Authors: Magdalen Nabb
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
Copyright © 1993 by Magdalen Nabb
and 1998 by Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich
Published in the United States in 2009 by
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nabb, Magdalen, 1947-2007.
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini / Magdalen Nabb.
1. Guarnaccia, Marshal (Fictitious character)-Fiction.
2. Police—Italy-Florence—Fiction. 3. Authors—Crimes
against—Fiction. 4. Florence (Italy)—Fiction. I. Title.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Although this story is set very specifically in Florence and its environs, all the characters and events in it are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to any real person, either living or dead.
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
'I suppose I might have pushed her.'
you might have pushed her?' The Public Prosecutor's voice rose on the last word and then he paused. A nervous cough echoed round the high courtroom as though between movements at a concert. The silence stretched out. Sweat began to gleam on the prisoner's bony forehead. The Prosecutor whisked back the black silk wings of his gown and attacked.
'Did you or did you not push her?'
'I did! I did push her, I suppose . . .'
'And do you also suppose that you pushed her hard enough to knock her to the floor?'
He was such a puny creature it was difficult to imagine him knocking anybody down. His pale limp hair was greasy and his clothes looked too big, like hand-me-downs, though it was likely he'd lost weight in prison. He was in his thirties, but the thin shoulders and vacant, bruised-looking eyes gave him the look of a half-starved, battered child. His knees and hands were pressed together as though he needed to work at keeping his balance on the isolated plastic chair. He was shaking, though, so perhaps that was what he was fighting against. Not from guilt, not from the memory of that night. He was only afraid of what was happening to him.
'She did fall . . . ' His eyes strayed to the cages on the left where a more robust prisoner wept silently into his hands, his body rocking slightly.
'Please answer the question!'
'She . . . ' He dragged his gaze away from the cage but it was clear that he didn't remember what the question was. 'She did fall . . . She was drunk, though.'
'She was drunk.' The Prosecutor's habit of repeating everything he said would have unnerved the most innocent witness, but this man was beyond the reach of such pinpricks. Again his eyes swivelled to the cage. Only half his attention was on the Prosecutor's questions.
'So: she was drunk, you pushed her and she fell. Is that all?'
An incomprehensible mumble.
'Please speak up so that the court can hear your answers!'
'She might have banged into something.'
'Banged into something? A wall? A floor? A piece of furniture? What might she have banged into?'
'There was a chest of drawers in the entrance near where she fell.'
The sobs of the prisoner in the cage now became audible throughout the courtroom. This evidently didn't displease the Prosecutor since it provided suitable sound effects for his climax.
'And so, Your Honour, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Anna Maria Grazzini, aged thirty-five and in robust health, after receiving "a bit of a push" and falling near a chest of drawers—was found dead on arrival at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova from injuries which included a fractured jaw and cranium, five broken ribs and a punctured pancreas! She must have fallen very
wouldn't you say, Signor Pecchioli?'
It was well-judged. The background sobbing noise had risen as his voice rose, describing the horror of that Christmas Eve.
'Your Honour, I would like the photographs of Anna Maria Grazzini to be shown to the jury.'
One by one they looked at the photographs and you could see their eyes glazing over in the hope of dutifully looking without actually seeing. All of them then looked at the puny creature on the plastic chair more intently.
The Prosecutor knew his business all right but it was so unnecessary. Pecchioli had no hope of saving himself. He was only waiting for it to be over, to get back to the safety of his cell, eat something, have a smoke. The photos had provided cover for some serious coughing and nose-blowing. At least half the people in court must have been at some stage of the influenza which an unnaturally warm February had helped to spread throughout Florence. The photographs were removed.
The defence was trying for manslaughter for all three accused but given what had happened afterwards there was no real hope. Pecchioli's lawyer probably had his thoughts, too, on lunch and a good bottle of wine. He wasn't even looking at the Prosecutor who was on his feet and proceeding.
'Did you hit Anna Maria Grazzini after she fell near the chest of drawers?'
'No. I never hit her. No.'
'Then how do you account for the injuries I've just described? I take it that you can account for them? You were there. You pushed her, you
At any rate, she fell. What happened next?'
'I tried . . . ' His voice failed and he coughed, then stopped. The small hand with chewed nails reached out towards the microphone without quite touching it, as though that might be the cause.
