Authors: Andrea Camilleri
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller
“The idiosyncratic Montalbano is totally endearing.”
The New York Times
“Like Mike Hammer or Sam Spade, Montalbano is the kind of guy who can’t stay out of trouble…. Still, deftly and lovingly translated by Stephen Sartarelli, Camilleri makes it abundantly clear that under the gruff, sardonic exterior our inspector has a heart of gold, and that any outbursts, fumbles, or threats are made only in the name of pursuing truth.”
“Once again, violence is muted, complications rule, politics roil, but humor…prevails in the end. Italy is good to visit, even if only in print. And what better way to shorten a flight to Palermo than by gobbling this tasty snack along the way?”
Los Angeles Times
“[Camilleri’s mysteries] offer quirky characters, crisp dialogue, bright storytelling—and Salvo Montalbano, one of the most engaging protagonists in detective fiction…. Montalbano is a delightful creation, an honest man on Sicily’s mean streats.”
“The Montalbano mysteries offer
to the world-lit lover hankering for a whodunit.”
The Village Voice
“The reading of these little gems is fast and fun every step of the way.”
The New York Sun
“Wittily translated from the savory Italian, Camilleri’s mysteries…feature the sardonic Inspector Salvo Montalbano, whose gustatory adventures are at least as much fun as his crime solving.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Camilleri once again thrills with his fluid storytelling and quirky characters.”
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
A PENGUIN MYSTERY
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, most recently
The Open Vault.
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (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), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, 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, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Penguin Books 2008
Translation copyright © Stephen Sartarelli, 2008
All rights reserved
Originally published in Italian as
La luna di carta
by Sellerio Editore, Palermo.
Copyright © 2005 Sellerio Editore.
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.
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The alarm rang, as it had done every morning for the past year, at seven-thirty. But he had woken up a fraction of a second before the bell; the release of the spring that set off the ringing had sufficed. He therefore had time, before jumping out of bed, to look over at the window and realize, from the light, that the day promised to be a fine one, without clouds. Afterwards he just barely had time to make coffee, drink a cup, do what he needed to do, shave and shower, drink another cup, fire up a cigarette, get dressed, go outside, get in his car, and pull up at the station at nine—all at the slapstick speed of Larry Semon or Charlie Chaplin.
Up until one year earlier, his morning wake-up routine had followed different rules, and, most of all, there was no rush, no hundred-meter dashes.
First, no alarm clock.
Montalbano was in the habit of opening his eyes naturally after a night’s sleep, with no need of external stimuli. He did have an alarm clock of sorts, but it was inside him, buried somewhere in his brain. He merely had to set it before falling asleep, telling himself,
Don’t forget you have to get up tomorrow at six,
and the next morning his eyes would pop open at six o’clock sharp. He’d always considered the alarm clock, the metal kind, an instrument of torture. The three or four times he’d had to use that drill-like noise to wake up—because Livia, who had to leave the next morning, didn’t trust his inner alarm—he’d spent the rest of the day with a headache. Then Livia, after a squabble, bought a plastic alarm clock that instead of ringing made an electronic sound, a kind of unending
rather like a little fly that had found its way into your ear and got stuck inside. Enough to drive you crazy. He’d ended up throwing it out the window, which triggered another memorable spat.
Second, he would wake himself up, intentionally, a bit earlier than necessary, some ten minutes earlier at the very least.
These were the best ten minutes of the day ahead. Ah, how wonderful it was to lie there in bed, under the covers, thinking of idiocies!
Should I buy that book everybody’s calling a masterpiece, or not? Should I eat out today, or come home and scarf down what Adelina’s prepared for me? Should I or shouldn’t I tell Livia that I can’t wear the shoes she bought me because they’re too tight?
That sort of thing. Poking about with the mind. While carefully avoiding, however, any thought of sex or women. That could be dangerous terrain at that hour, unless Livia were there sleeping beside him, ready and happy to face the consequences.
