The Reticent Detective 1

1975

Macta nova virtute, puer, sic itur ad astra.

God speed to thy youthful valour, child! So shalt thou scale the stars.

Virgil

1

The sounds and smells were forcing themselves into the already stuffy office. Monday morning. Rush hour. Window open, the bars doing nothing to stem the invasion. Diesel and car horns. Train horns from the tracks, running a few metres from the police station, the other side of Maria Sacchini, Commune di Pozzuoli. Despite the hour, the graduate could feel himself melting. August. A bad time to be standing in dress blues, gloved hands clasped behind, chin up, eyes fixed on the nondescript tiles six inches above the station commander’s head.

Bobbi wished the little man would look up, at least.

His new commander, Superintendent Corso, seemed engrossed in the file on his desk. Bobbi wanted to tell the man about his drive, his need to get things done. He doubted the contents of the folder would do the twelve months of stress any justice. It would say top of his class and in the top ten percent of graduates, but it would not tell of the late nights studying, nor the scorn of his classmates. It would say that he was first on the firing range, but it would not say he had a thing about guns and had done since he saw his father’s shotgun resting between his naked and obviously dead knees.

‘Why did you request Pozzuoli?’ the super asked with a frown, highlighting his confusion. No one volunteered for Naples. Those who ended up there didn’t last the distance. It was the Force’s largest drain on resources, considered to be a caked hair hanging from the arsehole of the peninsula. “Anywhere but Napula, the unofficial motto of the undergrads. The recruit looked down at him briefly, not moving his head, frowning in his own right. ‘It’s where I grew up, sir.’

‘Ah, yes, I see. Le retour du fils prodigue.’

Bobbi shook his head. He spoke fluent French, so knew the commander had labeled him the prodigal son returned, but the recruit thought throwing out random sentences in a foreign language an odd quirk, meaningless, pretentious even. Well educated and multi-lingual, Bobbi’s stepfather had driven him to learn languages. Latin at the top of the list, which made French and Spanish easy, almost Italian with funny accents; the tough one was English. There was no logic to it, and the boy loved his logic. He’d persisted and was now near fluent. Peppe, his stepfather, always maintained good policing in Naples needed English. There were thousands of American and English servicemen in the area who liked a drink as well as a good time and fraternizing with the young sisters of Mafia soldiers. Communicating with them would be paramount to effective law enforcement. Not that Peppe thought there was any such thing as good policing. After he quit, his relationship with The Law had been at best fraught, and more usually openly hostile.

‘Here, Laconto, we are a team. Tous pour un, un pour tous, so to speak.’

All for one and one for all. The Three Musketeers. Peachy. Bobbi returned the direction of his eyes to the tiles six inches above the super’s head, as he said ‘Yes, sir.’

It was all he could do to hold in the laugh he felt building in his guts. Not a laugh of mirth, but of frustration. Since the day he found his father in the family cellar, in his shorts and with only half a head, Pozzuoli Serious Crimes had been his goal, always on his waking mind and often on his sleeping mind. Now it seemed the station was run by a buffoon. From when he’d walked into the office and seen the little man perched on the edge of his desk, right up on his tippy toes, straining for a height he didn’t have, Bobbi had felt the first misgivings.

Buffoonery was not his only issue. Bobbi wanted to swipe a hand across his face. Sweat was dripping into his eyes, as well as pooling in his lower back, causing his shirt to stick and his pants to self-wedge. He couldn’t wait to start his well-earned break. A week of snorkelling with a speargun, fishing with his stepfather around the sunken city out in the bay. Evening meals in his local seafood restaurant, Il Lentisco. Anything to take his mind off his year and its backstop of the Jackson Pollock up the cellar walls of the family home.

‘I thought I might…’ he trailed off, unsure how to voice why he thought Pozzuoli would be the place for him to start. An area he knew, grew up in, found his dead father in. A man he had loved until he took his own life, a mortal sin in the eyes of the church. A mortal sin in the eyes of his only son, too. Bobbi had spent his teenage years hating his father. He hated those responsible more, though. He’d joined because he wanted to take the fight to them, The Syndicate, the bastards who’d driven the old man to such despair.

The super waved his understanding, as he said, ‘Your report speaks volumes, Laconto. I can see you will be a good fit. Just what the station needs. What are your aspirations?’

‘My aspirations, sir?’ Are they not obvious? I want to crucify the bastards who killed my father.

‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’

‘I want to sit my detective exams as soon as I can, sir.’

‘Good man. Then on to Serious Crimes, I bet.’

‘Yes, sir. I want to make a difference.’

‘Good man, good man. We can second you to Serious Crimes when you are in uniform, of course. That will be the place to begin. When you make detective you will already be a part of the team, we hope. Qui vivra verra, so to speak.’

‘Very good, sir.’

‘You are due your graduation leave. One week to enjoy. Come back next Monday.’

Bobbi frowned as he walked through the palm trees out the front of the station. He’d thought he wanted Pozzuoli and serious crimes, now he was unsure. There was something false about working in a station where the commander felt it proper to confuse his subordinates with foreign words. The recruit had been reticent about his linguistic skills. He had not told anyone he spoke fluent French, Spanish and English, never mind his fluent Latin. He thought it would come across as one-upmanship. He was all but sure no one else in the station was multi-lingual, or even French speaking, including the super. Despite it being the modern era, the nineteen-seventies, when globalism was becoming a recognised trait, language skills were not the forte of Italians.

Climbing into his banged-up Ford, he turned his mind to the sea and what Mariano, the chef in Il Lentisco, would be cooking up later. As he drove away from the station his mind began to conjure the possibilities. Maybe a sea bass or a monkfish. Fish soup with linguine, seemed a good way to celebrate graduation.

***

Inspector Subdolo looked up when there was a knock on his open door. He frowned into the face of Superintendent Corso and audibly sighed.

‘You have a moment, Subdolo?’

Although phrased as a question, the inspector knew it to be otherwise. The station commander could usually be bent to the inspector’s will, but Subdolo knew when the super got an idea in his head, it was best to run with it, because Corso could be petulant, petty and vindictive. The moments of petulance always came with the forewarning of his tone of voice. This was one of those moments. ‘Of course, sir.’

The super closed the door and stood in front of the inspector, seeming to gather his thoughts.

‘How can I help?’ the inspector asked, while looking over the commander’s left shoulder at the recently closed door and wondering what the catch of the day at Pescatore’s would be.

‘I know you said you didn’t want any of the new intake, but there’s a graduate I think has real promise. Real esprit de corps.’

‘Really, sir?’ Espree de what?

‘Yes, fellow was in the top ten percent of the academy. Like I said, real promise and a sense of loyalty.’

I thought esprit de corps meant team spirit, the inspector kept to himself. ‘Why’d you think he’s a good fit with serious crimes, if you don’t mind my asking, sir?’

‘We had our induction meeting this morning. Very bright young man. Full of enthusiasm. Expressed an interest in serious crimes. Said he joined to make a difference.’

‘So, he’s a boy scout?’

‘He might be a little naïve with his ideals, Subdolo, but won’t it be good to inject a little enthusiasm, some joie de vivre? He’s local, too. Might be useful.’

‘Is he trustworthy, sir?’ When has any local ever been trustworthy? Subdolo tried to keep the question out of his eyes and face. He knew the super was a little backwards in his conceptions of humanity south of Rome. He looked at the station commander and wondered where he came up with the idea that serious crimes lacked enthusiasm or needed help from a man who was as likely to rob you as those listed as being “of interest” in the files stacked on the dusty shelves in The Pit.

‘We don’t lack enthusiasm, sir. Quite the contrary.’

‘I didn’t mean any offence. It’s just that young blood with fresh ideals is always good, don’t you think? Put a bit of vigour into policing.’

A bit of vigour into policing? Subdolo nodded his sudden understanding of the super’s motives, ‘How was your management course last week, sir?’

‘Yes, good. Thank you. But don’t change the subject, Subdolo. I won’t be gainsaid in this. You’ll take the recruit and put him to good use…’

‘But, sir…’

‘It’s an order.’

‘Very good, sir. What’s his name?’

‘Officer Laconto, Roberto Laconto. He’ll start next Monday. Post-graduation leave this week.’

‘A local boy, you said?’

‘Napoli born and bred. Imagine what use he’ll be.’ Yes, imagine. A boy scout and a Neanderthal. Just what serious crimes needs.

‘Keep me informed, Subdolo,’ the super said as he pushed passed Sergeant Colino on his way through the door.

‘What did he want?’ Colino asked as he took a seat and lit a smoke using the inspector’s Zippo.

‘He wants us to take on a recruit.’

‘You told him to va fan culo, I hope.’

‘I couldn’t tell him to go screw himself up the arse, Colino, at least not to his face. He’s the station commander.’

‘We can’t have a green recruit in the team. They’ll ruin everything.’

‘You think I don’t know, Stefano?’ Subdolo hissed. ‘Years of hard work down the Neapolitan sewage system, hundreds of klicks of shit stinking tunnels that prop up the piles of shit on the surface.

‘Course, not. Just saying.’

‘Course not, just saying,’ Subdolo mimicked while shaking his head from side to side.

‘He could ruin everything,’ Colino whined.

‘Don’t worry, Stefano. I’ll think of something.’

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