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The lost girls of rome, p.21
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       The Lost Girls of Rome, p.21

           Donato Carrisi
 
Not caring if she got wet, Sandra waited where she was. ‘You really disgust me.’

  Schalber stopped, turned and retraced his steps. ‘With his fake testimony, that little arsehole Federico Noni let an innocent man go to prison rather than admit that he was a coward. Doesn’t that disgust you?’

  ‘I get it. You’re the one who establishes who’s guilty and who isn’t. How long have you been working like that, Schalber?’

  He snorted and waved his arms. ‘Listen, I don’t want to stand arguing in the middle of the street. I’m sorry if I was harsh, but that’s the way I am. Don’t you think I feel bad about David’s death? Don’t you think I feel partly to blame for not preventing it?’

  Sandra fell silent. She hadn’t considered that. Maybe she had judged Schalber too hastily.

  ‘We weren’t friends,’ he went on, ‘but he trusted me, and that’s enough to make me feel guilty.’

  Sandra calmed down, and when she spoke again it was in a reasonable tone. ‘What do we do about Noni? Should we inform anyone?’

  ‘Not now. We still have a lot to do. I think we can assume by now that the penitenzieri are looking for the real Figaro. We have to get to him before they do.’

  3.53 p.m.

  A persistent drizzle had slowed the Rome traffic. When he finally got to the park, Marcus stood at the gate for a few moments, thinking again about the email Zini had received.

  He is not like you. Look in Villa Glori Park.

  Who was the real Figaro? And who would the role of avenger fall to this time? The answer might be here.

  Although not the biggest park in Rome, Villa Glori nevertheless covered some sixty acres: too large to explore in its entirety before sunset. Not that he had any idea what he was supposed to be looking for anyway.

  The message was addressed to a blind man, he thought. Therefore it must be an obvious sign, maybe an auditory one. But then he thought again: no, the message was addressed to the penitenzieri. The fact that it was sent to Zini was completely accidental.

  It was meant for us.

  He went through the large black gate and started up the slope: Villa Glori was on a hill. He immediately passed a foolhardy jogger in shorts and a waterproof jacket, followed by a boxer dog keeping perfect pace with him. It was starting to get cold and Marcus lifted the collar of his raincoat. He looked around, hoping that something would attract his attention.

  Anomalies.

  The vegetation was much thicker in Villa Glori than in Rome’s other parks. Tall trees stood out against the sky, creating strange interplays of light and shade. The undergrowth was made up of small shrubs and bushes, and the ground was covered in branches and dead leaves.

  A blonde was sitting on a bench. In one hand she held an umbrella, in the other an open book. A Labrador was circling her restlessly. It probably wanted to play, but its mistress continued to ignore it, absorbed as she was in her reading. Marcus tried to avoid her eyes as he came towards her, but she looked up from her book, wondering perhaps if this stranger constituted a potential danger. He passed her without slowing down and the dog started following him, with its tail wagging. It wanted to make friends. Marcus stopped and let it come to him. He stroked its head.

  ‘Good boy, now go back to her.’

  The Labrador seemed to have understood and turned back.

  He needed to orientate his search somehow. It had to be concealed in the very nature of the place.

  A wood with thicker vegetation than in the other parks in Rome. Not really ideal for picnics, but excellent for jogging or riding a bike … and perfect for letting your dog run free.

  Dogs: that was the answer. If there’s something here, they must have scented it, Marcus told himself.

  He climbed up the path that led to the top of the hill, carefully scrutinising the ground that lapped against the asphalt. After a hundred yards, he saw a kind of trail on the muddy ground.

  A trail made up of dozens of paw prints.

  They hadn’t been left by just one animal. Many dogs had come running here towards the wood.

  Marcus left the main path and entered the shrubbery. The only sounds were the drizzle and his footsteps on the soggy leaves. He went on for about a hundred yards, trying not to lose sight of the paw prints, which, despite the recent storms, were still quite visible. That meant the dogs had come here over many days, one set of prints replacing another. But he still couldn’t see any sign.

