertips. He put his hands together in a prayer position. Then he began rubbing them vigorously against each other. The heat the exercise produced was minor, but enough to give him the relief he needed. He recovered his iPhone from the glove box and skimmed through his Contacts List.
When he saw the name Raffaele Ghezzi Cell, he swiped the screen with his index finger and made the call. He waited until he heard it ring, then he hung up. As he did every time that, for one reason or another, he’d go pick his friend up to give him a lift to work or go to a pub and watch Champions League matches together.
That morning, five minutes had already passed but Ghezzi still had not appeared.
“Dickhead,” he said, looking at the digital clock on the dashboard. It was 8:32 am.
According to workplace rules, at five to nine they should all be sitting in front of their PC’s. Mazzucotelli, their boss, was very strict. He said that you can tell a good employee by their punctuality.
Pffft… by their punctuality…
Due to a kind of superstitious bent-, he waited the full minute until the clock showed the thirty-third minute before calling Ghezzi again.
This time he let it ring twice, three time, four times, five, six …
“You’ve reached the voicemail of 338…”
He hung up, grumbling.
“I’ll bet this idiot is going to make us both late.”
For a moment he regretted having offered the lift. He cursed his colleague, his car that was with the mechanic and the mechanic himself. With all the money mechanics charge for a simple vehicle inspection, he mused, the price should include the risk of being insulted without reason.
He tried making yet another call, but after six rings, it went to voicemail again.
“Fuck,” he cursed, realising that his annoyance had even made him forget about his throbbing hands.
He browsed through his Contacts again until he found his colleague’s landline number. He pressed the Call button.
After it rang and rang endlessly, hearing at last the click of a receiver being picked up suggested to him that someone had answered.
He recognised the voice as belonging to that great piece of ass, Martina.
“… you’ve reached our voice message. The Ghezzi’s are not at home at the moment. If it’s urgent, please leave a…”
“Fuck off,” snapped Giovanni, after he hung up.
He felt stupid for mistaking Martina-answering machine’s voice for the flesh and blood Martina.
For a moment he even doubted he was supposed to pick Raffaele up that day.
He scrolled down the list of text messages until he found the conversation with the dickhead. Raffaele’s last message dated back to 9:03 pm of the day before.
Could you pick me up tomorrow as well? Thank you. Raf
He’d sent a reply two minutes later.
Ok. Good night.
He stood and gazed at the screen on his mobile phone. He hadn’t make a mistake, not at all. Raffaele himself had asked for the lift.
“Dickhead,” he said to a colleague that couldn’t hear him. “Probably still sleeping.”
He was about to put the car into gear and start driving, but something inside him – something that he couldn’t explain – told him that it wasn’t the right thing to do.
“Dammit!” he cursed, banging the wheel with his fist.
He stopped the car and sat there, contemplating the muted colours of a morning that looked as dull and grey as the city.
His side window reflected the image of a man in his forties that had no desire to deal with that freezing morning again. This also reminded him of a phrase that somebody –he couldn’t remember who – had said to him a couple of weeks before:
Mirrors will always reflect an idiot.
He smiled and in doing so he felt a bit more idiotic than before.
He started counting down mentally from three. When his imaginary timer reached zero, he unlocked the car door handle and got out of the car, closing the car door behind him. As he was crossing the road, he pressed the button on the car key. In return, he heard the sound of the car’s central locking system engage. He didn’t know why, but crossing the street as the car locked itself always made him feel cool…
He smiled at the thought.
When he reached the gate he realised – as he should have imagined– that it was closed.
As he engaged his climbing skills, he asked himself what the point was of having a seventy centimetre high fence. His mind could not formulate an answer.
He walked down the path towards the glass door. He pulled the handle down, luckily it was open. He began climbing the stairs.
Reaching the landing on the first floor he saw his image reflected in the glass of the big window. He then remembered who had told him that stupid thing about mirrors and idiots.
The memory of Angelo Brera saying those words managed to get an almost hysterical laugh out of him. Then, he composed himself and continued going up.