'I—she was drunk. I tried to make her get up.'
'How? Did you kick her?'
'I might have prodded her a bit with my foot, like you would.'
'We all did. She was drunk. She wouldn't get up.'
We'll come to what you all did in a moment. Where exactly did you, as you put it, prod her? Or would it be more precise to say kicked her? More, as it might be, concomitant with the nature, extent and gravity of the resulting injuries?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'In what sense do you not know what I mean? Are you suggesting—'
'It's the words you're using. They're too long. I don't know what you're saying.'
For a moment the Prosecutor was nonplussed and it was written all over his face just how mortified he was that a little runt like that had dared to interrupt him mid-sentence and criticize his language. He soon recovered and started speaking slowly and clearly as though to a foreigner.
you . . .
kick . . . Anna Maria Grazzini
her so that
'I probably . . . ' His voice failed again and you could see his Adam's apple working as he swallowed repeatedly. 'I can't remember. I was pissed off with her because it was Christmas. Because of the kid. I probably kicked her a bit, we all did. She wouldn't get up.'
'Whose idea was it to do what you did next? Yours?'
'I don't know. We were all in a state. It was all of us . . . I don't know . . .'
'Who made the first telephone call?'
'Chiara . . . She called the police.'
'And was this call made from the flat?'
'No. They went to a call-box.'
'And you remained behind?'
'Somebody had to stay with the kid. There were two of them so they could manage . . . they could manage to . . .'
The Prosecutor made no comment. The jury knew what they had managed to do, they'd already heard the evidence of Mario Saverino whose sobs had now turned to rhythmic groans. He had cried throughout his cross-examination.
Having given the jury a moment to consider what had been 'managed', the Prosecutor continued.
'However, you do know the outcome of that call to the police because Chiara Giorgetti and Mario Saverino then telephoned you, did they not?'
'To tell you what?'
'The police wouldn't come. They said it was none of their business and to call an ambulance.'
'And did they call an ambulance?'
'No. They told me they were going to the Palazzo Pitti and that I should wait ten minutes and then call there.'
'Which you did?'
'You waited, I take it, the full ten minutes?'
This, too, was allowed to sink in before the next question was put with an almost casual air.
'Tell me, when you last saw Anna Maria Grazzini, was she conscious?'
Pecchioli took a long time to consider this but couldn't produce an answer.
'Could she speak?' prompted the Prosecutor.
'Nothing you could understand.' And again he insisted, 'She was drunk.'
'There was a great deal more than that wrong with her at the time we're speaking of! Did she attempt to speak or make any noise of any kind?'
'She was making a noise . . . noises . . . short grunting noises, like a dog when it's going to be sick.'
'No further questions.' The Prosecutor adjusted his gown and was seated.
The judge looked up, his face expressionless.
The judge looked around him. 'Did I understand that we're not to hear the pathologist's evidence until tomorrow for some reason?'
The Prosecutor shot to his feet. 'That is correct, Your Honour, he—'
'Very well. Call your next witness, please.'
'Call Salvatore Guarnaccia, Marshal-in-Chief of the Carabinieri, in command of the Pitti Palace Station.'
The Marshal had been sitting through all this with his big hands planted on his knees, his huge eyes almost unblinking, his forehead creased in concentration. Filled with apprehension, he now got slowly to his feet.
'Salva? Is that you? How did it go?'
'It didn't.' He placed his hat on the hall table and went straight into the bedroom to change out of uniform. Usually he wandered into the kitchen first to say Hello and see what was for lunch. Teresa registered this symptom of ill-temper and salted the water which had just come to the boil. When he did appear she was tearing open a fresh packet of spaghetti.
'How do you mean, it didn't go? Do you want pasta or not?'
'No. Yes. Just a bit. Or I could just have salad.'
'You can't live on salad—for goodness' sake, Salva, you ate three pieces of chocolate cake last night and now it's salad. Your liver doesn't know whether it's coming or going and neither do I. Why can't you eat sensibly? I'll be glad when the boys get back and we've done with this whole business.'
The idea, the Marshal's not his wife's, was that while the two children were away skiing on their school trip he should take the opportunity to detoxify his liver. The process involved days of picking morosely at bowls of salad, punctuated by episodes like the chocolate cake which he had consumed in equally morose silence, fixing every forkful with a gaze so filled with sorrow and resentment that it might have been the cake eating him.
Teresa shot the pasta into the water and give it a brisk stir.
'I've put a bit in for you. The most sensible thing to do is to eat a half portion of pasta without the sauce and don't drink any wine. Then a bit of salad.'
There was no denying the truth of this. There was also no denying that a dish of white spaghetti accompanied by a glass of water would depress the most cheerful of spirits.
'It'll be five or six minutes.'
The Marshal stumped off to the sitting-room and switched on the television news. Her voice followed him.
'If we'd taken them skiing ourselves you could have done some walking, got some fresh air and exercise and really done something for your health, never mind picking at salads. And what's more it wouldn't have cost half of what we've paid out for two of them if we'd stayed at the military skiing club, but it's like talking to a wall . . .'
The news on channel two was finishing and the Marshal switched to channel one.
'I wouldn't care if you'd anything concrete to say against it!'
That was true. The Marshal rarely offered arguments. He either did things or remained inert. He didn't like mountains.
'Mohammed!' With this finale the contents of the pan sloshed into the colander and the Marshal, hearing it, got to his feet.
He lingered a moment to watch two more politicians being led off in handcuffs, then switched off.
'Country's ruled by bandits,' he announced, reappearing in the kitchen.
'Mind out of my way. You will plant yourself in the middle of the kitchen like a road block when I'm cooking . . . Have I put the bread out? I haven't . . . Salva, I need to get to the cupboard . . . ' The protest was automatic and rhetorical. In fifteen years of marriage she had lost hope of curing him of this habit of fetching up like a beached whale wherever the action was. The rest of the family just had to flow round him as they might a cumbersome piece of furniture.
Once they were at table she took a closer look at him and said, 'You're hungry, that's what's the matter with you.'
'I've wasted my whole morning, that's what's the matter.'
'What? Because you had to go to court?'
'Because I was there for hours and when they got to me the defence suddenly asked for an adjournment. Some problem over the child's evidence and whether she should be made to testify against her own mother.'
'Well, I'm not surprised. I only know what I read in the papers, of course . . . ' Another piece of habitual rhetoric. He never told her anything, or so she said. 'Still, I'd say that child had been through enough without having to appear in court. Having to sit there in front of all those people and answer questions, imagine . . .'
The Marshal, who had been imagining nothing else for the last few days, said crossly, 'I can't eat this without even a drop of oil—it's all sticking together!'
Teresa gave him a brief trickle of oil and a teaspoonful of grated cheese. 'You're not still worrying yourself over this new system, are you? It's the same for everyone, you know, Salva. I'm sure even the judges and lawyers won't be finding it easy, either.'
'Judges and lawyers have university degrees. And besides, I'm too old.'
'Old? What d'you mean, old?'
'I mean too old to be studying. That sort of thing's all very well when you're twenty—not that I was any good at it then . . . ' He glowered sideways at the glass of water that should have been wine.
'You might as well give me your plate. That pasta's stone cold by now. Have some salad. Anyway, it's not as though you've never been in court before.'
'Hmph. Giving my name and rank and confirming that my written report was accurate. Thank you and goodbye.'
'For heaven's sake, Salva, anybody would think you were on trial yourself. There's no reason why you should be frightened of being cross-examined.'
'How do you know about being cross-examined?'
'I watch Perry Mason. You sleep through it.'
She started clearing away. 'I'll put the coffee on. Why don't you have a pear, they're lovely. It's raining again! What a miserable day.' She switched the light on and filled the coffee pot.
He peeled the pear slowly. Was it worth going through the copy of his report yet again this evening? He wasn't even sure now when he would be called. He'd tried to learn the thing by heart, especially the dates and times and so on. It was only too easy to imagine himself with a mental block in the face of some clever lawyer who might try to confuse him or somehow trip him up. Make him look a fool, at the very least Grim memories of oral exams at school surfaced to make him cringe with embarrassment after all those years. At least now they couldn't rap his knuckles with a ruler or make him kneel in the corner on grains of rice. Only times he'd been grateful for his plumpness as a lad. His poor little mate, Vittorio, in his oversized hand-me-down clothes had the boniest knees in the class, and he was constantly in trouble. The nuns must have known his mother was a prostitute and they were always hard on him. His knees never got time to heal before Sister Benedetta had him back in the corner kneeling on the rice again.