The Lost Girls of Rome, p.32Donato Carrisi
Lorieri turned his back on her. ‘Of course,’ he admitted.
‘Nearly a month has passed and you haven’t said anything.’ Sandra made no attempt to hide her disgust.
Lorieri was clearly under pressure now. ‘I did offer to help her.’
‘To have an abortion, you mean?’
Lorieri knew he was in trouble. ‘What else could I have done? It was a fling, nothing more, and Lara knew that. We never went out together, didn’t talk on the phone, I didn’t even have her number.’
‘The fact that you didn’t speak up after her disappearance makes you a suspect in her murder.’
‘Murder? What are you talking about?’ He was beside himself. ‘Have you found her body?’
‘We don’t need to. You have a motive. Sometimes that’s all it takes to arrest someone.’
‘I haven’t killed anyone, damn it.’ He was on the verge of tears.
Strangely, Sandra felt sorry for him. In the past she would have applied the law of the good policeman: never believe anyone. But she sensed he was telling the truth: it was Jeremiah Smith who had taken Lara; the way she had been taken from her apartment was too well thought out. If Lorieri had wanted to kill her, he could have simply lured her to an isolated place, Lara would have followed him without question. And even if he had killed her in a fit of madness, perhaps after a quarrel at her apartment, there would have been traces of the murder.
Death is in the details, she remembered. And there was nothing to suggest that Lara was dead.
‘Get a grip and sit down, please.’
He looked at Sandra with reddened eyes. ‘All right.’ He sat down again, sniffing.
Sandra had a good reason to feel compassion for this cowardly adulterer. I’m no different from him, I’ve cheated too, she told herself, remembering the green tie.
But she had no desire to share that story with Lorieri.
Instead, she said, ‘Lara didn’t want to present you with a fait accompli. She told you she was pregnant to give you a chance. If she is alive and comes back, please listen to her.’
He was unable to say a word. Sandra quickly recovered the photographs from the desk because she wanted to get out of here. She was putting them back in her bag when she carelessly dropped them. They scattered over the floor and Lorieri bent down with her to pick them up.
‘It’s all right, I can manage.’ She noticed that among the photographs that had ended up on the floor was the one of the priest with the scar on his temple.
She turned to Lorieri, not sure she had heard correctly. ‘Do you know this man?’
‘Actually I have no idea who he is. I wasn’t referring to that one, but to this one.’ He picked up another photograph and showed it to her. ‘St Raymond of Penyafort. Did you want to know about the chapel, or was that just an excuse?’
Sandra looked at it. It was a photograph of the altarpiece in the chapel, the one that depicted St Raymond himself. ‘What can you tell me about this?’
‘About the painting, not much: it’s from the seventeenth century and it’s in the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. No, actually I was referring to the saint.’
Lorieri stood up, went to the bookcase, and confidently picked a volume from one of the shelves. He leafed through the pages, showed Sandra a reproduction of the painting, then read the caption: ‘“The Paenitentiaria Apostolica is a department of the Holy See dealing with sins. Father Raymond was one of its most prominent members. In the thirteenth century he was given the task of drawing up a text analysing cases of conscience as a guide to confessors. This text was the Summa de Casibus Penitentiae, which laid down criteria for evaluation and assigned a specific penitence to each sin.”’
Sandra blamed herself for not having looked earlier for information about the chapel. Whoever had slipped that card with the word Fred on it under the door of her hotel room hadn’t just been trying to draw her into a trap.
The place itself had a meaning.
Even though the idea of going back where a sniper had tried to kill her didn’t exactly fill her with enthusiasm, she had to discover what that meaning was.
Clemente’s talent was for finding information. In the last few days, Marcus had had more than one confirmation of his abilities. He had never asked him how he did it. He assumed he drew on the archive, but that wasn’t the only source. Above him there must be a whole secret network that gathered information. Historically, the Church had always proved itself capable of infiltrating lay institutions and organised groups that might threaten it. It was a form of self-defence.
As Clemente often said, the Vatican was calm on the outside but always vigilant.
But this time his friend had surpassed himself. They were in a bingo hall from whose windows they could keep an eye on the front door of the apartment block where the Martini family lived. The place was full of players, each one concentrating only on his or her own game.
‘Alice’s father put two large suitcases in his car,’ Clemente said, pointing to a Fiat Multipla parked on the other side of the street. ‘He was very agitated. He’s taken a week off work and withdrawn a considerable sum from the bank.’
‘Do you think he’s getting ready to escape?’
‘It certainly looks suspicious, doesn’t it?’
‘And what about the gun? How do you know he has one?’
‘Last year he shot a man who was trying to lure some children in an amusement park. The only reason he didn’t kill him is because the police intervened in time. He ran away, but none of those present at the shooting wanted to testify against him, and the police were unable to charge him because when they searched his apartment they couldn’t find the gun. It goes without saying that he doesn’t have a licence, which means he must have bought it illegally.’
His name was Bruno Martini. And Marcus remembered that it was in a park that his daughter had disappeared. He shook his head. ‘Just what we need. An avenger.’
