Inspector Salvo Montalbano could immediately tell that it was not going to be his day the moment he opened the shutters of his bedroom window. It was still night, at least an hour before sunrise, but the darkness was already lifting, enough to reveal a sky covered by heavy rain clouds and, beyond the light strip of beach, a sea that looked like a Pekingese dog. Ever since a tiny dog of that breed, all decked out in ribbons, had bitten painfully into his calf after a furious fit of hacking that passed for barking, Montalbano saw the sea this way whenever it was whipped up by crisp, cold gusts into thousands of little waves capped by ridiculous plumes of froth. His mood darkened, especially considering that an unpleasant obligation awaited him that morning. He had to attend a funeral.
The previous evening, finding some fresh anchovies cooked by Adelina, his housekeeper, in the fridge, he'd dressed them in a great deal of lemon juice, olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper, and wolfed them down. And he'd relished them, until it was all spoiled by a telephone call.
"H'lo, Chief? Izzatchoo onna line?"
"It's really me, Cat. You can go ahead and talk."
At the station they'd given Catarella the job of answering the phone, mistakenly thinking he could do less damage there than anywhere else. After getting mightily pissed off a few times, Montalbano had come to realize that the only way to talk to him within tolerable limits of nonsense was to use the same language as he.
"Beckin' pardon, Chief, for the 'sturbance."
Uh-oh. He was begging pardon for the disturbance. Montalbano pricked up his ears. Whenever Catarella's speech became ceremonious, it meant there was no small matter at hand.
"Get to the point, Cat."
"Tree days ago somebody aks for you, Chief, wanted a talk t' you in poisson, but you wasn't 'ere an' I forgotta reference it to you."
"Where were they calling from?"
"From Florida, Chief."
He was literally overcome with terror. In a flash he saw himself in a sweatsuit jogging alongside fearless, athletic American narcotics agents working with him on a complicated investigation into drug trafficking.
"Tell me something. What language did you speak with them?"
"What langwitch was I asposta speak? We spoke 'Talian, Chief."
"Did they tell you what they wanted?"
"Sure, they tol' me everyting about one ting. They said as how the vice commissioner Tamburino's wife was dead."
He breathed a sigh of relief, he couldn't help it. They'd called not from Florida, but from police headquarters in the town of Floridia near Siracusa. Caterina Tamburrano had been gravely ill for some time, and the news was not a complete surprise to him.
"Chief, izzat still you there?"
"Still me, Cat, I haven't changed."
"They also said the obsequious was gonna be on Tursday morning at nine o'clock."
"Thursday? You mean tomorrow morning?"
He was too good a friend of Michele Tamburrano not to go to the funeral. That way he could make up for not having even phoned to express condolences. Floridia was about a three-and-a-half-hours' drive from Vigàta.
"Listen, Cat, my car's in the shop. I need a squad car at my place, in Marinella, at five o'clock sharp tomorrow morning. Tell Inspector Augello I'll be out of the office until early afternoon? Got that?"
He emerged from the shower, skin red as a lobster. To counteract the chill he felt at the sight of the sea, he'd made the water too hot. As he started shaving, he heard the squad car arrive. Indeed, who, within a ten-kilometer radius, hadn't heard it? It rocketed into the driveway at supersonic speed, braked with a scream, firing bursts of gravel in every direction, then followed this display with a roar of the racing engine, a harrowing shift of gears, a shrill screech of skidding tires, and another explosion of gravel. The driver had executed an evasive maneuver, turning the car completely around.
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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