That Gregorio Palmisano and his sister Caterina had been church people since childhood was known all over town. They never missed a single morning or evening service, not a single Holy Mass or vespers, and sometimes they even went to church for no reason other than the fact that they felt like it. For the Palmisanos, the faint scent of incense and candle wax lingering in the air after the Mass was better than the smell of ragu` to a man who hadn’t eaten for ten days.
Always kneeling in the ﬁrst pew, they didn’t bow their heads when praying, but held them high, eyes open wide. But they weren’t looking at the great cruciﬁx over the main altar or the Blessed Virgin in sorrow at its feet. No, they never once, not even for a second, took their eyes off the priest, and they watched his every move: the way he turned the pages of the Gospel, the way he gave his benediction, the way he raised his arms when he said Dominus vobiscum and then concluded with Ite, missa est.
The truth was that they would have both liked to be priests themselves, to wear surplices, stoles, and vestments, to open the little door of the tabernacle, hold the silver chalice in their hands, administer Holy Communion to the faithful. Both of them, Caterina, too.
In fact when, as a little girl, she told her mother, Matilde, what she wanted to do when she grew up, her mama ﬁrmly corrected her.
‘You mean a nun,’ she said. ‘No, Mamma, a priest.’
‘What? And why do you want to be a priest and not a nun?’ Signora Matilde asked with a laugh.
‘Because the priest says Mass, and the nuns don’t.’
In the end they were both forced to work for their father, who was a wholesaler of foodstuffs, which he kept crammed in three large warehouses, one next to the other.
After their parents died, Gregorio and Caterina changed their merchandise, and instead of pasta, tins of tomato paste, and dried cod, they started selling antiques. It was Gregorio’s job to go around to the oldest churches in the neighbouring towns and the half-dilapidated palazzi of nobles once rich and now starving. One of their three warehouses was chock-full of cruciﬁxes, ranging from the kind you hang from your neck on a chain to the life-size variety. There were even three or four naked crosses, huge, heavy replicas of the original, designed for being carried on the shoulder of a penitent during Holy Week processions, as Roman centurions scourged him.
When he turned seventy and she was sixty-eight, they sold the three warehouses, but overnight they took a certain amount of objects to their home on the top ﬂoor of a building next to the town hall. It was a big apartment with six spacious rooms and a terrace, which the two never used, too big for a brother and sister who had never wanted to marry and had no nephews or nieces.
Their religious obsession increased with the reality of no longer having anything to do. They went out only to go to church, always side by side, walking fast, heads down, never returning greetings, only to race back home afterwards and lock themselves in, shutters always closed, as if they were eternally in mourning.
The grocery shopping was done by a woman who used to clean the warehouses for them, but they never allowed her into their apartment. In the morning she would ﬁnd a small piece of paper pinned to the door, on which Caterina had written everything she needed, and the necessary money under the doormat.
When she returned, she would put the bags down on the ﬂoor, knock, and call out, before leaving: ‘The groceries!’
They didn’t own a television, and when they were still antiques dealers, nobody had ever seen them reading a book or a newspaper, but only the breviary, the way priests do.
After about ten years of this, something changed. The Palmisanos stopped going outside, stopped going to church, and never looked out from their balcony, not even when the procession of the town’s patron saint went by.
Their only contact, oral or written, with the outside world was with the woman who did the shopping.
One morning the people of Viga`ta noticed that between the ﬁrst and second balconies of the Palmisanos’ apartment they had hung a large white banner on which were these words, in large block letters: SINNERS, REPENT!
A week later, between the second and third balconies, another banner appeared: SINNERS, WE WILL PUNISH YOU!
The following week a third one appeared, but this time it covered the entire terrace balustrade and was the largest of all: W E WILL MAKE YOU PAY FOR YOUR SINS WITH YOUR LIFE!!!
When he saw the third banner, Montalbano was worried.
‘Don’t make me laugh!’ Mim`ı
Augello said to him.
‘They’re a couple of senile old people who happen to be religious fanatics!’
‘Why are you not convinced?’
‘The exclamation marks. There are suddenly three, where before there was one.’
‘It may be a sign that they’re giving the sinners a deadline, and this is the last warning.’
‘But who would these sinners happen to be?’
