When he stepped out of the house ready to leave, he saw Gallo, the station's official driver, rejoicing.
"Look at that, Chief! Look at them tracks! What a maneuver! A perfect one-eighty!"
"Congratulations," Montalbano said gloomily.
"Should I put on the siren?" Gallo asked as they were about to set out.
"Put it in your ass," said a surly Montalbano, closing his eyes. He didn't feel like talking.
Gallo, who suffered from the Indianapolis Complex, stepped on the accelerator as soon as he saw his superior's eyes shut, reaching a speed he thought better suited to his driving ability. They'd been on the road barely fifteen minutes when the crash occurred. At the scream of the brakes, Montalbano opened his eyes but saw nothing, head lurching violently forward before being jerked back by the safety belt. Next came a deafening clang of metal against metal, then silence again, a fairy tale silence, with birds singing and dogs barking.
"You hurt?" the inspector asked Gallo, seeing him rub his chest.
"Nothing. What happened?"
"A chicken cut in front of me."
"I've never seen a chicken cut in front of a car before. Let's look at the damage."
They got out. There wasn't a soul around. The long skid marks were etched into the asphalt. Right at the spot where they began, one could see a small, dark stain. Gallo went up to this, then turned triumphantly around.
"What did I tell you?" he said to the inspector. "It was a chicken!"
A clear case of suicide. The car they had slammed into, smashing up its entire rear end, must have been legally parked at the side of the road, though now it was sticking out slightly. It was a bottle-green Renault Twingo, positioned so as to block a dirt driveway leading to a two-story house with shuttered windows and doors some thirty meters away. The squad car, for its part, had a shattered headlight and a crumpled right fender.
"So now what do we do?" Gallo asked dejectedly.
"We're gonna go. Will the car run, in your opinion?"
"I'll give it a try."
Backing up with a great clatter of metal, the squad car dislodged itself from the other vehicle. Nobody came to the windows of the house this time either. They must have been fast asleep, dead to the world. The Twingo had to belong to someone in there, since there were no other homes in the immediate area. As Gallo was trying with his bare hands to bend out the fender, which was scraping against the tire, Montalbano wrote down the phone number of Vigàta police headquarters on a piece of paper and slipped this under the Twingo's windshield wiper.
When it's not your day, it's not your day. After they'd been back on the road for half an hour or so, Gallo started rubbing his chest again, and from time to time he twisted his face in a grimace of pain.
"I'll drive," said the inspector. Gallo didn't protest.
When they were outside the town of Fela, Montalbano, instead of continuing along the highway, turned onto the road that led to the center of town. Gallo paid no attention, eyes closed and head resting against the window.
"Where are we?" he asked, as soon as he felt the car come to a halt.
"I'm taking you to Fela Hospital. Get out."
"But it's nothing, Inspector!"
"Get out. I want them to have a look at you."
"Well, just leave me here and keep going. You can pick me up on the way back."
"Cut the shit. Let's go."
Between auscultations, three blood pressure exams, X rays, and everything else in the book, it took them over three hours to have a look at Gallo. In the end they ruled that Gallo hadn't broken anything; the pain he felt was from having bumped hard into the steering wheel, and the weakness was a natural reaction to the fright he'd had.
Originally published in Italian as La Voce del Violino by Sellerio editore. Copyright 1997 Sellerio editore via Siracusa 50 Palermo. Translation copyright Stephen Sartarelli 2003. 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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