Authors: Antonio Manzini
The deputy police chief extended his hand to the woman, who had risen to her feet and was holding out hers.
“Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone.”
The woman's hand was hard and callused, in sharp contrast with the softness of her face and the curves of her body. On her cheeks, a faint blush made her look hale and healthy.
“Please follow me to my office, Signora Pec.”
Luisa and Rocco walked off down the hallway. “So last night your husband didn't come home?”
“No. He didn't come home last night.”
, take a seat,” and Rocco opened the door.
He immediately noticed a whiff of cannabis and hurried to throw open the window. He gestured to Luisa Pec, who took a seat in front of the desk. Now Rocco could take a closer look at her. Her eyes were dull, marked by circles as deep as trenches. Luisa was the very picture of anxiety, but she still managed to be pretty.
Rocco sat down in his high-backed leather chair. “Tell me all about it,” he said, and placed both elbows on his desk.
“Last night my husband didn't come home.”
“Well, that's a concept I think we've thoroughly examined. What is your husband's name?”
“Leone. Leone MiccichÃ¨.”
“MiccichÃ¨. Not a native of these mountains, unless I'm guessing wrong?”
“Quite right. He's from Catania.”
“Where do you live?”
“Leone and I have a chalet in Cuneaz.”
“On the pistes, about three hundred yards past the end of the cableway. There are a few houses up there, practically a village, I guess, and it's called Cuneaz. Well, that's where we have our hut. Last night Leone went down to town. He always goes down on foot. Then he comes back by the cableway.”
“And you haven't seen him since last night?”
“Since last night.”
Schiavone opened the desk drawer. He had a sudden urge to smoke another joint, maybe just a couple of quick puffs, but instead he opted for a more official Camel. “Mind if I smoke?”
“No. I don't smoke myself, but Leone does and I've gotten used to it.”
“What was your husband going to do in town?”
“He generally went down every other day. He'd just head down, see some people, drop by the bookstore, pick up a novel. That kind of thing.”
Rocco lit his cigarette. “But last night he didn't come home . . .”
“No. I heard about what happened and I couldn't sleep all night long. The person you found, did he have any ID?”
Rocco halted her with a wave of his hand. “Signora Pec, unfortunately we don't know the identity of the person we found last night.”
Luisa gulped and swallowed a bundle of anxiety. Then tears welled up in her eyes.
“Maybe your husband slept in town last night, don't you think? He might have had too much to drink and . . .”
“He'd have called me this morning!”
Schiavone smiled. “Signora, when a guy's had way too much to drink, the next morning he won't even know where he is, take it from me.”
“You see, Dottor . . .”
“Schiavone. Before coming here today, I went to all the places Leone usually goes. Last night, nobody saw him.”
A tear slid down Luisa's cheek. Rocco sat there looking at her face. He was attracted by the slightly downturned lips, which gave her an expression that was at once surprised and sensual. Tears and sadness looked out of place on that healthy, vital complexion. And that odd counterpoint, so unmistakable, aroused the deputy police chief to a surprising degree. Luisa wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her Patagonia sweater.
“Would you like a glass of water, signora?”
Luisa shook her head. “No. I wonder if I can go take a look at the man you found. At least that way I could set my fears to rest, no? I can't stay up at the hut all alone. Not as anxious as I feel.”
Rocco stood up and went to the window. He tossed the cigarette butt into the street, then pulled the window shut. “Tell me something: this hut, this chalet, exactly what is it? A lean-to of some kind?”
“No, Dottore. It's a small bar and trattoria up in the mountains. There was a time when huts were just huts. Now they're chalets, did you know that? We serve food and drinks, and the place is furnished better than a boutique in Milan.”
“Ah. And does it make money?”
“If the season is successful, yes. It makes plenty of money.”
Rocco leaned his forehead against the glass and watched the sidewalks, dotted with snow. A woman holding a child by the hand crossed the street. “How much can you make with a chalet?”
“Why? Are you thinking of finding a new line of work?”
Rocco laughed. “That'd be nice.” Then, at last, he turned around and looked at Luisa Pec, sitting across the desk from him. “No. It's just to help me understand. I've only been here a few months. I come from Rome, and let's just say that the mountains and me are as distant as . . . as Rome and the mountains.”
A small smile broke the worry lines on Luisa's face; it lit up as if someone had touched a lit match to a lamp wick inside. “Well, now, what can I tell you? Enough to earn a perfectly decent living.”
Rocco sat back down in his chair. “Do you really want to see him, Luisa? It's not a pretty sight, you know.”
The woman bit her lip. Then she nodded briskly, three times.
Rocco stood up. “The face, if you know what I mean, is no longer recognizable. Maybe if . . .”
“Leone has a tattoo. On his chest.”
Rocco looked down, as if he were searching for a precious object that had just fallen on the floor. The woman sensed that something wasn't right. A gray, invisible veil once again fell over Luisa's pretty face. “What is it, Commissario? What's wrong?”
“I'm not sure that . . . Oh well, forget about that. What does the tattoo say?”
“I have the same tattoo. We got them together. It's a Hindu mantra.
, which meansâ”
“May no obstacle arise between us,” Rocco finished the sentence for her, head bowed.
Luisa's pupils dilated like two oil patches. “But how . . . how did you . . . ?” Then Luisa understood.
And she burst into tears.
He'd managed to avoid the procession to the hospital. He'd let Officer Casella accompany Luisa Pec to see Fumagalli and take care of all the administrative details. He'd delegated the official phone calls that had to be made to the investigating magistrate and the chief of police to Inspector Rispoli, one of the few officers on whom he relied almost blindly.
Now Rocco was sitting at his desk. In front of him, spread out like a sheet, was a map of Val d'Ayas. Across the desk, on the other side, was the raw material the state had provided him with: Officer D'Intino, looking at him blank-eyed, and Special Agent Deruta, still damp, his hair combed back. Inspector Caterina Rispoli with her lively blue eyes was sitting some distance from the pair of them, as if pointing out that her IQ was much higher than her colleagues'. The deputy police chief looked at his two male officers. He knew perfectly that the task he was about to assign them went well beyond their skill sets, but he also knew that the task would keep them busy for a long time, and the thought of not seeing D'Intino and Deruta wandering around police headquarters put him in a good mood.
“All right, listen up. As Deruta was saying, I have a very important job for you.”
Deruta gulped with excitement.
“It's going to be a time-consuming, nerve-jangling, challenging task. But it's a job that only two smart, bold, and completely discreet officers can complete.”
“Go ahead, Dottore,” Deruta broke in, his chest swelling with pride and eagerness.
“D'Intino. Deruta. Now I want the two of you to make the rounds of all the carabinieri barracks, hotels, pensiones, and rentals in”âand here the deputy police chief shot a glance at the mapâ“Champoluc, Brusson, Antagnod . . . In other words, let's include all the townships close to Champoluc in a range of thirty miles or so.”
“That'll take forever!” said Deruta through clenched teeth.
“Yes,” said Rocco, “but that's exactly why I chose the two of you.”
“I don't understand,” said D'Intino.
“That's nothing new. So what am I asking you to do? I want the identity details of all the people who registered in any of these places. And I want first and last names of everyone who rented a house, a room, a stable, or a grotto in the past week.”
“Who are we looking for?” asked Officer Deruta.
“If I knew that, I'd give you their first and last name and tax number, no? All right, then, D'Intino! Deruta! The two of you get going. And remember: Inspector Rispoli is in charge, from headquarters. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” replied Rispoli.
Deruta and D'Intino exchanged angry glances. Inspector Rispoli had enlisted only a year ago, and already she was in charge.
“So, Rispoli,” the deputy police chief continued, “I want you to man the phone, the fax, and the computer and take down all the information that comes in from our officers. You're in charge of the whole operation.”
Rocco looked at the two male cops. “Something wrong? You look like you have questions.”
