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A Noble Radiance : A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery
Donna Leon has topped European bestseller lists for more than a decade with a series of mysteries featuring clever Commissario Guido Brunetti. Always ready to bend the rules to uncover the threads of a crime, Brunetti manages to maintain his integrity while maneuvering through a city rife with politics, corruption, and intrigue.
In A Noble Radiance a new landowner is summoned urgently to his house not far from Venice when workmen accidentally unearth a macabre grave. The human corpse is badly decomposed, but a ring found nearby proves to be a first clue that reopens an infamous case of kidnapping involving one of Venice's most aristocratic families. Only Commissario Brunetti can unravel the clues and find his way into both the heart of patrician Venice and that of a family grieving for their abducted son.
Providing insight into Venetian society through the lens of a gripping intellectual mystery, this atmospheric tale from Leon (Uniform Justice, etc.) finds Inspector Guido Brunetti investigating an aristocratic family with a shady past. When a rural landowner discovers the body of Roberto Lorenzoni, who was kidnapped two years earlier, Brunetti immediately suspects the victim's family. The Lorenzoni clan bears the legacy of betraying the Jews of Venice during World War II, and from these ashes, its members have created a thriving enterprise. Roberto's cousin Maurizio, who's next in line to inherit the family fortune and business, is the logical suspect, but Brunetti senses something more insidious at play. As he works his way through Italian three-course meals and family crises, he uncovers disturbing details about the Lorenzoni family. Leon deftly depicts the tensions between Brunetti and his ambitious Sicilian boss, as well as the irony of the justice system ("Imprisoned parricides receive fan mail; officialdom and Mafia dance hand in hand toward the ruin of the state"). Brunetti emerges as an intelligent, somewhat world-weary individual who believes in his cause if not the system itself. In short, he's the ideal protagonist for this culturally rich mystery. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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February 23, 2009
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Excerpt from A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon
There was nothing much to notice about the field, a hundred-metre square of dry grass below a small village in the foothills of the Dolomites. It lay at the bottom of a slope covered with hardwood trees which could easily be culled for firewood, and that was used as an argument to increase the price when the land and the two-hundred-year-old house upon it came to be sold. Off to the north a slant-faced mountain loomed over the small town of Ponte nelle Alpi; a hundred kilometres to the south lay Venice, too far away to influence the politics or customs of the area. People in the villages spoke Italian with some reluctance, felt more at home in Bellunese dialect.
The field had lain untilled for almost half a century, and the stone house had sat empty. The immense slates that made up the roof had shifted with age and sudden changes in temperature, perhaps even with the occasional earthquake that had struck the area during the centuries the roof had protected the house from rain and snow, and so it no longer did that, for many of the slates had crashed to earth, leaving the upper rooms exposed to the elements. Because the house and property lay at the heart of a contested will, none of the eight heirs had bothered to repair the leaks, fearful that they would never get back the few hundred thousand lire the repairs would cost. So the rain and snow dripped, then flowed, in, nibbling away at plaster and floorboards, and each year the roof tilted more drunkenly towards the earth.
The field, too, had been abandoned for the same reasons. None of the presumptive heirs wanted to expend either time or money working the land, nor did they want to weaken their legal position by being seen to make unpaid use of the property. Weeds flourished, made all the more vital by the fact that the last people to cultivate the land had for decades manured it with the droppings of their rabbits.
It was the scent of foreign money that settled the dispute about the will: two days after a retired German doctor made an offer for the house and land, the eight heirs met at the home of the eldest. Before the end of the evening, they had arrived at a unanimous decision to sell the house and land; their subsequent decision was not to sell until the foreigner had doubled his offer, which would bring the selling price to four times what any local resident would - or could - pay.
Three weeks after the deal was completed, scaffolding went up, and the centuries-old, hand-cut slates were hurled down to shatter in the courtyard below. The art of laying the slates had died with the artisans who knew how to cut them, and so they were replaced with moulded rectangles of prefabricated cement that had a vague resemblance to terra cotta tiles. Because the doctor had hired the oldest of the heirs to serve as his foreman, work progressed quickly; because this was the Province of Belluno, it was done honestly and well. By the middle of the spring, the restoration of the house was almost complete, and with the approach of the first warm days, the new owner, who had spent his professional life enclosed in brightly lit operating rooms and who was conducting the restorations by phone and fax from Munich, turned his thoughts to the creation of the garden he had dreamed about for years.
Village memory is long, and it recalled that the old garden had run alongside the row of walnut trees out behind the house, so it was there that Egidio Buschetti, the foreman, decided to plough. The land hadn't been worked for most of his own lifetime, so Buschetti estimated that his tractor would have to pass over the land twice, once to cut through the metre-high weeds, and then once again to disc up the rich soil lying underneath.
At first Buschetti thought it was a horse - he remembered that the old owners had kept two - and so he continued with his tractor all the way to what he had established as the end of the field. Pulling at the broad wheel, he swung the tractor around and headed back, proud of the razor-straightness of the furrows, glad to be out in the sun again, happy at the sound and the feel of the work, sure now that spring had come. He saw the bone sticking up crookedly from the furrow he had just ploughed, the white length of it sharply visible against the nearly black earth. No, not long enough to be a horse, but he didn't remember that anyone had ever kept sheep here. Curious, he slowed the tractor, somehow reluctant to ride over the bone and shatter it.
He shifted into neutral and drew to a stop. Pulling on the hand brake, he climbed down from his high metal seat and walked over towards the cantilevered bone that jutted up towards the sky. He bent and reached out to shove it away from the path of the ?tractor, but a sudden reluctance pulled him upright again, and he prodded at it with the toe of his heavy boot, hoping thus to dislodge it. It refused to move, so Buschetti turned towards the tractor, where he kept a shovel clamped in back of his seat. As he turned, his eyes fell upon a gleaming white oval a bit farther along the bottom of the furrow. No horse, no sheep had ever gazed out from so round a skull, nor would they leer up at him through the sharpened carnivore teeth so frighteningly like his own.
The intuition of the news in just a country town never spreads faster than when it deals with death or dis?aster, so the news that human bones had been dis?covered in the garden of the old Orsez house was common knowledge throughout the village of Col di Cugnan before dinnertime. It was not since the death of the mayor's son in that automobile accident down by the cement factory seven years ago that news had spread so quickly; even the story about Graziella Rovere and the electrician had taken two days to become common knowledge. But that night the villagers, all seventy-four of them, switched off their televisions, or talked above them, during dinner, trying to think of how it could be and, more interestingly, who it could be.
The mink-sweatered news reader on rai 3, the blonde who wore a different pair of glasses each night, went ignored as she reported the latest ?horrors in the ex-Yugoslavia, and no one paid the slightest heed to the arrest of the former Minister of the Interior on charges of corruption. Both were by now normal, but a skull in a ditch behind the home of the foreigner, that was news. By bedtime, the skull had been variously reported to have been shattered by a blow from an axe, or a bullet, and to display signs that an attempt had been made to dissolve it with acid. The police had determined, people were certain, that they were the bones of a pregnant woman, a young male, and the husband of Luigina Menegaz, gone off to Rome twelve years ago and never heard from since. That night people in Col di Cugnan locked their doors, and those who had lost the keys years ago and never bothered about them slept less easily than did the others.
At eight the next morning, two Carabinieri-driven all-terrain vehicles arrived at the home of Doctor Litfin and drove across the newly planted grass to park on either side of the two long rows ploughed the day before. It was not until an hour later that a car arrived from the provincial centre of Belluno, carrying the medico legale of that city. He had heard none of the rumours about the identity or cause of death of the person whose bones lay in the field, and so he did what seemed most necessary: he set his two assistants to sifting through the earth to find the rest of the remains.
As this slow process advanced, both of the Carabinieri vehicles took turns driving across the soon-destroyed lawn and up to the village, where the six officers had coffees in the small bar, then began to ask the residents of the village if anyone was missing. The fact that the bones seemed to have been in the earth for years did not affect their decision to ask about recent events, and so their researches proved ineffective.
In the field below the village, the two assistants of Doctor Bortot had set up a fine mesh screen at a sharp angle. Slowly, they poured buckets of earth through it, bending down occasionally to pick out a small bone or anything that looked like it might be one. As they pulled them out, they displayed them to their superior, who stood at the edge of the furrow, hands clasped behind his back. A long sheet of black plastic lay spread at his feet, and as he was shown the bones, he instructed his assistants where to place them, and together they slowly began to assemble their macabre jigsaw puzzle.
Occasionally he asked one of the men to hand him a bone, and he studied it for a moment before bending to place it somewhere on the plastic sheet. Twice he corrected himself, once bending to move a small bone from the right side to the left, and another time, with a muttered exclamation, moving another from below the metatarsal to the end of what had once been a wrist.
At ten, Doctor Litfin arrived, having been alerted the previous evening to the discovery in his garden and having driven through the night from Munich. He parked in front of his house and pulled himself stiffly from the driver's seat. Beyond the house, he saw the countless deep tracks cut into the new grass he had planted with such simple joy three weeks before. But then he saw the three men standing in the field off in the distance, almost as far away as the patch of young raspberry plants he had brought down from Germany and planted at the same time. He started across the destroyed lawn but stopped in his tracks at a shouted command that came from somewhere off to his right. He looked around but saw nothing except the three ancient apple trees that had grown up around the ruined well. Seeing no one, he started again towards the three men in the field. He had taken only a few steps before two men dressed in the ominous black uniforms of the Carabinieri burst out from under the nearest of the apple trees, machine guns aimed at him.
Doctor Litfin had survived the Russian occupation of Berlin, and though that had happened fifty years before, his body remembered the sight of armed men in uniform. He put both of his hands above his head and stood rock-still.
They came out fully from the shadows then, and the doctor had a hallucinogenic moment of seeing the contrast of their death-black uniforms against the innocent backdrop of pink apple blossom. Their glossy boots trampled across a carpet of fresh-fallen petals as they approached him.
'What are you doing here?' the first one demanded.
'Who are you?' the other asked in the same angry tone.
In Italian made clumsy by fear, he began, 'I'm Doctor Litfin. I'm the . . .' he said but stopped to search for the appropriate term. 'I'm the padrone here.'
The Carabinieri had been told that the new owner was a German, and the accent sounded real enough, so they lowered their guns, though they kept their fingers near the triggers. Litfin took this as permission to lower his hands, though he did that very slowly. Because he was German, he knew that guns were always superior to any claim to legal rights, and so he waited for them to approach him, but this did not prevent him from turning his attention momentarily back to the three men who stood in the newly ploughed earth, they now as motionless as he, their attention on him and the approaching Carabinieri.
The two officers, suddenly diffident in the face of the person who could afford the restorations to house and land evident all around them, approached Doctor Litfin, and as they drew nearer, the balance of power changed. Litfin perceived this, and seized the moment.
'What is all of this?' he asked, pointing across the field and leaving it to the policemen to infer whether he meant his ruined lawn or the three men who stood at the other side of it.
'There's a body in your field,' the first officer answered.
'I know that, but what's all this . . .?' he sought the proper word and came up only with 'distruzione'.
The marks of the tyre treads seemed actually to grow deeper as the three men studied them, until finally one of the policemen said, 'We had to drive down into the field.'
Though this was an obvious lie, Litfin ignored it. He turned away from the two officers and started to walk towards the other three men so quickly that neither of the officers tried to stop him. When he got to the end of the first deep trench, he called across to the man who was obviously in charge, 'What is it?'
'Are you Doctor Litfin?' asked the other doctor, who had already been told about the German, what he had paid for the house, and how much he had spent so far on restorations.
Litfin nodded and when the other man was slow to answer, asked again, 'What is it?'
'I'd say it was a man in his twenties,' Doctor Bortot answered and then, turning back to his assistants, motioned them to continue with their work.
It took Litfin a moment to recover from the brusqueness of the reply, but when he did, he stepped on to the ploughed earth and went to stand beside the other doctor. Neither man said anything for a long time as they stood side by side and watched the two men in the trench scrape away slowly at the dirt.
After a few minutes, one of the men handed Doctor Bortot another bone, which, with a quick glance, he bent and placed at the end of the other wrist. Two more bones; two more quick placements.
'There, on your left, Pizzetti,' Bortot said, pointing to a tiny white knob that lay exposed on the far side of the trench. The man he spoke to glanced at it, bent and picked it from the earth, and handed it up to the doctor. Bortot studied it for a moment, holding it delicately between his first two fingers, then turned to the German. 'Lateral cuneiform?' he asked.
Litfin pursed his lips as he looked at the bone. Even before the German could speak, Bortot handed it to him. Litfin turned it in his hands for a moment, then glanced down at the pieces of bone laid out on the plastic at their feet. 'That, or it might be the intermediate,' he answered, more comfortable with the Latin than the Italian.
'Yes, yes, it could be,' Bortot replied. He waved his hand down towards the plastic sheet, and Litfin stooped to place it at the end of the long bone leading to the foot. He stood up and both men looked at it. 'Ja, ja,' Litfin muttered; Bortot nodded.
And so for the next hour the two men stood together beside the trench left by the tractor, first one and then the other taking a bone from the two men who continued to sift the rich earth through the tilted screen. Occasionally they conferred about a fragment or sliver, but generally they agreed about the identity of what was passed up to them by the two diggers.
The spring sun poured down on them; off in the distance, a cuckoo began his mating call, repeating it until the four men were no longer aware of it. As it grew hotter, they began to peel off their coats and then their jackets, all of which ended up hung on the lower branches of the trees running along the side of the field to mark the end of the property.
To pass the time, Bortot asked a few questions about the house, and Litfin explained that the exterior restorations were finished; there remained the interior work, which he estimated would take much of the summer. When Bortot asked the other doctor why he spoke Italian so well, Litfin explained that he had been coming to Italy on vacation for twenty years and, during the last, to prepare himself for the move, had been taking classes three times a week. The bells from the village above them rang out twelve times.
'I think that might be all, Dottore,' one of the men in the trench said and, to emphasize it, struck his shovel deep into the ground and rested his elbow on it. He took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. The other man stopped as well, took out a handkerchief and wiped his face.
Bortot looked down at the patch of excavated earth, now about three metres square, then down at the bones and shrivelled organs spread out on the plastic sheeting.
Litfin suddenly asked, 'Why did you think it's a young man?'
Before answering, Bortot bent down and picked up the skull. 'The teeth,' he said, handing it to the other man.
But instead of looking at the teeth, which were in good condition and with no sign of the wearing-away of age, Litfin, with a small grunt of surprise, turned the skull to expose the back. In the centre, just above the indentation that would fit around the still-missing final vertebra, there was a small round hole. He had seen enough of skulls and of violent death that he was neither shocked nor disturbed.
'But why male?' he asked, handing the skull back to Bortot.
Before he answered, Bortot knelt and placed the skull back in its place at the top of the other bones. 'This: it was near the skull,' he said as he stood, taking something from his jacket pocket and handing it to Litfin. 'I don't think a woman would wear that.'
The ring he handed Litfin was a thick gold band that flared out into a round, flat surface. Litfin put the ring on to the palm of his left hand and turned it over with the index finger of his right. The design was so worn away that at first he could distinguish nothing, but then it slowly came into focus: carved in low relief was an intricate design of an eagle rampant holding a flag in its left claw, a sword in its right. 'I forget the Italian word,' Litfin said as he looked at the ring. 'A family crest?'
'Stemma,' Bortot supplied.
'S?, stemma,' Litfin repeated and then asked, 'Do you recognize it?'
'What is it?'
'It's the crest of the Lorenzoni family.'
Litfin shook his head. He'd never heard of them. 'Are they from around here?'
This time Bortot shook his head.
As he handed back the ring, Litfin asked, 'Where are they from?'
