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Authors: Michele Giuttari

A Florentine Death

A Florentine Death
Michele Ferrara [1]
Michele Giuttari
Abacus (2008)
Tags:
mystery
mysteryttt
 

SUMMARY:
Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara knows that the beautiful surface of his adopted city, Florence, hides dark undercurrents. When called in to investigate a series of brutal and apparently random murders, his intuition is confirmed. Distrusted by his superiors and pilloried by the media, Ferrara finds time running out as the questions pile up. Is there a connection between the murders and the threatening letters he has received? Are his old enemies, the Calabrian Mafia, involved? And what part is played by a beautiful young woman facing a heart-rending decision, a priest troubled by a secret from his past, and an American journalist fascinated by the darker side of life? Ferrara confronts the murky underbelly of Florence in an investigation that will put not only his career but also his life on the line.

A Florentine Death

 

 

 

 

 

MICHELE GIUTTARI

 

Translated by Howard Curtis

ABACUS

First published in Italy in 2005 by Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli as
Scarabeo
First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Abacus This paperback edition published by Abacus in 2008 Reprinted 2008 (six times), 2009 (twice)

Copyright © Michael Giuttari 2005 Translation © Howard Curtis 2007

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-0-349-12006-5

Typeset in Horley by M Rules Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

 

 

Abacus An imprint of Little, Brown Book Group 100 Victoria Embankment London EC4Y 0DY

An Hachette UK Company www .hachette.
co.uk

www.littlebrown.co.uk

 

 

To my wife Christa, who had the patience to support me during the endless hours of solitude which the work of a writer involves.

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

 

 

I have always liked the custom of certain novelists, especially in the English-speaking world, to thank those who have contributed, directly or indirectly, to the writing of their books. As with many of them, my list would be too long.

So thank you to all my past and present colleagues, the police officers, inspectors and superintendents. I cannot name them all individually, but I hope they all know how grateful I am to them.

I also owe a great deal to the passion and professionalism of my agents, Daniela and Luigi Bernabo, who encouraged me throughout the many drafts of this book. I can never thank them enough for all their advice and suggestions.

 

 

 

 
PART ONE
a long, strange day in florence

 

1 October 1999

7 a.m.: Michele Ferrara's apartment

 

That morning, Florence had woken up twice: from a night's sleep, and from the sluggishness of a summer that had been too hot and too long.

Chief Superintendent Ferrara looked out at the city from his terrace overlooking the Lungarno degli Acciaioli. He had just finished reading the newspapers. Even the news seemed to echo the morning's good mood: the Pope had declared that sexual intercourse encourages the growth of tumours. That was sure to delight his incorrigible friend Massimo Verga, who would see it as yet more evidence of how right he was to be an atheist. Meanwhile, in Granada, Spain, it had been established that Italian women, with a life expectancy of eighty-two or eighty-three, were second only to Japanese women for longevity. Petra, his wife - German by an accident of birth but Italian by her choice of husband, as she often said with a self-satisfied air - would smile about that when he read her the article in a little while over tea.

Right now, Michele was enjoying the breeze and watching the Ponte Vecchio slowly fill with people. Petra was still inside the apartment, because she'd had to answer a phone call, but the table was already beautifully laid.

Breakfast was almost a sacred ritual in the Ferrara household, perhaps because it was the only meal husband and wife always ate together. As a tribute to Petra's Teutonic origins, it was a big, hearty breakfast, a real German breakfast, but one that the Germans could only dream about. The cold meats were Tuscan, the olives Sicilian and even the strudel, which Petra ordered from the pastry shop in the Piazza Beccaria, was much better than anything you could find in her native city. A judgement confirmed by her parents, who often came to visit them, either because they missed their daughter or because they couldn't resist the charms of Florence.

Weather permitting, they always ate on the terrace, which Petra had transformed into a garden. This morning, it was full of the scents of jasmine, lavender and rosemary. Drifting from the stereo speakers was the muted sound of Tosca cursing Scarpia.

'Guess who that was?' Petra said cheerfully, appearing at last with a steaming teapot.

'Your
Mutti?’
Ferrara asked, with a touch of irony in his voice: his in-laws had only left a few days earlier, and had been on the phone for more than an hour the night before.

'The
tombeur,'
Petra replied. 'He wants to know if you can drop in and see him. He's got a surprise for us.'

