‘I’m having lunch with the mayor today,’ Patta said, with a studied casualness which relegated that fact to the events of daily life, ‘and I’ll explain the results of our investigation to him.’ Hearing that plural, Brunetti was in no doubt that by lunchtime, the investigation would have slipped back into the singular, but it would not be in the third person.

‘Will that be all, sir?’ he asked politely.

Patta glanced up from the report, which he appeared to be committing to memory. ‘Yes, yes. That will be all.’

‘And the procuratore? Will you inform him too?’ Brunetti asked, hoping that Patta would insist upon this as well, adding the weight of his office to any recommendation for nonprosecution that would be passed to the chief magistrate.

‘Yes, I’ll see to that.’ Brunetti watched as Patta considered the possibility of inviting the chief magistrate to lunch with the mayor, saw him reject it. ‘I’ll take care of that when I get back from lunch with His Honor.’ That, Brunetti reflected, would give him two scenes to play.

Brunetti got to his feet. ‘I’ll get back to my office, then, sir.’

‘Yes, yes,’ Patta muttered absently, still reading the page in front of him.

‘And, Commissario,’ Patta said from behind him.

‘Yes, sir,’ Brunetti said, turning and smiling as he set up the conditions of today’s bet.

‘Thanks for your help.’

‘It was nothing, sir,’ he said, thinking that a dozen red roses would do.

* * * *

Seven months later, a letter arrived, addressed to Brunetti at the Questura. His attention was caught by the stamps, two lilac rectangles with a delicate tracery of calligraphy flowing down their sides. Below each was printed, ‘People’s Republic of China.’ He knew no one there.

There was no return address on the envelope. He tore it open and from it slid a Polaroid photo of a jeweled crown. A sense of scale was missing, but if it had been designed for a human to wear, then the stones that encircled the central jewel must have been the size of pigeons’ eggs. Rubies? No other stone he could think of so resembled blood. The central stone, massive and square-cut, could only have been a diamond.

He flipped the photo over to the back and read: ‘Here is a part of the beauty I have returned to.’ It was signed, ‘B. Lynch.’ There was no other message. Nothing else was in the envelope.

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