"So now what do we do?" Gallo asked again, more dejected than ever.
"What do you think? We keep going. But I'll drive."
The inspector had been to Floridia three or four times before. He even remembered where Tamburrano lived, and so he headed towards the Church of the Madonna delle Grazie, which was practically next door to his colleague's house. When they reached the square, he saw the church hung with black and a throng of people hurrying inside. The service must have started late. Apparently he wasn't the only one to have things go wrong.
"I'll take the car to the police garage in town and have them look at it," said Gallo. "I'll come pick you up afterward."
Montalbano entered the crowded church. The service had just begun. He looked around and recognized no one. Tamburrano must have been in the first row, near the coffin in front of the main altar. The inspector decided to remain where he was, near the entrance. He would shake Tamburrano's hand when the coffin was being carried out of the church. When the priest finally opened his mouth after the Mass had been going on for some time, Montalbano gave a start. He'd heard right, he was sure of it.
The priest had begun with the words:
"Our dearly beloved Nicola has left this vale of tears . . ."
Mustering up the courage, he tapped a little old lady on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, signora, whose funeral is this?"
"The dear departed Ragioniere Pecoraro. Why?"
"I thought it was for the Signora Tamburrano."
"Ah, no, that one was at the Church of Sant'Anna."
It took him almost fifteen minutes to get to the church of Sant'Anna, practically running the whole way. Panting and sweaty, he found the priest in the deserted nave.
"I beg your pardon. Where's the funeral of Signora Tamburrano?"
"That ended almost two hours ago," said the priest, looking him over sternly.
"Do you know if she's being buried here?" Montalbano asked, avoiding the priest's gaze.
"Most certainly not. When the service was over, she was taken in the hearse to Vibo Valentia, where she'll be entombed in the family vault. Her bereaved husband followed behind in his car."
So it had all been for naught. He had noticed, in the Piazza della Madonna delle Grazie, a café with tables outside. When Gallo returned, with the car repaired as well as could be expected, it was almost two o'clock. Montalbano told him what happened.
"So now what do we do?" Gallo asked for the third time, lost in an abyss of dejection.
"You're going to eat a brioche with a granita di caffè, which they make very well here, and then we'll head home. With the Good Lord's help and the Blessed Virgin's company, we should be back in Vigàta by evening."
Their prayer was answered, the drive home smooth as silk.
"The car's still there," said Gallo when Vigàta was already visible in the distance.
The Twingo was exactly the way they'd left it that morning, sticking slightly out from the top of the dirt driveway.
"They've probably already called headquarters," said Montalbano.
He was bullshitting: the look of the car and the house with its shuttered windows made him uneasy.
"Turn back," he suddenly ordered Gallo.
Gallo made a reckless U-turn that triggered a chorus of horn blasts. When they reached the Twingo, he executed another, even more reckless, then pulled up behind the damaged car.
Montalbano stepped out in a hurry. What he thought he'd just seen in the rearview mirror, when passing by, turned out to be true: the scrap of paper with the telephone number was still under the windshield wiper. Nobody'd touched it.
"I don't like it," the inspector said to Gallo, who was now standing next to him. He started walking down the driveway. The house must have been recently built. The grass in front was still burnt from the lime. There was also a stack of new tiles in a corner of the yard. Montalbano carefully examined the shuttered windows. No light was filtering out.
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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