A question of belief, p.3
A Question of Belief, p.3Donna Leon
It seemed to Brunetti that Brusca had finished so he asked, ‘Then why is his name on those documents? And why did you see fit to bring them to me?’ It occurred to Brunetti then to ask, ‘And how did they come to you in the first place?’
Brusca looked at his lap, then at Brunetti, then at the wall, then back at Brunetti. ‘Someone who works at the Tribunale gave them to me.’
‘For what purpose?’
Brusca shrugged. ‘Perhaps because they wanted the information to pass beyond the Tribunale.’
‘That’s certainly happening,’ Brunetti said, but he did not smile. Then, ‘Will you tell me who it was?’
Brusca shook the question away. ‘It doesn’t matter, and I told her I wouldn’t tell anyone.’
‘I understand,’ said Brunetti, who did.
After waiting in vain for Brusca to say something further, Brunetti said, ‘Tell me what it means. Or what you think it means.’
‘You mean the delays?’
Brunetti leaned back in his chair, linked his hands behind his head, and examined the ceiling.
‘In the case of an acrimonious divorce, where there is a lot of money involved, it would serve the purposes of the richer party to delay things for long enough to move or hide assets.’ Before Brunetti could ask, Brusca explained: ‘If the papers were delivered to the wrong courtroom on the day of a hearing, or not delivered at all, then the judge would be within his or her rights in ordering a postponement until all the necessary documents were available.’
‘I think I begin to understand,’ Brunetti said.
‘Think of the courthouses you’ve been in, Guido, and think of all those stacks of files lined up against the walls. You’ve seen them in every courthouse.’
‘Isn’t everything being entered into computers?’ Brunetti suddenly asked, remembering the circulars distributed by the Ministry of Justice.
‘All in the fullness of time, Guido.’
‘Which means it will take years. I work in personnel, so I know that two people have been assigned to the job: it will take them years, if not decades. Some of the files they have to transcribe go back to the fifties and sixties.’
‘Is it Fontana’s job to see that the papers are delivered?’
‘And the judge?’ Brunetti asked.
‘She is said to have been for some time the apple of his dull little eye.’
‘But he’s just a clerk, for heaven’s sake. And she’s a judge. Besides, he’s got to be twenty years older than she is.’
‘Ah, Guido,’ Brusca said, leaning forward and tapping a single finger against Brunetti’s knee, ‘I never knew you had such a conventional mind. Guilty of class and age prejudice, all in one go. All you can think about is love, love, love. Or sex, sex, sex.’
‘What should I be thinking about, instead?’ Brunetti said, forcing himself to sound curious and not offended.
‘In the case of Fontana,’ Brusca relented, ‘perhaps you could think of love, love, love, at least from what I’ve heard. But in the case of Her Honour, you’d be better advised to think of money, money, money.’ Brusca sighed, then said in a sober voice, ‘I think a great number of people are more interested in money than in love. Or even in sex.’
However interesting the thought of pursuing this thesis, Brunetti was more interested in information, and so he asked, ‘And is Judge Coltellini among them?’
Jokes fled and Brusca’s voice and face grew bleak. ‘She comes from greedy people, Guido.’ Brusca paused and then added, as if revealing a mystery he had just resolved, ‘It’s strange. We think that love of music can run in families, or maybe the ability to paint. So why not greed?’ As Brunetti remained silent, he asked, ‘You ever think about that, Guido?’
‘Yes,’ answered Brunetti, who had.
‘Ah,’ Brusca allowed himself to say and then went on, abandoning the general for the specific, ‘Her grandfather was a greedy man, and her father is to this day. She learned it from them, came by it honestly, you might say. If her mother weren’t dead, I’d go so far as to say the judge would consider an offer to sell her if she could.’
‘Did you ever have trouble with her?’
‘No, not at all,’ Brusca said, looking genuinely surprised by the question. ‘As I told you, I just sit there in my tiny office at the Commune and I keep track of all of the employee records: when people get hired, how much they earn, when they retire. I do my job, and people talk to me and tell me things, and occasionally I have to make a phone call and ask a question. To clarify something. And sometimes the answers people give me prompt me to be surprised, and then they tell me more about it, or they tell me other things. And over the years they’ve come to think it’s my business to know about everything.’
‘And people trust you to take things like this,’ Brunetti said, ‘out of the Tribunale.’
Brusca nodded, but it was such a sober nod that Brunetti asked, ‘Because you are pure of heart and clean of limb?’
Brusca laughed and the mood of the room lightened. ‘No. Because the questions I ask are usually so routine and boring that it would never occur to anyone not to tell me the truth.’
‘That’s a technique I’d like to master,’ Brunetti said.
