The Track of Sand

Andrea Camilleri | 12 mins


He opened his eyes and immediately closed them again.

For some time now, he had been sort of refusing to wake up in the morning. It was not, however, to prolong any pleasurable dreams, which he was having fewer and fewer of these days. No, it was a pure and simple desire to remain just a little while longer inside the dark well of sleep, warm and deep, hidden at the very bottom, where it would be impossible for anyone to find him.

But he knew he was irremediably awake. And so, with his eyes still sealed, he started listening to the sound of the sea.

The sound was ever so slight that morning, almost a rustling of leaves, always repeating, always the same, a sign that the surf, coming and going, was breathing calmly. The day therefore promised to be a good one, without wind.

He opened his eyes, looked at the clock. Seven. As he was about to get up, a dream he’d had came back to him, but he could remember only a few confused, disconnected images. An excellent excuse to delay getting up a little longer. Stretching back out, he closed his eyes again, trying to put the scattered snapshots in order.


There was someone beside him in a sort of vast, grassy expanse, a woman, and he now realized that it was Livia, but it wasn’t Livia. That is, she had Livia’s face, but her body was too big, deformed by a pair of buttocks so huge that she had difficulty walking.

He felt tired, as after a long walk, though he couldn’t remember how long they had been walking.

So he asked her: ‘Is there far to go?’

‘Are you tired already? Not even a small child would be worn out so quickly! We’re almost there.’

The voice was not Livia’s. It was coarse, and too shrill.

They took another hundred steps or so and found themselves in front of an open cast-iron gate. The grassy meadow continued on the other side.

What on earth was that gate doing there, if there was no road or house as far as the eye could see? He wanted to ask the woman this, but didn’t, not wanting to hear her voice again.

The absurdity of passing through a gate that served no purpose and led to nowhere seemed so ridiculous to him that he stepped aside to walk around it.

‘No!’ the woman yelled. ‘What are you doing? That’s not allowed! They might get upset!’

Her voice was so shrill it nearly pierced his eardrums. Who were ‘they’? All the same, he obeyed.

Just past the gate, the landscape changed, turning into a racecourse with a dirt track. But there wasn’t a single spectator; the grandstands were empty.

Then he realized he was wearing riding boots with spurs instead of his regular shoes, and that he was dressed exactly like a jockey. He even had a little whip under his arm. Matre santa, what did they want from him? He had never ridden a horse in his life! Or rather, yes, once, when he was ten years old and his uncle had taken him to the countryside where –

‘Mount me,’ said the coarse voice.

He turned and looked at the woman.

She was no longer a woman, but sort of a horse. She had got down on all fours, but the hooves over her hands and feet were clearly fake, made out of bone, and indeed, the ones on her feet were slipped on, like slippers.

She was wearing a saddle and bridle.

‘Come on, mount me,’ she repeated.

He mounted and she took off at a gallop like a rocket. Bumpety bumpety bumpety bumpety bumpety bumpety . . .

‘Stop! Stop!’ he cried.

But she only ran faster. At one point he was on the ground, having fallen, with his left foot caught in the stirrup and the horse neighing – no, she was laughing and laughing . . . Then the horse-woman fell forward onto her front legs with a whinny, and, finding himself suddenly free, he ran away.


He couldn’t remember anything else, try as he might. He opened his eyes, got out of bed, went to the window, and threw open the shutters.

And the first thing he saw was a horse, lying on its side in the sand, motionless.

For a second he balked. He thought he was still dreaming. Then he realized that the animal on the beach was real. But why had it come to die right in front of his house? Surely when it fell it must have emitted a faint neigh, just enough to set him spinning, in his sleep, the dream of the horse-woman.

He leaned out of the window to have a better look. There wasn’t a living soul. The fisherman who set out from those waters every morning in his little boat was now a tiny black dot on the sea. The horse’s hooves had left a series of tracks at the edge of the beach, on the hard sand nearest the water, but he couldn’t see where they began.

The horse had come from far away.

He hastily slipped on a pair of trousers and a shirt, opened the French windows, crossed the veranda, and stepped down onto the beach.

When he got close to the animal and looked at it, he was overcome with rage.


The beast was all bloodied, its head broken open with some sort of iron bar, its whole body bearing the signs of a long, ferocious beating. There were deep, open wounds, pieces of flesh dangling. It was clear that the horse, battered as it was, had managed to escape and run desperately away until it could go no further.

The inspector felt so furious and indignant that had he had one of the horse’s killers in his hands at that moment, he would have made him meet the same end. He started following the hoofprints.

Every so often they came to an abrupt halt, and in their place there were signs in the sand indicating that the poor animal had fallen to its knees.

He walked for almost forty-five minutes before reaching the spot where the horse had been bludgeoned.

Here, because of all the frantic stepping and trampling, the surface of the sand had formed a kind of circus ring marked with a confusion of overlapping shoe prints and hoofprints. Scattered around it were three iron bars stained with dried blood, and a long, broken rope, probably used to restrain the beast. The inspector started counting the different shoe prints, which was not easy. He came to the conclusion that four people, at most, had killed the horse. But two others had witnessed the spectacle, keeping still at the edge of the ring and smoking.


He turned back, went into the house, and phoned the station.

‘Halloo? Iss izza—’

‘Catarella, Montalbano here.’

‘Ah, Chief! Iss you? Whass wrong, Chief?’

‘Is Inspector Augello there?’

‘He in’t presentable yet.’

‘Then let me talk to Fazio, if he’s there.’

Less than a minute passed.

‘What can I do for you, Chief?’

‘Listen, Fazio, I want you to come here to my place right away, and bring Gallo and Galluzzo with you, if they’re there.’

‘Something up?’


He left the front door to the house open and took a long walk down the beach. The barbaric slaughter of that poor animal had kindled a dull, violent rage in him. He approached the horse again and crouched down for a better look. They had even bludgeoned it in the belly, perhaps when it had reared up. Then he noticed that one of the horseshoes was almost completely detached from the hoof. He lay on the ground, belly down, reached out and touched it. It was held in place by a single nail, which had come halfway out of the hoof. At that moment Fazio, Gallo, and Galluzzo arrived, looked out from the veranda, spotted the inspector, and came down onto the beach. They looked at the horse and asked no questions.

Only Fazio spoke.

‘There are some vile people in this world!’ he commented.

‘Gallo, think you can bring the car down here and then drive it along the beach?’ Montalbano asked.

Gallo gave a haughty smile.

‘Piece o’ cake, Chief.’

‘Galluzzo, you go with him. I want you to follow the hoofprints. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding the spot where they bludgeoned the creature. There are iron bars, cigarette butts, and maybe other things as well. See for yourselves. Then gather everything together very carefully; I want fingerprints taken, DNA tests, the works. Anything that’ll help us identify these jokers.’

‘And then what’ll we do? Report them to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals?’ Fazio asked as the two of them were walking away.

‘Why, do you think that’s all there is to this affair?’

‘No, I don’t. I just wanted to make that remark.’

‘Well, I don’t think it’s worth repeating. So why did they do it?’

Fazio made a doubtful face.

‘Could be some kind of revenge on the horse’s owner.’

‘Maybe. And that’s all?’

‘No. There’s something more likely. I’ve heard talk . . .’

‘Of what?’

‘Of a clandestine horse-racing circuit in Vigàta.’

‘And you think this horse was killed as a consequence of something that happened in those circles?’

‘What else could it be? All we gotta do now is wait for the consequences of this consequence, which surely will come.’

‘But maybe it’s better if we can prevent this consequence from happening, no?’ said Montalbano.

‘That’d be better, sure, but it ain’t gonna be easy.’

‘Well, let’s begin by saying that before killing the horse, they must have stolen it.’

‘Are you kidding, Chief? Nobody’s gonna report the stolen horse. It would be like coming to us and saying, “I’m one of the organizers of the illegal horse races.”’

‘Is it a really big deal?’

‘Millions and millions of euros in bets, they say.’

‘And who’s behind it?’

‘I’ve heard the name Michele Prestia mentioned.’

‘And who’s he?’

‘Some nitwit, Chief, about fifty years old. Who up until last year worked as an accountant for a construction firm.’

‘But this doesn’t seem to me like the work of some nitwit accountant.’

‘Of course not, Chief. Prestia’s just a front man, in fact.’

‘For whom?’

‘Nobody knows.’

‘You have to try to find out.’

‘I’ll try.’


When they were back in the house, Fazio went into the kitchen to make coffee and Montalbano called City Hall to inform them that there was a horse’s carcass on the beach at Marinella.

‘Is it your horse?’


‘Let’s be clear about this, sir.’

‘Why, is there something unclear about what I said?’

‘No, it’s just that sometimes people say the animal’s not theirs because they don’t want to pay the removal fee.’

‘I told you it’s not my horse.’

‘OK, we’ll take your word for it. Do you know whose it is?’


‘OK, we’ll take your word for it. Do you know what it died of?’

Montalbano weighed his options and decided not to tell the clerk anything.

‘No, I don’t. I just saw the dead body out of my window.’

‘So you didn’t see it die.’


‘OK, we’ll take your word for it,’ said the clerk, who then started humming ‘Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali’.

A funeral lament for the horse? A kind homage from City Hall, as a way to join in the mourning?

‘Well?’ said Montalbano.

‘I was thinking,’ said the clerk.

‘What’s there to think about?’

‘I have to work out whose job it is to remove the carcass.’

‘Isn’t it yours?’

‘It would be ours if it’s an Article 11, but if, on the other hand, it’s an Article 23, it’s the job of the provincial Office of Hygiene.’

‘Listen, given the fact that you’ve taken my word for everything thus far, I advise you to keep doing so. Because I assure you that either you come within fifteen minutes and take it away, or I’m going to—’

‘And who are you, may I ask?’

‘I’m Inspector Montalbano.’

The clerk’s tone immediately changed.

‘It’s definitely an Article 11, Inspector, I’m sure of it.’

Montalbano felt like teasing him.

‘So it’s up to you to remove it?’

‘It certainly is.’

‘Are you absolutely sure?’

The clerk became worried.

‘Why are you asking me—’

‘I wouldn’t want the people at the Office of Hygiene to take it the wrong way. You know how prickly these questions of jurisdiction can be . . . I say this for your sake. I wouldn’t want—’

‘No need to worry, Inspector. It’s an Article 11. Somebody will be there in half an hour. No trouble at all. My respects, sir.’


Montalbano and Fazio drank coffee in the kitchen while waiting for Gallo and Galluzzo to return. The inspector then took a shower, shaved, and got dressed, changing his shirt and trousers, which had got soiled. When he went back into the dining room he saw Fazio on the veranda, talking to two men dressed like astronauts who had just stepped out of the space shuttle.

On the beach was a little Fiat Fiorino van with its rear doors closed. The horse was no longer visible; apparently it had been loaded inside.

‘Hey, Chief, can you come here a minute?’ asked Fazio.

‘Here I am. Good morning, gentlemen.’

‘Good morning,’ said one of the astronauts.

The other gave him a dirty look over the top of his mask.

‘They can’t find the carcass,’ said Fazio, flummoxed.

‘What do you mean they can’t . . .?’ said Montalbano, upset. ‘But it was right here!’

‘We’ve looked everywhere and haven’t seen anything,’ said the more sociable of the two.

‘What is this, some kind of practical joke? You wanna play games or something?’ the other said menacingly.

‘Nobody’s joking here,’ Fazio snapped back at the man, who was beginning to get on his nerves. ‘And watch your tongue.’

The other was about to reply, but thought better of it.

Montalbano stepped down from the veranda and went to examine the spot where the carcass had been. The others followed him.

In the sand were the footprints of five or six different shoes and two parallel tracks from the wheels of a cart.

Meanwhile the two astronauts got back into their van and drove off without saying goodbye.

‘They stole it while we were having coffee,’ said the inspector. ‘They loaded it onto a hand-drawn cart.’

‘About two miles from here, near Montereale, there’s about ten shanties with illegal immigrants living in them,’ said Fazio. ‘They’re gonna have a feast tonight. They’re gonna eat horsemeat.’

At that moment they saw their car returning.

‘We took everything we could find,’ said Galluzzo.

‘And what did you find?’

‘Three bars, a piece of rope, eleven cigarette butts of two different brands, and an empty Bic lighter,’ Galluzzo replied.

‘Let’s do this,’ said Montalbano. ‘You, Gallo, go to forensics and give them the bars and the lighter. You, Galluzzo, take the rope and butts and bring them to my office. Thanks for everything. We’ll meet back at the station. I’ve got a couple of private phone calls to make.’

Gallo looked doubtful.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘What am I supposed to ask forensics to do?’

‘To take fingerprints.’

Gallo looked more doubtful than ever.

‘And if they ask me what it’s about, what do I say? That we’re investigating the murder of a horse? They’ll throw me out of there on my arse!’

‘Tell them there was a fight with several wounded and we’re trying to identify the assailants.’


Left alone, he went inside, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, and went back onto the beach.

This idea of immigrants stealing the horse to eat it didn’t convince him in the least. How long had they been in the kitchen, he and Fazio, drinking coffee and chatting? Half an hour, max.

So, in half an hour the immigrants had the time to spot the horse, run two miles back to their shanties, get a cart, return to the beach, load it on the cart, and roll it away?

It wasn’t possible.

Unless they had spotted the carcass at the crack of dawn, before he opened the window, and then had returned with the cart, seen him next to the horse, and hidden nearby, waiting for the right moment.

Some fifty yards down the beach, the tracks made a turn and headed inland, where there was a concrete esplanade full of cracks, which was how it had always looked to the inspector since he first moved to Marinella. The esplanade provided easy entry onto the provincial road.

Wait a second, he said to himself. Let’s think about this.

Yes, the immigrants could move the cart more easily, and more quickly, on the provincial road than on the sand. But was it really such a good idea to let themselves be seen by all the passing cars? What if one of them belonged to the police or the carabinieri?

They would surely be stopped and made to answer a lot of questions. And quite possibly a repatriation order would come out of it all.

No, they weren’t that stupid.

And so?

There was another possible explanation.

Namely, that the people who stole the horse were not illegals, but legals and then some. That is, from Vigàta.

Or the surrounding area.

So why did they do it? To recover the carcass and get rid of it.

Perhaps the whole thing had gone as follows: the horse escapes and someone chases after it to finish it off. But he is forced to stop because there are people on the beach, maybe even the morning fisherman, who could become dangerous witnesses. So he returns and informs the boss. The boss decides they absolutely have to get the carcass back, and he organizes the business with the cart. But then he, Montalbano, wakes up and throws a wrench into the boss’s plans.

The people who stole the dead horse were the same ones who killed it.

Yes, that must be exactly the way it went.

And at the side of the provincial road, right where the esplanade abutted it, there had surely been a van or truck ready for loading the horse and cart.

No, illegal immigrants had nothing to do with this.