“When you decide to kill somebody don’t worry about how you’re going to do it, but who could find out. And especially, don’t ever leave any evidence behind…”
‘‘The person or people who commit a crime almost always leave something at the scene of the crime or take something away.”
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody ever observes.”
Bari is a city in southern Italy where normality, in some respects, seems to be very different from that of all other cities, Italian or otherwise. It is a place where the rules exist, but almost everything is up for discussion and this includes those who should really commit themselves fully to see them respected. It is a city where the police forces constantly have to fight a nasty battle against organized and common crime, and where sometimes, in order to catch dangerous criminals, its operational representatives (in other words, the policemen who patrol the streets, investigating the many crimes which are committed every day), are sometimes forced to move along that thin line which separates the white area of legality from the grey area of almost legal. In which the law of the state will often turn a blind eye to prevent the law of the streets from spreading. Bari is a city of a thousand contradictions. Where many of its citizens say they love Bari and would never live anywhere else, yet they constantly abuse the town, and deface it with their rampant incivility. A city where the welcome is always warm no matter who you are or where you’re from. But where the existing protocols and rules are often mocked with an embarrassing nonchalance. Bari is a city where one must live, to understand its fascination and inconsistency completely.
Bari – City centre
21 December 2009
Andrea Pantaleo’s evening had seemed to go on forever. It had been both very long and very boring. When he got home, he couldn’t even work out why. After all, everybody else had given the impression that they were enjoying themselves. Everyone but him. For him the whole evening had been nothing but a pain in the neck. Now, all he wanted to do was to crash out and get to bed. He was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when his mobile phone rang. He let it ring, stop, and start over again. He grabbed a towel and went to answer. He was too tired to talk to anybody. In the meantime, more than six calls had arrived on his mobile. All of which he had totally neglected. He picked up the phone.
“Hello… what?” he answered irritably.
His nervous tone caused a moment of silence on the other end.
“Inspector? Please, I know it’s late. It’s me, Lomonaco. I’m in Via Brigata Regina, at the corner of Via Dante, with three units of the flying squad.”
“What a lucky man! You guys having fun?” asked Pantaleo.
Lomonaco continued, ignoring the question.
“There’s been a shooting. We were called ten minutes ago. We have three dead men here. Bodies riddled with bullets, looks like some type of MG was used”, he said with a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Lomonaco, you do know that you’re in the murder squad, don’t you?”
There was a pause. Pantaleo continued:
“I was going to bed. I’m not on duty tonight.”
“I know Inspector, I’m sorry. It’s just that Inspector Olrici is here with Captain Roveri, but… the Deputy Chief of Police Salvemini is here too, and he told me to call you.”
“Why would he do that?” quizzed Pantaleo, already knowing the answer. Lomonaco had no idea.
“Shit!” Pantaleo muttered under his breath.
“I’m sorry, sir” said Lomonaco apologetically.
“Never mind, Lomonaco. It’s not your fault. It’s just that I’m not in a very good mood.”
“Yes sir. You know I hate to bother you, but…”
“Ok, Ok! Don’t be such a pain in the ass. I’m on my way. And Lomonaco…?”
“Yes sir?”. Then he remembered, “Don’t worry. I’ll have your hot cappuccino waiting for you when you get here,” said Lomonaco, relieved he hadn’t forgotten.
“Good man”, said Pantaleo, his tone softening a little.
“Such intuition deserves a promotion. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“In a couple of years”, he said before hanging up.
Lomonaco was alert and resigned, as usual when dealing with inspector Pantaleo. He was used to that tone of voice, as well as his caustic remarks. He knew it was nothing personal. It was just the way he was. Not always though. Sometimes his behavior could actually be quite amusing, even if that evening it wasn’t.
The cruel death of those three men disfigured by machine-gun bullets only three days before Christmas had given him and his colleagues a quiet sense of nausea and it wasn’t made any easier by having to put up with the inspector’s outbursts. Although his esteem for the man had in no way altered. He had known him for more than ten years. Since the very day Pantaleo, who had been in the Police since he was twenty-four, was appointed to the third division of the flying squad. The elite murder squad in Bari. In case after case, he had seen him do things that few others would have even conceived of. Working by his side all those years, he had slowly learned how to deal with him.
How to talk to him, when not to talk to him and even when to pretend not to have heard him, and of course, when to enter into a war of words and try desperately to get his voice heard, but this evening was not the right time to square up to him. He knew that if he had even tried during their short conversation, he would have come off worse. Andrea Pantaleo was a cop.
