She spent an hour in the Convent, an anonymous grey building close to the river and the bridge to the Castel Sant’Angelo. No men were allowed past the high wooden door, so Rosa Prabakaran and two other female officers accompanied her, and came out none the wiser. Agata had simply gone to her room and the chapel, spoken to some other sisters, entered the library to consult some books, then returned in just enough time for them to make the meeting with the forensic team.
The terraced house in the Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina was unrecognisable. Half the square was now blocked off to allow forensic officers clear access. The ancient, moth-eaten furniture from the ground floor had been removed. A sanitized plastic tunnel now ran through the front door for visitors. In the space between plastic and wall, men and women in white suits were on hands and knees performing a fingertip search of every last crack in the ancient floor, every mote of dust in the corners. The route led through the entire central, twisting staircase, a sterile cocoon through which they would pass until, Teresa said, they got to the top floor, where the work was essentially done and there was enough room for a meeting.
Halfway up, Agata stopped and stared at the area where, the day before, she had found herself face-to-face with the skull of the corpse Costa prayed would turn out to be Ippolito Malaspina. This section of the building was unrecognisable. Silvio Di Capua had clearly won his battle with the city planning authorities. Gigantic iron supports had been brought in to run from floor to ceiling, and workmen had removed the wall brick by brick, revealing the rectangular hidden room behind. Open to view, it seemed much smaller. The cabinet was still there, now empty. The boxes of documents that he had seen lining the far wall had disappeared too.
He knew Teresa’s methods well. She was a woman who was directed, always, by priorities, and possessed an instinctive grasp of what was worth seizing first. Forensic on the strange skeleton Agata had found would surely be uppermost in her mind. But she understood, as well as any, that this was no straightforward case, no hunt for incriminating evidence. They had that already. What they needed was a link — a connection that placed Franco Malaspina in this dingy, rotting building, and made him a part of the Ekstasists, in such a firm and undeniable way that even the most sceptical or malleable of magistrates could not ignore it.
Whatever hopes he had in that direction faded the moment they entered the top floor, where the canvases were now stacked neatly to one side. Toni Grimaldi stood close by in a grey suit, a short cigar in his hand and a sour expression on his face.
“Oh, wonderful,” Peroni murmured, rather too loudly for comfort.
“Merry Christmas, gentlemen,” Grimaldi announced with a yawn before lifting the sackcloth on one of the canvases, squinting at what he saw, and adding, “They say this stuff is worth millions.”
Agata strode over and threw the sackcloth off entirely.
“Poussin,” she declared, with the briefest of scowls. “At least it’s supposed to be. Leo?”
Falcone came away from the window, where he’d been staring idly into the piazza.
“Poussin it is,” he agreed. “If you think it’s a fake, best tell the people in Stockholm now, because they have other ideas.”
“It’s their painting,” she replied, then stared at the newcomer.
“How goes your case, Sister?” Grimaldi asked under the heat of her glare.
“I don’t have a case.”
He shrugged. “Maybe you’re not the only one. Let me make my position clear. Today… Christmas Day… I listen to what they have to say. Then I decide whether to allow you to put it in front of a magistrate. Once again. Think of me as that man or woman of the judiciary. Before you can convince them, you must convince me. Should you fail…”
He bestowed a humourless smile on all of them. Grimaldi almost always wore the expression Costa associated with Questura lawyers, the one that said,
“Franco stole all these paintings, didn’t he?” Agata asked, raking her slender arm around the room. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Prove it,” Grimaldi replied.
Falcone’s long, lean face wrinkled with displeasure. “You know we can’t. Yet. But look at the circumstantial evidence.”
“I’ve looked at little else for weeks,” the lawyer answered. “Let me summarise. Nino Tomassoni was involved in an art theft ring. So, the French would have it, was this V?ronique Gillet. Malaspina knew both of them socially, and perhaps, in the case of the woman, intimately.”
“He slept with her,” Costa said. “He told me so.”
