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Authors: Maurizio de Giovanni,Antony Shugaar

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BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
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Ricciardi thought it over.

“Apparently he had his problems on the job, too. You got the details on the guy who threatened the professor's life, didn't you?”

“Of course I did, Commissa'. And if you want to know the truth, the name rings a bell. I must have read it somewhere: Giuseppe Graziani. I even have the address. As soon as we get back to headquarters, I'll run down to the archives and talk to Antonelli, you know yourself that he has an incredible memory, he never forgets a thing.”

“There's something about the mechanics of the professor's death that remains unclear to me. There are no supports in front of the window, and on the windowsill there are no traces or signs on the layer of dust. Either he fell from somewhere else, or else he jumped with a running start, or else . . .”

Maione finished his sentence for him: “Or else someone threw him. The professor struck me as on the heavy side. It must have been someone quite muscular, in that case. And no matter how it happened, Commissa', I checked into it: he can only have fallen from there. Above that window there's a terrace, but the access door is locked and only the custodian has the key; from the rust on the bolt, I'd have to guess that no one's been up there in who knows how long. On the floor below there's a ward with thirty beds, someone would certainly have seen him. From the floor below that, he wouldn't have done himself the damage that he did: he might have gotten off with a broken leg. No, he fell from his office.”

“In other words, we're going to have to wait for Bruno to complete the autopsy. Now let's go talk to the widow. We're going to have to give her some sad news.”

A skeptical smirk appeared on Maione's face: “Are you sure, Commissa'? If he really did die last night, and they called us this morning, it strikes me as odd that his wife still knows nothing.”

They'd reached the piazza, at the center of which stood the statue of a famous mayor of the city who had died forty years earlier. The professor's apartment house was at the corner of Via Wilson, which turned into Via Duomo. It was one of the aristocratic neighborhoods of the city, and like all noble neighborhoods it stood adjacent to a large run-down area, the area that extended along the waterfront.

At the entrance, surrounding a fat woman in tears, stood a small knot of people dressed for work. One of them stood next to a crate full of broccoli. Ricciardi and Maione exchanged a glance; the brigadier sighed and spread his arms wide.

“What did I tell you, Commissa'? This isn't a city where things can happen in a normal manner. Here everything happens either faster or slower than normal. News, for example, travels faster than lightning.”

Ricciardi went over to the group and asked: “Could you tell me where I can find the apartment of Professor Iovine del Castello?”

The fat woman emitted a strangled moan. Then, looking around at the others for comfort, she said: “The professor, I'm sorry to say, has tragically gone to his reward. And if you care to know, I hear that he fell out of his office window, at the general hospital. Poor professor, just yesterday morning he stopped and spoke to me. I can't believe it, the man looked so well . . .”

Maione snorted: “Signo', the man didn't die of an illness, he fell out a window: of course he seemed fine when you saw him. And just who are you, I'd like to know?”

At the sight of the policeman's uniform, which had at first escaped her notice, the woman composed herself instantly: “Ines Renzullo, Brigadie'. I am, if you please, the concierge for this building.”

Maione touched his finger to the visor of his cap: “And I do please, Signo'. And could I know, if
you
please this time, how you knew about his death?”

The woman sniffed: “Signora Carmela called me, the professor's wife, half an hour ago, and told me: ‘Ines, I'm afraid my husband's dead. Please, I don't want to see anyone; anyone who calls, ask them to come back some other time. And please, don't tell anyone.'”

Ricciardi looked around: there were at least ten people between deliverymen, tenants, and mere passersby, standing listening to the concierge's story. Maione figured she must have told that story at least a dozen times by now, and he was willing to bet that with each retelling the story was embellished with new and intriguing details.

“And you, obviously,” he said, pointing to the rapidly swelling crowd, “kept your oath of silence.”

“What does that matter, I only told a couple of my girlfriends, they saw I was upset and they asked me what happened. Is that my fault, if stories get around as fast as they do?”

Ricciardi sighed, discouraged.

“How did you know, if it wasn't Signora Iovine who told you, that the professor fell out his window?”

“I sent my grandson to the general hospital, he's twelve years old and fast as lightning, and he heard it from the people who were standing around there. In ten minutes he was back and he warned me that you were on your way. We were expecting you.”

Maione gave himself a slap in the face: “What the hell was I ever thinking the day I decided to become a policeman in a city like this one? But still I say, will there never be a day, one single day, when we can just calmly go about our jobs? I'd like to be able to pull off a raid, an inspection, a surprise arrest: am I asking too much? Once in my life, and then I swear, I'll retire.”

Ricciardi nodded his head toward the woman, now clearly bewildered: “Pay no attention to him. And, if you please, take us up to see Signora Iovine.”

XIII

I
t took almost a minute before Maria Carmela Iovine del Castello came to the door. She shot the concierge a harsh glare, but then looked past her to Ricciardi and Maione and, seeing the brigadier's uniform, she understood. She turned and went back into the apartment, leaving the front door open behind her. Ines threw her arms wide and trotted away.

The apartment was shrouded in shadows; the shutters were closed. There was a scent of lavender in the air which, along with the heat, gave Maione an immediate headache. Since the only partly illuminated space was the living room, they headed there, where the woman stood waiting for them.

Signora Iovine was of average height, elegant, about forty. Her oval face was longish: there were faint lines on either side of her mouth and on her forehead.

As Ricciardi introduced himself, he extended his own and Maione's condolences, then stepped closer: “Could I ask you how you learned of your husband's death?”

“They phoned from the general hospital. The ward charge nurse, Coppola.”

Maione recalled the large female nurse who had been in the knot of people gathered around the corpse. How diligent, he thought to himself.

Signora Iovine gestured to two chairs: “Have a seat. Can I get you something? An espresso? A rosolio cordial? Forgive me, but in this situation I'm afraid I'm hardly a perfect hostess.”

The two policemen politely declined and sat down. She perched on the sofa.

Ricciardi heaved a sigh.

“We're very sorry, Signora, to disturb you at a time like this. But as you can imagine, time is of the essence. Still, if you don't feel you're up to answering a few questions right now, we can certainly come back some other time.”

“No, Commissario, I understand the urgency and I intend to do what I can to help. I'm the first to want to know what happened.”

Her voice was calm; only her hands, white-knuckled and clenched in fists in her lap, betrayed grief-laden tension.

Ricciardi went on: “We searched your husband's office but we found neither a letter nor a note that might suggest . . . that he had decided to end his life. Do you know of any reason or situation that might have pushed him to . . .”

“No. My husband was a powerful, wealthy, respected man. He had no debts, he didn't gamble, there was no shadowy past of poverty and desperation, he had no relatives in dire straits. His family was well-to-do: his father was a prosperous merchant. I'd rule out any motivations for . . . for an act of that kind.”

Maione cleared his throat: “All right, Signo', money wasn't a problem for your unfortunate husband. But money isn't the only thing there is, don't you agree?”

“What do you mean by that?”

Ricciardi broke in: “My colleague is trying to ask whether there might be reasons of some other kind, not economic in nature. A state of excessive exhaustion, some disagreement at work, or at home, perhaps with you yourself. The brigadier is trying to reconstruct your husband's psychological state.”

Signora Iovine pursed her lips and furrowed her brow in an expression that must have been a habitual one, given the wrinkles they had noticed previously.

“Commissario, as I told you, my husband is . . . was an untroubled person. He worked hard, but he always had. A university career, and he'd reached the very highest peaks of academia, means keeping to a demanding path and it involves rivalries and conflict, but he'd clearly achieved his goals. Here at home, too, there was no reason for conflict.”

Ricciardi nodded. It was time to explore new territory: “We understand that you have a son. Is that right?”

“Yes, Commissario. His name is Federico, and he's eight years old. I sent him out to play in the park with his nanny as soon as I heard the news. I haven't told him yet: he's very close to his father, and he's quite a sensitive child. I'm going to have to find a way.”

“Certainly . . . Excuse us if we insist, but it's our job to take into consideration any possibility, however remote. It does happen that people who commit such an extreme act do so without leaving a note or any written message, but it's pretty unusual. Do you happen to remember anything strange he might have mentioned? Did your husband say anything that surprised you?”

“No, really, nothing. My husband, Commissario, was away from home a lot. For that matter, that was the nature of his job: pregnant women can hardly plan the timing of their medical needs. Lately, he'd been very busy, and he was definitely tired, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

Maione sighed. They'd come to the crucial point.

Ricciardi resumed: “In that case, since we have no reason to suspect this was suicide, we need to take another possibility into consideration: that someone might have pushed your husband out that window. Do you know whether the professor had recently had any disagreements or quarrels, even a petty argument, and if so with whom?”

The woman fell silent. Hers was an expressionless silence that Maione found unsettling. She sat staring into empty space, practically without blinking, and slowly twisted her hands. Then she looked up and said: “You're asking me a difficult question, Commissario. My husband was beloved, but he was a surgeon and a university professor. He took both responsibilities very seriously, he was exacting; as demanding with himself as he was with those who worked with him or studied under him.”

Ricciardi and Maione waited. After a brief pause, during which she took a sip of water from a glass on the side table, the woman went on: “When it comes to work at the hospital, Dr. Rispoli, my husband's assistant whom you no doubt already met, is better informed than I am. I can only tell you what went on here, at home.”

It was clear that Maria Carmela Iovine was thinking about something and trying to decide whether she ought to mention it.

Ricciardi had to proceed with all deliberate caution.

“You see, Signora, in this phase anything can be useful in guiding our investigation, and we're going to have to investigate in any case. Any information provided to us would not be considered an accusation against the person in question, but simply a piece in a larger puzzle. Don't worry, we can assure you that anything you say will be held in the greatest possible confidence.”

Signora Iovine seemed relieved by those words. She got up from the sofa and said: “There's something I want to show you.”

Both men leapt to their feet. The woman walked away and, a short moment later, returned with a sheet of paper in one hand, which she gave to Ricciardi.

“Go ahead and read it. It came by mail last week, here at home.”

Ricciardi unfolded the sheet of paper.

 

Tullio,

I imagine you will be surprised to receive this letter of mine, after nearly twenty years. It is true, I had hoped that our paths would never cross again, but as you can see destiny, which works in ways impossible for us mere humans to fathom, has decreed otherwise.

You no doubt clearly remember everything that I remember, but please understand that I bear no grudge for what you did all these years ago; you've always been a master at eliminating your adversaries. For that matter, when all is said and done, your vile act actually laid the cornerstone of my good fortune. Being unable to undertake a university career forced me to find partners so that I could open a clinic, and I like to think that our clinic's success hasn't eluded your notice, and even that it's prompted some feelings of anger and envy, two emotions that, I might add, have always been part of your character.

In the past two decades I have never made any attempt to exact revenge for your betrayal, even though I might have done so; we work in the same field, and more than once I've been forced to remedy an error made by you or one of your assistants at the general hospital: I know that you like to surround yourself with incompetents so that your own supposed skill can stand out even more sharply. And yet, let me say again, I never have. Not because of I never wanted to, but because launching an attack against you, out in the open, would have triggered your retaliation or, even worse, might have led you to ask for help from one of your many political allies. Still, I've saved the documents, and I could track down all the necessary witnesses. I'm not saying that I'd be able to ruin you, but I could certainly undermine that image of probity and competence that you've built on the ruins of those you've destroyed.

BOOK: The Bottom of Your Heart
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