Authors: Beate Boeker
“Yet.” His voice was dry.
I think you should look at his discarded lovers. I doubt they all felt serene and happy about it. Even if prepared, it must have been difficult to give up a man like Trevor.”
Stefano frowned. “What made him so special?”
Carlina scratched her head. “It's hard to say. He was quite good-looking, but that was not it. He had charm, too, and an easy way of talking with everybody. He could flirt without making you feel dirty, without being clumsy, with a light touch that made you laugh even if you didn't believe a word.” A sudden tear rolled down her cheek. Surprised, Carlina wiped it away. “He had a lot of taste, too. His lovers were all stunning.”
Stefano blinked. “So every woman he met fell in love with him?”
His words were even, but Carlina sensed a tension.
Nonsense. You're imagining that. Garini wouldn't be jealous of a dead American.
She smiled a bit. “You can enjoy being with someone without falling in love. Besides, I didn't approve of his morals.” For some reason, it was important that he should know, even if it came out way too stiff.
Did you tell him so?”
No.” Carlina shrugged. “I don't have the right to judge the morals of my customers. It's not my business, just as it's not my business where they work and how they earn their money.”
What about the other women who knew him? Take your assistant, Ricciarda. Did she like him as much as you did?”
She didn't approve of his morals either, that much is sure.” Carlina remembered their conversation. “But she liked him nevertheless.” She sighed. “That was Trevor all around. You had to like him, in spite of everything.”
Why are you working with Ricciarda? What happened to your other assistant? What was her name, again? Elena?”
Carlina sighed. “Yes. Her mother died, and Elena decided she had to travel the world to find herself. The last mail I got was from Calcutta. That's why I put up an advertisement and got Ricciarda.”
“So Ricciarda is not related to you?”
Carline smiled. “No.”
“Great. I'll arrest her immediately.”
He smiled. “I'm joking. I thought it's easier if she's not from your family, but I forgot that you get just as protective about your staff.”
“She's a great assistant, and I really need her with Christmas just a few days away. So don't you dare take her in.” She lifted the spoon and shook it in his face.
He caught her hand. “I'll do my best.”
His hand was warm and held hers firmly.
Their eyes met, and Carlina caught her breath. She wanted to hold this moment and remember it.
The smile faded from his eyes. “Please be careful, Carlina. This murderer is ruthless. He killed his victim in a public place, inside a church, for heaven's sake, and that should tell you something.”
She frowned but did not pull her hand away. “Do you think the murder was premeditated?”
“I'm not sure. As I said, it's risky to kill someone inside a public church. On the other hand, if he went there often, it might have been observed. Do you happen to know if Trevor was religious?”
She couldn't suppress a giggle. “I shouldn't think so. After all, his morals hardly fit any religion I know.”
“But people are multi-layered. They can cling to a bit of religion and blend out other parts.”
Carlina gave a snort. “It's called hypocrisy.”
Stefano frowned. “I need to find out more about Trevor. How did he become so rich, do you know?”
His father owned several factories, and he inherited the lot.”
What kind of factories?”
Carlina smiled. “Rubber factories.” She pushed back her chair and got up. “I really need to go, Stefano. Annalisa needs me.”
Stefano gave the waiter a sign. “I'll join you.” It wasn't a question.
She threw him a doubtful glance but didn't say anything until he had paid the waiter and they were back in the car. Shivering in the cold, she said, “I think it might be better if I first talked to Annalisa on my own.”
A streetlight illuminated his set jaw for a fleeting moment. “I'm sorry, but I have to butt in.”
She closed her eyes. “Didn't you say you want to give up this case?”
“Yes. Tomorrow. I can't do it today.”
Carlina bit her lips. “Listen, Garini, I really don't think it's a good idea if you talk to her right now. She'll be frantic.”
His voice was cold. “Stop this. I can't change the rules for you.”
It felt like a slap to the face. Carlina hugged herself. Of course his work would come first, as always. Why did that surprise her?
In silence, they covered the rest of the way, back to the historical center of Florence. In silence, they passed the piazza di Santa Croce, the basilica watching over it, basked in soft light. In silence, she opened the heavy wooden door to the family house in Via delle Pinzochere and let him in. “Everybody will be having dinner at my aunt Benedetta's, on the first floor.”
He didn't reply.
Carlina grabbed the smooth wooden railing to support her as she mounted the steps. She felt like leading the enemy to a secret camp.
He followed her without a word.
She opened the door of her aunt's apartment with her own key, feeling his disapproval though he didn't say anything. One master key opened every lock in the house. To her, it felt practical. To a man like Garini, it was lunacy.
An enticing smell of fried mushrooms and a babble of voices billowed into her face. Carlina opened the door to the kitchen. “Ciao.”
The babble stopped.
Carlina looked around. Her mother's henna-red hair had fallen out of the ponytail and framed her face like irresolute flames. She had her cushion in her lap, gripping it with both hands as if it was a life-line, crushing one golden star in the process.
Oh, no. Major crisis.
In general, her mother only carried the cushion with her if she left the house. If she kept it with her while going to her sister, one floor down, things were bad indeed. Carlina tried a smile and looked at her aunt Benedetta, seated next to her mother. Benedetta's usually smiling face was grave, and her mouth, though bright with lipstick as always, drooped. She was much younger than her elder sister Fabbiola. Two of Benedetta's children still lived with her, Ernesto, a seventeen-year-old, and Annalisa. Annalisa wasn't there, but Ernesto sat next to his mother. His red hair stood up, spiked with gel, and he had the delighted expression on his face when a catastrophe happened that didn't involve any of his own misdeeds.
Benedetta's eldest daughter Emma had married a few months previously and lived with her husband Lucio in an apartment on the same floor. Both were seated at the lower end of the table. Lucio, his arm around Emma, had been talking in a soothing voice to Uncle Teo, who headed the table but now twisted around to stare at Carlina like all the others.
Carlina blanched. “Where's Annalisa?”
Carlina! Where have you been?” Fabbiola tried to thrust back a strand of henna-red hair without success.
Uncle Teo's white eyebrows lifted. “You are bringing your young man for dinner? Fast work, Carlina.”
“But that's the Commissario.” Ernesto's face lit up. “Are you hot on the trail of the killer?”
Carlina!” Emma stretched out her arms to her older cousin as if she wanted to be hugged. “Isn't it tragic? Poor Annalisa.”
Have you eaten?” Benedetta jumped up.
We don't know,” Lucio said with a concerned look at his young wife.
Carlina blinked, not knowing what he referred to.
“Thank you for answering the question.” Garini gave a meaningful glance to Carlina as if he wanted to say he had not expected a sensible answer from any Mantoni anyway. He advanced into the room and addressed Lucio. “Do you know how long Annalisa has been missing?”
Benedetta lifted both hands. “She has not been home for two days!”
Ernesto rolled his eyes. “That's not unusual.”
His mother shot him a dark look. “Just what are you trying to say, Ernesto?”
“Santa Maria, nothing.” Ernesto shrugged. “But she's been out and about with that lover of hers for a week, and she's become stuck-up, too, faster than you'd believe. As if she was a Queen or something. I'd say there's no reason to panic.”
But the lover has been murdered today.” Uncle Teo's voice sounded calm.
How did you learn about that?” Garini cut in, in control of the situation.
Carlina swallowed. She did not want Garini to interview her family. She had wanted him to become a friend, to become used to her crazy family step-by-step. Now they were all suspects again, and he eyed them with the same precision and accuracy as a scientist eyed a dead bug.
“The cards told me.” Fabbiola sighed so deep, her whole body shook. “This morning, the knight of death towered over the house.”
Garini gave her a look of acute mistrust.
“I heard it on the radio.” Uncle Teo nodded, as if to affirm his memory. “I came up to talk to Benedetta, and we called Annalisa on her cell phone.“
You told Annalisa on the phone that Trevor was dead?” Carlina felt sick.
No, we told her to come home urgently.”
Garini took out a notebook. “When was that?”
Uncle Teo scratched his head until his white wisps of hair stood up. “It was the six o'clock news.”
So Annalisa came home right away?” Carlina pulled out a chair and pushed it in the general direction of Garini before she dropped onto hers.
No.” Benedetta and Emma said at the same time.
Benedetta continued. “We met her in town because she was still at Giulietta's.”
“Who is Giulietta?” Garini frowned.
Giulietta is a cousin once removed,” Carlina replied. “She's also a hairdresser.
I assume Annalisa had her hair done?”
Yes.” Benedetta nodded. “She was in the middle of a special procedure that could not be interrupted.”
She had her hair dyed.” Ernesto clarified with a grin.
His mother ignored him. “So we decided to meet Annalisa there.”
“Did you all go together?” Garini sounded fascinated, no doubt envisioning a hysterical family meeting at the hairdresser's.
Yes.” Benedetta nodded. “That is, Fabbiola, Lucio, Emma, Ernesto and I went. Uncle Teo stayed here.”
Annalisa had a fit.” Ernesto said, as if Annalisa was a three-year-old who had thrown a tantrum. He tilted his head to the side and frowned in thought. “Though not as bad as the day when she tried to die her hair blond, and it looked like straw.”
Ernesto!” His mother rounded on him. “How can you be so unfeeling?”
He shrugged. “It's not me who's unfeeling.”
“What happened then?” Garini sat on the chair and continued to scribble into his notebook.
Lucio pressed his wife closer to his side. “She stormed out. And that's the last we saw of her. She has not come home.”
Benedetta wrung her hands. “I'm really worried. Her hair was still wet, and it's so cold outside.”
Carlina patted her shoulder in a comforting gesture.
Annalisa's wet hair is our smallest problem right now.
We tried to call her, but she turned off her phone.” Emma huddled against Lucio's arm.
I want to huddle against someone, too.
Carlina shook her head in wonder. Where had that thought come from? She stole a look at Garini's immobile face out of the corner of her eyes. If she yearned to be huddled by Garini, she could wait a long time.
Better try a lamppost; it'll be more accommodating.
She pulled herself together. “Have you contacted Annalisa's friends?”
What friends?” Ernesto asked. “The ones she left behind her when she started in her new, exalted life?”
Now that's enough.” Benedetta got up. “Help me to clear the table, Ernesto. Do you want to eat something, Commissario?”
No, thank you; we have eaten already.”
Fabbiola lifted her head. “I know. I saw love and happiness for you this morning.”
Garini looked startled. “For me?”
For my daughter,” Fabbiola said with dignity. “I have not yet laid the cards for you, but if you wish, I can do so right away.” She pulled a pack of cards from her voluminous skirt.
Carlina chortled. Stefano's face had become more wooden than normal, but she knew what he was thinking. “I think he doesn't have the time for that, Mama. We'd better go and look for Annalisa right away.”
Stefano lifted his eyebrows. “We?”
Yes.” Carlina fixed him with a belligerent stare. “Believe me, you'll get more out of her if I'm with you.”