Authors: Andrea Camilleri
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
Praise for Andrea Camilleri
and the Montalbano Series
“There’s a deliciously playful quality to the mysteries Andrea Camilleri writes about a lusty Sicilian police detective named Salvo Montalbano.”
The New York Times Book Review
“The books are full of sharp, precise characterizations and with subplots that make Montalbano endearingly human . . . Like the antipasti that Montalbano contentedly consumes, the stories are light and easily consumed, leaving one eager for the next course.”
New York Journal of Books
“This series is distinguished by Camilleri’s remarkable feel for tragicomedy, expertly mixing light and dark in the course of producing novels that are both comforting and disturbing.”
“The novels of Andrea Camilleri breathe out the sense of place, the sense of humor, and the sense of despair that fills the air of Sicily.”
“Hailing from the land of Umberto Eco and La Cosa Nostra, Montalbano can discuss a pointy-headed book like
Western Attitudes Towards Death
as unflinchingly as he can pore over crime-scene snuff photos. He throws together an extemporaneous lunch . . . as gracefully as he dodges advances from attractive women.”
Los Angeles Times
“In Sicily, where people do things as they please, Inspector Montalbano is a bona fide folk hero.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Sublime and darkly humorous . . . Camilleri balances his hero’s personal and professional challenges perfectly and leaves the reader eager for more.”
“Camilleri is as crafty and charming a writer as his protagonist is an investigator.”
The Washington Post
“Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Sicily’s mean streets.”
“Camilleri can do a character’s whole backstory in half a paragraph.”
The New Yorker
“[T]he humor and humanity of Montalbano make him an equally winning lead character.”
Also by Andrea Camilleri
The Shape of Water
The Terra-Cotta Dog
The Snack Thief
Voice of the Violin
Excursion to Tindari
The Smell of the Night
Rounding the Mark
The Patience of the Spider
The Paper Moon
The Wings of the Sphinx
The Track of Sand
The Potter’s Field
The Age of Doubt
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A PENGUIN MYSTERY
THE DANCE OF THE SEAGULL
Andrea Camilleri is the author of many books, including his Montalbano series, which has been adapted for Italian television and translated into nine languages. He lives in Rome.
Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator and the author of three books of poetry.
THE DANCE OF THE SEAGULL
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 707 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3008, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa), Rosebank Office Park, 181 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North 2193, South Africa, Penguin China, B7 Jiaming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Penguin Books 2013
Copyright © Sellerio Editore, 2009
Translation copyright © Stephen Sartarelli, 2013
All rights reserved
Originally published in Italian as
La danza del gabbiano
by Sellerio Editore, Palermo.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
[Danza del gabbiano. English]
The dance of the seagull / Andrea Camilleri ; translated by Stephen Sartarelli.
“A Penguin mystery.”
1. Montalbano, Salvo (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 3. Italy—Fiction. 4. Mystery fiction. I. Sartarelli, Stephen, 1954– II. Title.
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At about five-thirty in the morning, he could no longer stand lying in bed with his eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.
This was something that had started with the onset of old age. Normally, after midnight, he would lie down, read for half an hour, and as soon as his eyelids began to droop, he would close the book, turn off the lamp on the bedside table, get into the right position—which was always on his right side, knees bent, right hand open, palm up, on the pillow, cheek resting on his hand—close his eyes, and fall immediately asleep.
Often he was lucky enough to sleep through till morning, all in one stretch, but on other nights, such as the one that had just ended, he would wake up for no reason, after barely a couple of hours of sleep, unable for the life of him to fall back asleep.
Once, on the verge of despair, he’d got up and guzzled half a bottle of whisky in the hope that it would put him to sleep. The upshot, though, was that he showed up at headquarters at dawn, completely drunk.
He got up and went to open the French door leading onto the veranda.
The dawning day was a thing of beauty. All polished and clean, it looked like a just-painted picture, the paint still wet.
The surf, however, was a little rougher than usual.
He went outside and shuddered from the cold. It was already mid-May. Normally it would be almost as hot as in the summer, whereas it still felt like March.
And it looked as if the day would go to the dogs by late morning. To the right, behind Monte Russello, a few black clouds were already gathering slowly.
He went inside, into the kitchen, and made coffee. Drinking the first cup, he went into the bathroom. He came out all dressed, poured a second cup of coffee, and went out onto the veranda to drink it.
“Up bright an’ early this mornin’, Inspector!”
Montalbano raised a hand in greeting.
It was Signor Puccio, pushing his boat into the water. He then climbed aboard and started to row, heading for the open sea.
For how many years had Montalbano watched him go through the same motions?
He lost himself gazing at a seagull in flight.
Nowadays one didn’t see many seagulls anymore. They’d moved into town, go figure. And there were hundreds even in Montelusa, a good six miles from the shore. It was as if the birds had grown tired of the sea and were staying away from the water. Why were they reduced to foraging through urban refuse for food instead of feasting on the fresh fish in the sea? Why did they now stoop to squabbling with rats over a rotten fish head? Had they abased themselves on purpose, or had something changed in the natural order?
All at once the gull folded its wings and started to dive straight down towards the beach. What had it seen? But when its beak touched the sand, instead of rising back up in the air with its prey, it crumpled and turned into a motionless pile of feathers lightly fluttering in the early morning wind. Maybe it had been shot, though the inspector hadn’t heard any sound of gunshots. What kind of imbecile would go and shoot a seagull, anyway? The bird, which lay about twenty yards from the veranda, was most certainly dead. But then, with Montalbano still looking on, it sort of shuddered, pulled itself up, staggering to its feet, leaned entirely to one side, opened only one wing, the one closer to the sand, and started spinning around, with the tip of its wing inscribing a circle, its beak pointed upwards towards the heavens unnaturally, its neck all twisted out of shape. What was it doing? Dancing? It was dancing and singing. Actually, no, it wasn’t singing, the sound coming out of its beak was hoarse, desperate, as if it were crying for help. And every so often, still turning round and round, it stretched its neck rather unnaturally upwards, waving its beak back and forth, like an arm and a hand trying to place something at a higher point but not managing to reach it.
In a flash Montalbano jumped down onto the beach and pulled up a step away from the bird. It showed no sign of even having seen him, but immediately its spinning motion became more uncertain and unsteady. Finally, after making a very shrill noise that sounded human, the bird staggered, as the wing gave out from under it, and it collapsed to one side and died.
It danced to its own death
, the inspector thought, shaken by what he’d just seen.
But he didn’t want to leave the bird to the dogs and ants. Picking it up by the wings, he brought it to the veranda, then went into the kitchen to get a plastic bag. He put the bird in the bag and ballasted the package with two heavy stones he kept around the house as ornaments, then took off his shoes, trousers, and shirt, and went onto the beach in his underpants and into the water until it was up to his neck. Then he spun the bag over his head and hurled it as far out to sea as he could.
When he went back into the house to dry himself off, he was livid with cold. To warm up, he made another pot of coffee and drank it scalding hot.
As he was driving towards the Palermo airport at Punta Raisi, his thoughts returned to the seagull he’d seen dancing and dying. For no real reason he’d always had the impression that birds were eternal, and whenever he happened to see a dead one he felt mildly wonderstruck, as if he were looking at something that should never have happened. He was almost positive that the gull he’d watched die had not been shot. Almost positive, that is, because it was possible that it had been struck by a single pellet of birdshot that didn’t draw a drop of blood but was enough to kill it. Did seagulls always die like that, performing that sort of heartbreaking dance? He couldn’t get the image of its death out of his head.
Entering the airport, he looked up at the electronic arrivals board and had the nice and predictable surprise that the flight was running over an hour late.
How could you go wrong? Was there anything whatsoever in Italy that left or arrived at the scheduled time?
The trains ran late, the planes did too, the ferries required the hand of God to put out to sea, the mail we won’t even mention, the buses would actually get lost in traffic, public works projects were usually off by five to ten years, any law whatsoever took years before it passed, trials in the courts were backed up, and even television programs always started a good half hour after the scheduled time . . .
Whenever Montalbano started to think about these things his blood would boil. But he really didn’t want to be in a bad mood when Livia arrived. He had to find some distraction to make the extra hour pass.
