The Bukowski Agency - Kill the Father - Excerpt
Kill the Father

a novel by Sandrone Dazieri

EXCERPT

THE HORROR BEGAN AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON on a Saturday in early September with a man in shorts waving his arms, trying to flag down a car. The man had a T-shirt draped over his head to ward off the hot sun and a pair of ravaged flip-flops on his feet.

Watching him as he pulled the police car over to the side of the county road, the older officer classified the man in shorts as a “nutcase.” After seventeen years on the force and several hundred winoes and other delirious citizens calmed into docility with various carrots and sticks, he could spot a nutcase at a glance. And this was one, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The two officers got out of the car and the man in shorts crouched down, mumbling something. He was wrecked and dehydrated, and the younger officer gave him a drink of water from the bottle he kept in the car door, ignoring his fellow officer’s look of disgust.

At that point the words of the man in shorts became comprehensible. “I’ve lost my wife,” he said. “And my son.” His name was Stefano Maugeri and that morning he’d gone with his family for a picnic, a few miles further up, in the Vivaro mountain meadows. They’d eaten an early lunch and he’d fallen asleep, lulled by the breeze. When he woke back up, his wife and son were gone.

For three hours, he’d moved in a circle, searching for them without success, until he found himself walking along the side of the county road, completely lost and on the verge of sunstroke. The older officer, whose confidence in his first impression was beginning to waver, asked why he hadn’t called his wife’s cell phone, and Maugeri replied that in fact he had, but he’d heard only the click of the voicemail, over and over until the battery of his cell phone ran out.

The older officer looked at Maugeri with a little less skepticism. He’d racked up quite a collection of emergency calls concerning wives who’d gone missing, taking the children with them, but none of those callers had dumped their spouse in the middle of a mountain meadow. Not still alive, anyway.

The officers took Maugeri back to his starting point. There was no one there. The other daytrippers had all gone home, and his gray Fiat Bravo sat alone on the lane, not far from a magenta tablecloth strewn with leftover food and an action figure of Ben 10, a young superhero with the power to transform himself into an array of alien monsters.

At that point, Ben 10 would probably have turned into a giant horsefly and flown over the meadows in search of the missing wife and son, but the two policemen could only radio in to headquarters and turn in the alarm, triggering one of the most spectacular search and rescue operations the meadows had witnessed in recent years.

That was when Colomba got involved. It was going to be her first day back at work after a long break, and it would be, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of her worst.

2

A little older around her eyes than her thirty-two years, Colomba never went unnoticed, with her broad, muscular shoulders and her high, prominent cheekbones. The face of a warrior, a boyfriend had once told her, a woman warrior who rode stallions bareback and cut her enemies’ heads off with a scimitar. She had laughed in response, and then she’d leapt astride him and ridden him furiously, leaving him breathless. Now, though, she felt more like a victim than a warrior, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, holding her cell phone, and staring at the display where the name of Alfredo Rovere kept blinking. He was the chief officer of the Mobile Squad of the Rome police, technically still her boss and her mentor, and he was calling for the fifth time in three minutes: she’d never once answered his calls.

Colomba was still wearing a robe after stepping out of the shower, already horribly late for a dinner party at the house of friends, a dinner party to which she’d finally accepted an invitation. Since being released from the hospital, she’d spent most of her time alone. She rarely ventured out of her apartment; she usually went out in the morning, often at dawn, when she put on her tracksuit and went running along the Tiber River that flowed past the windows of her apartment, just a short walk from the Vatican.

Jogging along the banks of the Tiber was a challenge to her reflexes, because, potholes aside, she had to avoid the dogshit, as well as the rats skittering suddenly out of the piles of rotting garbage, but none of that bothered Colomba, any more than she minded the exhaust fumes from the cars roaring past overhead. This was Rome, and she liked it precisely because it was dirty and nasty, even if that was something the tourists would never understand. After her run, every other day, Colomba would do her grocery shopping at the corner minimart run by two Sinhalese immigrants, and on Saturdays she’d venture as far as the bookstall on Piazza Cavour; there she’d fill her bag with used books she would read during the week, an assortment of classics, detective novels, and romances that she almost never finished. She’d get lost in the plots that were too intricate and she’d get bored with the ones that were too simple. She really couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything. Sometimes she had the impression that it was all just sliding over her.

Aside from shopkeepers, Colomba spent days at a time without uttering a word to a living soul. There was her mother, of course, but she could just listen to her without having to open her mouth; then there were her friends and coworkers who still called every now and then. In the rare moments that she devoted to self-awareness, Colomba knew she was overdoing it. Because this wasn’t a matter of being comfortable on her own, something she’d always been able to do very well; she now felt indifferent to the rest of the world. She knew that she could blame it on what had happened to her, that it was the fault of the Disaster, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t pierce the invisible film separating her from the rest of humanity. That was another reason Colomba had made a special effort to accept tonight’s invitation, but with such scant enthusiasm that she was still trying to make up her mind what to wear while her friends were already on their third aperitif.

She waited for the incoming call to time out, then went back to brushing her hair. At the hospital they’d cut her hair extremely short, but now it had grown back to something approaching its normal length. Just as Colomba was noticing that some gray had begun to appear, someone rang the buzzer from downstairs. She stood there with her hairbrush in her hand for a few seconds, hoping there’d been some mistake, but then it rang again. She went and looked out the window: there was a squad car parked downstairs in the street. Fuck, she thought to herself as she grabbed the phone and called back Rovere.

He picked up on the first ring. “So the squad car arrived,” he said, by way of greeting.

“Yes, goddamn it,” said Colomba.

“I wanted to tell you, but you wouldn’t answer your phone.”

“I was in the shower. And I’m late for a dinner party. So I’m very sorry, but you’ll have to tell your man to go back where he came from.”

“And you don’t even want to know why I sent him out?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. I need you to come take a hike around the Vivaro mountain meadows.”

“What’s there?”

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

“You’ve already sprung one on me.”

“The next one’s more interesting.”

Colomba blew out her cheeks in impatience. “Sir... I’m on leave. Maybe you forgot.”

Rovere’s voice turned serious. “Have I ever asked you for anything during all these months?”

“No, never,” Colomba admitted.

“Have I ever done anything to try to get you back before you were ready, or to talk you into staying on the force?”

“No.”

“Then you can’t deny me this favor.”

“Like hell I can’t.”

“I really need you, Colomba.”

From his tone she understood he meant it. She fell silent for a few seconds. She felt she’d been cornered. Then she asked, “Is this absolutely necessary?”

“Of course.”

“And you don’t want to tell me what it’s about.”

“I don’t want to influence you.”

“So thoughtful.”

“Well? Yes or no?”

This is the last time, thought Colomba. “All right. But tell your officer to stop ringing my buzzer.”

Rovere hung up and Colomba sat for a brief moment staring at the phone. Then she informed her resigned host she wouldn’t be coming to dinner after all, imposing her will over a series of half-hearted objections, and put on a pair of tattered jeans and an Angry Birds sweatshirt. It was clothing that Colomba would never have worn while on duty, and that’s why she’d picked it.

She grabbed the keys from the dresser by the front door and instinctively checked to make sure her holster was fastened to her belt. Her fingers brushed only empty air. All at once, she remembered that her pistol had been in the police armory since the day she was admitted to the hospital, but it came as a deeply unpleasant sensation, like stumbling over a step that wasn’t there; for a moment she hurtled back to the last time she’d reached for her weapon, and the feeling triggered an attack.

Her lungs immediately clamped tight; the room filled with fast-moving shadows. Shadows that were screaming as they slithered along the walls and floors, shadows she couldn’t look straight at. They were always just outside her field of vision, visible only out of the corner of her eye. Colomba knew they weren’t real, but she could feel them with every fiber of her being all the same. A blind, absolute terror took her breath away, and was steadily suffocating her. She reached out sightless for the corner of the dresser and hit it hard, intentionally, with the back of her hand. Pain burst into her fingers and jolted up her arm like an electric shock, but it vanished too soon. She hit the dresser again, and again, until the skin of one of her knuckles was torn and bleeding and the shock got her lungs working again, like a defibrillator. She gasped and swallowed an enormous mouthful of air, then started breathing regularly again. The shadows vanished, dissolving into a patina of icy sweat on the back of her neck.

She was alive, she was alive. She went on telling herself that for the next five minutes, kneeling on the floor, until the words seemed to mean something.

 

 

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