When he reached the second floor, his wheezing suggested to him that maybe, from now on, it would be better to spend his time jogging instead of going to the pub and drinking Irish beer while watching twenty two guys on a giant screen kicking a ball around in exchange for millions of Euros a year and hot babes.
He covered the last flight of stairs trying to work out how many lifetimes someone with his job would need to work to earn what those boys pocket annually.
He reached the third and last floor now gasping for air. He moved closer to the door of his colleague’s flat. He knocked, lightly at first, with his knuckles. Then again with his hand in a fist.
No answer. Whatthefuck.
He pushed the door bell and in return received a sharp ring coming from inside the house.
Apart from that, no other sound.
He rang it a second time.
Another sharp ring and nothing more.
At that point, he instinctively pulled the door handle down. And to his surprise, realised the door to the flat was open.
What he saw when the door swung open forced him to turn away. For a long moment, he thought his imagination was playing a horrible trick on him. Rather, he hoped it was.
Taking a breath, as if building courage, he looked back. His imagination had nothing to do with it. It was all real.
With one hand holding himself up against the door frame, against his will, he began retching violently.
When the police arrived at the flat, they found the man still visibly shaken.
Shortly after, an ambulance had arrived, along with the Police Forensic Team.
Inspector Carrobbio, head of Forensic Police, immediately set his men to work. The victim was Raffaele Ghezzi who had lived an apparently quiet life for around fifty years.
“Well, quiet,” detective Bassani said, “until someone killed him.”
The body was lying on the floor in an unusual position. It looked like he was asleep, rather than dead. His hands were placed on his chest, in proximity of the heart, one on the other. A yellow-gold coloured necktie was wrapped around his neck. The necktie was carefully arranged on the dead man’s chest, as if to make him look like the main protagonist in a ceremony.
“It almost looks as if somebody made fun of him,” said an officer, nodding towards the lifeless body.
“I still can’t believe it,” Belmondo jumped in, as if in defence of his dead colleague.
“Ah, our witness is getting better, at last,” said Bassani. “Are you feeling better now?”
Belmondo indicated yes with a light nod of his head, but judging by his wide open eyes, it was easy to see that he was still in shock.
“Good. Good for you,” stated Bassani, straightening his hat.
“Can I go now? I don’t feel well. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train.”
“A bit more patience, Belmondo. The Chief Inspector will be here shortly.”
Giovanni Belmondo moved closer to the wall. He leaned against it, as if the weight of death made the relatively simple task of supporting his body impossible for his legs.
After a few minutes Chief Inspector Walker arrived.
“Good morning, Chief,” Bassani greeted him. “Casual look today, hey?” he added, taking in Walker’s dark jeans and Moncler down jacket.
“I should be recovering, but it seems like somebody up there doesn’t like me.”
“Yeah,” confirmed Bassani, giving just a hint of a smile.
Bassani summed up the situation for Walker, then he pointed at Belmondo, still leaning against the wall.
“He’s the one who found the victim. And called us.”
“Good,” said Inspector Walker. “Let’s go and have a chat with him. But first, let me have a look at the poor guy.”
He moved closer, standing a few centimetres from the dead body and stared at it for some time.
“What happened to his wrists?” he asked Bassani, who moved closer, frowning.
“To his wrists?”
“They appear to have bruises on them” Walker told him.
The detective squatted down to get a better look.
“Yeah, you’re right Chief. I didn’t notice it.”
“This job requires a good eye, Bassani. Otherwise you’ll never usurp my position.”
“But I don’t plan to…”
“Yes, you all say that, but..” joked Walker. “We’ll have a better idea when we receive the autopsy results. Now let’s go and see what the witness has to say.”
He moved at a decisive pace, his 180 cm-tall body carrying the muscles of a former workout freak beginning to go to fat.
“Chief Inspector Walker,” he said to Belmondo, stopping in front of him.
They shook hands.
“Giovanni Belmondo,” he replied.
Walker didn’t waste any time.
“You told detective Bassani that you came to pick the victim up to give him a lift to work, right?”
Belmondo nodded, allowing himself some time before speaking. Then his voice came out trembling and feeble.
“Yes, that’s right. We’re… eh… We were colleagues. Great colleagues.”
Walker signalled for Bassani to take notes, before carrying on with his questions.