A true cop, even in his private life. A simple man, unimpressed with appearance for appearance’s sake, often unbearably cynical and sarcastic. He was tall and imposing, capable of generating fear and wariness in those would dare to confront him. However, despite his erratic and demanding character, everybody seemed to respect him. Superiors and subordinates alike. He was even afforded grudging praise from within the high circles of justice. An esteem that he had built up in the field during his many years of hard work. Many colleagues from other Provincial Police Headquarters had difficulty understanding how, and why, inspector Andrea Pantaleo of the Provincial Police Headquarters of Bari was given such slack. Very rarely condemned for his evident lack of respect towards any form of hierarchy. Indeed, his attitude at work was similar, if not worse, to his attitude towards the sleaze he had to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Lomonaco’s thoughts were broken by the voice of the Deputy Chief of Police Gianrico Salvemini
“Lomonaco, did you call inspector Pantaleo?”
“Ehm… Yes sir.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said that… he’s on his way sir…”
Lomonaco answered trying to avoid any direct eye contact.
The Deputy Chief of Police noticed the officer’s agitation and sensed something odd, but he preferred to let it go without probing any further. Lomonaco had the impression that the Deputy Chief of Police was troubled.
Of course, a multiple homicide right before Christmas certainly wasn’t the best way to start the festivities, but Salvemini’s concerned expression demonstrated there was more to it than that. Lomonaco snapped out of it and went back to his duties without fuss, after all, it was none of his business.
Who the hell knows why Pantaleo’s upset? Let’s just hope that by the time he gets here he’s calmed down, otherwise, …oh shit! I’ve got to find an open bar immediately, striding up to his colleagues who, meanwhile, were busy trying to contain the onlookers avidly staring at the three bodies lying in a sea of blood.
Bari – Public park
15 December 2009
The park keeper had just padlocked the mighty cemented steel chain with which he always closed the last entry gate on the north side. The chill was getting to him. His thoughts were brutally interrupted by a piercing scream perforating the wet night air. The awful sound was coming from the direction of the public toilets. Hesitant and not more than a little frightened, the keeper looked around, summoned what little courage he had and decided to check it out. He unlocked the chain on the gate and slowly made his way towards where he thought the scream had come from. He didn’t see anybody and he didn’t hear any noise. Only the usual animals and insects that populated the park. In little less than a minute he was on the spot. With shaking hands he fumbled for his torchlight. The air was heavy and oppressive, broken only by the last warbling of the birds’ before the night’s total silence. He shone his light on the area and walked slowly along the corridor that led to the restrooms. At the end of the corridor on the right, was the men’s restroom, while on the left, a few feet before, there was the door to the women’s restroom.
The door was wide open. Nicola Misceo had been the park’s keeper for more than five years and he knew that it was his duty to check the toilets before closing. It had only been a few minutes since that hideous cry, but the t-shirt under his uniform was already drenched with sweat. A cold sweat. The biting air of the evening permeated his padded jacket, freezing his chest.
Stiffened by fear, he gazed around inside the women’s restrooms.
Everything seemed to be in order. He saw nothing to indicate anything ghastly had occurred. There were no traces of blood, no discarded clothes. Nobody should have been in the place at that time of night, and he started to think of a possible rape or robbery. He wanted to be sure that there was nothing to worry about. He stood in front of the line of doors. He started to open them up, one after the other, using the tip of his flashlight and a slight kick. The first door swung open. Nothing. He passed on to the second door, nothing. The same with the third, the fourth and the fifth until he reached the sixth and final cubicle door. Open. Absolutely nothing. The cleaning ladies had left everything in perfect order. Gaining just a little more nerve he decided to move on to the men’s room. Nicola Misceo was just about to step into the passageway when he heard the metallic sound of a window banging against its frame at the end of the corridor. He peered out but there was no one. The body heat caused by all that tension blunted the cold that was biting at his skin.
He went towards the men’s restroom holding his flashlight, ready to use it as a weapon against anyone who might have threatened him. His mind was whirling and his head was buzzing, so much so that he failed to hear the footsteps coming up from behind him. Suddenly, someone gripped his shoulder. Scaring him half to death. He froze, lacking the courage to turn around. Resigned, he closed his eyes instinctively and waited for the worst to happen. The individual, whoever it was, was standing right behind him.
21 December 2009
Eliana had just got back home. Her day at work had been exhausting. She eased off her shoes. Working on the sponsors’ advertising campaigns, with hours and hours of unpaid overtime and no paid holiday, was getting her down and this would carry on for the whole Christmas period.
Trying to keep up this rhythm at work will end up killing me, she thought. And she was serious. She had already lost six pounds. She loved swimming and made it a rule to go take a swim at least three times a week, but she was thinking that she wouldn’t even have the strength to do that at this pace. Then she started to think about Andrea. Andrea lived directly across the hall. What she needed right now was to be held by Andrea. She had fallen in love with him a couple of months before.