Not only Doctor Bortot, but just about anyone in the Veneto region, would recognize the name Lorenzoni. Students of history would recall the Count of that name who accompanied the blind Doge Dandolo at the sack of Constantinople in 1204; legend has it that it was Lorenzoni who handed the old man his sword as they scrambled over the wall of the city. Musicians would recall that the principal contributor to the building of the first opera theatre in Venice bore the name of Lorenzoni. Bibliophiles recognized the name as that of the man who had lent Aldus Manutius the money to set up his first printing press in the city in 1495. But these are the memories of specialists and historians, people who have reason to recall the glories of the city and of the family. Ordinary Venetians recall it as the name of the man who, in 1944, provided the SS with the chance to discover the names and addresses of the Jews living in the city.
Of the 256 Venetian Jews who had been living in the city, eight survived the war. But that is only one way of looking at the fact and at the numbers. More crudely put, it means that 248 people, citizens of Italy and residents of what had once been the Most Serene Republic of Venice, were taken forcibly from their homes and eventually murdered.
Italians are nothing if not pragmatic, so many people believed that, if it had not been Pietro Lorenzoni, the father of the present count, it would have been someone else who revealed the hiding place of the head of the Jewish community to the SS. Others suggested that he must have been threatened into doing it: after all, since the end of the war the members of the various branches of the family had certainly devoted themselves to the good of the city, not only by their many acts of charity and generosity to public and private institutions, but by their having filled various civic posts - once even that of mayor, though for only six months - and having served with distinction, as the phrase has it, in many public capacities. One Lorenzoni had been the Rector of the University; another organized the Biennale for a period of time in the Sixties; and yet another had, upon his death, left his collection of Islamic miniatures to the Correr Museum.
Even if they didn't remember any of these things, much of the population of the city recalled the name as that of the young man who had been kidnapped two years ago, taken by two masked men from beside his girlfriend while they were parked in front of the gates of the family villa outside Treviso. The girl had first called the police, not the family, and so the Lorenzonis' assets had been frozen immediately, even before the family learned of the crime. The first ransom note, when it came, demanded seven billion lire, and at the time there was much speculation about whether the Lorenzonis could find that much money. The next note, which came three days after the first, lowered the sum to five billion.
But by then the forces of order, though making no evident signs of progress in finding the men responsible, had responded as was standard in cases of kidnapping and had effectively blocked all attempts on the part of the family to borrow money or bring it in from foreign sources, and so the second demand also went unmet. Count Ludovico, the father of the kidnapped boy, went on national television and begged those responsible to free his son. He said he was willing to give himself up to them in his son's place, though he was too upset to explain how this could be done.
There was no response to his appeal; there was no third ransom demand.
That was two years ago, and since then there had been no sign of the boy, Roberto, and no further progress, at least not public progress, on the case. Though the family's assets had been unblocked after a period of six months, they remained for another year under the control of a government administrator, who had to consent to the withdrawal or liquidation of any sum in excess of a ?hundred million lire. Many such sums passed out of the Lorenzoni family businesses during that period, but all of them were legitimate, and so permission was given for them to be paid out. After the administrator's powers lapsed, a gentle governmental eye, as discreet as it was invisible, continued to observe the Lorenzoni business and spending, but no outlay was indicated beyond the normal course of business expenditure.
The boy, though another three years would have to pass before he could be declared legally dead, was believed by his family to be so in the real sense. His parents mourned in their fashion: Count Ludovico redoubled the energy he devoted to his business concerns, while the Contessa withdrew into private devotion and acts of piety and charity. Roberto was an only child, so the family was now perceived as having no heir, and thus a nephew, the son of Ludovico's younger brother, was brought into the business and groomed to take over the direction of the Lorenzoni affairs, which included vast and diverse holdings in Italy and abroad.
The news that the skeleton of a young man wearing a ring with the Lorenzoni family crest had been found was tele?phoned to the Venice police from the phone in one of the Carabinieri vehicles and received by Sergeant Lorenzo Vianello, who took careful notes of the location, the name of the owner of the property, and of the man who had discovered the body.
After replacing the phone, Vianello went upstairs and knocked on the door of his immediate superior, Commissario Guido Brunetti. When he heard the shouted 'Avanti', Vianello pushed open the door and went into Brunetti's office.
'Buon d?, Commissario,' he said and, not having to be invited, took his usual place in the chair opposite Brunetti, who sat behind his desk, a thick folder opened in front of him. Vianello noticed that his superior was wearing glasses; he ? ?didn't remember ever seeing them before.
'Since when do you wear glasses, sir?' he asked.
Brunetti looked up then, his eyes strangely magnified by the lenses. 'Just for reading,' he said, ?taking them off and tossing them down on to the papers in front of him. 'I don't really need them. It's just that it makes the fine print on these papers from Brussels easier to read.' With thumb and forefinger, he grabbed at the bridge of his nose and rubbed it, as if to remove the impression of the glasses as well as that left by what he had been reading.
He looked up at the sergeant. 'What is it?'
'We've had a call from the Carabinieri in a place called . . .' he began, then looked down at the piece of paper in his hand. 'Col di Cugnan.' Vianello paused but Brunetti said nothing. 'It's in the province of Belluno,' as if giving Brunetti a clear idea of the geography would be helpful. When Brunetti still said nothing, Vianello continued. 'A farmer up there has dug up a body in a field. It appears to be a young man in his early twenties.'
'According to whom?' Brunetti interrupted.
'I think it was the medico legale, sir.'
'When did this happen?' Brunetti asked.
'Why did they call us?'
'A ring with the Lorenzoni crest was found with the body.'
Brunetti again put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. 'Ah, the poor boy,' Brunetti sighed. He took his hand away and looked across at Vianello. 'Are they sure?'
'I don't know, sir,' Vianello said, answering the unspoken part of Brunetti's question. 'The man I spoke to said only that they had identified the ring.'
'That doesn't mean that it was his, doesn't even mean that the ring belonged to . . .' here Brunetti paused and tried to recall the boy's name. 'Roberto.'
'Would someone not in the family wear a ring like that, sir?'
'I don't know, Vianello. But if whoever put the body there didn't want it to be identified, they certainly would have taken the ring. It was on his hand, wasn't it?'
'I don't know, sir. All he said was that the ring was found with him.'
'Who's in charge up there?'
'The man I spoke to said he was told to call us by the medico legale. I've got his name here somewhere.' He consulted the paper in his hand and said, 'Bortot. That's all he gave me, ?didn't tell me his first name.'
Brunetti shook his head. 'Tell me the name of the place again.'
'Col di Cugnan.' Seeing Brunetti's inquisitive look, Vianello shrugged to show that he had never heard of it, either. 'It's up near Belluno. You know how strange the names of places are up there: Roncan, Nevegal, Polpet.'
'And a lot of the family names, too, if I remember it right.'
Vianello waved the paper. 'Like the medico legale.'
'Did the Carabinieri say anything else?' Brunetti asked.
'No, but I thought you should know about it, sir.'
'Yes, good,' Brunetti said, only half attentive. 'Has anyone contacted the family?'
'I don't know. The man I spoke to didn't say anything about it.'
Brunetti reached for the phone. When the operator responded, he asked to be connected with the Carabinieri station in Belluno. When they answered, he identified himself and said he wanted to speak to the person in charge of the investigation of the body they had found the day before. Within moments, he was speaking to Maresciallo Bernardi, who said he was in charge of the investigation there. No, he didn't know whether the ring had been on the hand of the man in the trench or not. If the commissario had been there, he would have seen how difficult that would be to determine. Perhaps the medico legale would be better able to answer his question. In fact, the Maresciallo couldn't provide much information at all, save what was already contained on the piece of paper in Vianello's hand. The body had been taken to the civil hospital in Belluno, where it was being held until the autopsy could be performed. Yes, he did have Doctor Bortot's number, which he gave to Brunetti, who had nothing else to ask.
He depressed the receiver, then immediately dialled the number the Carabiniere had given him.
'Bortot,' the doctor answered.