‘We’re all sinners, Mim`ı. Have you forgotten? Do you know whether Gregorio Palmisano has a ﬁrearms licence?’ ‘I’ll go and check.’ He returned almost immediately, frowning slightly. ‘Yes, he’s got a licence all right. He requested it when he was dealing in antiques and it was granted. A revolver. But he also declared two hunting
riﬂes and a pistol that used to belong to his father.’ ‘Listen, tomorrow I want you to ask Fazio what church they used to go to, and then go and talk to the parish priest.’
‘But he’s sworn to the secrecy of the confessional!’ ‘And you’re not going to ask him to reveal any secrets; you only need to ﬁnd out just how far gone he thinks they are, and whether he thinks their madness is dangerous or not. In the meantime I’ll phone the mayor.’
‘I want him to send a municipal policeman to the Palmisanos’ place to take down those banners.’
Ofﬁcer Landolina of the Municipal Police arrived at the Palmisanos’ home at seven in the evening. Since the Palermo match was coming on TV immediately after the evening news, he wanted to take care of things early, go home, eat, and settle into his armchair.
He knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Since Landolina, a stubborn but scrupulous man, didn’t want to waste any time, he not only continued knocking as hard as he could, with his clenched ﬁst, but also started kicking the door until an elderly man called out: ‘Who is it?’
‘Police! Open the door!’ ‘No.’
‘Open the door right now!’
‘Go away, Ofﬁcer, if you know what’s good for you!’ ‘Don’t threaten me! Open up!’
Gregorio stopped threatening him and simply ﬁred his revolver once through the door.
The bullet grazed Landolina’s head, and he turned tail and ran.
After descending the stairs and going out into the main street, he saw people ﬂeeing in every direction amidst cries and laments, curses and prayers. From two separate balconies, Gregorio and Caterina had started ﬁring riﬂes at passers-by below.
Thus began the siege of the Palmisanos’ little fortress by the forces of order – that is, by Montalbano, Augello, Fazio, Gallo, and Galluzzo. The crowd of onlookers was large but kept at a distance by the municipal policemen. After an hour or so, the newspapermen and television crews also arrived.
By ten o’clock that evening, seeing that not even their priest, equipped with a megaphone, could persuade his two elderly parishioners to surrender, Montalbano came to the conclusion that they would have to storm the tiny
stronghold. He sent Fazio out to determine how they could reach the terrace, either from the roof or a neighbouring apartment. After an hour of careful reconnaissance, Fazio returned to say that it was hopeless: there was no way to reach the roof from any of the other apartments or to approach the Palmisanos’ terrace.
The inspector rang Catarella from his mobile. ‘Call the Montelusa ﬁre department at once—’
‘Izz ’ere a ﬁre, Chief ?’
‘Let me ﬁnish! And tell them to come here at once with a ladder that can reach the ﬁfth ﬂoor.’
‘So there’s a ﬁre onna ﬁfth ﬂoor?’ ‘There isn’t a ﬁre!’
‘So why’s you want the ﬁre department?’ Catarella asked with implacable logic.
Cursing the saints, the inspector hung up, dialled the ﬁre department himself, identiﬁed himself, and explained what he wanted.
‘Right away?’ the switchboard operator asked. ‘Of course!’
‘The problem is that the two vehicles with ladders are engaged. They could probably be in Viga`ta in about an hour. As for the searchlight, there’s no problem. I’ll send the crew right away.’
Right away meant another hour wasted.
Every so often the Palmisanos would ﬁre a few shots with their riﬂes and pistols, just to stay sharp. At last the searchlight arrived, got into position, and cast its beam. The entire facade of the building was bathed in a harsh blue light.
‘Thank you, Inspector Montalbano!’ the television cameramen cried out.
It looked exactly as if they were shooting a ﬁlm.
The ladder eventually arrived after one o’clock in the morning, and was promptly extended until it touched the balustrade covered by the banner.
‘All right, I’m going up,’ said Montalbano. ‘Fazio, you come up behind me. Mim`ı, you go inside with Gallo and Galluzzo and wait outside their door. While I’m keeping them busy on the terrace, I want you to try to force their door and get inside.’
No sooner had the inspector set his foot on the ﬁrst rung than Gregorio suddenly appeared from behind the banner and ﬁred his pistol. And disappeared. Montalbano took cover in a doorway and said to Fazio: ‘I think it’s better if I go up alone. You stay behind on the ground and start ﬁring to give me some cover.’
As soon as Fazio ﬁred his ﬁrst shot, tearing a hole in the banner, the inspector climbed the ﬁrst rung. He was gripping the ladder with only his left hand, since he had his revolver in his right.
