and he recalled that the commissario had once or twice turned a blind eye to the terrors or errors of youth. ‘Yes, sir, I’m sure I could have misunderstood what she meant,’ he answered seamlessly. Ruberti looked up at Bellini, who nodded, not really understanding but knowing what he had to do.

‘Good,’ Brunetti said and got to his feet. The crime report was now a crushed ball in his hand. He stuffed it into the pocket of his overcoat. ‘I’ll take my wife home now.’

Ruberti got to his feet and went to stand beside Bellini, who said, ‘The owner’s there now, sir.’

‘Did you tell him anything?’

‘No, sir, only that Ruberti had come back to the Questura.’

Brunetti nodded. He leaned down towards Paola but did not touch her. She pushed herself up by the arms of her chair and stood, but she did not stand beside her husband.

‘I’ll say good-night, then, officers. I’ll see you later this morning.’ Both men saluted, Brunetti waved a hand towards them, then stood back to allow Paola to walk in front of him to the door. She went through it first, Brunetti following behind. He closed the door and, one behind the other, they walked down the stairs. The young officer was there to hold the door open for them. He nodded to Paola, though he had no idea who she was. As was only proper, he saluted his superior as he walked through the door and out into the chill Venetian dawn.

* * * *


Outside the door of the Questura, Brunetti set off to the left and made for the first turning. There he paused and waited for Paola to join him. Still neither of them spoke. Side by side, they continued through the deserted calli, their feet automatically piloting them towards home.

When they turned into Salizzada San Lio, Brunetti could finally bring himself to speak, but not to say anything of substance. ‘I left a note for the kids. In case they woke up.’

Paola nodded, but he was carefully not looking at her, so he didn’t notice. ‘I didn’t want Chiara to worry,’ he said, and when he realized how much this must have sounded like an attempt to make her feel guilt, he recognized that he didn’t much care if it did.

‘I forgot,’ Paola said.

They entered the underpass and were quickly out into Campo San Bartolomeo, where the cheerful smile on the statue of Goldoni seemed wildly out of place. Brunetti glanced up at the clock. Venetian, he knew to add an hour: almost five, not early enough to bother to go back to bed, yet how to fill the hours between now and the time when he could legitimately leave for work? He looked to his left, but none of the bars was open. He wanted coffee; far more desperately, he needed the diversion it would provide.

On the other side of the Rialto, they both turned to the left, then right into the underpass that ran alongside Ruga degli Orefici. Halfway along, a bar was just opening and by silent consent they turned into it. An immense pile of fresh brioches lay on the counter, still enveloped in the white paper of the pasticceria. Brunetti ordered two espressos but ignored the pastries. Paola didn’t even notice them.

When the barman set the coffee in front of them, Brunetti spooned sugar into both cups and slid Paola’s along the bar to her. The barman moved off towards the end of the counter and began to place the brioches, one by one, into a glass display case.

‘Well?’ Brunetti asked.

Paola sipped at the coffee, added another half spoonful of sugar and said, ‘I told you I was going to do it.’

‘It didn’t sound like that.’

‘Then what did it sound like?’

‘It sounded like you were saying that everyone should do it.’

‘Everyone should do it,’ Paola said, but her voice held none of the rage that had filled it the first time she had uttered those words.

‘I didn’t think you meant this.’ Brunetti gestured with a hand that encompassed, not the bar, but all that had happened before they reached it.

Paola put her cup down into the saucer and looked at him directly for the first time. ‘Guido, can we talk?’

His impulse was to say that this was exactly what they were doing, but he knew her well enough to understand what she meant, so he nodded instead.

‘I told you, three nights ago, what they were doing.’ Before he could interrupt, she went on, ‘And you told me there was nothing at all illegal about it, that it was their right as travel agents.’

Brunetti nodded and when the barman approached he signalled with a wave of his hand for more coffee. After the man had moved back towards the machine, Paola continued, ‘But it’s wrong. You know it and I know it. It’s disgusting to arrange sex-tours so that rich – and not so rich – men can go off to Thailand and the Philippines and rape ten-year-olds.’ Before he could speak, she held up a hand to stop him. ‘I know it’s illegal now. But has anyone been arrested? Convicted? You know as well as I, all they have to do is change the language in the ads and it’s business as usual. “Tolerant hotel reception. Friendly local companions.” Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means. It’s business as usual, Guido. And it disgusts me.’

Still Brunetti said nothing. The waiter brought them two fresh cups of coffee and removed the used ones. The door opened and two burly men followed a gust of damp air into the bar. The waiter moved off towards them.

‘I told you then’, Paola resumed, ‘that it was wrong and that they had to be stopped.’

‘Do you think you can stop them?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she answered and before he could question or contradict, she continued, ‘Not me alone, not here in Venice, breaking a window in a travel agency in Campo Manin. But if all the women in Italy went out at night with stones and broke the windows of every travel agency that organized sex-tours, then, after a very short time, there wouldn’t be any sex-tours organized in Italy, would there?’

‘Is that a rhetorical question or a real question?’ he asked.

‘I think it’s a real one,’ she said. This time, it was Paola who put the sugar into their coffee.

Brunetti drank his before he said anything. ‘You can’t do it, Paola. You can’t go breaking the windows of offices or stores that do things you don’t want them to do or sell things you don’t think they should sell.’ Before she could say anything he asked her, ‘Remember when the Church tried to ban the sale of contraceptives? Remember your reaction to that? Well, if you don’t, I do, and it was the same thing: off on a crusade against what you decided was evil. But that time you were on the other side, against people who were doing what you say now you have the right to do, stopping people from doing what you think is wrong. No, the obligation.’ He felt himself giving in to the anger that had filled him since he had got out of bed, that had walked through the streets with him and that stood beside him now, in this quiet, early-morning bar.

‘It’s the same thing,’ he continued. ‘You decide, all by yourself and for yourself, that something’s wrong, then you make yourself so important that you’re the only one who can stop it, the only one who sees the perfect truth.’

He thought she’d say something here, but when she didn’t he went on irresistibly, ‘This is a perfect example. What do you want, your picture on the front page of the Gazzettino, you the great defender of little children?’ By a conscious act of will he stopped himself from going on. He reached into his pocket, walked over to the barman and paid for the coffee. He opened the door to the bar and held it for her.

Outside, she turned to the left, went a few steps, stopped and waited for him to come up to her. ‘Is that how you really see it? That all I want from this is attention, that I want people to see me as being important?’

He walked past her, ignoring the question.

From behind him he heard her voice, raised for the first time. ‘Is that it, Guido?’

He stopped and turned back to face her. A man came from behind her, wheeling a dolly covered with bound stacks of newspapers and magazines. He waited for him to pass them and answered, ‘Yes. Partly.’

‘How much a part?’ she shot back.

‘I don’t know. You can’t divide something like that.’

‘Do you think it’s the reason I’m doing this?’

His exasperation urged him to answer, ‘Why does everything have to be such a cause

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