Donna Leon has lived in Venice for many years and previously lived in
Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, where she worked as a
teacher. Her previous novels featuring Commissario Brunetti have all
been highly acclaimed, most recently Friends in High Places, which won
the CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction, A Sea of Troubles and
Also by Donna Leon
In uomini, in sol dati spe rare fe delta
You expect fidelity in men, in soldiers?
Cost fan tutte –Mozart
Thirst woke him. It was not the healthy thirst that follows three sets
of tennis or a day spent skiing, thirst that comes slowly: it was the
grinding, relentless thirst that comes of the body’s desperate attempt
to replenish liquids that have been displaced by alcohol. He lay in
his bed, suddenly awake, covered with a thin film of sweat, his
underwear damp and clinging.
At first he thought he could outwit it, ignore it and fall back into
the sodden sleep from which his thirst had prodded him. He turned on
his side, mouth open on the pillow, and pulled the covers up over his
shoulder. But much as his body craved more rest, he could not force it
to ignore his thirst nor the faint nervousness of his stomach. He lay
there, inert and utterly deprived of will, and told himself to go back
For some minutes he succeeded, but then a church bell somewhere towards
the city poked him back to consciousness. The idea of liquid seeped
into his mind: a glass of sparkling mineral water, its sides running
with condensation; the drinking fountain in the corridor of his
elementary school; a paper cup filled with Coca-Cola. He needed liquid
more than anything life had ever presented to him as desirable or
Again, he tried to force himself to sleep, but he knew he had lost and
now had no choice but to get out of bed. He started to think about
which side of bed to get out of and whether the floor of the corridor
would be cold, but then he pushed all of these considerations aside as
violently as he did his blankets and got to his feet. His head
throbbed and his stomach registered resentment of its new position
relative to the floor, but his thirst ignored them both.
He opened the door to his room and started down the corridor, its
length illuminated by the light that filtered in from outside. As he
had feared, the linoleum tiles were harsh on his naked feet, but the
thought of the water that lay ahead gave him the will to ignore the
He entered the bathroom and, driven by absolute need, headed to the
first of the white sinks that lined the wall. He turned on the cold
tap and let it run for a minute: even in his fuddled state he
remembered the rusty warm taste of the first water that emerged from
those pipes. When the water that ran over his hand was cold, he cupped
both hands and bent down towards them. Noisy as a dog, he slurped the
water and felt it moving inside him, cooling and saving him as it went.
Experience had taught him to stop after the first few mouthfuls, stop
and wait to see how his troubled stomach would respond to the surprise
of liquid without alcohol. At first, it didn’t like it, but youth and
good health made up for that, and then his stomach accepted the water
quietly, even asked for more.
Happy to comply, he leaned down again and took eight or nine large
mouthfuls, each one bringing more relief to his tortured body. The
sudden flood of water triggered something in his stomach, and that in
turn triggered something in his brain, and he grew dizzy and had to
lean forward, hands propped on the front of the sink, until the world
grew quiet again.
He put his hands under the still flowing stream and drank again. At a
certain point, experience and sense told him any more would be risky,
so he stood up straight, eyes closed, and dragged his wet palms across
his face and down the front of his T-shirt. He lifted the hem and
wiped at his lips; then, refreshed and feeling as if he might again
begin to contemplate life, he turned to go back to his room.
And saw the bat, or what his muddled senses first perceived as a bat,
just there, off in the distance. It couldn’t be a bat, for it was
easily two metres long and as wide as a man. But it had the shape of a
bat. It appeared to suspend itself against the wall, its head perched
above black wings that hung limp at its sides, clawed feet projecting
He ran his hands roughly over his face, as if to wipe away the sight,
but when he opened his eyes again the dark shape was still there. He
backed away from it and, driven by the fear of what might happen to him
if he took his eyes from the bat, he moved slowly in the direction of
the door of the bathroom, towards where he knew he would find the
switch for the long bars of neon lighting. Befuddled by a mixture of
terror and incredulity, he kept his hands behind him, one palm flat and
sliding ahead of him on the tile wall, certain that contact with the
wall was his only contact with reality.
Like a blind man, he followed his seeing hand along the wall until he
found the switch and the long double row of neon lights passed
illumination along one by one until a day like brightness filled the
Fear drove him to close his eyes while the lights came flickering on,
fear of what horrid motion the bat-like shape would be driven to make
when disturbed from the safety of the near darkness. When the lights
grew silent, the young man opened his eyes and forced himself to
Although the stark lighting transformed and revealed the shape, it did
not entirely remove its resemblance to a bat, nor did it minimize the
menace of those trailing wings. The wings, however, were revealed as
the engulfing folds of the dark cloak that served as the central
element of their winter uniform, and the head of the bat, now
illuminated, was the head of Ernesto Moro, a Venetian and, like the boy
now bent over the nearest sink, racked by violent vomiting, a student
at San Martino Military Academy.
It took a long time for the authorities to respond to the death of
Cadet Moro, though little of the delay had to do with the behaviour of
his classmate, Pietro Pellegrini. When the waves of sickness abated,
the boy returned to his room and, using the telefonino which seemed
almost a natural appendage, so often did he use and consult it, he
called his father, on a business trip in Milano, to explain what had
happened, or what he had just seen. His father, a lawyer, at first
said he would call the authorities, but then better sense intervened
and he told his son to do so himself and to do it instantly.
Not for a moment did it occur to Pellegrini’s father that his son was
in any way involved in the death of the other boy, but he was a
criminal lawyer and familiar with the workings of the official mind. He
knew that suspicion was bound to fall upon the person who hesitated in
bringing a crime to the attention of the police, and he also knew how
eager they were to seize upon the obvious solution. So he told the boy
indeed, he could be said to have commanded him to call the authorities
instantly. The boy, trained in obedience by his father and by two
years at San Martino, assumed that the authorities were those in charge
of the school and thus went downstairs to report to his commander the
presence of a dead boy in the third floor bathroom.
The police officer at the Questura who took the call when it came from
the school asked the name of the caller, wrote it down, then asked him
how he came to know about this dead person and wrote down that answer,
as well. After hanging up, the policeman asked the colleague who was
working the switchboard with him if they should perhaps pass the report
on to the Carabinieri, for the Academy, as a military institution,
might be under the jurisdiction of the Carabinieri rather than the city
police. They debated this for a time, the second one calling down to
the officers’ room to see if anyone there could solve the procedural
problem. The officer who answered their call maintained that the
Academy was a private institution with no official ties to the Army he
knew, because his dentist’s son was a student there and so they were
the ones who should respond to the call. The men on the switchboard
discussed this for some time, finally agreeing with their colleague.
The one who had taken the call noticed that it was after eight and
dialled the interior number of his superior, Commissario Guido
Brunetti, sure that he would already be in his office.
Brunetti agreed that the case was theirs to investigate and then asked,
“When did the call come in?”
“Seven twenty-six, sir came Alvise’s efficient, crisp reply.
A glance at his watch told Brunetti that it was now more than a
half-hour after that, but as Alvise was not the brightest star in the
firmament of his daily routine, he chose to make no comment and,
instead, said merely, “Order a boat. I’ll be down.”
When Alvise hung up, Brunetti took a look at the week’s duty roster
and, seeing that Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello’s name was not listed for
that day nor for the next, he called
Vianello at home and briefly explained what had happened. Before
Brunetti could ask him, Vianello said, Till meet you there.”
Alvise had proven capable of informing the pilot of Commissario
Brunetti’s request, no doubt in part because the pilot sat at the desk
opposite him, and so, when Brunetti emerged from the Questura a few
minutes later, he found both Alvise and the pilot on deck, the boat’s
motor idling. Brunetti paused before stepping on to the launch and
told Alvise, “Go back upstairs and send Pucetti down.”
“But don’t you want me to come with you, sir?” Alvise asked, sounding
as disappointed as a bride left waiting on the steps of the church.
“No, it’s not that,” Brunetti said carefully, ‘but if this person calls
back again, I want you to be there so that there’s continuity in the
way he’s dealt with. We’ll learn more that way.”
Though this made no sense at all, Alvise appeared to accept it;
Brunetti reflected, not for the first time, that it was perhaps the
absence of sense that made it so easy for Alvise to accept. He went
docilely back inside the Questura. A few minutes later Pucetti emerged
and stepped on to the launch. The pilot pulled them away from the Riva
and toward the Bacino. The night’s rain had washed the pollution from
the air, and the city was presented with a gloriously limpid morning,
though the sharpness of late autumn was in the air.
Brunetti had had no reason to go to the Academy for more than a decade,
not since the graduation of the son of a second cousin. After being
inducted into the Army as a lieutenant, a courtesy usually extended to
graduates of San Martino, most of them the sons of soldiers, the boy
had progressed through the ranks, a source of great pride to his father
and equal confusion to the rest of the family. There was no military
tradition among the Brunettis nor among his mother’s family, which is
not to say that the family had never had anything to do with the
military. To their cost, they had, for it was the generation of
Brunetti’s parents that had not only fought the last war but had had
large parts of it fought around them, on their own soil.
Hence it was that Brunetti, from the time he was a child, had heard the
military and all its works and pomps spoken of with the dismissive
contempt his parents and their friends usually reserved for the
government and the Church. The low esteem with which he regarded the
military had been intensified over the years of his marriage to Paola
Falier, a woman of leftish, if chaotic, politics. It was Paola’s
position that the greatest glory of the Italian Army was its history of
cowardice and retreat, and its greatest failure the fact that, during
both world wars, its leaders, military and political, had flown in the
face of this truth and caused the senseless deaths of hundreds of
thousands of young men by relentlessly pursuing both their own delusory
ideas of glory and the political goals of other nations.
Little that Brunetti had observed during his own undistinguished term
of military service or in the decades since then had persuaded him that
Paola was wrong. Brunetti realized that not much he had seen could
persuade him that the military, either Italian or foreign, was much
different from the Mafia: dominated by men and unfriendly to women;
incapable of honour or even simple honesty beyond its own ranks;
dedicated to the acquisition of power; contemptuous of civil society;
violent and cowardly at the same time. No, there was little to
distinguish one organization from the other, save that some wore easily
recognized uniforms while the other leaned toward Armani and Brioni.
The popular beliefs about the history of the Academy were known to
Brunetti. Established on the Giudecca in 1852 by Alessandro Loredan,
one of Garibaldi’s earliest supporters in the Veneto and, by the time
of Independence, one of his generals, the school was originally located
in a large building
on the island. Dying childless and without male heirs, Lurcdan had
left the building as well as his family palnzzo and fortune in trust,
on the condition that the income be used to support the military
Academy to which he had given the name of his father’s patron saint.
Though the oligarchs of Venice might not have been wholehearted
supporters of the Risorgimento, they had nothing but enthusiasm for an
institution which so effectively assured that the Loredan fortune
remained in the city. Within hours of his death, the exact value of
his legacy was known, and within days the trustees named in the will
had selected a retired officer, who happened to be the brother-in-law
of one of them, to administer the Academy. And so it had continued to
this day: a school run on strictly military lines, where the sons of
officers and gentlemen of wealth could acquire the training and bearing
which might prepare them to become officers in their turn.
Brunetti’s reflections were cut off as the boat pulled into a canal
just after the church of Sant’ Eufemia and then drew up at a landing
spot. Pucetti took the mooring rope, jumped on to the land, and
slipped the rope through an iron circle in the pavement. He extended a
hand to Brunetti and steadied him as he stepped from the boat.
It’s up here, isn’t it?” Brunetti asked, pointing towards the back of
the island and the lagoon, just visible in the distance.
“I don’t know, sir Pucetti confessed. “I have to admit I come over
here only for the Redentore. I don’t think I even know where the place
is.” Ordinarily, no confession of the provincialism of his fellow
Venetians could surprise Brunetti, but Pucetti seemed so very bright
As if sensing his commander’s disappointment, Pucetti added, “It’s
always seemed like a foreign country to me, sir. Must be my mother:
she always talks about it like it’s not part of Venice. If they gave
her the key to a house on the Giudecca, I’m sure she’d give it back.”
Thinking it wiser not to mention that his own mother had often
expressed the same sentiment and that he agreed with it completely,
Brunetti said only, “It’s back along this canal, near the end,” and set
off in that direction.
Even at this distance, he could see that the large port one that led
into the courtyard of the Academy stood open: anyone could walk in or
out. He turned back to Pucetti. “Find out when the doors were opened
this morning and if there’s any record of people entering or leaving
the building.” Before Pucetti could speak, Brunetti added, “Yes, and
last night, too, even before we know how long he’s been dead. And who
has keys to the door and when they’re closed at night.” Pucetti didn’t
have to be told what questions to ask, a welcome relief on a force
where the ability of the average officer resembled that of Alvise.
Vianello was already standing just outside the port one He
acknowledged his superior’s arrival with a slight raising of his chin
and nodded to Pucetti. Deciding to use whatever advantage was to be
gained by appearing unannounced and in civilian clothes, Brunetti told
Pucetti to go back down to the boat and wait ten minutes before joining
Inside, it was evident that word of the death had already spread,
though Brunetti could not have explained how he knew this. It might
have been the sight of small groups of boys and young men standing in
the courtyard, talking in lowered voices, or it might have been the
fact that one of them wore white socks with his uniform shoes, sure
sign that he had dressed so quickly he didn’t know what he was doing.
Then he realized that not one of them was carrying books. Military or
not, this was a school, and students carried books, unless, that is,
something of greater urgency had intervened between them and their
One of the boys near the port one broke away from the group he was
talking to and approached Brunetti and Vianello. “What can I do for
you?” he asked, though, from the
tone, he might as well have been demanding what they were doing there.
Strong-featured and darkly handsome, he was almost as tall as Vianello,
though he couldn’t have been out of his teens. The others followed him
with their eyes.
Provoked by the boy’s tone, Brunetti said, “I want to speak to the
person in charge.”
“And who are you?” the boy demanded.
Brunetti didn’t respond but gave the boy a long, steady glance. The
young man’s eyes didn’t waver, nor did he move back when Brunetti took
a small step towards him. He was dressed in the regulation uniform
dark blue trousers and jacket, white shirt, tie and had two gold
stripes on the cuffs of his jacket. In the face of Brunetti’s silence,
the boy shifted his weight then put his hands on his hips. He stared
at Brunetti, refusing to repeat his question.
“What’s he called, the man in charge here?” Brunetti asked, as if the
other had not spoken. He added, “I don’t mean his name, I mean his
“Comandante,” the boy was surprised into saying.
“Ah, how grand,” Brunetti said. He wasn’t sure whether the boy’s
behaviour offended his general belief that youth should display
deference to age or whether he felt particular irritation at the boy’s
preening belligerence. Turning to Vianello, he said, “Inspector, get
this boy’s name and moved toward the staircase that led to the
He climbed the five steps and pushed open the door. The foyer had a
floor patterned with enormous diamonds made from boards of different
woods. Booted feet had worn a path to a door in the far wall. Brunetti
crossed the room, which was unexpectedly empty, and opened the door. A
hallway led toward the back of the building, its walls covered with
what he assumed to be regimental flags. Some of them bore the lion of
San Marco; others carried different animals, all equally aggressive:
teeth bared, claws unsheathed, hackles raised.
The first door on the right had only a number above it, as
did the second and third. As he walked by the last of them, a young
boy, certainly not more than fifteen, came out into the hall. He was
surprised to see Brunetti, who nodded calmly and asked, “Where’s the
office of the Comandante?”
His tone or his manner sparked a Pavlovian response in the boy, who
jumped to attention and snapped out a salute. “Up one flight, sir.
Third door on the left.”
Brunetti resisted the temptation to say, “At ease.” With a neutral,
Thank you’, he went back toward the staircase.
At the top, he followed the boy’s instructions and stopped at the third
door on the left. com andante giulio be mbo read a sign next to the
Brunetti knocked, paused and waited for an answer, and knocked again.
He thought he’d take advantage of the absence of the Comandante to have
a look at his office, and so he turned the handle and entered. It is
difficult to say who was more startled, Brunetti or the man who stood
in front of one of the windows, a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Brunetti said. “One of the students told me
to come up and wait for you in your office. I had no idea you were
here.” He turned towards the door and then back again, as if confused
as to whether he should remain or leave.
The man in front of the window was facing Brunetti, and the light that
shone in from behind him made it almost impossible for Brunetti to
distinguish anything about him. He could see, however, that he wore a
uniform different from that of the boys, lighter and with no stripe
down the side of the trousers. The rows of medals on his chest were
more than a hand span wide.
The man set the papers on his desk, making no attempt to approach
Brunetti. “And you are?” he asked, managing to sound bored with the
“Commissario Guide Brunetti, sir,” he said. “I’ve been sent to
investigate the report of a death here.” This was not strictly true,
for Brunetti had sent himself to investigate, but he saw
no reason why the Comandante should be told this. He stepped forward
and extended his hand quite naturally, as though he were too dull to
have registered the coolness emanating from the other man.
After a pause long enough to indicate who was in charge, Bembo stepped
forward and extended his hand. His grip was firm and gave every
indication that the Comandante was restraining himself from exerting
his full force out of consideration for what it would do to Brunetti’s
“Ah, yes,” Bembo said, ‘a commissa rio He allowed a pause to extend
the statement and then went on, “I’m surprised my friend Vice-Questore
Patta didn’t think to call me to tell me you were coming.”
Brunetti wondered if the reference to his superior, who was unlikely to
appear in his office for at least another hour, was meant to make him
rug humbly at his forelock while telling Bembo he would do everything
in his power to see that he was not disturbed by the investigation.
“I’m sure he will as soon as I give him my preliminary report,
Comandante/ Brunetti said.
“Of course,” Bembo said and moved around his desk to take his chair. He
waved what was no doubt a gracious hand to Brunetti, who seated
himself. Brunetti wanted to see how eager Bembo was to have the
investigation begin. From the way the Comandante moved small objects
around on the top of his desk, pulled together a stack of papers and
tapped them into line, it seemed that he felt no unseemly haste.
Brunetti remained silent.
“It’s all very unfortunate, this Bembo finally said.
Brunetti thought it best to nod.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a suicide at the Academy/ Bembo went
“Yes, it must be shocking. How old was the boy?” Brunetti asked. He
pulled a notebook from the pocket of his jacket and bent the covers
back when he found an empty page. He
patted his pockets then, with an embarrassed smile, leaned forward and
reached for a pencil that lay on the Comandante’s desk. “If I may, sir
Bembo didn’t bother to acknowledge the request. “Seventeen, I
believe,” he said.
“And his name, sir?” Brunetti asked.
“Ernesto Moro/ Bembo replied.
Brunetti’s start of surprise at the mention of one of the city’s most
famous names was entirely involuntary.
“Yes/ Bembo said, “Fernando’s son.”
Before his retirement from political life, Dottor Fernando Moro had for
some years served as a Member of Parliament, one of the few men
universally acknowledged to have filled that position honestly and
honourably. The wags of Venice insisted that Moro had been moved from
various committees because his honesty proved inconvenient to his
colleagues: the instant it became evident that he was immune to the
temptations of money and power, his incredulous fellow parliamentarians
found reason to reassign him. His career was often cited as evidence
of the survival of hope in the face of experience, for each chairman
who found Moro appointed to his committee was certain that, this time,
he could be induced to back those policies most certain to line the
pockets of the few at the expense of the many.
But none of them, in three years, had apparently succeeded in
corrupting Moro. Then, only two years ago, he had suddenly, and
without explanation, renounced his parliamentary seat and returned full
time to private medical practice.
“Has he been informed?” Brunetti asked.
“Who?” Bembo asked, clearly puzzled by Brunetti’s question.
Bembo shook his head. “I don’t know. Isn’t that the job of the
Brunetti, exercising great restraint, glanced at his watch
and asked, “How long ago was the body discovered?” Though he strove
for neutrality, he failed to keep reproach out of his voice.
Bembo bristled. This morning some time.”
“I don’t know. Shortly before the police were called.”
“How shortly before?”
“I have no idea. I was called at home.”
“At what time?” Brunetti asked, pencil poised over the page.
Bembo’s lips tightened in badly disguised irritation. “I’m not sure.
About seven, I’d say.”
“Were you already awake?”
“And was it you who called the police?”
“No, that had already been done by someone here.”
Brunetti uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “Comandante, the call
is registered as having come at seven twenty-six. That’s about half an
hour after you were called and told the boy was dead.” He paused to
allow the man time to explain, but when Bembo made no attempt to do so,
Brunetti continued, “Could you suggest an explanation for that?”
“For the delay of a half an hour in informing the authorities of a
suspicious death at the institution you direct.”
“Suspicious?” Bembo demanded.
“Until the medical examiner has determined the cause of death, any
death is suspicious.”
“The boy committed suicide. Anyone can see that.”
“Have you seen him?”
The Comandante did not answer immediately. He sat back in his chair
and considered the man in front of him. Finally he answered, “Yes. I
have. I came here when they called me and went to see him. He’d
“And the delay?” Brunetti asked.
Bembo waved the question away. “I have no idea. They must have
thought I would call the police, and I was sure they had.”
Letting this pass, Brunetti asked, “Do you have any idea who called?”
“I just told you I don’t know,” Bembo said. “Surely they must have
given their name.”
“Surely/ Brunetti repeated and returned to the subject. “But no one
has contacted Dottor Moro?”
Bembo shook his head.
Brunetti got to his feet. “I’ll go and see that someone does.”
Bembo didn’t bother to stand. Brunetti paused for a moment, curious to
see if the Comandante would enforce his sense of the loftiness of his
position by glancing down at something on his desk while he waited for
Brunetti to leave. Not so. Bembo sat, empty hands resting on the top
of his desk, eyes on Brunetti, waiting.
Brunetti slipped his notebook into the pocket of his jacket, placed the
pencil carefully on the desk in front of Bembo, and left the
Outside Bembo’s office, Brunetti moved a few metres away from the door
and pulled out his telefonino. He punched in 12 and was asking for
Moro’s number when his attention was caught by loud male voices coming
up the stairway.
“Where’s my son?” a loud voice demanded. A softer voice replied, but
the other voice insisted, “Where is he?” Saying nothing, Brunetti
broke the connection and slipped the phone back into his pocket.
As he approached the stairs, the voices grew even louder. I want to
know where he is,” the original voice shouted, refusing to be placated
by whatever it was that was said to him.
When Brunetti started down the flight of stairs, he saw at the bottom a
man of about his own age and size and recognized him instantly, having
both seen his photo in the papers and been presented to him at official
functions. Moro’s face was blade-thin, his cheekbones high and tilted
at a Slavic angle. His eyes and complexion were dark and in sharp
contrast to his hair, which was white and thick. He i?
stood face to face with a younger man dressed in the same dark blue
uniform worn by the boys in the courtyard.
“Dottor Moro/ Brunetti said, continuing down the steps in their
The doctor turned and looked up at Brunetti but gave no sign of
recognition. His mouth was open and he appeared to breathe only with
difficulty. Brunetti recognized the effect of shock and mounting anger
at the opposition the young man was giving him.
“I’m Brunetti, sir. Police/ he said. When Moro made no response,
Brunetti turned to the other man and said, “Where’s the boy?”
At this reinforcement of the demand, the young man gave in. “In the
bathroom. Upstairs/ he said, but grudgingly, as if neither man had the
right to ask anything of him.
“Where?” Brunetti asked.
Vianello called from the staircase above them, waving back towards
where he had come from, “He’s up here, sir.”
Brunetti glanced at Moro, whose attention was now directed at Vianello.
He stood rooted to the spot, his mouth still roundly open and his
breathing still audible to Brunetti.
He stepped forward and took the. doctor’s arm in his. Saying nothing,
Brunetti led him up the stairs after the retreating back of the slowly
moving Vianello. At the third floor, Vianello paused to check that
they were following, then moved down a corridor lined with many doors.
At the end he turned right and continued down an identical one.
Vianello opened a door with a round glass porthole. He caught
Brunetti’s glance and gave a small nod, at the sight of which Moro’s
arm tightened under Brunetti’s hand, though his steps did not falter.
The doctor passed in front of Vianello as though the Inspector were
invisible. From the doorway, Brunetti saw only his back as he walked
toward the far end of the bathroom, where something lay on the floor.
The cut him down, sir,” Vianello said, putting a hand on his superior’s
arm. “I know we’re not supposed to touch anything, but I couldn’t
stand the idea that anyone who came to identify him would see him like
Brunetti clasped Vianello’s arm and had time to say only “Good’, when a
low animal noise came from the back of the room. Moro half lay, half
knelt beside the body, cradling it in his arms. The noise came from
him, beyond speech and beyond meaning. As they watched, Moro pulled
the dead boy closer to him, gently moving the lolling head until it
rested in the hollow between his own neck and shoulder. The noise
turned to words, but neither Vianello nor Brunetti could understand
what the man said.
They approached him together. Brunetti saw a man not far from himself
in age and appearance, cradling in his arms the body of his only son, a
boy about the same age as Brunetti’s own. Terror closed his eyes, and
when he opened them he saw Vianello, kneeling behind the doctor, his
arm across his shoulders, close to but not touching the dead boy. “Let
him be, Dottore,” Vianello said softly, increasing his pressure on the
doctor’s back. “Let him be,” he repeated and moved slowly to support
the boy’s weight from the other side. Moro seemed not to understand,
but then the combination of command and sympathy in Vianello’s voice
penetrated his numbness, and, aided by Vianello, he lowered the upper
half of his son’s body to the floor and knelt beside him, staring down
at his distended face.
Vianello leaned over the body, lifted the edge of the military cape,
and pulled it over the face. It wasn’t until then that Brunetti bent
down and put a supporting hand under Moro’s arm and helped him rise
unsteadily to his feet.
Vianello moved to the other side of the man, and together they left the
bathroom and headed down the long corridor and then down the stairs and
out into the courtyard. When they emerged, groups of uniformed boys
still stood about. All
of them glanced in the direction of the three men who emerged from the
building and then as quickly glanced away.
Moro dragged his feet like a man in chains, capable of only the
shortest steps. Once he stopped, shook his head as if in answer to a
question neither of the others could hear, and then allowed himself to
be led forward again.
Seeing Pucetti emerge from a corridor on the other side of the
courtyard, Brunetti raised his free hand and signalled him over. When
the uniformed officer reached them, Brunetti stepped aside and Pucetti
slipped his arm under Moro’s, who seemed not to register the change.
Take him back to the launch Brunetti said to both of them, and then to
Vianello, “Go home with him.”
Pucetti gave Brunetti an inquiring glance.
“Help Vianello take the doctor to the boat and then come back here
Brunetti said, deciding that Pucetti’s intelligence and native
curiosity, to make no mention of his nearness in age to the cadets,
would help in questioning them. The two officers set off, Moro moving
jerkily, as though unaware of their presence.
Brunetti watched them leave the courtyard. The boys shot occasional
glances in his direction, but they had only to catch his eye to look
away instantly or to adjust their gaze as though they were busy
studying the far wall and really didn’t notice him standing there.
When Pucetti came back a few minutes later, Brunetti told him to find
out if anything unusual had happened the night before and to get a
sense of what sort of boy young Moro had been as well as of how he was
regarded by his classmates. Brunetti knew that these questions had to
be asked now, before their memories of the previous night’s events
began to influence one another and before the boy’s death had time to
register and thus transform everything the cadets had to say about him
into the sort of saccharine nonsense that
accompanies the retelling of the stories of the saints and martyrs.
Hearing the two-tone wail of an approaching siren, Brunetti went out on
to the Riva to wait for the scene of crime team. The white police
launch drew up to the side of the canal; four uniformed officers
stepped off then reached back on board for the boxes and bags filled
with their equipment.
Two more men then stepped off. Brunetti waved to them, and they picked
up their equipment and started in his direction. When they reached
him, Brunetti asked Santini, the chief technician, “Who’s coming?”
All of the men on the scene of crime team shared Brunetti’s preference
for Dottor Rizzardi, so it was with a special tone of voice that
Santini answered, “Venturi’, consciously omitting the man’s title.
“Ah/ answered Brunetti before he turned and led the men into the
courtyard of the Academy. Just inside, he told them the body was
upstairs, then led them to the third floor and along the corridor to
the open door of the bathroom.
Brunetti chose not to go back inside with them, though not out of a
professional concern with the purity of the scene of the death. Leaving
them to it, he returned to the courtyard.
There was no sign of Pucetti, and all of the cadets had disappeared.
Either they had been summoned to classes or had retreated to their
rooms: in either case, they had removed themselves from the vicinity of
He went back up to Bembo’s office and knocked at the door. Hearing no
response, he knocked again, then tried the handle. The door was
locked. He knocked again but no one answered.
Brunetti walked back to the central staircase, stopping to open each of
the doors in the corridor. Behind them stood classrooms: one with
charts and maps on the walls, another with algebraic formulae covering
two blackboards, and a third with an enormous blackboard covered by a
diagram filled with arrows and bars, the sort of design usually found
in history books to illustrate troop movements during battles.
In ordinary circumstances, Brunetti would have paused to study this,
as, over the decades, he had read accounts of scores, perhaps hundreds,
of battles, but today the diagram and its meaning held no interest for
him, and he closed the door. He climbed to the third floor where,
decades ago, the servants would have lived, and there he found what he
wanted: the dormitories. At least that was what he thought they had to
be: doors set not too close to one another, a printed card bearing two
family names slipped into a neat plastic holder to the left of each.
He knocked at the first. No response. The same with the second. At
the third, he thought he heard a faint noise from inside and so,
without bothering to read the names on the card, he pushed the door
open. A young man sat at a desk in front of the single window, his
back to Brunetti, moving about in his chair as though trying to escape
from it or perhaps in the grip of some sort of seizure. Brunetti
stepped into the room, reluctant to approach and startle the boy into
some worse reaction but alarmed by his violent motions.
Suddenly, the boy bent his head towards the desk, thrust out his arm,
and slapped his palm on the surface three times, singing out, “Yaah,
yaah, yaah,” drawing out the final noise until, as Brunetti could hear
even across the room, the drummer played a final extended riff, which
the boy accompanied, beating out the rhythm with his fingers on the
edge of his desk.
Into the pause between tracks, Brunetti barked, his voice intentionally
The word cut through the low hiss of the headphones and the boy jumped
to his feet. He turned towards the voice, his right hand leaping
toward his forehead in salute, but he caught it in the wire of the
headphones and the Discman
crashed to the floor, dragging the headphones after it.
The impact seemed not to have dislodged the disc, for Brunetti could
still hear the bass, loud even halfway across the room. “Hasn’t anyone
ever told you how much that will damage your hearing?” Brunetti asked
conversationally. Usually, when he put this same question to his own
children, he pitched his voice barely above a whisper, the first few
times successfully tricking them into asking him to repeat himself.
Wise to him now, they ignored him.
The boy slowly lowered his hand from his forehead, looking very
confused. “What did you say?” he asked, then added, by force of
habit, ‘sir.” He was tall and very thin, with a narrow jaw, one side
of which looked as if it had been shaved with a dull razor, the other
covered with signs of persistent acne. His eyes were almond shaped, as
beautiful as a girl’s.
Brunetti took the two steps that brought him to the other side of the
room, and noticed that the boy’s body tightened in response. But all
Brunetti did was bend down to pick up the Discman and headphones. He
set them carefully on the boy’s desk, marvelling as he did at the
spartan simplicity of the room: it looked like the room of a robot, not
a young man, indeed, of two young men, if he was to believe the
evidence provided by bunk beds.
The said loud music can damage your hearing. It’s what I tell my
children, but they don’t listen to me.”
This confused the boy even more, as if it had been a long time since an
adult had said anything to him that was both normal and understandable.
“Yes, my aunt tells me that, too.”
“But you don’t listen?” Brunetti asked. “Or is it that you don’t
believe her?” He was honestly curious.
“Oh, I believe her all right the boy said, loosening up sufficiently to
reach down and press the off button.
“But?” Brunetti insisted.
Tt doesn’t matter,” the boy said with a shrug.
“No, tell me Brunetti said. I’d really like to know.”
“It doesn’t matter what happens to my hearing the boy explained.
“Doesn’t matter?” Brunetti asked, utterly at a loss to grasp his
meaning. That you go deaf?”
“No, not that he answered, paying real attention to Brunetti and
apparently now interested in making him understand. “It takes a lot of
years for something like that to happen. That’s why it doesn’t matter.
Like all that Global Warming stuff. Nothing matters if it takes a long
It was obvious to Brunetti that the boy was in earnest. He said, “But
you’re in school, studying for a future career I presume in the
military. That’s not going to happen for a number of years, either;
doesn’t that matter?”
The boy answered after a few moments’ reflection. That’s different.”
“Different how?” asked a relentless Brunetti.
The boy had relaxed now with the ease of their conversation and the
seriousness with which Brunetti treated his answers. He leaned back
against the top of his desk, picked up a packet of cigarettes and held
it out to Brunetti. At his refusal the boy took one and patted around
on the top of his desk until he found a plastic lighter hidden under a
He lit the cigarette and tossed the lighter back on to the desk. He
took a long drag at the cigarette. Brunetti was struck by how very
hard he tried to appear older and more sophisticated than he was; then
the boy looked at Brunetti and said, “Because I can choose about the
music but I can’t about the school.”
Sure that this made some sort of profound difference to the boy but
unwilling to spend more time pursuing it, Brunetti asked, “What’s your
name?” using the familiar to, as he would with one of his children’s
“Giuliano Ruffo/ the boy answered.
Brunetti introduced himself, using his name and not his title, and
stepped forward to offer his hand. Ruffo slid from the desk and took
“Did you know him, the boy who died?”
Ruffo’s face froze, all ease fled his body, and he shook his head in
automatic denial. As Brunetti was wondering how it was that he didn’t
know a fellow student in a school this small, the boy said, That is, I
didn’t know him well. We just had one class together.” Ease had
disappeared from his voice, as well: he spoke quickly, as if eager to
move away from the meaning of his words.
“What other subjects do you take?” Brunetti asked. “What is it for
you, the second year?”
“Yes, sir. So we have to take Latin and Greek and Mathematics,
English, History, and then we get to choose two optional subjects.”
“So Physics is one of yours?”
“And the other?”
The answer was a long time in coming. Brunetti thought the boy must be
trying to work out what this man’s hidden motive was in asking all of
these questions. If Brunetti had a motive, it was hidden even from
himself: all he could do at this point was try to get a sense of things
at the school, to catch the mood of the place; all of the information
he gained had more or less the same amorphous value and its meaning
would not become clear until later, when each piece could be seen as
part of some larger pattern.
The boy stabbed out his cigarette, eyed the packet, but did not light
another. Brunetti repeated, “What is it, the second one?”
Reluctantly, as if confessing to something he perhaps construed as
weakness, the boy finally answered, “Music.”
“Good for you came Brunetti’s instant response.
“Why do you say that, sir?” the boy asked, his eagerness patent. Or
perhaps it was merely relief at this removal to a neutral subject.
Brunetti’s response had been visceral, so he had to consider what to
say. “I read a lot of history,” he began, ‘and a lot of history is
military history.” The boy nodded, prodding him along with his
curiosity. “And historians often say that soldiers know only one
thing.” The boy nodded again. “And no matter how well they might know
that one thing, war, it’s not enough. They’ve got to know about other
things.” He smiled at the boy, who smiled in return. “It’s the great
weakness, knowing only that one thing.”
The wish you’d tell my grandfather that, sir,” he said.
“He doesn’t believe it?”
“Oh, no, he doesn’t even want to hear the word “music”, at least not
“What would he rather hear that you’d been in a duel?” Brunetti asked,
not at all uncomfortable at undermining the concept of grand parental
“Oh, he’d love that, especially if it were with sabres.”
“And you went home with a scar “across your cheek?” Brunetti
They laughed at the absurdity, and it was like this, easy and
comfortably united in gentle mockery of military tradition, that
Comandante Bembo found them.
“Ruffo!” a voice barked from behind Brunetti.
The boy’s smile vanished and he straightened up to stand as stiff as
one of the pilings in the laguna, his heels clacking together at the
same instant as his stiff fingers snapped to his forehead in salute.
“What are you doing here?” Bembo demanded.
“I don’t have a class this hour, Comandante/ Ruffo answered, staring
“And what were you doing?”
“I was talking to this gentleman, sir he said, eyes still on the far
“Who gave you permission to talk to him?”
Ruffo’s face was a mask. He made no attempt to answer the question.
“Well?” demanded Bembo in an even tighter voice.
Brunetti turned to face the Comandante and acknowledged his arrival
with a gentle nod. Keeping his voice mild, he asked, “Does he need
permission to speak to the police, sir?”
“He’s a minor Bembo said.
“I’m not sure I follow you, sir’ Brunetti said, careful to smile to
show his confusion. He could have understood if Bembo had said
something about military rank or the need to respond only to orders
from a direct superior, but to cite the boy’s youth as a reason why he
should not talk to the police displayed what seemed to Brunetti an
inordinate attention to legal detail. “I’m not sure I see how Cadet
Ruffo’s age is important.”
“It means his parents should be with him when you talk to him.”
“Why is that, sir?” Brunetti asked, curious to hear Bembo’s reason.
It took a moment for Bembo to find it. Finally he said, To see that he
understands the questions you ask.”
His doubts as to the boy’s ability to understand simple questions
hardly spoke well of the quality of instruction on offer at the school.
Brunetti turned back to the cadet, who stood rigid, arms rod-like at
his side, his chin a stranger to his collar. “You understood what I
asked you, didn’t you, Cadet?”
“I don’t know, sir the boy answered, keeping his eyes on the wall.
“We were talking about his classes, sir Brunetti said, ‘and Cadet Ruffo
was telling me how much he enjoyed Physics.”
“Is this true, Ruffo?” the Comandante demanded, not the least
concerned that he was openly doubting Brunetti’s veracity.
“Yes, sir the boy answered. “I was telling the gentleman that I had
two elective subjects and how much I liked them.”
“Don’t you like the required subjects?” Bembo demanded. Then, to
Brunetti: “Was he complaining about them?”
“No/ Brunetti answered calmly. “We didn’t discuss them.” He wondered,
as he spoke, why Bembo should be so concerned at the mere possibility
that a student had said
something negative about his classes. What else would a student be
expected to say about his classes?
Abruptly Bembo said, “You can go, Ruffo.” The boy saluted and,
ignoring Brunetti’s presence, walked out of the room, leaving the door
open after him.
Till thank you to let me know before you question any of my cadets
again Bembo said in an unfriendly voice.
Brunetti hardly thought it worth contesting the point, so agreed that
he would. The Comandante turned towards the door, hesitated for a
moment as though he wanted to turn back and say something to Brunetti,
but then thought better of it and left.
Brunetti found himself alone in Ruffo’s room, feeling in some way
invited there as a guest and thus bound by the rules of hospitality,
one of which was never to betray the host’s trust by invading the
privacy of his home. The first thing Brunetti did was to open the
front drawer of the desk and remove the papers he found there. Most of
them were notes, what appeared to be rough drafts for essays the boy
was writing; some were letters.
“Dear Giuliano,” Brunetti read, entirely without shame or scruple.
“Your aunt came to see me last week and told me you were doing well in
school.” The calligraphy had the neat roundness of the generation
previous to his own, though the lines wandered up and down, following
an invisible path known only to the writer. It was signed “Nonna’.
Brunetti glanced through the other papers, found nothing of interest,
and put them all back into the drawer.
He opened the doors of the closet next to Ruffo’s desk and checked the
pockets of the jackets hanging there; he found nothing but small change
and cancelled vaporetto tickets. There was a laptop computer on the
desk, but he didn’t even waste his time turning it on, knowing he would
have no idea what to do with it. Under the bed, pushed back against
the wall, he saw what looked like a violin case. The books were
what he would have expected: textbooks, a driver’s manual, a history of
AC Milan and other books about soccer. The bottom shelf held musical
scores: Mozart’s violin sonatas and the first violin part of one of the
Beethoven string quartets. Brunetti shook his head in bemusement at
the contrast between the music in the Discman and the music on the
shelf. He opened the door to the closet that must belong to Ruffo’s
roommate and cast his eye across the surface of the second desk, but he
saw nothing of interest.
Struck again by the neatness of the room, the almost surgical precision
with which the bed was made, Brunetti toyed for a moment with the idea
of drugging his son Raffi and having him brought down here to be
enrolled. But then he remembered what it was that had brought him to
this room, and levity slipped away on silent feet.
The other rooms were empty or, at least, no one responded to his
knocking, so he went back towards the bathroom where the boy had been
found. The scene of crime team was at work, and the body still lay
there, now entirely covered with the dark woollen cloak.
“Who cut him down?” Santini asked when he saw Brunetti.
“He shouldn’t have done that,” another of the technicians called from
across the room.
That’s exactly what he told me,” Brunetti answered.
Santini shrugged. The would have done it, too.” There were
affirmative grunts from two of the men.
Brunetti was about to ask what the crew thought had happened, when he
heard footsteps. He glanced aside and saw Dottor Venturi, one of
Rizzardi’s assistants. Both men nodded, as much acknowledgement of the
other’s presence as either was willing to give.
Insensitive to most human feelings that were not directed towards him,
Venturi stepped up close to the body and set his medical bag by the
head. He went down on one knee and
drew the edge of the cloak from the boy’s face.
Brunetti looked away, back into the showers, where Pedone, Santini’s
assistant, was holding a plastic spray bottle up towards the top of the
right-hand wall. As Brunetti watched, he squirted cloud after tiny
cloud of dark grey powder on to the walls, moving carefully from left
to right and then back to his starting point to repeat the process
about twenty centimetres below.
By the time all the walls were coated, Venturi was back on his feet.
Brunetti saw that he had left the boy’s face uncovered.
“Who cut him down?” was the first thing the doctor asked.
“One of my men. I told him to,” Brunetti answered and bent down to
draw the edge of the cape back across the boy’s face. He rose up again
and looked at Venturi, saying nothing.
“Why did you do that?”
Appalled at the question, Brunetti ignored it, irritated that he had to
speak to a man capable of asking it. He asked, “Does it look like
Venturi’s long pause made it obvious that he wanted to exchange
discourtesies with Brunetti, but when Santini turned to him and said,
“Well?” the doctor answered, “I won’t have any idea until I can take a
look at his insides.” Then, directly to Santini, “Was there a chair,
something he could stand on?”
One of the other technicians called over, “A chair. It was in the
“You didn’t move it, did you?” Venturi demanded of him.
“I photographed it,” the man answered, speaking with glacial clearness.
