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The lost girls of rome, p.31
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       The Lost Girls of Rome, p.31

           Donato Carrisi
 

  There was only one explanation for the presence of that object.

  Struck by the discovery, Marcus continued to the next room. The door was closed. Opening it, he discovered that, in what had once been Filippo’s room, next to his bed there was now a crib. The space was divided equally. On one side, posters of Filippo’s favourite team, the desk where he had done his homework, on the other a changing table, a high chair, a heap of games for infants, even a music box with little bees playing ring-a-ring-a-roses.

  Filippo didn’t know it yet, but he had a little brother or sister.

  Life is the one antidote to grief, Marcus told himself. And he understood how the Roccas had found a way to take back their future and sweep away the fog of doubt. But then something nagged at him. Would this family really endanger their attempt to regain some kind of peace of mind in order to carry out an act of revenge? How had they reacted to the news that their firstborn was dead? Always assuming that Filippo really was Canestrari’s victim, he reminded himself.

  He was on his way out of the house, intending to track down Camilla Rocca at the centre where she worked and follow her for the rest of the day, when he heard the throbbing of a car engine. He moved the curtain away from a window and saw a runabout that had just parked on the path. Camilla was in it.

  Taken by surprise and unable to leave, he looked frantically for somewhere to hide. He found a room that was used as both a laundry and a store room. He went and stood in the corner behind the door and waited. He heard the front door being unlocked, Camilla coming in and closing the door, the sound of the keys being placed on a shelf, her heels clicking on the floor. She took off her shoes and dropped them, one after the other. Marcus peered through the crack in the door. She was walking barefoot and carrying a couple of cardboard boxes. She had been shopping and had come back home earlier than expected. But her son, or daughter, was not with her. She came into the laundry to hang a new garment on a hook. She did not turn. The thin wooden door was the only thing separating them. If the woman had moved it, she would have seen him. But instead she turned and made for the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

  Marcus heard the water running in the shower and left his refuge. He passed in front of the closed door and, coming back into the living room, saw a gift-wrapped package on the table.

  In this house, life had somehow resumed.

  Instead of heartening him, the thought made him uneasy. He was overcome with a sense of panic. Clemente, he murmured: it seemed likely that the family they were looking for was the one he had sent his friend to keep an eye on.

  Taking advantage of the fact that Camilla Rocca was in the shower, he took the telephone attached to the wall of the kitchen and dialled the voicemail number. There was a message from Clemente. He sounded excited.

  ‘Get here as soon as you can. Alice Martini’s father is loading his car with luggage. I suspect he’s getting ready to leave the city. And there’s something else I discovered: the man owns an unlicensed gun.’

  5.14 p.m.

  She had not said anything to Superintendent Camusso about the danger she had been in while in the gallery under Lara’s apartment. It doesn’t have anything to do with the girl, she had told herself. It concerns only me and David.

  And besides, she was not afraid any more. She had realised that her pursuer had an ulterior motive. He didn’t want to kill her. At least not yet. He’d had the opportunity in that tunnel, before she made the call to Camusso. It wasn’t that he had missed his chance; he’d held back deliberately.

  He was checking up on her.

  Sandra had a sense that Camusso suspected she was not telling him the whole story. She wondered if she was imagining it, blaming her lack of sleep and the fact that she hadn’t eaten. So she had accepted the inspector’s invitation to join him at Francesco’s, a typical Roman trattoria in the Piazza del Fico. Although it was already mid-afternoon, they’d eaten pizza at a table in the open air, enjoying the smells and sounds of the neighbourhood. Around her, Rome with its stone streets, its buildings with their rough facades, its ivy-covered balconies.

  Then they had come straight back to Headquarters. Camusso had shown her around the fine building he was lucky enough to work in, and Sandra had omitted to tell him that she already knew it from having got round one of his colleagues to do some research in records.

