A Question of Belief

1

When Ispettore Vianello came into his office, Brunetti had all but exhausted the powers of will keeping him at his desk. He had read a report about gun trafficking in the Veneto, a report that had made no mention of Venice; he had read another one suggesting the transfer of two new recruits to the Squadra Mobile before realizing his name was not on the list of people who should read it; and now he had read half of a ministerial announcement about changes in the regulations concerning early retirement. That is, he had read half, if that verb could be applied to the level of attention Brunetti had devoted to the reading of the entire document. The paper lay on his desk as he stared out his window, hoping someone would come in and pour a bucket of cold water on his head or that it would rain or that he would experience the Rapture and thus escape the trapped heat of his office and the general misery of August in Venice.

Deus ex machina, therefore, could have been no more welcome than was Vianello, who came in carrying that day’s Gazzetta dello Sport. ‘What’s that?’ Brunetti asked, pointing to the pink newspaper and giving unnecessary emphasis to the second word. He knew what it was, of course, but he failed to understand how it could be in Vianello’s possession.

The Inspector glanced at the paper, as if himself surprised to see it there, and said, ‘Someone dropped it on the stairs. I thought I’d take it down and leave it in the squad room.’

‘For a minute I thought it was yours,’ Brunetti said, smiling.

‘Don’t scorn it,’ Vianello said, tossing the paper on to Brunetti’s desk as he sat. ‘The last time I looked at it, there was a long article about the polo teams out near Verona.’

‘Polo?’ Brunetti asked.

‘It seems. I think there are seven polo teams in this country, or maybe that’s only around Verona.’

‘With ponies and the white suits and hard hats?’ Brunetti could not prevent himself from asking.

Vianello nodded. ‘There were photos. Marchese this and Conte that, and villas and palazzi.’

‘You sure the heat hasn’t got to you and you’re maybe mixing it up with something you might have read in – oh, I don’t know – Chi?’

‘I don’t read Chi, either,’ Vianello said primly.

‘Nobody reads Chi,’ Brunetti agreed, for he had never met a person who would confess to doing so. ‘The information in the stories is carried by mosquitoes and seeps into your brain if you’re bitten.’

‘And I’m the one affected by the heat,’ Vianello said.

They sat in limp companionship for a moment, neither of them capable of the energy necessary to discuss the heat. Vianello leaned forward to reach behind himself and unstick his cotton shirt from his back.

‘It’s worse on the mainland,’ Vianello said at last. ‘The guys in Mestre said it was 41 degrees in the front offices yesterday afternoon.’

‘I thought they had air conditioning.’

‘There’s some sort of directive from Rome, saying that they can’t use it because of the danger of a brown-out like the one they had three years ago.’ Vianello shrugged. ‘So we’re better off here than in some glass and cement box like they are.’ He looked across at the windows of Brunetti’s office, thrown open to the morning light. The curtains moved listlessly, but at least they moved.

‘And they really had the air conditioning off?’ Brunetti asked.

‘That’s what they told me.’

‘I wouldn’t believe them.’

‘I didn’t.’

They sat quietly until Vianello said, ‘I wanted to ask you something.’

Brunetti looked across and nodded: it was easier than speaking.

Vianello ran his hand