“Eight times, I think. And then Pedone dusted it for prints. And then
I moved it so it wouldn’t get in his way when he dusted the shower
stall.” Pointing with his chin to a wooden chair that stood in front
of one of the sinks, he added, That’s it, over there.”
The doctor ignored the chair. Till have my report sent to
3i you when I’m finished he said to Brunetti, then picked up his bag
When Venturi’s footsteps had died away, Brunetti asked Santini, “What
does it look like to you?”
“He could have done it himself the technician answered. He pointed to
some marks that stood out from the darker grey of the coating on the
walls of the shower. There are two long swipes across the wall here,
at about shoulder height. He could have done that.”
“Would that have happened?”
“Probably. It’s instinct: no matter how much they want to die, the
Pedone, who had been openly listening to this, added, “It’s clean, sir.
No one had a fight in there, if that’s what you’re wondering about.”
When it seemed that his partner wasn’t going to add anything, Santini
continued: “It’s what they do, sir, when they hang themselves. Believe
me. If there’s a wall near them, they try to grab it; can’t help
“It’s the way boys do it, isn’t it, hanging?” Brunetti asked, not
looking down at Moro.
“More than girls, yes Santini agreed. His voice took on an edge of
anger and he asked, “What was he seventeen? eighteen? How could he do
something like that?”
“God knows Brunetti said.
“God didn’t have anything to do with this, Santini said angrily, though
it was unclear whether his remark called into question the deity’s
charity or his very existence. Santini went out into the hall, where
two white-coated attendants from the hospital waited, a rolled-up
stretcher leaning against the wall between them. “You can take him now
he said. He remained outside while they went in, put the boy on the
stretcher, and carried him from the room. When they were abreast of
Santini, he put up a monitory hand. They stopped, and he leaned down
to pick up the end of the dark blue military
cloak that was dragging on the ground behind the stretcher. He tucked
it under the boy’s leg and told the attendants to take him out to the
Recognizing it as the temptation of moral cowardice, Brunetti pushed
aside the desire to join the others on the police boat to the hospital
and from there to the Questura. Perhaps it was the flash of terror
when he first saw the boy’s body, or perhaps it was Brunetti’s
admiration for the elder Moro’s inconvenient honesty, but something
there was that urged Brunetti to get a more complete picture of the
boy’s death. The suicides of young boys were ever more frequent:
Brunetti had read somewhere that, with almost mathematical regularity,
they increased in times of economic well-being and decreased when times
were bad. During wars, they virtually disappeared. He assumed his own
son was as subject to the vagaries of adolescence as any other boy:
carried up and down on the waves of his hormones, his popularity, or
his success at school. The idea of Raffi’s ever being driven to
suicide was inconceivable, but that must be what every parent
Until evidence suggested that the boy’s death had not been suicide,
Brunetti had no mandate to question anyone about
any other possibility: not his classmates, still less his parents. To
do so would be the worst sort of ghoulish curiosity as well as a
flagrant misuse of his power. Admitting all of this, he went out into
the courtyard of the Academy and, using the telefonino he had
remembered to bring with him, called Signorina Elettra’s direct line at
When she answered, he told her where he was and asked that she check
the phone book for Moro’s address, which he thought must be in
Dorsoduro, though he couldn’t remember why he associated the man with
She asked no questions, told him to wait a moment, then said the number
was unlisted. There elapsed another minute or two, then she gave him
the Dorsoduro address. She told him to wait, then told him the house
was on the canal running alongside the church of Madonna della Salute.
Tt’s got to be the one next to the low brick one that has the terrace
with all the flowers she said.
He thanked her, then made his way back up the stairs to the dormitory
rooms on the top floor and went along the still silent corridor,
checking the names outside of the doors. He found it at the end:
moro/cavani. Not bothering to knock, Brunetti entered the room. Like
that of Ruffo, the room was clean, almost surgical: bunk beds and two
small desks opposite them, nothing left in sight to clutter up their
surfaces. He took a pen from the inside pocket of his jacket and used
it to open the drawer of the desk nearest him. With the pen he flipped
open the notebook that lay inside. Ernesto’s name was on the inside of
the cover and the book was filled with mathematical formulae, written
out in a neat, square hand. He shoved the notebook to the back of the
drawer and opened the one beneath it, with much the same result, though
this one contained exercises in English.
He shoved the drawer closed and turned his attention to the closet
between the two desks. One door had Moro’s name on it. Brunetti
pulled it open from the bottom with his foot.
Inside, there were two uniforms in dry cleaning bags, a denim jacket,
and a brown tweed coat. The only things he found in the pockets were
some small change and a dirty handkerchief.
A bookcase contained nothing more than textbooks. He lacked the will
to take down and examine each of them. He took one final look around
the room and left, careful to hook his pen in the handle to pull the
He met Santini on the steps and told him to check Moro’s room then left
the school and went down to the edge of the Canale della Giudecca.
Turning right, he started to walk along the Riva, intending to catch a
vaporetto. As he walked, he kept his attention on the buildings on the
other side of the canal: Nico’s Bar and, above it, an apartment he had
spent a lot of time in before he met Paola; the church of the Gesuati,
where once a decent man had been pastor; the former Swiss Consulate,
the flag gone now. Have even the Swiss abandoned us? he wondered.
Ahead was the Bucintoro, the long narrow boats long gone, evicted by
the scent of Guggenheim money, Venetian oarsmen gone to make space for
even more tourist shops. He saw a boat coming from Redentore and
hurried on to the imbarcndero at Palanca to cross back to the Zattere.
When he got off, he looked at his watch and realized that it really did
take less than five minutes to make the trip from the Giudecca. Even
so, the other island still seemed, as it had ever seemed, as far
distant as the Galapagos.
It took less than five minutes to weave his way back to the broad campo
that surrounded La Madonna della Salute, and there he found the house.
Again resisting the impulse to delay, he rang the bell and gave his
title and name.
“What do you want?” a woman’s voice asked.
“I’d like to speak to Dottor Moro,” he said, announcing at least the
most immediate of his desires.
“He can’t see anyone she said shortly.
“I saw him before Brunetti said, then added, in the hope that it would
give force to his request, ‘at the school.” He waited to see if this
would have any effect on the woman, but then went on, “It’s necessary
that I speak to him.”
She made a noise, but it was cut off by the electrical buzz of the door
release, leaving Brunetti to guess at its nature. He pushed open the
door, passed quickly through a hallway, and stopped at the bottom of a
staircase. At the top, a door opened and a tall woman came out on to
the landing. “Up here she said.
When he reached the top of the stairs, she turned and led him into the
apartment, closed the door behind him, then turned back to face him. He
was struck at first by the fact that, though surely not as old as he,
she had white hair, cut short just above her shoulders. It contrasted
sharply with her skin, dark as an Arab’s, and with her eyes, as close
to black as he had ever seen eyes be.
She put out her hand. “I’m Luisa, Fernando’s cousin.”
Brunetti took her hand and gave his name and position. “I realize this
is a terrible time he began, planning how best to speak to her. Her
posture was rigid, her back as straight as if she had been told to
stand against a wall. She kept her eyes on his as they spoke.
When Brunetti added nothing to this self-evident truth, she asked,
“What do you want to know?”
“I’d like to ask him about his son’s state of mind
“Why?” she demanded. Brunetti thought the answer to that should have
been obvious, and was taken aback by the vehemence with which she asked
“In a case such as this he began evasively, ‘it’s necessary to know as
much as possible about how the person was feeling and behaving, whether
there were perhaps any signs…”
“Of what?” She cut him off, making no attempt to disguise her anger or
her contempt. That he was going to kill
himself?” Before Brunetti could answer, she went on, “If that’s what
you mean, for God’s sake, then say so.” Again she didn’t wait for an
answer. The idea’s ridiculous. It’s disgusting. Ernesto would no
sooner kill himself than I would. He was a healthy boy. It’s
insulting to suggest that he would.” She closed her eyes and pressed
her lips together, fighting to regain control of herself.
Before Brunetti could say that he had made no insinuation of any kind,
Dottor Moro appeared in a doorway. That’s enough, Luisa/ he said in a
soft voice. “You shouldn’t say any more.”
Though the man had spoken, it was the face of the woman Brunetti
studied. The stiffness of her posture lessened, and her body inclined
in her cousin’s direction. She raised one hand towards him but made no
move to touch him. Instead, she nodded once, ignored Brunetti
completely, and turned away. Brunetti watched as she walked down the
corridor and through a door at the end.
When she was gone, Brunetti turned his attention to the doctor. Though
he knew this was impossible, Moro had aged a decade during the brief
time that had elapsed since Brunetti had last seen him. His skin was
pasty his eyes dull and reddened with tears, but it was in his posture
that Brunetti perceived most change, for it had taken on the forward
leaning curvature of an old man.
“I’m sorry to intrude on your grief, Dottore/ Brunetti began, ‘but I
hope that by speaking to you now, I won’t have to trouble you again.”
Even to Brunetti, schooled as he was in the ways of professional
mendacity, this sounded so forced and artificial as to distance him
from the other man and his sorrow.
Moro waved his right hand in the air, a gesture that might just as
easily have been dismissal as acknowledgement. He wrapped his arms
around his stomach and bowed his head.
“Dottore,” he went on, ‘in the last few days or weeks, had
your son done anything that would lead you to suspect that he might
have been considering anything like this?” Moro’s head was still bowed
so Brunetti could not see his eyes, nor had he any idea if the doctor
was paying attention.
He continued, “Dottore, I know how difficult this must be for you, but
it’s important that I have this information.”
Without looking up, Moro said, “I don’t think you do.”
The beg your pardon,” Brunetti said.
“I don’t think you have any idea of how difficult this is.”
The truth of this made Brunetti blush. When his face had grown cool
again, Moro had still not bothered to look at him. After what seemed
to Brunetti a long time, the doctor raised his head. No tears stood in
his eyes, and his voice was as calm as it had been when he spoke to his
cousin. “I’d be very grateful if you’d leave now, Commissario.”
Brunetti began to protest, but the doctor cut him off by raising his
voice, but only in volume: his tone remained calm and impersonal.
“Please don’t argue with me. There is nothing at all that I have to
say to you. Not now, and not in the future.” He took his arms from
their protective position around his middle and let them fall to his
sides. The have nothing further to say.”
Brunetti was certain that it was futile to pursue the matter now,
equally certain that he would return and ask the same question again
after the doctor had had time to overcome his immediate agony. Since
he had learned of the boy’s death, Brunetti had been assailed by the
desire to know if the man had other children, but couldn’t bring
himself to ask. He had some sort of theoretical belief that their
existence would serve as consolation, however limited. He tried to put
himself in Moro’s place and understand what solace he would find in the
survival of one of his own children, but his imagination shied away
from that horror. At the very thought, some force stronger than taboo
seized him, numbing his mind. Not daring to offer his hand or to say
anything further, Brunetti left the apartment.
From the Salute stop, he took the Number One to San Zaccaria and
started back toward the Questura. As he approached it, a group of
teenagers, three boys and two girls, cascaded down the Ponte dei Greci
and came towards him, arms linked, laughter radiating out from them.
Brunetti stopped walking and stood in the middle of the pavement,
waiting for this exuberant wave of youth to wash over him. Like the
Red Sea, they parted and swept around him: Brunetti was sure they
hadn’t even noticed him in any real sense; he was merely a stationary
obstacle to be got round.
Both of the girls had cigarettes in their hands, something that usually
filled Brunetti with the desire to tell them, if they valued their
health and well-being, to stop. Instead, he turned and looked after
them, filled with a sense of almost religious awe at the sight of their
youth and joy.
By the time he reached his office, the feeling had passed. On his desk
he found the first of the many forms that were generated by any case of
suicide; he didn’t bother to fill it out. It was only after he heard
from Venturi that he would know how to proceed.
He called down to the officers’ room, but neither Vianello nor Pucetti
was there. He dialled Signorina Elettra’s extension and asked her to
begin a complete search through all the sources available to her,
official and unofficial, for information on Fernando Moro’s careers as
both a doctor and a Member of Parliament. Saying that she had already
begun, she promised to have something for him later in the day.
The thought of lunch displeased him: food seemed an irrelevant
extravagance. He felt a gnawing desire to see his family, though he
knew his current mood would render him so solicitous as to make them
uncomfortable. He called Paola and told her he couldn’t make it home
for lunch, saying that something had come up at the Questura that would
keep him there and, yes, yes, he’d eat something and be home at the
“I hope it’s not too bad,” Paola said, letting him know that she had
registered his tone, however neutral he had tried to make his words.
I’ll see you later,” he said, still unwilling to tell her what had
happened. “Hug the kids for me,” he said before he hung up.
He sat at his desk for a few minutes, then drew some papers towards him
and looked at them, reading through the words, understanding each one
but not certain he understood what they intended to say. He set them
aside, then pulled them back and read them again; this time the
sentences made sense to him, though he could see no reason why anyone
should find their messages important.
He went to the window and studied the crane that stood constant guard
over the church and the restoration that had yet to begin. He had read
or been told once how much the equally motionless cranes that loomed
over the empty shell of the opera house cost the city to maintain each
day. Where did all the money go? he wondered. Who was it that reaped
such enormous profits from so much inactivity? Idly, keeping his mind
occupied with matters other than the death of young men, he began rough
calculations. If the cranes cost five thousand Euros a day, it would
cost the city almost two million Euros to keep them there a year,
whether they worked or not. He stood for a long time, numbers moving
around in his head in far greater activity than had been shown by any
of those cranes for some time.
Abruptly he turned away and went back to his desk. There was no one to
call, so he left his office, went downstairs and out of the Questura.
He walked to the bar at the foot of the bridge, where he had a panino
and a glass of red wine and let the words of the day’s newspaper pass
under his eyes.
Though he prevaricated as much as he could, Brunetti still had no
choice but eventually to return to the Questura. He stopped in the
officers’ room to look for Vianello and found him there with Pucetti.
The younger officer started to get to his feet, but Brunetti waved him
back. There was only one other policeman in the room, sitting at a
desk off to one side, talking on the phone.
“Anything?” he asked the two seated policemen.
Pucetti glanced at Vianello, acknowledging his right to speak first.
“I took him back,” the Inspector began, 1jut he wouldn’t let me go in
with him.” He shrugged this away and asked, “You, sir?”
The spoke to Moro and to his cousin, who was there with him. She said
the boy couldn’t have killed himself, seemed pretty insistent on it.”
Something kept Brunetti from telling the others how easy it had been
for Moro to dismiss him.
“His cousin, you said?” Vianello interrupted, echoing his
“That’s what she told me.” The habit of doubt, Brunetti reflected, the
habit of seeking the lowest possible common moral denominator, had been
bred into all of them. He wondered if there were some sort of
psychological equation which correlated years of service with the
police and an inability to believe in human goodness. And whether it
was possible, or for how long it would be possible, to go back and
forth between his professional world and his private world without
introducing the contamination of the first to the second.
His attention was recalled by Vianello, who had just finished saying
“Excuse me?” Brunetti said.
“I asked if his wife was there Vianello repeated.
Brunetti shook his head. “I don’t know. No one else came in while I
was there, but there’s no reason she would want to talk to me.”
“Is there a wife?” Pucetti asked, emphasizing the first word.
Rather than admit that he didn’t know, Brunetti said, “I asked
Signorina Elettra to see what she can find out about the family.”
There was something in the papers about them, I think,” Vianello said.
“Years ago.” Brunetti and Pucetti waited for him to continue, but all
the Inspector finally said was, “I don’t remember, but I think it was
something about the wife.”
“Whatever it is, she’ll find it Pucetti declared.
Years ago, Brunetti would have responded with condescension to
Pucetti’s childlike faith in Signorina Elettra’s powers, as one would
to the excesses of the peasant believers in the liquefaction of the
blood of San Gennaro. Himself presently numbered among that unwashed
throng, he made no demurral.
“Why don’t you tell the Commissario what you’ve told me?” Vianello
asked Pucetti, drawing him back from his devotions and Brunetti back
from his reflections.
The portiere told me that the gate is kept locked after ten at night
the young officer began, tut most faculty members have keys, and
students who stay out later than that have to ring him to let them
“And?” Brunetti asked, sensing Pucetti’s reservations.
“I’m not sure,” Pucetti answered, then explained. Two of the boys I
spoke to, separately, that is, seemed to make fun of the idea. I asked
why, and one of them smiled and went like this,” Pucetti concluded,
raising the thumb of his right hand towards his mouth.
Brunetti registered this but left it to Pucetti to continue. I’d say
the boys are right and he’s a drunk, the portiere. It was what eleven
in the morning when I spoke to him, and he was already halfway
“Did any of the other boys mention this?”
“I didn’t want to push them on it, sir. I didn’t want any of them to
know just what I had learned from the others. It’s always better if
they think I already know everything there is to know: that way, they
think I’ll know when they lie. But I got the feeling that they can get
in and out when they please.”
Brunetti nodded for him to continue.
“I’m not sure I learned much more than that, sir. Most of them were so
shocked that all they could do was ask more questions,” Pucetti
“What exactly did you ask them?” Brunetti inquired.
“What you told me to, sir: how well they knew Moro and if they had
spoken to him in the last few days. None of them could think of
anything special the boy had said or done, nor that he had been
behaving strangely, and none of them said that Moro had been a
particular friend.” “And the faculty?” Brunetti asked.
“Same thing. None of the ones I spoke to could remember anything
strange about Moro’s behaviour in the last few days, and all of them
said he was a fine, fine boy but were quick to insist that they really
didn’t know him very well.”
All three of them recognized the phenomenon: most people refused to
know anything. It was rare for any person who was subject to
questioning or interrogation to admit to familiarity with the subject
of police inquiries. One of the texts Paola had dealt with in her
doctoral thesis was a medieval one entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. For
an instant Brunetti pictured it as a warm, dry place to which all
witnesses and potential witnesses fled in lemming-like terror and where
they huddled until no single question remained to be asked.
Pucetti went on. “I wanted to speak to his roommate, but he wasn’t
there last night, nor the night before.” Seeing interest in their
faces, he explained, Twenty-three boys, including Moro’s roommate, were
on a weekend trip to the Naval Academy in Livorno. Soccer. The game
was Sunday afternoon, and then they spent yesterday and this morning
going to classes there. They don’t get home until this evening.”
Vianello shook his head in tired resignation. “I’m afraid this is all
we’re going to get from any of them.” Pucetti shrugged in silent
Brunetti stopped himself from remarking that it was what they could
expect from a public which viewed authority and all who attempted to
impose it as adversaries. He had read enough to know that there were
countries whose citizens did not perceive their government as an
inimical force, where they believed, instead, that the government
existed to serve their needs and respond to their wishes. How would he
react if someone he knew were to maintain this to be true here, in this
city, in this country? Religious mania would be less convincing proof
of mental imbalance.
Vianello and Pucetti were to go back that afternoon and question the
rest of the boys and the remaining faculty. Leaving it at that,
Brunetti told them he would be up in his office, and left.
Curiosity and the desire to see Signorina Elettra and learn what she
had managed to discover led him off the stairs at her floor and into
her small office. Here he had the sensation that he had stepped into a
jungle or a forest: four tall trees with enormous leaves, broad, dark
green and shiny, stood in terra cotta pots against the back wall. With
their darkness as a backdrop, Signorina Elettra, today dressed in
colours usually seen only on Buddhist monks, sat at her desk. The
total effect was of an enormous piece of exotic fruit exposed in front
of the tree from which it had fallen.
“Lemons?” he asked.
“Where did you get them?”
“A friend of mine just directed Lulu at the opera. He had them sent
over after the last performance.”
She smiled. “The very same.”
“I don’t remember lemons in Lulu,” he said, puzzled, but willing, as
ever, to be graced with illumination.
“He set the opera in Sicily,” she explained.
“Ah,” Brunetti whispered, trying to remember the plot. The music,
mercifully, was gone. At a loss for what else to say, he asked, “Did
you go and see it?”
She took so long to answer that, at first, he thought he had somehow
offended her with the question. Finally, she said, “No, sir. My
standards are very low, of course, but I do draw the line at going to
the opera in a tent. In a parking lot.”
Brunetti, whose aesthetic principles were entrenched well behind that
same line, nodded and asked, “Have you been able to find out anything
Her smile was fainter, but it was still recognizably a smile. “Some
things have come in. I’m waiting for a friend in Siena to tell me more
about the wife Federica.”
“What about her?” Brunetti asked.
“She was involved in an accident there.”
“What kind of accident?”
“Hunting? A woman in a hunting accident?” he asked, his disbelief
She raised her eyebrows as if to suggest that anything at all was
possible in a world where Lulu was set in Sicily, but instead said, “I
shall pass over the glaring sexism in that remark, Commissario.” She
paused a didactic moment, then continued, “It happened a couple of
years ago. She was staying with friends in the countryside near Siena.
One afternoon, while she was out for a walk, she was shot in the leg.
Luckily, she was found before she bled to death and taken to the
“Was the hunter ever found?”
“No, but it was hunting season so they assumed that a hunter had heard
her and thought she was an animal and shot at the noise without seeing
what it was.”
“And didn’t bother to come and see what he had shot?” an indignant
Brunetti asked. He added another question. “Or when he saw what he
had shot, he didn’t help her or call for help?”
“It’s what they do,” she said, her voice matching his own in
indignation. “You read the papers, don’t you, every year when the
season opens, about the way three or four of them get shot on the first
day? It goes on all during hunting season. It’s not only the ones who
stumble over their own guns and blow their brains out.” Brunetti
thought her tone was devoid of anything approaching sympathy as she
said this. They shoot one another, too,” she went on, ‘and get left to
bleed to death because no one wants to run the risk of being arrested
for having shot someone.”
He started to speak, but she cut him off and added, “As far as I’m
concerned, it can’t happen often enough.”
Brunetti waited for her to calm down and retract her words but then
decided to leave the issue of her feelings toward
hunters unexamined and asked, “Were the police called? When she was
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m waiting for the police report.”
“Where is she now?” Brunetti asked.
That’s something else I’m trying to find out.”
“She’s not with her husband?”
“I don’t know. I had a look at the files at the Comune, but she’s not
listed as resident at his address, even though they own the apartment
jointly.” So habituated had Brunetti become to her useful criminality
that it did not for an instant trouble him that a person with greater
sympathy for legal precision would translate her phrase, ‘had a look
at’ as ‘broke into’.
There could certainly be many explanations for why Moro’s wife was not
registered as resident at his Dorsoduro address, though the most
obvious interpretation was that she did not live with her husband. “Let
me know when you get hold of the report on the shooting he said,
wondering if this would launch her into further denunciation. Like
most Venetians, Brunetti had no interest in hunting, judging it an
endeavour that was expensive, inconvenient, and excessively loud.
Further, experience as a policeman as well as his habit of reflecting
upon human behaviour had too often suggested a frightening correlation
between a man’s interest in firearms and feelings of sexual
“It could have been a warning,” she said without preamble.
The know,” he answered, having thought this the instant she told him
about the shooting. “But of what?”
The scepticism that had seeped into Bmnetti’s bones over the years
forced him to suspect that Signora Moro’s accident might have been
something other than that. She must have cried out when she was shot,
and the sound of a woman’s scream would surely have brought any hunter
running. Low as his opinion of hunters was, Brunetti could not believe
that one of them would leave a woman lying on the ground, bleeding.
That conviction led him to the consideration of what sort of person
would be capable of doing so, which in its turn led him to consider
what other sorts of violence such a person might be capable of.
He added to these speculations the fact that Moro had served in
Parliament for some time but had resigned about two years ago.
Coincidence could link events either in kind or subject or time: the
same sort of thing happened to different people or different things
happened to the same person, or things happened at the same time. Moro
had resigned from Parliament around the time his wife was injured.
Ordinarily, this would hardly arouse suspicion, even in someone as
instinctively mistrustful as Brunetti, were it not that the death of
their son provided a point from which to begin a process of speculative
triangulation around the ways in which the third event might be related
to the other two.
Brunetti thought of Parliament in the way most Italians thought of
their mothers-in-law. Not due the loyalties created by ties of blood,
a mother-in-law still demanded obedience and reverence while never
behaving in a manner that would merit either. This alien presence,
imposed upon a person’s life by sheerest chance, made ever-increasing
demands in return for the vain promise of domestic harmony. Resistance
was futile, for opposition inevitably led to repercussions too devious
to be foreseen.
He lifted the phone and dialled his home number. When the machine
answered after four rings, he hung up without speaking, bent down to
his bottom drawer, and took out the phone book. He flipped it open to
the Ps and kept turning pages until he found Perulli, Augusto. He
tossed the book back into the drawer and dialled the number.
After the third ring a man’s voice answered. “Perulli.”
This is Brunetti. I need to speak to you.”
After a long pause, the man said, “I wondered when you’d call.”
“Yes,” was Brunetti’s only response.
“I can see you in half an hour. For an hour. Then not until
“I’ll come now Brunetti said.
He kicked the drawer shut and left his office, then the Questura.
Because he had half an hour, he chose to walk to Campo San Maurizio,
and because he was early, he chose to stop and say hello to a friend in
her workshop. But his mind was on things other than jewellery, so he
did little more than exchange a kiss and promise to bring Paola to
dinner some time soon; then he crossed the campo and headed up towards
the Grand Canal.
He had last been to the apartment six years ago, near the end of a long
investigation of a trail of drug money that led from the noses of
adolescents in New York to a discreet account in Geneva, a trail that
paused long enough in Venice to invest in a couple of paintings meant
to join the money in the vault of that eminently discreet bank. The
money had made its way safely through the empyrean realms of
cyberspace, but the paintings, made of less celestial matter, had been
stopped at Geneva airport. One by Palma il Vecchio and the other by
Marieschi and thus both part of the artistic heritage of the country,
neither could be exported, at least not legally, from Italy.
A mere four hours after the discovery of the paintings, Augusto Perulli
had called the Cambinieri to report their theft. No proof could be
found that Perulli had been informed of their discovery a possibility
that would raise the unthinkable idea of police corruption and so it
was decided that Brunetti, who had gone to school with Perulli and had
remained on friendly terms with him for decades, should be sent to talk
to him. That decision had not been taken until the day after the
paintings were found, by which time the man who was transporting them
had somehow been released from police custody, though the precise
nature of the bureaucratic oversight permitting that error had never
been explained to the satisfaction of the Italian police.
When Brunetti finally did talk to his old schoolfriend, Perulli said
that he had become aware of the paintings’ disappearance only the day
before but had no idea how it could have happened. When Brunetti asked
how it could be that only two paintings had been taken, Perulli
prevented all further questioning by giving Brunetti his word of honour
that he knew nothing about it, and Brunetti believed him.
Two years later, the man who had been detained with the paintings was
again arrested by the Swiss, this time for trafficking in illegal
aliens, and this time in Zurich. In the
5i hope of making a deal with the police, he admitted that he had
indeed been given those paintings by Perulli, and asked to take them
across the border to their new owner, but by then Perulli had been
elected to Parliament and was thus exempt from arrest or prosecution.
“Ciao, Guido Perulli said when he opened the door to Brunetti,
extending his hand.
Brunetti was conscious of how theatrical was his own hesitation before
he took Perulli’s hand: Perulli was equally conscious of it. Neither
pretended to be anything but wary of the other, and both were open in
studying the other for signs of the years that had passed since their
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Perulli said, turning away and
leading Brunetti into the apartment. Tall and slender, Perulli still
moved with the grace and fluidity of the youth he had shared with
Brunetti and their classmates. His hair was still thick, though longer
than he had worn it in the past, his skin smooth and taut, rich with
the afterglow of a summer spent in the sun. When was it that he had
begun searching the faces of the acquaintances of his youth for the
telltale signs of age? Brunetti wondered.
The apartment was much as Brunetti remembered it: high ceilinged and
well-proportioned, sofas and chairs inviting people to sit at their
ease and speak openly, perhaps indiscreetly. Portraits of men and
women from former eras hung on the walls: Perulli, he knew, spoke of
them casually, suggesting that they were ancestors, when in reality his
family had for generations lived in Castello and dealt in sausage and
New were the ranks of silver-framed photos that stood on a not
particularly distinguished copy of a sixteenth-century Florentine
credenza. Brunetti paused to examine them and saw reflected in them
the trajectory of Perulli’s career: the young man with his friends; the
university graduate posed with one of the leaders of the political
party to which Perulli
had then given allegiance; while the adult man stood arm in arm with a
former mayor of the city, the Minister of the Interior, and the
Patriarch of Venice. Behind them, in an even more elaborate frame,
Perulli’s face smiled from the cover of a news magazine that had since
abandoned publication. This photo, and Perulli’s need that people see
it, filled Brunetti, against his will, with an enormous sadness.
“Can I offer you something?” Perulli asked from the other side of the
living room, standing in front of a leather sofa and clearly wanting to
settle this before he sat down.
“No, nothing,” Brunetti said. “Thanks.”
Perulli sat, pulling fussily at both legs of his trousers to keep them
from stretching at the knees, a gesture Brunetti had observed before,
but only in the old. Did he sweep the bottom part of his overcoat
aside before he sat down on the vaporetto?
The don’t suppose you want to pretend we’re still friends?” Perulli
The don’t want to pretend anything, Augusto,” Brunetti said. The just
want to ask you a few questions, and I’d like you to give me honest
“Not like the last time?” Perulli asked with a grin he tried to make
boyish but succeeded only in making sly. It caused Brunetti a moment’s
uncertainty: there was something different about Perulli’s mouth, about
the way he held it.
“No, not like the last time,” Brunetti said, surprised at how calm he
sounded, calm but tired.
“And if I can’t answer them?”
Then tell me so, and I’ll go
Perulli nodded, and then said, The didn’t have any choice, you know,
Brunetti acted as though the other hadn’t spoken and asked, “Do you
know Fernando Moro?”
He watched Perulli react to the name with something stronger than mere
“How well do you know him?”
“He’s a couple of years older than we are, and my father was a friend
of his, so I knew him well enough to say hello to on the street or
maybe go and have a drink with, at least when we were younger. But
certainly not well enough to call him a friend.” Some sense warned
Brunetti what was going to come next, so he was prepared to hear
Perulli say, “Not like I know you and so did not respond.
“Did you see him in Rome?”
“Socially or professionally?”
“Socially, no, but I might have run into him a few times at
Montecitorio. But we represented different parties, so we didn’t work
“No, we worked on different ones.”
“What about his reputation?”
“What about it?”
Brunetti restrained the sigh that seeped up from his chest and answered
neutrally, “As a politician. What did people think of him?”
Perulli uncrossed his long legs and immediately recrossed them the
opposite way. He lowered his head and raised his hand to his right
eyebrow and rubbed at it a few times, something he had always done when
he considered an idea or had to think about his response. Seeing
Perulli’s face from this new angle, Brunetti noticed that something was
different about the angle of his cheekbones, which seemed sharper and
more clearly defined than they had been when he was a student. His
voice, when he finally spoke, was mild. “I’d say people generally
thought he was honest.” He lowered his hand and tried a small smile,
“Perhaps too honest.” He enlarged the smile, that same engaging smile
that girls, then women, had proven unable to resist.
“What does that mean?” Brunetti asked, striving to fight against the
anger he felt growing in response to the sniggling tone of Perulli’s
Perulli didn’t answer immediately, and as he thought about what to say
or how to say it, he pursed his lips into a tight little circle a few
times, a gesture Brunetti had never noticed in him before. Finally he
said, “I suppose it means that he was sometimes difficult to work
That told Brunetti nothing, so he asked again, “What does that mean?”
Perulli couldn’t restrain a quick gleam of anger as he looked across at
Brunetti, but when he spoke his voice was calm, almost too calm. To
the people who disagreed with him, it meant that it was impossible to
persuade him to look at things from a different point of view.”
“Meaning their point of view?” Brunetti asked neutrally.
Perulli did not rise to the bait and, instead, said only, “From any
point of view different from the one he had decided on.”
“Did you ever have this experience with him?”
Perulli shook the idea away with a negative motion of his head. “I
told you, we never worked on the same committees.”
“What committees did he work on?” Brunetti asked.
Perulli put his head back against the top of his chair and closed his
eyes, and Brunetti could not stop himself from thinking that the
gesture was consciously posed to show the energy Perulli was willing to
expend in order to answer the question.
After what seemed an inordinately long time, Perulli said, “As far as I
can remember, he was on the committee that examined the Post Office,
and one that had something to do with farming, and a third one .. .” He
broke off and glanced at Brunetti with a very small, private smile,
then he continued, “I don’t really remember what that one was. Maybe
the mission in Albania, all that humanitarian aid stuff, or maybe the
one about farmers’ pensions. I can’t be sure.”
“And what did these committees do?”
What all of them do Perulli said, his voice honestly surprised that a
citizen should need to ask. They study the problem.”
To the government, of course.”
“And then what happens to their recommendations?”
They’re examined and studied, and a decision is made. And if it’s
necessary, a law is passed or the existing law is changed.”
“As simple as that, eh?” Brunetti said.
Perulli’s smile didn’t have time to blossom fully before the frost of
Brunetti’s tone blighted that smile.
“You can joke if you want, Guido, but it’s not easy, running a country
“You really think you run it?”
“Not I, personally,” Perulli said in a tone that suggested some regret
at this fact. “Of course not.”
“All of you together, then? The people in Parliament?”
“If not we, then who?” Perulli demanded, voice rising to something
that resembled indignation but was closer to anger.
“Indeed,” Brunetti said simply. After a long pause, he went on, his
voice perfectly normal, “Do you know anything else about these
committees, perhaps who else served on them?”
Deprived of an immediate target for his displeasure by Brunetti’s
sudden change of subject, Perulli hesitated before he answered. “I’m
not sure there’s much to be said about any one of them. They aren’t
important, and usually new members or those who aren’t well connected
get appointed to them.”
The see Brunetti said neutrally. “Do you know any of the other people
who served on these committees?”
He was afraid he had pushed Perulli too far and that the man might
dismiss his question or refuse to give him any more time, but after a
moment the parliamentarian answered, “I know one or two of them, but
not at all well.”
“Could you talk to them?”
“About what?” Perulli asked, immediately suspicious.
“No.” His answer was immediate.
“Why not?” Brunetti asked, though he was sure he knew the answer.
“Because, when you called, you said you wanted to ask me some
questions. You didn’t say you wanted me to start doing your job for
you.” As he spoke, Perulli’s voice grew more heated. He looked at
Brunetti, who said nothing, and that silence seemed to be enough to
unleash even more of Perulli’s anger. “I don’t know why you want to
know about Moro, but it’s a good thing someone’s going to take a closer
look at him.” Red spots the size of golf balls flashed into being on
“Why?” Brunetti asked.
Again, Perulli uncrossed his legs, but this time he leaned forward,
towards Brunetti, the forefinger of his right hand jabbing the space
between them. “Because he’s a sanctimonious bastard, always talking
about fraud and dishonesty and .. .” Here Perulli’s voice changed,
deepening and dragging out the final syllables of words in a way
Brunetti realized was very much like Moro’s. “Our responsibility to
the citizen,” he went on, the imitation suddenly becoming sarcastic
exaggeration. “We can’t continue to treat our offices, this
Parliament, as though it were a trough and we a herd of pigs,” Perulli
intoned. It was clear to Brunetti that he was again quoting Moro.
Brunetti thought the other man would go on: Augusto had never known
when a joke had gone on long enough. But Perulli surprised him by
lapsing into silence, though he
couldn’t resist the temptation to goad Brunetti by saying, “If he’s
done something, it’s no surprise to me: he’s no different from any one
“With your front trotters in the trough?” Brunetti asked mildly.
He might just as well have slapped the other man across the face.
Perulli lurched forward, his right hand aiming for Bj Brunetti’s
throat, but he had forgotten the low table between “I them. It caught
Perulli just below the knees and sent him sprawling across and then
Brunetti had risen to his feet while Perulli was clattering across the
table. Seeing him on the floor, stunned, he started to reach down to
help him to his feet but then stopped himself. Curious, he stepped to
one side and bent over to look closer. Perulli’s hair had fallen
forward, and Brunetti could see the little round, puckered scar just
behind the left ear. Gratified to have detected the cause of Perulli’s
youthful appearance, he stood and waited, and when he saw Perulli pull
his knees up under him and place his hands flat on the floor on either
side of him, Brunetti turned and left the apartment.
When he got outside and looked at his watch, Brunetti was surprised to
see that it was almost five. He found himself very hungry and
geographically halfway between work and home. He didn’t know what he’d
find to eat at home, and by the time he got there and had something, it
would be too late to bother to go back to the Questura. He sent the
feet of memory up towards San Marco, recalling every bar or trattoria
he knew on the way, then, at the thought of what he would encounter in
that direction, he re plotted the trip via Campo Sant’ Angelo and back
through Campo San Fantin. Knowing it was absurd and aware that he had
himself chosen to forgo lunch, he was assaulted by a wave of self-pity:
he was doing his job as best he knew how, and he found himself hungry
at a time when it would be impossible to get a meal. He remembered
then one of the few stories his father ever told about the war, though
he recalled it in a garbled fashion, for it had never been told the
same way twice. At some point, marching across Lower Saxony in the
days just after the end of the war, his father and two companions had
befriended by a stray dog that emerged from under a bombed house to
follow them. The next day, they ate the dog. Over the course of
decades, this story had taken on talismanic powers for Brunetti, and he
found himself unable to keep his mind from it whenever anyone talked
about food in a way he thought too precious, as though it were a
fashion accessory rather than a basic need. All he had to do was hear
one of Paola’s friends go on about her delicate digestion and how she
couldn’t even bear to buy vegetables that had been displayed next to
garlic, and the story came to mind. He remembered, years ago, sitting
across the table from a man who told the other guests how impossible it
was for him to eat any meat that had not come from his own butcher,
that he could taste the difference in quality instantly. When the man
finished the story, and after he had received the required accolade for
his delicacy of palate, Brunetti had told the story of the dog.
He cut through to Campo San Fantin and stopped in a bar for two
tramezzini and a glass of white wine. While he was there, an
attractive dark-haired woman came in for a coffee wearing a tight
leopard-patterned coat and an outrageous black hat that looked like a
black pizza balanced on a skullcap. He studied her for a moment as she
sipped at her coffee; indeed, he joined every man in the bar in
studying her. All of them, he concluded, joined with him in giving
thanks that she had come in to lift their hearts and brighten their
Cheered by having seen her, he left the bar and walked back to the
Quesrura. As he entered his office, he saw a folder lying on his desk,
and when he opened it he was astonished to discover the autopsy report
on Ernesto Moro. His immediate reaction was to wonder what Venturi was
up to, what manoeuvre or power play he might be involved in and against
whom. His speed in having performed the autopsy could be explained
only as an attempt to win Brunetti’s favour, and that favour could be
of use to the pathologist only
if he were planning to move against some rival or perceived rival
either in the police or the medical system.
Brunetti refused to speculate further about Venturi’s motives and
directed his attention to the report. Ernesto Moro had been in
excellent health at the time of his death, entirely free of any sign of
disease, not a single cavity in his teeth, though there was evidence of
previous orthodontic work. His left leg had been broken in the past,
perhaps as long as ten years ago, but had healed completely; tonsils
and appendix were still present.
The cause of death was strangulation. There was no way to judge how
far his body had fallen before the noose had tightened around his
throat, but it had not been sufficient to break his neck, so the boy
had strangled to death. It had not been, Venturi stated, a quick
process: the rope had caused extensive bruising of the front and right
side of his neck. This suggested that his last moments had been spent
in instinctive convulsions against the tightening cord. There followed
the exact dimensions of the shower stall in which his body had been
found and the possible extension of arms as long as his. Brunetti
thought of those sweeping marks on the wall of the shower.
From the evidence of the food in the boy’s stomach, it was likely that
he had died some time between midnight and three in the morning. There
was no evidence of drug use, and it seemed that he had consumed only a
moderate amount of wine with his last meal, probably no more than one
glass and certainly not enough to cloud his judgement in any way.
Brunetti put the papers back in the folder and left it lying open on
his desk. The report said everything just as it said nothing. He
tried to subtract the knowledge that Signora Moro had been shot and
view her son’s death as a separate event. The obvious possible motives
were thus some disappointment the boy had suffered or the desire to pay
someone back for a perceived injury. Once the mother was
put back into the equation, the possible motives expanded
exponentially. Instead of being viewed as the prime mover in the
action, the boy became a means and some other person the mover.
Following this filament of vague speculation, Brunetti saw ” that the
mother’s survival suggested she was not the prime | target, which left
Moro himself. But even that, he realized, led nowhere: until he had an
idea of what Moro might be a target of, or for whom, all speculation
was as flimsy as the jumbled bits and pieces of information upon which
he chose to base it.
The arrival of Signorina Elettra put an end to his fragmentary musings.
“You saw that?” she asked as she came in, nodding towards the autopsy
“Yes. What do you make of it?”
“I can’t understand it, why a boy like that would kill himself. It
doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“It’s not so unusual, I’m afraid, kids killing themselves.”
His remark seemed to cause her pain. She stopped in front of his desk,
another folder in one hand. “But why?”
“I spoke to one of the cadets over there. He said there was no way to
be sure about the future, or that there even would be one for them.”
“That’s nonsense,” she snapped angrily. “Of course there’s always a
“I’m just repeating what he told me.”
“A cadet?” she asked.
She was silent for a long time, then finally said, I went out with one
of them for a while.”
Immediately curious, Brunetti asked, “When you were a student?”
Her mouth moved in a sly smile: “Not last week, certainly.” Then she
went on, “Yes, when I was eighteen.” She looked down at the floor in a
moment’s reflection and then said, “No, as a matter of fact, I was only
sixteen. That explains it.”
He knew a set-up line when he heard it. “Explains what?”
“How I could have put up with him
Brunetti half rose in his chair and gestured towards the other. “Have
a seat, please.” She swept one hand behind her as she sat,
straightening her skirt, then placed the folder flat on her lap.
“What did you have to put up with?” he asked, puzzled by the idea of
Signorina Elettra as a person capable of enduring anything she didn’t
“I was going to say that he was a Fascist and that they all were, and
probably still are today, but it might not be true of all of them. So
I’ll say only that he was a Fascist, and a bully, and a snob and that
most of his friends were, too.” From long experience of her, Brunetti
could sense when Signorina Elettra was doing no more than practising
verbal solfeggi and when she was preparing to launch into an aria; he
detected signs of the second.
“But you see that only now?” he asked, offering her the briefest of
recitativi as a means of prompting the aria.
