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Authors: Maurizio de Giovanni,Antony Shugaar

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BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
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VIII

I
nside the pavilion there was an unnatural silence. As he climbed the broad steps on his way up to the top floor, Ricciardi guessed that the place must normally be much livelier; but that morning the building seemed deserted. The doors lining the hallways were nearly all closed, and you could barely hear the occasional murmur.

They crossed paths with a nun carrying a metal container; Maione raised his fingers to his cap and the nun replied by bowing her head, but continued hurrying down the stairs. On the last landing, they found Rispoli waiting for them with the young female nurse, who had finally stopped crying, though her eyes were still red.

Rispoli said: “Unfortunately the news is starting to get around. When something of this sort happens, people get upset, it's inevitable. Come this way, please. Allow me to lead the way.”

They turned down a hallway at the end of which stood a desk and a large closed door. The nurse said: “That's my desk. I greet people and send them in as soon as it's their turn.”

Ricciardi pointed at the door: “That's the professor's office, right? Has anyone been in here since you arrived?”

“No, Commissario. I didn't even go in. It's too upsetting. I left last night at ten o'clock and the door was shut, and that's the way I found it when I came in at six this morning, after I saw . . .”

She was about to start crying again, but mastered the impulse.

Ricciardi asked her: “Did you say goodnight, yesterday, before leaving? Did he speak to you? Did he seem agitated to you, or worried, or . . .”

“No, he was the same as always. The director . . . wasn't a man who talked a lot, and understandably he didn't confide in me. I asked him if he needed me, whether he'd be staying much longer, and he told me: No, Maria Rosaria, you can go. I'm expecting someone. And I left.”

Maione perked up: “Expecting someone? He didn't say who?”

“No. That's all he said: I'm expecting someone.”

Ricciardi nodded.

“So he had an appointment. After ten o'clock, which is the time when you left, Signorina. Was that normal for him, to receive visitors at such a late hour?”

Zupo seemed uncomfortable; from time to time she'd shoot a glance at Rispoli, who remained impassive.

“The director worked very hard, you know. Basically he was always here. So yes, sometimes he'd have someone come in very late. And not just for professional matters, friends would come too. When you stay in the office all day, that happens.”

“I understand. All right, let's go in.”

On the other side of the door was a very spacious room; the most noteworthy piece of furniture was the desk, a veritable mahogany catafalque, elaborately inlaid, a venerable antique that emanated power and prestige from every ounce of its bulk. Behind it stood an office chair with a broad backrest; to afford ease of access to the work surface, the chair stood atop a dais. Sitting in front of the desk were two more chairs; behind them was a bookshelf loaded with volumes that occupied the whole wall. Next to it was an examination table that terminated in a pair of stirrups. Ricciardi, pointing to the equipment, asked the nurse: “Did the director examine patients here?”

The nurse shrugged: “Not usually, there are rooms in the wards downstairs for that; but sometimes, if he wanted to get a quick impression, yes, he might.”

Facing the desk, against the wall with the office door, were a sofa and two small armchairs and a coffee table. On the remaining wall was the window.

It was wide open. There was no wind, and clearly there had been none during the night, because there were no signs of disarray on the desktop, which was piled with papers. Ricciardi walked over to the window. The sill was low, but still it seemed unlikely that the doctor had accidentally tripped over it and fallen out because he was himself so short. He'd have had to climb onto the sill intentionally, and it would have taken some effort, because there were no step stools; unless someone had moved the step stool after using it.

Maione went over to the desk; Ricciardi walked toward him with a quizzical glance.

“No, Commissa'. Unless I'm mistaken, I don't see any letters of farewell. But he might have left them somewhere else.”

Ricciardi noticed that at one corner of the table sat an object that seemed out of place amongst the papers, folders, and books. A small, closed case. He picked it up and opened it. Inside was a gold ring, an exquisite piece of craftsmanship, with a large diamond in the center. The commissario moved over to the sunlight pouring in through the window and looked down: the drop had to be more than sixty-five feet. The morgue attendants were loading the pine crate containing the remains of Tullio Iovine del Castello, director of the chair of gynecology at the royal university, into the van. All that remained of him now was a dark stain on the ground and, for Ricciardi's exclusive personal use, a dolorous image that kept repeating a phrase, in all likelihood senseless.

Riccardi lifted the ring into the light and saw that there was something engraved on the interior, but the writing was too small. He looked around and, as Maione continued searching for notes that might contain a suicide's last thoughts, he spotted a magnifying glass next to a roll of blotting paper.

He picked up the lens and was finally able to read: “Maria Carmela.” He turned to Rispoli: “What is the director's wife's name? Her given name, I mean.”

Rispoli seemed uneasy. Perhaps he didn't like seeing people rummaging through his boss's office, or maybe it was something else.

“Signora Iovine del Castello's first name is Maria Carmela.”

“In that case,” Maione added, as he went on opening desk drawers, “in a few days it will be her name day. Today is the 8th; the feast of the Madonna del Carmine, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is the 16th.”

Ricciardi said: “And this is her name day gift. Her name is engraved in it.”

Maione, who had just pulled open the last drawer, said: “And here's another one, Commissa'.”

He pulled out a case identical to the first. Ricciardi opened it and found an identical ring, with a slightly larger diamond. He held it up to the light and with the aid of the lens, read: “Sisinella.” Bingo, he said to himself. So that's who you were thinking about when you hit the ground, Mr. Director.

He turned to look at Rispoli, who was staring at the floor, displaying an incipient bald spot on the top of his head. Nurse Zupo was blushing like a schoolgirl caught smoking in a school bathroom.

“Signorina,” said Ricciardi, “go ahead back to your desk and close the door behind you. We'll talk again soon.”

Once the woman had left, he turned to the physician: “Doctor, spare us some pointless effort. Were you aware of some . . . particular friendship on the director's part?”

“No, Commissario. I didn't know anything about any of the director's friendships. I only spent time with him in his working environment, here at the institute, and I know nothing about his life outside of here.”

Maione was done searching the desk and had moved on to the bookshelves; the temperature was rising by the minute, and the brigadier huffed and puffed, occasionally mopping his brow.

“Do you know of anyone who might have held any grudges against him? Any reasons to want to do him harm?”

Rispoli hesitated. His mustache quivered, as if the doctor were about to reply, but then he said nothing.

Ricciardi said: “I beg of you, Doctor. If we were to discover that you were hiding something from us, we'd have no choice but to report you for failure to cooperate with the law.”

Rispoli thought quickly. Then he said: “The work we do here is strange, you know, Commissario. We're physicians and we're teachers, we have to work with sick people, and what we try to do doesn't always work out the way we hope. It's hard to explain to others. People think that, because we're at a university, everything's always going to turn out all right, but in fact . . .”

Ricciardi waited. Rispoli went on: “I'm not telling you anything that isn't public knowledge, nothing that didn't happen in front of witnesses. Last month the director had to perform a particularly challenging operation, because of complications that ensued following a primiparous—a first—childbirth. I was present during the operation, and I can assure you that every step was taken to save the newborn's life as well as the mother's but . . . I'm sorry to say that the woman didn't survive. We did save the life of the baby, a little girl. The husband . . . From time to time, faced with great grief and sorrow, people say things that they'd otherwise never even think. The man tried to attack the director. He told him that . . .”

Ricciardi pressed him: “What did he tell him?”

Rispoli finished his sentence all in a rush: “He swore that he'd kill him.”

IX

Y
ou swore to me, Rosine'. You swore an oath to me. And an oath is something you can never break. When you swear an oath, that's a promise you have to keep.

You swore to me, swore you'd never leave me. Do you remember the first time you said it? No? Because I do. We were in Posillipo, on that narrow little beach. It was hot, just like it is now. So, so hot. But who ever noticed the temperature, hot or cold, when the two of us were together?

And the moon was out, that night. I come from a family of fishermen so I know it, when the moon is out. When the moon makes that highway of silver down the middle of the sea, and the city lights seem like so many stars fallen to earth, and it doesn't matter that they've fallen because there are so many, many more in the sky above. That night, Rosine', there was no one on that beach but you and me. I remember every single one of our kisses. My heart was banging away in my chest like windows swinging in a high wind, like waves slapping against the hulls of the boats,
thump thump thump
. Do you remember, Rosine'? Of course you remember. You were thirteen years old. And I was fourteen.

I never let my hands wander down between your legs. You weren't just some girl to have a good time with. You were the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And you knew that, you knew that what was between us would never end. Everyone in the neighborhood understood that you belonged to me and I belonged to you. Even though my power and my strength grew as I grew older; even though people came to me, little by little, more and more, in search of justice and respect, and you became more and more beautiful. Yes, everyone understood that you were my woman and I was your man, and no one even thought of laying eyes on either one of us.

Do you remember the time, Rosine', when some guy from another neighborhood saw you coming back from the fountain with your girlfriends, loaded down with freshly washed laundry, laughing that laugh of yours that always turned my insides upside down and inside out? Do you remember how, since he didn't know who you were, he walked right up to you, and your girlfriends looked at him, terror on their faces, because they knew exactly what was happening? Do you remember that a
scugnizzo
who was playing nearby came running to get me, and not five minutes later I was there with ten of my friends? And how he ran, I can still see it, with his shirt untucked, and the blood from where I'd stabbed him dripping from his hand. And if he hadn't run for his life he would have been lying dead on the ground, even though you were begging me not to hurt him, because he hadn't done a thing to you. And before nightfall that very day his father, his uncles, and he himself with a bandaged hand had all come to me, to beg for forgiveness and mercy. Do you remember that, Rosine'?

Everything, everything I've ever done in my life I did for you, Rosine'. The business, the apartment, the respect of my friends. Everything. For the dreams we dreamed together, side by side overlooking the water, that night I tasted the flavor of your mouth for the first time, the flavor that poisons me tonight, with the same moon in the sky, and the same mute stars gathering to weep with me. All of this, because of the oath you swore that night. We were children, but your voice was a woman's voice.
I'm not going to leave you, Peppi'. I'll never leave you
.

Oaths are meant to be kept, Rosine'. Oaths are serious business. If you fail to keep an oath, you make a mockery of respect. And respect is the basis of life.

Do you remember the day of our wedding, Rosine'? You were twenty years old. The sun, the sea, and the green of the hills rising before my eyes—none of these are enough to say how beautiful you were that day. It would take the sky reflected in the water, shattering into glittering sparks so they do harm to the eyes and good to the heart, it would take the calm mountain, resting and watching, it would take the trees tossing their branches in the breeze as if to applaud, and the waves breaking white on the rocks to say just how beautiful you were. The neighborhood girls insisted on being your ladies-in-waiting, you were the princess about to become a queen, and they walked one step behind you. And they were laughing in the sunshine when they arrived at the little church of Mergellina, by the sea, the one with the painting of the dragon with a woman's head, the place you had chosen to tell me yes. I was waiting, uncomfortable in a suit I'd never worn, and I was thinking about my father who I'd never met, my father who died at sea, and I was also thinking that I would never, never again be as happy as I was then.

I'll tell you today, Rosine', that you broke the oath you swore that night by the sea: I'd never seen anything as beautiful as your eyes and your smile, as you arrived with the court of your girlfriends at the little church with the woman-headed dragon. And we swore once more, before God, that we'd never leave each other.

An oath is something you never break, Rosine'.

And that night, do you remember that night? I thought I knew everything. My father's brother had taken me up to that place where they teach you. But I didn't know a thing. Your hands, my hands, our skin. With the moonlight pouring in through the window, the moon that had stood by us as our godmother, the same moon. You gave me life, smiling even through the pain, life, and tears of joy. And I wept too, Rosine'. Me, Peppino the Wolf, the boss of the quarter at just twenty-five; Peppino the Wolf, the man who incited respect and terror; Peppino the Wolf wept that night into his pillow, while you slept, happy in my embrace, your lips curving into the half smile of the woman you had become. And while you slept, I chased after the fears of the future. When a man is too happy, he cries, Rosine'. Now that you're gone, now that you've broken your oath, I can tell you.

BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
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