“Sleeping with a suspected criminal is an offence?” Grimaldi threw his big arms open in a theatrical gesture.
Peroni spoke up. “Toni, we have known each other for many years. I understand your caution—”
“This is not caution. This is plain common sense and good practise. You have nothing. Even those dreadful photographs you found here. Have you one single woman to interview as a result?”
The colour rose in Falcone’s face. “They’re either dead or back in Africa. Give us a chance, man. A little time.”
“You don’t have time, Leo. This investigation has cost the Questura a fortune in legal fees alone. And how far have you gotten? Malaspina has all of us tied up in knots. You can’t ask him to take the most basic of scientific tests because he’s used your ham-fisted investigations against you—”
“Not ours,” Falcone cut in.
“The law does not distinguish between competent police officers and incompetent ones. You’re all the same in the eyes of the magistrate. That is why you cannot use your swabs on this man. Or anyone else who is unwilling if they know about this loophole. Please, you have made us enough work already. Do you know what
“To put this murderous bastard in jail?” Peroni snapped, as livid as Falcone now.
“Live in the real world, Gianni,” the lawyer retorted. “In the absence of an impending arrest, our priority must be to overturn this judgment in principle that Malaspina obtained against you.”
Falcone turned and looked at him. “ ‘In principle’?” he repeated.
“In principle. Must I spell this out for you?”
Agata, clearly baffled, said, “For me you must.”
“Very well,” Grimaldi agreed. “If I try to attack the individual ruling that Malaspina won, then I open up every nasty black bag of worms you people have provided him with. The harassment. The unproven and unprovable allegations. The use of evidence that does not meet the most basic of legal rules. The very personal nature in which you pursued this investigation.”
“Malaspina is a crook and a murderer,” Falcone snarled.
“And an aristocrat with more money and connections than most of us could dream of in several lifetimes,” Grimaldi said, unimpressed. “Think about it. See this through our eyes.”
Costa was starting to get a sick feeling in his stomach. “Through your eyes?” he asked.
The lawyer hesitated. He didn’t appear to enjoy his position any more than the rest of them.
“We may have to make choices. Unless you can come up with something very soon. Such as today. Or tomorrow at the latest…” He coughed into his big fist, embarrassed by what he was going to say. “Without that I’m going to have to recommend to the commissario that we scale down this investigation, take the heat off this man, and hope we can come to some kind of arrangement.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Peroni bellowed.
“It means…” Grimaldi looked deeply unhappy. “I have to be practical about this. If you can’t nail him, I must ask myself a broader question. Shouldn’t I be thinking of the future instead? Of all those men like him who’ll get away using the same trick? If I can cut a deal with Malaspina so that he leaves us alone to close that loophole, and we don’t make it retroactive, which might be hard anyway…”
There was silence in the room. Even the handful of scene-of-crime officers had stopped work and turned to stare at the large lawyer in the grey suit, astonished, appalled.
“It’s not as if Franco Malaspina is going to go out there and start his tricks again, is he?” Grimaldi looked like a man at bay. “You people tell me what the right thing to do is. Fail to imprison some murdering bastard who’s finished killing? Or find a way to try to hit the sons of bitches out there who are about to start?”
The man appealed to Teresa Lupo. “You’re forensic. You tell me. What would you rather have? Him on the streets, not daring to touch another woman in his life, and the way it all was before? Or him on the streets and you still trying to do the job with your hands tied behind your back. Well?”
It was Agata who spoke.
“I’m just a sister,” she said, staring at him. “But I think you can only judge a man on what he’s done, not what he might do. These crimes…” She caught Costa’s eye. “If one turns a blind eye to them, what sense of justice is there anywhere?”
“Fine!” the lawyer yelled. “I deal in the law, Sister. I leave justice to priests and nuns like you.” He stabbed a finger at Teresa Lupo. “Tell me, do you want your toys back or not?”
