SAMPLE PAGES (First 40 pages of the novel. Total length of novel is 310 pages.)
Translated by Anne Bruce
Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king,
and a king ain’t satisfied,
till he rules everything
Bruce Springsteen “Badlands”
23rd May 1977, the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily, on board a Corvette F541
As he lit a cigarette, his thoughts turned to her.
This was the final day of his five-week-long tour of duty, and in only two days’ time they would be reunited in Rome – when they could start making plans.
Even after a twelve-hour watch, he could not go directly to bed, since he was too tired to sleep. Instead he had gone down to his cabin and changed into civilian clothes before ascending the stairs to the deck once more, where he headed for the stern of the ship.
Complete darkness surrounded him. At this time of night, sky and sea merged into one, broken only by the white foam stirred up by two propellers powering the small military vessel, a Corvette Minerva Class, on its unwavering approach towards Sicily, steadily leaving North Africa behind.
At the beginning of this tour of duty, the atmosphere on board had been characterised by noisy anticipation, with crewmen talking about the cities they would visit on the voyage from Sicily to Greece, onward to Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, past Libya, to Tunisia, before their return to Syracuse on Sicily.
Now the atmosphere was marked instead by ill-tempered expectation. Expectation about coming home to their families, and ill-tempered because it was not happening speedily enough. Not a single day passed without him having to intervene in a quarrel between crewmembers, and the mood among the officers was also occasionally tense.
Discerning a lantern somewhere in the far distance, he guessed it was either fishermen or smugglers. Contraband was widespread in this part of the Mediterranean, and on this one trip alone they had stopped several craft that appeared to be fishing boats, but turned out to be crammed full of everything from oil drums to cigarettes and weapons.
Every time they were about to board a vessel, he was overwhelmed by a sense of unease.
Only two days earlier, they had stopped a small fishing boat, and as he and three others were boarding, he realised something did not add up. His gut feeling was not improved by the captain – his superior officer – initially agitating to let the little fishing boat pass unhindered. They often disagreed about that. He himself felt a right and obligation to stop all boats they considered suspicious, either because they seemed heavily laden or because they had strayed outside a fishing zone. The captain, on the other hand, was the kind who let things go. Ostensibly because it spared them a pile of paperwork, allowing the captain more time for his favourite pastimes of drinking and playing poker.
As the little group from Marina Militare, the Italian Navy, set foot on the deck of the fishing vessel, they realised something was amiss. There was something about the glances they met, a disturbing emptiness in the eyes of the crew, as though they had given up.
He knew that people who had given up, seeing no way out, could be extremely dangerous.
Rapidly assembling the crew, they made a start on searching the boat. Below deck they found extensive quantities of heroin, probably en route to Sicily or Naples. However, they also discovered an injured North African wielding an unsecured hand grenade, with nothing to lose by blowing them all sky-high. Instinctively, he had catapulted himself onto the African, clamping his hand on the grenade to prevent it detonating. They rolled around on the floor, struggling for possession of the grenade, and eventually he had sunk his teeth into the back of the African’s hand, biting as ferociously as he could, until the man let go with a howl.
In a few seconds he was on his feet, leaping onto the deck where he managed to hurl the grenade as far from the vessel as possible. It caused a little splash as it struck the surface of the sea, followed by a huge spurt of water when it exploded.
Forty-eight hours later, the incident still resonated through his body. He could have been killed if the North African had succeeded in dropping the unsecured grenade.
Nevertheless, the episode had turned out well, and they were now on their way home.
Inhaling two long puffs of his cigarette, he blew an enormous arc of smoke into the darkness. Exhaustion wafted over him. He took pleasure in the benign, balmy spring breeze ruffling his hair as he stood swaying with eyes closed, holding the guardrail and trying to recall her scent.
Almost immediately after he registered a deep rumble in the hull, followed by a boom, everything went black. The following compression wave smashed the deck as though the steel were constructed of cardboard, before blasting freestanding objects – and individuals – into the depths.
He did not notice he had fallen into the sea. Nor how the waves latched onto his lifejacket and drew him away. In addition, he did not observe how rapidly the waters extinguished the fire on the ship by enfolding it, dispatching the craft and his shipmates more than a thousand metres towards the seabed below.
Prostrate on the waves, he continued to float, arms and legs hanging limply in the water, unable to accomplish anything at all.
For it was not up to him whether he lived or died.
15th October 2012, Rome
Two types of people exist.
Those who are panic stricken once they know they are about to die, and those who stay calm, as though certainty lent gravity to their thoughts.
She stood completely still, scrutinising him, knowing it was all over. Of course she could have attempted to slam the door, throw herself on the bed and phone reception. Or sprinted to the tiny balcony, making a desperate effort to drown out the traffic of Rome six floors below.
But she remained standing, resigned to her fate.
For a fleeting moment the thought of him being dangerous suddenly seemed absurd, but deep inside she knew. There was something about his eyes.
He crossed the threshold soundlessly, his steps bouncing on the deep pile of the hotel carpet, as a whiff of tobacco and sweat reached her nostrils. Unceremoniously, his hands gripped firmly around her neck, and she felt a stinging prick below her ear lobe.
When he released her, she managed to push him away as she staggered towards the bathroom. Locking the door, she waited for him to break it down, but all was quiet on the other side. He had plenty of time to wait.
On the brink of tears, she felt nausea creep over her, and her heartbeat accelerate.
She knew she did not have much time before the anaesthetic took effect.
The thought that everything had been in vain pierced her innermost being, and she stifled a ‘bloody hell, no’, realising he would take her laptop, notebook, memory sticks, mobile phone and everything else that might reveal what she had been working on for the past year. She knew he was nothing if not thorough.
He cleared his throat in the adjacent hotel room.
Scanning the little bathroom, her eye rested on the array of medications on the shelf beside the mirror. For a couple of seconds she stood, frozen to the spot, as though the four boxes of pills and blister packs spoke to her. Abruptly she approached the shelf, snatching up one of the middle boxes. Her choice was not random, but she could not count on anyone understanding, so she tore a strip of toilet paper and produced her mascara brush.
She tried to write, but the flimsy paper ripped and she had to start over again. Her heart was hammering as she painstakingly attempted to write her name. Almost illegible, but it would have to suffice. Reflecting for a second as she tried to blink away her tears, she then added another word, before crumpling the paper and inserting it into the box of tablets.
Clambering onto the bathtub, she hurled the box out through the air vent and heard the impact several seconds later on the paving stones in the backyard.
‘Will anyone decipher it?’ she wondered.
Finding a nail file in her toilet bag, she used it to make a number of rapid scratches below the tiny window, in the gap between two bathroom tiles.
She sat down on the floor tiles and leaned back against the bathtub.
Fog swirled around her, making resistance impossible.
Her heartbeat faltered as her torso slid sideways along the bath panel.
She felt no pain when, with a thud, her head struck the floor.
Milo Cavalli surveyed the assembled company.
In addition to his colleagues from Økokrim, the Norwegian National Authority for the Investigation of Economic Crime, the group comprised a unit from the police task force and investigators from the department for organised crime at Oslo Police Station. They were listening attentively to him, men with arms folded, sachets of snuff tucked underneath upper lips. Detectives wearing jeans and T-shirts, members of the task force dressed in uniform.
Adjusting the knot of his tie a fraction, Milo crouched towards the computer. A few seconds later, his presentation appeared on the wall behind. The screen displayed a grainy photograph, obviously taken using a telephoto lens, of a besuited, dark-haired man emerging from DNB’s head office in the upmarket area of Aker Brygge.
“This is Reeza Hamid. He’s twenty-eight years old, and obtained a job at the brokerage firm of DNB Markets with the aid of a fraudulent diploma. He’s worked there for the past eighteen months, but is actually connected to the so-called Centre Gang.”
The pictures showed a young Pakistani male in various locations throughout the city. He seemed fit, and his dark suit was stylishly cut. The prototype of the well educated and well integrated second-generation immigrant. Milo paused at a photograph taken outside a Narvesen newspaper kiosk, portraying Hamid leaning forward when offered a cigarette by a fellow Pakistani.
“This is the only picture we have of him with Anzaf Mukbar. You’ll be familiar with him as the undisputed leader of the Centre Gang. According to our information, Mukbar calls him simply ‘the Finance Minister’,” Milo said, glancing up at his assembled colleagues.
Some of the investigators from organised crime nodded in agreement as Milo continued his briefing:
“We’ve had Hamid under surveillance for almost six months, and with help from DNB over the past month we’re now able to link him to numerous insider transactions on the stock market.”
The investigation had revealed how the computer-literate young Pakistani, in his position as an employee in the accounts department of the brokerage firm, obtained an overview of discussions about plans for acquisitions and disposals supervised by DNB Markets, and how he made use of this information to purchase shares in companies he knew were about to be targets for takeover bids. Or where he knew in advance that mutual funds were about to invest and so push up the share price. Milo went on to explain how the investments were made through a variety of different companies.
“We’re talking by the way about companies running car washes, construction projects and cleaning agencies. Hamid and the rest of the Centre Gang are behind all these companies, and channel enormous sums of money acquired through criminal activities through them. They plough the profits into investments in shares, eventually selling out and laundering a sizeable fortune in the process.”
Milo glanced at the assembled company once more. Most of them were familiar with the activities of various criminal gangs, whether they involved hired thugs, narcotics or prostitution, but it struck him that they did not entirely understand the vast scope of what he was relating. Clearing his throat as he straightened up, he continued:
“Just to emphasise one point. We assume this group, consisting of a core membership of around ten to fifteen individuals, has earned more on illegal insider trading through the Oslo Stock Exchange over the past six months than it has done pushing dope and trafficking women in the whole of the past year.”
The task force boss, Daniel Guttormsen, stood up before stepping onto the podium beside Milo. Guttormsen was a short, broad-shouldered figure with a bad haircut:
“Excellent, Cavalli. Thanks very much.”
Nodding briefly, Milo moved to sit in a vacant chair while Guttormsen launched into his part of the presentation. He clicked through a series of photographs of the neighbourhood, floor plans of the apartment and the locations of exit routes.
“We now have the opportunity to crush the Centre Gang by capturing Reeza Hamid, and we’ll do that in short order, boys. We’ll enter through both the front door and the verandah. Then we’ll haul him in. We’ll be ready to leave here immediately after his arrival home is confirmed. Probably around half past six, seven o’clock,” he concluded.
The assembled company rose from their seats and left the room.
After standing around for a couple of minutes, Milo approached Guttormsen.
“Where do you want us to be positioned?”
Smiling, Guttormsen patted Milo on the shoulder with unnecessary force.
“You’ve done a great job. We’ll sort it now. So all you need to do, really, is take the weekend off.”
He collected his documents into a folder before heading for the exit, in the wake of his other broad-shouldered colleagues.
Milo fell into step at his side.
“Guttormsen, the reason Hamid managed to obtain a forged diploma from the Norwegian Business School was that he and his gang threatened one of the staff in the academic administration office. They threatened to cripple her husband and children if she didn’t fix his grades for him. I just want to underline that, though this is a guy with a number-crunching brain and a smart suit, he’s extremely dangerous all the same,” Milo said.
Guttormsen came to a halt, looking up into his face with a smile.
“So are we, Cavalli.”
Lorry restaurant in Hegdehaugsveien was filled with the usual tantalising hubbub on this Friday afternoon, and Milo located Frikk in the bar, where he was trying in vain to impress a young student. If she had been one of the usual finance hangers-on, she would have realised from his oversized wristwatch, excruciatingly expensive suit and boastful voice that this was a man of means she could milk for all he was worth. Fredrik B. Hanefjell, ‘Frikk’ to friends and foes alike because of his habit of swallowing his words and speaking in a rush, was among the ten best stockbrokers in the city, earning an annual salary in the region of ten to fifteen million kroner.
However, all she perceived was one huge father complex.
A guy who was slightly too short, talked far too fast and devoted to only one person in the entire world: himself.
Clearly, she was not allowing herself to be dazzled, and Frikk most resembled a calf attempting to struggle his way out of a bog. For each movement, for every bellow, he sank further into the mire, and impending destruction.
“Oi! Milo!” he called when he caught sight of his former colleague, giving him a robust handshake and hefty clap on the shoulder.
“You have to meet Solveig here. She’s a law student.”
Milo met her gaze as he shook her hand. In only a couple of seconds she took the measure of him with her eyes, from the dark, naturally curly, mid-length hair, to the tailor-made Italian suit and handmade Neapolitan tie, as well as his highly-polished black shoes. Her sigh was audible.
“Why weren’t you first to arrive?” she commented with the hint of a smile and a swift look in Frikk’s direction.
Before Milo managed to offer a reply, she slid down from the barstool and left them in preference for a friend who had just entered the premises.
“Great that you could come, Milo. Was starting to get bored!”
With a practised finger gesture, he caught the attention of the barman, and soon each of them was holding a half litre of beer. Chatting desultorily, they continually checked their mobiles for text messages and emails, neither quite managing to leave the working week behind.
“Earned much money today, then?” Milo asked.
“Even in a bloody lacklustre market like now, I don’t have to work many hours before racking up enough to match your lousy pittance.”
Milo smiled over his half litre and downed a gulp.
“All the same, you’ll never be as rich as me,” he said.
Milo simply couldn’t resist, but noticed how Frikk’s expression soured. Like so many of his colleagues in the financial world, Frikk was merciless in his portrayal of competitors and colleagues, but completely lacking in self-irony. What’s more, if there was anything he did not like, it was being reminded that there were others wealthier than he. For the measure of success in the financial world was the extent of your capital assets, and Milo knew it was a source of extra frustration for Frikk to be unable to overtake an underpaid economic crime investigator, living on the proceeds of an ever-increasing family fortune from Italy.
“Only taking the piss, Frikk. Take it easy. You’re sooo rich and clever, really.”
“Oh, shut up.”
They were waved over to a booth in the midst of a throng of stockbrokers and analysts who had also lost their way to the champagne palaces on Tjuvholmen, and Milo remained sitting, preoccupied, checking his mobile at regular intervals. It was approaching half past six, and he could not stop thinking about the arrest. He bitterly regretted not insisting on accompanying Guttormsen and his troops, and wondered whether he still had time to do so. Indicating to Frikk that he was going outside to make a phone-call, he keyed in a text message to Guttormsen on his way to the exit.
“What’s happening? Milo.”
Outdoors, the sun had disappeared some time before, and the chill air reminded easygoing Friday people that winter was on the way.
It suddenly struck Milo that he was situated only a few hundred metres away from Reeza Hamid’s apartment, and as he began to stride along Hegdehaugsveien, his phone sounded.
“Subject just arrived home. Take him shortly. 5 min. Relax.”
Milo envisioned Guttormsen sitting in the operations vehicle overseeing his squad as he had done hundreds of times previously. However, Milo could not do as he had been asked.
He simply could not relax.
Not before the guy’s in handcuffs, he thought.
If Hamid gave them the slip today and was alerted that they were breathing down his neck, he would destroy all evidence and lie low for the following year. Months of investigative work would be wasted, and the Centre Gang would take even greater precautions and become even more difficult to nail.
Stopping twenty metres away from Hamid’s apartment block, on the opposite side of the road, Milo glanced around quickly. Not a single task force member in sight, but of course that was exactly the point.
His gaze fixed on the building, he suddenly spotted a movement on the roof. In a fleeting glance, he caught sight of a dark shadow on a verandah, and Milo noticed an open roof window. A passerby bumped into him without stopping, unaware of the little muttered scusa automatically spoken by Milo.
Moving closer to the building, he zigzagged rapidly through crowds of young people clanking past with shoulder satchels and shopping bags. He looked up at the building again and this time obtained a better view. This time he was in no doubt. A silhouette was crawling from an attic verandah towards the roof garden in the neighbouring building.
Not a policeman.
Reluctant to lose sight of him, Milo phoned Guttormsen. The mobile rang only once before voicemail switched on.
Guttormsen had declined his call.
“This is Milo, I’ve just seen a male figure on the roof beside Hamid’s apartment, and I doubt whether it’s one of your team. I’m going to follow him,” Milo dictated into the voicemail in an irritated tone before hanging up.
He remained standing beside the wall of the building, his eyes following the figure. After crossing the roof garden, he disappeared out of sight. Milo watched the entrance and one minute later Reeza Hamid sauntered out into Hegdehaugsveien from the exit of a building fifteen metres away from his own access door.
As he headed off towards the city centre, Milo did likewise. Trams, scooters and taxis rushed by between them. Milo was still unable to make mobile contact with Guttormsen, and when he noticed Hamid show signs of crossing the street at Parkveien, he took a decision.
Milo was situated on the opposite side of the street, and remained standing beside the pedestrian crossing with his phone at his ear, pretending to be engaged in conversation. He presented the picture of the perfect financial analyst rather than a detective conducting surveillance.
Hamid approached, glancing around slightly nervously, but his stride was purposeful. He looked fit and strong, and Milo knew he would have to use the advantage of surprise in order to have any chance at all of detaining him until task force personnel arrived on the scene. He waited until Hamid was a couple of metres away.
“I’ll just ask this guy here, wait a minute,” Milo said loudly and affectedly into the phone, stepping in the direction of Hamid, who automatically slowed down.
“Do you know whether Industrigata is farther up here?” he asked, his gaze turned towards Hamid, but keeping the mobile at his ear.
Hamid stopped for a moment.
“Ehh …, I think you need to walk farther …”.
While he was talking, Milo raised the elbow of the arm he was using to hold the phone, swinging it with all his might towards Hamid. The elbow struck him on the temple, knocking him off balance, but not with sufficient force for him to fall to the ground. As fast as lightning, Milo launched himself at him, pulling his upper body towards him so the powerful Pakistani lost his balance and was left with all his weight on only one foot. Milo briskly chopped at his legs, causing Hamid to land on the asphalt, and Milo crouched beside him, gripping his arm and wrist tightly to subdue him.
Reeza Hamid moaned in pain, but not nearly as much as Milo had expected. It dawned on him that this body must have absorbed several ampoules of steroids, and sitting on the man’s back, Milo continued to keep him under control with the arm-lock. About to fish out his mobile again, he felt someone grab hold under his armpits and lift him backwards to land on his back on the asphalt. Suddenly a man was astride him, gripping his wrists tightly while another attempted to hold his legs.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hamid stand up and rush off like a sprinter from the starting block.
“You can’t attack people on the street like that!” shouted the man straddling him.
He was in his thirties, dressed like a student, and Milo could smell alcohol from his breath.
“I’m a police officer!” he wheezed, but instead of letting go, this information seemed to irritate the other man even more.
“Fucking racist!” he shouted.
Feeling his mounting aggression explode, Milo kicked him and tipped him over as he leapt to his feet. Hamid now had an advantage of at least a hundred metres.
Milo spotted a city bicycle lying on the pavement nearby.
“Is that yours?” he asked the man who had restrained him.
Receiving a nod by way of reply, he jumped on the bike. Across the street he saw Hamid turn the corner and disappear down Pilestredet. Pedaling for all he was worth, Milo started to catch up.
In Pilestredet he caught sight of Hamid hailing a taxi that immediately sped away. Milo was only thirty metres distant, but the gap now increased even though he was pedaling like a madman.