He continued climbing cautiously. He’d reached the fourth ﬂoor when suddenly, despite Fazio’s gunﬁre, Gregorio Palmisano reappeared and ﬁred a shot from his revolver that barely missed the inspector.
Instinctively Montalbano ducked his head between his shoulders, and in so doing he caught sight of the street below. All at once a cold sweat drenched him from head to toe and he began to feel so dizzy he was in danger of falling. A surge of vomit rose from the pit of his stomach. He realized that he was in the throes of vertigo, something he’d never experienced before. And now, no doubt with the onset of old age, it suddenly appeared at the worst possible moment.
He held still for a long minute, unable to move, eyes shut tight. But then he clenched his teeth and resumed his climb, even more slowly than before.
When he reached the balustrade, he bolted upright, ready to start ﬁring, but a quick glance revealed that the terrace was deserted. Gregorio had gone back inside, closing the French windows behind him, and must certainly be behind the shutter with his revolver pointed.
‘Turn off the spotlight!’ Montalbano yelled.
And he leapt onto the terrace, immediately lying ﬂat. Gregorio’s shot arrived on schedule, but the harsh light that had suddenly gone out had left him dazzled, forcing him to ﬁre blindly. Montalbano ﬁred back in turn, but couldn’t see anything. Then little by little his eyes returned to normal.
But standing up and running towards the French windows while shooting was out of the question, since this time Gregorio was certain to hit him.
As he was wondering what to do, Fazio jumped over the balustrade and lay down beside him.
Now they heard riﬂe shots coming from inside. ‘That’s Caterina ﬁring at our men from behind the door,’ Fazio said softly.
The terrace was completely bare except for a vase of ﬂowers and a clothesline with things hanging from it; as for anything behind which they might take cover, nothing. Leaning against a wall, however, were three or four long iron poles, possibly the remains of an old belvedere.
‘What should we do?’ asked Fazio.
‘Run over there and grab one of those poles. If it’s not rusted through, I think you should be able to burst open the French windows. Give me your gun. Ready? Here we go . . . One, two, three!’
They stood up, and Montalbano started shooting both pistols, feeling slightly ridiculous, like a sheriff in an American movie. Then he stopped up alongside Fazio, who was using the pole as a lever, still shooting, this time at the shutter. At last the French windows ﬂew open, and they found themselves in near total darkness, because the large room they had entered was barely illuminated by the faint light of an oil lamp on a small table. It had been some time since the Palmisanos stopped using electric lights, and no doubt they no longer had power.
Where was the crazy old man hiding? They heard two riﬂe shots ring out in a nearby room. It was Caterina ﬁghting off the efforts of Mim`ı, Gallo, and Galluzzo to break down the front door.
‘Grab her from behind,’ Montalbano said to Fazio, giving him back his gun. ‘I’ll go and look for Gregorio.’
Fazio disappeared behind a door that gave onto a corridor.
But there was another door off the room, and it was closed. Montalbano felt certain, for no particular reason, that the old man was behind it. Tiptoeing up to it, he turned the knob, and the door opened slightly. The expected gunshot never came.
And so he ﬂung the door wide open while jumping aside. There was no reaction.
And what was Fazio up to? Why was the old lady still ﬁring?
He took a deep breath and went in, bent completely over, ready to shoot. And immediately he didn’t know where he was.
It was a large room, densely thicketed with a sort of forest, but of what?
Then he realized what it was and felt paralysed by an irrational fear.
By the light of another oil lamp he saw dozens and dozens of cruciﬁxes of varying size, ranging from three feet to ceiling-high, held upright by wooden bases and forming indeed a tangled forest, arranged in such a way that many faced one another, with the arm of one cross cutting across the arm of the cross beside it, while other, shorter crosses had their backs to the larger crosses but stood face to face with other crosses of the same height, and so on.
Montalbano became immediately convinced that Gregorio was not in the room and certainly would never start ﬁring and risk striking one of the cruciﬁxes. All the same, he couldn’t move, being frozen in fear like a child who ﬁnds himself alone in an empty church illuminated only by candlelight. At the far end of the large room was an open door, with the dim light of yet another oil lamp ﬁltering through. The inspector eyed it but was unable to take a single step.
What ﬁnally forced him to take the plunge into the forest was a shout from Fazio amidst a horrible mouselike squeaking, which was actually the sound of Caterina’s desperate cries.
‘Chief ! I’ve got her!’
Montalbano leapt forward, zigzagging between the cruciﬁxes, crashing into one that lurched but did not fall, and then dashed through the far door. He found himself in a room with a double bed.
Gregorio pointed his revolver at him and ﬁred as the inspector dived to the ﬂoor. Montalbano heard the ﬁring pin click; the gun was empty. He stood up. The old man, who was tall and looked like a skeleton with shoulderlength white hair, was completely naked and staring in disbelief at the revolver still in his hand. With a swift kick, Montalbano sent the gun ﬂying across the room.
Gregorio started crying.
Then the inspector noticed, as a sense of horror very nearly overwhelmed him, that on one of the pillows lay the head of a woman with long blonde hair, her body covered by a sheet. He realized at once that the body was lifeless.
Approaching the bed for a better look, he heard Gregorio order him, in a voice like sandpaper: ‘Don’t you dare go near the bride that God sent me!’
He lifted the sheet.
It was a decrepit inﬂatable doll that had lost some of its hair, was missing an eye, had one deﬂated tit and little circles and rectangles of grey rubber scattered all over its body. Apparently whenever the doll sprang a leak from old age, Gregorio vulcanized it.
‘Salvo, where are you?’ It was Augello. ‘I’m over here. Everything’s under control.’
He heard a strange noise and looked into the next room. Gallo and Galluzzo, equipped with powerful torches, were moving cruciﬁxes in order to create a passage. When they had ﬁnished, Montalbano saw Mim`ı and Fazio coming forward, ﬂanked by two rows of cruciﬁxes, restraining between them a struggling Caterina Palmisano, who continued to make mousey squeaking noises.
Caterina looked as if she had just stepped out of a horror novel. She was quite short and wearing a ﬁlthy nightgown riddled with holes, had dishevelled, yellowishwhite hair and big, wide-open eyes, and only one long, blood-curdling tooth in her drooling mouth.
‘I curse you!’ Caterina said, looking at Montalbano with wild eyes. ‘You shall burn alive in the ﬁres of Hell!’
‘We can talk about that later,’ the inspector replied.
‘I’d call an ambulance,’ Mim`ı suggested. ‘And have them both sent to the madhouse, or whatever it’s called these days.’
‘We certainly can’t keep them in a holding cell,’ Fazio added.
‘All right, call an ambulance and take them outside. Thank the ﬁremen and send them home. Did they break the door down?’
‘No, there was no need. I opened it from the inside,’ said Fazio.
‘And what are you going to do?’ Augello asked.
‘Did she have both riﬂes with her?’ he asked Fazio instead of answering.
‘Then there must be another gun around the house, the father’s pistol. I’m going to have a look. You two go now, but leave me one of those torches.’
Left alone, Montalbano stuck his gun in his pocket and took a step.
But then he thought better of it and took the gun out again. True, there wasn’t anyone around any more, but it was the place itself that made him uneasy. The torch cast gigantic shadows of the cruciﬁxes on the walls. Montalbano raced through the passage created by his men and found himself in the room that gave onto the terrace.
Feeling the need for a little fresh air, he went outside. And although the air stank of the smoke of the cement factory and car exhausts, it smelled to him like ﬁne mountain air compared to what he’d been breathing inside the Palmisanos’ apartment.
He went back inside and headed for the door that led to the corridor. Immediately on the left were three rooms in a row, while the wall on the right was solid.
The ﬁrst room was Caterina’s bedroom. On top of the chest of drawers, the bedside table, and the bookcase hundreds of little statuettes of the Madonna had been massed, each with a light in front. On the walls were another hundred or so holy pictures, all of the Blessed Virgin. Each picture had a wooden shelf under it, on which shone a light. It looked like a cemetery at night.
The door to the second room was locked, but the key was in the keyhole. The inspector turned it, opened the door, and went inside. It was completely dark. By the beam of the torch he saw an enormous room crammed full of pianos, two or three of them grand pianos, one with the cover of the keyboard open. Enormous spider’s webs twinkled between one piano and the next. Then all at once a grand piano began to play. As Montalbano shouted in fear and withdrew, he heard the entire musical scale resonate, do re mi fa sol la ti. Were there living dead in that accursed apartment? Ghosts? He was bathed in sweat, the gun in his hand trembling slightly, but nevertheless found the strength to raise his arm and illuminate the great room with his torch. And he ﬁnally saw the ghostly musician. It was a large rat running wildly from one piano to another. Apparently it had run across the open keyboard.
The third room was the kitchen. But it smelled so bad that the inspector didn’t have the courage to go in. He would get one of his men come and look for the pistol tomorrow.
When he went back down into the street, everybody was gone. He headed for his car, which was parked near the town hall, started it up, and headed home to Marinella.
At home he had a long shower, but did not go to bed. Instead he went and sat on the veranda.
And so, instead of being awakened by the ﬁrst light of day as usual, it was he who watched the day awaken.
He decided not to go and lie down in bed. Two or three hours of sleep wouldn’t do him any good. On the contrary, it would simply leave him feeling woozier than ever.
Actually, he thought as he went into the kitchen to make another four-cup pot of espresso, what had happened to him the previous night was like a nightmare that resurfaces in the mind the moment you wake up and remains in the memory, though gradually fading, for a day, so that after another night’s sleep, it vanishes, and you have trouble remembering it, as the contours and details blur little by little until it becomes like a mosaic besieged by time, with large patches of grey wall where the coloured tiles have fallen off.
So he only needed to be patient another twenty-four hours and then he could forget what he saw in the Palmisanos’ apartment and what happened to him there.
Because he simply couldn’t shake off the fright the place had given him.
The forest of cruciﬁxes, the inﬂatable doll that had grown old with its owner, the room full of pianos and spiders’ webs, the musical rat, the ﬂickering light of the oil lamps . . . And Gregorio Palmisano, naked and skinny as a skeleton, and Caterina with only one tooth . . . For a horror ﬁlm, it wasn’t a bad beginning.
The problem, however, was that it wasn’t a ﬁction, but a reality, though a reality so absurd as to be very nearly a ﬁction.
But the real problem, which he tried to hide with all this talk of nightmares, truth, and ﬁction, actually concerned something he didn’t want to face up to – that is, the difference between his behaviour and that of his men.
Nor did he face up to it now, since the coffee was ready, and he took advantage of it.
Carrying it out onto the veranda, he drank the ﬁrst cup of his second pot.
He gazed for a long time at the sky, the sea, the beach. The dawning day had to be relished little by little, like a jam too sweet.
‘Good morning, Inspector,’ the usual solitary ﬁsherman greeted him, busy with his boat.
Montalbano raised a hand in reply. ‘Happy ﬁshing!’ he said.
‘Could I say something? ’ asked Montalbano Two, suddenly appearing and launching into his commentary without waiting for an answer. ‘The problem that you’re doing your utmost to avoid can be boiled down to two questions. The ﬁrst is: why were Gallo and Galluzzo not the least bit frightened by the forest of cruciﬁxes and in fact seemed rather indifferent as they moved them aside? The second: why, when he saw the inﬂatable doll, was Mim`ı not taken aback, but merely smiled at the thought that Gregorio Palmisano was a horny old goat? ’
‘Well, everyone is different and behaves accordingly,’ said Montalbano One, caught off-guard . . .
‘That’s trite but true, but the problem is that there was a time in the life of our inspector when he would have reacted like Gallo and
Galluzzo in front of those cruciﬁxes, and like Mim`ı doll. At one time.’
in front of the
‘Would you two stop it?’ said Montalbano, realizing where Number Two was going.
‘I would like to make my point. In my opinion, the inspector has changed, and it’s because of his age. But he has trouble admitting it, indeed refuses to admit it. For example, he acts as if he’s had an eye transplant.’
‘What are you talking about? ’
‘I realize eye transplants don’t exist yet. But old age has performed the operation for him. He’s got two new eyes in an ageing head.’
‘What do you mean, new eyes? ’
‘Much more sensitive. Not only do you see the things in front of you, you also perceive the aura around them. It’s like a light, watery vapour that rises from them and—’
‘And in your opinion, what kind of “aura” was there around the inﬂatable doll? ’ Montalbano One asked deﬁantly.
‘An aura of despair and solitude. That of a lonely man who spent his nights in the arms of a lifeless doll instead of a living being, and who probably calls it “My love”.’
‘Get to the point.’
‘The point is that the inspector is losing his cool, his sense of detachment, in the face of things. He’s letting himself be involved and troubled by them. And while he would let himself be taken in, now, with the years, he’s become too . . . well, too vulnerable.’
‘That’s enough of that,’ said Montalbano, suddenly getting up. ‘You two are starting to annoy me.’
Contrary to what he’d decided, he went to bed to get a couple of hours’ sleep, and when the alarm went off, he woke up, feeling totally bleary, as expected.
A shower, shave, and clean clothes freshened him as best they could, at any rate putting him in a condition to show his face at the ofﬁce.
Seeing him come in, Catarella leapt to his feet and started clapping. ‘Bravo, Chief ! Bravo!’
‘What the hell’s wrong with you? Are we at the theatre or something?’
‘Ahh, Chief, Chief ! Good God, were you good! So nimmel, so fast! Like a agrobat on a trappist!’
‘You, Chief ! It was better ’n a movie! An’ ’ey showed it onna TV ’iss mornin’.’
‘I was on TV?!’
‘Yessir, Chief, you was! When you’s climin’ the ﬁremin’s ladder, gun in yer ’and, y’know who y’look jess like?’
‘Jess like Brussi V`ıllisi, y’know, the ’Murcan actor who’s always in shoot-ats an’ boinin’ bildinz an’ sinkin’ ships . . .’
‘All right, all right, settle down and get Fazio for me.’
All he needed was a pain in the balls like this! Now the half of town that hadn’t seen him live in action last night could catch the replay on TV! Bruce Willis! Right! It was more like a Marx Brothers routine!
‘Good morning, Chief.’
‘How’d things end up with the Palmisanos?’
‘How do you expect? Prosecutor Tallarita threw the book at them. Resisting arrest, attempted multiple murder, attempted massacre . . .’
‘Where’d they take them?’
‘To a clinic for the mentally ill, on twenty-four-hour watch.’
‘That seems a bit excessive. They haven’t got any weapons, so what are they going to—’
‘Do you know what Caterina did to an orderly there, Chief ?’
‘What’d she do?’
‘She broke a chair over his head!’
‘Because he was clearly an Arab, and so for her, he was an enemy of God.’
‘Listen, send somebody to look for a pistol that must be hidden in the Palmisanos’ apartment.’
‘I’ll take care of it right away. I’ll send Galluzzo with two men.’
Half an hour later, Fazio knocked and entered.
‘I’m sorry, Chief, but yesterday, when you left the Palmisanos’, did you close the door? I left the keys in the keyhole after opening the door for Inspector Augello.’ Montalbano thought about this for a few seconds. ‘You know, I don’t even remember whether I closed it or not? Why do you ask?’
‘Because Galluzzo called me just now and said he found the door wide open.’
‘Was anything missing?’
‘According to Galluzzo, probably nothing’s missing. It’s all more or less the way he remembered leaving it last night. But how can you really tell in all that clutter?’
I congratulate you, dear Inspector, for the consummate bravery, the sublime disregard for danger you displayed when left alone in that famous house of horrors. Your long struggle with the musical rat wore you out so completely that you ran away at full speed, actually forgetting to close the door. Not bad. Congratulations again.
‘Tell me something, Fazio, I’m curious.’
‘Of course, Chief.’
‘Did you get a strange feeling in that house?’
‘Chief, don’t remind me! When I saw that room packed full of cruciﬁxes, pardon my language, but I nearly shat myself !’
He would have liked to stand up and hug Fazio. So they were all creeped out and afraid. Except they hadn’t let on. And so his morning cogitations had been for naught.
At one o’clock he went to eat at Enzo’s. He was extremely hungry, being behind in his eating, having had no time for supper the previous evening amidst all the pandemonium. He sat down at his usual table.
The TV was on and tuned to TeleViga`ta. The sound was turned down so softly that he almost couldn’t hear, but the images he was seeing were of the inside of the Palmisanos’ apartment.
Some idiot journalist must have taken advantage of the door he’d left open, going inside and ﬁlming the home of the crazy old pair of fools. Apparently he had used some sort of battery-powered lamp for lighting, which, in casting its beam edgewise onto the cruciﬁxes and pianos, showed them emerging from the darkness with a sinister, menacing air, exactly the way they had looked to Montalbano the night before.
‘Hello, Inspector, what can I get for you?’
‘Come back in ﬁve minutes.’
Now the cameraman was in Gregorio’s bedroom.
And he lingered for at least ﬁve minutes on the inﬂatable doll, ﬁrst showing a full-length shot, then a close-up of the hairless spots on the head, the missing eye, the shrivelled breast, then one by one the patches that Gregorio had made to keep it from deﬂating, which looked like so many little wounds covered by adhesive bandages.
‘So, what can I get for you?’
Why had his appetite suddenly gone?
He ate so little that he didn’t even feel the need to take his customary meditative stroll. And so he went back to the ofﬁce and started signing papers. Nothing of any substance had happened for a good month. Of course the Palmisano incident had certainly provided a little excitement, even a touch of tragicomedy, but it hadn’t had any consequences, there had been no dead or wounded. On several occasions during the past month, he had, in fact, thought of taking a few days off and going to Boccadasse to be with Livia. But he’d always let it slide, afraid that some unforeseen development might force him to interrupt his holiday. And who would deal with Livia then?
‘Galluzzo ﬁnally found the pistol,’ said Fazio, coming in. ‘Where was it?’
‘In Caterina’s room. Hidden inside a hollow statue of the Madonna.’
‘Any new developments?’
‘Dead calm. Did you know that Catarella has a theory about it?’
‘About the fact that there are fewer robberies.’ ‘And how does he explain it?’
‘He says that the robbers, the local ones, who rob the homes of working poor or snatch women’s purses, are ashamed.’
‘Of their big-time colleagues. The CEOs who drive their companies to bankruptcy after making off with people’s savings, the banks who are always ﬁnding a way to screw their customers, the big companies that steal public funds. Whereas they, the petty thieves who have to make do with ten euros or a broken TV or a computer that doesn’t work . . . they feel ashamed, and don’t feel like stealing any more.’
As could have been expected, at midnight TeleViga`ta broadcast a special report covering the entire Palmisano incident.
Naturally they showed the footage of Montalbano climbing the ladder while Gregorio was shooting at him from the terrace, and the whole thing, seen from the outside, conﬁrmed Catarella’s interpretation. That is, it really did look as though nothing could stop the inspector. You needed only to see the determination with which he climbed over the balustrade with a gun in one hand and hear the authority with which he ordered the people on the ground to turn off the searchlight.
In short, a moment worthy of the TV series Captains Courageous.
None of the fear, trembling, or vertigo he had felt halfway up showed. Luckily there was no device in the world, not even an X-ray machine, not even a CAT scanner, that could show inner distress and well-concealed fear. But when the footage of the inﬂatable doll began, Montalbano turned it off.
He just couldn’t stand it. It made him feel weirder than if it was actually a real live girl in ﬂesh and blood.
Before going to bed, he phoned Livia.
‘I saw you, you know,’ she said right off the bat. ‘Where?’
‘On TV, on the national news.’
Fucking bastards. The TeleViga`ta crew had sold their story!
‘I was really scared for you,’ Livia continued. ‘When?’
‘When you had that moment of vertigo on the ladder.’
‘You’re right. But nobody seemed to notice.’
‘I did. But couldn’t you have sent Augello up there instead? He’s so much younger than you. You really can’t be doing these kinds of things any more at your age!’
Montalbano started to worry. So now Livia, too, was talking balls about his age? ‘You sound as if I was Methuselah, for Christ’s sake!’
‘Don’t use obscenities, I won’t stand for it! Whoever mentioned Methuselah? Don’t you see you’re becoming neurotic?’
With a start like that, the whole thing could only end on a sour note.
‘Ahh, Chief, Chief ! Ahh, Chief ! Hizzoner the C’mishner’s been callin’ f ’yiz since eight aclack! Jeezis, he was angry! ’E sez ’e wants yiz a call ’im emergently straightaways!’
‘All right, give him a ring and pass the call to me,’ said Montalbano, heading for his ofﬁce.
His conscience was clean. Since nothing had happened of late, he hadn’t had the opportunity to do anything that might appear a sin either of commission or omission in the eyes of the commissioner.
‘Yes, sir, what can I do for you?’
‘Would you please explain to me why you allowed several television cameramen to do whatever the hell they pleased in the home of those two crazy old people?’
‘But I never—’
‘Just know that I’ve been bombarded with telephone calls of protest – from the bishop’s ofﬁce to the Union of Catholic Fathers, to the FaFa Club to the—’
‘I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t quite get the name of that club.’
‘FaFa. Would you prefer FF ? The full name is the Faith and Family Club.’
‘But what are they protesting about?’
‘They’re offended by the images of that obscene inﬂatable doll.’
‘Ah, I see. But I didn’t allow anyone to go in there.’ ‘Oh, no? Then how did they get in?’
‘Through the door, I would imagine.’ ‘Breaking the seals?’
The place had never been sealed off. Should he have ordered it sealed? Anyway, seals or no seals, he should at least have closed the door.
His only hope was to start talking legal-bureaucratese, the kind where after a couple of sentences nobody understands a thing.
‘Mr Commissioner, if I may. In the case in point, we hadn’t ascertained any conditions whereby we should have recourse to the application of said seals, given that while the apartment in question had been the scene of behaviour qualiﬁable, at the very least, as violent, we were not cognizant of any harm having come to anyone’s person as a result of said behaviour, and therefore—’
‘Fine, ﬁne, but in entering without authorization, they committed a serious infraction.’
‘Very serious. And there may be more,’ said the inspector, trying to up the ante.
‘What do you mean?’
Pile on the legal-bureaucratese.
‘Who’s to say the cameraman and journalist didn’t take some of the objects found on the premises? With its voluminous spatial capacity, that apartment could be termed more than a civilian residence. It may well be classiﬁable as an antiques warehouse, in view of the fact that it contains, however uninventoried, a wealth of artistically sculpted gold crosses, Bibles ﬁnely engraved, either with rosaries of mother-of-pearl, silver, and gold, as well as—’
‘Fine, ﬁne, I’ll take the necessary measures,’ the commissioner interrupted, put off by Montalbano’s tone of voice.
And thus the people at TeleViga`ta, having a few cats to comb, would learn their lesson.
On the midday news broadcast, TeleViga`ta’s purse-lipped prince of opinion, Pippo Ragonese, the one with a face like a chicken’s arse, said angrily that the broadcasting station, ‘known for its absolute independence of judgement’, had been subjected to ‘strong pressure from a variety of sources’ in an attempt to halt any further broadcasting of the news feature on the Palmisano home, particularly the footage involving the doll. He let it be known that the journalist and cameraman who had entered the apartment were in danger of being indicted for ‘breaking and entering and theft of art objects’. In the face of such intimidation, Ragonese solemnly proclaimed that as of that moment, and for the entire afternoon and evening until the 8 p.m. news edition, TeleViga`ta would broadcast nothing but the images of the inﬂatable doll.
And so they did.
But only until 6 p.m., because at that time two carabinieri arrived and conﬁscated the videotape, on the orders of the prefect.
By the following morning, needless to say, all the national papers and television news programmes were talking about the affair. A few were against the conﬁscation; one of the most important national dailies, the one printed in Rome, published the headline: ‘There Is No Limit to the Ridiculous’. Others instead were in favour. In fact, the other major newspaper, the one printed in Milan, ran the headline ‘The Death of Good Taste’. And there wasn’t a single stand-up comic on television that evening who didn’t appear onstage with an inﬂatable doll.
That night, Montalbano had a dream which, if it wasn’t about an actual inﬂatable doll, as would have been logical and predictable, was about something that came very close.
He was making love to a beautiful young blonde who worked as a salesgirl in a mannequin factory that was deserted, as it was past closing time. They were lying on a sofa in the sales ofﬁce, surrounded by at least ten mannequins, male and female, who stared ﬁxedly at them, polite little smiles on their lips.
‘C’mon, c’mon,’ the girl kept saying to him, her eyes on a large clock on the wall, because they both knew what the problem was. She had obtained permission to become human, but if they didn’t bring their business to a happy conclusion in ﬁve minutes, she would turn back into a mannequin for ever.
‘C’mon, c’mon . . .’
They ﬁnally succeeded, with only three seconds left on the clock. The mannequins applauded.
He woke up and ran into the bathroom for a shower. But how could it be that at ﬁfty-seven he was still having the dreams of a twenty-year-old? Maybe old age wasn’t quite so near at hand as it seemed? The dream reassured him.
As he was driving to work, the engine made a strange noise and then the car suddenly stalled, eliciting a deafening chorus of screeching tyres, blasts on horns, curses, and insults. He managed to start it up again after a moment, but he decided the time had come to take it to the garage. There were many and sundry things that either didn’t work or had a mind of their own.
Excerpted from The Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri. Copyright © 2010 by Sellerio Editore. Translation copyright © Stephen Sartarelli 2013. First published 2013 by Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York. First published in Great Britain 2013 by Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
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