The ladies' man - Petra also called him Peter Pan because of his stubborn determination, common to all Casanovas, to never grow up - was Michele Ferrara's best friend, Massimo Verga. A Sicilian like Ferrara, he owned a big bookshop in the Via Tornabuoni. They had been school friends, then Massimo had decided to study philosophy at university while Ferrara had opted for law. It had actually been Massimo who had introduced Michele and Petra. Massimo had been madly in love with her, but in the end she had chosen Ferrara. The two of them had then drifted apart, until they had met again by chance in Florence, where fate had somehow brought both of them. Once their old friendship had resumed, Massimo had made it a point of honour to rescue Michele from the pit of barren ignorance into which, in his opinion, the study of law and his career as a policeman had cast him.

It was Massimo, too, who had introduced them to the pleasures of opera. Neither Ferrara nor his wife was a real connoisseur like Massimo, and they never would be. To them, opera was something purely emotional, and they kept up with it whenever they could. They were as passionate about it as their grandparents and great-grandparents had been in the days when opera was a popular art, like melodrama, and seemed to touch people's lives directly; the days when film and TV had not yet entered the lives of Italians. In the Ferrara household, in any case, the TV set was little more than a piece of furniture to be dusted. Even the news they preferred to hear on the radio.

Where Ferrara invariably disappointed Massimo, however, was when it came to books. It wasn't that he disliked books -on the contrary. He just didn't have time to read, he'd always say.

Ferrara looked at his watch. 'I can't make it right now. Maybe I'll drop in on him around midday. Will you remember to get the mushrooms? I should be home for lunch today'

'How could I forget?' she said, laughing. 'Chief Superintendent Ferrara coming home for lunch is quite an event!'

She sent him off after breakfast with a kiss on his forehead.

 

 

 

8.56
a.m.: Santa Maria Novella station

 

 

 

The Eurostar 9425, due to arrive at 8.46, pulled into the station ten minutes late.

Valentina Preti got off the train and headed straight for the Tourist Information office. She was in a hurry.

As she passed a group of three young idlers, one of them called out, 'Oh
schones Fraulein,
if you want to wash your clothes in the Arno, I'll help you take them off, no problem!'

All three laughed.

'Go fuck yourselves!' she snapped back with a malicious smile, leaving them stunned.

She was used to hearing remarks like that - she'd heard a lot worse. And she was used to being taken for a foreigner. In Bologna, where she had been living for four years, it happened all the time.

Born in San Vigilio di Marebbe, in Alto Adige, where her parents owned a hotel, Valentina was tall, slim and athletic, distinctly Nordic in appearance. She wore her wavy blonde hair short, in a gamine cut: today, it peeped out slyly from under the bright orange and purple scarf she had tied into a bandana. She had clean, regular features, and although she wore a little make-up she did not really need it. Her clear skin was dotted with small freckles at the sides of the straight, thin nose, her green-grey eyes were slightly upturned, and her small, soft, slightly protuberant lips had that hint of a pout that men like so much. She was wearing tight-fitting jeans, a purple blouse and an Indian silk waistcoat.

There was a queue at the Information office, and she had to wait.

From time to time, she looked nervously at her watch.

'How do I get to Greve in Chianti?' she asked when she finally reached the front of the queue.

'There's a bus about once an hour,' the girl behind the desk replied. 'The bus station is on your right as you go out, in the Via Santa Caterina da Siena.'

'How about the university?'

'Here in Florence?'

'Yes, the faculty of letters and philosophy.'

'Just a moment, let me have a look.'

As Valentina left the station, she looked at her watch again. 9.25. Too late. Better take a taxi, she could still afford it.

 

 

 

10 a.m.: Police Headquarters

 

 

In the offices of the
Squadra Mobile
on the first floor of Police

Headquarters in the Via Zara, Ferrara had summoned five of his men for a meeting.

They sat around the table opposite his desk: Gianni Ascalchi, a young superintendent with a pleasantly grumpy expression, recently transferred from Rome; Superintendent Francesco Rizzo, Ferrara's deputy to all intents and purposes; Violante, the oldest of the chief inspectors, deaf in one ear, nearing retirement age and not greatly respected by his colleagues; Inspector Antonio Sergi, known as Serpico because of his resemblance to the Al Pacino character; and finally, Inspector Riccardo Venturi, who had been in the Squad the longest and remembered everything.

Ferrara kicked off proceedings. Are we ready for Sunday? There's always trouble when Roma are visiting, and we'll be dealing with two lots of supporters who can't stand the sight of each other. The Commissioner's afraid there might be trouble at the stadium, especially if Fiorentina lose.'

'What do you mean, if they lose?' The ironic comment came from Ascalchi, already known as 'the Roman' because of his strong accent. 'They'll lose, chief, they'll lose. We're the better team!'

Rizzo, a Sicilian like Ferrara, shot him an amused glance, but the others took offence and jumped in to counter Ascalchi's remark.

'We can take it!' Inspector Venturi said.

'We'll destroy you!' was Violante's contribution.

'Okay, cut it out!' Ferrara interrupted. 'I don't want any more predictions about the match, is that understood? We have to help out our colleagues in Special Operations. They're overstretched in a situation like this.'

'As if we didn't already have enough on our plates Rizzo complained. He had several operations on the go, and was hoping to bring them to a rapid conclusion. He didn't like to spare men from his own squad for jobs which, in his opinion, weren't even in their remit.

Ferrara ignored him. 'Let's see if we can get some decent tip-offs. We need to know if the Fiorentina hooligans are planning anything violent. Get some of our people into the bars where the supporters hang out. Gather as much information as you can.'

Rizzo objected again. 'But surely, chief, Special Operations are already doing that.'

'I know, but it's not enough. We know the territory better than they do - and anyway, these are the Commissioner's orders, okay?'

'I wasn't arguing with the orders. It just seems to me a waste of manpower.'

'Let's not underestimate the situation. As you probably read in
La Nazione,
Special Ops raided the homes of several known troublemakers yesterday
..."

Inspector Sergi stopped playing with his long tousled beard. 'I read that,' he said. Apparently in one house they found explosives filled with marbles.'

'Three of them,' Ferrara said. 'Three lethal devices. Best case scenario, someone gets hit and is left with an indelible memory. Worst case scenario, these things get tossed into a crowd of Roma supporters, or at the police. If someone were to get killed
..."

Rizzo surrendered. 'All right, chief. We'll see what we can do.'

'Good. So when we finish here, get yourselves organised. Search cars and houses, if necessary. We have the legal authority to do it if we have to. The important thing is that you tell me first, unless it's urgent and you don't have time to call me. If that's the case, I don't need to tell you, you just carry on.'

All right, chief,' they all agreed.

Any questions?' Ferrara asked. Then, as always when a meeting was coming to an end: 'Has anyone got anything to say about their current cases?'

Inspector Venturi gave a summary of that day's activities. Sure that everything was under control, Ferrara brought the meeting to a close.

 

 

 

12 noon: parish church of Santa Croce, Greve in Chianti

 

 

 

Father Rotondi - Don Sergio, as everyone called him — walked towards the sacristy across the central nave, annoyed as usual by the tourists disturbing the peace of his church. These were supposedly high-class tourists, but they were just as intrusive as the downmarket kind. And there were more of them every year. Germans, English, Americans, and Japanese - the latter the worst because they always went around in groups.

This morning, there were two groups. The smaller one stood admiring the precious white varnished terracotta above the altar in the left nave, while the larger one crowded around Lorenzo di Bicci's triptych in the apsidal chapel of the right nave. In the middle of the group, incongruously, there was a tall, fair-haired young man who towered over the Japanese. It was impossible not to notice him, because even inside the church he had kept on his sunglasses.

'He's really going to enjoy the triptych,' Father Rotondi said to himself, even more irritated. What disturbed him most was the unpleasant impression that, behind those sunglasses, the young man's eyes weren't on Lorenzo's work at all, but on him.

When he got back to the sacristy, he set to work trying to prise open the door of the wooden cabinet, which was jammed. The cabinet contained the precious monstrance that was used only for the most important masses, and Father Francesco, parish priest of Santa Croce, wanted it at all costs for Sunday's ceremony.

He had brought a sharp knife in from the kitchen and was trying to force the door open with it when Father Francesco walked in.

'Careful you don't ruin the wood,' he said.

Taken by surprise, Don Sergio jumped in fright and the knife fell from his hand.

'You shouldn't be using tools like that, father,' the older priest said. 'And you seem more nervous than usual today. Anything wrong?'

'No, no. It's just that there's a lot to do.'

'There always is, Don Sergio. The care of souls doesn't leave time for idleness.'

But Don Sergio wasn't thinking about the care of souls. He was thinking about the normal, everyday administrative tasks which Father Francesco didn't bother about and which the elderly sacristan was increasingly neglecting. There were repairs that needed doing, bills to be paid. They'd almost run out of candles and if he didn't take care of it, Sunday mass would have to be celebrated without them. And there were other things that were worrying him, too; private things. He had made a lot of mistakes in his life, and he had to find a way to free himself from them once and for all, even if it meant doing something really drastic. That was in his thoughts more and more these days.

He applied more pressure with the knife, and the door suddenly sprang open.

'There!' he said triumphantly. 'Now the important thing is not to close it again, at least before Sunday. We'll call the locksmith next week.'

'All right. But take that knife back to the kitchen and try not to hurt yourself. If you want to see me about the accounts, I'll be in my study.'

 

 

 

12.30 p.m.: Verga bookshop, Via Tornabuoni

 

 

 

'Nice to see you, Superintendent!' Rita Senesi greeted him, as cheerfully as ever, in her enchanting Florentine sing-song. 'What can I do for you?'

Rita Senesi had been working here for as long as anyone could remember. Whether or not she was in love with her boss was a mystery, and nobody knew the answer - perhaps she didn't even know it herself. She was certainly resigned to Massimo Verga's inveterate womanising, which had caused more than a few problems over the years and had greatly reduced his considerable family fortune.

'I'm not here to buy anything, Rita. Massimo asked to see me.'

'He's up there, in a "meeting". One of those "summits", you know? . . . I'll go and call him. Wait here. Or would you prefer to go to his office?'

'Yes, I think I will. Tell him I'm there.'

It was a big bookshop, spread over three floors. The latest books were on the ground floor, along with a section for newspapers and magazines just inside the front door on the left, and a section for luxury stationery on the right. On the first floor were the art books, including the antiquarian volumes, as well as Massimo Verga's office. In the basement was the store room, the paperbacks, and the meeting room. Book launches were held in the meeting room, as well as impromptu gatherings of the city's best wits, who convened from time to time at a moment's notice to slaughter anything that took their fancy: the latest bestsellers or the policies of whichever government was in office, no matter the political complexion.

Ferrara was not at all sorry to have arrived right in the middle of one of these meetings. If Massimo was busy, he wouldn't have time to do something Ferrara had been dreading: grill him on how he was getting on with Henry James'
Turn of the Screw.
Massimo had been constantly lecturing him about that book ever since Ferrara had been unwise enough to confess that, when it came to horror, he preferred Stephen King.

The office was not large. It was dominated by a metal desk that was always cluttered with books, most of them open and annotated in the margins or with the pages marked with strips of coloured paper. There were also four chairs, various shelves full of files, and an outsize rack of carefully polished pipes.

That was another of the differences that united the two men: as far as smoking went, Ferrara maintained that cigars were superior to anything else, while Verga championed the nobility of the pipe. Both of them looked down on cigarettes, which they considered common and deadly.

'I did it!' Massimo exclaimed as he joined him, having finally managed to extricate himself from the passionate debate currently in progress.

'I could have waited. I'm in no hurry'

'What?' He smiled. 'Oh, no, I wasn't referring to those four madmen.' He opened a drawer in the desk, took out a rather thick envelope and handed it over in triumph. 'Look at this, and spare me the gratitude. When the time's right, I'll remind you that you owe me one.'

The surprise wasn't entirely unexpected. The envelope contained return tickets to Vienna, for two people, for a period of two weeks over the New Year, as well as tickets for the first night of
Cavalleria Rusticana
with Placido Domingo, which were now quite impossible to find.

 

 

 

1 p.m.: Michele Ferrara's apartment

 

 

 

Ferrara returned home, humming
Bada, Santuzza, schiavo non sono
under his breath, making sure no one could hear him because he was very out of tune and was well aware of the fact, even without Petra there to remind him. He was in a good mood. He had quite forgotten that the world never stops breathing down our necks, doesn't give a damn how we amuse ourselves, and is always there, ready to deal us a new blow in order to remind us that we are human and are born only to suffer.

Petra was in the greenhouse on the terrace, which was one of her two kingdoms, the other being the kitchen.

They lived in a top floor apartment, which Ferrara had been lucky enough to find seven years earlier. The apartment was small, though perfectly adequate for the two of them, but its great advantage was that it had a beautiful terrace, very large by Florentine standards. Petra had fallen in love with it immediately, and with a little time, patience and determination had transformed it into a garden that was the envy of their friends.

This was the time of year when she spent a lot of time in the greenhouse, sowing, transplanting, fertilising. The greenhouse was a small mobile construction of wood and glass, complete with air-conditioning, placed against the wall of the apartment on the south side of the terrace.

As he embraced his wife, Ferrara felt a strange sensation. When two people know each other so well, it takes the slightest thing, a pressure that lingers a moment longer than necessary, a glint in the eyes, an unexpected pause.

'What a wonderful day, Michele!' Petra said, freeing herself from his embrace with a forced smile that did not deceive him.

If she didn't want to come out with it straight away, he was happy to humour her. She was not the kind of woman to hide things. When the time was right she would tell him what the problem was. That was what he thought, anyway.

'You have no idea how wonderful,' he replied, taking her by the arm and walking her to the arbour, where the table was already laid.

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