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Authors: Maurizio de Giovanni,Antony Shugaar


BOOK: Vipers
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Europa Editions
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
[email protected]
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2012 by Giulio Einaudi Editore SpA, Torino
This edition published in arrangement with Thesis Contents srl and [email protected] literary agency
First publication 2015 by Europa Editions
Translation by Antony Shugaar
Original Title:
Translation copyright © 2015 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
Cover photo © Dm_Cherry/Shutterstock
ISBN 9781609452612

Maurizio de Giovanni



Translated from the Italian
by Antony Shugaar

Every single heartbeat.


o tell me: do you know what love is?

You, who sell love for two lire a go, the privilege of panting on you for five minutes, not even the time to look you in the eyes, to whisper your name: do you think you know what love is? What do you know about endless waiting, anxious silences in hopes of a single word, of a smile?

With this smooth soft body that I can now feel moving frantically beneath me, with these long white legs clamped tight around my hips, do you think this is love?

I've seen love, you know. I've known it, I've experienced it. It's made of pain and sorrow, of anxiety and relapses. It doesn't burn itself out in a flash; it isn't born and it doesn't die in places like this, the sound of a piano downstairs, and everywhere the smell of disinfectant. Love is made of fresh air and flowers, tears and laughter.

You, dragging your nails down my back and thrusting your pelvis against me, you think you know love, but you don't.

You're always faking, you even fake the pleasure you don't feel. You pretend, with your black mascaraed eyes, with your mouth lipsticked into the shape of a heart, with the beauty mark inked on your cheek. All fake. Just like your expensive clothes, made of organdy, crêpe, and printed voile, fabrics that you alone, in this so-called house of love, can afford, like the French perfume that pollutes the air in this room.

I know what real love is: it wakes you up at night, your heart full of hope and despair, full of thoughts that become dreams and dreams that become thoughts. It doesn't need music played by negroes, to make the blood pump faster through your veins, nor does it need perfume to muddle your senses.

What would you say to me if I asked you what love is, as you moan in my arms, as you press your breasts against me?

Perhaps you'd laugh, the way you laughed just a short while ago, with your white teeth and your dark eyes, one hand perched on your silken hip; and you'd tell me that this is love, a room in a whorehouse, lace bras, candles, satin, ostrich feather boas. You'd say that love is luxury, well-being, not having to think about how to get enough to eat. Or maybe you'd tell me that love doesn't last long, no longer than a hooker does: and that the rest of life must be spent living as comfortably as you can.

Don't be afraid, I won't ask you what love is. I won't wait to hear more lies from your painted lips. I'll settle for feeling what I feel right now: your warm body moving beneath my flesh, in time to your breathing. More and more slowly. More and more slowly.

I'll settle for not hearing any more of your muffled cries, under the pillow I'm pressing down over your face.


t was a few hundred yards from police headquarters to Il Paradiso—the final stretch of Via Toledo and a section of Via Chiaia. But it was a bad time of day: the sidewalks were crowded, the shops were open, and the sweet spring air beckoned people out for a stroll. Ricciardi and Maione shouldered their way laboriously through the crowd, doing their best not to lose sight of the old woman hobbling on her bent legs with surprising agility; behind them were officers Cesarano and Camarda, who kept exchanging conspiratorial glances. They'd started it when Maione told them the address, and they hadn't stopped smirking since.

Ricciardi didn't trust the spring. There was nothing worse than the mild breeze, than the scent of pine needles or salt water that blew down from Capodimonte or up from the harbor, than the apartment windows opening. After a winter of silence, of icy streets swept by winds out of the north, of chilblains and of cold rain, people's brooding passions have built up so much of that destructive energy that they can hardly wait to erupt, to sow chaos.

As he approached the corner where the street opened out into Piazza Trieste e Trento and the crush began to thin, the commissario let his gaze sweep over the dozens of heads crowded in the area in front of the Caffè Gambrinus: young men dressed in light colors, thumbs thrust into the pockets of their vests and hair brushed back, were talking in small groups, trying to catch the eyes of women that strolled past in pairs, well aware of the approbation they had so sorely lacked in the previous dreary months. Some of the men turned to the young women serving at the tables that had finally been set out along the sidewalks, drinking in the curves that could be glimpsed under their aprons. Strolling vendors hawked their magnificent wares, shouting and whistling. Children tugged on their mothers' skirts, demanding nuts or balloons. There were convertibles, carriages, and accordions.

Welcome to springtime, thought Ricciardi. Nothing is more dangerous than all this apparent innocence.

Right around the corner was the elderly man who had killed himself. The commissario almost walked straight into him; he dodged to one side and bumped into a nanny pushing a perambulator; she glared at him, straightened her bonnet, and then resumed her brisk pace toward the Villa Nazionale. The commissario remembered the report, from a couple of days earlier: a retired high school teacher whose wife had died that winter. One day he woke up, dressed himself nicely, said goodbye to his daughter with a kiss on the forehead, then set out for his usual morning constitutional. When he reached the piazza, he turned to face the café, pulled out the pistol that he still kept from his military service in the Great War, and shot himself in the temple. The case had quickly been filed away; there was even a suicide note on the kitchen cabinet at home. But the grief of his departure lingered on, suspended in midair, perfectly visible to Ricciardi, in the form of a short, slender man dressed in dignified but threadbare garb: a jacket that was too big for him, the sleeves hanging so low that only his fingertips, and a pistol, could be seen. The bullet went in through his right temple and emerged from his forehead, opening up his head like a watermelon. The terror of imminent death had prompted a stream of urine, leaving a wet stain on the front of his grey trousers. Beneath the blood and brains that were oozing down his face, his mouth repeated the same phrase over and over:
Our café, my love, our café, my love
. Ricciardi instinctively turned toward Caffé Gambrinus, across the crowded street: the tables buzzed with people and life. He would feel his grief and pain for days: the old man who couldn't bear to face the first season of fine weather without the companion who'd shared his life. The sudden stab of pain in his head made him reach his hand back to the scar, now healing, on the back of his head. If only the scar on my soul could heal as nicely, he thought to himself, the scar that attracts the whisperings of the dead, the awareness of their sorrow.

He made a mental note to avoid that corner and to cross over to the far side of the street in the next few days. At least until the echo of the old man's suffering had finally dissolved into the cool air of the dawning spring.


Brigadier Raffaele Maione pushed through the crowd with some difficulty: his bulk kept him from moving quickly through all those people, and the unexpected warmth of the day had caught him off guard in his heavy winter uniform, thanks to which he felt sticky and sweaty. The old woman, on the other hand, seemed a ballerina, the way she dodged oncoming feet and perambulators, vanishing now and again from his sight, only to reappear a few yards further on.

Not that Maione needed directions to find Il Paradiso. It was Naples' most famous brothel, strictly for the rich, and its blacked-out windows overlooked a street busy with strollers and lined with the city's most expensive shops; from the darkened windows came the sound of a piano playing and the laughter of the clients, and the passersby either looked scandalized or amused, but in either case, a little envious.

The old woman had been out of breath when she got to police headquarters. She was the bouncer at the high-end bordello, herself an institution, known in the neighborhood for the powerful arms which contrasted with her petite appearance, allowing her to function as a reliable one-woman security detail: she would easily give drunken and troublesome clients the bum's rush if they refused to leave when their time was up. Her name was Maria Fusco, and she was known as Marietta' a Guardaporte—Marietta the Doorkeeper—and she had refused to speak to the lowly police private manning the front desk, demanding an audience with the brigadier to report “the calamity that had befallen,” as she said in thick dialect; Maione had met her once or twice and had won the woman's coarse respect. When she appeared before him, he had immediately understood that she was truly upset: her cheeks were red, she was short of breath, her face twisted with despair.

“Brigadie', come, hurry, right now. Something terrible has happened.”

Maione had only managed to squeeze out of Marietta that there had been a murder, so he had sent for Ricciardi, motioned Camarda and Cesarano over, and headed off after the old woman.

As he strode along briskly, he pulled his watch out of his jacket pocket. Four in the afternoon. The bordello must be open for business by now. Who could say how many people would be there, in Il Paradiso's handsome drawing room, listening to music and watching the procession of scantily clad young ladies on the balcony, waiting to be chosen.

Suddenly the busy street was as empty as if a sinkhole had opened up, and the four policemen found themselves outside the entrance to the place. Marietta stood on the threshold, impatient. On the other side of the street, the inevitable crowd of rubberneckers, their heads inclined toward the windows, locked tight and covered by curtains; a subdued murmur of comments and speculation, some elbowing as the police appeared on the scene. Maione heard a woman laugh, but the laughter fell suddenly silent when he scowled in her direction. Death was death: it demanded respect, wherever and however it appeared.


icciardi didn't like bordellos.

Now, to be clear, it wasn't a moral issue. It was his opinion that anything that went on between consenting adults was their business, and people were free to spend their time and money however they saw fit, and this was certainly a better way than many others. But he'd had plenty of opportunities in the past to see how the passion that swirled around sex could be a very difficult tool to handle, one that all too often caused only harm. He remembered the faces of men stabbed to death, despairing suicides, fathers who'd hanged themselves over the affections of one of those young signorinas who were in the business of selling pleasure; on the other hand, he knew all too well that love vied with hunger for the dubious distinction of first place in the contest of what could cause the most death and destruction.

But he knew equally well, he thought to himself as he climbed the stairs leading up to the front room of Il Paradiso, that love was a disease bound up in the very essence of the human race and that no one, no matter how hard they tried, could hope to remain immune. Not even him.

When she reached the landing at the top of the steps, the old doorkeeper stopped, turned to look down at the four men, and announced in a hollow voice:

BOOK: Vipers
12.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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