Delayed Death (Temptation in Florence Book 1) (7 page)

"It was."

"Anything unusual strike you?"

Carlina wanted to hit his immobile face. "I don't do this kind of thing every day, if that's what you mean!"

"I meant with the body."

Carlina crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I've never seen a body before. Ever. I wouldn't know if anything was unusual, even if it came up and bit me in the face." Her hand flew to her mouth. "Ugh. Didn't want to say that."

He laughed.

Her gaze flew to his face. He knew how to laugh? The laughter transformed his lean face, made his eyes sparkle. He looked like a different man. Carlina bit back an answering grin.

He looked at her, his head placed to one side, as if he was considering something. "Would you describe how you carried the body?"

Carlina's face twisted.

"Please."

Her mouth dropped. He could be polite? She took a deep breath. "Grandpa was sitting at the kitchen table. His eyes were open. Emma nudged him, and he fell to the side. I - I managed to catch him before he fell. He was heavy - and warm."

"Warm?" His sharp voice interrupted her.

"Yes." Carlina swallowed. "I said to Emma he must have died a short time ago."

"But you were sure he was dead?"

Carlina's mouth dropped open. "Oh,
Madonna
, yes, of course. If you had seen him . . . there was no doubt."

"Was it cold in the apartment?"

"No. It was stifling. I remember thinking so when I came through the door. It smelled of peppermint." Her throat hurt at the memory. "Grandpa used to eat peppermint drops all the time."
Don't cry, Carlina.

"What happened then?"

"I couldn't make him sit up again." Her throat tightened. "Emma said I should place his head on the table, but it felt so . . . irreverent."
Damn.
She shouldn't have used that word. Nothing in her behavior had led him to believe that she gave a damn about reverence for the dead. She cringed and waited for a scathing comment from Garini. When nothing came, she looked up at him.

His light eyes searched her face. "Go on." It didn't sound quite as commanding as before.

"I made Emma take his feet. We carried him to his bed. It felt . . . indecent, and there was that smell."

His eyebrows pulled together. "What smell?"

"I . . I don't know. I've never smelled it before. Sort of sweet, but in a cloying way."

"And then?"

"And then I was sick." She felt sick now.

"What did his face look like?"

Carlina's mouth was dry. "I tried not to look. I wanted to remember him the way he had been."

"So you didn't see anything? Not a glimpse?"

Carlina swallowed. "It was . . . bluish."

He gave a sharp, short nod. "Did Emma say it had been difficult to undress him?"

"No." Carlina shook her head. "She was real quick. But then, she was in a hurry."

"I see." The ironic note was back in his voice.

Carlina pulled herself together. "I thought it wouldn't make a difference. I only wanted to help Emma." She sounded pleading now. "I also planned to get up early the next morning, to find him. Then nobody else would have suffered the same shock."

"But you didn't?"

"No." Carlina could feel herself blushing. "I overslept."
He'll think I'm a total loser.
"Uncle Teo found him."

"His twin."

"Yes." Carlina sighed. "I was so glad that he didn't have a heart attack right there and then. However, later, just as Marco wanted to sign the death certificate, he . . ."

Garini held up one hand. "Hold on. Your mother told me Marco was called because your family doctor was ill."

"That's right."

"What's the name of your family doctor?" Garini was back to his true form. He shot his questions like bullets at her.

"Enrico Catalini."

"Is Marco the official stand-in for Signor Catalini?"

"I don't know." Carlina frowned. "But my mother wanted to have Marco because he's a family member. He married my cousin Angela some months ago."

Garini's light eyes narrowed in thought.

Carlina was glad she had chosen to sit. The shelf in her back gave her a bit of much needed stability to face those x-ray eyes of his.

"What happened next?"

"Uncle Teo exploded into the kitchen and made a big scene because Grandpa still had his socks on." She sighed. "I didn't know he always took off his socks first when he undressed. I never even thought about his socks."

The Commissario didn't comment.

Carlina threw him a glance. No sympathy there. "Next thing I knew, Uncle Teo called the police." Something scratched her ear. Carlina reached up and blushed. Damn. She still had the bra and slip from the mannequin over her shoulder. What a sight she was! She pulled them off with a quick move and stuffed them behind her back. Hopefully he wouldn't start laughing.

His light eyes never wavered. "Why didn't you stop your Uncle Teo?"

Carlina bristled. "How could I? Wrestle the phone from his hands?"

"For example." His voice was mild. "I'd have thought you're a woman with enough resources." For some reason, it didn't sound like a compliment.

"Uncle Teo turned beet red." Carlina didn't look at Garini. She didn't want to see the disbelief in his eyes. "I was afraid he would have a heart attack if I stopped him. Besides, all the family was listening in.”

"Fine." His voice sounded hard. "And can you explain why you didn't tell me the truth when I came?"

She looked at her hands. They had clenched themselves into a tight knot. "I wanted to, but you came early. When I came downstairs, the gang, I mean my family, had told you everything."

"Everything but the truth."

"Well." Carlina felt short of breath, as if something was strangling her. "I wanted to speak to you alone." She lifted her gaze and frowned at him. "You remember that, don't you?"

He lifted his eyebrows. "You didn't try very hard."

Carlina closed her eyes for an instant. "I didn't want to shake my mother. She was so upset."

"Was she?"

How she hated his snarky questions. "Yes, she was!" She balled her fists. "I don't know if you saw her cushion?"

"I did."

"Well, she usually carries that cushion around with her when she's on the road, but in the house, she doesn't take it. When she came up to me and had that cushion in her arms, I knew she was shaken to the core."

He blinked. "Are you telling me your mother never leaves the house without a cushion?"

Oh, God
. She shouldn't have mentioned it. "Yes." She hoped her voice conveyed dignity. "It's a little idiosyncrasy."

"Did she take it to the wedding?" He sounded intrigued.

"Yes."

"And did she use it?"

"I don't know why you need to know that! It doesn't have anything to do with my grandfather." Carlina pressed her lips together.

His mouth twitched. "Humor me."

"Oh, all right." Carlina sighed. "She used it to sleep in Church."

"I take it the service wasn't fascinating?"

Carlina suppressed a giggle. "It was the sixth family wedding this year."

"In that case, I understand completely."

Carlina smiled. "Later, Mama used the cushion to sleep on the table."

"She slept on the table?" Now he sounded scandalized.

"Just with her head." Carlina hastened to add. "It doesn't matter; everybody is used to it. In fact, I think it's very considerate of her."

He blinked. "In what way?"

"Well, we always share a taxi back, and when she's tired, she simply goes to sleep. Other mothers would start to nag until the party broke up."

"I see." His tone spoke volumes.

He thinks we're a bunch of idiots.
Carlina stared at her hands and concentrated on relaxing them. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw that he was still leaning against the door frame as if he belonged there, a relaxed panther.

From the street, she heard the faint noise of people walking by, talking, laughing. Inside, it was so quiet, her own breathing seemed too loud.

"To sum up, Signorina Ashley. You moved your dead grandfather because you didn't want to upset your cousin Emma. You allowed your great uncle Teo to call the police with a crazy tale because you didn't want him to have a heart attack. You lied to the police because you didn't want to upset your mother Fabbiola. I'm impressed. You're quite the philanthropist."

Carlina's ears turned hot.

"Well? Don't you wish to comment?"

His icy words cut through her like a steel blade. "No. I may not have told you the truth the first time, but this time, I have."

"Are you going to stick to this version?" His friendly voice sounded false.

"Yes." She pulled up her feet. "I take it the interview is over. Please go now. I can't keep my store closed for hours on end."

"Just a minute, Signorina Ashley. I have one more thing to tell you."

"Well?" Carlina bent forward on her footstool, ready to get up.
Go. Just go away.

"Your grandfather was poisoned with an overdose of morphine."

A rushing sound like a giant waterfall deafened her ears. The floor came up to meet her, then everything turned black.

Chapter 6
I

When she regained consciousness, her nose was pressed against black leather. It smelled good, with an added hint of fresh air and soap. Two strong hands pulled her back into an upright position and leaned her against the shelf, only this time, she sat on the floor.

His lean face bent over her. He looked grim.

With detached interest, Carlina discovered a small scar next to his mouth. She concentrated on breathing. It was a full-time job.

"Weak moment over?"

She winced and managed to find her voice. "Repeat your last sentence."
Maybe I misunderstood him.

"Your grandfather was poisoned with an overdose of morphine." He said it without emotion, as if he was the computer she had suspected all along.

So I've heard him right.
Carlina closed her eyes.

"You going to faint again?"

She shook her head. "No. You can take your hands off me."

He snatched his hold away.

She almost toppled forward and had to place both hands flat on the floor to stabilize herself. "What happens now?"

He looked at her. "Now, I'm going to find out who killed him."

She didn't reply. Her head felt as if it had been filled with cotton wool, soft and sort of mushy.

"Signorina Ashley."

"What?"

“You still have to answer a few questions.”

She bit her lips so hard they hurt. “Go ahead.”

“Do you think it's possible that your grandfather killed himself?”

Carlina snatched up her head. “No. Absolutely not. Granddad enjoyed every moment of his life. He relished his phases and was constantly on the hunt for something new to do. He was mentally alert and very competitive. He once said that killing yourself was giving up too soon.”

“He was competitive?”

“Oh, yes.” She nodded. “You see, he was in eternal competition with his twin, my Uncle Teo. They constantly tried to outdo each other.” Carlina took a deep breath. She still felt shaken. “When Uncle Teo was diagnosed with a weak heart a short time ago, granddad went to get a general check-up, too. On account of their being twins and having the same genes, you see.”

“Yes.”

Carlina's throat felt tight. “Granddad got an official certificate that he was as healthy as a horse. He showed it to everybody and said he would live to be a hundred.” Tears pooled in her eyes as she remembered him strutting around the house, waving the certificate.

The Commissario lifted his eyebrows. “And in spite of that, you had no hint of a suspicion when you found him dead?”

She felt stupid now. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don't know. As I said, suicide would have been totally out of character . . . and . . . and murder . . .”

“Yes, Signorina Ashley?” It sounded as if he was ready to pounce on her any second now.

“Murder never crossed my mind.”

He straightened. "Do you happen to have any plans to leave the country?"

A chill ran up her back. "No."

"Good. If you should change your mind, inform me."

Her throat hurt. "Yes."

He got up.

Carlina realized he had knelt next to her. She hurried to follow him, but the world still seemed a bit shaky. With a quick grab, she steadied herself on the shelf.

His gaze followed her hand. "If you should ever contemplate a change of career, try acting. You're quite convincing."

Fury exploded inside her. "And if you should ever contemplate a change of career, try garbage collector. Garbage doesn't have feelings."

His eyes narrowed. "Cat."

"Computer."

For the first time, his face registered surprise. "What?"

Carlina gave an arrogant shrug; at least she hoped it was arrogant. "Work it out."

She accompanied him to the door. As she unlocked the door and took off the sign, she was aware of his quiet presence behind her. He unsettled her more than she wanted to admit.

She stepped to the side to let him pass.

He stopped in front of her. "You are aware that I have to talk to your family, aren't you?"

Carlina's face went blank. "Oh,
Madonna
."

"I am going to your house right now," he said.
"Arrivederci."
He nodded at her and turned left, toward the Arno River. His black motorbike stood on the sidewalk in a strict no-parking zone.

Carlina watched him start the motor with a roar. Her thoughts jumped around in futile jerks like boxed-in fleas.
I have to stop him. I can't. I have to talk to my mother. Grandpa has been murdered. Oh, God. I'm a suspect. I have to talk to Uncle Teo. I have to be home before Garini
. The last thought arrived home like a gear kicking in. She flew into action.

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