Authors: Antonio Manzini
“You treat her like shit.”
“You think? I treat her the way we treat each other in bed. Nothing more and nothing less.”
“The two of you look good together.”
“You think so?” Rocco asked.
“I do. You going to see her tonight?”
“Take her home, no?”
“The thought never crossed my mind, Seba. I don't take any women home.”
Sebastiano poured himself a glass of water. “Someday you're going to have to get over this thing, Rocco.”
Rocco said nothing. He looked at the tablecloth, flicking away imaginary bread crumbs.
“You can't keep this up. It's been four years. When are you going to . . .”
Rocco looked up at his friend. “Sebastiano, you know I love you. But stop talking about this one thing, please. Stop giving me advice about things I already know. I can't take it. Period.”
“Rocco, Marina isâ”
“That's enough, Seba! Would you please stop,” shouted Rocco, his eyes red and glistening, his mouth twisted into a shout that was choked into silence by the despair paralyzing his limbs and constricting his throat, to the point that he practically couldn't breathe.
Sebastiano patted the hand that was lying on the table. “Sorry, Rocco. Forgive me.”
Rocco blinked a couple of times. He brushed away a tear, sniffed, and then smiled. “It's nothing, Seba. I love you, man.”
The clouds had moved on, and the birdies were once again tweeting happily. Sebastiano regained his smile and pointed at Nora at the other table. “I wouldn't kick her out of bed.”
“Wasn't the Ukrainian girl enough for you?”
“You're right. She sucked me inside out.”
They both burst out laughing, and at that exact moment, Sebastiano's cell phone vibrated. In one fast move, the big man's paw shot out and grabbed the BlackBerry. He held it to his ear without saying a word. He sat there listening, paying close attention to what the person on the other end of the line was saying. Rocco couldn't hear; Sebastiano betrayed no emotion. Then the big man lowered his head, accompanying the act with a couple of grunts: “Mmm. Mmmm.” Then he started squeezing a piece of bread into a white ball. More grunts. Finally he said a word with a clear meaning all its ownâ“Fuck!”âand hung up.
He looked Rocco in the eye. “It's not for lunchtime tomorrow.”
“That's a relief.”
“It's for tonight, Rocco!”
Exactly half an hour after Rocco's phone call, Italo Pierron appeared on Corso Ivrea, in uniform, pressed and neatly shaved. He slid behind the wheel of the deputy police chief's Volvo. Rocco pulled out the flasher and placed it on the car's roof. As Italo was gunning it toward the highway, Rocco made the introductions.
“Seba, meet Italo. Italo, meet Sebastiano.”
“It's a pleasure,” said Italo. Seba, on the other hand, said nothing. He was looking out the window at the lights of the other cars and the dark, looming shapes of the mountains.
For half an hour, no one spoke.
Then Sebastiano started up. “All right, then, here's the plan. The truck is easy to spot. It's orange, and on the side of the cargo body is painted the name Kooning N.V. Is that clear?”
“Do we know what route it's going to take?” asked Rocco.
“The truck will leave the highway after coming through the tunnel at about eleven, and then it'll take State Road 26. It's scheduled to make a stop at Morgex, but we need to pull it over before there.”
“At Chenoz?” suggested Italo, taking a guess.
said Sebastiano, in astonishment.
“He's a native,” Rocco put in. “Once they've stopped, we show our badges, we make them open up the truckâand what about you, Seba?”
“You'll drop me off before Morgex, at Chez Borgne. I have a van there. I'll catch up with you where you pull the truck over, we'll load the van, and then we'll get going.”
“Aren't we supposed to take them in to police headquarters?” asked Italo.
Rocco replied, “That depends. If they accept our proposal, we'll let them go after lightening their load. But if they decide to give us a hard time, then yes, we'll have to take them in to headquarters.”
“And our share?” asked Italo, who seemed to be as comfortable as if he'd been pulling off heists his whole life.
“We'll take it after we confiscate the drugs,” said Rocco.
A powerful, insistent wind twisted the tops of the trees, which bent over almost double, as if they were trying to retrieve the pinecones they'd just lost. The shredded heaps of snow lining the street were dirty black. Italo was stationed around a curve in the middle of the road with the police traffic paddle in one hand, stamping his feet to ward off the chill. Rocco, on the other hand, was smoking a cigarette, stretched out against the car roof, illuminated intermittently by the blue police flasher. The high clouds went racing overhead and every so often revealed a glimpse of starry night sky. A single streetlamp two hundred yards away colored the snow and the road with a sickly yellow light. The few cars that went by slowed suddenly the instant the driver glimpsed the police officer by the road. But each time, Italo waved them on with the traffic paddle and they vanished into the night. It was 11:30
It wouldn't be long now.
“What else have you found out about me?” Rocco asked in the silence of the night, broken only by the rustling of the trees. Italo turned to look at him. The deputy police chief, his eyes focused on the road, spewed the white smoke from his cigarette together with the condensation of his breath.
“That you're suspected of a couple of deaths and something that has to do with a politician.”
Rocco took another drag on his cigarette. “Ah. And what do you think happened?”
“Me? No idea. Or rather, I've got a few thoughts about the two deaths. Did they have names?”
“Sure, they did.”
“But was it you?”
Rocco flicked the cigarette away. “You want to know something? Revenge is good for nothing. Or really, it's good only for making you think you've taken care of everything, that you've reassembled the mosaic. But the truth is, all you've done is vent your frustration. Understandable, but still, it's about frustration. But here's the problem: until your vendetta is done, you're blind to these things. It's pointless to eliminate someone who's hurt you. You just perpetuate the same mistake. And I'm going to die with that mistake.”
“Is that why they sent you here?”
Rocco smiled. “No. That's an old story. From four years ago. No, I'm here for another reason. You don't know anything about it because it was kept very quiet.”
“You feel like telling me about it?”
“A thirty-year-old asshole who was raping young girls. I caught him, and instead of handing him over the way I should have, I broke him down and rebuilt him, so to speak. Now he walks with a crutch and can't see out of one eye. Is that enough?”
“Jesus . . . And they reported you?”
“No. This guy's the son of someone powerful enough to fix me good. And he fixed me good.”
“How many young girls did he rape?”
“Seven. One of them killed herself six months ago. You know where I went wrong? I went to talk to them, to the girls' parentsâI saw them and I got a clear picture of just how much damage he'd done. Never let yourself get sucked in emotionally, Italo. It's a mistake. A big mistake. You lose objectivity and self-control.”
“And where's the guy now?”
“I told you: out on the street. Though hobbling around on a crutch. And sooner or later he'll do it again. Nice, no?”
Italo shook his head. “And that's why they transferred you from Rome?”
“Would you believe it? For that. And it's one of the truly just things I've done in my life.”
“I'd have killed him.”
“Don't say that, Italo. Have you ever killed anyone?”
“No, I haven't.”
“Don't do it. Because then you get used to it.” Rocco looked at the sky. Then he smiled faintly. “You can see the stars. It'll be a sunny day tomorrow.”
Italo looked up. “Not necessarily. In ten minutes the sky could cloud over.”
A dog barked in the distance. A sheep bleated in response. Then there was a distant roar. A continuous subterranean rumble. It could have been a river overflowing its banks or an avalanche tearing downhill toward them.
But it was the sound of horsepower under the hood of a truck. Rocco stepped away from the Volvo. “Go on, Italo, it's time.”
Italo spat on the ground, stiffened, and grabbed the traffic paddle in one hand.
“Click off the safety,” the deputy police chief suggested.
Italo undid the automatic holster lock and gave his pistol a tug. “Are you packing?”
Rocco nodded. He walked toward the road. The noise grew louder. The truck was coming closer. It wouldn't be long before the behemoth's headlights came around the curve, illuminating the asphalt and the woods lining the road. Italo gulped. Rocco tossed his cigarette onto the muddy snow.
“Let me do the talking. Just follow me.”
The young policeman nodded edgily.
“Keep cool, Italo.”
The noise came closer and closer. Rocco sniffed, and suddenly, as if by enchantment, the wind stopped slapping people and things. Then, from around the curve, eight blinding headlamps appeared, along with the screaming roar of many hundreds of horses of internal combustion engine. The truck, an enormous, smoking metal dragon, seemed bent on devouring the valley and all its inhabitants. Italo promptly lifted the traffic paddle. Rocco broke away from his car. The behemoth's engine jerked, the sound of downshifting came through the air, and the vehicle lost speed as it gradually approached the two policemen. It was a truck without a trailer. On the side, clear and unmistakable, was written
“This is it,” shouted Rocco.