Being with him now would have helped her. She could put up with all this and all the bullshit that went on in the office. But their time was over. Once, not so long ago, all she had to do was cross the hall, knock on Pantaleo’s door, wait excitedly for him to open up. Then, jumping into his arms he would carry her into the apartment. Andrea could have been the man in her life. She knew he was sharp and intriguing. She knew he was part of that restricted circle of ungovernable men A free spirit, unable to accept the idea of sharing his daily life with a partner to love for a lifetime. Their story, which had started very quickly and very intensely, had lasted just a few months.
Andrea soon began to distance himself, knowing that it wasn’t wise to get too involved with this one. The separation, though, had taken place too late. Eliana had already fallen for him and despite everything she continued to love him. She knew it was useless to expect anything in exchange. She was reconciled to the fact that being near him would be as much as she could hope for. Now.
Perhaps, maybe, sooner or later, who knows? she repeated to herself, unwilling to give up.
She was lying on the couch when she heard the sound of Andrea’s door open and close and without thinking she ran to the door.
“Hey, where you going?” she said breathlessly.
“Still awake?” he could smell the wine; he knew she was a little drunk.
“Yeah, I can’t sleep.”
She looked at him intently. For just a second he hesitated. He noticed she wasn’t wearing anything underneath his old sweatshirt. He came to his senses…
“Why don’t you watch a good porn movie and have some fun?” he said dryly.
“We saw most of them together, remember? Wanna come in?”
“Sadly, my dear, this is not the right time”, she smiled even more invitingly.
Andrea’s thoughts turned to Lomonaco. Who he knew would be anxiously waiting for him to arrive. While adjusting his gun in his holster, he started down the first steps with his leather jacket in his hands.
“Someone dead?” she said leaning out of the doorway while watching him slip away. He looked at her and said:
“How d’you guess? I’ll see you later and I’ll bring you some warm cornetti for breakfast.”
Then, with a slight smile, he said goodbye and made his way down the stairs. She went back inside and shut out the world, leaned full weight against the door and stared at the ceiling. As always, her mind flooded with memories. She lay down on the couch and after flicking through a few channels, fell into a deep, satisfying, erotic sleep.
“Arrì, where the fuck are you?” she howled.
“I’m in the living room” he yelled so his mother could hear him.
“If you don’t stop hiding, I’m gonna flatten you. You understand?”
“I’m not hiding…” the little boy tried to answer but not quickly enough as she started kicking and slapping him violently, seemingly unconcerned about where the blows landed. But this was an everyday story for him.
After doing his homework diligently, Arrì, as everybody called him at home in the family and in the neighborhood, would always wander around the rooms, like a tormented soul. Every afternoon he hoped to be able to go out, even if only for a few minutes, just a bit of freedom. For very little reason, his mother would systematically lose control and take out her unprovoked anger on him. Beating him savagely without warning or restraint.
The little boy wasn’t really to blame for his absent-mindedness and careless mistakes, but she didn’t care. And she wasn’t particularly concerned about leaving marks on his thin frame, just as she didn’t care that her husband would surely see the effects of the beatings when he came home in the evening.
Her son’s slight, fragile figure made everything simpler for her.
Not even Arrì’s cries and desperate shouts could lessen the woman’s fury. She was clearly deranged. Arrì’s father was another story; he was submissive, yielding and cowardly to the point of embarrassment.
Up until the day he arrived home from work one morning, earlier than usual to find his wife having sex with the greengrocer on the couch in the dining room, while his son was at school. He simply packed his suitcases calmly and left, without saying a word. When Arrì got home from school he noticed immediately that something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
There was emptiness in the air.
With a calm but quickly rising agitation in her voice, his mother, quite bluntly and without any thought to Arri’s feelings, said:
“Arrì, your father has gone. He’s gone for good… forever. Understand? Don’t ask me any questions because you’ll get no answers. Now, just let me cook in peace, or do you want another slap?”
For a blinding instance the little boy felt as if a fiery dart had pierced him straight through the heart and his whole world had fallen apart. His father was no longer there. He would have preferred to be beaten instead of feeling that suffocating stabbing pain. He stopped thinking and went to his room with his heart shattered. The phone rang. He could only hear a muffled conversation. Nothing was clear but he didn’t have to wait long to get the full picture. His mother appeared at his bedroom door.
“It was Mr. Esposito, the butcher. He said that you can start working for him tomorrow morning, got it?”
“And what about school?” the little one asked, dumbfounded.
Her look of satisfaction turned to a glaring scowl.
“It’s none of your fucking business. I’ll take care of that. Tomorrow you’re going to work, clear?”
Arrì knew that black look all too well. Her increasingly threatening tone of voice convinced him that it was best not to answer or contradict a single word. If silence were the price he had to pay to make it out in one piece, he would pay it.
Willingly and immediately.