Authors: Roberto Costantini
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Fiction
The Deliverance of Evil
The Deliverance of Evil
Translated from the Italian by N. S. Thompson
New York • London
© 2011 by Marsilio Editori® s.p.a.
Translation © 2013 by N.S. Thompson
Originally published in Italy as
Tu sei il male
by Marsilio Editori in 2011
First published in the United States by Quercus in 2014
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For the People of Libya
It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men’s opinions; which light can in no manner proceed from corporal sufferings, or any other outward penalties.
F THINGS HAD GONE
differently that first time, perhaps I wouldn’t have killed all the others. I often wondered about this at the beginning. After all these years I don’t even know how many I killed anymore, and now the question has changed: Would I be a better person if I had killed only her in a single moment of madness? Today I no longer hate the women I kill—after all these years they’re just rag dolls. What I hate are the men full of wisdom, the men who pontificate. Any one of them could have found himself in my position that first time. And it is to these men, who live without remorse or honor, that I intend to dedicate myself. And to one in particular.
HILE THE LEFT BACK
of Italy’s national football team was taking a run-up to deliver the decisive penalty in the 2006 World Cup, Giovanna Sordi got up from the worn sofa in the small apartment where she had lived for fifty years. She had no one to say good-bye to; her husband Amedeo had joined Elisa ten years earlier. From that day on and every day since, she had left flowers on their graves. And although she had never received any justice in all those years, she would find the truth now. Slowly she crossed the living room of the small apartment. She passed by the closed door of the room where her dream was born and vanished. She went out onto the balcony, taking no notice of the jubilant cries of the people around and the crowds in the street: she knew exactly what to do.
She landed on the pavement sixty feet below at the very moment all of Italy exploded into unrestrained joy.
LACE YOUR BETS” WERE
the first words I heard Angelo Dioguardi say.
I’d entered the smoke-filled room where they were playing poker only because the bar cart was in there, and it held a bottle of Lagavulin.
I knew three of the four players by sight, but not the tall young man with long ruffled blond hair, sideburns, and blue eyes, in front of whom almost all of the chips were piled.
“Holy shit, Angelo, that’s more than a month’s earnings,” grumbled the young lawyer with whom he was battling for the pot. I could see this meant the lawyer earned ten times my own salary.
The young man gave a contrite smile. He looked almost apologetic. He was the only one who wasn’t smoking, and the only one without a glass of whiskey in front of him. I glanced at the table as I poured myself some of the Lagavulin. They were playing a round of Teresina poker. Based on the cards that were shown, the lawyer looked to be the winner. But there was only one card face down that, if it was the fair-haired guy’s, would give him a lead the lawyer couldn’t beat.
I shot him a brief glance, and he sent me back a friendly smile. I left the room without waiting for the lawyer’s decision.
Camilla was waiting for me outside the room. She was the reason I was there that evening. Our host was Paola. I’d met her when she came to the local police station to report the presumed theft of her schnauzer, which had gone missing while it was running around the park. Paola was very pretty, if a little too refined for my taste. I had found her dog for her, which had only been lost and not stolen after all, and then I asked her out for a pizza. Nine times out of ten my rough-edged charm, combined with the badge of rank, did the trick in these situations. But Paola just laughed heartily and added, “I have a very good boyfriend, and I’m very faithful. But I might have a close friend I could introduce you to; she likes men like you, a bit surly and macho. Perhaps you’d like to come over tomorrow evening . . .”
She lived in a luxury apartment in Vigna Clara, one of Rome’s best neighborhoods. The apartment was on the third floor and overlooked a quiet little piazza: open, tree-lined, no noise. It was paid for by her parents in Palermo so she could study in Rome. Her friend Camilla wasn’t bad, except she was a bit of a snob. But during the previous dozen years I’d decided, given I’d lost the one woman who had meant something to me, I’d make do with the sum of the particulars of others. At thirty-two I could manage to think of at least one positive particular in every pretty woman who happened to come within reach. Naturally I’d discovered a long time ago that “the particulars” of a woman are only discovered during sex, when the gestures, the looks, the words, and the sighs manage to be almost truthful.
That wasn’t happening on that particular evening, though. Paola’s friend was spending the night at Paola’s place, so I wasn’t going to get her into bed. Toward midnight I got ready to say good night. As a young police captain, I had to get up at half past six the next morning. I was getting ready to leave when the poker players came back into the living room: three beaten dogs and the fair-haired one with his blue eyes lit up.
“Paola, your boyfriend must have made a pact with the devil,” said the lawyer as he waved good-bye with the others to the evening’s hostess.