“We used to see them, my friends and I, swarming around the city in
their capes, and we thought they were the most exciting, wonderful boys
in the world. Whenever one of them spoke to one of us, it was as
though the heavens had opened to allow a god to descend. And then one
of them .. .” she began. Then, seeking the proper words, she changed
her mind and went on, “I began going out with one of them.”
“Going out?” he inquired.
“For a coffee, for a walk, just to go down to the Giardini to sit on a
bench and talk.” With a rueful smile, she corrected herself. To
listen, that is.” She smiled across at him. “I believe one could
employ a new noun here, sir: a listen, instead of a conversation.
That’s what I had whenever we met: a listen.”
“Perhaps it was a quicker way for you to get to know him Brunetti
“Yes,” she said brusquely. The got to know him.”
He didn’t know quite what question to ask. “And what was it that makes
you say those things about him?”
“That he was a snob and a Fascist and a bully?”
“You know Barbara, don’t you?” she asked, mentioning her older
“She was in medical school at the time, living in Padova, so I didn’t
see much of her except on the weekends. I’d been going out with Renzo
for about three weeks when she came home one weekend, and I asked her
to meet him. I thought he was so wonderful, so clever, so thoughtful.”
She snorted at the memory of her own youth and went on. “Imagine that,
thoughtful. At eighteen.” She took a deep breath and smiled at him,
so he knew that this story was going to have a happy ending.
“Whenever we were together, he talked about politics, history, all
those things I’d heard Barbara and my parents talk about for so long.
Nothing he said sounded much like what they said. But he had dark blue
eyes, and he had a car at home, in Milano, a convertible.” Again, she
smiled at the memory of the girl she had been, and signed.
When she seemed reluctant to continue, he asked, “And did Barbara meet
“Oh yes, and they hated one another after three words. I’m sure he
thought she was some sort of Communist cannibal, and she must have
thought he was a Fascist pig.” She smiled again at him.
“One of them was right.”
He laughed outright and asked, “How long did it take you to realize
“Oh, I suppose I knew it all along, but he did have those eyes. And
there was that convertible.” She laughed. “He carried a photo of it
in his wallet.”
At first, it was difficult for Brunetti to picture a Signorina Elettra
capable of this folly, but after a moment’s reflection, he realized
that it didn’t surprise him all that much.
“Oh, once Barbara started on him, when we got home, it was as if how do
they describe it in the Bible? as if “the scales fell from my eyes”?
Well, it was something like that. All I had to do was stop looking at
him and start listening to what he said and thinking about it, and I
could see what a vicious creep he was.”
“What sort of things?”
“The same things people like him are always saying: the glory of the
nation, the need to have strong values in the family, the heroism of
men in war.” She stopped here and shook her head again, like a person
emerging from rubble. “It’s extraordinary, the sort of things a person
can listen to without realizing what nonsense it is.”
“Well, when the people who say it are still children, I suppose it’s
nonsense. It’s when adults say it that it’s dangerous.”
“What became of him?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I imagine he graduated and went into the Army and
ended up torturing prisoners in Somalia. He was that kind of
“No, not really, but very easily led. He had all of the core beliefs.
You know the sort of things they say: honour and discipline and the
need for order. I suppose he got it from his family. His father had
been a general or something, so it’s all he’d ever been exposed to.”
“Like you, only different?” Brunetti asked, smiling. He knew her
sister, and so he knew what the politics of the Zorzis were.
“Exactly, only no one in my family has ever had a good
word to say about discipline or the need for order.” The pride with
which she said this was unmistakable.
He started to ask another question, but she got to her feet, as though
suddenly conscious of how much she had revealed, and leaned forward to
place the file on his desk. That’s what’s come in, sir,” she said with
a briskness that was strangely dissonant with the easy familiarity of
their conversation up to that point.
Thank you,” he said.
“It should all be clear, but if you need any explanation, call.”
He noticed that she didn’t tell him to come down to her office or to
ask her to come up to explain. The geographical limits of their
formality had been reestablished. |
“Certainly,” he said, and then repeated, as she turned i toward the
door, Thank you.”
The folder contained photocopies of newspaper articles about Fernando
Moro’s careers as doctor and politician. The first seemed to have led
to the second: he had first caught the public eye about six years ago,
when, as one of the inspectors commissioned to examine the quality of
hospital care in the Veneto, he had submitted a report calling into
question the statistics issued by the provincial government, statistics
which boasted one of the lowest patient to doctor ratios on the
continent. It was the Moro Report which indicated that the low figure
resulted from the inclusion in the statistics of three new hospitals,
facilities which were planned to provide medical care at the highest
level. Money had been allocated for their construction, and that money
had been spent, and thus the statistics included these hospitals and
factored in all of the services they were planned to provide. The
resulting figures were a three-day marvel, for the Veneto was thus
shown to have the best health care in Europe.
It was Fernando Moro’s report that pointed out the
inconvenient fact that those three hospitals, however grandiose their
plans, however extensive their staffs, and however varied the services
they were meant to provide, had never actually been built. Once their
services were subtracted from the tabulations, the health care provided
to the citizens of the Veneto fell to where its patients were
accustomed to judging it to be: somewhat below that of Cuba, though
certainly above that of Chad.
In the aftermath of the report, Moro had been lauded as a hero by the
press and had become one in the popular mind, but he found that the
administration of the hospital where he worked had decided that his
many talents would be better utilized if he were to take over the
administration of the old people’s home attached to the hospital. His
protest that, as an oncologist, he would be better employed in the
hospital’s oncology ward was brushed aside as false humility, and his
lateral transfer was confirmed.
This in its turn led to his decision to attempt to achieve public
office before his name dropped from public memory; perhaps a tactical
decision, but a no less successful one for that.
Moro had once remarked that his long familiarity with terminal illness
was perhaps the best preparation he could have had for a career in
Parliament. Late at night and only when among old and trusted friends,
he was rumoured to expand upon that metaphor, a fact which was not long
in filtering back to his fellow parliamentarians. This might well have
affected the nature of the committees to which he was appointed.
As he read the newspaper articles, all purporting to be neutral
presentation of fact but all tinted by the political affiliation of the
particular paper or journalist, Brunetti realized that he was colouring
the articles with the hues of his own memory. He had known, or at
least heard, about Moro for years, and as he tended to share the man’s
leanings, he knew he was prejudiced in the man’s favour and that he
presupposed his honesty. He knew just how dangerous this sort of
thinking was, especially for a policeman, yet Moro was hardly a
suspect: the totality of his grief excluded him from any suspicion of
involvement in his son’s death. “Or else I’ve never had a son; or else
I’ve never had a soul Brunetti caught himself whispering out loud.
He looked up at the door, embarrassed to have been so distracted by his
thoughts, but no one was there. He continued reading: the other
articles merely repeated the essential information contained in the
first few. Regardless of how insinuating the tone of some of the
journalists, no matter how carefully they constructed their specious
explanations of Moro’s behaviour, not even the dullest reader could
doubt the man’s integrity.
The tone of innuendo became even stronger in some of the articles
dealing with Moro’s sudden withdrawal from Parliament, a decision he
refused to attribute to anything other than ‘personal reasons’. The
first article, written by one of the best-known apologists of the
Right, raised the rhetorical question of the sort of connection that
might exist between Moro’s resignation and the arrest, two weeks
before, of one of the last members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang. “None,
probably,” Brunetti found himself whispering again, as had become his
annoying habit when reading this particular adornment of the free
The shooting of Moro’s wife was mentioned in two small articles,
neither of which did more than report the barest facts of the case. The
second article, however, provided the name of the people with whom she
was staying at the time of the shooting.
He picked up the phone and dialled 12, then asked for the number of
Giovanni Ferro in Siena or in the province of Siena. There were two,
and he took down both numbers.
He dialled the first number and a woman answered.
Who’s calling, please?”
This is Commissario Guido Brunetti, in Venice/ he said.
He heard a startled gasp and then she asked, voice tight and fast and
apparently beyond her control, Is it Federica?”
Tederica Moro?” he asked.
The woman was evidently too shaken to do more than answer, “Yes.”
“Signora, nothing’s happened to her, please believe me. I’m calling to
ask about the incident two years ago.” She said nothing, but Brunetti
could hear her rapid breathing on the other end of the line. “Signora,
can you hear me? Are you all right?”
There was another long silence, and he was afraid she was going to hang
up or already had, but then her voice came back, “Who did you say you
“Commissario Guido Brunetti. I’m with the police in Venice, Signora.”
Again, silence. “Signora, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” she said, The can hear you.” There was another long pause, and
then the woman said, “I’ll call you back’, and was gone, leaving
Brunetti with the memory of her terror and the strong aspirants of her
And indeed, thought Brunetti, as he replaced the receiver, why should
she believe that he was who he said he was? There was no way to prove
it, and the call was being made about a woman who had been shot and
whose assailant, presumably, had never been found by the police
Brunetti claimed to represent.
The phone rang after a few minutes. He picked it up on the first ring
and gave his name.
“Good/ she said. “I wanted to be certain.”
That’s very wise of you, Signora/ he said. The hope you’re reassured
that I am who I said I was.”
“Yes/ she agreed, then went on, “What do you want to know about
“I’m calling about the shooting because there’s a case it might be
related to. The newspapers said that she was staying with you and your
husband when it happened.”
“Could you tell me something more about it, Signora?”
Yet again there was a long pause, and then the woman asked, “Have you
spoken to her?”
“No, I haven’t, not yet.” He waited for her to speak.
“I think you should talk to her Signora Ferro said.
There was something in the way she said the last word that warned
Brunetti not to dispute this. “I’d very much like to be agreed
amiably. “Could you tell me where I might find her?”
“Isn’t she there?” the woman asked, the nervousness flooding back into
He adopted his most soothing tone. “You’re the first person I’ve
called, Signora. I haven’t had time to try to locate Signora Moro.” He
felt like an explorer on a glacier who suddenly sees an enormous
crevasse yawn open in front of him: so far he had said nothing about
the death of Signora Moro’s son and to do so at this point would be
impossible. “Is she here with her husband?”
Her voice became bland and noncommittal. “They’re separated,” she
“Ah, I didn’t know that. But is she still here in Venice?”
He could all but follow her thoughts as she considered this. A
policeman would find her friend; sooner or later, he’d find her. “Yes/
she finally answered.
“Could you give me the address?”
Slowly she answered: “Yes, wait while I get it, please.” There was a
soft tap as she set the phone down, then a long
silence, and then the woman was back. “It’s San Marco 2823,” she said,
then gave him the phone number, as well.
Brunetti thanked her and was considering what else he could ask her
when the woman said, “What you need to do is let the phone ring once
and then call back. She doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“I can understand that, Signora/ he said, the memory of Ernesto Moro’s
limp body suddenly appearing to him like the ghost of one of Ugolino’s
The woman said goodbye and hung up, leaving Brunetti, he realized, in
possession of little more information than he had had before he made
He was aware of how dark his office had become. The late afternoon sun
had faded away, and he doubted that he could any longer see the numbers
on the phone clearly enough to dial them. He walked over to the switch
by the door and turned on the light and was surprised by the
unaccustomed order he had established on his desk while talking to
Signora Ferro: a stack of folders sat at the centre, a piece of paper
to one side, a pencil placed across it in a neat horizontal. He
thought of the obsessive neatness of his mother’s house in the years
before she- lapsed into the senility in whose embrace she still lay,
and then the explosion of disorder in the house during the last months
before she was taken from it.
Seated at his desk again, he was suddenly overcome by exhaustion and
had to fight the impulse to lay his head on the desk and close his
eyes. It had been more than ten hours since they had been called to
the school, hours during which death and misery had soaked into him
like liquid into blotting paper. Not for the first time in his career
he found himself wondering how much longer he could continue to do this
work. In the past, he had comforted himself with the belief that a
vacation would help, and often his physical removal from the city and
the crimes he saw there did in fact serve to
lift his mood, at least for the time he was away. But he could think
of no removal in time or space that would lift from him the sense of
futility that he now felt assailing him from every side.
He knew he should try to call Signora Moro, willed himself to reach for
the phone, but he could not do it. Who was it whose gaze could turn
people to stone? The Basilisk? Medusa? With serpents for hair and an
open, glaring mouth. He conjured up an image of the tangled, swirling
locks, but could not remember who had painted or sculpted them.
His departure from the Questura had the feel of flight about it, at
least to Brunetti. His chair remained pushed back from his desk, his
door open, the papers set neatly at the centre of his desk, while he
fled the place and went home in a state not far from panic.
His nose brought him back to his senses. As he opened the door to the
apartment he was greeted by aromas from the kitchen: something
roasting, perhaps pork; and garlic, so pervasive it suggested that an
entire field of garlic had been seized and tossed into the oven along
with the pork.
He hung up his jacket, remembered that he had left his briefcase in his
office and shrugged off the thought. He paused at the door to the
kitchen, hoping to find his family already seated at the table, but the
room was empty, except for the garlic, the odour of which seemed to be
coming from a tall pot boiling over a low flame.
Devoting his entire attention to the smell, he attempted to remember
where he had smelled it before. He knew it was familiar, as a melody
is familiar even when a person cannot remember the piece from which it
comes. He tried to separate the scents: garlic, tomato, a touch of
rosemary, something fishy like clams or shrimp probably shrimp and,
perhaps, carrots. And the garlic, a universe of garlic. He summoned
up the sensation he had experienced in the office, of his spirit being
steeped in misery. He breathed deeply, hoping that the
garlic would drive the misery out. If it could drive away vampires,
then surely it could work its herbal magic against something as banal
as misery. He stood propped against the jamb, his eyes closed,
inhaling the scents, until a voice behind him said, “That is not the
proud stance of a defender of justice and the rights of the
Paola appeared beside him, kissed his cheek without really looking at
him, and slipped past him into the kitchen.
“Is that Guglielmo’s soup?”
“The very same,” Paola said, lifting the lid from the pot and taking a
long wooden spoon from the counter to stir at the contents. Twelve
heads of garlic,” she whispered, her voice filled with something that
“And we’ve survived it every time,” Brunetti added.
“Proof of divine intervention, I think,” Paola suggested.
“And, if Guglielmo is to be believed, a sure cure for worms and high
“And an even surer way to get yourself a seat on the vaporetto
Brunetti laughed, feeling his tension begin to evaporate. He
remembered their friend Guglielmo, who had served as military attache
in Cairo for four years, during which time he had studied Arabic,
converted to Coptic Christianity, and made a fortune smuggling
archaeological artefacts out of the country on military aeroplanes.
Devoted to food, he had taken with him, when he left, a broad variety
of recipes, most of which called for inordinate quantities of garlic.
“Is it true that they’ve found dried-up garlic in mummy coffins?”
Brunetti asked, pushing himself away from the door.
“You’d probably find it in the pockets of Guglielmo’s dress uniform,
too,” Paola observed, replacing the lid and taking her first good look
at her husband. Her voice changed. “What’s the matter with you?”
He tried to smile but failed. “Bad day.”
“A suicide that might not be.”
The death, the gender and the age stopped Paola in her tracks. She
took a deep breath, shook her head as if to dismiss superstitious
possibility, and put her hand on his arm. “Tell me about it.”
For a reason he didn’t understand, perhaps the same superstition,
Brunetti didn’t want to have to look at Paola as he told her about
Ernesto Moro, so he busied himself with taking down two glasses and
getting a chilled bottle of Tocai out of the refrigerator. As he went
through the business of opening the bottle, he spoke, deliberately
slowing his actions so that they would last as long as the explanation
he had to give. “He was a student at the San Martino. We had a call
this morning, and when we got there, we found him hanging in the
shower. Vianello did, that is.”
He poured two glasses of wine and handed one to Paola, who ignored it
and asked, “Who was he?”
“Fernando Moro’s son.”
“Yes,” Brunetti said and pressed the glass into her hand until she
“Does he know?”
Brunetti turned away from her, set his glass down, and opened the
refrigerator, searching for something he could eat by way of
distraction. His back to her, he went on, “Yes.”
She said nothing while he rooted around and found a plastic container
of olives, which he opened and placed on the counter. As soon as he
saw them, dark and plump in their yellow oil, he lost the taste for
them and picked up his glass again. Conscious of Paola’s attention, he
glanced at her.
“Did you have to tell him?”
“He came while I was there with the boy’s body, then I went and talked
to him at his home.”
Today?” she asked, unable to disguise what was either astonishment or
“I wasn’t there long he said and regretted the words the instant they
were out of his mouth.
Paola shot him a look, but what she saw on his face made her let his
remark pass without comment. The mother?” she asked.
“I don’t know where she is. Someone said she was here, in the city,
but I couldn’t call her.” Perhaps it was the way he said ‘couldn’t’
that caused Paola not to question him about this, either.
Instead, she asked, “What makes you think it might not be?”
“Habit,” he ventured.
The habit of doubt?” she asked. “I suppose you could call it that,”
Brunetti answered and finally allowed himself a sip of wine. Cool,
tight on his tongue, it gave him little comfort, though it reminded him
that comfort did exist in the world.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Paola asked, sipping for the first
time at her own wine.
“Later, perhaps. After dinner.”
She nodded, took another sip, and set the glass down. “If you want to
go and read for a while, I’ll set the table. The kids should be home
soon she began, and both of them were conscious of the word ‘kids’ and
the casual assertion it made that things had at least remained the same
for them, their family safe. Like a horse suddenly breaking stride to
avoid a hole below its front foot, her voice jogged over into
artificial jollity and she added, “And then we’ll eat.”
Brunetti went into the living room. He placed his glass on the table,
sat on the sofa, and picked up his book, Anna Comnena’s life of her
father, the Emperor Alexius. Half an
hour later, when Chiara came in to tell her father that dinner was
ready, she found him on the sofa, his book lying open and forgotten in
his lap, as he stared out at the rooftops of the city.
Much as Brunetti hoped that talking to Paola about the boy’s death
would serve to lessen the horror with which it filled him, it did not.
In bed, Paola curled beside him, he told her the events of his day,
struck by the grotesqueness of their bedtime talk. When he finished,
not hiding from her the anguish that had caused him to flee from-his
office without trying to contact Signora Moro, she propped herself up
on one elbow and looked down at his face.
“How much longer can you do this, Guido?” she asked.
In the dim moonlight, he glanced at her, then returned his attention to
the opposite wall, where the mirror glowed dimly in the light reflected
from the tiles of the terrace.
She allowed a certain time to pass in silence, and then asked,
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I can’t think about that until this is
“If it’s decided he committed suicide, then isn’t it already finished?”
The don’t mean finished that way he said dismissively. “I mean really
“Finished for you, you mean?” she asked. At other times, the words
would have been a demand, perhaps even a sarcastic observation, but
tonight they were only a request for information.
“I suppose so,” he admitted.
“When will that be?”
The accumulated exhaustion of the day enveloped him, almost as if it
had decided to wrap its arms around him and lull him to sleep. He felt
his eyes close and he rested in those other arms for a moment. The
room began to move away from him as he felt himself drawn towards
sleep. Suddenly able to see the events affecting the Moro family only
as a triangle created by coincidence, he whispered, “When the lines
aren’t there,” and gave himself to sleep.
The next morning, he woke to ignorance. The rays of the sun, reflected
off the same mirror and on to his face, pulled him from sleep, and in
the first moments of waking, he had no memory of the events of the
previous day. He moved a bit to the right and his body sensed Paola’s
absence; he turned his head to the left and saw the bell tower of San
Polo, the sunlight so clear upon it that he could make out the grey
blobs of cement that held the bricks together. A pigeon glided toward
the eaves under the tower roof, spread its wings to reduce speed, and
then set itself down in a soft-footed landing. It turned around twice,
bobbed about a bit, and then tucked its head under one wing.
Nothing the bird did was reminiscent of the events of the previous day,
but as its head disappeared under its wing, Brunetti had a sharp vision
of Ernesto Moro’s face at the moment that Vianello pulled the hem of
his cape across it.
Brunetti got out of bed and, careful to avoid himself in the mirror,
went down to the bathroom to take a shower. As he stood there,
shaving, he had no choice but to confront his
own eyes, and the face he saw looking back at him had the weary
dullness of every grief-stricken parent he had ever had to speak to.
How to explain that a child was dead, and even if it could be
explained, what explanation could hope to stem the torrent of grief
that must flow from those words?
Paola and the children were long gone, so he left the house, glad of
the chance to drink his coffee in the company of a familiar
pasticceria, with conversation no more demanding than the idle comments
someone might make to him. He bought both // Tempo and II Gazzettino
at the edicola in Campo Santa Marina and went into Didovich for a
coffee and a brioche.
CADET AT EXCLUSIVE VENETIAN SCHOOL HANGS HIMSELF, the first paper
declared on one of the inner pages, while the front page of the second
carried the headline, son of ex parliamentarian FOUND DEAD AT SAN
MARTINO. The loWCr case headlines informed the people of Venice that
the father of the victim had resigned from Parliament after his hotly
contested health report had been condemned by the then Minister of
Health, that the police were investigating the boy’s death, and that
his parents were separated. Reading the lead paragraphs, Brunetti was
sure that anyone who read them, regardless of the information contained
in the article that followed, would already suspect that the parents or
the way they lived was somehow related to, if not directly responsible
for, the boy’s death.
Terrible, isn’t it? This boy?” one of the women at the counter asked
the owner, waving her hand towards Brunetti’s newspaper. She bit into
her brioche and shook her head.
“What’s the matter with kids today? They have so much. Why can’t they
be content with it?” another one answered.
As if on cue, a third woman the same age as the other two, her hair the
standard post-menopausal red, set her coffee cup resoundingly back into
its saucer and said, “It’s because the
parents don’t pay attention to them. I stayed home to take care of my
children, and so nothing like this ever happened.” A stranger to this
culture might well assume that no option was open to the children of
working mothers but suicide. The three women nodded in united
disapproval at this latest proof of the perfidy and ingratitude of
youth and the irresponsibility of all parents other than themselves.
Brunetti folded his paper, paid, and left the pasticceria. The same
headlines blared forth from the yellow posters taped to the back wall
of the edicola. In their real grief, attacks like this could do no
more than glance off the souls of the Moros: this belief was the only
comfort Brunetti could find in the face of this latest evidence of the
mendacity of the press.
Inside the Questura, he went directly to his office, where he saw new
files lying on his desk. He dialled Signorina Elettra, who answered
the phone by saying, “He wants to see you immediately.”
It no longer surprised him when Signorina Elettra knew that it was he
who was calling: she had spent considerable police funds in having
Telecom install a new phone line in her office, though the moneys
currently available could not provide for anyone except her to have a
terminal on which the number of the caller appeared. Nor was he
surprised by her use of the pronoun: she granted this distinction only
to her immediate superior, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta.
“Immediately now?” he asked.
“Immediately yesterday afternoon, I’d say,” she answered.
Brunetti went downstairs and into her office without taking time to
examine the folders. He had expected to find Signorina Elettra at her
desk, but her office was empty. He stuck his head back outside the
door to check to see if she were in the hallway, but there was no sign
Reluctant to present himself to Patta without first having some
indication of his superior’s mood or what it was Patta wanted to see
him about, Brunetti toyed with the idea of
going back to his office to read the folders or to the officers’ room
to see if Vianello or Pucetti were there. As he stood undecided, the
door to Vice-Questore Patta’s office opened, and Signora Elettra
emerged, today wearing what looked very much like a bomber jacket,
buttoned tight at the waist, puffy and full over the bust and
shoulders; well, a bomber jacket, were bombardiers given to the wearing
of uniforms made of apricot-coloured raw silk.
Patta had a clear view from his office into hers. “I’d like to see
you, Brunetti,” he called. Brunetti glanced at Signorina Elettra as he
turned toward Patta’s door, but the only thing she had time to do was
push her lips tightly together in either disapproval or disgust. Like
ships in the night, they passed, barely acknowledging the presence of
“Close the door,” Patta said, glancing up and then back at the papers
on his desk. Brunetti turned to do so, certain that Patta’s use of the
word ‘please’ would provide the clue to what sort of meeting this would
be. The fact that Brunetti had time to formulate this thought
destroyed any possibility that it was going to be a pleasant
interchange of ideas between colleagues. A short delay would be the
habitual flick of the whip from a carriage driver: aimed to snap the
air and catch the beast’s attention without doing it any harm, it was
an unconscious assertion of command, not meant to inflict damage. A
longer delay would demonstrate Patta’s irritation without revealing its
cause. The complete absence of the word, as on this occasion, was
indicative of either fear or rage: experience had taught Brunetti that
the first of these was the more dangerous, for fear drove Patta to the
reckless endangerment of other people’s careers in his attempt to
protect his own. This evaluation was complete long before Brunetti
turned to approach his superior, and so the sight of a glowering Patta
did not intimidate him.
“Yes, sir?” he asked with a serious face, having learned that
neutrality of expression and tone was expected of him in
these moments. He waited for Patta to wave him to a chair, consciously
imitating the behaviour of a non-Alpha male dog.
“What are you waiting for?” Patta demanded, still without looking at
him. “Sit down.”
Brunetti did so silently and placed his arms in neat horizontals on the
arms of the chair. He waited, wondering what scene Patta was going to
play and how he was going to play it. A minute passed silently. Patta
continued to read through the file that lay open before him,
occasionally turning a page.
Like most Italians, Brunetti respected and approved of beauty. When he
could, he chose to surround himself with beauty: his wife, the clothes
he wore, the paintings in his home, even the beauty of thought in the
books he read: all of these things gave him great pleasure. How, he
wondered, as he did whenever he encountered Patta after a gap of a week
or so, how could a man so very handsome be so utterly devoid of the
qualities usually attributed to beauty? The erect posture was solely
physical, for the ethical Patta was an eel; the firm jaw bespoke a
strength of character that was manifested only in stubbornness; and the
clear dark eyes saw only what they chose to see.
Caught in this reflection, Brunetti didn’t notice when Patta finally
turned his attention to him, nor did he hear the Vice Questore’s first
words, tuning in only toward the end ‘… your mistreatment of his
Like a scholar piecing together a coherent meaning from a fragment of
text, Brunetti realized that the students must be those at the San
Martino Academy, and the only person capable of using the possessive
pronoun when speaking of them the Comandante.
“I chanced into the room of one of them, and we discussed his class
work. I don’t think this can be construed in any way as mistreatment,
“Not only you Patta said, overriding Brunetti and giving no indication
that he had bothered to listen to his explanation. “One of your
officers. I was at a dinner last night, and the father of one of the
boys said your officer was very rough when he questioned his son.”
Patta allowed the full horror of this to sink in before adding, The
father was at school with General D’Ambrosio.”
“I’m sorry, sir Brunetti said, wondering if the boy would go on to
complain to his father should he experience rough treatment from the
enemy in battle, “I’m sure if he had known that, he would have shown
him more courtesy
“Don’t try being smart with me, Brunetti/ Patta shot back, displaying a
quicker sensitivity to Brunetti’s tone than usual. “I don’t want your
men in there, strong-arming these boys and causing trouble. These are
the sons of some of the best people in the country and I won’t have
them treated like this.”
Brunetti had always been fascinated by the way the police shuttlecocked
back and forth between Patta and all the others who might be seen as
responsible for them: when they solved a case or behaved bravely, they
were Patta’s police, but all cases of mis behaviour incompetence or
negligence were clearly attributable to their behaving like the police
of someone else, in this case, Brunetti.
“I’m not sure there’s any question of their being mistreated, sir
Brunetti said mildly. “I asked an officer to speak to the other
students and try to find out if the Moro boy had been behaving
strangely or if he had said anything that would indicate he had been
thinking about suicide.” Before Patta could interrupt, he went on, “I
thought this would help make it even clearer that the boy had committed
“Clearer than what?” Patta asked.
Than the physical evidence, sir Brunetti answered.
For a moment, he thought that Patta was about to say, “Good.” Surely
his face grew less tense and he, too, let out a deep breath. But all
he said was, “Very well. Then let’s file it
as suicide and let the school begin to get back to normal.”
“Good idea, sir said Brunetti, then, as if the idea had just occurred
to him, “But what do we do if the boy’s parents aren’t satisfied?”
“What do you mean, “aren’t satisfied?”
“Well, the father has a history of causing trouble,” Brunetti began,
shaking his head as if thinking of the shocking scepticism towards
public institutions demonstrated in the Moro Report. “And so I
wouldn’t want to be responsible for a report about his son’s death that
left anything open to question.”
“Do you think there’s a chance of that?”
“Probably not, sir,” Brunetti answered. “But I wouldn’t want to leave
something undone that a person as difficult as Moro could point to and
ask questions about. He’d be sure to make it look bad for us. And
he’s certainly a person who gets his fair share of public attention.”
Brunetti stopped himself from saying more.
Patta gave all of this some thought and finally asked, “What do you
Brunetti feigned surprise that he should be asked such a thing. He
started to speak, stopped, and then went on, giving every evidence that
he’d never considered this possibility. “I suppose I’d try to find out
whether he took drugs or showed signs of depression.”
Patta appeared to consider all of this and then said, “It would be
easier for them to bear it if they were certain, I suppose.”
Brunetti risked a question. “Do you know them?”
The father, yes,” Patta said.
Because this was still not followed by an attack on the man, Brunetti
dared to ask, Then do you think we should go ahead like this, sir?”
Patta sat up straighter and moved a heavy Byzantine coin he used as a
paperweight from one side of his desk to the other. “If it doesn’t
take too much time, all right.” How typically Patta was this answer:
having commissioned the investigation, he had simultaneously assured
that any delay would be laid at the feet of someone else.
“Yes, sir,” Brunetti said and got to his feet. Patta turned his
attention to a thin file on his desk and Brunetti let himself out.
In the small outer office, he found Signorina Elettra at her desk, head
bent over what appeared to be a catalogue. He looked closer and saw a
double-page spread of computer screens.
She glanced up and smiled.
“Didn’t you just buy one of those?” he asked, pointing to the screen
to her right.
“Yes, but they’ve just come out with new ones, perfectly flat screens,
as thin as a pizza. Look,” she said, pointing a scarlet fingernail at
one of the photos in the catalogue. Though he found her simile
surreal, he had to agree it seemed accurate enough.
He read the first two lines of print and, seeing too many numbers and
initials, to make no mention of a word he thought was ‘gigabytes’ he
sped to the bottom where the price was given. That’s a month’s
salary,” he said, in astonishment, aware that there was more than a
little disapproval in his tone.
“Closer to two,” she added, ‘if you get the larger LCD screen.”
“Are you really going to order it?” he asked.
“I’ve no choice, I’m afraid.”
“I’ve already promised this one she began, indicating her all-but-new
computer screen as though it were a bag of old clothing she was asking
the cleaning lady to dispose of, ‘to Vianello.”
Brunetti decided to let it go. There seems to be some connection
between the Vice-Questore and Dottor Moro/ he began. “Do you think you
could find out more about that?”
She had returned her attention to the catalogue. “Nothing easier, sir
she said, and turned a page.
Venice, like every other city in the country, was feeling the
consequences of the government’s refusal to adopt an immigration policy
that was related in any sane way to the realities of immigration. Among
the consequences which did not affect Brunetti directly were the
thousands of illegal immigrants who profited from the easygoing Italian
policy and who then, in possession of Italian documents legitimizing
their presence on the continent, passed to northern countries where
they would be able to work with some protection under the law. There
was also the resulting irritation on the part of other governments at
the ease with which the Italians washed their hands of the problem by
passing it on to them.
Venice, and Brunetti, had begun to feel the consequences in their own
way: the number of pickpocketings had skyrocketed; shoplifting was a
problem for even the smallest merchants; and no householder any longer
felt that his home was safe from robbery. Since most of these cases
passed through the Questura, Brunetti registered the increase, but he
felt it lightly, as a person with a mild cold might discover that ins
temperature has increased a degree or two without feeling any real
symptoms. If this increase in petty crime produced any symptoms for
Brunetti himself, it was in the amount of paperwork he was obliged to
initial and, presumably, read.
It was a period in which there was very little violent crime in the
houses or on the streets of Venice, and so Patta, no doubt feeling
withdrawal symptoms after his name had not appeared in the Gazzettino
for more than a week, ordered Brunetti, and requested Signorina
Elettra, to prepare a report providing statistics which would show the
high clear-up rate of the Venetian police. The report, he stipulated,
was to show that the perpetrators of most crimes were found and
arrested and that, during the last year, there had been a consequent
decrease in crime within the city.
“But that’s nonsense,” Brunetti said, when Signorina Elettra informed
him of their task.
“No more nonsensical than any other statistic we’re provided with she
His patience short because of the time he knew he’d waste in preparing
this report, he asked curtly, “Like what?”
“Like the statistics about road fatalities,” she said, smiling, patient
in the face of his annoyance.
“What about them?” he asked, not really interested, yet doubtful that
anything so well documented could be altered.
“If you die a week or more after you’re injured in an accident, you
didn’t die because of the accident,” she said, almost with pride. “At
least, not statistically.”
“Does that mean the hospitals kill you?” he asked, aiming towards
“That’s certainly often enough the case, sir,” she said with every
appearance of patience. “I’m not sure just how they list these deaths,
but they aren’t counted as traffic fatalities.”
Not for an instant did it occur to Brunetti to doubt her. Her
idea, however, sent his mind tumbling back to the report they had to
prepare. “Do you think we could use this technique ourselves?”
“You mean, if someone who is murdered takes a week to die, they weren’t
murdered?” she asked. “Or if a theft is reported after more than a
week, then nothing was stolen?” He nodded, and Signorina Elettra
devoted herself to considering the possibility. Finally she answered,
“I’m sure the Vice-Questore would be delighted, though I’m afraid there
would be certain difficulties if we were questioned about it.”
He drew his imagination away from these angel flights of mathematics
and back to the grim truth of the report they had to write. “Do you
think we can do it and get the results he wants?”
Her voice grew serious. “I think what he wants won’t be hard to give
him. All we have to do is exercise caution about the number of crimes
“What does that mean?”
“That we count only those where people came down here or went to the
Carabinieri to fill out a formal den uncia
“What will that achieve?”
“I’ve told you before, Commissario. People don’t bother to report
crimes, least of all pick-pocketing or burglary. So when they phone to
report it but then don’t bother to come down here to fill out the
papers, the crime hasn’t been reported.” She paused for a moment,
allowing Brunetti, who knew just how Jesuitical her reasoning could be,
to prepare himself for the consequences towards which this must lead
her. “And if there is no official den uncia which, in a certain sense,
means the act never occurred then I see no reason why we should have to
include them in our calculations.”
“What percentage would you estimate people don’t bother to report?” he
“I have no way of knowing, sir,” she said. “After all, it’s
philosophically impossible to prove a negative.” There
followed another pause, and then she said, “I’d guess a bit more than
“Are or aren’t reported?” a surprised Brunetti asked.
This time it was Brunetti who paused for a long time before he said,
That’s very lucky for us, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” was her response, then she asked, “Would you like me to take
care of it, sir? He wants it for the newspapers, and they want to be
able to say that Venice is a happy island, virtually free from crime,
so no one is likely to question my numbers or my accounting.”
“It is, though, isn’t it?” he asked.
“What, a happy island?”
“In comparison with the rest of the country, yes, I think so.”
“How long do you think it will stay like that?”
Signorina Elettra shrugged. As Brunetti was turning to leave her
office, she opened her desk drawer and took a few sheets of paper from
it. “I didn’t forget about Dottor Moro, sir,” she said as she handed
it to him.
He thanked her and left her office. As he walked up the stairs, he saw
that it explained the reason for Patta’s familiarity with Dr. Fernando
Moro. There was nothing unusual: Signora Patta’s mother had been a
patient of Moro’s since he had returned to the practice of medicine.
Signorina Elettra had not managed to provide copies of her medical
records, but she had supplied the dates of her visits to Dottor Moro,
twenty-seven in all during the last two years. At the bottom,
Signorina Elettra had added, in her own hand: “Breast cancer.” He
checked the date of the last appointment: little more than two months
As with any superior, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta was often the
subject of speculation among those under his command. His motives for
action or inertia were usually transparent: power, its maintenance and
9i the past, however, he had proven capable of great weakness, had even
been deflected from his headlong pursuit of power, but only when he
acted in defence of his family. Brunetti, though often suspicious of
Patta and usually deeply contemptuous of his motives, felt nothing but
respect for this weakness.
Brunetti had told himself that decency demanded he wait at least two
days before attempting to speak again to either of the boy’s parents.
That time had passed, and he arrived at the Questura that morning with
the intention of interviewing one or both of them. Dottor Moro’s home
phone was answered by a machine. The phone at his practice said that,
until further notice, the doctor’s patients would be seen by Doctor D.
Biasi, whose office hours and phone number were given. Brunetti re
dialled the first number and left his name and his direct number at the
Questura, requesting that the doctor call him.
That left the mother. Signorina Elettra had provided a brief
biography. Venetian, like her husband, she had met Moro in liceo, then
both had gone on to the University of Padova, where Moro opted for
medicine, Federica for child psychology. They married when her studies
were completed but didn’t return to Venice until Moro was offered a
place at the Ospedale Civile, when she had opened a private practice in
Their legal separation, which took place with unseemly haste after her
accident, had been a surprise to their friends. They had not divorced,
and neither appeared to be involved with another person. There was no
evidence that they had contact with one another, and any communication
they had seemed to take place through their lawyers.
Signorina Elettra had clipped the article about Ernesto’s death that
had appeared in La Nuova to the outside of the folder. He chose not to
read it, though he did read the caption under the photo of the family,
‘in happier times’.
Federica Moro’s smile was the centre of the photo: she stood with her
right arm wrapped around the back of her husband, her head leaning on
his chest, her other hand ruffling her son’s hair. The photo showed
them on a beach, in shorts and T-shirts, tanned and bursting with
happiness and health; behind them the head of a swimmer bobbed just to
her husband’s right. The picture must have been taken years ago, for
Ernesto was still a boy, not a young man. Federica looked away from
the camera, and the other two looked at her, Ernesto’s glance open and
proud, as who would not be proud to have such an attractive woman as a
mother? Fernando’s look was calmer, yet no less proud.
One of them, Brunetti thought, must just have said something funny, or
perhaps they’d seen something on the beach that made them laugh. Or
was it the photographer, perhaps, who had been the clown of the moment?
Brunetti was struck by the fact that, of the three of them, Federica
had the shortest hair: boyish, only a few centimetres long. It stood
in sharp contrast to the fullness of her body and the natural ease with
which she embraced her husband.
Who would dare to publish such a photo, and who could have given it to
the paper, surely knowing how it would be used? He slipped the
clipping free and stuck it inside the folder. The same number Signora
Ferro had given him was written on the outside; he dialled, forgetting
what she had told him about letting it ring once and hanging up.
On the fourth ring, a woman’s voice answered, saying only “SIT
“Signora Moro?” Brunetti asked.
“Signora, this is Commissario Guido Brunetti. Of the police. I’d be
very grateful if you would find the time to speak to me.” He waited
for her to reply, then added, “About your son.”
“Aah,” she said. Then nothing for a long time.
“Why have you waited?” she finally asked, and he sensed that having to
ask the question made her angry.
“I didn’t want to intrude on your grief, Signora.” When she was
silent, he added, “I’m sorry.”
“Do you have children?” she surprised him by asking.
“Yes, I do.”
“I have a daughter he began, then said the rest quickly, “My son is the
same age as yours.”
“You didn’t say that at the beginning,” she said, sounding surprised
that he should have failed to use such an emotive tool.
Unable to think of anything suitable to say, Brunetti asked “May I come
and speak to you, Signora?”
“Any time you want she said, and he had a vision of days, months,
years, an entire lifetime stretching away from her.
“May I come now?” he asked.
“It’s all the same, isn’t it?” she asked; it was a real request for
information, not a sarcastic or self-pitying pose.
“It should take me about twenty minutes to get there he said.
“I’ll be here she replied.
He had located her address on the map and so knew which way to walk. He
could have taken the boat up towards San Marco, but he chose to walk up
the Riva, cutting through the Piazza and in front of the Museo Correr.
He entered Frezzerie and turned left at the first cafe on his left. It
was the second door on the right, the top bell. He rang it, and with
no question asked through the intercom, the door snapped open and he
The entrance hall was damp and dark, though no canal was nearby. He
climbed to the third floor and found, directly opposite him, an open
door. He paused, called, “Signora Moro?” and heard a voice say
something from inside, so he went in and closed the door behind him. He
went down a
narrow corridor with a cheap machine-made carpet on the floor, towards
what seemed to be a source of light.
A door stood open on his right and he stepped inside. A woman was
sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, and light filtered in
from two curtained windows that stood behind her. The room smelled of
cigarette smoke and, he thought, mothballs.
“Commissario?” she asked, raising her face to look in his direction.
“Yes/ he answered. Thank you for letting me come.”
She waved his words away with her right hand, then returned the
cigarette it held to her mouth and inhaled deeply. There’s a chair
over there she said, exhaling and pointing to a cane-seated chair that
stood against the wall.
He brought it over and set it facing her, but not very close and a
short distance to one side. He sat and waited for her to say
something. He didn’t want to seem to stare at her and so he directed
his attention to the windows, beyond which he saw, just on the other
side of the narrow calle, the windows of another house. Little light
could get in that way. He turned his attention back to her and, even
in this strange penumbra, recognized the woman in the photo. She
looked as though she’d been on a crash diet that had drawn the flesh
tight on her face and honed the bones of her jaw until they were so
sharp that they would soon come slicing through the skin. The same
process seemed to have pared her body down to the bare essentials of
shoulders, arms, and legs contained in a heavy sweater and dark slacks
that accentuated her body’s frailty.
It became evident that she was not going to speak, was simply going to
sit with him and smoke her cigarette. “I’d like to ask you some
questions, Signora/ he began, and exploded in a sudden fit of nervous
“Is it the cigarette?” she asked, turning to the table on her right
and making to put it out.
He raised a reassuring hand. “No, not at all he gasped but was gripped
by another coughing fit.
She stabbed out the cigarette and got to her feet. He started to get
to his, doubled over by his coughing, but she waved him back and left
the room. Brunetti lowered himself into the chair and continued to
cough, tears streaming from his eyes. In a moment, she was back,
handing him a glass of water. “Drink it slowly,” she said. Take small
Still shaking with the attempt to control himself, he took the glass
with a nod of thanks and put it to his lips. He waited for the spasms
to subside and took a small sip, and then another and another until all
of the water was gone and he could breathe freely again. Occasionally,
puffs of air rushed from his lungs, but the worst was over. He leaned
down and set the glass on the floor. “Thank you,” he said.