‘After that incident, his wife left him, taking their other child with her. The man has never recovered from Alice’s disappearance. For three years he’s been conducting a personal investigation, often clashing with the police. By day he works as a bus driver, at night he goes looking for his daughter. He scours places frequented by paedophiles, areas where prostitution is rife, certain he’ll find her in the end.’
‘I think what he wants to find more than anything is an answer that will give him some peace.’ Marcus couldn’t help comparing Martini’s situation and that of the Roccas. Filippo’s parents had not given up when faced with that darkness, they hadn’t opened the door wide to it and allowed it to invade their lives. They hadn’t tried to meet evil with evil. ‘Bruno Martini is going to get himself killed.’
Clemente agreed with him. Astor Goyash was practically unapproachable. His bodyguards would open fire before the man could get anywhere near him. He was deluding himself if he thought he could escape unscathed.
As they waited for Martini to leave the building, Clemente brought Marcus up to date on the other news of the day. ‘The police have started looking for Lara.’
He was incredulous. ‘Since when?’
‘They’ve linked the disappearance to the cases of Jeremiah Smith. It’s partly down to a policewoman from Milan who’s working with them.’
Realising this was the same woman with whom he had made a pact, Marcus made no comment. But he found the news encouraging.
‘And there’s something else: the doctors have ruled out the idea that Jeremiah had a heart attack. They’re thinking now that he was poisoned and are carrying out toxicological tests. So you were right.’
‘I even know what substance was used,’ Marcus said. ‘Succinylcholine. It paralyses the muscles, produces an effect similar to a heart attack, and doesn’t leave any residue in the blood.’ He couldn’t help a somewhat self-satisfied expression appearing on his face. ‘It seems my mystery collea
Clemente was full of admiration: his pupil was passing every test with flying colours. ‘Have you already decided what you’re going to do when this whole thing is over?’
What he most wanted was to help others, like that priest from Caritas. But all he said was: ‘For now, I’m trying not to think about it.’ He would have continued, but Clemente prodded his arm.
‘He’s coming out.’
They looked through the window and saw Bruno Martini walking towards his car.
Clemente handed Marcus the keys to his Panda. ‘Good luck,’ he said.
The city was emptying for the dinner hour and the Fiat Multipla kept up a regular speed in the traffic. Marcus managed to stay behind it without too much difficulty, although at a safe distance to avoid being noticed.
According to the road maps Marcus consulted as he drove, Martini was heading out of Rome. But first he stopped at an ATM, which immediately struck Marcus as odd: Clemente had told him Martini had withdrawn money from the bank earlier today. He saw him get back in his car and resume his journey. But after about ten minutes, he stopped again, this time to have a coffee in a bar filled with people watching a match. Bruno Martini didn’t appear to know anyone, he didn’t greet anyone and nobody seemed to recognise him. After finishing his coffee, he paid and set off yet again. He headed into a restricted traffic area: a sign indicated that the restriction was currently in operation but, heedless of the fine he would incur, he passed beneath the surveillance camera. Marcus had no choice but to follow him. At this point, Martini took the ring road that led to the northern outskirts of Rome. He pulled up at the toll-gate to the motorway and bought his ticket. After a few minutes, he made a third stop, this time for petrol. Marcus waited for him in the layby beyond the petrol station and watched in his rear-view mirror as Martini refuelled calmly at one of the pumps and paid with a credit card. Once again he set off, keeping a constant moderate speed.
‘Where is he going?’ Marcus wondered. He was starting to feel quite puzzled. The man must have some purpose in mind, but he couldn’t work it out.
Martini was driving in the direction of Florence, but after going about six miles, he stopped at another service station. This time Marcus decided to follow him inside. He parked and went in. Martini was sitting at the counter: he had bought a packet of cigarettes and ordered another coffee. Marcus pretended to look through the magazines, all the while peering out from behind the display rack as Martini drank his coffee. When he had finished, he did something that Marcus found hard to interpret.
He looked up and into the lens of a security camera positioned above the cash register, and remained stock still for a few moments.
He’s making sure he’s being filmed, Marcus thought.
Then Martini put down his cup and took the stairs that led to the toilets, situated on the lower floor. Marcus followed him down. He entered the men’s toilet as Martini was washing his hands. Making sure they were alone, he placed himself a couple of wash basins away and turned on the tap. Martini looked at him in the mirror, though without any particular curiosity.
‘Is it an alibi you’re after, Signor Martini?’
The words took him by surprise. ‘Are you talking to me?’
‘The ATM, the petrol station, the cafeteria here: all places watched by security cameras. With all those supporters in that bar for the match, someone’s bound to have noticed you. And it was a clever idea to risk a fine. Even driving on the motorway: the toll booths record entrances and exits. You want your movements to be traced, you’re making sure you’re being recorded. But where exactly are you going?’
Martini leaned forward threateningly, anger in his eyes at having been unmasked. ‘What do you want from me?’
Marcus held his gaze. ‘I want to help you.’
The man was on the verge of hitting him, but held back. His irascible state of mind was obvious in the way he moved his powerful hands, as well as the posture of his shoulders: like a lion preparing to attack. ‘Are you police?’
Marcus avoided the question. ‘Alberto Canestrari, Astor Goyash. Do you know those names?’
Martini didn’t have any reaction except bewilderment.
‘Do you know them or not?’
‘Who the hell are you, can you at least tell me that?’
‘You’re running away, aren’t you? You’re no different from me. You’re also trying to help someone. Who?’
Bruno Martini took a step back as if he had been hit full in the face. ‘I can’t.’
‘You have to tell me, otherwise everything will be pointless. That person won’t get the justice he’s looking for. He’ll die tonight.’ He went closer. ‘Who is it?’
Martini leaned on one of the wash basins, and lifted a hand to his forehead. ‘She came to me yesterday and told me that her missing son was dead and she knew how to find his killer.’
‘Camilla Rocca.’ Marcus hadn’t expected that.
Martini nodded. ‘What happened to both our families three years ago united us. After their disappearance, it was as if Alice and Filippo were brother and sister. Camilla and I met in a police station and since then grief has kept us together. Camilla was close to me when my wife left me. She was the only one who understood. So I couldn’t say no when she asked for the gun.’
Marcus couldn’t believe it. The family that had bounced back, even bringing a new child into the world: it was all an illusion. Camilla’s plan became clear to him now. Taking advantage of the fact that her husband was away, she had kept him in the dark about what she was going to do, so that, if anything happened to her, there would at least be one of them left to look after their child. That was why the little one had not been with her that afternoon. She must have entrusted it to someone’s care.
‘Camilla knew about your unlicensed gun. You gave it to her and then tried to construct an alibi, in case something went wrong and the police connected the gun to you, given that you’d already used it before.’ Marcus knew he had him, there was no way he could withhold the truth now. ‘Did Camilla tell you what she was planning?’
‘A few days ago she received a phone call. An anonymous voice told her that if she wanted to find the man who’d had her son Filippo killed, she just had to go to a particular hotel room tonight. The man who ordered the murder is called Astor Goyash.’
‘What room, what hotel?’ Marcus asked.
Martini continued staring down at his feet. ‘I thought it over. There was no guarantee it was the truth, not a joke in bad taste. But doubt makes you believe anything. That silence is unbearable. You just want it to stop. Nobody else can hear it, but for you it’s a torture, it drives you mad.’
‘Killing someone certainly isn’t going to make it stop … Tell me where Camilla Rocca is now, I beg you.’
‘Hotel Exedra, room 303.’
It was a few degrees colder than it had been in the morning and the change had brought down a very fine mist, made orange by the street lamps. It was like going into a fire: Sandra expected to see the flames appear at any moment.
In the square with the obelisk and the elephant, the faithful were lingering at the end of the Mass. She passed through the middle of the crowd and entered Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Unlike the first time she had been here, the church was not deserted. Tourists and worshippers were still wandering through the basilica. Sandra felt reassured by their presence. She headed straight for the chapel of St Raymond of Penyafort. She needed to understand.
Once again in front of the bare altar, she looked at the portrait of the saint. To its right, the fresco of Christ the judge between two angels, with the votive candles. She wondered how many prayers were being offered up in those little flames, or what sins were being expiated. This time, Sandra understood the meaning of the symbols around her. They represented a court of justice.
The Tribunal of Souls, she thought.
The simplicity of this chapel compared with the other
Sandra smiled to herself. It was clear to her now that the first time she had not been led here by chance. She was no ballistics expert, but she could now be objective about the previous morning’s incident. The sound of the gunshots had been lost in the church’s echo, preventing her from knowing where the sniper was positioned. But after what had happened in the gallery beneath Lara’s apartment, she doubted that somebody had actually wanted to kill her. There in that tunnel she had been a perfect target, but the man hadn’t taken advantage of the situation. Something inside her ruled out the possibility that it might have been two different people.
The person who had led her to the basilica had wanted to find out what she knew. David must have made some discovery here: an important piece of information that this person needed to know at all costs. He had used her, taking advantage of the false threat that hung over her life and simultaneously boasting of his friendship with her husband. Then he had betrayed her, with one purpose in mind: using her as bait to catch the penitenziere. That was why he had gone down into that gallery with her. Sandra turned and saw him, surrounded by a group of worshippers.
Schalber was looking straight at her. Although still keeping at a distance, there was no need for him to stay hidden now.
She put her hand on the holster beneath her sweatshirt, to let him know what would happen if he attempted anything. He raised his arms, as if to say he was harmless, and came slowly towards her. He didn’t seem hostile.
‘What do you want?’ she asked.
‘I assume you’ve understood everything by now.’
‘What do you want?’ she repeated, emphatically.
Schalber looked towards Christ the judge. ‘To defend myself.’
‘You were the one who fired at me.’
‘I slipped that card under the door of your hotel room and drew you here because I wanted David’s photographs. But when you set my mobile phone ringing, I realised I had to act or the game would be up. So I improvised.’
The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes