Authors: Antonio Manzini
“Oh! I'm standing here freezing to death! Can I or can't I make this phone call?”
“Certainly, you can make a phone call,” Nora replied. Rocco yanked the quilt off the bed, leaving Nora covered with nothing but sheets, wrapped the quilt around himself, and headed off to the living room.
“Ugh!” Nora cried.
Rocco turned around and looked at her, baffled.
“With that blanket on, you look like an Apache.”
The deputy police chief caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror next to the door. He smiled. He brushed back his hair. “More like a Huron, actually.”
Then, without another word, he vanished through the bedroom door, the Ikea quilt trailing after him.
That's the way it always was. After sex, Rocco Schiavone's mood always turned blacker than a cave's mouth. After four months of going out with him, Nora understood that. What she hadn't yet figured out was that man's timing: before making love, he was intractable. Afterward, even worse. It was only during sex that there was a gap in the clouds and it was possible to glimpse daylightâwhat Rocco could have been if life had smiled at him just a bit more often.
But Nora could hardly spend the rest of her life naked and clinging to Rocco Schiavone's body just for a moment of serenity! No, this was definitely an affair destined to end soon. She knew it.
And he knew it, too.
“Dottor Corsi? Deputy Police Chief Schiavone.”
“Ah! Excellent. You're actually calling a little ahead of the twenty-four-hour deadline. Do you have good news for me?” The police chief's voice was vigorous and vibrant.
“I don't know if it's good. The name of the corpse was Leone MiccichÃ¨. He owned a hut, a chalet up at Cuneaz, above the Champoluc pistes, along with his wife, Luisa Pec, thirty-two years of age, looks a little like Greta Scacchi.”
“She looks like Margherita Buy, not Greta Scacchi,” the police chief replied.
“You know her?”
“Of course. I'm a man who likes to ski, and I often go to eat at the Belle Cuneaz. They make a barley soup that's to die for. I knew them both, you know? Damn it to hell, though, Leone MiccichÃ¨. You've just given me some bad, bad news.”
“I'm sorry,” said Rocco, feeling like an idiot. “Anyway, for now the autopsy hasn't been completed, but judging from the preliminary analyses, Fumagalli is leaning toward a hypothesis of murder.”
“Oh, motherâ!” cursed the police chief, biting back the second word in the phrase. “Would you mind telling me how he can be so certain?”
“Of course. Leone MiccichÃ¨ had a balled-up handkerchief in his mouth.”
“A handkerchief in his mouth?”
“And a section of that handkerchief was found in his trachea. Inside it was a piece of tongue and two teeth. He'd swallowed it, because the trachea is intact. If the snowcat had crushed it in, then the trachea would be shredded, too.”
“That makes sense.”
“Right. And death can be placed around seven in the evening. Fumagalli will be more accurate after he checks body temperature against exterior temperature and so on and so forth. Well, I've told you everything I know. For now. You have plenty of material to give the reporters.”
“I'd like it if you'd come with me to talk to those guys.”
“I'm going up to Champoluc. I don't have any time to waste, Dottore,” Rocco said, dodging the request.
“Of course. Right. You go. Last night the forensics team came up from Turin. They're on the site. You go take a look.” And the police chief hung up without saying good-bye.
Rocco stood up from the armchair. Nora was there, leaning against the door frame, her face fresh with the complexion of the newly awakened.
“Everything you just heard? You never heard it,” said Rocco.
“I sell wedding dresses. I'm no lawyer.”
“Good. Now I have to go. Up. To the village.”
“Of course. Tonight?”
“Tonight I'll definitely be late. I'll be heading home.”
“If you change your mind . . .”
“If I change my mind I'll give you a call; that is, if you still feel like it. I know that sooner or later you're going to tell me to go toâ”
“You're wrong there. I wouldn't tell you that. At least not today. And I'd like to see you tonight.”
“Good. And forgive me. Maybe someday I'll make peace with myself.”
“So you'll call me?”
“I'll call you, Nora.”
“I don't believe you.”
Rocco Schiavone had been staring at the magistrate's closed office door for more than fifteen minutes. By now he knew the pattern of the mahogany grain by heart, and he'd already found in the twisting grain surrounding the knots two elephants, a sea turtle, and a woman's torso, complete with belly button.