“It’s nothing,” she answered, taking her place in the chair opposite
him. He saw her reach instinctively to the right, towards the pack of
cigarettes that lay on the table, and then lower her hand to her lap.
She looked over at him and asked, “Nerves?”
He smiled. “I think so, though I don’t think I’m supposed to say
“Why not?” she asked, sounding interested.
“Because I’m the policeman, and we’re not supposed to be weak or
That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”
He nodded, and in that instant recalled that she was a psychologist.
He cleared his throat and asked, “Could we begin again, Signora?”
Her smile was minimal, a ghost of the one on her face in the photo that
still lay on his desk. “I suppose we have to. What is it you’d like
“I’d like to ask you about your accident, Signora/
Her confusion was visible, and he could understand its
cause. Her son was recently dead in circumstances that had yet to be
officially determined, and he was asking her about something that had
happened more than two years ago. “Do you mean in Siena?” she finally
“Why do you want to know about that?”
“Because no one seemed curious about it at the time.”
She tilted her head to one side as she considered his answer. “I see
she finally said, then added, “Should they have been?”
That’s what I’m hoping to learn, Signora.”
Silence settled in between them and Brunetti, having no option, sat and
waited to see if she would tell him what had happened. In the minutes
that passed, she glanced aside at the cigarettes twice, and the second
time he almost told her to go ahead and smoke, that it wouldn’t bother
him, but he said nothing. As the silence lengthened, he studied the
few objects he could see in the room: her chair, the table, the
curtains at the window. All spoke of a taste far different from the
casual wealth he had observed in Moro’s home. There was no attempt to
suit style to style or do anything more than provide furniture that
would meet the most basic needs.
“I’d gone down to our friends on the Friday morning,” she said,
surprising him when she finally began to speak. “Fernando was supposed
to get there on the last train, at about ten that night. It was a
beautiful day, late autumn but still very warm, so I decided to go for
a walk in the afternoon. I was about a half a kilo metre from the
house when I heard a loud noise it could have been a bomb for all I
knew and then I felt a pain in my leg, and I fell down. It wasn’t as
if anyone had pushed me or anything: I just fell down.”
She glanced across at him, as if to establish whether he could possibly
find any of this interesting. He nodded and she went on. “I lay
there, too stunned to do anything. It didn’t even hurt all that much
then. I heard noises from the woods
that I had been walking towards. Well, not really woods, perhaps an
acre or two of trees. I heard something moving around in there and I
wanted to shout for help, but then I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I
didn’t. I just lay there.
“A minute or two must have passed, and then, over from where I’d come
from, two dogs came running toward me, barking their heads off, came
right up to me and started jumping around, barking all the time. I
shouted at them to shut up. My leg had started to hurt then, and when
I looked at it, I realized I’d been shot, so I knew I had to do
something. And then there were these hunting dogs, barking and dancing
around me like crazy things.”
She stopped talking for so long that Brunetti was forced to ask, “What
The hunters came. The men whose dogs they were, that is. They saw the
dogs and they saw me on the ground and they thought the dogs had
attacked me, so they came running and when they got to us they started
kicking the dogs away and hitting at them with the ends of their guns,
but the dogs weren’t doing anything. They probably saved my life,
She stopped and looked directly at him, as if to ask if he had any
questions, and when he said nothing, she went on, “One of them used his
handkerchief and made a tourniquet, and then they carried me to their
Jeep, which was just at the edge of the woods. And they took me to the
hospital. The doctors there are used to this kind of thing: hunters
are always shooting themselves or other hunters down there, it seems.”
She paused and then said softly, “Poor things,” in a voice so filled
with real sympathy that he was struck by how vulgar and cheap his
conversation with Signorina Elettra sounded in comparison.
“Did they ask you at the hospital how it happened, Signora?”
The men who found me told them what had happened, so
all I did, when I came out from surgery, was confirm what they’d
That it was an accident?” he asked.
“Yes.” She said the word with no special tone.
“Do you think it was?” he asked.
Again, there was a long delay before she spoke. “At the time, I didn’t
think it could have been anything else. But since then I’ve started to
wonder why whoever it was that shot me didn’t come to see what they’d
done. If they thought I was some sort of an animal, they would have
come to check that they’d killed me, wouldn’t they?”
That was what had troubled Brunetti ever since he’d first heard the
“And when they heard the dogs and then the other hunters, they would
have come to see what all that was about, if they thought someone else
was going to take the animal they’d killed.” She let some time pass
and then said, “As I said, I didn’t think about any of this at the
“And what do you think now?”
She started to speak, stopped herself, and then said, “I don’t mean to
be melodramatic, but I have other things to think about now.”
So did Brunetti. He was wondering if a police report had been filed of
the incident, if the two hunters who found her had noticed anyone in
Brunetti could no longer keep her from her cigarettes, so he said, “I
have only one more question, Signora.”
She didn’t wait for him to ask it. “No, Ernesto didn’t kill himself.
I’m his mother, and I know that to be true. That’s another reason why
I think it wasn’t an accident.” She prised herself from her chair,
said, “If that was your last question …” and started towards the
door of the room. Her limp was slight, the merest favouring of her
right leg when she walked, and as she wore slacks, he had no idea of
the damage that had been done to her leg.
He let her lead him to the door of the apartment. He thanked her but
didn’t offer his hand. Outside, it had grown marginally warmer, and as
it was already after noon, Brunetti decided to go directly home for
lunch with his family.
Brunetti arrived before the children did, so he opted to keep Paola
company while she finished preparing the meal. As she set the table,
he lifted pot lids and opened the oven, comforted to find nothing but
familiar dishes: lentil soup, chicken smothered in red cabbage, and
what looked like radicchio di Treviso.
“Are you bringing all of your detective skills to bear in examining
that chicken?” Paola asked as she set glasses on the table.
“No, not really,” he said, closing the oven and standing upright. “My
investigation has to do with the radicchio, Signora, and whether there
are perhaps traces in it of the same pancetta I detected in the lentil
“A nose as good as that,” she said, coming over and placing the tip of
her finger on it, ‘could effectively put an end to crime in this city.”
She lifted the lid from the soup and stirred it round a bit, then said,
“You’re back early.”
“I was over near San Marco and so it didn’t make any sense to go back,”
he said, taking a sip of mineral water. “I went to
see Signora Moro/ he began, pausing to see if Paola would react. She
did not, so he went on, “I wanted to talk to her about the hunting
“And?” Paola prodded.
“Someone shot at her from the woods near her friends’ house, but then
some other hunters came along and took her to the hospital.”
“Are you sure they were other hunters?” Paola asked, giving evidence
that her native scepticism had been enhanced by more than two decades
of marriage to a policeman.
“It would seem so he said, leaving it at that.
Knowing how reluctant he would be to mention him, Paola asked, “And the
“She said that he didn’t kill himself, and that’s all she said.”
“She’s his mother,” Paola said. “Believe her.”
“It’s as simple as that?” Brunetti asked, unable to disguise his own
“Yes, it’s as simple as that. If anyone knew what he was capable of,
Unwilling to argue the point, he poured himself another glass of water
and wandered over to stand at the window that looked off to the north.
From behind him, Paola asked, “What’s she like?”
He thought about the woman, remembered her voice, the eyes that took
little interest in seeing him, the paper-thin skin of her neck.
“Reduced/ he finally said. “She’s not a whole person any more.” He
thought Paola would ask about this, but she didn’t. “All I saw was a
photo of her, taken some years ago, with the boy. And her husband. She
still looks like the same person; I mean, you could recognize her from
the photo, but there’s less of her.”
“That makes sense Paola said, ‘there is less of her.”
He had no idea why he thought Paola would have an answer, but he asked
her anyway, “Will that ever go away, the diminishing?”
It was only then that Brunetti realized that his question would force
Paola to think about the death of her own children because the only way
to answer the question was to put herself in the other woman’s place.
He regretted asking the question as soon as he had spoken. He had
never had the courage to ask her if she thought about that possibility
and, if so, how often. Though he had always found it absurd that
parents should worry excessively about the safety of their children,
that is, worry in the absence of any real danger, a day did not pass
but he worried about his own. The fact that he knew it to be
ridiculous, especially in a city without cars, in no way reduced his
concern or prevented him from counting out the ways the safety of his
children could be imperilled.
Paola’s voice broke into his reverie. “No, I don’t think the death of
a child is something a person ever recovers from, not fully.”
“Do you think it’s worse because she’s a mother?” he asked.
She dismissed this with a shake of her head. “No. That’s nonsense.”
He was grateful that she chose not to give an example to prove that a
father’s grief could be as deep.
He turned back from looking at the mountains, and their eyes met. “What
do you think happened?” she asked.
He shook his head, utterly at a loss to make any sense of what had
happened to the Moro family. “All I have is four events: he writes his
report, though nothing much comes of it except that he’s punished; he
gets elected to Parliament and then leaves before his term in office is
over; his wife is shot just before he resigns; two years later, his son
is found hanged in the bathroom of his school.”
“Does the school mean anything?” Paola asked.
“Mean anything in what way? That it’s a military academy?”
That’s the only thing that’s unusual about it, isn’t it?” she asked.
That and the fact that they spend the winter walking
around the city looking like penguins. And the rest of the year
looking like they have a bad smell under their noses.” This was
Paola’s usual description of snobs and their behaviour. As she had
been born to a conte and conte ssa and had spent her youth surrounded
by wealth and titles and the hangers-on who are drawn to both, he
figured she’d seen her fair share of snobs.
“I always heard it had a good academic record he said.
“Bah/ she exploded, erasing that possibility from the air with a puff
“I’m not sure that serves as a conclusive counter argument he said.
“Articulate and well-reasoned as it is.”
Paola turned to face him and put her hands on her hips, looking like an
actress trying out for the role of Angry Woman. “My counter-argument
might not be conclusive she said, 1?ut I shall do my best to make it
“Oh, I love it when you’re angry like that, Signora Paola/ he said in a
voice he forced up to its highest register. Her hands fell to her
sides and she laughed. “Tell me he said, reaching for the bottle of
Pinot Noir that stood on the counter.
“Susanna Arid/ she said, ‘used to teach there, right after she came
back from Rome and was waiting-for a job at a state school. She
thought that by taking the job she was offered at the Academy, even
though it was only part time, she’d at least have entered the state
system.” At Brunetti’s questioning glance, she explained, “She thought
it was run by the Army, which would make it a state school. But it’s
entirely private, not attached to the Army in any official way, though
it seems it somehow manages to receive quite a bit of state funding. So
all she had was a badly paid part-time job. And then when the
permanent position came up, they didn’t give her the job, anyway.”
“What did she teach, English?” Brunetti had met Susanna a number of
times. The youngest sister of a classmate of Paola’s, she had gone to
Urbino to study, then come back to
Venice to teach, where she still was, happily divorced and living with
the father of her second daughter.
“Yes, but for only one year.”
This had been almost ten years ago, so Brunetti asked, “Couldn’t things
have changed since then?”
“I don’t see why anything should have. Certainly, the public schools
have done nothing but get worse, though I imagine the students have
remained pretty much the same: I don’t see why things in private
schools should be any different.”
Brunetti pulled out his chair and sat. “All right. What did she
That most of their parents were terrible snobs and that they passed
this feeling of superiority on to their sons. To their daughters as
well, for all I know, but as the Academy takes only boys…” Paola’s
voice trailed off, and for a moment Brunetti wondered if she were going
to use this opportunity to launch into a denunciation of single-sex
schools that received funds from the state.
She came and stood near him, took his glass of wine and sipped at it,
then handed it back to him. “Don’t worry. Only one sermon at a time,
my dear.” Brunetti, unwilling to encourage her, stifled a smile.
“What else did she say?” he asked.
That they felt entitled to everything they had or their parents had and
that they believed themselves to be members of a special group.”
“Doesn’t everyone?” Brunetti asked.
“In this case Paola went on, ‘it was more a case that they felt
themselves bound only to the group, to its rules and decisions.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?” Brunetti asked. “Certainly we police
feel that way. Well, some do.”
“Yes, I suppose so. But you still feel bound by the laws that govern
the rest of us, don’t you?”
“Yes/ Brunetti agreed, but then his conscience, and indeed his
intelligence, forced him to add, “Some of us.”
“Well, what Susanna said was that these boys didn’t. That is, they
thought that the only rules that governed them were the rules of the
military. So long as they obeyed them and remained loyal to that
group, they believed they could pretty much do anything else they
Paola studied him as she spoke, and when she saw the attention he gave
to what she said, she went on, “What’s more, she said that the
teachers, most of whom had a military background, did everything they
could to encourage the students to think like this. They told them to
think of themselves as soldiers first and foremost.” And then she
smiled, though grimly. “Just think of the pathos of it: they aren’t
soldiers, aren’t associated with the military in any real way, yet
they’re being taught to think of themselves as warriors, loyal only to
the cult of violence. It’s disgusting.”
Something that had been nibbling at the edge of his memory finally
broke through. “Was she there when that girl was raped?” he asked.
“No, I think that was a year or two after she left. Why?”
“I’m trying to remember the story. The girl was the sister of one of
them, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, or a cousin,” Paola said, then shook her head as if that would
better summon the memory. “All I remember is that the police were
called to the school and at first it looked as if the girl had been
raped. But then it dropped out of the papers like a stone.”
“It’s strange, but I don’t have a clear memory of it, just that it
happened, but none of the details are clear.”
The think it happened when you were in London on that course,” Paola
suggested. “I remember thinking, at the time, that I had no way of
knowing what really happened because you weren’t here to tell me, and
the only source of information I had was the newspapers.”
“Yes, that must be it,” he agreed. “I’m sure there’s something in the
files; there’s got to be, at least the original report.”
“Could you find it?”
“I’m sure Signorina Elettra could.”
“But why bother?” Paola suddenly countered. “There’s no surprise
here: rich boys, rich parents, so everything goes suddenly quiet and,
next thing you know, it’s disappeared from the press and, for all I
know, from the public record.”
“I can still ask her to have a look Brunetti said. Then he asked,
“What else did Susanna say?”
That she never felt comfortable there. She said there was always an
undercurrent of resentment at the fact that she was a woman.”
“No way she could change that, is there?” Brunetti asked.
They did the next best thing when they hired her replacement Paola
“Let me guess. A man?”
“Very much so.”
Speaking carefully, always conscious of when he was about to stumble
over one of Paola’s hobby-horses, he asked, “It couldn’t be a bit of
reverse sexism I’m detecting here, could it?”
Paola’s look was fierce, but then it disappeared, replaced by a
tolerant smile. “According to Susanna, he spoke English about as well
as the average Parisian taxi driver, but he’d been to the Naval Academy
in Livorno, so it didn’t matter how well he spoke it. For that fact,
it probably didn’t matter if he spoke it at all. You know the place is
just a finishing school for those boys before they step into their
fathers’ shoes in the Army or into whatever businesses they run, and
it’s not as if the Army’s an institution that makes serious
intellectual demands on anyone.” Before Brunetti could question this,
Paola said, “But, yes, it might be that she exaggerated. Susanna does
tend to see sexism where it doesn’t exist.”
When he got his breath back, Brunetti asked, “You remember her saying
all of this at the time?”
“Of course. I was one of the people who recommended her for the job,
so when they let her go, she told me. Why do you ask?”
“I wondered if you’ve talked to her since this happened.”
“You mean the boy?”
“No, we haven’t spoken in, oh, at least six months. But I remember it,
probably because it confirms everything I’ve ever thought about the
military. They have the morals of pit vipers. They’ll do anything to
cover up for one another: lie, cheat, commit perjury. Just look what
happened when those Americans flew into the cable car. You think any
of them told the truth? I haven’t noticed any of them going to jail.
How many people did they kill? Twenty? Thirty?” She made a noise of
disgust, poured herself a small glass of wine, but left it untouched on
the counter as she went on. They’ll do anything they want to anyone
who isn’t a member of the group, and the instant the public begins to
ask questions, they all clam up and talk about honour and loyalty and
all that other noble shit. It’s enough to make a’ pig vomit.” She
stopped talking and closed her eyes, then opened them enough to see her
glass of wine and pick it up. She took a small sip, and then a larger
one. Suddenly she smiled. “End of sermon.”
Brunetti had, in his youth, done eighteen months of undistinguished
military service, most of it spent hiking in the mountains with his
fellow Alpini. His memories, and he admitted that they had acquired
the golden patina of age, were chiefly of a sense of unity and
belonging entirely different from those his family had given him. As
he cast his mind back, the image that came through with greatest
clarity was of a dinner of cheese, bread and salami, eaten in company
with four other boys in a freezing mountain hut in
Alto Adige, after which they had drunk two bottles of grappa and sung
marching songs. He had never told Paola about this evening, not
because he was ashamed of how drunk they had all got, but because the
memory could still fill him with such simple joy. He had no idea where
the other boys men now had gone or what they had done after finishing
their military service, but he knew that some sort of bond had been
forged in the cold of that mountain hut and that he would never
experience anything like it again.
He pulled his mind back to the present and to his wife. “You’ve always
hated the military, haven’t you?”
Her response was instant. “Give me one reason not to.”
Certain that she would dismiss his memory as the worst sort of male
bonding ritual, Brunetti found himself with precious little to say.
“Discipline?” he asked.
“Have you ever ridden on a train with a bunch of them?” Paola asked,
then repeated his answer with a little puff of contempt.
“It gets them away from their mothers.”
She laughed. That’s perhaps the only certain good thing it does.
Unfortunately, after they have their eighteen months, they all come
back home to roost.”
“Is that what you think Raffi will do?” he asked.
“If I have any say,” she began, causing Brunetti to wonder when she had
not, ‘he won’t do military service. It would be better for him to go
to Australia and spend eighteen months hitchhiking around the country
and working as a dishwasher. He’d certainly learn more by doing that,
or by opting to do his service as a volunteer in a hospital,
“You’d actually let him go off to Australia by himself? For eighteen
months? To wash dishes?”
Paola looked at him and, at the expression of real astonishment she
read on his face, she smiled. “What do you think I am, Guido, the
mother of the Gracchi, that I must forever hold my children to my bosom
as though they were
my only jewels? Tt wouldn’t be easy to see him go, no, not at all, but
I think it would do him a world of good to go off and be independent.”
When Brunetti remained silent, she said, “At least it would teach him
how to make his own bed.”
“He does that already a literal-minded Brunetti answered.
“I mean in the larger sense,” Paola explained. “It would give him some
idea that life is not only this tiny city with its tiny prejudices, and
it might give him some idea that work is what you do if you want
“As opposed to asking your parents?”
“Exactly. Or your grandparents.”
It was rare for Brunetti to hear Paola make a criticism, however
veiled, of her parents, and so he was curious to follow this up. “Was
it too easy for you? Growing up, I mean.”
“No more than it was too hard for you, my dear.”
Not at all sure what she meant by that, Brunetti was about to ask, when
the door to the apartment flew open and Chiara and Raffi catapulted
into the corridor. He and Paola exchanged a glance, and then a smile,
and then it was time to eat.
As often happened, Brunetti was immeasurably cheered by having lunch at
home in the company of his family. He was never certain if his
response was different from that of an animal returned to its den:
safe, warmed by the heat of the bodies of its young, slavering over the
fresh kill it had dragged home. Whatever the cause, the experience
gave him fresh heart and sent him back to work feeling restored and
eager to resume the hunt.
The imagery of violence dropped away from him when he entered Signorina
Elettra’s office and found her at her desk, head bowed over some papers
on her desk, chin propped in one hand, utterly relaxed and comfortable.
“I’m not interrupting you, am I?” he asked, seeing the seal of the
Ministry of the Interior on the documents and below it the red stripe
indicating that the material it contained was classified.
“No, not at all, Commissario/ she said, casually slipping the papers
inside a file and thus arousing Brunetti’s interest.
“Could you do something for me?” he asked, his eyes on
hers; he was careful to avoid lowering them to the label on the front
of the file.
“Of course, sir she said, slipping the file into her top drawer and
pulling a notepad over in front of her. “What is it?” she asked, pen
in hand, smile bright.
“In the files for the Academy, is there anything about a girl who had
Her pen clattered to the desk, and the smile disappeared from her lips.
Her entire body pulled back from him in surprise, but she said
“Are you all right, Signorina?” he asked, with concern.
She looked down at the pen, picked it up, made quite a business of
replacing the cap and removing it again, then looked up at him and
smiled. “Of course, sir.” She looked at the pad, pulled it closer to
her, and poised her pen over it. “What was her name, sir? And when
did it happen?”
“I don’t know,” Brunetti began. “That is, I’m not even sure it
happened. It must have been about eight years ago; I think it was when
I was at a police seminar in London. It happened at the San Martino.
The original report was that the girl had been raped, I think by more
than one of them. But then no charges were pressed, and the story
“Then what is it you’d like me to look for, sir?”
“I’m not sure,” Brunetti answered. “Any sign of something that might
have happened, who the girl was, why the story disappeared. Anything
at all you can find out about it.”
She seemed to be a long time writing all of this down, but he waited
until she was finished. Pen still in her hand, she asked, “If charges
weren’t pressed, then it’s not likely we’ll have anything here, is
“No, it isn’t. But I’m hoping that there might be some report of the
“And if there isn’t?”
Brunetti was puzzled to find her so hesitant about
following up an investigation. Then perhaps the newspapers. Once you
have the date, that is he said.
Till have a look at your personnel file, sir, and find the dates when
you were in London/ she said, then looked up from her notebook, face
“Yes, yes he said, then, lamely, Till be in my office
As he went upstairs, he reconsidered what Paola had said about the
military, trying to figure out why he couldn’t bring himself to condemn
them as universally or as strongly as she did. Part of it, he knew,
was because of his own experience under arms, however brief it had
been, and the lingering fondness he felt for that period of unexamined
comradeship. Perhaps it was nothing more elevated than the instinct of
the pack, gathered round the kill, retelling stories of that day’s hunt
while great gobbets of fat dripped into the fire. But if memory was to
be trusted, his loyalty had been to his immediate group of friends and
not to some abstract ideal of corps or regiment.
His reading in history had given him many examples of soldiers who died
in proud defence of the regimental flag or while performing remarkable
acts of heroism to save the perceived honour of the group, but these
actions had always seemed wasteful and faintly stupid to Brunetti.
Certainly, reading accounts of the actual events or even the words of
the decorations bestowed, too often posthumously, upon these brave
young men, Brunetti had felt his heart stir in response to the nobility
of their behaviour, but the antiphon of pragmatic good sense had always
rung out in the background, reminding him that, in the end, these were
boys who threw their lives away in order to protect what was nothing
more than a piece of cloth. Bold, certainly, and brave, but also
foolish to the point of idiocy.
He found his desk covered with reports of one sort or another, the
detritus of several days’ lack of attention. He wrapped himself in the
cloak of duty and, for the next two
hours, engaged himself in behaviour as futile as any he thought to
criticize on the part of those valiant young men. As he read through
accounts of arrests for burglary, pick pocketing, and the various types
of fraud currently practised on the streets of the city, he was struck
by how often the names of the people arrested were foreign and by how
often their age exempted them from punishment. These facts left him
untroubled: it was the thought that each of these arrests guaranteed
another vote for the Right that disturbed him. Years ago, he had read
a short story, he thought by some American, which ended with the
revelation of an endless chain of sinners marching towards heaven along
a broad arc in the sky. He sometimes thought the same chain of sinners
marched slowly through the skies of Italian politics, though hardly
Stupefied by the boredom of the task, he heard his name called from the
door and looked up to see Pucetti.
“Yes, Pucetti?” he said, beckoning the young officer into his office.
“Have a seat.” Glad of the excuse to set the papers aside, he turned
his attention to the young policeman. “What is it?” he asked, struck
by how young he looked in his crisp uniform, far too young to have any
right to carry the gun at his side, far too innocent to have any idea
of how to use it.
“It’s about the Moro boy, sir,” Pucetti said. “I came to see you
yesterday, sir, but you weren’t here.”
It was close to a reproach, something Brunetti was not used to hearing
from Pucetti. Resentment flared in Brunetti that the young officer
should dare to take this tone with him. He fought down the impulse to
explain to Pucetti that he had decided there was no need for haste. If
it was generally believed the police were treating Moro’s death as
suicide, people might be more willing to speak about the boy openly;
besides, he had no need to justify his decisions to this boy. He
waited longer than he usually would, then asked simply, What about
“You remember the time we were there, talking to the cadets?” Pucetti
asked, and Brunetti was tempted to ask it the younger man thought he
had arrived at an age where his memory needed to be prodded in order to
“Yes,” Brunetti limited himself to saying.
“It’s very strange, sir. When we went back to talk to them again, it
was as if some of them didn’t even know he had been in the same school
with them. Most of the ones I talked to told me they didn’t know him
very well. I spoke to the boy who found him, Pellegrini, but he didn’t
know anything. He was drunk the night before, said he went to bed
about midnight.” Even before Brunetti could ask, Pucetti supplied the
information: “Yes, he’d been at a party at a friend’s house, in
Dorsoduro. I asked him how he’d got in, and he said he had a key to
the port one He said he paid the portiere twenty Euros for it, and the
way he said it, it sounded like anyone who wants one can buy one.” He
waited to see if Brunetti had any questions about this, but then
continued, “I asked his roommate, and he said it was true, that
Pellegrini woke him up when he came in. Pellegrini said he got up
about six to get some water and that’s when he saw Moro.”
“He wasn’t the one who called, though, was he?”
“Called us, you mean, sir?”
“No. It was one of the janitors. He said he’d just got there for work
and heard a commotion in the bathroom, and when he saw what had
happened, he called.”
“More than an hour after Pellegrini found the body,” Brunetti said
When Pucetti made no response, Brunetti said, “What else? Go on. What
did they say about Moro?”
“It’s in here, sir,” he said, placing a file on Brunetti’s desk. He
paused, weighing what to say next. “I know this sounds strange, sir,
but it seemed like most of them really didn’t care about it. Not the
way we would, or a person would, if
something like this happened to someone you knew, or you worked with.”
He gave this some more thought and added, “It was creepy, sort of, the
way they talked as if they didn’t know him. But they all live there
together, and take classes together. How could they not know him?”
Hearing his voice rise, Pucetti forced himself to calm down. “Anyway,
one of them told me that he’d had a class with Moro a couple of days
before, and they’d studied together that night and the following day.
Getting ready for an exam.”
“When was the exam?”
“The day after.”
“The day after what? That he died?”
Brunetti’s conclusion was instant, but he asked Pucetti, “How does that
seem to you?”
It was obvious that the young officer had prepared himself for the
question, for his answer was immediate. “People kill themselves, well,
at least it seems to me, that they’d do it after an exam, at least
they’d wait to see how badly they’d done in it, and then maybe they’d
do it. At least that’s what I’d do he said, then added, ‘not that I’d
kill myself over a stupid exam.”
“What would you kill yourself over?” Brunetti asked.
Owl-like, Pucetti stared across at his commander. “Oh, I don’t think
over anything, sir. Would you?”
Brunetti shook the idea away. “No, I don’t think so. But I suppose
you never know.” He had friends who were killing themselves with
stress or cigarettes or alcohol, and some of his friends had children
who were killing themselves with drugs, but he could think of no one he
knew, at least not in this instant, whom he thought capable of suicide.
But perhaps that’s why suicide fell like lightning: it was always the
most unexpected people who did it.
His attention swung back to Pucetti only at the end of what he was
saying.”… about going skiing this winter.”
The Moro boy?” Brunetti asked to disguise the fact that his attention
had drifted away.
“Yes, sir. And this kid said Moro was looking forward to it, really
loved to ski.” He paused to see if his superior would comment, but
when he did not, Pucetti went on, “He seemed upset, sir.”
“Who? This boy?”
Pucetti gave him a startled glance, puzzled that Brunetti hadn’t
figured this out yet. “Because if he didn’t kill himself, then someone
At the look of pleased satisfaction on Brunetti’s face as he heard him
explain this, Pucetti began to suspect, not without a twinge of
embarrassment, that perhaps his superior had figured it out.
In the days that followed, Brunetti’s thoughts were distracted from the
Moro family and its griefs and directed towards the Casino. The
police, this time, were not asked to investigate the frequent and
refined forms of peculation practised by guests and croupiers, but the
accusations brought against the casino’s administration for having
enriched itself at public expense. Brunetti was one of the few
Venetians who bothered to remember that the Casino belonged to the
city; hence he realized that any theft or embezzlement of Casino
earnings came directly from the funds earmarked for the aid of orphans
and widows. That people who spent their lives among gamblers and
card-sharks should steal was no surprise to Brunetti: it was only their
boldness that occasionally astonished him, for it seemed that all of
the ancillary services offered by the Casino banquets, private parties,
even the bars had quietly been turned over to a company that turned out
to be run by the brother of the director.
Since detectives had to be brought in from other cities so as
not to be detected as they presented themselves at the Casino in the
role of gamblers, and employees had to be found who would be willing to
testify against their employers and colleagues, the investigation had
so far been a slow and complicated one. Brunetti found himself
involved in it at the expense of other cases, including that of Ernesto
Moro, where the evidence continued to pile up in support of a judgment
of suicide: the crime lab’s report on the shower stall and the boy’s
room contained nothing that could be used to justify suspicions about
his death, and none of the statements of students or teachers suggested
anything at variance with the view that it was suicide. Brunetti,
though unpersuaded by the absence of credible evidence in support of
his own view, recalled occasions in the past when his impatience had
proven harmful to investigations. Patience, then, patience and calm
would be his watchwords.
The magistrate appointed to the investigation of the Casino was on the
point of issuing warrants for the arrest of the entire directorate when
the mayor’s office put out a statement announcing the transfer of the
director of the Casino to another position in the city administration,
as well as the promotion of his chief assistants to places high in
other city services. Further, the two leading witnesses found
themselves promoted to positions of importance within the reorganized
Casino, whereupon both began to realize that their previous
interpretation of events must have been mistaken. Their case in
rubble, the police backed away from the gorgeous palazzo on the Canal
Grande, and the visiting detectives were sent home.
These events resulted in a late-morning summons from Patta, who
chastised Brunetti for what he considered an overaggressive attitude
toward the Casino administration. Because Brunetti had at no time felt
more than mild disapproval of the behaviour of the suspects always
taking a broad-minded view of crimes against property Patta’s
heated words fell upon him with no more effect than spring rainfall
upon sodden earth.
It was when his superior turned his attention to the Moro family that
he found himself attending to what Patta was saying. “Lieutenant
Scarpa has told me that the boy was considered unstable, and so there’s
no further need to drag our heels on this. I think it’s time we closed
“By whom, sir?” Brunetti inquired politely.
“By whom? Who was it that thought he was unstable?” It was evident
from Patta’s response that he had not thought it necessary to ask this
question: Scarpa’s assertion would more than suffice by way of proof.
“His teachers, I imagine. People at the school. His friends. Whoever
the lieutenant talked to,” Patta shot off in a quick list. “Why do you
“Curiosity, sir. I didn’t know the lieutenant was interested in the
“I didn’t say he was interested Patta said, making no attempt to
disguise his disapproval at this latest evidence of Brunetti’s
inability though Patta suspected it was his refusal to do what every
good policeman should do: realize when a suggestion was really an
order. He took a long breath. “Whoever it was he talked to, they said
that the boy was clearly unstable, and so it’s even more likely that it
That’s certainly what the autopsy indicated Brunetti affirmed mildly.
“Yes, I know.” Before Brunetti could ask, Patta went on, “I haven’t
had time to read it carefully, but the overview is certainly consistent
There was no doubt in Brunetti’s mind as to the author of this
overview; what was in doubt was why Lieutenant Scarpa should take an
interest in a case in which he was not involved.
“Has he had anything else to say about this?” Brunetti asked, trying
his best to sound only mildly interested.
“Oh, merely that if the lieutenant is so convinced, then we can inform
the boy’s parents that the investigation is closed.”
“You’ve already spoken to them, haven’t you?”
“Some days ago, yes. But if you remember, sir, you asked me to be sure
that no doubt could be cast on our conclusions so the father would have
no reason to complain about our work, given that he’s already created a
great deal of trouble for other agencies of the state.”
“You mean his report?” Patta asked.
“Yes, sir. I was of the understanding that you wanted to be certain he
would have no grounds to launch a similar investigation of our handling
of his son’s death.” Brunetti paused a moment to assess the effect of
this, and when he saw the first signs of Patta’s uneasiness, he drove
in another nail. “He seems to be someone who has earned the trust of
the public, so any complaint he might make would probably be picked up
by the press.” He allowed himself a small, dismissive shrug. “But if
Lieutenant Scarpa is satisfied that there’s enough evidence to prove to
the parents that it was suicide, then there’s certainly no reason for
me to continue working on it.” Slapping his hands on his thighs,
Brunetti pushed himself to his feet, eager to go off in pursuit of some
new project, now that the Moro case had so neatly been settled by his
colleague, Lieutenant Scarpa.
“Well,” Patta said, drawing the word out, ‘perhaps it’s hasty to think
that things are as conclusive as Lieutenant Scarpa would like to
“I’m not sure I understand you, sir,” Brunetti lied, unwilling to let
Patta off so easily and wondering to what lengths he would go to
distance himself from Scarpa’s eagerness to settle matters. Patta said
nothing, and so an emboldened Brunetti asked, “Is there some question
about these people?
These witnesses?” By a remarkable exercise of restraint, Brunetti kept
all hint of sarcasm from the last word. Still Patta | said nothing,
and so Brunetti asked, “What, exactly, did he tell you, sir?” I
Patta waved Brunetti to his seat again and contented himself with
leaning back in his chair, and holding his chin with one hand no doubt
a non-threatening posture learned at a management seminar as a means to
create solidarity with an inferior. He smiled, rubbed briefly at his
left temple, then smiled again. “I think the lieutenant might be too
eager to bring closure to the boy’s parents.” Surely, this was a word
that had its origin in the same seminar. “That is, it was rumoured at
the school that Moro was not his normal self during the days before his
death. Upon sober reflection, it occurs to me that the lieutenant
might have been hasty to interpret this as proof of suicide,” Patta
ventured, then added quickly, ‘though I’m sure he’s right.”
“Did these boys say how he was behaving?” Before Patta could answer
the question, Brunetti asked a second, “And who were these boys?”
“I’m not sure he said,” Patta answered.
“Surely it’s in his report,” Brunetti said, leaning forward minimally
as though expecting Patta to satisfy him by producing the lieutenant’s
“He gave his report orally
“So he didn’t mention any names?” Brunetti asked.
“Not that I recall, no,” Patta said.
“Do you know if he subsequently submitted a written report?”
“No, but I doubt he’d consider that necessary, not after having spoken
to me,” Patta said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Patta demanded, swiftly returning to
his usual manner.
Brunetti’s smile was bland. “Only that he would have
thought he had done his duty by reporting to his superior.” He allowed
a long pause to extend beyond this, then changed his expression to one
he’d seen used by a tenor singing the Simpleton in Boris Godunov, “What
should we do now, sir?”
For a moment, he feared he’d gone too far, but Patta’s response
suggested he had not. “I think it might be wise to speak to the
parents again,” Patta began, ‘to see if they’re willing to accept the
judgment that it was suicide.” There were still times when Patta’s
honesty was breathtaking, so absolute was his lack of interest in the
Brunetti offered, “Perhaps the lieutenant should go and speak to them,
That caught Patta’s attention. “No, it might be better if you went.
After all, you’ve already spoken to them, and I imagine they thought
you were sympathetic.” Never had that quality sounded so much like a
character defect as when Patta used it in reference to Brunetti. Patta
considered further. “Yes, do it that way. Go and talk to them and see
how they feel. You’ll know how to handle it. Once they’ve accepted
that it was suicide, we can close the case.”
“And turn our attention back to the Casino?” Brunetti could not
prevent himself from asking.
The coolness of Patta’s glance not only lowered the temperature of the
room; it removed Brunetti to a greater distance. “I think the city has
proven itself capable of attending to that problem,” Patta pronounced,
forcing Brunetti, not for the first time, to suspect that his superior
might not be as dull as he’d always found it convenient to believe
Upstairs, he pushed papers around on his desk until he found the thin
file which contained the papers generated by the death of Ernesto Moro.
He dialled the father’s number, and after six rings, a man’s voice
answered with the surname.
“Dottor Moro,” Brunetti said, ‘this is Commissario Brunetti. I’d like
to speak to you again, if possible.” Moro did not
answer, so Brunetti said into the silence, “Could you tell me a time
that’s> convenient for you?”
He heard the other man sigh. “I told you I had nothing further to say
to you, Commissario.” His voice was calm, entirely without
“I know that, Dottore, and I apologize for disturbing you, but I need
to speak to you again.”
“I think so.”
“We need very little in this life, Commissario. Have you ever
considered that?” Moro asked, quite as if he were prepared to spend
the rest of the afternoon discussing the question.
“Often, sir. And I agree.”
“Have you read Ivan Ilych?” Moro surprised him by asking.
The writer or the short story, Dottore?”
Brunetti’s response must have surprised Moro in turn, for there
followed a long silence before the doctor answered, The short story.”
Again, the doctor sighed, after which the line lay silent for almost a
minute. “Come at four, Commissario/ Moro said and hung up.
Though reluctant to face both of Ernesto’s parents on the same day,
Brunetti still forced himself to phone Signora Moro. He let the phone
ring once, cut the connection, then pressed the “Redial’ button, filled
with relief when the phone rang on unanswered. He had made no attempt
to keep a check on the whereabouts of either parent. For all he knew,
she could have left the city any time after the boy’s funeral two days
ago; left the city, left the country, left everything behind save her
He knew that such thoughts would take him nowhere, and so he returned
his attention to the papers on his desk.
The man who let Brunetti into the Moro apartment at four
that afternoon might well have been the doctor’s older brother, if such
a brother were afflicted with some wasting disease. The worst signs
were to be found in his eyes, which seemed covered with a thin film of
opaque liquid. The whites had taken on the tinge of ivory often seen
in people of advanced age, and inverted dark triangles had settled
under both eyes. The fine nose had become a beak, and the thick column
of his neck was now a trunk held upright by tendons that pulled the
skin away from the muscle. To disguise his shock at the change in the
man, Brunetti lowered his gaze to the floor. But when he noticed that
the cuffs of the doctor’s trousers hung limply over the backs of his
shoes and dragged on the floor, he raised his eyes and looked directly
at the doctor, who turned away and led him into the sitting room.
“Yes, Commissario? What is it you’ve come to say?” Moro asked in a
voice of unwavering politeness when they were seated opposite one
Either his cousin had come frequently or someone else was seeing that
the apartment was kept clean. The parquet glistened, the rugs lay in
geometrical regularity, three Murano vases held enormous sprays of
flowers. Death had made no inroads into the evident prosperity of the
family, though Moro might as well have been living in the atrium of a
bank for all the attention he paid to his surroundings.
“I think this has put you beyond lies, Dottore,” Brunetti said
Moro displayed no sign that he found Brunetti’s words at all unusual.
“You might say that,” he answered.
“I’ve thought a great deal about our last meeting,” Brunetti said,
hoping to establish some connection with the man.
“I don’t remember it,” Moro said, neither smiling nor frowning at the
“I tried to talk to you about your son.”
“That’s understandable, Commissario, as he had just died, and you
seemed to be in charge of investigating his death.”
Brunetti hunted, but hunted in vain, for sarcasm or anger in the
doctor’s tone. I’ve thought about him a great deal Brunetti
“And I think of nothing but my son Moro said coolly.
“Is there anything among your thoughts that you can tell me?” Brunetti
asked, and then amended his question by adding, ‘or will tell me?”
“Of what interest could my thoughts be to you, Commissario?” the
doctor asked. As Moro talked, Brunetti observed that his right hand
never stopped moving, as his thumb and middle finger kept rubbing
against one another, busy rolling some invisible object between them.
“As I said, Dottore, I think you must be beyond lies now, so I won’t
hide from you the fact that I don’t think your son killed himself.”
Moro’s gaze drifted away from Brunetti for a moment and then returned
to him. “Lies aren’t the only thing I’m beyond, Commissario.”
“What does that mean?” Brunetti asked with conscious politeness.
That I have little interest in the future.”
“My own or, for that fact, anyone else’s.”
“Your wife’s?” Brunetti asked, ashamed of himself for doing so.
Moro blinked twice, appeared to consider Brunetti’s question, and then
answered, “My wife and I are separated.”
“Your daughter, then?” Brunetti said, recalling a reference to the
child in one of the articles he had read about Moro.
“She’s in her mother’s care Moro said with every evidence of
Brunetti wanted to say that he was still the girl’s father, but he
couldn’t bring himself to do so. Instead, he contented himself with
saying, “That’s a legal situation, a separation.”
It took Moro a long time to answer. Finally he said, “I’m not sure I
Until now Brunetti had paid little attention to their words, allowing
his consciousness to move ahead as if on automatic pilot. His mind
detached from meaning, he paid closer attention to Moro’s tone and
gestures, the way he sat and the pitch of his voice. Brunetti sensed
that the man had moved to some place distant from pain, almost as if
his heart had been put in protective custody and his mind had been left
behind to answer questions. But there remained, as well, an enormous
sense of fear; not fear of Brunetti but of saying something that might
reveal what lay behind the facade of calm restraint.
Brunetti decided to answer what the doctor clearly intended as a
question. “I’ve spoken to your wife, sir, and she voices no rancour
“Did you expect her to?”
“In the situation, yes, I think it would be understandable if she did.
That way, she could somehow hold you responsible for what happened to
your son. Presumably it was your decision that he attend the
Moro shot him a stunned glance, opened his mouth as if to speak in his
own defence, but stopped himself and said nothing. Brunetti averted
his eyes from the other man’s anger, and when he looked back, Moro’s
face was empty of feeling.
For a long time, Brunetti could think of nothing to say until at last
he spoke entirely without thinking. “I’d like you to trust me,
After a long time, Moro said, voice tired, “And I’d like to trust you,
Commissario. But I do not and will not.” He saw Brunetti preparing to
object and quickly went on, “It’s not because you don’t seem like a
perfectly honest man but because I have learned to trust no one.”
Brunetti tried to speak again, and this time Moro held up a hand to
“Further, you represent a state I perceive as both criminal and
negligent, and that is enough to exclude you, absolutely, from my
The words, at first, offended Brunetti and roused in him a desire to
defend himself and his honour, but in the stillness that fell after
Moro stopped talking, he realized that the doctor’s words had nothing
at all to do with him personally: Moro saw him as contaminated simply
because he worked for the state. Brunetti realized he had too much
sympathy for that position to attempt to argue against it.