'Good morning, Doctor, this is Commissario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police.' He paused there, accustomed as he was to having people interrupt to ask him why he was calling. Bortot said nothing, so Brunetti continued. 'I'm calling about the body of the young man that was found yesterday. And about the ring that was found with him.'
'I'd like to know where the ring was.'
'It wasn't on the bones of the hand if that's what you mean. But I'm not sure that means it wasn't on the hand to begin with.'
'Could you explain, Doctor?'
'It's difficult to say just what's happened here, Commissario. There is some evidence that the body has been disturbed. By animals. That's normal enough if it's been in the ground for any length of time. Some of the bones and organs are missing, and it seems that the others have been shifted around a good deal. And so it's difficult to say where the ring might have been when he was put into the ground.'
'Put?' Brunetti asked.
'There's reason to believe he was shot.'
'There is a small hole, about two centimetres in diameter, at the base of his skull.'
'Only one hole?'
'And the bullet?'
'My men were using an ordinary mesh screen when they searched the site for bones, so if it was there, something as small as bullet fragments might have fallen through.'
'Are the Carabinieri continuing the search?'
'I can't answer that, Commissario.'
'Will you do the autopsy?'
'Yes. This evening.'
'And the results?'
'I'm not sure what sort of results you're looking for, Commissario.'
'Age, sex, cause of death.'
'I can give you the age already: in his early twenties, and I don't think anything I find during the autopsy will either contradict that or give a closer idea of the exact age. Sex is almost certainly male, given the length of the bones in the arms and legs. And I'd guess the cause of death was the bullet.'
'Will you be able to confirm that?'
'It depends on what I find.'
'What condition was the body in?'
'Does that mean how much of it was left?'
'Enough to get tissue and blood samples. Much of the body tissue was gone - animals, I told you - but some of the larger ligaments and muscles, especially those on the thigh and leg, are in good condition.'
'When will you have the results, Dottore?'
'Is there need for haste, Commissario? After all, he's been in the ground for more than a year.'
'I'm thinking of his family, Dottore, not of police business.'
'You mean the ring?'
'Yes. If it's the missing Lorenzoni boy, I think they should be told as soon as possible.'
'Commissario, I'm not in possession of enough information to be able to identify him as anyone in particular, beyond what I've already told you. Until I have the dental and medical records of the Lorenzoni boy, I can't be sure of anything except age and sex and perhaps cause of death. And how long ago it happened.'
'Do you have an estimate of that?'
'How long ago did the boy disappear?'
'About two years.'
There was a long pause. 'It's possible, then. From what I saw. But I'll still need those records to make any sort of positive identification.'
'I'll contact the family, then, and ask for them. As soon as I get them, I'll fax them to you.'
'Thank you, Commissario. For both things. I don't like having to speak to the families.'
Brunetti couldn't conceive of a person who would like it, but he said nothing to the doctor more than that he would call that evening to see if the autopsy had indeed confirmed the doctor's speculations.
When he replaced the phone, Brunetti turned to Vianello. 'You heard?'
'Enough. If you want to call the family, I'll call Belluno and see if the Carabinieri have found the bullet. If not, I'll tell them to get back to the field where they found him and look until they do.'
Brunetti's nod served as both assent and thanks. When Vianello was gone, Brunetti pulled out the phone book from his lower drawer and flipped it open to the 'L's. He found three listings for Lorenzoni, all at the same San Marco address: 'Ludovico, avvocato', 'Maurizio, ingeniere', and 'Cornelia', no profession listed.
His hand reached out for the phone, but instead of lifting it, he got up from his desk and went down to speak to Signorina Elettra.
When he went into the small antechamber outside the office of his superior, Vice-Questore Giuseppe Patta, the secretary was talking on the phone. Seeing him, she smiled and held up one magenta-nailed finger. He approached her desk and, while she finished her conversation, he both listened to what she said and glanced down at that day's headlines, reading them upside down, a skill that had often proven most useful. L'Esule di Hammamet, the headline declared, and Brunetti wondered why it was that former politicians who fled the country to avoid arrest were always 'exiles' and never 'fugitives'.
'I'll see you then at eight,' Signorina Elettra said, and added, 'Ciao, caro,' before putting down the phone.
What young man had summoned that final, provocative laugh, and who would tonight sit across from those dark eyes? 'A new flame?' Brunetti asked before he could consider how bold a question it was.
However forward the question might have been, Signorina Elettra seemed not to mind at all. 'Magari,' she said with tired resignation. 'If only it were. No, it's my insurance agent. I meet him once a year: he buys me a drink, and I give him a month's salary.'
Accustomed as he was to the frequent excesses of her rhetoric, Brunetti still found this surprising. 'A month's?'
'Well,' she temporized, 'very close to.'
'And what is it, if you'll permit me to ask, that you insure?'
'Not my life, certainly,' she said with a laugh, and Brunetti, when he realized how deeply he meant it, bit back the gallantry of saying that no compensation could possibly be made for such a loss. 'My apartment and the things in it, my car, and since three years ago, a private health insurance.'
'Does your sister know about that?' he asked, wondering what a doctor who worked for the national health system would think of a sister who paid not to have to use that system.
'Who do you think it was that told me to get it?' Elettra asked.
'I suppose because she spends so much time in the hospitals, so she knows what goes on there.' She considered this a moment and added, 'Though, from what she's told me, it's probably more a case of what doesn't go on. Last week, one of her patients was in a room at the Civile with six other women. Nobody bothered to give them any food for two days, and they could never get anyone to explain why.'
'Luckily, four of them had relatives who came to visit, so they divided their food among the others. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have eaten.'
Elettra's voice had risen as she spoke; as she continued, it rose even higher. 'If you want someone to change your sheets, you've got to pay to have them do it. Or to bring a bed pan. Barbara's given up on it, so she's told me to go to a private clinic if I ever have to go to the hospital.'
'And I didn't know you had a car,' he said, always surprised to learn that someone living and working in the city had one. He'd never owned one, nor had his wife, though both of them could drive, badly.
'I keep it at my cousin's in Mestre. He uses it during the week, and I get to use it on the weekends if I want to go anywhere.'
'And the apartment?' asked Brunetti, who had never bothered to insure his own.
'I went to school with a woman who had an apartment in Campo della Guerra. Remember when they had that fire there? Her apartment was one of the ones that got burned out.'
'I thought the comune paid for the restoration,' Brunetti said.
'They paid for basic restoration,' she corrected him. 'That didn't include trifles like her clothing or possessions or new furniture.'
'Would insurance be any better?' Brunetti asked, having heard countless horror stories about the ?difficulty of getting money out of an insurance company, regardless of how legitimate the claim.
'I'd rather try with a private company than with the city.'
'Who wouldn't?' Brunetti asked in tired resignation.
'But what can I do for you, Commissario?' she asked, waving away their conversation and, with it, the thought of loss and pain.
'I'd like you to go down to the archives and see if you can get me the file on the Lorenzoni kidnapping,' Brunetti said, returning both loss and pain to the room.
'Did you know him?'
'No, but my boyfriend at the time had a younger brother who went to school with him. The Vivaldi, I think. It was ages ago.'
'Did he ever say anything about him?'
'I don't remember exactly, but I think he didn't like him very much.'
'Do you remember why?'
She tilted her chin up at an angle and pulled her lips into a tight moue that would have subtracted greatly from the beauty of any other woman. In Elettra's case, all it did was show him the fine line of her jaw and emphasize the redness of her pursed lips.
'No,' she finally said. 'Whatever it was, it's gone.'
Brunetti didn't know how to ask the next question. 'You said your boyfriend of the time. Are you still, er, are you still in contact with him?'
Her smile blossomed, as much at his question as at the awkwardness of his phrasing.
'I'm the godmother of his first son,' she said. 'So it would be very easy to call and ask him to ask his brother what he can remember. I'll do it this evening.' She pushed herself back from her chair. 'I'll go down and see about the file. Shall I bring it up to your office?' He was grateful she didn't ask why he wanted to see it. Superstitiously, Brunetti hoped that, by not talking about it, he could prevent its turning out to be Roberto.
'Yes, please,' he said and went back up there to wait.
A father himself, Brunetti chose to delay calling the Lorenzoni family until the autopsy was completed. From what Doctor Bortot had said and from the presence of the ring, it seemed unlikely that anything he might discover during it would exclude the possibility of its being Roberto Lorenzoni, but as long as that possibility existed, Brunetti wanted to spare the family what might be unnecessary pain.
While he waited for the original file on the crime, he tried to recall what he knew about it. Since the kidnapping had taken place in the province of Treviso, the police of that city had handled the original investigation, even though the victim was Venetian. Brunetti had been busy with another case at the time, but he remembered the diffused sense of frustration that had filled the Questura after the investigation had spread to Venice and the police tried to find the men who had kidnapped the boy.
Of all crimes, Brunetti had always found kidnapping the most horrible, not only because he had two children, but because of the dirt it did on humanity, placing an entirely arbitrary price on a life and then destroying that life when the price was not met. Or worse, as in so many cases, taking the person, accepting the money, and then never releasing the hostage. He had been present when the body of a twenty-seven-year-old woman had been retrieved; she had been kidnapped and then placed in a living tomb under a metre of earth and left there to suffocate. He still remembered her hands, grown as black as the earth above her, clutched helplessly to her face in death.
He could not be said to know anyone in the Lorenzoni family, though he and Paola had once been at a formal dinner party where Count Ludovico had also been present. As is always the case in Venice, he occasionally saw the older man on the street, but they had never spoken. The commissario who had handled the Venetian part of the investigation had been transferred to Milan a year ago, so Brunetti could not ask him face to face about the way things had been handled or about his impression of events. Often that sort of personal, unrecorded response proved useful, especially when a case came to be reconsidered. Brunetti accepted the possibility, since the body found in the field might prove not to be that of the Lorenzoni boy, that the case would not be reopened and the body would prove to be a matter for the Belluno police. But then how explain the ring?
Signorina Elettra was at his door before he could answer his own question. 'Please come in,' he called. 'You found it very quickly.' Such had not always been the case with the Questura files, not until her blessed arrival. 'How long have you been with us now, Signorina?' he asked.
'It will be three years this summer, Commissario. Why do you ask?'
It was on his lips to say, 'So that I might better count my joys,' but that sounded to him too much like one of her own rhetorical flights. Instead, he answered, 'So I can order flowers to celebrate the day.'
She laughed at this and they both remembered his original shock when he learned that one of her first actions upon taking the position as Vice-Questore Patta's secretary had been to order a bi-weekly delivery of flowers, often quite spectacular flowers, and never fewer than a dozen. Patta, who was concerned only that his expense allotment from the city extend to his frequent lunches - usually quite as spectacular as the flowers - never thought to question the expense, and so her antechamber had become a source of pleasure to the entire Questura. It was impossible to tell if the staff's delight resulted from what Signorina Elettra decided to wear that day, the flowers in the small room, or from the fact that the government was paying for them. Brunetti, who took equal delight in all three, found a line, he thought from Petrarch, running through his memory, where the poet blessed the month, the day, and the hour when he first saw his Laura. Saying nothing about any of this, he took the file and placed it on the desk in front of him.
He opened the file when she left and began to read. Brunetti had remembered only that it happened in the autumn; September 28th, sometime before midnight on a Tuesday. Roberto's girlfriend had stopped her car (there followed the year, make, and licence number) in front of the gates of the Lorenzoni family villa, rolled down the window, and punched the numerical code into the digital lock that controlled them. When the gates failed to open, Roberto got out of the car and walked over to see what was wrong. A large stone lay just inside the gates, and its weight prevented them from opening.
Roberto, the girl said in the original police report, bent to try to move the rock, and when he was stooped down, two men emerged from the bushes beside him. One put a pistol to the boy's head, while the other came and stood just outside her window, pointing his pistol at her. Both wore ski masks.
She said that, at first, she thought it was a robbery, and so she put her hands in her lap and tried to remove the emerald ring she was wearing, hoping to drop it to the floor of the car, safe from the thieves. The car radio was playing, so she couldn't hear what the men said, but she told the police she realized it wasn't a robbery when she saw Roberto turn and walk into the bushes in front of the first man.
The second man remained where he was, outside her window, pointing his gun at her but making no attempt to speak to her for another few moments, and then he backed into the bushes and disappeared.
The first thing she did was to lock the door of the car. She reached between the seats of the car for her telefonino, but its batteries had run down, and it was useless. She waited to see if Roberto would come back. When he didn't - she didn't know how long she waited - she backed away from the gate, turned, and drove towards Treviso until she came to a phone booth at the side of the highway. She dialled 113 and reported what had happened. Even then, she said, it didn't occur to her that it could be a kidnapping; she had even thought it might be a joke of some sort.
Brunetti read through the rest of the report, looking to see if the officer who spoke to her had asked why she would think such a thing could be a joke, but the question didn't appear. Brunetti opened a drawer and looked for a piece of paper; finding none, he leaned down and pulled an envelope from his wastepaper basket, turned it over and made a note on the back, then went back to the report.
The police contacted the family, knowing no more than that the boy had been taken away at gunpoint. Count Ludovico arrived at the villa at four that morning, driven there by his nephew, Maurizio. The police were, by then, treating it as a probable kidnapping, so the mechanism to block all the family funds had been put into motion. This could be done only with those funds in the country, and the family still had access to their holdings in foreign banks. Knowing this, the com?missario from the Treviso police who was heading the investigation attempted to impress upon Count Ludovico the futility of giving in to ransom demands. Only by blocking any attempt to give the kidnappers what they demanded could they be dissuaded from future crimes. Most times, he told the Count, the person was never returned, often never found.
Count Ludovico insisted that there was no reason to believe that this was a kidnapping. It could be a robbery, a prank, a case of mistaken identity. Brunetti was well familiar with the need to deny the horrible and had often dealt with people who could not be made to believe that a member of their family was endangered or, often, dead. So the Count's insistence that it was not, could not be, a kidnapping was entirely under?standable. But Brunetti wondered, again, at the suggestion that it could be some sort of prank. What sort of young man was Roberto that the people who knew him best would assume this?
That it was not was proven two days later, when the first note arrived. Sent express from the central post office in Venice, probably dropped into one of the slots outside the building, it demanded seven billion lire, though it did not say how the payment was to be arranged.
By then the story was splashed all over the front pages of the national newspapers, so there could have been no doubt on the kidnappers' part that the police were involved. The second note, sent from Mestre a day later, dropped the ransom to five billion and said that the information about how and when to pay it would be phoned to a friend of the family, though no one was named. It was upon receipt of this note that Count Ludovico made his televised appeal to the kidnappers to release his son. The text of the message was attached to the report. He explained that there was no way he could raise the money, all of his assets having been frozen. He did say that, if the kidnappers would still contact the person they intended calling and tell him what to do, he would gladly exchange places with his son: he would obey any command they gave. Brunetti made a note on the envelope, telling himself to see if he could get a tape of the Count's appearance.
Appended was a list of the names and addresses of every?one questioned in connection with the case, the reason the police had questioned them, and their ?relationship to the Lorenzonis. Separate pages held transcripts or summaries of these ?conversations.
Brunetti let his eye run down the list. He recognized the names of at least a half dozen known criminals, but he was unable to see any common thread connecting them. One was a burglar, another a car thief, and a third, Brunetti knew, having put him there, was in prison for bank robbery. Perhaps these were some of the people the Treviso police used as informers. All led nowhere.
Some other names he recognized, not because of their criminality, but because of their social position. There was the parish priest of the Lorenzoni family, the director of the bank where most of their funds were held, and the names of the family lawyer and notary.
Doggedly, he read through every word in the file; he studied the block printing on the plastic-covered ransom notes and the lab report that accompanied them, saying that there were no fingerprints and that the paper was too widely sold to be traceable; he examined the photos of the opened gate to the villa taken both from a distance and close up. This last included a photo of the rock that had blocked the gate. Brunetti saw that it was so large that it could not have fitted through the bars of the gate: whoever had put it there would have to have done so from inside. Brunetti made another note.
The last papers contained in the file had to do with the finances of the Lorenzonis and included a list of their holdings in Italy, as well as others they were known to possess in foreign countries. The Italian companies were more or less familiar to Brunetti, as they were to every Italian. To say 'steel' or 'cotton' was pretty much to pronounce the family name. The foreign holdings were more diverse: the Lorenzonis owned a Turkish trucking company, beet processing plants in Poland, a chain of luxury beach hotels in the Crimea, and a cement factory in the Ukraine. Like so many businesses in Western Europe, the interests of the Lorenzoni family were expanding beyond the confines of the continent, many of them following the path of victorious capitalism towards the East.
It took him more than an hour to read through the file, and when he finished, he took it down to Signorina Elettra's office. 'Could you make me a copy of everything here?' he asked as he placed it on her desk.
'The photos, too?'
'Yes, if you can.'
'Has he been found, the Lorenzoni boy?'
'Someone has,' Brunetti answered but then, conscious of this minor evasion, added, 'It's probably him.'
She pulled in her lips and raised her eyebrows, then shook her head and said, 'Poor boy. Poor parents.' Neither of them said anything for a moment, and then she asked, 'Did you see him when he appeared on television, the Count?'
'No, I didn't.' He couldn't remember why, but he knew he hadn't seen it.
'He was wearing full make-up, the way the newscasters do. I know about that sort of thing. I remember thinking at the time that it was a strange thing for a man to be made to do especially in those circumstances.'
'How did he seem to you?' Brunetti asked.
She thought about this for a moment and then answered, 'He seemed without hope, absolutely certain that, whatever he begged or pleaded, it wasn't going to be given to him.'
'Despair?' Brunetti asked.
'You'd think that, wouldn't you?' She looked away from him and paused again. Finally she answered, 'No, not despair. A sort of tired resignation, as if he knew what was going to happen and knew he couldn't do anything to stop it.' She looked back at Brunetti and gave a combination smile and shrug. 'I'm sorry I can't explain it better than that. Perhaps if you looked at it yourself, you'd see what I mean.'
'How could I get a copy?' he asked.
'I suppose rai must have it in their files. I'll call someone I know in Rome and see if I can get a copy.'
'Someone you know?' Brunetti sometimes wondered if there were a man in Italy between the ages of twenty-one and fifty that Signorina Elettra didn't know.
'Well, really someone Barbara knows, an old boyfriend of hers. He works in the news department in rai. They graduated together.'
'Then he's a doctor?'
'Well, he has a degree in medicine, though I don't think he's ever practised. His father works for rai, so he was offered a job as soon as he got out of university. Because they can say he's a doctor, they use him to answer medical questions that come up - you know the sort of thing they do: when they have a programme about dieting or sunburn and they want to be sure that what they tell people is true, they set Cesare to doing the research. Sometimes he even gets interviewed, Dottor Cesare Bellini, and he tells people what the latest medical wisdom is.'
'How many years did he spend in medical school?'
'Seven, I think, just like Barbara.'
'To be interviewed about sunburn?'
Again the smile appeared, just as quickly to be shrugged away. 'There are too many doctors already; he was lucky to get the job. And he likes living in Rome.'
'Well, then, call him if you would.'
'Certainly, Dottore, and I'll bring you the copies of the report as soon as I make them.'
He saw that there was still something she wanted to say. 'Yes?'
'If you are going to reopen the investigation, would you like me to make a copy for the Vice-Questore?'
'It's a bit early to say we're going to reopen the investi?gation, so a single copy for me would suffice,' Brunetti said in his most oblique voice.
'Yes, Dottore,' came Signorina Elettra's non-committal answer, 'and I'll see that the originals get back into the file.'
'Good. Thank you.'
'Then I'll call Cesare.'
'Thank you, Signorina,' Brunetti said and went back up to his office, thinking of a country that had too many doctors but where it grew more difficult year by year to find a carpenter or a shoemaker.
Though the man in Treviso who had headed the Lorenzoni kidnapping was unknown to Brunetti, he well remembered Gianpiero Lama, who had been in charge of that part of the investigation ?handled by the Venice police. Lama, a Roman who had come to Venice heralded by the successful arrest and sub?sequent conviction of a Mafia killer, had worked in the city for only two years before being promoted to the position of Vice-Questore and sent to Milan, where Brunetti believed him still to be.
He and Brunetti had worked together, but neither of them had much enjoyed the experience. Lama had found his colleague too timid in the pursuit of crime and criminals, unwilling to take the kind of risks which Lama believed necessary. Since Lama had also thought it perfectly acceptable that the law sometimes be ignored, or even bent, in order to effect an arrest, it was not uncommon that the people he arrested were later released on some technicality discovered by the magistratura. But as this usually happened some time after Lama's original handling of the case, his behaviour was seldom viewed as the cause of the subsequent dismissal of the charges or the overturning of a conviction. The perceived audacity of Lama's behaviour had ignited his career, and like a flaring rocket he rose higher and ever higher, each promotion preparing the way for the next.
Brunetti recalled that it was Lama who had interviewed the Lorenzoni boy's girlfriend, he who had failed to follow up either her or the father's sug?gestion that the kidnapping could have been a joke. Or if he had questioned them about it, Lama had failed to make any mention of it in his report.
Brunetti pulled the envelope towards him and began another list, this time of those people who might help him learn more, if not about the actual kidnapping, then about the Lorenzoni family. At the top of the list he automatically put the name of his father-in-law, Count Orazio Falier. If anyone in the city would be sensitive to the delicate spider's web where nobility, business, and enormous wealth were inter?woven, it was Count Orazio.
Signorina Elettra's entrance distracted him momentarily from the list. 'I called Cesare,' she said as she placed a folder on his desk. 'He took a look in his computer and found the date, so he says he'll have no trouble in getting a copy of the tape. He'll send it up by courier this afternoon.' Even before he could ask how she did it, Signorina Elettra answered. 'It has nothing to do with me, Dottore. He said he's coming to Venice next month, and I think he wants to use his having spoken to me as an excuse to get in touch with Barbara again.'
'And the courier?' Brunetti asked.
'He said he'll put it down against the report rai's doing on the airport road,' she said, reminding Brunetti of one of the most recent scandals. Billions had been paid to friends of the government officials who had arranged the planning and construction of the useless autostrada out to Venice's tiny airport. Some of them had subsequently been convicted of fraud, but the case was now caught up in the endless appeal process, while the ex-Minister who had made a fortune by masterminding the whole thing continued not only to receive his state pension, rumoured to be in excess of ten million lire a month, but was said to be off in Hong Kong, amassing yet another fortune.
He pulled himself back from this reverie and looked up at Signorina Elettra. 'Please thank him for me,' Brunetti finally said.
'Oh, no, Dottore, I think we should let him think we're the ones doing him a favour, giving him an excuse to get in touch with Barbara again. I even told him I'd say something to her about it, so he'd have an excuse to call her.'
'And why is that?' Brunetti asked.
She seemed surprised that Brunetti would not have seen it. 'In case we need him again. You never know, do you, when we might want to make use ?of a television network?' Remem?bering the last shambles of an election, when the owner of three of the largest television networks had used them shame?lessly to advance his campaign, he waited for her comment. 'I think it's time the police, rather than the others, made use of them.'
Brunetti, always wary of political discussions, thought it best to demur, and so pulled the copy of the file towards him and thanked her as she left.
The phone rang before Brunetti could do anything more than think about making calls. When he answered it, he heard the familiar voice of his brother.
'Ciao, Guido, come stai?'
'Bene,' Brunetti answered, wondering why Sergio would call him at the Questura. His mind, and then his heart, fled to his mother. 'What's wrong, Sergio?'
'Nothing, nothing at all. It's not about Mamma that I'm calling.' As it had managed to do since their childhood, Sergio's voice calmed him, assured him that all was well or soon would be. 'Well, not about her directly.'
