Authors: Magdalen Nabb
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
The Marshal’s Own Case
Also by Magdalen Nabb
Property of Blood
Some Bitter Taste
The Monster of Florence
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
The Marshal Makes His Report
The Marshal and the Madwoman
The Marshal and the Murderer
Death in Autumn
Death in Springtime
Death of a Dutchman
Death of an Englishman
with Paolo Vagheggi
The Marshal’s Own Case
Copyright © 1990 by Magdalen Nabb and
© 1995 by Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich
This edition published by
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Nabb, Magdalen, 1947–2007.
The marshal's own case / Magdalen Nabb.
ISBN 978-1-56947-531-7 (pbk.)
1. Guarnaccia, Marshal (Fictitious character)--Fiction.
2. Police--Italy--Florence--Fiction. 3. Florence (Italy)--Fiction.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For generous help with the research for this book
I wish to thank ‘Fabiana’ (Gianni Ciardiello).
he week that school opens for the autumn term is as bad as Christmas. That, at least, was Marshal Guarnaccia’s opinion. The biggest department store in Florence had, as usual, given over a whole floor to racks of black, white, blue and checked school overalls and all the shelves were stacked with exercise books, pencils, plastic satchels and the like. The place was teeming with harassed parents and demanding children who dodged from stand to stand grabbing for the brightly coloured packages of felt-tipped pens and Mickey Mouse rubbers. Mothers consulted their lists, trying to puzzle out which child needed triple-lined exercise books and which needed double. Fathers put in an occasional protest about the amount of unnecessary money being spent, but without much hope of being listened to. The place was overheated and the noise deafening.
The Marshal had made no protest as yet. He had been plodding around behind his wife and the two boys for an hour and ten minutes exactly. He’d just looked at his watch. At this time of an afternoon he usually dozed over the newspaper, his after-lunch coffee going cold on the little table next to the sitting-room sofa. He’d made no protest about that, either, but now he was beginning to wonder if he’d manage to make it back to the carabinieri station at the Pitti Palace in time to be in his office at five. They’d already stood in a long queue at the cash desk for a good quarter of an hour, only to find that something or other had been forgotten and the three of them were off again, Totò yelling: ‘Over here! They’re over here!’ Teresa kept on telling him to keep his voice down but what the point of that was the Marshal couldn’t see, since every other child in the place was shouting. You couldn’t hear yourself think, never mind move about in this crowd.
They had disappeared again. He gave up trying to follow them and stood still, his huge, black-uniformed bulk looking like a whale stranded on a swarming beach. A faint ‘Oof!’ escaped him as he fished for a handkerchief to mop his brow. A running child tripped over his big black shoe and a woman prodded him.
‘Are you in this queue or not?’
He dislodged himself from the crowd near the cash desk without answering. There was nowhere he could put himself where he wouldn’t be blocking everybody’s way. Too bad. As far as he could remember, all he’d ever taken to school was a sheet of lined paper for his weekly composition. Pencils were fished for in the kitchen drawer or borrowed.
‘But, Mum! It’s miles too long!’ A little boy behind the Marshal was protesting as his mother held a black overall against him.
‘I’ll turn it up. It’ll do you next year as well. Will you stand still!’
He noticed that hardly any children bothered with the satin bow at the neck any more. His mother had always made such a thing about getting it just so, tugging at it for what seemed like hours while he struggled to get free and be off down the dusty yellow road in time for a bit of mischief on the way. She used to plaster his springy black hair down with water, too, another thing he’d always hated. And as he shot out of the kitchen door like a wild animal set free, she always followed him to shout in his wake, ‘And don’t you be playing on the way to school or you’ll get dirty! Think on!’ He always played on the way and he always got dirty and his mother knew very well that he did but she went on saying it just the same. Now his wife, Teresa, went on saying to Totò, day after day, ‘Keep your voice down,’ though she knew he was incapable of saying a thing if he could shout it.
‘I said no!’ A woman’s exasperated voice brought him out of his stupor. A little girl beside him was sobbing in front of a stand filled with plastic satchels.
‘I can’t afford it—we’ve still to buy all your textbooks!’
The mother’s voice had no effect on the child, who went on sobbing. She was holding on to the shelf with all her force so that she couldn’t be dragged away. A slightly taller girl of perhaps eight or nine stood watching with one of the pink plastic satchels held against her chest. She was a particularly pretty child with very long fair hair and brown eyes. The Marshal was fascinated by the expression on her face which wavered between distress at the other girl’s situation and smugness at her own good fortune. The more the smaller child cried, the more she clutched the satchel to herself, her eyes bright.
