Authors: Antonio Manzini
“I don't know, Dottore.”
“Everyone in Italy has a connection. I had to wind up with the one brain-damaged mental defective who doesn't even have a relative or friend who can pull some strings for him.”
They left the car in a parking space at the hospital, even though a security guard had told them not to because that was the chief physician's spot. Schiavone did nothing more than pull out his badge and shut up the zealous functionary of the Health Ministry.
They walked downstairs and past the laboratories until they finally reached the double glass doors where Fumagalli worked. The morgue.
“Dottor Schiavone?” asked Italo in a faint voice.
“What is it?”
“Do you mind if I wait here for you?”
“No. You come on in with me and enjoy the show. Didn't you choose to be a policeman?”
“Actually, no, I didn't. But it's a long story.” He dropped his head and followed his boss.
There was no need to take off his coat, because the autopsy room was more or less the same temperature as outside. Under Fumagalli's lab coat Schiavone could see a turtleneck sweater. He wore latex gloves and a sort of green apron spattered with brown splotches. “And to think I complain about my shitty job!” Rocco said to him.
As usual, Fumagalli didn't bother to say hello, limiting himself to waving his hand in the two policemen's direction and leading them to the second room, which was a small waiting room. There the doctor gave both policemen a surgical mask, plastic shoe covers, and a strange paper smock.
“All right, the two of you come with me.”
In the middle of the room was a nice big autopsy table, and on top of the table lay the corpse, mercifully covered with a white cloth.
In the room you could hear a faucet drip, along with the continuous hum of the recycling air vents, which were spreading a mixture of ferocious stenches as they circulated the air in the morgue. Disinfectant, rust, rotten meat, hard-boiled eggs. Italo Pierron felt as if he'd been punched in the solar plexus, bent over and clapped his hands to his mouth, then hurried away to lose the breakfast that had just come surging up his esophagus.
“All right, now that we're alone,” said Rocco with a smile, “have you had a chance to work on him?”
“I've tried to reassemble all the pieces. I've done easier jigsaw puzzles,” the doctor replied, and uncovered the corpse.
“Fuck!” came out of the deputy police chief's mouth, clear and loud and straight from the heart.
There was no body. There was just a series of shredded pieces of flesh, more or less reassembled to form an object that only remotely resembled anything human.
“How can you work with this?”
Fumagalli cleaned his lenses. “Nice and slow. Like doing art restoration.”
“Sure, but those guys are fixing a masterpiece, and it's a pleasure to look at.”
“This is a masterpiece too,” said Fumagalli. “It's God's handiwork, or didn't you know?”
In the deputy police chief's head, the suspicion that lengthy and involuntary interactions with human corpses had finally undermined the Livornese physician's mental equilibrium finally became a certainty.
“Can I smoke in here?” asked Rocco, slipping his hand into his pocket.
“Of course. You want me to get you a whiskey, or maybe something a little lighter? Shall I put on some lounge music? Would you like that? All right, let's get to work.”
The medical examiner pointed to a point on the corpse's right pectoral: “He has a tattoo.”
Some writing and signs that Rocco couldn't decipher. “What's it say?”
said Alberto. “Luckily, I was able to read it.”
“But what is it?”
“It's a Hindu mantra. It means roughly: âMay no obstacle arise between us.' ”
“And how do you know that?”
Alberto smiled behind his thick-lensed glasses. “I'm a guy who knows how to find out things.”
The dead man's face was crushed. Out of the red-and-black mush, which reminded Rocco of a painting by a major Italian artist whose name he couldn't quite recall, jutted teeth, bits of lips, yellowish filaments.
“This is the first strange thing,” Alberto began, lifting a piece of handkerchief that must once have been a bandanna.
“Indeed, how very strange,” said Rocco, “a piece of handkerchief. Never seen anything like it.”
“All right, let's cut out the cheap irony, if you don't mind.”
“Okay. But you started it when you brought up the whiskey and the lounge music.”
“So the dead man has this red handkerchief in his trachea.”
“In his what?” asked Rocco.
“In his trachea.”
“Is there any way that the snowcat shoved it in when it ran over his face?” Rocco hypothesized.
“No. It was crumpled up. And when I unfolded it, look at the treat I found inside.” Alberto Fumagalli pulled out a sort of metal cup in which a slimy purple thing lay, with what appeared to be two little mints beside it.
“What's that? A piece of rotten eggplant?”
“Oh, Jesus fuckingâ”
“And there were a couple of teeth to go with it. You see? They look like two Tic Tacs.” The doctor continued, “The snowcat crushed the poor man's head, and the pressure pushed in this piece of handkerchief. It was in his mouth.”
“It made him swallow it?”
“Or else he swallowed it himself.”
“Sure, but if he swallowed it, then he was still alive!”
“Maybe so, Rocco. Maybe so.” Alberto took a deep breath. “So then I expressed the hypostases.”
Fumagalli rolled his eyes in annoyance.
“Why are you getting pissed off? I studied law, not medicine! As if I were to ask you to define
is a Latin term for âacquisitive prescription,' in which ownership of property can be gained through continuous possession thereof, beyond a specified period of timeâ”
“Enough!” Rocco interrupted him. “Let's get back to these hypotheses.”
“Hypostases,” Alberto corrected him. “Now then, hypostases form when the heart stops beating. Blood pressure drops, and the blood flows by gravity to the lowest areas of the corpse. And since the body was lying in a supine position . . . there, you see?” Fumagalli gently lifted the poor wretch's torso. There was a squeaking sound, as if he'd dragged a jellyfish across the floor. “You see these reddish-purple spots?”
They were barely visible. They looked like very faint bruises.
“Yes,” said Rocco.
“When the heart stops pumping, then what happens? The blood follows its most natural path, that is, wherever the force of gravity tends to pull it. Are you with me?”
“I'm with you.”
“Good. The body was lying supine, and therefore the blood flowed to the back. Yesterday when I got there, they were just starting to form.”
“Which means what?”
“These things form three or four hours after death. That means this poor sucker died more or less three hours before I got there. So I got there at about ten, and he died between six and seven. More likely seven than six, I'd say.”
“He didn't die. He was
between six and seven.”
“If you want to be exact. That's right.”
Rocco Schiavone went on staring at those mangled remains. “Also in an attempt to be exact, could you tell me
someone killed him?”
“I'll have to take a look at the internal organs. To rule out poisoning or suffocation. That'll take me a little while. Come with me.” The doctor moved away from the autopsy table. But Rocco stood there a little longer, staring at the mass of flesh and blood that had once been a man's face. “The more I look at it, the more I'm reminded of a painting by an artistâdoesn't it remind you of that painter? The one who used to make black burn marks on a red background and whoâ”
“Burri,” Alberto replied as he pulled open a drawer in a cabinet next to the door. “I was reminded of him myself.”
“Burri, that's right. Exactly.” Rocco caught up with the doctor. “No, it's just that if a person tries to remember a thing and he can't quite get it, he might wind up killing a bunch of neurons. Burri. What's that?” he asked the medical examiner, who was holding out another plastic bag.
“In here is the rest of the handkerchief. It was hanging out of his mouth.”
“Did the snowcat cut it? Weird. That seems pretty odd to me.”
“My job is to analyze corpses. Yours is to understand how they got that way.”
Rocco pulled away from the wall and grabbed the door handle.
“Wait! There's one last thing that will interest you.” The doctor picked up two plastic bags. One contained a glove. The other held a pack of cigarettes. “Now, then. These were found in the inside pocket of the down jacket. An empty pack of Marlboro Lights, and this glove. Black. A ski glove. Colmar brand.”
“Ah. Okay, good. We've found one glove. What about the other?”
“You know something, Alberto? This is a pain in the ass, number ten on the scale, summa cum laude.”
“The mother of all pains in the ass!”