The behemoth was slowing down. A blinker started to flash on the right side of the vehicle as it slowly rolled past the policemen. The interior of the cab was dark. As it went past him, Rocco managed only to glimpse a couple of little flashes of light on the dashboard. Puffing and rattling, the truck came to a halt fifty or sixty feet past the two policemen. The monster stood there, its brake lights glowing, exhaust pouring from the rear pipes. Waiting. The driver's-side door remained shut.
“Let's go!” said Rocco. And he started toward the truck. Italo set the traffic paddle on the Volvo's roof, checked to make sure that the pistol was where it was supposed to be, then followed the deputy police chief.
Rocco had reached the truck. The chrome glittered in the light of the one distant streetlamp that illuminated the intersection. The engine puttered in neutral, rhythmically tapping at the night. The deputy police chief knocked three times and then heard the sound of the window being lowered. The driver's face emerged. Blond, with a flattened nose, light-colored eyes, covered with pimples. Not much older than twenty. He looked down at the deputy police chief and smiled. He was missing at least three teeth.
, thought Rocco. “Open up, idiot!” he shouted.
The man gesticulated to show that he didn't understand the language.
“Open and come down!”
shouted Italo, who had just come up, in English, with a timbre and tone of voice that was very convincingly authoritative.
The door swung open, and the driver hesitantly set foot on the first step of the ladder. “
Am I to come down?
The man obeyed. He climbed down the steps and leaped to the pavement. Rocco signaled to him to come toward him. The driver obeyed calmly, still with a smile on his lips. Then Italo climbed up onto the truck. He leaned into the cab: “
he shouted in English. “
Come down. Documents!”
Rocco couldn't see whom he was talking to. But clearly there had to be two drivers. Officer Pierron pulled back from the cab and climbed back down the steps. After a short interval, a second man came out of the cab, with the look of someone who'd just woken up. He was big and black, with Rasta dreadlocks. He had a plastic bag in one hand.
The two truck drivers stood side by side, dressed only in sweaters, apparently indifferent to the cold, steady and untrembling. They just stood there as if it were springtime and the cherry trees were already blossoming. They were both a good four or five inches taller than Rocco, and their biceps bulged almost indecently.
“Biggish, eh?” Italo said, then addressed them in English. “Stay quiet and calm down, okay?”
“Okay,” the two truck drivers replied in chorus while Rocco opened the folder with the documents. He feigned interest, but he really didn't give a damn about the customs stamps and notations.
He was hardly surprised to find two banknotes concealed in the registration. Two hundred-euro bills. He smiled as he looked at the two truck drivers. They smiled back at him, winking cunningly. Rocco took out the two green banknotes and showed them to Italo, asking in Italian, “Look what I found in the bills of lading. Is this yours?” Rocco held out the money, but neither driver gave any sign of being about to take the money back. “Is this for me? What is it? A tip? Translate for me, Italo!”
Italo said in English, “It's a tip?”
The black driver smiled and nodded.
thanks very much. You understand, Italo? This is an attempted bribe. According to these two pieces of shit, you and I are worth two hundred euros. Doesn't seem like quite enough, does it?”
“Not really,” Italo replied, poised with one hand ready to draw his gun.
Rocco slowly crumpled up the banknotes and slipped them into the young blond man's jeans pocket. “You can understand me, right?” he said, and the man's eyes opened wide in fear. “You can take this money and stick it up your ass.” Then he reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out some folded sheets of paper, slapping them right under the blond fellow's nose. “Italo, tell him that this is a search warrant!”
Actually, they were the expense accounts for their activities at Champoluc.
“I don't know how to say that in English.”
shouted Rocco, using the Italian word for “search.” “Understand?”
The truck driver turned pale. “Perquisition?” he asked.
. That's right. Open up,” Rocco said, pointing to the back of the truck.
. . . Polizia italianna
“What the fuck is this mental defective trying to say?” Then the deputy police chief leaned forward until his face was an inch from the fair-haired young man's nose. “Open up immediately or I'll beat you down!”
The truck driver said: “I have to get the keys . . . May I?”
Italo translated for Rocco.
“Tell him I'll get the keys.”
Rocco stepped up onto the first step and hauled himself into the cab.
The dashboard was a sea of lights big and small, of all colors. Stuck to the windshield was a GPS, and it was working. Rocco turned the key and switched off the engine. He pulled out the set of keys. Then he showed them to the driver. “Are these the right ones?