He was starting to get annoyed.
He hated being summoned by magistrates, he hated the courthouse, he hated the climate, and above all he hated the fact that it would be more than 3,650 days until he turned fifty-five.
Age fifty-five was the goal he had set for himself.
No longer so young that he could burn the candle at both ends like he had in his twenties, but also not yet so old that he was confined to a wheelchair, drooling soup into his lap and swallowing pills all day long.
He'd already selected the location six years ago, after extensive study and discussion with his wife, Marina. Not far from the sea, because he loved salt water, but deep in the country, because Marina loved the country. The Maremma would have been perfect, but it was definitely not a good idea to stay in Italy. In the end, they'd chosen Provence. And he'd take his weary old bones up there to bleach in the sun until death finally separated him from that earthly paradise.
Another 3,650 days.
A farmhouse. In the heart of the country. With at least twenty-five acres, so that he could be sure that there was no asshole sleeping within a stone's throw of him. The farmhouse would need to have at least six bedrooms for his friends from Rome. And a pool. Looking through the listings for properties available under four million euros, there was nothing even remotely resembling that. He was still considerably short on cash. He was thinking about Sebastiano Cecchetti's scheduled arrival when the door to the magistrate's office swung open and Maurizio Baldi appeared. In a jacket and tie, his appearance improved considerably. He no longer looked like one of Rigoni Stern's fellow soldiers lost in the snow of the Ukrainian steppes, as he had the night before. In fact, there was even the hint of a smile on his relaxed face. Rocco had assumed he was hairless under the Russian bearskin hat he'd been wearing at the foot of the cableway; but instead he had a lush head of blond hair, a fine, smooth shock of it dangling over his eyes, which made him look like a member of Spandau Ballet.
“Schiavone,” said the magistrate as he extended his hand.
Rocco stood up and shook hands, then the magistrate showed him in and pointed him to a chair.
The office was small. The usual Italian tricolor, a photograph of the president, diplomas, certificates, and a couple of glass-front bookcases with dozens of tomes that no one had opened in years. On the desk, a code of criminal procedure and a framed photograph, turned facedown.
“We started off on the wrong foot yesterday, Dottore,” said the magistrate, his face finally relaxing into a smile. “But I'm working on a major case of tax evasion, and this corpse arrives at a very inconvenient time.” He stared Rocco in the eye. “I know a lot of things about you. I know why you're here, but I also know that you have an unusually high percentage of solved cases. Is that right?”
“Yes, that's right.” Rocco was being cautious. The man he was looking at might have been the brother of the magistrate he'd met the night before. He didn't seem like the same person at all.
“Well, then. Have you looked into this MiccichÃ¨?”
Rocco nodded. “There's no smoking in here, is there?”
“MiccichÃ¨, Leone. Forty-three years of age. His family lives in the province of Catania, Sicily. They own a major vineyard and winery.”
“Have they been informed?”
“Yes. They're coming north tomorrow.”
“Yesterday I was really on edge,” said the magistrate, suddenly veering off topic.
“There's no need to explain. I was, too.”
“Listen to me, Schiavone. Do you like your job?”
Where is he heading with this?
“No. Do you?”
“Yes, I do. And there are certain days when I feel like telling everyone to go to hell and starting over on an island in the Indian Ocean, just eating coconuts all day.”
“The Indian Ocean is a dangerous place. Tsunamis and seaquakes are everyday events,” said Rocco, who knew all about it. It had been one of the first destinations he'd studied in detail with Marina. “Plus health care is mediocre at best. You should choose a clean, civilized country.”
“Civilized . . .” Baldi said under his breath. “Civilized, sure, you have a point. You know what I was thinking about this morning?”
The question was rhetorical, and Rocco didn't bother to reply.
“I was thinking about soccer teams.”
“And, so, just think about it with me. For instance, do you know what a soccer team does to achieve better performance?”
“They practice?” Rocco guessed.
“That's not all. They buy players. Foreign players. Agreed?”
“Sure. It's trueâjust take a look at the Inter team roster.”
“Exactly. You put together a team with the best players from around the world and you win national and international championships. Correct me if I'm wrong.”
“You're not wrong.”
“Fine, Schiavone. Now let's transfer this concept to our country.”
Rocco crossed his legs. “You've lost me.”
