She’s My Sin: Excerpt from Lei è il mio peccato
(Rizzoli, 2005) by Marco Bettini
Lei è il mio peccato © 2005 by Marco Bettini
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English translation © 2006 by Anne Milano Appel
Two shadows were swallowed up by the night. The lights of the city, less than a third of a mile down below, barely penetrated the path’s darkness, filtered by the trees. The first form was that of an imposing man. A smaller, more agile figure moved behind him.
“Watch your step” the taller one said, leading the way. “Did we have to end up right here, where you can’t see a damn thing?”
The question did not require a response. From the tone in which it was spoken, it seemed more like a muted imprecation than a question. Behind the voice that moved forward in the darkness, a kind of wheeze could be heard, followed by a mechanical sound, like that of a spring toy.
The first gun shot echoed sharply in the air like the crack of a whip. A painful heat between his neck and collarbone made the taller figure stagger, then he turned instinctively. All he saw was a dark shadow moving disjointedly. Then, with a moment’s delay, he set his cumbersome mass in motion. The second bullet caught his right arm, but the violent, stabbing pain that followed did not slow his pace. Sprinting more swiftly than he thought possible, he took off on the downhill path. The downward slope facilitated his flight, but it also aided his pursuer. Another two shots echoed through the conifer trees. At bay, the quarry realized that the shots had missed their mark.
Before reaching the sharp turn of the switchback, he abruptly lurched off the path, swerving to the right, and bolted down a grass-covered slope damp from the night. At the end of the short slope, he crossed the dirt track and cut through the trees, hoping the lower branches would offer shelter.
He heard the sound of more shots and felt two deep slashes in his left side, as if someone had stuck a red-hot poker in his muscles. He saw the lights of the first houses drawing nearer, and took heart. He could make it. Trusting in the cover of the vegetation, his heavy legs found a desperate strength. Three sharp blows missed their target, hitting the bark of the trees. Another bullet grazed his left leg, ripping the fabric of his pants, but without causing him any pain. His face slammed against a tree branch but he continued running, his nose bleeding, head and torso lowered. He presented a smaller target in that position, though he moved with greater difficulty. He heard a kind of gurgle behind him, much too close. He tried to get back on the path so he could rush down the slope that bordered the second sharp curve.
It was not the bullet slicing through his leg that stopped him. Actually, he didn’t even notice that he had been wounded there. He had already lost too much blood and, without his even being aware of it, his stride had become sluggish. The raging fury that pursued him had caught up with him.
He was no longer able to go on. He collapsed in the middle of the path, a few yards before the curve that he had hoped would be a springboard to salvation. With his remaining strength he rolled onto his back, seeking respite in the damp grass.
The figure that loomed over him seemed absurdly enormous. Incredulous, he watched the shadow lengthening toward him. The pistol ready to fire the last shot. Still wondering why, he awaited the burst with open eyes. Anticipating the heat and the sharp pain of the final blow, he turned his head toward the lights of the city down below. He thought how ludicrous it was to die in the middle of a dense wood, just a few steps away from houses, from a multitude of people, from the street where everything went on as always, indifferently.
For an interminable time, nothing happened. All he saw was the shadow growing larger, stretching out, then fading away and dissolving in the night, until everything went dark.
The girl rang for the elevator and waited, tightening her leather jacket around her. She was beginning to feel cold, a common feeling in the hospital, where the sick wander around in gowns, the nurses are continually opening and closing the windows, and nobody pays any attention to whether the radiators – always the exact opposite of what the outside climate calls for – are hot or cold. That evening it was cold out, so the hospital’s heating was lowered to a minimum.
Francesca waited quite a while, to no avail, then decided to walk up the two flights of stairs. The surgical procedure she had undergone that morning might have suggested greater precaution, yet the doctor had been clear. She could get up right away, starting that afternoon. The next day they would discharge her.
As she was coping with the first flight, she ran into a man of around forty who was coming down, looking at her insistently. She worried that something about her appearance might give her away. The jacket did not go very well with the pajama pants and sneakers. As for the rest, she considered herself acceptable. With her hair combed and no makeup, she looked like any other patient. She decided to file the unknown man’s curiosity under the usual entry: an intrigued male.
She had already spent eleven of her twenty-five years ignoring those looks, putting up with the interest that she aroused in men simply by walking past them. Even in a jacket and pajamas. She had been aware of her beauty from the time she turned fourteen and had had to learn to live with it.
She passed the unknown man with a neutral expression which drew an exaggerated smile by way of response. Francesca reached the first floor landing and took a deep breath. Her stomach hurt, much more than the doctors had forecast. She didn’t like pain, she never had liked it and didn’t see anything to gain in it. All she thought about was easing it. She decided that it would go away once she was in bed. She continued stiffly up the stairs and reached the door of the ward, on the second floor, with the sole desire to lie down and sleep until morning.
She had not counted on the door being locked. Visiting hours were over by now and the nurses had locked down the ward so as not to have patients’ relatives underfoot, getting in the way of their night-time duties.
Francesca rapped on the glass door, with no response. She knocked harder, still without success. She settled in a plastic chair, alongside the door, waiting for someone to come out of the ward and let her in. She was nodding off, exhausted, when she was rescued by a nurse who came up the stairs and unlocked the door. Francesca was about to follow her in, but the nurse stopped her.
“Visiting hours are over.”
“Actually I’m a patient.”
“I didn’t realize” the nurse justified herself, staring first at the leather jacket, then at the pajamas and finally at the shoes.
“I took a walk to the cafeteria downstairs” the girl added.
“Forty-six” Francesca replied. Over time, she had also had to get used to women’s hostility toward her beauty.
“Come in” the nurse conceded, “I started my shift a little while ago and hadn’t seen you.”
The girl moved off slowly toward her room, her uncertain step giving her away. She opened the jacket and saw a red stain spreading over the front of her pajama pants.
“Do you need help?” the voice behind her asked.
“No, thank you” Francesca replied without turning around, “I have everything I need.”
“Who is he?”
“Gianfranco Marozzi, thirty-six years old, real estate agent. It’s writt’ on the documents he ‘ad in his pocket.”
Paul Mormino studied the victim’s ID card that sergeant Gino Comper handed him. The photo matched the face of the dead man. Mormino, who as a result of having had his sleep interrupted was in a foul mood, sighed at the thought that, in his capacity as head of Homicide, he would not be able to do much to further Comper’s career. He considered him an excellent policeman, sharp, skillful in difficult situations and inspired by a great compulsion to work, but he knew that any attempt to back a possible promotion would run up against an insurmountable obstacle: Comper, a trueborn native of Trent, spoke half in Italian and half in his local idiom.
He seasoned every sentence with dialect terms, and, in any relationships with his superiors, his exceedingly personal pidgin would require the services of a simultaneous translator. Comper tried to moderate the effect by cramming every sentence with Italian words, but the more he used, the more he revealed his difficulty. Mormino, as the cultured Sicilian that he was, could not understand how the sergeant had managed to obtain a diploma, and suspected that he had taken advantage of his keen intelligence in a way that was not entirely orthodox. In any case, when it came to the actual job, the deputy prefect would much rather count on Comper than on any other member of his six-man squad.
For several years now, fewer than ten homicides a year had occurred in the city, so the Mobile Squad that dealt with murder victims had been gradually reduced in size and importance. In the event of fatalities linked to organized crime and drug peddling, protocol provided that Homicide be reinforced by agents from the Anticrime or Antidrug divisions respectively. As a result of such productive cooperation, only a single perpetrator had been identified for the nine homicides that took place the previous year, while the other eight killers were free to roam about at will.
Before the situation could degenerate any further, the Prefect had decided to transfer Mormino from head of Technical-Scientific to head of Homicide. The deputy had not taken it well. The change of assignment did not involve an increase in rank and he had remained an assistant deputy prefect. Moreover, when he had managed the Scientific unit he answered only to the Prefect, whereas in Homicide he reported to the head of the Mobile Squad, a chief deputy prefect. With the constant risk that his successes might serve to boost his supervisor’s curriculum while the unsolved cases would be charged to his expense.
Aware of the difficult position he was in, Mormino preferred to have Gino Comper at his side whenever he had to face a tricky problem. And this one was. Not so much because of the victim, but because of the location where the homicide had taken place. The park of a private clinic, renowned for psychiatric care and detoxification treatments. The clinic, called “Good Health”, accommodated a great many prominent figures from the city’s wealthy population, who preferred the discretion of a fee-paying clinic as a place to wash their dirty laundry. Addicted children, wives dazed by tranquilizers, grandparents afflicted with senile dementia that nobody wanted to be bothered with. The place clearly told intruders, investigators and policemen that their presence was not welcome.
Mormino turned his gaze on the lifeless remains of Gianfranco Marozzi, lying on his back. Viewed from the front, the body did not reveal any lethal wounds. The bullets’ exit holes were lacking. A trickle of caked blood ran down the victim’s nose towards his mouth. One eye was closed and the other half-open, as if, before dying, Marozzi had tried to remain connected to the life that was seeping out of him. The men from the Scientific unit were casting impressions from the path where the shooting had begun. So far they had been able to come up with an approximate reconstruction of how the homicide had occurred thanks to the trail of blood. Marozzi and another person had taken the path that led from a corner of the large square on which the clinic’s wings fronted. From the top of the hill the path joined a paved road down below, situated above a ring of roads that looped down even further, about a third of a mile.
The dirt path wound through the woods for approximately seven hundred yards, making four switchbacks. At the end of it, beside an iron gate that blocked entry to the park and opened onto the paved road, stood the caretaker’s house. But the victim and his killer had not had to go that far. The murderer had started shooting just after the path began. Marozzi, wounded, as could be deduced from the blood splatters on the ground, had darted into the trees. He had proceeded to zigzag without being able to avoid the subsequent shots and had collapsed at the second switchback. His run had covered little less than two hundred and fifty yards. His killer had not bothered to deliver the coup de grace. He had left him there, probably certain that he was dead. He had returned to the square, climbed into his car and driven off through the main entrance. Or else he had gone down on foot, looking for an opening between the hedge and the wire mesh that marked the park’s boundary, and had made his way undisturbed along the road. However he had gotten away, the location posed a question to Mormino. The deputy prefect spoke it aloud to see if Comper might come up with a plausible answer.
“Th’ park’sa trap. Unless…”
Comper merely turned his gaze on the building that housed the administrative offices. From the path, the roof could be seen outlined against the sky, about forty yards above the point where they stood.
“Unless” Mormino finished his thought, “the killer was already here. And, afterwards simply returned to his room.”
The deputy prefect knew how his day would go. He would spend his time talking to the clinic’s directors, to obtain a list of personnel and patients present in the sanitarium at the time of the homicide. He needed names, schedules, clinical charts, definitions of the pathologies, medical opinions on how dangerous the patients might be. With presumably strong resistance on the part of psychiatrists and neurologists to even state their own name. All of it attended by all kinds of pressure to safeguard the patients’ privacy.
“There could be a slight possibility,” Mormino objected to an imaginary interlocutor, “that one of them is probably a killer, besides being a raving lunatic.”
The sound of the percussions went straight to his brain, followed by keyboards and guitar. Francesca had turned the volume up too high. When the solo voice came in over the instruments, Mormino was taken by surprise. The genre resembled heavy metal, but contained other elements as well. The double pedal percussions followed hard on one other, as the guitar strained to pour out as much energy as it could. The tone and timbre of the woman’s voice, however, placed the piece halfway between light opera and sacred music. The song’s evolvement also reflected a steady duplicity. With his schoolboy’s English, Mormino was able to make out part of the refrain that emerged from the stream of keyboards and guitars.
A sin for him
Fall in love with your deep dark sin
The beat pounded out on the double pedal bass-drum gave the sensation of an insistent march, with a precise cadence that was almost mathematical. But the melody moved along at a different pace, a much slower tempo imposed by the drumsticks on the snare drum. The drummer was virtually working with two rhythmics. With the instrument’s low tones, obtained from the bass-drum, he sustained a hard, metallic atmosphere. With the higher tones, from the snare drum, he provided the tempo for the rest of the band. The rhythmic beat of the double pedal assaulted the listener’s heart, while the intensity of the snare drum demanded a more trained ear.
“Interesting. Who are they?”
Had she noticed Mormino’s indifference, Francesca would have realized that he did not particularly like the genre, but the girl seemed completely immersed in that dark sound.
“Nightwish. They’re Finnish. Fabulous. I’m wild about the song. I haven’t listened to anything else in ages.”
“What’s it called?” Mormino asked, more to be polite than because he wanted to know.
“She’s my sin.”
“She’s my sin. Nice.”
“It’s from a few years back. But I just recently discovered them.”
Mormino tried to relate the music to Francesca. Did it resemble her? When she sought her reflection in it, did she really find herself in that metallic clang? The mingling of electric guitar and that sacred feeling gave the entire piece a Gothic stamp. Mormino was not able to grasp all the words of the text, but they seemed to be describing a kind of Satanic entity, a being amenable toward sin, toward desire. It was not his ideal music.
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