The blond guy slumped into the armchair across from mine. Now that he had finished taking them to the cleaners, he was ready to enjoy the bottle of Lagavulin. He poured himself a generous measure and, seeing my glass was empty, filled it without even asking. He raised his glass in a toast. His clothes, his wild hair and five o’clock shadow—everything about him made him seem out of place in that house and with those people. Which meant he was more or less like me, except I was a master in the art of hypocrisy, a true chameleon of the secret intelligence service who had learned how to conceal his contempt, while he was just a kid from the outlying suburbs and the one who was genuinely out of place.
“To this magnificent whiskey and those who appreciate it,” he toasted, displaying the working-class
accent of the outer suburbs.
He offered me a cigarette. He smoked those awful Gitanes without a filter that left tobacco on your tongue and a foul smell everywhere.
“But they taste great,” he said. “And I count them out carefully, no more than ten a day.”
No one in Rome’s elite smoked those cigarettes. Marijuana was in, but plain cigarettes smacked of the slums. Of course, it was clear the fair-haired guy didn’t belong to the elite. I thought that if Paola had chosen him and was so faithful to him, then the guy had to have hidden qualities. And the only ones that I could think of were those you demonstrated in bed.
“So, you’re the big winner?” I asked him. He nodded, but showed no interest in pursuing the subject.
“Then you really are lucky. There was only one king left that could have given you a straight. Out of ten possibilities, at least.”
He didn’t say a word. (Only after a good deal of whiskey could I get him to confess that he’d held nothing more than two nines.) “Professional secret,” he said, making it clear he was letting me in on a very special confidence. By then the lawyer was already downstairs and on his way out.
While Paola and Camilla were chatting in the kitchen, Angelo asked what I did for a living.
, Michele. At least you’ve got something to get up for every day.”
I shook my head. “In reality, it’s all routine. In a district like this, about the biggest case I’m going to crack is your girlfriend’s missing schnauzer.”
“Oh, you’re the one who found the dog? He smiled and nodded in the direction of the kitchen.
“Camilla’s cute,” I said. “Too bad she’s sleeping here tonight.”
He thought about this for a moment. Then I saw him get up and stagger into the bathroom without even closing the door, followed by the sound of retching and moaning. The girls rushed in, as I did too. He was lying on the bathroom floor, looking pale, having thrown up in the sink.
“Should I call a doctor?” asked Paola, panic in her voice.
“No, no,” he groaned. “Girls, go make some coffee, would you? Michele, stay here a minute.”
Ejected from the bathroom, Paola and Camilla went back to the kitchen, and Angelo winked at me.
“I’m totally fine, but let’s scare them a little more.”
He stuck two fingers down his throat. More retching, and the girls raced back into the bathroom.
“I’m calling a doctor,” said Paola, more concerned than ever.
“No, it’s okay. The worst is over. I’ll take care of him.” I spoke in the same authoritative voice I’d used when she’d come to report her missing schnauzer. Decisive, calm, reassuring. I knew what I was doing.
Angelo went on a good while longer, with more well-feigned sounds of retching and groaning. Then I took him on my shoulders to carry him to Paola’s double bed.
“Christ, you’re heavy,” I said as I put him down.
“You have to suffer at least a little in order to get it . . .” He winked at me again and started to moan softly.
The girls came in with black coffee. Angelo tried it with groans of disgust.
“What should we do?” The girls were hanging around for instructions, subdued now by my air of calm in the face of Angelo’s collapse.
“Let him stay the night,” he said, taking Paola’s hand. “If I feel bad again, at least he’ll be here to help.”
I bravely offered to sleep in the living room with the schnauzer, seeing that Camilla was in the guest room. My gesture was greatly appreciated. Then, later that night, it occurred to Camilla that the dog’s snoring might be bothering me, and so she had me move into her bed.
And that’s how I came to know Angelo Dioguardi.
. . . .
The police station in Vigna Clara was about exciting as a nursing home. In that well-off residential district of Rome, a policeman lived the life of a retiree. Well-ordered streets, beautiful homes, greenery everywhere, its inhabitants all formally educated and having achieved economic success by any means, legal or otherwise: tax evasion, bribery and corruption, carefully controlled contracts. All these were means that the Italians, especially in Rome, had employed since the end of the war as they sought the good life, whatever the cost.
I’d been stationed there for almost two years, thanks to my brother Alberto and his contacts in the Christian Democrats.
“Think of it as time to recuperate, Mike,” he said when I started there. “Take a couple of years to get yourself back together, and then decide what to do with yourself. Time to straighten up.”
As if his younger brother’s previous turbulent thirty-two years could be wiped away. But then Alberto had always been like that. He was an optimist, highly intelligent, forceful—qualities he shared with our father, who left Palermo for Tripoli after World War II.
A Sicilian from the lower middle class, Papa studied engineering in Rome and became a wealthy businessman in Libya, one of the few who was able to steer through the murky waters of Italian politics, granting it the absolute minimum attention possible and using it only when necessary. And in order to marry the daughter of Libya’s biggest Italian landowner, Papa was willing to become the most dedicated of Catholics from conviction and for convenience in order to get into the right circles, and he was willing to do business with Jews on the one hand, Arabs on the other, and Westerners with both hands together.
Alberto shared some of my father’s skills, but he was a better person by far: sensitive, well-adjusted, generous, and even-handed. A model son. In complete contrast, I was the one who, right from the beginning, hated my school run by the Christian Brothers, and spent all my time with a Diana 50 air rifle, shooting turtledoves from a three hundred feet away. I was the one who only passed his exams each year because
Balistreri was a big shot in Libya.
My troubled childhood was spent serving as an altar boy with a priest who couldn’t keep his hands to himself and fighting with the Arab and Italian boys my age. I grew into a lonely, turbulent, and angry adolescent. I devoured Homer, Nietzsche, and the early works of Mussolini. No calculated decisions or compromises: only honor, action, courage. My path was clearly marked: at seventeen, I left behind me the first dead in a Cairo shaken by the Six Days War; at eighteen, I killed my first lion in Tanzania. At nineteen, I was plotting against Gaddafi, who had just taken power. At twenty, I claimed the right to decide on the death penalty for those who were traitors.
Then Rome and college. By 1970, I’d even managed to pass a few classes. Over time I made the natural progression from the
Movimento Sociale Italiano
to the ultra-right extra-parliamentary
, with its two-bladed Fascist ax and SS motto “My honor is loyalty.” Three years spent clashing with the Reds—posting manifestos by night, days spent attending fiery meetings. Then, at the end of 1973, a Christian Democrat minister ordered the
to disband and had its leaders arrested. An act of madness that let loose dozens of youths, some too young and naive to see the distinction between conflict and the abyss. While many of my friends chose armed conflict, killing enemies, I paused to reflect. I understood they were moving toward bombing ordinary people, collaborating with common thugs, betraying our ideals, and so I agreed to help the secret intelligence service stop them. After four years of being a chameleon, working undercover for the security forces, it was still plausible that I was on the side of the good people who were preventing massacres of the innocent. Then, in 1978, the Red Brigades seized Aldo Moro and right-wing criminality joined forces with left-wing terrorism. Intelligence was ignored. Aldo Moro was assassinated. I protested, and my cover was blown. At that point I could have continued and ended up in a block of cement at the bottom of the sea, or else I could renounce changing the world and ask my brother for help.
It was my brother,
Alberto Balistreri, who brought me back from the edge of the precipice. The Minister of the Interior owed him a favor. So I managed to obtain a philosophy degree, using my credits from the early 1970s and taking some more classes. Then they let me join the police, and I passed the exam to become police captain. In 1980 I received my first posting in Vigna Clara, one of Rome’s quietest neighborhoods.
But at night I wanted to get away from that false Rome and keep my distance from the rich and their neighborhoods and the historic center, where the city’s chaos and decadence were on display. I rented a studio in Garbatella, a working-class quarter built by Mussolini, where apartments cost very little in those days and true Romans took the cool spring air sitting outside the cheap bistros that served the best food and wine in the city.
In fact, I dedicated myself to the only real passion I had left: women. Any woman, of whatever kind, race, or age, so long as she was good-looking and didn’t waste my time with the usual runaround. I was voracious; I wasn’t looking for friendship, intrigue, or protection. They lasted so little time that I didn’t take the trouble to learn their names. I only needed to know them in the most thorough way possible, something not too difficult for a young good-looking police officer of a certain rank.
Hic et nunc
was the way for Michele Balistreri; nothing of sin, confession, regret. I was one of the elite—those the world doesn’t understand, those who don’t give a damn what the world thinks of them. Nor what God thinks, either.
As Alberto used to say to me, and I used to echo, this was only a moment to reflect, a little bit of rest, sailing slowly along a quiet river, carried along by a gentle current. After the turbulent years I’d experienced, this was exactly what I needed: solitude, a cushy day job, eating well, screwing a lot, playing poker, thinking about nothing at all. It was a delicate balance between pleasure and boredom. No emotional ties. Love was a country where it had rained salt, and it had turned into a desert.
But I told myself over and over I would leave as soon as I could. I’d never become a senile old cop, stuck at a desk and serving a cowardly and corrupt state. I’d go back to Africa to hunt lions and leopards, far from false and sanctimonious Italy. Far from everything I detested. Far from the battles I had lost.