Finally Deruta screwed up his nerve. “No, it's just that, well, I was wondering ifâ”
“You're not being paid to wonder. You're being paid to do what I tell you. Now, here's one important thing.” Rocco picked up the map and tried to fold it. Unsuccessfully. In the end he crumpled it into a ball and tossed it onto the floor. “How the fuck are you supposed to fold up these piece-of-shit maps! SoâI was telling you something important! You can skip families with children and excursions and field trips or any groups that have to do with the church. Everyone else, get me the names as quickly as you can. Go in peace.”
Deruta and D'Intino rushed to the door and vanished. Caterina Rispoli followed them. Rocco called her back. “Keep an eye on Laurel and Hardy.”
Caterina smiled. “All right. Don't worry.”
For four months, as far as Deputy Police Chief Schiavone was concerned, Caterina Rispoli had been just a uniform with short hair. But when he saw her smile for the first time after 120 days, he understood that, under the collar badges and regulation shoes, there was a woman. Twenty-four years old, with big eyes and somewhat droopy eyelids, her cheeks sprinkled with freckles and her mouth, small and sensuous. On her nose, a tiny hump, a slight imperfection that suited her. Her body, bundled into its uniform, was an exotic land awaiting discovery. But the deputy police chief's gaze, more penetrating than an X-ray, was capable of guessing that there, too, Inspector Rispoli acquitted herself with distinction.
Her tits must tilt up
, Rocco decided.
There was only one detail left to examine. “Very well, Inspector. You can go.”
Caterina Rispoli turned around, and Rocco's appraising eye immediately shot, like a hawk pouncing on a mouse, to the firm and shapely buttocks of the young police functionary.
He'd have to find out if she had a boyfriend. He hoped she did. Fewer headaches that way.
Sitting at the bar and sipping an espresso, Rocco Schiavone heard a church bell ring the hour of noon. He didn't feel like going home. He wasn't hungry. He limited himself to watching the gray sky where the clouds raced after one another in layers, in a competition without meaning.
“Dottore, do you want something to eat?” Ugo, the proprietor of the bar across from police headquarters, asked him. Rocco shook his head no. He just sat there, looking up at the sky.
How much longer could he stand living in this city? There was nothing familiar here. Everything about Rocco Schiavone was in Rome. And had been for forty-six years.
A handkerchief in the mouth
, he thought.
The last thing they needed was a settling of accounts among Sicilian families at the foot of Monte Rosa.
“Can a guy surrender?” Rocco asked the glass pane of the window overlooking the street.
But it was Ugo's voice that answered him. “Of course he can. But I'd rather go on fighting than let myself be taken prisoner.”
Rocco smiled. And at that very moment, a piercing, unpleasant sound from his cell phone informed him that he'd just received a text.
You going to come see me?
It was Nora. He'd forgotten about her.
He had a choice between going to her apartment in Duvet and going to Champoluc to start doing his job.
He opted for the first choice.
“Can I make a phone call?” Rocco asked as he got up from the bed.
Nora watched his ass. It was a nice ass. Muscular, firm, round. A little less nice where the legs were concerned. Too skinny for a man, they would have been nicer on a young lady. But at least they were straight. Perhaps Rocco Schiavone would benefit from a little diet and some exercise. Not so much for the love handlesâNora knew that after a certain age you just can't get rid of them, and also, according to a study done by one of the usual American universities somewhere in the Ohio hinterland, it was also a genetic issue if a man couldn't achieve a sculpted six-pack. And the biceps weren't bad, either. But a diet and the occasional workout would have toned him up nicely, along with his chest muscles. They were starting to droop. “Why don't you go to the gym every once in a while?” she asked him.
Rocco looked himself over. “I never have before. Why should I start now?”
“I don't know.”
“So can I make this phone call, yes or no?”
“You know that you have a nice nose?” Nora asked, pulling the blankets up to cover her breasts. “It's long and pointy. Funny. And look at all that hair! How did that song go?” Nora started singing: “Gimme a head with hair. Long, beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen . . .