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had remained smooth and intact; nothing had leaked from it.

He stopped at the door, looking around the room, too stunned by the chaos to have a clear idea of what he was looking for. Perhaps he sought the body of the Romanian; perhaps he feared the sudden arrival from some other room of the person who had done this. But the flies told him that whoever had done this had had more than enough time to flee. He glanced up, his staggered attention caught by the sound of a human voice, but all he learned was that there had been an accident involving a truck on the A3 near Cosenza.

He walked across the room and switched off the television, and silence, neither hushed nor respectful, filled the room. He wondered if he should go into the other rooms and look for the Romanian, perhaps try to help her if they had not succeeded in killing her, too. Instead, he went into the hall and, taking his telefonino from his pocket, dialled 113 and reported that there had been a murder in Cannaregio.

The police had little trouble finding the house, for the doctor had explained that the victim's home was at the beginning of the calle to the right of the Palazzo del Cammello. The launch glided to a halt on the south side of the Canale della Madonna. Two uniformed officers jumped on to the riva, then one of them leaned back into the boat to help the three men from the technical squad unload their equipment.

It was almost one. Sweat dripped from their faces, and their jackets soon began to cling to their bodies. Cursing the heat, wiping vainly at their sweat, four of the five men began to carry the equipment to the entrance to Calle Tintoretto and along to the house, where a tall, thin man waited for them.

'Dottor Carlotti?' the uniformed officer who had not helped in unloading the boat asked.

'Yes.'

'It was you who called?’ Both men knew the question was unnecessary. 'Yes’

'Could you tell me more? Why you were here?'

'I came to visit a patient of mine – I come every week – Maria Grazia Battestini, and when I went into the apartment, I found her on the floor. She was dead’

'You have a key?' the policeman asked. Though his voice was neutral, the question filled the air around them with suspicion.

'Yes. I've had one for the last few years. I have the keys to the homes of many of my patients’ Carlotti said, then stopped, realizing how strange it must sound, his explaining this to the police, and made uncomfortable by the realization.

'Would you tell me exactly what you found?' the policeman asked. As the two men spoke, the others deposited the equipment inside the front door and went back to the launch for more.

'She's dead. Someone's killed her’

'Why are you sure someone killed her?'

'Because I've seen her’ Carlotti said and left it at that.

'Have you any idea who might have done it, Dottore?'

'No, of course I don't know who he was’ the Doctor insisted, trying to sound indignant but managing only to sound nervous.

'He?'

'What?' said Carlotti.

'You said, 'he', Dottore. I was curious to know why you think it was a man.'

Carlotti started to answer, but the neutral words he tried to pronounce slipped out of his control and, instead, he said, 'Take a look at her head and tell me a woman did that.'

His anger surprised him; or rather, the force of it did. He was angry not with the policeman's questions but at his own craven response to them. He had done nothing wrong, had merely stumbled upon the old woman's body, and yet his unthinking response to any brush with authority was fear and the certainty that it would somehow cause him harm. What a race of cowards we've become, he caught himself thinking, but then the policeman asked, 'Where is she?'

'On the second floor’

‘Is the door open?'

'Yes.'

The policeman stepped into the dim hallway, where the others had crowded to escape the sunshine, and made an upward motion with his chin. Then he said to the doctor, ‘I want you to come upstairs with us.'

Carlotti followed the policemen, resolved to say as little as possible and not to display any unease or fear. He was accustomed to the sight of death, so the sight of the woman's body, terrible as it was, had not affected him as much as had his instinctive fear of being involved with the police.

At the top of the stairs, the policemen entered the apartment without bothering to knock; the doctor chose to wait outside on the landing. For the first time in fifteen years, he wanted a cigarette with a need so strong it forced the beat of his heart into a quicker rhythm.

He listened to them moving around inside the apartment, heard their voices calling to one another, though he made no attempt to listen. The voices grew softer as the policemen moved to the next room, where the body was. He moved over to the windowsill and half sat on it, heedless of the accumulated filth. He wondered why they needed him here, came close to a decision to tell them they could reach him at his surgery if they wanted him. But he remained where he was and did not go into the apartment to speak to them.

After a time, the policeman who had spoken to him came out into the corridor, holding some papers in a plastic-gloved hand. 'Was someone staying here with her?' he asked.

'Yes’

'Who?'

'I don't know her name, but I think she was a Romanian.'

The policeman held out one of the papers to him. It was a form that had been filled in by hand. At the bottom left was a passport-sized photo of a round-faced woman who could have been the Romanian. ‘Is this the woman?’ the policeman asked.

'I think so’ Dottor Carlotti answered.

'Florinda Ghiorghiu’ the policeman read, and that brought the name back.

'Yes. Flori’ the doctor said. Then, curious, he asked, Is she in there?' hoping the police would not find it strange that he had not looked for her, and hoping they had not found her body.

'Hardly,' the policeman answered with barely disguised impatience. 'There's no sign of her, and the place is a mess. Someone's been through it and taken anything valuable.'

'You think…' Carlotti began, but the policeman cut him off.

'Of course,' the officer answered with anger so fierce it surprised the other man. 'She's from the East. They're all like that. Vermin.' Before Carlotti could object, the policeman went on, spitting out the words. 'There's an apron in the kitchen with blood all over it. The Romanian killed her.' And then, speaking the epitaph for Maria Grazia Battestini that Dottor Carlotti would perhaps not have given, the policeman muttered, 'Poor old thing.'

2

The police officer in charge. Lieutenant Scarpa, told Dottor Carlotti that he could go home but warned him that he was not to leave the city without police permission. So rich was Scarpa's tone with insinuations of undetected guilt that whatever resistance Carlotti might have offered died unspoken, and he left.

The next person to arrive was Dottor Ettore Rizzardi, medico legale for the city of Venice and thus officially responsible for declaring the victim dead and for making the first speculation as to the time of that event. Coolly, if somewhat excessively polite with Lieutenant Scarpa, Rizzardi stated that Signora Battestini had apparently died as the result of a series of blows to the head, a judgement he believed would be confirmed by the autopsy. As to the time of death, Dr Rizzardi, after taking the temperature of the corpse, said that, the flies notwithstanding, it had probably been between two and four hours earlier, thus some time between ten and noon. At the look on Scarpa's face, the doctor added that he could be more precise after the autopsy, but it was highly unlikely that she had been dead longer than that. As to the weapon that had killed her, Rizzardi would say no more than that it was some sort of heavy object, perhaps metal, perhaps wood, with grooved or rough

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