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Authors: Magdalen Nabb

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Property of Blood

BOOK: Property of Blood
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BY THE SAME AUTHOR

The Monster of Florence

The Marshal at the Villa Torrini

The Marshal Makes His Report

The Marshal’s Own Case

The Marshal and the Madwoman

The Marshal and the Murderer

Death in Autumn

Death in Springtime

Death of a Dutchman

Death of an Englishman

with Paolo Vagheggi

The Prosecutor

 

Copyright © 1999 by Magdelen Nabb and
Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich

First published in German under the title
Alta Moda

First published in English in the United States in 2001
by Soho Press, Inc.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Nabb, Magdalen, 1947-2007
Property of blood / Magdalen Nabb.
p. cm.
“First published in German under the title Alta Moda”—
T.p. verso

ISBN 978-1-56947-310-8
eISBN 978-1-56947-827-1

1. Guarnaccia, Marshal (Ficticious character)—Fiction.
2. Police—Italy—Florence—Fiction.
3. Florence (Italy)—Fiction. I.Title.

PR6064.A18 P74 2001
823’.914—dc21                                      2001020520

10  9  8  7  6  5  4

 

One

‘I’
ll do my best to tell you everything but the things I re—member are perhaps not what you need. And then, they took my watch and, because I couldn’t see or hear, I often drifted away from the real world and I could have lost seconds or days, even weeks.

‘I do remember the beginning, though, because I went over it a thousand times in my head in those first days, trying to work out what I should have done, how I should have reacted. I went over it, reinventing it so that I escaped. I screamed for help, someone happened along, Leo came to meet me—he sometimes did. I passed a lot of time reinventing like that but it didn’t change the present any more than it changed what happened that night. I walked Tessie round the block. There was a freezing wind. I remember it howling and a crash every so often as a tile fell into the road or a shutter broke loose. Tessie kept pulling at her lead, as usual. I never can understand how she can run so fast, scuttling along on her tiny legs—they beat and kicked her until she screamed. I don’t want to talk about that.

‘I came back into the piazza and was pushing at the doors … then … nothing.

‘I saw in the dark something like the blades of a fan spinning right in front of my nose and the world spinning with it. I wanted to be sick and I couldn’t breathe. There was a smell of chloroform and I thought I was in hospital, coming round from an operation. I thought there would surely be something to be sick into but I must have passed out again.

‘This is a gap that’s serious for you, I know because I don’t know how long I’d been in the car when I next woke up. I was on the floor between the front and back seats and my face was pressed against the carpeting. Dust and fluff were in my mouth and nose. Beneath my face I could feel the speed of the car, going straight, probably on a motorway. Something, I think a leather jacket, was covering me and it stank of sweat and another sour, greasy smell. I wanted to get it off my head because I couldn’t breathe but I found that my hands were tied behind my back.

“‘I’m suffocating! Uncover my head, I’m suffocating,” I cried. A violent blow hit my ribs and I realized that there was someone sitting with his feet on me. I tried to raise my head.

“‘You have to let me breathe! Please!”

‘He kicked me in the head and said, “The bitch is awake.” I heard some fumbling about and a tearing noise, then my head was yanked back by the hair and his voice spoke right in my ear.

“‘Don’t you ever, ever tell me what I have to do. D’you hear me? You’re not in your fancy palazzo now. I’m in charge here, got that?”

“‘Yes …”

‘He put his boot under my chin and pulled my head back against the seat. Then he slapped a broad piece of sticking plaster over my mouth and pressed it hard. He kicked my head back to the floor and covered it even more closely with the smelly jacket. I was panic-stricken. My mouth was full of dirt and the sticking plaster forced me to breathe that unbearable stink deeply through my nose. I lost control and screamed, or tried to, but the screams got no further than my throat and were useless and painful.

‘A voice from the front, not the driver, yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?”

“‘I’ve plastered her mouth up. Bitch was making too much noise.”

“‘You dickhead! Get it off! Get it off! If she throws up after the chloroform she’ll choke to death. Get it off!” I heard Tessie whining, then a yelp as someone hit her.

‘The fingers fumbling under my nose stank of nicotine. I held my breath as the big plaster was ripped away. A few of my hairs had got tangled in there when he put it on, and the pain as these, too, were ripped away was terrible. I started crying. They ignored me because they were still quarrelling. The one in front was furious.

“‘You don’t touch her unless I say so! I’m responsible for the goods being intact and what I say goes.”

‘I tried to clean the fluff and grit from my tongue using my teeth and spitting. I breathed through my mouth to avoid at least some of the smell of stale sweat. The arm I was lying on had gone dead but I didn’t try to shift my weight. I was afraid of the pain that would come with a return of feeling and afraid of the boot crashing down on my ribs again.

‘I was still fairly dozy from the chloroform but, although I might have suffered less, I couldn’t let myself fall asleep again. The feeling of suffocation, the darkness, my inability to move would have made dropping into sleep a sort of dying. I decided to be still and quiet so the man above wouldn’t hurt me and to listen for clues about the length and direction of my journey. None came. After the row about the plaster they remained silent. What had I thought? That they’d say, “Oh, look, there’s the turn-off for such and such a place?”

‘Just miles and miles of road passing below me. The weight of their silence above. The smell. Once I thought, “This is too ridiculous to be true. It’s a nightmare. One of those nightmares when you can’t move. I just have to wait and in a little while I’ll wake up in the real world where these people don’t exist.”

‘The nightmare didn’t end but the car journey did. I felt through the floor of the car a different sort of road, a road with curves and junctions, then a rougher country road. The car stopped. When they tumbled me out into the cold night air I was grateful for the sheepskin coat and the comfortable fur boots I had worn to take Tessie out… I’m sorry.

‘Please don’t be distressed by my crying. It’s not even crying, really, just accumulated pain and tension unloading. As if my body were crying, not me, if you can understand that. You see? I can smile at the same time, which shows it’s only a physical reaction. I have every reason to be happy now, haven’t I?

‘It was then that they kicked and beat Tessie and one of them picked her up and threw her body away.

‘We were walking. I couldn’t see at all. This was real darkness, thick, oppressive darkness that confuses your senses, makes you lose your balance. We were battling against the icy wind, too. I was pushed and pulled along. It wasn’t a long walk that time, first on the stones and grit of the country road, then on soft earth and big slabs of stone, then on tufts of short grass. I didn’t see anything but I felt the changes through the rubber soles of my boots. Then we started climbing. It was difficult to keep my balance since my hands were still tied and the blackness around gave me no points of reference. Once I stumbled and, unable to save myself by throwing an arm out, I crashed into the man in front of me. He swore and kicked back violendy so that it hurt even through my boot and unbalanced me even more so that I fell. I was pulled up by the hair.

“‘On your feet, Contessina. Move.”

‘As I tried to get up, I realized that I urgently needed to pee and that, as a result of the anaesthetic or perhaps the cold, I could do nothing about holding it.

“‘I need to pee.”

‘They pushed me a little to one side. “Do it there.”

‘My sheepskin coat was an encumbrance and I was wearing trousers with a zip fastener at the side. “I can’t! My hands!”

‘They cut me free but it was too late. I was already wet and perhaps only half of it went on the grass. After that, I was cold, my legs were wet, and I thought, “Whatever it is that’s happening to me, I can’t survive it. These are the things that will destroy me, not kicks in the ribs.” But the uphill walking was so difficult that I was forced to concentrate just on keeping my balance, and once I got back into the rhythm of the climb the wetness warmed up and probably even started to dry. I know it sounds strange, even impossible, but I remember that in the midst of all my fear and misery I teased myself, saying, as we do to our children, “Why didn’t you go before you came out?” and I wanted to giggle. I expect it was just nervous strain. The children … I can’t wait to see them. Will it be long?

‘We stopped that night in a cave of some sort. I was made to crawl a long way in until we reached a part where it was possible to sit or kneel but not to stand up. Kneeling, I could feel the roof of it with my head.

“‘Feel to your right. There’s a mattress.”

‘I felt it. I could smell it.

“‘Crawl onto it and lie on your back. Now reach behind your head and find the things that are there.”

‘A plastic bottle of water, a plastic bedpan, a roll of toilet paper.

“‘Now give me your right hand.” I felt a chain being wrapped around my wrist and padlocked. Then the chain’s weight down the length of my left leg, where it was wound round and padlocked again, the noise of more length of chain being attached somewhere in the cave. To an iron staple in the wall perhaps. But why so tight? What could I have done if it had been just a bit less tight? Where could I have gone? Surely there was no need to block my circulation like that.

“‘Hold out your left hand.”

‘He put something into it, something cold and wet and heavy, like a dead thing. I shuddered. He closed my hand over it and pushed it up towards my mouth, his nicotine-smelling fingers right under my nose. “Eat.”

‘It was meat of some sort—I think perhaps boiled chicken since it was so wet and slippery. It smelled strongly of garlic. I’m a vegetarian but I knew better, even then, than to protest. It would certainly provoke another blow and some verbal abuse and, besides, if I wanted to survive, I had no choice but to eat whatever came my way. I bit into the cold, slithery flesh and forced myself to chew it. I chewed two lumps of it but I couldn’t swallow. I tried but I had no saliva and trying to force it down made me retch.

“‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t swallow. It’s not the food—it’s very good—perhaps it’s because of the chloroform. I just can’t swallow. I’m so sorry.” Like someone at a dinner party refusing second helpings. “I couldn’t possibly but it was wonderful—no, really….” It was a long time before I was offered anything else but there was nothing I could have done. He made me drink some of the water. I couldn’t open the bottle with one hand—later I learned to turn the screw top with my teeth—so he opened it for me. I took it from him—though even that was difficult to manage with one hand, the bottle being soft plastic and full—so I wouldn’t have to smell his fingers again. Then I thought it odd that Nicotine Fingers was the only one with me. Had the others, whoever drove the car and the front-seat passenger who’d said he was the boss, gone away? I think they had because after I’d drunk the water I heard him fumbling about for a bit and then, without another word, his footsteps went away from me and I heard the rusde of his clothing as he crawled towards the exit. I remained tense, straining my ears, terrified of one or all of them returning, of more blows, of their raping me, chained as I was. Of their discovery of my shameful wetness, of their finding me as smelly as I found them. I may have lain like that for hours before I realized that they weren’t coming back. Nobody was coming. This was forever. They could ask for a ransom at their leisure, and if I stayed here tied up they need take no risks of being seen bringing me food. There was no reason why anyone should ever find me.

‘I didn’t cry. I think we cry to attract help and comfort, don’t you agree? That’s why babies cry, after all. They can’t move about or speak, they can’t control their lives, order food when they’re hungry, change themselves when they’re wet. They can only cry, but they cry in the knowledge that someone must come, the faith that someone must come. Well, I had all of a baby’s problems. I was wet and cold, lonely and hungry. I did even start a feeble cry but it petered out. Nothing came. There was no one to hear, not even an imaginary person who ought to hear. I was buried alive and the world would go on without me.

‘I didn’t protest about dying. We all have to die. I protested against not dying my own particular death, my body carefully disposed of. I wanted people to say goodbye to me. I wanted a grave with flowers on it. We don’t like thinking about death but, when we’re forced to, as I was, we do care how we die just as we care how we live. It’s the last thing we do and it should surely be an appropriate finale to what we did in life. I had a lot of time to think, you see, but these are not the things you need to know though you sit there so patiently listening. I’m cold … Do you have another of these blankets? They’re from the cells, aren’t they?—Oh, I don’t mind. After all, I’m an ex-prisoner myself. Thank you.

‘That was the longest night. I didn’t sleep at all. I still had that sensation of falling asleep being an acceptance of death. If I had to die in this cave I would remain vigilant. I would live as hard as it is possible to live chained up in darkness. My brain, after all, was functioning, and they say that starvation alerts the brain even more and that it is a happy death, ending in a sort of euphoric delirium.

‘Still, the darkness oppressed me. It was that complete darkness that occurs only deep in the country. It isn’t just an absence of sufficient light to see by but an imprisoning force with a life of its own. It makes you hallucinate after a while. Your brain invents information because it receives none. Worms of dancing light, strange shapes that loom up at high speed so you want to dodge them. Total silence, too, plays the same tricks, making you invent noises, voices, anything to fill the void.

‘I wanted to order my thoughts, to think over my life and say goodbye to it. I suppose I was trying to regain some sort of dignity, but those tricks of the brain made it impossible, leaving me tormented and confused. Fighting to breathe, too. How big was this cave? How much air was available to me? Had they blocked up the entrance? Death by suffocation was the worst thing I could imagine. I’m not really claustrophobic but, for instance, I’m not much of a swimmer because I could never bear my head being in the water. My son used to laugh at me because I swam with my head bolt upright like a duck and he’d swim along behind me in imitation.

‘It was fear of suffocation that made me move, pushing myself into a sitting position with my left hand and then feeling around me. That helped, to know I could cut through the imprisoning blackness with my hand. I could feel the wall of the cave behind my head where the water and the other things were, and I could touch the ceiling, but in front and beside me there was space. I shuffled forward, following the direction of the chain, pushing with my free left hand. Not only was there space, I could sense a faint current of air coming in from outside. If air could get in, then light could, too.

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