that of a doctor. They met over the dead, both asking ‘Why?’ But after they found the answer to that question, their paths parted, the doctor going backward in time to find the physical cause, and he going forward to find the person responsible.

Fifteen minutes later, the medical examiner arrived, bringing with him a photographer and two white- jacketed attendants whose job it would be to take the body to the Civil Hospital. Brunetti greeted Dr. Rizzardi warmly and explained as much as he had learned about the probable time of death. Together, they went back to the dressing room. Rizzardi, a fastidiously dressed man, pulled on latex gloves, checked his watch automatically, and knelt beside the body. Brunetti watched him as he examined the victim, oddly touched to see that he treated the corpse with the same respect he would give to a living patient, touching it softly and, when necessary, turning it gently, helping the awkward movement of stiffening flesh with practiced hands.

‘Could you take the things from his pockets, Doctor?’ Brunetti asked, since he didn’t have gloves and didn’t want to add his prints to anything that might be found. The doctor complied, but all he found was a slim wallet, alligator perhaps, which he pulled out by one corner and placed on the table beside him.

He got to his feet and stripped off his gloves. ‘Poison. Obviously. I’d say it was cyanide; in fact, I’m sure it was, though I can’t tell you that officially until after the autopsy. But from the way his body’s bent backward, it can’t be anything else.’ Brunetti noticed that the doctor had closed the dead man’s eyes and attempted to ease the corners of his distorted mouth. ‘It’s Wellauer, isn’t it?’ the doctor asked, though the question was hardly necessary.

When Brunetti nodded, the doctor exclaimed, ‘Maria Vergine, the mayor’s not going to like this at all.’

‘Then let the mayor find out who did it,’ Brunetti shot back.

‘Yes, stupid of me. Sorry, Guido. We should be thinking of the family.’

As if on cue, one of the three uniformed policemen came to the door and signaled Brunetti. When he emerged from the room, he saw Fasini standing next to a woman he assumed was the Maestro’s daughter. She was tall, taller than the director, taller even than Brunetti, and to that she had added a crown of blond hair. Like the Maestro, she had a Slavic tilt to her cheekbones and eyes of a blue so clear as to be almost glacial.

When she saw Brunetti emerge from the dressing room, she took two quick steps away from the director. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked in heavily accented Italian. ‘What’s happened?’

‘I’m sorry, Signorina,’ Brunetti began.

Not hearing him, she cut him short and demanded, ‘What’s happened to my husband?’

Though surprised, Brunetti had the presence of mind to move to his right, effectively blocking her entrance to the room. ‘Signora, I’m sorry, but it would be better if you didn’t go in there.’ Why was it that they always knew what it was you had to tell them? Was it the tone, or did some sort of animal instinct cause us to hear death in the voice that bore the news?

The woman slumped to one side, as though she had been struck. Her hip slammed against the keyboard of the piano, filling the corridor with discordant sound. She braced her body with a stiff outthrust hand, palm smashing more discord from the keys. She said something in a language Brunetti didn’t understand, then put her hand to her mouth in a gesture so melodramatic it had to be natural.

It seemed, in this moment, that he had spent his entire life doing this to people, telling them that someone they loved was dead or, worse, had been killed. His brother, Sergio, was an x-ray technician and had to wear a small metallic card pinned to his lapel that would turn a strange color if it was exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation. Had he worn a similar device, sensitive to grief or pain or death, it would have changed color permanently long ago.

She opened her eyes and looked at him. ‘I want to see him.’

‘I think it would be better if you didn’t,’ he answered, knowing that this was true.

‘What happened?’ She strove for calm, and she achieved it.

‘I think it was poison,’ he said, though in fact he knew.

‘Someone killed him?’ she asked with astonishment that appeared to be real. Or practiced.

‘I’m sorry, Signora. There are no answers I can give you now. Is there someone here who can take you home?’ From behind them, he could hear the sudden crash of applause, then wave upon wave of it. She gave no sign that she had heard it or his question, simply stared at him and moved her mouth silently.

‘Is there anyone in the theater who can take you home, Signora?’

She nodded, at last understanding him. ‘Yes, yes,’ she said, then added in a softer voice, ‘I need to sit.’ He was prepared for this, the sudden blow of reality that sets in after the first shock. It was this that knocked people down.

He put his arm under hers and led her out into the backstage area. Though tall, she was so slender that her weight was easy to support. The only space he could see was a small cubicle on the left, crowded with light panels and equipment he didn’t recognize. He lowered her into the chair in front of the panel and signaled to one of the uniformed officers, who had appeared from the wing, which swarmed now with people in costume, taking bows and crowding into groups as soon as the curtain was closed.

‘Go down to the bar and get a glass of brandy and a glass of water,’ he ordered the policeman.

Signora Wellauer sat in the straight-backed wooden chair, hands grasping the seat on either side of her, and stared at the floor. She shook her head from side to side in negation or in response to some inner conversation.

‘Signora, Signora, are your friends in the theater?’

She ignored him and continued with her silent dialogue.

‘Signora,’ he repeated, this time placing his hand on her shoulder. ‘Your friends, are they here?’

‘Welti,’ she said, not looking up. ‘I told them to meet me back here.’

The officer returned, carrying two glasses. Brunetti took the smaller one and handed it to her. ‘Drink this, Signora,’ he said. She took it and drank it down absently, then did the same with the water when he handed that to her, as though there were no difference between them.

He took the empty glasses and set them aside.

‘When did you see him, Signora?’


‘When did you see him?’


‘Yes, Signora. When did you see him?’

‘We came in together. Tonight. Then I came back after ...’ Her voice trailed off.

‘After what, Signora?’ he asked.

She studied his face for a moment before she answered. ‘After the second act. But we didn’t speak. I was too late. He just said—no, he didn’t say anything.’ He couldn’t tell if her confusion was caused by shock or by difficulty with the language, but he was certain she was past the point where she could be asked questions.

Behind them, another wave of applause crashed out at them, rising and falling as the singers continued to take their curtain calls. Her eyes left him, and she lowered her head, though she seemed to have finished with her inner dialogue.

He told the officer to stay with her, adding that some friends would come to find her. When they did, she was free to go with them.

Leaving her, he went back to the dressing room, where the medical examiner and the photographer, who had arrived while Brunetti was speaking to Signora Wellauer, were preparing to leave.

‘Is there anything else?’ Dr. Rizzardi asked Brunetti when he came in.

‘No. The autopsy?’


‘Will you do it?’

Rizzardi thought for a moment before he answered. ‘I’m not scheduled, but since I examined the body, the questore will probably ask me to do it.’

‘What time?’

‘About eleven. I should be finished by early afternoon.’

‘I’ll come out,’ Brunetti said.

‘It’s not necessary, Guido. You don’t have to come to San Michele. You can call, or I’ll call your office.’

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