Delayed Death (Temptation in Florence Book 1) (10 page)

The Commissario's eyes went from the window to the side board. "Did he sometimes leave the window open?"

"Yes." As the Commissario didn't seem to approve of her answer, she added, "But it wasn't dangerous; nobody can get in because of the iron bars."

"I know." Garini shook his head. "But you can easily reach through the bars and drop something into the carafe."

Carlina caught her breath. "Is that how it was done?"

"I don't know." Garini looked at her. "It seems a hazardous way to kill someone. After all, anybody might drink from that carafe."

Carlina shook her head. "No. It was Grandpa's alone. He said he had to know that he drank his minimum each day, and if anybody else wanted a drink, he gave them fresh water."

Garini's eyes narrowed. "Then somebody knew him well enough to use that knowledge."

Carlina felt as if something hard pressed against her chest.
Someone from my family.
No. Please not.

"Can you find a plastic bag and a towel inside this kitchen? I have to take the carafe to the police station."

"Yes." Her voice sounded flat.

When she had unearthed the plastic bag and the towel from a drawer, he wrapped the carafe with care and stowed it in an old wine box.

Then he opened another cupboard and lifted his eyebrows. "You said your grandfather ate peppermint drops?"

"Yes. All the time."

"That would explain the five packages I found in the cupboard."

Carlina grinned. "Yes."

"What happened to your grandfather's cat?"

"Grandpa didn't have a cat."

His eyes narrowed. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, of course."

He pointed at the top shelf of the cupboard. A cardboard box, open at the side, sat on the very edge of the shelf. The picture of a fluffy kitten looked at them from the cover. The box was filled with dry cat foot.

"Oh." Carlina's heart sank.
Why did he have to find that? I don't want to tell him.

"Can you explain why he keeps cat food?"

"It's a snack." She closed her mouth with a snap.

"For which cat, if he doesn't own one?"

"Um." Carlina could feel her ears turning hot. "It's not for a cat."

"Signorina Ashley." He sounded patient now, too patient. "Will you tell me who ate that cat food or do you want me to keep guessing for another hour? Did he feed a rat?"

"No." Carlina swallowed. "He . . . he ate them himself. As a snack between meals."

His eyes bulged.

"You see, they are very healthy." She pointed at the box. "They contain loads of calcium, and vitamin B, and --"

"And they create silky fur."

"Em. Yes."

"Did your grandfather have silky hair?" A muscle twitched in a corner of his mouth.

She bit her lip. "I don't think I need to answer that."

He put his head to one side. "Did you ever try them?"

"Yes, when I was a kid. He fed us all with them." She bit back a smile. "We loved them."

"Did you, now?" He sounded thoughtful, as if he was already wondering which institute with extra secure bars would have room for the whole family.

"They're crunchy, salty outside, and soft in the middle."

"You make them sound delicious."

She grinned. "You can try one."

He lifted one eyebrow. "My hair is silky enough."

"Do you want to take them with you?"

"No. We know the morphine was given to your grandfather in liquid form."

"Oh." She swallowed.

He picked up the wine box. "I'd like to continue with your Aunt Maria's bathroom now."

They went to the hall, but before they could knock on the bright red door, Aunt Maria came out, dressed in a white coat made of a thin and shiny material. She looked like a giant snow ball. Her gaze fell onto the box. "What's in there?"

"Grandpa's carafe. The Commissario wants to check it for fingerprints and stuff."

Aunt Maria's eyebrows soared. "I see."

"I need to inspect your bathroom, Signora Mantoni," Garini said.

Aunt Maria's small eyes blinked. "Why do you need to do that?"

"Your brother-in-law was killed with an overdose of morphine, and I need to find out if you have morphine in your medicine cabinet."

Aunt Maria shook her head. "Do you really think an intelligent murderer would keep the morphine in his medicine cabinet after the deed?"

A glimmer of a smile appeared in those light eyes. "No. But it would be careless not to check."

"Oh, all right." Aunt Maria pulled her voluminous overcoat around her and stepped to the side. "But I won't wait for you, or I won't be back in time for dinner."

"No problem." The Commissario nodded at Carlina. "Your niece will come with me."

Aunt Maria gave Carlina a surprised look, then she sailed off without another word, the overcoat billowing around her like a cloud.

Carlina led the way to the bathroom. "Don't you feel stupid?" she said.

He frowned. "Why?"

"Aunt Maria is right." Carlina went into the bathroom and perched on the edge of the tub. "If you want to do a thorough job, you have to search the whole house, not a few medicine cabinets here and there."

His light eyes assessed her. "I can't search everything at once, that's why I have to focus on the most obvious points first."

"But if it's obvious to you, it will be obvious to the murderer too."

"You'd be surprised how many murderers don't think of the obvious." He smiled. "Besides, I often learn other things I didn't know before. Facts that lead me to a better understanding of the situation. Like cat food snacks."

"Why has this led to a better understanding of the situation?" she asked.

He grinned. "It gave me a better feel for your family."

She narrowed her eyes.

The Commissario opened the cabinet above the sink and started to dictate the things he saw.

Uncle Teo's habits were very different from his twin's. He used an expensive shaving lotion, different types of aftershaves, an automatic toothbrush, and even had a hook where he kept four different golden necklaces - thick chains in several styles.

Carlina smiled. "I wasn't aware that Uncle Teo is so vain," she said.

"You should have known," Garini said.

"Should I?" Carlina looked at him in surprise. "Why?"

"One glance at his clothes, and you can tell that he dresses with care and a certain finesse. It's natural that he extends his habits to his personal care."

You have sharp eyes, Commissario.
"What about Aunt Maria?"

He closed one cabinet door and opened the next. "Aunt Maria is more like her brother-in-law. Spartan." He lifted the wooden lid of a white porcelain container and recoiled. "Still, she left her mark." He held the container out to her.

Carlina looked into it. "Garlic?" Her voice rose high with disbelief. "Aunt Maria keeps garlic in the bathroom?"

"As an emergency snack, I imagine." His voice was dry.

Carlina shook her head.

He finished dictating the list, then looked at her. "Now your apartment."

Carlina led the way upstairs with a nervous churning in her stomach.
Is the bathroom clean? Did I throw away that old jar with rejuvenating face lotion from my mother? I don't want him to search every corner. It's my life, and it's private.

She waited until he had come in, then closed the front door and went straight to the bathroom. From the window in the roof, the late sunlight illuminated the bath and played on the terracotta tiles. It smelled of lemon soap, as it always did. Home. Her home. If only he wasn't here to poke his nose into every detail.

As her bathroom was so small, she stepped to the side before entering it and made a move with her hand.

He followed her invitation in silence.

A whiff of his scent came to her, attractive, clean. She ignored the reaction inside her and leaned against the door frame. "Go ahead."


So he does remember his manners sometimes.

He held the recording machine relaxed in one hand. "Toothbrush, toothpaste, rejuvenating face cream."

Damn. I should have thrown that thing away weeks ago.

He continued to list what he found.

I need to get rid of half that stuff.
Carlina shook her head. How things accumulated when you didn't look.

"Almost done." Garini opened a drawer stuffed full with odds and ends. "Matches, rubber bands, bath salts, small hammer."

Carlina grinned in triumph.
That's where I put it!

Garini pushed the hammer to the side and bent forward to look into the dark corners of the drawer. "Nail scissors, tissues." He stopped.

Carlina looked up.

He held a ring in his hand. The light sparkled on the large sapphire in the middle and the ring of diamonds all around. "An engagement ring?"

Carlina caught her breath.
Of course. That's where I put it
. The sudden discovery felt like a punch in her stomach. She nodded.

His hand with the recording machine sank. "From the prince?"

"He wasn't a prince."

"Tell me who he was."

Carlina jumped up. "Want a coffee?" She knew her voice sounded unfriendly, but she needed a bit of time to compose herself.

"Yes, thanks."

"Chamomile-peppermint not your favorite brew?" Carlina threw him a glance.

"Cat." He actually grinned.

Carlina turned away. When he smiled, he was a different man. She led the way to her small kitchen with the slanted roof.

He followed her, but she noticed he kept his distance. Did he now trust her enough not to attack him with a kitchen knife?

She spooned the fragrant coffee powder into the small round receptacle of her old aluminum espresso maker and pressed it down with her thumb, then she filled the base with water and screwed the parts together.

He watched her without interrupting her routine.

She lit the gas flame and placed the Espresso maker on top of the fire.

"About the prince," he said.

"He wasn't a prince." Carlina took out two saucers and tiny cups. "Sugar?"

"No. I drink it black."

Of course. Sugar doesn't fit this guy.
Nothing sweet about him.

She had to tell him now.
Better make it short
. With feigned nonchalance, she leaned against her kitchen counter and faced him. If only his eyes conveyed more feelings. It was like talking to a wall. A wall made of concrete. "Five years ago, I was engaged to Giulio Ludovico Eduardo Montassori, heir to the Montassori vineyards and estates. We split up, and the family has been convinced ever since that I'll never get married."

"Why did you split up?" His light eyes never wavered from her face.

Carlina shrugged. "We didn't match."

"Who broke it off?" His voice sounded like a computer voice again, cool, without feelings.

She clenched her teeth and gave him a black look. "Do I have to answer all your questions?"

"No." He shrugged. "But it would help if you did."

Their eyes met.

He didn't have to say it, but it hung between them, unspoken. Her family would regale him with plenty of versions about her engagement, without the slightest encouragement from his side.

"You will hear different versions in answer to that question," she said with difficulty.

"Which one is yours?"

The Espresso maker started to gurgle. Grateful, Carlina turned her back to Garini, but he moved to the side, so he could see her profile.

"I broke it off," she said.


She had tried to explain it so often. Nobody had understood. "Do you know the Montassori vineyards?"

"Who doesn't?"

"Yes. Well." Carlina switched off the gas, picked up the Espresso maker, and filled both cups. The steaming coffee plumes twirled up, thin and white, and the fragrance of fresh coffee filled the small kitchen.
At least my hand isn't trembling.
"He asked me to give up my store."

"But --" he broke off.

"But what?" She narrowed her eyes and passed him his cup and saucer.

"Grazie." He met her angry gaze. "The Montassori vineyards are at least a two hour drive to the south, if I'm not mistaken."

"They are."

"So he agreed not to live on the estate?"

"No, he didn't." Carlina picked up her cup, then led the way to her living room. "You can sit over there." She pointed at a low armchair with a fake leopard skin as cover.

He sat down with care so as not to tilt his cup of coffee. His legs seemed too long for her apartment.

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