Read The Silence of the Wave Online

Authors: Gianrico Carofiglio

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #International Mystery & Crime, #Thrillers, #Suspense

The Silence of the Wave (6 page)

The young carabiniere took the gun, the magazine, and the bullet that had been expelled when the slide had been pulled back. Then at last he went out and called for help. Roberto sat there waiting.

* * *

The mind had to be kept occupied, that was the thing. That way it was easier to avoid becoming prey to your thoughts.

Cooking is almost always a good solution. Roberto made himself an omelet, concentrating hard on every step of the recipe.

Letting the omelet cool down, he opened a bottle of wine.

A little wine, in moderation, was compatible with his medication. All the leaflets said that the effect of medicines could be exacerbated by being combined with alcohol, but the doctor said a glass of wine a day was allowed, although spirits could certainly wait until the therapy was complete.

After dinner, he switched on the TV. Another rule was not to go channel-surfing. He needed to learn how to concentrate, even if it was just on watching a movie or television program from beginning to end. If there was nothing worth watching, it was better to switch the TV off and do something else. Actually, that was easier said than done when you had satellite TV. If there weren’t movies, if there weren’t any interesting
programs, at least there were always sports, especially basketball, the NBA. That evening the Los Angeles Lakers were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. A boy growing up in southern California, providing he doesn’t hate basketball, is bound to root for the Lakers, at least a little. Basketball is perfect for killing time, for filling the space between dinner and the hour when the body starts to accept the idea of going to bed.

More than two hours passed in this way. The familiar, overexcited voices of the presenters, the lightning-fast passes, the gold jerseys, and black muscles, the slam dunks, Jack Nicholson in his courtside seat as usual, the commercials for Taco Bell, Subway, Chrysler. The kiss cam conferring a few seconds of worldwide celebrity on couples kissing in the crowd.

The Lakers won by twenty points. The Timberwolves weren’t exactly the most formidable opponents in the NBA, but the result still put him in what was almost a good mood.

Time for bed. Time to brush his teeth, rinse his mouth, and wash his face, while avoiding looking in the mirror and seeing his lines and his extra pounds.

Maybe five minutes on the computer, just to glance at the daily papers.

His attention was drawn to news of an international anti-Mafia operation. Members of the Calabrian Mafia, the ’Ndrangheta, had been arrested in Australia, and the fact that Mafiosi from Calabria had become
firmly established on the other side of the world was presented as a new and disturbing development.

But wasn’t it common knowledge that the ’Ndrangheta was now in Australia, just as it was in many other places throughout the world?

Maybe for those in his line of work; obviously not for journalists and everyone else. And anyway, he corrected himself, that was his
former
line of work.

It was at that moment that he realized he was talking to himself out loud, asking himself questions and answering them. He wondered when he had started, but couldn’t find an answer to that one—“I really couldn’t say, my friend”—and concluded by telling himself it probably wasn’t anything serious, although he might tell the doctor about it the next time.

When he had finished browsing the news, he did not switch off the computer. He went back to the home page and typed in the name of those condoms and the words
commercial
and
pharmacist
. The video came up immediately. She was visibly younger, her face was beautiful and funny, and the commercial still made him laugh.

From there, it wasn’t difficult to click through to other sites and other videos. Roberto discovered that her name was Emma—he repeated the name a couple of times and decided that it suited her—and that she had done films and TV as well as a lot of commercials.

He was wondering why none of the videos were recent when he came across a commercial for mineral
water. He had never seen it before. She was bathing in a pool of sparkling water, full of little bubbles. She was in a bathing suit and was pregnant, with a large taut belly on her girlish body.

One of the things Roberto found impossible to do was look at the naked belly of a pregnant woman. Or rather, he found it impossible to look at a pregnant woman, whether naked or clothed.

So he switched off the computer, took his sleeping pills, and went to bed.

7

That Thursday, Roberto arrived early again and went for another exploratory walk around the neighborhood. He discovered that the Museum of Contemporary Art was located a stone’s throw from the doctor’s office, in an old building that had once been a brewery.

How many times had he walked right past it? It was a bit bigger than a drinking fountain, and yet he still hadn’t noticed it.

He told himself he must go in one of these days. Then he walked on a bit farther and discovered a little shop that sold secondhand records and sheet music. The hand-painted sign read
Lizard King
. Behind the counter, sitting at a computer, was a man with gray, shoulder-length hair, a leather jacket, and a flowered shirt with an oversize collar that rested on his lapels. He looked about sixty and gave the impression that his stylistic development had stopped at the beginning of the seventies. He looked up just long enough
to see who had come in and then looked back at the screen.

Roberto browsed through the old CDs and vinyl with a slight sense of euphoria, as if he were looking for something specific and was about to find it.

When he had finished his inspection, he told himself he couldn’t leave without buying something. He picked
Nevermind
by Nirvana. As he went out, it struck him that the neighborhood was becoming familiar, which was a comforting thought.

* * *

“I see you’ve been shopping at
Lizard King
.”

“Oh, yes, I looked in and found this CD. It’s music I remember hearing at the time of the story I’m telling you, that’s why I thought of getting it. Strange guy, the owner.”

“Yes, he is a bit weird. Apart from selling secondhand records, he writes reviews in specialist magazines. He’s not exactly outgoing, but he’s friendly enough when you get to know him.”

“Even the name of the shop is strange.
Lizard King
. What does it mean?”

“It was Jim Morrison’s nickname.”

“The singer from the Doors?”

“Yes. Do you like the Doors?”

“I don’t know much about music. Is ‘Light My Fire’ by them?”

“Yes. Maybe you know this one too.” He gave a pitch-perfect whistle that seemed to be produced by an electronic instrument.

“I know the tune but I can’t remember the title.”

“ ‘People Are Strange.’”

“You whistle very well.”

The doctor shrugged and gave a little smile.

“What kind of music do you like, Roberto?”

“I don’t really know much about it. I used to listen to whatever was around, but now that you’ve asked me the question, I don’t think I could say what kind of music I like. And I haven’t listened to any for a long time. I can’t even explain why I bought this CD. I know I told you I bought it because it was music I heard at the time of the story I’m telling you, but if we hadn’t talked about it I’d probably have taken it home, put it down somewhere, and forgotten all about it.”

“But now you’ll listen to it?”

“Yes, I will.”

The doctor nodded his approval, as if with that reply an important subject had been dealt with in the best possible way and now they could go on to something else.

“The story about the man who wanted you to help him ship cocaine from Colombia,” he said. “How did it end?”

“We met in the same club three days later, as we’d agreed. I’d informed my superiors, and in agreement
with the Prosecutor’s Department they’d decided to mount an undercover operation. It was still fairly rare in those days. We dug up everything from our files that we could find about Signor Mario Binetti, known as Jaguar, and by the time I saw him again, I knew more about him than he knew about himself.”

Roberto broke off, following an idea that had crossed his mind.

“I’d done my research and enjoyed discovering every detail on the person I was going to be dealing with. Studying people and situations was maybe the thing that interested me most. Arriving perfectly prepared, knowing everything about the people I was talking to.”

“I imagine the work of a good detective revolves very much around identifying people’s weak points.”

“That’s right. Everyone has a weak point; you just have to discover what it is. I remember this guy from Apulia who was on the run. We knew he was in Milan, and we’d been looking for him for quite a while. We were under pressure, the Prosecutor’s Department wanted us to find him because they were convinced that once they had him he’d turn State’s evidence. Which, incidentally, turned out to be correct. We were sure he was in the area but we couldn’t locate him. Nothing from the phone wiretaps, nothing from tailing his family. But talking to one of my informants, it came out that this guy was obsessed with raw mussels.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean he really liked them. Someone from his home village near Bari owned a fishmonger’s shop in Milan, and our man had been in the habit of going there to eat mussels before he went on the run. My informant told me about it by chance, but when I heard that, a light went on in my head. So, without saying anything to anybody, apart from the colleagues on my team, I organized a stakeout of the fishmonger’s. Two days later we picked him up.”

“I should pay you for telling me these stories,” the doctor said with a smile.

Roberto shrugged, as if to downplay it. But he liked the doctor’s admiration. It was something new, and he liked it a lot.

* * *

He and Jaguar became friends. Or rather, Jaguar persuaded himself that they had become friends. They met the Colombians, and discussed prices and shipments. Roberto said he could guarantee safe passage in a couple of ports, thanks to his export company and his friendship with some customs officials who were happy to supplement their income. The export company was created for the purpose, and the roles of the corrupt customs officials were taken by two other carabinieri who had been assigned to the operation and provided with covering documents.

During one of their briefings, someone observed that Roberto couldn’t be accepted in criminal circles without having even a single tattoo. There are a few professional criminals who don’t have tattoos, but they are an exception to the rule. The absence of tattoos was the kind of thing that might attract someone’s attention. Roberto didn’t much like the idea of getting a tattoo, but he managed to convince himself, and when the moment came to choose what to have carved on him he opted for the head of a Red Indian chief on his left forearm and a spider’s web on his right shoulder blade.

“Are you sure you want the spider’s web?” asked the owner of the tattoo and piercing parlor where a colleague had taken him: the man was a former fence who’d done time. “You do know what it means, don’t you?”

“No, what does it mean?”

“The spider is a predator. In some circles, having a spider or a spider’s web on your shoulder—on your elbow it’s different—means that you’re someone … who’s spilled blood and is ready to do it again.”

Roberto thought it over and then said that the spider’s web would be fine. The tattooist shrugged.

“All right. I have to do you another one anyway.”

“Why?”

“Tattoos must always be odd numbers, otherwise they bring bad luck. If you like I can do you a nice ACAB on the knuckles.”

ACAB is an acronym for All Cops Are Bastards.

He didn’t know if the other man had meant to be witty—he knew that Roberto was a carabiniere—or if he was being serious.

Roberto laughed, although he felt he was becoming unpleasantly enmeshed in something that was already getting out of his control.

“All right, do me an ACAB. But not on the knuckles—find another place that’s less visible. And I don’t want any colors; do everything in black and white.”

It was more painful than he’d anticipated. By the time they left the laboratory—that was what it was called on the little sign outside—a few hours later, Roberto had a strong burning sensation in his shoulder, forearm, and calf, which was where the acronym about cops being bastards had ended up. Now he was ready to enter his second life, which would soon become his first life.

The Colombians liked him: he was down-to-earth, professional, friendly, and spoke excellent Spanish with a vaguely Mexican accent.

Jaguar invested all his savings in the operation, dreaming about the tropical island he’d buy with the proceeds of this new activity.

But there were to be no tropical islands or even any proceeds for Jaguar, or for his men, or for the Colombian envoys who had come to Italy to follow the final phase of the operation and collect the agreed payment. After six months of negotiations, inspections, and
journeys back and forth, they were all arrested, and a ship, its hold stuffed with several billion lire worth of cocaine, was confiscated in the port of Gioia Tauro.

Roberto’s first operation as an undercover agent. The beginning, as they say, of a brilliant career. A few months later they offered him the chance to join ROS at their headquarters in Rome.

ROS is the Carabinieri’s special operations group, dealing mainly with organized crime and terrorism. The aristocracy of detectives, the highest a young officer who likes investigative work can aspire to. Roberto naturally accepted, was transferred, and soon afterward was sent to the United States to take an FBI course for undercover agents.

After he came back, he would rarely wear his uniform again, and then only to receive commendations.

* * *

“I’d noticed the tattoo on your forearm, but I would never have imagined the reason you had it done.”

“It was a bit difficult to imagine.”

“Haven’t you ever thought of having them removed?”

“At first, yes. I thought that as soon as I finished working undercover—I took it for granted it would only be temporary—I’d have them removed. Then time passed, I kept doing undercover work, and I actually grew fond of the tattoos. Even the ACAB, which after all is true in a way.”

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