Their parting was amicable, if awkward, both avoiding the fact that Brusca had never explained why he had come to Brunetti or what he wanted him to do with the information he now had. Since Brusca had made it clear that Coltellini was a woman animated by the desire for money, it was easy to conclude that she was being paid by people whose cases were being delayed. But that it was easy did not make it true, nor did it make it provable in a court of law.
What was not clear to Brunetti was the reason for any involvement on the part of Fontana. Love, love, love did not seem sufficient motive to corrupt a man described as ‘decorous’, but then it never did, did it?
It was seldom, after all these years, that Brunetti could be moved to indignation by some new revelation of the skill with which his fellow citizens managed to slip around the edges of the law. In some instances – though he confessed this to no one – he felt grudging admiration for the ingenuity employed, especially when it entailed getting around a law which he judged to be unjust or a situation he thought outright insane. When traffic lights were deliberately programmed to change more quickly than dictated by law so that the police could divide the extra money paid in fines with the men setting the timing devices, who but a lunatic would think bribing a policeman a crime? When scores of indicted criminals sat in Parliament, who could believe in the rule of law?
It would be difficult to say that Brunetti was shocked by the purported behaviour of Judge Coltellini, but he was certainly surprised, not least because the judge in question was a woman. Though Brunetti used statistics to support his conviction that women were less criminal than men, his belief was really based on his upbringing and experience of life. What he thought to be the right order of things – should Brusca’s insinuations be true – had been doubly overturned.
With Brusca’s suggestion in mind, Brunetti spread the papers on his desk and studied them anew. Centring his attention on Judge Coltellini’s name, he saw that it appeared numerous times on each of the four pages, and that her name stood beside six case numbers. He opened his desk and pulled out some coloured highlighting pens. He started at the top of the first page with the green and highlighted her name the first time it appeared in the first case, then used the same colour to go through the entire list, using it to indicate all of the times she held hearings in that case. He did the same with the next case, using pink this time. The third, yellow; the fourth, orange, and then he had to circle the fifth case number with pencil, and the last with red pen.
The Greens had come before her only three times: the second appearance took place on the date listed in the ‘Result’ column of the first appearance, and the third on the date scheduled in the second: b
The Yellow trail was more suggestive. The first hearing, which had taken place more than two years before, ended with an unexplained six-month postponement, and when that hearing was held, a new date was set, without explanation, more than five months ahead. When the third hearing was held, the ‘Results’ box contained a new date, six months away, and the phrase, ‘Missing documents’. The next postponement, this one for another six months, was explained by ‘Illness’, though whose illness was not explained. This next hearing, on the twentieth of December, appeared to have served only to postpone things a further four months, this explained by ‘Holidays’ in the last column. The new date, in the second half of April, convinced Brunetti that it had been scheduled during the Easter holidays, but Judge Coltellini surprised him by apparently holding a hearing and then setting a new date – seven months ahead – to allow herself to ‘Question new witnesses’.
Brunetti wondered what new witnesses there could be in a case that had been moving – though he immediately chided himself for having so precipitously chosen that verb – through the courts for almost three years. No wonder people dreaded being caught in the wheels of Juggernaut: it was axiomatic that the worst thing that could befall a person, short of serious illness, was to become embroiled in a court case. Indeed.
The judge managed to surprise Brunetti again by having resolved the Orange case in less than a year, though the Pencil and the Red Pen cases were still dragging their slow lengths along, each of them for more than two years.
He searched in his desk for a list of numbers and then dialled Brusca’s telefonino.
‘Yes?’ Brusca inquired in a calm tone, quite as though he were still in Brunetti’s office, that same tone Brunetti had heard him use in history class during their first year of middle school. In all these years, Brunetti had never known his friend to display surprise at human behaviour, no matter how base, though, God knows, working in the offices of the city administration would have exposed him to a bellyful of it.
‘I’ve taken a closer look at those papers,’ Brunetti said. ‘Have you shown them to anyone else?’
‘For what purpose?’ Brusca asked, his tone suddenly as serious as Brunetti’s.
‘If it’s true, then it should be stopped,’ Brunetti said, knowing that the idea of retribution was absurd.
‘Yes, you’re right,’ Brusca said, striving to sound as though they were discussing the quality of a soccer team and not the corruption of the judicial system. ‘But I don’t think that’s likely,’ he added
‘Then why did you give them to me?’ Brunetti made no attempt to disguise his irritation.
For a long time, there was no response from Brusca’s end of the line, and then he said, ‘I thought you might be able to think of something to do. And I hoped you’d be outraged by it.’
‘That’s putting it a bit too strongly,’ Brunetti said.
‘All right, all right, not outrage. Hope, then. Perhaps that’s what I admire in you, that you can still hope that things will turn right and the Augean Stables will be cleansed.’
‘That’s unlikely, as you say,’ Brunetti agreed. Then, turning back to the original purpose of the call and with the voice of friendship restored, he asked, ‘Really, why did you give them to me?’