The morning drive had whetted his appetite a little. Strange, since he never ate any breakfast. He went into the airport bar, where there was a line as long as at the post office on pension-check days. At last his turn came.
“A coffee and a cornetto, please.”
“You’re already out?”
“No. The delivery’s late today. We should have ’em in half an hour or so.”
Even the cornetti ran late!
He drank his coffee with a heavy heart, bought a newspaper, sat down, and began to read. All idle chatter and hot air.
The government chattered, the opposition chattered, the church chattered, the Manufacturers’ Association chattered, the trade unions chattered, and there was a welter of chatter about a famous couple who had split up, a photographer who had photographed something he wasn’t supposed to, the richest, most powerful man in the country whose wife had written him a public letter chastising him for things he’d said to another woman, and endless chatter and natter about stonemasons falling like ripe pears from scaffolds, illegal aliens drowning at sea, retirees with barely enough rags to cover their asses, and little children being raped.
The papers chattered everywhere and always about every problem in existence, but always idly, without the chatter ever leading to any sort of understanding or concrete action . . .
Montalbano decided then and there that Article 1 of the Italian Constitution needed to be revised to the following: “Italy is a republic founded on drug dealing, systematic lateness, and useless chatter.”
Disgusted, he tossed the newspaper into a trash bin, stood up, went out of the airport, and fired up a cigarette. And he saw seagulls flying very near the shore. At once the seagull he’d seen dance and die came back to him.
Since there was still another half hour before the flight got in, he retraced the incoming path he’d taken with the car until he was a few yards from the rocks and the water. And he stood there, relishing the scent of algae and brine and watching the birds pursue one another.
Then he went back to the airport. Livia’s plane had just landed.
She appeared before him, beautiful and smiling. They hugged each other tight and kissed. They hadn’t seen each other for three months.
“Shall we go?”
“I have to get my suitcase.”
The luggage, naturally, arrived an hour late amidst yells, curses, and protests. But they were lucky it hadn’t been sent on to Bombay or Tanzania.
As they were driving back to Vigàta, Livia said:
“I reserved the hotel room in Ragusa for tonight, you know.”
The plan they’d made beforehand was to travel around for three days in the Val di Noto and visit the Sicilian Baroque towns there, which Livia had never seen before.
But it hadn’t been an easy decision.
“Listen, Salvo,” Livia had said over the phone a week earlier. “I’ve got four days off. What do you say I come down and we spend a little quiet time together?”
“I was thinking we could even do a little tour of Sicily, maybe to an area I’m not familiar with.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea. Especially since there’s not much to do at the station these days. Do you know where you’d like to go?”
“Yes. To the Val di Noto. I’ve never been there before.”
Damn! How did she get it in her head to go there of all places?
“Well, it’s certainly a remarkable place, I’ll grant you that, but believe me, there are other places that—”
“No, I want to go to Noto, in particular. I’m told the cathedral is a pure marvel. Then we could push on to, I dunno, Modica, Ragusa, Scicli . . .”
“Nice itinerary, no doubt about it. But . . .”
“What, don’t you think it’s a good idea?”
“Well, in a general sense, sure, I think it’s a great idea, absolutely. But we should probably inform ourselves first.”
“Inform ourselves of what?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want them to be shooting.”
“What are you talking about? Shooting what?”
“I wouldn’t want to run into a film crew shooting an episode of that television series right as we’re walking around there . . . They film them around there, you know.”
“What the hell do you care?”
“What do you mean, what the hell do I care? And what if I find myself face to face with the actor who plays me? . . . What’s his name—
. . .”
“His name’s Zingaretti, stop pretending you don’t know. Zingarelli’s a dictionary. But I repeat: What do you care? How can you still have these childish complexes at your age?”
“What’s age got to do with it?”
“Anyway, he doesn’t look the least bit like you.”
“He’s a lot younger than you.”
Enough of this bullshit about age! Livia was obsessed!
Montalbano felt offended. What the hell did youth and age have to do with any of this?
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean? Anyway, as far as that goes, the guy’s totally bald, whereas I’ve got more hair than I know what to do with!”
“Come on, Salvo, let’s not fight.”
And so, to avoid a quarrel, he’d let himself be talked into it.