Brunetti said nothing.
'Guido, I know you've gone to see Mamma the last two weekends. No, don't even say anything. I'm going on Sunday. But I want to ask you if you'd go the next two.'
'Of course,' Brunetti said.
Sergio went on as though he hadn't heard. 'It's important, Guido. I wouldn't ask unless it were.'
'I know that, Sergio. I'll go.' Having said that, Brunetti felt embarrassed to ask the reason.
Sergio continued. 'I got a letter today. Three weeks to get a letter here from Rome. Puttana Eva, I would walk here from Rome in less time than that. They had the fax number of the laboratory, but did they think to send a fax? No, the idiots sent it through the mails.'
From long experience, Brunetti knew that Sergio had to be headed off once he got on to the subject of any of the state's variously incompetent services. 'What was in the letter, Sergio?'
'The invitation, of course. That's why I'm calling you.'
'For the conference on Chernobyl?'
'Yes, they've asked us to read our paper. Well, Battestini will read it, since his name is on it, but he's asked me to explain my part of the research and to help answer questions afterwards. I didn't know until I got the invitation that we'd go. That's why I didn't call you until now, Guido.'
Sergio, a researcher in a medical radiology lab, had been talking about this conference, it seemed, for years, though it was really no more than months. The damages wrought by the incompetencies of yet another state system could now no longer be hidden, and this had given rise to endless con?ferences on the effects of the explosion and subsequent fall-out, this latest one to be held in Rome next week. No one, Brunetti thought in his more cynical moments, dared to suggest that no further nuclear reactors be built or tests performed - here he silently cursed the French - but all rushed to the endless conferences to engage in collective hand-wringing and the exchange of terrible information.
'I'm glad you're getting the chance to go, Sergio. Congratulations. Can Maria Grazia go with you?'
'I don't know yet. She's almost finished with the place on the Giudecca, but someone's asked her to make plans and give an estimate for a complete restoration in a four-floor palazzo over in the Ghetto, and if she doesn't get them done by then, I doubt she'll be able to come.'
'She trusts you to go to Rome by yourself?' Brunetti asked, knowing, even as he asked it, how foolish the question was. Similar in many things, i fratelli Brunetti shared a common uxoriousness which was often a source of humour among their friends.
'If she gets the contract, I could go to the moon by myself, and she wouldn't even notice.'
'What's your paper about?' Brunetti asked, knowing he was unlikely to understand the answer.
'Oh, it's technical stuff, about fluctuations in red and white blood cell counts during the first weeks after exposure to fall-out or intense radiation. There are some people in Auckland we've been in touch with who are working on the same thing, and it seems that their results are identical to ours. That's one of the reasons I wanted to go to the conference - Battestini would have gone anyway, but this way someone else pays for us, and we get to see them and talk to them and compare results.'
'Good, I'm happy for you. How long will you be gone?'
'The conference lasts six days, from Sunday until Friday, and then I might stay on in Rome for two days more and not get back until Monday. Wait a minute; let me give you the dates.' Brunetti heard the flipping of pages, and then Sergio's voice was back. 'From the eighth until the sixteenth. I should be back the morning of the sixteenth. And, Guido, I'll go the next two Sundays.'
'Don't be silly, Sergio. These things happen. I'll go while you're away, and then you go the Sunday after you get back, and I'll go the next one. You've done the same for me.'
'I just don't want you to think I don't want to go and see her, Guido.'
'Let's not talk about that, all right, Sergio?' Brunetti asked, surprised how painful he still found the thought of his mother. He had tried for the last year, with singular lack of success, to tell himself that his mother, that bright-spirited woman who had raised them and loved them with unqualified devotion, had moved off to some other place, where she waited, still quick-witted and eager to smile, for that befuddled shell that was her body to come and join her so that they could drift off together to a final peace.
'I don't like asking you, Guido,' his brother repeated, reminding Brunetti as he did of how careful Sergio had always been not to abuse his position as elder brother or the authority that position invested him with.
Brunetti recalled a term his American colleagues were in the habit of using, and he 'stonewalled' his brother. 'Tell me about the kids, Sergio.'
Sergio laughed outright at the way they'd fallen into the familiar pattern: his need to justify everything; his younger brother's refusal to find that ?necessary. 'Marco's almost finished with his military service; he'll be home for four days at the end of the month. And Maria Luisa's speaking nothing but English so she'll be ready to go to the Courtauld in the autumn. Crazy, isn't it, Guido, that she's got to go to England to study restoration?'
Paola, Brunetti's wife, taught English Literature at the University of C? Foscari. There was little his brother could tell him about the insanity of the Italian university system that Brunetti did not already know.
'Is her English good enough?' he asked.
'Better be, huh? If it isn't, I'll send her to you and Paola for the summer.'
'And what are we supposed to do, speak English all the time?'
'Sorry, Sergio, we never use it unless we don't want the kids to know what we're saying. Both of them have taken so much of it in school that we can't even do that any more.'
'Try Latin,' Sergio said with a laugh. 'You were always good at that.'
'I'm afraid that was a long time ago,' said Brunetti sadly.
Sergio, ever sensitive to things he couldn't name, caught his brother's mood. 'I'll call you before I leave, Guido.'
'Good, stammi bene,' Brunetti said.
'Ciao,' Sergio answered and was gone.
During his life, Brunetti had often heard people begin sentences with, 'If it weren't for him . . .' and he could not hear the words without substituting Sergio's name. When Brunetti, always the acknowledged scholar of the family, was eighteen, it was decided that there was not enough money to allow him to go to university and delay the time when he could begin to contribute to the family's income. He yearned to study the way some of his friends yearned for women, but he assented to this family decision and began to look for work. It was Sergio, newly engaged and newly employed in a medical laboratory as a technician, who agreed to contribute more to the family if it would mean that his younger brother would be allowed to study. Even then, Brunetti knew that it was the law he wanted to study, less its current application than its history and the reasons why it developed the way it had.
Because there was no faculty of law at C? Foscari, it meant that Brunetti would have to study at Padova, the cost of his commuting adding to the responsibility Sergio agreed to assume. Sergio's marriage was delayed for three years, during which time Brunetti quickly rose to the top of his class and began to earn some money by tutoring students younger than himself.
Had he not studied, Brunetti would not have met Paola in the university library, and he would not have become a policeman. He sometimes wondered if he would have become the same man, if the things inside of him that he considered vital would have developed in the same way, had he, perhaps, become an insurance salesman or a city bureaucrat. Knowing idle speculation when he saw it, Brunetti reached for the phone and pulled it towards him.
Just as Brunetti had always thought it vulgar to ask Paola how many rooms there were in her family's palazzo and hence remained ignorant of that number, so too had he no idea of the exact number of phone lines going into Palazzo Falier. He knew three of the numbers: the more or less public one that was given out to all friends and business associates; the one given only to members of the family; and the Count's private number, which he had never found it necessary to use.
He called the first, as this was hardly an emergency or a matter of great privacy.
'Palazzo Falier,' a male voice Brunetti had never heard responded on the third ring.
'Good morning. This is Guido Brunetti. I'd like to speak to . . .' here he paused for an instant, uncertain whether to call the Count by his title or to refer to him as his father-in-law.
'He's on the other line, Dottor Brunetti. May I have him call you in . . .' It was the other man's turn to pause. 'The light's just gone out. I'll connect you.'
There followed a soft click, after which Brunetti heard the deep baritone of his father-in-law's voice, 'Falier.' Nothing more.
'Good morning. It's Guido.'
The voice, as it had done of late, softened. 'Ah, Guido, how are you? And how are the children?'
'We're all well. And both of you?' He couldn't call her 'Donatella', and he wouldn't call her 'The Countess'.
'Both well, thank you. What is it I can do for you?' The Count knew there could be no other reason for Brunetti's call.
'I'd like to know whatever you can tell me about the Lorenzoni family.'