‘It’s true. I hoped you’d be able to do something,’ Brusca answered. Then, in a voice Brunetti suspected his friend was deliberately making sound lighter, he added, ‘Besides, it’s always nice to be able to cause one of them a bit of trouble.’
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ Brunetti said, knowing as he spoke how little chance there was of that.
Brusca said a quick goodbye.
Brunetti propped his left elbow on his desk and rubbed his thumbnail back and forth along his lower lip. His shirt felt clammy under his arms and across his back. He went to the window and looked down at the water of the canal, black in the day’s harsh reflection. Campo San Lorenzo had been baked free of life; even the cats who lived in the multi-storey cat condominium erected against the façade of the church had disappeared; he wondered if they had fled the city to go on vacation.
For a moment, he let himself indulge in a fantasy about cats on vacation in the mountains or at the seaside, sent there by DINGO, the city’s cooperative society of animal lovers. Brunetti hated the ‘animalisti’, hated them for their defence of the loathsome, disease-ridden pigeons, hated them for having rounded up all of the wild cats of the city, no doubt to the delight of the ever-increasing population of rats. While on the subject of animals, he added to his list of people he hated those who did not clean up after their dogs; if he had his way, he’d slap a fine on them so strong it would . . .
‘Commissario?’ His attention was torn from wild speculation about the amount of the fine he’d impose and the system he’d invent to implement it.
‘Yes, Signorina?’ he said, turning towards her. ‘What is it?’
‘I saw Vianello a moment ago. I went into the squad room and he was on the phone. He didn’t look at all well.’
‘Is he sick?’ Brunetti asked, thinking of the sudden things that could be brought on by the heat.
Signorina Elettra came a few steps into his office. ‘I don’t know, sir. I don’t think so. He looked more worried or frightened and not wanting to show it.’ Brunetti was accustomed to the fact that she looked good; today he was amazed to realize she still looked cool. Instead of asking about Vianello, Brunetti blurted out, ‘Don’t you find it hot?’
‘Excuse me, sir?’
‘The heat. The temperature? Isn’t it hot? For you, I mean. Don’t you think it’s hot?’ If he had gone on any longer, he would probably have been reduced to drawing a picture of the sun to show her.
‘No, not particularly, sir. It’s only 30 degrees.’
‘And that’s not hot?’
‘Not for me, no.’
He watched her hesitate about what to tell him. Finally she said, ‘I grew up in Sicily, sir. So I guess my body grew accustomed to the heat. Or my thermostat was programmed. Something like that.’
‘How was that?’
‘Oh, my father worked there for a few years,’ she said, her uninterested voice telling Brunetti that he had best be equally uninterested, or at least pretend to be.
Obediently, Brunetti veered away from her private life and asked, ‘Do you have any idea who he was talking to?’
‘No, sir, but it was someone he knew well enough to use “Tu” with. And he seemed to be doing more listening than talking.’
Brunetti got to his feet. He picked up some papers she had given him earlier that morning and said, ‘I wanted to show him these. I’ll take them down.’ He waited for her to leave, thinking it might not be a good idea for Vianello to see them coming down the stairs together, as if she had been telling tales out of school.
She smiled before turning towards the door. ‘He didn’t see me, Commissario.’ And then she was gone. When he reached the door to his office, she had already disappeared down the steps.
Brunetti walked down slowly. In the squad room he found Vianello at his desk and still on the phone, half turned away, but Brunetti saw immediately what Signorina Elettra had meant. The Ispettore was hunched over the phone, his free hand rolling a pencil back and forth on his desk. From this distance, it looked to Brunetti as if his eyes were closed.
Again and again, the Inspector rolled the pencil across his desk, not speaking. As Brunetti watched, Vianello tightened his lips, then relaxed them. The pencil never stopped moving. Finally he pulled the phone away from his ear, slowly, with great effort, as though there were a magnetic field between the receiver and his ear. He held it in
The Inspector sat for a long time, looking at the phone. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped at his forehead, then returned it to his pocket and got to his feet. By the time he turned towards the door, Brunetti had removed all emotion from his face and was taking a stride towards his assistant, the sheaf of papers clutched in his hand.
Before Brunetti could mention the papers, Vianello said, ‘Let’s go down to the bridge. I need a drink.’
Brunetti refolded the papers, but because he wasn’t wearing his jacket he folded them smaller and slipped them into the back pocket of his trousers.
They walked out on to the pavement in front of the Questura and Brunetti realized that his sunglasses were upstairs in the pocket of his jacket. He could not stop himself from raising his left hand to protect his eyes from the glare. ‘I wonder if this is what it’s like to be in a lineup,’ he said. Squinting, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dazzle; then, keeping his hand above his eyes, he started towards the bar.
Inside, Bambola stood behind the counter, his djellaba looking as fresh as a document just pulled from an envelope.
A Question of Belief by Donna Leon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes