Laconto could not believe his luck as he stopped at the bedroom door and looked down on the near naked form of Welch. She was tangled in the top sheet, all that was needed in the balmy autumn nights, looking like she’d been wrestling a crocodile. Tray in hand, he moved to the window and looked through the half open venetians over the dusty rooves of the town of Baia. The noise of traffic fighting to get nowhere fast was yet to start, the air cool with the morning sirocco. From his vantage point, the inspector could see the island of Nisida and the volcano behind, taking shape in the growing light. Although he couldn’t see it, Laconto knew the city of Naples, nestled between the two, was beginning to waken.
Laconto was happy for the first time in a long while. After Ele, the soon to be ex-Mrs Laconto, the inspector had been convinced there would be no others; convinced that love had left him for good. He didn’t normally have the time for fraternization, being the Anti-Mafia Directorate Senior Investigator for the district of Pozzuoli. Nor did he want a repeat of the heart-wrenching separation, when he’d lost a wife, two sons, a positive bank balance, a villa and an Alpha Romeo.
To avoid a repeat, he’d decided to devote himself to his work. Not that he hadn’t already been devoting himself to his work, the reason Ele had filed for divorce. He’d missed the irony previously, because since the postman left a note telling him to go and collect the registered letter, he hadn’t been in the mood for reflective contemplation. Now, the irony caused him to smile wryly and look through the venetians again.
He thought about recent changes to his life as the apartment block opposite exploded in a wash of orange light. He looked back at the girl on the bed, one breast and one leg exposed by the Kese Gatame she had on the bedsheet. Welch of the American NIS, the Naval Investigative Service. She was a sbirro, a cop, just like him, and subject to the same unsociable hours Ele had hated and which had driven them apart as inexorably as the heat of a Neapolitan summer. Rachel was like something from a fairy tale for Laconto. In her early to mid-thirties, she was maybe a little older than him, vibrant, intelligent, driven like he used to be when he first started his crusade to rid the world of wrongdoers. He felt with Welch at his side, he would be able to concentrate on his fight against The Syndicate and not worry about how she was being affected by it.
He wasn’t ready to continue, though, not yet.
Barely a month had passed since his first major AMD case had ended in a bloodbath. The aftermath of that bloodbath had caused their romance to blossom, like they shared a secret, which was fuelling their burgeoning lust. She, an American, not only young, but also a feminist striving for the pinnacle of her chosen profession, the Directorship of the NIS. He a chauvinist in a service riddled with cops beholden to the very organizations he’d sworn to destroy.
It made him smile to think only a few weeks before he’d believed women had no place in the police and Welch had been a feminist with the goal of making it to the top of that elite fraternity, a place traditionally denied to women in any profession.
They’d been thrown together by a bloody murder after an American sailor had been shot over a little ill-advised adultery. When a hostage situation developed, Laconto had given himself up in exchange for the women being held.
He shook his head, trying to clear it of the near-death images. Welch and her team’s timely intervention with a tear gas cannister through the window had made the difference between living and dying; breaking glass and the hiss of gas giving him the time he needed to grab a gun from the nearest killer and shoot the other before he had time to react.
The bed springs creaked, and he looked over to see Welch had finally woken and was looking at him with a smile.
‘Those for me?’
Laconto looked down at the tray he was holding. Espresso, orange juice and a cornetto, an Italian croissant-like pastry. He nodded, feeling foolish. He’d never been much for domesticity and hoped going down to the bar next to the station would be considered the same as making her breakfast in bed, her last wish of the night before she’d fallen asleep, exhausted by their frenzied love making.
‘Yes, I went to the café for them. You were sleeping. I did not want to wake you. You were so like an angel.’
‘That’s so sweet, Bobbi, thank you.’ He smiled, unsure whether he was sweet for getting her breakfast or for calling her an angel.
He stayed beside the window, admiring the litheness of her tanned body in contrast to the fullness of her breasts. He again felt a surge of emotion and luck and lust. ‘Well, can I have them?’
‘Yes, sorry.’ He walked over to the bed and held out the tray like some sort of votive offering. She puffed up her pillows, sitting unconsciously with her torso uncovered and smiled as she took the proffered breakfast.
‘The café where we first met,’ she said with a smile.
‘No, no, we first met in your Admiral’s office.’
‘That doesn’t count,’ Welch smiled. ‘It was such a fleeting encounter.’
Laconto could see the smile in her eyes. She was, how did she call it? teasing him. Yes, that was it. ‘You are teasing me, I think.’
‘No, really. What makes you think that?’ The inspector was about to respond when he caught the glint again and realized she was still teasing him.
‘Yes. Ha, ha, very funny.’
‘If memory serves, the second time we met, you were standing over a sailor with a hole in his head and his face in a puddle of blood and beer. Every woman’s romantic fantasy.’
Laconto laughed and thought about it. An American sailor, Koswalski, had been executed in broad daylight because he’d decided to fraternize with the wife of a Syndicate soldier. Laconto remembered mutilated lips grinning up at him. The dead eyes and shattered Ray-Bans a direct result of a man unwilling to keep his cock to himself, an opinion the inspector had voiced openly. It was hardly a surprise that Welch and he had got off on the wrong foot. That investigation threw them together, tête-à-tête and it had taken the course of it for them to learn to trust one another. Not too surprising considering one was a chauvinist, the other a feminist and on sides of The Law who rarely, if ever, saw eye-to-eye.
‘Are you coming back to bed? There’s something I want to talk to you about.’
‘We have three days off. I thought we would go into Naples, or maybe we could drive down to Sorrento for lunch and on to Positano for dinner?’
Laconto could see Welch frowning down at her glass of orange juice. He knew he was coming across as needy, sounding frantic in his own ears, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t like the sound of the invitation. In his experience, although limited, when a woman said she had something to talk about, it invariably didn’t mean something pleasant. The last woman to use those words with him had been Ele, when she’d called to tell him she was leaving and taking the boys and the Alpha Romeo. The same day as the funeral service, he remembered. That night, at least.
His elation of a few moments before began to wane, replaced with a butterfly stomach and a need for the bathroom.
‘Yes, that sounds nice, but I need to talk to you first,’ Welch pouted.
And so here it comes, he thought. I knew it was too good to be for real. ‘I will sit sul letto, um…’
‘On the bed,’ Welch interrupted.
‘Yes. On the bed, but keep my clothes on, if that will not be a problem for you?’
Welch laughed, ‘Why, you think I can’t resist your ripped abs?’
Welch patted the muscle mass under her breasts and said, ‘Abdomen.’
‘Oh, I…’ Laconto started to stumble, causing an ejaculation of mirth.
‘I was joking, Bobbi. Sit,’ she said, patting the bed beside her. Laconto sat and swung his legs up, kicking off his flip-flops. ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’
‘What is it, Rachel? What do you want to ask me?’
‘Do you remember our first date, in that pub?’
‘It was only a few weeks ago. Of course, I remember. That strange pub in Monte di Procida that used to be a clothes’ shop. You pretended that you smoke and nearly coughed your lungs out.’
‘But apart from that embarrassing interlude, I asked you how you came to be SI for Pozzuoli and you said you were too preoccupied to tell me a shaggy dog story?’
Laconto nodded. He felt he now knew what was coming. It was not as bad as he’d feared, but he wasn’t sure he was quite ready for it. Looking backwards was something he’d managed to avoid for a long time and not something he wanted to contemplate, despite his psychologist’s best efforts.
‘You want me to tell you my life story?’
‘Well, not all of it. Just how you ended up as the SI.’
‘I am not sure I am ready to tell that story, Rachel.’
‘Well, at least tell me how you ended up as a boy in blue. You can tell me that much, surely?’
‘It is quite painful.’
‘How you became a cop, what do you locals call cops sbirri?’
‘How you became a sbirri is painful? How can that be?’
‘Sbirro. Sbirri is when there is more than one, cops.’
‘Sorry, Bobbi, I keep forgetting, “i” for plural.’
Laconto hesitated for several seconds before he answered. ‘My father owned a shop for selling meat in our village. How do you call a macellaio?’
‘Yes. Butcher. The local Syndicate family demanded protection money. Only a small percentage of the takings they said, but they decided how much the takings were, and my father could not afford to pay. He was too debole, too weak, to stand up to them and the police were in their control. When they told him of the bad things they would do, he took his own life.’
‘Oh, God, Bobbi. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.’
‘What does it mean, pry?’
‘Ask too many damn fool questions.’
‘You did, then, mean to pry. Ma, va bene. But it is alright. Perhaps it is time that I spoke about it. The police doctor, how do you call them, doctors for the thoughts, psicologi?’
‘Yes. The police shrink has been telling me I must talk about it or write it down.’
‘You need to get it out in the open to get some sort of closure. My shrink is always telling me the same thing.’
‘Yes. I need to do that. Why do you have a shrink? You seem to be so normal.’
‘Where I come from, it’s a fashion statement.’
‘Oh.’ Laconto did not think he understood how exposing the inner sanctum to a stranger could be considered fashionable, but then there were so many other aspects of this fascinating woman that he doubted he would ever understand.
‘So, what happened with your father?’
‘He shot himself in the cantina, the cellar. Ho fatto un promessa. I made a vow that I would join the police and stop it from happening to other people. I was so naive.’
Laconto sat with his legs on the bed looking at the crucifix hanging over the balcony doors. What he had not said to Welch, what he thought she would not have any interest in hearing, was he was the one who discovered the body in the cellar. When his mother reported her husband missing, the sbirri told her he’d probably run off with another woman. It was more than a week later when the smell was so strong that neither Laconto nor his mother were left in any doubt as to where Laconto senior was. His mother had said junior was the new man of the family and had to go down into the cellar to confirm what they already knew.
The inspector had been twelve years old.
He’d stood at the top of the cellar stairs and flipped the light switch to see his father sitting against the back wall with his lupara, his shotgun, between his knees and his brains splashed up the wall behind him. At the time Laconto had wondered how his father was able to find the wall where he was going to shoot himself in the dark, before he remembered the lights were on a timer and always went out after an hour. No one had ever needed to be in the cellar for longer. No one until his father, that is.
Laconto looked at Rachel and frowned.
He didn’t want to talk about it, regardless of how much the police doctor said he needed to. And not just because of the pain. He didn’t think anyone should be put through the horror of the smell and the mess of blood and other detritus up the rear wall, or the puddle of puke at the top of the stairs after he had regurgitated his breakfast. He certainly didn’t think sitting in bed with an exposed chest was an ideal location for a woman to hear all the gory details.
‘Anyway, I kept the promise and joined the police as soon as I was old enough. And that is how I come to be here, the AMD Senior Investigator for the district of Pozzuoli. The end. One hairy hound story less to worry about.’
‘Is that it?
‘Yes. There’s not much more to tell, really.’
‘I read your jacket, Bobbi. I must admit, I didn’t believe it at the time, but apparently, you’re the best anti-Mafia detective in the province of Naples, if not Campania. There must be more to it than that.’
‘You want more?’
‘I want the whole sordid story, and you’ll not get away from me until I have it,’ Welch laughed and put her head on his chest.
‘I better make sure it is the hairiest of hairy hound stories then,’ he said, hoping the tremor in his voice was evident only to him.
‘Yes, you had, and it’s shaggy dog.’
‘What is the difference?’
Welch shrugged. There was no difference, but hairy hound just didn’t sit right.
‘Where shall I start?’
‘Why don’t you start when you became a cop.’
‘Oh. Okay, then. It started when I graduated from the Naples State Police Academy in seventy-five…’