Brunetti got to his feet, but he did so tiredly, with none of the faked
energy he had devoted to the same gesture when talking to Patta. “If
you decide you can talk to me, Dottore, please call me.”
“Of course,” the doctor said with the pretence of politeness. Moro
pushed himself from his own chair, led Brunetti to the door, and let
him out of the apartment.
Outside, he reached for his telefonino, only to realize he’d left it in
the office or at home in another jacket. He resisted the siren song
whispering to him that it was futile to call Signora Moro this late in
the afternoon, that she wouldn’t talk to him. He resisted it, at any
rate, long enough to make two unsuccessful attempts to call her from
public phones. The first, one of the new, aerodynamic silver phones
that had replaced the reliable ugly oranges ones, refused to accept his
plastic phone card, and the second rejected his attempts with a
repeated mechanical bleat in place of a dialling tone. He yanked the
card from the phone, slipped it back in his wallet and, feeling
justified that he had at least made the effort, decided to go back to
the Questura for what little remained of the working day.
As he stood in the gondola traghetto that ran between the Salute and
San Marco, his Venetian knees adjusted automatically to the thrust and
counter-thrust between the strokes of the gondolieri’s oars and the
waves of the incoming tide. He looked ahead as they made their slow
the Canal Grande, struck by just how jaded a person could become: ahead
of him lay Palaz/o Ducale, and behind it popped up the gleaming domes
of the Basilica di San Marco: Brunetti stared as though they were
nothing more than the painted backdrop in a dull, provincial production
of Otello. How had he got to the point where he could look on such
beauty and not be shaken? Accompanied by the dull squeal of the oars,
he followed this train of thought and asked himself how, equally, he
could sit across from Paola at a meal and not want to run his hands
across her breasts or how he could see his children sitting side by
side on the sofa, doing something stupid like watching television, and
not feel his bowels churn with terror at the many dangers that would
beset their lives.
The gondola glided in to the landing, and he stepped up on to the dock,
telling himself to leave his stupid preoccupations in the boat. Long
experience had taught him that his sense of wonder was still intact and
would return, bringing back with it an almost painful awareness of the
beauty that surrounded him at every turn.
A beautiful woman of his acquaintance had, years ago, attempted to
convince him that her beauty was in some ways a curse because it was
all that anyone cared about, to the almost total exclusion of any other
quality she might possess. At the time, he had dismissed it as an
attempt to win compliments, which he was more than willing to give, but
now perhaps he understood what she meant, at least in relation to the
city. No one really cared what happened to her how else explain her
successive recent governments? just so long as they could profit from
and be seen in the reflection of her beauty, at least for as long as
that beauty lasted.
At the Questura, he went up to Signorina Elettra’s office, where he
found her reading that day’s Gazzettino. She smiled at his arrival and
pointed at the lead story. The Americans’ Appointed President seems to
want to eliminate all
restrictions on the burning of carbon-based fuels she said, then read
him the headline: “a slap in the face for the
“Sounds like something he’d do Brunetti said, not interested in
continuing the discussion and wondering if Signorina Elettra had been
converted to Vianello’s passionate ecological views.
She looked up at him, then back to the paper. “And this: “venice
“What?” Brunetti demanded, taken aback by headline and with no idea of
what it referred to.
“Well, if the temperature rises, then the ice-caps will melt, and then
the seas will rise, and there goes Venice.” She sounded remarkably
calm about it.
“And Bangladesh, as well, one might observe Brunetti added.
“Of course. I wonder if the Appointed President has considered the
“I don’t think that’s in his powers, considering consequences Brunetti
observed. It was his custom to avoid political discussions with the
people with whom he worked; he was uncertain whether foreign politics
were included under that ban.
“Probably not. Besides, all the refugees will end up here, not
“What refugees?” Brunetti asked, not clear where the conversation was
“From Bangladesh. If the country is flooded and finds itself
permanently under water, the people certainly aren’t going to remain
there and agree to drown so that they don’t inconvenience anyone.
They’ll have to migrate somewhere, and as there’s little chance they’ll
be allowed to go east, they’ll end up here.”
“Isn’t your geography a bit imaginative here, Signorina?”
“I don’t mean they, the Bangladeshis, will come here, but
the people they displace will move west, and the ones they displace
will end up here, or the ones That they in then turn displace will.”
She looked up, confused at his slowness in understanding. “You’ve read
history, haven’t you, sir?” At his nod, she concluded, Then you know
that this is what happens.”
“Perhaps,” Brunetti said, his scepticism audible.
“We’ll see,” she said mildly and folded the paper closed. “What can I
do for you, sir?”
“I spoke to the Vice-Questore this morning, and he seemed reluctant to
put his entire faith in Lieutenant Scarpa’s opinion that the Moro boy
“Is he afraid of a Moro Report on the police?” she asked, grasping at
once what Patta himself probably refused to admit.
“More than likely. At any rate, he wants us to exclude all other
possibilities before he closes the case.”
There’s only one other possibility, isn’t there?”
“What do you think?” She shoved the paper aside on her desk and leaned
slightly forward, her body giving evidence of the curiosity she managed
to keep out of her voice.
“I can’t believe he committed suicide.”
She agreed. “It doesn’t make sense that a boy that young would leave
his family behind.”
“Kids don’t always have their parents’ feelings in mind when they
decide to do something,” Brunetti temporized, unsure why he did so;
perhaps to muster the arguments he knew would be presented against his
“I know that. But there’s the little sister,” she said. “You’d think
he’d give her some thought. But maybe you’re right.”
“How old is she?” Brunetti asked, intrigued by this mystery child in
whom both parents had displayed so little interest.
There was something about her in one of the articles about
the family, or perhaps someone I know said something about her,
Sigiiorma Eiettra answered, Everyone s talking about them now.” She
closed her eyes, trying to remember. She tilted her head to one side,
and he imagined her scrolling through the banks of information in her
mind. Finally she said, “It must be something I read because I don’t
have any emotional memory of having heard it, and I’d have that if
someone had told me about her.”
“Have you saved everything?”
“Yes, all of the newspaper clippings and the articles from the
magazines are in the file, the same one that has the articles about
Dottor Moro’s report.” Before he could ask to see it, she said, “No,
I’ll look through them. I might remember the article when I see it or
start reading it.” She glanced at her watch. “Give me fifteen minutes
and I’ll bring it up to you.”
Thank you, Signorina,” he said and went to his office to wait for her.
He called Signora Moro’s number, but still there was no answer. Why
had she not mentioned the daughter, and why, in both houses, had there
been no sign of the child? He started to make a list of the things he
wanted Signorina Elettra to check and was still adding to it when she
came into the office, the file in her hand. “Here it is, sir,” she
said as she came in. “Valentina. She’s nine.”
“Does it say which parent she lives with?”
“No, nothing at all,” she said. “She was mentioned in an article about
Moro, six years ago. It said he had one son, Ernesto, twelve, and the
daughter, Valentina, three. And the article in La Nuova mentions
“I didn’t see any sign of her when I spoke to the parents.”
“Did you say anything?”
“About the girl?”
“No, I don’t mean that, sir. Did you say anything that might have
given her mother the opportunity to mention her?”
Brunetti tried to recall his conversation with Signora Moro. “No,
nothing that I can remember.”
“Then it’s possible she wouldn’t have mentioned her, isn’t it?”
For almost two decades, Brunetti had shared his home with one, then
both, of his children, and he could not recall a single instant when
physical proof of their existence had been absent from their home:
toys, clothing, shoes, scarves, books, papers, Discmen lay spread about
widely and chaotically. Words, pleas, threats proved equally futile in
the no-doubt biological need of the young of the human species to
litter their nest. A man of meaner spirit might have considered this
an infestation: Brunetti thought of it as one of nature’s ways to
prepare a parent’s patience for the future, when the mess would become
emotional and moral, not merely physical.
“But I would have seen some sign of her, I think,” he insisted.
“Maybe they’ve sent her to stay with relatives,” Signorina Elettra
“Yes, perhaps,” Brunetti agreed, though he wasn’t convinced. No matter
how often his kids had gone to stay with their grandparents or other
relatives, signs of their recent habitation had always lingered behind
them. Suddenly he had a vision of what it must have been for the Moros
to attempt to remove evidence of Ernesto’s presence from their homes,
and he thought of the danger that would remain behind: a single, lonely
sock found at the back of a closet could break a mother’s heart anew; a
Spice Girls disc carelessly shoved into the plastic case meant to hold
Vivaldi’s flute sonatas could shatter any calm. Months, perhaps years,
would pass before the house would stop being a minefield, every cabinet
or drawer to be opened with silent dread.
His reverie was interrupted by Signorina Elettra, who leaned forward to
place the file on his desk.
“Thank you,” he said. “I have a number of things I’d like you to try
to check for me.” He slid the paper towards her, listing them as he
“Find out, if you can, where the girl goes to school. If she’s living
here or lived here with either of them, then she’s got to be enrolled
in one of the schools. There are the grandparents: see if you can
locate them. Moro’s cousin, Luisa Moro I don’t have an address for her
might know.” He thought of the people in Siena and asked her to call
the police there and have them find out if the child was living with
them. She ran her finger down the list as he spoke. “And I’d like you
to do the same for his wife: friends, relatives, colleagues,” he
She looked at him and said, “You aren’t going to let this go, are
He pushed himself back in his chair but didn’t get to his feet. “I
don’t like any of it, and I don’t like anything I’ve heard. Nobody’s
told me the truth and nobody’s told me why they won’t.”
“What does that mean?”
Brunetti smiled and said it gently. “For the moment, all it means is
that I’d like you to get me all the information I’ve asked for.”
“And when I do?” she asked, not for an instant doubting that she would
Then perhaps we’ll start proving a negative.”
“Which negative, sir.”
“That Ernesto Moro didn’t kill himself.”
Before he left the Questura, he made one more call to Signora Moro’s
number, feeling not unlike an importunate suitor growing ever more
persistent in the face of a woman’s continued lack of response. He
wondered if he’d overlooked some mutual friend who might put in a good
word for him and realized how he was returning to the tactics of former
times, when his attempts to meet women had been animated by entirely
Just as he was approaching the underpass leading into Campo San
Bartolomeo, his mind on this unsettling parallel, he registered a
sudden darkness in front of him. He looked up, still not fully
attentive to his surroundings, and saw four San Martino cadets
wheeling, arms linked, as straight across as if on parade, into the
calk from the campo. The long dark capes of their winter uniforms
swirled out on either flank and effectively filled the entire width of
the calle. Two women, one old and one young, instinctively backed up
against the plate glass windows of the bank, and a pair of
map-embracing tourists did the same against the windows of the bar on
other side. Leaving the four shipwrecked pedestrians in their wake,
the unbroken wave of boys swept towards him.
Brunetti raised his eyes to theirs boys no older than his own son and
the glances that came back to him were as blank and pitiless as the
sun. His right foot might have faltered for an instant, but by an act
of will he shoved it forward and continued towards them, stride
unbroken, his face implacable, as though he were alone in Calle della
Bissa, the entire city his.
The boys drew closer, and he recognized the cadet to the left of centre
as the one who had tried to interrogate him at the school. The
atavistic urge of the more powerful male to assert his supremacy
shifted Brunetti’s direction two compass points until he was heading
straight for the boy. He tightened his stomach muscles and stiffened
his elbows, preparing for the shock of contact, but at the instant
before impact, the boy next to the one who had become Brunetti’s target
loosened his grip and moved to the right, creating a narrow space
through which Brunetti could pass. As his foot entered the space, he
saw, from the corner of his eye, the left foot of the boy he recognized
move minimally to the side, surely bent on tripping him. Carefully,
thrusting forward with his full weight behind him, he took aim at the
boy’s ankle and felt a satisfying jolt as the toe of his shoe found its
target, glanced off, and came down on the pavement. Not pausing for an
instant, Brunetti strode on and out into the campo, cut left, and
started for the bridge.
Because Raffi as well as Chiara was at dinner, and because he thought
it unseemly to manifest pride in such mean spirited behaviour in their
presence, he said nothing about his meeting with the cadets and
contented himself with the meal. Paola had brought home ravioli di
zucca and had prepared them with salvia leaves quickly sauteed in
butter, then smothered them with Parmigiano. After that, she had
switched to fennel, serving it interspersed with pan-fried veal
pieces that had spent the previous night in the refrigerator,
marinating in a paste of rosemary, garlic, fennel seed and minced
As he ate, delighted by the mingled tastes and the pleasant sharpness
of his third glass of Sangiovese, he remembered his earlier uneasiness
about the safety of his children, and the thought made him feel
foolish. He could not, however, dismiss it or allow himself to scoff
at the desire that nothing would ever invade their peace. He never
knew if his perpetual readiness for things to change for the worse was
the result of his native pessimism or of the experiences his profession
had exposed him to. In either case, his vision of happiness had always
to pass through a filter of uneasiness.
“Why don’t we ever have beef any more?” Raffi asked.
Paola, peeling a pear, said, “Because Gianni can’t find a farmer he
“Trusts to do what?” Chiara asked between grapes.
To have animals he’s sure are healthy, I suppose,” Paola answered.
“I don’t like eating it any more, anyway,” Chiara said.
“Why not? Because it’ll make you crazy?” her brother asked, then
amended it to “Crazier?”
“I think we’ve had more than enough mad cow jokes at this table,” Paola
said with an unusual lack of patience.
“No, not because of that,” Chiara said.
Then why?” Brunetti asked.
“Oh, just because Chiara answered evasively.
“Because of what?” her brother asked.
“Because we don’t need to eat them
That never bothered you before,” Raffi countered.
“I know it never bothered me before. Lots of things didn’t. But now
they do She turned to him and delivered what she clearly thought would
be a death blow. “It’s called growing up, in case you’ve never heard
Raffi snorted, driving her to new defences.
“We don’t need to eat them just because we can. Besides, it’s
ecologically wasteful she insisted, like someone repeating a lesson,
which Brunetti thought was most likely the case.
“What would you eat instead?” Raffi asked, ‘zucchini?” He turned to
his mother and asked, “Are we allowed to make mad zucchini jokes?”
Paola, displaying the Olympian disregard for the feelings of her
children which Brunetti so admired, said only, Till take that as an
offer to do the dishes, Raffi, shall I?”
Raffi groaned, but he did not protest. A Brunetti less familiar with
the cunning of the young would have seen this as a sign that his son
was willing to assume some responsibility for the care of their home,
perhaps as evidence of burgeoning maturity. The real Brunetti,
however, a man hardened by decades of exposure to the furtiveness of
criminals, could see it for what it was: cold-blooded bargaining in
which immediate acquiescence was traded for some future reward.
As Raffi reached across the table to pick up his mother’s plate, Paola
smiled upon him with favour and, displaying a familiarity with slyness
equal to that of her husband, got to her feet, saying, Thank you so
much, dear, for offering, and no, you cannot take scuba lessons.”
Brunetti watched her leave the room, then turned to watch his son’s
face. Raffi’s surprise was patent, and when he saw that his father was
looking at him, he removed that expression but had the grace to smile.
“How does she do that?” Raffi asked. “All the time.”
Brunetti was about to offer some bromide about its being one of the
powers of mothers to be able to read the minds of their children, when
Chiara, who had been busy finishing the fruit on the platter, looked up
at them and said, “It’s because she reads Henry James.”
In her study, Brunetti told Paola about his run-in with the cadets,
deciding not to mention the rush of animal triumph he had felt when his
foot made contact with the boy’s ankle.
“It’s a good thing it happened here she said when he finished, then
added, ‘in Italy.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“There are a lot of places where something like that could get you
“Name two he said, offended that she could so cavalierly dismiss what
he saw as evidence of his bravery.
“Sierra Leone and the United States, to begin with she said. “But that
doesn’t mean I’m not happy you did it.”
Brunetti said nothing for a long time, then asked, “Does it show, how
much I dislike them?”
“Boys like that, with their wealthy, well-connected families and their
sense of command.”
“Families like mine, you mean?” In their early years together, before
Brunetti came to realize that the shocking brutality of Paola’s honesty
was often entirely unaggressive, he would have been astonished by her
question. Now all he did was answer it. “Yes.”
She laced her fingers together and propped her chin on her knuckles. “I
think only someone who knows you very well would see it. Or someone
who pays close attention to what you say.”
“Like you?” he asked, smiling.
“Why do you think it is, that they get to me so easily?”
She considered this; it was not that she had not thought about it
before, but he had never asked the question so directly. “I think part
of it is your sense of justice.”
“Not jealousy?” he asked, trying to make sure she would be
“No, at least not jealousy in any simple sense.” He leaned back on the
sofa and latched his fingers behind his head. He shifted around,
seeking a comfortable position, and when she saw that he’d found it,
she went on. “I think part of it comes from your resentment not that
some people have more than others, but that they don’t realize or don’t
want to admit that their money doesn’t make them superior or give them
the right to anything they choose to do.” When he didn’t query this
she continued: “And from their refusal to consider the possibility that
their greater fortune is not anything they’ve earned or merited.” She
smiled at him, then said, “At least I think that’s why you dislike them
as much as you do.”
“And you?” he asked. “Do you dislike them?” With a ringing laugh,
she said, There are too many of them in my family to allow me to.” He
laughed along with her, and she added, “I did, when I was young and
more idealistic than I am now. But then I realized they weren’t going
to change, and I had come by then to love some of them so much and I
knew nothing was ever going to change that, so I saw that I had no
choice but to accept them as they are.” “Love before truth?” he
asked, striving for irony. “Love before everything, I’m afraid, Guido
she said in deadly earnest.
As he walked to the Questura the next morning, it occurred to Brunetti
that he had been overlooking at least one anomaly in all of this: why
had the boy been boarding at the school? So caught up had he been in
the order and rules of life at the Academy that, as he searched
Ernesto’s room, the obvious question had not arisen: in a culture that
encouraged young people to live at home until their marriage, why was
this young man living away from home, when both parents lived in the
At the Questura, he almost bumped into Signorina Elettra
emerging from the front door. “Are you going somewhere?” he asked.
She glanced at her watch. “Do you need something, sir?” she asked,
not really an answer, though he didn’t notice.
“Yes, I’d like you to make a phone call for me.”
She stepped back inside the door and asked, To whom?”
The San Martino Academy.”
With no attempt to disguise the curiosity in her voice, she asked, “And
what would you like me to tell them?” She started to walk back towards
the stairs that led to her office.
“I want to know if it’s obligatory for the boys to sleep in the
dormitory or if they’re allowed to spend the night at home if their
parents live in the city. I’d like to get an idea of just how
inflexible the rules are there. Perhaps you could say you’re a parent
and want to know something about the Academy. You can say your son is
just finishing school and has always wanted to be a soldier, and as
you’re Venetian, you’d like him to have the opportunity to attend the
San Martino because of its high reputation.”
“And is my voice to be filled with pride and patriotism as I ask these
“Choking with them he said.
She could not have done it better. Though Signorina Elettra spoke an
Italian as elegant and pure as any he had heard, as well as a very
old-fashioned Venetian dialect, she managed to mingle the two perfectly
on the phone and succeeded in sounding exactly like what she said she
was: the Venetian wife of a Roman banker who had just been sent north
to head the Venice branch of a bank she carelessly avoided naming.
After making the secretary at the Academy wait while she found a pen
and pencil and then apologizing for not having them next to the phone
the way her husband insisted she do, Signorina Elettra asked for
particulars of the date of the beginning of the next school term, their
policy on late admission, and where to have letters of recommendation
academic records sent. When the school secretary offered to provide
details about school fees and the cost of uniforms, the banker’s wife
dismissed the very idea, insisting that their accountant dealt with
things like that.
Listening to the conversation on the speaker phone, Brunetti was amazed
at the way Signorina Elettra threw herself into the role, could all but
see her returning home that evening after a hard day’s shopping to
check if the cook had found real basilica genovese for the pesto. Just
as the secretary said she hoped that young Filiberto and his parents
would find the school satisfactory, Signorina Elettra gasped, “Ah, yes,
one last question. It will be all right if he sleeps at home at night,
“I beg your pardon, Signora/ the secretary said. The boys are expected
to live here at the school. It’s included in the fees. Where else
would your son live?”
“Here with us in the palazzo, of course. You can’t expect him to live
with those other boys, can you? He’s only sixteen.” Had the secretary
asked her to give her life-blood, the banker’s wife could have sounded
no less horrified. “Of course we’ll pay the full fees, but it’s
unthinkable that a child that young should be taken from his mother.”
“Ah,” the secretary answered upon hearing the first part of Signorina
Elettra’s last sentence, managing not to register the second, ‘in a few
cases, with the approval of the Comandante some exceptions can perhaps
be made, though the boys have to be at their first class at eight.”
That’s why we have the launch was Signorina Elettra’s opening shot in
her last volley, which drew to a close with her promise to send the
signed papers and the necessary deposit off by the end of the week,
followed by a polite goodbye.
Brunetti found himself filled with unwonted sympathy for Vice-Questore
Patta: the man simply didn’t have a chance. “Filiberto?” he asked.
“It was his father’s choice Signorina Elettra replied. “And yours?
Eustasio?” “No, Eriprando.”
The information that exceptions to the school rules could be made at
the discretion of the Comandante did not tell Brunetti anything he had
not already suspected: where the children of the wealthy and powerful
congregated, rules were often bent to follow the whim of their parents.
What he did not know was the extent of the Comandante’s subservience.
Nor, he had to admit, did he have a clear idea of how this might be
related to Ernesto’s death.
Deciding not to speculate further, Brunetti dialled Signora Moro’s
phone again, and again the phone rang on unanswered. Spurred by some
impulse he registered but did not question, he decided to pass by her
apartment and see if any of her neighbours could give him an idea of
where she was.
He chose to take the vaporetto to San Marco, then cut back towards the
apartment. He rang the bell, waited, and rang again. Then he rang the
bell to the left of hers, waited, then rang the others in succession,
working his way across and down, like a climber rappelling down the
face of a cliff. The
first response came from an apartment on the first floor, the bell of
which bore the name Delia Vedova. A woman’s voice answered, and when
he explained that he was from the police and needed to speak to Signora
Moro, the door clicked open. As he entered, the light in the dim hall
flashed on, and a few moments later a woman’s voice called from above,
“Up here, Signore.”
He ascended the steps, and noted that attached to one side of them was
a system which would allow a wheelchair to move up and down. The
explanation waited just inside the door at the top of the steps: a
young woman in a wheelchair, an enormous grey cat resting on her lap.
As he reached the landing, she smiled at him and, shifting the cat to
one side, reached up with her right hand. “Beatrice Delia Vedova/ she
said, “My pleasure to meet you.”
He gave his name and rank, then she put both hands on the wheels of her
chair, whipped it around in a neat half-circle and propelled herself
back into the apartment. Brunetti followed her inside, closing the
door behind him.
She led him into a living room in the centre of which stood an
architect’s drawing board that had been lowered almost a metre to a
height that would allow her wheelchair to slip comfortably under it.
Its surface was covered with water colour sketches of bridges and
canals, painted in the Day-Glo colours tourists seemed to favour. By
contrast, the three views of the facades of churches San Zaccaria, San
Martino and San Giovanni in Bragora that hung on the rear wall all
showed a close attention to architectural detail that was absent from
the paintings on the drawing board. Their muted colours captured the
glowing warmth of stone and the play of light on the canal in front of
San Martino and on the facades of the other churches.
She spun around and saw him studying the drawings on the wall. That’s
what I really do,” she said. Then, with a vague swipe at the paintings
on the board, she added, “And
that’s what I get paid to do.” She bent down to the cat and whispered
in its ear, “We’ve got to keep you in Whiskas, don’t we, fatty?”
The cat rose slowly from her lap and jumped, with a thump that surely
could be heard in the entrance hall below, to the floor. Tail raised,
it walked from the room. The woman smiled up at Brunetti. “I never
know if he’s offended at my comments about his weight or if he just
doesn’t like being made to feel responsible for those paintings.” She
let this lie in the air between them, then with a smile added, “Either
position seems justified, wouldn’t you say?”
Brunetti smiled in return, and she asked him to take a seat. As he
did, she wheeled her chair around until it was facing him. She might
have been in her late twenties, though the flecking of grey in her hair
made her seem older, as did the vertical lines between her eyebrows.
Her eyes were a light amber, her nose a bit too large for the rest of
her face, her mouth so soft and relaxed that it seemed out of place on
a face so marked with what Brunetti thought was a history of pain.
“You said you were interested in Signora Moro?” she prompted.
“Yes, I’d like to speak to her. I’ve been phoning but she’s never
home. The last time I spoke to her, she …”
The woman cut him off. “When was that?”
“Some days ago. She didn’t say anything about leaving the city.”
“No, she wouldn’t. Say anything, I mean.”
Brunetti registered the remark and said, The didn’t get the feeling
that .. .” He paused, not certain how to express it. “I didn’t have
the feeling that she had anywhere to go.”
Signora or Signorina Delia Vedova looked at him with fresh interest.
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know. I just had a very strong feeling that the city was
where she belonged and that she had no interest in going anywhere. Or
When it seemed that Brunetti had no more to say, she replied, “She
didn’t. Have anywhere to go, that is.”
“Do you know her well?”
“No, not really. She’s been here for less than two years.”
“Since the accident?” Brunetti asked.
She looked at Brunetti, and all pleasantness disappeared from her face.
This,” she said, flipping the fingers of her right hand across her lap
to indicate the legs that rested uselessly below it, ‘was an accident.
What happened to Federica was not.”
Brunetti stifled any response he might have made to this and asked,
calmly, “Are you so sure of that?”
“Of course not,” she said, her voice calm again. “I wasn’t there and I
didn’t see what happened. But Federica, the two times she spoke to me
about it, said, “When they shot me…” People who are in accidents
don’t talk about it that way.”
Brunetti had no doubt that this woman knew full well how people who
were in accidents speak. “She said this twice?”
“Yes, so far as I can remember. But simply by way of description, not
complaint. I never asked her what happened, didn’t want to pry. I’ve
had enough of that myself. And I figured she’d tell me what she wanted
to when she was ready.”
“And has she?”
She shook her head. “No, only those two references.”
“Have you seen her often?”
“Perhaps every week or so. She stops in and has a coffee or simply
comes down and talks for a while.”
“Did you know her before she moved into this apartment?”
“No. I knew about her husband, of course. But I suppose everyone
does. Because of his report, I mean.” Brunetti nodded. “I met her
because of Gastone she said.
The cat. She found him outside the front door one day and when she
opened the door, he came in. When he came up and
stood outside my door, she knocked and asked me if he were mine. He
gets out of here sometimes and then lurks out in the calle until
someone opens the door, or rings my bell and asks me to open the street
door so they can let him in. People who know he’s mine, that is.” Her
face warmed in a smile. “Good thing they do. It’s not as if it’s easy
for me to go down and let him in.” She said this simply, and Brunetti
did not hear in it an unspoken prompting to strangers to ask questions,
nor did he hear an unconscious appeal for pity.
“When did you see her last?”
She had to think about this. The day before yesterday, and I didn’t
really see her, just heard her on the stairs. I’m sure of that. I’d
read about the boy’s death, and then, when she came in, I recognized
her steps outside. I went over to the door, and I was going to open
it, but then I didn’t know what I could say to her, so I didn’t. I
just sat here and listened to her go up the stairs. Then, about an
hour later, I heard her come down again.”
“And since then?”
“Nothing.” Before he could speak, she added, “But I sleep in the back
of the apartment, and I sleep very deeply because of the pills I take,
so she could have come in or gone out and I wouldn’t have heard her.”
“Has she called you?”
“Is it like her to be away for two days?”
Her answer was immediate, “No, not at all. In fact, she’s almost
always here, but I haven’t heard her on the steps and I haven’t heard
her moving around in her apartment.” She said this last with a gesture
towards the ceiling.
“Do you have any idea where she might have gone?”
“No. None. We didn’t talk to one another like that.” When he looked
puzzled, she tried to clarify things. “I mean, we weren’t friends,
just lonely women who talked to one another once in a while.”
There was no hidden message in that, either, so far as Brunetti could
tell: merely the truth, and the truth told clear. “And she lived
“Yes, so far as I know.”
“No one ever visited her?”
“Not that I know of, no.”
“You never heard a child?”
“Do you mean her son?”
“No, her daughter.”
“Daughter?” she asked, her surprise answering the question for him.
She shook her head.
Again she shook her head, as though the idea of a mother never
mentioning one of her children was something too shocking to bear
“Did she ever mention her husband?”
“And how? That is, how did she speak about him? With rancour?
She thought for a moment and then answered, “No, she mentioned him in a
She gave him a quick glance, rich in unspoken curiosity, then answered,
“No, I couldn’t say that. She simply mentioned him, quite
“Could you give me an example?” Brunetti asked, wanting to get a feel
“Once, we were talking about the hospital.” She stopped here, then
sighed, and continued. “We were talking about the mistakes they make,
and she said that her husband’s report had put an end to that, but only
for a short time.”
He waited for her to clarify, but it seemed that she had said enough.
Brunetti could think of nothing else to ask her. He got to his feet.
“Thank you, Signora/ he said, leaning down to shake her hand.
She smiled in response and turned her wheelchair towards the door.
Brunetti got there first and was reaching for the handle when she
called out, “Wait.” Thinking she had remembered something that might
be important, Brunetti turned, then looked down when he felt a sudden
pressure against his left calf. It was Gastone, serpentining his way
back and forth, suddenly friendly with this person who had the power to
open the door. Brunetti picked him up, amazed at the sheer mass of
him. Smiling, he placed him in the woman’s lap, said goodbye, and let
himself out of the apartment, though he did not pull the door closed
until he made sure that there was no sign of Gastone between the door
and the jamb.
As he had known he would do ever since Signora Delia Vedova told him
that there had been no sign of Signora Moro for two days, Brunetti went
up the stairs to her apartment. The door was a simple one: whoever
owned the apartment had no concern that his tenants should be safe from
burglars. Brunetti took out his wallet and slid out a thin plastic
card. Some years ago, Vianello had taken it from a burglar so
successful he had become careless. Vianello had used it on more than
one occasion, always in flagrant violation of the law, and upon his
promotion from Sergeant to Inspector, he had given it to Brunetti in
token of his realization that the promotion was due primarily to
Brunetti’s insistence and support. At the time, Brunetti had
entertained the possibility that Vianello was merely freeing himself of
an occasion of sin, but the card had since then proven so useful that
Brunetti had come to appreciate it as the gift it was.
He slipped it between the door and the jamb, just at the height of the
lock, and the door swung open at a turn of the handle. Long habit made
him stop just inside the door and sniff the air, hunting for the scent
of death. He smelled dust and old cigarette smoke and the memory of
cleaning agent, but there was no scent of rotting flesh. Relieved, he
closed the door behind him and walked into the sitting room. He found
it exactly as he had left it: the furniture in the same position, the
single book that had been lying face down on the arm of a sofa still
there, still at the same page, for all he knew.
The kitchen was in order: no dishes in the sink, and when he pried the
door open with the toe of his shoe, he found no perishable food in the
refrigerator. He took a pen from the inner pocket of his jacket and
opened all of the cabinets: the only thing he found was an open tin of
In the bathroom, he opened the medicine cabinet with the back of a
knuckle and found nothing more than a bottle of aspirin, a used shower
cap, an unopened bottle of shampoo, and a package of emery boards. The
towels on the rack were dry.
The only room left was the bedroom, and Brunetti entered it uneasily:
he disliked this part of his job as much as anything about it. On the
nightstand beside the bed a thin rectangle of clear space stood
outlined in the dust: she had removed a photo from there. Two more had
been taken from the dresser. Drawers and closet, however, seemed full
as far as he could tell, and two suitcases lay under the bed.
Shameless now, he pulled back the covers on the side of the bed closest
to the door and lifted the pillow. Under it, neatly folded, lay a
man’s white dress shirt. Brunetti pulled it out and let it fall open.
It would have fitted Brunetti, but the shoulders would have fallen from
Signora Moro’s, and the sleeves would have come far down over her
hands. Just over the heart of the man who would wear the shirt he saw
the initials “FM’ embroidered in thread so fine it could only have been
He folded the shirt and replaced it under the pillow, then pulled the
covers up and tucked them neatly in place. He went back through the
living room and let himself out of the
apartment. As he passed the door to the Delia Vedova apartment, he
wondered if she was sitting inside, holding her cat, listening for the
footsteps that carried life back and forth outside her door.
It was not until after the kids had gone to bed that night, when he and
Paola sat alone in the living room, she reading Persuasion for the
hundred and twenty-seventh time, and he contemplating Anna Comnena’s
admonition that, “Whenever one assumes the role of historian,
friendship and enmities have to be forgotten’, that Brunetti returned
to his visit to Signora Moro’s apartment, though he did so indirectly.
“Paola,” he began. She peered at him over the top of her book, eyes
vague and inattentive. “What would you do if I asked you for a
Her eyes had drifted back to the page before he spoke, but they shot
back to his face now, and Anne Elliot was left to her own romantic
problems. “If you what?”
“Asked for a separation.”
Voice level, she inquired, “Before I go into the kitchen to get the
bread knife, could you tell me if this is a theoretical question?”
“Absolutely/ he said, embarrassed by how happy her threat of violence
had made him. “What would you do?”
She placed the book by her side, face down. “Why do you want to
Till tell you that as soon as you answer my question. What would you
Her look was discomfiting. “Well?” he prodded.
“If it were a real separation, I’d throw you out of the house and after
you I’d throw everything you own.”
His smile was positively beatific. “Everything?”
“Yes. Everything. Even the things I like.”
“Would you use one of my shirts to sleep in?”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“And if it were a fake separation?”
“Done so that it would look as if we were separated when in reality we
weren’t but just needed to look as if we were.”
“I’d still throw you out, but I’d keep all the things I like.”
“And the shirt? Would you sleep in it?”
She gave him a long look. “Do you want a serious answer or more
“I think I want a real answer he confessed.
Then yes, I’d sleep in your shirt or I’d put it on my pillow so that I
could have at least the smell of you with me.”
Brunetti believed in the solidity of his marriage with the same faith
he invested in the periodic table of the elements, indeed, rather more;
nevertheless, occasional reinforcement did no harm. He found himself
equally assured of the solidity of the Moros’ marriage, though he had
no idea what that meant.
“Signora Moro,” he began, ‘is living apart from her husband.” Paola
nodded, acknowledging that he had already told her this. “But one of
his dress shirts is under the pillow of the bed in which she is
Paola looked off to the left, to where an occasional light could still
be seen burning in the top floor window of the apartment opposite.
After a long time, she said, “Ah.”
“Yes/ he agreed,” “Ah,” indeed
“Why do they have to look as if they’re separated?”
“So whoever shot her won’t come back and do a better job of it, I’d
“Yes, that makes sense.” She thought about this, then asked, “And who
could they be?”
“If I knew that, I’d probably understand everything.”
Automatically, not really thinking about what she said but asserting
truth by habit, she said, “We never know everything.”
“Then at least I’d know more than I know now. And I’d probably know
who killed the boy
“You won’t let that go, will you?” she asked entirely without
“Probably wise not to she agreed.
“So you think he was murdered, too?”
“I always did
“Because I trust your feelings and because your feeling about it was so
“And if I’m wrong?”
Then we’re wrong together she said. She picked up her book, slipped a
bookmark between the pages, and closed it. Setting it down, she said,
“I can’t read any more
The neither he said, setting Anna Comnena on the table in front of
She looked across at him and asked, “Is it all right if I don’t wear
one of your shirts?”
He laughed out loud and they went to bed.
The first thing he did the next morning was to go see Signorina
Elettra, whom he found in her office. Her desk was covered with at
least six bouquets of flowers, each wrapped separately in a cone of
pastel paper. As he knew she had a
standing order for flowers to be delivered on Monday from Biancat, he
wondered if he’d got things wrong in thinking today was Tuesday or if
he’d somehow invented the events of the previous day.
“Are those from Biancat?” he asked.
She ripped two of the packages open and began to place dwarf sunflowers
in a green vase. “No, they’re from Rialto.” She stepped back from the
desk, studied the arrangement, then added three more sunflowers.
“Then it’s really Tuesday?”
She gave him a strange look and answered, “Of course.”
“Don’t the flowers usually arrive on Monday?”
She smiled, lifted the vase, and placed it on the other side of her
computer. “Yes, they usually do. But the Vice-Questore has begun to
cause quite a fuss about office expenses, so, because they’re so much
cheaper there, I thought I’d get them from Rialto for a while, until
something diverts him.”
“Did you bring them all yourself?” he asked, trying to calculate
whether they’d fit in her arms.
“No, I called for a launch when I realized how many of them I’d
“A police launch?”
“Of course. It would be difficult to justify taking a taxi,” she said,
snapping off the stem of a carnation.
“What with the economy drive and all,” Brunetti suggested.
Three of the other bouquets ended up together in an enormous ceramic
vase, and the last, asters, went into a narrow crystal vase Brunetti
could not remember ever having seen. When all three vases were placed
to her satisfaction and the papers neatly folded and placed in the
basket she kept for paper to be recycled, she said, “Yes,
“Have you managed to find out anything about the daughter?”
Signorina Elettra pulled a notebook from the side of her
desk and flipped it open. Reading from it, she began, “She was taken
out of school two years ago, and there’s been no j trace of her, at
least no bureaucratic trace, since.”
Taken out by whom?” 5
“Her father, apparently.” |
“How did that happen?”
The school records show that her last day of school was the sixteenth
She looked at him, neither of them having to remind the other that
Signora Moro had been shot one week before.
“And?” he asked.
“And that’s all. The forms on file say that the parents had decided to
place her in a private school.”
“Where?” Brunetti asked.
“It’s not necessary to mention that, I was told.”
“And didn’t they ask?” he demanded, his irritation clear. “Don’t they
need to know where a child’s going?”
The woman I spoke to said that all that’s required is that the parents
complete and sign the proper forms, in duplicate Signorina Elettra
recited in what Brunetti assumed was the mechanical voice of whoever
she had spoken to.
“And a child’s allowed to disappear and no questions asked?”
“I was told that the school’s responsibility ends once the parents have
filled in the forms and the child’s been taken from the school by one
“Just like that?” he asked.
Signorina Elettra opened her hands in a gesture meant to show her own
lack of responsibility. This woman said she wasn’t working there when
the girl was withdrawn, so the best she could do was try to explain the
regulations to me.” ,
“So where is she? A little girl can’t just disappear,” Brunetti *
“She could be anywhere, I suppose,” Signorina Elettra said, then added,
“But she’s not in Siena.”
Brunetti shot her an inquiring glance.
“I called the police there, and then I had a look through the records
of the school system. There’s no record for her, nor for any child of
“The mother’s missing now, too Brunetti said and then went on to tell
her of his visit to her apartment and the inferences he had drawn from
the presence of the shirt.
Signorina Elettra’s face paled and just as suddenly flushed. “His
shirt?” she asked then, before he could answer, repeated the question,
“Yes/ Brunetti answered. He started to ask her what she thought of
this, but when he took a closer look at her face, he realized there was
only one man this could cause her to think of, and he spoke to fill the
painful silence that the memory of his loss brought into the room. “Can
you think of a way to trace the child?” he finally said. When she
seemed not to hear him, he said, “There’s got to be a way to find her.
Some central register of children enrolled in schools, perhaps?”
As if returning from a long distance, Signorina Elettra said in a very
soft voice, “Perhaps her medical records, or if she’s in the Girl
Before she could suggest anything else, Brunetti cut her off by saying,
There are her grandparents. They’ve got to have some idea of where she
“Do you know where they are?” Signorina Elettra asked with returning
“No, but both of the Moros are Venetian, so they should be here in the
Till see what I can find out was the only remark she permitted herself.
Then: “By the way, sir, I found out about the girl who was supposedly
raped at the Academy.”
“Friends from the past was the only explanation she provided. When she
saw that she had Brunetti’s attention, Signorina Elettra went on. “The
girl was thefidanzata of one of
the students, and he brought her back to his room one night. Somehow,
the captain of his class found out about it and went to the room. She
started screaming when he came in, and then someone called the police.
But there were never any charges and, from what I make of reading the
original report, probably no need for any.”
“I see,” he said, not bothering to ask her how she had found that
report so quickly. “Tantofumo, poco arrosto.” As soon as he spoke he
was aware how his dismissal of the story would seem to her, and so
hastened to add, “But thank God for the girl.”
Sounding not at all convinced by his piety, Signorina Elettra said
merely, “Indeed,” and turned back to her computer.
Brunetti called down to the officers’ room and asked where Pucetti was,
only to be told that he was out on patrol and wouldn’t be back until
the following morning. After he hung up, he sat and wondered how long
it would take before his appreciation of Pucetti’s intelligence would
begin to work to the young man’s disadvantage. Most of the others,
even those arch-fools, Alvise and Riverre, were unlikely to turn
against him: the uniformed officers were pretty much devoid of
jealousy, as least so far as Brunetti could discern. Perhaps Vianello,
closer to them in rank and age, would have a better sense of this.
Someone like Scarpa, however, was bound to regard Pucetti with the same
suspicion with which he viewed Vianello. Even though Vianello had for
years kept his own counsel, it had been obvious to Brunetti that the
antipathy between the two men had been instant and fierce, on both
sides. Possible motives abounded: dislike between a southerner and a
northerner, between a single man and one so happily married, between
one who delighted in the
imposition of his will upon those around him and another |
who cared only to live peacefully. Brunetti had never been able to
make more sense of it than that the men felt a visceral antipathy for
He felt a flash of resentment that his professional life should be so
hampered by the complications of personal ,
animosity: why couldn’t those who enforced the law be 4
above such things? He shook his head at his own crazy |
utopianism: next he would be longing for a philosopher-king. f
He had only to think of the current leader of government, >
however, for all hopes of the philosopher-king’s arrival to wither and
Further reflection was made impossible by the arrival of Alvise with
the latest tabulations of crime statistics, which he placed on
Brunetti’s desk, saying that the Vice-Questore needed the finished
report by the end of the day and that he wanted figures he could
present to the press without embarrassment.
“What do you think that means, Alvise?” Brunetti allowed himself to
“That he solved them all, I’d guess, sir,” Alvise answered
straight-faced. He saluted and left, leaving Brunetti with the
lingering suspicion that Lear was not the only man who had a wise fool
in his following.