The Marshal turned away. His own face, with its big and slightly prominent eyes, was always expressionless but, even so, he had caught the fair child’s mood. He felt that same tug of distress at the problem all this unnecessary buying must cause for hard-up families, coupled with self-satisfied relief at the thought that he could afford it. At least . . . He fished out his wallet and looked inside, though he had no idea of how much his wife had bought by this time. It was true what that woman had said just now, that there were still textbooks to buy. He hoped he wouldn’t get dragged along on that expedition. The queue outside the bookshop often stretched the length of the street and even when you got to the front and gave in your list there was another long wait.
Half past four. He was going to be late. He still made no move to find his wife and children. It was easier for them to find him if he just stood where he was. He stood where he was for a further fifteen minutes and then they found him, or rather, Totò did, hurtling at him to shout: ‘Mum’s right at the front of the queue and she says for goodness’ sake come because she’s hardly got any money!’
‘I’m going to be late,’ he said when he’d paid.
‘Here, carry this . . . and this. Wait a minute, has she given me the right change . . . ?’
‘It’s quarter to five.’
‘No, no, it’s right. Don’t start grumbling, Salva, we’ve practically finished.’
‘I just want to stop off on the next floor down. They both need socks. So do you, when I come to think of it. Totò! Will you keep your voice down! We’re not buying anything else on this floor and that’s final. Hold Giovanni’s hand on the stairs and if we get separated go straight to the children’s sock counter. Are you listening? Salva, where are you? Salva!’
He plodded down the stairs behind them, his big eyes roving over the heads of the crowd below. He spotted the long fair hair of the pretty little girl who was standing still and patient while something else was bought for her, fussed over by an equally blonde young woman, probably her mother, and a well-dressed older woman who seemed to be directing operations. He remembered the other child who had been so heartbroken because she couldn’t have a satchel.
‘Don’t you think we’ve bought enough?’ he murmured, as they reached the bottom of the stairs, but his wife didn’t hear him.
He was late. There was a woman in the waiting-room who half got to her feet when she saw him, but he only nodded to her and went through to his office, knocking on the door of the duty room on the way. With any luck his young brigadier, Lorenzini, would produce a cup of coffee for him. He needed a minute or two to get his breath back. He settled down behind his desk with a sigh, his head still buzzing with the noise of the department store. Lorenzini knocked and put his head round the door.
‘Come in, come in.’ Then he added: ‘How did you guess?’
For Lorenzini had a cup of coffee in his hand.
‘I knew you’d all gone shopping and you got back late, so . . . You don’t look as though you enjoyed it much.’
‘Enjoyed it? Listen . . .’
Lorenzini listened. It was something he was good at. The Marshal sipped the thick, scalding coffee and grumbled.
‘And the worst of it is,’ he wound up at last, ‘that we’ll hardly have done spending on this school business before the Christmas decorations will be up and it’ll be buy, buy, buy all over again. Yours is only a baby yet, but you’ll soon know what I’m talking about.’
He knew he was exaggerating but he couldn’t help it. Nor could he tell Lorenzini that what he was really feeling was a bit guilty, and all because of a little girl who couldn’t have a satchel and a prettier one who could.
‘Most of it’s rubbish, anyway. They don’t need it all but what one has they all have to have and the shops take advantage. I feel better for that coffee, I must say . . . Who’s that woman in the waiting-room?’
‘A Signora Fossi.’
‘What does she want?’
‘To see you. Wouldn’t tell me what it was about, just that she wanted your advice.’
‘All right. Show her in.’
He stood up as the woman entered the room and offered her a chair. By the time she had taken it and he had gone back behind his desk, he had already decided that it wasn’t the usual story of a mother in a panic because she thought her youngster was on drugs. Too old, for one thing. She looked well over sixty. She also looked more determined than distressed. He hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be one of those quarrels with neighbours which he hated dealing with. She looked the type for that. She also looked familiar but he couldn’t place her.
‘Now then, Signora, what can I do for you?’
‘I’ve come about my son.’
‘I see. He’s in some sort of trouble?’ Surely any son of hers must be at least forty.