  The single trail broke off suddenly. From here on, the prints were scattered over a fairly broad area, as if the dogs had lost the scent. Or as if the smell was so pervasive that they couldn’t locate its source.

  The sky was overcast. The sounds and lights of the city had vanished beyond the curtain of foliage. Marcus felt as if he was a long way from civilisation, somewhere dark and primeval. He took the torch from his pocket and lit it. He moved the beam around, cursing his bad luck. He would be forced to retrace his steps now and come back the following morning. But there would probably be more people in the park then, and it might be impossible to see his task through to the end. He was about to give up when his torch caught something about six feet from where he was standing. At first he took it for a fallen branch. But it was too straight, too perfect. He aimed the torch directly at it, and knew what he had to do.

  It was a shovel, propped against one of the trees.

  He put the torch down on the ground, so that it lit the area around. Then he put on the rubber gloves he always carried with him and started digging.

  The noises of the wood were amplified by the darkness. Every sound became threatening, passing him like a ghost and vanishing with the wind that rustled the branches. The shovel sank into the soft earth. As he dug, Marcus flung aside the mixture of mud and foliage that came up, without bothering where it landed. He was in a hurry to see what was buried down there, although part of him already knew the answer. It was harder work than he had expected. He was sweating, his clothes were sticking to him and he was getting out of breath. But he didn’t stop. He wanted to be refuted.

  Lord, let it not be what I think it is.

  But soon afterwards he became aware of the smell. It was pungent and sickly, filling his nostrils and lungs with every breath he took. It had an almost liquid consistency, it was as if he could drink it. Coming in contact with his gastric juices, it made him retch, and Marcus had to pause to lift the sleeve of his raincoat to his mouth. Then he set to work again. At his feet there was a small hole, nearly two feet wide and three feet deep. But the shovel continued to sink into the muddy ground. Another foot or so. More than twenty minutes had gone by.

  At last he saw a blackish liquid, as viscous as petroleum. A residue of decomposition. Marcus knelt by the hole and started digging with his bare hands. The dark oil stained his clothes, but he didn’t care. He started to feel something more solid than earth beneath his fingers. Something smooth and partly fibrous. He was touching a bone. He cleared a space around it and discovered a patch of pale flesh.

  There was no doubt about it, it was human.

  He took the shovel again and tried to free as much of the body as he could. A leg emerged, then the pelvis. It was a woman, and she was naked. The process of putrefaction was at an advanced stage, but the body had been well preserved. Marcus could not have said how old she was, but he was sure she was young. There were deep cuts all over the chest and in the pubic area, caused by a sharp weapon.

  Scissors.

  At last, Marcus stopped. Breathing in deep mouthfuls of air he crouched to look at that obscene display of violence and death.

  He made the sign of the cross, then put his hands together and started praying for this unknown woman. He could imagine her young dreams, her zest for life. At her age, death must have seemed distant and undefined. Something that only concerned other people. Marcus implored God to receive her soul, without knowing if anyone was listening to him or if he was talking to himself. The terrible truth about Marcus was that, along with his memories, the amnesia had taken away his f
aith. He did not know how a man of the cloth should feel. But saying a prayer for that poor girl’s soul was comforting to him. Because right now, with all the evil he was facing, the existence of God was his one consolation.

  Marcus could not have determined with any certainty when death had occurred. But the nature of the burial site and the state of preservation of the body suggested it was not so long ago. He came to the conclusion that the corpse he had in front of him was proof that Nicola Costa was not Figaro, because the man with the cleft palate was already in prison when this girl had been killed.

  Somebody else was Figaro.

  There are people who taste human blood and recover an old predatory instinct, a legacy of the fight for survival, the echo of an ancestral need to kill that has been lost in the course of evolution. With the murder of Giorgia Noni, the serial attacker had discovered a new pleasure. Something that was present in him, without his knowing it.

  He would kill again. Marcus was sure of it.