During the ensuing silence, Brunetti could all but hear the Count sorting through the decades of information, scandal, and rumour which he possessed about most of the notables of the city. 'Why is it you're interested in them, Guido?' the Count asked, and then added, 'If you're at liberty to tell me.'
'The body of a young man's been dug up near Belluno. There was a ring in the grave with him. It has the Lorenzoni crest.'
'It could be the person who stole it from him,' the Count volunteered.
'It could pretty well be anyone,' Brunetti agreed. 'But I've been looking through the file of the original investigation of the kidnapping, and there are a few things I'd like to clear up if I could.'
'Such as?' the Count asked.
In the more than two decades that Brunetti had known the Count, he had never known him to be indiscreet; further, nothing Brunetti had to say could not be told to anyone interested in the investigation. 'Two people said they thought it was a joke. And the stone that was blocking the gate had to have been placed there from inside.'
'I don't have a very clear memory of it, Guido. I think we were out of the country when it happened. It happened at their villa, didn't it?'
'Yes,' Brunetti answered, and then from something in the Count's voice, asked, 'Have you been there?'
'Once or twice.' The Count's tone was absolutely non-committal.
'Then you know the gates,' Brunetti said, not wanting to ask directly about the Count's familiarity with the Lorenzonis. Not yet, at any rate.
'Yes,' the Count answered. 'They open inward. There's a call box on the wall, and all a visitor has to do is push the bell and then announce himself. The gates can be opened from the house.'
'Or from the outside if you have the code,' Brunetti added. 'That's what his girlfriend tried to do, but the gates wouldn't open.'
'The Valloni girl, wasn't it?' the Count asked.
The name was familiar from the report. 'Yes. Francesca.'
'A pretty girl. We went to her wedding.'
'Wedding?' Brunetti asked. 'How long ago was that?'
'A little more than a year ago. She married that Salviati boy. Enrico, Fulvio's son; the one who likes speedboats.'
Brunetti grunted in acknowledgement of a vague memory he had of the boy. 'Did you know Roberto?'
'I met him a few times. I didn't think very much of him.'
Brunetti wondered if it was the Count's social position that allowed him to speak ill of the dead, or the fact that the boy had been gone for two years. 'Why not?'
'Because he had all the pride of his father and none of his talent.'
'What sort of talent does Count Ludovico have?'
He heard a noise from the other end of the phone, as though a door had closed, and then the Count said, 'Excuse me a moment, Guido.' A few seconds passed, after which he returned to the phone and said, 'I'm sorry, Guido, but a fax has just come in, and I'm afraid I have to make some calls while my agent in Mexico City is still in the office.'
Brunetti wasn't sure, but he thought Mexico City was about half a day behind them. 'Isn't it the middle of the night there?'
'Yes. He's paid to be there, and I want to get him before he leaves.'
'Oh, I see,' Brunetti said. 'When may I call you again?'
The Count's answer came quickly. 'Is there any chance we could meet for lunch, Guido? There are some things I've been wanting to talk to you about. Perhaps we could do both.'
'Today. Is that too soon?'
'No, not at all. I'll call Paola and tell her. Would you like her to come?'
'No,' the Count said, almost sharply, and then added, 'Some of the things I want to discuss concern her, so I'd prefer she not be there.'
Confused, Brunetti said only, 'All right. Where shall we meet?' expecting the Count to name one of the famous restaurants in the city.
'There's a place over near Campo del Ghetto. The daughter of a friend of mine and her husband run it, and the food's very good. If it's not too far for you, we could meet there.'
'Fine. What's it called?'
'La Bussola. It's just off San Leonardo, heading towards Campo del Ghetto Nuovo. One o'clock?'
'That'll be fine. I'll see you there. At one.' Brunetti hung up and pulled the phone book back towards him. He flipped through it until he came to the 'S's. He found a number of Salviatis, but only one Enrico, listed as a 'consulente', a term that always amused Brunetti as much as it confused him.
The phone rang six times before a woman's voice, already annoyed at the caller, answered, 'Pronto.'
'Signora Salviati?' Brunetti asked.
The woman was panting, as though she'd run to answer the phone. 'Yes, what is it?'
'Signora Salviati, this is Commissario Guido Brunetti. I'd like to ask you a few questions about the Lorenzoni kidnapping.' From beyond her, he heard the high wailing of a baby's scream, that genetically pitched howl no human can ignore.
He heard the phone slam down on a hard surface, thought he heard her tell him to wait, and then all sound was swallowed up in the wail, which rose up to a sudden squeal and, as suddenly as it had started, stopped.
She was back at the phone again. 'I told you everything about that years ago. I don't even remember it very clearly now. So much time has passed, so much has happened.'
'I realize that, Signora, but it would be a great help to us if you could spare me a little time. I guarantee it wouldn't take long at all.'
'Then why can't we do it on the phone?'
'I'd prefer to do it in person, Signora. I'm afraid I don't like the phone very much.'
'When?' she asked in sudden concession.
'I saw that your address is in Santa Croce. I've got to be over there this morning' - he didn't, but it was close to the traghetto at San Marcuola and so he could quickly get to San Leonardo and lunch with the Count - 'so it would be very easy for me to stop by. If that's convenient with you, of course.'
'Let me look at my schedule,' she said, putting the phone down again.
She had been seventeen when the kidnapping happened, so she was not even twenty now, and with what sounded like a very young baby. Schedule?
'If you came at quarter to twelve, we could talk. But I've got an engagement for lunch.'
'That's perfect for me, Signora. I'll see you then,' he said quickly and hung up before she could change her mind or check her schedule again.
He called Paola and told her that he couldn't come home for lunch. As usual, she accepted this with such equanimity that Brunetti wondered for an instant if she had already made other plans. 'What will you do?' he asked.
'Humm?' she asked. 'Oh, read.'
'And the children? What about them?'
'I'll feed them, Guido, don't worry. You know how they wolf their food down if the two of us aren't there to exert a civilizing influence on them, so I'll have plenty of time to myself.'
'Will you eat, too?' he asked.
'Guido, you're obsessed with food. You do know that, don't you?'
'Only because of the frequency with which you remind me of it, my treasure,' he said with a laugh. He thought of telling her she was obsessed with reading, but Paola would just take that as a compliment, so he told her he'd be home for supper and hung up.
He left the Questura without bothering to tell anyone where he was going and was careful to take the back steps and so avoid Vice-Questore Patta, who, given the fact that it was after eleven, might safely be assumed to be in his office.
Outside, Brunetti, who was wearing both a woollen suit and a light coat in response to the early morning chill, was surprised at how warm it had become. He started along the embankment and was just turning left into the trail of streets that would take him out to Campo Santa Maria Formosa and, from there, to the Rialto, when he suddenly stopped and took off his coat. He turned and went back towards the Questura. When he got to the building the guards inside recognized him and pressed the switch that opened the large glass doors. He went into the small office on the right and saw Pucetti at the desk, talking on the phone. Seeing his superior, Pucetti said something and hung up, then quickly got to his feet.
'Pucetti,' Brunetti said, making a pushing gesture with one hand to force the young man to sit down again. 'I'd like to leave this here for a few hours. I'll pick it up when I get back.'
Pucetti, instead of resuming his seat, came forward and took the coat from his hands. 'I'll put it up in your office, if I might, Dottore.'
'No, it's fine here. Don't bother.'
'I'd rather, sir. We've had a number of things disappear down here during the last few weeks.'
'What?' Brunetti asked with real surprise. 'From the guard room of the Questura?'
'It's them, sir,' Pucetti said, nodding in the direction of the interminable line that stretched back from the door of the Ufficio Stranieri, on which it seemed like hundreds of people waited to fill out the forms that would legalize their residence in the city. 'We're getting a lot of Albanians and Slavs, and you know what thieves they are.'
Had Pucetti said such a thing to Paola, she would have been all over him in an instant, calling him a bigot and a racist, and pointing out that all Albanians and all Slavs weren't anything. But as she wasn't there and as Brunetti, in general, tended to agree with Pucetti's sentiments, he did nothing more than thank the young man and leave the building.