Cursing under his breath, Rocco walked through the door and left the doctor with his patients.
Italo was outside the hospital smoking a cigarette. Rocco walked past him. “You're so damned helpful, Italo.”
The officer flicked away his cigarette butt and followed the deputy police chief. “It was because of the taste in my mouth.”
“Fine, but now that you're sure to have the breath of a cesspool, do me a favor and don't talk in the car.”
“I've got chewing gum.”
“Well, chew it,” Rocco ordered him as he got into the car.
They hadn't gone fifty yards before Rocco's cell phone started ringing.
“Who is it?”
“Dottore, it's me, Officer D'Intino.”
“To what do I owe the honor?” asked Rocco, lighting yet another of Italo's Chesterfields.
“Did you call me âyour honor'?” D'Intino replied, in confusion.
Rocco sighed and, with endless patience, replied, “No, D'Intino, I didn't. It's just a figure of speech. What can I do for you?”
“Ah, yes, I didn't think so. Well, I called you to say . . .” And with that the line went dead.
“Hello? D'Intino, hello?”
Static and sighs from the other end of the line.
“Officer D'Intino, hello?”
“Yes? I'm listening, Dottore!”
“You're listening, my ass! What is it? Why did you call me?”
“Ah yes, in fact. I was looking, as you ordered me, to see if there were any missing-person reports, people who fail to come home, in other words, that kind of thing.”
“There was no need. Just a little while ago, Luisa came into the police station.”
Rocco, struggling to control himself, held in the curse of all curses he was about to utter. “Officer! Who is Luisa?” he shouted.
“Luisa Pec. She says that her husband never came home last night. Or this morning, for that matter.”
“So where is this Pec?”
“Who even knows where he is, Dotto'? Luisa says the man's disappeared!”
“Where's Luisa Pec! Not her husband!” shouted Rocco at the top of his lungs. Italo was barely able to stifle his laughter.
“Ah . . . she's here . . . Hold on, should I put her on?”
“What are you talking about? Put who on, D'Intino?” Rocco stared at Italo. “I'm going to kill him. I swear to all the saints in heaven, I'm going to kill him. Listen to me, Officer D'Intino, are you there?”
“All right.” Rocco took two quick breaths and tried to calm down. “Now do me a favor and tell Signora Luisa Pec to wait for me in the police station, and tell her we'll be there soon. Is that all clear?”
“Yes, Dottore. Certainly. You'll be here any minute. Now, if I can stop looking for missing persons, then I can start organizing the files in the personnel office, because today Officer Malta is sick, so I couldâ”
“No. Go on looking. We don't know for sure that this Luisa Pec is the right person, do we?”
“True. You have a point, Commissario.”
“Oh, go fuck yourself, D'Intino!”
Rocco hung up. He looked at Italo. “Her husband hasn't come home and first thing, people assume the worst. For all we know, the guy's holed up with some chippie.”
Italo nodded as he accelerated toward the police station. “Dottore, listen, if you want I can have a word with D'Intino and tell him not to call you anymore.”
“Let it be. He wouldn't understand. He's my nemesis. You know, when you've done a few things that are just so-so? There's such a thing as divine justice. And I'm paying it. D'Intino is just a tool that God Almighty is using to punish me. A man's got to accept his fate!”
“But why? What did you ever do?”
Rocco crushed out the cigarette in the ashtray and looked at Italo. “One or two things you already know. You've been looking through the papers.”
“The most normal thing in the world. I'd have done the same thing. Let's just say that it was best for me to make myself scarce down in Rome. Decisions from on high.”
“No, you don't see. But let it suffice.”
Luisa's eyes were the first thing he noticed. Big baby blues. Along with the oval face and copper blond hair that made her vaguely resemble an Italian-English actress.
“Greta Scacchi,” Rocco whispered to officer Pierron as he approached Luisa, who was sitting waiting on a bench.
“Huh?” asked Italo.
“She looks like Greta Scacchi. The actress. You know the one?”