The taxi headed for the Ring 1 ring road. Milo crossed the tram rails and pavement, sweeping past students on their way to and from the high school. For a moment he wondered whether to stop and phone Guttormsen, but by then the taxi would have vanished altogether. He had one hope left: the road works that were constantly set up in Oslo city centre.
And he was quite right. On the way along the ring road, after the slip road leading into the Centre multistorey car park, he noticed how the traffic rapidly began to decelerate, snaking thereafter through the Vaterland tunnel leading to the Oslo Plaza Hotel. He cast the cycle aside and jogged along beside the vehicles until he spotted the taxi.
His mobile phone vibrated.
“Milo, what the hell … ?”
“The descent into the Vaterland tunnel going to the Plaza. I’ll catch him in a minute,” he said and hung up.
A nearby lorry blasted its horn, but he ignored it, crouching down as he approached the taxi.
Snatching the door open on the left hand side, he grabbed hold of a bewildered Reeza Hamid. With a tremendous effort, he hauled him from the vehicle, but then Hamid gave a kick that propelled Milo across to the other traffic lane. He heard tyres screeching and saw a delivery van approaching too fast to stop in time. Pushing off with his left foot and attempting to jump clear, he narrowly avoiding being struck by the bonnet. However, he could not avoid the wing mirror that hit him in the shoulder with a blow like being hammered by a baseball bat. The impact sent him flying onto the asphalt.
Cursing with pain, he succeeded in standing upright. Farther ahead at the mouth of the tunnel, he spotted the outline of a limping Hamid. The adrenaline pumping through his body prevented Milo from being aware of the pain he ought to feel after the impact and fall, and with one leap he was off after the Pakistani. Traffic was at a standstill, making it easier to run now, and in a matter of seconds he was hurling himself at Hamid with all his strength. The young Pakistani groaned, and Milo swiftly hooked him in a neck hold while ensuring that no one was approaching in an attempt to lift him off again. One of the drivers had plucked up enough courage to leave his vehicle and was now slowly heading towards them.
“Don’t come any closer! I’m a plain-clothes policeman! Phone 112 immediately!” Milo called out authoritatively, holding Hamid’s neck in a vice-like grip.
His words were nevertheless superfluous. Suddenly the sound of sirens pierced the air and shortly afterwards two police vehicles stopped at the tunnel entrance. Guttormsen stepped from his car, and three others from the task force picked up Hamid as Milo released his grip.
He remained standing there, his breathing laboured, making an effort to tidy his dirty, crumpled suit. His shoulder throbbed.
“Great, Cavalli! He must have had someone on the inside to tip him off. He sneaked out just in time.”
“I told you he was dangerous, but forgot to emphasise that he’s smart as well,” Milo commented, standing in the middle of the road, trying in vain to massage his shoulder.
Guttormsen looked up at him with a grin.
“Smart and dangerous. Bloody hell! But that’s all right. So are you.”
Milo awoke with a start, immediately feeling pain stab through his shoulder, arms and torso. Flipping over from the bed into a sitting position, he scrutinised the blue and red marks on his body.
Eight o’clock was far too early to rise on a Saturday morning, but now he needed a shower. He padded towards the bathroom, stretching his arms, tentatively trying to exercise some heat into them.
Twenty minutes later, he descended the stairs into the kitchen to fix himself a reviving espresso.
Outside, the Briskeby tram lumbered past. Oslo was slowly but surely coming alive. Gusts of wind blasted leaves and raindrops against the window. Crossing to the thermostatic control panel, he turned up the heating a couple of degrees in the kitchen, living rooms and library. He left the loft level with its bedrooms, study and guestroom he used as a gym. It was better to have the temperature slightly cooler there.
Switching on his mobile phone, he sat leafing through the Saturday copy of DN, the trade and industry newspaper, while munching on a portion of breakfast cereal. He had no plans other than resting up after several months of intense work. Possibly dinner with friends, but he had accepted their invitation with the proviso that he may have to call off if anything unexpected cropped up.
His mobile made a peeping sound, indicating a new voicemail message. It turned out to be from Sørensen, chief investigator in the Homicide Section at Oslo Police Station.
“Milo, it’s Sørensen here. Give me a call,” was all he said.
The message had been left just before eight o’clock that same morning. Milo located his number.
“Hello, Milo, thanks for phoning back. Am I disturbing your weekend peace and quiet?” Sørensen asked.
“Not really, I’m awake. Just sitting here with a coffee, reading the paper.”
“Probably one of those tiny little thimbles of yours, I suppose, that you drink in one gulp. Manage to read just one headline before your cup’s empty.”
“Quality before quantity,” Milo parried, listening to Sørensen coughing out a cloud of smoke at the other end of the phone.
They had not seen each other for several months, and Milo realised that he had missed the bald, booming detective.
“Fine, Milo. Enjoy your quality. But what are you doing afterwards?”
“Great, I need your help. Come down to the police station when you’ve finished your breakfast, please.”
“Okay, then,” Milo responded.
It did not occur to him to refrain from jumping to attention when asked by the man who had saved his life six months earlier.
The black Abarth version of the popular Fiat 500 series rolled out from the garage. Quiet Saturday streets allowed him to park outside the police station in Grønland seven minutes later.
Shortly after the officer on duty let him in, Sørensen came waddling towards him. He was still wearing the same well-worn suit, his tie still badly knotted and his head still as shiny.
“Thanks for coming so promptly,” he said.
“No problem. What’s up?”
“Come upstairs with me. I’ll explain.”
As they approached the elevator, Sørensen produced his snuff tin and popped two sachets underneath his upper lip. Emerging on the fourth floor, they headed for Sørensen’s office, where a desk had been dragged over towards an overstuffed bookcase, with two chairs placed in front. Sørensen pointed to one of them as he sat down behind the desk. The desktop was strewn with papers and coffee cups, and computer screen savers were the only signs of life at the surrounding workstations. Saturday morning was not a time when the police station was humming with frenetic activity.
Sørensen ran his hand over his skull and tilted his chair slightly.
“Bloody awkward case, Milo. Fucking awkward.”
His eyes had dark rings as though he had not slept the last few nights. His expression contained a touch of sadness, and he rotated the tin of snuff in his hand.
“Spill the beans.”
“You can have a quick look at this,” Sørensen suggested, handing him a folder.
Milo leaned back in his chair, only just managing to avoid a moan of pain when the chair back pressed against his battered back muscles. The folder contents were sparse. Four sheets with two photographs on each, a report from the homicide section at Oslo police station running to a meagre half page, and a letter from what must be the equivalent police section in Rome.
Casting a quizzical glance at Sørensen, Milo held up the sheet headed Polizia di Stato and signed at the foot by a Commissario A. Benedetti.
“Read the report first. Look at the photos. I’ll explain afterwards,” the chief investigator brushed him aside.
Milo scrutinised the photographs depicting a woman stretched out on a tidily made double bed. Her arms were lying limply by her side, and one foot had fallen over the edge. The tip of her toes pointed down towards the pale grey carpet. He estimated her age at around thirty. Her blonde hair was spread in a semicircle around her head, as though she were drifting in totally calm waters.
The woman was undoubtedly dead, and the crimson marks around her throat indicated this had most probably occurred when someone had placed both hands around her neck and squeezed savagely until her windpipe snapped.
He peered at the report. Ingrid Tollefsen. Thirty years of age, originally from Kolbotn, now living in Majorstua, Oslo. Employed at the Oslo branch of American pharmaceutical company Forum Healthcare. Studied at NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim.
Sørensen cleared his throat as he rocked to and fro in his seat.
“Norwegian girl killed in Rome this week,” he said.
“I see that. What was she doing there?”
“Attending some conference or other. Something about pharmaceuticals.”
“What happened?” Milo asked as he skimmed the rest of the report. It provided few answers.
“We don’t know very much yet. We’ve had some … linguistic challenges, you might say.”
“So now you want me to do some translating?”
“Well, not only that, Milo. But hold on a minute. I must explain. This is bloody awkward.”
“Yes, you said that.”
Sørensen spat his snuff sachets into a coffee cup and rolled his chair over to the window. Opening it, he lit a cigarette and blew the smoke out in the direction of Grønland. However, a gust of wind carried it back, and Milo could smell the tobacco fumes waft across the room.
“Ingrid Tollefsen was murdered on Monday evening. Some time between eight o’clock and midnight. There’s no sign of a break-in. There’s quite a lot to suggest that she knew her killer.”
“Or that she had just got to know him?”
“You’re thinking of a chance one night stand?”
Milo nodded as he looked at the photographs.
“Beautiful woman. I’ll bet she didn’t venture far along the streets of Rome before turning a few heads and receiving admiring comments.”
“I’m sure you’re right. But the murderer hasn’t left a single trace behind as far as I can find from what the Italian police have emailed us. No sign of sexual intercourse either. There’s hardly anything to indicate panic, rape or robbery. Instead, there’s something calculated about the whole thing,” Sørensen said.
Milo glanced again at the photographs.
“You can judge that better than I. I’m still just a wretched Økokrim detective, and don’t really know …”
“Does her surname mean anything to you? Tollefsen?” Sørensen interrupted him.
“No. Should it?”
“Probably not. It’s not exactly an unusual name.”
The chief investigator flicked his cigarette butt in a curve through the window before trundling back into position behind the desk. Placing his elbows on the desktop, he fixed his eyes on Milo.
“But you must remember the Ingieråsen case?”
“Of course. There’s not a single person in Norway who doesn’t,” he answered.
It had been just before the summer holidays two years earlier that the two murders – or executions as the press described them – had taken place at Ingieråsen Junior School in Oppegård County.
Although it was not one hundred per cent clear exactly what had happened, forensic evidence and witness statements outlined a grisly incident: two people killed, a number of perpetrators, but so far no one convicted.
Two murders that had outraged an entire nation, remaining a festering sore in the absence of a conviction.
It was assumed that the young teacher had been shot first. After that, the killers had gunned down the fifteen-year-old pupil. The boy had obviously become entangled in something from which he could not extricate himself, and the police had no doubt that a group of Pakistani boys and youths lay behind it. Probably heavily involved in narcotics and other organised crime.
The boy had apparently become a steadily increasing source of trouble at school, despite not belonging to any gang, and had spent the previous year hanging out at a fitness centre. They had not ruled out the possibility of him starting to take anabolic steroids, and that the murder could have had some connection to that milieu. Either as a reprisal, or quite simply a result of blind, uncontrolled violence. The consequence of aggression and hate lying like a layer of oil smoothed onto the steroid-pumped flesh of young Pakistanis who found no sense of belonging except as members of a gang.
The teacher had been working overtime, and must have arrived just as the situation had come to a head. Despite risking his own life, he had tried to intervene. Endeavoured to dissuade them. Attempted to entreat them. With the result that he was shot in the head. Executed in the grounds of the school where he worked, striving to create a safe and secure environment for youngsters experiencing a time of upheaval between childhood and youth.
The young boy had turned round and taken to his heels, but was shot three times in the back.
Witnesses hearing the shots had approached the school and described a gang of between seven and ten young men who walked casually to their cars and vanished from the scene. One witness could even relate that one of them had stayed behind for a few minutes, coldly and calmly taking time to ensure they were both dead – he had bent over the young boy’s body – before disappearing.
“I was the chief investigator on the case, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since then,” Sørensen said, looking straight at Milo.
The reek of tobacco was still hanging in the room, and something resembling a painful sense of inadequacy was audible in the voice of the experienced and controversial policeman.
“I remember the story about the teacher. He was popular. Almost acclaimed as a hero. Because he waded in, because he wasn’t passive. Henriksen, wasn’t that his name?” Milo enquired.
Sorensen nodded. His fingers were drumming on the snuff tin.
“Asgeir Henriksen. He became the very symbol of someone who cares. Someone who puts the lives of others before his own. Someone who is killed trying to prevent violence. The whole thing was so meaningless.”
Milo thought about the weeks and months of press coverage. All the newspaper reports. The bitter and confrontational comments. The attempts at reconciliation.
There were those who claimed the politics of immigration were to blame, and all the criminal gangs a consequence. Others pointed out that young people, especially boys, who strayed from the straight and narrow, had to be taken in hand. That this was an increasing problem even in the well-established, wealthy suburbs. Many had called child welfare services to account.
“I remember the torchlight processions. What was their slogan again?”
“There were several. ‘Turn your back on violence’ and ‘I do care’ were the favourites. Some went as far as to make the demand, ‘Crush violence’. Things were quite tense for a while, and it didn’t improve matters that the guys we arrested weren’t tried and convicted but instead allowed to stroll out to their pals and continue as before. We had no forensic evidence or witnesses, though we know there were several of them in the vicinity of the crime scene,” Sørensen said.
Neither of them uttered a word for a moment or two, until Sorensen sighed deeply and opened his mouth once more.
“The boy who was killed … the one whose fault it was thought to be that the teacher was murdered, his name was Tollefsen. Tormod Tollefsen.”
