The Alchemist's Pursuit (33 page)

BOOK: The Alchemist's Pursuit
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Domenico laughed. “
, you certainly have managed some high-class snooping of your own, but a lot of what you are spouting is mere speculation. If you are trying to befuddle us into telling you this supposed dark secret that the dying Foscari supposedly imparted to my brother, then you are wasting your time and ours.”
“I already know the secret,
.” The Maestro put his fingertips together, five on five, as he does when he plans to deliver a lecture. “The truth is that Zorzi Michiel never fled into voluntary exile. He never left Venice.”
“Who told you this?” Bernardo growled. “And by asking that, I am not conceding that what you say has any merit.”
“No? I told you earlier—your mother told me. Her favorite son vanished without saying farewell or dropping her a note. He did not warn either of you that he was going, or you would have started comforting her with forged letters right away, instead of weeks or months later. The Ten never questioned her as to where he might have gone. They announced his guilt rather than reveal how he had died. Do I have it right?”
The silence was answer enough.
This was the secret too dangerous for me to know.
It explained why the Ten was so determined to stop any reopening of the Gentile Michiel case, and it totally changed the range of possible motives for the courtesan murders.
“Revenge,” the Maestro said softly, as if he had overheard my thought. “Eight years ago your brother was denounced as a patricide in an anonymous letter. A woman gave false witness and now someone is going around killing anyone who might be that perjurer. Four women dead, at least three of them innocent.” He waited, but neither of his listeners spoke.
Why hadn't I seen this? He had guessed because his quatrain had prophesied
blind vengeance
“I do not know who that spiteful snitch was and I have been trying to convince the Ten that I have no interest in anything connected with the death of Gentile Michiel. That secret is safe with me. But the current murders must be stopped. That is what matters.
, this case has come to a head. An additional piece of evidence has come into my possession. One of the murdered courtesans, Caterina Lotto, was deceived by a note that purported to come from your late brother. The
hunted for it, but it was not found until today and then it was brought to me. Obviously it should have gone directly to the Ten and I must turn it in right away. I will also testify that the handwriting is that of your half-brother, Jacopo Fauro.”
Both brothers started to speak, and it was the orator's voice than won out.
“No, Doctor,” Bernardo boomed. “Understand that we were in no wise cognizant of these deaths! We were not aware that prostitutes were being murdered until last Saturday, when your apprentice came around asking questions about Zorzi, followed not long after by a messenger from the Council of Ten. Jacopo knew, because he consorts with servants and lowlifes, which we most certainly do not. He took great pleasure in enlightening us. I was deeply shocked and distressed. I convened a meeting of the family on Sunday, including Fedele and Lucretzia, and even signora Isabetta.”
“We called him in a couple of times.”
“Not your mother?”
“Our mother was feeling indisposed that morning. I had a long discourse with her later. At the meeting I suggested that we all demonstrate that we could not have been involved. Jacopo went and fetched a diary of his own, and we looked up the dates, so far as we knew them. We were not certain when the first woman died, but Jacopo had alibis for the three we did know about.”
The Maestro had been shaking his head all through this. “I did not say that any of you committed these crimes in person. But Jacopo locates the victims, starting with the information in that old journal your mother kept of Zorzi's escapades. Jacopo baits the traps, as he did by writing the note I mentioned. He may even hire and pay off the bravo who does the actual dirty work, but just because there is no literal blood on his hands makes him no less guilty in the eyes of the law.” He chuckled. “Did you happen to notice when he started keeping this convenient diary?”
Domenico sighed. “I did. When do you think?”
“Around the middle of last December?”
“Jacopo Fauro,” Bernardo declaimed, “is a compulsive liar. But why should he murder people to avenge a half-brother he can scarcely remember, a man eight years older than himself?”
“For money,
,” the Maestro said. “Just as the bravo does. And who has both a motive of vengeance and all the money required to finance this hellish conspiracy?”
Right at that moment someone started beating a thunderous tattoo on the door knocker. We had another visitor.
could have outstripped a bat between the dining room and the door, but even before I arrived the caller began hammering again. I had given up trying to guess who might call on us next, but I was fairly certain that
Missier Grande
would be more subtle than whoever this was. As soon as I clattered the lock, the racket stopped. The visitor pushed on the door and burst through.
“Where is he?” she shouted. “Where are they? My husband?
Signora Isabetta's head was bare, which is an unthinkable breach of custom and her graying hair was bedraggled. She was gasping for breath, wore a bloody contusion on her left temple, and was not dressed for outdoors. I could hear old Luigi downstairs arguing fiercely with a woman, but of course no lady would leave the house without a companion. Ignoring Isabetta, I strode over to the balustrade and peered down the stairwell. I waved to the watchman to let him know all was well and he waved back. I returned to the
Already Giorgio and Mama had emerged from the kitchen at the far end, anxious to discover what all the ruckus was about. Isabetta, no longer in the slightest bit mousey, had tried the door to the right, discovering the Maestro's bedroom, all dark. As I headed for the atelier, she shot past me and barged right in. Do not doubt that I followed. The men were all on their feet by then, even the Maestro, clutching his staff with both hands, leaning on it for support.
“She's gone!” Isabetta shouted, “She's gone!” She kept repeating it, trying to be understood over the brothers's cries of alarm and the Maestro's efforts to issue medical instructions. Domenico grabbed his wife to calm her. I grabbed a chair and put it behind her knees. Between us we sat her down. I headed for the cupboard where we keep the medical supplies.
It was Bernardo's cannon voice that prevailed. He bellowed for silence and got it.
“Donna Alina?” he demanded. “She hit you?”
Isabetta just nodded, suddenly gasping for air. Her husband was kneeling at her side, chafing her hand; the doctor had only a few feet more to go. I put his black bag where he could reach it, brought another chair for him, and then went back to the cupboard to fetch brandy.
“Just superficial, I think. Pass me that candle. Head wounds often bleed to excess.” Nostradamus was trying to calm the patient and everyone else as well. He peered carefully at her eyes.
“What happened, dear lady?” Bernardo demanded. “Relax. Take your time.”
“Went in . . . to put her to bed . . . room dark . . . didn't expect . . . behind the door . . . clubbed me with the cherub . . . wearing black . . .”
At that point a new voice suddenly interrupted, screaming at the top of my lungs:
“Did Jacopo tell her about Violetta?”
If you have ever been out on a very dark night during a thunderstorm, you understand how a sudden flash will illuminate the entire world—not just the hands that a moment before you had not been able to see in front of your face, but even distant mountains. That was how it felt. Suddenly it was very clear that we had made a horrible mistake.
Everyone was staring at me in astonishment. Apprentices do
yell like that in the company of their betters. But they all knew what I meant.
Bernardo boomed, “No, we established right at the beginning that Jacopo had just come in. He was brought straight to us, not our mother.”
But Isabetta was nodding yes.
He scowled. “And after we had spoken with him, I gave him strict orders that he was not to see her. I forbade it categorically. I warned Agnesina to keep him away from her.”
Agnesina was Alina's elderly ladies' maid and I could not imagine her herding Jacopo around even if she were armed with a musket.
“He had been to see her first?” Domenico asked, and again his wife nodded—to the annoyance of Nostradamus, who was trying to examine her head wound. “We should have known he would have gone directly to her. Obviously he went to her first, then went out the stairway and came in again by the front door before reporting to us.”
“Where is Jacopo now?” That was me, almost shouting in Isabetta's ear. The others continued to ignore my disrespect.
“If he has any sense,” Bernardo said, “he's halfway to Florence already. I told him that our patience was exhausted; that he was to leave our house before noon tomorrow. And I warned him that the only way he could be sure of keeping his head on his shoulders was to get both of them out of Venice with utmost dispatch, and furthermore that it was our intention to cooperate in fullest measure with the authorities.”
“Of course he would have gone to her first,” Domenico muttered reproachfully. “Why didn't I see that? We should have known he was lying when he denied it.”
“No bravo?” The Maestro very rarely loses his air of Jovian calm, but he was close to shouting too, now.
“You mean she does her own killing?”
Of course that was what they meant. They could no longer deny it. And that was our terrible mistake. I was an idiot not to have realized it days ago. I had tackled Honeycat on the Campo San Zanipolo and toppled him like a skittle. I should have known that there was something far wrong. A professional killer, a bravo, would have planted his knife in my lungs instead of trying to saw through my ribs. I had been contesting with a
, and a woman more than twice my age.
The room was frozen. Four men and one woman were waiting for someone else to speak, and somehow everyone seemed to be watching everyone else. The Maestro recovered first.
“Donna Alina killed those four women
with her own hands
Bernardo hung his head. “She denies it. We do have a secret entrance . . . She has been known to go out alone at night. This morning we ordered the locks on that door changed and we arranged that she would be closely watched.”
“Then Jacopo came home and told her about Violetta?” I said. “Oh,
!” The guards in Number 96 were looking out for a man, not a woman. I bellowed orders to lock up behind me and bolted out the door to the
I very nearly bowled over old Agnesina, Isabetta's companion that evening, who had just tottered in, puffing from her climb. Howling for Luigi, I bounded down four flights of stairs and set to work unlocking the door he had just finished locking. He squawked with annoyance as he came waddling along the
“Lock up behind me!” I ordered.
I hauled the door open and dashed out to the loggia, where the lamp had been lit, although the fog was swallowing most of its light. Only the usual three gondolas were tethered there: the Maestro's and the two belonging to the Marcianas—
Alvise does not own one and cadges rides on the rare occasions he does go out. I had expected to find two Michiel boats there also, but probably their boatmen had tied up amid the seven or eight craft outside Number 96 so they would have company while they waited. The all-male gathering in the loggia there was laughing uproariously at some witticism. The only traffic on the Rio San Remo at the moment was a single boat about three houses away in the opposite direction, emerging from the fog. It was coming toward me and the red light on its prow showed that it was
Missier Grande
's boat.
I had to make a decision instantly. I could not believe that our fearsome chief of police was simply taking a shortcut to somewhere else on an unrelated matter. No, he was coming to Ca' Barbolano, and I did not have time to reach Number 96 without his seeing me. Then I might not reach Violetta to warn her that Honeycat was female and was coming for her.
Leaping back, I cannoned into Luigi, and had to grab him to save him from taking a tumble. He swore at me anyway.
I took him by the front of his smock and shook him. “Listen! Lock this door
. Then run to the back of the house and pretend you're even deafer than you really are, understand?”
I had never given him orders like that before, or even spoken with such urgency. Alarmed, he nodded and drooled into his beard.
Even the Council of Ten would not force an entry into a nobleman's house, but Luigi would have to open the door eventually. All I had done was gain a little time.
I raced back up the stairs, all four flights, probably faster than I had come down, shouting ahead not to lock me out. I expected all the Marcianas to come pouring out of the mezzanine suites and
Alvise and his wife out of the
piano nobile
to see what the fuss was about, but they didn't. Only Giorgio's face appeared over the balustrade at the top, peering down.
I reached the top, told him, “Lock up!” and cornered sharply toward the atelier. There was an argument of some sort going on in there, but it stopped at my sudden return. The Michiels would be even less pleased to hear my news than the Maestro. I gasped it out in one long burst:
BOOK: The Alchemist's Pursuit
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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