  The telephone was ringing at the other end. He hoped it would be answered soon. He was in one of the safe houses, not far from Villa Glori.

  At last, Marcus heard Zini’s voice. ‘Hello?’

  ‘It’s as I thought,’ he said immediately.

  Zini muttered something, then asked, ‘How long ago?’

  ‘A month, maybe more. I couldn’t say with any certainty, I’m not a pathologist.’

  Zini weighed up this information. ‘If he took the trouble to hide the body this time, he’ll do it again soon. I think I should report it.’

  ‘Let’s try to figure it out first.’ Marcus wished he could tell him what he knew, communicate his anxieties. What he had discovered would not be enough to bring the guilty party to justice. Whoever had sent Zini the anonymous email and placed the shovel in Villa Glori to indicate the exact point to start digging would give Federico Noni the opportunity to avenge himself. Or else the opportunity would be offered to one or other of the three women attacked before Giorgia’s murder. Marcus knew he didn’t have much time left. Should they tell the police so that they could contact the other victims and prevent the worst from happening? He was convinced that someone was on the trail of the real Figaro. ‘Zini, I need to know one thing. The first part of the message you received: “He is not like you.” What does it mean?’

  ‘I have no idea.’

  ‘Don’t play games with me.’

  Zini paused for a few seconds. ‘Okay, come here late this evening.’

  ‘No, now.’

  ‘Now I can’t.’ Zini turned to someone who was with him in the house. ‘Pour yourself some tea, I’ll be right there.’

  ‘Who’s there with you?

  Zini lowered his voice. ‘A policewoman. She says she wants to ask me some questions about Nicola Costa, but she hasn’t told me the whole truth.’

  The situation was becoming complicated. Who was this woman? Why were the police suddenly taking an interest in a case that was apparently closed? What was she really looking for?

  ‘Get rid of her.’

  ‘I think she knows a lot.’

  ‘Then keep her there and try to find out the real reason she came to see you.’

  ‘I don’t know if you’ll agree, but there’s something I think you have to do. Can I give you a piece of advice?’

  ‘Go on, I’m listening.’

  5.07 p.m.

  She poured herself a large cup of tea and held it in her hands, enjoying the warmth. From the kitchen she could see Pietro Zini’s back. He was talking on the telephone in the hall, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying.

  She had managed to persuade Schalber to wait for her in the guest apartment. It made more sense for her to meet Zini on her own. After all, he was a former policeman, and he wouldn’t be so easy to trick as Federico Noni. She would ask a lot of questions, making it clear that there wasn’t any official investigation in progress. And besides, the police didn’t like people from Interpol. Presenting herself at his door, she had simply told him that the Milan police were dealing with a case similar to the Figaro case. Zini had believed her.

  As she waited for the end of the phone call, Sandra glanced at the file that Zini had given her. It was a duplicate of the official file on Nicola Costa. She hadn’t asked him how he had come by it, but he had been at pains to tell her that, when he was on the force, he was in the habit of keeping copies of all material relating to his cases.

  ‘You never know when an idea might come to you that helps you solve a case,’ he had said by way of justification. ‘So you always have to have everything within reach.’

  Leafing through the pages, Sandra realised that Zini was a meticulous type. There were many annotations. The last reports, though, revealed a certain haste. It was as if he had wanted to speed things up, knowing that his blindness was catching up with him. At times, especially in his handling of Costa’s confession, he had been quite slapdash. There was a lack of corroborating evidence and, without the confession, the legal case would have collapsed like a house of cards.

  She looked through the material gathered by the forensic photographers at the various crime scenes. First of all, the assaults that had preceded the murder. The three victims had all been alone in their homes. It had always happened in the late afternoon. The maniac had stabbed them repeatedly with the scissors. The wounds, which were concentrated in the breasts, legs and pubic area, were never deep enough to cause death.

  According to the psychiatric report, the assaults had a sexual origin. Figaro’s aim, however, was not to reach orgasm, as was the case with those sadists who could only gain satisfaction through coercion. He was after something else: to prevent these women from ever being attractive to men again.

  If I can’t have you, nobody else will.

  That was the message the lesions conveyed. And such behaviour was perfectly compatible with Nicola Costa’s personality. Because of his cleft palate, the opposite sex rejected him. That was why he did not penetrate his victims. Even if he had obtained physical contact through force, he would still have felt their revulsion, and that would merely have echoed his experience of rejection. The scissors, though, constituted an excellent compromise. They allowed him to feel pleasure but, at the same time, to keep a safe distance from the women who had scared him all his life. The male orgasm was replaced by the gratification of seeing them suffer.

  But if, as Schalber maintained, Nicola Costa was not Figaro, then they had to completely revise the perpetrator’s psychological profile.

  Sandra went on to the photographs of the murder of Giorgia Noni. The corpse presented the unmistakable signs that the maniac had left on the other women. But this time he had wounded to kill.

  As in the previous cases, he had broken into the victim’s home. But this time a third person had been present: Federico. According to his statement, the killer had escaped through a back door as soon as he had heard the police siren.

  Figaro’s steps as he escaped were imprinted in the soil of the garden.

  The crime-scene photographer had shot some close-ups of the shoe prints. For some reason, Sandra remembered David’s encounter with the unknown girl jogging on the beach.

  Coincidences, she thought.

  Guided by an instinct, her husband had followed those steps in the sand, eager to find out who they belonged to. Suddenly, those actions seemed to her to have a meaning. Even though she did not yet understand what it was. As she was focusing on this idea, Zini finished his phone call and came back into the kitchen.

  ‘You can take it with you if you want,’ he said, referring to the file. ‘I don’t need it any more.’

  ‘Thank you. I really should go now.’

  Zini sat down facing her and placed his arms on the table. ‘Stay a while longer. I don’t get many visitors, it’s nice to have a bit of a chat.’

  Before the phone call, Zini had seemed anxious to get rid of her as soon as possible. Now he was actually asking her to stay. It didn’t seem to be a simple gesture of
politeness, so she decided to humour him in order to discover what he had in mind.

  And to hell with Schalber, he could wait a while longer. ‘All right, I’ll stay.’ Zini reminded her of Inspector De Michelis. She felt she could trust this man. With his big hands, he was a solid as a tree.

  ‘How was the tea?’

  ‘Very nice.’

  Zini poured himself a cup, even though the water in the teapot was no longer as hot as it had been. ‘I always used to have tea with my wife. On Sundays when we got back from Mass, she’d make tea and we’d sit down here and talk. It was like a date.’ He smiled. ‘I don’t think we ever skipped that teatime conversation in twenty years of marriage.’

  ‘What did you talk about?’

  ‘Everything. We didn’t have one subject in particular. That was the good thing: being able to share everything. Sometimes we argued, we always laughed a lot, we conjured up memories. Not having been lucky enough to bring children into the world, we knew we had a terrible enemy to confront every day. Silence can be hostile. If you don’t learn to keep it at bay, it gets into the cracks of a relationship and makes them wider. With time, it creates a distance between you, and you don’t even realise it.’

  ‘I lost my husband not long ago.’ The words came out spontaneously, without her thinking. ‘We were only married for three years.’

  ‘I’m sorry, I know how hard that can be. Despite everything, I feel lucky. Susy went the way she always wanted: suddenly.’

  ‘I still remember when they came to tell me that David was dead.’ Sandra didn’t want to think about it. ‘How did you find out?’

  ‘One morning I tried to wake her.’ Zini did not go on, but it was sufficient. ‘It may seem selfish, but an illness is an advantage for those who have to remain behind. It prepares you for the worst. Whereas this way …’

  Sandra knew what he meant. The sudden emptiness, the irreversibility, the unassuaged need to talk about it before everything becomes final. The mad temptation to pretend it didn’t happen. ‘Zini, do you believe in God?’

  ‘What are you really asking me?’

 
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