“Tollefsen? As in Ingrid Tollefsen? The woman who died in Rome?”
Nodding, Sørensen stroked his hand across his smooth crown.
“Shot in the back. And I didn’t manage to catch whoever did it. I can still remember Ingrid sitting here. In this very office, in that chair you’re sitting on, begging me to find the guys who killed her tiny little brother.”
The experienced policeman swallowed a couple of times and stared into space.
“That was what she called him. ‘My tiny little brother’. Because of the difference in their ages. She was thirteen years older than him. Only that … she was totally devastated. And of course they had lost their mother so early …,” he continued.
“Their mother’s dead?”
“She died immediately after Tormod was born. They were relatively old when they had him. She was in her forties, and complications set in. Thrombosis. She never even got to see her son.”
Milo did not say anything. He did not know what to say. Sørensen slowly exhaled the smoke from his lungs. As though trying to rid himself of his sorrowful thoughts. Without quite succeeding.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable how badly some people can be affected by misfortune. One family loses both children. While in another family, three people can win the lottery in one year. Luck isn’t distributed fucking equally in this life,” Sørensen commented.
“We’re not talking here about misfortune or bad luck. But could there be a connection between the murders of these two siblings? It seems to be more than a gruesome coincidence,” Milo responded.
“I don’t know. He was shot in Kolbotn. She was strangled in Rome. I don’t know if they’re connected, but it certainly reopens the wound. And I need to find out what’s going on.”
“But where do I come into the picture?”
“The father of them both, Sigurd Tollefsen, phoned me from Rome. He’s in the process of bringing home his second murdered child. He seems fairly calm – if in an exhausted way – but has hit a brick wall with Italian bureaucracy. It seems that the hotel room is still closed off, and the police in Rome have refused to release the body before the Norwegian police have sent a detective. It’s really a job for the police liaison officer stationed at the embassy, but he’s away on a trip and won’t be back till next week.” Sørensen looked at Milo, swallowing vigorously.
“I can’t let the poor guy sit there with everything hanging in mid air while I spend a week digging up a spare man and an interpreter. Can you go down there?”
“To Rome? Yes, of course. When?”
“As soon as possible. Now. Is that possible?”
“You saved my life. Of course it’s possible.”
Milo stood up and lifted the folder from the desktop.
“Milo, I really appreciate this. This is going to blow up in the media, but I think we can succeed in keeping a lid on it for a while longer. The only thing that’s appeared in print so far is this report,” Sørensen said.
He handed Milo a newspaper. In a corner at the foot of a page were six lines under the heading, ‘Found dead in Rome’. No names mentioned.
“Journalists haven’t yet twigged that the real cases lie hidden in these little notices,” Sørensen said, taking out his cigarette packet again.
He rolled his chair over to the window and lit another cigarette.
“You haven’t decided to cut down on the nicotine?” Milo asked.
The chief investigator directed a disillusioned look at him.
“The point of tobacco, my friend, is to make time pass. It means I have something to do, at the same time as shortening my life. And so time goes doubly faster.”
His gold card allowed him to check in at the business class counter, thereafter fast-tracking through security. Only ten minutes after parking his car, he was strolling into the lounge to kill the hour or so prior to departure. When the woman who scrutinised his card and ticket shot him one of those beaming smiles she was paid to provide, Milo nodded in return.
Once he had helped himself to a pilsner and some snacks, he settled down with his iPad to check the latest news and weather in the Italian online newspapers. October sunshine and twenty-four degrees Celsius in Rome. Outside in Oslo, the October wind was blasting leaves from the trees and threatening an overnight frost.
Momentarily, he considered sending a text message to Theresa to let her know he was on his way to Rome. She was only a two-hour train journey away – in Bologna – and a few days’ together in Rome would not be such a bad idea. They had a wonderful time when they were together, and the bond between them had strengthened after spending the entire summer in each other’s company. Nonetheless, distance remained a problem, so they had decided they would be together when they were together – but not necessarily when they weren’t.
A kind of relationship, in other words.
However, he was travelling in order to carry out an assignment, and would risk having her sitting around waiting, so this time he gave the message a miss.
Very little of what his father had told him during his upbringing had stuck in his mind, but one pronouncement certainly had:
“It’s not about finding the right person, Emil. It’s also about finding the right moment. The right person, at the right time. It’s really not so damned easy. Most people end up with the wrong person at the right time. Others find the right person, but the time’s never right,” Endre Thorkildsen had explained to his son.
It had surprised Milo to hear him say that. At the time, he had not known that his father was capable of talking about anything other than the stock market and his brokerage business, but eventually it had dawned on Milo that there was more to him than that. The only snag was that it was so well hidden behind his façade.
As far as Theresa was concerned, Milo had no doubt that she was the right person. He had known the girl, six years his junior, from all his summer vacations on Sardinia, and she had grown on him since a summer romance a few years earlier. He appreciated that and did not doubt the bond between them.
He was more uncertain about whether the time was right.
Putting aside his iPad, Milo transferred his attention to leafing through the sparse document folder while musing on his conversation with Sørensen. In addition to the dead body on the double bed, the photographs exhibited a few clothes placed on a suitcase, various toiletries and a number of medicines on a bathroom shelf, and finally a passport, money and receipts stacked together on the desk.
Again he flicked through the report bearing the signature of Commissario Benedetti, whom he had already contacted, leaving a message on his voicemail. Although he had informed him that he was on his way, he had no illusions about the Italian policeman replying to him before Monday. He would hardly be at work on a Saturday.
“Nessun segno di effrazione o violenza sessuale,” was stated in the letter, otherwise characterised by bureaucratic Italian. No sign of burglary or rape, as Sørensen had said.
Ingrid Tollefsen had been lying dead for between six and eight hours before being discovered by the chambermaid.
Milo reminded himself that he also needed to interview her before his return to Norway. Sørensen would not be able to manage that by telephone even with an interpreter, and something told him the woman would say as little as possible to official Italian police officers she feared could create trouble for her with her employer or the tax authorities.
As he stood up to refill both pilsner and snacks, he scanned the lounge. Normally it was full of travelling businessmen and women, mainly sitting on their own, fondling their mobile phones and eating through boredom. In contrast, on a Saturday such as this, it was almost empty. Apart from four or five lonely men, forced to spoil their family weekend in order to take long-distance flights to somewhere in Asia or Latin-America to be in time for meetings on Monday morning.
An American sat in a corner, attempting to compensate for the poor mobile signal by almost shouting into his phone.
On his way back to his seat, Milo heard his own phone ring, and the display revealed his father’s number.
“Emil! It’s you, good.”
His voice was cheerful. Slightly too cheerful, typical of someone beating around the bush.
“I’m at the airport. On my way to Rome.”
“Italy again?! Has something happened?”
“Not really, just a short trip. Work,”Milo explained.
“Okay, then I won’t ask any more questions.”
As the boss of one of the country’s oldest brokerage businesses, there was a limit to the amount of work-related topics he could discuss with a son employed by Økokrim. And when work and shares were not topics of conversation, their exchanges had a tendency to become uncomfortable. Milo knew his father never phoned for a casual chat, though they had at least started to meet again after his mother’s death several years earlier.
“What is it, Dad? Can you make it quick before I have to run for the boarding gate?”
“No, it’s okay, it wasn’t anything special.”
“There must’ve been something you wanted,” Milo replied impatiently, and his father continued hesitantly.
“Well, I was thinking of inviting you to dinner tomorrow, but if you’re leaving, then …”
“I’ll send you a message when I’m coming back. We can do it then.”
“Yes, all right then, that’ll be fine.”
Milo had seldom heard his father sound so diffident on the phone.
“What is it, Dad?”
“Perhaps we could arrange a day now, so that … so that …”
“Are there others coming to this dinner? Is that what you mean?”
“Well, yes. There’s one other person.”
“Who is it, then?”
“Emil, this is slightly awkward. A bit difficult to talk about over the phone.”
His father was the second person that day who had an “awkward” matter to discuss with him. He was not sure whether he liked where this was going.
“Won’t you tell me who it is?” he pressed his father.
“As I said, Emil, if we could just say Friday, for instance …”
Milo, however, was not in the mood to pacify his father. He had a suspicion about what was afoot. And if his father’s prospective wife could not manage to put herself out for him and turn up for dinner at half a day’s notice, that wasn’t his problem. He understood that his father had courted several women since his mother’s hospitalisation and suicide, but had no idea that the current relationship – seemingly with a lawyer at the Hilmersen Fuge practice – was approaching such a serious phase that the time had arrived to introduce her to his son. Simultaneously, he noticed that he wasn’t as concerned about this as he would have been six months’ previously.
“I’ll phone you when I’m on my way home, and then I’ll come for dinner. Damn it, it must be possible for her to make allowances if she wants to meet me – your only son – for the first time,” Milo said, lifting his travel bag and crossing over to the gate.
“Eh … how did you know …”
“I have to hang up, Dad. We’ll talk later.”
“Okay, Emil. Fine. Have a good trip, then.”
The plane was already boarding when he reached the gate. Swiping his card, he once more received a paid-for smile from an airline employee in return.
Finding his way to his seat, 5C beside the aisle, he performed his usual ritual prior to a flight, inwardly reciting a Hail Mary.
He had just made the sign of the cross from his forehead to his chest and from shoulder to shoulder when his phone emitted a little peep, signifying an email, from his cousin in Milan.
From: Cavalli Corrado
Subject: FW: Regarding inheritance
To: Cavalli, Milo
Have you seen this message from New York?
I think you or I should go. But it’s impossible for me in October or November.
Can you go?
_ _ _ _
From: Patmunster, Oscar
Subject: Regarding inheritance
To: Cavalli, Corrado
as agreed by phone I hereby provide some additional information, in order for you to share this with your family.
On 25th August, Ms. Brenda O’Quigly passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I am aware that neither you nor the remainder of your family has ever heard of Ms. O’Quigly. However she did know about you. She was connected to your grandfather, Antonio Cavalli.
I have been left in charge of executing Ms O’Quigly’s will and testament, hence my efforts to contact the Cavalli family.
In order for me to execute this, a member of the Cavalli family must attend in person in New York to provide a signature and also to facilitate the transfer of some personal belongings. The testament is very explicit in this matter, and I am afraid it will be impossible to do this via an Italian attorney.
Unfortunately I am unable to enter into details about the will at this stage, but let me convey my opinion that it will prove to be of financial and personal benefit to the family.
Please let me know at your convenience how we should proceed in this matter.
Leary Patmunster Joyce
131 Lexington Avenue
Milo skimmed rapidly through the emails one more time. He had never heard of a Miss Brenda O’Quigly in New York.
It was obvious that Corrado would not have time during the next couple of months. Autumn in Milan was hectic for everyone involved in the fashion industry. Milo’s cousin was a big success in the vanity market, making a good living from wealthy parents wanting to prepare their daughters for the catwalk.
That meant it would have to be Milo who made the trip to New York, and he had no objections to the proposal whatsoever. He loved autumn in New York, and a number of years had passed since he had last been there.
The plane was taxi-ing towards the runway as he replied to Corrado.
Fra: Cavalli, Milo
Subject: Re: FW: Regarding inheritance
To: Cavalli, Corrado
I can go.
Maybe next week.
I’m travelling to Rome on an assignment now.
I’ll call you!
As the plane took off, he mulled over the astonishing email from the American lawyer.
Who was Brenda O’Quigly?
And how did she know his grandfather?
In the taxi from Fiumicino airport en route to the city centre of Rome, his thoughts returned to childhood trips to Rome with his mother.
How she had loved this city!
He recollected how she had used to quote from one of her favourite films by her favourite director, Federico Fellini. The scene in La Dolce Vita when the tabloid journalist Marcello Rubini, in the shape of Marcello Mastroianni, and the world weary, affluent Maddalena have left the party and are driving around the city in her Cadillac, just before they go home with a prostitute and borrow her bedroom to make love. Maddalena is tired of the city, but Marcello cannot get enough of it:
“Me, I love Rome. It’s like a jungle. Humid and peaceful. It’s easy to hide here,” he says.
Milo had lost count of the number of times during his upbringing that he had come padding down from his room to find his mother glued to the screen. Either watching La Dolce Vita or another of Fellini’s films, Il Bidone or I Vitelloni. And he remembered how he had dutifully curled up beside her, listening to his mother’s commentary.
As for himself, he could control his enthusiasm for La Dolce Vita.
He did not miss the film. But he missed those times with his mother.
And every time they were in Rome, that quote cropped up.
“This city is like a jungle, Milo. Humid and peaceful. It’s easy to hide here,” she always said. Each time with such seriousness that he wondered what she was hiding from.
Now that she had hidden from the world forever, he regretted that he had never asked.