The pathologist just stared at him and shook her head. “You know,” she said quietly, “just when I think I’m working my way out of the habit of wanting to hit people, someone like you comes along. Will you shut up and listen for a moment? I’m greedy. I want both. Let’s run through the small business here quickly, then go to the morgue and stare at some bones. And if that fails—”
“Then I go home to my family,” Grimaldi cut in. “So do you have anything that links Malaspina with this place? Anything at all?”
The two forensic scientists stared at one another, anxious and, for once, silent.
* * *
There was, in truth, very little to tie any of it to Malaspina. A set of stolen paintings worth tens of millions of euros, looted from a variety of public institutions throughout Europe over a period of seven years. Some documents, found in the boxes in the hidden room, indicating that Nino Tomassoni acted as a kind of warehouseman for whatever gang was involved in the thefts. The photographs from the gap in the wall where the Caravaggio had once stood. One single piece of paper that linked the late V?ronique Gillet to the loop: an email sent from her Louvre address, revealing the movement of a Mir? canvas from Barcelona to Madrid, a journey during which it had been stolen. Finally the clear evidence that it was Tomassoni who had been sending messages to the Questura in an anonymous effort to draw the police’s attention to the crimes.
“This is it?” Grimaldi asked. “Not a trace of Malaspina in the house. Not a fingerprint. Not a single document…”
“The emails Tomassoni sent to the Questura name Malaspina,” Teresa pointed out.
“Uncorroborated gossip from a dead man,” the lawyer observed.
“Give us time,” Falcone pleaded. “We’re inundated with material. We can’t cope with what we have. It could be weeks. Months.”
“You don’t have months, Leo,” Grimaldi replied with marked impatience. “I wish I could say you did. This happens to be my professional opinion. But it’s more than that. It’s a political issue, too, these days. The Justice people are calling. Everyone is calling. The wheels are starting to come off everywhere, not just with us, with the Carabinieri, the local police, the customs people… Everyone is affected by this and I’m the one who gets the phone call. The criminal fraternity
Costa thought he could hear Esposito’s voice in all this. The new commissario was a pragmatic man, one who would not wish to be tied by the mistakes of others.
“We’ve a wealth of material,” Teresa said confidently. “We’re working as quickly as we can. There are reams of documents downstairs…”
“You said they were historical,” the lawyer retorted.
“They are,” she answered, uncertain of herself.
“So what use is that?” Grimaldi flung his hands in the air. “This is here. This is now. If you want me to prosecute Franco Malaspina, I need evidence from this century, not the scribbles of a few ghosts.”
“And if a ghost could talk?” Agata asked quietly.
“I’d look even more of an idiot trying to sell this farrago of loose ends to a magistrate.”
Agata took the black bag off her shoulder and Costa realised, at that moment, what was wrong. The thing was heavier, and had been since sometime the previous day.
She retrieved a large, thick book from its interior, one bound in dark leather cracked with age. Agata opened it and they all saw what was on the page: line after line of scribbled script, broken into paragraphs with dated headings. A journal. A diary from another time.
“You took this from that room?” Costa asked her. “Without my seeing? You stole it before I even got there?”
She’d been reading it, too, when he’d walked into Emily’s studio the previous night. He recognised the book. It had been by her side.
Grimaldi groaned. “There goes any possibility of introducing it as evidence. Not that I believe for one moment—”
“You have the evidence,” Agata interrupted. “You’ve told me that. Time and time again. What you want is the link, isn’t it?”
Teresa walked over and placed her gloved fingers on the cover. “Prints,” she said. “Silvio. Arrange it. God knows…” She glanced at Agata. “We’ll have to take yours to exclude them from anything we get.”
She held up her hands. They bore white forensic gloves just like Teresa’s. They must have been in the bag as well, and she had slipped them on as she withdrew the volume.
“I stole these from your forensic officers,” she said. “Now, do you wish to prosecute me for petty theft? Or would you like to know what I found?”