“And where was it that you worked?”
“Mazzucotelli Chemical,” answered Giovanni. “It’s here, less than ten kilometres away. In the area…”
“Yes,” the Chief Inspector interrupted. “I know where it is. And please tell me, Mr …”
“Belmondo” prompted Giovanni.
“Yes, Belmondo. Do you know if your colleague had any problems with anyone?”
Giovanni stared at the Chief Inspector without answering, he wasn’t sure what to tell him and what to conceal. As everyone should know, one never interferes between a husband and wife… “Mister Belmondo,” Walker prompted him, “did you hear my question?”
Giovanni tried to get his thoughts straight.
“Raffaele and I were very close. We were more than just colleagues. We often went out together for a beer, for a drink or to watch football games. And we also told each other secrets …” Belmondo looked like he was searching the bottom of the ocean for a missing word “personal ones, I guess you’d say.”
The Chief Inspector nodded, wondering if Belmondo was really answering his question or going off on a tangent.
Giovanni continued with his statement.
“Some months ago he confessed that he suspected his wife was having an affair…”
Walker gave Bassani a knowing glance.
“… but he wasn’t sure. He told me that he was devising a plan so that he could follow her every move.”
Giovanni stopped and Walker fired another question at him.
“And did you have the feeling that Mrs. Ghezzi was unfaithful to her husband?”
The question seemed to hit like a punch.
Giovanni looked at Raffaele Ghezzi’s body. Then, he tried to offer an answer that would please Walker and at the same time keep him out of this mess. Even though he was already feeling like he was up to his neck in it.
“I believe there was some truth to it. You know, Chief Inspector, suspicions in these situations are nearly always well founded. Nevertheless, I am sure that Martina could have never…”
He left the sentence unfinished, certain the Chief Inspector would have interpreted it as intended.
Bassani stared at the witness as if he had just talked a load of bollocks.
“And who would Martina be?” he asked, although he knew the answer.
“Raffaele’s wife, Chief Inspector. Apart from the affair Raffaele was telling me about – and I don’t know if it’s true – she wasn’t a bad person.”
“What? You didn’t trust your friend?” Walker asked, frowning.
The witness looked at his colleague’s lifeless shell. He felt cornered. He had taken the time he’d needed to give an answer that would not drag him into this and instead had involved himself deeper. He may as well tell them whatever was on his mind and, if he was lucky, with all his irrational talk, he might say something that would convince the investigators to let him go.
After all, even though he had nothing to do with his friend’s death, when there’s a dead body involved and you’re the one who found it, being questioned by the police puts so much pressure on you that it makes you lose control.
Belmondo forced himself to stay calm.
“It’s not a question of trust, Chief Inspector,” he replied. “Maybe there was some truth in it. The point is that… even if Martina was unfaithful to him, I’m almost sure that she never would have gone this far… I mean… you know. I think it must be something else.”
“Something else, eh…” repeated the Chief Inspector, letting the words hang and slowly dissipate in a room that now carried the air of betrayal, as well as of death. “And do you know where this Martina is now?”
“She’s not here,” said Giovanni. And immediately felt stupid.
“I can see that too, Belmondo,” the Chief Inspector interrupted sarcastically. “So, where is she?”
Giovanni spilt the rest.
“Raffaele told me that some time ago his wife moved in with her mother. You know, their relationship wasn’t great, so I think that they decided to take a break. With him staying here and her staying there.”
“And do you have this woman’s phone number?”
“No, I don’t have it.”
“And do you know where her mother lives?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know that either.”
“But you know the wife’s maiden name, right?”
The man nodded.
“The surname is Pilenga. Martina Pilenga.”
“Martina Pilenga” repeated Walker. Then, to Bassani. “Track this woman down. I want to talk to her as soon as possible.”
“OK, Chief,” the other man replied.
Then Walker turned back to Belmondo.
“Take this,” he said, handing him a business card. “If something else comes to mind – anything that might be useful to us, or that you think could be – don’t hesitate to contact me.”
“I will,” said the man, feeling the tightness in his stomach had gone.
