'Excuse me,' Brunetti said in English as he approached their table. 'Were you out in the campo earlier?'
'When the man was killed?' the woman asked.
'Yes,' Brunetti said.
The man pulled out a chair for Brunetti and, with old-fashioned courtesy, got to his feet and waited until Brunetti was seated. 'I'm Guido Brunetti, from the police,' he began. 'I'd like to talk to you about what you saw.'
Both of them had the faces of mariners: eyes narrowed in a perpetual squint, wrinkles seared into place by too much sun, and a sharpness of expression that even heavy seas would not disturb.
The man put out his hand, saying, 'I'm Fred Crowley, officer, and this is my wife, Martha.' When Brunetti released his hand, the woman stretched hers out, surprising him with the strength of her grip.
'We're from Maine,' she said. 'Biddeford Pool,' she specified, and then, as though that were not enough, added, 'It's on the coast.'
'How do you do,' Brunetti said, an old-fashioned phrase he had forgotten he knew. 'Could you tell me what you saw, Mr and Mrs Crowley?' How strange this was, he the impatient Italian and these the Americans who needed to go through the slow ritual of courtesy before getting down to the matter at hand.
'Doctors,' she corrected.
'Excuse me?' said Brunetti, at a loss.
'Doctor Crowley and Doctor Crowley,' she explained. 'Fred's a surgeon, and I'm an internist.' Before he could express his surprise that people their age were still working as doctors, she added, 'Well, we were, that is.'
'I see,' Brunetti said, then paused and waited to see if they had any intention of answering his original question.
They exchanged a look, then the woman spoke. 'We were just coming into what you call the campo, and I saw all these purses on the ground and the men selling them. I wanted to have a look and see if there was something we could take back to our granddaughter. I was standing just in front, looking at the purses, when I heard this strange noise, sort of like that fitt, fitt, fitt your coffee machines make when they turn that nozzle thing to make the steam. From my right, three times, and then from the left, the same noise, fitt, fitt, twice that time.' She stopped, as if hearing it all over again, then went on. 'I turned to see what the noise was, but all I could see were the people beside me and behind me, some of the people from the tour, and a man in an overcoat. When I looked back, that poor young man was on the ground, and I knelt down to try to help him. I think I called for Fred then, but it might have been later, when I saw the blood. At first I was afraid he'd fainted; not being used to the cold, or something like that. But then I saw the blood, and maybe that was when I called Fred; I really don't recall. He did a lot of time in the Emergency Room, you see. But by the time Fred got there, I knew he was gone.' She considered this, then added, 'I don't know how I could tell, because all I could see was the back of his neck, but there's a look about them, when they're dead. When Fred knelt down and touched him, he knew, too.'
Brunetti glanced at the husband, who picked up her story. 'Martha's right. I knew even before I touched him. He was still warm, poor boy, but the life had gone out of him. Couldn't have been more than thirty.' He shook his head. 'No matter how many times you see it, it's always new. And terrible.' He shook his head and, as if to emphasize his words, pushed his empty cup and saucer a few centimetres across the table.
His wife put her hand on top of his and said, as if Brunetti weren't there, 'Nothing we could have done, Fred. Those two men knew what they were doing.'
Copyright © 2005 by Donna Leon and Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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