He worked through lunch and well into the late afternoon juggling
figures and inventing new categories until he had something that would
both supply the truth and satisfy Patta. When he finally glanced at
his watch, he saw that it was after seven, surely time for him to
abandon these concerns and go home. On an impulse, he called Paola and
asked her if she felt like going out to dinner. She hesitated not an
instant, said only that she’d have to prepare something for the kids
and would meet him wherever he chose.
“Sommariva?” he asked.
“Oh my,” she answered. “What brings this on?”
“I need a treat he said.
“Maria’s cooking?” she asked.
“Your company he answered. Till meet you there at eight.”
Almost three hours later, a lobster-filled Brunetti and his
champagne-filled consort climbed the stairs to their apartment, his
steps slowed by satisfying fullness, hers by the grappa she’d drunk
after dinner. Their arms linked, they were looking forward to bed, and
then to sleep.
The phone was ringing as he opened the door, and Brunetti for an
instant thought of not answering it, of leaving whatever it was until
the next morning. Had there been time to see that the children were in
their rooms and thus the call unrelated to their safety, he would have
let it ring on unanswered, but paternity asserted itself, and he
answered it on the fourth ring.
“It’s me, sir Vianello said.
“What’s wrong?” came Brunetti’s instinctive response to Vianello’s
“Moro’s mother’s been hurt.”
Sudden static filled the line, drowning out Vianello. When it came to
an end, Brunetti heard only, ‘.. . no idea who.”
“Who what?” Brunetti demanded.
“Did what? I didn’t hear you.”
“She was hit by a car, sir. I’m in Mestre, at the hospital.”
“She was going to the train station in Mogliano, where she lives. At
least she was walking in that direction. A car hit her, knocked her
down and didn’t stop.”
“Did anyone see it?”
Two people. The police there talked to them, but neither was sure
about anything other than that it was light-coloured and the driver
might have been a woman.”
Glancing at his watch, Brunetti asked, “When did this happen?”
“At about seven, sir. When the police saw that she was Fernando Moro’s
mother, one of them remembered the boy’s death and called the Questura.
They tried to get you, and then they called me.”
Brunetti’s glance fell on the answering machine. A tiny pulsating
light illuminated the one message that awaited him. “Has he been
They called him first, sir. She’s a widow, and his name and address
were in her purse.”
“He came out.” Both men thought of what that must have been for Moro,
but neither said anything.
“Where is he now?” Brunetti asked.
“In the hospital here.”
“What do the doctors say?” Brunetti asked.
“Some cuts and bruises, but nothing broken. The car must just have
brushed her. But she’s seventy-two, so the doctors decided to keep her
overnight.” After a pause, Vianello added, “He just left.”
There was a lengthy silence. Finally, Vianello said, in response to
Brunetti’s unspoken question, “Yes, it might be a good idea. He was
Part of Brunetti’s mind was aware that his instinctive desire to profit
from Moro’s weakness was no less reptilian than Vianello’s
encouragement that he do so. Neither idea stopped him. “How long
ago?” Brunetti asked.
“About five minutes. In a taxi.”
Familiar sounds came from the back of the apartment: Paola moving about
in the bathroom, then going down the corridor to their bedroom.
Brunetti’s imagination soared above the city and the mainland and
watched a taxi make its way through the empty streets of Mestre and
across the long causeway that led to Piazzale Roma. A single man
reached back inside, shoving money at the driver, then turned away and
began to walk towards the iinbarcudero of the Number One. I’ll go,”
Brunetti said and hung up.
Paola was already asleep when he looked into the bedroom, a stream of
light falling across her legs. He wrote a note then couldn’t decide
where to leave it. Finally he propped the sheet of paper on the
answering machine, where the flickering light still called for
As Brunetti walked through the quiet city, his imagination took flight
again, but this time it observed a man in a dark suit and a grey
overcoat walking from San Polo toward the Accademia Bridge. As he
watched, the man crossed in front of the museum and made his way into
the narrow calling of Dorsoduro. At the end of the underpass that ran
beside the church of San Gregorio, he crossed the bridge to the broad
Riva in front of the Salute. Moro’s house, off to his right, was dark,
though all the shutters were open. Brunetti moved along the canal and
stopped at the foot of the bridge leading back over the small canal and
to the door of Moro’s house. From there, he would see Moro returning,
whether he walked, came by taxi or took the Number One. He turned and
looked across the still waters at the disorderly domes of San Marco and
the piebald walls of Palazzo Ducale, and thought of the peace their
beauty brought him. How strange it was: nothing more than the
arrangement of lines and colours, and he felt better than he had before
he looked at them.
He heard the throb of the motor of the vaporetto arriving; then saw the
prow emerge from behind the wall of a building. The noise moved into a
different key, and the boat glided up to the imbarcadero. The crewman
tossed out the rope with effortless accuracy and whipped it around the
metal stanchion in the centuries-old knot. A few people got off the
boat, none of them Moro. The metal scraped as the gate was pulled
shut; a careless flip and the rope came free, and the boat continued.
Another boat arrived twenty minutes later, but Moro wasn’t on this one,
either. Brunetti was beginning to think the doctor might have decided
to go back to his mother’s home in Mogliano when, off to the left, he
heard footsteps approaching. Moro emerged from the narrow calle
between the houses at the end of the tiny campo. Brunetti crossed the
bridge and stood at the bottom, just short of the door to Moro’s
The doctor came toward him, hands stuffed into the pockets of his
jacket, head lowered as if he had to take particular care of where he
placed his feet. When he was a few metres from Brunetti, he stopped
and reached first his left hand, then his right, into the pockets of
his trousers. On the second attempt, he pulled out a set of keys but
looked at them as if he didn’t quite understand what they were or what
he was meant to do with them.
He raised his head then and saw Brunetti. There was no change in his
expression, but Brunetti was sure Moro recognized him.
Brunetti walked towards the other man, speaking before he thought,
surprised by the force of his own anger. “Are you going to let them
kill your wife and daughter, too?”
Moro took a step backwards, and the keys fell from his hand. He raised
one arm and shielded his face with it, as though Brunetti’s words were
acid and he had to protect his eyes. But then, with a speed that
astonished Brunetti, Moro moved up to him and grabbed at his collar
with both hands. He misjudged the distance, and the nails of his
forefingers dug into the skin at the back of Brunetti’s neck.
He pulled Brunetti towards him, yanking so savagely that he pulled him
a half-step forwards. Brunetti flung his hands out to the side in an
attempt to balance himself, but it was the strength of Moro’s hands
that kept him from falling.
The doctor pulled him closer, shaking him the way a dog shakes a rat.
“Stay out of this,” Moro hissed into his face,
sprinkling him with spittle. They didn’t do it. What do you know?”
Brunetti, allowing Moro to support him, recovered his balance, and when
the doctor shoved him to arm’s length, still holding tight, Brunetti
stepped back and flung his hands up, breaking the doctor’s grip and
freeing himself. Instinctively he put his hands to his neck: his
fingers felt torn skin and the beginnings of pain.
He leaned forward until his face was dangerously close to the doctor’s.
They’ll find them. They found your mother. Do you want them to kill
Again the doctor raised his hand, warding off Brunetti’s words.
Robot-like, he raised the other hand, now a blind man, a trapped man,
seeking a place of safety. He turned away and staggered, stiff-kneed,
to the door of his house. Leaning brokenly against the wall, Moro
began to pat his pockets for his keys, which lay on the ground. He dug
his hands into his pockets, turning them out and scattering coins and
small pieces of paper around him. When no pockets remained unturned,
Moro lowered his head to his chest and began to sob.
Brunetti bent and picked up the keys. He walked over to the doctor and
took his right hand, which was hanging limply at his side. He turned
the doctor’s palm up and placed the keys in it, then closed his fingers
Slowly, like a person long victim to arthritis, Moro pushed himself
away from the wall and put one key, then another, then another into the
lock until he found the right one. The lock turned noisily four times.
Moro pushed the door open and disappeared inside. Not bothering to
wait to see if lights went on inside, Brunetti turned away and started
to walk home.
Brunetti woke groggily the next morning to the dull sound of rain
against the bedroom windows and to Paola’s absence from his side. She
was nowhere in the apartment, nor was there any sign of the children. A
glance at the clock showed him why: everyone had long since gone off to
the business of their day. When he went into the kitchen, he was
grateful to see that Paola had filled the Moka and left it on the
stove. He stared out the window while he waited for the coffee, and
when it was ready took it back into the living room. He stood looking
through the rain at the bell tower of San Polo, and sipped at his
coffee. When it was finished, he went back into the kitchen and made
more. This time, he came back and sat on the sofa, propped his
slippered feet on the table, and stared out the glass doors that led to
the terrace, not really aware of the rooftops beyond.
He tried to think of who ‘they’ could be. Moro had been too stunned by
Brunetti’s attack to prepare a defence and so had made no attempt to
deny or pretend not to understand Brunetti’s reference to this nameless
‘they’. The first
possibility that occurred to Brunetti, as it would to anyone who knew
even the least bit about Moro’s career, was someone at the health
services, the target of the Moro Report’s accusation of
institutionalized corruption and greed. Closing his eyes, Brunetti
rested his head against the back of the sofa and tried to remember what
had become of the men who had been in charge of the provincial health
services at the time of the Moro Report.
One had disappeared into private law practice, another had retired, and
a third currently held a minor portfolio in the new government: in
charge of transportation safety or relief efforts for natural
disasters; Brunetti couldn’t recall which. He did remember that, even
in the face of the scandal and indignation at the gross pilfering from
the public purse revealed by the report, the government’s response had
proceeded with the stateliness of the Dead March from Saul. Years had
passed: the hospitals remained unbuilt, the official statistics
remained unchanged, and the men responsible for the deceit had moved on
Brunetti realized that, in Italy, scandal had the same shelf life as
fresh fish: by the third day, both were worthless; one because it had
begun to stink, the other because it no longer did. Any punishment or
revenge that ‘they’ might have inflicted upon the author of the report
would have been exacted years ago: punishment that was delayed six
years would not dissuade other honest officials from calling attention
to the irregularities of government.
That possibility dismissed, Brunetti turned his thoughts to Moro’s
medical career and tried to see the attacks on his family as the work
of a vengeful patient, only to dismiss that immediately. Brunetti
didn’t believe that the purpose of what had happened to Moro was
punishment, otherwise he would have been attacked personally: it was
threat. The origin of the attacks against his family must lie in what
Moro was doing or had learned at the time his wife was shot. The
attacks, then, could make sense as a repeated and violent attempt to
prevent the publication of a second Moro Report. What struck Brunetti
as strange, when he reconsidered Moro’s reaction the night before, was
not that the doctor had made no attempt to deny that ‘they’ existed so
much as his insistence that ‘they’ were not responsible for the
Brunetti took a sip of his coffee but found it was cold; and it was
only then that he heard the phone ringing. He set the cup down and
went into the hall to answer it.
“Brunetti/ he said.
“It’s me Paola said. “Are you still in bed?”
“No, I’ve been up a long time.” I’ve called you three times in the
last half-hour. Where were you, in the shower?”
“Yes/ Brunetti lied.
“Are you lying?”
“What have you been doing?” Paola asked with real concern.
“Sitting and looking out the window.”
“Well, it’s good to know your day has started out as a productive one.
Sitting and looking or sitting and looking and thinking?”
“And I think I see something I didn’t see before.”
“Do you want to tell me?” she asked, but he could hear the haste in
“No. I need to think about it a little more.”
She paused a moment and then said, using a voice straight
out of Brazilian soap opera, “We’ve got unfinished business from last
night, big boy.”
With a jolt, his body remembered that unfinished business, but before
he could speak, she laughed and hung up.
He left the apartment half an hour later, wearing a pair of
rubber-soled brogues and sheltered under a dark umbrella. His pace was
slowed by the umbrella, which caused him to duck and bob his way
between the other people on the street. The rain appeared to have
lessened, not eliminated, the streams of tourists. How he wished there
were some other way he could get to work, some means to avoid being
trapped in the narrow zigs and zags of Ruga Rialto. He cut right just
after Sant’ Aponal and walked down to the Canal Grande. As he emerged
from the underpass, a traghetto pulled up to the Riva. After the
passengers had got off, he stepped aboard, handing the gondoliere one
of the Euro coins he still found unfamiliar, hoping it would be
sufficient. The young man handed him back a few coins, and Brunetti
moved to the rear of the gondola, allowing his knees to turn to rubber
and thus help maintain his balance as the boat bobbed around on the
When there were thirteen people, one of them with a sodden German
Shepherd, standing in the gondola, all trying to huddle under the
umbrellas spread above their heads in an almost unbroken shield, the
gondolieri shoved off and took them quickly to the other side. Even in
this rain, Brunetti could see people standing without umbrellas at the
top of the bridge, their backs to him, while other people took their
The gondola slid up to the wooden steps, and everyone filed off.
Brunetti waited while the gondoliere at the front handed a woman’s
shopping cart up to her. One of its wheels caught on the side of the
steps and it tilted back toward the gondoliere, who caught it by the
handle and handed it up. Suddenly the dog jumped back into the boat
and picked up
something that once had been a tennis ball. With it firmly between his
jaws, he leaped back on to the dock and ran after his master.
It occurred to Brunetti that he had just witnessed a series of crimes.
The number of people in the boat had exceeded the legal limit. There
was probably a law stating that umbrellas had to be furled while they
crossed the canal, but he wasn’t sure and so let that one go. The dog
had worn no muzzle and wasn’t on a leash. Two people speaking German
had been given change only when they asked for it.
On the way up to his office, Brunetti stopped in the officers’ room and
asked Pucetti to come upstairs. When they were both seated, Brunetti
asked, “What else have you learned?” Obviously surprised by the
question, Pucetti said, “You mean about the school, sir?”
“You’re still interested?”
“Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“But I thought the investigation was finished.”
“Who told you that?” Brunetti asked, though he had a good f idea.
“Lieutenant Scarpa, sir.”
Pucetti glanced aside, trying to remember. “Yesterday, sir. He came
into the office and told me that the Moro case was no longer active and
that I had been assigned to Tronchetto.”
Tronchetto?” Brunetti asked, failing to hide his astonishment that a
police officer should be sent to patrol a parking lot. “What for?”
“We’ve had reports about those guys who stand at the entrance and offer
tourists boat rides into the city.”
“Reports from whom?” Brunetti asked.
There was a complaint from someone at the American Embassy in Rome. He
said he paid two hundred Euros for a ride to San Marco.”
“What was he doing at Tronchetto?”
“Trying to park, sir. And that’s when one of those guys with the white
hats and fake uniforms told him where to park and offered to show him a
taxi that would take him into the city, right to his hotel.”
“And he paid?”
Pucetti shrugged and said, “You know what Americans are like, sir. He
didn’t understand what was going on. So yes, he paid, but when he told
the people at the hotel, they said he’d been cheated. Turns out he’s
something important at the Embassy, so he called Rome, and then they
called us and complained. And that’s why we’ve been going out there,
to keep it from happening again.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
The went out yesterday, sir, and I’m due there in an hour,” Pucetti
said; then, in response to Brunetti’s expression, he added, “It was an
Brunetti decided to make no observation on the young officer’s
docility. Instead he said, The investigation of the Moro boy’s death
is still open, so you can forget about Tronchetto. I want you to go
back and talk to one of the boys, named Ruffo. I think you spoke to
him already.” Brunetti had seen the boy’s name in Pucetti’s written
report and recalled the young officer’s comment that the boy had seemed
unduly nervous during the interview. Pucetti nodded at the name and
Brunetti added, “Not at the school, if that’s possible. And not while
you’re in uniform.”
“Yes, sir. That is, no, sir,” Pucetti said, then quickly asked, “And
Till deal with him Brunetti answered.
Pucetti instantly got to his feet and said, Till go over there as soon
as I change, sir.”
That left Brunetti with Lieutenant Scarpa. He toyed with the idea of
summoning the lieutenant to his office but, thinking it better to
appear before him unannounced, went
down two flights of stairs to the office Scarpa had insisted he be
given. The room had for years functioned as a storeroom, a place where
officers could leave umbrellas and boots and coats to be used in the
event of a change in the weather or the sudden arrival of ac qua alia.
Some years ago, a sofa had appeared as if by magic, and since then
officers on the night shift had been known to steal an hour’s sleep.
Legend had it that a female commissa rio had been introduced to the
pleasures of adultery on that very sofa. Three years ago, however,
Vice-Questore Patta had ordered the boots, umbrellas and coats removed;
the next day the sofa disappeared, replaced by a desk made of a plate
of mirrored glass supported by thick metal legs. No one lower than
commissa rio had a private office at the Questura, but Vice Questore
Patta had installed his assistant behind that glass desk. There had
been no official discussion of his rank, though there had certainly
been more than ample comment.
Brunetti knocked at the door and entered in response to Scarpa’s
shouted “Avantil’ There ensued a precarious moment during which
Brunetti observed Scarpa deal with the arrival of one of his superiors.
Instinct asserted itself, and Scarpa braced his hands on the edge of
his desk as if to push himself back and get to his feet. But then
Brunetti saw him react, not only to the realization of just which
superior it was, but also to the territorial imperative, and the
lieutenant transformed the motion into one that did no more than propel
himself higher in his chair. “Good morning, Commissario,” he said.
“May I help you?”
Ignoring what Scarpa tried to make a gracious wave towards the chair in
front of his desk, Brunetti remained standing near the door and said,
“I’m putting Pucetti on a special assignment.”
Scarpa’s face moved in something that was perhaps meant to be a smile.
“Pucetti is already on special assignment, Commissario.”
Tronchetto, you mean?”
“Yes. What’s going on there is very harmful to the image of the
Telling his better self to ignore the dissonance between the sentiments
and the Palermitano accent in which they were voiced, Brunetti
answered, “I’m not sure I share your concern for the image of the city,
Lieutenant, so I’m reassigning him.”
Again, that motion of the lips. “And you have the approval of the
Vice-Questore, of course?”
“I hardly think a detail as insignificant as where a police officer is
assigned is of much interest to the Vice-Questore/ Brunetti answered.
“On the contrary, Commissario, I think the Vice-Questore is deeply
interested in anything that concerns the police in this city.”
Tired of this, Brunetti asked, What does that mean?”
“Just what I said, sir. That the Vice-Questore will be interested to
learn about this.” Like a tenor with register problems, Scarpa could
not control his voice as it wobbled between civility and menace.
“Meaning you intend to tell him about it?” Brunetti asked.
“Should the occasion arise,” Scarpa answered blandly.
“Of course,” Brunetti answered with equal blandness.
“Is that all I can do for you, Commissario?”
“Yes/ Brunetti said and left the office before giving in to the
temptation to say something else. Brunetti knew almost nothing about
Lieutenant Scarpa or what motivated him: money was probably a safe
guess. This thought called to mind a remark Anna Comnena had made
about Robert Guiscard: “Once a man has seized power, his love of money
displays exactly the same characteristics as gangrene, for gangrene,
once established in a body, never rests until it has invaded and
corrupted the whole of it.”
An old woman lay injured in the hospital in Mestre, and
he had to concern himself with turf battles with Patta’s I
creature and with the attempt to understand the lieutenant’s motives.
He walked up the stairs, inwardly fuming about
Scarpa, but by the time he got back to his office he had f accepted the
fact that his real anger was directed at his own “
failure to foresee the attack on Moro’s mother. It mattered I
little to Brunetti that this was entirely unrealistic; somehow, j he
should have realized the danger and done something to * ‘
He called the hospital and, adopting the harsh, authoritarian voice he
had learned to use when dealing with mindless bureaucracies, announced
his rank and demanded to be connected to the ward where Signora Moro
was being treated. There was some delay in transferring the call, and
when the nurse on duty spoke to him, she was helpful and cooperative
and told him that the doctor had advised that Signora Moro be kept
until the next day, when she could go home. No, there was no serious
injury: she was being kept an extra day in consideration of her age
rather than her condition.
Braced by this comforting sign of humanity, Brunetti thanked her, ended
the call, and immediately called the police in Mogliano. The officer
in charge of the investigation told him that a woman had come into the
Questura that morning and admitted she had been driving the car that
struck Signora Moro. Panicking, she had driven away, but after a
sleepless night in which she had been the victim of both fear and
remorse, she had come to the police to confess.
When Brunetti asked the other officer if he believed the woman, he
received an astonished, “Of course’, before the man said he had to get
back to work and hung up.
So Moro was right when he insisted that ‘they’ had had nothing to do
with the attack on his mother. Even that word, ‘attack’, Brunetti
realized, was entirely his own invention.
Why, then, Moro’s rage at Brunetti for having suggested it? More
importantly, why his state of anguished despair last night, far out of
proportion for a man who had been told that his mother was not
Awareness that he had done something else to merit Lieutenant Scarpa’s
enmity should have troubled Brunetti, but he could not bring himself to
care: there were no degrees to implacable antipathy. He regretted only
that Pucetti might have to bear the brunt of Scarpa’s anger, for the
lieutenant was not a man likely to aim a blow, at least not an open
one, at people above him. He wondered whether other people behaved
like this, deaf and blind to the real demands of their professions in
their heedless pursuit of success and personal power, though Paola had
long assured him that the various struggles that absorbed the
Department of English Literature at the university were far more savage
than anything described in Beowulf or the bloodier Shakespearean
tragedies. He knew that ambition was accepted as a natural human
trait, had for decades observed others striving to achieve what they
determined to be success. Much as he knew these desires were judged to
be perfectly normal, he remained puzzled by the passion and energy of
their endeavours. Paola had once observed that he had been born with
essential piece missing, for he seemed incapable of desiring anything
other than happiness. Her remark had troubled him until she explained
that it was one of the reasons she had married him.
Musing on this, he entered Signorina Elettra’s office. When she looked
up, he said without introduction, “I’d like to learn about the people
at the Academy.”
“What, precisely, would you like to know?”
He considered this, then finally said, “I think what I’d really like to
know is whether any of them is capable of killing that boy and, if so,
for what reason.”
There could be many reasons,” she answered, then added, “If, that is,
you want to believe that he was murdered.”
“No, I don’t want to believe that. But if he was, then I want to know
“Are you curious about the boys or the teachers?”
“I doubt it could have been both.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they’d probably have different motives.”
“I haven’t explained myself well,” she began, shaking her head. “I
think the teachers would do it for serious reasons, adult reasons.”
“Danger to their careers. Or to the school.”
“And the boys?”
“Because he was a pain in the ass.”
“Seems a pretty trivial reason to kill someone.”
“Viewed from a different perspective, most reasons for killing people
are pretty trivial.”
He was forced to agree. After a while he asked, “In what way could he
have been a pain in the ass?”
“God knows. I don’t have any idea what bothers boys that age. Someone
who is too aggressive, or not aggressive
enough. Someone who is too smart and makes the others embarrassed. Or
shows off, or …”
Brunetti cut her off. Those still seem like trivial reasons. Even for
Not the least offended, she said, That’s the best I can come up with
Nodding at the keyboard, she said, “Let me take a look and see what I
“Where will you look?”
“Class lists and then members of their families. Faculty lists and
then the same. Then cross-check them with, well, with other things.”
“Where did you get those lists?”
Her intake of breath was stylishly long. “It’s not that I have them,
sir, but that I can get them.” She looked at him and waited for his
comment; outflanked, Brunetti thanked her and asked her to bring him
whatever information she could find as soon as she had it.
In his office, he set himself to attempting to recall anything he’d
heard or read, over the years, about the Academy. When nothing came,
he turned his reflections to the military at large, recalling that most
of the faculty were former officers of one branch or other.
A memory slipped in from somewhere, tantalizing him and refusing to
come into focus. Like a sharpshooter straining to see at night, he
addressed his attention, not to the target that wouldn’t appear, but to
whatever stood beside or beyond it. Something about the military,
about young men in the military.
The memory materialized: an incident from some years before, when two
soldiers paratroopers, he thought had been directed to jump from a
helicopter somewhere in, he thought, former Yugoslavia. Not knowing
that the helicopter was hovering a hundred metres above the ground,
they had jumped to their death. Not knowing, and not having been told
by the other men in the helicopter, who
had known but were members of a military corps different from their
own. And with that memory came another one, of a young man found dead
at the bottom of a parachute jump, perhaps the victim of a nighttime
hazing prank gone wrong. To the best of his knowledge, neither case
had ever been resolved, no satisfactory explanation provided for the
completely unnecessary deaths of these three young men.
He recalled, as well, a morning at breakfast some years ago when Paola
looked up from the newspaper which contained an account of the
country’s then-leader offering to send Italian troops to aid an ally in
some bellicose endeavour. “He’s going to send troops,” she said. “Is
that an offer or a threat, do you think?”
Only one of Brunetti’s close friends had opted for a career in the
military, and they had lost touch over the last few years, so he did
not want to call him. What he would ask him, anyway, Brunetti had no
idea. If the Army were really as corrupt and incompetent as everyone
seemed to believe it was? No, hardly the question he could ask, at
least not of a serving general.
That left his friends in the press. He called one in Milano but when
the machine answered, he chose not to leave either his name or a
message. The same happened when he called another friend in Rome. The
third time, when he called Beppe Avisani, in Palermo, the phone was
answered on the second ring.
“Ciao, Beppe. It’s me, Guido.”
“Ah, good to hear your voice,” Avisani said, and for a few minutes they
exchanged the sort of information friends give and get when they
haven’t spoken for some time, their voices perhaps made formal by a
shared awareness that they usually now spoke to one another only when
one of them needed information.
After everything that had to be said about families had been said,
Avisani asked, “What can I tell you?”
“I’m looking into the death of the Moro boy,” Brunetti answered and
waited for the reporter to answer.
“Not suicide, then?” he asked, not bothering with polite pieties.
That’s what I want to know,” Brunetti answered.
Without hesitation, Avisani volunteered. “If it wasn’t suicide, then
the obvious reason is the father, something to do with him.”
“I’d got that far, Beppe,” Brunetti said with an entire absence of
“Of course, you would. Sorry.”
“The report came out too long ago,” Brunetti said, certain that a man
who had spent twenty years as a political reporter would follow his
thinking and also dismiss the report as a possible cause. “Do you know
what he worked on while he was in Parliament?”
There was a long pause as Avisani followed the trail of Brunetti’s
question. “You’re probably right,” he said at last, then, “Can you
hold on a minute?”
“Of course. Why?”
T’ve got that stuff in a file somewhere.”
“In the computer?” Brunetti asked.
“Where else?” the reporter asked with a laugh. “In a drawer?”
Brunetti laughed in return, as though he’d meant the question as a
“Just a minute Avisani said. Brunetti heard a click as the phone was
set down on a hard surface.
He looked out of the window as he waited, making no attempt to impose
order upon the information that tumbled around in his mind. He lost
track of time, though it was far more than a minute before Avisani was
“Guido?” he asked, ‘you still there?”
“I haven’t got much on him. lie was there for three years, well, a bit
less than that, before he resigned, but he was kept pretty well out of
The party he ran for chose him because he was famous at the time and
they knew they could win with him, but after he was elected and they
got an idea of what his real ideas were, they kept him as far out of
sight as they could.”
Brunetti had seen it happen before as honest people were elected into a
system they hoped to reform, only to find themselves gradually absorbed
by it, like insects in a Venus’ fly-trap. Because Avisani had seen far
more of it than he, Brunetti drew a pad towards him and said only, “I’d
like to know what committees he worked on.” ,v
“Are you looking for what I think you are someone he might have
Avisani made a long noise that Brunetti thought was meant to be
speculative. “Let me give you what I have. There was a pension
committee for farmers,” Avisani began, then dismissed it with a casual,
“Nothing there. They’re all nonentities.” And then, The one that
oversaw sending all that stuff to Albania.”
“Was the Army involved in that?” Brunetti asked.
“No. I think it was done by private charities. Caritas, organizations
The Post Office.”
“And military procurement,” Avisani said with undisguised interest.
“What does that mean?”
There was a pause before he answered, “Probably examining the contracts
with the companies that supply the military.”
“Examining or deciding?” Brunetti asked.
“Examining, I’d say. It was really only a subcommittee, which means
they’d have no more power than to make recommendations to the real
committee. You think that’s it?” he asked.
“I’m not sure there is an “it”,” Brunetti answered evasively, only now
forcing himself to recall that his friend was a member of the press.
With laboured patience, Avisani asked, “I’m asking as a curious friend,
Guido, not as a reporter.”
Brunetti laughed in relief. “It’s a better guess than the postmen.
They’re not particularly violent.”
“No, that’s only in America,” Avisani said.
Agreement’s awkwardness fell between them, both of them aware of the
conflict between their professions and their friendship. Finally
Avisani said, “You want me to follow up on this?”
At a loss as to how to phrase it, Brunetti said, “If you can do it
“I’m still alive because I do things delicately, Guido,” he said
without any attempt at humour, gave a farewell not distinguished by its
friendliness, and hung up.
Brunetti called down to Signorina Elettra, and when she answered, said,
“I’d like you to add one more thing to your .. .” he began, but was at
a loss for a name for what Signorina Elettra did. To your research,”
“Yes, sir?” she asked.
“Could you be a bit more precise?”
“Getting and spending,” he began, and a line Paola was forever quoting
rushed towards him. He ignored it and continued, “For the military. It
was one of the committees Moro was on.”
“Oh, my,” she exclaimed. “However did that happen?”
Hearing her unfeigned astonishment, Brunetti wondered
how long it would take him to explain her reaction to a foreigner. Her
response presumed Moro’s honesty, and her astonishment that an honest
man had been placed on any committee that would make decisions that
might somehow affect the allocation of significant amounts of
“I’ve no idea he answered. “Perhaps you could see who else served on
the committee with him.”
“Certainly, sir. Government records are very easy to access she said,
leaving him to speculate about the precise level of criminality lurking
in that verb.
He looked at his watch and asked, “Should I go and have lunch or should
“Lunch, sir, I think she advised and was gone.
He walked down to Testiere, where the owner would always find him a
place, and had a fish antipasto and then a piece of grilled tuna Bruno
swore was fresh. For all the attention Brunetti paid to it, the fish
could have been frozen or freeze-dried. At any other time, ignoring a
meal this fine would have shamed Brunetti: today he could not drag
himself away from his attempt to discover the connection between Moro’s
professional life and the suffering inflicted upon his family, and so
the meal remained eaten but untasted.
He stopped at the door to Signorina Elettra’s office and found her
standing at her window, looking off down the canal that led toward the
Bacino. Her attention was so absorbed in whatever she was watching
that she didn’t hear him come in, and he stopped, reluctant to startle
her. Her arms were crossed on her breast, and she stood with her
shoulder leaning against the window frame, one leg crossed in front of
the other. He saw her in profile and as he watched, she lowered her
head and closed her eyes for a heartbeat longer than necessary. She
opened them, took a breath so deep he saw her breasts rise, and turned
away from the window. And saw him watching her.
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Three seconds passed. Paola had once told him that the Irish often
said, in moments when consolation was necessary, “I’m sorry for your
trouble’, and it was on his lips to say this when she took a step
towards her desk, tried to smile, and said, “I’ve got everything but
said it in the voice of someone who had nothing.
Three more seconds passed and then he joined her at her desk, in
unspoken agreement that they would ignore what had just happened.
He saw two piles of papers. Standing, she pointed to the first, saying
as she did, That’s a list of students who have fathers in the military
or the government that’s the only thing I checked about the students.
And under it is a list of the faculty, which branch of the military
they served in, and the final rank they held. And beneath that a list
of the men who served on the committee for military procurement with
Curiosity overcame good sense and he asked, “All right. Please tell me
where you got all of this.” When she didn’t answer, he held up his
right hand and said, “I promise, on the head of anyone in my family you
choose to name, that I will never repeat what you tell me, will forget
it the instant you tell me, will not allow Lieutenant Scarpa, no matter
what means he employs, ever, to wrest it from me.”
She considered this. “What if he makes horrible threats?”
“Like what, invites me for a drink?”
The shall be strong.”
She capitulated. There’s a way to access military personnel files. All
you need is the code and then the service number of any member.”
Because she was volunteering this, Brunetti did not ask how she got the
code or the numbers. “Parliament is too easy,” she said with contempt.
“A child could get in.” He assumed she was talking about the computer
files, not the building.
“And the lists from the schools?” he asked.
She gave him a long, speculative look, and he nodded, renewing his vow
of silence. She said, Tucetti stole them when he was there and gave
them to me in case they might be useful.”
“Have you had time to study them?”
“A little. Some names occur on more than one list.”
She pulled a sheet of paper from the first pile and pointed to two
names that she had already highlighted in yellow. “Maggiore Marcello
Filippi and Colonello Giovanni Toscano.”
Tell me he said. “It’s faster.”
“The Maggiore was in the Army for twenty-seven years and retired three
years ago. For the six years immediately before his retirement, he was
in charge of the procurement office for the Paratroopers. His son is a
third-year student at the Academy.” She pointed to the second name.
“The Colonello served as military adviser to the parliamentary
committee on which Moro served. He now teaches at the Academy. He was
in Paris, attending a seminar, during the week the boy died.”
“Isn’t that something of a fall from grace, to go from a job in
Parliament to teaching at a military academy in the provinces?”
The Colonello retired after twenty-two years of military service under
something of a cloud,” Signorina Elettra said. “Or at least,” she
immediately corrected herself, ‘that’s the sense I get from reading the
Internal files, Brunetti repeated to himself. Where would she stop?
“What do they say?”
That certain members of the committee registered less than total
satisfaction with the Colonello’s performance. One of them even went
so far as to suggest that the Colonello was not at all impartial in the
advice he provided the committee.”
“Less than impartial in what way?” Brunetti asked.
“It didn’t say, though there’s not far to look, is there?”
“No, I suppose not.” If the Colonello were partial in a way which the
committee did not like, it would have to be in favour of the firms
which supplied the military, and the men who owned them. Brunetti’s
atavistic cynicism suggested here that it might just as easily mean
that Toscano was in the pay of companies different from those making
payments to the parliamentarians on the committee. The marvel here was
not that he was partial why else seek a position like this but that he
should have been .. . Brunetti stopped himself from saying the word
‘caught’, even in his mind. It was remarkable that he should have been
forced to retire, for Brunetti could not imagine that a man in this
position would go quietly. How obvious or excessive must his
partiality have been if it had led to his retirement?
“Is he Venetian, the Colonello?” he asked.
“No, but his wife is.”
“When did they come here?”
“Two years ago. Upon his retirement
“Do you have any idea of how much he earns as a teacher at the
Signorina Elettra pointed to the paper again. “All of their salaries
are listed to the right of their names.”
“Presumably, he’s also receiving his military pension,” Brunetti
That’s listed, as well she answered.
Brunetti looked at the paper and saw that the sum of the Colonello’s
pension plus his salary at the Academy was well in excess of his own
salary as a commissa rio “Not bad, I’d say.”
“They struggle though, I suppose,” she observed.
“What does he teach?”
“History and Military Theory.”
“And does he have a particular political stance that he brings to the
teaching of history?”
She smiled at the delicacy of his phrasing and answered, “I can’t
answer that yet, sir. I’ve got a friend whose uncle teaches
Mathematics there, and he’s promised to ask him.”
“It’s probably a safe guess what his ideas would be she went on, ‘but
it’s always best to check.”
He nodded. Neither of them had any illusions about the view of
politics and, for that fact, history likely to be held by a man who had
spent twenty-two years in the military. But, like Signorina Elettra,
Brunetti thought it would be best to be certain.
“And the two men?” he asked. “Did they ever serve together?”
She smiled again, as if this time pleased with his perspicacity, and
pulled towards her the second pile of papers. “It would seem that, at
the same time as the Colonello was giving his advice to the
parliamentary committee, the newly retired Maggiore was on the board of
directors of Edilan-Forma.”
“Which is?” he asked.
“A Ravenna-based company which supplies uniforms, boots and backpacks
to the military, along with other things.”
“What other things?”
“I’ve not been able to break into their computer yet,” she said,
clearly still in no doubt that this entire conversation was protected
by the same dispensation. “But it looks like they supply anything
soldiers can wear or carry. It would seem, as well, that they serve as
subcontractors for companies that sell food and drink to the
“And all of this means?” Brunetti asked.
“Millions, sir, millions and millions. It’s a money fountain,
or it could be. After all, the military spends about seventeen billion
Euros a year.”
“But that’s insane he blurted out.
“Not for anyone who has a chance to take any of it home, it’s not she
“Even so she replied, and then returned to the information she had
gathered. “At one point, the committee examined the contracts with
Edilan-Forma because one of the committee members had raised questions
Though he barely thought it necessary, Brunetti asked, “Moro?”
“What sort of questions?”
“The parliamentary minutes mention pricing for a number of items, also
the quantities ordered she said.
“And what happened?”
“When the committee member resigned, the questions were not
“And the contracts?”
They were all renewed.”
Was he mad, he wondered, to find this so normal and so simple to
understand? Or were they all mad, everyone in the country, in a way
that demanded the papers lying on Signorina Elettra’s desk could be
read in only one way? The public purse was a grab bag, and public
spoil the supreme gift of office. Moro, stupid and transparently
honest Moro, had dared to question this. Brunetti was no longer in any
doubt that the answer to Moro’s questions had been given, not to him,
but to his family.
“If you haven’t already begun it, could you take a closer look at
Toscano and Filippi?”
“I was just beginning that when you came in, sir she said. “But my
friend in Rome, the one who works in military records, has been sent to
Livorno for a few days, so I won’t
have access to their records until the end of the week.”
Failing to remind her that she had been standing at the window, looking
out sadly at her past or her future, when he came in, not beginning to
work on anything, Brunetti thanked her and went back to his office.
By force of will, Brunetti kept himself at the Questura until the
normal time for leaving. He occupied himself with reading and
initialling reports, then decided that he would read only every second
one, then every third, though he scrupulously wrote a careful “GB’ on
the bottom of all of them, even the unread ones. As his eyes ran over
the words, the columns of numbers, the endless spew of facts and
figures that were as closely related to reality as Anna Anderson to
Tsar Nicholas II, Brunetti’s thoughts remained anchored to Moro.
Just before leaving, he called Avisani in Palermo.
Again, the journalist answered with his name.
“It’s me, Beppe,” Brunetti said.
“It’s not even a day, Guide. Give me some time, will you?” the
journalist said waspishly.
“I’m not calling to nag, Beppe. Believe me. It’s that I want to add
two names to the list Brunetti began. Before Avisani could refuse, he
continued, “Colonello Giovanni Toscano and Maggiore Marcello
After a long time, Avisani said, “Well, well, well. If there’s salt,
there’s pepper; oil, there’s vinegar; smoke, fire.”
“And Toscano, Filippi, I assume?” Brunetti asked.
“Very much so. How is it you’ve stumbled on those two?”
“Moro,” Brunetti said simply. They’re both tied to the committee Moro
was working on when he left Parliament.”
“Ah yes. Procurement/ Avisani said, stretching the word out as if
better to enjoy the sound of it.
“Do you know anything?” Brunetti asked, though he was sure his friend
“I know that Colonello Toscano was encouraged to leave his position as
consultant to the parliamentary committee and soon after that decided
to retire from the Army.”
“My sense is that the Maggiore decided his position had become too
“What position was that?”
“Husband to the cousin of the president of the company from whom the
Paratroopers obtained most of their supplies.”
“Edilan-Forma?” Brunetti inquired.
“Haven’t you been a busy boy?” Avisani asked by way of compliment.
Honesty demanded that Brunetti make it clear that it was Signorina
Elettra who had been a busy girl, but he thought it best not to reveal
this to a member of the press. “Have you written about this?” Brunetti
Time and time again, Guido,” Avisani answered with heavy resignation.
“And what are people supposed to do? Pretend to be surprised, pretend
this isn’t the way they do business, too? Remember what that
television comic said when they started the Mani Pulite
That we were all guilty of corruption and should all spend
a few days in jail?” Brunetti asked, remembering Beppe Grille’s
frenetic admonition to his fellow citizens. He was a comic, Grillo,
and so people were free to laugh, though what he said that night had
been in no way funny.
“Yes,” Avisani said, pulling back Brunetti’s attention. “I’ve been
writing articles about this for years, about this and about other
agencies of the government that exist primarily to siphon money to
friends and relatives. And no one cares.” He waited for Brunetti to
react, and then repeated, “No one cares because they all think that,
sooner or later, they might get a chance at some of the easy money, so
it’s in their best interests that the system stay the way it is. And
Since Brunetti knew this to be the case, there was no reason to object
to his friend’s remarks. Returning to Avisani’s original reaction, he
asked, “Is that the only way they’re linked?”
“No. They graduated in the same class from the Academy in Modena/
“And after that?” Brunetti asked.
“I don’t know. I doubt it’s important. What is, is that they knew one
another well and that both were eventually involved in procurement.”
“And both retired?”
“Yes, pretty much at the same time.”
“Where’s Filippi, do you know?” Brunetti asked.
“I think he lives in Verona. You want me to find out about him?”
“Whatever you can.”
“And I suppose you’ll pay me the same as you always do?” Avisani asked
with a laugh.
“You don’t want to eat my wife’s cooking?” Brunetti asked with fake
indignation, then, before Avisani could answer,
Brunetti said, “I don’t want you to go to any trouble with this,
This time it was the journalist who laughed. “Guido, if I worried
about going to trouble, or, for that matter, getting into trouble, I
doubt I could do this job.”
Thanks, Beppe,” Brunetti said, and the warmth of the other man’s
parting laugh told him that their friendship remained as strong as
He went downstairs, and though he tried to resist the siren lure of
Signorina Elettra and her computer, he failed. There was no light on
in her office, and the darkened screen of the computer suggested she
had not yet found what he had asked her to get. There was nothing else
for him to do, short of rifling through her desk, so he went home to
his family and his dinner.
The next morning he was at the Questura before eight, and when his
detour past Signorina Elettra’s office showed that she was not yet in,
he continued to the officers’ room, where he found Pucetti at a desk,
reading a magazine. The young man got to his feet when he saw
Brunetti. “Good morning, Commissario. I was hoping you’d come in
“What have you got?” Brunetti asked. He was vaguely conscious of
motion behind him, and he saw its reflection on Pucetti’s face, from
which the smile disappeared. “Only these forms, sir he said, reaching
across his desk to the one beside it and gathering up two stacks of
papers. “I think they need your signature,” he said, his voice
Imitating his tone, Brunetti said, “I’ve got to go down to see Bocchese
for a minute. Could you take them up and put them on my desk for
“Certainly, sir,” Pucetti said, setting one stack, and then the second,
on top of his magazine and tapping them together to straighten the
edges. When he picked them up, the magazine had disappeared.
Brunetti turned towards the door and found it blocked by
Lieutenant Scarpa. “Good morning, Lieutenant/ Brunetti said neutrally.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, sir the lieutenant answered. “I wanted to speak to Pucetti/
Brunetti’s face lit up with grateful surprise. “Ah, thank you for
reminding me, Lieutenant: there’s something I need to ask Pucetti
about.” He turned to the young man. “You can wait for me in my
office, Officer. I won’t be a minute with Bocchese.” With a friendly
smile at the lieutenant, Brunetti said, “You know how Bocchese loves to
get an early start suggesting this was common knowledge at the
Questura, despite the well-known truth that Bocchese spent the first
hour of his day reading La Gazzetta del lo Sport and using his email
address at the Questura to place bets in three countries.
Silently, the lieutenant moved aside to let his superior pass.
Brunetti waited just outside the door until Pucetti joined him and then
closed the door of the office behind them.
“Oh, I suppose Bocchese can wait a few minutes Brunetti said
resignedly. When they got to his office, Brunetti closed the door
behind them and while he took off his overcoat and hung it in the
closet, said, What did you learn?”
Pucetti kept the papers tucked under, his arm and said, “I think
there’s something wrong with the Ruffo boy, sir. I went over there
yesterday and hung around in the bar down the street from the school,
and when he came in I said hello. I offered him a coffee, but it
seemed to me he was nervous about talking to me.”
“Or being seen talking to you Brunetti suggested. When Pucetti agreed,
Brunetti asked, “What makes you think there’s something wrong with
“I think he’s been in a fight.” Not waiting for Brunetti to question
him, Pucetti went on. “Both of his hands were scraped, and the
knuckles of his right hand were swollen. When he saw me looking at
them, he tried to hide them behind his back.”
“He moved differently, as though he were stiff.”
“What did he tell you?” asked Brunetti as he sat down behind his
“He said he’s had time to think about it and he realizes now that maybe
it was suicide, after all,” Pucetti said.
Brunetti propped his elbows on his desk and rested his chin on his
folded hands. Silently, he waited to hear not only what Pucetti had
been told but what he thought of it.
In the face of his superior’s silence, Pucetti ventured, “He doesn’t
believe that, sir, at least I don’t think he does.”
“He sounded frightened, and he sounded as if he were repeating
something he’d had to memorize. I asked him why he thought it might
have been suicide, and he said it was because Moro had been acting
strangely in the last few weeks.” Pucetti paused, then added, “Just
the opposite of what he told me the first time. It was as if he needed
some sign from me that I believed him.”
“And did you give it to him?” Brunetti asked.
“Of course, sir. If that’s what he needs to feel safe, and I think it
is, then it’s better he have it.”
“Why’s that, Pucetti?”
“Because it will cause him to relax, and when he relaxes he’ll be even
more frightened when we talk to him again.”
“Here, do you mean?”
“Downstairs, yes. And with someone big in the room with us.”
Brunetti looked up at the young man and smiled.
The obvious choice to serve the role of enforcer was Vianello, a man
who had perfected the art of disguising his essential good nature
behind expressions that could vary from displeased to savage. He was
not, however, to be given the chance to employ his repertory on Cadet
Ruffo, for when the
Inspector and Pucetti arrived at the San Martino Academy an hour later,
the cadet was not in his room, nor did the boys on his floor know where
to find him. It was the Comandante who brought illumination by telling
them, when their inquiries finally led them to his office, that Cadet
Ruffo had been granted leave to visit his family and was not expected
to return to the Academy for at least two weeks.
When asked, the Comandante remained vague as to the precise reason for
Cadet Ruffo’s leave, saying something about ‘family matters’, as if
that should satisfy any curiosity on their part.
Vianello knew that the student list was in Signorina Elettra’s
possession, a list that would surely provide the address of Ruffo’s
parents, and so it was nothing more than interest in the Comandante’s
response that prompted Vianello to ask him to provide it. He refused,
insisting that the addresses of the students constituted privileged
information. Then he announced that he had a meeting to attend and
asked them to leave.
After the two men returned to the Questura and reported this encounter
to Brunetti, he asked Pucetti, “What was your general impression of the
I’d like to say they were frightened, the way Ruffo was when I talked
to him the last time, but they weren’t. In fact, they seemed angry
that I’d ask them anything, almost as if I didn’t have a right to talk
to them.” The young officer shrugged in confusion about how to make
all of this clear. “I mean, they’re all seven or eight years younger
than I am, but they acted like they were speaking to a kid or someone
who was supposed to obey them.” He looked perplexed.
“An enlisted man, for example?” Brunetti asked.
Not following, Pucetti asked, “Excuse me, sir?”
“As if they were speaking to an enlisted person? Is that how they
spoke to you?”
Pucetti nodded. “Yes, I think so, as if I was supposed to obey them
and not ask questions.”
“But that doesn’t tell us why they didn’t want to talk Vianello
“There’s usually only one reason for that Brunetti said.
Before Vianello could ask what he meant, Pucetti blurted out, “Because
they all know whatever Ruffo does, and they don’t want us to talk to
Once again, Brunetti graced the young man with an approving smile.
By three that afternoon, they were seated in an unmarked police car
parked a hundred metres from the entrance to the home listed for Cadet
Ruffo, a dairy farm on the outskirts of Dolo, a small town halfway
between Venice and Padova. The stone house, long and low and attached
at one end to a large barn, sat back from a poplar-lined road. A
gravel driveway led up to it from the road, but the recent rains had
reduced it to a narrow band of mud running between patches of dead
grass interspersed with mud-rimmed puddles. There were no trees within
sight, though stumps stood here and there in the fields, indicating
where they had been cut. It was difficult for Brunetti, stiff and cold
in the car, to think of a season different from this one, but he
wondered what the cattle would do without shade from the summer sun.
Then he remembered how seldom cows went to pasture on the farms of the
new Veneto: they generally stood in their stalls, reduced to motionless
cogs in the wheel of milk production.
It was cold; a raw wind was coming from the north. Every so often,
Vianello turned on the motor and put the heat on high, until it grew so
hot in the car that one or another of them was forced to open a
After half an hour, Vianello said, The don’t think it makes much sense
to sit here, waiting for him to show up. Why don’t we just go and ask
if he’s there or not?”
Pucetti, as befitted his inferior position, both in terms of rank and,
because he was in the back seat, geography, said nothing, leaving it to
Brunetti to respond.
Brunetti had been musing on the same question for some time, and
Vianello’s outburst was enough to convince him. “You’re right,” he
said. “Let’s go and see if he’s there.”
Vianello turned on the engine and put the car into gear. Slowly, the
wheels occasionally spinning in search of purchase, they drove through
the mud and gravel and towards the house. As they drew nearer, signs
of rustic life became more and more evident. An abandoned tyre, so
large it could have come only from a tractor, lay against the front of
a barn. To the left of the door of the house a row of rubber boots
stood in odd pairings of black and brown, tall and short. Two large
dogs emerged from around the side of the house and ran towards them,
low and silent and, because of that, frightening. They stopped two
metres short of the car, both on the passenger side, and stared, their
lips pulled back in suspicion, but still silent.
Brunetti could recognize only a few well-known breeds, and he thought
he saw some German Shepherd in these dogs, but there was little else he
could identify. “Well?” he asked Vianello.
Neither of the others said anything, so Brunetti pushed open his door
and put one foot on the ground, careful to choose a patch of dried
grass. The dogs did nothing. He put his other foot on the ground and
pushed himself out of the car. Still the dogs remained motionless. His
nostrils were assailed by the acidic smell of cow urine, and he noticed
that the puddles in front of what he thought to be the doors of the
barn were a dark, foaming brown.
He heard one car door open, then the other, and then Pucetti was
standing beside him. At the sight of two men standing side by side,
the dogs backed away a bit. Vianello came around the front of the car,
and the dogs backed away
even farther, until they stood just at the corner of the building.
Vianello suddenly stamped his right foot and took a long step towards
them, and they disappeared around the corner of the building, still
without having made a sound.
The men walked to the door, where an enormous iron ring served as a
knocker. Brunetti picked it up and let it drop against the metal
plaque nailed into the door, enjoying the weight of it in his hand as
well as the solid clang it created. When there was no response, he did
it again. After a moment, they heard a voice from inside call
something they could not distinguish.
The door was opened by a short, dark-haired woman in a shapeless grey
woollen dress over which she wore a thick green cardigan that had
obviously been knitted by hand, a clumsy hand. Shorter than they, she
stepped back from the door and put her head back to squint at them.
Brunetti noticed that there was a lopsided quality about her face: the
left eye angled up towards her temple, while the same side of her mouth
drooped. Her skin seemed baby soft and was without wrinkles, though
she must have been well into her forties.
“Si?” she finally inquired.
“Is this the home of Giuliano Ruffo?” Brunetti asked.
She might have been a speaker of some other language, so long did it
take her to translate his words into meaning. As Brunetti watched, he
thought he saw her mouth the word, “Giuliano’, as if that would help
her answer the question.
“Momenta,” the woman said, and the consonants caused her great
difficulty. She turned away, leaving it to them to close the door. Or
just as easily, Brunetti said to himself, walk off with everything in
the house or, if they preferred, kill everyone inside and drive away
undisturbed, even by the dogs.
The three men crowded into the hall and stood there, waiting for the
woman to return or for someone to arrive
better able to answer their questions. After a few minutes they heard
footsteps come towards them from the back of the house. The woman in
the green cardigan returned, and behind her was another woman, younger,
and wearing a sweater made from the same wool but by more skilful
hands. This woman’s features and bearing, too, spoke of greater
refinement: dark eyes that instantly sought his, a sculpted mouth
poised to speak, and an air of concentrated attention left Brunetti
with a general impression of brightness and light.
“Si?” she said. Both her tone and her expression made the question
one that required not only an answer, but an explanation.
“I’m Commissario Guido Brunetti, Signora. I’d like to speak to
Giuliano Ruffo. Our records show that this is his home.”
“What do you want to talk to him about?” the second woman asked.
“About the death of one of his fellow cadets.”
During this exchange, the first woman stood to one side of Brunetti,
open mouthed, her face moving back and forth from one to the other as
he spoke to the younger woman, seeming to register only sound. Brunetti
saw her in profile, and noticed that the undamaged side of her face was
similar to that of the other woman’s. Sisters, then, or perhaps
“He’s not here the younger woman said.
Brunetti had no patience for this. “Then he’s in violation of his
leave from the Academy,” he said, thinking this might perhaps be
To hell with the Academy,” she answered fiercely.
“All the more reason for him to talk to us, then,” he countered.
“I told you, he’s not here.”
Suddenly angry, Brunetti said, “I don’t believe you.” The idea of what
life in the countryside was like came to him, the
boredom of work relieved only by the hope that some new misery would
befall a neighbour. “If you like, we can leave and then come back
again with three cars, with sirens wailing and red lights flashing, and
fill your courtyard and then go and ask all of your neighbours if they
know where he is.”
“You wouldn’t do that,” she said, far more truthfully than she
“Then let me talk to him Brunetti said. “Giuliano,” said the first
woman, surprising them all.
“It’s all right, Luigina,” the younger woman said, placing a hand on
her forearm. These men have come to see Giuliano.”
“Giuliano,” the older woman repeated in the same dull, uninflected
“That’s right, cam. They’re friends of his, and they’ve come to
“Friends,” the woman repeated with a crooked smile. She moved towards
the bulk of Vianello, who was looming behind his colleagues. She
raised her right hand and placed the open palm on the centre of his
chest. She raised her face up to his and said, “Friend.”
Vianello placed his hand over hers and said, That’s right, Signora.
There ensued a moment of intense awkwardness, at least for Brunetti,
Pucetti and the younger woman. Vianello and Luigina remained linked by
her hand on his chest, while Brunetti turned to the other woman and
said, “Signora, I do need to speak to Giuliano. You have my
inspector’s word: we’re friends.”
“Why should I trust you?” she demanded.
Brunetti turned partly towards Vianello, who was now softly patting the
back of the other woman’s hand. “Because she does he said.
The younger woman began to protest but let it drop even before she
could pronounce the first word. As Brunetti watched, her face
displayed her recognition of the truth of his remark. Her body relaxed
and she asked, “What do you need to ask him?”
The told you, Signora. About the death of the cadet.”
“Only about that?” Her glance was as clear and direct as her
“Yes.” He could have left it at that, but he felt himself bound
by Vianello’s promise. “It should be. But I won’t know until I speak
Luigina suddenly took her hand from Vianello’s chest. She turned to
the other woman and said, “Giuliano.” After she pronounced the name,
she gave a nervous grin that tugged at Brunetti’s pity as it pulled at
The younger woman stepped close to her and took her right hand in both
of hers. “It’s all right, Luigina. Nothing will happen to
The woman must have understood what she heard, for the grin expanded
into a smile and she clapped her hands together in undisguised
happiness. She turned towards the back of the house, but before she
could move the younger woman placed a hand on her arm, stopping her.
“But the gentleman needs to speak to Giuliano alone,” she began, making
a business of looking at her watch. “And while he’s doing that, you
can feed the chickens. It’s time for that.” Brunetti knew little
about country life, but he did know that chickens didn’t get fed in the
middle of the day.
“Chickens?” Luigina asked, confused by the abrupt change of subject.
“You have chickens, Signora?” Vianello asked with great enthusiasm,
stepping forward until he was directly in front of her. “Would you
show them to me?” he asked.
Again, the lopsided smile, at the chance to show her friend the
Turning to Pucetti, Vianello said, The Signora’s going to show us the
chickens, Pucetti.” Without waiting for Pucetti to respond, Vianello
placed a hand on the woman’s arm and started to walk with her to the
front door of the house. “How many … ?” Brunetti heard the
Inspector begin, and then, as if he’d realized that the act of counting
was probably well beyond this woman’s powers, he continued seamlessly,
‘… times have I wanted to see chickens.” He turned to Pucetti.
“Come on, let’s go see the chickens.”
When they were alone, Brunetti asked the woman, “May I ask who you are,
“I’m Giuliano’s aunt.”
“And the other signora?” he asked.
“His mother.” When Brunetti followed this with no inquiry, she added,
“She was injured some years ago, while Giuliano was still a boy.”
“And before that?” Brunetti asked.
“What do you mean? Was she normal?” she demanded, attempting an angry
tone but not fully succeeding.
“Yes, she was. As normal as I. I’m her sister, Tiziana.”
“I thought so he said. “You look very much alike, the two of you.”
“She was the beautiful one,” she said sadly. “Before.” If this
woman’s neglected beauty were any indication, then Luigina must indeed
have been a wonder.
“May I ask what happened?”
“You’re a policeman, aren’t you?”
“Does that mean you can’t repeat things?”
“If they’re not related to the case I’m investigating, no.” Brunetti
failed to tell her that it was more a case of what he chose not to
reveal than what he was forbidden to, but his answer satisfied her.
“Her husband shot her. And then he shot himself,” she said. When
Brunetti made no comment, she continued, “He meant to kill her and then
himself. But he failed, at least with Luigina.”
“Why did he do it?”
“He thought she was having an affair.”
“No.” Her answer left no doubt in Brunetti’s mind. “But he was a
jealous man, always. And violent. We all warned her not to marry him,
but she did.” After a long pause, she added,
“Love/ as though asked to name the disease that had destroyed her
“How long ago did this happen?”
“Eight years. Giuliano was ten.” The woman suddenly folded her arms
across her stomach, her hands grabbing at the opposite arms as though
seeking security there.
When it occurred to him, the idea so shocked him that he spoke before
he considered how painful the question would be for her. “Where was
“No, he wasn’t there she answered. “At least he didn’t do that to
Brunetti wanted to know the full extent of the damage to the other
woman, but he recognized this as the prurient curiosity it was, and so
he forbore to ask. The evidence in Luigina’s behaviour and
asymmetrical face sufficed to indicate what was left: this woman’s
vitality was enough to suggest what had been taken.
As they were walking across to the back of the house, Brunetti asked,
“Why did he leave the school?”
“He said .. .” she began but then stopped, and Brunetti sensed that
she was sorry not to be able to explain it to him. The think it would
be better if you asked Giuliano that.”
“Was he happy there?”
“No. Never.” Her answer was instant and fierce.
“Then why did he go, or why did he stay?”
She stopped and turned to face him, and he noticed that her eyes, which
had at first appeared dark, were in reality flecked with amber and
seemed to glow, even in the dim light of the hall.
“Do you know anything about the family?”
“No. Nothing/ he said, at once regretting that he had failed to ask
Signorina Elettra further to invade their privacy and ferret through
their secrets. All of this would then have been far less surprising,
and he would have known what information to try to get out of her.
Again, she crossed her arms in front of her and turned to |r face him.
“You didn’t read about it, then?”
“No, not that I recall.” He wondered how he could have missed a case
like this: it must have been a three-day wonder for the press.
“It happened when they were in Sardegna, on the naval base there she
said, as though that would explain it. “And my sister’s father-in-law
managed to keep it quiet.”
“Who is he, her father-in-law?” Brunetti asked.
“Ammiraglio Giambattista Ruffo,” she said.
Brunetti recognized the name instantly: the man known as the “King’s
Admiral’ for his avowedly monarchist sentiments and opinions. Brunetti
thought Ruffo was Genovese by birth, had a vague memory of having heard
people talk about him for decades. Ruffo had risen through the ranks
of the Navy on merit, keeping his ideas to himself, but once his senior
rank was confirmed and Brunetti thought this had been about fifteen
years ago he had ceased to disguise or equivocate about his belief that
the monarchy should be restored. The attempt on the part of the War
Ministry to silence Ruffo had given him a sort of overnight celebrity,
for he refused to retract any of his statements. The serious
newspapers, if, in fact, any can be said to exist in Italy, quickly
tired of the story, and it was relegated to those weekly magazines
whose covers devote attention week by week to various parts of the
Given his celebrity, it was nothing short of miraculous that his son’s
suicide could have been kept from turning into a media feeding frenzy,
but Brunetti had no memory of the case. “How did he manage to silence
it?” Brunetti asked.
Tn Sardegna, at the naval base, he was in command,” she began.
“You mean the Admiral?” Brunetti interrupted to ask.
“Yes. Because it all happened there, the press could be kept out.”
“How was it reported?” Brunetti asked, knowing that, given these
conditions, almost anything was possible.
That he had died in an accident, and Luigina had been seriously injured
at the same time.”
That’s all they said?” he asked, surprised at his own ingenuousness at
thinking this unusual.
“Of course. The Naval police investigated, and a Naval doctor did the
autopsy. Luigina wasn’t even badly hurt by the bullet. It hit her in
the arm. But she fell and hit her head. That’s what did the
“Why are you telling me this?” Brunetti asked.
“Because Giuliano doesn’t know what really happened.”
“Where was he?” Brunetti asked. “When it happened, I mean.”
There. But in a different part of the house, with his grandparents.”
“And no one’s ever told him?”
She shook her head. The don’t think so. At least, not until now.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked, sensitive to a sudden lessening of
confidence in her tone.
She raised her right hand and rubbed at her temple, just at the
hairline. “I don’t know. He asked me about it when he came home this
time. I’m afraid I didn’t handle it well. Instead of just telling him
what we’ve always told him, about the accident, I asked him why he was
asking.” She stopped speaking, glancing at the floor, her fingers
still busy at the edge of her hair.
“And?” Brunetti prodded.
“And when he didn’t answer me, I told him that he already knew what
happened, that there was a terrible accident and his father was
killed.” She stopped again.
“Did he believe you?”
She shrugged the question away like a wilful child refusing to deal
with an unpleasant subject.
Brunetti waited, not repeating the question. Finally she t>aid,
raising her eyes to meet his, I don’t know if he did or not.” She
stopped, considering how to explain this, then went on, “When he was
younger, he used to ask about it. It was almost like a fever: it would
grow and grow on him until he couldn’t do anything except ask me about
it again, no matter how many times I’d told him what happened. And
then he’d be all right for a time, but then it would start again, and
he’d refer to his father or ask questions about him, or about his
grandfather, until he couldn’t stand it any more, and then he’d ask
about his father’s death.” She closed her eyes, letting her hands fall
to her sides. “And I’d tell him the same old lie again. Until I was
sick of hearing it.”
She turned away from him and started towards the back of the house
again. Following her, Brunetti risked one last question: “Did he seem
different this time?”
She kept walking, but he saw the sudden rise and fall of her shoulders
as she shrugged the question away. After a few more steps, she stopped
just in front of a door but did not turn to face him. “Every time he
asked, he was calmer for a while after I told him what had happened,
but this time he wasn’t. He didn’t believe me. He doesn’t believe me
any more.” She didn’t explain why she thought this, and Brunetti
didn’t think it necessary to ask: the boy would be a far more reliable
She opened a door that gave on to another long corridor, then stopped
at the second door on the right and knocked. Almost immediately it
opened, and Giuliano Ruffo came out into the corridor. He saw his aunt
and smiled, then turned to Brunetti and recognized him. The smile
disappeared, flared up for a hopeful moment, then died away again.
“Zz’a,” he named her. “What is it?” When she didn’t answer, the boy
said to Brunetti, “You’re the man who came to my room.” At Brunetti’s
nod, he asked, “What do you want now?”
The same thing I did last time, to talk about Ernesto Moro.”
“What about him?” Giuliano asked neutrally. Brunetti thought the boy
should have been more disturbed to have the police pursuing him to his
home to ask about Ernesto Moro. Suddenly he was conscious of the
awkwardness of their situation, the three of them standing in the
unheated corridor, the woman silent while Brunetti and the boy circled
one another with questions. As if sensing his thoughts, the woman
said, indicating the room behind her nephew, “Shall we go somewhere
warmer to talk?”
If it had been a command, the boy could not have responded more
quickly. He went back inside, leaving the door open for them to
follow. Entering, Brunetti was reminded of the unnatural orderliness
of Giuliano’s room at the Academy, but reminded only because here he
saw its antithesis: clothing lay discarded across the bed and on top of
the radiator; compact discs, vulnerable and naked outside of their
boxes, covered the desk; boots and shoes cluttered the floor. The only
thing that surprised him was the absence of the smell of cigarettes,
though he saw an open pack on the desk and another on the table beside
Giuliano went to the armchair in front of the window and picked up the
clothing draped over it, then told his aunt that she could sit there.
He tossed the clothing on to the foot of the bed, adding it to a pair
of jeans already there. He nodded his head towards the chair in front
of his desk, indicating to Brunetti that he could sit there, then sat
down in the space he had just made on the bed.
Brunetti began, “Giuliano, I don’t know what you’ve been told or have
read, and I don’t care what you might have told anyone. I don’t
believe that Ernesto killed himself; I don’t believe he was the kind of
boy to do it, and I don’t think he had any reason to do it.” He
paused, waiting for the boy or his aunt to say something.
Neither did, so he continued, That means either he died in an accident
of some sort or that someone killed him.”
“What do you mean, accident?” Giuliano asked.
“A practical juke that went wrong, one he was playing 01 that someone
was playing on him. If that was the case, then I think the people
involved would have panicked and done the first thing that they thought
of: faking a suicide.” He stopped there, hoping to provide the boy
with the opportunity to agree, but Giuliano remained silent.
“Or else,” Brunetti continued, ‘for reasons I don’t understand, he was
killed, either deliberately or, again, when something went wrong or got
out of hand. And then the same thing happened: whoever did it tried to
make it look like a suicide.”
“But the newspapers say it was suicide,” the aunt interrupted.
That doesn’t mean anything, Zia,” the boy surprised Brunetti by
Into the silence that radiated from this exchange, Brunetti said, “I’m
afraid he’s right, Signora.”
The boy put both hands on the surface of the bed and hung his head, as
if examining the jumble of shoes and boots that lay on the floor.
Brunetti watched his hands turn into fists then unfold themselves
again. He looked up, suddenly leaned aside, and picked up the pack of
cigarettes on the table beside him. He held it tight in his right
hand, like a talisman or the hand of a friend, but he made no move to
take a cigarette. He switched the pack to his left hand and finally
took a cigarette from it. Standing, he tossed the pack down on the bed
and came towards Brunetti, who remained motionless.
Giuliano took a disposable plastic cigarette lighter from the desk and
went to the door. Saying nothing, he left the room, closing the door
His aunt said, “I’ve asked him not to smoke in the house.”
“Don’t you like the smell?” Brunetti asked.
She pulled a battered packet of cigarettes from the pocket of her
sweater and said, holding it up to him, “Quite the
opposite. But Giuliano’s father was a heavy smoker, so my sister
associates the smell with him: we both smoke only outside the house not
to upset her.”
“Will he come back?” Brunetti asked; he had made no attempt to stop
Giuliano from leaving and was fully convinced that the boy could not be
forced to reveal anything he did not want to.
There’s nowhere else he can go his aunt said, though not unkindly.
They sat in silence for a while, until Brunetti asked, “Who runs this
“I do. With a man from the village.”
“How many cows do you have?”
“Is that enough to make a living?” Brunetti asked, curious to learn
how the family managed to survive, though he admitted to himself he
knew so little about farming that the number of cattle could give him
no indication of wealth or the ability to produce it.
There’s a trust from Giuliano’s grandfather she explained.
“Is he dead?”
Then how can there be a trust?”
“He set it up when his son died. For Giuliano.”
Brunetti asked, “What does it stipulate?” When she didn’t answer, he
added, “If you’ll permit me to ask.”
“I can’t stop you asking anything she said tiredly.
After some time, she apparently decided to answer the question.
“Giuliano receives a sum every four months she told him.
A certain hesitation at the end of her statement led Brunetti to ask,
“Are there any conditions?”
“So long as he is actively pursuing a career in the military, he’ll
continue to receive it.”
“And if he stops?”
“It does, too.”
“His time at the Academy?”
That’s part of the pursuing.”
“And now?” he asked, waving a hand to indicate the unmilitary chaos of
She shrugged, a gesture he was beginning to associate with her, then
answered, “So long as he’s still officially on leave, he’s considered
…” her voice trailed off.
“Pursuing?” Brunetti ventured and was pleased by her smile.
The door opened then and Giuliano came into the room, bringing with him
the scent of cigarette smoke. He walked back to the bed, and Brunetti
noticed that his shoes left muddy tracks on the tiles of the floor. He
sat, propping his hands on either side, looked at Brunetti and said, “I
don’t know what happened.”
“Is that the truth or what you decided to tell me while you were
outside?” Brunetti asked mildly.
“It’s the truth.”
“Do you have any idea at all?” Brunetti asked. The boy gave no sign
that he had even heard the question, so Brunetti asked an even more
hypothetical question: “Or of what might have happened?”
After a long time, head still lowered and eyes still on his shoes, the
boy said, The can’t go back there.”
Brunetti did not for an instant doubt him: no one who heard him would.
But he was curious about the boy’s reasons. “Why?”
“I can’t be a soldier.”
Why is that, Giuliano?” he asked.
“It’s not in me. It just isn’t. It all seems so stupid: the orders
and the standing in line and everyone doing the same thing at the same
time. It’s stupid.”
Brunetti glanced at the boy’s aunt, but she sat motionless,
staring at her nephew, ignoring Brunetti. When the boy spoke again,
Brunetti turned his attention back to him. “I didn’t want to do it,
but my grandfather said it’s what my father would have wanted me to
do.” He glanced up at Brunetti, who met his eyes but remained
That’s not true, Giuliano/ his aunt interrupted. “He always hated the
Then why did he join?” Giuliano snapped back, making no attempt to
disguise his anger.
After a long time, as if she’d considered the effect her words were
bound to have, she answered, “For the same reason you did: to make your
“He’s never happy,” Giuliano muttered.
A silence fell on them. Brunetti turned and looked out the window, but
all he saw was the long expanse of muddy fields and, here and there, a
It was the woman who finally broke the silence. “Your father always
wanted to be an architect, at least that’s what your mother told me.
But his father, your grandfather, insisted that he become a soldier.”
“Just like all the other Ruffos,” Giuliano spat out with undisguised
“Yes/ she agreed. “I think that was part of the cause of his
“He killed himself, didn’t he?” Giuliano startled both of the adults
Brunetti turned his gaze back to the woman. She looked at him, then at
her nephew, and finally said, “Yes.”
“And before, he tried to kill Mamma?”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” the boy asked, his voice tight and
close to tears.
Tears appeared in her eyes too and began to spill down her face. She
drew her mouth tight, incapable of speech, and shook her head. Finally
she held up her right hand, her palm
facing her nephew, as if asking him to be patient long enough for words
Lo come back lo her. More lime passed and then she said, “I was
“Of what?” the boy demanded.
To hurt you she said.
“And a lie wouldn’t?” he asked, but in confusion, without anger.
She turned her palm upwards, splaying open her fingers, in a gesture
that spoke of uncertainty and, in a strange way, of hope.
“What happened?” Giuliano asked. When she didn’t answer, he added,
“Please tell me, Zia.”
Brunetti watched her struggle towards speech. Finally she said, “He
was jealous of your mother and accused her of having an affair.” As
the boy showed no curiosity about this, she went on. “He shot her and
“Is that why Mamma is the way she is?”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I always thought it was a disease you were
afraid to tell me about.” He stopped and then, as if carried forward
on the current of his own confessions, added, “That it was something in
the family. And it would happen to me, too.”
This broke her, and she started to cry openly, silently, save for an
occasional deep intake of breath.
Brunetti turned his attention to the boy and asked, “Will you tell me
what you think happened, Giuliano?”
The boy looked at Brunetti, at the weeping woman, and then back at
Brunetti. The think they killed him,” he finally said.
“Why?” Brunetti asked, leaving for later the question of who ‘they’
“Because of his father and because he tried to help me.”
“What did they say about his father?” Brunetti asked.
Thai he was a traitor.”
“A traitor to what?”
“La Patria,” the boy answered, and never had Brunetti heard the words
spoken with such contempt.
“Because of his report?”
The boy shook his head. “I don’t know. They never said. They just
kept telling him his father was a traitor.”
When it seemed that Giuliano had reached a halting place, Brunetti
prodded him by asking, “How did he try to help you?”
“One of them started talking about my father. He said he knew what had
happened and that my mother was a whore. That there wasn’t any
accident, and that she’d gone crazy when my father killed himself
because it was her fault that he did.”
“And what did Moro do?”
“He hit him, the one who said this, Paolo Filippi. He knocked him down
and broke one of his teeth.”
Brunetti waited, not wanting to press him, afraid that it would break
the thread of the boy’s revelations.
Giuliano went on. “That stopped it for a while, but then Filippi began
to threaten Ernesto, and then a bunch of his friends did, too.”
Branetti’s.attention was riveted by the name Filippi, the third-year
student whose father supplied material to the military.
The don’t know. I didn’t hear anything that night, the night he died.
But the next day they all seemed strange worried and happy at the same
time, like kids who have a secret or a secret club.”
“Did you say anything? Ask anyone?”
Giuliano looked straight at Brunetti as he said, “I was
afraid’, and Brunetti was struck by how much courage it took for him to
“And since then?”
Giuliano shook his head again. “I don’t know. I stopped going to
classes and stayed in my room most of the time. The only people I
talked to were you and then that policeman who came to the bar, the
“What made you leave?”
“One of them, not Filippi, but one of the others, saw me talking to the
policeman, and he remembered him from when he was asking questions at
the Academy, and then Filippi told me if I talked to the police I
better watch out…” His voice trailed off, leaving the sentence
unfinished. He took a deep breath and added, “He said I should be
careful and that talking to the police could drive a person to suicide,
and then he laughed.” He waited to see what effect this would have on
Brunetti, and then said, “So I left. I just walked out and came
“And you’re not going back his aunt startled them both by interrupting.
She got to her feet, took two steps towards her nephew, and stopped.
Looking across at Brunetti, she said, “No more. Please, no more of
“All right,” Brunetti agreed, standing. For a moment, he debated
whether to tell the boy he would have to make a formal statement, but
this was not the time to try to force anything from him, especially not
with his aunt present. In future, they could deny that this
conversation had taken place or they could admit it. Which they chose
to do was irrelevant to Brunetti: what interested him was the
information he had obtained.
As they made their way back to the front hall, he heard the deep,
comforting bass of Vianello’s voice, interspersed with a light female
warbling. When Brunetti and the others entered the room, Giuliano’s
mother turned to greet them, her face aglow with joy. Vianello stood
in the middle of the room, a
wicker basket full of brown eggs dangling from his right hand.
Giuliano’s mother pointed to Vianello and said, “Friend
On the way back to Venice, Brunetti explained that, although they now
had enough to warrant calling the Filippi boy in for questioning, he
would prefer them to dedicate their energies to seeing what they could
find out about his father.
Vianello surprised him by suggesting he take a few hours the next day
to have a look on the Internet to see what he could discover. Brunetti
forbore from comment on his phrase, ‘have a look’, which sounded to him
like vintage Signorina Elettra, when he considered the relief that
would come to him if someone other than Signorina Elettra, someone to
whom he was less beholden by the heavy demands of past favours, were to
be the one to discover sensitive information.
“How will you do it?” he asked Vianello.
Keeping his eyes on the traffic that filled the roads leading towards
Venice, Vianello said, The same way Signorina Elettra does: see what I
can find and then see what my friends can find.”
“Are they the same friends as hers?” Brunetti asked.
At this question, Vianello took his eyes from the road and permitted
himself a quick glance in Brunetti’s direction. “I suppose.”
Then perhaps it would be faster to ask Signorina Elettra/ a defeated
He did so the following morning, stepping into her office and asking
her if her military friend was back from Livorno and, if so, whether he
would allow her to have a look at their files. As if she had known
upon rising that the day would cause her to engage the military,
Signorina Elettra wore a dark blue sweater with small buttoned tabs on
the shoulders not unlike epaulettes.
“You wouldn’t.happen to be wearing a sword, would you?” Brunetti
“No, sir she answered, “I find it very inconvenient for daytime wear.”
Smiling, she pressed a swift series of keys on her computer, paused a
moment, then said, “He’ll start working on it now.”
Brunetti went back to his office.
He read two newspapers, calling it work, while he waited for her, then
made a few phone calls, not attempting to justify them as anything
other than maintaining good relations with people who might some day be
asked to provide him with information.
When there had been no sign of Signorina Elettra before lunchtime, he
left the Questura without calling her, though he did call Paola to say
he would not be home for lunch. He went to da Remigio and ate insalata
di mare and coda di rospo in tomato sauce, telling himself that,
because he drank only a quartino of their house white wine and limited
himself to a single grappa, it was a light meal and would entitle him
to have something more substantial that evening.
He looked into Signorina Elettra’s office on his way up to his own, but
she was gone. His heart dropped, for he feared that she had left for
the day and he would have to wait until
the following day to learn about Filippi. But she did not disappoint.
At three-thirty, just as he was considering going down to ask Vianello
to have a look on the computer, she came into his office, a few papers
in her hand.
“Filippi?” he asked.
“Isn’t that the name of a battle?”
“Yes. It’s where Bruto and Cassio were defeated.”
“By Marc’ Antonio?” she asked, not at all to his surprise.
“And Ottaviano,” he added for the sake of correctness. “Who then went
on, if memory serves, to defeat Antonio.”
“It serves she said, placing the papers on his desk, adding, “A tricky
He nodded at the papers. “Do they lead you to that conclusion, or does
the battle of Filippi?”
“Both,” she answered. She explained that she would be leaving the
Questura in an hour because she had an appointment and left his
There didn’t seem to be more than a dozen sheets of paper, but they
contained an adequate summary of both men’s rise through the ranks of
the military. After graduating from the San Martino Academy, Filippi
went on to the formal military academy in Mantova, where he proved to
be a mediocre cadet. Filippi finished in the middle of his class,
beginning a career that had little to do with battle or its many
dangers. He had spent his early years as ‘resource specialist’ in a
tank regiment. Promoted, he had served for three years on the staff of
the military attache to Spain. Promoted again, he was posted as
executive officer in charge of procurement for a regiment of
paratroopers, where he remained until his retirement. Glancing back at
Filippi’s first posting, Brunetti’s attention was caught by the word,
‘tank’, and his mind flew instantly to his father and the rage into
which that word would catapult him. For two of the war years, while
the Army staggered under the command of General Cavallero, ex-director
of the Ansaldo armaments complex, Brunetti’s
father had driven one of their tanks. More than once he had seen the
men of his battalion blown to fragments as the armour plating shattered
like glass under enemy fire.
Toscano had enjoyed a similarly un-bellicose career. Like Filippi, he
had risen effortlessly through the ranks, as though helped along by
gentle puffs of wind from the cheeks of protecting cherubs. After
years in which he had certainly never been disturbed by the sound of
shots fired in anger, Colonello Toscano had been appointed to serve as
military adviser to Parliament, the position from which he had been
encouraged to retire two years before. He now served as professor of
history and military theory at the San Martino Academy.
Beneath the two pages bearing the letterhead of the Army were two more
containing lists of property owned by Filippi and Toscano and by
members of their families, as well as copies of their most recent bank
statements. Perhaps they both had rich wives; perhaps both came from
wealthy families; perhaps both had been careful with their salaries all
those years. Perhaps.
Years ago, when he first met Paola, Brunetti had limited himself to
phoning her only every few days in the hope of disguising his interest
and in the equally vain hope of maintaining what he then defined as his
male superiority. The memory of this awkward restraint came to him as
he dialled Avisani’s number in Palermo.
But Avisani, when he heard Brunetti’s voice, was as gracious as Paola
had been, all those years ago. “I’ve wanted to call you, Guido, but
things are crazy here. No one seems to know who’s in charge of the
Brunetti marvelled that a reporter as experienced as he should think
anyone would find this worthy of comment but said only, “I thought I’d
call. And nag.”
“It’s not necessary,” Avisani answered with a laugh. “I’ve had a trawl
through the files, but the only thing I could come
up with aside from what I told you last time is that both of them,
Filippi and Toscano, own enormous amounts of stock in Edilan-Forma.”
“What does “enormous” mean?”
“If you’ve managed to convert to thinking in Euros, perhaps ten million
Brunetti made a low humming noise of interest then asked, “Any idea how
they acquired it?”
Toscano’s really belongs to his wife. At least it’s listed in her
“You told me Filippi was married to the President’s cousin.”
“Yes. He is. But the stock is in his name, not hers. It seems that
he was paid in stock while he was on the board.”
Neither spoke for a long time until finally Brunetti broke the silence
by saying, “It would be in both of their interests to see that the
price of the stock didn’t drop.”
“Exactly,” agreed Avisani.
“A parliamentary investigation might have just that effect.”
This time it was the journalist who answered with a noise, though his
was more a grunt than a hum.
“Did you check the stock?” Brunetti asked.
“Steady as a rock, well, as a rock that continues to move upward and
that gives out steady dividends.”
The phone line was silent, but both of them heard the tumble and roll
of the other’s calculations and conclusions. Finally Avisani said,
sounding stressed, “I’ve got to go, Guido. We might wake up tomorrow
morning with no government.”
“It’s a pity Tommaso d’Aquino is no longer with us,” Brunetti observed
Confused, Avisani asked, “What?” then amended it to “Why?”
“He might have added that to his proofs of the existence of God.”
Another muffled noise and Avisani was gone.
But how, Brunetti wondered, to penetrate the world of the cadets? He
had long held the view that it was no accident that the Mafia had grown
in the home of the Vatican, for both demanded the same fidelity from
their followers and both punished betrayal with death, either earthly
or eternal. The third in this trinity of twisted loyalty was
undoubtedly the military: perhaps the business of imposing death upon
the enemy made it easy to impose it upon their own.
He sat for a long time, dividing his gaze between the wall of his
office and the facade of San Lorenzo, but on neither surface saw he any
way to penetrate the code that reigned at San Martino. Finally he
picked up the phone and called Pucetti. When the officer answered,
Brunetti asked, “How old is Filippi?”
“We can talk to him alone.”
“Won’t he want a lawyer?”
“Not if he thinks he’s smarter than we are.”
“And how will you make him think that?”
“I’ll send Alvise and Riverre to bring him in.”
Brunetti was very pleased by the fact that Pucetti refrained from
laughter or comment, seeing in his discretion sign of both the young
man’s intelligence and his charity.
When Brunetti went downstairs an hour later, he found Paolo Filippi in
the interview room, sitting at the head of the rectangular table,
facing the door. The young man sat straight in the chair, his spine at
least ten centimetres from the back, his hands carefully folded on the
desk in front of him, like a general who has summoned his staff and
waits impatiently for them to arrive. He wore his uniform and had
placed his cap, neatly folded gloves carefully set on its crown, to
right. He looked at Brunetti when he and Vianello came in but said
nothing to acknowledge their presence. Brunetti recognized him
instantly as the boy whose ankle he had so delighted in kicking, and he
saw that the recognition was mutual.
Taking his cue from Filippi’s silence, Brunetti walked to one side of
the table, Vianello to the other. Brunetti carried a thick blue file,
which he placed in front of him as he sat down. Ignoring the boy, he
reached out and turned on the microphone, then gave the date and the
names of the three people present in the room. He turned to face the
boy and, in a voice he made sound as formulaic as possible, asked
Filippi if he wanted a lawyer to be present, hoping that to the young
man’s ears it would sound like the sort of offer a brave man would
“Of course not,” the boy said, striving for the tone of bored
superiority used by mediocre actors in bad war movies. Brunetti gave
silent thanks for the arrogance of the young.
Quickly, using the same formulaic tone, Brunetti disposed of the
standard questions about name, age, place of residence, and then asked
the boy what he did.
“I’m a student, of course Filippi answered, as though it were
unthinkable that someone his age, from his background, could be
anything other than this.
“At the San Martino Academy?” Brunetti asked.
“You know that,” the boy said.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not an answer Brunetti said calmly.
In a sulky voice, the boy said, “Yes.”
“In what year are you?” Brunetti asked, though he knew the answer and
believed the information to be irrelevant. He wanted to see if Filippi
had learned to answer questions without dispute.
“Have you spent all three years at the Academy?” Brunetti asked.
“Is it part of your family tradition?”
“What, the Academy?”
“Of course it is. The Academy and then the Army.”
“Is your father in the Army, then?”
“He was. He’s retired.”
“When was that?”
“Three years ago.”
“Do you have any idea why your father retired?”
Irritated, the boy asked, “Who do you want to know about, me or my
father? If you want to know about him, then why don’t you bring him in
and ask him?”
