ONE At half-past five that morning – give or take a few minutes – a fly that had long been stuck to the windowpane as though dead suddenly opened its wings, rubbed them together to clean them, then took flight and, a moment later, changed direction and landed on the bedside table. There it kept still for a few seconds, taking stock of the situation, then shot away like a rocket, straight into the left nostril of the placidly sleeping Inspector Montalbano. Without waking up, the inspector felt a bothersome itch in his nose and slapped himself hard in the face to make it go away. Since, in his groggy state of sleep, he hadn’t gauged the force of the blow, it had two immediate results: one, it woke him up; and two, it smashed his nose so hard that it started to bleed. He bolted out of bed, cursing the saints in rapid fire as the blood gushed out, dashed into the kitchen, opened the fridge, grabbed two ice cubes, applied them to the bridge of his nose, and sat down, keeping his head bent back. Five minutes later, the bleeding stopped. He went into the bathroom, splashed some water on his face, neck, and chest, and then got back into bed. He had barely closed his eyes when he felt the very same itch as before, except that this time it was in his right nostril. Apparently the fly had decided to change its area of exploration. How was he ever going to get rid of this tremendous pain in the arse? Using his hand really wasn’t the best idea, given the earlier result. He shook his head gently. Not only did the fly not move, it went further inside. Maybe if he scared it . . . ‘Ahhhhh!’ The yell left his ears ringing, but it achieved the desired result. The itch was gone. He was finally starting to fall back to sleep when he felt the fly again, this time walking on his forehead. Cursing the saints again, he decided to try a new strategy. Grabbing the sheet with both hands, he tugged it sharply, pulling it completely over his head. That way the fly wouldn’t find so much as a millimetre of exposed flesh to walk on. The problem was that by shutting himself in like that, he cut off most of his air supply. It was a very short-lived victory. Less than a minute later, he distinctly felt the fly land on his lower lip. It was clear the disgusting insect hadn’t flown away but had remained under the sheet. He felt suddenly disheartened. He would never win his battle with the damn fly. ‘A strong man knows when to admit defeat,’ he said to himself, getting out of bed in resignation and going into the bathroom. After returning to his bedroom to get dressed, just as he was about to take his trousers from the chair where he’d left them, out of the corner of his eye he saw the fly on the bedside table. It was within reach, and he took advantage. In a flash he raised his right hand and brought it down on the fly, crushing it so thoroughly that it remained stuck to his palm. He went back into the bathroom and took a long time washing his hands, humming all the while and feeling satisfied with his revenge. But when he strode triumphantly back into the bedroom, he froze. A fly was walking over his pillow. So there must have been two flies! But then, which one had he killed? The innocent one or the guilty one? And if he’d killed the innocent one by accident, would this mistake come back to haunt him one day? Would you please drop this nonsense? he said to himself. And he started to get dressed. Drinking a large mug of coffee, he put on his last articles of clothing, looking sharp as a clasp knife, opened the French windows, and went out onto the veranda. The day looked just like a picture postcard: a beach of golden sand, a turquoise sea, and a deep blue sky without so much as a hint of cloud. He could even see a sail far out on the water. Taking a deep breath, Montalbano filled his lungs with the briny air and felt reborn. To his right, at the water’s edge, he noticed two men standing and quarrelling. Although he was too far away to hear what they were saying, he could tell, from the agitated way they moved their hands and arms, that they were having a heated argument. Then, all at once, one of them made a move that Montalbano didn’t get a good glimpse of at first. He seemed to bring his right hand suddenly forward, causing it to flash in the sun. It was clearly a clasp knife in the man’s hand, but the other blocked it with both arms crossed and in the same motion kneed his adversary in the balls. The two men then grabbed each other bodily, lost their balance, and fell, all the while struggling fiercely and rolling around in the sand in each other’s clutches. Without thinking twice, the inspector hopped down from the veranda and started running towards them. As he drew near he began to hear their voices. ‘I’ll kill you, you bastard!’ ‘And I’ll cut your heart out and eat it!’ The inspector was out of breath when he caught up to them. By this point one man already had the upper hand and was straddling his opponent, pinning the other’s open arms with his knees, practically sitting on his stomach and battering his face with punches. Just to be on the safe side, Montalbano dealt the top man a powerful kick in the side, unsaddling him. Caught by surprise, the man fell onto the sand, yelling: ‘Look out, he’s got a clasp knife!’ The inspector turned around quickly. The man who’d been on the ground was now getting to his feet, and indeed he had a clasp knife in his right hand. Montalbano had made a big mistake. The more dangerous of the two men was the one who’d been on the ground. But he didn’t give him time even to open his mouth. With a kick to the face he sent him down to the ground again on his back, in the same position as before, as the clasp knife flew a good distance away. The other man, who had stood up again in the meantime, immediately took advantage of the situation to jump on top of his opponent and resume punching him. Everything was back to square one. So Montalbano bent down, seized the puncher by the shoulders, and tried to pull him off the other. But since the man put up no resistance, the inspector himself lost his balance and fell back, belly up, as the puncher crashed down on top of him. Then, fast as lightning, the man with the clasp knife jumped on both of them at once. The puncher was kicking wildly, trying to hit the inspector in the balls, as Montalbano pummelled him with his left fist while with his right he hammered the man on top of them both, who was trying in turn to blind the inspector with one hand and do the same to his adversary with the other. They looked, in short, like a giant ball with six arms and six legs flying out as it rolled along the sand, a ball yelling curses, smacking punches, shouting threats, and dealing kicks. Until . . . A voice, very close and imperious, commanded: ‘Stop or I’ll shoot!’ The three men froze and looked. The person who’d shouted was a lance corporal of the carabinieri, pointing a sub-machine gun at them. Behind the corporal was another uniformed carabiniere, holding the clasp knife. Apparently they’d been passing along the coastal road parallel to the beach, seen three men brawling, and intervened. ‘Get on your feet!’ The three men stood up. ‘Move!’ the corporal continued, gesturing with his head that they should walk towards a large jeep parked along the road with a carabiniere at the wheel. To tell or not to tell? Montalbano asked himself Hamletically as he walked along towards the van, wondering whether he should reveal the fact that he was a police inspector. He came to the conclusion that it was best to tell the truth and clear up the mistake at once. ‘Just a minute. I am . . .’ he said, coming to a stop. The whole group also halted and looked at him. But the inspector was unable to continue, because at that very moment he remembered leaving his wallet with his police ID in the drawer of his bedside table. ‘So, you gonna tell us who you are?’ the corporal asked sarcastically. ‘I’ll wait and tell your lieutenant,’ Montalbano replied, and he resumed walking. Luckily the rear of the jeep was covered by a tarpaulin; otherwise, the whole town would have seen Inspector Montalbano ride past in the custody of the carabinieri, and the laughter would have been so loud they would have heard it all the way to the Italian mainland. Once inside the carabinieri station they were escorted in less than gentle fashion into a large room, where the corporal sat behind one of the two desks. He took his time, adjusted his jacket, stared long and hard at a ballpoint pen, opened a drawer, looked inside, closed it, cleared his throat, and finally began. ‘Let’s start with you,’ he said, addressing Montalbano. ‘Show me some kind of ID.’ The inspector became anxious, realizing the situation was getting rather sticky. Better change the subject. ‘I had nothing to do with the dispute between these two men,’ he declared in a steady voice. ‘I intervened to break it up. And these two, whom I don’t even know, can confirm that.’ He turned and looked at the others, who were standing three paces behind him, guarded by a carabiniere. Then something strange happened. ‘All I know is that you kicked me in the side and it still hurts like hell,’ said the puncher. ‘And you kicked me in the face,’ said the man with the clasp knife, pouring it on. Suddenly Montalbano understood everything. Those two bastards knew perfectly well who he was and were now trying to make trouble for him. ‘I’ll make you stop wanting to play the wise guy in a hurry,’ the corporal said menacingly. ‘Give me that ID.’ There were no two ways about it. Montalbano had to tell the truth. ‘I haven’t got it with me.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘I left it at home.’ The corporal rose to his feet. ‘You see, I live in a small house right . . .’ The corporal came and stood directly in front of him. ‘. . . right by the sea. And this morning I . . .’ The corporal grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket. ‘I’m a police inspector!’ Montalbano shouted. ‘And I’m a cardinal!’ the corporal retorted, as he started shaking the inspector back and forth, making his head bob like a ripe pear about to fall. ‘What’s going on here?’ asked the carabinieri lieutenant and station commander upon entering the room. Before answering, the corporal gave Montalbano one last violent shake. ‘I caught these three brawling on the beach. One of ’em had a clasp knife. And this one here claims he’s—’ ‘Did he give you his name and address?’ ‘No.’ ‘Let go of him at once and show him into my office.’ The corporal looked at his superior in confusion. ‘But . . .’ ‘Corporal, I gave you an order!’ the lieutenant said sharply, cutting him off and leaving the room. Montalbano mentally congratulated him. The lieutenant was saving them all from ridicule. He and the inspector knew each other very well. As they were walking down the corridor, the bewildered corporal turned to Montalbano and asked him in a soft voice: ‘Seriously, though, are you really a police inspector?’ ‘Not on your life!’ Montalbano reassured him. After everything had been cleared up and the lieutenant had given his apologies, which took about ten minutes, Montalbano left the carabinieri compound. He had no choice but to go home and change his clothes. In the scuffle he’d not only got sand in his private parts, but had also torn his shirt and lost two buttons from his jacket. The best thing to do was to go to the station, which was barely a fifteen-minute walk away, and get somebody to give him a lift home. He headed off. But he felt pain in his left eye and right ear, and he stopped in front of a shop window to look at himself. He’d taken a hard punch square in the eye, and the skin around it was now starting to turn blue. On his ear he could clearly see the imprints of two teeth. As soon as Catarella saw him, he let out a yell that didn’t seem human so much as the cry of an injured animal. Then he let loose with an avalanche of questions. ‘Wha’ happened, Chief? ’Salt wit’ a deathly weppin’? Or a ’salt wit’ a reggler weppin’? Was ya hambushed? Eh? Wha’ happened? A car crash? A splosion? A fire wit’ criminal intint?’ ‘Calm down, Cat,’ the inspector interrupted him. ‘I just fell. Any news here?’ ‘Nah, Chief. Oh, but a jinnelman come by ’is mornin’ wantin’ a talk t’yiz poissonally in poisson.’ ‘Did he tell you his name?’ ‘Yessir, ’e did. Alfredo Pitruzzo.’ He didn’t know anyone by the name of Pitruzzo. ‘Is Gallo in?’ ‘Yessir.’ ‘Tell him I want him to give me a lift home. I’ll wait for him in the car park.’ * Pulling up at the house, he noticed a car parked next to his. He said goodbye to Gallo, opened the front door, and went inside. Hearing him, Adelina came out of the kitchen, looked at him, and started yelling, just like Catarella. ‘Matre santa, wha’ happen a you? Eh? Wha’ happen? My Gah, what a mornin’! What a terrible mornin’!’ What was Adelina talking about? Why was she saying these things? What was so terrible about the morning? What could have happened? ‘What do you mean, Adelì?’ ‘Isspector, when I come inna this mornin’, the whole a house a was empty, abannoned, you wasn’t here anna French window was open. A criminal coulda come in anna steal everytin’. An’ when I was inna kitchen, I heard someone come in fro’ the veranda. I tought it was you an’ so I come out anna look. But it wasn’t you, it was a man an’ ’e was lookin’ aroun’. I was sure ’e was a burglar an’ so I grab a fryin’ pan an’ I come a back out. An’ since ’e had ’is back to me I whack ’im inna head wit’ a big fryin’ pan, an’ I knock ’im out! An’ so I tied ’is hands an’ feet wit’ a rope, an’ I gag ’im an’ I put ’im inna broom cupboard.’ ‘But are you sure he was a burglar?’ ‘’Ow should I know? Bu’ sommabuddy ’oo comes inna sommabuddy ellis’s ’ouse . . .’ ‘But why didn’t you call me at the police station after you knocked him out?’ ‘’Cause first I ’adda take a care o’ the pasta ’ncasciata.’ Montalbano appreciated her answer and went and opened the door of the broom cupboard. The man was crouching and looked at him with terrified eyes. At first Montalbano was convinced the man couldn’t be a burglar. He looked about sixty years old and was well dressed and well groomed. The inspector helped him to his feet, and after he removed the gag, the man immediately shouted: ‘Help!’ ‘I’m Inspector Montalbano, police!’ The man seemed not to hear. ‘Help!’ he shouted, even louder than the first time. And now he started shaking all over. ‘He . . . he . . . help! He . . . he . . . help!’ The man no longer knew what he was saying, and there was no way to get him to pipe down. Montalbano made a snap decision and put the gag back on him. Adelina, meanwhile, had come running from the kitchen and was standing beside the inspector. The man’s eyes were so wide with fear that they looked as if they might pop right out of their sockets at any moment. Since he was clearly too terrified to think straight, it would have been a mistake to untie him. ‘Give me a hand,’ the inspector said to Adelina. ‘I’ll get him by the shoulders, and you get his feet.’ ‘Where are we taking him?’ ‘We’re going to put him in the armchair in front of the television.’ As they were carrying him like a sack of potatoes, the inspector worked out a version of events in the hope of making the best of a bad situation. After they’d sat the man down, Montalbano asked him: ‘If I have her bring you a glass of water, do you promise not to scream for help?’ The man nodded. As Montalbano was removing the gag, Adelina returned with a glass of water and had him drink it, a few small sips at a time. The inspector did not put the gag back on him. After a few minutes had passed, the man seemed to have calmed down and was no longer shaking. Montalbano pulled up a chair and sat down in front of him. ‘If you don’t feel up to talking, just answer me with gestures. Do you recognize me? I’m Inspector Montalbano of the Vigàta Police.’ The man nodded. ‘So how can you think that I, who don’t even know you, would want to do you any harm? What reason would I have to do that?’ The man just looked at him as though unsure.