“Let's imagine that, in order to achieve the best results, weâthat is, Italyâgo around the world buying the best players.”
“No, here you have a problem,” Rocco objected. “The Italian national soccer team has to be made up of only Italian players.”
“I'm not talking about soccer anymore. Soccer is nothing but a metaphor. I'm referring to politics. So what would I do? I'll buy a nice Swedish prime minister, say a Reinfeldt; then we put a German in charge of the economy, a BrÃ¼derle; then a French culture minister, say, Christine Albanel; a Danish minister of justice; and there you go! Just think what a dream team you'd have! And finally this country might stop being such a joke. You get what I'm saying?”
The likelihood that the magistrate might be suffering from some form of bipolar disorder surfaced powerfully in Rocco Schiavone's mind. “Loud and clear. A good old-fashioned shopping spree,” he replied, because agreeing wholeheartedly seemed like the safest approach.
“Exactly!” and the magistrate slammed his fist down on his desk. “Exactly, Schiavone. It would be great, don't you think?”
“I'm kidding, obviously. I hope you didn't take me seriously, did you?”
“A little bit, yes.”
“No. In part because it's not enough to put new people in the top positions. In Italy, we need to send half our ruling class into house arrest. But don't worry about me; I'm just a little disgusted at what I see and read in the newspapers every day. Take care of yourself and keep me informed.” He suddenly stood up and extended his hand. Rocco imitated him. As soon as he shook the magistrate's hand, Baldi winked at him. “Let's find this killer, agreed?”
Rocco nodded as he pumped the magistrate's hand up and down. Then his gaze fell on the photograph lying facedown on the desk. The two men stood there, hands clasped, staring at the silver frame. Rocco asked no questions. Baldi offered no information. He shot Rocco a false smile through clenched teeth and released the deputy police chief's hand. Rocco turned on his heels and left the office without another word.
Walking down the courthouse steps, he decided that, mourning or no mourning, he needed to go have a nice long chat with Luisa Pec.
Italo Pierron drove smoothly through the switchback curves that ran from VerrÃ¨s to the Val d'Ayas. Rocco sat there in silence the whole way, looking out the window. Only a tiny patch of blue sky had appeared to break the monotonous gray field of clouds. When the sign warned them that they were entering the township of Brusson, the deputy police chief finally spoke. “Are you married, Italo?”
“No, not engaged either. I had a girlfriend, but we broke up three months ago.”
“I saw her in a restaurant with another man. An old boyfriend of hers.”
“So it hurt my feelings.”
Rocco looked at Italo. He still had the features of a boy, but his mouth, which looked like a cut slashed across the face with a scalpel, aged him by several years. As an old man, he'd definitely have a beard or a mustache to conceal his lip deficit. His head was small and moved jerkily. His slightly prominent nose seemed always to be on the alert. His eyes were dark and deep. Wide awake. Officer Pierron sensed he was being watched. He shot a glance at the deputy police chief, smiled, and resumed his focus on the road ahead.
When Rocco was a boy, he had an encyclopedia of animals, which, along with the
Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook
boys' encyclopedia, constituted the entire household library. The last volume of the encyclopedia of animals, volume five, consisted of plates of illustrations done by first-rate artists from the nineteenth century. It was his favorite. Curled up on the carpet in his bedroom, he'd spend whole afternoons at a time poring over those illustrations, one by one. He'd wondered more than once how those artists had managed to do those paintings of animals. In the first half of the nineteenth century, they didn't have photography at all. And even when they did, it wasn't as if toucans and bats would perch there, obedient and still, happy to sit for their portraits. Then it dawned on him that the painters had worked with stuffed animals as their models. Dead ones. And yet those illustrations endowed the animals with a vitality and a movement that made them seem vividly alive, more alive than any photograph. He loved the colors, the species, especially the ones that had already gone extinct. If it weren't for those pictures, he always thought, we'd now have no idea what a thylacine, or Tasmanian wolf, was even like; and the same applied to the quagga, a subspecies of the African plains zebra. Ever since, whenever he met anyone in real life who reminded him of one of these illustrations, he'd immediately catalog them, like a zoologist with a mental notebook. Italo Pierron was a
. A weasel. He'd met plenty of weasels in his time, but never in the police.