‘You perhaps think it odd,’ she said, as if reading his thoughts, ‘since my son is over forty—forty-five to be exact—that I should be here rather than my daughter-in-law. Nevertheless . . . We’ve always been very close, Carlo and I, and I
when something’s wrong.’
Oh Lord, thought the Marshal, but he only said: ‘What exactly do you think is wrong?’
‘I see. Since when?’
‘Two weeks ago . . . no, more. It was a Saturday and today’s Tuesday. That makes it almost two and a half weeks.’
‘You think he’s left his wife?’
‘I think nothing of the sort, even though . . .’
‘Even though what?’
‘I was going to say that he had reason . . . but that’s nothing to do with it. He wouldn’t leave her, not without telling me first.’
The Marshal suppressed a sigh.
‘Do you live with your son and daughter-in-law, Signora?’
‘Yes and no. We have a small factory. My husband started it and before he died we rebuilt. The house is part of the same complex. It’s a large house and I live in a self-contained flat which occupies the whole of the top floor. Carlo lives on the ground floor with his wife and little girl.’
‘And he works in the factory?’
‘We all do, all three of us. I supervise the whole business since my husband died. My son is in charge of production and my daughter-in-law keeps the accounts and deals with orders. We produce silver giftware.’
‘And you say your son’s been missing for over two weeks? Surely that must have caused big problems. I don’t understand why you waited all this time . . . He’s not, by any chance, in the habit of disappearing for short periods?’
‘I—it has happened.’ The woman’s face and neck flushed red but her eyes remained steely and determined. The Marshal was glad she wasn’t his mother-in-law. The thought prompted him to ask, ‘What does your daughter-in-law think? You’ve talked it over with her, have you?’
‘He’s never been gone so long before, never more than three or four days. This time it’s different, we’re agreed on that, at least.’
‘If not on anything else, is that it?’
‘I didn’t say so.’
‘No, no . . . I just had the impression that you weren’t too happy about your son’s marriage—what age was he when he married?’
‘Thirty-seven. You’re quite mistaken. I not only approved the marriage, I brought it about.’
‘Oh.’ The Marshal stared at her with bulging, expressionless eyes. ‘I didn’t think arranged marriages still happened.’
‘Of course not. Let’s say I did everything possible to encourage my son to marry. My daughter-in-law was already working for us as a designer. I thought she’d make him a good wife.’
‘You’ve changed your mind since?’
She seemed to consider this carefully before answering. ‘No,’ she said at last, ‘she’s a hard worker and keeps a good home. Even so, she ought to realize that when a man doesn’t marry until his late thirties he’s bound to be rather set in his ways . . . Besides which, she’s from Finland. Their ways are not ours.’
‘I take it you’re referring to his three-day jaunts,’ said the Marshal mildly. ‘You can hardly expect her to approve. Where does he go?’
‘I’ve no idea. It’s not my place to inquire into his private life.’
‘Even though you’re so close?’
She tightened her lips and was silent.
‘You must have an idea,’ he said, ‘even if you’re not sure. Is there another woman?’
‘Certainly not. He’s never gone in for that sort of thing.’
‘Ah. But he must sleep somewhere when he’s away. Does he have a room somewhere, a hideaway?’
‘No. I told you my daughter-in-law handles all the accounts. That goes for their private accounts as well as those of the business. He couldn’t spend that sort of money without her knowing.’
‘Did he take a substantial amount of money when he disappeared?’
‘None at all. Except, of course, whatever was in his wallet. And he took no clothes apart from those he was wearing. Surely that in itself is enough to suggest that something’s happened to him.’
It wasn’t really enough at all. He wouldn’t be the first to walk out on his life without a word and never be found again. The world is full of tramps who’ve done just that. Even so, it would be cruel to say so. Instead, the Marshal asked, ‘Have you checked the hospitals?’
‘No. I came straight to you.’
‘After over two weeks.’
‘If there’d been an accident we’d have been informed.’
The Marshal rolled a sheet of lined paper on to his typewriter.
‘I need his full name and address and a description. Do you have a photograph of him?’
‘Not with me.’
‘You’ll have to bring me one. Name and address?’
‘Fossi, Carlo Emilio, via del Fosso 29, Badia a Settimo, Scandicci.’
‘Scandicci?’ The Marshal pulled the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, crumpled it and dropped it in the waste-paper basket. ‘Signora, you shouldn’t have come here.’
‘What do you mean? I’ve explained—’