About Face

1

He noticed the woman on their way to dinner. That is, as he and Paola paused in front of the window of a bookstore, and he was using the reflection to adjust his tie, Brunetti saw the woman’s reflection as she passed by, heading towards Campo San Barnaba arm in arm with an older man. He saw her from behind, the man on her left. Brunetti first noticed her hair, a blonde as light as Paola’s, braided into a smooth bun that sat low on the back of her head. By the time he turned around to get a better look, the couple had passed them and was nearing the bridge that led to San Barnaba.

Her coat – it might have been ermine, it might have been sable: Brunetti knew only that it was something more expensive than mink – fell to just above very fine ankles and shoes with a heel too high, really, to be worn on streets where patches of snow and ice still lay.

Brunetti recognized the man but failed to recall his name: the impression that came was the vague memory of wealth and importance. He was shorter and broader than the woman and he was more careful about avoiding the patches of ice. At the bottom of the bridge, the man took a sudden sidestep and braced his hand on the parapet. He stopped, and the woman’s momentum was arrested by the anchor of his arm. One foot still in the air, she began to pivot in the direction of the now motionless man and swung farther away from the still-curious Brunetti.

‘If you felt like it, Guido,’ Paola said from beside him, ‘you could get me the new biography of William James for my birthday.’

Brunetti looked away from the couple and followed the direction of his wife’s finger towards a thick book at the back of the window display.

‘I thought his name was Henry,’ he said, straight faced.

She yanked at his arm, pulling him closer. ‘Don’t play the fool with me, Guido Brunetti. You know who William James is.’ He nodded.

‘But why do you want a biography of the brother?’

‘I’m curious about the family and about anything that might have made him the way he was.’

Brunetti remembered that, more than two decades before, he had felt the same urgency about the newly met Paola: inquisitive about her family, her tastes, her friends, anything at all that could tell him more about this wondrous young woman whom some beneficent agency of fate had allowed him to bump into among the shelves of the university library. To Brunetti, this curiosity seemed a normal enough response to a warm and living person. But to feel it about a writer who had been dead for almost a century?

‘Why do you find him so fascinating?’ he asked, not for the first time. Hearing himself, Brunetti realized he sounded just like what her enthusiasm for Henry James had so often reduced him to being: a petulant, jealous husband.

She released his arm and stepped back, as if to get a better look at this man she found herself married to. ‘Because he understands things,’ she said.

‘Ah,’ Brunetti contented himself with saying. It seemed to him that this was the least that could be expected of a writer.

‘And because he makes us understand those things,’ she added.

He now suspected that the subject had been closed.

Paola must have decided they had spent more than enough time on this. ‘Come on. You know my father hates people to be late,’ she said.

They moved away from the bookstore. When they reached the bottom of the bridge, she