The afternoon sun was suspended above Rome, spreading its warm light over the city. Leaning his head against the windowpane, Milo peered at the buildings drifting past, trying to cast his mind back to the last time he had been here with her. One memory superseded another, and it became difficult to distinguish each and every trip, when they had wandered around the city among the museums, ruins, churches, restaurants and shops. Visiting the occasional bookshop or antique store, tucked away in a side street. His mother could never get enough of the city, and Milo loved experiencing all of it in her company.
Often, she became thoughtful, standing inside a church whispering, “non capisco questa grandiosita. I don’t understand this vastness,” the remark directed partly to Milo and partly to the interior of the church.
He also recalled the visits and meals at his Uncle Luigi’s, a man who was not actually his real uncle, but a close friend of the family. Luigi had been a professor at the University of Rome, specialising in the study of antiquity, and lived in what Milo remembered as an enormous apartment overlooking the Villa Borghese.
The rooms were filled with books, art and laughter. Most of all he remembered the fragrance of tobacco. Sweet, scented pipe tobacco. Milo and his mother often stayed in the guest rooms, making the most of Uncle Luigi’s boundless hospitality.
But now they were gone.
Both of the people who had taught him to love “The Eternal City” were dead, and he felt slightly alone, as the taxi hurtled between lanes on its journey into the centre.
Luigi had contracted lung cancer four years earlier and had died one morning in early September three and a half years ago. Milo recalled the funeral and the crowded church. Six months’ later, his mother’s problems had overwhelmed her completely, causing her to be hospitalised. Reconciling himself to the choice she had made, of ending her own life, still remained a struggle.
When the taxi came to a halt outside the hotel, Milo gave the driver a generous tip, and was soon checking in at the reception desk.
The young man behind the counter was unable to restrain himself.
“Sei italiano? Are you Italian?”
“My mother was Italian.”
“Ahhh. I see.”
Having received the key, Milo located the elevator and headed for his room on the sixth floor. It struck him how seldom he slept in hotels in Italy. As a rule he spent his time in one of three places: the apartment in Milan, the family home in Tuscany, or the summer villa on Sardinia.
Peering down at the traffic, he saw numerous Vespa scooters darting around like wasps – as their name suggested – before calling Commissario Benedetti. Yet again, he had to leave a message on his voicemail, as there was no sign that the Italian policeman had any intention of working at the weekend.
However, Milo did not plan to wait until Monday to accomplish his task. Grabbing his money, credit cards and mobile phone, he left the hotel room.
As he entered the taxi, his phone rang. He hoped it was Benedetti, but instead spotted Theresa’s name on the display.
“Ciao carina! Hello darling!”
“Hi. I just spoke to Corrado, and he told me you were going to Rome.”
“I’m here now. Landed just an hour ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her tone contained a hint of reproach.
“It was decided only a few hours ago. A rush assignment,” Milo replied.
“But I want to see you. How long are you staying?”
“I don’t really know. A couple of days max. A woman has been murdered here, and I need to help the family bring her home.”
“Oh. But I’d still like to see you,” she repeated.
“I’d like to see you too.”
“There’s a train arriving in Rome at quarter past nine. We could have a late dinner together, what do you think?”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
“Will you meet me at the station?”
Glancing automatically at his watch, he saw he had only three hours, but all the same, it would be enough for what he had planned to do in the next few hours.
“Yes, okay, I’ll meet you at the station,” he answered.
The ochre-coloured apartment block was adorned with window boxes containing an abundance of flowers. Lines of washing hung out to dry were draped between the buildings. As Milo approached the door, about to ring the doorbell, the door opened and an old lady, dressed in black, tottered out.
“Signora,” Milo greeted her politely and slipped in through the doorway, relieved that he did not have to talk his way in via the intercom.
The entrance hall was redolent with a distinctive Saturday odour, a mixture of fabric softener and food cooking.
While he ascended the stairs, he could hear the sound of televisions at full blast, filling the apartments with the rowdy clamour of game and talk shows. Arriving on the third floor, he checked the correct name was displayed on the door before straightening his tie and ringing the bell.
Inside, he could hear shouts from people declaring they were too busy to answer. Finally he heard shuffling footsteps, followed by the rattling of a chain being released, before the door was opened.
The man in the doorway, at least two heads shorter than Milo, wore a white singlet and khaki-coloured trousers fastened above the navel. His grey hair, or what little was left of it, perched like a diminutive crown above his ears and matched the hairs protruding from the holes in his string vest. He stared uncomprehendingly at Milo.
“Signor Benedetti?” Milo enquired.
“Sono io. Chi e? That’s me. Who are you?”
“I’m Milo Cavalli. From the Norwegian police.”
Benedetti responded with a little “ah”, before explaining animatedly that it was Saturday and he did not work at weekends.
“We’ll get this done on Monday morning, Cavalli,” he said, making an attempt to retreat and close the door.
Milo took one step forward, and just at that moment Signora Benedetti appeared in the hallway to satisfy her curiosity about their caller. Producing his best smile, Milo executed a little bow.
“Signora, che profumo! What an aroma! What are you cooking for dinner?”
The woman brightened considerably.
“Tummala!” she said proudly.
Milo rolled his eyes appreciatively, being very familiar with the classic Sicilian casserole containing everything from chicken, onions, tomatoes and celery to sausage, cheese and meatballs. It was one of his grandfather’s favourite dishes from southern Italy, and he felt a stab of melancholy and gratification as he reminisced about his grandmother encouraging him to scoff several lavish portions. Eating his fill, almost to the point of endurance. With an ice-cold, tiny glass of the lemon-flavoured liqueur Limoncello after dinner as the only salvation.
“It smells heavenly! Tell me, do you make it with veal meatballs too, like my grandmother always used to do?”
“Of course! But who are you?”
Milo quickly explained who he was and why he was there. Contact with the woman of the house was established, and her husband stood around like a bit player, almost jammed against the door.
“The problem, signora, is that my bosses insist I provide them with a report. They don’t care that it’s the weekend and we poor foot-soldiers just want to relax.”
A kick in an upward direction was never a bad idea, and Signora Benedetti shook her head sympathetically about how difficult bosses could be.
“So I was wondering whether I could be so bold as to borrow your husband for a short spell, if I promise to have him back here in time for dinner at nine o’clock?”
Although Commissario Benedetti had indicated that they would soon be sitting down to dinner, Milo understood this was not the case. As his wife confirmed.
“Of course. No problem. Just take him with you. He’s only in the way here, anyway,” she said before heading back to the kitchen and her pots.
Milo looked at the Italian policeman in the string vest, smiling sneakily.
“Let’s go, then.”
“Vengo. I’m coming,” Benedetti muttered.