Being in Alba made Lieutenante Luca Venanzoni feel homesick. At least that was his diagnosis of the odd aching sensation that struck him somewhere in the middle of his chest at odd moments, usually triggered by the smell of the Adriatic, a feeling that he was sure would only be cured by smelling the more complex smells of the air in his hometown. It seemed absurd to be suffering homesickness seven years after leaving home and he was certainly not going to mention it to his mother, who would use it as a major weapon in her constant campaign to him to ask for a posting back in Venice.
He longed to be busy but his boss, Tenente Tasso, greeted him with vaguely puzzled air every morning when he reported for duty at eight, as though like him she was unclear as to what he should do all day. Most days she sent him off to find things to do elsewhere in the caserma, which was why it was he who took Veronica the vet’s statement.
He was sorting out a computer problem for the duty sergeant when she came in and his first thought on seeing her was “Ma would like her.” His mother preferred sturdy girls who obviously liked eating to the slender type, whom she claimed were too neurotic to learn to cook properly. The girl, dressed casually in jeans and a white t-shirt, was just the right height too, her blonde head coming up to his shoulder. She turned and looked at him and he felt his cheeks heat up.
“I’ve come to make a report,” she paused, catching her upper lip between her teeth, “I don’t want to waste your time but I thought I should.”
He closed the computer and ushered her into one of the interview rooms, taking down her name as she sat opposite him.
“Perhaps I’m being silly, but my boyfriend, well, that is, ex-boyfriend, I think,” she stopped, biting her lip again. There was a slight gap between her two front teeth and Luca noticed how full her lips were before tearing his eyes away and writing her name at the top of his pad.
“Is your ex giving you problems?” Luca sat straighter in his chair.
“Goodness, no, the problem is dead animals. I’m a vet, you see…”
“I suppose you must lose some animals, with operations and so forth,” Luca hazarded, but she shook her head and laced her fingers together on the table. She had practical hands, with short nails and no jewellery.
“No, not patients. Not animals that I know. Dead animals. Outside my flat.” Luca wrote “dead animals” on his pad and waited.
“It started about four months ago. Giampiero, that’s my ex, nearly stepped on a dead animal coming out of the front door. It had obviously been run over, and I thought someone put it there to see if I could save it but it was dead when we saw it. Giampiero was very upset. But then a month later it happened again. And that one wasn’t in such a mess as the first one so I could tell it had died instantly. Then two weeks later there was another one. This time Giampiero suggested that he sleep at home, and one thing led to another. Well,” she shrugged and looked away, “perhaps its for the best.”
Luca nodded in agreement. What sort of man would leave a girl with lips like hers just because of a few dead animals on the doorstep?
“Giampiero never liked thinking about my job, he couldn’t even cope with the smell of the disinfectant. He works in the comune, he likes things to be clean, sterile.” She shrugged and Luca watched as she quickly ran her forefinger under both eyes.
“So these animals,” he said gently, steering her away from thoughts of Giampiero, “how have they died?”
“Run over,” she said succintly. “All of them. And there have been six so far.”
“Why didn’t you come in before?”
She shrugged. “It seemed silly. I couldn’t think what was going on, but it is beginning to upset me now.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Entra” called Luca and the duty sergeant put his head around the door.
“There’s a man here, for the Signorina.”
“Oh, that’ll be Giorgio. I won’t waste anymore of your time, officer,” she said, getting up. They shook hands and Luca noticed how firm her small hand felt in his. He followed her to the door where a thickset man of about her age was waiting for her. It was disappointingly clear that he wasn’t the only man to find her attractive. He watched them walking out to the carpark before filing his report. Half an hour later he took it up to the Tenente with the post.
“Odd,” she said, reading it through, “it’s quiet today, why don’t you make some enquiries. I’d have a look at who has access to dead animals.”
“You mean who would find them?”
“Exactly. I sometimes see dead cats on the road in the mornings. Dogs get run over too, maybe the owner of an animal who died under her care is taking revenge on her.”
It was a few hours before Veronica returned his call.
“Could any of the animals have been cats or dogs that were your patients?” he asked, noticing that despite her businesslike tone she had a warm voice.
“Sorry, I should have explained. They were all wild animals. Two badgers, two foxes, a porcupine and a hare.”
“Do you think an owner of one your patients, of an animal who had died…” Luca’s voice trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence but her voice was brisk and practical.
“Obviously some animals die on the operating table, but I’ve not had any unexpected losses this year. You mean is someone taking revenge on me?”
Luca looked down at the map of Alba where he had found her address. Her home was near the centre so the animals wouldn’t have died anywhere nearby. It was at least fifteen minutes by car from her house to the forest near the road on the way to Urbino. Someone was scraping animals off the road and putting them outside her door. He felt a pang of fear for her.
“Can you go through your records, and double check?”
She agreed but after the conversation ended Luca sat for a moment staring at his phone. Her casual tone made it clear that she had no idea that she could be in danger. He was going to have to find the perpetrator, without delay.