The popular beliefs about the history of the Academy were known to Brunetti. Established on the Giudecca in 1852 by Alessandro Loredan, one of Garibaldi's earliest supporters in the Veneto and, by the time of Independence, one of his generals, the school was originally located in a large building on the island. Dying childless and without male heirs, Loredan had left the building as well as his family palazzo and fortune in trust, on the condition that the income be used to support the military Academy to which he had given the name of his father's patron saint.
Though the oligarchs of Venice might not have been wholehearted supporters of the Risorgimento, they had nothing but enthusiasm for an institution which so effectively assured that the Loredan fortune remained in the city. Within hours of his death, the exact value of his legacy was known, and within days the trustees named in the will had selected a retired officer, who happened to be the brother-in-law of one of them, to administer the Academy. And so it had continued to this day: a school run on strictly military lines, where the sons of officers and gentlemen of wealth could acquire the training and bearing which might prepare them to become officers in their turn.
Brunetti's reflections were cut off as the boat pulled into a canal just after the church of Santa Eufemia and then drew up at a landing spot. Pucetti took the mooring rope, jumped on to the land, and slipped the rope through an iron circle in the pavement. He extended a hand to Brunetti and steadied him as he stepped from the boat.
'It's up here, isn't it?' Brunetti asked, pointing towards the back of the island and the lagoon, just visible in the distance.
'I don't know, sir,' Pucetti confessed. 'I have to admit I come over here only for the Redentore. I don't think I even know where the place is.' Ordinarily, no confession of the provincialism of his fellow Venetians could surprise Brunetti, but Pucetti seemed so very bright and open-minded.
As if sensing his commander's disappointment, Pucetti added, 'It's always seemed like a foreign country to me, sir. Must be my mother: she always talks about it like it's not part of Venice. If they gave her the key to a house on the Giudecca, I'm sure she'd give it back.'
Thinking it wiser not to mention that his own mother had often expressed the same sentiment and that he agreed with it completely, Brunetti said only, 'It's back along this canal, near the end,' and set off in that direction.
Even at this distance, he could see that the large portone that led into the courtyard of the Academy stood open: anyone could walk in or out. He turned back to Pucetti. 'Find out when the doors were opened this morning and if there's any record of people entering or leaving the building.' Before Pucetti could speak, Brunetti added, 'Yes, and last night, too, even before we know how long he's been dead. And who has keys to the door and when they're closed at night.' Pucetti didn't have to be told what questions to ask, a welcome relief on a force where the ability of the average officer resembled that of Alvise.
Vianello was already standing just outside the portone. He acknowledged his superior's arrival with a slight raising of his chin and nodded to Pucetti. Deciding to use whatever advantage was to be gained by appearing unannounced and in civilian clothes, Brunetti told Pucetti to go back down to the boat and wait ten minutes before joining them.
Inside, it was evident that word of the death had already spread, though Brunetti could not have explained how he knew this. It might have been the sight of small groups of boys and young men standing in the courtyard, talking in lowered voices, or it might have been the fact that one of them wore white socks with his uniform shoes, sure sign that he had dressed so quickly he didn't know what he was doing. Then he realized that not one of them was carrying books. Military or not, this was a school, and students carried books, unless, that is, something of greater urgency had intervened between them and their studies.
Copyright © 2003 by Donna Leon. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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