One morning a year earlier, however, things had suddenly changed. He had barely opened his eyes, calculating that he had a scant fifteen minutes to devote to his mental dawdlings, when a thought—not a whole one, but the start of one—came into his mind, and it began with these exact words:
“When your dying day comes…”
What was this thought doing there with the others? How gutless! It was like suddenly remembering, while making love, that he hadn’t paid the phone bill. Not that he was inordinately frightened by the idea of dying; the problem was that six-thirty in the morning was hardly the proper time and place for it. If one started thinking about death at the crack of dawn, certainly by five in the afternoon one would either shoot oneself or jump into the sea with a rock around one’s neck. He managed to prevent that phrase from proceeding any further, blocking its path by counting very fast from one to five thousand, with eyes shut and fists clenched. Then he realized that the only solution was to set about doing the things he needed to do, concentrating on them as though it were a matter of life or death. The following morning was even more treacherous. The first thought that entered his mind was that the fish soup he’d eaten the night before had lacked some seasoning. But which? And at that exact moment, the same accursed thought came back to him:
“When your dying day comes…”
As of that moment, he realized that the thought would never go away again. It might lie buried deep inside some curlicue in his brain for a day or two only to pop back out into the open when he least expected it. For no reason he became convinced that his very survival depended on preventing that sentence from ever completing itself. For if it did, he would die when the last word came.
Hence the alarm clock. To leave not even the slightest fissure in time for that accursed thought to slip through.
When she came to spend three days in Vigàta, Livia, as she was unpacking, pointed at the nightstand and asked:
“What’s that alarm doing there?”
He answered with a lie.
“Well, a week ago I had to get up really early and—”
“And a week later it’s still set?”
When she put her mind to it, Livia was worse than Sherlock Holmes. Slightly embarrassed, he told her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Livia burst out:
And she buried the alarm clock in a drawer inside the armoire.
The following morning it was Livia, not the alarm, that woke Montalbano. And it was a beautiful awakening, full of thoughts of life, not death. But as soon as she left, the clock was back on the nightstand.
“Aahh, Chief, Chief!”
“What is it, Cat?”
“There’s some lady waiting for you.”
“She din’t say what it was f’you poissonally in poisson, she just said she wanted a talk to somebody from the police.”
“So why couldn’t she talk to you?”
“Chief, she said she wanted a talk to somebody superior to me.”
“Isn’t Inspector Augello here?”
“No sir, he called to say he was comin’ in late ’cause he’s runnin’ late.”
“And why’s that?”
“He says last night the baby got sick, and so today the medical doctor’s gonna come by.”
“Cat, you don’t have to say ‘medical doctor’; just ‘doctor’ is more than enough.”
“Iss not enough, Chief. Iss confusing. Take you, f’rinstance. You’s a doctor, but not o’ the medical variety.”
“What about the mother, Beba? Can’t she wait for the med…the doctor herself?”
“Yessir, Miss Beba’s there, Chief, but she says she wants him to be there, too.”
“What about Fazio?”
“Fazio’s with some kid.”
“What did this kid do?”
“Didn’t do nothin’, Chief. He’s dead.”
“How’d he die?”
“Okay, tell you what. I’m going into my office now. You wait about ten minutes, then send in the lady.”
The inspector felt furious at Augello. Ever since the baby was born, Mimì hovered over the kid as much as he’d hovered over women before. He was head over heels in love with his young son, Salvo. That’s right: Not only had he called upon the inspector to baptize the kid, he’d also given him the wonderful surprise of naming him after him.
“Can’t you give him your father’s name, Mimì?”
“Right! Imagine that, my father’s called Eusebio.”
“So then name him after Beba’s father.”
“That’d be even worse. His name’s Adelchi.”
“Tell me, Mimì. So the real reason you’re naming him after me is because all the other available names seem too bizarre to you?”
“Cut the shit, Salvo! First of all, I’m very fond of you, you’re like a father to—”
A father? With a son like Mimì?
“Oh, fuck off!”
Livia, on the other hand, upon learning that the newborn would be called Salvo, burst into tears. There were certain special circumstances that moved her deeply.
“Mimì loves you so much! Whereas you—”
“Oh, he loves me, does he? Do the names Eusebio and Adelchi mean anything to you?”
And ever since the kid was born, Mimì would appear at the station and disappear just as fast: One minute Salvo ( junior, of course) had the runs, the next minute he had red spots on his bottom, the next he was throwing up, the next he didn’t want to suckle…
He’d complained about it, over the phone, with Livia.
“Oh, yeah? You’ve got a problem with Mimì? All that only means he’s a loving, conscientious father! I’m not so sure that you, in his position—”
He’d hung up on her.
He looked at the morning mail that Catarella had left on his desk. By prior agreement with the post office, the private mail addressed to his house in Marinella was being forwarded to the station, since sometimes he went a couple of days without returning home. Today there were only official letters, which he set aside, not feeling like reading them. He would hand them over to Fazio as soon as he got back.
The telephone rang.
“Chief, iss Dr. Latte wit’ an
at the end.”
Lattes, that is, chief of the commissioner’s cabinet. To his horror and shock, Montalbano had discovered a while back that Lattes had a clone in a government spokesman who frequently appeared on TV: the same air of the sacristy, the same porky-pink, beardless skin, the same little asshole-like mouth, the same unctuousness. An exact replica.
“My dear Montalbano, how’s it going?”
“Very well, Doctor.”
“And the family? The children? Everything all right?”
He’d told him a million times he neither was married nor had any children, legitimate or illegitimate. But it was hopeless. The man was obsessed.
“Good, thank the Lord. Listen, Montalbano, the commissioner would like to talk to you at five o’clock this afternoon.”
Why did he want to talk to him? Usually Commissioner Bonetti-Alderighi carefully avoided meeting him, preferring to summon Mimì instead. It must be some tremendous hassle.
The door flew violently open, crashed against the wall, and Montalbano jumped out of his chair. Catarella appeared.
“Beck y’pardon, Chief, my ’and slipped. The ten minutes passed just now, just like you said.”
“Oh, yeah? Ten minutes have passed? What the hell do I care?”
“The lady, Chief.”
He’d completely forgotten.
“Is Fazio back?”
“Not yet so far, Chief.”
“Send her in.”
A woman just under forty, who looked, at first glance, like a former Sister of Mercy: downcast eyes behind her glasses, hair in a bun, hands clenching her purse, the whole wrapped up in a broad gray sack of a dress that made it impossible to tell what lay beneath. Her legs, however—despite thick stockings and flat shoes—were long and beautiful. She stood hesitantly in the doorway, staring at the strip of white marble separating the floor tiles of the corridor from those in Montalbano’s office.
“Come in, come in. Please close the door and make yourself comfortable.”
She obeyed, sitting down at the very edge of one of the two chairs in front of his desk.
“What can I do for you, signora?”
Michela Pardo. You’re Inspector Montalbano, correct?”
“Have we met?”
“No, but I’ve seen you on television.”
She seemed even more embarrassed than before. Settling her buttocks more comfortably into the chair, she stared at the tip of one of her shoes, swallowed twice, opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again.
“It’s about my brother, Angelo.”
And she stopped, as though the inspector needed only to know the name of her brother to grasp the whole problem in a flash.
“Signorina Michela, surely you realize—”
“I know, I know. Angelo has…he’s disappeared. It’s been two days. I’m sorry, I’m just very worried and confused and…”
“How old is your brother?”
“Does he live with you?”
“No, he lives by himself. I live with Mama.”
“Is your brother married?”
“Does he have a girlfriend?”
“What makes you say he disappeared?”
“Because he never lets a day go by without coming to see Mama. And when he can’t come, he calls. And if he has to go away, he lets us know. We haven’t heard from him for two days.”
“Have you tried calling him?”
“Yes, I’ve tried his home phone and his mobile. There’s no answer. I even went to his house. I rang and rang the doorbell, then decided to go inside.”
“You have the keys to your brother’s place?”
“And what did you find there?”
“Everything was in perfect order. I got scared.”
“Does your brother suffer from any illness?”
“Not at all.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He’s an informer.”
Montalbano balked. Had ratting on others become an established profession, with a year-end bonus and paid vacations as with Mafia turncoats, who had fixed salaries? He would clear this up in a minute.
“Is he often on the move?”
“Yes, but he works within a limited area. Basically he doesn’t go beyond the boundaries of the province.”