Together, they reached under the body and turned the man on to his back. The intense cold had caused the blood to congeal. Their knees anchored the sheet, so when they moved him, his jacket stuck to the cloth and pulled away from both his body and the pavement with a sharp sucking sound. Hearing it, Rizzardi let the man's shoulder fall back on to the ground; Brunetti lowered his side, saying nothing.
Points of blood-stiffened cloth stood up on the man's chest, looking like the whorls a pastry chef's fantasy might create on a birthday cake.
'Sorry,' Rizzardi said, either to Brunetti or the dead man. Still kneeling, he bent over and used a gloved finger to touch each of the holes in his parka. 'Five of them,' he said. 'Looks like they really wanted to kill him.'
Brunetti saw that the dead man's eyes were open; so too was his mouth, frozen in the panic that must have filled him at the first shot. He was a handsome young man, his teeth gleaming in striking contrast to that burnished skin. Brunetti slipped one hand into the right-hand pocket of the man's parka, then the left. He found some small change and a used handkerchief. The inside pocket contained a pair of keys and a few Euro bills in small denominations. There was a ricevuta fiscale from a bar with a San Marco address, probably one of the bars in the campo. Nothing else.
'Who'd want to kill a vu cumprà?' Rizzardi asked, getting to his feet. 'As if the poor devils don't have enough as it is.' He studied the man on the ground. 'I can't tell, looking at him like this, where they got him, but three of the holes are grouped pretty near the heart. One would have been enough to kill him.' Stuffing his gloves into his pocket, Rizzardi asked, 'Professional, you think?'
'Looks like it to me,' Brunetti answered, aware that this made the death even more confusing. He had never had to trouble himself with the vu cumprà because few of them were ever involved in serious crime, and those few cases had always fallen to other commissarios. Like most of the police, indeed, like most residents, Brunetti had always assumed that the men from Senegal were under the control of organized crime, the reason most often offered to explain their politeness in dealing with the public: so long as their manner did not call attention to them, few people would trouble to ask how they so successfully managed to remain invisible to and undisturbed by the authorities. Brunetti had come over the years no longer to notice them nor to remember when they had displaced the original French-speaking Algerian and Moroccan vu cumprà.
Though there was an occasional round-up and examination of documents, the vu cumprà had never attracted sufficient official attention to become the subject of one of Vice-Questore Patta's 'crime alerts', which meant there had never been a serious attempt to address the patent illegality of their presence and their profession. They were left to ply their trade virtually untroubled by the forces of order, thus avoiding the bureaucratic nightmare that would surely result from any serious attempt to expel hundreds of undocumented aliens and return them to Senegal, the country from which most of them were believed to come.
Why then a killing like this, one that had the stamp of the professional all over it?
'How old do you think he was?' Brunetti asked for want of anything else to say.
'I don't know,' Rizzardi answered with a puzzled shake of his head. 'It's hard for me to tell with blacks, not until I get inside them, but I'd guess in his early thirties, maybe younger.'
'Do you have time?' Brunetti asked.
'Tomorrow afternoon, first thing. All right?'
Copyright © 2005 by Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich. 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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