He was standing there, in the square, looking at the new Cathedral: he was nervous and he wanted to go inside, but there was no time. The Prefect summoned him and, in spite of the fact that nobody told him the reason, Police commissioner Landi knew it. It was because of that dead man, that ardito del popolo with no ID . Nameless and unknown even for reporters. Yes, because when the time came to inform them of the detentions, the chief of Police had ordered them to hold their tongues “cause they put a man in the mourge”. It was a hassle and even more two weeks before his transfer.
-He set forth. The way he saw, the operation was successful because, when subversives are involved, a dead man is to be taken into account; furtheremore, if those people, the subversives, are the arditi del popolo: people who did not keep still and let others punch them even if these were fascists.
When he arrived to Broletto Palace, he went in and looked up to the Prefect’s office. In the courtyard, he only heard the whispering water from the fountain standing him; he thought about his -own office in the police station and how he would like to hear that sound from that courtyard, instead of the noise that people made making in the street. Brescia was there, outside that courtyard and yet it seemed not to be there.
The Prefect was standing near the window and invited Landi to have a seat.
“Well, Officer Landi”, he said, “ telle me if this is right: you captured fortyseven dangerous subversives that gathered onTrade-Union Headquarters with the intention to form that old branch of the Arditi del Popolo again. You seized grenates, bombs, revolvers and knives”. He shaked his head. “One of them has the blade with a the edge cutted off. Is that right?”.
“Yes Sir, it is”.
“And moreover we’ve that dead man”, the Prefect added looking outside in the courtyard. He paused. “Can you hear it, Officer Landi?”:
“The whispering of the water. Down there, in the courtyard. That’s the only sound you hear in the palace. And sometimes it makes me crazy”. He sighed. “I shall have to refer everything to President Facta, but I cannot do it now”. He turned around.
“And do you know why?”.
“Because of that dead man, I suppose”, answered Landi. He would have liked to be in the new cathedral.
The Prefect nodded.
“Mind you”, he stated, “it’s not for the dead man in itself, it’s out of the question. It’s just that we don’t know who he is”. Officer Landi felt a tone of reproach.
“He had no papers”, Landi explained,”And his comrades refuse to tell us his name”. He hoped that –his anwer didn’t sounded only like an excuse.
The Prefect looked at him for a long moment, before starting over.
“You are from Tuscany, aren’t you Officer Landi? And you can hardly wait to go back home”.
“And what has this got to do with it?”, thought Landi a little bit annoyed. But he merely nodded.
“Of course. You understand very well that name has to come out. Besides, if you kill somebody, you must also know who’s, don’t you agree? Even if we have to do with subversives. You have two days to find out that name”, he concluded looking at the courtyard, “and then you can go back home”.
Landi went into his office, sitting down at his desk and asked for Lissia. Then, in order not to listen to the noise in the street, he started thinking. Policeman Lissia was from Sardinia and he would soon go back home him too. Landi would have liked to leave him alone, but he had to share with someone the weight that the Prefect put on his shoulders, with someone who would feel that weight more than anyother. He did not want to be alone running the risk of not going back home.
“When do you go back to Sardinia”, Officer Landi asked as soon as Lissia was in front of him.
“In a week”.
“Listen, the Prefect wants to know the name of that ardito who died yesterday at the Trade-Union Headquarters. We have two days to find that out. Afterwards, you can go back home”.
With those last words, the same ones that the Prefect used with him, he felt as if he tied his destiny –to that Lissia’s one. Lissia kept still, standing in front of the desk. He stared at the Officer and thought. Landi looked down. He could not afford that weakness, but he felt pity for Lissia and, furtheremore, he felt himself ashamed. Officer Landi did not know but Lissia would move back home no matter how. A cousin, undersecretary at Ministry of war, had much more importance than an angry Prefect and a nameless dead man. “Arrest two or three of those arditi”, Landi ordered looking at him, “and question them again. Make them tell you who was that dead man”.
“Me?”, asked Lissia amazed.
“It wouldn’t look like a real interrogation. Ask them something of no importance. If I do it, they immediately understand that I’m interested in finding out that name and, therefore, they close their mouth even more. I’m sure that they will lower their guard with you, they will relax and calm down and, maybe, that name will come out”.
Lissia kept silent.
“Well, what’s the matter?” asked Landi.
“Mister Landi, I don’t know if I can….”.
“Lissia, tell me what’s wrong”.
The policeman made up his mind. Also because he had thought before about what he was going to say.
“With all due respect, Officer Landi, I think that it is useless to interrogate them”.
“As you know very well, Doctor Landi, among the knives that have been seized, there is one with the edge of the blade cut off. And…”.
“Of course I know. And so what?”, Landi interrupted him.
“It’s a knife coming from Sardinia, a “Leppa guspinese”, to be more precise. The coal miners use it”.
Officer Landi stared at him for a moment.
“Sit down”, he ordered and Lissia obeyed. “And what a knife from Sardinia does in Brescia?”.
As soon as he had seen the Leppa, Lissia asked himself the same question.
“None of the men arrested is from Sardinia”, he mumbled, “neither has Sardinian origins, nor has ever been a miner in Sardinia. Therefore, according to me, that knife cannot belong to them”.
So, it belongs to the dead man”. Landi said to himself more than to Lissia.
“It can be, Officer Landi. Even if I don’t believe so”.
“Because a man from Sardinia never leaves his knife, never. Do you understand?”.
They heard a mother shouting, in the street, while calling her son. Landi thought about the Prefect and Broletto Palace.
“It could be a Sardinian miner who came to the mainland to look for a job”, he said.
“I had the same idea, Mister Landi, but in Sardinia there is no lack of jobs in coal mines and there is no need to come and look for it on the mainland. I think there is another reason that could have compelled the knife owner to leave Sardinia, carrying it with him”.
Officer Landi started to feel uneasy, as if he were in a subordinate position.
“Which one?”, he asked.
“The war? So, according to you, our dead man was a soldier”.
“Yes, Mister Landi”.
“Of course, just like the greatest part of those that we arrested”. They kept silent for a while, then Officer Landi continued. “Let’s we presume you are right, Lissia. Did you ask yourself what was our soldier doing in Brescia?”.
“Yes, I did. And maybe I found out the answer. The dead man was not from Sardinia, he was from the mainland, maybe from around here and a camrade from Sardinia gave him the knife”.
“But you said that people from Sardinia never leave their knife”.
“When they are alive, not when they are dying. I might be wrong but I think that the knife owner put great trust in the unknown dead man and, therefore, he gave him the Leppa hoping he could bring it back home for him”.
Officer Landi passed a hand over his face.
“And I bet that you also know where to look for that name”, he said.
The Policeman nodded.
The Sassari Brigade was composed by two regiments, number 151st and 152nd, and had been formed to gather the most part of infantrymen from Sardinia. For that reason, the Sassari Brigade had been the first place where Lissia had looked. He had called the War Ministry and said that he was a policeman and the undersecretary’s cousin. He wanted to know if any foot soldier from Brescia or other villages near to it had been part of the Brigade and, among them, who had survived the war. Three hours later, they told him the name, because only one name came out: Antonio Andrini. He was born in Calcinato, where he worked as a farmer and where he went back when the war finished. However, in order to be sure that he was the unknown dead man, it was necessary to wait for his personal dossier, including photos and everything else, to arrive from the Ministry.
“I don’t have all this time”, Landi burst out. He was in a hurry to give that name to the Prefect.
“But he could not be the right man”, Lissia told him.
“The Prefect will take care finding it out”. And he stood up.
“We could go to Calcinato”, the policeman suggested. Landi was already in front of the office door.
“And to do what?”, he asked turning around. “If he is the dead man, we shall certainely not find him there drinking a glass of wine, we will only find out that we are not going back home for a while. No, I will go and see the Prefect and tell him that damned name”, he concluded. And he went out.
At the end of the corridor, he noticed a man talking to the guard. He was shaking something in his hands and he looked worried.
“I tell you once more that’s Antonio Andrini”, Landi heard that man say when he was near to him.
Mr Donegani, the lawyer, kept Antonio Andrini’s papers tight in his hands. From behind the desk, Landi stared at him. Lissia, who was sitting in front of the typing machine, was ready to put on record.
-“I known Andrini for about ten years”, the lawyer began. “He worked as a farmer in my father’s lands, in Calcinato. I manage those lands and I know Andrini because he is a good guy”. He paused. “And because I was obliged to dismiss him”.
“Why? What had he done?”, Landi asked.
Donegani shaked his head slowly.
“Nothing, I told you, Officer Landi, he’s a good guy, one who has always worked, who never caused matters. Sometimes, other farmers complained, asked for better wages. Not him, he never asked for anything. He worked and that’s all”.
“And then, why did you dismiss him?”
The lawyer sighed.
“My father ordered it to me. And Spagnoli had ordered to him”.
“And who is this Spagnoli?”
“A fascist. One that thinks he is the boss of Calcinato. He has a great influence on my father and he hates Andrini”.
Landi’s eyes lit up.
“Because he is an Ardito del Popolo?”.
“No, Officer Landi. He is not interested in politics”.
“Are you sure?”, Landi asked sharply. That smile had annoyed him.
-“But why, what did he tell you?”.
Landi lowered his glance.
“Nothing”, he whispered.
There was a moment of silence, then Donegani continued.
“Andrini is not like anybody else, he does not listen to fascists, he does not submnit. Spagnoli and those four miserable men that he commands cannot even beat him. You have seen him too, Officer Landi, he is a heavily built man and he does not fear anybody. For this reason, Spagnoli hates him and decided to ruin him using the influence that he has on my father. Two evenings ago I went to Calcinato to tell him that I had to dismiss him. I was at the tavern with him when Spagnoli and his men arrived. They started to shout, they had everybody stand up and sent them back home kicking their behind. But Andrini no, they left him alone and not only because he was with me. As soon as they entered the tavern he pulled out a knife and trust it on the table.
“A knife with the edge of the blade cut off?”, asked Officer Landi.
“Yes, Officer Landi. I had never seen one like this. He trust it with such a strength that everybody stood stuck for fear. I did not even know that Andrini had a knife. He told me that it did not belong to him, that a camrade from Sardinia had given him before dying, a guy whose respect he had won”.
Landi and Lissia looked at each other for a moment.
“And how did Andrini react hearing about his dismission?”
“He expected it, or at least, I felt so. I told him that Spagnoli had ordered that to my father, but he had no reaction”.
“And the papers? How is it that you have them?”.
Donegani put them on the desk. Landi gave a look to the photo, then he looked at Lissia and nodded.
Donegani thought that it was a policemen’s matter.
“Andrini came to my office, here in Brescia”, he answered, “and he left me in charge of them. He told me that he came to look for a job and, first of all, he would go to the Trade-Union Headquarters. He was not used to take his papers with him and was afraid of losing them. During his trip by coach, he did nothing but checking to see if they were in the pocket of his jacket”. He smiled. “No Ardito del Popolo is afraid of losing his papers, don’t you think, Officer Landi? He told me that if somebody asked him for them, he would say that I kept them. Then I read in the newspaper of the people arrested at the Trade-Union Headquarters, but, at that moment, I did not pay much attention. He could not have been arrested. He had gone there only to look for a job”.
Lissia stopped putting on record.
“So, what’s going on?”, Landi sharply asked him.
“I’m sorry, Officer Landi”, Lissia said, starting over. Donegani continued.
“But then, I thought that he might have been arrested by mistake. Maybe because he did not have his papers. And therefore, I came here”.
“You did the right thing, Mr Donegani”, Landi stated.
“I can testify that he has nothing to do with the Arditi del Popolo”, Donegani said once more.
Landi stood up. “Come with me, please”.
And, before the lawyer could ask where they were going, Landi had already pushed him beyond the door of his office, setting out with him.
Landi went out from Broletto Palace and he stopped in the square, in front of the new Cathedral. He liked churches, but not because of religion or art. Sitting inside there and thinking relaxed him. “Satisfactions that a Church can give also to those who do not believe”, he thought while going inside.
Donegani felt sick in front of the morgue, but he tried to take heart and recognized Andrini’s corpse. Nevertheless, he did not see the knife because Landi did not have the courage to show him.
The Prefect had silently listened to the Officer’s report, going through satisfaction, disbelief and then anger.
“He was not an Ardito del Popolo”, he grumbled at the end, “he was accidentally at the Trade-Union Headquarers and you have killed him just the same”. Then, he shaked his head. “If Facta thinks that you have killed a poor farmer harassed by fascists mistaking him for an Ardito del Popolo, it will only be your fault, Officer Landi. And farewell Tuscany”. And these words closed his speech.
Donegani went into the Cathedral, he saw Landi and greeted him with a bow of his head, then he kneeled down on a bench and began to pray.
Lissia was already at the station and he listened with pleasure to the strident rattle of the train for Civitavecchia while it was slowing down on the track. As soon as Landi and the lawyer had gone out of the Police Station, and went to the morgue, he had called his cousin, the subsecretary. And the order to bring forward his transfer arrived immediately.
Second classified of the “Muri di storie” [Walls of Stories] contest.
Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Davide Spagnoli)