and she stopped speaking.

Scarpa, impassive, got up and, taking the folder with him, left the room again. Signora Gismondi sat back in her chair and tried to relax, told herself that she had had her say and it was finished. She forced herself to take deep breaths, then leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.

After long minutes she heard a sound behind her, opened her eyes, and turned towards the door. A man as tall as Scarpa, though not dressed in uniform, stood there, holding what looked to be the same manila folder. He nodded when her eyes met his and gave a half-smile. 'If you'd be more comfortable, Signora, we can go up to my office. It has two windows, so I imagine it will be a little cooler.' He stepped aside, thus inviting her to approach.

She stood and walked to the door. 'And the lieutenant?' she asked.

'He won't trouble us there’ he said and put out his hand. 'I'm Commissario Guido Brunetti, Signora, and I'm very interested in what you have to tell us.'

She studied his face, decided that he was telling the truth when he said that he was interested in what she had to say, and took his hand. After this formal moment, he waved her through the door. When they got to the bottom of the staircase, a surprisingly elegant survivor in a building that had suffered indignities in the name of efficiency, he came up beside her.

'I think I know you’ she said.

'Yes’ he answered. 'And I think I know you, too. Do you work near Rialto?'

She smiled and relaxed. 'No, I work at home, over by the Misericordia, but I come to the market at least three times a week. I think that's where we've seen one another.'

'At Piero's?' Brunetti asked, naming the postage-stamp-sized shop where she bought parmigiano.

'Of course. And I think I've seen you in Do Mori,' she added.

'Less and less, though.'

'Since Roberto and Franco sold it?'

'Yes’ he said. 'I know the new guys are perfectly nice, but it's not the same, somehow.'

How maddening it must be to take over a successful business in this city, she thought. No matter how good you are and no matter how many improvements you might make, ten, twenty years after you take over, people will still be whining about how much better it was when Franco or Roberto or Pinco Pallino, for that matter, ran the place. These two new owners -she had never learned their names – were just as nice as the former ones, had the same wine, even had better sandwiches, but no matter how good anything they sold could be, they were doomed to spend their professional lives being held up to a long-forgotten standard, held up and found wanting, at least until all the old customers died or moved away, when they would become the new standard against whom the inadequacy of whoever replaced them would be measured.

At the top of the steps, Brunetti turned left and led her down the corridor and stopped outside one of the doors, inviting her to enter before he did. The first things she noticed were the tall windows that looked across to the church of San Lorenzo, and the large wardrobe that stood against one wall. Once again, there was a desk, a chair behind it, and two in front of it.

'May I offer you something to drink, Signora? A coffee? A glass of water?' He smiled, willing her to accept, but she was still bearing a grudge against Scarpa's behaviour, so she refused, though she did it politely. 'Perhaps later,' she said and took the chair nearer the window.

Choosing not to retreat behind his desk, he pulled the second chair around to face her and sat down. He set the folder down, smiled, and said, 'Lieutenant Scarpa has told me what you told him, Signora, but I'd like to hear it in your own words. I'd be grateful for as many details as you can give me.'

She wondered if he were going to turn on a tape recorder or take out a notebook: she had read crime novels. But he sat facing her, quiet, his elbow on the desk, and waited for her to speak.

She told him, then, everything she had told Scarpa: coming back from the bank after cashing the cheque; seeing Flori with the plastic bag in her hand; Signora Battestini up at the window, looking down at them, silent, waving her outstretched finger back and forth in a sign of absolute negation.

'Can't you remember how much money you gave her, Signora?' he asked when she was finished.

She shook her head. 'No, the cheque was for about a thousand Euros. I bought some things on the way home: cosmetics and some batteries for my Discman; some other things but I don't remember what they were. I recall that, when I took the money out to give it to her, I kept some of the bills – it was all in one hundred notes -then gave her the rest.' She thought back to the scene, tried to recall if she had counted the money when she got home. 'No, I don't remember exactly, but it must have been six or seven hundred Euros.'

'You're a very generous woman, Signora,' he said and smiled.

From Scarpa, she realized, the words would have been a sarcastic declaration of disbelief; from this man, they were a simple compliment and she felt flattered by his praise. ‘I don't know why I did it’ Signora Gismondi said. 'She was out there in the street, wearing some sort of housedress made out of synthetic fabric, and canvas gym shoes. I remember one of them had a tear on the side. And she'd been working for her for months. I'm not sure exactly when she started, but I know she came when the windows were still closed.'

He smiled. 'That's a strange way to date things, Signora.'

'Not if you lived near her’ she said with some vehemence. Seeing his confusion, she said, 'The television. It's always on, all day long and all night long. During the winter, when we all have our windows closed, it's not so bad. But in the summer, from about May until September, it's enough to make me crazy. My windows are directly opposite hers, you see. She keeps it on all night, so loud I've had to call the police.' She realized the tense she was using and said only, 'Kept.'

He shook his head in sympathetic understanding, as would any Venetian, citizen of a city with some of the narrowest streets and one of the oldest populations in Europe.

Encouraged by this, she went on. ‘I used to call you, that is, call the police and complain about it, but no one ever did anything. But then, last summer, one of the men I talked to said I should call the firemen. But when I did, they said they couldn't come just for the noise, not unless there was some danger or there was an emergency.' Brunetti's nod suggested that he found her explanation interesting.

'So if she left it on, even if I could see her asleep in her bed – I can see her bed from my own bedroom window,' she added parenthetically, unable to stop herself using the present tense – 'I'd call the firemen and say I couldn't see her and…' her voice took on the robotic sound of someone reading from a prepared text, 'and was afraid that something had happened to her.' She looked up, grinned, and then grinned even more broadly when she saw his own smile of understanding. 'And then they were obliged by law to come.'

Suddenly sobered by the return of reality, she added, 'And now something awful has happened to her.'

'Yes,' Brunetti said. 'It has.'

Silence fell between them until finally he asked, 'Could you tell me more about this woman called Flori? Did you ever learn her surname?'

'No, no. I didn't,' she said. ‘It wasn't like that at all, not as though we'd ever been introduced. It's just that we saw one another at the window every so often, and, the way one does, we smiled and said hello, and then I asked how she was or she asked me. And then we'd talk. Not about anything at all, just to say hello.'

'Did she ever say anything about Signora Battestini?' he asked, his words revealing only curiosity, not suspicion.

'Well,' Signora Gismondi revealed, ‘I had a pretty good idea of what sort of person she was. You know how it is in a neighbourhood: everyone knows everyone else's business, and I knew people didn't like her very much. And she'd had that television on for ever. So I asked how the Signora was, and all Flori did was smile and shrug and shake her head and say 'difficile', or something like that, just enough to let me know that she realized what the old woman was like.'

'Anything else?'

'Occasionally, I'd telephone and ask her to turn the television down,' she said, then explained, 'Flori, that is. I'd been calling Signora Battestini for years, and sometimes she'd be very nice and turn it down, and other times she'd scream at me. Once she even slammed down the phone and turned the television up louder, God knows why.' She glanced at him to see what he was making of all of this, nothing more than the worst sort of small town gossip, but he still seemed genuinely interested. 'But Flori would say 'Si, Signora' and

Вы читаете Doctored Evidence
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату