stairs that led to the backstage area.

The third officer waited at the bottom of the steps.

‘Well?’ Brunetti asked him.

He smiled, pleased to have something to report ‘Both Santore, the director, and La Petrelli spoke to him in his dressing room. Santore went in before the performance, and she went in after the first act.’

‘Who told you?’

‘One of the stagehands. He said that Santore seemed to be angry when he left, but this was just an impression the man had. He didn’t hear any shouting or anything.’

‘And Signora Petrelli?’

‘Well, the man said he wasn’t sure it was La Petrelli but that she was wearing a blue costume.’

Miotti interrupted here. ‘She wears a blue dress in the first act.’

Brunetti gave him a quizzical look.

Was it possible that Miotti lowered his head before he spoke? ‘I saw a rehearsal last week, sir. And she wears a blue dress in the first act.’

‘Thank you, Miotti,’ Brunetti said, voice level.

‘It’s my girlfriend, sir. Her cousin’s in the chorus and he gets us tickets.’

Brunetti nodded, smiling, but he realized he would have liked it more if he hadn’t said that.

The officer who had been making his report shot back his cuff and looked at his watch. ‘Go on,’ Brunetti told him.

‘He said he saw her come out toward the end of the interval, and he said she was angry, very angry.’

‘At the end of the first interval?’

‘Yes, sir. He was sure of that.’

Taking a cue from the policeman, Brunetti said, ‘It’s late, and I’m not sure we can do much more here tonight.’ The others glanced around at the now empty theater. ‘Tomorrow, see if you can find anyone else who might have seen her. Or seen anyone else go in.’ Their mood seemed to lighten when he spoke of tomorrow. ‘That will be all for tonight. You can go.’ When they started to move away, he called, ‘Miotti, have they taken his body to the hospital yet?’

‘I don’t know, sir,’ he said, almost guiltily, as I hough afraid this would cancel out the approval he had received a moment before.

‘Wait here while I find out,’ Brunetti told him.

He walked back to the dressing room and opened the door without bothering to knock. The two attendants sat in easy chairs, feet on (he table that stood between them. On the floor beside them, covered by a sheet, entirely ignored, lay one of the greatest musicians of the century.

They looked up when Brunetti came in but gave no acknowledgment. ‘You can take him to the hospital now,’ he said, then turned and left the room, careful to close the door behind him.

Miotti was where he had left him, glancing through a notebook that was very similar to the one Brunetti carried. ‘Let’s go and have a drink,’ Brunetti said. ‘The hotel is probably the only place open at this hour.’ He sighed, tired now. ‘And I could use a drink.’ He started off to his left, but he found himself walking back toward the stage. The staircase seemed to have disappeared. He had been inside the theater for so long, up and down stairs, along corridors and back down them, that he was completely disoriented and had no idea how to get out.

Miotti touched him lightly on the arm and said, ‘This way, sir,’ leading him to the left and down the flight of steps they had first come up more than two hours before.

At the bottom, the portiere, seeing Miotti’s uniform, reached under the counter at which he sat and pushed the button that released the turnstile blocking the exit of the theater. He gestured that all they had to do was push. Knowing that Miotti would already have questioned the man about who had come in and out of the theater that night, Brunetti didn’t bother to ask him any questions but passed directly out of the theater and into the empty campo beyond the door.

Before they started up the narrow street that led to the hotel, Miotti asked, ‘Are you going to need me for this, sir?’

‘You don’t have to worry about having a drink while you’re still in uniform,’ Brunetti assured him.

‘No, its not that, sir.’ Perhaps the boy was simply tired.

‘What is it, then?’

‘Well, sir, the portiere is a friend of my lather’s, so I thought that if I went back now, and maybe I asked him to come and have a drink, maybe he’d tell me something more than he did before.’ When Brunetti didn’t respond, he said quickly, ‘It was just an idea, sir. I don’t mean to…’

‘No, it’s a good idea. Very good. Go back and talk to him. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. No need to get there before nine, I think.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ Miotti said with an eager smile. He snapped out a salute that Brunetti answered with a cursory wave of his hand, and the young man turned back toward the theater and the business of being a policeman.

* * * *


Brunetti walked up toward the hotel, still lighted, even at this hour when the rest of the city was darkened and sleeping. Once the capital of the dissipations of a continent, Venice had become a sleepy provincial town that virtually ceased to exist after nine or ten at night. During the summer months, she could remember her courtesan past and sparkle, as long as the tourists paid and the good weather held, but in the winter, she became a tired old crone, eager to crawl early to bed, leaving her deserted streets to cats and memories of the past.

But these were the hours when, for Brunetti, the city became most beautiful, just as they were the same hours when he, Venetian to the bone, could sense some of her past glory. The darkness of the night hid the moss that crept up the steps of the palazzi lining the Grand Canal, obscured the cracks in the walls of churches, and covered the patches of plaster missing from the facades of public buildings. Like many women of a certain age, the city needed the help of deceptive light to recapture her vanished beauty. A boat that, during the day, was making a delivery of soap powder or cabbages, at night became a numinous form, floating toward some mysterious destination. The fogs that were common in these winter days could transform people and objects, even turn long-haired teenagers, hanging around a street corner and sharing a cigarette, into mysterious phantoms from the past.

He glanced up at the stars, seen clearly above the darkness of the unlighted street, and noticed their beauty. Holding their image in mind, he continued toward the hotel.

The lobby was empty and had the abandoned look common to public places at night. Behind the reception desk, the night potter sat, chair tilted back against the wall, that day’s pink sporting newspaper open before him. An old man in a green-and-black-striped apron was busy spreading sawdust on the marble floor of the lobby and sweeping it clean. When Brunetti saw that he had trailed his way through the fine wooden chips and couldn’t traverse the lobby without tracking a path across the already swept floor, he looked at the old man and said, ‘Scusi.’

‘It’s nothing,’ the old man said, and trailed after him with his broom. The man behind the newspaper didn’t even bother to look up.

Brunetti continued on into the lobby of the hotel. Six or seven clusters of large stuffed chairs were pulled up around low tables. Brunetti threaded his way through them and went to join the only person in the room. If the press was to be believed, the man sitting there was the best stage director currently working in Italy. Two years before, Brunetti had seen his production of a Pirandello play at the Goldoni Theater and had been impressed with it, far more with the direction than with the acting, which had been mediocre. Santore was known to be homosexual, but in the theatrical world where a mixed marriage was one between a man and a woman, his personal life had never served as an impediment to his success. And now he was said to have been seen angrily leaving the dressing room of a man who had died violently not too long afterward.

Santore rose to his feet as Brunetti approached. They shook hands and exchanged names. Santore was a man of average height and build, but he had the face of a boxer at the end of an unlucky career. His nose was squat, its skin large-pored. His mouth was broad, his lips thick and moist. He asked Brunetti if he would like a drink, and from that mouth came words spoken in the purest of Florentine accents, pronounced with the clarity and grace of an actor. Brunetti thought Dante must have sounded like this.

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