  They made themselves comfortable in the superintendent’s office. Here too, there was a high frescoed ceiling, but the furnishings did not reflect the man’s eccentric taste. They were very sober and minimal, unlike Camusso, who moved like a splash of colour through the room. As he arranged his purple jacket on the chair behind the desk, Sandra noticed that he wore turquoise cufflinks. She couldn’t help breaking into a smile.

  ‘Are you absolutely sure Lara is pregnant?’ Camusso asked.

  They had already tackled the subject at the restaurant. The superintendent could not resign himself to the thought that women possessed a sixth sense for certain things, even though Sandra had excellent evidence to support her theory.

  ‘Why do you doubt it?’

  Camusso shrugged. ‘We’ve spoken to her friends and her colleagues at university: nobody mentioned a boyfriend, even a casual one. Judging from her phone records and her emails, she didn’t seem to be in any kind of relationship.’

  ‘You don’t have to be in a relationship to get pregnant,’ she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. But she could understand his objections: Lara didn’t seem the type to sleep around. ‘I was wondering about Jeremiah Smith. In every case except this one, he lured his victims in broad daylight, somehow persuading them to have a drink with him. How did a man like that manage to attract these girls?’

  ‘I’ve been following this case for six years now and I still can’t explain it,’ Camusso said, shaking his head. ‘Whatever trick he used, it was certainly effective. Every time it was the same story: a girl disappeared, and we put everything we had into finding her, knowing we had just one month. Thirty days during which we recited a script for the sake of the family, the press and public opinion. Always the same lines, the same lies. Then our time was up and we found a body.’ He paused for a long time. ‘When I realised the other night that this fellow in a coma was the killer, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was happy. You know what that means?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘I was enjoying the fact that another human being was dying. I said to myself: God, what’s happening to me? What that man did was terrible, but he’s made us become like him. Because only monsters are happy at the thought of death. I tried to convince myself that, when you came down to it, his dying meant that other girls would be spared. It was saving lives. But what about ours? Who would save us from the joy we were feeling?’

  ‘Are you trying to tell me that when you found out he had kidnapped another girl it was almost a consolation?’

  ‘If Lara is still alive, obviously.’ Camusso smiled bitterly. ‘Even that’s quite monstrous, don’t you think?’

  ‘Yes, it is. It’s as if we’re making her salvation dependent on Jeremiah Smith’s recovery.’

  ‘The man will probably be a vegetable for the rest of his life.’

  ‘What do the doctors say?’

  ‘Strangely, they’re rather in the dark. At first they thought it was a heart attack, but after running a lot of tests, they’ve ruled that out. They’re looking for neurological damage, although they still can’t locate it.’

  ‘It might be the action of a toxic agent, maybe a poison.’

  ‘They’re analysing his blood to trace the substance,’ Camusso admitted grudgingly.

  ‘But if that’s the case, then someone else is involved. Someone who tried to kill him.’

  ‘Or to have him killed by the sister of one of his victims …’

  The Figaro case, thought Sandra. There was a similarity between the way Federico Noni had been killed and what had happened to Jeremiah Smith. Both appeared to be executions. Both men had been punished
for their crimes. Or for their sins, she said to herself.

  ‘Wait a minute, I want to show you something.’

  Sandra had been lost in thought and did not take in at first what Camusso had said.

  The superintendent took a laptop out of a case, switched it on and placed it in front of her. ‘One week before the disappearance, there was a graduation ceremony in the faculty of architecture. The father of the graduate filmed everything.’ He clicked to start the video. ‘These are the last images we have of Lara before she vanished.’

  Sandra leaned in towards the screen. The camera was moving around a lecture hall. There were about thirty people present. They were milling around, chatting in small groups, some laughing. Drinks had been set out on a desk and many of the people were holding glasses. There was a cake, but only half of it remained. The person doing the filming was moving among the guests, inviting them to say a few words to the camera. Some waved, others made witty remarks. The camera lingered on a young man who launched into a sarcastic monologue about the latest events at the university. His friends laughed. Behind him, in the background, was a girl who seemed not to be taking part in the festivities. She was leaning on a desk, with her arms folded and her eyes staring into the distance, unaffected by the joy around her.

  ‘That’s her,’ Camusso said, as if there was any need.

  Sandra looked closely at Lara. She was swaying on her heels, biting her lip. She had the look of a creature in pain.

  ‘Strange, isn’t it? It makes me think of when the media publish the photograph of a crime victim. They always seem to have been taken at some event that has nothing to do with what happened to them later. A wedding, an excursion, a birthday. Maybe they didn’t even like that photo. While they were posing they certainly never imagined that one day that image would end up in the newspapers or on TV.’

  The dead smiling out of the photographs of their past: Sandra was very familiar with that.

  ‘In the course of their lives it probably never occurred to them that they might become famous. Suddenly they die and people know everything about them. Weird, don’t you think?’

  While Camusso was still pondering this, Sandra, her instincts as a forensic photographer to the fore, noticed a slight variation in Lara’s expression. ‘Do you mind going back a bit?’

  Camusso looked at her, then did as she asked without demanding an explanation.

  ‘Now slow it down.’ Sandra leaned forward, waiting for the miracle to appear again.

  Lara’s lips suddenly moved.

  ‘She spoke,’ Camusso said, surprised.

  ‘Yes, she spoke,’ Sandra confirmed.

  ‘And what did she say?’

  ‘Let me see it again.’

  Camusso ran the video several times, while Sandra made an effort to catch every vowel and consonant.

  ‘She’s saying, “Bastard.”’

  Camusso looked at her. ‘Are you sure?’

  Sandra turned to him. ‘Yes, I think so.’

  ‘And who is she angry at?’

  ‘Definitely a man. Go forward and let’s try and see who it is.’

  He started the video again. The cameraman had been a bit haphazard, rarely taking time to focus on any of the guests for very long. All at once, the camera moved abruptly to the right, almost as if following the direction of Lara’s gaze. She wasn’t staring into the distance, as Sandra had thought at first: she was looking at someone.

  ‘Can you pause it for a moment?’ she asked Camusso.

  He did so. ‘What is it?’

  Sandra had spotted a smiling man of about forty, surrounded by a group of female students. He was wearing a blue shirt and his tie was loose. An irreverent air, brown hair, clear eyes: a charmer. He had his hand on the shoulder of one of the girls.

  ‘Is that the bastard?’ Camusso asked.

  ‘He looks the type.’

  ‘Do you think he’s the child’s father?’

  Sandra looked at Camusso. ‘There are some things you can’t tell from a video.’

  The superintendent realised his gaffe and tried to make a joke of it. ‘I thought that sixth sense of yours might tell you.’

  ‘Not really,’ she said, pretending to regret what she had said. ‘But it might be useful to have a chat with him.’

  ‘Wait, I can tell you who he is.’ Camusso walked around the desk to check a file. ‘We made a list of all those present that day. You never know.’

  Sandra was surprised at the efficiency of her Roman colleagues.

  ‘Christian Lorieri,’ the superintendent announced, after looking through the list. ‘He’s an assistant lecturer in art history.’

  ‘Did you question him?’

  ‘There was no reason to. He had no contact with Lara.’ Camusso guessed what was going through her head. ‘Even if he was the father of the baby she was carrying and knew it, I doubt he’d be prepared to talk to us: he’s married.’

  Sandra thought this over. ‘Sometimes it’s worth provoking a reaction,’ she said, with a wicked gleam in her eyes.

  ‘What do you intend to do?’ asked Camusso, curious.

  ‘First I have to print some photographs …’

  The corridors of the faculty of architecture were filled with students coming and going. Sandra had always found it strange that university students started to bear a resemblance to one another, depending on the subject they studied. As if they answered to a kind of genetic code that identified the group they belonged to and brought out similar characteristics in everyone. For example, law students were undisciplined and competitive, medical students strict and lacking a sense of humour, philosophy students melancholy and always dressed in outsize clothes. Architects, on the other hand, were unkempt and went about with their heads in the clouds.

  She had been directed by a porter to Christian Lorieri’s office and now she was looking for his name on the plates next to the doors. At Headquarters she had printed the photographs stored in the memory of her mobile phone. There were the pictures of Jeremiah Smith’s villa, but also copies of those from David’s Leica, which luckily she had duplicated in the bathroom at the guest apartment. There were the images of Lara’s apartment and, above all those of the chapel of St Raymond of Penyafort. And to think that she had wanted to erase them, believing they were no use to her! They might well prove vital now.

  The door of Lorieri’s office was open. He was sitting with his feet on the desk, reading a magazine. He was a handsome man, just as he had appeared in the video. The classic slightly rumpled forty-year-old who drove his female students crazy. The essence of his personality was summed up by the Converse All Stars he wore on his feet. They communicated a message of peaceful revolution.

  Smiling, Sandra knocked at the door.

  Lorieri looked up from his reading. ‘The exam has been moved till next week.’

  She sat down without being invited to come in, emboldened by the relaxed climate that prevailed in the room. ‘I’m not here for an exam.’

  ‘If you want to discuss your work, you have to come back on an odd-numbered day.’

  ‘And I’m not a student.’ She took out her badge. ‘Sandra Vega, police.’

  Lorieri did not seem surprised and did not lean forward to shake her hand. His one gesture towards politeness was to take his feet off the table. ‘Then I should say: What can I do for you, Officer?’ He smiled ingratiatingly.

  Sandra hated his charm. He reminded her of Schalber, and the poor assistant lecturer could not have imagined at how much of a disadvantage this put him. ‘I’m conducting an investigation and I need some advice relating to art. I was told you could help.’

  Surprised, Christian Lorieri put his elbows on the table. ‘Well, well. What’s the case? Is it one I might have read about in the newspapers?’

  ‘That’s confidential.’

  ‘I see. Well, I’m at your disposal.’ He gave her another smile.

  If he does that again, I’ll stick my gun in his face, Sandra thought. ‘Would you
mind taking a look at these and telling me if you recognise the place.’ She handed him the photos of the chapel of St Raymond of Penyafort. ‘We found them in the pocket of a suspect, and we can’t figure out where the photographs were taken.’

  Lorieri put on a pair of glasses and started examining the images. He took the photographs from the pile one at a time and then lifted them up in front of him. ‘There are tombs, so I’d definitely say a chapel. It’s very likely to be in a church.’

  Sandra was watching him, waiting for his reaction when the moment came.

  ‘There are various styles, so it’s difficult to establish where we are.’ He had looked at more than ten images when he came across the first photograph of Lara’s apartment. ‘There’s one here that doesn’t seem to …’ When he saw the second one and the third one, his smile vanished. ‘What do you want from me?’ he said, without having the courage to look her in the face.

  ‘You’ve been in that apartment, haven’t you?’

  He put down the pile of photographs and folded his arms, on the defensive now. ‘Only once. Maybe twice.’

  ‘Let’s say three times, and stop there. Is that right?’ Sandra was being deliberately provocative.

  Lorieri nodded.

  ‘Were you there the night Lara disappeared?’

  ‘No, not that night,’ he said firmly. ‘I’d already dumped her more than two weeks before.’

  ‘Dumped?’ Sandra said, horrified.

  ‘I mean … Well, you know what I mean: I’m married.’

  ‘Are you reminding me or yourself?’

  Lorieri stood up and went to the window. He ran a hand nervously through his hair, keeping the other down by his side. ‘When I found out she had disappeared, I wanted to go to the police. But then I thought of all the questions they would ask me and my wife, the rector, the university … I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the thing hidden any longer. It would be a tragedy for my career and my family. I thought the whole business was some whim of Lara’s, I thought she’d run away to get my attention, and that she’d come back eventually.’

  ‘Did it not occur to you she might have done something rash because of your rejection?’

 
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