“In due course Brunetti said calmly, then repeated, “Do you have any
idea why your father retired?”
“Why does anyone retire?” the boy shot back angrily. “He had enough
years and he wanted to do something else.”
“Serve on the board of Edilan-Forma?”
The boy waved away the possibility with his hand. The don’t know what
he wanted. You’ll have to ask him.”
As if it followed in logical sequence, Brunetti asked, “Did you know
The boy who killed himself?” Filippi asked, Brunetti thought
“Yes, I knew him, though he was a year below me.”
“Did you take any classes together?”
“Did you participate in sports together?”
“Did you have friends in common?”
“How many students are there at the Academy?” Brunetti asked.
The question puzzled Filippi, who turned to take a quick
look at the silent Vianello, as if the other man might know why this
question was being asked.
When nothing was forthcoming from Vianello, the boy said, “No. Why?”
“It’s a small school, fewer than a hundred students
“If you knew that, why did you ask me?” Brunetti was glad to see that
the boy was irritated at having been asked a question to which the
police obviously already knew the answer.
Ignoring Filippi’s question, Brunetti said, “I understand it’s a good
“Yes. It’s very hard to get in.”
“And very expensive Brunetti observed neutrally.
“Of course,” Filippi said with no attempt to disguise his pride.
“Is preference given to the sons of former students?”
“I should hope so Filippi said.
“Why is that?”
“Because then the right people get in.”
“And who are they?” Brunetti asked with mild curiosity, conscious as
he spoke that, if his own son were to use the phrase, ‘the right
people’, in that same tone, he would feel himself to have failed as a
“Who?” Filippi demanded.
“The right people.”
The sons of officers, of course the boy answered.
“Of course Brunetti repeated. He opened the file and glanced at the
top sheet of paper, which had nothing to do with Filippi or Moro. He
looked at Filippi, back at the paper, then again at the boy. “Do you
remember where you were the night that Cadet Moro was .. .” he began,
deliberately hesitating after the last word before correcting it to,
“In my room, I assume the boy answered.
“Where else would I be?”
Brunetti permitted himself to look across at Vianello, who gave the
most minimal of no cis Brunetti slowly turned the page over and
glanced at the next.
“Was anyone in the room with you?”
“No.” The answer was immediate.
“Where was your roommate?”
Filippi reached out and adjusted the folded gloves until they ran
directly from the centre of the peak to the back of the cap. “He must
have been there the boy finally said.
“I see Brunetti said. As if unable to resist the impulse, he glanced
across at Vianello. The Inspector gave another slight nod. Brunetti
looked again at the paper and, from memory, asked, “His name’s Davide
Cappellini, isn’t it?”
Filippi, suppressing any sign of surprise, answered, “Yes.”
“Is he a close friend of yours?” Brunetti asked.
“I suppose so Filippi said with the petulance that only teenagers can
That you suppose it. That you aren’t sure.”
“Of course I’m sure. What else would he be if we’ve shared a room for
“Exactly/ Brunetti permitted himself to observe and bent his attention
to the papers again. After what he realized was a long time, he asked,
“Do you do things together?” Then, before Filippi could ask who he
meant, Brunetti clarified, “You and your roommate, Cadet Cappellini?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do things together Brunetti repeated. “Study? Sports? Other
“What other things?” Filippi demanded suspiciously.
“Hunting?” Vianello surprised them both by suggesting.
Almost as if he had forgotten the presence of the other policeman,
Filippi whipped his head towards Vianello and demanded, his voice
slipping up an octave, “What?”
“Fishing? Hunting?” Vianello asked with innocent curiosity, then
Filippi reached a hand in the direction of the gloves but stopped
himself and folded both hands together on the desk in front of him. “I
want to have a lawyer here with me,” he said.
Mildly, as though Filippi had asked for a glass of water, Brunetti
said, “Of course,” leaned forward, gave the time, and said into the
microphone that the interview was being broken off.
When he said that he didn’t know a lawyer, the boy was left alone in a
room and allowed to call his father. A few minutes later he came out
and said that his father would be there with a lawyer in about an hour.
Brunetti called an officer to take the boy back to the room where he
had been questioned and told Filippi that he would be left there,
undisturbed, until his father arrived. Politely, Brunetti asked if he
would like anything to eat or drink, but the boy refused. In the
manner of his refusal, Brunetti saw generations of B movie actors
spurning the handkerchief offered by the commander of the firing
As soon as the boy was led away, Brunetti told Vianello to wait for
Major Filippi and the lawyer and to delay them as long as he could
before letting them see the boy.
Calling to Pucetti, he told him to go down and wait at the launch, that
he’d be down in a moment.
“Where are you going?” interrupted a puzzled Vianello.
“Back to the Academy. I want to talk to the Cappellini boy before they
get to him Brunetti said. “Let them talk to the boy
alone as long as they want. If you have to, let them take him away.
Jusl see that it all takes as long as possible. Do anything you can to
delay them.” He was gone even before Vianello could make any
The launch stood before the Questura, the pilot gunning the engine in
response to Pucetti’s excitement. Pucetti had already untied the
moorings and stood on the dock, holding the boat close to the pier.
Brunetti jumped on board, followed a second later by Pucetti, who lost
his footing on the already moving boat and had to steady himself with a
hand on Brunetti’s shoulder. Full throttle, the launch sped out into
the Bacino, straight across, then turned into the open mouth of the
Canale della Giudecca. The pilot, warned by Pucetti, used the flashing
blue light but not the siren.
The first thrill of excitement was followed almost immediately by
Brunetti’s embarrassment that, in the midst of death and deceit, he
could still revel in the simple joy of speed. He knew this was no
schoolboy holiday, no cops and robbers chase, but still his heart
soared with delight at the rush of wind and the rhythmic thump of the
prow against the waves.
He glanced at Pucetti and was relieved to see his own feelings
reflected on the younger man’s face. They seemed to flash by other
boats. Brunetti saw heads turn and follow their swift passage up the
canal. Too soon, however, the pilot pulled into the Rio diSant’
Eufemia, slipped the motor into reverse, and glided silently to the
left-hand side of the f canal. As he and Pucetti jumped off, Brunetti
wondered if he f had been rash to bring this sweet-tempered young man
with him instead of someone like Alvise who, if equally decent, at
least had the professional advantage of looking like a thug.
“I want to frighten this kid,” Brunetti said as they started up the
Riva towards the school.
“Nothing easier, sir,” Pucetti replied.
As they walked across the courtyard, Brunetti sensed some sort of
motion or disturbance to his right, where Pucetti was. Without
breaking his stride, he took a quick glance at him and was so surprised
that he almost stopped. Somehow, Pucetti’s shoulders had thickened,
and he had adopted the stride of a boxer or roustabout. His head
jutted forward on a neck that, to Brunetti, looked suddenly thicker.
Pucetti’s hands were curled, almost as if poised for the command that
they be turned into fists, and his steps were, each one, a command that
the earth dare not resist his passage.
Pucetti’s eyes roved around the courtyard, his attention turning with
predatory haste from one cadet to another. His mouth looked hungry,
and his eyes had lost all trace of the warmth and humour which usually
Brunetti automatically slowed his pace, allowing Pucetti to cut ahead,
like a cruise ship in the Antarctic that moves aside to allow an ice
breaker to slip in front of it. The few cadets in the courtyard fell
silent as they passed.
Pucetti took the steps to the dormitory two at a time, Brunetti
following at a slower pace. At the door to Filippi’s room, Pucetti
raised his fist and banged on it twice, then quickly twice again. From
the end of the corridor, Brunetti heard the yelp from inside and then
saw Pucetti open the door and shove it back on its hinges so that it
banged against the wall.
When Brunetti got to the door, Pucetti was standing just inside, his
hands raised almost to the level of his waist; his shoulders looked, if
this were possible, even thicker.
A thin blonde boy with acne-pitted cheeks was on the top bunk, half
sitting, half lying, but pressed back against the wall, his feet pulled
towards him, as though he were afraid to leave them hanging in the air
so close to Pucetti’s teeth. As Brunetti came in, Cappellini raised a
hand, but he used it to wave Brunetti closer, not to tell him to
“What do you want?” the boy asked, unable to disguise his terror.
At the question, Pucetti turned his head slowly to Brunetti and raised
his chin, as if asking if Brunetti wanted him to climb up on the bed
and hurl the boy down.
“No, Pucetti/ Brunetti said in a voice generally used to dogs.
Pucetti lowered his hands, but not by much, and turned his head back to
face the boy on the bed. He kicked the door shut with his heel.
Into the reverberating silence, Brunetti asked, “Cappellini?”
“Where were you on the night Cadet Moro was killed?”
Before he thought, the boy blurted out, “I didn’t do it,” voice high
and himself too frightened to realize what he’d just admitted. “I
didn’t touch him.”
“But you know,” Brunetti said in a firm voice, as if repeating what
he’d already been told by someone else.
“Yes. But I didn’t have anything to do with it,” the boy said. He
pushed himself farther back on the bed, but his shoulders and back were
flat against the wall, and there was no place for him to go, no way he
“Who was it?” Brunetti added, stopping himself from suggesting
Filippi’s name. When the boy hesitated, he demanded, Tell me.”
Cappellini hesitated, calculating whether this current danger were
worse than the one he lived with. Obviously he decided in Brunetti’s
favour, for he said, “Filippi. It was his idea, all of it.”
At the admission, Pucetti lowered his hands, and Brunetti sensed a
general relaxing of his body as he allowed the menace of his presence
to slip away. He had no doubt that, were he to take his eyes off
Cappellini, he would see that Pucetti had managed to return to his
The boy calmed down, at least minimally. He allowed
himself to slip down lower on the bed, extended his legs and let one of
his feet hang off the side. “He hated him, Filippi. I don’t know why,
but he always did, and he told us all that we had to hate him, too,
that he was a traitor. His family was a family of traitors.” When he
saw that Brunetti made no response to this, Cappellini added, “That’s
what he told us. The father, too. Moro.”
“Do you know why he said that?” Brunetti asked in a voice he allowed
to grow soft.
“No, sir. It’s what he told us.”
Much as Brunetti wanted to know who the others were, he was aware that
it would break the rhythm, so he asked, instead, “Did Moro complain or
fight back?” Seeing Cappellini’s hesitation, he added, When Filippi
called him a traitor?”
Cappellini seemed surprised by the question. “Of course. They had a
couple of arguments, and one time Moro hit him, but somebody stopped
it, pulled them apart.” Cappellini ran his right hand through his
hair, then propped himself up on both hands, letting his head sink down
between his shoulders. There was a long pause. Pucetti and Brunetti
might just as easily have been two stones.
“What happened that night?” Brunetti finally prodded him.
“Filippi came in late. I don’t know whether he had permission or he
used his key,” Cappellini explained casually, as if he expected them to
know about this. The don’t know who he was with; it might have been
his father. He always seemed angrier, somehow, when he came back from
seeing his father. Anyway, when he came in here .. .” Cappellini
paused and waved his hand at the space in front of him, the same space
now filled by the motionless bodies of the two policemen. “He started
talking about Moro and what a traitor he was. I’d been asleep and I
didn’t want to hear it, so I told him to shut up.”
He stopped speaking for so long that Brunetti was finally prompted to
ask, “And then what happened?”
“He hit me. He came over here to the side of the bed and reached up
and hit me. Not really hard, you understand. Just sort of punched me
on the shoulder to show me how mad he was. And he kept saying what a
shit Moro was and what a traitor.”
Brunetti hoped the boy would continue. He did. “And then he left,
just turned and walked out of the room and went down the hall, maybe to
get Maselli and Zanchi. I don’t know.” The boy stopped and stared at
“And then what happened?”
Cappellini looked up and across at Brunetti. “I don’t know. I fell
“What happened, Davide?” Pucetti asked.
With no warning, Cappellini started to cry, or at least tears started
to roll down his cheeks. Making no attempt to brush them away he spoke
through them. “He came back later. I don’t know how long it was, but
I woke up when he came in. And I knew something was wrong. Just by
the way he walked in. He wasn’t trying to wake me up or anything.
Just the opposite, maybe. But something woke me up, as if there was
energy all over the place. I sat up and turned on the light. And
there he was, looking like he’d just seen something awful. I asked him
what was wrong, but he told me it was nothing and to go back to sleep.
But I knew something was wrong.”
The tears slid down his face, as if independent of his eyes. He didn’t
sniff, and he still made no attempt to wipe them away. They ran down
his cheeks and fell on to his shirt, darkening it.
“I suppose I went back to sleep, and the next thing I knew, people were
running down the halls shouting and making a lot of noise. That’s what
woke me up. Then Zanchi came in and woke Filippi up and told him
something. They didn’t speak to me, but Zanchi gave me a look, and I
knew I couldn’t say anything.”
He stopped again, and the two policemen watched his tears fall. He
nodded at Pucetti. Then you all came and started asking questions, and
I did what everyone else did, said I didn’t know anything.” Pucetti
made a sympathetic patting gesture in the air with his right hand. The
boy raised a hand and wiped away the tears on the right side of his
face, ignoring the others. “It’s what I had to do.” He used the
inside of his elbow to wipe all of the tears away; when his face
emerged, he said, “And then it was too late to say anything. To
The boy looked at Pucetti, then back at Brunetti, then down at his
hands, clasped in his lap. Brunetti glanced at Pucetti, but neither of
them risked saying anything.
Beyond the door, footsteps went by, then came back after a minute or so
but did not stop. Finally Brunetti asked, “What do the other boys
Cappellini shrugged away the question.
“Do they know, Davide?” Pucetti asked.
Again, that shrug, but then he said, “I don’t know. No one talks about
it. It’s almost as if it never happened. None of the teachers talks
about it either.”
The thought there was some sort of ceremony Pucetti said.
“Yes, but it was stupid. They read prayers and things. But no one
“How has Filippi behaved since then?” Brunetti asked.
It was as if the boy hadn’t considered it before. He raised his head,
and both Brunetti and Pucetti could see how surprised he was by his own
answer. “Just the same. Just the same as ever. As if nothing’s
“Has he said anything to you about it?” Pucetti asked.
“No, not really. But the next day, that is, the day they found him,
when all of you came here to the school and started asking questions,
he said he hoped I realized what happened to traitors.”
“What do you think he meant by that?” Brunetti asked.
With the first sign of spirit the boy had shown since the two men came
into his room, Cappellini shot back, That’s a stupid question.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Brunetti admitted. “Where are the other two?”
he asked. “Zanchi and Maselli.”
Their room is down to the right. The third door
“Are you all right, Davide?” Pucetti asked.
The boy nodded once, then again, leaving his head hanging down, looking
at his hands.
Brunetti signalled to Pucetti that they should leave. The boy didn’t
look up when they moved, nor when they opened the door. Outside, in
the corridor, Pucetti asked, “Now what?”
“Do you remember how old they are, Zanchi and Maselli?” Brunetti said
by way of answer.
Pucetti shook his head, a gesture Brunetti interpreted to mean they
were both underage and thus obliged to have a lawyer or parent present
when they were questioned, at least if what they said were to have any
legal weight at all.
Brunetti saw then the futility of having rushed here to speak to this
boy; he regretted the folly of having given in to his impulse to follow
the scent laid down by Filippi. There was virtually no hope that
Cappellini could be led to repeat what he had just said. Once he spoke
to cooler heads, once his family got to him, once a lawyer explained to
them the inescapable consequences of an involvement with the judicial
system, the boy was certain to deny it all. Much as Brunetti longed to
be able to use the information, he had to admit that no sane person
would admit to having had knowledge of a crime and not going to the
police; much less would they allow their child to do so.
It struck him that, in similar circumstances, he would be reluctant to
allow his own children to become involved. Surely, in his role as
police officer, he would offer them the protection of the state, but as
a father he knew that their only hope of emerging unscathed from a
brush with the
magistratura would be his own position and, more importantly, their
He turned away from the boys’ room. “Let’s go back,” he told a
On the way back to the Questura, Brunetti explained to Pucetti the laws
regarding statements from underage witnesses. If what Cappellini told
them was true and Brunetti’s bones told him it was then he bore some
legal responsibility for his failure to tell the police what he knew.
This, however, was only negligence; the actions of Zanchi and Maselli
if they were involved and of Filippi, were active and criminal and, in
the case of Filippi, subject to the full weight of the law. But until
Cappellini confirmed his statement in the presence of a lawyer, his
story had no legal weight whatsoever.
Their only hope, he thought, was to attempt the same strategy with
Filippi as had worked with his roommate: pretend to have full knowledge
of the events leading to Moro’s death and hope that, by asking
questions about the small details that still remained unexplained, they
could lead the boy to a full explanation of just what had happened.
Holding the mooring rope, Pucetti jumped on to the Questura dock and
hauled the boat up to the side of the pier.
Brunetti thanked the pilot and followed Pucetti into the building.
Silent, they went back to the interrogation rooms, where they found
Vianello standing in the corridor.
They still here?” asked Brunetti.
“Yes/ Vianello said, glancing at his watch, then at the closed door.
“Been in there more than an hour.”
“Hear anything?” Pucetti asked.
Vianello shook his head. “Not a word. I went in a half-hour ago to
ask them if they wanted anything to drink, but the lawyer told me to
“How’d the boy look?” Brunetti asked.
“Who’s the lawyer?”
“Donatini,” Vianello said in a studiedly neutral voice.
“Oh, my,” Brunetti answered, finding it interesting that the most
famous criminal lawyer in the city should be chosen by Maggiore Filippi
to represent his son.
“He say anything?” Brunetti asked.
Vianello shook his head.
The three men stood in the corridor for a few minutes until Brunetti,
tiring of it, told Vianello he could go back to his office and himself
went up to his own. There he waited until, almost an hour later,
Pucetti phoned and told him that Avvocato Donatini said his client was
ready to talk to him.
Brunetti called Vianello and told him he’d meet him at the
interrogation room but deliberately made no haste in going downstairs.
Vianello was there when he arrived. Brunetti nodded, and Vianello
opened the door and stood back, allowing his superior to pass into the
room before him.
Donatini stood and extended his hand to Brunetti, who shook it briefly.
He smiled his cool smile, and Brunetti noticed that he had had
extensive dental work since last they met. The Pavarotti-style caps on
his upper front teeth had
been replaced with new ones that better corresponded to the proportions
of his face. The rest was the same as ever: skin, suit, tie, shoes all
joining in a hallelujah to wealth and success and power. The lawyer
gave Vianello a curt nod but did not offer his hand. The Filippis,
father and son, looked up at the policemen but did not acknowledge
their arrival with even a nod. The father wore civilian clothes, but
it was a suit that, like Donatini’s, spoke so eloquently of wealth and
power that it might as well have been a uniform. He was perhaps
Brunetti’s age but looked a decade younger, the result of either
natural animal grace or hours in a gym. He had dark eyes and the long,
straight nose that was mirrored on the face of his son.
Donatini, staking a claim to the proceedings, waved Brunetti to a seat
at the opposite end of the rectangular table and Vianello to a chair
across from the father and son. Thus he himself faced Brunetti, while
the other two looked at Vianello.
“I won’t waste your time, Commissario,” Donatini said. “My client has
volunteered to talk to you about the unfortunate events at the Academy/
The lawyer looked to his side, where the cadet sat, and the boy gave a
Brunetti gave what he thought was a rather gracious one.
“It would seem that my client knows something about the death of Cadet
T’d be very eager to hear what that is,” Brunetti said with a curiosity
he allowed to be tempered with politesse.
“My client was .. .” Donatini began, only to be stopped by Brunetti,
who held up a hand, but gently and not very high, to suggest a moment’s
pause. “If you don’t mind, Avvocato, I’d like to record what your
client has to say.”
This time it was the lawyer who responded with politesse, which he
conveyed by the merest inclination of his head.
Brunetti reached forward, conscious as he did so of how
often he had done the same thing, and switched on the microphone. He
gave the date, his name and rank, and identified all of the people in
“My client .. .” Donatini began again, and again Brunetti saw fit to
stop him with a raised hand.
“I think it would be better, Avvocato Brunetti said, leaning forward to
switch off the microphone, ‘if your client were to speak for himself.”
Before the lawyer could object or question this, Brunetti went on with
an easy smile, “That might give a greater appearance of openness on his
part, and it would certainly then be easier for him to clarify anything
that might seem confusing.” Brunetti smiled, aware of how elegant had
been his implication that he reserved the right to question the boy as
Donatini looked at Maggiore Filippi, who until now had remained
motionless and silent. “Well, Maggiore?” he asked politely.
The Maggiore nodded, a gesture his son responded to with what appeared
to be an involuntary half-salute.
Brunetti smiled across at the boy and turned the microphone on again.
“Would you tell me your name, please?” he asked.
“Paolo Filippi.” He spoke clearly and louder than he had spoken the
last time, presumably for the benefit of the microphone.
“And are you a third-year student at the San Martino Military Academy
“Could you tell me what happened at the Academy on the night of
November third of this year?”
“You mean about Ernesto?” the boy asked.
“Yes, I’m asking specifically about anything concerning the death of
Ernesto Moro, also a cadet at the Academy.”
The boy was silent for so long that Brunetti finally asked, “Did you
know Ernesto Moro?”
“Was he a friend of yours?”
The boy shrugged that possibility away, but before Brunetti could
remind him about the microphone and the need to speak, Paolo said, “No,
we weren’t friends.”
“What was the reason for that?”
The boy’s surprise was obvious. “He was a year younger than me. In a
“Was there anything else about Ernesto Moro that prevented him from
being a friend of yours?”
The boy thought about this and finally answered, “No.”
“Could you tell me about what happened that night?”
When the boy did not answer for a long time, his father turned
minimally towards him and gave a slight nod.
He leaned towards his father and whispered something, the last words of
which, ‘have to?” Brunetti couldn’t help but overhear.
“Yes/ the Maggiore said in a firm voice.
The boy turned back to Brunetti. “It’s very difficult,” he said, his
“Just tell me what happened, Paolo/ Brunetti said, thinking of his own
son and the confessions he had-made over the years, though he was sure
none of them could compare in magnitude to what this boy might have to
“I was the boy began, coughed nervously, and began again. “I was with
him that night.”
Brunetti thought it best to say nothing and so did nothing more than
The boy glanced up to the top of the table at Donatini, who gave an
“I was with him he repeated.
“In the showers the boy said. Usually, it took them a long time to get
to the confession. Most people had to build up to it with a long set
of details and circumstances, all of which
would make what finally happened seem inevitable, at least to
themselves. “We were there the boy said and then stopped.
Brunetti looked at Donatini, who drew his lips together and shook his
The silence went on so long that at last Donatini was driven to say,
Tell him, Paolo.”
The boy cleared his throat, looked at Brunetti, started to glance at
his father but stifled the gesture and looked back at Brunetti. “We
did things he said, and stopped.
For a moment that seemed all he was going to say, but then he added, To
Brunetti said, “I see. Go on, Paolo.”
“A lot of us do it the boy said in a voice so soft Brunetti doubted the
microphone would pick it up. “I know it’s not right, not really, but
nobody gets hurt, and everybody does it. Really.”
Brunetti said nothing, and the boy added, “We have girls. But at home.
And so it’s .. . it’s hard .. . and .. .” His voice stopped.
Brunetti avoided the eyes of the boy’s father and turned to Donatini.
“Am I to understand that these boys engaged in sexual acts with one
another?” He thought he might as well be as clear as he could and
hoped he was right.
“Masturbation, yes Donatini said.
It had been decades since Brunetti had been as young as this boy, but
he still failed to understand the strength of Paolo’s embarrassment.
They were boys in late adolescence, living among other boys. Their
behaviour didn’t surprise him: the boy’s reaction did.
Tell me more about it Brunetti said, hoping that whatever he heard
would help this to make sense to him.
“Ernesto was strange Paolo said. “It wasn’t enough for him to, well,
just to do what we do. He always wanted to do other things.”
Brunetti kept his eyes on the boy, hoping with his attention to spur
him on to explain.
That night, he told me that… well, he told me he’d read about
something in a magazine. Or a newspaper.” Paolo stopped and Brunetti
watched him worry at this detail. Finally he said, “I don’t know where
he read it, but he said he wanted to do it that way.” He stopped.
“To do what?” Brunetti finally asked. “What way?” For an instant, he
took his eyes from the boy and saw his father, sitting with his head
lowered, looking down at the table as if he were willing himself not to
be in the room where his son had to admit this to a policeman.
“He said the thing he read said it made it better, better than
anything,” the boy went on. “But it meant he had to put something
around his neck and choke himself a little bit when he … well, when
he did it. And that’s what he wanted me there for, to be sure that
nothing went wrong, when it happened.”
The boy gave an enormous sigh, pulling air into his lungs, preparing
himself for the final leap. “I told him he was crazy, but he wouldn’t
listen.” He brought his hands together and folded them primly on the
“He had the stuff there in the bathroom, and he showed me the rope. It
was where it was … I mean, where it was after, when they found him.
It was long, so he could sort of crouch on the floor in there and
pretend to fall over. And that would make him choke. And that’s why
it was so good. The choking, or something. Or that’s what he said.”
Silence. From beyond the wall, everyone in the room could hear a low
humming noise: computer? tape recorder? It hardly mattered.
Brunetti remained absolutely silent.
The boy began again. “So he did it. I mean, he had this bag and put
it over his head and over the rope. And then he started laughing and
tried to say something, but I couldn’t
understand what he said. I remember he pointed at me and laughed
again, then he started to … and after a while, he crouched down and
sort of fell over to the side.”
The boy’s face grew suddenly red and Brunetti watched his hands grip at
one another. But he went on, unable to stop himself from telling it
all until it was finished. “He kicked a few times and his hands
started to wave around. And then he started to scream or something and
kick real hard. I tried to grab him, but he kicked me so hard he
knocked me out of the shower. But I went back and I tried to untie the
rope, but the plastic bag was tied over it, so I couldn’t get to the
rope, and when I did, I couldn’t untie the knot because he was yanking
around so much. And then, and then, he stopped kicking, but when I got
to him it was too late, and I think he was dead.”
The boy wiped at his face, which was covered with sweat.
“And then what did you do, Paolo?” Brunetti asked.
The don’t know. For the first minute, I just was there, next to him. I
never saw a dead person before, but I don’t remember what I did.” He
glanced up, then immediately down. As Brunetti watched, his father
reached out and placed his left hand on top of his son’s clenched
hands. He squeezed them once and left his hand there.
Encouraged by that pressure, Paolo went on. “I guess I panicked. I
thought it was my fault because I hadn’t been able to save him or stop
him. Maybe I could have, but I didn’t.”
“What did you do, Paolo?” Brunetti repeated.
“I wasn’t thinking much, but I didn’t want them to find him like that.
People would know what happened.”
“And so?” Brunetti prodded.
The don’t know where I got the idea, but I thought if it looked like a
suicide, well, it would be bad, but it wouldn’t be as bad as … as the
other.” This time, Brunetti didn’t press, hoping that the boy would
continue by himself.
“So I tried to make it look like he hanged himself. I knew I had to
pull him up and leave him there.” Brunetti’s eyes fell to
their clasped hands; the father’s knuckles were white. “So that’s what
I did. And I left him there.” The boy opened his mouth and pulled air
into his lungs as though he’d been running for kilometres.
“And the plastic bag?” Brunetti asked when his breathing had grown
“I took it with me and threw it away. I don’t remember where. In the
garbage somewhere.” “And then what did you do?”
“I don’t remember much. I think I went back to my room.” “Did anyone
see you?” “I don’t know.” “Your roommate?”
“I don’t remember he said. “Maybe. I don’t remember how I got back to
What’s the next thing you do remember, Paolo?” “The next morning,
Zanchi woke me up and told me what had happened. And then it was too
late to do anything.” “Why are you telling me this now?” Brunetti
asked. The boy shook his head. He separated his hands and grabbed at
his father’s with his right. Finally in a soft voice, he said, “I’m
afraid.” “Of what?”
“Of what will happen. Of what it could look like.”
That I didn’t want to help him, that I let it happen to him because I
didn’t like him.”
“Did people think you didn’t like him?”
That’s what he told me to do,” Paolo said, turning minimally away from
his father, as if fearful of what he would see on his face, but not
letting go of his hand. That’s what Ernesto told me to do. So people
wouldn’t know about the other thing.”
That you were, well … ?”
“Yes. All of \is do it, but we usually do it with different
guys. Ernesto just wanted to do it with me. And I was ashamed of
The boy turned to his father. “Papa, do I have to say any more?”
The Maggiore, instead of answering his son, looked across the table at
Brunetti. Instead of replying, Brunetti leaned forward, gave the time,
and said that the interview was over.
Silently, all five of them got to their feet. Donatini, who was
closest to the door, went and opened it. The Maggiore wrapped his
right arm around his son’s shoulders. Brunetti pushed his chair under
the table, nodded to Vianello that they would leave now, and moved
towards the door. He was just a step from the door when he heard a
noise behind him, but it was only Vianello, who had stumbled against
Seeing that Vianello was all right, Brunetti took a final glance at the
father and son, who were facing one another. And as he watched he saw
Paolo, who had his father’s complete attention, close his right eye in
a single wink of triumphant, sly satisfaction. In the same instant,
the father’s right hand came up and gave the boy an approving punch on
the right biceps.
Vianello hadn’t seen it; he had been facing away from that millisecond
of comp licit understanding between father and son. Brunetti turned
towards the door and passed in front of a silent Donatini. In the
hall, he waited until Vianello emerged, followed by the two Filippis
and their lawyer.
Brunetti closed the door of the interrogation room, moving slowly to
give himself time to think.
Donatini spoke first. “It’s your decision, Commissario, about what to
do with this information.” Brunetti was entirely unresponsive, didn’t
even bother to acknowledge that the lawyer had spoken.
In the face of Brunetti’s silence, the Maggiore spoke. “It might be
better if that dead boy’s family were left with the memory of him that
they have,” he said solemnly, and Brunetti was shamed to realize that,
had he not seen the momentary flash of triumph between him and his son,
he would have been moved by the man’s concern for Ernesto’s family. He
was swept by a desire to strike the man across the mouth but instead
turned away from all of them and started
down the corridor. From behind him, the boy called out, “Do you want
me to sign anything?” and then a moment later, intentionally delayed,
Brunetti kept walking, ignoring them all, bent on getting back to his
office, like an animal that has to return to its cave in order to feel
safe from its enemies. He closed the door behind him, knowing that
Vianello, however confused by his superior’s behaviour, would leave him
alone until called.
“Check and mate and game at an end he said aloud, so much the victim of
the energy surging in him that he could not move. Clenching his hands
and closing his eyes didn’t help at all: he was left with the image of
that wink, that sustaining punch. Even if Vianello had seen it, he
realized, it would make no difference for them, nor for Moro. Filippi’s
story was credible, the entire performance perfectly pitched. He
cringed at the memory of how he had been moved by the boy’s
embarrassment, how he had superimposed upon his halting account what he
imagined would be his own son’s response in the same circumstances and
seen fear and remorse where there had been only low cunning.
Part of him longed to hear Vianello’s voice at the door so that he
could tell him how they had been duped. But there would be no purpose,
he realized, and so he was glad that the Inspector stayed away. His
own rashness in going off to talk to Cappellini had given the Filippis
time to concoct their story; not just to concoct it but to work on it
and to put into it all of the ingredients that were sure to appeal to
the sentimentalism of anyone who heard it. What cliche did they leave
untouched? Boys will be boys. My shame is greater than my guilt. Oh,
spare from further pain the suffering mother of the lad.
Brunetti turned and kicked the door, but the noise and the jolt of pain
in his back changed nothing. He confronted the fact that anything he
did would have the same effect: nothing would change, regardless of how
much pain was endured.
He looked at his watch and saw that he’d lost all track of tone while
questioning the boy, though the darkness outside should have told him
how late it was. He’d given no orders but there was certainly no
reason to hold FilipVaTvSnello must surely have let him go. He wanted
desperately not to see any of them when he left, so he forced hfrnse f
to s and there eyes closed and head leaning back against the door for
another five minutes, and then he went downstairs
could Tee “Tde Wm r id ^ ffiCerS’ r 0m’ thought he could see light
coming from the door as he went silently outside he turned to the right
-d ^ St.
presenTed h I” VaP rett SUdd6 my ^^the ^action presented by the many
people on board at this hour
One was just pulling away as he arrived at the imbarcadero
;:0a:iewwhaited forHthe next he had ten Az
people who arrived, most of them Venetian by the look of them. When it
came, he boarded the boat, crossed to the far sule and stood at the
rail, back turned to the g’ryo the city When at last he arrived at the
door to his apartment he paused, hoping that some remnant of humanity
Pao “8H r I” inSide’ ^ if ^ ^ he ^ a son liS creatd hinT, HPmSe *,*? ^
*** Without having *** aparLent **”** ** *** *”* let hims^ ^ the
1 will not buy you a telefomno because they create a race of spineless
weaklings; it would make you even more
rejoTedt thl^H ^ ^ ** ^ ^oTa -yTnd
S^S^S*8 ng Ur ^ ^^ She *” her
Her voice came from the direction of the kitchen but
HTkn’wTat inStead’ dr ^ hall to–dkolaSud; He knew that years of lying
awake for the sound of the footsteps of returning children would alert
her to ^arrival
S Shee did” d dUb rat t WOULD S n — -AnA ‘ She did, and they talked.
Rather, he talked and she
listened. After a long time, when he had explained everything and
named the choices open to him, he asked, “Well?”
The dead can’t suffer,” was all she said, an answer that confused him
Familiar with her habits of thought, he considered the remark for some
time and finally asked, “And the living can?”
“Filippi and his father he said, then added, ‘who should. And Moro and
“And daughter, and mother Paola added, ‘who shouldn’t.”
“Is this a contest of numbers?” he asked soberly.
She flicked this away with a quick motion of her hand. “No, no, not at
all. But I think it matters, not only because of the number of people
who will be affected but for the amount of good it would do
“Neither choice will do anyone any good he insisted.
Then which will do less harm?”
“He’s dead Brunetti said, ‘no matter what the official verdict is.”
This isn’t about the official verdict, Guido
Then what is it about?”
“It’s about what you tell them The way she spoke, she made it sound
self-evident. He had shied away from accepting that, had almost
succeeded in preventing himself from thinking about it, yet the instant
the words fell from her lips, he realized that it was the only thing
any of this was about.
“You mean what Filippi did?”
“A man has the right to know who killed his child
“You make that sound so simple. Like something from the Bible.”
“It’s not in the Bible, to the best of my knowledge. But it is simple.
And true Her tone was a stranger to uncertainty.
“And what if he does something about it?”
“Like what? Kill Filippi? Or his father?”
“From what I know of him and what you’ve said, I doubt that he’s the
kind of man who would do something like that.” Before he could say
that one never knew, she said, “But you never know, do you?”
Once again, Brunetti had the strange sensation of being adrift in time.
He looked at his watch and was stunned to see that it was almost ten.
“Have the kids eaten?”
“I sent them out to get a pizza when I heard you come in.”
He had gradually, as he told her the story of his meeting with the
Filippis and their lawyer, sunk lower and lower on the sofa until he
was now lying with his head on a pillow. “I think I’m hungry he
“Yes/ Paola agreed. The, too. Stay here for a while and I’ll make
some pasta.” She got to her feet and went to the door. “What will you
do?” she asked.
Till have to speak to him Brunetti said.
He did so the next day, at four in the afternoon, a time chosen by
Dottor Moro, who had insisted on coming to the Questura rather than
have Brunetti come to his home. The doctor was on time to the minute,
and Brunetti stood up when a uniformed officer ushered him into his
office. Brunetti came around his desk and extended his hand. They
exchanged strained courtesies and then, as soon as he was seated, Moro
asked, “What is it you want, Commissario?” His voice was level and
calm, devoid of curiosity or, for that fact, interest. Events had
washed him clean of such things.
Brunetti, who had retreated behind his desk more out of habit than
choice, began by saying, There are some things I think you should know,
Dottore.” He paused, waiting for the doctor to respond, perhaps with
sarcasm, perhaps with anger. But Moro said nothing.
“There are certain facts regarding the death of your son that
I think…” Brunetti began, then flailed to a stop. He looked at the
wall behind Moro’s head, then began again. That is, I’ve learned some
things and want you to know them.”
“Because they might help you decide.”
“Decide what?” Moro asked tiredly.
“How to proceed.”
Moro shifted to one side in the chair and crossed his legs. “I have no
idea what you’re talking about, Commissario. I don’t think there are
any decisions I can make, not now.”
“About your son, I think.”
Brunetti saw something flash into Moro’s eyes.
“No decision can affect my son,” he said, making no attempt to disguise
his anger. And then, to hammer the message home, he added, “He’s
Brunetti felt the moral heat of what Moro had just said sweep over him.
Again, he looked away, then back at the doctor, and again he spoke.
I’ve come into the possession of new information, and I think you
should be aware of what it is.” Without giving Moro a chance to
comment, he went on. “Paolo Filippi, who is a student at the Academy,
maintains that your son died by accident and that, to avoid
embarrassment for him, and for you, he arranged it to look like
Brunetti waited for Moro to ask if that would not also be an
embarrassment, but Instead the doctor said, “Nothing my boy did would
“He maintains your son died as the result of homosexual activity.”
Brunetti waited for the other man to respond.
“Even though I’m a doctor Moro said, “I have no idea of what that can
That your son died in an attempt to increase his sexual excitement by
“Autoerotic asphyxiation Moro said with clinical detachment.
“Why should that embarrass me?” the doctor said calmly.
After a long silence, Brunetti realized that Moro was not going to
prompt him, so he said, “I don’t think what he told me is true. I
think he killed your son because his father had persuaded him that
Ernesto was a spy or a traitor of some sort. It was his influence,
perhaps even his encouragement, that led the boy to do what he did.”
Still Moro said nothing, though his eyes had widened in surprise.
In the face of the other man’s silence, the best Brunetti could do was
say, “I wanted you to know what story Filippi will give if we pursue
“And what is this decision you’ve called me in here to make,
“Whether you want us to bring a charge of involuntary manslaughter
Moro studied Brunetti’s face for some time before he said, “If you
think he killed Ernesto, Commissario, then involuntary manslaughter is
not much of a charge, is it?” Before Brunetti could reply, Moro added,
“Besides, this should be your decision, Commissario. Not mine.” His
voice was as cool as his expression.
“I wanted to give you the choice,” Brunetti said in what he thought was
a calm voice.
“So you wouldn’t have to decide?”
Brunetti bowed his head but turned the motion into a nod. “In part,
yes, but it’s also for you and your family.”
To spare us embarrassment?” Moro asked with heavy emphasis on the last
“No/ Brunetti asked, worn down by Moro’s contempt. To spare you
“What danger?” Moro asked, as though he were really curious.
The danger that would come to all of you if this went to trial.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Because the report you suppressed would have to be produced as
evidence, or at least you would have to testify as to its existence and
contents. To justify Filippi’s behaviour and his father’s anger. Or
fear, or whatever it was.”
Moro put a hand to his forehead in what seemed to Brunetti an
artificial gesture. “My report?” he finally asked.
“Yes. About military procurement.”
Moro took his hand away. There is no report, Commissario. At least
not about the Army or procurement or whatever it is they’re afraid I’ve
done. I abandoned that when they shot my wife.”
Brunetti was amazed to hear Moro speak so calmly, as though it were a
truth universally acknowledged that his wife had been shot
The doctor went on. The started doing research on their spending and
where the money went as soon as I was appointed to the committee. It
was obvious where all the money was going; their arrogance makes them
very sloppy bookkeepers, so their trail was very easy to follow, even
for a doctor. But then they shot my wife.”
“You say that as though there’s no question Brunetti said.
Moro looked across at him and said in a cold voice. There’s no
question. I was called even before she reached the hospital. And so I
agreed to abandon my research. The suggestion was made at the time
that I retire from politics. And I did. I obeyed them,
“You knew they shot her?” Brunetti asked, though he had no idea who
‘they’ were, at least no idea so clear that a specific name could be
“Of course,” Moro said, his voice slipping back towards sarcasm. T’d
done at least that much research.”
“But then why arrange the separation from your wife?” Brunetti
To be sure they left her alone.”
“And your daughter?” Brunetti asked with sudden curiosity.
“In a safe place was the only answer Moro was willing to provide.
Then why put your son there, at the Academy?” Brunetti asked, but as
he did it came to him that perhaps Moro had thought it would be best to
hide the boy in plain sight. The people who shot his wife might think
twice about creating bad publicity for the Academy; or perhaps he had
hoped to fool them.
Moro’s face moved in something that might once have been a smile.
“Because I couldn’t stop him, Commissario. It was the greatest failure
of my life that Ernesto wanted to be a soldier. But that’s all he ever
wanted to be, ever since he was a little boy. And nothing I could ever
do or say could change it.”
“But why would they kill him?” Brunetti asked.
When Moro eventually spoke, Brunetti had the sense that he was
relieved, at long last, to be able to talk about this. “Because they
are stupid and didn’t believe that it was so easy to stop me. That I
was a coward and wouldn’t oppose them.” He sat thinking for a long
time and added, “Or perhaps Ernesto was less of a coward than I am. He
knew I had once planned to write a report, and perhaps he threatened
them with it.”
Though his office was cool, Brunetti saw that sweat stood on Moro’s
brow and was slowly sliding down his chin. Moro wiped at it with the
back of his hand. Then he said, “I’ll never know.”
The two men sat for a long time, the only motion Moro’s occasional
attempt to wipe the sweat from his face. When, finally, his face was
dry again, Brunetti asked, “What do you want me to do, Dottore?”
Moro raised his head and looked at Brunetti with eyes that had grown
even sadder in the last half-hour. “You want me to make the decision
“No. Not really. Or not only. To make it for yourself. And for your
“You’ll do whatever I say?” Moro asked.
“Regardless of the law or justice?” Moro’s emphasis, a very unkind
emphasis, was on the last word.
“Why? Don’t you care about justice?” Moro’s anger was undisguised
Brunetti had no taste for this, not any longer. “There’s no justice
here, Dottore,” he said, frightened to realize that he meant not only
for this man and his family, but for this city, and this country, and
Then let it be,” Moro said, exhausted. “Let him be.”
Everything that was decent in Brunetti urged him to say something that
would comfort this man, but the words, though summoned, failed to come.
He thought of Moro’s daughter and then of his own. He thought of his
own son, of Filippi’s son, and of Moro’s, and then the words came: