She couldn't have been more offhand about it: 'those two men'.
'What two men?' Brunetti asked, striving to keep his voice as calm as possible. 'Could you tell me more about them?'
'There was the man in the overcoat,' she said. 'He was on my right, just a little bit behind me. I didn't see the other one, but because the noise came from my left, he had to have been on the other side. And I'm not even sure it was a man. I just assume that because the other one was.'
Brunetti turned to the husband, 'Did you see them, Doctor?'
The man shook his head. 'Nope. I was looking at the things on the sheet. I didn't even hear the noise.' As if to prove this, he turned to the side and showed Brunetti the beige snail of the hearing aid in his left ear. 'When I heard Martha call me, I didn't have any idea what was going on. Truth to tell, I thought something might have happened to her, so I pushed right past those people to get to her, and when I saw her down on the ground like that, even though she was kneeling, well, I won't tell you what I thought, but it wasn't good.' He paused as if in pained memory and gave a nervous smile.
Brunetti knew better than to prod him, and after a few moments, the man spoke again. 'And, as I said, as soon as I touched him, I knew he was gone.'
Brunetti turned his attention back to the woman. 'Could you describe this man for me, Doctor?'
Just at that moment the waitress came by and asked if she could bring them anything. Brunetti looked at the two Americans, but both shook their heads. Though he didn't want it, he ordered a coffee.
A full minute passed in silence. The woman looked at her cup, mirrored her husband's gesture in pushing it away, looked back at Brunetti, and said, 'It's not easy to describe him, sir. He was wearing a hat, one of those hats men wear in movies.' To clarify the description, she added, 'The kind of thing they wore in movies in the Thirties and Forties.'
She paused, as if trying to visualize the scene, then added, 'No, all I remember is a sense that he was very tall and very big. He was wearing an overcoat; it might have been grey or dark brown, I really don't recall. And that hat.'
The waitress set Brunetti's coffee in front of him and moved away. He left it untouched, smiled across at her and said, 'Go on, please, Doctor.'
'There was the overcoat, and he had a scarf; maybe it was grey and maybe it was black. Because there were so many people standing around, all I saw was the side of him.'
'Could you give me an idea of his age?' Brunetti asked.
'Oh, I couldn't be sure of that, no more than to say he was an adult, perhaps your age,' she said. 'I think his hair was dark, but it was hard to tell in that light, and with his hat on. And I wasn't paying much attention to him at that point, not really, because I didn't have any idea of what was going on.'
Brunetti thought of the victim and asked, conscious of how it would sound, 'Was this man white, Doctor?'
'Oh yes, he was European,' she answered, then added, 'but my sense of him was that he looked more Mediterranean than my husband and I do.' She smiled to show she meant no offence, and Brunetti took none.
'What, specifically, makes you say that, Doctor?' he asked.
'His skin was darker than ours, I think, and it looked like he had dark eyes. He was taller than you, officer, and much taller than either one of us.' She considered all of this and then added, 'And thicker. He wasn't a thin man, officer.'
Brunetti turned his attention to the husband. 'Do you have any memory of seeing this man, Doctor? Or of seeing someone who might have been the other one?'
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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