“You can go now,” continued Walker, “but don’t disappear. I might still need you. And remember to come by Headquarters for a formal witness declaration,”
“I live just a few kilometres from here, Chief Inspector, and I have no intention of disappearing” the other said, with a forced smile.
“Better for everyone. Now try to recover, pull yourself together. You look distraught, Belmondo.”
Belmondo said thanks and bid farewell, before turning his back and leaving the flat.
“Chief Inspector Walker?” a voice asked.
“We’re done. We need your authorisation to remove the body.”
“These decisions can only be made by the Public Prosecutor.” He glanced at his watch. “ Fini will be here shortly.”
When Antonio Fini entered the flat, he greeted everyone with a general nod of his head. Then he moved closer to Carrobbio, who was at a short distance from the body.
“Have you taken all the photos we need?” he asked, walking around the body.
“All of them,” the other hurried to reply. “The body, from different angles. From far and near. The room and most of all …”
He stopped talking: the coup de theatre that, he was sure, would have guaranteed him Fini’s complete attention.
“Most of all?” Fini urged him.
Carobbio moved closer.
“Most of all we have recovered three sets of fingerprints. One set certainly belongs to the victim. After all, this is his house. But the other two could tell us something more about his death.”
Fini noticed that the Forensic Inspector had grimaced when he’d mentioned the victim’s fingerprints, but consigned this detail to the compartment in his mind labelled “Bullshit”.
“So, you will let me have a detailed account after receiving the results from the fingerprints.”
“Of course,” Carrobbio answered, although the Public Prosecutor’s question did not require an answer.
“Good” Fini added. “I’d say we can proceed with the removal of the body.”
Carobbio signalled his men who gathered around the body to lift it.
Fini moved over a few metres. He wanted to leave room for the specialists, but he needed breathing space to gather his thoughts. What was the motive that required the killer to dress up the victim with a gold necktie? And to arrange the victim’s arms in that strange position?
The world is changing , he thought. The crazies get even crazier.
The chattering of the personnel authorised to remove the body took his mind away from his thoughts.
“… a strange sound.”
“Yes, I heard it too. Something must have fallen.”
“I haven’t heard anything.”
Fini approached the four men. Chief Inspector Walker did the same.
“What happened?” Fini asked.
The Forensic men exchanged a series of conspiratorial glances. Then, the senior among them answered the question.
“Nothing happened, Mr Fini. It’s only that… while removing the body we heard a strange sound.”
Fini looked at him. “What kind of sound?” he asked.
The man thought about it for a moment.
“A metallic sound.”
“Yes, something like that. But I’m not sure. Someone heard it, someone else didn’t. So…”
He left the rest of the sentence to his questioner’s imagination, who addressed them testily.
“Well, let’s find it, then. Let’s make this elusive object – the cause of that metallic sound-appear.”
The senior officer nodded, and so did the others.
Once the body had been placed in its transport bag, they all made space for the personnel who, without a word, placed it on a stretcher and quietly took it away. And then it was all about looking and rummaging. Looking for something they weren’t even sure was there.
After less than ten minutes an answer came.
“Mr Fini?” Gandolfi, the most senior specialist, called.
“Yes?” Fini replied.
Gandolfi approached him and handed him a small plastic bag with something inside.
“This is the elusive object that we heard falling from the victim’s body” he said, with a hint of irony.
Fini signalled Walker to come and take a look at the content of the small plastic bag. Walker squinted his eyes trying to figure out what the object was and caught sight of a small white button with greenish and purplish pearl overtones.
“A metallic sound, right?” David said mockingly.
“Clearly we were wrong,” jumped in Blaine, another Forensic specialist.
“Yes,” Walker quickly agreed, handing Fini the small bag.
Gandolfi didn’t even consider answering back, as he knew that moment wasn’t going to be one of the highlights of his career.
Fini, after examining the button, gave it to the Forensic agent, asking him to check if it came from the dead man’s shirt.
“I’ll make it a priority,” the agent replied.
Before leaving, Fini looked around for Inspector Carobbio. When he found him among the others, he moved closer and made his final request.
“Inspector, please, I’m counting on you to let me know as soon as possible both the results of what you find in this room and of the autopsy. Anything that can offer an explanation to this bizarre case.”
The door opened without a sound and detective Bassani peeped out into Walker’s office.
The two men stood staring at each other. So? the Chief’s eyes seem to shout.
Bassani looked away, as if for some strange reason he felt intimidated by the Chief Inspector.
“We’ve tracked down the widow Pilenga, Martina’s mother, wife of…”
“Good. Well done.” Walker interrupted him abruptly. “Where is she now?”
Bassani hadn’t even had time to respond when Walker spoke again.
“That woman should have already been here.”
The detective’s eyes widened.
“You’re right, Chief, but…” he stopped, worried by, but also quietly relishing the brooding expression on Walker’s face. “Martina Pilenga is notavailable at the moment.”
“What do you mean ‘is not available at the moment’ ?”
“Just what I said, Chief. What our witness said, Belmond…”
“Belmondo” Walker remarked with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Yes, Belmondo. Like Belmondo was saying, Martina Pilenga moved in with her mother – probably following the stormy period with her husband –, but it’s been a couple of days since she’s been there. The widow Pilenga, Martina’s mother, said her daughter had told her that she was going to be away for the weekend …”
“But?” asked Walker, as if he was inevitably expecting a “but”.
“But she is pretty old,” Bassani hurried to answer. “And doesn’t remember where she’s gone. Actually, she doesn’t even remember if her daughter told her.”
A cloak of silence fell on them again. Then it was the Chief who spoke again.
“So, let’s see if I’ve understood it well…” he grumbled. “A man is found lifeless in his flat after discovering his wife was unfaithful. The colleague who finds him states that that man was a good person, but had just found out that his wife had cheated on him. We, obviously, try to trace the wife of this poor unlucky man and, strangely enough, she’s away for the weekend and no one, not even her mother, knows where she’s gone. It could be a coincidence, of course! But I’d say something strange is going on here. Very strange.”
The Chief took a pause. He couldn’t wait for Caslini - the detective he’d worked with since his arrival in Milan – to get back quickly enough from his holiday. It’s not that he didn’t like Bassani, he simply lacked initiative. Moreover, Walker was convinced that he was a slacker.
“That’s why I want that woman to be found asp,” Walker continued, running his fingers through his hair. Then the tone of his voice went up. “Call her girlfriends, relatives, colleagues, cats, dogs, even turtles – if she has any… I want somebody to tell me asap where the fuck this woman is. And I want her here, in my office. It’s the only lead we have.”
“I’ll do my best, Chief,” the detective said. “Anything else?”
Walker shook his head.
The detective turned, heading towards the door. When he was about to open the door, the Chief Inspector stopped him.
He turned around.
“Yes, Chief,” he answered.
“If that woman, for whatever reason, cannot manage to come to my office this very day” now his voice was calmer, “I at least want to speak with her on the phone.”
Bassani gave his boss a perplexed look, and tried to answer in a way that wouldn’t disappoint him.
“It will be done, Chief.”
Before disappearing through the door, Bassani raised his hand to wave goodbye.
Walker stood motionless for a long time, before deciding to treat himself to a cigarette. Although by law it was strictly forbidden, as long as that office was his, he would smoke any time he felt like it.
Smoking relaxed him, as well as helping him think.
Automatically he let the ash fall on a little china plate which had seen better days, when he felt a sharp pain running through his arm. He clenched his teeth and grimaced with pain, tossing and turning on his chair. The wound on his shoulder was still burning. Maybe he had underestimated it.
“What do you mean she’s at the spa?”
“A SPA is, like…” replied Bassani, “… a sort of wellness centre, Chief.”
“I know perfectly well what a SPA is,” Walker replied dryly. Then the tone of his voice mellowed. “Did you think I thought it was the Software Publishing Association?”
Bassani smiled, shaking his head.
Walker became serious again.
“What I meant was… what the hell is she doing in a SPA?”
“She must have gone there to relax, Chief. Maybe to have a break from her husband, since it looks like they were on bad terms.”
Walker nodded, remembering what Belmondo had told him about the marital instability between the victim and his wife.
“So,” the Chief Inspector considered, “Ghezzi’s wife is relaxing at a wellness centre. Sauna, Turkish baths, massage and other shit like that. All of this while her husband is resting peacefully at the morgue, after having been killed. Quite bizarre this thing.”
“Well, although a mortuary isn’t a wellness centre, at least it is a calm place. Where you certainly don’t get stressed” Bassani tried to joke about it.
“That was a good joke, detective. Unlike mine”, smiled Walker. “But now, let’s be serious again. The fact that this woman is unreachable could make her a suspect. Actually, the only suspect, at this moment.”
Bassani nodded without saying a word, allowing the Chief Inspector to continue.
“Who told you that Ghezzi’s wife is at a wellness centre?”
“After speaking with some people who knew her, one of her girlfriends told us.”
Bassani didn’t mention the identity or details of that person and Walker didn’t care to know.” And where is this wellness centre?”
“In a town in the region of Versilia, Chief.”
“So I can assume that it would be impossible to have her in my office today.”
“But I did say that in that case I would have wanted …”
The phone ringing cut the Chief’s sentence clean off . Before he could answer it, Bassani hurried to say he had called the place where Mrs Pilenga was staying.
“After introducing myself, I told them I needed to speak urgently with Mrs Pilenga. I gave them your extension. This should be her” Bassani concluded, nodding towards the receiver that kept on ringing. For once, he felt like he had done something right.
“State Police, Chief Inspector Walker speaking.”
On the other end of the line was the tense voice of the receptionist who, after having introduced himself, passed the phone to Mrs Pilenga.
“Hello?” the woman said, her anxiety tightening her throat.
The Chief Inspector introduced himself and, choosing his words carefully, informed her of the fate that had befallen her husband.
After a time that seemed, according to Walker, sufficient to take in the news, he prompted Mrs Pilenga.
“Mrs Pilenga, are you still there?”
“This isn’t a joke, is it?” she asked faintly.
“It’s not a joke, Mrs Pilenga. My condolences.”
“Dead in our flat?”
“Yes, Mrs Pilenga,” confirmed Walker, not reminding her that she hadn’t lived under the same roof as her husband for some months.
Sobbing stopped her from finishing her sentence.
Walker waited until the sobbing diminished, then asked her to come to Police Headquarters as soon as possible.
“I should be back in Milan tomorrow,” the woman told him.
“Tomorrow will be perfectly fine.”
“I was supposed to leave in the early afternoon, but…” more sobbing in her voice, “… I will leave early tomorrow morning.”
The Chief Inspector told her he would expect her in the afternoon. Then, exactly when he was about to hang up, she mumbled something incomprehensible.
“Can I know why you want to talk to me in person?”
Walker had expected that question. Nevertheless, he gave himself a couple of seconds before answering.
“Mrs Pilenga, your husband has been found dead, in rather unusual circumstances. And you are his wife. It seems more than reasonable for me to ask you some questions.”
“Unusual circumstances? What do you mean?” Mrs Pilenga asked in an agitated shrill voice
“I’m sorry, Mrs Pilenga, but I can’t provide any information over the phone. You’ll have to come to Police Headquarters.”
His tone of voice did not encourage a reply. The silence on the other end of the phone was a clear sign that she had got the message.
Walker re-confirmed the appointment for the following day, said goodbye, rang off and stood there listening to the sound of the interrupted dial tone, lost in his thoughts.
When he came back from the place he’d gone to, a new thought struck him: if the woman was in any way linked to the death of her husband, she hadn’t showed it at all. At least not from her voice. Only one more day and Walker would also read her body language. Then he could arrive at his most valid conclusions. He was trusting the same instinct that had many times before guided him to the right place.
“So?” asked Bassani.
“Tomorrow we’ll see if Mrs Pilenga has something to tell us.”
“Good,” said the detective, nodding. “Can I go now?”
“Just one minute, please, there’s something else I want to talk to you about.”
Bassani’s silence was an invitation for Walker to continue.
“I’ve been informed the necktie is the MODADUOMO brand. You know it, don’t you?”
“Who doesn’t know MODADUOMO, Chief?”
Walker nodded, smiling. Then he typed the brand name on his Smartphone and clicked on the link.